A Lasting Gift
With backup called in, Deputy Parker Smithson turned his attention back to Brad and Kevin as sirens sounded in the distance.
"Sir, you're near hypothermia. Let me have the boy and you go get in a warm bath until you're recovered."
Brad looked up at him for a moment without saying anything then, turned his face back to Kevin. Nor did he move when Parker placed his hand on his arm, saying, "Please, sir."
An ambulance, followed almost immediately by a police car pulled up. The medics rushed to Kevin, but it took the two men and the deputy to get Brad to release his hold. Followed by Brad, they placed Kevin in the ambulance and sped off. Left alone, Puppy stood next to Paker, looking at him and whining.
Parker scratched the animal's ears. "I know, boy, I know. Let's go in and close the house. You guard it until Mr. Andrews comes back home, okay?"
Puppy, as if he understood every word, walked through the doggie door and curled up on his blanket by the fireplace, all the while in a watchful mode.
Parker headed for the station to write up his incident report. As he wrote, his feeling of empathy for Brad grew ever stronger, for he had once been a street boy for a couple of months before a policeman had found him beaten and bloody in an alley. Once he had been treated by a doctor, the policeman, who lived alone, had taken Parker into his home and made him his son. Now, Parker was drawn back to Brad.
While Parker had been writing his report, in the emergency room a tearful Brad beseeched the young doctor, "Please, you can't let my little boy die. He's all I have."
The doctor slowly shook his head. "I'm so sorry, sir, but there's no way we can revive him. The bullet went through his heart; he bled out. Believe me, we've nothing more to try. I'm sorry." As Brad's legs gave way, the doctor and an orderly caught him and helped him to a chair.
Tears finally exhausted and in a stupor, Brad gave faint recognition to the deputy who walked toward him with a look of sympathy. "Mr. Andrews, let me take you home now. You need to rest for you have some hard decisions to make tomorrow."
A near comatose Brad nodded in response, then stood and followed the deputy mechanically.
Parker took the keys from Brad's pocket and opened the front door. Puppy stood in a challenge mode until Parker patted him on the head and pulled an unresisting Brad into the foyer. Puppy, as if he understood, walked down the hall to Brad's bedroom and watched as Parker removed Brad's outer clothing and settled him in his bed, pulling the blanket up. A final look to assure himself that he had done all he knew to do for Brad, Parker began to secure the doors and windows, carefully watched by Puppy. Ready to return to the station to finish his shift, Parker looked at Puppy once more. "I guess I ought to put some water and food down for you, no telling how long Mr. Andrews will be out of it."
Puppy jumped up and ran to the kitchen, stopping at his dish and looking at Parker expectantly. Finding dog food in the pantry, Parker opened a tin and spooned the contents into Puppy's dish, then put fresh water in his bowl. With a pat on Puppy's head, Parker said, "Keep a close watch. You're a good boy, Puppy," and left, closing the front door firmly behind him.
Having unconsciously taken a key to Brad's house, Parker returned after his shift was over. Brad lay in bed much as he had left him, but showed signs of recognizing him. Encouraged, Parker rummaged in the pantry until he found several tins of chicken with rice soup. He heated enough for Brad and himself, found some crackers, and set the two bowls on a tray. Taking it to Brad's bedroom, he set the tray on the bedside table. When Brad made no attempt to feed himself, Parker lifted a spoonfull of soup to his lips. Brad opened his mouth as a child might and let Parker feed him until the bowl was empty.
Parker ate his own soup then returned the tray to the kitchen, washing up the used pot and bowls. When he returned to check on Brad, Brad uttered one word, 'bathroom.' Parker helped him out of bed and steadied him as he stumbled towards the bath.
Once he was assured that Brad was settled in for the night, Parker patted Puppy, who had curled up next to Brad, and left for his apartment.
Having the next day off, Parker rang Brad's doorbell. Only Puppy's gruff growl answered. Using the key, Parker opened the door, placated Puppy, and went to Brad's room to find him awake though still in bed.
"How are you doing this morning?" Parker asked.
Brad looked up at him for a moment. "Why? Why a beautiful little boy I could have given a happy home? Oh, God! It isn't fair." He wailed.
Parker replied sympathetically, "No, it doesn't seem fair, but life is seldom fair. It leaves us to deal with whatever comes." He extended his hand. "Can I help you up? You'll have a lot to do today; I'll be with you, if you want."
"Please. I need someone." He slowly dragged himself out of bed and into the bath. Hearing the shower start, Parker rummaged through the dresser, finding underclothes, socks. He turned to the closet and removed a plain button-down shirt and pressed slacks, laying them on the bed for Brad to put on.
Brad returned wrapped in a towel, refreshed, but still somber. Glancing at the clothing, he mumbled, "Thanks," and dressed, then stood waiting. Parker took him by the hand and led him into the kitchen, seating him and pouring him a cup of coffee. "You need something to eat, what would you like?" He asked.
Receiving no response, Parker found a fresh apple strudel in the fridge, cut two generous wedges and put them in the oven to heat, then poured a cup of coffee for himself before feeding a pleading Puppy.
Tears began to stream down Brad's face as Parker pushed the plate of strudel in front of him. "Kevin loved this so much, I always made sure to have one on hand," he stammered.
"I'm sorry, I'll fix you something else if you want."
Brad shook his head. "It's okay, I like it, too."
After eating and having a second cup of strong coffee, Brad became more responsive. Parker was pleased for him, especially as he had just taken a call from the police that Kevin's body was ready for release and asking about funeral arrangements. Promising to call back. Brad looked at Parker blankly. "I don't know what to do."
Parker placed his hand on Brad's shoulder, pushing him gently down on the sofa. "I was raised here and know the best. Do you trust me to help you?"
Parker sat down with the cordless phone and began making calls. By the time he had completed them, with occasional questions to Brad for preferences, it was time for an early lunch as they had errands to complete that afternoon.
As Brad had no church affiliation, Parker arranged the service with his own pastor, the service to be held in the small Lutheran church he attended. He supplied the pastor with as much information as he could.
At the hour of the service, he and Brad entered the front pew, Brad slowly taking in the lower sidewalls broken by small stained glass windows of traditional design, the soaring roofline and supporting beams. Finally his eyes rested on the small casket at the foot of the altar.
'How Kevin would have loved the sounds of the organ,' he thought, before joining hesitantly in the chants. The homily was brief, to Brad beautiful and comforting. He squeezed Parker's hand by way of thanks.
At the cemetary Brad lost it. The number in attendance were only he, Parker, the Pastor, the crucifer, the two fellow officers of Parker who had arrested the bitch from social services, and an uninvited male supervisor from the childrens' services. Parker unashamedly wrapped Brad in his arms until the committal was completed with an A-men, then led him towards the limo supplied by the funeral home.
Once Brad was safely in bed, Puppy beside him, Parker returned to the living room, which Brad had made into a library/den/office, settled into a recliner and awaited anyone who might call by. His pastor was the only one and seeing Brad asleep, sat talking with Parker for a few minutes.
For the next few days, Parker spent every possible minute seeing to Brad's needs, sleeping in the bedrooom across the hall from Brad's. Brad regained his full capacity over the next couple of weeks. Unalloyed by grief and knowing Parker was off duty, Brad opened a good bottle of wine, pouring them each a glass. They sat in the den for a lengthy talk of serious mien.
"Parker," Brad began, "I have no real concept of what you have done for me since Kevin's passing, but is there any way or anything I can offer you in the way of compensation?"
Parker regarded Brad seriously. "Not in any way you can imagine. I know it's too soon to ask, but later on if I should come across a little boy in the same miserable condition as Kevin was when you took him in, would you consider giving him the same emotional security and love?"
Tears welled up in Brad's eyes. "I ... I don't know. How quickly my joy was taken so brutally. I don't think I could endure another such incident. I couldn't have made it through this without you."
"I was glad to do the little that I could, but it's past time I went back to my flat, though I'll miss being in this beautiful home with all the space to move in. I'll miss being with you even more."
Brad stood up and faced Parker, a puzzled look on his face. "I don't even know where you live. You've just been here whenever I needed you."
"I have a studio flat in the old apartment building on east County Street. It isn't much, but it's all I can afford on a deputy's salary."
Brad flinched, knowing that area of town was rife with crime, making it unsafe especially for an officer of the law. He spoke quickly. "If you're happy here with me, why not move in? There's more than enough room, even if we take in," his voice broke, "another kid some time."
Parker stared at Brad, stunned. "Please don't kid me. I'd give anything to be out of that dump."
A thin smile crossed Brad's lips. "Then it's settled. When's your next day off; we can move your things then."
Saturday morning, Brad drove his small station wagon across town, visibly nervous when he parked in front of Parkers apartment building. He was about to open the door when a burley cop waved him back. "You can't park there. That space is reserved for some kind o' truck, a guy's moving out."
From a window on the second floor a voice called, "It's okay, Bert. He's the one we've been waiting for."
"Oh." He looked at Brad. "You gotta be Brad. Parker's told me a lot about you. I just want to shake the hand of a guy who's good enough to get the kid out of this neighbourhood." Bert shook his head. "They oughta just bring in dynamite and level this whole area. Would rid the town of a lotta crime and human, if you wanna call 'em that, trash. Well, this ain't helping the kid move his stuff, let's go."
By the time they had climbed the wooden stairs which creaked and swayed alarmingly under Bert's bulk, Parker was standing at his door a half dozen plastic trash bags surrounding him.
"Sure you got everything?" Bert asked.
Parker nodded. "Haven't had the time or money to accumulate much in the way of things. Just my uniforms and some jeans, a few odds and ends, but they don't take up any room. Yeah," his hand swept the air of the room, "most of this crap was here. Landlord called this dump furnished; guess it is for a dump. Couple of pieces are mine, but I'm leavin' 'em. They ain't worth moving.
"Bert, if you'll take that little night stand, I think Brad and I can handle these bags. Besides, we can't leave his car unattended any longer, if he expects to have one, that is."
When they reached the street, Bert suddenly set the night stand down and, moving more swiftly than one might believe, reached through the rear hatch and withdrew a struggling, filthy urchin who looked to be no more than eight or nine years of age. "What the hell you doin' boy?" Bert snarled, shaking the trembling figure.
"I wasn't stealing or nothin'. There was this bag on the back seat an' I saw some bread and a jar of peanut butter. I was gonna make myself a sandwich, mister. I ain't had nothin' to eat since yesterday afternoon."
"Come here, son," Parker said quietly, taking the child's hand and leading him around to the side, opening a door for the child to sit on the back seat. Parker then set the bag containing a few slices of bread and the peanut butter beside him. "Go ahead, make yourself a sandwich, two if you want. We're not going to hurt you." Parker said kindly.
Hunger overwhelming fear, the boy timidly put together a sandwich and devoured it quickly. When he looked back up at Parker, Parker simply nodded. Make another one if you want it."
Bert silently watched the exchange. Shaking his head, he said, "Park, I don't know if you got a soft heart or a soft head. Kid like that ain't nothin' and ain't never gonna amount to nothin.' Most likely don't even know who his parents are, if he has any." He pulled out his cell phone, extending it to Parker. "Call them people at child welfare, let them worry about 'im."
Parker took the phone but looked at Brad. They stared at each other for a few minutes, while Bert tapped his foot on the pavement impatienty. "Hell, if you ain't gonna do it, I will," he said, reaching for the phone. But Parker refused to let it go. Finally there was an almost imperceptible nod from Brad.
"You certain?" Parker asked.
Brad nodded slightly again. "Do it and get everything settled at one time."
Parker grabbed Brad in a hug. "Thank you, buddy."
By good fortune, the caseworker Parker spoke to was the same one who had attended Kevin's funeral. Recognizing Brad's name when Parker told him where they were living, Adams told Parker to take the child home and the worker would see them sometime that evening.
Back home, it took less than an hour for them to get Parker's pitifully few belongings in place in the spare bedroom and a grubby kid in a hot bath. After letting the kid soak for a quarter hour, Parker drained the tub over the kid's protest, turned on the shower and gave him a good scrubbing and shampooed his hair twice. It was a transformed child who stood before them draped in a towel.
"What's your name, son?" Parker asked.
Parker shook his head. "Naw, that's a little kid's name. A young man big as you should be called Will. You like that?"
Will nodded briskly. "Am I gonna stay here with you?"
"We'll have to see later on, but I hope so. Brad, have you any of Kevin's thiings that might fit Will? We can't have a naked little guy running around, especially when Adams gets here."
Hearing Kevin referred to by Parker, Brad almost lost it. He turned away to keep Parker from seeing the tears that welled up, but Parker knew. A moment later, Brad was embraced in a tight hug. "I'm sorry, Brad, I wasn't thinking."
"No, that's okay, the living take precedence. Go look in his room and see what might do. Fortunately, Will is about the same size, even if he might be older by a year or two."
To save time and to Will's delight, they ordered pizza. After an initial curious examination of Will by Puppy, he sat by Will hoping for a bit of the pizza. Brad saw Will holding a small piece and nodded. Puppy took the bit gently from the boy who smiled.
Brad and Parker had just finished up the dishes when the doorbell rang. Adams was efficient as always, but having reviewed Kevin's file and knowing Brad was a registered foster parent made the interview process move quickly. "I'm glad it's you, Brad. I'm almost certain the judge will sign off on this and you'll have another happy little guy to raise."
Again, the reference to Kevin crushed Brad's heart, 'but no,' Brad told himself, 'you just said the living take precedence. You just have to get used to a new son.'
"Guest room," was all that Brad said when Parker mentioned it was Will's bedtime.
For a moment Parker was puzzled, for Kevin's room had everything that could appeal to a boy, then he realized that Brad had made no real accepting moves toward the child.
"How come he don't like me?" Will asked Parker as he was tucking Will into bed.
"Brad likes you, son. He had a son much like you until an evil person killed him just about six weeks ago. Brad still misses his son very much and you remind him of what he lost." Parker kissed the boy on the forehead. "He'll like you in a little while, just give him some time. Now sleep tight, son."
Parker went back into the family room where Brad stared unseeingly into the burning fireplace and sat down next to him on the sofa, putting his arm around Brad's shoulders. "I'm sorry, Brad, but I thought you nodded when I mentioned bringing Will home with us. I should have realized ... "
Brad shook his head, continuing to stare into the flames. "No, it's not that. I ... I just didn't think it would be so hard, but I see Kevin every time I look at Will." He turned to look into Parker's eyes, tears streaming. "Help me, buddy. The kid needs a home and love just like . . . well, just like he did. I need you to help me accept and love Will."
Pulling Brad into a hug, Parker said softly, "You know I will. I understand, but Will needs us both so much. Try to use a gentle approach with him tomorrow, now get yourself into bed."
Brad awoke before anyone else and, after a hasty toilet, made his way to the kitchen where the automatic coffee maker was gurgling to a stop. He gratefully grabbed a cup and, taking a seat at the small table, unfolded the morning paper. He was well into the second section when a slight noise attracted his attention. Looking up, he saw Will standing in the kitchen doorway looking at him warily.
Despite a momentary irritation at being interrupted, he laid the paper down and forced a smile at Will. "Good morning, Will, did you sleep well?" Will nodded.
"I'll bet you'd like a cup of hot chocolate. Come sit down and I'll make you one. When Park comes down, we'll have some breakfast." Brad got up and switched on the electric kettle. By the time he opened and poured a packet of hot chocolate mix into a cup, the water was boiling. He poured it into the mug, then looked at Will. "Do you like marshmallows in yours?"
Will nodded. Taking a handfull of minature marshmallows from the pack, Brad added them to the chocolate and set the mug in front of Will. "Careful now, it's real hot."
Will's expression softened. After the first cautious sip, he said, "Thank you, sir. I don't never remember having this to drink. It's real good."
Brad resumed his seat and sorted through the paper, handing the comics section to Will. "I'm glad you like the chocolate, you can have more if you wish. Here, you can read the comics while I finish reading my section."
Will was giggling quietly over the comics, unaware that Brad was covertly watching him with an unconscious smile, when Parker walked into the kitchen.
"Looks like I kept everyone waiting for breakfast. No, I'll fix it," he said as Brad started to rise. "Hot cakes for everyone," he asked, turning to switch on the griddle area of the cooktop.
As Parker cooked, Brad set the table and placed soft butter and warmed maple syrup within reach. Soon, Parker slid a plate containing three hot cakes in front of Will. "Put lots of butter and syrup on 'em while they're hot."
"How? I ain't never had none before."
'My God,' thought Brad, 'has this child ever had anything,' as he bent over to liberally spread butter, then syrup on Will's hot cakes. "Here you go, son, enjoy."
Parker had finished a stack for Brad and begun cooking his own when Will cautiously cut a tiny piece and tasted it warily. Both he and Brad had to stiffle laughter as Will's eyes opened widely and he attacked the cakes as if he were afraid they would disappear.
"That was so good," Will said, after a healthy swallow of milk.
"More?" Parker asked.
Will shook his head and rubbed his stomach. "Full. Thanks."
"What would you like to do, Will? Parker has to go to work before long. Would you like to watch cartoons on TV while I do some work in my study?"
"I can watch your big TV?"
"Of course. Come sit on the sofa and I'll find the cartoon channel for you."
Brad consulted the menu then brought up a channel where Roadrunner was once again outwitting Wyle Coyote. Will dissolved into giggles as he watched.
Parker leaned over and kissed Will on the forehead, then hugged Brad. "I'll try to be early. Take good care of our kid."
"I will." As Parker left, Brad showed Will where to find him if he wanted anything, then settled into his work mode.
"Sir?" A hesitant voice broke into Brad's consciousness.
"What?" He snapped, before turning to see Will at the door.
"I'm sorry, son. What do you need?"
"Can I have something to drink? I'm thirsty."
'No wonder,' Brad thought, glancing at his watch, 'it's nearly lunch time.' "Of course you may. It'll be lunch time before long, so would a glass of juice be okay? I've got orange and tomato in the fridge and some apple I can pour over ice."
"I can have apple? Really?"
Brad smiled. "Comin' up." He fixed the glass of juice and handed it to Will. Puppy sat at his feet looking up hungrily. "I'll fix lunch in about an hour, what would you like?"
"What are you having, sir?"
"I was planning on a BLT, since it's a warm day. Would you like one?"
Brad patiently explained, wondering if the child had ever been given anything beyond junk food. Will interrupted Brad's description, nodding vigorously. "I know what they is now, but I ain't never had one."
"Good. Go watch the rest of the cartoons while I finish up my work, then fix our BLT's and a treat you can give Puppy."
Watching Will's pleasure as he ate his BLT, then demolish the large slice of apple pie with ice cream set before him, Brad felt a warmth he'd thought lost with Kevin steal over him. It grew stronger as Will broke the hot dog Brad had given him into several pieces and fed each piece to a happy Puppy. Once Will finished his milk, he yawned.
"Come back into the den, Will, and get a nap. You can lie on the sofa."
Will took off his sneakers and stretched out. Brad slipped a pillow under his head; Will was asleep even before Brad finished covering him with the ornamental throw. Puppy immediately jumped up to lie beside Will. Brad hesitated, then bent and gently kissed Will on the forehead before returning to his computer.
Brad was leaning back in his chair, relaxing, when a tousled Will appeared in the door. "Did you get a good nap?"
Will nodded. "Can I go outside with Puppy?"
"Of course. Let me go with you, until you learn the neighbourhood so you won't get lost. Come on, Puppy, and do your thing."
Once Puppy had gone to the compost pile in the far corner of the yard and taken care of his business, he trotted up to Will and dropped an old tennis ball at his feet, then barked. Will threw the ball, Puppy racing after it.
Brad lounged in a deck chair watching a gleeful Will chasing a delirious Puppy around the spacious backyard. It was the first playfulness Brad had seen from Puppy since Kevin's passing.
A tired Will sat down on the top step of the deck, while a panting Puppy flopped down at his feet. Brad passed Will a glass of lemonade. "Thanks," Will said. "Puppy's fun."
"I'm glad you like playing with him; he needs the exercise. What would you like to do after you finish your lemonade?"
Will shrugged, "I dunno," then pointed to a boy passing by on his bicycle. "I wish I had one. It looks like fun, but I don't know how to ride.."
"That's easy. It's just a matter of keeping your balance. I think there's a bicycle that's just right for you in the garage. Want to go see?"
Parker had to stop on the street, for a happy laughing Will wobbly rode a bicycle, with a prancing Puppy beside him, in the driveway. "Look! I can do it!" Will called turning the bicycle directly toward Parker. Laughing, Parker grabbed the bike to keep Will from falling, and hugged him. "Have you had a good day?"
"Oh, yeah. He's," Will nodded towards Brad, "real nice. We had BLT things for lunch, I fed Puppy a hot dog, and we played in the yard, then he learned me how to ride this bike." Will's excited words tumbled over each other. "I ain't never had so much fun before."
"I'm glad," Parker said, hugging the boy. "Let's put your bike back in the garage; it's almost dinner time."
"Can I ride some more tomorrow?"
"Of course. Come along now."
After dinner, Brad went back to his computer to finish up the small amount of work he'd left unfinished, while Parker and Will watch TV. Brad fixed a drink for Parker and himself, a glass of juice for surprised Will. "Park and I like a drink about this time each evening, it helps relax us. I thought you'd like something before bed as well."
"That was good. Thanks, mister."
"My names Brad, Will. Please call me that." Brad glanced at his watch. "I think it's about bedtime for a young man because he's had a busy day."
"I'll take him up," Parker said.
"We'll both go. He needs a boy's room and I made the bed this afternoon while he napped."
"You're serious," an incredulous Parker said.
"Yes. Last night Kevin came to me. He told me that he had sent Will for us to love and make happy like I made him while he was here." Brad hugged Parker, "Then he said we would come to love each other, too; the three of us are to make a happy family like he always wanted."
Parker returned the hug. "I love you, Brad, Will, too. Let's take our son to his new room. He'll be thrilled with all the things a boy his age could want."