The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012 Matthew Templar

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyrighted by Matthew Templar, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

* * * * *

The end of Chapter Thirty-three, where we left off:

While I was quizzing Jeffy, the phone rang and AJ jumped up and ran to get it.

"It's the nurse, Dad."

I took the phone from him and said, "Nurse Sanchez, it's a pleasure to talk with you again. How's our patient? We heard he came out of the coma."

"Yes, that's true. Frankly, I'm worried about the boy. He now knows that his family hasn't made any attempt to visit him but he also knows that your family was there for him, and he was told you'd be back tomorrow. That was so helpful of you and your boys, Sergeant McGill. It meant a lot to Elliot, I'm sure."

"But you don't sound very enthusiastic, Nurse. I hope everything is okay."

"Well, he's really depressed. He came away with a broken collar bone and several of his ribs are bruised. He also sustained trauma to his groin and his head, of course. He's going to be here for a while. The thing is I can't send him home if his family is going to ignore him. That wouldn't be safe."

"I agree. If it comes to that, we'd be glad to take him here. I already have the two foster boys that you've met. Looking after Elliot would be a delight for both of them and me."

"That's very kind of you, Sergeant. I will be calling Children Services in the morning. But now, it's been a full day and I need to go home to my family. Oh, please feel free to visit anytime tomorrow."

"We'll be sure to do that. Thank you for all you've done for Elliot, Nurse Sanchez. I know he appreciates it, whether he says it or not."

"Yes, well, he hasn't said but about three words since he's come out of the coma. Like I said, I'm worried about him. We have someone monitoring him pretty closely."

"I'm sure he'll brighten up when he sees Jeffy and has to endure AJ's antics. Ha! It'll be good for him."

"Hey!" I heard behind me.

"I heard that. That's cute. Well, Sergeant, thank you again. Good night."

End of Chapter Thirty-three

*Just a reminder that Chapter Thirty-four, the party for AJ and Jeb that I left out, should have come before Chapter Thirty-three.*

Chapter Thirty-five

The next day was a little strange. Jeffy had to treat the day almost like a regular day, at least until his final was over. AJ had practically a play day and, to boot, it was only a half day for both of them, I found out.

AJ couldn't have looked prouder as we dropped him off in front of the school in his new truck. He slammed the door loud enough for a lot of the kids to turn toward him as he beamed with pride at being the gleaming red pickup's new owner.

Jeffy, on the other hand, would have been happy to stay in bed. Besides still being sore, tests were not his favorite thing.

"Tests really stress me out, Pop. I had a hard enough time just getting' up ta speed again after all that's happened but these tests really do me in."

"Well, by the way you answered my questions last night, guy, you are ready to ace this final. I have great confidence in you and I want you to be happy with how you performed last night. So, go in there and make yourself proud that you know your stuff."

I grabbed his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. He was fine with hugs at home but this was right in front of everyone. I could relate to that.

"Thanks, Pop," he said with a smile. "Hey, we get to go see Elliot after school lets out, right?"

"Absolutely, sport. No problem. See you at noon."

I decided to stay close by so I went over to the garden store and filled the back end of the truck with peat moss and their own fertilizer mixture. It seemed to be working fine and it was the cheapest. Then I wandered around Sears.

Sears was always a good place to waste some time, kind of like a handyman's toy store. This particular time-wasting event cost me about $300 but I needed the things I bought. Well, some of it was for the new truck - okay, all of it. I didn't want to get it all messed up in the first two days. Then I spent some time in their parking lot, putting on new seat covers and one of those leather steering wheel wraps. I'd always wanted to do that. I didn't get any dice for the mirror though. The seat covers were more practical than those furry cubes.

Soon enough I left to pick up the littlest of my two wards. Looking at AJ run toward the truck with a gleaming smile spread all over his face, I remembered back to a time when he came out practically pouting and sat quietly all the way home each day. It did my heart good to know that his life had changed enough to put that kind of happiness inside of him daily.

He stopped in his tracks on the hill before the sidewalk, though, and turned. It looked like someone had yelled his name and he turned to them. Stewart came up and they talked for less than a minute, then hugged and AJ came running the rest of the way to the truck.

"Wo-ow! Cool seat covers, Dad! They look and feel really great!"

"Thank you, son."

"Dad, no more school until September!"

"AJ, you barely had two months of school, almost for your whole life!"

"He he, yeah, but I'm learning lots now, like when not to like something, huh?" he said with that special gleam of his.

I had to laugh at him.

"So, what are we gonna do the rest of the day?"

"Well, the only thing on my list is keeping my promise to your brother to go see Elliot."

"Oh, yeah. I wanna see him too, ya know. I wanna tell him that I'm not gonna let anyone ever bully him again at his school. It shouldn'ta happened that time or any time. Hey, Dad, how come the principal didn't know that stuff was happening?"

"AJ, there are so many people that are too embarrassed to say anything when they're being abused or bullied. They may even think it's their fault."

"What? That's crazy! No one could think that, could they?"

"Yes, son. Lots of abused people, kids and adults think they had something to do with causing their abuse. It's why many wives and kids don't leave when they're getting hurt at home. It's really a problem. They think they're to blame for it."

"Wo-ow! I never thought o' that. Still, I gotta do stuff to keep kids from wanting to bully. I still think it's the best, 'specially in young kids just learnin' stuff. That's when they can change the easiest, huh?"

"Yes, it sure worked with your friends, Brian and Devon, didn't it?"

"Yeah, it sure did. They're really great guys. I think they're getting along better with everyone too, now, 'cept maybe some of their football team guys."

"Why do you suppose that is?"

"Dunno. Maybe 'cuz the coach can be such a jerk."

"AJ!" I said.

"Well, he is. And besides, they don't get to play and the team keeps tellin' 'em what wusses they are. But I'm glad that Brian and Devon don't do anything when that happens."

"Is Principal Tremble aware of that happening?"

"I don't know. He's the one who said they couldn't play this year. It still happens though."

"But they'll get to play next season, right?"

"Not here. They go into high school next year. They gotta start all over being the team's best players."

We pulled up in front of the high school and Jeffy was ready and eager to leave school for the summer.

"How'd you do with the English test, sport. Ya think you aced it?" I asked.

"You're kiddin', right? I know I didn't ace it but I sure know that without your help it would have been a lot harder. I know you helped me pass, Pop. I know it."

"Son, you're the one that carried all the information into that room with you. I just helped remind you of what you'd already learned."

"Maybe so, Pop. Thanks for helpin' me though."

AJ was sitting between us looking at whoever was speaking and grinning his greatest grin. He was the epitome of effervescence in a boy. He just seemed to like good things to happen to people and then hear about those things. It was also contagious.

Amidst a big smile at his little brother, Jeffy said to me, "We goin' ta see Elliot, Pop? I sure need to know he's gettin' better."

"On our way, Son. Thank you for asking. We both wanted to check up on him too, huh, AJ?"

"Uh-huh, we do!"

At the hospital we went directly to the children's wing, then to the floor Elliot was on. I immediately noticed a nurse behind the desk grab a phone and dial as she looked straight at us with a worried look to her. She was in a big hurry, said a few words to whoever answered and quickly got up and came around to meet us.

"Um, hi, everyone. Sergeant McGill and family I take it?"

I nodded.

"Thank you. I need to ask you to wait before you go in until Nurse Sanchez can explain some things. We had a bit of excitement earlier."

When both boys jumped toward her with questions on their lips she held up her hand to quiet them and said, "Here she comes now. She'll answer all your questions."

She retreated to behind the counter as Nurse Sanchez walked up to us.

"Welcome back. I'm so glad you decided to visit Elliot again. He seems to enjoy you all very much. I think you were told we had a little problem today."

"Is he okay, ma'am?" asked Jeffy.

"Oh, well, that remains to be seen. I'm sorry for being so cryptic. See, his parents visited today." She didn't sound very happy about the news.

"Wow, then he gets ta go home?" asked AJ, very excited for Elliot. It was all so simple to him; the way it should be.

"Well, not exactly, young man. No, see, they brought the pastor of their church and, since they're his parents, the nurse didn't look at his chart before she let them in to see the boy."

She was grimacing when she said that.

"It doesn't sound like it went well," I said.

"Hardly. Before we could get them removed they'd started a full-blown exorcism ritual."

I gasped, remembering that movie way back when, but I knew the kids had no idea what that was. They both hung on me to ask a hundred questions in seconds.

"Hold on, guys. It means the pastor tried to release or drive out the demons in Elliot. Some people think that the reason some people are a certain way has to do with devils and demons living in them."

"You mean they think he's got devils in him because he kinda acts, you know, like he's gay or somethin'?" asked Jeffy. I knew he was uncomfortable putting that label on Elliot but I also remembered what he'd witnessed at Elliot's house that day.

"I'm sure that's what they thought, Jeffy. It's not something that you just conjure up and spring on someone that is in the state of mind that Elliot has been in since the beating he got, maybe even before," I explained.

"Exactly," Nurse Sanchez said. "Before we could get them out everyone was in a state of panic or excitement. It was not a pretty scene. We had to have the three of them taken out of the building and security watch out for them."

"But, nurse, how's Elliot now?" asked AJ. He was concerned about another child that was again the target of abuse.

"He's very quiet right now. He was given something to calm him but since we were actually afraid it might make him lapse into a coma again, he only received a half dose, so he's had to brave it some, more than necessary. I think your being here is a really good thing for him, a lift if you will."

"Can we go in now," asked Jeffy.

"Sure. Let me just go in and tell him he has visitors; the kind I'm sure he'll want to see," she answered with a smile before opening the door and going in ahead of us.

She stuck her head out to say he was in the bathroom and we could go in when he came out.

"Dad, we didn't get him anything!" said AJ in a panic.

"It's okay, AJ. Maybe after we go in and Jeffy is talking to him, you and I can go to the gift shop and get something for him."

"Yeah!" said my boy, happy again.

Jeffy smiled and rubbed his brother's shoulder. "You sure are a lover, AJ. You always think of the things people need to be happier, don't you?"

"Doesn't everybody?" asked my little naïve one.

"Are you kiddin'? Ya mean like makin' Elliot sicker and stuff like his own parents tried to do with that mumbo jumbo stuff?"

"Wo-ow! Yeah. I don't get that. 'Specially if it just makes him feel worse than ever. And his own parents, too."

"Well, son, you had some pretty bad experiences when you lived with your mom, well, that woman and Jarod's dad. That wasn't a walk in the park, either," I told him.

"Yeah. I didn't even think about walkin' in any park. That old one wasn't so good, ya know," he said with a shudder.

Jeffy and I both looked at each other and smiled.

About a minute later Nurse Sanchez invited us in to visit Elliot.

"Elliot, you have visitors," she said.

"No! Not again!" he shouted.

"Now, now. It's your friends, you know, Jeffrey and his brother and father."

"He knows me as Daniel, ma'am. Hey, Elliot," said Jeffy, behind Nurse Sanchez.

"Oh man, Daniel. Are you a sight for sore . . . , well, everything," said Elliot, trying to scoot up in the bed.

Nurse Sanchez ushered us in then raised the head of the bed so he was sitting up more.

"I'll leave you all to visit. Elliot, you have your red button next to your right hand if you need to call a nurse, okay, sweetie?"

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you. I'm sorry I got so excited just now."

"Think nothing of it. Perfectly understandable given what you've been through. I'll tell you what, from now on we'll talk to you and let you know who is visiting so you can decide if they come in, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am. But you can let Daniel in anytime, oh, and his family too," he said with a nice but shy smile at us.

After she left, AJ and I took the time to reintroduce ourselves and then the three of us listened to some of what the boy had been through. He was still pretty shaken up from the morning's events.

"I can't believe they'd do that," said Jeffy.

"Didn't really surprise me any. They're weird about stuff like what they think I'm . . . well, um. Uh, Daniel, could you and I talk privately for a few minutes? You're about the only person I can talk to except my shrink and they made me stop seeing him when they found out he wouldn't do a . . . Hmmm, can we talk?"

"Pop?" asked Jeffy turning toward me.

"Of course. Hey, Elliot, would you like a milkshake or something from the cafeteria?"

"Um, if it's no bother, that sounds really good. Um, strawberry if they have it, or vanilla, I guess."

"Come on, AJ. Let's go get something to drink, okay?"

"'Kay, Dad. Brown or white, Jeffy?" asked the boy. He laughed and I knew he was thinking of the time we explained the flavors to Tyler when he was in the hospital just days before, it seemed.

"Brown's good for me, squirt. Thanks for askin'."

As we left I could hear Elliot.

"Daniel, I think your dad is neat. He's not like any parent I know. Course, I only know two others."

"Yeah, he's the greatest, really. And we can talk to him about anything and he'll just listen and not freak out and stuff, you know?"

"Man, that sounds so wonderful. But I need to tell you something . . . about me."

We took our time. AJ wanted to go into the Gift Shop and find something for Elliot.

"If it were me up there, Dad, I'd wanna puzzle book or somethin'. Whadda you think?"

"I agree. Then we need to get him a pencil too."

"Thanks, Dad. I know he'll 'preciate it. Maybe we can get him some more before we come up again."

That's my guy. He's there for everyone, no matter what their need, if he can help out.

We were gone for a good half hour, probably longer. I stood with my ear to the door but I didn't hear anything, so I knocked and we walked in.

"He's in the bathroom. He asked me to put a chair in there so he could take a shower if he needed to, later." Jeffy was sitting next to the empty bed, looking a little concerned as he looked toward the bathroom door. "He isn't doing too well, Pop. He's really shook up about what happened today, and we're the only ones that have come, well, besides this morning, you know, to visit him. All that added to what put him here in the first place and he sounds like he's just barely hangin' in there. I'm worried about him."

"Maybe I need to ask Nurse Sanchez about getting him another psychiatrist."

"Oh, yeah, Pop. Hey, I can pay for him too, if he needs it. I wanna do it for him. You know, anything that will help him get better."

"Well, let's take it a step at a time. I'll talk to the nurse to find out what his doctors think."

Right then, Elliot walked back into the room and lay back down. I handed out drinks and we sat quietly enjoying them.

Then Jeffy spoke up, "Hey, squirt, whatcha got in the bag there? Is it for me?"

I'm not sure how AJ could have chocolate on his face if he was using a straw, but he wiped his face with his used napkin and said, "Not you, silly. It's for Elliot. So you have something besides the TV to keep you company until we can come back and see ya, 'kay?" AJ handed him the bag.

"Nice, AJ. Thanks a lot. I've never done more than a few of these puzzles but they look really fun. Thanks again. Oh man, even a pencil. You guys think of everything," said Elliot with the makings of a smile on his face. That was good to see. I just wished it had been bigger.

Just then I looked over at AJ and he had the straw out of the cup and was running it through his lips, taking most of the thick brown liquid off of it. That made a brown line halfway across his cheek. No wonder it was all over his face.

Our visit lasted quite a while. There was never any all out laughing like I'd hoped there would have been. He needed to get the day behind him and move on. But that was easy for me to think. Jeffy and AJ kept him talking and once in a while they'd pull me into their conversation.

"Elliot, I wanna tell Pop something and it won't be anything embarrassing, okay?" Jeffy was wise to let him know if it was something important.

"Well, I guess so," answered Elliot. I could tell that Elliot had very little trust in adults, especially after that morning.

"Pop, I just wanted to tell you and maybe ask something. I told Elliot that you were a great pop because you always listened and helped when you could but you never judged us or belittled us like AJ got most of the time and I got growing up after my real dad died. Oh, and you always say it's just between us, that no one else needs to know. Right?"

"Yes, I think that's a major part of being a parent. Part of what you kids should be able to count on is your trust in me. I wish I could say that about every adult, but we know that isn't the case."

"It sure isn't. I know that one by heart. But now we got you, Dad," said AJ, ending with his patented smile.

"Yeah, that's so good too. But, Pop, I was wondering if Elliot could trust you like that too. You know, be able to talk to you about anything."

"Daniel!" said Elliot, somewhat upset.

"It's okay, Elliot. He's cool. You know that," Jeffy told his friend.

"Yes, Elliot, it is okay and yes, if you want you can talk to me about anything, whatever's on your mind; that's okay too. You don't have to wait for Jeff . . . uh, Daniel to be around either. It's my promise to you, Elliot; the same one I've made to the boys. I want you to be able to have someone, some adult, who you can talk to and I'd be proud to be that person for you."

"Wo-ow! Dad, you are so neat!" AJ piped in.

"See, Elliot, he promises. I bet you haven't heard that from too many other people, huh?"

"Now that you mention it, no, just, um, you, Daniel. But could I ask a question?" Elliot asked, looking over at me.

"See, Pop, he's startin' already."

"No, no. It's not like that. I just wanted to ask why I call you Daniel like everyone at school but your dad and AJ call you Jeffy."

"Oh! Oh! I can answer that one! Can I, huh, can I?" AJ practically jumped on Jeffy to get his permission.

"Yeah, pipsqueak, if ya don't kill me first. Jeesh!" his brother said, laughing at his antics.

"Oops, okay, sorry. Um, Elliot, see when Jeffy got all that stuff cleared away at his trial so he could come live with us, he asked everyone at the courtroom place to call him Daniel now, instead of Jeffy. He said Jeffy made him sound like a little kid."

"Yeah, like a pipsqueak, Elliot, and nobody wants ta . . . Oops! Sorry, AJ. I was just foolin' with ya again."

"I know. Anyway, when we were alone, just the three of us, Jeffy said we could still call him Jeffy, but we were the only ones 'cuz it was a special family name for him, huh, Jeffy?"

"Yup, little bro," answered Jeffy, messing his brother's hair up. "You got it just right."

"Okay, I guess I get it. I suppose I better keep calling you Daniel when we're at school though."

Elliot looked over at me again, smiling a bit. His cheeks turned a bit red when he noticed that I was looking back at him.

"Oh, it's no big deal. I like either one, really."

We talked a bit longer and, when they served Elliot his lunch, we took our leave to get some for us. But we didn't leave without promising to be back the next day to visit some more.

"You guys don't have to do that, really. I'm uh, I'll be okay, I suppose. I get down some, thinking about what those guys did to me, then my parents . . . Oh, I don't know. Thank you for coming up and I do look forward to you guys whenever you can come again."

"He's sure down on himself, Pop. Like I said, I get worried about him," Jeffy told me as we walked to the truck. "He's got too much time to stew about all that's goin' on. Just think of it, it's been happenin' ever since he started in middle school. It's got to hurt somethin' awful."

I heard a sniff and both Jeffy and I looked down on AJ walking between us and saw his tears.

"AJ?" I asked.

"It just isn't fair, Dad. How can people be like that? There's so much good in Elliot. Why can't all the people just look at that part? If we all spent more time fixin' the parts of ourselves that were crazy and outta kilter like, we wouldn't have time to pester and bully anyone else. We'd only have time to look for the good stuff, huh? I think it's a lot easier to be nice to someone than to make fun of them or even hurt them like they did to Elliot."

I was again amazed at the boy's insights. He was pure angel as far as I was concerned. But I was constantly amazed, especially after all he'd put up with his whole life and was still able to put it behind him and move on.

"You're gonna be thirteen, AJ?" I asked him.

"Um, uh-huh. Why?" he asked as we got into the truck and I drove through the parking lot.

"Because you keep coming up with all this wisdom that millions of adults haven't figured out yet. You make it sound so simple."

"But that's what I don't get, Dad. It is so simple. How come they can't just let people be themselves and love 'em for who they are?"

"True, bro. Um, Pop, Elliot said it was okay to tell you guys what he talked to me about. See, he told me he really is gay. It took him a long time to get it out, but then lots more came out easier after that. Like that's why they changed his school this year, cuzza someone found out and pestered him so bad. Then his parents found out even though he tried to keep it from them. They went ballistic on him and practically grounded him for his whole life. They sent him to a shrink and told him to cure him! Can you imagine? And just when Elliot and the doctor were makin' headway, they pulled Elliot from seein' him. I wish he could go back to him."

"Do you know the doctor's name, Jeffy?"

"No, I didn't think to ask. I shoulda."

"Maybe next time you can ask him and we can get him some appointments with the same doctor when he gets released from the hospital."

"Yeah, Pop, that's what I want for him too. I sure love you, Pop. You are the best."

"I know," added AJ, pulling my arm away from the steering wheel to hug it.

"Whoa! Careful, pipsqueak. We'll be joining Elliot in our own hospital beds."

We stopped at a Subway and laughed through foot longs, then made our way home. Both boys were kind of quiet and stayed to themselves, thoughtful, I suppose, until dinner. Then we had a rousing board game for the rest of the evening. Life was very precious to me. I looked at the boys and realized that it doesn't get much better than what they've given me. I will always be thankful for that.

I made a point of tucking in each of my boys that night. I did it quite often, especially with AJ. It was a good time to pamper them a little and listen if they had something on their mind. It was also good one-on-one time. I loved them so much and knew how fortunate I was because of them.

One of my favorite things was to sneak a peek in on them as I went up to bed. It warmed my heart to see them sleeping so peacefully. I was able to provide them both a simple roof over their heads and an open mind to their needs. They provided me with a wealth of love and trust and family. I'd say it was a win-win.

Her coat over her arm, the nurse was just about to leave the floor. Her night shift was over and she'd briefed the day nurse on their patients. She explained what happened when Elliot's parents came by with their pastor, but it happened before her shift, thankfully, so she just passed on what she had been told.

She decided to look into Elliot's room to make sure he was restful. It was one of the first times she'd ever taken the initiative to do something like that. But there was something about the boy that tugged at her; made her want him to be treated a little bit better than usual, especially after the day that he'd had.

She looked into the room and the empty bed told her that Elliot was in the bathroom. She almost turned to leave, but something was strange, she decided as she entered the room and walked up to the bed. The covers were pulled up as though he'd made the bed before going into the bathroom. His new puzzle book was laying on top of the blanket. But wait, she noticed that only the blanket was there. There was no top sheet and she was the one that had changed it at the beginning of her shift before he fell asleep. She casually looked around to see if it was pulled down or somewhere else in the . . .


'Hmmm, sounded like he fell against the aluminum chair in the bathroom or . . .'

She could never tell anyone to this day what made her react in that way. Maybe it was that added concern for the boy that she knew had been put through hell lately, even that morning.

She pushed open the door to the hall and just yelled at the top of her lungs, "367, STAT!" (his room number).

Then she ran for the bathroom door and tried to push it open.

'Don't panic,' she thought. 'It's going to be alright! Be strong!'

It was locked but they all had a special key just for emergencies, especially in the children's ward. She fished it out of her pocket, jammed it into the lock, turned the key and pushed against the door again.

As it flew open she had no doubt what she was about to see. She had her arms out in front of her as she ran to the center of the room, a mere three steps. She grabbed at the boy as best she could and raised him up as far as she could, straining against his weight.

"Oh God, let me be in time." Then she turned her head and screamed, "Get in here now! We have to save him!"

'Stay calm,' she thought. 'We're going to make it. We have to.'

The door swung open and she heard three loud gasps, followed quickly by arms that helped to hold the boy as someone set the chair upright and climbed it to release the knot from the sheet around Elliot's neck.

All four carefully carried the boy's body into the main room and laid the still boy on his bed. The night nurse pushed another nurse away and leaned in to hear him rasp his way through several breaths.

Then she couldn't stand it anymore. She hugged the boy and bawled, sobbing like she hadn't done in years, not caring who was listening, except the boy.

As she began to recover, she heard something, a voice, a quiet voice that she didn't recognize at first, gravelly and wheezy. It sounded like it came from the chest that she was laying against.

That voice simply said, "Thanks."

It was the best sound she had heard all day.

We started our day as lazy as you could get. Neither of the boys was up before ten. I had my share of coffee for the week by then and was just about to go outside to do some garden maintenance when the littlest of my guys came shuffling into the room.

AJ's hair was getting longer again. I should have said something a week before but he looked so cute, especially at times like that. His hair was pushed up from each side to make a faux Mohican hairstyle. I suppose with the goop they put on it to keep up the spikes, it's bound to stick in whatever shape the way he lays on it. But he didn't know.

The weather had been warm so he had on a small t-shirt and his undies, the bedtime uniform for the summer, no doubt. He was yawning and scratching a cartoon character that was plastered across his hind end, then he ruffled his hair making it worse than it was, if that was possible.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," I said to him.

"Huh-uh," he said walking toward me. "All of me is sleepy. Can you get too much sleep? I tried to stay in bed cuz it's the first day of summer for us, but now I'm more tireder than ever."

"Yes, I think you can overdo any good thing, po-dunk. Umph!"

He fell into my lap as seemed to be his way when he came down and I was reading my paper. I was quick enough this time to get most of it out of the way before he sat on me.

"So, this is the start of summer vacation for you. Have you got any plans?"

"Huh? Have I got any? I didn't even know I was s'posed ta think of stuff ta do. Like what?"

We were still discovering what normal was and when something new came along it was like translating something from Chinese into Latin using a German dictionary. Still, it was ultimately a wonderful sensation to see him soak up anything new as we worked through it together.

Each incident made me so glad that he no longer had to worry about his next meal or his clothes or a roof over his head that didn't leak. And every time we went through another experience I felt richer than the last time just knowing he was safe and nourished and loved.

"Mornin'," came the grunt from the hallway, even before Jeffy made his way into the living room and plopped down on the sofa.

His hair was shorter and was in pretty good condition. He too wore the uniform but under a slightly longer t-shirt he was wearing his boxer briefs.

"Good morning to you too. Did you both rest well?"

"I did, Pop. I have ta get used to sleepin' in again," Jeffy said with laughter in his voice.

"Well, you both had a good long sleep. If you'd stayed up really late then maybe you'd sleep longer. I think when I was your age I stayed up until all hours, just because I could."

"What was there ta do in the middle of the night?" asked AJ.

"Nothing much. We had a TV back then and I'd watch it mostly. It was usually pretty boring."

"Hey, Pop, why don't we have a TV? You against 'em now or somethin'," asked my oldest.

"No, I just never watched it much since I've been on my own and when we were married, well, hmmm, we thought of other things to keep us occupied at night, if you must know."

"Yeah, like board games and stuff, huh?" added AJ.

"Um, well, no, not that kind of game."

"Ew-w-w-w!" shouted Jeffy, plugging his ears. "TMI, Pop. TMI."

"Oh-h-h. That kinda game. I'm sorry, Dad. You guys loved each other a ton, huh?"

"Several tons, son. Thank you though."

I hugged AJ to me and kissed his neck. He lay back for more but I was hungry and I was sure they would realize their hunger when they were fully awake. I picked up AJ by grabbing his thighs and carried him into the kitchen amid his squeals and quite a bit of squirming.

Setting him down in his chair, I started with juice and worked toward some pancakes from batter I'd made earlier.

When we visited Elliot there was no one at the nurse's desk to announce to Elliot that we were there. Jeffy took it upon himself to knock on Elliot's door and ask if we could come in. The pause before someone spoke, saying that we could come in, was a little disturbing. I remember hoping at the time that nothing else had happened while we were gone overnight. But then what could have possibly gone wrong?

Elliot seemed a little skittish and he sounded like his lunch had been sandpaper. He also kept looking over us from time to time to see if anyone might be walking in. It didn't seem like he was worried that someone would come in. He looked more like he wished someone would.

"So, Elliot, did you get to play any of the puzzles in the book?" asked AJ, grabbing up the puzzle book from the table next to Elliot's bed. He started to leaf through it.

"Oh my gosh! Um, AJ, uh no, I never did. Can I have that back please, please?" His voice kept rising in pitch and volume. He was getting pretty anxious about something.

"Oh, sure, Elliot. I didn't mean to be grabby."

AJ handed the book to Elliot but he let go before Elliot could get a grip on it and it fell to the floor at Jeffy's feet. Jeffy stooped down to pick up the book and when he stood up a page drifted to the floor.

Elliot was practically hanging over the bed, reaching for the page, ignoring the book that Jeffy held out to him.

"Give me that, please, give me that page there! Oh gosh." He was getting pretty wound up.

"Okay, Elliot; take it easy, pal. Here's the page that . . ." Jeffy stopped talking when he saw writing on what was the title page of the book.

It was just newsprint paper and only had the name of the publication and a few small pictures. But in the blank areas was some simple cursive, evidently written by Elliot.

"What's this about, Elliot? It says, you're sorry and are saying goodbye? How come . . .?"

"Just give it to me, Daniel!" shouted Elliot.

"Elliot, relax. He's just asking. If it's private, then . . ." I started to say but the door to his room opened and I stopped speaking.

"Sergeant and boys, we need to explain something," said the head nurse.

Elliot was practically in tears and ripped the page from Jeffy's hands when Jeffy turned toward the voice of the nurse.

"Elliot, it's okay. I'm going to tell them, but . . ."

"No, no, oh, please don't," he said sitting straight up in bed, his shoulder and ribs obviously still bothering him as he grimaced in pain.

"They're your friends, Elliot. They are more than that. They care for you very deeply. You told me that. They'll want to help you. I think you can use that support right now, don't you?"

By that time Elliot was in tears, sobbing. The nurse walked over to him and held him in her arms. She was a large women that seemed to know just what the boy needed right then. He pushed into her and cried for a few minutes.

I was very worried by that time and, looking at the boys, they were equally concerned. I had no idea what had gone on to cause such an outburst from an otherwise quiet boy. But when I turned toward AJ, I saw shining streaks down his cheeks. He turned toward me and walked into my arms. Jeffy turned to notice AJ and took one step to be in front of us.

"AJ, what's up, bro? Why are you cryin' too?" asked his concerned brother.

"Dad, it's what I woulda written if I had something to write on back then. If I coulda written anything, that's what I woulda said right before I walked up to Cryers Point."

"You mean when I almost let you off to go . . ." I started, the realization sweeping through me.

"Yeah! 'Xactly then."

"What are you guys saying?" asked Jeffy.

"Jeffy, it's a suicide note. Elliot was saying goodbye because he, well, he was going to . . ." I never got a chance to finish.

"NO!" cried Jeffy practically jumping on the bed. He tried to insinuate himself between the nurse and Elliot until the nurse released Elliot from their bond. "You can't leave us, Elliot! I won't let you!" cried Jeffy. I'd never seen him like that before.

"Okay, hush, hush, Daniel," said the nurse. "It's all behind us and it isn't going to happen, is it, Elliot?" She brushed at Jeffy's hair and he started to calm down.

"No. It was a stupid thing but I, I can't explain but I didn't want to hurt anymore."

The nurse told us of the sheet he used in the bathroom where he kicked the chair out from under us and how miraculous it was that a nurse happened to stay a few minutes late and happened to be standing in his room when she heard the chair fall.

It took us a bit to digest what we'd just heard. I couldn't believe how close we came to losing the boy. I also couldn't believe how fast my heart was beating when I realized how much it all meant to me.

"Elliot," said AJ, walking to the side of his bed, next to his brother, tears still streaming down his face, "We won't let anyone hurt you anymore. We want you to be well and get outta here," said the little one.

I walked over to the bed and lay my hand on Elliot's shoulder, not the side that was broken.

"Elliot, you don't have to hurt. You have people around you that love you for just who you are and look forward to being with you to see who you will become. Please let us help take this burden from you and talk to us about anything and everything that upsets you or in any way affects your life."

Elliot was still letting the tears pour down his eyes and I just couldn't help myself. I gently pulled him into a hug and he responded by hugging me back. Then Jeffy reached in to add his arms. Seconds later I felt someone pawing between Elliot and me and we both had to back up, while starting to laugh, as AJ pushed his way into the group hug. It couldn't have been better.

"So, it looks like your therapy has already begun, Elliot," said a male voice behind us.

We all pushed away and turned to see a man of about my age standing in the doorway, dressed casually in slacks and sport shirt.

"Dr. Schirmer!" announced Elliot. "Oh man! Guys, this is my shrink, I mean my doctor. The one I told you about that was helping. Am I glad to see you, doctor!"

"Well, you have someone named Sergeant McGill to thank for that, Elliot. He called to ask me to visit you and from what I've heard from your doctor and the nurses, it was none too soon. You've been through a lot, right?"

"I suppose you could say that," said Elliot blushing.

AJ as always, shy one that he is, walked right up to the doctor and said, "Doc, you gotta help him. He almost woulda jumped off Cryer's Point if some nurse hadn't found him in the bathroom!"

"Um, I, uh . . . Can anyone here translate that for me, and is this my new patient as well?" asked the confused doctor with a smile.

Jeffy and I, even the nurse, started to laugh at what we just heard. AJ turned to give us a scowl.

"You guys know what I mean. It's the same thing."

"Dr. Schirmer, Sergeant McGill here. Let me take you outside and explain a bit. I think that will help some."

I motioned for the door and he and I went to stand just outside in the hallway.

"Cecil, by the way, Sergeant," said the doctor.

"Tim, sir. I'm retired now and raising the two boys standing in there. The oldest, Jeffy, is a friend of Elliot's."

"And I take it, the young one has been through some pretty difficult experiences himself, rather parallel to what young Elliot has been through?"

"You nailed it. I didn't know until a few weeks later that I had almost taken AJ up to Cryers Point so he could step off the cliff. Fortunately for all of us, I didn't feel comfortable leaving him there and promised we could come back later if he still wanted to go up there. I had no idea why until he wrote about it in a school writing assignment, 'What I did Last Summer."

"Yes. You were fortunate. He seems like a pretty savvy guy now, and hardly shy about approaching people."

"He makes me proud on a daily basis, doctor. I couldn't be more pleased."

"And the other boy is your son or . . .?"

"No, not yet. Jeffy, well Daniel Jeffrey Connors was arrested for trying to shoot me but shot my friend and deputy sheriff, Dan Perkins when . . ."

"Oh, yes. I followed that. What an amazing turn of events for the boy. How is he doing now that he's free again and, I think I read somewhere, in the money, if you will?"

"Ha ha. Yes, he is in the money. He's also doing wonderfully. I love them both very much and we're working at making us a permanent family."

"Great! We need more people like you, Tim, to come forward and take a hand in protecting our youth. You are to be honored for that."

"Oh, doctor, you've got it all wrong. See, they have to put up with me as well. I didn't start out as a dad. I got ramrodded into it by a little pipsqueak and bowled over by another teen culprit that also stole my heart. I don't think either one has plans to give my heart back any time soon."

"Yes, it often works like that. I'm very happy for you, Tim. Now, let's go see my patient."

The boys and I left Elliot to renew his relationship with his doctor and we went down to the cafeteria for drinks. When we walked in and the lady behind the counter saw us she asked what kind of milkshakes we'd like this time. I guess we were building a reputation at the hospital.

As we sat to enjoy our drinks I could tell that both boys were still pretty upset over how close they had come to losing Elliot.

"Pop, it's something I don't get. I can't imagine doing anything like that. I think I'm too scared, chicken even."

"Jeffy, I almost did it. Okay, I almost went to the edge of that cliff and . . . well, I don't really know if I coulda done it or not, but my head was sure tellin' me that I'd stop hurtin' right away."

"Yeah, maybe, but what if it didn't kill ya? You'd be crippled and hurtin' even more."

AJ seemed to be thinking about how he was going to answer his brother.

"I guess I didn't think about it like that. All I could see was me in heaven."

"But it didn't happen, did it, guys?" I asked them. "And I'm certainly thankful that it didn't and even more thankful that we don't have to consider something like that again, right?"

"Right, Dad," said AJ, snuggling into my arm.

"I guess so, Pop, but I'm still worried that Elliot isn't past what AJ left behind on that cliff."

That got us all to thinking for a minute before AJ spoke up.

"It was you, Dad. You pulled all those bad feelings out of me and gave me a life worth living. I'm sure I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you."

"Pop, would you be willing to have a go at letting Elliot be a part of us and let him know what real living is all about? He'd snap outta anything he was feeling that wasn't good and, in no time flat, he'd be laughin' at all of us just like we do."

"Yeah, Dad, can we keep him?" asked AJ.

"He isn't a pet, squirt!" added Jeffy, laughing at his brother.

"You know what I mean. Can we, Dad?"

"I'd be willing but we'd need to go through Linda Sue and do whatever the doctors, especially Dr. Schirmer thinks is best for Elliot. If that all passes muster, we've got ourselves another inmate."

"Thanks, Pop!" shouted Jeffy practically coming over the table he was so excited.

But AJ was quiet. He scrunched up his nose and looked over at the end of the food line at what appeared to be the clean silverware, napkins and condiments.

"AJ," his brother asked, "Isn't it neat? We'll have another brother!"

"Yeah, but what does mustard have to do with it?"

End of Chapter Thirty-five

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