The Little Pipsqueak
© 2012-2016 Matthew Templar
Thanks again to RCN for his editing wizardry. It makes for a smoother read.
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.
We were at Jeb's enjoying another feast cooked up by Joshua. One might say it was simply pot roast, but it was done to perfection, cooked slowly while smothered in a rich gravy with lots of vegetables and potatoes as well. Now, I enjoy cooking and I haven't got a lot of complaints as long as I don't use cooked green pepper, but I haven't made pot roast like this.
"Joshua, that is about the best meal I've eaten in a long time," I told the young man.
"It's about my all-time favorite, Tim. Mm-m-m, good," agreed Jeb. "You boys likin' the meal young Joshua set before you?"
Mouths were too full to get a verbal reply but the grunts and moans and gravy-covered smiles said a mouthful.
"Then I guess they're a likin' it too, Joshua. Ya outdone yourself again."
Joshua smiled as his cheeks turned a bit red.
"My grandmother was a good cook. I would watch her and learned all I could, especially when I realized I was going to be away in college shortly after that. I think I was the only one that knew how to cook in college, well, more than microwave pizza."
I made the mistake of spooning a tiny bit of gravy to Lewis. He didn't take long to decide that he preferred that over his strained peas. He flailed his chubby little arms and carried on like the poor neglected boy he was.
"Good goin', Pop. You created a monster," Jeffy told me.
Lewis' sweet potatoes finally calmed down the boy. He was a bit too young for big people food, but try to explain that to a baby.
"So, Tim." Jeb leaned over to look to make sure the boys were out of hearing range before he proceeded. Both Joshua and I followed his eyes to where the three boys were cleaning up the dinner mess in the kitchen. Lewis was nodding off in his high chair and I realized that we'd have to either lay him down or take off for home so we could put him in his bed for the night. When Jeb was satisfied that he could speak without curious ears, he continued, "You decide on a vacation trip or something for you and our boys?"
There was just a brief feeling of relief on my part to know what had caused the mystery - why he didn't want the kids to hear.
"I didn't want them gettin' all excited to find out you didn't plan on doin' much in the way of travellin'."
"I appreciate that, Jeb. I really do. I'm waiting on a letter to confirm some dates, but it looks like we'll be doing a little road trip possibly as soon as next week."
"Good, good. May I ask what you have in mind?"
"I'll let you know when it's written in stone. I may need to do some adjusting if things don't work out on a couple of destinations. I'll suffice it to say that we aren't going far and I do believe it will include that big water park up north of here. Do you know the one I mean?"
"I do," said Joshua. "I went up there with some of the guys from the seminary. Actually, it was going over to it. Our seminary is a ways west of here, you know. Anyway, it was great fun, but really crowded."
"Good to know, Joshua, though I don't know what we can do about that. I'm sure the kids will like it."
"So, do you think you'll be takin' the littlest mite with you this time?"
"Oh, yes. I don't think any of my four boys will let me get away with leaving Lewis again. And really, I don't think I'd want to do it again. I really missed him."
"Ha! Sounds good, Tim. I'm sure whatever you plan will thrill the boys. Why, I'll bet it's a first for them all to go a travellin' just for the sake of fun. That is, not countin' the camping trip. That was sure special too."
"It sure was. And you know, part of the trip will include visiting Ray at ground zero, the hospital. The boys wouldn't go if I didn't include that leg of it."
"Ha, ha! That's our boys for you, isn't it," said Jeb, slapping his knee.
"What's us boys do now, Great Grampa?" asked AJ.
He looked like he'd been washed and semi-dried by the amount of water he had down his front. The other two boys followed him out. They were much drier by far.
"We were just talkin' about how much you three scallywags cared about your friend, Ray."
"Well, Great Grampa, he's kinda grown on us since everything that happened to us. He can be a real butt sometimes ... ,"
Then in perfect unison and after a quick glance at each other, both Elliot and Jeffy said, "But he's our butt!"
It was good to laugh, especially where our friend, Ray, was concerned, because we were all very concerned about a very sick young man.
When I checked on the boys that night, which means a hug and a forehead kiss, maybe a few words to ask how their day went, I shared a few minutes with AJ, listening to his day. But he had trouble staying alert.
"Night, Dad," he finally whispered, then stretched and pulled back into a fetal position, smiled and was gone.
When I walked into the boys' room I found something a bit unusual. Both boys were lying on their backs, staring straight up at the ceiling, which in and of itself wasn't all that uncommon. What caught my eye was the redness each boy had in his eyes. It had been several hours since they'd been swimming so it wasn't that. Plus, they were really quiet.
"Boys, is everything alright? You seem a little withdrawn or something."
"Pop, we were just talking when Jeffy got real quiet and I asked him what was up," offered Elliot, looking over at his brother.
"For some reason, Pop, I got ta thinkin' about home, what I had before my dad was killed by those guys, even my new stepfather. That led ta thinkin' about all the things that happened after my dad was gone and all the hurt and bad things."
"And when he finally got around to admitting what he was going through, lying next to me, I started to think about where I'd been," Elliot added. "It was no picnic."
I sat down on the edge of their bed, next to Jeffy.
"You both have been through your own nightmares. But I will have to say that if it hadn't been for all your pain and haunts from the people that should have given you nothing but love and devotion, I would never have gotten the family I, we have now. I'm sorry for all you went through, but I'm certainly not sorry for you coming into my life. You two and that little pipsqueak in the other room make me complete. Of course, now we can add Lewis to the clan."
By that time both boys were smiling. Jeffy used the sheet to wipe away any lingering tears.
"What would have happened to us if it hadn't been for you, Pop? Where would we be now?" asked Elliot.
"Yeah, well, I can imagine where I'd be. I'd be ... ."
"Wait," I said as I placed my finger on Jeffy's lips, silencing him. "It didn't end up like that, like something you may be able to imagine. It didn't happen. Instead, you're with me and all that is past history. Believe me, nothing can happen to you now. You're mine and I'm not letting you go."
"Hm-m-m, yeah," said Jeffy through a great smile.
"I agree too, Pop. Thank you. I love you so much," said Elliot.
"Me too, Pop. Me too."
The person approaching him was dressed all in blue. His eyes wouldn't focus right so it was hard to tell many details. His mind wasn't holding up its own, either. And his stomach felt like it could turn upside down at the drop of, well, anything food, especially its smell. It was morning and, while he'd really just awakened, he was pretty weak and out of it all the time, it seemed. It looked like whoever they were that they had something in their hand. He just couldn't place them. Oh. Of course. His nurse was carrying more juice. At least that's what Ray called the medicine they used on him that was given to him in those hanging bags.
He tried to tell himself that it didn't hurt much. It wasn't so much hurt as it was being so tired and weak and sometimes on the verge of throwing up. Luckily, he hadn't yet. He was sleeping a lot and when he was awake and tried to play a puzzle or read he couldn't concentrate all the time.
Time. Most of the time it seemed to go so slowly. Other times it seemed to speed by but that wasn't often and it was only an illusion. He just wanted Friday to come so another week would be over.
His attention was drawn to the door to his room swinging open.
"How are we feeling today, young man," asked a cheerful Dr. Malhotra as he approached the head of the bed.
"I don't know about you but ... ." Ray was going to be a smartass again but didn't have the strength. "Sorry. I'm okay I guess."
"Well, two more days and you'll have another session on the books and behind you. Is your dad coming in today?"
"Nothing's changed. We didn't talk about him not coming in so-o-o ..."
"Okay. I just wanted to discuss with you where we'll be going with your treatment next week. I'll wait until he's here so I don't have to say it twice and you won't have to worry about remembering it to tell him later."
As he was finishing, the door opened and in walked Raymond, Sr.
"Sorry. I was here. Since Ray was still asleep, I just went to get a coffee before I came to the room. Ray, I brought a donut if you'd ..."
"O-o-oh, Dad. Please don't mention food right now. Please?"
"Of course. I'll set it over on this side of the room."
After doing so, Ray's dad sat on the edge of the bed and held Ray's hand. They exchanged smiles and then turned toward Ray's oncologist.
"Mr. Carlton, I was just going to explain our plan of attack for next session. I think we'll try a different type of treatment. This one will be taking a pill."
"Really? Is that better? Will it be as yucky feeling as this stuff," asked Ray, pointing at the intravenous drip hanging near his bed.
"Actually, it won't be much different, I'm afraid," the doctor explained. "A lot depends on how you react, but, Ray, these medicines are killing cells in your body. Each session will leave you a little weaker because there's a war going on inside of you. So, your sessions may not feel much different at first, but they will take their toll on your body."
"Then what's the point of a different medicine if they're all the same?" asked Ray.
"You may react outwardly the same, but inside you, each kind of treatment accomplishes different results by what it attacks or, I should say, how it attacks it. Unfortunately, you probably won't know the difference."
"Great. Okay, I suppose."
"Oh, by the way, young man, soon you will have a roommate, I'm afraid," said the doctor.
"Really? I was kinda wondering why that bed wasn't being used. I guess it'll be okay."
"Well, it's always sad to have to admit another young person, going through what you've been through. Now, this is a young boy, only nine and he has the same kind of cancer you do. Unfortunately, they weren't able to diagnose it as soon as yours so he's in a bit more serious condition than you."
"Doctor, what does that mean?" asked Ray, Sr. "Will he ... ?"
"Nothing is ever certain with cancer, sir. We will do everything we can to help him, just as we have with Raymond, here. It will be a struggle. He has much to suffer through, but I believe we have a good hold on his situation. He's also been here quite a bit longer than you have, Raymond. With some faith and good medicine I believe we will see him through his ordeal."
"Wow. I hope so, Doc."
"So, Ray, can we count on you to bolster his spirits? He's a bit down right now. He's also very weak."
"Um, sure, I guess. I don't know what ta do but I'll try. Hey, how come, if ya know all that about him, he's just comin' here?"
"Oh, he just needs a change of scenery, Raymond. We need you to provide that and brighten his day a bit. Think you can help us?"
"I'll do my darndest, Doc. Count on me."
"I knew I could. Thank you," said Dr. Malhotra, smiling.
It was later that Ray, Sr. learned that Ray's new roommate was moving to his room because he'd lost his last roommate to the vicious disease that was trying its best to conquer both boys' lives. Just the sight of the room into which the young boy never returned was depressing enough to Ray's new roommate. So the change was called for.
"Tyler's in the hospital!" yelled AJ as he bounced around in front of me. "Dad, Linda Sue called and said Tyler went to the hospital. We gotta go help him! Come on, Dad!"
"AJ, calm down! Tell me what brought this all on. Linda Sue called ... ."
"Yeah. While you were in the bathroom. Elliot was talkin' to her and ... ."
"Pop," said Elliot as he walked in from the kitchen, "Linda Sue did call and AJ only heard my side of the conversation. It sounds all dramatic but ... ."
"Yeah, we gotta go!" cried AJ, pulling on my arm.
AJ went quiet and stiffened up when I shouted. His mouth went open. It was a look that brought back many memories, not good ones.
"AJ, we need to be calm and listen to Elliot. It might not be anything bad. But we won't find out if we don't stop and listen."
AJ was still looking at me as in a daze. I was beginning to feel horrible about yelling. That had long been past us and I thought it had been forgotten. I dropped to my knee and opened my arms. AJ was big enough that he towered over me. He walked the two steps to stand between my arms and I embraced him.
"Dad, I ... I'm sorry. I ... I didn't mean ta make ya yell at me."
"Oh, AJ, I don't know what to say. I'm sorry I felt I had to yell. I think this whole few weeks has made us all somewhat on edge with Ray being gone to his chemo sessions and us just waiting to hear anything. Now, let's listen to what Elliot can tell us about Tyler. Okay?"
We scooted over to the couch and Elliot stood in front of us. He was just about to start explaining when Jeffy came down the stairs with Lewis in his arms.
"Good grief, guys," Jeffy said, "What's goin' on down here? Lewis and me thought we were being raided or something."
"Well, we're about to find out what's going on, son. Elliot took a call from Linda Sue to say that Tyler was in the hospital."
"What? How? When? What happened?"
"Yeah, Elliot," said AJ.
"Okay. It's not what you think. That is, it's not bad. He isn't sick or something."
That provided us with some relief as Elliot paused to let that sink in, then continued.
"Okay, the deal is, Linda Sue called to say she was very happy that Tyler was going in to have the scars on his back removed. They'd been consulting with this famous surgeon and he said he could make it like Tyler never had any of that awful scarring. Isn't that great?"
"Oh, yeah. Plastic surgery. Neat," added Jeffy.
"Wow! That's so cool," agreed AJ. "But what are they doin' with the plastic?"
"What? Oh, the plastic, um, surgeon. AJ, I don't know why they call that kind of doctor a plastic surgeon."
"Yeah, I bet Tyler knows, or he will by the time he gets outta there."
"Maybe, but, guys, she said he was a cosmetic surgeon, not a plastic surgeon," said Elliot.
"Okay, now it's getting' a little weird. He's havin' makeup or something? I thought they were skinnin' him."
"Let's wait on that one, Jeffy. I'll call Linda Sue later. Elliot, when is all that taking place?"
"Tomorrow morning, Pop. I mean, they're there now, but the surgery will take place in the morning."
I decided to wait until the next morning to call Linda Sue, even as late as noon when Tyler may have been taken to recovery. I didn't think she needed any stress right then.
When we were able to go visit Tyler at their home as he recovered from the first procedure on his back, one of several procedures that were scheduled, one of the kids mentioned the difference between a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon.
"Yeah, Tyler, I said you'd know that stuff as soon as you found out you were getting' fixed up. I betted that you were that kinda curious, huh?" piped up AJ.
Tyler was spread out on their couch with a pillow under his chest.
"What would I know, AJ? Oh, the difference ... H-m-m-m. Well ...,"
He seemed to be thinking for a while. I could imagine his mind going to his library and pulling out a card that had the place where that piece of information was stored, then getting it so he could begin his answer.
"'Cosmetic: Relating to or making for beauty especially for the complexion, beautifying. Surgery: a branch of medicine concerned with diseases and conditions requiring or amenable to operative or manual procedures.'"
"Um, then how come there's plastic surgeons, Tyler," asked Jeffy.
"Well, let's see," said Tyler, leaning against his palm. "Oh, 'In the term plastic surgery, the adjective plastic implies sculpting or reshaping, which is derived from the Greek, um , well, let's just say plastike, "the art of modelling" of malleable flesh. This meaning in English is attested as early as 1598."
"Oh, so they're not plastic surgeons because they're just cleaning up the scars, not really changing you around or anything?" offered Elliot to clear things up.
"Um, oka-a-y, I guess?" said Tyler looking to his mom for help.
The two of us were quite enthralled with the conversation, especially listening to Tyler delving into his inner resource for the information needed, even if he didn't totally understand it.
"Tyler," said his proud mother, "You never fail to amaze me. You are quite right, as your cosmetic surgeon explained it to us. Elliot, your simple explanation was also very well thought out. You four boys are learning so much."
While a little pink showed through, Linda Sue's compliment gave us four very nice smiles.
Though lying on his stomach on their couch, Tyler looked okay and was just wearing a loose t-shirt and boxer shorts. No one asked and he didn't offer to expose his back, though Linda Sue mentioned that not enough healing had been done to reveal any real progress. Each procedure was scheduled a week or so apart. She was told it would take a month to heal properly once the procedures were completed, also that the rest of the procedures would use laser and not go as deeply or require as much healing as the first one did.
My funny little munchkin, Lewis, knew something was amiss and leaned into Tyler until the young man would sit up and hold him. Tyler was blessed with a big, sloppy wet kiss right on his nose. Then Lewis did the funniest thing. He looked at us all, then leaned back into Tyler and gave him a sweet, open-mouth kiss on his cheek. I think that was a first. We all laughed at that. My little boy was growing up.
One afternoon, a Friday if I remember right, I asked the two oldest boys to join me in the living room. Well, with my family, that meant everyone. When we were together, Elliot was holding Lewis and AJ had to find out what was happening. I think one of the nicest things about this meeting was that no one present had any qualms or misconceptions about something they'd done or hadn't done to deserve my wrath. They were all just curious.
It actually wasn't too hard to get their attention since I'd interrupted their chores for the day. Elliot had been vacuuming and Jeffy had been dusting, then folding a load of towels. It certainly wasn't hard work but, like I said, it didn't take much to turn their attention to something different.
"Boys, a little while ago, after your little talk with Linda Sue one day ..."
I paused for a minute for three boys to try to remember which day I was talking about and why talking to Linda Sue seemed important.
"If you remember," I went on, "We'd been pretty busy around here and I asked you to wait to do a particular something that you were both very eager to pursue."
Elliot's eyes started to get larger as though he were slowly remembering that conversation. Jeffy and AJ scrunched up their noses. They couldn't remember.
"So, I think it's time for you two to go into Motor Vehicles and take your test for your driving permits. What do you think?"
Of course, both boys were thrilled. AJ couldn't have cared less since it was obviously so far out of his reach.
While AJ took Lewis and played with him on the floor, the older boys and I came up with a plan and schedule that had them with their learner permits in hand not too far in the distant future. Then, of course, there were dozens of questions about the actual driver training part. After several minutes we'd decided to wait until after they actually had their permits to schedule the hair raising events. They also didn't know that it would have to wait until after our upcoming road trip.
"Hey," retorted Jeffy, after my snide remark about their expected prowess. "You might be surprised, ya know. We might turn out ta be really good drivers."
"I hope that's true."
"Pop, how hard can it be? Push the gas, turn the wheel, and get to where you're going."
"Simply put, yes," I answered with a shiver. "You also might want to include braking, watching in your mirrors, checking you speed and gauges."
"Whooey! Well, I guess that's why we're just learners, huh?" said Jeffy laughing.
"We don't have ta ride with 'em, do we?" asked AJ, looking up from grabbing Lewis as he tried to scoot away. "We got a long life ahead of us both and we need to be protected."
"Hey! Soon you'll be asking us to take you places and you'll be thrilled that there are two more drivers in your life that can chauffer you around," explained a smiling Elliot.
"Uh-huh. I'm just sure," said AJ, not too convinced, it would seem.
When the letter I had been waiting for arrived, I was able to plan our road trip completely. I was certainly looking forward to that leg of our trip.
End of Chapter Seventy.