Part 1 - 3 | Part 4 - 6 | Part 7 - 9 | Part 10 - Epilogue
Neither JD nor Chris had heard anything but the radio from Buck's room all night, they had both expected nightmares but had heard nothing. Chris woke early and pulling some relatively fresh clothes from his bag and a shaving kit, he headed into the bathroom. JD, woken by Chris moving around, went out to get the paper and the mail. By pure chance he looked up at the building as he came back in. The sight of Buck's legs dangling out of the window made in gasp, his stomach flipped and he rushed back inside.
"Chris!" he shouted as he ran to the bathroom door and began pounding on it. "Chris! Christ - come on!"
Eventually the door opened Chris, his hair wet, steam billowing behind him looked around it. "What?" he asked.
JD quickly and breathlessly told Chris what he had seen, the fear all to evident as he struggled to get the words out as fast as possible.
"Calm down JD," Chris counselled. "You say he's just sitting there?"
"Yes on the sill, legs hanging out."
"Right look, you go out and watch, don't call him or nothing, just watch. I'll get dressed I'll be out in a sec, okay?"
JD was relieved Chris seemed to know what to do, Chris was in command, like he always was. JD preferred it that way, that way he just had to do as he was told and not worry about thinking. He didn't want to think in this situation, better to be the one following orders, that way he felt he could be of some use to his friend.
"Sure Chris, hurry." JD turned and ran back outside.
Chris turned off the shower and stared dressing, heedless of the damp patches forming all over his clothes, where they touched still wet flesh. He didn't really believe Buck was the suicide type. He loved life so much, revelled in it, used every minute of it, tried everything it had to offer. Yes, life had turned on him more than once and slapped him back, but he always came out fighting-always! If the need to protect and care for others, especially those who, in his eyes at least, couldn't do it for themselves was one defining aspect of Buck Wilmington's personality then the other two were his love of life, and that he never, ever surrendered. He never gave up on anything or anyone. If a doctor gave a friend of Buck's only a 1% chance to live then to Buck's ears he might as well have said. If you stick by him he'll be fine. Besides, Buck never did anything by halves, if he were going to kill himself, jumping from a first floor window was a very risky proposition, as likely to maim or cripple as kill, why do that when you have a perfectly good loaded gun in the room?
+ + + + + + +
Buck had finally found a place of relative peace, not in his room, not sitting on the windowsill, but in his head. To start with he couldn't drown out the voice or switch off the images, but the biting cold had bored down into his limbs and the physical pain it brought was just enough to engage his conscious mind in a battle of wills with his subconscious. To sit and freeze or retreat into the warm. He let the battle rage until the cold passed from pain to just numbness. Then, in an attempt to keep the voice and the images back, he engaged his mind watching the minutia of life before him. He watched the papergirl as she weaved her bike up one side of the road and down the other, tying to anticipate where she would stop and for how long. He did the same for the postman as he pulled his little cart up the sidewalk, he counted how many letters each box received, when he was close enough Buck even tried to work out if the letters were bills, personal or junk. He watched the early risers on the shaded side of the street scraping the morning frost off their cars. He watched children from different buildings, emerging almost as one and running down to the intersection to catch the big yellow school bus; the flashing warning lights, red tail lights and clouds of condensing exhaust could just be seen peeking out beyond the corner of the deli at the end of his street. Every now and again he would watch a dog walker and try to work out if the two, owner and pooch, were suited and just who was in charge of who.
The voice and the images in his head retreated but did not go. It was like a TV in the corner of the room with the sound turned down to almost nothing. You know the pictures on the screen are there, you are aware it is making a noise but the detail isn't quite accessible unless you make the effort to look for it.
The cold which now penetrated deep within his large frame, lack of food and sleep were slowly but surly draining his strength, his mind began to drift, he was unable to concentrate on the street life before him. The drifting was nice, some how he felt warm, that TV in the corner faded back so that it seemed to be miles away. He slumped against the window frame unwilling to fight the blackness that invaded his vision at the edges. He didn't notice first Chris then JD come out into the road and look up at him, he did not respond to the pounding at the bedroom door.
+ + + + + + +
"Buck!" Chris called. "You okay pal? Come on, answer me! Buck!" He pounded on the door again.
Chris had managed to convince JD that Buck wasn't about to jump, but he might very well fall by the look of him. JD had told him where to find the spare key to the room, now he fumbled with the lock. Realising the key was still in the lock on the other side had went back to pounding and shouting. Then he suddenly stopped. What do I do if I do get in? If I go anywhere near him he may fall just trying to get away from me, he suddenly thought. Chris backed off - he then turned, and ran back downstairs to call Chin. Unfortunately, her answer machine was on at work and her cell was also on message mode. He couldn't think who else to call, short of dialling 911, and that was a risky proposition. The fewer people involved the better all round. Finally he called the one person who might be able to help and whom he trusted.
"Yeah? What's up? How's Buck?"
"I need a favour pal."
While he waited, Chris he worked the key out of the lock and used the spare key to unlock the door although he didn't open it yet. Quickly he checked with JD that Buck's condition hadn't changed. He was still slumped against the window frame still staring down the street. The sun had now reached the building and that, at least, was a good thing. Buck was vaguely aware that his feet were getting warmer and that there had been a voice shouting his name but that it had now gone. For Buck, time had ceased, for his two worried friends it seemed to have stretched into eternity as they waited for help.
The door of the bedroom opened quietly.
"Buck can I come in?" she called.
He didn't respond. So she walked in making sure she was heard. She walked around to stand against the wall in line with the window, all the time calling his name.
"Buck honey, can you hear me?" Nettie Wells asked softly.
Her voice was not particularly soft or feminine but it was a female voice and it finally got a response. His head turned in to look at her.
"Buck, why don't you come in so we can close the window, the draft is playing merry hell with my sciatica." She was counting on his chivalry.
His looked at her for a long time, in truth she wasn't sure he was seeing her, but he did seem to be responding to her voice. Slowly, she advanced and placed her hand over his, alarmed that it was icy cold.
"Come on, lets get you inside." She couldn't have pulled him in against his will, but he did come, like an over tired child too tired to argue, just doing what ever he's told.
He slowly raised one leg to bring it over the sill to rest it on the floor; he looked up at the elderly woman. She gave him a small smile and squeezed his hand gently. He responded by pulling his other leg in. Finally he was on his feet in the room; he swayed slightly as she led him over to the bed. When she finally had him standing beside the bed he didn't seem to know what was required, so whilst still holding one hand, she placed the other on his shoulder and pressed down firmly. He sat on the bed, with more gentle pressure she managed to get him to lie down; finally she lifted his legs onto the bed, and pulled up the covers. She turned to leave his side to find more covers, and tell Chris and JD what was going on. But as she tried to leave his long fingers, until now held passively by her, tightened around her much smaller hand.
"I have to go just for a short time, I promise I will come back," she assured gently unpeeling his fingers.
The look of near panic that came across his face almost broke her resolve but she was determined. Chris had got her number from Vin and called saying he needed her help but he couldn't explain why on the phone. She could hear the urgency in his voice and agreed to come over to Buck and JD's place instantly. Once there, she saw JD standing outside in the street, looking up at his own apartment. Following his gaze, she gasped at the sight that greeted her. Encouraged by JD, she had hurried in to be met by Chris, who told her only that Buck had suffered a terrible trauma and wasn't responding to men.
Nettie quickly located a couple of spare blankets to add to the bedclothes, closed and locked the window pocketing the key, and drew the drapes before slipping out of the room.
+ + + + + + +
Buck had heard Nettie, although he hadn't immediately identified the female voice as that of the retired social worker. As well as her voice he noticed her scent, lavender and a no-nonsense shampoo. Her voice was safe and soothing, even though he was losing the peace in his head as he tried to understand what she was saying, it felt safe so he did as she asked. Only when he was in the bed did he begin to realise how cold he was, and with that realisation the memories he had so successfully pushed away started to return, and now other older memories joined them. The two sets of images and voices intermingled in his still cold-fogged brain. He didn't want Nettie to go, he didn't want to be alone with the memories. But she had promised to come back quickly so he let her lift his hand from hers and watched her leave.
+ + + + + + + +
Chris and JD had waited anxiously for her report. Pacing at the bottom of the stairs, both stopped instantly they heard the door at the top of the stairs open. Nettie's slight frame descended to them.
"Do you have hot water bottle son?" she asked JD.
Chris thought the chances of there being such a sensible, homely object in the CDC was remote at best. So was more than a little surprised when JD said:
"Sure, I'll go fill it." JD turned and all but ran to the kitchen, glad to have something practical to do.
"I'm guessing he hasn't eaten for a while?" she asked Chris, who shook his head.
Nettie just sighed. "Men!" she breathed. "I'm gonna try and get him to sleep some but I expect you to have some soup around later, make sure its something he likes, okay?"
"Yes ma'am, I'll take care of it. Is Buck okay?" Chris asked, seeing JD in the kitchen doorway, having put the water on to heat.
"No, I think it's fairly clear to all of us he's not, but one thing at a time, right now he's cold and tired and scared, let me deal with that first."
+ + + + + + + +
When she came back into the bedroom, he was just as she'd left him, watching the door, he reminded her of a dog who's owner had just left the room, just lying there watching the closed door waiting for their return. She slipped the hot water bottle under the covers so that his feet, which felt like blocks of ice to her, rested on it. To her total amazement the bottle was fairly new and encased in a soft fur fabric case in the form of a teddy bear, JD had sheepishly admitted that Casey gave it to him last Valentines Day.
"Now I bet that feels good don't it? I want you to sleep some if you can, I'll be here all the time and when you wake up you're going to have something to eat, alright?" She didn't really expect any response from him, but to her surprise he said, "thank you Nettie," in a soft voice that was close to a whisper, but the words were clear, with no hesitation.
"No thanks needed son, happy to do it, you close them eyes now and relax."
He did as she instructed, and after only a short time she detected the slow, deep breathing that indicated he had indeed slipped into a genuine deep sleep. Nettie wasn't to know it, but what was different was that he lay on his side not quite in a foetal position, but certainly he was in a curled position; when normally he would lie on his back, sprawled out using all of the bed. She explored the books under the bedside table, among the thrillers and adventure stories she found a history of American law enforcement, and settled down to read. After a couple of hours there was a soft knock at the door, JD bringing coffee and cookies. Buck continued to sleep deeply and apparently dreamlessly. An hour later he started to move some, the hot water bottle, now cold, slipped out from under the covers to fall on the floor. She noted small twitches, he mumbled, a frown appeared on his brow, he began to whimper. Holding the hot water bottle she had retrieved she leaned over to whisper to him.
"Hush now son, what ever it is it can't hurt you now, youre safe at home now, you're with friends." She saw the frown fade and, thinking it was her words that had helped, she sat back only to find his hand clamped over the soft fur fabric of the hot water bottle cover on her lap.
"This? You want this?"
His fingers curled more over the bottle. She carefully passed it over to him and watched as, without waking, he hugged it to his chest. Little moans and sounds marked the coming and going of dreams or nightmares, it was impossible to tell which, but all the time he clung on to the soft fur covered bottle. After about three more hours, in which time she had eaten some sandwiches, drunk some tea and learned all there was to know about the setting up of the US Marshall service, Nettie noticed the tell-tale signs of a man about to wake up.
"Hello, sleepy head," she said softly, as finally, confused and disorientated eyes fixed on her. "I came over this morning, remember?"
"Kinda," he admitted, his voice - normally smooth like honey, was raspy and dry.
Buck looked down at the object he was still clutching to his chest, trying to work out why it was there.
"JD's hot water bottle that Casey gave him," she supplied. "You got yerself half froze last night." He nodded, still not releasing the bottle. "Think you're up to taking a shower?" He nodded again, but he still hadn't let go of the hot water bottle. "Come on then, you haul yer carcass out'a bed an' when you're done I'll have some food for you."
His mouth opened to speak.
"I don't want to hear it, you are going to eat, you understand me son?"
"Yes ma'am," he replied pulling himself upright and somewhat reluctantly released the fur-covered bottle. He had to steady himself on the wall as a wave of dizziness hit him.
"Ya see! Thats what comes of not eating, shower now!" She pointed him toward the bathroom and watched him critically as he all but shuffled in there.
Buck had to admit she was probably right about the eating, the hot water hit his skin like daggers, so bad he almost stepped back out. But, little by little, his body adapted and it stopped being painful and became bearable, and then quite pleasant. He tried to sort out the jumble of memories and images he had of the night before. When he finally had it all straight in his head he thought about the window, how calming it had been to just sit and watch, to let the cold creep in and claim him, forcing the memories back. And it scared him. Just how close had he come to allowing himself to slip away, if no one had come would he have just sat there until until what? Until he passed out and fell? Until he froze to death? Until his mind shut down forever? Would he have done what he had always maintained he would never do, namely give up? Buck Wilmington never gave up, that was taken as gospel by all that knew him. No! Buck never gave up, he never surrendered, he never said die, never! Not when he faced taunts and bullies at school, not confronting police corruption, not when his best friend was bent on self destruction (even though he was grieving himself), and not when he was tortured, brutalised and shamed! He never gave up, not even when he had been...no don't go there! Quickly he shut that particular memory off. That was a different issue, wasn't it?
+ + + + + + +
He looked at his face in the mirror as he shaved. Not good, he looked haunted, drawn, scared and right there he decided to change. He would not let that bastard get to him. He had killed him, he was gone, he wouldn't let him win. Somehow a pile of fresh clothes had appeared on the floor of the bathroom. He had a lot to thank Nettie for he realised, and not just clothes.
"My, thats a better picture," the wily old woman commented as he emerged.
Responding with a rather sheepish smile his eyes lit upon the mug of steaming tomato soup, fresh toast and a tall glass of orange juice sitting on the bedside table.
"Sit, eat," she stated firmly.
Chris and JD waited nervously downstairs. Nettie had said he was physically okay, but that wasn't enough. She had said it would take some time but that didn't help them wait. When the phone rang they both jumped.
"Hello?" Chris answered tentatively. "Yes Doctor no he seems to be alright at the moment a good friend of ours, Nettie Wells is with him Yes Yes we will do that Yes I will, goodbye Doctor."
JD waited for an explanation.
"The Doc is on duty at the hospital, she will come if we need her, she said to watch for signs of complications and let us know how he's doing," he informed the younger man.
Nettie used the bathroom, made the bed and tidied up the room while Buck ate. He was surprised how hungry he was and finished the food quickly. When he was done, he stood up and crossed the room to look out of the window, the street below was now busy with life.
"Penny for them?" Nettie said asked quietly coming to his side.
"Reckon I got more than a penny's worth ma'am, wouldn't even know where to start."
"You know I don't know what happened, Chris hasn't told me anything, so why don't you start from the beginning."
And he did, in all its gruesome detail. It wasn't the kind of subject he would normally talk about with a lady, but in all her years as a social worker she had heard just about everything and he knew it. Finally he came to the end, the night that had just passed. She asked him what help he was getting, what help he had received the first time. He told her none, but she could see and hear fear that the mere mention of therapy produced.
"I don't understand why I did that, why did I give up? I'm not like that, I don't give up I just don't!" He was standing at the window his forehead resting on the glass. "Look at it, life - it goes on, who knows what any of them have been through, and they're still out there, shopping, working, raising their kids, walking the dog, they're not sitting on a windowsill waiting to freeze to death."
"I'm not an expert Buck, I don't know what made you do that, I'm guessing that you needed relief, a rest, we can't always control our mind, can't turn it off when we need to, and if we sleep we can't control our dreams. But I want to hear it all, the rest of it."
He stood up tall and looked down at her frowning. "Told you all I can remember, believe me if I could remember how I screwed up I would tell you, I'm not too proud to admit my mistakes!"
"I know that, I'm talking about what happened before Ross, what made you so scared of psychologists and therapists," Nettie fixed him with her steely eyes. "No one can be expected to deal with this kind of thing without help, but you're too scared to get the help you need. Now I ain't got you pegged as a coward Buck Wilmington, so whatever it is, it goes very deep."
Buck just shook his head and looked away.
"Alright, I'll tell you what I know." She crossed the room to the bed and picked up the now cold hot water bottle from the floor under the bed. She carried it back to the window. "I know that this " she held up the bottle in its soft fur bear shaped cover, "or something like it, has something to do with it. I know it happened a long time ago, I know someone told you a lie, a lie they tried to make you believe and they separated you from your mother?" She was clearly not so sure about the last bit.
For a while Wilmington did nothing, then he turned his head to look at her. He didn't say anything, but his body language asked her how she knew.
"You talk in your sleep," she explained sympathetically. "Did I make the right deductions?" He nodded. "Gonna tell me the whole story, you never know it might help."
He shrugged. "I guess, but just you not not anyone else not even Chris," he implored.
"Son, telling me is like telling a priest," she assured.
"Mow" he supplied.
"He was a toy cat, I couldn't say cat when I was little, but I would say 'mow' whenever I saw one. He wasn't even mine, Mom was in the supermarket and I was in the cart next to this other cart with this other kid in it, the other kid must have thrown Mow out an someone gave him back to me."
"And when you were separated you had Mow with you?"
He went back to looking out of the window, taking comfort in the normality of everyday life. He told her about his mother, about what she had done for a living, about how they were always on the move, never had a proper home until he was fourteen, and how much he was loved, cared for, how he wouldn't have swapped his life for anything. Yes, he had been bullied when he was younger, yes he had been shunned on the odd occasion, but he loved his mom, and he loved the education into the mysteries of women he had received.
"If it was that perfect we wouldn't be talking now. Would we?" she interjected.
"I was ten, we were in Texas, just outside Port Arthur. I was in school and we had to do this test, I guess it was an IQ test. It was pretty easy. The next day I had to go to the principals office, that wasn't nothing new I was always in trouble "
Nettie suppressed a smile; she could just see a ten-year-old Wilmington perpetually standing outside the principal's office.
"But not that day, I had to take another test, don't know why, it was just as easy."
"Buck, were you a good student?" she asked because he didn't have a reputation as someone who would find an IQ test easy.
"Not so much, it was hard when I kept moving schools. I kept missing stuff, but I got by."
Nettie quickly deducted that the ten year old Buck had performed much better on his IQ test than his teachers had expected, he had probably been suspected of cheating, thus the make up test in the principals office. Buck continued.
"I had to go to the principals office again a few days later. The principal and this other teacher I'd never seen before started to ask me all these questions, about my other schools, but I didn't know much. I thought that was it, the end, I went back to class, 'cept the teacher was always on my back, telling me I could do better, what I gave her wasn't good enough. I guess I was under achieving and they wanted me to do better - can't blame 'em for that."
He had been looking at her, now he turned back to look out of the window.
"I don't know if it had anything to do with what happened next but that was the first time any teacher ever noticed me, unless I was in trouble."
There he stopped, unwilling or unable to continue.
"So what happened"? Nettie prompted.
"Oh God! Do you know how long I've been trying to forget that day? I've done some scary stuff, you know?" He looked at her. Nettie nodded to show she understood. "I mean I used to be on the bomb squad, I've faced angry mobs, I've stood in front of a scared kid with an automatic and talked them down, I've sat in intensive care for days on end waiting for the kid to wake up, but nothing comes close to that day "
"Go on don't stop, you were ten, you were in Texas."
He closed his eyes as he was transported back to the scariest day of his life
+ + + + + + +
"RUN BABY, RUN GET OUT SAFE PLACE!" The wild shouts from the next room woke him as he slept in the adjoining motel room. Still half-asleep and wearing nothing but a pair of short cotton pyjama bottoms and clutching a small toy cat, he clambered out of the window. Instantly two men in dark suits grabbed him.
"Get off me!" he shouted, squirming in their grasp; he was tall and strong for his age. "Let me go, let me go!"
He managed to land more than one punch, not to mention several kicks and bites, but against two grown men he had no chance. Still screaming at the men to let him go, and for his mother, the boy was half dragged and half carried to a waiting car.
"Son," one of the men spoke for the first time. "You're safe now, no one's going to hurt you, just calm down."
"Are you going to take me back to Ma?" Buck asked, latching onto a desperate hope they really weren't going to hurt him.
The men just looked at him pityingly. "No son we're taking you to the hospital, you'll be safe there, they'll help you."
"I ain't sick, take me back to Ma, take me back!" he pleaded desperately.
But they didn't. They drove him to the hospital where a doctor and three nurses attempted to examine him. He did not co-operate. Screaming abuse, obscenities and pleas, kicking, punching and biting he fought like a tiger. Totally unable to understand what was going on or why, he just wanted to escape. Eventually the doctor injected the boy with a heavy sedative, leaving him aware what was going on but unable to stop it or even speak.
When he was fully aware again, he found himself in a hospital room; there were bright cartoon characters on the wall and sunlight streamed in through the window. Sitting up he looked around then getting down he looked out of the window. In the distance he could see the town centre and the tall water tower shimmering in the heat haze. He was still dressed in just his flimsy pyjama bottoms and no shoes, but he picked up his toy cat and went to the door. Outside, he could see an open area with hospital beds on each side, some with children in them; at the end was a pair of big double doors and a large desk area. The big doors were his goal. They had to be the way out. Slipping out of the room he looked around for adults and seeing them all occupied, he began to walk toward the door. The handle was set high on the door where young hands couldn't reach it but young Buck stretched out his hand and grasped the handle easily, no one tried to stop him and only opening the door as far as he needed to, he squeezed through the gap and out.
Once outside the paediatric department he found himself in a busy hospital corridor. Sticking to the wall, he began to edge toward an exit sign he could see. Almost made it too. Just as he was at the door to the stairs a hand landed on his shoulder.
"Now son, where are you off to dressed like that?" a large black man asked.
The boy flinched and tried to run but the man was too strong. Once again instinct took over and the boy began to fight to get free.
"Le' me go! Le' me go!" he shouted all the time squirming and kicking to get free.
It was to no avail - the man picked up his painful burden and headed back to the paediatric department at the far end of the corridor. He was almost there when three nurses came running out.
"Oh my God you found him, oh thank God!" the older nurse breathed.
"Buck honey, where were you going?" she asked him as the man put him down, for a moment he was still and the man relaxed his grip.
"I'm going home, and you can't stop me!" With that he was around his captors and down the corridor.
He sprinted down the corridor dodging people and staff, some of whom, responding to shouts from behind, tried to grab him. But Buck Wilmington was a fit, active boy who had played his share of football and he evaded everyone. This time he made it to the door and started to descend the stairs at a ferocious speed. What he hadn't counted on was the telephone. As he emerged at the first floor two orderlies grabbed him. This time there would be no escape.
When they got back to his room the nurses never left him alone. That night he refused to eat, or talk unless it was to shout at them. He simply refused to co-operate in any way. At every opportunity he tried to escape, when they left him in his room with the door locked he tried to jemmy the door and when that didn't work he threw a chair at the internal window. Whenever a nurse or doctor came to the room he would try to slip out. Unable to mount a watch over him at night the doctor ordered that he be placed in restraints rather than put more sedative drugs into his system. For the first time all that day he cried as his wrists were buckled into the padded leather cuffs attached to the guardrail of the bed. He had struggled, he had pleaded, he had promised not to run away but they wouldn't listen. Mow was sitting on the locker beside the bed. He couldn't reach him and his pride wouldn't let him ask for him. Big boys don't really need toys after all. For a while in the dim glow of the night-light he tried to get loose, but it was no good. Finally exhausted by everything that had gone on in that one terrifying day, he fell asleep.
The nurse came in to check on him. Relived that he was finally asleep she could, now he was still, now his open handsome face was no longer scowling, now he was no longer hurling physical and verbal abuse at them, see that young Buck was just a ten year old boy like any other ten year old. She found it hard to believe what the doctor was saying about him. Still Professor Smith was an expert so she had to assume he knew what he was doing. Certainly Buck was not acting like any child she had ever looked after. His language, for one, was distinctly adult with a capital A! And she had never seen a child so able to stand up to and defy authority for so long, or so willing to lash out physically.
In the days and weeks that followed a game of cat and mouse developed between the whole paediatric department of County General and one ten year old. The professor would interview Buck, but he couldn't make him say what he wanted Buck to say. The staff would try to stop him from running away. He would behave for a while, he made all the female staff love him and feel sorry for him and mother him, once their guard was down he would find an opening and try to exploit it. More than once he got past the door, once he got to the reception area. The doctor started to treat him with tranquillisers, but he remained defiant. If he got very frustrated he would lash out, then the restraints were used. He rarely cried unless he was being restrained and at night, alone. And not once did he ever stop asking them to take him back to his mother, any new member of staff was instantly accosted, if anyone talked to him that was all he asked them.
That night was no different. The senior nurse came into his room.
"Hi Buck, how are we tonight?"
The lanky, dark haired boy just sat on the bed cross-legged, scowling at her.
"Come on honey, we only want to help, it's been a long time now couldn't you just try to be nice?"
"No!" came the emphatic response from the determined boy.
"You all lie all the time."
"Who lies to you?"
"All of you, you don't want to help- it's not true - you just don't want me to see my Ma and I hate all of you!"
The nurse sighed, this was very familiar, and no matter what they tried to do he just wouldn't co-operate. In all her twenty-three years as nurse and mother she had never come across such a stubborn and belligerent child.
"Buckley, you know that isn't true we want "
"My name is Buck!" he ground out. "Not Buckley, or Bucklin or Buckingham or any of the other stupid ones you keep trying. And you don't want what's best for me coz that would be my Ma. I want my Ma!" Tears welled up in his deep blue eyes, fists already as big as many men's clutched the small toy kitten in his lap. "Please I just want Ma," he pleaded.
She didn't like it when he cried, he didn't do it often when someone was there, although all the nurses knew he cried at night, when he was alone, before the sedation took over. Professor Smith was in charge of his case, he was researching a book on child abuse and Buck was one of his case studies. The Professor was an expert in his field and if he said the boy needed help, it was true. If he said the child's denial was just a symptom of a very damaged and troubled boy crying out to them to help him - save him - then she believed him. Steeling herself she picked up the hypodermic and the swab and approached the bed.
"Nooooo!" he wailed. "Please don't, I'll be good, I won't try to run away I promise," he pleaded shrinking back from her.
"You know I have to do what the doctor said, he knows what's best for you, come on honey on your side."
She reached out to push his pyjama bottoms past his hip so she could give him the shot. Instantly he swatted her hand away, hard, it hurt; he was big for his age. Buck couldn't help it - next he kicked her other hand, sending the needle flying. A look of terror then swept over his pale features, he sat there staring at her in wild-eyed fear.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he pleaded. "Please I'll be good." Instantly he lay down on his side and pushed the thin cotton down to reveal his hip. "See I can be good don't put the straps on, please." Even as he lay there, he could see the hated leather restraints hanging from the bedside. Pure, naked fear evident in every fibre of his being as he lay there trembling.
She should restrain him, standing orders were if he got violent he was to be restrained, but she was still a mother as well as a nurse and she just couldn't turn away from such fear.
"You know I should, but "
"Please, I'm sorry, you can call me Buckley I don't mind, please don't, I'll be good, please!" At that point he would have said almost anything not to be strapped into the bed for the night.
"Very well, wait there I have to get a new needle; last chance Buck, you play up when I get back and I will use the restraints. You understand me?"
When she returned he hadn't moved but he wouldn't look at her or speak. He just lay there is head buried in the pillow his toy cat clutched to his chest. He made no sign he felt the needle go in.
"I know you hate us and think we don't care," she whispered in his ear. "But we do, we only want to help I promise, you just have to learn to trust us." He didn't respond he just lay still.
She stood at the end of the bed and made a note on his chart, as she scanned the chart something caught her eye and she groaned inwardly. In four days it would be their little hellcat's eleventh birthday. Then she remembered something, a letter had come addressed to Buck, it had been sent to the hospital and the internal post had located him and given it to the nurse's station. She had intended to give it to the professor, but then she remembered something about it being federal offence to impede the mail. Quickly before the medication took hold she ran and fetched the envelope.
"Here dear, this letter came for you."
A tear-streaked face turned to her, eyes as dark as sapphires searched her face for deceit but found none. God, he's gonna break some hearts when he's older she said to herself, looking at his already handsome face.
"For me?" a voice that was uncharacteristically small and meek asked.
"Yes for you, I think it's for Monday, your birthday, but you can open it now."
He pushed himself up; already his eyes were heavy and his movements sluggish. Despite this he opened the envelope to reveal a birthday card with a photo of a horse on the front, inside it read.
To my darling son, my life, my light, my protector, my salvation, my everything.
You are in my heart every second of every hour of everyday and one day we will be together.
I love you.
The rest of the right hand side of the card was full of the hugs and kisses. On the left was the impression of a pair of lipstick coated lips and a small drawing of a bucking bronco, stars and a moon and a water tower.
Buck looked up at the nurse and smiled, then he pressed the lipstick mark to his cheek and lay down to sleep, sandwiching the card between him and the pillow. The nurse watched as the drug took hold and he slipped in a dreamless sleep from which he would not wake until morning, then the game would begin again. He would try to run away and the Professor would try and break down the wall he believed Buck had put up. But in the morning it was not to be. For the first time ever, he washed and changed, without protest. He didn't complain about the food, he didn't spend his time watching the door looking for a chance to run, he was a normal, quiet boy. With Mow in one hand and his card in his pocket, he walked quietly with the large male nurse who usually took him to see Smith. He held his hand rather than the man holding his wrist. When he got to the office, he said goodbye and good morning to the professor.
He still didn't say the things the man wanted him to say - there were some things that were just wrong, plain wrong and lying about his mom was one of them, so no matter what, he just wouldn't do it. But for the first time he talked about his mom to the doctor and this at least seem to make him less angry.
"What's that?" the professor asked pointing at Buck's pocket.
"'S mine!" The old belligerence was back.
"I understand but can I see it? Would you show it to me?"
Buck reluctantly withdrew the card. He knew if he didn't the man would just take it from him, and showed it to the doctor never once letting go of it.
"It's your birthday on Monday isn't it?" the man asked some what condescendingly.
"Yeah, it's my card you can't have it, it's mine." Buck wanted him to understand just whose the precious thing was.
"I know." The professor took in the message and the lips. "Tell me about the drawing."
For the first time in three long weeks Smith saw the boy smile. "Thats me," he explained. "See it's a BUCKing bronco that's how I got m' name coz I used to kick Ma so much when I was inside her, and I was born at night."
"And the water tower?"
"Er well see, I was born right under a water tower, so this is my birthday picture, Ma puts it on all my cards," he explained with pride.
He had of course behaved before, and those who knew him were not fooled, but this was different, before he had still been sullen, and mostly silent with the professor and tried to get out of being sedated at night. Now he was chatty with Smith and come nighttime he lay on the bed and made no fuss about his nightly injection. This behaviour continued for the next three days. Smith felt this new co-operation needed some reward. So on the third night, Sunday, the eve of his birthday, Smith came into his room. As usual, Buck sat cross-legged on the bed, watching the other children beyond the window, the staff, the doors. He wasn't allowed to play with the other children because when he did he just used it as an excuse to get out.
"Buck we I have noticed how well you have been behaving and so I don't think you need a jab tonight," he announced. "Instead you can just drink this medicine."
Buck watched the nurse bring him a small cup with a pink liquid in it. Taking the cup he downed the contents in one go.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
About ten minuets later he walked into the bathroom and quickly and efficiently made himself vomit. He had seen friends of his mother do it often enough. Back in bed he pretended to sleep, his mother's card against his cheek as it had been every night, ever since he was given it. It wasn't easy to stay awake until it was nearly three in the morning. He tried to remember all his birthday presents and Christmas presents from as far back as he could remember, then he started playing every episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea he could remember in his head. Finally, it was as late as he had ever been awake, and he climbed of the bed. The main reason he was sedated at night was that the fire regulations would not allow them to lock the room at night. Easing open the door, he peeked out. The duty nurse was at the desk; he needed her to be distracted. Sneaking around on the floor he scooted under the beds to the one furthest from the desk. The girl in the bed was called Heather, he didn't know what was wrong with her but she liked him and sat next to him when he was being co-operative enough to be allowed to eat with the other kids.
"Heather," he whispered urgently. "Come on wake up, Heather!"
"Buck is that you, what's up?" the girl asked waking suddenly.
"I'm getting out but I need you to distract the nurse, can you pretend to have a nightmare for me?" He gave her his best smile, the real one - not the one he gave Smith.
"Okay, I guess, now?"
As Heather screamed dramatically, Buck slipped out. In one of his unsuccessful bids for freedom he had spotted a way out, he hoped. Instead of heading down to the lifts and the doors, he headed toward the other end of the corridor to where he had seen the dirty linen taken. Inside the small room marked 'Service' he found a laundry shoot. And adult would have worried about the drop, most adults wouldn't have fitted, but desperate ten-year-old boys are very thin and don't think about danger. When he arrived in the laundry he was a little bruised and disorientated, but basically okay. Suddenly aware the laundry wasn't empty, he snuck out unseen by the bored workers. He had been given clothes to wear in hospital but not shoes, only slippers. The loose slippers were no good for running, so he pulled them off and set out to meet his mom.
It looked close, he could see his goal but it took a long time to get to it, dawn was coming up as he found his way finally to the water tower, the safe place. Whenever they came to a new town his mom would choose a 'safe place' some central point he could find easily in case he ever got lost or separated from her. The base of the tower was in deep shadow.
"Ma!" he called. "Please Ma be here!"
"Baby! Oh my God baby, come here." She stood up from the shadow of one pillar and ran toward him.
Mother and son embraced, holding each other so tightly no power on earth could have separated them at that moment.
+ + + + + + +
For the first time a huge smile appeared on his previously haggard and pinched features. The memory of that reunion had seen him through more than one dark time. When he had felt himself losing control at Sarah and Adam's funeral, he had forced the memory of that night to the front of his mind. He had needed to be strong for Chris, and he used one of the most joyful events in his life to keep control of his own grief.
"She, or one of her friends had been there every day 24-7, since they took me. We ran to the bus stop, got our bags out of a locker and got the first bus out of the state. Mom told me later I had been in the hospital for three weeks."
Nettie could just imagine a ten-year-old Buck, probably pre pubescent, looking more like twelve or thirteen, but inside just a terrified ten-year-old with his toy cat; fighting like a tiger until some unscrupulous doctor sedated him. She seethed inside at what some of her so-called colleagues could do to children. She'd heard stories like Buck's before, thankfully rarely.
"What did he try to make you say?" she asked, knowing she already knew and wishing she was wrong.
"They - he - tried to say Mom had let people men you know?"
"He thought you had been abused?"
"Yeah, it wasn't true! God knows why he thought it. Maybe they just found out about Mom and assumed. Or I said something I mean looking back I knew stuff other kids didn't know about sex I mean. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe when I did so well in the test I made them look at me too closely I don't know."
So you've been deliberately underachieving ever since Nettie speculated silently. And the more you fought and shouted and swore and struggled the more they believed their theory.
"Buck, I may not know the whole story, but what ever happened was not your fault."
"Ma was arrested and questioned, but they had no evidence unless I confessed. When she went to court to try to get me back she got nowhere. She was told that even if no charges were brought, she wouldn't get me back - unfit mother, thats what they called her! Mom was the best mom in the world, a lot better than some bible thumping, kid thumping, straight laced do- gooders I've come across."
"On that point I have to agree with you," Nettie admitted. "Some of the worst abuses take place behind the most respectable doors. Buck, what they did to you, and your mother, was wrong - very wrong, but you can't blame the whole psychological profession for one misguided, maybe even fanatical, doctor. You need help, now, as an adult, I know people, good people who could help," she implored, she had every sympathy with his plight and his fear but he had to move past it.
"I can't trust them Nettie, they twist things, they try to trick you into saying things you didn't mean, it's like being on the stand and some bastard attorney trying to trip you up when you're giving evidence, I can't do that again, I just can't."
Nettie could only imagine the mental strain a heavily medicated ten-year-old had gone through as he tried desperately to navigate himself safely though one hostile therapy session after another.
"I have a friend, as old as me, retired, she used to be a therapist, I swear you can trust her, she owes me a favour or three, if I asked she'd see you "
"Nettie I told you "
"She's a little old lady Buck, what is there to be afraid of? It will be a private arrangement, the ATF won't be involved at all, and they will be if you can't sort this out yourself. How long can you be off work before they start asking questions, even with Chris running interference?"
"Not long," he admitted.
She could tell he was considering the idea. Whether it was her words that had changed his mind or his own inner resolve, she couldn't tell. Most likely it was a combination. Buck hated the way he felt now; he hated feeling trapped by his own fear, he hated not knowing what had happened, he hated feeling dependent and mostly he hated the fact that when he looked at JD, the one person he felt closest to in the world, he felt fear.
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