"Hey," Dr. Forester motioned to Gail to come over to the lounge door. He had managed to find a few minutes to slip away for a cup of coffee and to rest his tired back.
"Oh no, they aren't fighting again are they?" she asked as she hurried to the door.
"No .shhhh," he said as he held one finger to his lips to signal her to keep quiet. "I found them this way when I came in," he said, and pointed to the two small bodies curled up on one of the big sofas.
JD was closest to the back of the couch, fast asleep with his thumb in his mouth, and Vin had curled himself around his younger sibling along the outside edge, with one arm wrapped protectively over his younger brother.
"I think I'll see if I can find a blanket for them. You know how people complain about how cold this place is." He slipped quietly out the door and came back a couple minutes later with a blanket, which he spread out over the boys.
"So how much is it worth to you to keep me from telling everyone in the ER that you are just a big softie?" Gail teased.
"It's your word against mine," he tossed right back at seriously, but then he looked back at the couch and sighed. "They do tend to get under your skin, don't they?"
"They sure do." When she left, she glanced back to see Dr. Forester sitting in the chair closest to the sleeping children, sipping his coffee and reaching for the folded up newspaper on the table next to him.
"Vin," Gail said softly as she gently shook him by the shoulder. "Come on, time for you two to wake up." She didn't know how long they had slept before Dr. Forester discovered them, but it had been well over an hour since then. When she saw a pair of sleepy blue eyes struggle open and look up at her she smiled. "They are getting ready to move your Uncle Nathan to a room now. How about some lunch while they get him moved, then you can go see him."
"He's all better now?" Vin asked around a yawn.
"He's much better, but remember you'll still have to be careful around his belly."
"'Kay." He rubbed at his eyes and let out a jaw-cracking yawn before shaking JD. "Wake up."
"Huhhh?" the little brunet barely managed to say before his eyes slammed back shut.
"JD! Wake up!" Vin shook him again but got no better results.
"That's okay, Vin. If he wants to sleep through lunch and getting to go see Nathan, then let him sleep," Gail added, loudly enough to be sure JD heard her in his half-sleep.
"We gets to go see Unca Nathan?"
"You sure do," Gail answered the instantly wide-awake child.
"Let's get your things together so we can go straight to his room after you eat."
The trio trouped down to the cafeteria and were stopped several times by staff who wanted to say a few words of encouragement to the boys. By the time they got their food and got settled at a table Vin was blushing bright red, but he couldn't hide the smile that kept sneaking its way onto his face. He wasn't sure how to take this much recognition, but it made him feel good to hear all these people tell him how proud they were of him for calling 911 to help his uncle.
JD had managed to convince Gail that macaroni and cheese and hotdogs would be the best lunch, and they ate quickly so they could go upstairs as soon as possible.
About three-quarters of an hour later, JD clung to Gail as she carried him into Nathan's room. Vin stayed close by her side, but even his relief at getting to see his uncle hadn't completely subdued his curiosity, and he had watched everything that was happening as they made their way down the hall. Once inside the room, all he could see was his uncle lying there in that hospital bed, with the head of it slightly raised. His eyes were closed and Vin glanced up at Gail for reassurance.
"He's fine," she told him when she saw the worried look in the child's eyes. "He's just sleeping."
"Yeah, Dad slept a lot after he breaked his leg," Vin remembered.
The sound of Vin's voice worked its way through the post-anesthetic haze, and Nathan opened his eyes and turned his head toward the soft voice.
"Unca Nathan!" JD squealed, nearly deafening Gail, and causing the patient to wince at the thought of how that greeting had probably affected everyone else down this hall.
"Shhhh JD, you's s'posed to be quiet in a hospital room," Vin admonished in an overly loud stage whisper.
Gail stopped next to the bed so the small boy in her arms could get a better view of his uncle. "How are you doing?" she asked. "You don't look like you are too uncomfortable."
"It's not as bad as I thought it would be," Jackson admitted with a shaky smile. "But it isn't something I would want to do on a regular basis."
"No, I wouldn't think anyone would."
"Can they sit up here with me?" Nathan needed to satisfy himself that they had come through this ordeal all right. After all they had been through, he couldn't forgive himself if this had caused even a small setback in their mental and emotional recovery from their past experiences.
"I don't see why not, if they promise to be very careful like we discussed earlier." She settled JD on his knees on the mattress next to Jackson and watched the child lean down to hug the black man.
"Are you all better now?" JD sniffed as his eyes filled with unshed tears.
"I'm gonna be fine. Just need some time to get over bein' sore." Nathan hugged the small body against his shoulder, and reached out a hand to Vin when Gail lifted him up on the opposite side of the bed. "Are you two okay?" When both boys nodded, he breathed a sigh of relief. He kissed each boy on the forehead and hugged him close. "I love you both, and I am so proud of you."
"Ow!" Nathan hissed when Gail helped him sit on the bed in the guest bedroom. Once he was settled, his eyes caught hers for a moment. "Thank you. I don't know how to repay you for everything you did today."
"You don't have to repay me. That's what friends are for. Besides, Raine would make my life hell if I let anything happen to you or the boys," she teased.
"Swear jar!" JD yelled from the other room.
"Honestly, I think that kid has sonar for hearing." Nathan chuckled and then instantly regretted it. He quickly clutched a thin pillow to his belly to stop any jiggles that would lead to more pain. "You better go pay up, because they don't forget either."
She quirked one eyebrow at him, but when no more information was forthcoming, she headed toward the great room, only to be met with a miniature brunet toting a jar full of dollar bills and change. "What's this?"
"The swear jar. You gots to pay it a dollar when you say a bad word. Me and Vin only gots to pay a quarter since we's little and don't have very much money," JD explained.
"Ah I see. Let me get my purse." After paying the swear jar, she took a seat on the couch to watch Shrek with the boys. She had told them they could watch one video before bed, figuring that after the day they had they needed a little bit of something normal before settling down for the night. They both munched on hamburgers and fries from the Happy Meals she had picked up for them on the way home, and she had barely started on the salad she had bought for herself when the phone rang.
"I get it." JD jumped up and ran for the phone. "Hello. Hi, Chris! We was at the hospital all day, and we gots to ride in an amb'lance, and huh? Unca Nathan's sleepin' cause he had to have surg Vin, what's that word when they cut ya open? Oh yeah Surgery to take his 'pendix out."
Gail hadn't been able to reach the phone fast enough to ward off JD's explanation of the day's events, and she could just image what was going through Chris Larabee's mind right now. She simply held out her hand for the phone and waited for JD to hand it to her.
"Mr. Larabee? This is Gail Sanders from Denver Memorial Emergency Room. I'm a friend of Raine and Nathan's. Don't worry, the boys are just fine. You would have been very proud of them today." She talked to him for several minutes to fill him in on all the details and to reassure him that she was staying over in case Nathan or the boys needed her. "I'm sure he will be all right here with the boys tomorrow. This new way they do the surgery is much easier than the old way. He'll just have to take it easy for a while, and no heavy lifting. I won't leave if I don't think he can manage on his own." She paused and listened a moment before she continued. "Sure, I know he will want to talk to you too." She handed the phone to Vin who had been standing there looking at him with some serious puppy dog eyes the whole time she had been talking to Chris.
"Dad, when are you coming home?" Vin listened and sighed unhappily at the answer. "That much longer? I wish you were home Okay, I'll be good, and I'll help take care of Uncle Nathan too. Chris and Buck want to talk to you," he said as he handed the phone to JD.
After Chris had said a few words he handed the phone to Buck so he could talk to JD. "I's okay, Da. We gotted to ride in the amb'lance an' Miss Gail taked us to eat in the caf'teria, an' we "
Gail grinned when Vin rolled his eyes at his younger brother and turned back to watch the movie, while JD chattered on.
After pulling the covers up to tuck JD in, Gail kissed the sleeping child lightly on the forehead. He had barely stirred while she had gotten him into his PJs. When she finished with the smallest of the duo, she stepped up on the second rung of the ladder to the top bunk and straightened out the covers for Vin. "Long day, huh?" She ran her fingers through his hair as she spoke.
"Yeah." He yawned and flipped over on his side facing her. "Miss Gail, is Uncle Nathan really okay? He didn't even want any supper."
"He's fine. Some people don't want to eat right after surgery. He's just going to need to take it easy for a while, and he'll need your help until your father gets home."
"You think he was scared to have surgery?"
"I think he was more scared about having to leave you and JD alone. The nurse from the recovery room said the first thing he started talking about when he was waking up was you two." She leaned in and kissed him on the forehead. "Now, you get some sleep."
"'Kay." Vin snuggled down under the covers and hugged cat under his arm.
"I'll be in your dad's room if you need anything. He told me I could sleep in there so I would be closer if any of you needed me," Gail said as she climbed down. She glanced to see that the night-light was on before she flipped off the overhead light.
Gail went about locking the doors and turning off lights as she prepared for bed, taking more time than necessary in a futile attempt to avoid the phone call she had to make. Finally, unable to put it off any longer, she went to Chris's room and picked up the phone as she sat on the bed. "Could I have room 607 please?" She fidgeted with the phone cord and watched the clock as she waited for the phone on the other end to be picked up. "Raine? It's Gail. I have something I need to talk to you about. I'm sorry I didn't call sooner, but things have just now settled down. We've had some excitement here today "
Vin flipped back over and stared at the ceiling. He was tired, but he just couldn't go to sleep. Eventually, he gave up with a sigh and tossed the covers off so he could climb out of the bunk. Bare feet padded down the hall to the guestroom, and the door creaked softly as he eased it farther open.
The sound of the door creaking carried down the hall. Instantly alert, Gail sat up and listened, but lay back down when she didn't hear anything else. She let out a deep breath and tried to drift back to sleep. A quick glance at the glowing number of the bedside clock told her she had been asleep no more than a few minutes at the most.
Another creak had her bolting out of the bed, sure that something was wrong, but she stopped short when she reached the partially open door, just in time to see Vin tip-toeing down the hall and back into his room. Her first thought was to turn around and go back to bed, but she decided to look in on Nathan again just to be sure he was sleeping comfortably.
Nathan was sleeping with his back to the door. He knew how to brace his middle with a pillow tucked in tight against his belly and had insisted he was much more comfortable that way than on his back. It was quiet in the room except for the heavy, even breathing of someone in deep sleep. She walked around the bed to check that the support pillow hadn't slipped out of place and couldn't help but smile at the sight that greeted her. There, tucked snuggly under Nathan's arm was cat. Vin had given up his own source of comfort, one that he surely needed now, to comfort his uncle.
Sure that her patient was all right, Gail went back to try to get some sleep of her own. She grinned as she passed the boys' door, at the thought of the generosity of one small boy, who missed the man that he now called Dad and worried about another man that he now called Uncle.
"I wanna help," JD whined. "You ain't lettin' me do nothin'."
"But you's too little to carry it," Vin insisted.
"I can too! I's not that little."
"What are you two imps doing up so early," Gail asked as she surveyed the messy kitchen. "It looks like a bomb went off in here."
"We's gonna make Unca Nathan breakfast," the miniature brunet stated. "But, Vin won't let me help."
"He's too little to carry the tray," Vin insisted. "He'd drop it."
"Whoa both of you hold on a minute. I think that is very sweet that you want to take him breakfast in bed, but he has to get up and move around, so I want him to come to the table to eat. What were you trying to fix?" she asked, and picked up a wet rag to start tackling the mess.
"He likes oatmeal, but we aren't s'posed to turn on the stove," Vin said half-heartedly. "So we was gonna take him some cereal, but JD spilled it."
"How about I help with the oatmeal; you two can be my assistants and show me where to find everything."
It didn't take Gail long to get the oatmeal ready and get the boys settled at the table with bowls of their own and glasses of milk. "I'm going to go see if your uncle is awake yet."
She heard a soft groan when she got close to the guestroom and quickened her steps. Nathan was sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to get up but he couldn't get enough leverage with his arms to help push himself up off the bed. "Hold on, let me help you."
"I gotta be able to do it on my own," Nathan half snapped. He felt like he had been sucker-punched in the stomach, and after such a long sleep he really needed to relieve himself. The combination of discomforts had him lashing out.
"Yes, you do, but you haven't moved all night, so let me help you this time. You'll have plenty of chances to show me you can get around on your own." Gail didn't give him time to argue. She moved in front of him and held out her hands so that she could grip him under his forearms, near his elbows. "Now take hold of my arms." With him pushing up with his legs and her pulling him, they got him to his feet.
For a few moments he stood and gasped for breath as he felt the tug of gravity against his sore middle, and his head began to spin from suddenly finding himself upright. As soon as the room decided to stand still, he let go of Gail and pressed both hands against his abdomen as he shuffled toward the bathroom.
Gail stayed to be sure he didn't need any help to get up, if he had sat down. While she waited, she busied herself straightening the covers and then sat on the edge of the bed, absently stroking her thumb against the soft stuffed cat she held. The sound of a flush and then water running in the sink brought her to her feet. "Are you going to be able to make it to the kitchen on your own?"
"Yes, I can manage," Nathan insisted as he opened the door and came back into the room. "I just need my robe." He bent over carefully to retrieve it from where he had draped it over the arm of the one chair in the room, while holding his stomach with the other hand.
"After you have some breakfast, we'll see if we can find a small pillow of some kind for you to hold against you when you walk. It will make you a lot more comfortable." She lingered, so that she could walk with him just in case he had overestimated his stamina. It hadn't been quite twenty-four hours, and easier surgery or not, it still took a toll on a person's strength for a while.
"That sounds good." Nathan agreed. "I'm sorry for snappin' at you. I do appreciate you stayin' last night, it's just "
"It's okay. You'll feel better after you have something to eat and take something for the pain."
"I can't take anything that is gonna make me too sleepy, not with the boys here alone with me. I'm supposed to be watchin' them, not the other way around."
"What we have for you might make you a little drowsy, but they are really good kids. If you set them up with a couple videos, they'll be fine if you doze off for a little bit." She paused with him when he stopped to catch his breath. "Nathan, we are talking about the same boys who called 911 for you, took care of you until the paramedics got here, and then waited alone for you to come out of surgery." They resumed their slow trek toward the kitchen. Gail could see a light sheen of sweat starting to pop out on Nathan's forehead, and she edged slightly closer in case he started to sway. "Vin even remembered that the animals needed to be tended. They will be fine if you doze off. What is important to them is that you are here."
"Unca Nathan!" JD squealed and started to jump from his chair, but when he saw Gail shake her head no, he scooted back into his seat until Jackson was seated. Then he climbed down and edged closer to his uncle.
"Hey there squirt," Nathan smiled through his discomfort and held an arm out to give JD a one-armed hug.
"Vin, did that cat of yours run away last night? Somehow he found his way into my bed," Jackson said seriously.
"Nope, he didn't run away. I putted him there so you wouldn't be scared if you woke up," Vin confessed. "He always helps me not t' be afraid."
"That was a really nice thing to do. And you know what? He really did help me not to be scared." Nathan's praise had the older of his two charges blushing bright red.
By mid-morning, Nathan was able to get around better on his own. His belly hurt, but it wasn't unbearable. The biggest complaint he had was in his shoulders when he first sat up or lay down. He knew it was from the carbon dioxide gas they had used to expand his abdomen so they could see to work with the scopes. What was left inside would shift around when he changed positions and he had heard it could hurt, but he hadn't expected that to hurt more than the surgical site itself. It didn't last long, usually just a few minutes, but that was a few minutes too long as far as he was concerned.
Gail had insisted that he take a nap before she left, and she woke him up in time for lunch. She had moved the nightstand out just a little farther from the wall so he could reach the corner of it to help push himself up and he managed fine, amid some groans and carefully stifled dollar words. Now, he was settled into Chris's recliner with a small throw pillow protecting his belly. He had something to drink and something to snack on, and the boys were excited about getting to have a movie marathon. They had picked out several videos and had them lined up in front of them on the blanket they had spread out on the floor. Their own drinks were close by and so were their snacks.
"Are you sure you don't want me to fix something for you to reheat for dinner?" Gail asked for the third time.
"We'll be okay. I saw some canned soups in the cabinet, and the boys love peanut butter sandwiches." Then he added in a mock whisper. "Besides, they'll be glad that I won't end up making them eat broccoli."
"Broccoli .ewwww." Vin grimaced at the thought.
At last Gail was satisfied that they would manage fine on their own, and she headed home for a shower and a change of clothes before heading to the hospital. She had called in a favor and had traded shifts so she could be there to help Nathan and the boys, but now that meant a twelve-hour night shift was staring her in the face. Thankfully, she was off the next day.
Nathan drifted in and out of sleep while the videos played on, and the boys played quietly in front of the TV when the antics on the screen didn't keep their attention. Both had fetched and carried for their uncle anytime he needed something, unless it was time for him to get up and make himself walk around a little.
Now he was pulled up from sleep by the sound of a female voice that didn't sound like it was coming from one of the cartoons. With some effort he forced his eyes open and looked up to see Chris's neighbor, Mrs. Cochran, leaning in through the door that she held ajar. "Knock, knock," she called out, before she stepped inside.
Vin smiled up at her. "Hi Uncle Nathan's sleeping so we gotta be quiet," he instructed her.
"I'm awake," Jackson spoke up as he continued to fight to keep his eyes open.
"I would say just barely," she observed. "I'm not going to stay long, but I wanted to bring you this." She held up a large baking dish. "I was making lasagna for our dinner so I doubled the recipe and made one for you and the boys too. All you'll need to do is warm it up in the microwave. Zaphram took care of the animals this morning, but he wanted to come back and check on them tonight too, so I tagged along." She disappeared into the kitchen long enough to put the dish in the fridge. "Nathan, do you need anything while I am here," she asked.
"No. The boys have made sure I have whatever I need, but thank you."
"Okay, but if any of you need anything, be sure to call." She said some quick good-byes and hurried out to the truck where her husband was waiting.
The evening was uneventful, but it seemed like every time that Nathan drifted off to sleep either Chris, Buck or Raine found that to be the perfect time to call to check up on how he was doing. Bedtime hadn't come soon enough as far as he was concerned.
"No, Uncle Nathan. We s'posed to tuck you in tonight," Vin insisted when their uncle had tried to steer them into their room.
"Yeah, You's the one that's sick," JD added.
"Boys, I can't very well leave you two to put yourselves to bed," Jackson argued.
"We're s'posed to take care of you." Vin hit his uncle with a baby version of the Larabee glare. "I promised Dad," he said adamantly.
"Okay, I can't expect you to break a promise," Jackson finally conceded, and let the boys fuss over him.
By the time they were satisfied that he was properly tucked in, they had the blankets almost completely covering his head and the pillow he used to lean against to sleep was somewhere around the foot of the bed. His small belly pillow, as they called it, was within easy reach, but he couldn't get to it because they had the blankets pressed around his body so tightly that he couldn't move his arms. Vin made sure there was a glass of water on the nightstand and then suddenly remembered something that was missing. A quick dash back to his room produced cat, who had somehow wandered back into the boys' room during the day.
"Cat needs to stay with you tonight," Vin announced as he pulled the covers back and tucked the stuffed toy back in bed with Nathan.
"Thank you, but don't you think he would be happier with you?" Jackson didn't want to deprive his nephew of his prized toy. That cat was the most special thing Vin had. It was the first gift Chris had given him, and it had been with him every day since.
Vin didn't say anything, he just shook his head and crawled up on the bed to kiss his uncle good night. "Night, Uncle Nathan."
JD scrambled up next and hugged Nathan good night, and gave him a good night kiss of his own, before they both headed out the door into the hall. Vin turned back to flip off the light switch. "If you needs us you can yell."
"I promise I will." He watched the boys leave his room and listened to their own preparations for bed, and he found himself struggling loose from the blankets and clutching his pillow against him when he started to chuckle.
"JD, you gots to get int' bed so I can tuck you in," Vin insisted.
"But then who's gonna tuck you in?"
"I'm bigger so I can tuck myself in."
Nathan grinned as the debate continued for a couple minutes and then finally Vin won. He saw the light from the boys' room go out and planned to wait a few minutes and then slip down to their room to check on them. Plans or no plans, he was too tired to stay awake, and the next time he opened his eyes it was daylight.
The soft sounds of the TV drifted down the hall, and he took his time getting out of bed, trying to avoid any sudden movements or any strain against any parts that were already abused.
Chris and Buck were due in that evening and he glanced around the house as he made his way to where the boys lay sprawled on their stomachs eating cereal and watching Sponge Bob. He hated that the guys would be coming back to a messy house, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Chris glanced at the clock on the dashboard as they pulled into the driveway. He had hoped to be home earlier but their flight had been delayed and then traffic coming from the airport had been worse than usual for this time of night. Or at least it seemed that way since he was so anxious to get home.
Buck had been unusually quiet on the ride home, a sign that he was as worried as Chris was. "You think they're all gonna be all right?"
"They'll be okay." Chris said, with more confidence than he really felt. "We've talked to them several times a day, and they sound fine."
"Good thing Ezra's the undercover man for this team. You sure aren't very convincing." Buck opened the truck door as soon as it stopped and didn't wait for Chris to catch up to him; he practically sprinted for the front door.
The sounds of the TV drew him toward the great room and his mouth dropped open at the sight. The room looked like a snack truck had exploded. It was littered with empty drink boxes, popcorn, cereal and what looked suspiciously like French fries. But it was Chris's chair that caught and held his attention. Nathan sat with the chair leaned back, with one boy wedged in beside him on each side, and a pillow covering his middle, saving him from the leg JD had tossed over him.
Chris came to a stop next to Buck and took in the scene. "What a mess," he said quietly, "But it has never looked so good to me."
"Me either," his old friend agreed with a wide grin. "Think we'd better get those two tucked in, and then tackle getting the big one to bed too."
"Well, you get yours and I'll get mine." Chris said and motioned for Buck to go ahead of him. From the looks of it, JD was going to have to be moved before Vin could.
Nathan jerked awake when he suddenly felt one of the boys being lifted away from him. "Easy, Nate. It's just me," Buck said. "Just tryin' to get these two off of you and into their beds."
"How are you doing?" Chris asked before he made any move to pick up Vin.
"I've been better," Nathan admitted. "But they both took good care of me, especially this one." He gave the remaining child a gentle squeeze.
"So I've heard." Chris reached out to lightly rub the small back.
"Dad?" Vin turned his head so he could see.
"Yeah, Cowboy. We're home. Let's get you to bed so your Uncle Nathan can go to bed too." He lifted the thin body and carried him off to put him to bed.
When he came back he found Nathan still in the chair where he'd left him, half-asleep again. "Hey," he said and gently shook the other man. "Don't go expecting me to carry you too. Come on to bed with you." He offered a hand but Nathan shook his head and pushed himself up, using the arms of the recliner. "You can tell me what all happened that you've been leaving out of our phone calls tomorrow." He glanced around and kicked some debris out of Nathan's way as he walked with him to be sure he made it to the guest room okay.
Nathan sat on the edge of the bed and kicked his slippers off. "Chris, I'm sorry. I "
"Don't what?" Jackson's brows lifted at the short remark.
"Don't you even think of apologizing. I'm the one that's sorry that you found yourself in a situation like that. I know you would never do anything that might hurt the boys, and you were faced with an impossible decision, but you worked it out." Chris gave Nathan's shoulder a light squeeze.
"Thanks for what?"
"For not gettin' mad," Nathan explained. "I just got one favor to ask. No more adventures in babysitting - at least until I am healed."
"You got it. Now, get to bed before I go get Vin to come and tuck you in."
"Anyone ever tell you you've got a mean streak?" Jackson asked.
"Every day and twice on Mondays."
Gentlemen, are you nearly finished?
Hi, Uncle Ezra.
Hello to you, too. Are you going to tell me all about your week when you finish with the computer?
Yeah! All kinds of stuff happened.
So I hear. But there is one thing I want to know.
What's that, Uncle Ezra?
How did you manage to make him rest?
What are you giggling about, boys?
It was easy, Uncle Ezra. We told him we would tell Chris and Buck on him if he wasn't good.
See, Uncle Ezra? You think it's funny, too.
Very resourceful, boys. When you finish I'll be in the great room.
Come on, JD, We're done. I wanna go see Uncle Ezra.
Okay, bye computer.
Everyday Heroes Index
Next: School's Out
I wanted to express my sincere gratitude to all those from whom I have picked up little details about past events for the boys. There is no way I can acknowledge everyone here, so if you see something you created for them, it is yours, I am only borrowing it. Also, thanks to Gina for setting up Mrs. Potter's absence for me. As always, a really big thank you to my beta, Alex, for being there for me on such short notice.