We were impressed by the progress Boy made over the next few days. He seemed to be more confident that he was truly safe, which allowed him to be much more comfortable with us during our conversations. His back was healing exceedingly well so the doctor decided to proceed with the two operations that, without them, could result in lasting problems for him.
The three of us went to see Boy the day Dr. Strauss informed us that he'd scheduled the surgeries for the following morning.
"The good news for the boy is that I see him healing as quickly from these surgeries as he did from the injuries to his back. He seems to have a good recovery system."
"Doctor, considering all he's been through, it's a good thing for him that he does," I told him.
"Well, he'll be laid up for a bit, but my earlier estimation of the recuperation time seems way off. But we'll have to wait and see. Oh, by the way, Dan, I have something for you in my office. I'll go and get it for you."
Linda Sue, Dan and I went in to see Boy, who was reading a different book this time.
"What are you reading now, Boy?" asked Linda Sue.
"Oh, hi, Ma'am, Sirs. Um, it's a textbook from one of the nurses. He said he was studying it to get his license to nurse. I guess there are different levels they can achieve in his job. It says it in here," he said, holding up the thick textbook.
"And you're reading his textbook about nursing?" asked Dan, amazed.
"Well, I finished the story of Tom Sawyer. It was very funny. That boy got in far more trouble than I did and was so much younger in years than I am. But he never got . . . well, he fared better on his backside than I ever did." He had a slight smile on his face that did well to mask his memory of what he'd been through for most of his life.
"So, when Nurse Flora noticed that I was done reading it on the second day after she gave it to me, she said she would look for another. In the meantime, my night nurse, Dale, let me read this one. He won't need it for another two days, so I have plenty of time." He showed us that he was over halfway through the book.
"You're reading a thick textbook in only a few days?" giggled Linda Sue.
"Yes, ma'am. Wasn't that nice of him? He's as nice as Nurse Flora and Luanne Ma'am and you, ma'am. Oh, you too, sirs."
"Boy, you've mentioned Luanne Ma'am before. Who is she?" I asked.
His smile got even grander. You could see his delight at the memory of this mysterious lady.
"Sir, she was the one in that café place where Gus left me to eat. She had Mr. Travis fix me a really big, slippery bread thing with . . . Wait please."
His eyes almost closed as he was trying to pull something together in his mind.
'Hamburger: 1: a. Ground beef. b. A cooked patty of ground beef. 2: a sandwich consisting of a patty of hamburger in a split round bun.'
"Yes, a hamburger, and it had so many different foods on it that it slipped out of my hands and made a big mess in my lap and on her table, but you know what? She wasn't mad at me even a little. I liked her. Ma'am, she was the first lady, um, woman, I think I've ever seen. But all three of you ma'ams seem so familiar to me."
"Boy, where was this café where she works?"
"It was on the last road that Gus drove that night before he left me there. I don't know if the road had a name. But after I drank her milkshake and I left her Gus' money, I had to leave because that Sheriff person was going to come and get me. But he got me anyway, after that mean man in the red car took me back to the old man."
He shuddered as he said the old man. Thank God that nightmare was behind him.
Dan was digesting what we'd just heard, probably to see if she could be found to get some new information about anything involved with the case.
"Boy, we just talked to Dr. Strauss and he was amazed at how much you've already healed," said Linda Sue.
Boy smiled for a second, then looked very serious.
"Boy?" I asked.
"He said they had to hurt me more or I wouldn't be like a normal young man, especially when I grew a little older. He said I had too many breaks that didn't heal right in two different places."
"Oh, Boy, he doesn't want to hurt you. But he said you'd hurt for all of your life if it wasn't taken care of now. Isn't it worth it to get it out of the way so you can be pain-free?"
He slowly lowered his head, then raised it to look right at Linda Sue. "Ma'am, I don't know what that feels like. There have been so few times that I was without pain and for so short a time that I can't recall exactly what that feels like anymore."
"But what about now that your back is healing, and you have pain medication?"
"Oh, that's good, but the pain doesn't really all go away. I do forget about it if I can think of something more important, something that challenges my brain, but it's only for a while."
"Boy," I said walking closer and taking his hand, "You have the chance to be pain-free. The only time you'd hurt is if you stubbed your toe or something. Almost everyone has pain for only a little while, then it goes away for the longest time, until you do something silly like fall off your skateboard."
"Um, make that bicycle."
"Oh, okay. So, if I don't let Dr. Strauss do what he wants to me, I might be in pain some more?"
"No, Boy, you WILL be in pain and eventually so much you won't be able to walk or do anything without assistance," said Dr. Strauss as he walked into the room.
"And I promise that it won't be as bad as I thought it would be. I've sat with several experts, one that will do the actual work, and it looks like you may be out of here several days after we do the surgeries."
"Oh, doctor, that's wonderful news. Isn't it, Boy?" asked Linda Sue.
"Um, yes, I guess."
"Dan, I have the DNA report. Now, the bad news is that the tissue that was recovered from under Melvin's fingernails was contaminated with enough foreign elements that it would take a very long time to process it correctly."
"Oh no!" said Dan.
"Fortunately, we knew where to find a good source of Boy's DNA," said Dr. Strauss with a smile.
Linda Sue and I both looked at Dan to see him wrinkle his eyebrow in thought of just where . . . then a foolish look came over him as he looked at each of us, then pointed over his shoulder at Boy and nodded, a little red in the face.
We all chuckled at his lapse of memory, well, all of us, except Boy, of course.
"Okay, doctor, we just can't tell Melvin that he isn't a hero anymore," requested Dan. "Mostly because Denver is so proud of him. Of course, DNA or not, he still helped Boy make the decision not to pursue his goal of taking Denver."
"Is he the boy who scratched my arms, sir?" asked Boy.
"Yes. You met him the other day right here."
"He was very brave to jump at me like he did. But the other boy, my new friend, Denver, his eyes made me let go of him and I had to run. They told me things like I feel, well, felt all the time when things would happen to me. Bad things, hurting things. I don't know how to say it very well, but he was my reason for finally letting go and running."
Linda Sue put her hand on Boy's and said, "You said it just fine, Boy. I knew what you meant."
His smile to her matched hers perfectly. We waited a second or two as though they were busy passing some secret between them. It was amazing to see because it just seemed to come over them spontaneously and was so natural.
Linda Sue shook her head as if to clear it and turned toward us.
Dr. Strauss went on. "So, Dan, the sample that we took from Boy was, of course, clean and of such good quality that they were able to process it very quickly." He held the paperwork, so we could see the report. "As you can see on the STR analysis, we were able to collect a good quality sample, containing thirteen markers, known as loci," he started to say, then noticed us looking completely lost before he'd practically begun. "Okay, suffice it to say that we have a strong example of his DNA and, if there is a match to someone in the FBI's database, it should be easy to corroborate."
"DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable."
We all turned toward Boy to see him looking up at us as though to ask if that's what we were talking about.
"Amazing," said Dan.
"Well, I'm impressed, Boy," said Linda Sue, smiling.
And while we agreed that it was remarkable, it was something he had done a few times after seeking out the right reference in his mind's dictionary.
Dr. Strauss said, "That is remarkable. Did you just recite that from memory, because you are right on the money, Boy?"
"Um, well, no. I, uh, I read it from the chapter I'd just finished in the nursing manual that Nurse Dale is letting me read," he said, holding up the book in his hands.
We had a good laugh, even though I wouldn't have put it past him to have recited it from memory as he had with those references before, from his storehouse of knowledge.
"So, Doctor," asked Dan, "How long does it take to go through the FBI's database?"
"Oh, only a few minutes actually. Even though it has over six million profiles, it shouldn't take too long. We'll also run it through our state's database which, of course, is minimal compared to the National DNA Index System."
"And while I'm sure that there's little chance that boy's profile is in there, we may be able to compare it to another, like a parent or sibling?" asked Dan.
"Yes, that's what you requested. And it won't necessarily be a suspected criminal. These days people have their DNA profiles in there for various reasons. Sergeant, yours might be in there, if it were taken while you were in the service and if the military released it to the FBI."
"I think mine may be," said Dan. "We gave a program to some college students and took some samples to show how it was processed."
"Oh, that's right," said Linda Sue. "I was in a similar program and pushed to the front of the line when they asked for volunteers, hoping that a match may one day show me where my . . . Well, I hadn't lost hope at that time."
I turned to Boy and explained that her son was forcefully taken many years ago and that he has never been found."
"Oh. I am so sorry, ma'am. I didn't know you had a child."
"Thank you, Boy. Like Tim said, it was a long time ago and I've always hoped that one day we'd find him. I'm an optimist at heart," she said, smiling at the boy.
"Okay, I have rounds to do," said Dr. Strauss. "Young man, a nurse will be in early tomorrow to prepare you for the surgeries. You'll sleep peacefully through everything and wake up a much stronger person and be out of here in no time."
"No time?" asked Boy.
"He means very little time, Boy, maybe only a few days or so. Right, doctor?" asked Linda Sue.
"That's right. It will go beautifully. I have every confidence in the experts that will be with me during your surgeries. Now, sleep well." Turning to Dan, he said, "We should have results from our database search tomorrow sometime, if they process our request right away. I'll have someone call you when we have the results."
And with that, he was gone.
The knock on the door rousted Jeb from his nap, something that he comes by naturally on a full stomach right after lunch.
"Oh, who could it be," he asked himself, a bit irritated as he got up from his recliner and went to the door. "I'm coming!" he shouted.
When he opened the door, no one was there, but he saw a FedEx truck back out of his driveway and race off toward town.
He looked down and saw a box about the size of a case of copier paper, waiting for him on the porch. It was rather heavy, but he was able to cart it into the living room and set it on the coffee table in front of his chair.
He immediately noticed the name and address of the Police Department in the Midwestern state where his daughter had died. He'd forgotten about the information that was being sent to him by the officer who had helped him. It all happened before he was thrust into the situation in the attic a few days before.
The letter opener that he kept by his chair came in handy to open the box. On top of the stack of papers within the box was a short but kind letter from the officer he'd talked to that day.
He began going through the items in the box. He set most aside until he saw the kind of paper pouch used for photographs. He immediately grabbed it and opened it to see his daughter looking back at him with her sweet smile. She was older than his last memory of her, of course, even though the picture was about twenty years old, maybe even older. Beneath several of her were pictures of a young girl, about ten, then some of the same girl with his daughter. The resemblance told him that the young girl was the granddaughter he'd never met.
He ran out of pictures when the last one showed the girl in her cap and gown, a proud mom standing with her, smiling after her high school graduation ceremony.
He set the stack of photos aside and attacked the box, desperate to find more visual history. He quickly found two other pouches of photos and one photo album.
The pouches contained older photos, evidently before the birth of the girl. Some were of his daughter and the man she married, some of her and several ladies on what appeared to be a cruise. He noted that very few after that involved her husband. Other vacations were recorded and so was a house, a simple ranch-style, but made cozy looking by its decorated interior.
'Probably Marilyn's doing,' he thought.
Then he picked up the photo album, noting the light blue cloth cover and tiny baby rattle attached to a blue bow.
Inside was a complete record of his granddaughter's pregnancy and the birth of his great-grandson. As she got closer to her delivery date the pages seemed to Jeb to get heavier as he turned them. His fingers had a time trying to separate the stiff pages. His mind was swimming with all the new information he was absorbing; his concentration was on the scenes before him, of people that he'd never met, never even knew existed. His daughter was in several. He assumed she might have taken the majority of the rest. One page covered a baby shower, then a few photos were of a baby blue nursery room.
The next page showed the first picture inside of the hospital room. His granddaughter was obviously uncomfortable at that point. The next picture was a small photo taken by the hospital staff showing a very wrinkled dark pink face with a blue cap and eyes shut tight against a cruel new world of bright lights and noise. Wrinkled tiny fists peeked out of the blanket that served as the baby's tight cocoon.
There were several more pictures of baby and mother in the hospital. The baby's coloring began to turn more normal, his dark eyes were open in some of them. There was a page of photos taken of mother and baby in the nursery and several around the house. He realized that his daughter and granddaughter were living together in that ranch-style house, as happy as any new parent and grandmother could be.
The rest of the album, about half of it, was empty. There were no more pictures of the baby and none of the happiness that they all shared. There was no history left to take pictures of.
It hit Jeb like an electrical shock. He looked up from the album with tears streaming from his old eyes. Tears that should have been for joy for knowing his family was safe and happy. Tears that should have been shed at seeing his great-grandson in a school play or having his knee treated by a worried soccer mom or grandma.
He SLAMMED the album closed and shouted, "WHY?"
When he awoke, he was wringing wet from perspiration and exhausted. The album lay on his lap where he'd left it and the room was beginning to darken as the sun left him for another place. It only helped to deepen the feeling of gloom that was overtaking him. He laid his head back and the tears began to flow once more.
At the Sheriff's office the next day, Norton walked up to Dan with a dirty folder of papers.
"What do you have there, Sheriff," Dan said with a smile.
"It's not official and you know it, so lay off or I'll have you on the highway writing tickets, smart mouth."
Dan chuckled and then acted out a shiver. "Oh, I'm frightened now, sir."
Norton smiled and playfully swung at him. He was actually enjoying his new position and secretly wanted the commissioners to make it permanent until another election could be held.
"This is a file we found in a safe in the old man's closet. It took until now to get it opened. But look what we found."
He laid the folder in front of Dan who flipped open the manila cover.
"Bunch of bills of lading or orders? What are these?"
"Look. I made a list of the cases we've been investigating and listed them next to a list of the dates on these sheets. Now, do you know what they are?"
Dan saw similar dates on each list though maybe one was a day or so, up to two weeks after the other. He quickly saw that the earlier dates were all from the list of the reported kidnappings. Then he saw that the later dates were from the pages in the folder.
He scanned several of the pages in the folder. The only thing of note was an actual signature. A chill rose in him and made him shiver for real that time.
"Are these what I think they are?" he asked his new boss, holding up several of the pages.
"They are if you think they're acceptance of delivery receipts."
"My God, that's gross! They were made to sign receipts when that bastard handed over the kids to whoever these people are?"
"Well, from the condition of the pages, for the most part, I'd say that the exchange was done away from the farm. It was probably the responsibility of the driver, maybe even Gus, to bring back proof that the exchange was made. The driver even had to initial it, here and here, then get a signature here," said Norton, pointing those places out to Dan.
"Is there any way we can identify the people by their signatures? That would be ideal."
"I'm going to get to work on it. We only got that safe open an hour ago. You're the first one that's seen these besides me and the locksmith. I'll let you know what I find out." Norton turned to walk away.
"Wait! Can I look at those lists once more?"
Norton handed him the folder and the list. Within a few minutes, he had most of the pages spread out over the table where he sat and was comparing something to the list of kidnappings.
"What are you looking for?"
"I'm looking for an event about eighteen years ago, but look, there's nothing for at least several years around that time."
"Well, it's not like there's a lot of them, thank God. Too many, of course, but there's plenty of time between most of them. Why were you wondering?"
Dan was kind of staring at the pages, then looked up into space, thinking. He didn't even hear Norton's question.
"Sorry, what did you ask?"
"I asked why you were looking at eighteen years ago."
"Simple. I have a boy about that age in a hospital bed down the street that is looking for an identity. I guess I was hoping that this might reveal when he was abducted."
"Did you stop to think that he might be related to them?"
"Bite your tongue! Related to that bastard of an old fart and his demented son, our esteemed ex-Sheriff? No way in hell!"
"Don't get violent with me! I just asked."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to hope that the DNA search comes back with a name.
They both looked to the front of the station when they heard the telephone ring.
"Perkins, a Doctor Strauss's office for you on line two. Something about the search is over."
"Tim, Dan here."
"Hey, Dan. How are things going? I was planning to go over to the hospital and see if Boy was out of surgery."
"Yeah, that would work out perfectly. The doctor's office said they had the DNA database search results and asked if I could pick it up. I was going to call Linda Sue too and see if you two wanted to meet me and check out the results. We're kind of in this together and I'm sure that Linda Sue is dying to know. What do you think?
"I don't see a problem with that. If I don't hurry, though, I may be late picking up the boys."
"Well, that's the other thing, Tim. It dawned on me that we have another case to solve, maybe by DNA."
"Really? Who's that?" I asked my friend.
"AJ. I think you should bring him with you and have a DNA sample taken that we can have analyzed. Maybe it will help identify who he is."
"Oh. Good thinking. I suppose they just swab his mouth, right?"
"Yup. It's painless, unless you want to tell him they have to take off part of his left arm to do the test."
"Nice guy you are! I'm not telling my son that. Besides I'd get slugged and would deserve it."
"Ha ha! Okay. It was only a thought. Ha ha!"
"Yeah, I'm tellin' him what you said."
"Wait! I was just . . . Hello? Hello-o."
As I set the phone down, I realized what I'd committed to: finding out AJ's true Identity. It didn't take me any time to understand what that could mean for me. If we found out who his parents were, I'd lose him for sure. I was glad I was sitting down.
"Dan, we were able to trace one of the names on the papers we found to a man that was arrested in a Midwest state nine years ago for trafficking child porn, mostly boys. I asked the Police Department that made the arrest since our cases mostly concerned boys."
"Good going, Norton, though I'm not sure what that means to us right now.
After I picked up AJ at his middle school, I explained about the test for his DNA in hopes of maybe finding who his blood relatives were. I didn't even notice how quiet he was from that point on.
I swung by the high school for Jeffy. He walked up to my side of the truck while another young man his age walked up to AJ's side. He was kind of thin, of normal height and pale, with wire-framed glasses. His ears stuck out a bit, making him look like the studious type. He was a far cry from what I believe Jeffy was used to hanging out with in his former life.
"Pop, this is Elliot. I was wondering if I could go over to his place right now and study with him. He's a whiz in science and math and I've never been good at those. After being away for so long, I need all the help I can get. You won't be upset that I didn't ask you to help me with it will you?"
"More like relieved, Jeffy, or do I call you Daniel in front of Elliot?"
"He calls me Daniel but he knows my story so whatever is okay."
Just then Elliot slammed up against the passenger door, scaring AJ and me.
"Elliot! What happened?" asked Jeffy, walking around to see if his friend was okay.
"Oh, it's those jocks again. They're always pestering me. One of them pushed me as he ran by."
"Are you okay, son? That sounded painful," I asked.
"Yes, sir. I'm okay. I'm used to it, really."
"Nuh uh," said AJ. "No one gets used to that kind of stuff, huh, Dad?"
"That's right, AJ. Have you reported this bullying to the school, Elliot?" I asked.
Just then a horn honked and both Jeffy and Elliot looked behind my truck to a small car with a woman at the wheel.
"Oh, that's my mom. I gotta go. Are you gonna come over, Jeffy? You don't have to if it means you getting hassled too."
"Then that's a good reason to go home with you, Elliot. I hope they don't try anything with me, but I think I can handle myself."
"Jeffy, there's other ways to handle this. Let's get together and talk. Does your mom know about what's going on, Elliot?"
"Oh, no! Please, sir. I'm not ready for that."
"Then we'll look into it by ourselves until you're ready to talk to your parents."
"Right, sir. Like . . . never mind." Elliot walked off toward the car with Jeffy right behind him.
I waited a bit to see if Jeffy was allowed to go home with his friend. The conversation between Elliot and his mom didn't look too positive; she seemed a little upset at something. Finally, she shook her head, like in disgust and motioned for them to get in, the backseat though.
They took off, so I did too, right after they left.
It was a short trip to the hospital from the school but by that time I would have expected AJ to tell me all about his day and what homework he had to do that night. Instead, his head was down, something I hadn't seen in quite a while and, except for some heavy breathing, not a peep was heard.
"AJ, are you okay? Did that problem with Elliot upset you?"
He just shook his head.
"I'm not used to you being this quiet. Will you let me in on what's bothering you?"
Silence for a minute.
"Dad?" He looked up at me with a tear track on his cheek. "What if they find someone?"
"What if who . . . Oh. Well, to tell you the truth, AJ, I was concerned about that too. I just got you trained the way I want, and I don't want to lose you."
AJ smiled some, not one of his sunny smiles for sure. "You're so funny, Dad. I thought I was the one that was training you."
"Hey! I doubt it! Oh, alright. I'm probably the one that needed it the most."
As we pulled up to the hospital, I tried very hard to be positive.
"AJ, we just have to trust the Man upstairs to do what's right for us. I think we have a lot to be thankful for and I can't see that changing any time soon."
"I hope you're right, Dad," he said as we got out of the truck and walked to the front doors.
Getting the DNA sample took about a minute at the nurse's station before we went in to see Boy. They swabbed AJ's mouth and stuck the stick in a tube, sealed it, labeled it and set it in a basket to go to their lab.
When we walked into the room, Boy was lying back just looking at the ceiling. When he heard us come in, he tried to sit up. We could see that it was painful for him.
"Just relax, Boy. It's okay. You just had major surgery, after all."
It was plain to see where the operations took place. He had new bandages, one that wrapped around his waist and another big one a little higher up. He was leaning a little to keep off of it and had some pillows that helped.
"Oh, hello, sir. Thank you for understanding. Oh, um, AJ, right?"
"Hey, yeah! Wow, you have a good memory!" My AJ was back, or at least putting on a good show for our patient. He smiled and walked over to the side of the bed.
"Boy, how are you feeling after the procedure?" I asked.
"Um, I guess I'm doing alright. They haven't told me what to do yet. Well, they just said to rest a lot. I'm not used to that much time without someone telling me to do something. For a while, I'd wake up at night and be afraid that I was supposed to be doing something and I was being a lazy idiot again," he said with a slight smile.
"But you're past feeling that way, aren't you?" I asked him.
"Oh, mostly, I guess. Sometimes, like when you came in, I was thinking about all the things that were left undone over at the farm. Do you know what is to become of the animals, sir?"
"I'm sure that Dan's team will see that they're taken care of, Boy. They'll be just fine."
AJ asked him, "What things did you have to do at the farm, Boy."
I panicked a bit, thinking of all the things that he did and still got punished for, but I let Boy tell it his way.
"Well, let's see, I'd wake up when someone kicked my cot or a pallet when that's all I got. I had a few minutes to eat and pee and those kinds of things," he said blushing a bit.
"And get dressed, you mean?" asked my boy.
"Um, dressed? No, I usually just went to work. I always wore my pants and shirt to bed because that would keep me warmer at night. In the hot part . . . oh, summer I guess it was, I'd still wear my clothes, so I could get to my work quicker. If I didn't . . . well . . ."
And that was the part I was waiting for, waiting for Boy to explain his punishments that I'm sure came regularly and probably several times a day.
"If you didn't you got spanked or somethin'?" asked AJ.
Boy looked up at me and I nodded. It was a simple answer that AJ could understand.
"Yes, well, that's what he did mostly, kind of."
I couldn't imagine what the old man really did. Actually, seeing his back, I could imagine a lot.
"Then I'd clean up my space and then tend to my friends, I mean the animals. There was a goat and two sheep and some cats. They all stayed out in the barn or in the back. I got to go into the field behind the barn and walk all over sometimes. That was nice. If I got back in time, I'd get another scoop for lunch and then I'd clean up the house until it was almost bedtime. That's when I usually got my pun . . . um." He looked at me real worried, like he'd done something wrong.
"It's okay, Boy. AJ, you know that Boy wasn't treated very nicely, don't you? That's why he's been in the hospital."
"Yeah, so you got hit a lot, right?" he asked of his new friend.
"Yes, a lot. I hope you never got hit like that. I'd feel really bad if you did."
"Um, well, I only got some bullying done a coupla times, one real bad time when Dad first found me," he said turning to me and smiling. "Oh, and my mom's boyfriend, who was a real creep, he tried to hit me and stuff, but I kicked him in the balls and left." AJ made the gesture of grabbing his groin, showing Boy which balls he meant.
"You . . . you did? Didn't he find you and whip, um, hurt you more?"
"Nope, I was lucky you could say. My mom and that guy got killed in a car accident before I came back there."
"Your mom? Oh, yeah. That's so sad that she died. I'm sorry for you, AJ."
It looked like he was on the brink of tears, but he tended to look like that a lot, usually worried that he'd said or done something wrong.
"Oh, it's okay. She was a real bit . . ." He quickly swung around to look at me with a panicked look on his face.
I just shook my head in disbelief and smiled.
He smiled back and turned back to his friend.
"Okay, you guys talk, and I'll go get something to drink for you two. AJ, if you need help or have a question, don't hesitate to call a nurse though we should be right in that waiting room across the hall."
"'Kay. Isn't there a button I can use for that somewhere on the bed?"
"I suppose. Do you know where it is, Boy?"
"Um, yes, it's on this cord but I've never used it."
"You mean you've been here all this time and you've never needed to call a nurse for help or anything?" asked AJ.
"Well, I, uh, I just waited until they came in. I, uh, I didn't want to bother them."
"Boy, I know you aren't used to people caring about you, about wanting you to feel good, to not hurt, but you need to help them by telling them what you need. Do you think you can do that?"
"Oh, I never thought about me keeping them from doing their work. I hope I didn't get them in any trouble."
"No, they aren't in any trouble. They just want to make sure you're comfortable, that you heal well so you can leave and be a new boy in the world outside of this place."
"Oh, I see." He still didn't sound convinced.
AJ spent a lot of his time while we'd talked, looking back at me, after hearing some incredulous thing from Boy, like the last bit of dialog.
"Okay, I'm off. Be right back, boys."
I stopped at the nurse's station to ask them to tell Dan and Linda Sue that I'd be back in a few minutes and meet them in the waiting room. I went down to the cafeteria and got two chocolate milkshakes, and four huge cookies.
Dan and Linda Sue still weren't there when I got back. When I walked into Boy's room, AJ had climbed up onto the foot of Boy's bed and he was talking away, something having to do with school, I thought.
"Hi, Dad. I was telling Boy about the time Stewart and I met and how we helped the two guys, Brad and Devon, through their problems about bullying."
"Good, AJ. Boy, what do think about all that?"
"I couldn't help thinking that what AJ and his friend did was really nice of them, but it probably wouldn't have changed the old man."
"No," I replied, "You're probably right."
"Wow, Sir. You got a different color milkshake than I've had before. Thank you." Boy took a tentative taste of the new flavor. "M-m-m, I like this one too."
"Yeah, I think chocolate is my favorite. But not just because of the neat taste, huh, Dad?"
It took me a second to grasp what he was getting at until I remembered the first time, I'd met the little pipsqueak and took him to McDonald's. Along with a meal, he'd enjoyed a chocolate milkshake. The memory flooded my emotions and made it hard to answer him right away. That was a precious memory. I'm glad it was for him too.
"Yup, it's my favorite to give to special boys, too. Oh, here's a coupla cookies each," I said.
The boys kept on talking.
"So, what kind of sports do you like?"
"Sports?" asked Boy.
"Yeah, you know, like soccer or baseball or maybe football; that kind of sports. You play any of those?"
As I came to realize where this conversation was heading I almost stopped AJ, but his look to me said it all. He realized what he'd started.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Boy. I forgot that you prob'ly didn't get to play any sports, huh?"
"Well, no but, I was just thinking about something else you said, the other word."
"The other word?" AJ repeated, looking at me for help.
I shrugged my shoulders.
"What other word, Boy?" I asked.
"Oh, um, the word was 'Play: To engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.'"
I think AJ's and my mouth both dropped open as we looked at each other, then at the boy lying on the bed.
"Wo-ow! You mean you never got to play, like anything?"
"Um, I suppose when I chased the goat or one of the cats found a long piece of string once and we tugged it. Is that play? I laughed out loud. The first time he didn't hear me, even. The second time, well, that wasn't so fun when he heard me."
This kid was almost literally living in a hell on Earth. I was so glad we'd found him before . . .
I finally told the boys I'd be in the waiting room like I'd explained before and went out to wait for the other two.
When Dan and Linda Sue came into the waiting room, Dan seemed pretty serious and said that we should go into Boy's room. As we entered his room the glow on Boy's face was almost magical. Oh, it wasn't the brightest or the widest smile, and it wasn't something special in his big brown eyes that told me. But he did smile and looked genuinely happy to see someone, maybe for the first time in his life.
"Boy, it's so good to see that beautiful smile on your face. Aren't you sore from your operations?" asked Linda Sue.
He kept up his smile as Linda Sue walked closer and kissed his forehead.
"Oh yes, ma'am. I hurt real bad but seeing you and Sir come in and be with my two other friends, that's too good to let some pain get in the way. I wasn't allowed to let, what did he say, oh, I wasn't allowed to wallow in my pain. See, I didn't have a choice then. But right now, I get a choice and I don't want some pain to get in the way of me enjoying seeing all of you together with me."
More often than not, we were in awe by what Boy would say. His revelations often shocked us. His insights were simple and pure and, thank goodness, becoming sweeter, happier, and more positive each day.
"So," said Linda Sue, turning toward Dan, "What's this big news you have? I didn't expect to get together until we knew the outcome of the DNA scan through the database."
"Exactly," Dan told her, holding up the manila folder. "I did look already at the results of the search. I'm glad I did, because now we know who Boy is. We even know who he belongs to."
"You mean, he doesn't get to stay with us, Dad?" asked AJ, a little disappointed.
I just looked at Dan to let him answer.
"No, son. He has a home to go to now and someone who deeply loves him. I'm sure you'll be excited for him too."
"Well, Dan, are you ever gonna tell us?" I asked.
"I'm getting there. Hold your horses."
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar