Disclaimer: See Part 1
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“Well, I did not find anything broken. Manuel. But, you will have quite a bruise on that shoulder for a good week.” Dr Chella remarked as she ran a hand carefully over his strained shoulder muscles. “I'll give you a sling to use. You'll need to wear it during the day to immobilize the arm from swinging so much so those muscles can rest and heal.” She prescribed to the young man who was sitting shirtless on her exam table.
She couldn't help but notice some very old scarring from what looked like tiny burn marks on his side and across his stomach. They were very small. He must have noticed her subtle examination because he jumped off the table and grabbed his t-shirt. He was dressed and almost walking out the door when she stopped him.
“Can I show you how to put on the sling? If I don't show you then you'll just have to let someone else examine you.” He turned back to her with a solemn face and haunted brown eyes. It took all her strength to look back at him impassively. He finally dropped her gaze and moved back toward her. Dr. Chella grabbed the sling from a nearby cabinet and took a second to breathe deeply. This kid was one tough customer. The wrong remark and she wouldn't be seeing him again. This she knew.
Turning to show him the cloth device, she gently moved him to face sideways to her so she could put the wrap around his upper body. A Velcro on his left side and a careful tuck of his arm into the cup of the cloth she quickly tied the two loose ends by his neck. He adjusted his arm and nodded. She patted his good shoulder and had him sit down in the patient chair.
“I don't think you will need anything besides aspirin for the pain but if it gets worse or you feel any other symptoms of nausea, dizziness, or things of that nature, make sure you let me know. Here is my personal card. It has my cell phone. I may not answer right away but I check it religiously. So use it if you need, for any reason.” She met his calmer gaze and he nodded quietly once again. The submission was so out of character for a 14 year old she kneeled down to his height in the chair.
“I'm a doctor Manuel, not a psychiatrist or a cop. I won't pretend I didn't see those scars, but I wouldn't be a very good doctor if I didn't look at them. If you want I can get you some cream that will repair the skin?”
He looked at her and away, shrugging. A slight hiss sounded as he forgot about his shoulder. Dr. Chella read thru the lines and nodded.
“It's a night cream. Rub it on the area after you bathe.”
He fiddled with the edge of the sling and she stood up. His posture straightened a bit as she backed away.
“If you want to talk to someone, someone who can work with you..?” He shook his head and crossed the room to the door.
She sighed at his instant withdrawal, and rubbed a finger across her brow to erase the wrinkle that had formed there. Becky Ann definitely had her hands full.
“Ouch. That looks…confining. All done there champ?” Becky took a look at his snug sling and grimaced on his behalf. The thought of being constrained like that was tantamount to prison for her large frame. Even on the young boy he looked pinched and upset.
Manual didn't respond and Becky looked over his shoulder to catch Dr. Chella's small shake of her head. An eyebrow rose in question but she refrained from any questions for the moment.
“We can't thank you enough, Sabrina, especially with such short notice and everything.” Becky walked over and kissed the blondes cheek.
Dr. Chella smiled warmly at them both and gestured to her young charge.
“He has his instructions. There will be a prescript for him at the pharmacy but I'm sure that can wait. You guys are going to see Charlie, right? She will be really glad for some company. Keeping her on bed rest is killing my staff!”
Manuel glanced up from his sling, his brown eyes suddenly glowing with an inner light of eagerness. “Yes. I'd like to see Charlie, please.” He rubbed his arm giving himself half a hug. Becky noticed the nervous tic Manual seems to display when he was stressed. He may have gotten rid of whatever he used to feel was a safety clutch when she first met him, but his overly sensitive demeanor was fairly evident if someone just looked at him long enough. She wondered what upset him.
“Next stop on my list, buddy. She is just down this hall and then take a right at the end, room 216 if you want to surprise her. And Manuel…” The young man looked back at Becky already two steps in the direction of Charlie's location. “Take care to not upset her. She may act like she feels alright but she is...fragile.” Becky noted his clenched jaw and a curt nod from the rebellious teen. He may hate having guidelines given to him but, she'd be damned if she was going to let a surly attitude harm Charlie's recovery. He would treat her like she deserved. And in Becky's eyes that was with respect. Her dark gaze stared at him until they both knew Manuel understood she meant business.
Sabrina gave an update to Becky on the general health of Manuel and his injury. She also provided her with the information about his scarring. As his caretaker she knew Becky would be one of the few people who understood the scarring was not just on the surface. Becky did understand; her own battles with foster care abuse returned to haunt her for a moment as she listened to Sabrina. Her expression grim, she dealt with a slew of emotions, primarily fury. This young man's life seemed to mirror her childhood, too closely for any comfort. Sabrina reached over and gently rubbed her fingers on Becky's arm to give her some friendly comfort. A small smile and a few rapid blinks later Becky shook her head to get out of the downward spiral her thoughts had taken.
“I don't understand people, Sabrina. I really don't. I know you go thru this with children every day and every day I thank God my parents found me.”
“Ain't that the truth, Becky Anne? The day your momma was brought onto this earth was the day the angels cried. They were so upset to lose one of their own. I know she watches over us. So I know you will figure out a way to reach him. Take it one step at a time.” Sabrina advised.
Becky nodded and bowed her head.
“I'd talk to Charlie as well. She knows Manuals fears and he trusts her or he wouldn't have stuck around. She might be able to persuade him to get involved in some sort of therapy, possibly.” Sabrina's words faded at the silence from her friend. She knew Becky was listening and somewhere in that genius she was filing and listing on the mental to-do list.
“Thank you.” Becky reached over and clasped Sabrina's forearm. “I know I can be a real challenge but you are the best friend.” She knew her friend was just as worried about these kids as she was herself.
Sabrina smiled softly at Becky. “You aren't so bad yourself, Ms Becky Anne Barton. Besides,” Sabrina cleared her throat as she shoved her hands into her scrub pockets awkwardly. “You're not the only challenge I've been dealing with lately.” Her sparkling eyes and a wide grin that spread across her face conveyed a smugness that had Becky puzzled at the confident doctors not so graceful fidgeting. “That little soldier you brought to us is keeping me on my Medical toes. If he isn't asking me about Gwen's”, she held her fingers up in double quote marks, “forward progress, he is looking up vintage terms from a colossal medical dictionary I dug out of my library. Danny boy has the makings of a major challenge to even exceed your own mighty capable ability.”
Sabrina pulled the stethoscope from her pocket and twisted one of the ear plugs, looking intently at her equipment and avoiding Becky's frowning countenance.
“Is there something wrong? If you need me too I can talk to him and find another way to handle his stay here at the hospital. Is he causing you proble….”
“No, oh no, Becky, he's a perfect gentleman. Um, nothing is wrong. I was just trying to…” Sabrina bit the inside of her cheek and shoved the hearing device in her pocket roughly. Her expression was filled with a tension Becky rarely noted in her friend. Sabrina licked her lips and looked at Becky then away. “He is more than a perfect gentleman. He is quite honestly, the first kid I've liked that I can spend time with more than an hour.” Sabrina flushed red, her embarrassment clearly evident. Becky raised an eyebrow at the strange confession. Dr. Chella was not only a medical physician but according to a degree hanging on her office wall, a Pediatrician. Becky wasn't sure she quite understood the last remark.
“I am not sure what you're trying to tell me Sabrina. But, I'll bet there is a point here somewhere.”
Sabrina nodded and gave a crooked grin at her own ineptness.
“I was trying to tell you Michelle and I have been spending quite a bit of time with the little guy and she and I have been talking about…maybe…looking into adoption?” Sabrina opened her eyes wide as her voice became a whisper on the last word. Her hands were clasped together tightly and she shifted from one foot to the other as she waited for Becky's feedback.
Becky sifted thru the idea for about a half a second and then grinned. The full smile was definitely in approval.
Sabrina beamed at the response and nodded rapidly. Her happiness was contagious as Becky reached out and grabbed the blonde and gave her a fun twirl as they danced in the hospital hallway. Becky ended the moment as she pulled Sabrina into a mini dance spin. Sabrina laughed and fell into Becky's broad chest with a giggle. She straightened up and looked around noticing a few nurses studiously avoiding her gaze. She shrugged back at Becky and felt the lightness of the movement compared to moments ago when she felt the massive weight of indecision.
“I was going to look into it with a lawyer but since you've had yours digging around I thought she might have some information on where I should start?”
“I'll definitely give her a call. I'm sure she will have some input for you. I'm happy for you and if Danny is happy I think you guys would make a lovely family. Is Gwen doing OK? Charlie? Is she improving?” Becky didn't want to sound too possessive but her worries grew when she thought of the two patients actually here for medical assistance. One was so young and fragile, and the other was…constantly on her mind. She felt the urge to go see her even now.
“I was going to see if I could take Charlie down to visit with Gwen and Danny? That is after I figure out a way to explain that two street thugs tried to beat up her eldest child.” Becky grimaced. She was not looking forward to that conversation. Although out of her control she felt entirely responsible for the incident. Her internal insecurities about caring properly for the children managed to dance on her nerves at the worst times. Not having any previous parenting experience she was often remembering things her own mother did or said and she worried she might miss something important.
“They are both doing quite well. Danny is keeping Gwen motivated but, we have her sleeping quite a bit to recover more easily. Michelle and I are keeping him occupied. It's only been a few days but we need to let Gwen heal up a bit from the surgery before we start working in physical therapy. Danny is peppering Michelle with just as many questions about that direction of Gwen's care so both kids are getting completely knowledgeable about the healing process. Charlie has also spent some time with them. She requested a nurse take her to their room and she stayed in the wheelchair the entire time.” Sabrina quickly stated when Becky opened her mouth to protest.
Nodding her head, Becky felt a little tension slide from her shoulders. She knew Gwen would feel much better with Charlie nearby.
“I've got to go check on a patient but have that gal lawyer of yours call or email me. I'm super curious to know if we have any kind of options here.” Sabrina grinned again and headed off toward the opposite end of the hall.
Becky turned and walked down the hallway. Deep in thought she wondered what she could tell Charlie that would persuade the hospitalized woman that Manual was safe. The freak accident of those slime bags attacking him was not going to happen again. Becky knew she couldn't be there 100% of the time but after the event she realized Manual had reacted perfectly. He protected the weak and fought against the strong, coming out on top. She wanted to convey that intelligent and instinctive part of him to his guardian. Becky wanted to let Charlie know when push came to shove Manual knew what to do. He must have had a good teacher.
Wanting to provide a stable environment, not only for Manuel but all the other children, seemed like it would be an easy task at first. How hard can it really be, considering she was willing and had the resources? But, it wasn't turning out that well. She was only touching the surface and will so many kids she wasn't touching enough surface for all of them. Just like Manual and his attitude. She wanted to let him know he had boundaries but he had to earn them. She needed more help. She needed to get Charlie to help her. Unfortunately, Charlie seemed the most messed up one of them all except for loving those kids. Becky sighed with some understanding.
With her own background not that far from where they were raised, living day to day, meal to meal, scared, and out of sync with society by not going to school or having friends, she'd been there. She'd lived in that fear and loneliness, anger and hurt. She'd even lived the pain, memories that she would never be rid of. And for the majority of it she didn't have a Charlie looking out for her either. Not until her parents stepped into her life.
“At least I know where they are coming from.” She murmured to herself, as she turned the hallway corner toward the room she most wanted to be in and yet didn't.
Do you know where they want to go? Her mother's cryptic, but perceptive commentaries made Becky hesitate before entering the door to Charlie's room.
Not yet, s he conceded reluctantly within her thoughts. She really only knew the outside of the children and she sure as heck didn't know Charlie well enough to try and understand why she fought so aggressively at having someone help them all. Becky really wanted to sit down and write out a list of directions she could take to get these kids into being kids again. Love and safety was not their primary focus, they were only trying to survive. But, having the key knowledge about understanding how they think didn't mean it would be any easier to opening the lock they were walled in behind. Each child was obviously suffering from abandonment and neglect. Fear and mistrust were probably only the exterior issues. The inopportune lyrics of a Sara Bareilles song came into her head. She sometimes did feel like her head was underwater and everyone was telling her to breathe easy.
She physically straightened up to give a tall and confident demeanor; her broad shoulders loosening from their previously tension filled slouch. At this moment she did not want to give Charlie any stressful tones. If nothing else, she knew these children depended on their de facto mother figure and the odds were Charlie would not trust anybody, if it meant letting her guard down or if she felt the slightest weakness.
Becky remembered many youthful hours spent uncomfortably sitting with her back wedged into the farthest corner of the painting room, her eyes darting around, skittish, as her new foster mom calmly pressed different colored paint blobs against the canvasses. She couldn't trust a stranger even if it was a nice woman who talked to her about all sorts of things. It took small calm patient steps, spread out over months, for her mother to break into her heart and lure it out to the surface. She remembered the sliced apples mom cut religiously and set next to her every time they shared the room. The first time she actually took one and nibbled on it, the painting of some portrait she had been watching emerge was suddenly smeared with yellows and bright oranges.
It was a giant happy rainbow, as I recall.
Yes Mother, so you said, painted right across someone's face.
Becky felt a smile slip over her features at the amusing memory. She knocked on the partially open door and heard Charlie reply from within, allowing her to enter. The smile remained steady as she pushed the door and took in the two figures across the room. The bright lighting showed the bed reclined Charlie as pale but looking much stronger than previously. Manual stood beside her his starch white sling conspicuous across his chest. With a confident nod she greeted them both with a warm voice.
Charlie sucked in her cheek but managed to nod back and respond with a civil hello as well. After all, this was her new boss in a few days. If Becky Barton could take her out of this hospital confinement any faster, in that case Charlie could at least be civil. Her resolve lasted all of two seconds.
“Did the bastards that did this to Manuel get put in jail?” She instantly raged to the tall woman that entered the room. Feeling the anger sweep over her and couldn't bite back the resentment from seeing Manual wounded. She felt an enormous amount of guilt at not being there for him.
Becky kept her face relaxed and calm. The little spitfire before her was overly excitable .
Two seconds mother. Is that a record?
She nodded confirmation as she moved across the room. Trying to stay calm for the hyper sensitive pregnant mother-to-be, she noticed the small flinch that Manual made at Charlie's excited comments. He seemed to suck in a breath and hold it.
Becky gave a low dangerous chuckle. “Yes, those two punks are definitely behind bars. And will stay there for a while, thanks to Manuel.” With a darting gaze, the boy lifted his head to regard her with some anxiety. She smiled proudly back at him looking into his eyes. He lifted his chin and gave a ghost of a smile back.
Becky regarded the bed confined woman and noticed the small clenched hands on the bed covers. She knew Charlie was unable to fight an ingrained habit to be defensive toward everything in her life. So far, defensiveness and disbelief were the only protections she had shown toward Becky. For a moment, Becky let a slender needle of sadness burst her determination balloon. The idea of Charlie never being able to talk to her with some level of caring made her heart hurt. Pushing past that deflating attitude, Becky drew in a calming breath to add to her remarks.
“Has he filled you in about his adventure? He's quite the hero. Rates right up there with Spiderman according to the other kids. He just barely lost Superman status because his shoulder was injured. Unfortunately, he now has to wear that arm sling for a bit until his shoulder muscles heal up.”
Manuel picked nervously at the cloth of his sling, eyes averted from his foster mother, as he nodded. Becky offered him encouragement.
“Fortunately, he reacted quickly and used some of his fighting skills, and he was able to protect himself and others to catch the bad guys. He did nothing wrong and everything right. You can be very proud of him.” Becky concluded deliberately catching Charlie's startled eyes as they swiveled to look at her. She tilted her head minutely toward the nervous young man who was very busy trying to smooth the layers of cloth covering his arm.
Charlie glanced at Manual and back at Becky and then turned toward Manual taking a deep breath.
“Well, he has always protected those around him. That's why the others look up to him.” Charlie reached out and ran a hand down his arm in comfort. She smiled as he looked over at her wide-eyed. After a moment he seemed to lean into her touch and yet still remain aloof next to her bed. It was a moment between the two and Becky felt the visible tension in her muscles relaxing. The hands that clenched the bed cloth were no longer in a death grip.
Clearing her throat, Becky put her hands into her pockets and rocked on her heals.
“Would you two like to go visit with Gwen and Danny? I've heard Dr. Chella says Gwen is doing well and Danny seems to be behaving himself as he learns to become a doctor.” Becky gave a half grin and hoped the moody pair would take the offer at face value.
Charlie gave Manual's arm a final squeeze and with a bit of a smile, she turned to Becky and nodded. “Please,” was her soft reply.
The three entered the younger children's room to find Gwen and Danny awake and animated. Manual went over to spend some time with Danny in the small table area. They both sat in the beanbag chairs and Danny cross examined Manual about his arm and injury.
“How are you feeling Gwen?” Becky asked as she moved Charlie closer in the wheelchair. The small figure in her bed had a wire contraption above her with her leg fixed in a hanging position. A sheet covered the entire thing acting like a tent over half the bed. Charlie quickly reached over and found Gwen's hand to clasp it in her own. Gwen gave a big grin to both of them, her brown eyes sparkling.
“Dr. Chella says my leg is all fixed. I am going to be running before long. But, I have to do therapy.” Her smile was contagious. Becky grabbed a chair and moved it to the other side of her bed.
“That's wonderful, sweetheart.” Becky reached over and ran a hand over the girl's forehead and wiry hair. Gwen captured her hand and held it tight bringing Charlie's hand up as well. She put them both together on her chest as she talked. Becky ignored the tension radiating from the other woman as she easily covered Charlie's hand with her own.
“I have a cast on my leg too. Its blue but Dr. Chella says it will turn white when she replaces the hard one with something softer. She says she is going to sign it. All my friends are supposed to sign it.” Gwen frowned suddenly. “You'll sign it too, right?”
She urged Becky, her small face turning from side to side as she looked back and forth between the two women. Charlie and Becky both nodded promising to sign the cast. The wrinkled forehead smoothed on the little girls face and she grinned once again.
Gwen talked for ten more minutes and began to yawn. Her little mouth opening so wide Becky couldn't help but smile. Charlie removed her trapped hand to caress Gwen's head.
The child soon drifted off to sleep as Becky told her about her new room she was going to be coming home to live in. A light touch on her wrist stopped her from speaking as Charlie motioned to Gwen's sleeping figure.
Becky stood and leaned over to kiss Gwen's forehead. “Night angel, sleep tight.” Gwen sighed in her sleep.
Charlie watched the dark haired benefactor give the tender kiss to little Gwen and she bit her lip fighting the urge to challenge the sweet gesture. Becky was constantly crossing boundaries that Charlie had put firmly in place. She didn't trust her and didn't want to trust her when it came to these kids. There must be an ulterior motive. Dark eyes met her stormy green and a darkly raised eyebrow was all she was given as she tried to convey her troubled thoughts.
“She has an automadict medicine drip up there.” Danny was suddenly beside Becky pointing to the high pole filled with a liquid filled bag hanging down from a hook. The nurse said she would get sleepy a lot when her medicine was given.” His knowledge was given in a confident mannor. He even managed to stand legs wide spread and hands in his jeans as if he were providing a diagnosis. Becky rubbed her chin to avoid grinning at his little Dr. Chella impersonation. “It must have kicked in cause she falls asleep really quickly.” Danny shrugged and turned back to Manual.
“Well, now we know,” she grinned over at Charlie. The green eyes looked away from Danny and twinkled for a moment before they were hidden by hooded lids.
Danny wanted to know if he could show them the cafeteria. Gwen would be asleep for hours and Dr. Chella told him, he could visit the small eating facility if he was with an adult.
Manual pushed Charlie and Becky walked with Danny, as they headed one wing over. The spacious cafeteria had a buffet style, serve yourself and a quick grill. Danny pointed out a yogurt machine and they both headed over to grab four scoops. They deposited them on the table in front of the other two and all four enjoyed the moment of frozen yogurt. Charlie licked her spoon clean. She saw three sets of eyes looking at her and gave a sheepish grin.
“They haven't served me any yogurt. It's delicious.”
“Would anyone like some more?” Becky inquired, looking at the boys but smiling.
“Wanna help me out here, Danny.” He scrambled off his chair with a huge smile. The two of them made their way back to get a 2 nd helping. Charlie tried to ignore her flushed cheeks as she enjoyed the creamy yogurt 2 nd helping.
Becky asked Danny about the therapy and Danny gave Manual some helpful exercises to try if he wanted to strengthen his arm.
Unfortunately, the cold treat did not keep Charlie from yawning as they all sat back, finished with the treat. She was almost ready to doze off when Becky gathered up the small plastic cups and spoons. She deposited them in the nearby receptacle and announced it was time to head back. Manual and Danny nodded and stood up.
“You ready, Charlie?” Dark eyes looked into the sleepy green across from her.
Charlie nodded and covered her mouth as she yawned.
They walked back by Danny's room and he got a quick goodnight kiss from Charlie before heading back into his room.
Becky pushed Charlie into her room and quietly lifted the smaller woman into her bed. Charlie was beat and quickly settled into her pillows. Becky pushed back the blonde bangs from Charlie's forehead gently. She lowered the electronic lift of the bed down and avoided the intense gaze coming from Manual as she tucked Charlie in.
“It's time to head home, buddy. We can stop by the pharmacy on the way out and grab your meds. How's your arm feel?”
Manual grunted. “It's sore but only when I move it in certain ways. Is Charlie coming home soon? Did Dr. Chella say when she could leave the hospital? Some of the kids really miss her.” Manual stated quietly as he followed her through the hallways of the hospital. He looked up at Becky and back down at his feet as he walked
“She is doing much better. Can't you tell? She's definitely gained some weight and Dr. Chella says she expects her to be able to come home soon. She just wants to make sure Charlie is stable with her blood pressure and that the baby is doing well. As soon as I get the word I'll let you know. In the mean time we need to fix up a room for her and figure out a more permanent sleeping arrangement for all of you children as well. How about you scout out some of the rooms in your wing and tell me what you think might work for the kids?” She challenged the fourteen year old with the task and hoped he would help. He gave a small nod.
Becky grabbed a couple of cokes from the cooler standing in the pharmacy. They twisted the caps off simultaneously. Becky smiled as they both lifted the bottles to drink. Hospitals apparently dehydrate people.
His brown eyes narrowed a bit and his set jaw notifying a conflict within. “Where is Charlie going to sleep?”
Becky gave him credit for looking out for Charlie's welfare and didn't take any offense at his hard direct stare he asked the question.
“I'm letting Doreen fix up the nursery and the suite next to it for Charlie.” The floor right above my bedroom, she thought internally. “I thought she might need the quiet for the baby.” Becky hoped her slight apprehension didn't show to the boy. She was worried Charlie might resist being so far away from the kids and, her mind played through an intimate thought, Charlie would resist being so close to her own bedroom.
She is pregnant. She will resist a lot of things before the year is out.
Becky managed not to snort the coke as she choked back the laughter with that poignant mental comment. Her mother had an extremely wicked sense of humor and the worst timing ever.Manual fiddled with his sling and pressed his lips together tightly as he watched her every move.
Continued in Part 8
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