Nervous of the answer I let Sawyer ask Uncle Ben how things stood. He answered, “’Bout as good as can be expected. Jeannie is blaming herself. Benedict is scared to death. They’ve moved the boy out of the NICU but he still just ain’t acting right.”
Relived and surprised at the answer I blinked, trying to figure out why they were all so still upset. “Wait, he’s out of NICU this fast? Don’t you know how good that is?”
Uncle Ben looked at me in surprise. “Good?”
“Seriously good. They wouldn’t move him out of NICU if they thought he was in danger.” I looked at Sawyer and said, “He’s going to live.”
Benedict came through the door and said, “They don’t know if he’s going to have anything wrong with him.”
“Don’t be stupid. He’s a Hartford boy. Every one of you has something wrong with you so I don’t see why he’d escape whatever damage you turkeys have. Move.”
Linda was sitting beside Jeannie looking like she was trying to swallow a surprised giggle. Jeannie was just staring at me with a tear stained face and her mouth hanging open like she couldn’t believe what I’d just said. I told her, “They moved him out of NICU!”
“I … I know. They just told us.”
“Then why are you crying?”
“They said … they said they still aren’t sure …”
“Whether there is something wrong with him because his oxygen was cut off?”
Benedict came in angry and started to say, “Dammit … don’t upset her.”
“What’s upsetting is for me to see the two of you act like the world is coming to an end. Your little boy is going to live! Why aren’t you jumping up and down crazy happy about that?”
They just looked at me confused. I shook my head. “For you to be church people you sure do need reminding of things a lot. Look at me. You know how long I lived in the NICU and PICU until they thought I might live? Most of the first year of my life. And yet here I am. Life wasn’t easy, it wasn’t great, but I’m alive and most of the time I’ve managed to find that a pretty good thing to be. And that was without too many people around to encourage me to feel that way. You have a whole family full of people that can go around telling your baby that being alive is a good thing and to keep trying to be alive on those days that it isn’t so great. You can love him and touch him and he can love and touch you. Where’s your faith? Even I know about that stuff and I’d never been in a real church kinda place until Sawyer took me that first time. And where is Preacher Don? He’s a lot better at explaining this stuff than I am.” I shook my head and left the room.
Sawyer followed me as I went down the hallway I knew all too well. “Wait. Kay-Lee stop.” He grabbed my arm and turned me to him. “Where are you going?”
“Back to where I started. I was dead a couple of times before they got me here. I guess I died a couple more before I decided I was no good at it and gave it up in favor of trying something else.”
Shocked Sawyer yelped, “Kay-Lee!”
I shook my head, giddy in my relief. “Oh Sawyer. I guess it is just one of those things you’re not going to understand. You kinda had to be there. I don’t remember it, people just tell me about it and … well … it just is the way it was.”
Sawyer shrugged and followed me through the maze of hallways until we were in front of an old-fashioned viewing window. Most of the modern hospitals were getting rid of those windows for security reasons but they hadn’t here yet. I looked and found him almost immediately. “Oh look … there he is. Wow, he looks like Jeannie and Benedict all mashed together.”
“He isn’t crying,” Sawyer observed with concern. “All of the other babies are looking cranky or tuning up.”
Leaping to the baby’s defense whether I needed to or not I said, “He just went through an ordeal. He was tangled up coming out. Has probably been handled by dozens of medical staff whether he wanted to be or not. Shoved up and in one bassinet with a bunch of wires and monitors, lights blazing away at him, and now shoved in this one and put on display like a prize pig or something. Oh look! He moved. See?! He did it again. I bet he starts crying to be fed in under a minute.”
“How do you know that? I didn’t think you had anything to do with babies.”
I shook my head. “I said the school didn’t want us in their childcare program but when you are in foster care you pretty much learn about babies whether you want to or not. Older kids are always expected to help with younger kids. Plus I was in the hospital a lot and basically lived on pediatric units sometimes. Kids of all ages and pains were there.”
“So you know about kids.”
“Enough. And if I know anything that baby is a Hartford … and a boy Hartford on top of it. And if I know anything about boy Hartfords it is that they do not tolerate being hungry for very long without … see … told you.”
Baby Boy Hartford made a horrible face then started yelling. He wasn’t very loud but he was very definite about his displeasure. He even startled the nurse that had been changing another baby in the background.
I couldn’t help it. A laugh bubbled out of me and I clapped my hands. “You tell ‘em Baby Hartford!” I turned to Sawyer who was looking from me to the baby with a puzzled expression. “How did you … I mean … you said it would and then … it did … I …”
“Don’t just stand there. Call Benedict and tell him to put … oh never mind. I’ll do it.”
I called Linda’s phone and when she picked up told her to give the phone to Jeannie right away. “What?” she sniffled.
“Listen,” I told her before putting the phone to the glass. Then I took it away. “Know what that is? Someone letting the world know that he is disgusted with his situation and wants to be fed or changed or maybe both. But the face he is making sure says he wants to club someone. Looks just like a Hartford before he has had his first cup of coffee in the morning.”
It sounded like the phone fell or had been dropped and then I heard Jeannie demand, “Benedict get that chair over here and you push me where I need to go … right now. Hurry. He’s crying and I gotta …”
I didn’t hear anything else but I knew Jeannie so told Sawyer to stand back out of the way because if Benedict didn’t move fast enough Jeannie was liable to make a run down the hall with or without him.
Later that evening Sawyer and I were walking out of Jeannie’s room. I was so happy I was wiping tears from my eyes but I guess your average person would have thought the tears were for another reason. Certainly a man that we almost ran into did. He looked at me and then turned very pale and started to keel over.
Sawyer yelled, “Benedict!”
Benedict came out just in time to see Sawyer and I trying to keep the guy from buckling all the way to the floor. “What the heck?”
The man looked at Benedict and said, “Jeannie? The … the baby?”
Benedict blinked and then stood straight and said, “They’re fine sir. We … uh … they … it was bad for a … but … oh geez.” He wilted and it finally clicked.
I patted the man’s shoulder and said, “Jeannie must take after her mother. Probably a good thing. Anyway, things were touch and go and then Benny Robert decided to show the whole nursery who is boss. Jeannie just finished feeding him and they took him off to do all of the necessary measurements and chart commentary. The pediatrician should be back shortly with the full run down. Speaking of down, you look like you need to sit down before you fall down. Would you like a chair?”
“Jeannie … my little girl …”
Sawyer slid a chair under him so we could put him in it. He wasn’t exactly a lightweight. Benedict carefully went back when Jeannie demanded to know what was going on. A nurse was looking at us prepared to intervene when Benedict came out and asked Jeannie’s father, “Would … would you please come say hello to Jeannie? She … she really needs you to. If you want me to stay out here …”
The man shook his head. “No … no I’d like to see both of you. Hear … hear how Jeannie … how both of you … have been doing. Maybe … maybe see …”
“The baby? I’ll go ask the doctor.”
“After I see Jeannie.”
The man disappeared into the room and Benedict glanced at Sawyer, looking confused before going in and closing the door.
Thinking it over I said, “Guess there really is a reason for everything, even bad stuff.”
Continuing down the rabbit trail were traveling I said, “It just seems sad that it took Benny Robert nearly getting strangled to get Jeannie’s family to start coming around. They sound as hard headed as the Hartfords.”
Sawyer gave me a look and said, “Getting a little sassy there aren’t you?”
“Maybe. Ready to go? Whatever is happening in there is none of our business and will probably take a while. Benedict needs to handle it and if he can’t then Uncle Ben and Aunt Lurlene can.”
“Too right,” Sawyer said suddenly starting to hustle me towards the exit. “Let’s get out of here before there’s any more drama … like Jeannie’s mom or sister showing up.”
“Her mom will … as soon as she figures out Jeannie’s dad snuck over here. I’m not caring too much for the sister either way. She sounds like a stuck up snob. Even Jeannie’s uncle said something that one time I met him.”
We were out of the parking lot and on the way home before I thought to ask, “Did anyone tell Gramps what happened this morning?”
“Yeah. He said that the hospital wasn’t the place to talk about it, that we were all to focus on Benedict and Jeannie and the baby.”
I nodded. “OK. Can I ask you something else? Why didn’t the dogs go nuts like they normally do? I didn’t even think about it until Linda asked who’d grabbed the dogs.”
“I had shut them in their kennel in the barn because I’d just finished brushing out all of the stickers and crap they brought in on their coat where they went hunting with me. I left them in the kennel until I can make sure they won’t take any food from anyone but us. Someone could poison them.”
“Jamison … he could shoot them.”
“He hurts my dogs and that really will be the end of it.”
“I still worry that Uncle Forrester …”
Sawyer swore under his breath. “You really are determined on this aren’t you?”
Irritated I said, “Well just tell me to shut up then. It’s not every day I promise to commit mayhem on a man I never met and find out he’s some kind of family.”
I turned to look out at the dark through the fogged up passenger window. Sawyer sighed. “I didn’t mean that quite the way it sounded.”
“Whatever Sawyer. They’re your family, but I guess because I’ve been calling them that I expected them to act like it. I knew … or knew of … some of them before I knew you. Now I don’t know what to think.”
“Of the family or of them.”
“Both. If Gramps thinks you bunch are going to play nice together in the middle of the end of the world I can pretty much say after this morning’s actions that he is in for some serious disappointment. And I hope that the family job he is setting you up with doesn’t include laying down and letting people walk all over you just because they feel they are due something or other.”
We were silent the rest of the way home, both of us deep into our own thoughts. It was when we pulled in that we saw Cutter sitting on the porch.