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The Redemption, Book 2

by Joe Writer Man

Chapter 39

Mr. Shaver turned in his chair to fully face Mr. Stanberry, and said, "I would like to speak with you, alone, for a few minutes, before rendering my decision toward this matter."

He turned to Mom, then to Dad, then to me, then to Nathan, and then to Timmy. He nodded, then shifted his vision to Dad, and said, "Would you please excuse Mr. Stanberry and me for a few moments? Boys, please take your parents to the cafeteria. This shouldn't take very long. I apologize for the delay."

"Mr. Shaver, do we need a hall pass?" Nathan asked, innocently.

Mr. Stanberry reached for the pad of paper on his desk. I made an incoherent, snarky, quiet little comment, "Don't want Mom and Dad to get sent to the principal's office..."

Timmy snickered. Nathan sat up in his chair, stared straight ahead at a spot between Mr. Shaver and Mr. Stanberry... he was biting his lip, slightly. I dared not look at Mom after seeing the expression of anger on Mr. Stanberry's face. Mr. Shaver's eyes twitched, then they bore into my soul like a dagger, yet he wasn't angry, no, not at all... he was trying very, very hard not to grin.

I didn't look at Dad. I didn't need to. He placed his hand over mine, squeezed a little harder than 'normal'... you know, when a parent gives a reassuring little touch every now and again... no, it wasn't like one of those at all. I did steal a look toward Mom. Her expression was 'oh for the life of me! Will you stop it!'

The silence was deafening.

I didn't know who to look at, so very softly I said, "Sorry."

Mr. Stanberry, looked to his desk, scratched his chin, then began writing on the pad of paper. He tore the sheet off, then looked to me and held it high in the hair. That was my cue. Slowly, I got up, took the few steps to his desk and reached out my hand. He pulled it back, for just a moment, then lay it on the desk. That paper was like Kryptonite. Slowly, I reached for it, took hold of it, and then retreated back to my seat.

Mr. Stanberry, clearly annoyed, spat, "Master Joseph, this meeting affects the rest of your life. Whatever is decided here today will follow you for the rest of your life. If you'll excuse us..."

Mrs. Nicholson, the lady at the counter in the cafeteria, came to the window. She frowned, probably at seeing Nathan, Timmy and me – without hall passes.

Dad said, "They're with us. We've been in a meeting with the principal."

She smiled, nodded, asked, "What can I get for you folks?"

With our order placed and received, we found a table at the far end of the cafeteria, sat down, and talked about a few things that were not all that important. Although nothing was really said, we were anxious to receive the decision, so that we could get on with our lives.

Nathan, finished first, took his refuse to the trash can, returned and told Mom that he needed to use the can, that he'd be right back, could he go?

Mom gave her permission. Timmy stood, then with Dad's permission, they took off toward the restroom by the gym.

Mom's beeper shrieked an announcement that someone was trying to get hold of her. She excused herself, pulled out her cell phone, returned the call while rolling her eyes up... she wasn't very happy with getting paged since she was off work until later in the afternoon, at which time she'd be on duty until midnight, or later.

She said a few things, none of which made any sense to Dad or me, then she closed the phone, put it back in her purse, saying it had been the trauma patient care floor at the hospital requesting some orders, and that she didn't have to go in to work to give them in person.

Five or ten minutes later, Mr. Shaver came walking through the cafeteria to our table, "I've made my decision. Would you please come with me. I'd like to talk about this in private."

"Okay. We're waiting for our boys to return. They needed to use the facilities... what the heck? ..." Dad said, his gaze suddenly turning toward the glass partition, separating the hallway from the cafeteria.

That got everybody's attention... what I saw shocked me to the core. Immediately, I got pissed, but before I could say or do anything, Dad got up from his seat, walked to the door, opened it, went into the hallway... and at the same time Mr. Shaver followed him.

Two truancy officers, school guards, had Nathan and Timmy held by their shoulders. I could not see their hands, they were being held behind their backs.

Mom said, "Stay here, Joey." She then got up, walked out into the hallway where everybody was congregated.

I was biting nails, wondering what the fuck was going on between my little brothers and the adults. Unable to stop myself, I got up and walked to the doors.

Fuck … Nathan and Timmy, both had their wrists handcuffed behind their backs, however, the saving grace was that they were being removed. I entered the hallway, took hold of both of them, pulled them into my side, and put my arms around their shoulders. I took them both into the cafeteria and we all sat down at a table close to the doors.

"Those fucking idiots were taking us to detention. They got us in the restroom..."

Timmy started laughing his head off... he said, "They grabbed me... hell, I was still pissing... if you wonder why his leg is all wet..."

That broke the tension. I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. Nathan, previously very angry and indignant, also broke out laughing. Timmy was laughing, too.

We 'sobered up' as soon as Mom and Dad entered... well, as much as we could under the circumstances. The recovery was interrupted when Timmy said to Dad, "Did you see his leg?"

"No." Dad replied, wondering what was going on.

Nathan quipped, "Timmy wasn't quite finished with emptying his bladder..."

"Yeah, I peed on him... but he made me... he grabbed my shoulder... and well... oops... there's Mr. Shaver..."

No matter what the verdict was going to be, the mood was lightened considerably. Mom and Dad were even smiling.

Mr. Shaver escorted us to the office, all the while apologizing for the misunderstanding. He did ask where the hall pass was … problem solved – it was in my pants pocket.

Mr. Stanberry was not in his office. Mr. Shaver sat at Mr. Stanberry's desk after we were all seated and the door was closed, "You may be wondering where Mr. Stanberry is... he has been relieved of his responsibilities until we can perform a full investigation of this matter."

Inwardly, I wanted to shake my fist high up in the air to signify my overwhelming happiness that the bastard got his dues, but, Mr. Shaver interrupted the brief thought, by saying, "This has been a difficult situation for you. I apologize for the chain of events that has happened... all of them."

After a momentary pause, he continued, "Timmy, I am truly very sorry that you were assaulted. On behalf of this school and district, I apologize." To Mom and Dad, he went on, "Mr. and Dr. Mauer, I apologize to you also. This whole thing should never have happened, and I apologize for your son being assaulted on school property, or anywhere else, for that matter." To me, he said, "Joseph, I understand your protecting and supporting your brothers. However, I am concerned. I am concerned enough to continue and complete the investigation through until the very end. Unfortunately, at this time, it cannot be ruled out that you, at least had an indirect influence for the serious injuries one of our students sustained. Therefore, at least for now, until the matter is fully resolved, I must uphold your suspension. Do you have anything further to add, that we do not already know?"

I started to speak, but Dad cut me off by saying, "Mr. Shaver, I understand your position. I have spoken to my son. I believe him. Our next recourse is to request a full, complete police investigation, by law enforcement. Mr. Stanberry had indicated that police would not be involved at this time, for lack of hard concrete evidence that would put Joey at the purported crime scene."

"Mr. Mauer, the problem is not exonerating your son. The problem lies in the fact that he was there, saw who assaulted the student, but will not disclose their names. This is the issue, and this is the reason for his continued suspension. I believe law enforcement calls this withholding evidence, a felony, however it is up to them to determine charges, if any."

The moment of truth had arrived. I had a sickening feeling overcome my mind, yet I couldn't disclose the information to save my own ass. Doing so wouldn't be right.

"Mom, Dad, I can't do it... may I go sit in the car?"

Mr. Shaver said, "Joseph, your loyalty is to be commended. Is there anything you would like to add to the conversation?"


He continued, "I am required to take this to the school board. It will be the board that decides your fate in our school district, up to and including permanent expulsion. Do you understand?"

I looked to Mom, then to Dad.

Mom turned and said to Mr. Shaver, "Please have ready the transcripts for all of our sons. We are extracting them from this school, and from this district. We understand your position, however, our son has his legal rights, too. We will be contacting our attorney and law enforcement. Please excuse us."

Dad said, professionally, "Mr. Shaver, this will likely get very messy. Thank you for your candor, though. Boys, let's go."

That was that.

The ride home was silent. Even Timmy was quiet and subdued. Ever since we'd made our breakthrough, he'd been our non-stop conversationalist (fuck, that's a big word... had to look it up in the dictionary), running his mouth ninety to nothing.

When we arrived home, I said, "Mom, Dad, I'm going to ride my bike to a meeting. I need to talk to Tom. Please."

Mom turned around in her seat. I didn't want to get fucked up, I just needed to talk to someone objective. I felt sure that she understood what I was saying, she replied, "Yes. That's a good idea. Joey, as we've already said a number of times, and I'll say it again – we're behind you, even though we may not necessarily agree. Tell Tom hi for me."

I nodded.

Dad opened the garage door to put the rig inside. Both Timmy and Nathan drew me into hugs, and then I mounted my bicycle and headed for the meeting hall a few blocks away.

The meeting was in progress, as I knew it would be. Tom was there. I nodded and used my thumb to point toward outside. He shook his head no, and mouthed the word, "Later".

The topic, I gathered, was accepting right even though it felt wrong.

Fuck me.

When it got to my turn to speak, I looked to Tom. He wickedly smiled and nodded.

"I'm Joey. I'm an addict and alcoholic. I'm going to be expelled from school. I need to talk about it. I'm torn in half."

Later, after the meeting, Tom grabbed me up. We went to the restaurant where my new life began. Unknowing to Tom, we sat in the same chairs that Wayne and I had sat in when we'd first met Derrick.

After telling Tom more intimate details that I didn't share in the meeting, he said, "Joey, I understand where you're coming from. In a way, I've been there, done that, only it was my brother who killed someone because of a drug deal gone bad. Because I was with him, I was looking at 20 for accessory to the fact. I could not, under any circumstance, rat my brother... even though, damn it, I knew what he'd done was wrong. Let me ask you a question."

When he didn't continue, I looked into his eyes, "We don't have any secrets, Tom. You know that. You know everything about me, like nobody else does, like not even my new parents."

"Do you think what your friends... do you think the extent of punishment was 'right' for the situation, or is this based on your old thinking?"

I had to stop to carefully consider his question; I mean really, really think about it. While I was digesting the question he said, "I didn't think so."

"Didn't think so, what?" I retorted quickly. He fucked me up. Weakly, I continued, "He hurt my brother. Tom, in my old life, he would have been... he would have been killed, I swear. Nobody fucks with my family and gets away with it. They didn't then, and they won't now. I see your point, but still I can't rat them out. I won't." Then as a wave of confusion settled over me, almost a whisper, but not quite, I added, "Not now, not ever."

I looked into Tom's eyes. The pain and hurt in his eyes was palpable. I just knew that he was reliving the moments of indecision when it came to the situation with his brother. I asked very softly, just loud enough for him to hear, but where nobody else could hear, "What happened?"

He cleared his throat, then leaned across the table so that we were nearly nose to nose. Just above a whisper he said, "I talked to my brother, Joey. He admitted to his mistake, even though it cost him 35 years in the slammer because drug sales were involved. It tore my guts out to see him go down. When I go down to Joliet to see him, he tells me that what he did was the right thing to do. It doesn't make me feel any better, not really, but, he's right. This has been hard, Joey. May I suggest something?"

"Uhm, I guess I need to talk to them. I guess they... what they did... was over the top... I know what I would have done..."

"But you didn't, Joey, don't you see it?" Tom asked seriously.

We parted at about 2:30... yes, it was 2:30. I looked at the clock as he strode down the sidewalk on his way to work at the hardware store on the end of the block.

With a plan of action etched in my mind, I got up, paid the bill (and left a tip), unlocked my bike then took off for the park with the hopes that they were there.

They were.

I said hey, took off my shirt, and joined in the game with Brad, Stan and 6 other dudes I casually knew, or knew about.

We broke up at about 4pm. Brad asked me to come back to his place, that he and Stan needed to talk to me for a while. Readily, I agreed. I needed to talk to them, too.

Upon arrival, Brad went to the refrigerator, retrieved 3 Cokes, poured them into glasses with ice, handed me one, and then went to his parents' liquor cabinet, retrieved a bottle of Jim Beam and then began pouring the hard liquor into each of our glasses, or started to... until I held back my glass, not wanting any of the poison.

Things were not going well. Brad looked at me like he was king of the fucking mountain, or some such shit. He handed me the glass with the most booze in it. He was sneering. I felt like pouring it on the rug, as I didn't think his parents knew about his drinking... but... I didn't do it.

Brad poured that which was intended for me into his own glass, and then chug-a-lugged it down in one fell swoop. With a sneer on his face, he sat the glass on the floor and proceeded to strip to the skin. His dick was ready for some serious action. For a brief moment … I considered... but then turned to Stan. Stan said, "Dude, this is serious... give it a rest, will ya?"

"Fuck you, Stan." Turning to me he said, "So what happened today? Are you out? Wait, let me get some stuff."

With that he got up and pranced into the back of his house, presumably to his bedroom. He returned a couple of minutes later with a toke. He was taking a big drag off it, then plopped his bare ass onto the carpet with a thud.

He then handed it to me, "Come on, Joey. A little bit ain't gonna hurt you any."

"Fuck you, Brad. Here's the deal: ..."

He handed the drug to Stan. Stan looked at it carefully, took it from Brad, put it to his lips, and then did something very strange – he handed it back to Brad and said, "Joey, I can't let you go down. You're a good friend. It wouldn't be right to fuck up your education and your future. Me, well, I'm a toss away kid. I don't have no aspirations..." Turning to Brad while reaching out his hand, Brad gave him the joint, and then Stan continued after taking a deep hit, "It was a heat of the moment thing, Joey. Everything came back, and well it blew up..."

"He was crying for his Momma." Brad sneered.

"Anyway, when the dude's eyes rolled up into his head... we got scared, or I got scared... enough was enough... Brad, do you got some good stuff... I'm going down, so I might as well go all the way."

"Yup. Be right back."

With that said, Brad left the room. I looked to Stan, "You know, at first, I didn't like you because you were fucking on my little brother. He bled and hurt the first time you guys took him, did you know that?"

"I felt bad, Joey. I didn't want to do it, at least not at first, but did it anyway. Joey, I was very careful and slow... I know that doesn't sound like a lot coming from me... but I swear I tried not to hurt him."

"That's what Timmy told me. Him telling me that saved your ass, Stan. I know, I know, I'm a little kid..."

Stan said, "Watch out for your little brother, Joey. He's going to get hurt one of these days. Somebody is really going to hurt him."

Just then Brad came sauntering into the room. He was carrying a bowl, a baggy with white crystalline powder, a large hand held mirror, and a frigging straw... everything needed, to get high. I was in no danger of using the stuff, but, at the same time, I really didn't want to be around it. I don't do that shit anymore, and I don't like seeing people getting messed up.

Brad drew a line, used, and then handed Stan the straw. Stan used and then sat everything onto the mirror, drew back, leaned up against the sofa, closed his eyes, and said, almost incoherently, "Don't worry, Brad, I won't say anything about your involvement. I have nothing to lose except the guilt of seeing Joey and his brothers going down."

Brad, loosened up by the booze, MJ and coke, said seriously, "I can't go down, Joey. I've been accepted to Princeton... my folks, oh fuck, they'd shit a fucking cow. Jesus Christ... that's good premo shit... sure you don't want some, there Joey? Is your real name Joseph? Kewl name... Man I'm horny."

He drew another line on the mirror, reached across a zoning out Stan toward me with the straw.

I'd had enough of his shit, "Yeah, right, of course." I got up, walked to the bar where my shirt was lying, turned around, looked into Brad's eyes, then said with every ounce of venom, and anger, that I'd ever experienced in my entire life – and that's saying a whole hell of a lot, "If you so much as touch my brother again, I will fucking kill you, do you understand me? And, I will have the balls to go down because I will be fucking happy about doing you."

Without waiting for an answer, with shirt in hand, I walked out of the house, fast paced to the park, got on my bike, and then tore out riding all over town, just to be riding, not looking for anything or anybody. When I felt ready, I headed to the creek next to the park, sat down, took off my shoes and socks, put my feet into the water, watched my toes create little ripples, thought back to the park where Buzz, Quiet Jim, Wayne, Skeeter, and Nathan did the very same thing in the lake way back when things were really fucked up ~happy~.

I solemnly renewed my promise to Brad. And then a feeling of calm settled over me. It was then that I heard voices. Probably some kids playing basketball. I heard the thud of a ball striking the pavement on the court, voices, young voices, shrieking victories, chiding their friends or fellow players, whatever, and then I heard Timmy's voice above all the rest... he was shouting that he'd actually made a swish.

I smiled. But then I got concerned. I wondered if Brad was playing with them. He usually did. In fact, Timmy usually stopped at Brad's to see if he wanted to play, or to …

Quickly, I pulled my feet out of the water, stood up, tried looking over the mound of the creek bank but couldn't see them, so, hurriedly, I dried off my feet as much as possible, put on my socks and shoes, then ran up the bank.

Timmy and Brad were just exiting the park through the gates. Nathan and Donnie, and three other kids who I didn't know, were also leaving.

Grabbing my bike I headed that way with purpose and fire in my chest. Nathan said, as I brushed past him, "Hey dude, where ya been?"

"Thinking... Are Brad and Timmy going back to his place?"


"Go home, Nathan." I said with cold hard steel in my voice. I felt it. The shit was coming up. I'd told Brad to leave my little brother alone, in no uncertain terms, and there they were, walking side by side – together – to do – whatever they did together. I knew what they did, and I knew, right then and there, what they were going to do again... except... they weren't.

"What's up, Joey?" Nathan said harshly, trying to get through my clouded senses... yet, my senses weren't cloudy, not in the least.

I looked into my brothers' eyes. He pulled off his shirt, wadded it up and tucked it into his back pants pocket. He was loaded for bear... he was prepared to stop me, or he was preparing himself to join me. His muscle definition was definitely taking hold. I'd not really realized that before... oh, I knew he was getting stronger when we wrestled. The look in his eyes told me everything, and it scared me, too.

I looked down the street... I hollered, "Timmy, get up here. Don't go with him."

Timmy looked back and waved, then Brad put his arms around Timmy's shoulders, and they took off up the driveway.

Nathan smacked my belly and then pointed down below my belt.

Fuck... not that. Not there. Not then.

"Is Timmy in trouble, Joey?"

"Not if I have anything to say about it... go home, now."

"No fucking way. We're brothers. What's going on? I haven't seen you like this... not for a long time, Joey. How are your legs?"

"They're fine. Brad's one of the people who hurt the fuckwit who'd attacked our brother. I told Brad to stay the fuck away from Timmy... he's a fucking weasel... here's what we're going to do... we're going to get Timmy and take him home. We'll talk about it there. Lay my bike down... we'll get it later."

With that said, Nathan and I took off for Brad's house. I saw Timmy just entering the doorway to the house, I hollered, loud enough for anyone and everyone to hear, "Timmy, don't. Wait. I need to talk to you."

Timmy turned around, walked down the step toward Nathan and me. When he arrived, Nathan took one arm, I took the other, and we walked home, uneventfully, until we got to the house, that is. Brad had not followed us.

Dad was just getting ready to leave for his office, in fact, he was backing out of the driveway. I waved. He waved back, but continued the trek down our driveway. Timmy isn't all that happy about being half drug by Nathan and me, but he didn't fight us. "Stay with Nathan... go on inside, I'll talk to you in a few." I said to Timmy.

I ran the rest of the distance to Dad's vehicle. He rolled down the window. I said, stopping one foot away from his door, "Dad, we need to call the police. We have to. It's time."

Dad didn't even ask why. He put the car in drive, clicked the garage door opener, then drove inside with me following behind at a close distance. I hit the inside clicker to shut the door. Dad got out of the vehicle. I walked to him, and then pulled him in for a deep, deep hug. I was on the verge of crying, but not for me, instead my emotions were for my brother, Timmy, and what may have happened, and what did happen to that fuckwit who'd hurt Timmy.

After I told Dad what had gone down, he took me inside. Nathan and Timmy were both sitting at the bar eating a sandwich. They'd made one for me. It was sitting on the counter, not even a bite had been taken out of it – their usually way of fucking with me. They knew something was up, just not the details.

Dad said, "I want you boys to stay in the house. I've got a couple of phone calls to make, then we'll talk. Where's Mom?"

Nathan said, "Here's a note. She's at the hospital."

Upon arrival, I checked into the ER, found it to be quiet, so, while I wasn't primary, I was the backup on-call trauma surgeon. The first order of business was to perform 3 simple operations, followed by a planned long, tedious stomach case for cancer in a very young 21 year old adult.

The early cases went fine. While the cancer patient was being prepared, I headed to the floor to perform 'rounds'. The 7 post operative patients on our trauma service were doing okay. As I finished up, my name was paged to the operating room.

As it turned out, the cancer case turned out to be very quick because the malignancy had spread to all organs, making any one operation useless. I was okay with going ahead with a procedure to alleviate early and mid-term problems, but it would not be a cure. Although I am normally conservative, I was willing to give him the best chance possible, but things didn't look good, not at all.

I broke scrub, headed to the waiting room, gathered up his family and took them into a conference room where I gave them the scoop on their son, brother, and grandson's plight. We all agreed to terminate the procedure, wake him up, and provide him with comfort care to make his last days as tolerable as possible.

I hate those kinds of cases. They leave me melancholic, even depressed because, not only was he terminally ill, he was also so very young. Once again I was reminded that life isn't always fair.

Since the case went so quickly, I was finished operating so I headed to the cafeteria to get a salad and a glass of tea. I sat down with my partners Drs. Meecher, Caldron and Reed. As is usually the case, lunch and our conversation was interrupted. Since I was secondary on-call, I followed them to the ER to cover for them while they attended to the patient.

Their patient was a 29 year old clerk working at a convenience store. He'd been shot point blank in the belly, leaving him mortally injured. Drs. Meecher and Reed immediately took the patient to the OR to do what they could to save the man's life. They were very good at what they did. If the patient had a fighting chance, then they were the ones to have on his side.

Dr. Calderon was then paged STAT to the Trauma ICU... I wondered what went wrong... I'd just come from there, not 30 minutes previously. He took off on a dead run, leaving me to take care of anything that came in.

I went to the lounge, used the restroom, then stopped in to talk with a couple of other doctors I knew well. I'd just sat down when my pager went off twice in rapid succession indicating a code 3 trauma was on its way to our hospital. I finished my cup of coffee, then headed into the trauma bay where everyone was assembling, getting equipment set up and running. Preliminary reports were that the patient, a 'member' of our local law enforcement 'hotel' had been knifed multiple times during an altercation with a group of 'fellow' inmates. We didn't know much else. We'd taken care of many situations that landed prison inmates in our ER; some with life threatening injuries and illnesses, some made it, some didn't make it in alive, and some later died of their afflictions.

Easier said than done, in all cases, but, I'm objective and object oriented, calm, cool, collected, professional in all my dealings with patients and their families, even though I may not agree with, or like their sentiments, beliefs, and whatnot – except when it comes down to kids being abused, or worse. I've often wondered what keeps me from going 'off' on abusive parents and other closely related caregivers that cause harm to kids.

The doors to the trauma bay opened. The patient, surrounded by law enforcement and EMS workers tending to his needs, was quickly whisked into the center of Major Room #1. Major #1 provided immediate acute care until the patient could be stabilized just enough to get them to the OR where we'd do everything we could do to save them, or in extreme cases we would operate on them in the room. Some died because their injuries were just too severe.

This one looked really, really bad. Blood was dripping from the sides of the gurney. His color was dusky, almost mottled appearing... he'd lost one heck of a lot of blood – it was splattered everywhere, including his face.

He'd already been intubated, allowing him to receive adequate supplies of oxygen.

While I was tending to the patient, law enforcement and EMS were providing Reports about what had happened to cause his injuries... he'd been knifed repeatedly by fellow inmates during an altercation.

At that point, I no longer cared for his history. I saw the multiple stab wounds to his belly, with blood running out of each one. I knew a major artery, or arteries, were the cause of hemorrhage. I seriously debated about cracking his belly in the trauma room, but just as quickly decided to take him to the OR. Shouting over the noise in the bay, "We're going to the OR, NOW! Unhook him... let's go! Now! We're rolling..."

"Doctor, procedure says that we need to accompany this patient at all times." One of the police officers said.

I didn't even answer... I knew the drill all too well... like I said, we've had many of those situations and circumstances.

When we got off the elevator, the OR was ready for us. We always have at least 2 OR's open and ready to go at a moment's notice, for cases just like this. While my patient was wheeled in and transferred to the operating room table, I looked into OR #1 where my colleagues were up to their elbows with their patient. I stuck my head in, "You guys doing okay?"

"Give me a fucking clamp, god damn it. NO... get that crash cart in here, STAT! Nothing's going right!" Dr. Reed barked.

"I'm in room 2... stabbing."

I turned away, turned on the hot water in the sink, to scrub up, but the anesthesiologist broke that tradition in a hurry by saying the patient was going south, quickly.

They'd already performed the trauma prep. A trauma prep is a quick splash of antiseptic solution, and then the drapes are haphazardly applied... they gowned me up, I walked to the table. "Scalpel!"

The circulating nurse said, "Hold up... we need to do a 'Time Out'. You're doing a lap, correct?"

"Yup. Scalpel, give me the knife."

The "Time Out" process is performed for each and every case because of the few times a wrong limb was operated on, or the wrong procedure was performed, or it was the wrong patient, or any combination thereof.

I poised the knife to the skin and began to push down through the tissues. We just couldn't afford to wait. The stab wounds were apparent... no matter who the patient was or what he was supposed to have done – his injuries were obvious, and he needed a big operation if he were to survive.

The anesthesiologist confirmed with the circulating nurse that the patient was 53 years old, had been brought to our trauma hospital for multiple stab wounds... etc.

When the circulating room nurse said, (I was already cutting downward through the patient's last layer before getting inside)... "The patient's name is Charles Williams. His age and identity were confirmed by law enforcement."

My hand stopped its journey, mid stride.

My blood went ice cold at hearing that name.

Time stood still.

Anger took hold. At the same time, I do not anger easily. The anger was cascading throughout my body, and mind. Sensing my objectivity going south, I handed Sara the scalpel, broke all protocol for sterile technique by grabbing hold of the drapes and pulling down.

I'd seen that face before.

In court.

Facing off with my boys.

The son of a bitch.

Dr. Dave, the anesthesiologist, was barking orders, and telling me to get inside lest the patient was going to die.

The son of a bitch hurt my kids.

The circulating nurse, urgently said the patient was losing blood faster than it could be replaced. I looked away from the son of a bitch and into the eyes of the nurse, and said, "Is Dr. Caldron available? Forget that, get him the hell in here, NOW!."

"Pull yourself back, June Mauer, M.D. This is a patient." I said to myself quietly, inaudibly.

Yet, my hand wouldn't move.

"Dr. Mauer, do it now or never. The patient is dying; I can't even get a blood pressure anymore."

I stood over 'that' patient. Numb. Uncaring. Pissed. Yet... I was required to... be a doctor, to be objective, and to act accordingly, professionally.

I wasn't objective. The son of a bitch hurt my children.

"DR. MAUER, DO SOMETHING!" Dr. Dave, bellowed. The patient's monitor registered warning buzzers.

I said, "Turn those monitor buzzers off. Nurse, where is Dr. Calderon?"

"He's tied up in the ICU... Mr. Hornby, the crani case is crashing... Dr. Mauer, are you okay?"

It was up to me. Was I going to do it, or was I going to just stand there and willingly let 'a' patient die without doing anything? Joey and Timmy... I saw their happy smiling faces... and I remembered Joey's attempt at humor earlier in the day... I'd tried to be 'parental', yet... Then there was Nathan. He'd come to me the night before just to tell me that he loved me for being HIS Mom.

My kids, despite that bastard, were doing okay. Usually... I am usually calm and in control while in the operating room. I detach from each and every patient while I am working on them. I do my job, and do a good job at that. The OR is my theater. Everybody has a role, otherwise they are not in an operating room, period. I am the director. The patient is mine. I hold the ultimate responsibility, both professionally, and by law.

I held my hand out toward my scrub tech, "Knife, four Kocher clamps, have the Balfour ready to go, I'm going in..." To Dr. Dave, I said, "Don't be a hero. Just do what you need to do."

The son of a bitch had been sliced up ~bad~. Whoever did him... was intent on causing grievous harm, or worse.

Pushing all else aside, I became Dr. Mauer, M. D.

Without further contemplation, I entered the son of a bitches belly.

Blood was every damn where, and he was still bleeding. Lacerated liver. Trashed spleen. Multiple cuts in and through the bowels. Blood supply to the internal organs compromised. A real nightmare. Normally a surgeon's, and yeah, this sounds sick: enjoyment of bringing the patient back from the brink of... death.

His wounds were operable. He could be saved, provided his immune and blood systems were able to withstand the shock from the trauma and blood loss.

I went into surgeon mode, taking care of 'first things' first. Bleeding was stopped, then began the tedious task of putting things together, taking out damaged bowel, and repairing what remained.

Sara was good, really good. I loved working with her. She knew what I needed and wanted... we'd worked together many times... yet, I was barking orders, complaining that she was moving too damned slow, that she was not giving me the right things in their proper sequence... etc.

I barked at Dr. Dave telling him time and time again that the patient was 'tight' ('tight' in the surgeon's world means the patient's muscles were not relaxed enough), that blood wasn't clotting right, and a whole host of other things that weren't 'right' according to my specifications.

It all stopped after I threw a clamp hard against a wall, hard enough for it to fall to the floor, broken. I was in a difficult part of the operation. The strain and stress, and gut wrenching hatred of the son of a bitch who'd hurt my children very nearly got the best of me.

My hand was grasping the aorta, the major blood vessel that travels from the heart down to mid abdomen. It feeds all points south of the heart – such as the kidneys, bowels, reproductive organs, the legs, and spine.

A fleeting thought entered my mind about severing that little blood vessel feeding his genitalia... I drew myself up, gathered strength, and continued, albeit calmer and more in control of my emotions, "I need the DeBakey aorta cross clamp... he's still bleeding profusely." I then apologized while working diligently, my eyes not ever leaving the insides of the son of a bitch, doing what I needed to be doing as a surgeon, as a doctor charged with helping patients recover from their injuries and/or illnesses, for my outburst.

Once the key critical stitches were placed, I said, "This son of a bitch hurt my children. He's the bastard who broke Joey's ribs. He's the son of a bitch who repeatedly fucked my youngest son in the name of law enforcement. He's the reason my children really do not respect cops. They're wary... and they have a right to feel that way, when it comes to scumbags like this. I apologize for my unprofessional conduct, yet, at the same time understand that, first and foremost, I am a Mother – Their Mother!"

Aside from the buzzing and beeping of equipment, clanking of instruments being passed back and forth, occasional patient progress reports from Dr. Dave, the room was totally quiet. Sara's skills were impeccable. She was doing everything right, she always had been. Even Dr. Dave was quiet.

Dr. Caldron entered the OR just as I began closing the belly incision. He walked to the table, peered between the scrub tech and myself... being unaware of what the patient represented, my outbursts, and why, and my amend, he casually said, "Looks like you've got it all under control, I'll see you downstairs."

I dropped the suture and needle holder onto the Mayo stand and said, "No, you take over."

Without waiting for an answer from him, I broke scrub, walked out of the OR, and not saying a word I went to my car and drove around the freeway system twice, then three times... with the windows down, the stereo screaming acid rock, and me screaming, too. If I gave a care, I would have noticed people looking at me like I was some kind of crazy woman. Well, admittedly, I was a crazy woman, filled with terror at what I could have done to that piece of shit, and about what he had done to my boys... it was all too much to handle.

I knew I was a danger on the roads... both to myself and to others. I had only one alternative: get off the road. I pulled off at the next exit, entered a convenience store parking lot, parked in an out of the way place because I did not want to be seen, and I did not want to see anyone. I just wanted to be left the hell alone, to try to regroup. I turned off the stereo that was blasting acid rock out the speakers of the expensive stereo system Dave had installed when we bought the vehicle.

I hadn't been parked for any more than 5 minutes when my cell phone chirped telling me that an incoming text message had arrived.

I found that odd... everything seemed odd. I reached down for my purse. It was not in its usual place, on the passenger seat. But my cell phone was lying there in the seat, all by itself. I must have grabbed it on my way out... but I didn't recall picking it up.

I didn't want to talk to anybody, much less begin the text message barrage that often occurs between hospital staff and me, when a phone call isn't all that necessary.

I put my head on the steering wheel after placing the overpriced SUV in park. However, I left the engine running because it was hot and humid. Storms had been forecast for later in the evening, and the weather people said that they could be severe in intensity and filled with hail, damaging winds, and even a chance of tornadoes, as the cold front was predicted to be significant. Those storms were not all that uncommon, given the time of year it was.

I chanced a look up into the sky just to see if the weather forecasters had any inkling of what they were talking about. The sky, although a bit hazy, was clear of clouds and free of any ominous signs, the sun was shining full bore.

I reached into the passenger seat and picked up that piece of electronic equipment that keeps me in contact with the world, as I knew it. The screen was dark, not unusual since it blanks out after a certain period of time; 1 minute was how the settings were currently set.

Steeling a chance that the message could be from family, and not from the hospital or its staff, I pressed the power button.

My heart jumped at the sight. Joey had just sent me a text message that read (beside his picture), "Love ya, Mom. Call when ya can. No hurry."

After entering my password I text messaged back, "Love you too. Be home soon."

Suddenly, everything made sense. Everything. Joey, of all people, even though he didn't have to, and certainly with his past, had no reason to... called me Mom, and said he loves me. He does love me. So does Nathan. Timmy's coming around. Dave... well, Dave's my husband for good, for bad, no matter what, and, oh God, I loved him so much. And I loved my boys so much... things became clear. I wanted to go home.

With tears freely flowing from my eyes, running down my cheeks, and finally landing on the green scrub top I was wearing, I turned around to make sure the coast was clear before backing out of the parking lot so I could go home.

The coast was not clear.

A cop car with its emergency lights flashing, blocked my exit. I looked into the side mirror and saw a big uniformed police officer walking purposefully toward the drivers' door.

Quickly, I reached for a Kleenex, but since my damn purse wasn't in the car, there were none. Not only did I not have Kleenex to wipe my face, I realized that I also had no identification, drivers' license or insurance card.

I pushed a button that sent down the window.

"Ma'am, may I see your license, insurance verification and registration, please?"

I reached for the glove box, retrieved the registration, handed it to Officer Hill, and then said to him, "My name is Doctor June Mauer. I'm a surgeon at Northwestern. I left in a hurry and forgot to take my purse which has all of my identification in it. The address on the registration is correct."

"Would you happen know your license number?"

"No, sir."

"Please turn off your vehicle. I'll run your plates. Would you please give me your social security number?"

I gave it to him after shutting off the engine. I put my hands on the steering wheel. From many conversations with the good cops, I'd learned it was best to make sure your hands are seen at all times.

He walked to his patrol car, got in, and shut the door. I started sweating profusely, not because I was nervous or anxiety ridden... I was sweating because the temperature was clearly in the mid 90's, and the humidity was surely in the same range.

My phone rang. Caller ID indicated it was Dave. I answered, "Hey, honey."

"Hey back. Can you talk for a bit? I've been thinking about..."

"Honey, I've got a bit of a problem. I left the hospital without my purse. I was already stopped in a convenience store... so the cops really didn't stop me... but they're running my information. I'll probably get a ticket or two because I left the hospital very upset... it's a long story, well, really it isn't... I had to operate on the son of a bitch who hurt Timmy and Joey... that Officer Williams piece of trash... anyway I'm here, and my license is there."

I looked into the side mirror. The officer was walking to my window again. I said to Dave, "I'll call ya in a few. The officer is back."

"Okay babe. Love you."


I turned to the officer, "I was talking to my husband..."

He smiled. "Ma'am, it's like this. Your information checked out just fine. But you're driving without the required identification. <I nodded>. Here's the deal: do you realize you were driving 75 through a construction zone?"

"No, sir. I have been a bit distracted. I'm okay now."

"Okay, I can see that you're upset... secondly... do you realize the speed limit, while on the interstate highway, is 45 in construction zones?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, I'm sure you are aware that valid identification is required on a person at all times, especially while operating a motor vehicle."

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, fine. You do realize that your license would likely be suspended or even revoked if I were to write tickets for every violation. We've got to take care of our road construction crews... they're basically defenseless, as I am sure you understand, all too well."

"Yes, of course."

"Okay, here's what I am going to do. I am going to give you a warning. The second thing I am going to do is to take you to Northwestern, to get your identification. And the third thing is that I will bring you back here to get your vehicle. You do understand that I cannot lawfully permit you to drive. If you will lock up your vehicle, we will get this done."

On the way to the hospital in the police car with Officer Hill driving, he told me how grateful he was for my saving his nephew's life the previous summer, after the boy had received serious injuries from falling down a ravine. I vaguely recalled the patient, but then I remembered clearly when Officer Hill told me of a tattoo of a dragon on the boy's lower belly. I recalled being very careful to direct the incision away from that nice piece of work, even though the boy, then, was only 13.

Officer Hill, while nice and extremely accommodating, was definitely a motor mouth. I was indebted to him, however, so I listened with interest.

On my way to the doctor's lounge, I ran into Sara. She was just coming out of the inner regions of the surgery department. At first she looked away, but, then acknowledged my presence. I said, "Sara, I'm really sorry for my outburst today. I was put into a very difficult position by that patient in my operating room. Anyway, that doesn't excuse my behavior, so I hope that you'll accept my sincere apology."

"Your apology is accepted. I've experienced much worse from some of the doctors. The thing is that what you did and said was so out of the ordinary... for you. What happened in there that got you so upset... you said that the patient had hurt your children..."

"Sara, the investigation is ongoing, so I really can't say too much. Uhm, let me just say that a number of children were not safe when he was performing, or should have been performing his duties, in a lawful way."

Officer Hill, standing next to me, obviously listening to the conversation, said knowingly, "He's a scumbag. It's too bad... he gives us all a bad name."

Sara looked at me, then to Officer Hill, "He's a piece of shit. Can you tell me who the lead detective is? I'd like to talk to him, or her. I have a story to tell. I came from the streets. I got off of them 4 years ago. I got married to a wonderful man who saw through me. We have a 1 year old, in fact my daughter will turn a year old, tomorrow. Officer Hill, may I speak with you privately, it's very important?"

I looked at Officer Hill after seeing that Sara was very serious. He nodded, and then they walked away, out of earshot.

Meanwhile, my pager went off. The number displayed belonged to the SICU. The display was blinking red, which means STAT. I took off for the SICU, stopping at and interrupting Sara and Officer Hill. To the officer, I said, "I'm being called to an emergency... I will call my husband to take me to my vehicle, if this is okay with you. I need to go, now." To Sara, I continued, "Sara, stick around... we may have to return to the OR. I'm being paged."

Officer Hill said, "That's fine, Dr. Mauer. Take care, and be safe."

Sara, with tears flowing down her face, said, "I'll be around. I'm on call tonight."

With those reassurances, I took off for the SICU.

I wanted that son of a bitch to live, and I'd do everything in my power to make his survival happen. In fact, I was more determined than when he'd first entered the OR under my care.

My suspicions were confirmed. The patient, the son of a bitch, was bleeding out in his belly.

In the OR, I had to remove a large portion of his liver because of trauma that we surgeons often think will heal on its own, had broken loose. The patient's heart twice stopped. The good thing was that he was successfully revived and survived; in fact, he left the OR in a more stable condition, despite still being on the extremely critical list.

*-* Meanwhile, back home, Joey speaking *-*

Three special agent detectives arrived soon after Dad got off the phone with the lead investigator. Two of the investigators talked to me for about an hour in Mom and Dad's office, regarding everything that had happened, what I knew about, anyway. I didn't know everything, and the officers were not all that forthcoming, for reasons that Dad would explain later.

I had no problem dropping Brad's name, none whatsoever. There was no telling what Brad might have done, had he and Timmy been left alone. I also told them that I had witnessed first hand, Brad delivering the most destruction.

When the detective said I could leave, I went outside because I'd heard the basketball hitting the pavement, the guys were hooting and hollering, egging Timmy on, though, all the while giving him encouragement. As soon as I exited the house, I saw, with my very own eyes, Timmy lay up perfectly and sink a swish, just like that. The basketball came my way, so I scooped it up, ran toward the goal, aimed, and shot... the fucking ball didn't even hit the backboard.

Of course that set me up for a whole bunch of ribbing, all good natured, of course, nevertheless, the ribbing was very severe... but, hey, let them have their moment of supremacy.

While we were cooling off from the exertions, Donnie came walking onto the driveway with a serious look on his face. He and Nathan took off for the backyard while Timmy and I continued to shoot hoops. He was good. I said so. His eyes beamed with the praise he was being given. When we sat down, once again, to cool off, he asked, "What happened? Why? Brad didn't do anything bad to me. Stan, he didn't hurt me either."

I contemplated for a moment or two to get my thoughts together. I didn't want to sound angry that he'd been used by a piece of shit... well, Brad was the piece of shit, in the end. I kind of hoped that Stan didn't get in all that much trouble, because he'd truly been watching out for Timmy.

I thought about what Tom had said.

Then, from the seat of my pants, I said, "It's kind of like going overboard about something. It seems right at the time, but the action doesn't really fit the situation. That's what happened, in a nutshell."

I avoided any reference to Brad since I didn't want Timmy to know what he'd said, and because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I guess the truth is that I didn't have my own feelings in order about Brad's attitude. Back in the old days, he would have been referred to as a pussy motherfucker, who only thought of himself, no matter what. But, then again, I'm not all there... he's still a pussy motherfucker, no matter how hard one tries to sugar coat what he'd done and said.

But, then again, maybe Timmy needed to know the truth... he got up, shot another swisher, grabbed the ball from going into the street. Then he returned and said, "I'm not a little kid. Why is it everybody tries to protect me? I don't understand."

The look in his eyes told my soul that he needed an honest answer to his soul wrenching question. I debated... he was my little brother who I needed to protect. Over the weeks, my heart was growing his into mine, and from his question, I believed mine was growing into his. It was a good question, one that I'd asked myself, more than once, since living with my new parents and big brother.

Then, again, Timmy was closer to my age than was Derrick. Derrick and I started out as fuck and drug buddies, a cheap trick, good shit, and good sex, the best, even better than Wayne's... and Wayne's was hard to beat... in fact, if I were held accountable on a witness stand, I would have to say Derrick was somewhat better than that with Wayne. What was I saying?

Wayne and I'd been to hell and back, then went there again, more than once. My problem with Wayne was not his – it was mine – I could not tell him how much I'd loved him, until it was too late. And then, selfish on my part, I got hurt and somewhat angry at seeing him with that trick down in the city, after we'd parted ways. I mean – what did I expect... we'd broken up.

And then, there's Skeeter. God, I loved him, in every way. Soul love. I missed him so fucking bad. He understood me better than anyone else on the planet, even Mom and Dad, Wayne, and even Nathan... well, Nathan knew me his entire life. I knew and know him, too. From the inside to the outside, and everywhere between points.

While I was thinking so hard, I hadn't noticed that Timmy had gone into the house... until hearing the door close.

I leaned forward, ripped a big ole juicy fart, giggled, then went into the house. Timmy was chewing on an apple. He looked up to see who was coming through the door. When he saw me, he got up, and headed for his bedroom, but stopped when I said, "Timmy, we need to talk. Brother to brother. Alone."


"Outside, under the arbor."

Without a word, without a change in facial expression, he walked by me, opened the door to the garage, then closed it.

Nathan came walking into the kitchen from the bathroom, dressed only in his skin. The hair on top of his head was all over the place, and the hair down south of the border was 'matted'. I had to chuckle, and did. He asked, "What's up, bro? Your head's about to spin off." He chuckled, reached into the refrigerator, grabbed the milk carton, tipped it up, and began drinking. Good thing Mom and Dad weren't there, else there would have been hell to pay. Funny thing, though, was that his eyes never left mine.

And then Donnie came walking into the kitchen wearing nothing but a smile. He grabbed hold of the milk carton, tipped it up, grinning the whole time, causing a spurt of milk to squirt out of his mouth and run down onto his stomach, and below.

Not to be left out, Donnie handed me the carton. Hesitating only for a second, I tipped it back and got a big slug. After taking another shot, Nathan put it away in its rightful place.

We then, at Donnie's instigation, hugged deeply, then they took off for Nathan's bedroom.

A few minutes later, after their showers, Nathan announced that he was going down to Donnie's house.

"Gonna get some?" I asked chuckling.

"Already did... ya bet!"

Donnie blushed, put his arm around Nathan, and then they took off.

I hoped he got laid to the maximum. He's got a really nice boyfriend. Innocent, yet not so innocent. He had a nice balance. Nathan couldn't have picked any better. Then I thought how lucky Donnie was to be with Nathan. I smiled. Also, I could see Donnie being my brother-in-law.

I reached into the refrigerator, took another healthy gulp of milk, put it inside, closed the door to the refrigerator, and then took off outside to talk to Timmy, brother to brother.

He was sitting under the arbor on the ground, leaning on it, chewing a piece of honey suckle. He was unaware that I was watching him. His hair was blowing with the light breeze. I couldn't see his eyes, but they appeared to be paying close attention to the end of the root of the flower he was chomping on. I put my head down, closed my eyes, and marked that sight to permanent memory. If I lived to be 190 years old, riddled with Alzheimer's disease … that picture would remain forever.

I took off my shirt, laid it on the picnic table then headed down the stairs, which caught his attention. He pulled off another piece of honey suckle and handed it to me when I arrived. I stuck it in my mouth and sat down next to him, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee.

"I'm sorry for being a jerkwad." Timmy said seriously. He then leaned in, put his arm between my chest and arm, and remained quiet, paying attention to the root in his hand.

"Timmy, it's like this. Nathan and I have been together since he was born. He's my blood brother, always has been. I watch over him like a hawk. I'm supposed to do that even though he doesn't like it sometimes. Usually, though, and he says nothing about it, he appreciates my covering his back. We've gotta stick together... there was a time, bro, when all we had was each other. My brother, Christopher... we used to be really tight, too, until he got fucking crazy after Dad died. He went into drugs and shit, but he was fucked up before he did the drugs... he never got better. He kept getting worse, until... you know, when I had to..."

"You had to do it, Joey. You had no choice..."

"No, I didn't have a choice. I guess I did what I had to do... Wayne and Nathan were in the room at the time, and they were both in danger, life and death danger. Christopher had a shotgun. I had a loaded Reinforcer. We both used them. Ma was killed. So was Christopher. Severe circumstances. Severe consequences. The cops cleared me. Nathan cleared me. So did Wayne, in his own way. Mom and Dad, here, cleared me. I'm working on clearing myself. It takes time, Timmy. Mom and Dad, here, say that I've still got a lot to work to do, though. Sometimes my anger gets the best of me. Like today."

"What do you mean?" Timmy asked, looking into my eyes, the first time since I'd sat down.

"Good question... I'm going to try to answer it the best I can. I'm not going to lie to you."

"I know you won't. Like I said earlier, I'm not a little kid, not here. <pointing to his head."

"Yeah, I'll give you that." He patted my knee, then with the most intense look that I'd ever seen on his face, continued, "I've got your back, too."

"Thanks, bro. At least for now, I'm watching yours like a hawk. Maybe someday you'll be bigger than me. Maybe then you could whoop my ass."

"I doubt it. Besides, I don't wanna fight."

"Okay, here it is. I'm starting to feel the same thing for you as I do Nathan. I mean right here <I pointed to my chest, my heart, specifically>. Yeah, I'm there. Here's what happened. Wesley got his ass kicked so hard that he may not survive. Not too long ago, I would have done him worse. Most likely, I would have done the ultimate for hurting you."

"But... he didn't hurt me THAT bad, Joey. Sheesh. I've had my head bashed in. I've been raped. I've been left for dead."

"That's what I mean, bro. Sure, Wesley, deserved an ass kicking... I only wish I'd given it to him. But... my thinking is changing, Timmy. I wouldn't have killed him... but I would have fucked him up... he would not have bothered you again... because I would keep pounding his ass until he got the message. The message is: don't fuck with my brothers, and damn sure do not hurt them."

He removed his arm from, and then swung it over my shoulder, squeezed my neck, all the while remaining silent.

I continued, "As much as I hate to admit it... what Brad and Stan did to Wesley wasn't all that necessary. All they would have to have done is to kick his ass into next week. The stuff at school, today, I was kicked out of school... I can deal with that..."

"We were all kicked out. Nathan and I had already talked about it... we were with you, all the way. If you went, we went. It's as simple as that."

"I didn't know."

"No, you didn't know, because we didn't tell you. And we damn sure didn't tell your, I mean our Mom and Dad... sheesh, whattya think we are, stupid? You know, Joey, you can be a real dumb ass sometimes." Timmy said sincerely, yet he giggled just a little bit.

"Love ya, too, bro. Anyway, today I learned just what Brad is made of … he's a fucking weasel. He let his so called friend, Stan, go down... at least Stan did the right thing. What he did to the kid was weighing on his conscience. Brad could have cared less... all he was thinking of was his fucking trip to college, a private, rich, exclusive college... whoopee fuckin shit, so a dumb ass has a college education."

"I kind of had that figured out, a little bit. You know that both Stan and Brad did me, right, of course you do... Brad, he was rough and tumble, fuck me, get his nuts off, fuck me after that... Stan, on the other hand, as fucking big as his dick was... he watched out for me... sometimes he'd pull Brad off me... but, anyway, he'd take his time. He'd be gentle. I knew he was holding back, and I told him so, and he continued to be gentle all the time. Sure it hurt. It hurt like a motherfucker... yet all the pain would turn into pleasure, and the searing hot pain would go away. You guys would have known if he'd ripped me in half, again. So what happened after that?"

"The cops know. I gave them his name. Brad is no homie to me anymore... he means nothing. I don't know what's going to happen from here on out, with them. I hope Brad spends 50 years behind bars, and I damn well hope he finds himself a 'lover' who will fuck him to where he's whimpering and begging for the dude to stop. Did you ever ask Brad to stop, Timmy?"

Quickly, he answered, "No. Why would I? Dude, when I turn my butt up... that simply means I'm game for anything and everything."

"Ya gotta stop that shit, Timmy. One of these days, somebody's going to really hurt you. They're going to take what ain't theirs to take. Besides, you can't go around fucking every swinging dick that walks by. Even, I had, or most of the time, had scruples who I'd fuck around with... mine was business, Timmy. Just like yours. I think we did okay, under the circumstances."

"Until that jackoff cop..."

"Yeah, until him. Do you understand why I need to look after you? Whether or not you understand, I will still watch your back... there's nothing you can do to stop me. I'm going to go one step further... just hear me out, this just may very well save your life, someday."

"What's that? ... Sheesh, don't strangle me... I don't need your strangling love... just get that straight."

"Whatever, okay, here's the deal: I get to approve your boyfriend or boyfriends before they ever have sex with you, or get into your head and heart. Take it or leave it. This is the way it's going to be from here on out."

"You can't do that! No. Ain't gonna happen. No." Timmy said through a very low voice, almost from the pit of his lungs. He lunged to get up. I grabbed a belt loop on his jeans before he could get up. I pulled him back down and into my arms, and held him tight, though he was struggling mightily.

"Timmy, stop. Relax for a minute. Hear me out. Please. There's a reason behind... behind what I'm telling you, bro. Take in a deep breath, just listen." I said, feeling a lump in my throat, as the real reason was becoming known to my head and heart.

"This had better be good. Nobody's telling me that I can't have sex. Dude, I've got to have it. It's our nature. Dad said so."

"I know, Timmy. I know."

Timmy sat down between my legs, but that wasn't good enough. I needed for our eyes to meet... he and I both needed to understand where we were coming from. "Timmy, we need to really come to an understanding... would you please turn around?"

"I'm serious, Joey. I can't live like that, with all the rules and shit like you're putting on me."

On his own, he turned around so that we faced each other. He pulled a rock from beneath his butt, then tossed it aside into the yard.

"Timmy, when you came here to live, we thought you had AIDS... you know, because you were so sick and everything..."

"Yeah, well, I don't have it."

"That's right, you don't have it – now. Timmy, do you remember what I said about us brothers, about how you are growing around and through my heart, and how you are doing it, too? I've lost two brothers... I don't think I could take losing another."

He looked deep into my eyes. They were burning holes. All of a sudden I felt a hot flash nearly take over my body, as if I were losing him. One thing, though - the militant look that had been plastered on his face was giving way to realization that maybe, just maybe he was believing me, that he was finally trusting, and I mean really trusting me, us, my family, his new family.

I urged him closer by taking hold of his shoulders and leaning his upper body forward into my lower chest and stomach. I put my arms around him and squeezed firmly, "Bro, I don't want to see you get sick and die, okay, that's all. Promise me that I can see your partners for myself, before you go fucking around with them. You need to be friends with them, first. God, I can't believe I'm even saying this stuff, I've not been an angel."

"Then promise me the same thing. That I have to meet the person you are having sex with, if it ain't Skeeter. If you can promise, then I'll promise you."


"I love you, too, Joey. I don't want to see you die, either. Okay, I promise. Joey?"

"Yeah, bro."

"I wanna have sex with you. Show me what making love is all about."

"It's complicated, Timmy. I have a boyfriend... I love him."

"I know... you're right. Skeeter's a kewl dude, you know that, right?"

"Oh yeah, definitely. I promised you. It's the best I can do, right now. I need to talk to Skeeter... I'm afraid that I've not been entirely honest with him, you know."

"Oh... okay... I didn't know... uhm, well, we could jack off, you know, me do me, and you do you. Gotta use the crapper, be back in a sec."

I followed him into the house, grabbed the milk carton, chug-a-lugged until I had to come up for air but then some went down the wrong pipe, causing me to spray a mouthful all over the damn place. It was one of those choking episodes when you think you'll never be able to breathe again.

At the same time, almost, the phone rang. I walked to it, choking and sputtering, picked it up... I was seriously debating about having the person call 911 because I was about ready to die. Timmy, meanwhile, with his pants around his ankles entered the kitchen area, pounded me twice on the back and then took the phone away.

"Oh hey, Dad. Joey's choking half to death... he was drinking milk from the..."

I grabbed back the phone since my breathing was returning. He didn't need to tell everything, damn it. His response was to grin like a Cheshire cat, turn around, and with his pants still around his ankles and waddle to the hallway.

How can you get pissed at that?

With my chest still hurting, I said, "Hey, Dad. What's up?"

"The question is: what's up with you? Are you drinking milk from the carton AGAIN?"

"Not right now." I eeked out.

"How many times do we have to tell you... oh, nevermind, I was a boy once... just don't get caught... I can't believe I just said that..."

"I heard nothing."

"Selective hearing, eh?"

"Yes, sir, very selective."

Dad giggled. "Okay... Mom's working late tonight. Chet and Irene have invited us to have grilled hamburgers with them. I should be home within the hour. Be ready to go, or go on down to their house."

"Oh okay... sounds like a plan. Do you want me to whip up something to take? I don't know if we have everything to make cheese cake."

"Doesn't that take a couple of hours to chill?"

"Oh yeah, okay, well..."

"Chet assured me they'd have plenty to eat. Okay, I need to go, but, like I said, I'll be home in an hour, or so."

"K, Dad... I'll probably go on down. I'll grab Timmy. We'll meet you there."

"Love you, son."

"Love you, too, Dad, see ya in a bit."

Timmy padded into the kitchen, grabbed me from behind, and hugged for all he was worth, which was and is a hell of a lot. He said, "I'm gonna take a shower... wanna join me?"

Thirty minutes later we were headed down to the Klinger's for dinner. Chet and Irene were outside in the back yard, as were Donnie and Nathan. We sat around and shot the shit for a while, drinking fresh squeezed lemonade, munching on chips, having a good time just relaxing, for a change.

After eating, the adults went into the house, leaving us guys all alone. Timmy hung around me most of the time. He was never further than an arms' length, which was okay. I needed to pee, so, with Timmy's blessings, I took off inside the house. The adults were sitting in the living room, talking between their selves. Quickly, their conversation ended as they looked up to see who was there.

Something wasn't right. In fact, something was dead wrong. Dad's generally etched lines of happiness were replaced by deep furrows on his forehead. His eyes told the story, however. Usually bright and cheery, no matter what was going on, they were dull, and, oh my God, they were so sad. Mrs. Klinger was dabbing at her eyes with a well used Kleenex. Nobody said a word.

All of a sudden, the urge to pee went away. At first it was a relief, but then a terror went through my bones. I looked down, the front of my shorts were just starting to get wet. Immediately, I grabbed that which designates me male and headed to the restroom. While my legs were wobbly and shaky, I managed to finish taking care of business, without falling or making a mess in their house.

While I was vigorously wiping away the wetness from my shorts with a wad of toilet paper, simultaneously, my cell phone began ringing just as someone knocked on the closed door. I reached into the inner pocket that Mom had sewn inside the waist of my gym shorts, retrieved the phone, and at the same time told whoever was knocking on the door that they could enter. The phone call was from Skeeter. Immediately, I answered it, "Hey, babe. God, I needed to hear your voice. Something is going down. I don't even know what it is... I've never seen Dad..."

"Hey babe, slow down. I'm right here. I'm always with you, babe..."

Just then, Nathan popped his head through the door. He entered, went to the toilet, aimed and fired, and at the same time, asked, "What's going on out there? It's like a fucking morgue. One minute we're having fun, the next is like somebody died..."

"I don't know either, Nathan. We'll find out. Love ya, bro."

Finished, he turned around while fishing his snake back into its cocoon, "Yeah... I love you, too. Hey, Skeeter..."

"Hey, Nathan." Skeeter said into my ear. I handed Nathan the phone so that Skeeter could tell him himself... I washed my hands while they talked... Nathan, handed back the phone when I was finished, but not before telling Skeeter, "When we find out, either Joey or I will let you know. Love you. Here's Joey. And, oh, we're not at home, so, you guys can't have phone sex." Nathan giggled, patted my back, and then left the room.

I flushed the toilet since Nathan hadn't, then took off for outside where Nathan, Donnie and Timmy were congregated, talking in hushed tones. They motioned for me to join them. We shared all kinds of conspiracy theories, trying to make sense of what the adults were so upset about. Even Skeeter was in on it, and when we got quiet, he'd pipe up and say something funny enough to break the melancholic mood that was trying to settle over us. I loved him for that.

A half an hour, or so later, the adults entered the patio area. Their mood was lightened, though not by much. Dad said that we needed to go home, and that Donnie was invited to stay with us for the night. My legs were wobbly.

With Nathan on one side and Donnie on the other, and Timmy pushing from the back, we made it home in short order. Mum was the word. Dad wouldn't say one word about what was wrong, other than we'd have a family meeting the following morning, when Mom was there.

I went to my room, gathered up a clean pair of shorts and underwear, went to the bathroom where I found Timmy sitting on the throne. I went ahead and undressed, got into the shower, and ran the water as hot as I could stand it. I needed to relax. I sat on the shower floor and just let the water run over my body... it felt so good that I just about fell asleep. When the water began turning tepid, I got up, washed off, got out, put the shorts on then sauntered into the kitchen where Dad was sitting at the table. He looked up, smiled, but the smile was tense. I knew him well enough to know that something heavy was pressing on his mind, in his soul.

I asked, "Dad, what's going on? Why are you so upset?" I put my hand on his, squeezed lightly, and then waited.

"Joey, we're going to wait until your mother can be here with us. She's at the hospital, working in surgery... she's had a really crappy day. That's all I can say right now. Relax, we'll get through this." Dad said. He leaned across the table, kissed my cheek, got up, walked to the refrigerator, reached inside, grabbed the milk carton, and then turned it upside down … into his mouth. He shrugged his shoulders in defeat! Busted!

I chuckled, got up, then headed to Nathan's room. He and Donnie were lying quietly on his unmade bed, fully dressed for a change.

I then checked on Timmy. He was busy cleaning his room, wiping off the race car bed frame with meticulous attention. I was glad to see him so proud of what he had in our home. I sat down on the floor. His CD's were scattered here, there and everywhere, so I began picking them up and putting them into the built-in CD cabinets. I then noticed white pieces of cloth tucked or thrown under his bed. I reached for one... it was a crusty pair of underwear. Quickly, Timmy grabbed them from my hands, and then he got on his hands and knees, grabbed several more pair, all the while giving me his best rendition of the evil eye. He took them to the bathroom, then returned a moment later, and asked, "There, are you satisfied, oh butt head brother?"

"Butt head, huh?"

After, you guessed it, a major wrestling match of which I won hands down, we calmed down enough... he was lying on my lap, spread eagle, looking into my eyes. I was looking deep inside of his, too. We got lost, for a little while, in the stillness. Very softly, he said, "You're a good big brother, Joey. I'm serious." Without warning, he rose up, kissed my lips tenderly, for just a few seconds, then lay back down, pulled my arm into his chest, closed his eyes, and fell sound asleep.

I cupped his cheek with my hand, "You're a good little brother." I whispered.

Dad entered. He smiled. I smiled. He lifted Timmy to his bed. I removed his shorts, but left his underwear on his thin hips, covered him with a sheet, kissed his forehead, then exited the room with Dad, closing the door behind us.

Nathan's door was closed. I grinned toward Dad as I leaned up against the door to listen for any 'noises' coming from their room. It was quiet. The light was off, as its tell tale hue from under the doorway was absent. Dad put his arm around my shoulders and led me to my room, where he tucked me into bed, kissed my forehead, assured me that everything was going to be okay, though we had a challenge ahead of us. The way he said it was reassuring. I closed my eyes when he left, and then, within seconds, was sound asleep.

At some point during the night, I was awakened by a knee knocking my legs. From the fresh sweet aroma in the room, I knew it was Timmy cuddling in close. Once he was situated, his arm went around my chest, and he held me protectively, and then he was sound asleep. I put my arm around his back, rubbed it in little circles, and thought how damn lucky we all were to have him in our family. Yup – our family -.

Later in the night, I was awakened by Mom kissing my forehead. That wasn't enough for me … I bent her head down and mine up so that I could kiss her lips, "I love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, son. Go on back to sleep. Rest tight, child. I'm going to stay here until you are sleeping."

For some reason, I didn't mind her staying. I heard her kiss Timmy, who was nestled in my arms, with his head lying on my chest, sleeping deeply, evidenced by his deep heavy breathing, and drool on my right nipple. Everything seemed so right, yet there was a trace of worry running around in my head. Nevertheless, the next thing I knew and realized was that the sun was shining through the window, and that Timmy's head was lying heavily on my stomach, making an already urgent need to relieve myself even more urgent, not to forget to mention that my fully extended morning wood was resting against his nose. Without warning, his head lifted, then descended taking me fully...

After breakfast was consumed and the kitchen cleaned up, Mom, looking tired and haggard called us all to the table for the family meeting. Without being orchestrated, everybody joined hands. Dad, very softly said, "Boys, your Mom and I have some very tough news to share. Nathan, if we could make this go away, we would."

Mom continued, "Honey, we found out yesterday that Linda was pregnant, and that she... that … she terminated the pregnancy. I'm so sorry."

If I live to be five million years old, I'll never forget the change of expressions on my brother's face, and how his eyes went dark and distant. At first, it didn't register to him just exactly what Linda had done, though he was trying to process the information that he'd just been told, then recognition took hold. He shuddered deeply, took in a deep breath, then slowly exhaled, put his head on his arms lying atop the table. With a totally and completely defeated tone in his voice, he said, "I should have known. May I be excused? I need to be alone."

I said, "Nathan, I'm going with you."

He replied, "Joey, I need to deal with this, please." With that said, he received hugs and kisses from each of us, I know that I kissed and hugged him the hardest, and I so didn't want to let go.

"Okay, little brother. I'm here whenever you're ready. We're going to be okay."

"Nothing will ever be the same, Joey. She murdered my baby."

Slowly, Nathan turned away and headed for his room. Just as he passed the doorway from the kitchen to the hallway, Mom got up, walked to him, protectively put her arms around his shoulders, and led him on in. By the time they'd reached the doorway of his cave, he'd put his arms around her waist. The door closed.

In stunned silence, we each processed the news the best we could. Derrick finally broke the silence, "Dad, what can we do to help him?"

Dad, clearly with barely unshed tears in his eyes, softly said, "We can only give him our love, support, and the hardest one that we can give him is – time. I want to fix him. I want to take this pain away. I was, at least at the beginning, seriously thinking about not telling him... but he had to know."

Just then, the front door opened. I'd forgotten that Donnie had been given a key to our house, and that Nathan had a key to his. He entered the kitchen. His eyes were red, puffy, and still leaking copiously. He didn't even have to ask. Dad said, "He's in his room with his Mother."

"Can I go in?" Donnie pleaded.

Dad said, "Donnie, this isn't your fault. And, yes, Nathan needs you in a different way than we are able to be there for him. Go ahead, child."

With that said, Dad stood, put his arms around Donnie's shoulders, led him to Nathan's room, opened the door, then he hugged him deeply once again, and then Donnie entered and Dad closed the door.

I was numb. I went from leaking tears and having profound grief and powerlessness, to anger that the bitch would do such a thing to my brother, and then I would get up, head to the bathroom, relieve myself, then return and sit back down, and then do it all over again.

Finally, after sitting at the kitchen table for over four hours, waiting for Nathan, Mom, Donnie, any one of them, or all of them to emerge, I could take it no longer. Without saying a word, I got up, went to Nathan's door where I heard nothing but silence. I opened the door a crack just to see what was going on in there, to see why they hadn't returned.

Mom was holding both Nathan and Donnie in her arms, rocking them gently, motherly, tenderly. Nathan looked up. Not only was I there, but so was Dad, Derrick, and Timmy. Timmy, the one with seemingly the biggest balls of all of us, pushed past, and then joined Nathan on his bed where he pulled Nathan into his arms and held on tight.

Mom nodded. We gently urged Nathan and Donnie off the bed, sat them on the floor, and then our family rallied around the both of them. Both were hurting. Both were needing the healing powers of our family, and Someone else. We were all hurting.

Feeling warm and safe, with a strength that I didn't know he had in him, he said, "I'm not really mad at her. She's sick. Mom, I have to ask you a question, though... you're a doctor and everything... when they... when my baby died... did it hurt?"

"No. The nervous system isn't yet fully developed. Even if it was developed, the mother receives general anesthesia during the procedure. The anesthesia passes through to the placenta and on into the baby. So, no, the baby experiences no pain, not at that age, and under these circumstances. I'm sure."

Just then the doorbell rang. Silently, Derrick untangled and exited the room. A minute or two later, he re-entered with Chet and Irene in tow. Immediately, Chet sat down on the floor, took Nathan into his arms, held him tightly, and whispered how so very sorry he was. Room was made for Irene to join them, and although we never let our hands off our brother, seeing how so very broken up Donnie's parents, Nathan's in-laws, so to speak, were, they easily joined us in solidarity.

Nathan, popping his head out from the cocoon and masses of arms, legs, and human bodies, said, "It's nobody's fault that she's sick. I hope she gets the help she needs."

Irene spoke up, emotion dripping from her words, "Honey, she'll likely spend a very long time inside a group home. She's been diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. The doctors are having a very difficult time getting her properly medicated, so that she can function in the world. Her illness, as you say, is nobody's fault. It just is."

Donnie blurted, "Mom, Dad, am I sick, too, and just don't know it?"

"No, son, you are not sick. You get that thought right out of your head, young man." Chet said, parentally, to the maximum degree, verging on a bit of anger. Softly, pulling himself back, with Irene's 'assistance', Chet backtracked, "No, son, you are not sick. I'm sorry that I got angry... it is not at you... and it is not toward your sister... we're all very upset."

Nathan said, "I'm just sad, but, I'm not upset, and I'm not angry. I don't know much about the God people talk about. Some say he's a mean sucker, and some say that he loves us all, without regard to who we are or what we do... I sure hope he loves my baby. Do you... uhm... do you know... if... my baby was a girl or a boy?"

Irene answered, "No, honey, we don't know. And, yes, I have no doubt your baby and our grand baby is very much loved. If we love it without knowing anything more about it... then I absolutely know that our Creator loves it more than we could ever think about, and then some more, until the end of time."

"Good. I feel that way, too, even though I don't know what I believe... you know... about religion... and stuff like that... Mom?"

"Right here, Babe."

"Do you believe in God... I mean... well... you save lives all the time... you know..."

"Yes, I do, Nathan. I may be a surgeon who takes care of sick people, but, I know there is someone bigger than me watching out and guiding my hands, when it comes right down to it, when all the cards are laid out on the table, when it's time for me to go home at the end of a day."

We spent the next several days framing in the new garage. Nathan worked very, very hard. I'm sure it helped him to get really, really busy so that his mind allowed his soul to heal from the tremendous wound it had been given when it learned that his life changed forever.

On the 6th day of construction, Dad called Nathan and me into his and Mom's office. On the desk was the package containing Mom's gift that Nathan and I had 'earned' money for by doing unsavory things. My heart rate quickened. He said, "Boys, from all the hours and hard work you've put in on helping me build the garage, I think you've both earned enough. You can give this gift to your Mom, at any time."

"Mother's day is Sunday, right Dad?" Nathan asked seriously. I nodded, adding, "Can we give it to her then?"

"I was thinking along those lines.  I have no doubt that she'll like it. It will mean a lot to her."

Nathan and I took off for my room, having decided my room would be the best place to 'hide' Mom's gift. Arriving, Timmy joined us. Very carefully, Nathan retrieved the object and showed it to our youngest brother. He was in awe of its delicate features.

Nathan and I were on the same wavelength. He spoke first, "Timmy, we're making this gift from all of us. You, me and Joey, we're all in this together. She's our Mother, and you're our Brother. You really don't have an option. Say yes, or we'll get you on the floor and tickle until you give in."

"No!" Timmy hollered.

The fight was on.

Nathan and I prevailed.

Hot, sweaty, sticky, and largely still out of breath from our exertions, we heard Mom coming down the hallway, surely to quell our rioting laughter, cries to give up, and serious 'no nevers' from Timmy, Nathan quickly fetched up the doll. He got it into my closet just as Mom walked through the door with a stern expression on her face, "You boys know about the no fighting in the house rule... take it outside. BOYS... ugh!"

That night, in the quiet confines of my bed, freshly satiated after a nice long conversation with Skeeter, I started thinking and wondering why Donnie wasn't spending the night with us, and Nathan wasn't spending the night with them, anymore. They hadn't been together in 'that' way since before learning of what Linda had done. Before that happened, they were nearly inseparable. Mom always fixed an extra plate when Donnie was at our house, and from what Nathan said, Donnie's Mom had done the very same thing.

I knew Nathan was still awake. His stereo, though quiet, was still on. I got out of bed, put on a pair of underwear, stopped by the restroom, peed, and then went to Nathan's door, knocked, and waited. He quickly answered, motioned for me to enter. From the looks of things I'd interrupted his interlude into carnal passions. Without hesitation, he returned to bed, and then like a guitar, began strumming to the beat of the music. Meanwhile, I sat down on the floor, got a game in the X-box and got it warmed up, so that when he returned to earth, we could play a game or two. My plan included asking what was up between him and Donnie.

The only evidence, extremely unlike my brother, of his 'arrival' was a muffled extra intake of air, and then it was over.

Timmy's not the only one who stashes crusty underwear under his bed, found. I reached under Nathan's bed, grabbed a dry pair, then flung them to him as he sat up, recovering from his experience. "Thanks."

"Before you ask, I don't want to have sex with him or anybody else. I'm done with it." Nathan said hastily while finishing the clean up. He then tossed them under the bed.

I giggled, "Well, from what I saw ... that's not entirely correct."

"That's not what I meant, and you know it." Nathan said, and then grabbed a controller and kicked my ass from here to Sunday.

He reached to reset the game. I took hold of his wrist, and said, "Nathan, Donnie had nothing to do with what Linda did or did not do... don't blame him. I'm really sorry about what happened, but, dude, you can't go pushing away someone you love. He loves you so much. He adores the ground you walk on. I've seen the look in your eyes, too. Don't tell me that you don't love him. Tell me who were you thinking of when you jacked off."

"Hurts too much, bro." Nathan said quietly.

"He hurt you?"


"Then, why the 'no contact' rule?"

"I'm scared, Joey."

With that, I pulled Nathan between my legs, with his back against my stomach. He didn't argue, in fact, he pulled my arms around him.

"I'm sorry about what she did; it was just wrong, wrong. But, what does this have to do with you and Donnie? I just don't understand. Did you guys break up?"

"No. We talk on the phone... I just don't want to get hurt again... it sucks."

"Well... which is worse? Linda doing what she did... or being away from your boyfriend? He loves you, you know. He passes muster, as far as I'm concerned. He didn't hurt you, Nathan."

"I heard about the shit you came up with for Timmy... he's not a happy camper. <Giggled> Way to go, Joey! Love it! Uhm, bro, do you have any more condoms... I don't want to get preggers... and I damn sure don't want Donnie to get that way."

I couldn't help but to laugh. "Sorry, I'm all out of them. As far as the other... you probably have nothing to worry about there. Nathan... don't let someone else come between you and the love of your life... it ain't worth it... you guys take care of your relationship, nobody else can. Let's walk into town. I'm sure the pharmacy carries rubbers..."

When we returned home, with Nathan fully supplied, Derrick told us that Donnie was on the back deck, waiting for us to get back home. Derrick said that Donnie had been crying, but that they had talked everything out, and that the boy was feeling better.

Nathan walked to the table, peered outside. Donnie was leaning against the rail, lazily waving his hand up and down. Something told him to turn around. Nathan grabbed hold of my hand, "Come with me, Joey... I'll say the wrong thing..."

I pulled my middle brother into my arms, squeezed firmly, and then turned him toward the deck, pushed his butt in that direction... Timmy took over from there, leading our brother to the door, opened it, and then pushed Nathan outside.

Nathan and Donnie stood in place, looking at each other intently, and then their arms reached for one another.

I grinned at the sack lying on the table. I picked it up and carried it into Nathan's room, placing it in the center of his bed. I drew back the covers and arranged them 'just right', fluffed the pillows 'just right', smiling all the while, hoping against all hope that they would renew their commitments to each other in a most fulfilling way.

Finished, I went into the bathroom, used the facilities, took a long hot shower, decided to go back to my room, call Skeeter, play for a while while we 'talked', so I did just that, while at the same time, heard noises of reconciliation emanating from Nathan's room...

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