He used to love to run. He would eat up the miles. His mother had often told him jokingly that he ran before he walked. It relaxed him. It soothed him. In the hours he spent on the road or on a gravel trail or on the school’s track he reflected upon his life. Those were HIS moments. The moments he was at peace.
As Alexi lay on the bed, tears in his eyes, he wondered whether he could ever run again. Through the small window in his hospital room’s door he saw two men talking. He recognized one of them. It was his doctor. He cursed himself under his breath. Why couldn’t he remember his blasted name? It was a color. Red? No, too Shawshank Redemption, he laughed bitterly. White? He stared at the doctor again. He was of average height and build, with short hair and clean shaven. And he was black…Huh. Black doctor White? Alexi was pretty sure the Irony Fairy wasn’t THAT ironic. Wait…Blue. Yes, that was his name. Doctor Blue. Alexi breathed a sigh of relief. Well, it was something, at least. But the other man…He was pretty sure he hadn’t seen him before. He looked like a man whose hair had gone grey before his time. Tired, wrinkled face and sad eyes. The two men kept talking for a while, until the older man nodded what seemed like a dismissal for the doctor, who glanced through the window at Alexi. He averted his eyes then walked away. The older man stood outside the room for a few seconds, then breathed in deeply, stealing himself. He entered the room and walked slowly to the chair besides Alexi’s bed. He sat down slowly, shifted nervously for a few seconds, then he looked straight into Alexi’s face and spoke softly.
“Alexi, my name is Gregory Szalinsky. I’m a social worker. I’ve been assigned to your case.”
Alexi just nodded.
“I know you’re still suffering from memory loss. But you do remember what happened, right?”
“Most of it. Sometimes, it’s bits and pieces, others…it all comes rushing in. I mean…not just about…that. Everything. Then…sometimes, I forget again. But, yes, I remember.”
Szalinsky sighed, then bowed his head in acknowledgement.
“Right. Well…no point in discussing it again. What we do need to discuss, however…”
“Mr. Szalinsky, please…I…I can’t remember what the doctor said. When will I be able to get out of here?”
“Alexi…You were hurt badly. Over a dozen fractures, internal bleeding, plus that…ummm…nasty bump on the head.” Szalinsky smiled nervously.
“And my leg…”
“Yes, well, you know…well, if you remember, that is…your knee cap, as well as the leg bones below it…err, the tibia and…the other one…”
“Right. They were completely shattered. Even with the surgeries…They’ll never be the same.”
“But I’ll be able to walk, right?”
“Yes. But most likely with the aid of a cane.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds, really. You’ll be alright, Alexi. In fact, I have good news.”
“So, you’re telling me I’m gonna be a cripple. Honestly, I don’t think I can handle anymore good news.” Szalinsky remained quiet for a few minutes, but then, almost in a whisper, with a sad smile on his face, he addressed Alexi.
“Look. What happened to you is horrible. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen such cases before. Some far worse, actually. It…It eats away at you, you know? Seeing kids like you suffering. I really did become a social worker to help such kids. And every time I see something like this…”He paused as he gestured towards Alexi’s entire body. “It’s enough to keep me up at night. I think of myself as a religious man. And this makes me question my faith. But, every so often, there’s a happy ending. We find foster parents who take in kids who go on to perfectly integrate into their new environment and grow into fully functional adults. It’s the greatest reward I could possibly get, seeing that happen. Alexi…I think I found a family that will help you a lot. I think you could be one of those happy endings. I think you deserve it. Now, please, just look at their file. They’re good people, Alexi.”
“Nice speech. Fine. Give it here.”
Szalinsky smiled broadly.
“Well, I was on my high-school’s debate team. I’m quite convincing.”
Alexi opened the folder and read aloud. “The Samuels family. Sam Samuels…Are you kidding me? That’s his name?” Szalinsky just shrugged. “Ugh…36. Owns his own business. Flower import? Man, I bet they’re rolling in dough, huh?” Alexi remarked sarcastically. “Wife Dana, 38. She’s a cop?”
“Sounds exciting. Oh, and they have a son. So, is little Hunter supposed to be my new kid brother?”
“He’s 15, Alexi. He’s just 5 months younger than you.”
“Right. He looks younger, though. Guess it’s the blond hair.” Szalinsky raised an eyebrow. “What?” Alexi asked. “I’m just observing…Neither parents are blond.”
“He was placed in their care when he was 3. They adopted him.”
“So, none of their very own litter running around? His little swimmers drowning before reaching the shore or something?”
“Alexi, please don’t talk that way about them. They’re good people. I handled Hunter’s case. Which is why I know they’d be great for you.”
“They live in Buntsville. That’s…where the fuck is that?”
“It’s 120 miles from here. It’s a medium-sized town. Big enough to not know everyone by sight, but small enough for a fairly tight local community.”
“Oh, great. One of those. I’ll fit right in.”
“As a matter of fact, I think you could do just fine…With a little effort on your part, of course.”
“But…what about my aunt and uncle? They live out of state, but surely…”
Szalinsky just shook his head sadly.
“I’m sorry, Alexi. We tried. They refused to take you in. They’re your only living relatives, but they were quite adamant about it.”
“Oh…I see. Well, I suppose I should have expected that. I mean…sure. Uncle Vlad is my father’s brother, afterall…” A tear rolled down Alexi’s cheek and he quickly brushed it away with his hand.”I’d like to be alone for a while, if you don’t mind. My head’s hurting again.”
“Sure” Szalinsky said as he got up, that same sad smile on his face. “I’ll send a nurse in on my way out. Give you something to help you sleep.”
“No!” Alexi screamed. “I mean…Please, don’t. The pills are supposed to give me dreamless sleep, but…I still have nightmares once in a while. I’m afraid to sleep.” Alexi finished quietly, then turned in his bead, to face away from Szalinsky. He immediately regretted the move, as pain shot throughout his whole body and made him scream.
“Stay still, dammit!” Szalinsky was by his side now, a worried expression on his face. Alexi was gritting his teeth in agony and sweating with the pain. “You at least need something for the pain. Hold on.”
Szalinsky rushed out of the room and returned a minute later with a nurse, who injected a liquid into Alexi’s IV stream.
“We’ll talk more about everything tomorrow, okay? You need to rest, Alexi.” Szalinsky said.
“What? N-no sleeeppp…Nooo…” Alexi mumbled, as he drifted off into unconsciousness.
He woke up screaming and covered in sweat the following morning.
“Shhh…Lay still, kid.” The nurse from the previous night told him soothingly, placing a hand on his chest. “Bad dream again?”
“Yeah.” Alexi nodded.
“Sorry to hear that. I’ll bring you some breakfast if you’re feeling up to it.”
“Hospital food. Perfect way to start the day after a restless sleep…Sure, why not?”
The nurse smiled. “Oh, Mr. Szalinsky said he’d drop by after lunch today.”
“I can hardly wait.”
“Oh, to be young and sarcastic again…”
“I always thought sarcasm is ageless. Besides, you look great. What are you, 25?”
The nurse burst out laughing. “Oh, you little cheeky bastard, you. Flattery will get you everywhere, you know. But you shouldn’t be hitting on women more than twice your age, you know.”
“Don’t worry. You’re not my type.”
“Oh?” the nurse seemed almost hurt.
“Umm…you don’t really know me, do you? I hadn’t seen you before last night and I’ve been in this room for over two weeks.”
“Yes. I used to work the cancer ward, but it got too depressing.”
“Well…I’m sure someone will be nice enough to fill you in on my life story.” Alexi sighed. “Now how about that breakfast?”
Half an hour later, the nurse returned with a big nice bowl of delicious snot.
“Mmmm…Yum!” Alexi said. “What, no side-order of grog?”
The nurse just smiled nervously down at him.
“Right…Guess you got all the info you needed.” Alexi said, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Ummm, yeah. I’m sorry about what happened to you. It was…”
“Yeah, yeah, it was sad, tragic, horrible and unfair. God is cruel, but he works in mysterious ways. Save it.”
“Right. Well, I’ll leave you to it, then.”
“Oh, joy…”Alexi replied, rolling his eyes.
It was around 2:30 when Szalinsky arrived, with a folder tucked under his left arm, his right holding a steaming cup of coffee. He sat down in the same chair as the previous night.
“Hi, Alexi. How are you doing today?”
“Glad to hear that.” Szalinsky said absentmindedly.
“Are you serious?”
“Are you drunk, is your sarcasm detector broken or did your cat die or something?”
“Okay, now you HAVE to tell me. But first…is that coffee? I haven’t had one the whole time I’ve been here. Give!”
“Well, is your doctor alright with that?”
“Sure, sure. Why not? “
“Well, I suppose…” Szalinsky handed Alexi the cup. The young man sipped slowly then sighed contentedly.
“Ahhh…God’s gift to man! So, spill. What’s up with your cat?”
“My cat’s just fine. I just meant to talk to you about the Samuels family.”
“Oh, right. Well, I thought about that, and, well, I think there could be worse places to end up in, so I’m willing to give it a try. Who knows? Maybe it will be a great fresh start.” Alexi smiled a bit.
“Right…Well, you see, apparently young Hunter doesn’t like the idea of having an older foster brother. I talked to Sam. That is, Mr. Samuels and he said that he’d love to help, but his son’s opinion is important. If they can’t commit as a family, they can’t at all.”
“Oh. Right, sure. I understand.” Alexi said, his smile now turned into a grimace. “Sure, gotta think about the family unit first and foremost. They did seem nice, but it’s not like I had my heart set on it. Who’s next on the list?”
“It’s a very short list, Alexi. I’ll be honest with you. Very few foster families are willing to work with someone as old as you, that has had your…history. You’d most likely drift from foster home to foster home for the next 2 years. The Samuels…Well, they’re great people and I knew they’d take care of you as if you were their own. Others…not so much. But, before you panic, know that Sam promised he’d talk more with Hunter. They may yet change their mind. You still have 2 weeks at the minimum to go before you can get out of here.” Alexi groaned loudly at that. “So, there’s still hope.”
“Hope. Sure…” Alexi closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed, freshly bathed, dressed in the nice clean clothes that Szalinsky had brought him the previous night. He was looking down at his right leg.
“Fuck! FUUUUUUUUUCK!!!” He screamed.
“Whoa, there, lad. Or I might have to wash your mouth out with soap.” Alexi looked up to see dr. Blue standing in the door frame.
“Sorry. It’s just my stupid leg.”
“We did the best we could, Alex.”
“Right, sorry. Anyway, it’ll never be 100%, but you can still use it. Considering the state you were in, I’d call that a win.”
“I know, doctor. I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, but…”
“I understand. So…you ready? They should be here any moment, you know.”
“I suppose so.” The doctor nodded and turned to leave. “I’m scared.” Alexi said, then turned his gaze down, ashamed, as the doctor looked at him over his shoulder. He moved to the bed and sat next to Alexi, putting his hands between his knees.
“Alexi…My name is doctor Blue.”
Alexi just stared at him incredulously.
“I know. My memory’s fine, doc…”
“You misunderstand me. My name is doctor Blue. Look at me. That name. It’s not exactly…”
“The most African-American?” The doctor laughed. “But so what?”
“I was adopted, Alexi. My parents died in a car crash when I was 12. A foster family took me in and they adopted me. They loved me and nurtured me and inspired me to become a doctor. I know what you’re going through, but if Mr. Szalinsky is right, well, this family might just be what you need, the way the Blues were for me.”
“Thanks. For everything.” Alexi shifted a bit so as to face the doctor. He extended his hand. Doctor Blue got up from the bed, grasped Alexi’s hand and pulled him to his feet, into an embrace.
“Take care of yourself, kid.” He whispered in Alexi’s ear. Then he let go, turned around and walked out, leaving the young man hopping in place, trying to keep the weight off his right foot.
“Isn’t that healed yet?” Szalinsky said, coming into the room.
“It’ll never be, remember? I can put my weight down on it…mostly. But it’s safer not to. The leg bones are almost okay, but my knee…” He shook his head. “Damn it! God fuc…” Alexi swallowed his next words as he saw a man come into the room behind Mr. Szalinsky. He recognized him immediately as Sam Samuels. “Ummm…Hello, sir. I’m sorry about that. Frustration got the better of me.”
Mr. Samuels just smiled broadly and shook his head.
“Relax. What, you think I never swear? And if I went through what you did, well…” He cleared his throat nervously. “It’s great to finally meat you in person. Sure, phone calls and video chats are great, but I’m sorry we weren’t able to come in person sooner. It took longer than I expected to…err, convince Hunter.” He cringed at that. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.”
“Like what?” Alexi laughed. “I understand. I probably wouldn’t want a strange teenager moving into my house either.”
“Well, even so, I had hoped we had raised him better than that. We are in a position to help a young man in desperate need. Of all people, he should understand that we can’t turn our backs.” Both Mr. Samuels and Alexi flushed. “But enough of airing laundry in public. Shall we go? The car’s waiting outside. Unfortunately, Dana couldn’t get out of her shift at work and Hunter didn’t want to miss school.”
“I understand. And yes, I’m ready to go.”
The nurse brought a wheelchair and Alexi sat down in it.
“Oh, I bought you a cane. It’s in the car. Mr. Szalinsky and your doctor told me you’d need one, so I took the liberty of picking one out. Nothing fancy, mind you. You can go on “Pimp My Cane” later on, if you wish.” Alexi cringed and Mr. Samuels immediately followed suit. “Sorry. Stupid joke, trying to break the tension.”
“It’s alright. Not as if I haven’t had three weeks to get used to the idea of being a cripple.” Again they cringed.
Mr. Samuels placed a comforting hand on Alexi’s shoulder. “I’ll take him, nurse.” He said, as he took over the wheelchair from the woman. She looked down at Alexi, smiling broadly.
“Good luck with your new life, Alexi.” she said, as she bent down and placed a kiss on the teenager’s forehead. Then she hastened out of the room. A few seconds later, Mr. Szalinsky and Mr. Samuels, pushing Alexi’s wheelchair, walked out as well.