He sat up; he was so cold. He had been lying on the ground curled up as tightly as he could. The sun was starting to light up the sky, but there was dense fog keeping things shadowy. "Daddy? I'm here."
"Robbie? Keep talking to me son, I can't see you yet."
"I'm over here, Dad. Come get me please. It's cold."
Robbie could hear the crunch of twigs as someone was walking toward him, then he could make out the shadow of his father coming through the mist. "Daddy."
"There you are, son. Are you all right? What happened?"
Robbie began to sob with relief. "I don't know, I hurt my ankle and I think I bumped my head. I woke up and it was dark and I was scared, Daddy. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get lost, really."
"Shh, son, it's okay. No one’s mad at you. We were just so worried. Come on, let’s get you up to the house." Fred Chase scooped his son up into his strong arms, being careful of his swollen ankle. The child's skin was like ice.
He carried him back through the woods and up to the clearing where a couple of police cars were parked. The officer saw them coming and ran to meet them with a wool blanket in his hands.
They wrapped Robbie up in the blanket and carried him to the car. "Daddy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, please don't let them take me to jail."
"Oh no, Robbie," Fred smiled at his young son. "Honey, you aren't in trouble, these nice men have been here to help find you. Would you like to ride in the police car with me to the hospital? We need to get that ankle looked at. Okay, buddy?"
"Yeah," Robbie smiled back weakly.
"Robbie!" Susan came running out of the house. "Oh my God, Robbie, are you alright?"
"Momma," Robbie cried, stretching out his arms to her.
"He's fine, Susan. Looks like a sprained ankle and a goose egg on his head. Get in the squad car and we'll take him up to Mercy General to have him checked out." A close friend and colleague of Fred’s had come over the night before to offer support. He would be there to answers Thomas and Jamie’s questions when they awoke.
They loaded Robbie between them in the back seat of the police car. Robbie leaned against his mother, relishing her familiar smell and the warmth of her body.
"Are you okay, baby?" she asked him.
"My ankle hurts. I'm sorry Momma, I didn't mean to get lost and scare everyone."
"I know, sweetie, it's okay now. You’re safe and back with us again."
At the hospital, Robbie was x-rayed, poked, and prodded then pronounced to be fine other than a badly sprained ankle that he would need to stay off of for a few days and a slight concussion.
"You can take him home and let him get some sleep, but you’ll need to wake him every hour and have him answer a few simple questions. If you can't get him awake, or he seems confused or dazed be sure to get him right back up here," the doctor instructed. "He obviously hit his head hard enough to lose consciousness, we need to watch him closely for the next twenty-four hours. After that he should be fine."
"Thank you so much, Doctor," Susan said.
"Momma, I'm hungry."
"Well then, let's get you loaded up and take you home. Then maybe your mother will fix you some pancakes. How does that sound, buddy?"
Robbie smiled and nodded his head.
Robbie walked into Mercy General thinking back to all the times he had been to this hospital. Of course there was The Incident in the Woods as it was always referred to. Then there was the time that Jamie had wrecked his bicycle and had to have six stitches on his chin. After that, his mother had had her gallbladder removed when he was around thirteen. Then their grandmother had come to live with them and in her final years she had been in and out of the hospital more times then he cared to count. And now here they were again.
He went to the information desk and inquired where the waiting room for the ICU was. He was pretty sure he remembered, but it had been more than a few years since he had been here.
He stood in the doorway and watched his mother. She sat thumbing through a magazine, her hair had a bit more grey and her face a few more lines, but she still had the elegant grace that she had always carried. As he watched her, he realized that despite his differences with his father, he shouldn't have stayed away. He had been gone too long, wasted too much time.
"Mom," he said as he walked in and sat down beside her.
"Oh Robbie," she sighed and reached out to pull him into her arms.
"How is he?"
"I don't know, they won't tell me anything. They only let me in with him for a few minutes every hour and they just say he’s stable. What does that mean? Oh I wish Thomas would get here, he could make some sense of all this."
Robbie was just about to offer to go try to get some information for her when Thomas came barreling in.
"Mom," he said falling in the chair on her other side. "How is he?"
"Oh, Thomas, thank God. I don't know, they won't tell me anything."
Thomas nodded, "Stay right here, I'll go get some answers."
And he was gone, without even acknowledging Robbie was there. Susan reached over and took Robbie's hand. "I'm so glad you're home, Robbie."
"Yeah, I am too, Mom. It's been too long, and I'm sorry about that."
"You've been busy."
"That's no excuse."
“You’re here now, that’s all that matters.” She always could forgive him anything.
Thomas came back a few minutes later, taking his seat next to their mother. “The doctor will be in to talk to us in a little while,” he said.
“Thanks you, son,” Susan said as she patted his knee. Thomas’s leg bounced up and down, a nervous habit he had had since he was a kid.
“How was your flight?” Susan asked, trying to distract him.
“Hmm? Oh, fine. Have they let you see Dad at all?”
“Just for a few minutes.”
“Come on, let’s see if we can see him,” Thomas said standing up.
“But you said the doctor was coming.”
“Robbie’s here. He can come get us if the doctor gets here before we get back.”
Robbie and Thomas’s eyes met for the first time in years. Robbie could still see the anger in Thomas. Or maybe it was more disappointment, whatever it was, Robbie suddenly felt like the little boy who could never live up to his older brother’s expectations. “It’s okay, Mom. Go with him. I’ll wait here for the doctor.”
“Okay, but don’t let him leave before we come back. I want to hear what he says,” she said.
Robbie watched Thomas escort their mother out of the room then he slumped back in the chair, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples in an effort to ward off the impending headache.
A few minutes passed like that, then he heard, “Hey.”
Robbie opened his eyes to see Jamie standing over him.
“Where’s Mom?” Jamie asked.
“She and Thomas are with Dad.”
Jamie sat down beside Robbie. “How is he?”
“Dad? I don’t know. Stable? I guess the doctor is suppose to come talk to us soon.”
Jamie frowned, nodding. “So, how’s Mom?”
“Trying to hold it together.”
They were silent for a moment, each with their own memories of their mother.
“She’s tough,” Jamie finally said. “She’ll be okay.”
Robbie shook his head. “It’s a façade, dear brother, she’s not nearly as strong as she wants everyone to think.”
“We’ve never talked about it, Robbie. What will we do with Mom if something happens to Dad?”
“Something has happened to Dad.”
“Yeah, I know, but what if he can’t make a full recovery?”
“I don’t know,” Robbie said. “But I’m sure Thomas has it all figured out, documented and notarized.”
Jamie frowned. “He’s not nearly the monster you make him out to be.”
Before Jamie could argue anymore, Thomas and Susan walked back into the waiting room with the doctor following behind them.