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    Mikiesboy
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Changes, Again - 2. Meeting Max

 

I felt nervous and slightly sick as I pulled into the wider-than-normal parking space at The Johnson Institute for Spinal Cord Injuries. We had been back here several times over the years so Don could have check-ups and tests done. I felt the same way every time; like I had that first time. I'd taken a day off for this and hoped it wouldn't be a wasted effort.

I'd never really thought about kids. I love Millie and James, but I didn’t think I'd want my own full-time. Don, though he'd never come out and said it, would. He always seemed to have this longing where kids were concerned.

After parking and getting Don out, I closed and locked the van.

Donny smiled up at me. "Ready?"

I let out a ragged breath. "As I'll ever be."

"Lous, he's just a kid."

We moved toward the entrance. "Not anymore he's not. Just think about what he's gone through, Don."

Don was quiet as I pushed him to the bank of elevators. "No, I suppose he's not. Maybe we can give some of that back to him."

I pressed the up button. "Maybe." I smiled at my wonderful husband, but I didn't feel good about this, not any of it.

We backed onto the elevator, as it was busy and there was no space to turn around. I pressed the button for the fourth floor. As we stopped on each, my anxiety increased. On the third, most people streamed off around us. We travelled quietly to our destination. I pushed Don onto the fourth floor.

"Donny, what room?"

"Four-fifteen, but we have to meet Robert in the lounge first."

I was studying the wall map. Things had changed, and Don hadn't been on this floor when he'd been here. After finding the lounge, I kissed Don's cheek briefly and pushed him there.

As we drew close I could see Robert and a man in a white coat talking. I blew out a deep breath and moved Don into the lounge.

Robert smiled. "Ah, here they are." He lifted a hand in greeting.

"Hello, Robert." Don returned the small wave.

I nodded and smiled. My heart was pounding in my chest. The hand-grips on Don's chair were damp. I wiped my palms on my thighs as Robert and the other man moved toward us.

Robert indicated the chairs. "Let's sit and talk for a few minutes."

We did and Don moved his chair in close. The man in the white spoke first.

"I'm Garrett Humphrey, one of Max's doctors, his surgeon to be precise. I appreciate you both coming and considering doing this."

We all shook hands. Donny asked, "Can you tell us how bad his injuries are? Where he is in terms of treatment?"

"Yes, his injury is similar to yours, Don, but more severe than we first thought. Surgery went well, but the cord was badly damaged. He's young, so we hope with time he'll regain some control and movement."

I was starting to feel a degree of panic now. How much care would this kid need? "Um, so I hate to sound uncaring, but how much care? I mean I work, we both do …."

The doctor nodded. "Max has a small amount of feeling back, enough sensation to understand he needs the bathroom. He's receiving therapy, like Don did to learn to look after his own needs. He's doing well, but having a place such as your home, one that's built for wheelchairs, would be helpful in his recovery. Being out of the hospital would be."

Don nodded. "I understand that feeling; I get it completely. Sorry, can I just ask, doesn’t Max have other family? I mean, all of this happening and no other family either?"

Robert answered, "He does have other family … an aunt on the father's side. They were estranged. We are working with her. She has a family of her own, but well, there are circumstances. We are trying, but it's not a viable option for Max right now. He's never met her."

"He's never met us either." I dropped that bombshell. I hadn't meant to say it out loud, well, I whispered it. I looked at each of their faces. "Sorry …."

Robert seemed concerned. "Louis, I thought you were okay with this."

"I am. How I feel comes and goes. I get why you thought of us Robert, I really do." I took a deep breath. Better all this comes out now. "But what about his therapy? Who will take him? There's a lot to be done."

Don put his hand on my forearm. "Lous, breathe. I can do a lot, there are transport services, and well, I'm doing well enough now, you could reduce your hours."

It felt like time stopped, but not in a good way. "Me? I could?" I stood up then. I felt trapped, like I had when Don had his accident. I needed air. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Louis …."

I heard them call me, but I needed to get out, to get some air. I walked quickly to the elevators and pushed the down button. When the lift arrived and started downward, it felt like a week had passed. Finally, on the ground floor I took the exit onto the grounds and jogged to the river. I was headed toward my favourite rock.

I sat down and watched the inky water of the Basalt River flow by me. The sounds of the water, the insects, and birds could not drown out the noise in my head. Thoughts like, you're selfish, unkind, and the worst, you were not raised this way, ran through my mind. I knew that my mom would be horrified at my behavior. I'm sorry, Ma. I know it's awful, but they want me to be a caretaker—

I heard movement next to me.

"Hi."

I turned around and I saw a young teen in a wheelchair. "Hello."

"Are you okay, mister? I saw you running." He moved his electric chair closer. He was upright in a halo device, yet he smiled. "Mostly people come here to get out of that place. I'm Kyle."

"Hi, Kyle." I turned a bit to face him. "You're a patient?"

"Yeah, I jumped into a pool and broke my neck."

I closed my eyes. I felt sick and sad. "That's rough, I'm sorry."

"My own stupid fault. Is someone you know in there?"

"Not anymore. He's been home for a few years now."

"That's good. I just want to go home too. I hope I can soon, but my parents need to fix up the house so I can get in and out and stuff."

I nodded. "Yeah, I understand that. I hope it won't be too long until you're back with them."

"So why are you here?"

"Our house is fixed up for Don's chair. So, we've been asked to look after someone who needs a place to live for a little while. He's about fifteen."

"Oh, well, he'll be lucky to be out of the hospital. I mean they are nice here, and all, but it's not like being home, or with people you like." Kyle gazed at the water and then back at me. "So, if he's in there, why are you here?"

I got to my feet and dusted off my butt. "The simple answer is I'm having a very selfish moment, but I think I'm over it. Talking to you has helped. Do you want a push back in?"

He smiled at me; his sunny blue eyes glinted with mischief. "Nah, I'm motorized! Let's go. You never told me your name."

"Sorry. I'm Louis."

We travelled across the lawn back to the Institute. Kyle stopped. "So, like, you said Don, is that your son?"

I smiled. "No, he's my husband."

Kyle flashed a whiter-than-white grin. "Cool! Let's go."

Back inside I said goodbye to Kyle and took the elevator upstairs. I met Don in the hall on the fourth floor. He didn't seem angry.

"Lous, are you okay?" He rolled up next to me and turned around. "I'm worried."

I put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't. I'm sorry, Don, and I'm okay. I met a great kid who showed me the big picture, instead of my blinkered one. Let's go and meet Max. And I'll talk to work about reduced hours."

Don stopped and grabbed my hand. I bent to meet his eyes. "Thanks, Lous. I don’t know why, but this … helping Max … is very important to me."

"Yeah, I'm starting to see why, babe."

We returned to the lounge to find Robert on his own.

"Are you okay, Louis? Garrett and I have been talking." Robert leaned toward me as I sat down. "We think perhaps if you're both still willing, that Max just come on weekends, or maybe Friday to Monday, for the first little while."

Don was nodding. "I think that's a good idea. We all need time to get to know each other. After all, Max doesn't know us either."

Thank you, Don, thank you. I need the time. "Does Max know about all of this? That he'll be staying with us? Does he know we are Gay?"

Robert rubbed his hands down his thighs. "I explained it to him."

Don raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound hopeful. If Max can't deal with that … this isn't going to work, Robert. I've had enough homophobia from my own family; I'm not going to have it in my home again."

"I understand, Don. Frankly, he didn't say much about it. It's another reason I like the idea of short visits. If Max can't deal with it, well, he's not moved in permanently, so-to-speak, so ending it won't be as wrenching." Robert gazed at both of us. "Please remember, this boy has lost his family and his future is likely not going to be what he'd envisaged."

I'd been silent through all of this. I listened but watched the sliver of hall I could see. This was one of the Children's floors. One of them. I watched motorized chairs, chairs pushed by parents, self-propelled manual wheelchairs, all filled with kids. All of whom had a spinal cord injury that effected their mobility to various degrees. For most of them, they would never be the same. Life would be forever changed.

So, could I in good conscience not try to help Max? We have the space, the time, and the understanding. I knew that I couldn't turn my back on this kid now.

I found Donny's amber eyes on me. He smiled and mouthed: I love you.

The door to the lounge opened then, and the space was filled with a young man in a wheelchair, pushed by Dr. Humphrey.

He was pasty, made worse by the black unkempt hair. His hands were folded neatly in his lap. His body was stiff and his mouth set. His gray eyes met mine briefly; it felt like a mental shove. This kid was unhappy and did not want to be here.

Don moved himself forward first, and I watched Max. He didn't relax an iota when he saw Don. He was just angry.

The doctor spoke as he pushed Max closer. "Max, this is the couple I spoke to you about, Don and Louis. They've come to meet you and then you can go and visit for a weekend or two."

Don smiled. "We hope you'll be comfortable, Max. I'm Don. My husband Louis is there on the sofa."

I simply said hello to him. This kid did not want falseness or platitudes. "Yeah, we hope you’ll come to visit us, Max."

The kid just studied us for a long moment, the he replied, "Thanks."

My heart sunk slowly into my gut. You could feel the unhappiness, the profound sadness in this kid. And why not? His life as he knew it was gone. So were the people he knew and loved. I stole a glance at Don. He could feel it too. I turned more fully toward them.

"We live on a small farm. We grow a lot of things, and there are two horses you can get to know. There are paved paths you can take to get around outside. We are pretty active, and you'd be welcome to come running or riding. I hope you'll decide to come and stay for a weekend."

Don grinned and leaned back in his chair. No one is safe from Don's devil-may-care attitude. "Food is pretty damn good too."

Max looked over at him. "Is it?"

The way to any man's heart is through his belly! How true is that?

"Yeah, it is. You tell us what you like and the first weekend you visit, Louis will make it for you."

I think my eyebrows met my hairline then. "Will I?"

"Yes, you will." Don smiled at me. What he was up to was obvious.

"I know what you're doing, you know," Max said, but his tone had softened.

Don was ready for a sparring match. "You do, do you?"

A barely-there smile reached the boy's lips. "Yeah, I do … but I'd kill for a real barbequed cheeseburger and potato salad."

"Is the kitchen capable of that, Louis?" Don grinned broadly now.

I smirked back and sighed. "Oh, I'm sure the kitchen is more than capable. It may even go as far as homemade chocolate fudge cake."

Max's smile came out a little more. I didn't expect him to jump for joy, but the small positive reactions gave me hope.

Don was speaking to Max, Robert and the doctor. "So, what time-frames are we expecting here? I want to make sure Max's room is ready."

"I think about four weeks based on Max's progress so far," Dr. Humphrey said.

"We can come and see him though, right?" I looked to each of them. "I mean, if Max is okay with that. We could sneak in a cheeseburger for him."

Max glanced up. "From Johnny's?"

"Where else?" Don was nodding. "Do you like their shakes? Their strawberry is the best ever."

"I've never tried one."

"No? Well, if you like strawberry, we'll bring you one." Don pulled out his phone. "How about we bring lunch next Saturday? We'll be here at noon. Does that work?"

"I'd like strawberry."

Dr. Humphrey made notes on his tablet. "We'll make it work. No problem."

"Strawberry it is." I smiled, turning to Dr. Humphrey. "Can we make sure that Max has our phone numbers?" I swiveled back to Max. "In case you want them. No pressure, okay?"

Max held me in what felt like an appraisal for very long moment before he nodded silently.

Robert, who had been sitting quietly, said, "Yes, sure. I'll make sure he has them. I think a lunch next week would be a good thing as well."

"I agree. Now, Max has physio scheduled shortly. I'll leave you to firm up plans for next week and then an orderly will come for him. Okay, Max?" Dr. Humphrey got to his feet and squeezed Max's shoulder. Then he moved toward Don. "It's good to meet you, Don. We will be seeing each other, I'm sure."

Don reached out and shook the doctor's hand. "Yeah, we will. Thanks, Doc."

I stood, as did Robert, and we each shook hands with the doctor. With that, the surgeon departed.

Robert said, "I'll meet you two on the first floor. Give you a minute or two with Max." He turned to the boy. "Okay, Max? Then I guess it's off to physio."

"Okay, Mr. Walker. Thank you."

"You're welcome. I'll be around later, okay?"

"Yes, sir."

With a final wave at us, Robert left and we were alone with Max.

The three of us glanced at each other for a moment before Don started talking.

"What kind of things are you interested in, Max? Movies? Music?"

"I like movies and stuff, yeah."

"Good, because Lous and I like to watch them."

"Do you just watch at home, or do you go out?"

Don smiled. "Sometimes we go to the movies, yeah. The place not far from us has a row for wheelchairs, but home is more comfortable. I can walk a bit with help from crutches, so sometimes I bring them and walk up with Lous so we can sit together."

Max was quiet for a moment. "I hope I can do that one day, like walk again."

"Give yourself time to heal a bit." Don put his right hand on Max's forearm. "Things can change so much, and you can do so many things, Max."

Max nodded, and at that moment an orderly entered the lounge. "Maxy! Time for your visit to the C of H!"

Smiling, Max replied, "I'm ready, Carl."

I wondered what that meant. "C of H?"

Max grinned. "Chamber of horrors, my words for physio."

Don laughed. "Good description. Just remember though, you're healing up, and you, my friend have something they do not."

"What?"

"Wheels, my friend, wheels. I used to run my therapists ragged!"

Carl walked forward to claim Max. "Geez, don't give him ideas. Okay, we have to go, Max."

"Okay." Max turned to us. "Thanks for coming to see me, and for your offer. I guess I'll see you next weekend."

"You will. See you soon, Max." Don gave the boy a small wave.

I got up and raised my hand too. "Cheeseburger and a shake from Johnny's. See you soon."

Carl pushed Max toward the exit. The boy twisted around. "Strawberry, Louis, don't forget."

And with another small smile and wave he was gone.

I let myself slump back into the chair. Don rolled toward me.

"You okay, Lous?"

"I guess."

"What do you mean?" Don reached for my hand.

"It's hard, will be hard, and emotional I guess. He's not ours, he's a stranger right now."

Don sighed. "Yeah, I know. I imagine he feels the same way."

"Yeah, I think you're right, Don." I squeezed his hand. "I mean, if it doesn’t work between us, then Max leaves and is still all alone."

"While we have each other, babe? Let's not worry about stuff until it happens. Let's bring him lunch, talk, go for a walk. Can we sort the van to take another wheelchair?"

"The van is sorted; it's always been able to take more than one, in the spot just behind where you sit."

"Oh, yeah, of course." Don leaned toward me and kissed me. "Maybe we can get him out of here for a couple of hours. If the doc agrees."

"Down to the lake or something? The boardwalk is a nice place.” I got up. "We should get downstairs to find Robert."

"Good idea. You push and I'll throw him a text."

I grabbed the chair's handles. "Okay." I pushed him out of the lounge back to the elevators. Don had pressed for down when his phone beeped.

"Robert is in the lounge down there."

"Great." I pushed Don onto the newly arrived elevator.

On the ground floor, we made our way to the lounge to join Robert. He smiled. "So, what do you think?"

"Well, he's cute, but I was really hoping he was blond." Don deadpanned.

"What?"

I was grinning.

Don laughed like a loon. "Robert, you make it sound like we are buying a puppy. Seriously, he's doing better than I'd thought he would be."

I nodded. "I thought he'd have been angrier, or cold, I guess."

"We've been talking about a foster home situation with him for a while now. We didn't want it to be a shock or surprise."

Donny nodded. "That's good. Is our application in process for being foster parents?"

"Yes, there won't be a problem."

"So, Don, we should get back and look at the third bedroom." I was thinking about whether it needed paint and other equipment. The en suite in there was already renovated by the previous owner. It already had a small wet room and would be better for Max.

"Okay, Lous." Don turned to Robert. "We'll need a list of things that Max will need, or he's used to, like a board, trapeze, you know."

"Right." Robert made notes. "You know you'll get compensation for being foster parents. It's about seventy-seven dollars per day."

"Is that right?" I asked.

Don stared at me like I'd grown two heads. "We aren't doing this for the money, Lous."

"I know, Don. But I've never thought about that and it makes it easier for me to consider reducing hours, or in the worst-case scenario, quitting." I rubbed my thighs. "I mean, you are earning well now and could support us both, but Max will need things and the extra money would go towards that, right?"

Don capitulated. "Of course, the partners may not want you to go part time. I know this could be a huge sacrifice for you, Lous."

"Yeah, well. It's the logical thing to do." I took his hand. "The right thing."

Robert stood up. "Okay, boys. Thanks for doing this. We will talk again soon. I better get home before your mother has my head. Don; Louis, thank you."

We both nodded and decided we needed to get home too. There was work to be done.

 

***

Thank you all for reading. All your comments and thoughts are welcome!

 

To @AC Benus thank you for editing this story. It is made better by your vision.

As well, much thanks to beta-readers @mollyhousemouse and @BHopper2, thanks for your honesty and skill.

Copyright © 2019 Mikiesboy; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

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Adding a child to the household is stressful. Having that addition be a teen is even more stressful. Added to all that is the fact that Max is newly disabled and still adjusting and coming to terms with his new situation.

 

Louis is realistic to be seeing the heaviest load will fall on his shoulders. Robert might help, but he’s not going to be there 24/7. Don will be better equipped to deal with Max’s adjustment to his disability, but he won’t be able to help with the physical tasks. Max won’t want Rena to help him bathe or change his catheter! If their healthcare worker (I assume they’ll have one at least initially once Max moves in) won’t be around to do all those things every time, so Louis will need to do them.

 

Usually, the argument in favor of fostering or adopting an older child is that you won’t need to deal with diapers, but catheters and colostomy bags (if he has them) aren’t a great alternative!

Edited by droughtquake
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His gray eyes met mine briefly; it felt like a mental shove.

Wow! I hadn’t realized you’d switched genres for this new story! Is Max a mutant like the X-Men?  ;–)

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