Free to a Good Home, Book 2 of the Heartbeat Series

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12. Eyes Wide Open

After Father Kelly had prayed with and gave consolation to Rosa, the half bent over priest returned to the room to say goodbye and nodded to Paul like he wanted to speak with him. Taking small steps to follow the old man into the hallway, he almost toppled over the elderly priest who stopped short. As Paul leaned back and stepped away from Father Kelly, the old priest pivoted towards Paul and motioned for him to bend down to his level.

Paulie, your mama, she‘s very sad. Her heart is aching over all of this. You need to spend time with her.”

“But Father Kelly--”

Paulie, the excitement that Maia has brought you has also become a nightmare for your mother. She had hoped to have died before this day came. She never wanted to meet her, see her, have to deal with her as a prospective guest at the table. Your father pained her greatly with his infidelity. For it to be so publicly broadcasted brought her great shame, but not your father. He revels in the affair he had with such a young woman to produce such a brilliant and brave child. When it comes to your mother, he does not care what he did to her. Your Mother, sits alone, Paulie. She needs someone to love and care about her too.”

Paul nodded and looked over the priest’s shoulder and saw her there, smoothing out her floral handkerchief in her lap. She didn‘t look at him or into the hallway, her eyes were always on the television or the windows. He wondered of the shame the old priest spoke about. Was Rosa afraid for anyone to know who she was? He could not fathom how hard it must have been for her to keep her pain a secret all these years.

“Padre, tell me what I should do.”

“Love her, son. Understand where she is. She’s hurting,Paulie. When she goes home, she won’t be the same friend and neighbor who was called home from her garden club. Maia has made it hard for her too.”

“I know. I hurt Mama today at court today when I said that I would adopt her.”

That can’t be helped. Adopting Maia is the right thing to do. Rosa knows that too. She may not like it, but she knows it.”

“Mama should have told me.”

“Yes, I agree, and so does she. Rosa’s heart is very heavy over the state of that child, and that their secret put Maia in that situation. She feels that penance will not absolve her from God’s wrath of judgment when it comes to the girl. No matter how much I try to convince her otherwise.”

“What should I do, Father?”

“Do not replace your love for your mother with a little-broken girl. Judging your mother and father for their choices only puts you in the line of fire for God’s wrath, young man. Love her. Your father, he has no remorse.”

“None whatsoever—for neither of them.”

Father Kelly nodded and patted Paulie’s forearms that he had been holding. The elderly priest stabilized himself on Paul’s forearm as he shakily raised himself up and placed his hand on Paul’s head. He prayed for him, then hugged him once more. “You are a good son, Paulie. Never forget that.”

“Yes, Father Kelly, thank you.”

Paul walked him to the elevator and then stopped at the doorway to the waiting room. Seeing Rosa’s eyes downcast, saying nothing at first but watched how her crooked fingers smoothed out the wrinkles from the lady’s handkerchief as she had folded it once again.

Paul sat in the chair next to his mother. She huffed when he did, but Paul pressed on, not paying her rude behavior any mind. Before Father Kelly spoke to him, he would have taken it differently, finding indifference in every scoff and huff, sigh and curse. Mama was still mad about last night and then court this morning. If that wasn’t enough on her wounded heart, Father Kelly was at the hospital in her time of shame.

Paul put his arm around her and she shrugged him away and said nothing. She refused to even look at him.

“Mama,” he said, rubbing her small shoulder with his thumb. Still she refused to acknowledge him.Quante volte devo scusarmi?...How many times do I have to apologize?”

“Sent to a hotel. Come se non fossimo niente per te...Like we were nothing to you.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I couldn’t deal any longer. I spent four months on the road. I came home sick—and then Maia happened.”

Rosa scoffed. “You think you’re so special because she happened to you? She happened to all of us. I was at garden club. We have our big fundraiser tomorrow. Where am I?“

An older couple entered the waiting area, sent there by a nurse. They were joined by other family members who all huddled together and hugged each other. For just a moment, he was another visitor at a hospital, completely invisible and transparent. As a younger woman brought in cups of coffee she saw Paul and her eyes grew wide, almost upsetting the coffee onto the carpet. Paul smiled and then kissed the side of his mother’s head, hoping that was body language enough for them to stay on their side of the waiting room. Now their conversation would be nothing or in Italian so it wasn’t leaked to the press.

Rosa lowered her voice to a hushed tone. “Qui mi siedo, in una sala d’attesa dell’ospedale da solo perché non sono invitato nela sua stanza...Here, I sit, in a hospital waiting room by myself because I’m not invited in her room,” Rosa said, trying not to get upset when her eyes already gave that away.

Paul sighed and reached for her hand. “Ti piacerebbe andare a casa? Farò volareil jet a casa stasera...Would you like to go home? I will have the jet fly you home tonight.”

Ho già Isabella e Mona che gestiscono imiei schermi...I already have Isabella and Mona handling my displays.”

Mamma, posso portarti a casa...Mama, I can take you home.”

Il tuo papà non andrà...Your papa won’t go.”

Vuoi che anche lui vada...Do you want him to go too?”

Non lo farà finché il su o bastardo non muore o sisveglia...He won’t until his bastard either dies or wakes up.”

Paul sighed. He hated that word, Bastard. How many kids he knew growing up were shunned by families because they didn’t ask to get born to two people not willing to stick it out for the sake of the kid? To make a commitment before they laid in bed and conceived? Still unheard of, giving a fuck before necessary.

Paul released a soft guttural growl out of frustration.Mamma, cosa posso fare? ... Mama, what can I do?”

She shook her head. He cupped her small shoulder as the elderly couple left the waiting room, seeing the nurse at the desk.

“How about a trip to the craft store? There’s an amazing upscale yarn shop not far from here. I could have Mack take you on a shopping spree. You get whatever you want.”

“The yarn store, lunch and my hair done.”

“Done, done, and done.”

“And your Papa goes with me.”

Paul sighed. “I will see what I can do.”

Paul kissed the side of her head, only for her to remain still and accept the gesture because they were not alone. He chuckled and patted her hand, knowing that she would have shrugged him off like he still didn’t matter. Ignoring her toxic dramatics, Paul left her for Maia’s room to barter with the old man.

The nurses smiled at him as he walked past their station. He tried to be nice and returned the smile, but damn, he didn’t know how much more of this he could take. Right now, he was ready to go down to the Hummer and sleep for the next couple hours. He wondered if he could persuade Joey to join him. The thought escaped him as he stood in the doorway looking at his little sister in the bed. How selfish was he to consider a nap when she has been on the edge of death? What if he returned rested only to find out she had died alone? As tired as he was, Paul couldn’t take the chance.

Stopping right inside the doorway, Paul squirted hand sanitizer into his palm then rubbed the goo into his hands, his eyes never leaving Joey who sat with his legs crossed, flexing and pointing his foot like he was stretching out the high arch that plagued him. Still fixated on her journal, Joey didn’t notice Paul enter. Saverio had moved to the stool where Paulie had sat earlier at Maia’s bedside, humming some Italian love song to Maia as he held her hand. My, how his tune had changed since last night. Was he being sincere towards the girl or was he only doing it to get back into Paul’s good graces? Either way, Paul was ready to send them both home. As if it were all a game of poker, Paul was ready for the girl to wake up and call his father’s hand. Certain that the old man was bluffing, Paul wanted to know his strategy so he could get a step ahead of it.

Regardless that he held the purse strings to their livelihood, that would never change. Their lies meant nothing to him personally. It was typical of these two. Always another surprise. Penny’s son Antonio and his scrapes with juvie, Philomena’s drug use, now Maia, Paul wondered if there was another girl out there and how much this one would cost him in the long run.

And then there was Joey. He wanted Rosa and Saverio flown home before their arrival at the hospital this morning. After last night, he didn’t want to see either of them on that hospital floor. The moment they exited the elevator he had texted Paul, demanding a restraining order, but Paul ignored him and did not reply. Joey knew better. He understood how his in-laws operated. It’s been ten years. How many more years would Joey refuse to deal with them rationally?

Paul stepped at the foot of the bed and looked at Maia and Saverio together before Joey noticed him there. He grasped Joey’s hand for a brief second and released it, sticking his hand in his jeans’ pocket as he stepped to the bedside. He stood there staring at Saverio until he had caught his father’s eyes.

Papà, andrai con la mamma per un po? Sta attraversando un periodo difficile... Dad, will you go with mama for a while? She’s having a hard time.”

Saverio scoffed at his son. His beady harsh eyes peered up at him before leaning back on the stool and balancing his forearms on the bedrail. With his crooked fingers he pointed halfheartedly at Paul. “Dove la stai mandando? … Where are you sending her?”

Joey, still sitting behind Paul cleared his throat. First the priest, now Joey. If his exhaustion weren’t enough, he just needed to tell his father to get off his ass and tend to his wife. He could have easily told him that in Italian and meant it with a few choice words instead of now mincing them in English.

Joey infuriated him on this issue. They argued about how rudely his parents and he spoke Italian in front of him, so he couldn‘t be part of the conversation or privy to the information. If they wanted to speak in private, fine, but excuse themselves from the room.

Joey argued ad nauseum that Saverio and Rosa both spoke English fluently. To their defense, in their little Italian senior community, they spoke Italian almost 75% of the day and rarely spoke English unless they were in the store or the mall. It took a couple days for Saverio to speak only English and stop using the two in mixed company. He’s eighty, and his brain thought in Italian for more years than English, reasoned Paul. He tried to make Joey understand this, but as far as Joey was concerned, it was still rude. Before he heard about it later and with his back to Joey, Paul rolled his eyes, making his father smirk. Paul replied in English for Joey’s benefit. “She wants to go to that specialty yarn shop, lunch and to get her hair done.”

Saverio sighed and chuckled to himself. “She wants me to leave Maia’s side to be pampered by you? What if Maia wakes up?” he asked in English, looking up at Joey.

Joey stood up and walked to Paul’s side. “I don’t think she’s going to wake up any time soon, Saverio. Maybe tonight, they said. She’s resting and they want her to stay that way. If they wanted her awake they would have woken her by now.”

Saverio nodded.

“You got to take care of mama, Dad. She’s a mess. She’s missing the garden club thing for this. You know how much that means to her.”

“Si, Paulie,” he said nodding again.

“I offered to send her home. She said not without you but knew that you wanted to stay for Maia.”

Saverio sighed. He kissed Maia’s hand and supported himself on the bedrail as he stood.

Riposa il mio bambino papà tornerà presto...Rest, my baby. Papa will be back soon.”

Paul arranged it with Mack and sent them on their way. When he walked back into her room, he resumed his perch there by her bed. He said nothing at first to Joey who was too into the journal to notice that he had just bought them some alone time.

“She left her whole life behind,” said Paul, aloud, staring at her face.

“I think she was the one that was left,” said Joey.

“Yah, Me too. Who abandons their kid?”

“Plenty do. Your dad did.”

“Don’t remind me, I’m so done with them right now. What do we do?”

“Send Rosa home. Bring him back and forth with you. I’m going to stay.”

“You sure?”

Joey nodded, “Until she’s out of here, I’m where she’s at. You better be paying your private duty nurse a good wage there, Mr. Lenci.”

“Yep, he got a puppy,” said Paul. Joey smirked.

“That fucking judge.”

“What?”

“Temporary guardianship—90 days. Daniel says they will appoint guardian ad litem to oversee this and make the recommendation for guardianship. We have to return to Queens to do so, as we can’t transfer the guardianship until after it has been made permanent and then not right away.”

“And adoption?”

“I had to promise I would adopt her so he would sign off on temporary guardianship.”

Joey chuckled.

“Did you read anything good?”

“Did you read her letter to you?”

“Of course.”

“She says she has enough evidence to sue DSHS from Chicago. But I don’t see where it is in here.”

Paul rubbed his eyes. He was in no mood for a mystery.

“There’s more, Paulie. There has to be more.”

“To what?”

“Her being homeless. Did she have nothing but this journal with her?

“She had a backpack, is what Alex said.”

Joey noticed the locker across the room and opened the door and gagged at the stench, quickly shutting it again. He grabbed a pair of gloves from the box and handed a pair to Paul. “Put them on.”

Paul did as Joey said, and Joey quickly slid his pair on and opened the locker and they almost retched at the odor as Joey snatched the bag and shut the door quickly to block the enclosed odor’s further escape.

Unzipping the large compartment, Joey drew out a Ziploc bag with heavy bronze medals on grosgrain ribbons, and the other had a large plastic envelope stuffed with sheet music scores. Paul immediately picked up the bag of medals, pushing them into the plastic for closer examination before grabbing the sheet music folder.

Joey carefully lifted a heavier plastic bag that whatever was inside was wrapped in what looked like a kitchen towel. Paul untwisted the string about the sheet music folder and extracted them out, these were no children’s pieces. Chopin? Grand Waltz? and a program fell out onto the floor. He picked it up and the saw “Illinois All-State Finals Concert” He found Maia’s name and that she was to play The Grand Waltz and on the final page was a brief bio.

“Hey Joey, listen to this,” said Paul. “Maia Lenci, 13, the youngest finalist, has studied at the University of Chicago under Margaret Strong for the last 7 years. Maia has placed in each competition she has ever participated in and is typically the youngest on the stage. Maia’s goal is to be a concert pianist and a composer. In her free time, Maia likes to skate and read. Her favorite musician is Paul Lenci and she lives with her mother, Catrina Prescott.”

“Jesus, this girl,” replied Joey.

When Paul put the program back, he found a white envelope inside the music. He opened it. “Dude, this is a $10,000 scholarship.”

“What?”

“All-State. She got a 10K scholarship for college.” Paul returned the letter to the envelope and the pages where she had put it. Once more he read the bio on the program then slid it back into the cover of the score placed the program where it belonged.

Joey carefully lifted the towel wrapped package from the final Ziploc bag.

“What is that?”

“I’m thinking fragile and glass, from the sound of it,” Joey said as he carefully set it down on the bedtable.Hearing the broken glass, he slowly opened the tri-fold picture frame. Each had Maia in a formal gown and wearing a medal. Paul picked up the Ziploc bag with the medals and flipped them about to see what years were on them.

“Ah fuck,” said Paul, seeing the picture frame’s glass had shattered on one of them.“We can replace the glass. Is the photo okay?”

“Yeah,” said Joey, as Paul brought the trashcan over to drop the glass from the bag into.

The first one was with Maia at a younger age with a woman. She was so short she looked like a 2ndgrader.

“2004, that was her first regional win,” said Paul. He found the matching medal in the bag on the blue and yellow ribbon for a regional competition. “She was ten. Damn. Ten, Joe.”

“Are those the guys?” Asked Paul, as the center one had her with 2 handsome men and her mother. Her mother was gaunter and had a headscarf.

“Jim and Jon?”

“He pulled out that medal from the bag. On the back, he found engraved in 2006. “She was 11.”

The last had just her with her mother, who was very thin and sporting a very ill-fitting wig.

“That was this year,” he said, pointing it out.

“Look how gorgeous her hair was.”

“Why did she cut it?”

“Safety in androgyny,” said Joey. “She did it there in the kitchen.”

“Wait, what? Who’s kitchen?”

“The foster home. It’s in the journal.”

“Show me,” said Paul. Joey paged through the book until he found it.

Nov 22

Hair on the kitchen floor snipped my finger on the dull blade.
Blood drips with my hair mingled on linoleum.
Missing the trashcan in the dark.
I’m screaming in silence.

“Fuck Joey,” he said, “She cut her hair in the dark, no wonder it’s a mess.”

“That’s hardly the worry. Read the next one.”

Nov 23

You look like a boy.
You want fucked like a boy?
This is the last time.
I leave tonight.

“Fucked like a boy?” asked Paul. “You don’t think he...he...sodomized her?”

“He’s no little guy either. Did you see the size of him?”

“Big filthy bear. I will hunt that bastard down and--”

Paulie, breathe.”

Paul turned to the back of the journal and showed the diagram and plan to Joey.

“She had been casing the joint,” laughed Joey.

“Dude, look at the math!”

“That girl on CNN said Maia was great in math.”

“I mean, she’s a kid, right? Someone had to do that for her. Who helped her plan this and where are they?”

“She had the guards’ routines mapped out, time and everything. Say, where’s her watch?” asked Joey.

“Watch?”

“How did she know what time it was? She’s got times on here.”

“Good question.”

Joey picked up her wrist. There was an indentation where there would have been a watch.

“In the effects, is it in the bag there?” Joey went out to the nurse’s station to investigate as Paulie sat in the recliner and studied the journal some more.

“They destroyed her clothes and shoes. The only thing in there is her coat and backpack." Joey grabbed another pair of gloves and removed out the coat.

Paul wretched and walked closer to the door for air until Joey shut the locker again. Even with his diminished nasal faculties, he could still smell the rank of her belongings. “Ohmygod, Joey, put it back.”

“Hang on,” he said, laying it out on the floor and pulling stuff from all the pockets and checking the lining of the coat for anything else. He pulled wads of spent tissues, and cigarettes and a lighter. In the midst of it, was a Mickey Mouse watch with a broken band. Joey held it up. In the interior chest pocket, he found a bus schedule folded with phone numbers written in the margins. “Whose numbers are these?” he asked, handing it to Paul.

Joey felt around again the massive coat and found a broken pencil in the lining and chapstick. He found pennies and dimes in it as well and realized there was a hole in one of the pockets for it all to escape down into the lining of the coat.

“We’ll buy her a new watch, Joe. This thing is so old.”

“Old? Like how?”

“Like, when I was a kid old.”

“Antique?”

“Do I look like an antique?”

“Let me see it.”

Paul handed it back to Joey who looked at it in the light. “That’s older than you. I’m thinking 1950’s. Joey wound the little dial and put it to his ear. “The clock work dial works. Listen. That’s a vintage watch.”

“Which means it means something to her.”

“Yeah.”

Paul nodded and held it, examining Mickey Mouse whose black eyes rolled up into his head and the scratches and scuffs on the face that gave it more character, The broken leather band, like one of those snap bracelets had etched into it an ML on one side and a CP on the other. It was her mother’s watch. The little rod fell off one side and it flipped up and down, attached to only one of them.

Joey patted down the rest of the coat he had smoothed out onto the floor. Into the lining of the coat, he found more treasures. Realizing that a pocket had a hole, he reached through and discovered a blue beaded bracelet with one gold bead in the midst of it. He handed it to Paul who studied the bracelet.

Those are actual stone beads,” said Paul. “Very pretty.”

“She could have sold it,” said Joey.

Paul shook his head. “They belonged to her mom. They are Buddhist something. Arnie, the backup singer, has bracelets like this. His is brown though.” He picked up the backpack to put the music and medals away and it felt heavy to him. Paul set it down and opened it up to see what else was in there. Nothing in the main compartment, he looked for a second one and unzipped another zipper to find another big bag that had at least two zip bags around each one of whatever was inside them.

“What’s that?” asked Joey.

Paul shrugged and opened the bags one by one, on the third one he found individual leather-bound journals, bound with a rubber band to keep each shut. Each of the rubber bands had ink and writing on it,

“Journals?” he asked. He handed one to Joey who sat up and carefully removed the rubber band as Paul took another from another Ziploc bag.

“This girl is meticulous in real life,” said Joey.

“How do you know?”

“The way everything was preserved.”

Joey carefully flipped through the journal.

“They belong to her mother. This is from when she was a baby. She talks about your dad in it.”

“Really, what does she say?”

“How could he just walk out and not care about her? Me? Both of us? He signed the papers like it was the closing on a new apartment complex and walked out. There was no exchange. Even when Jimmy tried to reason with him, he ignored Jimmy at first then told him it was none of his concern and dismissed Jimmy altogether. The nurse, who was doing the birth certificate paperwork kept it all civil. I was in too much pain from delivery to get up and corner him. How could he leave us for her? Why didn’t we matter to him? A little trust fund was going to solve it all. What a joke.”

Joey put the rubber band back on it and handed it back to Paul who was already leafing through another. “This was from right before her mom died.”

“Did you find a doctor’s name?”

“Not yet.”

Paul sat in the chair behind Joey and started to leaf through it while Joey continued searching the coat like he was a CSI investigator. He kept pulling trash and bits of paper out of the coat. He’d open up the papers and hand them to Paul to put in a stack with the rest. Joey fished through the rest of the coat lining looking for hidden pockets. This kid was too smart. Once more he pressed down on the coat and a small bump. He lifted the coat open again and unzipped a pocket between the coat and the lining, finding a small crack dime bag and in it was a flash drive.

“Bingo.”

“What the hell?” asked Paul taking it. Joey dug deeper into the pocket and found a copy card for Chicago Public Library.

“What was she photocopying?” asked Joey.

“The article, her birth certificate...”

“What else though? We haven’t found anything else, have we?”

On his last inspection, he found a business card from a doctor’s office, Dr. Geoffrey Robinson, Pediatric Pulmonary Specialist.

“Yes! We found him!”

“Who?”

“Her doctor!”

Joey left the mess on the floor and went out to the nurse’s station where Dr. Brown was sitting and proffered him the card.

“Okay, Paul is her guardian. He needs to call them up and tell him he’s sending an ROI and a copy of his letter of guardianship via fax right now, and I need to talk to Robinson ASAP.”

Joey rushed back to the room and Paul handed him the paperwork that Daniel had left and dialed the phone number. He introduced himself to the receptionist who almost screamed into the phone. He held it back from his face perturbed.

“Can you put him on the phone?”

“He’s with a patient.”

“His nurse, then?”

“Sure, let me see if she’s around.”

Joey brought him the ROI form to sign and Paul stood and went to the small countertop and signed the paper as Joey held it. Joey reached for the card and wrote the fax number on it as quickly as possible and rushed back to the nurse’s station.

“Dr. Robinson,” said the doctor.

“I’m Paul Lenci. I’m Maia’s brother and now guardian.”

“Hello. How’s Maia?”

“Unconscious and has had a second heart attack. Dr. Brown needs to speak with you.”

“What hospital is she in?”

“Queens Medical Center, New York.”

“Right.”

“She’s in CICU.”

“Is he there?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have something to write with?”

“Yes,” he said picking up the pen Joey had left behind. He grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser and refolded the bi-fold.

“This is my cell number. Tell Dr. Brown to call me. I’m going to pull up her chart right now.”

Paul repeated the number back to Dr. Robinson and thanked him then walked out to the desk. He gave the information to Dr. Brown who said he’d call and be in soon to talk with them. Joey and Paul returned to the room where Joey felt about the coat again to find anything else.

“I want to know what’s on this flash drive,” said Paul. “I’m going back to Alex’s tonight,” he said. He put it in the zippered pocket of his leather coat. Joey threw out the trash and Paul picked up the cigarettes and lighter. “This is why she’s so sick,” he said to Joey.

Once Joey had thrown all the trash away and put the coat back into the locker, Paul *67 the phone numbers on the bus schedule.

“AC Records,” said a bright and cheerful Chloe, the receptionist at the New York office. Paul ended the call before a hello and dialed the other number.

“AC Records, J’Shawn speaking,” said the receptionist.

“Hi, this is Paul Lenci.”

“Hello, Mr. Lenci,” said J’Shawn.

“What office is this?”

“Chicago.”

“Thanks so much,” he said. “You have a great day now.”

“One more,” said Paul, “That was Chicago, the other was that daft Chloe in New York.”

Joey scoffed. “Your favorite person.”

“I wish Ace would fire her ass.”

“AC Records, this is Sabrina.”

“Sabrina, Paul Lenci.”

“Hi there!”

“Hi there, yourself. What office am I calling?”

“LA.”

“Thanks, Sabrina. You have a great day now.”

“You too, bye!”

“This copy card, it has an account number on it.”

“Weird,” said Paul,how can we access it?”

“There’s a phone number on it.”

“Need a passcode though?”

“Don’t know,” said Joey, dialing the number on his cell phone.

Dr. Brown entered and used the hand sanitizer.

“How’s our little celebrity?”

“Well, she’s resting peacefully.”

I just talked to Dr. Robinson. He is sending me the records. She had 5 heart attacks from pneumonia since she was a baby.”

Oh..my...God,” said Joey. "5?"

“Maia showed up in their office the week before Christmas. She told his nurse the foster parents wouldn’t pay for food or medicine, and that she had left messages with her caseworker at Children’s Services and got no reply from her. Dr. Robinson’s nurse, Mindy, called children’s services on children services. Apparently, Maia looked really rough, her health was worse. They were stalling and got her food and left her to rest in an exam room while waiting for Dr. Robinson to finalize paperwork to hospitalize her. When they weren’t looking, Maia got scared and took off from their office. That’s when they realized that she had run away from foster care and did not want to go back. She never returned.”

Wow. No food or meds. There’s more to it. I just know it.

What gets me is that she was in poor enough shape when they saw her warranted hospitalization.

Which was when?

“A week before Christmas. He’s shocked she didn’t die on the street. Probably the cold saved her though. Kept her airways open.

What did he say was the best course of treatment?

This is the worst she’s ever been. According to Robinson, what we are doing is the best we can do.

“5 now 7 heart attacks,” said Paul, sitting back in the chair. “Fucking hell. If I had known she would have had specialists--”

“Paul, listen, she had specialists. Some of the best medical care in the country,” said Dr. Brown. “Robinson agrees with me. All we can do is stay the course. He gave me some recommendations though for when she wakes. He’s shocked her guardians took off. They always paid the bill. He said they became guardians of her to ensure she had insurance and the best medical


care. The state doctors weren’t successfully treating her asthma.”

“I have no idea where these guys are.”

“Minerva said that her mother’s journals are in her backpack. Maybe in one of those, you will find the answer?”

“We just located them, so we will check them out.”

“When will she wake?” asked Paul.

“Any time now. She’s nearing the end of the pain management cycle. Maia won’t be comfortable when she does. Chances are, with the pain meds she will sleep through and not remember anyone.”

“Is that what happened before when she got baptized?”

“I don’t know. By the way, Robinson said she was raised Buddhist. That’s what he has on his paperwork.”

“Oh well,” said Paul. “Now she’s Roman Catholic.”

“The beads--” said Joey, extracting them from what they found in the coat and showing them to Dr. Brown.

“Those are Tibetan Healing Beads,” said Dr. Robinson. “We see them all the time. They are as popular as a rosary here.”

Joey could not slide it over the IV port in her hand so he put them inside her palm and wrapped her hand about the stone beads.

“What did he say about her mom?”

“She was on top of Maia’s care but was freaked out by hospitals. She would demand her discharge and then would bring her back within a week with a rebound and another hospitalization. Catrina was eccentric and a vegan. She was neurotic about Maia’s diet.”

Paul laughed. “Uncle Dom said that Catrina worked in a Jewish deli.”

Dr. Brown smiled in response to a Buddhist vegan working in a Jewish deli.

“Maia was her world. Mindy, his nurse was there when Robinson and I spoke. Maia told her in December that her mother said she wouldn’t die and leave her. When Maia tried to reach the guys, her mother had the land line in their apartment shut off, and that was why Maia missed her appointment in early October.”

“Man,” said Paul. “Now what?”

“We wait. When she wakes, no drama. Just smiles and happy to see her. Any legal matters need to wait until she’s discharged. I take it, as her guardian, she’ll go home with you then?”

“Yes, I plan on adopting her as soon as possible. She needs to be safe and in a loving environment. That’s a priority.”

“Good to hear. I will let the social worker know.”

“When will the meds wear off?”

“About four-thirty.”

Joey looked at the clock. It was 2:30 and he hadn’t eaten since breakfast at seven.

“Are you starving?” asked Paul. Joey nodded. “I need to eat and take another dose of meds,” said Paul.

“Why don’t you guys go grab a bite to eat? There’s a terrace on the 8th floor and a small café up there. It’s a lot more private than the cafeteria and better food.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Paul. “Thanks.”

“What’s this?” asked Brown about the cigarettes and lighter.

“We found it in her coat pocket,” said Joey.

“Explains a lot, doesn’t it?” asked Paul.

He shook his head. “Knowing her own medical limitations, maybe she was near giving up.”

“Maybe she was just trying to hold on,” said Paul.

“Maybe so. I’ll see you guys later. If they got the chicken pesto panini, that’s a winner,” said Dr. Brown who left the room.

When they returned an hour later, Dr. Brown was exiting Maia’s room.

“Is everything okay?”

“She was awake here for a few minutes.”

“Is she out?”

“Almost.” Paul and Joey rushed in and each reached for her hand and squeezed.

“Maia!” they barked. Her eyes fluttered and Paul talked to her.

“Maia, its Paul, look at me.”

She leaned towards him and squeezed his hand. “Maia, I got you, do you hear me? You are safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”

Maia gently held his hand without response.

“I think she heard you.”

“Yeah, I hope so.”

He kissed her hand and set it down on the mattress.

“When will she wake again?”

“Probably near midnight,” sighed Joey.

The two worked through the afternoon on the timeline, only stopping to get Catrina’s journal from the backpack. As Joey continued to decipher Maia’s writings, Paul searched for anything on Jim and Jon, primarily an address or a location.

“He worked at the University of Chicago,” said Joey, “English Department.”

Paul called the University of Chicago switchboard and asked for Jon. The receptionist said he was on sabbatical, and he asked for the secretary to the English Department.

He talked with her and she expressed her concern for Maia, that had she come to the university, they would have contacted Jon and they would have flown home. She replied that Dr. Angeles would contact him when she was out of class. The secretary said that she would send her a quick email so the professor would return to the office. Paul thanked her and went back to reading the journal.

He finally found that they were in Cerne, France. “Just as I thought, they are in Cerne.”

Joey smirked. “Do you have an address?”

“Yes.”

“Now what?”

“You are going to see if they can do a welfare check on the apartment and get them to reach out to you.”

“Why me?”

“Your French is much better than mine.”

Maisoui. Find me the non-emergency number and I will try.”

Paulie started to google it and Joey re-read the letter.

“The False Bottom of the Backpack,” he said aloud.

“Did we look there?”

“No.”

“Put it on the list of things to search for. I need you to do this.”

Paul dialed the number and handed Joey the phone.

Bonjour, j’aibesoind’avoirquelqu’unvérifié. Ilsn’ont pas étéentendus et étaientcensésretourner chez eux à Chicago enseptembre. Pourriez-vouss’ilvousplaîtm’aider?... Hello, I need to have someone checked on. They have not been heard from and were supposed to return to their home in Chicago in September. Could you please assist me?”

Joey waited on hold as Paul found something else. “The name of the theater company,” he said. Joey handed him the pen and Paul wrote it down on the list. He continued to talk with the dispatcher and gave the address to her. He gave the dispatcher his cell number in the states and she told him he would have to call back for the report and it may be tomorrow that they know something to report to them. She gave him another phone number. Joey wrote it down and thanked her for her assistance.

Joey then dialed the phone number for the theater company. He got a recording. Bonjour, je cherche Jim Wilkins. Je m’appelle Joey Cravens et je dois lui parler de Maia Lenci. Jesuis avec son frère Paul Lenci maintenant. Maia est très malade et d'informations de lui. Mon numéro est ... Veuillez me rappeler lors que vous recevez ce message. Je suis dans les états et vous pouvez annuler les frais. Je vous remercie....Hello, I’m looking for Jim Wilkins. My name is Joey Cravens and I must speak with him regarding Maia Lenci. I am with her brother Paul Lenci now. Maia is very sick and I need information from him. My number is...Please call me back when you get this message. I am in the states and you may reverse the charges. Thank you.”

“Now what?” asked Paul.

“We wait.”

“I could get a private investigator.”

“Let’s see what we find out first. If we hit a dead end, then hire one. With her in the news, they would have to live under a rock not to hear of her.”

Paul stretched and walked to Maia’s bedside. He brushed her face with his cold hand and she flinched.

“She’s in there.”

“Poor baby, I can only imagine the pain of CPR being done twice in two days on her body.”

He picked up her hand and held it again.

“She’s so tiny.”

“Emaciated. I could strangle those two.”

“Yeah, same here,” replied Paul. “I wonder what she’s like. I mean, she vandalized a Caddy. Man, if she ever fucked up one of mine that way--”

“She had to have been provoked, Paulie. Like Daniel said, she’s a good girl.”

“The human trafficking. Jesus, Joey. We may have never met her if she had got sent back there.”

“She hid out for her life.”

While putting it in danger.”

“Risk taker. I don’t think much scares her.”

“Everyone has fears, Paulie.”

“Why didn’t she go for help though?”

“She did. The list of dates she called ACR are in this journal. Dr. Robinson’s office, reporting CPS to CPS. You can’t fault her for not succeeding.” Paul’s phone rang. He answered it.

“Dr. Angeles,” said Paul answering the phone. “Thank you for calling me back.”

“We have not heard from Jon since September. His partner, Jimmy left a message that they would be gone the whole school year.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, he was calling from France, so he was on international calling. Jon had the time coming to him. He hadn’t taken a sabbatical in almost 6 years now. He was going to take the year but be in the office from January through May. He was working on his second doctorate.”

“I take it you heard about Maia?”

“I did, I had no idea her mother had passed. If I knew, I would have reached out to Jon myself.”

“Do you have a phone number where I can reach him?”

“Yes, but when I call, I get a disconnected message.”

“How about his partner, Jim?”

“No, I don’t have his either. I have an email for both of them though.”

“Do you have any other numbers in France or know where he could have been studying?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. He was working on Buddhism in Romanticism and was studying at the Nalanda Monastery in France. I have the abbot’s secretary’s phone number if you would like it.”

“Yes, please,” he said writing it down.

“Let me know if you locate them. We have been concerned since we saw Maia on the news. How is she? I saw your video this morning between classes.”

“She had a second heart attack this morning. They took her off life support, expecting her to die and she’s starting to thrive.”

“Maia is a fighter. She is like a cat with many lives. That girl has given us all scares over the years. I hope she will pull through this. Maia is very beloved here. We watched her grow up.”

“Why didn’t she go to you all for help?”

“I would like to know the same,” said Dr. Angeles.

“I’m going to try the abbot’s office,” said Paul. “Thank you so much. We will be in touch.”

“Blessings to Maia from all of us.”

Joey dialed the phone number of the abbey and a very sleepy monk answered. When Joey asked for Jon Reardon and Jim Wilkens, the monk said they left yesterday to return to Chicago.

“Well,” said Paul, “let’s wait and see what they have to say for themselves.”


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