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

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13. Coca Cola and Choir Robes

“Joey,” said Carma, hitting the hand sanitizer as she entered the room. He did not wake up until she stood in front of him. “Joey,” she said louder. Joey stirred awake then realized where he was and woke up with a start. The rest had left before dinner, and Joey had collapsed in the chair for what he meant to be minutes but seemingly turned out to be a couple hours.

“Did she wake?”

“Not yet, I just got here. Hey, you better go get food before they close the cafeteria.”

Joey looked at the clock on the wall. “Oh wow, it’s that late?” he asked, pushing his feet into his sneakers and tying them.

“How is she?”

“Stable, can you believe it?”

“I left here this morning and she was just hanging in there. Then I saw Paul’s press conference and called to hear about the second heart attack.”

“When they took her off—we thought it was over.”

“She’s a fighter. Brown said you guys found her doctor?”

“Yes.”

“The pediatrician’s name we found in the journal wasn’t forthcoming when we called him upon her arrival. He didn’t even call us back until after the anaphylaxis, and what we needed to know they wouldn’t share. Sounds like Robinson though was the real deal for Brown.”

“Is he still here?”

“Sleeping. He’s off at seven. Finally, his last 12 of the 30.”

“I could never be a resident,” said Joey, as he nodded and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“I need to eat and get a shower.”

“You can use the visitor’s shower, let me see what openings they got. You go get food and I’ll call you.”

“Earlier than later,” said Joey. I’m getting my food to go.”

On Joey’s way to the cafeteria, he called Paul, who was already in their bed at Alex’s house. Whenever they were in New York, they stayed with Alex. Likewise, if Alex and his family were in the Poconos, they always stayed with Paul and Joey instead of Andy or Mitch.

Paul shared how the flash drive was full of performance videos, and he was awestruck at the young talent. Also, on the flash drive, they had discovered a file named “evidence.” When Megan opened it, she found scanned pictures of what appeared to be a small notebook. She emailed it to Daniel and printed a copy for Paulie. The final image was the trust fund check with the name of the attorney’s office where it originated.

Alex said Daniel would be over to see them tomorrow afternoon to sort through all that they had, but felt it would be beneficial for Maia to wake and tell them herself. At least they had the information if they ever needed it. Paul yawned and they shared their good nights for rest and comfort.

All the while, Joey anxiously watched the clock. He took his shower at nine-thirty, so he wouldn’t miss her waking up this time around. Still upset with himself for dawdling earlier so they weren’t there when she woke that afternoon, he anxiously waited for her to wake this evening.

Since last night he daydreamed of her waking, how her eyes would blink and she would instantly recognize his voice as the one who sat with her. He wanted to know this child, he wanted to give her a chance even though no one else would. That, indeed, the two had in common, they would always be on the outside looking in at Paul and his parents. For ten years, Joey had tolerated worse from the Lenci’s just because he happened to love and care for their son. Maybe his expectations of this child were like that, he wanted a comrade, but also someone else other than Paul to love.

After a quick shower and freshly dressed in a pair of gray lounging pants and sweatshirt, Joey pushed the recliner closer to her bedside so that his head was near hers, and he could hear her if she woke up while he was cat napping.

Joey set the journal on the bed table and covered the recliner with a sheet and fluffed the pillow before he checked on Maia once more. He turned down the light so that just the one over the bed was on, and he picked up where he had left off that day.

Once more he glanced at her diagrams of the loading bay at Union Center and the math. That was crazy, those equations. Who did that for her? Someone had to help her plan this. How could a little girl figure this all out on her own?” He turned to where he had left off reading about her life on the streets. He was only a few more pages away from the when she had run away from the foster home, which was almost a third of the way into the entire journal.

He’d find dots on the pages in the margins, like ants in squiggly rows. He wondered what that was all about. Some of them were O’s with lines through their centers and other strange notations that looked like 3′s and 7′s. Every so often there was a hashtag or a b by the dots. Seemed like a weird form of doodling in such a small space. But the little ant trails were around the margins of each page unless she had to squeeze something in on one page, then the ant trails ended and seemed to pick up on the next entry.

November 29, 2004

“I finally got a night’s sleep. I was at the soup kitchen at St. Pete’s on 4th Avenue, and Sister Margarite had served me an extra scoop of mashed potatoes, knowing I would eat them instead of meat.

When I went to the bathroom after dinner, I saw that someone had left the staircase to the basement storage area open, and I wandered down there in the dark, noticing a light on at the bottom of the stairwell. I found a storage room that someone had left open and the light was on. Just so no one else would come sneaking in like I did, I shut the door and searched for a place to hide. I found a big laundry cart full of maroon and white choir robes. I shut off the light and climbed into the bin, and covered myself with some of the choir robes, glad that my makeshift bed was in a safe place for a change. I didn’t care if there were spiders, it was warm, soft and near the furnace vent. I could live down here forever if possible.

I heard voices and threw a choir robe over my face since I had already buried myself and my backpack under them. They smelled like aftershave and perfume, and I knew my asthma would start giving me a hard time before long. I just had to suppress any coughs until the coast was clear.

A pair of men turned on a light switch and carried in a folding table saying they had two more. When they left the room I quickly reached for my inhaler and took a puff then shoved it back into my coat pocket for safekeeping. Tossing the robe over my face once more, I froze as I heard them on the stairs again.

“Them choir robes are still down here? I thought they was getting donated to that Chinese startup,” asked one to the other.

“They needs dry cleaned first. Sister Mary Beth will take care of them this week. Let’s get that last table.”

I parted the choir robes so I could get a breath of fresh air and then moved it back as they brought in another table. They put it away and shut off the light, then shut the door behind them. I pushed the robe from my face and went to sleep, not certain how I’d get out of here in the morning without being seen, I’d figure that out later. After I got a good night’s sleep.”

“I hear that kiddo, I need one too,” said Joey. Either she woke up or he gave up and went to sleep because he was exhausted and didn’t know how good of an impression he would make if she woke anyway.

He softly sang to her.

“Nothing’s going to harm you, not while I’m around. Nothing’s going to harm you, no sir, not while I’m around. Demons are prowling, everywhere, nowadays, I’ll send them howling, I don’t care. I have ways.”

Maia’s heart rate quickened. He stopped singing and it slowly resumed a regular resting beat.

He tried again, “No one’s going to hurt you, no one’s going to dare. Others can desert you whistle darling, I’ll be there--

Again, her heart rate was quickening. Carma, one of the nurses, came into the room inquiring if Maia had woken.

No, I was singing a song my mom used to sing to me, I didn’t think much of it, and I don’t know if it’s my voice or what.”

“Sing something else.”

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine....”

“Nothing. Sing the song again. The one your mom sang.”

“...Others can desert you, not to worry, whistle I’ll be there. Demons can charm you with a smile--”[1] Maia stirred and her eyes fluttered.

“What should we do?”

“It’s almost time for her pain meds.”

“Should I keep singing?”

That’s up to you, we just can’t get her too excited.”

“Right. He brushed her hair back from her face, seeing the perspiration. “Could I get another blanket for her? Her hands are cold and its chilly in here.”

“Would you like one too?”

“Sure,” he said. He hummed the tune instead. Maia did not stir this time. The nurse returned with a few blankets. “Must be my singing. She does nothing when I hum to her.”

“Fever is breaking finally,” he said. “Maybe wipe her brow with a cool compress?”

“Sure.”

Joey went into the bathroom for a washcloth and he used warm water instead of cold and wrung it out. He brought it out, folding it. Gently he wiped the sweat from her face and her neck. She winced at the intrusion and her eyes slowly opened.

“Hi there,” he said, smiling at her.

“Maia, can you hear me?” asked Carma loudly. Maia opened her eyes and blinked to focus on them and tears welled up in her eyes.

“Are you in pain?” asked Joey.

Maia nodded.

“Hi, I’m Joey.”

She lifted her hand to wave at him half-heartedly and set it down again. She turned her head like she was scanning the room, and tears streamed down her face.

“Hey Maia, how about I get you an oxygen tube while you are awake so you can talk with us?”

Maia nodded and Carma got the tubing from the bag on the countertop behind her.

“Are you looking for your Dad and Paul?” asked Joey.

She nodded.

“They went to get some rest. I’m your private duty nurse, Joey.” He reached for her hand and she held it. “You scared the bejeezus out of us.”

He wiped her brow again and she studied his face with her eyes. Carma hooked it up then removed Maia from the BiPAP mask, while Joey sat the bed up. Maia croaked a deep voice.

OwwOww,” she said, wrapping her arms about her small chest.

“You’re okay, Maia,” said Carma, the nurse.

“Where am I?”

“Queens Medical Center, in Queens, New York,” replied the nurse as Joey tucked the oxygen tube under Maia’s nose and over her ear.

Maia coughed and leaned forward wheezing.

“Easy breezy,” said the nurse.

“Paper towels,” she demanded.

“Tissues are right there.” Joey pulled out a few and Maia coughed and brought up a mouthful of dried blood and dark phlegm.

Eww,” she said, “who the fuck intubated me?”

Joey and the nurse looked at each other in shock that adult voice and language came from a girl who resembled a child.

“Paul found me.”

“I heard it was the other way around.”

Maia wheezed and Joey helped her lean back. “I hurt all over.”

“You were in bad shape. You almost died a few times.”

“Please find Jimmy and Jonny they are all I have.”

“They are all you had. You now have quite a few more people to love you than before. They are all anxiously waiting to meet you.”

“Is he mad at me?” she asked, her doe eyes wincing as a muscle spasm hit her chest wall.

“Who? Your brother? You caused him and ACR a lot of trouble.”

She took a small gasp. “It couldn’t be helped. I was out of options. Maybe if my sperm donor left a forwarding address with Cat so I could find him when she died—” A coughing fit interrupted her train of thought.

Joey smirked at her calling Saverio a sperm donor. Maia coughed again and there were no tissues left in the box. She began to heave like she was going to vomit, so Joey handed her the washcloth while he grabbed the kidney dish on the counter. She hacked up more of the phlegm and mucus into the washcloth. He put on a pair of gloves and took it from her to dispose of in the linen bin.

“Please bring me a stack of paper towels,” she asked again. He stopped at the bathroom and got her a short stack of them. Even with IV’s in the crook of each arm, she reached for the paper towels and methodically opened up three of them, setting one on top of the other in different directions before picking them up collectively.

“Looks like you are experienced at this.”

“More than I care to be. Can I have a Coke?”

Joey laughed. “How about some ice chips?”

Maia nodded. “With a Coke?”

Joey laughed. “Maybe a Coke tomorrow.”

Maia kept trying to clear her throat and Joey raised the bed as he pressed the call button.

“Hi, Joey.”

“Hey Carma, so Maia here would like a Coke. and I said maybe some ice chips. Do you think she could have a couple spoons of ice chips?”

“I think that would be okay. There are spoons and cups here behind the nurses’ station.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Apple Juice?”

“Ice chips.”

“Sprite?”

“Ice chips,” he said as he left the room.

“Is she still after the Coke?” asked Carma as Joey walked over to the refreshment counter.

“No, she was bartering for a Sprite.”

“Teenagers.”

“I know, right?”

As Joey entered the room with the ice chips and spoon in hand, Maia picked up Cat’s healing beads from the folds of the blankets and was staring at them, feeling violated, she clenched them into her palm for a second then opened her hand again to look at them as Joey re-entered the room.

“Where did you get these?” she asked in a harsh tone as Joey unwrapped the plastic spoon from the cellophane wrapping.

“Your coat pocket.”

“Why were you going through my pockets?”

“We had nothing to go on, and we were searching for clues.”

“All you needed to know was in the journal, which I see you found. I wrote it that way.”

“Is it fact or fiction?”

“Fact. 100% Fact.”

Joey handed her the cup and spoon and she took a little and sucked it down. After two spoonfuls, she began to cough violently, literally throwing the cup and spoon at Joey while she grabbed her paper towels. As tears fell down her face, she brought up the phlegm.

Owww, owww, owwww,” she cried, grabbing her chest. “Fucking hell!”

“Young lady,” said Joey.

“Fuck off.” She hit the call button.

“Yes, Joey?”

“Hey Carma, you there?” asked Maia, talking over him.

“Hello, Maia.”

“Hey, I’m like a 9 in pain here. Can you get me something?”

“I’ll be right in.”

“Where do you hurt?” asked Joey.

“My fucking chest feels likes I was slammed by a subway. What the fuck happened to me?”

That kind of language is neither appropriate nor tolerated. Your brother will have a fit if he hears you talk like that. You’ve been forewarned.”

“Jesus Christ, would you please just tell me what happened to me?”

“You had two heart attacks,” filled in Carma.

“Fuck.”

“Is that your favorite word?” asked Carma.

“Today it is. Could I please have a Coke?” she asked Carma.

“You can’t even keep down ice chips,” said Joey. “Why would you want a Coke?”

Because a cigarette is probably out of the question.”

Joey and Carma stared at each other and shook their heads.

“How old are you?” asked Joey.

“13.”

“I don’t want to hear that language out of you again. Furthermore, you will not talk to me in that manner, tone or use harsh language.”

“Are you going to tell Paul on me?” she asked, taunting him like a kid on the playground. Who does this child think she’s bullying?

“Within a minute of good morning.”

Carma cleared her throat. “We are trying to help you out here, Maia,” she said, swabbing the needless port on Maia’s IV line. She pushed saline through the line first and then added the pain medication. ”I think you should apologize to Joey. He has been here 24 hours now taking care of you.”

Maia sighed. “I apologize for being mean to you. I’m in pain, I want to know what’s going on.”

“What do you want to know?” he asked her.

“Where’s my brother?”

“He’s resting at a friend’s house.”

“My dad?”

“He’s at a hotel with his wife.”

“Where’s Jimmy and Jonny?”

“No idea.”

“I thought they’d come home when they heard what I did.”

Joey and Carma’s eyes met until she pushed the second syringe of saline into Maia’s port. Joey shook his head and put his hand on his hip. She did this on purpose.

“So, you expected this media circus?”

“I was out of options. I tried to contact Paul, but no one took me seriously.”

“I’m sorry if I assumed otherwise. If your brother knew about you, you never would have been in that position to begin with. Had he known, he would have walked off stage and his tour to get you. That’s the kind of person he is. He’s sat here with you when he should be in bed. Paul’s on the verge of pneumonia. I get that you are in pain, Maia, but you can’t be so damn mean when you meet him. He’s Sicilian and he gets a burr up his ass in a hurry.”

Maia sighed. “Paul’s an alpha male with a type A personality. That’s why he’s successful.” She rubbed her chest and a tear fell from her eye as she wiped it with the back of her hand.

“Fucking hate CPR.” She coughed out more and wheezed.

“It was that or death. Blue is definitely not your color,” said Joey.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Noted. Where’s the nebulizer?”

Carma looked at Joey. “Do you typically use one?”

Maia sighed. ”I’ve worn out three of my own in my lifetime. They usually have respiratory here when I wake up so they got it in the room for treatments.”

“Ah well, it’s midnight. Dr. Brown will be back from his dinner here in a minute, and he wants to check you out. We’ll see what he says.”

“What kind of doctor is he?”

“Cardiologist.”

“Good. My heart attacks don’t come in pairs. What’s up with that?” she asked Joey.

“Anaphylaxis.”

Maia groaned and rolled her eyes. “Penicillin, wasn’t it? I so want it tattooed on me. And the second one?

“This morning. You were sleeping on a ventilator,” said Carma.

“Wow, that’s never happened.”

“Is it me or do you feel like we’re talking to a seventeen-year-old instead of a thirteen-year-old?” asked Carma.

“I’ve always had an opinion in my care.”

“So, smoking was what?” asked Dr. Brown, hitting the hand sanitizer upon entering the room.

“Survival.”

“Well you will be well taken care of from here on out, so you won’t have to worry about surviving and cigarettes,” said Joey.

Maia ignored him and rolled her eyes, turning her head only towards Dr. Brown.

“Are you the cardiologist?”

“Yes, Dr. Brown.”

“Cool, why did I have a heart attack this morning?”

“Asthmatic Induced--”

“Cardiac Arrest from Pneumonia,” she sighed. “See what happens when I come inside?”

“Well, you won’t be living in a doghouse so you better get over that.”

“I talked to Dr. Robinson today, he said he wanted to hospitalize you in December.”

“I wasn’t that sick.”

“He said you were and you ran off from them.”

Maia didn’t answer right away. The tough kid’s shoulders slumped as she breathed shallowly and held her chest. She pressed her back against the mattress and looked to Joey. “I didn’t want to go back to foster care.”

“We get it,” said Joey. “But you were really sick.”

“I know I was, but I couldn’t let them find me. It wasn’t safe for me. Simpson had a buyer. I couldn’t go back or be found,” she said nearly hyperventilating.

Joey bent down to her level and grabbed her hand through the bed rail. Her doe eyes brimmed with tears.

“Maia, do you know what Paul would say to you right now?”

She shook her head as a tear fell from her eye.

“He’d say three words. I Got You. And he does. We need you not to worry on the why’s and the how’s you got here. We can’t help you if you’re dead from a third heart attack, Maia.”

Dr. Brown and Carma moved to the other side of the bed. Maia was in serious pain, and the visible trauma was so evident. Joey knew it warranted a psych eval. As if her becoming emotional was totally unacceptable behavior, Maia righted her shoulders and quickly wiped away the tear with her hand. She cleared her throat and freed herself from Joey.

“Okay, fine.” Maia coughed again and wheezed. “When can I have a breathing treatment?”

Carma will call the on call respiratory therapist for you in a minute. I want to listen to your heart and lungs.”

As he put the stethoscope in his ears, Maia grabbed paper towels and violently coughed up more phlegm.

She held her chest and gasped for air in short breaths.

“Are you okay?” Joey asked.

Maia rolled her eyes in disbelief and with complete disrespect to Joey. “I’m in pain!” She looked to Dr. Brown, and with a greatly accusatory tone asked, “Did you x-ray me for broken ribs?”

“Not yet.”

“I got issues with a couple of ribs in my lower right lung. Some EMT with big hands when I was 8 punctured a lung.”

“Pneumothorax?”

“And pleurisy has been aggravating me since early October.”

“Why didn’t you go then?”

“I went to school and took care of Cat. That’s all I did. I even skipped my piano lessons. I had no time for appointments. It was just pleurisy.”

“Just Pleurisy, she says,” said Joey, rolling his eyes.

“Look, in the grand scheme of things, pleurisy is annoying as fuck, but it won’t kill me like other things.”

“Maia, what else can’t you take other than penicillin?”

“I’m good with the rest. It’s my only drug allergy.”

“What do you typically take for your meds?”

I have them written down on the front page of my journal there.”

Joey picked it up and handed it to her. She opened it and handed it to the doctor.

“Who is Dr. Patel?”

“My pediatrician.”

“He orders this, not Robinson?”

“Robinson only does the emergency inhalers and nebulizer ampoules.”

“Got it. I just had Carma give you a dose of pain meds. I need you to let us know if you’re still uncomfortable.”

“Are you going to do a chest x-ray?”

“Of course.”

“How bad are my feet?”

“We have circulation boots on them right now. They are in fair shape as far as frostbite is concerned. I don’t think you’ll lose any appendages but only time can tell.”

“Cool, can I have a coke?”

“How about apple juice?” he asked.

“Deal, but a Coke tomorrow?

“Yes, a Coke tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Dr. Brown.”

Joey shook his head and sat down in the recliner. He rubbed his eyes. “Ohmygod,” he thought, “what have we gotten ourselves into?”

She wheezed again and hit the call button and it rang.

“What’s going on?” asked Joey. “I’m right here, you don’t have to call them.”

“Are you a for real nurse and not my babysitter?” Maia panted and wheezed.

“I’m an RN.”

“Awesome,” she sighed, “I need an inhaler. Shit’s about to get real, you feel me?”

Joey popped up and went out to the desk. “She’s demanding an inhaler and is wheezing hard.”

Dr. Brown went into see Maia. “Carma, call respiratory for me and find out where in the hell she’s at.” Just then the elevator dinged and in walked the respiratory therapist rolling her cart.

Joey moved the recliner back and let them work on Maia.

Within a minute, Maia was holding a steaming nebulizer wand and getting the breathing treatment she asked for a half hour ago.

Dr. Brown left them as the respiratory therapist checked in with Maia about the ampoulesthat were most successful for her. Maia told her Dr. Brown had it and went back to puffing.

“I get a Coke after this,” she said to Joey.

“Apple juice.”

Maia rolled her eyes and puffed again, then waved the wand towards Joey. She said to the respiratory therapist, “Check it out. This is Joey, he’s my private duty nurse. My big brother hired him to take care of me. He must have known what a pain in the ass I am.”

“Nice to meet you, Joey,” she said, laughing at Maia.

“He doesn’t understand why I want a Coke.”

“The aftertaste of the nebulizer. Coke eradicates it better than anything else.”

Joey sighed. How hard is it for this child to understand when a doctor says no, it’s a no? “How about a Sprite?”

The therapist shook her head. “This girl knows what’s going on, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do,” said Maia, handing back the wand to her. “Can I keep this one?

“No, I’ll have them bring you one in the morning. You should be good after this, so try to get some sleep. Joey looks like he could use some himself.”

“How do you feel?”

“Much better, thanks.”

“No worries. I will order the ampoules and the nebulizer. Get some rest. I’m off at five so Poppy will be in to see you first thing.”

“Thanks, now about that Coke?”

Joey shook his head. “Doctor’s orders are still doctor’s orders, Maia.”

“I’ll talk to Brown,” said the therapist to Joey only her way out. “Three sips, Maia.”

“Yep, got it, three sips.” Maia smiled at Joey who picked up the trash left behind by the respiratory therapist and chucked the gloves in the can before washing his hands. As he shut off the water, he watched her eyeing him.

“You’ll drink the whole can, won’t you?” he asked.

“I’ll split it with you.” Joey went to the nurse’s station to see Dr. Brown.

“Let her have it,” he said. “X-ray is on their way up. They’ll take the pictures right in the bed.” Joey grabbed an extra pair of cups and straws.

Between the caffeine and the breathing treatment, you’ll be lucky to get any sleep at all tonight.”

“We will see,” said Joey. “Couldn’t you knock her out for the night?”

“We could augment her current pain schedule, yes,” said Dr. Brown. “Did you expect her to be like that?”

“No, I didn’t. We shall see how her brother likes her.”

“I’d like to be a a mouse in the corner for that one. Any chance he’d get here before seven?

“No, only if he’s got to catch a flight is he ever up before nine.”

Joey went to get the coke and a couple cups and straws.

“All right, Maia,” he said, showing her the small can of Coke. As he cracked it open, Maia smiled victoriously.

_________________________________

1 Sondheim, Stephen. “Not While I’m Around.” New York, N.Y. : Revelation Music Publishing Corp. : Rilting Music Inc., c1979.

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