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

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14. Who Are You?

Maia watched Joey as he poured the Coke into the paper cups. Who was this guy? If he was gay, he would be handsome enough to be Paul’s partner. With that gorgeous blonde hair and perfect cheekbones and that Parisian nose, Joey would definitely be attractive enough to be with Paul. The way he talked about Paul, made her wonder if he doted on him, did his every bidding, and put up with his Sicilian temperament. He totally seemed like the type.

Maia smiled as he handed her the cup with the straw already in it. She thanked him and put the straw to her lips, sucking in just a little. She was wagering with herself that he would hold the straw while he sucked it and not just until he got it in his mouth. Joey waited on her, watching her with interest. Maia sipped the Coke, first a few drops then a couple swallows, only to cough and wheeze. As Joey grabbed her cup, he put the unfolded stack of paper towels into her lap.

“I’m good, I’m good,” she said, reaching for it. He handed it back to her. She waited for him to drink his Coke.

“Are you a Diet Coke kind of guy?”

“God no, artificial sweeteners are like rat poison for your organs.” Joey grasped the straw and put it to his mouth. Maia smiled triumphantly.

“Good, we think alike.”

“Not that Coke is much better.”

“Right. How did I get to New York? I was supposed to be out in Cleveland.”

“Your brother has had pneumonia and severe laryngitis. They cancelled the Cleveland show. He’s supposed to be radio silent right now but he’s dealing with the press and his family instead of bed and voice therapy.”

“I don’t remember anything after getting into the box.”

“You didn’t wake up and ever wonder when you were getting out?”

“No, I would have panicked if I did, I know that much.”

“I couldn’t imagine being in there at all.”

Maia nodded and sucked air through her straw. Joey held up the can and she nodded. He poured the rest into her cup.

“How’s your breathing?”

“Better, thanks.”

“How about your pain level?”

“About a six.”

Joey yawned and Maia pointed to his chair.

“I am not going anywhere. Please sit down.”

Joey smirked and sat in the chair.

“Are you from New York?”

“Pennsylvania. I grew up near Scranton.”

“That’s like on the Philly side of the state?”

“Correct. Up North.”

Maia nodded. “Do you live near this hospital?”

“No, I’m from Pennsylvania. I travel with the band.”

“Really?” She asked shocked. Was he Paul’s partner or was he playing with her? What’s his story?Did he really expect her to believe that he was just arbitrarily on the road with Paul and the band? That he had just gotten home from the tour and is called to run from Pennsylvania to be a babysitter for Paul’s bastard sister? Please, who does that? A partner, that’s who.

It made perfect sense now. Maia wondered how long it would take for him to admit it to her. She looked to the clock. Ten-thirty, bet he will spill it before midnight. He would not expect her to figure it out or that he would become her next people puzzle.

He already patronized her as if she was a child. After all, he thinks she’s a little girl. Nothing Maia just said since she woke influenced him otherwise. It’s a typical response to her. Just like the rest, Joeyprobably thinks of her as a smart ass ten-year-old. He’d figure it out soon enough when he realized that she already took the PSAT and would be achieving full college credit as of next year.

Most strangers find her an anomaly and she just ignored them and their gawking. She’s done it since she was a child. Her first recital she walked out carrying a phone book but no sheet music. As everyone clapped and snickered, one of the piano teachers fretted over the ‘forgotten’ music. Mrs. Aquila nodded her off with a smile as Maia climbed on top of the phone book on the piano bench. When she played Debussy’s Reverie, the chuckling ended and turned into gasps of awe until she flawlessly ended the piece to a round of vigorous applause.

This was no different. They all will think of her as a little girl until she proved them otherwise. What the hell? She pulled off a massive plot, got into tour cargo, lived to tell about it, found her brother, lived on the streets by herself all these months, but still she was a baby to them? Really?

“Maia, are you all right?”

“You said Paul was at a friend’s house? Why didn’t he stay at his apartment in New York?”

“Paul doesn’t have a residence in New York anymore.”

“Really?”

“He sold it about 10 years ago.”

“No way. When is your shift over?”

Joey laughed. “Wish I knew.”

“Wait, what?”

“I don’t think there’s anyone else relieving me. Once you get on a pediatrics floor I won’t have to spend the night with you. I only stayed because you were nearly dead when you were discovered and tried to die twice more since then.”

“Oh.”

“So where does he live if he doesn’t live in New York anymore?”

“He has a house in the mountains.”

Maia raised an eyebrow at Joey. “What mountains?”

Joey got up and took her empty cup and can and disposed of them and didn’t answer her. A tech from x-ray came with the bedside machine. Joey assisted him in setting it up and then left the room as he took the chest x-rays.

Maia panted while holding as still as possible for the profile x-rays and was glad when they were done and the tech had left the room with his machine.

Joey adjusted Maia’s pillow and bed and helped her get comfortable again, but the x-ray callestenics only made her pain worsen.

Maia held her chest and panted slowly until he pain subsided. “Allegheny?” She asked him.

“What?”

"The AlleghenyMountain Range. Isn’t that in Pennsylvania?”

“It is.”

“Is that where Paul’s house is?”

Joey chuckled. “You should ask him.”

“What mountain range do you live by?”

“I told you I’m from Pennsylvania.”

"Are you the tour nurse?

“Yes.”

“So, you got home and got a call about me and told to come sit with me until I either stabilized or died?”

“Pretty much.”

“How long were you home before you got the call?”

“Hours. Why?”

“Huh,” she said. It wasn’t a question. Just a simple word, a simple statement that stopped the conversation, as if she was pondering something in the privacy of her own mind and wouldn’t share out loud. Without warning she started interrogating him again. “What did Paul say when he found out about me?”

Joey did not answer her. He picked up his resort fleece jacket and put it on. Reaching for his phone off his charger, he put it in his pocket.

“Excuse me, Maia, I got to make a call.”

Maia nodded and watched him leave the room, stopping at the nurse’s station to talk with Carma. From where her bed was positioned, if she leaned over she could watch him. Joey walked behind the nurse’s station and into a small room with windows all around and dialed the phone. Their eyes met as he realized she was watching him, so he turned his back to her and put his hand on his hip. The way he perched that hand there, and then used it a moment later to gesture by flicking his hand about at the wrist before landing it on his hip again made Maia smirk.

Who in the hell did he think he was fooling? He ended the call and went out to the nurse’s station to chat with the others. While she watched his body language, Maia saw how he lost his butch exterior yet again. If he wasn’t gay, he would go by Joe. Joseph or Joey, was more gay sounding, she thought. He was too Type B to be a Joseph. No, he was a total Joey, a guaranteed Nurturer and she bet herself a Steinway that he took care of Paul the way Jonny took care of Jimmy.

When Joey entered, Maia smiled at him.

“Do you want to watch TV?”

“No. I don’t watch TV.”

“You are a 13-year-old American girl. Of course, you watch TV.”

“We didn’t have one.”

“Why not?”

“TV is a waste of time.”

“Oh, okay,” laughed Joey.

“How long have you been Paul’s boyfriend?” She asked.

Joey’s brow furrowed, and he took his phone from his pocket and texted someone, ignoring her.

She kept her eyes on him, waiting for the combination of her stare and the awkward silence to force an answer out of him. Maia watched his blue eyes widen from the tired slits they were moments beforehand. She watched his nervous reaction, the one of a person living a lie.

Waiting for him to answer, she stared unapologetically at him,and her smirk conveyed just that. Maia wouldn’t let him out of this. He would answer her tonight. It was a yes/no answer. She wouldn’t berate him into answering her. The awkward silence always worked on Jimmy and Jonny. Cat, on the other hand, would ignore her and walk away. Maia watched his eyes as he went from shocked to how the fuck am I going to answer this?

He sat in the chair like his knees were going to collapse and Maia sighed and rolled her eyes at him.

“Ohmygod, really?” she asked under her breath. His face raised, but his eyebrows were furrowed and his pale face flushed pink. Was that an embarrassed Twinkie or fag rage? He still said nothing.

“I’m thinking at least 5 years, " she said, answering for him.

Joey, again, said nothing to her and leaned back in the chair. Maia chuckled. ”I get it. You’re a secret.”

Joey still said nothing and texted someone, glancing up at her from time to time.

Maia waited. She reached for the remote and turned on the tv, finding ZNN. She read the tickertape news.

“I thought you didn’t watch TV.”

“Well, you didn’t want to talk.”

“Not wanting to talk, and the subject matter that you chose to discuss are two separate issues.”

Maia smiled triumphantly. “So, you are the boyfriend of five plus years and Paul is still stuck in the closet because he’s afraid some daft twats won’t buy his CD’s because he’s gay.”

Joey smirked. “I’m not going to confirm or deny anything.”

"Doesn’t that get old?”

“Does what get old?”

“Being a secret.”

“Sure, but I love him more than the world’s rejection of him.”

“Do you really think they will?” She asked, incredulously. How could anyone not like Paul Lenci? And if you already loved him as an artist, why would you turn your back on him because pronouns in his songs were merely arbitrary words of possession?

“What I think is irrelevant. It’s what matters to him. It’s his life. Not mine, not yours. What do you know of it anyway?”

“I was raised by a pair of queens and a lesbian.”

“So, wait even with his professorship—Jim and Jon were life partners?”

“Out and proud, 15 years.”

Joey chuckled. “This will be interesting.”

Maia smirked and sarcastically replied, “Can’t wait.′

“Don’t get all up in his shit about it. We don’t even talk about it anymore.”

“Are you afraid he will get rid of you if you do?”

Joey laughed at her. “Not at all.”

“So why don’t you talk about it?”

Joey changed the subject. “It says in your journal that you want to be a classical pianist.”

“I do.”

“So why are you trying to armchair psychoanalyze your brother and my relationship?”

“I’m always curious about how the other half lives.”

Joey laughed. “The other half? What other half?”

“There’s a half that’s a secret, and there’s a half that’s public knowledge. You can’t be both.”

Joey chuckled and sat back in the chair. “A lot of people are out in their personal lives, Maia. Some choose not to be out in their professional lives too.”

“Why not live your truth?”

Joey pirsed his lips them rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger. “The truth is different for everyone. Your truth is not my truth and mine is not yours, and Paul’s truth is neither of ours.”

Maia sighed and rolled her eyes. Blah Blah Blah... she thought about Joey’s convenient excuse. “How old are you?”

“43. So I think that I got about 30 more years of experience than you, kid.”

Maia smirked. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Paul’s face popped up on the television report. As if just for her, they broadcasted the impromptu statement and Joey watched her expression of complete adoration.

“He was a wreck over you," said Joey. “I sent him to go eat and rest. I swear to God, the two of you have aged me in the last 48 hours.”

Maia nodded and lost her smile. “They really thought I was going to die this time?”

“They took you off life support. Dr. Angeles said you are a fighter.”

“When did you talk to Dr. Devil?”

“This afternoon. She wanted to know why you didn’t go to the university.”

“They would’ve called foster care. They had no choice. Dr. Strong already told me that when I showed up at her office.”

“Your piano teacher?”

“Yes, she used to tell me that this notion of Paul as my brother was a nice fantastical story to tell myself.”

“Did she or Dr. Angeles help you find Jim and Jon?”

“I didn’t go see Dr. Devil.”

“Why do you call her that?”

“She’s not an angel. She’s a devil. She got the department head job, then?”

“I have no idea.”

“Dr. Portmann was the department head last year. He had another year before retirement. Jonny was doing a second doctorate to become department head. I called and left him messages asking for help and never heard from him.”

“Oh,” yawned Joey, “when did you see Dr. Strong?”

“After I ran away from foster care.”

“So, you were a runaway.”

“Yes.”

“And she thought that she could get in trouble for helping you?”

“Apparently, seven years as her student didn’t matter.”

He shook his head. “There are times in life when you find out who your real friends are, Maia.”

“I know, right? I think I became an expert in the last six months.”

Maia coughed and cleared her throat as a commercial ended. Her face paled white as her former foster father, Simpson, was being interviewed by a local Chicago reporter.

There he was, propagating lies that she was a horrible child, that she vandalized his car, stole money and jewelry and left her cuts of hair all over his kitchen the night she took off. Maia couldn’t breathe, her heart felt as if it was going to burst through her chest cavity, and her lips began to tingle as she felt faint.

“What a liar he is,” said Joey. “It’s written all over his face.”

Maia didn’t respond. Joey looked over at her and quickly jumped to her bedside.

“Maia!” he said loudly. “Hey, Maia!”

Maia’s heartrate soared and Carma rushed into the room as Maia shook and trembled. Joey shut off the TV as Carma tried to get Maia’s attention.

“Maia, hey!” said Carma, as Maia’s eyes rolled back.

“Maia, stay with me,” barked Joey. Dr. Brown rushed inside.

“She saw the news,” said Joey.

“Maia!” Exclaimed Dr. Brown. Her eyes fluttered and he took his pen light to them.

“That’s it,” he said. “What happened, Maia?”

Maia shook her head. She scanned their faces, seeing Joey at the end closest to her. As her breath slowed, tears dripped from her doe eyes, Maia reached for his hand and held it.

Joey looked to Carma who nodded to him.

“Maia, did he hurt you?” asked Joey.

She nodded and bit her lip as she cast her eyes downward.

“You are safe, Maia. Paul won’t ever let him hurt you again.”

“Maia, leave the news off. You don’t want a third heart attack. I’m going to order you something to sleep,” said Dr. Brown assessing her.

“It was just a panic attack,” said Dr. Brown. “I will let the attending on the ped’s floor know that this could be an issue.”

Joey thanked him before Dr. Brown went back to the nurse’s station.

“Maia, you’re okay. We don’t believe him.”

“Is he mad at me?”

“Who?”

“Paul.”

“No, but everyone who he is mad with will suffer his wrath.”

Maia laughed. “Good, I hope I get to watch.”

Joey smirked. “You will have a front row seat, I’m sure.”

“Where do you live?”

“About two hours away in the Poconos Mountains.”

“With Paul?”

“Of course.”

“What’s to do there?”

“Ski.”

“I have never skied before.”

“Paul and I are avid skiers. I even work at a resort as a nurse. You will learn, I’m sure.”

“I skate.”

“We have plenty of ice rinks in the area.”

Maia laughed at him. “Not that kind of skate. I skateboard.”

“Oh well, there’s snowboarding.”

Maia smiled then frowned and shook her head.

“What?” Asked Joey.

“I can’t. I might break my hands.”

Carma entered with a syringe.

“All right, Maia, Dr. Brown ordered you something to help you sleep. No more news on in this room. We got to get you stronger before you dive into that rabbit hole again.”

“Okay, okay,” laughed Maia, squeezing Joey’s hand.

“Get some rest, Maia. Your dad and Paul will be here to see you in the morning.”

“Saverio and Paul.”

“Saverio?”

“He’s not my dad. Not to me. He’s a sperm donor. That’s it. My Dads are Jimmy and Jonny. He will never be what they were to me. I wish … they would just come home already.” Tears streamed down her cheeks, stopping at the oxygen tube across her face.

“It’s okay, don’t get upset. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation,” said Joey, wiping her cheeks with a folded paper towel.

“What’s he like to live with?”

“You will find out soon enough. He’s taking you home and adopting you as soon as the courts will let him.”

“Adopt me? Why?”

“So this never happens to you again, and you need to be with family.”

Maia nodded. “What about Jimmy and Jonny? They are my legal guardians.”

“That’s for them and Paul to work out. You and me, that’s none of our concern. Our job is to get you well so you can become a classical pianist. That’s the only thing we need to worry about right now. Okay?”

She nodded. Her eyelids were heavy but she kept blinking herself awake. Maia sat there dumbfounded. Adoption—how? Why? He was her half-brother. Why would he adopt her? She had always wanted to know him but to be his kid—she had two dads. Would she have four or would Paul and Joey expect to replace the original two in her life?

Where isJimmy and Jonny anyway? Where are they to fight for her and keep Paul from taking over her life and keeping her away from them? Not like any rational person would blame Paul for feeling that way. Where were they when Cat died? Hell, when she was dying? Where were they when the social workers came for her? When she called many times and got no reply at the apartment they rented in Cerne? How many days she went without a simple cup of coffee at McDonalds just to have enough for an international calling card that barely let her connect twice let alone ask where they were if anyone bothered to answer the phone at all. Maybe adopting her was the right thing to do. Like Joey said, ‘so this doesn’t happen to you again.’

Maybe it was time for Jimmy and Jonny to have their own lives. They were her parents for fourteen years now. They took care of her when Cat went coo-coo for koko puffs, when she needed a better doctor and braces, when she needed her piano lessons paid for, when she needed to climb into their bed at night because she was afraid that Cat would hurt her in the middle of the night. They knew what she was like and they left. They just left.

“Maia, are you okay?” asked Joey. He stood up and walked over to her. She didn’t even know she was crying. “Hey,” he said, handing her a paper towel from the stack on the bedtable.

She wiped away her tear with her hand and turned her head away from him.

“I’m fine. It’s just a lot more than I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“I don’t know. Being warm. A nebulizer treatment or two and a shower.”

Joey chuckled. “Okay, well, you got a lot more than you bargained for, but you’re safe now.”

“They aren’t.”

“Who?”

“Jimmy and Jonny. Something happened to them.”

“Maia, I’m sure--”

She shook her head. “We were tight. They almost got her committed and out of the house so they could adopt me outright.”

“What?”

“Cat. Would get manic and violent at times.”

Did she ever hurt you?”

“No, destruction of property, never me. She knew not to lay a hand on me.”

“Why did they think you were capable of handling her?”

“She was on the right meds finally. She was healthy, and they had an opportunity to spend three months living just their lives and not being parents of a teenager and the caretaker of a mentally unstable woman.”

“Paul’s mother isn’t much better. She’s fucking nuts sometimes. Rosa had him in such a state he sent them to a hotel when we got to town. He couldn’t handle more than 5 hours with her.”

“I have no interest in meeting my sperm donor. Is that terrible?”

Joey chuckled. “He’s your Dad. Saverio is very old, Maia. Give him the chance to make amends to you--”

She shook her head. “I will meet him to make face, but that’s it. I don’t want any part of him. Ever.”

“Why?”

“He made it so I couldn’t ever find him. I had no right to know him then. So now that I’m a media sensation he’s got time for me? Do you realize how little he paid Cat every month for me? She should have taken him back to court for child support. I could have had my own room. All he needed to do was let the lawyer’s office divulge his information to me. At the very least, answer the phone when the paralegal who didn’t know any better called all afternoon until her boss got out of court and told me he couldn’t assist me and I needed to leave his office before he had me removed. I will never forgive him for that clause in that document so that I could never find him. When I was desperate and scared and hungry and...” The heart monitor soared and Carma rushed into the room.

“Hey, we need to calm down in here.”

Maia nodded. “I’m sorry,” she replied trying to suck back the tears and take deep cleansing breaths. “I just needed to tell someone.” Joey smiled that she chose him.

“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You were the only one in here.”

Carma groaned. “Maia,” she admonished her as Joey’s face fell. So she could not see that she succeeded in wounding him yet again, Joey turned his back on her and fixed his make shift bed as Carma left the room again.

“What in the hell is that smell?” she asked out loud.

“What smell?” asked Joey.

“It smells like sandalwood and cinnamon.”

“Weird, I don’t smell anything,” he replied with his back still to her.

At least adoption meant that she wasn’t going home with the sperm donor. After all these years you would think he’d be sitting at her bedside waiting for her to wake up? He’s so old, maybe he’s in a home and just up to visit to say hello. Maybe say hello and croak. Good riddance.

Joey walked over to her bedside and fixed her blankets.

“Are you warm enough?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“You’re fighting sleep,” he said. She smirked and pressed her head against the pillow and turned her face towards him.

“Does Paul sing at home?”

Joey chuckled. “When he’s working on something he does. When he’s teasing me and won’t stop annoying me, he does.”

Maia smiled. “Does he play the piano at home?”

“The one in his studio. The Steinway in the living room, not so much. It collects dust mostly.”

“A Steinway collecting dust? That’s sacrilege!”

“Then I guess you had better get well so you can give the Steinway its due attention.”

“Indeed. Is it an upright?”

Joey chuckled. “Baby grand.”

Maia’s grin widened and she sighed as her eyes began to close. “Is it black?”

“Yes.”

“Can you see your face in it?”

“Of course. Good night, Maia.

Maia said nothing, but she closed her eyes and sighed, dreaming of a Steinway piano and her Paul.

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