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

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20. O'Hare

The flight home from France seemed longer than Jimmy expected. He couldn’t rest, the reports of Maia kept circulating in his head. The idea that Cat was dead ate at him. Dead. Gone. Maia homeless. Maia a runaway. Maia stowaway in cargo. Maia half dead. Maia now with the Lenci’s. How will he ever get her back? He had to get her back. Fighting for Maia wasn’t his job, it’s what Jonny did. It was always Jonny’s job to fight for Maia.

He stared at his partner as if he was a stranger as the porter who assisted him into the wheelchair. This man with now a mullet and a beard couldn‘t be his clean cut lover of fifteen years. There were moments like this, when lost in thought, he was in complete disbelief of their situation. They went on sabbatical. 3 months. Eleven weeks of bliss in Cerne, France. Monday through Wednesday he would sleep in, curled up with Jonny wrapped around him. Thursday morning, he would take a train to Paris to meet the rest of the Shakespeare company and travel to another theater in France. He’d arrive at the villa in the wee hours of Monday. This season, he was Benedick. His favorite role, and this Summer was one he had dreamed of his whole life--until that morning. He had just finished the season and had crawled into bed next to Jonny after arriving home at two-thirty that morning. Jonny didn’t move. He always reached for him, regardless. But in the wee hours of that morning, he didn‘t. He laid there like a board. Jimmy turned on the light, when Jonny wouldn’t respond to him. The rest was a blur.

So much had happened in the last six months. A Sabbatical in a Buddhist monastery for Jonny to finish his second doctoral thesis, this one on Buddhist influence on nineteenth century literature, and Jimmy was to tour for the Summer with a Shakespeare company. He had wanted to do this for years, and had been offered the chance twice before, and he decided this year he wouldn’t refuse this opportunity. For years he had toured the states, leaving Jonny home to manage Cat and Maia for a Summer or a season, and he would go on tour and be whatever role they gave him. But this Summer was different. He was Benedick. God, how he loved Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. Benedick was that deliciously snarky character full of charisma that Jimmy only wished he could be in real life. How he needed to remind himself to be Benedick when he’s faced with the Lenci’s for this battle. Since Jonny could not be his Cyrano, he had to wing it and try his best.

Jonny tapped the armrest of the wheelchair, but Jimmy was so lost in thought he didn’t hear him.

“Mister, I think he’s trying to tell you something.”

“What?” asked Jimmy.

“Mr. Reardon, he wants you.”

“Oh, sorry babe,” said Jimmy as they got into the elevator. “What’s up?”

“My....my.....my....ahhh.”

“I know, I know, Maia.”

“Tee... Tee...Vee.”

“Was she on the TV?”

“Yes! You....you....missed... it.”

“I’m sorry, I was thinking of something else I need to do.” Jimmy combed his hands through Jonny’s bangs what wouldn’t stay out of his face. “You need a haircut, Mister.”

Jonny laughed. “I need....my...my...ahhh.”

“I know me too.”

The elevator bell rang and the porter took them to baggage claim.

Jimmy called Raul.

“We are here, waiting for the bags.”

“I’m parking and I’ll be right there.”

“Thanks.”

They watched the ZNN reports on the TV in baggage claim and saw the ticker at the bottom. “Maia Lenci, stowaway in Paul Lenci’s cargo in stable condition. She is wanted for felonious vandalism of foster father’s Cadillac.”

“Ohmygod, what did she do?” asked Jimmy.

“Damn Cat,” said Jonny plainly. Those two words he was able to formulate and say very well over the last three days. “Damn Cat.” became a mantra. “Damn Cat” would will him to walk again, is what Jimmy believed. He needed Jonny to do something. Now that they were home and could get him the medical care he needed, Jonny has to rehab full time now that everything else was in working order.

No one expected an athlete like Jonny Reardon to ever have a massive stroke or for Jimmy to wake up that morning to a nearly comatose partner. He spent nearly a month at the hospital in Paris. Their lease was up that week, as they had planned to leave that Saturday for Chicago. The landlord had another tenant moving in and had no other apartment available. When one of the monks visited them in the hospital, Jimmy told him their plight.

The next visit was from Jonny’s friend, the abbot from the monastery who offered Jimmy a room there. Jimmy took it graciously and what little money he had left from the first tour, he paid for Jonny to be moved to the monastery,where one of the monks had been a physical therapist. When Jonny got the call from the Shakespeare company that their lead had left for Hamlet and they wanted him for the Fall season to do Hamlet throughout France and Italy.

Leaving Jonny at the monastery that day was as hard as leaving Maia and Cat in September. The monks assured him that Jonny would be fine with them. It had been good for Jonny. He was able to use more of his right hand than he had in the past. He could hold a spoon and feed himself, He still could not use a cell phone but he could hold it. He couldn’t write either. The biggest challenge was going to be his ability to type again. Jonny was always writing and teaching. As an English professor at University of Chicago, words were his life. Unable to communicate was worse than being able to walk for Jonny. He would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, if it meant he could just talk and write again.

“Hey,” said Raul seeing them. He hugged Jonny first and kissed his cheek. “What’s up, Doc?” he asked, making Jonny smirk. Jonny hugged him again with his left arm. “Help J...j...jim...mee,” said Jonny.

“I will, Doc, I will help him.”

“My....ahh...”

“I saw. I’m sorry I was in Columbia when Cat died, and I had no idea that she was on her own.”

“Hey,” said Jimmy to Raul, who stood up and hugged him. Jimmy released a moment of stress and sadness into that hug. He just needed someone to lean on in that moment. He couldn’t exude that energy from Jonny. Not now.

“Doc is sporting your look,” said Raul, about his hair and beard.

“Hopefully for not much longer. It makes him surly. It’s a good thing I didn’t have time to shave the beard between the shows,” said Jimmy about his neatly trimmed sandy brown beard. “It’s a good thing, with landing Hamlet.”

“I’ll fix up Doc in no time. I’ll bring my clippers over tomorrow.”

Jonny nodded and watched the television.”

“Is that his wheelchair?” asked the porter.

“Yes, that’s it,” said Jimmy as it rolled on the conveyer belt first. He and Raul got it and brought it over to Jonny. The Porter and Jimmy transferred Jonny over onto the wheelchair and the porter took off with the airline wheelchair.

“Bags,” said Jonny clearly.

“I see them,” said Jimmy. Jimmy reached for one and showed Raul the other three that were coming down the conveyor belt that they had to get.

“Is that all of them?”

“Yes four,” said Jimmy.

“I’m getting a luggage cart,” said Raul. He got them a cart. Jonny kept watching the ZNN on the TV above them.

“P....P...Paul.”

“I see him,” said Jimmy, reading the captioning.

“This kid did a 180, they took her off life support to die..” read the quote from the Rolling Stone reporter being interviewed by ZNN. “He couldn’t wait to meet her.”

Jonny’s face turned red.

“Hey, cut that out,” said Jimmy. “We are not going there with your blood pressure, remember? You need to chill out now.”

Jonny hit the armrest in frustration. It had been padded over with a towel and duct taped down because he was bruising his hand when he couldn’t communicate and would lash out with his hand.

“Let me see that hand,” said Jimmy as Jonny rubbed it on his leg. Jonny refused to proffer it. Jimmy put the palm of his hand out and Jonny finally laid it palm up on his. Jimmy bent down and kissed it sweetly, making Jonny smile, then he kissed Jonny.

“I love you, and I know that you are upset over Maia. I’m going to do my best to get her back. Bert will help me. I need you to not get your blood pressure out of control so that you throw another stroke. What good is it going to do if I get her back, and you aren’t around for her? Your impetus to walk and talk needs to be Maia not strangling Saverio or Paul.”

Raul put the bags on the cart and Jimmy pushed Jonny behind Raul who led the way to where he parked in the garage.

Jonny rode in silence and Raul put the bags in the trunk of his sedan first, and told Jimmy he would have to ride with the wheelchair in the back seat.

The challenge was getting Jonny into the car, but once he was in there, and they collapsed the wheelchair, Jimmy relaxed after clicking his seatbelt.

“When did you get back from Columbia?”

“Week after Christmas. I had brought her some treats from the holidays. When I went to the brownstone another woman answered the bell. Said they didn’t live there anymore. I asked her when they moved, and she buzzed me inside. She told me that Cat died on Halloween, and Maia was sent to foster care. Of course, I called CPS, who told me that she had runaway from foster care. I went to Nussbaum’s deli and they hadn’t seen her. That bitch, Dr. Strong, the piano teacher, saw her and told her not to come back to UC because she didn’t want to get jacked up with a runaway.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”’ asked Jimmy. “The thousands of dollars we had paid her over the years and that was her response to Maia? Do you know how much work we had gotten her? How much more she was able to do with Maia’s accomplishments—for the quality and quantity of students we brought her? Because of Maia?”

“So I went to the English department, right? New secretary, by the way. What a hot mess she is. The Devil got Portmann’s job. His MS progressed and forced him into earlier than expected retirement so the Devil got the job.”

Jonny said nothing but hit his hand on his leg.

“Babe, stop. You are going to fracture that hand, stop it.”

Jimmy put his hand on Jonny’s shoulder and gently rubbed it. “I know, Babe, I know.”

Once Byron heard, he was trying to track you guys down. You had left the apartment we had the address for and you weren’t at the Nalanda monastery we had known about. Byron had checked out the other monastery but left voicemails and got no reply from them.

“He was at Kanshoji.”

“No freaking wonder we couldn’t find you guys. Who would have thought there would be that many Buddhist monasteries in France of all places?”

Jonny laughed.

“They had the manuscripts he wanted.”

“Did you at least get the research done for the dissertation?

“Yes,” said Jonny.

“That small carry on bag that weighs so much is all photocopies. They had a plebe help him.”

“Ohmygod, only you, Doc, would find yourself a TA in a Buddhist monastery in France.”

Jonny laughed.

“Him and his poor TA’s. He works those kids to death.”

“Earn it.”

“Yeah we know, you make them earn it.”

“Did you talk to Marty?”

“No. Bastard won’t return my calls.”

“We are moving. Our lease is up.”

“Cat.... shhh shut offfffff...ffff...one,” said Jonny.

“Phone, she did yours too.”

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“Your landline is off. It says not in service.”

“How did she manage to do that?”

“I have no idea. Add it to your list of things to do.”

“Did Maia leave you any voicemails?” asked Jimmy.

“No, I had lost my phone in Columbia, had to get a new phone when I got back. If she did, I missed it. How about you?”

“I got to turn mine on yet.”

Turn it on. Where‘s Doc’s phone?”

“We will do it at home. When I can keep him from ruining his only good hand.”

“I’m getting you a Dammit Doll, there Doc.”

“A what?” asked Jimmy with a laugh.

“A Dammit Doll. Instead of getting mad at others and hitting something you use it to take out your anger.”

“Is it a babydoll?”

“No, it’s a stuffed pillow like doll shape and you just hit it on something.”

Jonny laughed.

“You like that idea, babe?”

“Huh. Yeah.”

“Huh Yeah, eh? Okay, so that’s a go, Raul.”

“Why didn‘t she tell you the cancer was back?” asked Raul.

“I don’t know. She didn’t want us to come home because of it? I guess?”

“Damn Cat.” said Jonny.

“I feel you, Doc,” said Raul.

“Mrs. Nussbaum banned Marty from the deli.”

“What? Why?”

“He called the social workers on Maia. Mr. Nussbaum paid for the funeral. Maia told them she was going to a friend’s house to stay until you guys got back.”

“Where did he put their stuff?”

“He got rid of most of it. There’s a few boxes in your apartment.

“What kind of funeral? Jewish or Buddhist?”

“She was cremated.”

“Damn cat.”

“Babe, Stop.” said Jimmy fighting back tears. “How could she have done this?”

“Xavier and Bert will meet us at the apartment. They got some stuff to help out and groceries. Xavier is a nurse and he’s off for the next few days so he will be around to help out.”

“What does Bert have to say about this mess?”

“He’s going to fight for Maia with you. He’s licensed in New York and has all the information on Maia legally right now,” said Raul, he parallel parked the car in front of the brownstone.

“All right, Curbside service, there for you Doc.” Jonny laughed.

Raul called Bert who was downstairs with Xavier in a moment’s notice.

“Jimmy hugged them both and Bert held onto him a little longer.

“We will get her back, I promise you,” said Bert. “It might not be right away, but we will get her back.”

Together, the three men maneuvered Jonny up the 2 flights of stairs, waking Marty who came out on the landing to see what all the commotion was about. When he and Jonny’s eyes locked, Jonny’s face went beet red and Jimmy looked to where Jonny’s eyes were.

“Babe, stop, your blood pressure. Marty, go away, I have no time for you and your shit.”

“What happened to Doc?”

“He had a massive stroke, the week before we were to come home. Thanks so much for calling the social workers on Maia. She could have stayed in our apartment just fine.”

“No, she couldn’t have.”

“I’m not arguing with you right now. Good night, Marty,” said Jimmy, as they wheeled Jonny into the apartment. Then Jonny began to wail.

Ohmygod, Babe,” said Jimmy, then he saw it. Cat’s urn and Jimmy knelt on the floor next to Jonny’s chair and joined him. There on the coffee table was Maia’s flopsy bunny from when she was a little girl. He grabbed it and held it in his hands and sobbed.

“Damn Cat, Damn Cat, Damn Cat!” exclaimed Jonny. “My.....ahhh... Want My...ahhh.”

“I know, babe, I know, we will work it out, I promise. I will find a way to get her home again.”

“We already did,” said Raul, sitting on the floor next to Jimmy.

“What are you talking about?”

“You fly out tomorrow morning at eight thirty.”

“Who does?” asked Jimmy.

“You.”

“But what about Jonny?”

Xavier spoke up. “I’m an RN and I’m off for the next three days. Bert, Raul and I are taking shifts to take care of Jonny.”

“Okay...but how am I flying out tomorrow?”

“Jenn had extra miles. You got first class both ways.”

Jimmy wiped his face as Jonny’s hand went into his hair, tapping him.

“Raul, it’s 11:30 pm now. How can I do this?”

“My cousin Millie is putting you up in her place, its only 5 blocks from the hospital,” said Bert. “She’s also a paralegal in a major firm and specializes in family law work. She can help you out if you can’t get me.”

“Bert, how do I go in there and see her? Will they even let me?”

“You are family to her. You have guardianship of her in the state of Illinois.”

“But doesn’t he have guardianship now?”

“Temporary. 90 days.”

“Oh.”

“He can deny you seeing Maia. You will need to play nice. Take your letter of guardianship. It’s good for how much longer?”

“June of next year.”

“So your guardianship supersedes his. We need the medical records from France about Jonny’s condition and why you are delayed in the return.”

“I got those here.”

“Good, and her medical information?”

“Yes, its on the shelf there.”

“Then get packed. You have work to do.”

Jimmy picked up the greeting card next to the urn. He opened it and in it was a note from the funeral home and Cat’s rings and bracelet.

“Where’s her Mickey Mouse watch?”

“Maybe Maia has it.”

Jimmy slid her bracelet on his wrist. It was the one he bought her for her last birthday. He held it to his chest and cried.

Jonny stroked Jimmy’s hair and he got up off the floor.

“Lap,” said Jonny. Jimmy shook his head. “Lap,” Jonny said again. Jimmy got up and moved the left side of the chair off and he gently sat in Jonny’s lap. With his good arm, Jonny hugged him and kissed his face, stroking Jimmy’s ponytail.

“Guys, look, I know you are beating yourselves up over this, but life cannot be helped. She’s a helluvah kid, and guys, she got that from you. No one else. Cat didn’t know how to parent. If it weren’t for you guys, Maia never would have turned out as well as she did. She’s smart as hell, getting into that tour cargo. Jonny shot Raul a look.

Okay, okay, maybe not her finest hour but hey, the kid’s got chutzpah, as Mrs. Nussbaum said.”

Jimmy kissed Jonny sweetly on the lips and got off his lap and put the side of the chair back up. He had a lot to do before he could lie next to Jonny in their bed. It felt like a lifetime had passed in the last six months. He had longed to be in his bed with Jonny for thirteen weeks now.

That night, there would be no sleep in those final few hours together. They would cry and hold one another until sleep took them over only an hour before the alarm rang.

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