Jimmy rushed out of the gate and towards the transit center there at LaGuardia. He had already found the directions the night before on the computer and unfolded the printed paper from his jeans pocket. Checking his watch, he had seven minutes to get there before the bus left and another wouldn’t be by for a half hour. There was no time to get lost, he had to be completely on his toes. His bladder would wait until he got to the hospital, he told himself while speed walking to get on the walking conveyor, glad it wasn’t full, so he could keep moving. When he got to the transit center, he rushed to the bus stop just as the bus was approaching. He pulled out his wallet and put the fare into the slot and asked for a transfer. He had another bus to catch before the subway. His phone rang, it was Jonny’s phone. He answered.
“Hey Babe, I made it, I’m on the first bus. I didn’t have a minute to spare. You okay?”
“Doc’s fine,” said Xavier. “Worried about you.”
“I’m two stops away from the next bus so I can’t talk. I will call the minute I see Maia, so she can talk with him, okay?”
“Sure, I’ll tell Doc.”
“Thanks, tell him I love him, and I’ll call soon.”
Another woman pulled the cord for the stop and he followed her off the bus and waited for the connecting bus that was ten minutes out. Jimmy zipped up his coat, realizing it had been hanging open this whole time and it was barely thirty-five outside. The wind kicked up and he pulled his hood up and tied it. He had finally pulled his gloves in place and took his suitcase again by the hand when the bus rounded the corner and stopped in front of him. He had to wait for another woman to exit before he could climb aboard and showed the driver his transfer. It was standing room only on the bus and Jimmy moved to the back of the bus, frustrated that the windows were fogged by the warm emissions of the crowd upon it and that he couldn’t see out the windows for the street signs.
“Where are you going?” asked an older gentleman sitting near Jimmy.
“I’m trying to get to the subway to go to Queens Medical Center.”
“You have a few minutes yet. He stops there, and it announces the stop. You’ll be okay. Where are you traveling from?”
“Got family there. East Side.”
Jimmy smiled. “Have you lived in New York long?”
“Most of my life.”
Jimmy cordially chatted with the old man until the bus announcement of the stop, and it lurched to the curb. “Have a nice trip,” said the old man.
“Thank you, bye,” said Jimmy, hurrying off the bus and to the staircase of the subway. He compressed his carryon’s handle and pulled out the back straps and slung it on his back. Jimmy was swift but realized he had to ask for directions and stopped a transit cop to find out which side of the landing he had to be on to get to the right subway. It was such an adventure, but Jimmy wanted only one thing. To see Maia’s face. That’s it. He needed to see her.
Once the subway halted before him, he got on and found a seat in the near empty car. This was it. He just had to get off the subway and walk four blocks to the hospital, and he would be there. Briefcase slung across his front, carry on strapped to his back, he didn’t care what kind of sight he must have been as he set the carryon between his legs and sat back in the seat.
His eyes focused on the red LCD display of the stops and he counted them down from five to one. He stood up as the doors opened and he put his carryon upon his back again and moved through the turnstiles and up the staircase to the street. He looked at the street signs and could see the blue hospital signs and followed them there. When he got there, he saw the news networks still holding vigil for a Paul sighting, and Jimmy dare not say a word, just walk past them and upstairs to pediatrics. He would work out the rest once he got there.
He shook his tawny hair out of the hood and pulled it back into the ponytail at the nape of his neck and unzipped his coat while the elevator rose up to the 6th floor. There was a security guard there at the entrance. Jimmy walked up to his desk.
“Who are you here to see?”
“I need to see some ID.”
Jimmy pulled out his wallet and his Illinois driver’s license as the security guard pulled up Maia’s information on the computer. He looked at Jimmy’s name and compared it to what was on the computer screen. He wrote some information on the visitor’s tag and inserted in a plastic sleeve on a lanyard and gave it to him.
“Have a seat on the bench, a nurse will be right out for you.”
“Thanks,” said Jimmy, putting the lanyard on. He looked at the tag. Jimmy Wilkins, Father. Father? Where did that come from? He asked himself. He reached for his phone and took a picture of it and sent it to Bert with a text message.
Jimmy: Just got here and waiting to see her. This is my tag that security wrote out. What do I do?
Bert: Say nothing and act the part. Leaving office now for your apt. Be there soon.
Jimmy waited 20 minutes before a nurse came out to see him. She seemed shocked that he was there at all and uncertain what to do about his presence or who he was in fact.
“Are you here for Maia?”
“Sorry it took so long, we were doing a breathing treatment.”
“I understand. I’m Jimmy,” he said.
“I’m Amber, her nurse. She’s in quarantine so I will need to take you through the other doors. You will have to gown and glove up when we get there.”
“Sure, why quarantine?”
“She has impetigo and viral pneumonia.”
“Joey didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“Yeah, we hadn’t talked.”
“Does he expect you?”
“It’s very hard to reach him and Paul, so I just came when I had the chance.”
As Jimmy looked through Maia’s window, he saw her reading a book, completely zoned out and not paying the world any mind at all as usual. He quickly donned the gown and pulled the gloves in place as she handed him the mask. Jimmy looped it around his ears and she opened the door. He pulled his briefcase and carry-on into the room and dropped them on the floor as she noticed him.
Her eyes met his as if she’d know them anywhere as if she had waited months to see them more than he did.
“I should have known I’d find you with your face in a book!”
She jumped up from the bed and he rushed to her and scooped her up as she sobbed into his shoulder, extending the oxygen and IV tubes now tangled up in them. Tears fell down his face into the mask and he kissed it instead of her.
The nurse helped him to the recliner and untangled an impatient Maia who was sobbing. She climbed into his lap and buried her face into his shoulder as they cried together.
“This is a joyous reunion,” said the nurse as two more figures in the hallway were gowning up. Both entered and looked at the spectacle before them.
“Jimmy Wilkins?” asked the one.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’m Ann Meadows, the social worker for pediatrics.”
“I need to speak with you.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Not around Maia.”
“Don’t leave me,” she said, holding onto him.
“I’m right here,” he said. “What do you need me for?”
“It’s a legal issue for you to be here.”
“I’m her guardian. There is no issue. Would you like to see my paperwork?”
“Yes, do you have it?”
“It’s in the briefcase,” he said, pointing near her feet. She brought it to him and he handed her a copy of the letter of guardianship.
“Her brother has been awarded temporary guardianship.”
“I think we should call Joey,” said Amber, “since Paul is in Florida.”
“Why is he in Florida?”
“His mother tried to kill me, so he jetted her to a funny farm there. That way they wouldn’t put her in jail,” blurted out Maia.
“Kill you? How?”
“Suffocate me. She cut my BiPAP tube and held it shut.”
“And this hospital let her get away with this?” asked Jimmy incensed.
“It was out of our hands,” said Ann, the social worker. “If it were up to me, she’d be in jail as well, Maia.”
“So, her temporary guardian is in Florida?” asked Jimmy.
“Yes,” replied Maia.
“I do not want any drama around Maia. She’s been very sick. If you two have words about Maia, it is not for her ears or her opinions. Are we clear?”
Maia stopped crying and sat up. She wiped her face and stared down at the social worker. “Would you please leave?”
“Maia, don’t be rude,” said Jimmy.
“I want to talk with Jimmy in private,” said Maia.
“We will leave you be then,” said the social worker. They left the room and Maia looked to Jimmy.
“Where’s my Jonny?”
“Home. He’s not well.”
“Is he sick?”
“Jonny had a massive stroke the week we were scheduled to fly home.”
“What?” she asked. He pulled out his phone and showed her the pictures of Jonny. Maia started to cry and panic.
“Hey, stop that, I don’t need them in here because you’ve panicked yourself into an asthma attack. He’s okay, he needs speech therapy and physical therapy to walk again. We need to call him. I need you to be calm and not upset him. He has trouble speaking. It takes him a while to say a couple sentences.”
Maia nodded, and Jimmy dialed the phone. Xavier answered it for him and put it on speaker phone.
“Jonny?” asked Maia.
“My….ahhh,” said Jonny crying. “My ahhh, love you, kkk—come home.”
“I will when I can. I’m sick too.”
“kkk—cat die. When?”
“Halloween. The cancer, it came back.”
“Why didn’t you reach us?” asked Jimmy.
“Cat shut off the phones, so I couldn’t call you. She didn’t want you to leave your trip because she was sick. She knew you had waited a long time to be Benedick.”
“I can be Benedick any time. What about Dr. Portmann or Dr. Strong?”
“He was out sick, and when I saw her, she told me not to come back.”
“While you were in foster care?”
“I had run away from foster care by then.”
“Did she know that Cat was sick?”
“Yes. She was mad at me for missing lessons from going with Cat to chemo. If I didn’t go with her, she wouldn’t go at all.”
“Why didn’t you email us?”
“I did, at the UC.edu emails.”
“Chh—changed,” said Jonny. “New server.”
“Everything hit at once,” said Jimmy.
“Pppp---paul,” said Jonny.
“He’s okay. His mother tried to kill me yesterday.”
“What!” asked Xavier. As Maia recounted it to them, Jonny was fuming and Xavier had to remind him to calm down.
“Why didn’t you guys come home? Even after the stroke?”
“We were trying to, but Jonny needed to be stabilized and we needed first-class seats to get him here, so I took another tour.”
“Where was Jonny while you were on tour?”
“At a monastery doing research and getting some physical therapy from a monk who had been a physical therapist. They got him stabilized and to doctor’s appointments.”
“Why didn’t you reach me?” she asked him.
“The phones were off. Including ours. How did she suspend our phone line?”
“I don’t know. She got really paranoid and broke ours first.”
“What do you mean she broke yours first?”
“She broke my cell phone and the apartment landlines with a hammer.”
“Where was her phone?”
“She broke it first. She got an Obama-phone so she could only call and text on it and no international calls.”
“Damn Cat,” said Jonny.
“I feel you, Jonny,” said Maia.
“What else did she break?” asked Jimmy. “We can’t find your pictures.”
“I have them and the journals.”
“Mmm…medals?” asked Jonny.
“I got those too.”
Bert entered the apartment.
“It’s Maia,” said Xavier.
“Maia, its Bert.”
“Why didn’t you come to my office?”
“I couldn’t remember where your office was located. I hadn’t been there before.”
“You got into some trouble here,” he said. “They have a warrant for your arrest.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Why did you do it?”
“He’s been pimping out the girls and the boys are pushers. He was trying to sell me to a guy in Thailand.”
“Maia, hold up,” said Bert.
As Maia began to explain it to them, down to the books, Joey had put on a gown and pulled on gloves and a mask and entered the room.
“Hi Joey,” said Maia. “This is Jimmy.”
“Who’s Joey?” asked Bert.
“Maia, who is that?” exclaimed Joey.
“Hi, I’m Bert Chase, James and Jon’s attorney.”
“I have done all of their paperwork for guardianship, and I can handle the legal situation for Maia here in Chicago as well.”
“That’s for her brother to decide. He’s her guardian now.”
“Where is he?” asked Bert.
“He is indisposed,” said Joey, feeling ambushed.
“Mr. Wilkins and Dr. Reardon’s guardianship of Maia is in effect until June of next year. They have been her co-parents for 14 years—since the day she was born. Mr. Lenci’s is a 90-day temporary guardianship of his half-sister.”
“Bert, could I have your contact information for Paul?” asked Joey.
“I will give it to you,” said Jimmy.
“My…ahh,” said Jonny.
“I…mmm… miss you.”
“I miss you too, Jonny.”
“I’m sorry, Jonny.”
“In…in the truck… nnnn… not safe, My ahhh.”
“I know, Jonny.”
“On..on…on…stt…streets…not. not. Not…safe.”
“I know, Jonny.”
“Nnnn…nuss…nussbaums…wahh. Wahh…wanted you stay.”
“They couldn’t keep me.”
“Yes, they would have,” said Jimmy. “You should have gone to them first.”
“Dr. Strong said a runaway could put someone in jail. I didn’t want to do that to Oma and Opa.”
“Maia, you have to learn how to depend on others,” said Jimmy. “You aren’t the adult you want to be, little girl.”
Joey and Jimmy’s eyes met, and Joey nodded.
“My … ahh,” said Jonny.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Thh Thh…Thh err tee… thirty eight thh…thh…thh..rue fff for tee… forty.”
“38 through 40?” asked Joey.
“C’mon, Jonny, I went through a lot.”
“Thh… thh….think be..fore you do.”
“You tell her, Doc,” said Xavier.
Jimmy reached into his briefcase and handed her a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Joey was perplexed. “Wait, you’re going to punish her with sonnets?”
“I have to memorize them,” she replied.
“She went through so much,” said Joey. “Do you really think that’s just?”
“She could have died,” said Jonny very plainly. “Thh…think before you act, My…ahh.”
“He told you, didn’t he?” asked Joey.
“Maia, I want you to put together your evidence against that foster father. That’s leverage for the district attorney. I think we can get you a diversion for the vandalism charge, but there will be restitution to deal with unless we can work a deal.”
“Her brother will manage this,” said Joey. “I need your information for him and his attorneys will be in touch with you.”
“Do you have a pen?”
Joey reached for the pen on the table and the menu there.
“Go right ahead,” said Joey as Bert rattled it off. Maia leaned on Jimmy’s shoulder and he embraced her and kissed her through the mask as he stroked her hair. She entwined her fingers in his gloved one and sighed as tears fell down her face.
“It’s okay,” he said to her. “You’re safe now.”
“I want to go home.”
“I know. We want you to come home too. Right now, may not be the time.”
“Your brother is involved now. We will see what he says. Jonny is not well. I have to hospitalize him when I get home until I get us moved into a more accessible apartment.”
“He can’t do two flights of stairs with that wheelchair, Maia.”
“My….ahh,” said Jonny loudly.
“I’m here,” she said, sitting up.
“I love you, My …ahh…”
“I love you too, Jonny.”
“Do your bbbb…bbbb low errr.”
“I will, I promise.”
“Babe, I will call you later, I need to talk with Joey,” said Jimmy.
“Wait,” said Joey, “I need to talk with all of you first.”
“Okay,” said Bert.
“Paul’s not out.”
“We know,” said Bert.
“Please don’t out him.”
“Of course not,” said Xavier.
“He’s certain it would ruin his career,” explained Joey.
“Joey is a secret,” said Maia.
“That has to be rough on you,” said Jimmy.
“Please promise me you won’t tell a soul.”
Promises and assurances were made until they hung up and Joey was so perplexed. Maia clung to Jimmy and dried streams of tears stained her reddened cheeks. Jimmy hummed to her, “Not While I’m Around,” reminding Jimmy of only a day ago when he woke her with it. This was who she was seeking when she woke up. Not him. Or Paul. Maia let out a ragged breath and leaned into Jimmy.
“Where in the hell were you?” whispered Joey, at last, pulling out the chair and sitting down across from him.
“France. Jonny had a massive stroke the week we were to leave. I was scrambling just to pay medical. I still had first class tickets to purchase and he could not even clear for flying until last week. I’m an actor. I took a gig to make money.”
“Do you have any idea what happened to her out there? Has she told you?”
“No. I only just got here.”
Joey spoke louder. “Maia, tell him.”
“Joey, please stop. I just want to sit here with Jimmy. I was scared something had happened, that I wouldn’t see him again. Ever.”
Maia began to cry, and Jimmy held her tighter.
“She was raped repeatedly in foster care.”
“She was almost a victim of human trafficking.”
“She said that.”
“Did Maia tell you that she wouldn’t go to shelters at night because she didn’t want to get sent back to foster care? That she was afraid to contact anyone in fear of them getting into trouble because of her? Or that she’d panhandle for phone cards to call some numbers in France where no one could reach you if anyone answered at all? Do not walk in here and presume to take over where you left off with her. You abandoned her. Regardless of your situation, you abandoned her.”
“She was with her mother!”
“Who was psycho and then dead. Didn’t you think to reach out to any of those friends of yours to check in on them?”
“Raul was gone. His father was dying in Columbia, so he was out of the country. Bert checked in on them in September and early October. He was in Phoenix with his family in November and didn’t even know she died.”
“What about Xavier?”
“He’s Bert’s new boyfriend. He’s an R.N. and helping with Jonny until I get home.”
“And when is that?”
“Where are you staying?”
“With Bert’s sister. She lives a few blocks away.”
“This is complete bullshit, you just appear here now. You heard the news, and suddenly you show up. Maia said that if she was on the news you would come home to her. She even threatens us that she’s going home with you as soon as you showed up. That’s not happening, by the way. So, you can put that out of your heads, both of you. She’s going home to Pennsylvania with us as soon as she is discharged. Any and all custody arrangements will be worked out by her brother and his legal team.”
Joey stepped out without another word to them and pulled the mask off and dialed Paul’s phone number.