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

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24. Apples and Oranges

Paul and Mack arrived at the hospital around seven that evening, and Joey was not answering his cell phone. With a cardboard box full of lemons and oranges, including a jar of honey from a neighbor’s bees, Paul and Mack got their badges from the security guard who also got a selfie and autograph with Paul who gave him an orange from his dad’s tree.

A nurse came out to meet them and led them to where Maia was in quarantine.

“Mr. Wilkins arrived earlier today, Mr. Lenci, and we want no drama with Maia. If you have adult conversations or custodial arrangements to discuss, it needs to not be in the room with her or within her hearing. She’s not well and the stress is already affecting her.”

“I understand. Is Mr. Cravens with them?”

“He left about an hour ago with a migraine. I had to talk with them more than once about this, and I do not want to repeat myself again tomorrow.”

“Oh boy,” muttered Mack.

“You got that right,” sighed Paul.

“You need to gown and glove up to see Maia,” said the nurse. “She has impetigo and viral pneumonia.”

Paul nodded, not wanting to tell her he just took his last pill for his own pneumonia and sinus infections. He set the box of fruit on the laundry hamper and Mack helped him on with the gown, tying the laces across Paul’s broad shoulders as Paul pulled on the gloves as the nurse did likewise and handed him the mask. Paul looked in the window to see Maia on the lap of another adult there.

“Is that Jim Wilkins?” asked Paul.

“You’ve not met?”


“Dr. Shahere will be in to see you both in a few minutes.”

“She didn’t talk to Joey?”

“No, You and Mr. Wilkins are guardians, he’s not.”

“There ya go,” said Mack, clueing Paul as to what set off Joey.

“Heard,” said Paul, signaling to Mack to back off.

Mack handed Paul the box of fruit and Paul entered the room behind the nurse while Mack stood guard in the hallway.

“Hello, I’m Paul,” said Paul approaching them.

“Hi, Jimmy Wilkins, nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too. How is she?”

“Asleep and very stressed.”

“This hasn’t been an easy time for any of us. I brought her some fruit from my dad’s trees.”

“She loves citrus fruits. A bag of Clementines rarely lasts two days.

“The Vitamin C would be good for her. I picked them fresh today and a neighbor lady has her own bees. She sent a jar of honey for Maia.”

“That’s very sweet of her. Maia loves lemon and honey in tea. It gets us through times like this.”

Dr. Shahere was gowning up in the hallway when Jimmy saw her. “Hey Maia, wake up. Dr. Shahere and Paul are here."

Maia groaned and pushed herself to sit upward. “Hi, she said, seeing Paul's figure in the gown and mask.

“Hi there,” he said. “Papa sent oranges and lemons for you. I picked them this morning.”

Maia popped off Jimmy's lap and reached for an orange and realized that she couldn’t peel it with her still swollen fingers and missing nails on her index fingers.

“We’ll peel it in a minute after we see the doctor,” said Jimmy.

Maia sighed and stepped to Paul who opened his arms to her, and she hugged him.

He bent down to her. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” she said, with her head on his shoulder.

“Your color looks better.”

Maia stood up and looked into his eyes. Paul knew she was searching him for honesty. “Where is she?”

“On a protected psych ward getting help.”

“Where’s Papa?”

“At his house in Florida. He wanted to stay home.”


“Where’s your partner?” asked Paul of Jimmy.

“Jonny is home in Chicago. He had a massive stroke and I almost lost him. He was just cleared to travel this week.”

“How is he now?”

“In need of intensive speech and physical therapy. I’m going to hospitalize him in a rehab center while I move us to a more accessible apartment.”

“We live on the second floor," said Maia as Dr. Shahere entered.

“Hello, are you Mr. Lenci?”

“I am,” said Paul.

“I’m Dr. Shahere. Hello Mr. Wilkins,” she said acknowledging him. “How are you feeling, Maia?”

“The same.”

“Maia, come sit,” said Jimmy. Maia sat on the side of her bed instead, wanting to stay far away from the doctor. In her hand was the orange she examined and rubbed with her fingertips. She seemed more interested in breaking into the orange than hearing whatever this doctor had to say.

Paul, concerned, watched her as the doctor motioned for Paul to sit at the table next to Jimmy. Paul did as she bade and still watched Maia, who seemed controlled but not calm.

“Yesterday, when we transferred her to pediatrics, I ordered a couple of panels of bloodwork and I have the results.”

“Pediatrics my ass. You locked me in prison,” said Maia. "Impetigo, whatever. Convenient excuse to keep me shut up in here."

"Maia, I'm sorry you feel that way, but you are in quarantine because you are very contagious."

"So what are the fucking test results? And when are you letting me out of here?" she asked, impatient.

Paul smirked beneath his mask, glad she couldn’t see it when he knew he should be admonishing her use of foul language. However, he agreed with her on this one. If only his little sister could keep her mouth shut and not outing him or telling the world what his mother did to her, she could be out there with the rest of the children. He was just lucky that she had contagious impetigo and stuck in quarantine and not out with the general population until he could get her mouth under control. Now with Wilkins here, who knew how long that would take to get her to comply.

“Maia admitted to me that she had been raped repeatedly while in foster care and to my understanding she has not had a period since then, so I did a pregnancy test—”

“And?” asked Maia before she could finish.

“It was negative.”

“Whew—” said Maia.

“You were also negative for Herpes, HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis, but positive for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.”

“Me? I got STD’s?”

“Oh man,” said Jimmy, “how do you even treat that?”

“I’m going to start IV antibiotics for them. They won’t be lightweight due to the length of incubation and we need these to be eradicated from her system before committing lifetime consequences.”

“Fuck,” said Maia.

“What else did you run tests on?” asked Paul.

“She’s negative on parasites and hookworms.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Maia.

“Maia needs to start psychotherapy soon. I have a child psychiatrist will be here over the weekend to start her on medication to help with her night terrors and trauma, and we need to get a psychologist on board for her to build rapport with, and we think that before she leaves from the hospital that would be recommended.”

Maia stood up from the bed.

“I am not crazy.”

“We know you aren’t crazy, Maia,” said Dr. Shahere. “As we discussed before, Maia, any adult would have issues coping. You are thirteen, and a little help would be good for you right now.”

“No, I do not want any medication!”

“Maia this isn’t forever. It’s just for right now,” said Jimmy.

“Just because Joey said it doesn’t mean that’s for real.”

“Hold up,” said Paul. “Why would Joey lie to you? Why would you even think he would?”

“They told Cat the same thing and then she was hooked for life.”

“Wait,” said Jimmy. “Cat is…was different. Cat needed meds because she had a chemical imbalance and deep seeded trauma from childhood that we didn’t even know about—including her—until she was in labor.”

“What?” asked Paul.

“Repressed memory of abuse from her father. It’s a long story. Maia, you and Cat are two different persons. You have been through so much in three months. You need help. If the meds release you from some of the pain so you can rest and recalibrate, wouldn’t that be worth it?”

Maia fumed and crossed her arms across her chest. “I need Jonny, not you!”

“Dial him up,” said Paul.

“Why do you need Jonny?” asked Jimmy.

“He would never let you put me on meds before.”

“What for?” asked Dr. Shahere.


“Oh really?” asked Paul. “Why wouldn’t Jonny put you on meds for that?”

“Because I needed to stay driven.”

“Dial him up,” said Paul. “I need to talk to him, now.”

Jimmy picked up his phone from the charger and called Jonny’s phone.

“Xavier, I need you to put me on speaker for Jonny.”

Jonny said hello. “Babe, I need you to be calm here and listen to me.”

"You do likewise," said Paul to Maia.

“Yeah. Huh?” asked Jonny.

“Maia was raped in foster care.”

Jonny’s shrill filled the room and Maia grabbed herself around her waist and started to sob. Paul went for Maia and picked her up and sat with her on the recliner and held her as she sobbed into his neck.

“I feel you, Dr. Reardon,” said Paul.


“Paul Lenci, Dr. Reardon, nice to meet you.”

“Hhhello P…ppaul. Ccc…call me Jonny.”

“Hey Jonny, here’s the deal,” said Paul. “Maia has been tested and thank goodness she doesn’t have any of the big H’s, hepatitis, herpes or HIV, but she’s got chlamydia and gonorrhea.”


“Right, so we can treat that with IV antibiotics while she’s in here. The problem is that Maia is refusing psychotherapy or anti-depressants to help take the edge off the nightmares and trauma. She refuses to talk with any of us about this and insisted that she speaks with you about it.”

“My..ahh!” said Jonny. “My…ahh!”

Maia didn’t answer Jonny at first.

“Answer Jonny, you can hear him just fine,” said Paul, calling her out.

“I’m here, Jonny,” she said.

“You… You need … help … My…ahh!”



“I don’t want pity. Or to become complacent, lazy and fat. Those pills make people numb and I want to feel and be driven. I don’t want to change—”

Maia sobbed into Paul’s neck and he rubbed her back as Jonny cried on his side of the phone.

“Babe, shh,” said Jimmy to him.

Jonny spoke up. “My…ahh, you…you…you don’t… have… to bbbeee that www www way,” cried Jonny on the other phone.

“I’m not in school, Jonny. I don’t have anything to push me—”

“You push you! You have fff…fff…four of us nnnoww, rrr.. rrr…right, Ppp. Ppp pppaul?”

“That’s right, Jonny. A soon as she’s able, I’m sending her to school. One of the best in Pennsylvania to finish her high school work. It’s ten minutes from my house, and I live 15 minutes from a fine arts school where she can go to conservatory if she still wants to become a classical pianist.”

“Win…winston?” asked Jonny.

“Yes,” said Paul.

“Ggg..good School.”

“Puts Temple’s program to shame.”

“Do you have a fine arts degree?” asked Jimmy.

“Bachelors of Fine Arts, Piano,” said Paul. “I want Maia to succeed. She has great talent and I will pay for her education whether she’s at the University of Chicago or Winston.”

“Or Julliard?” asked Maia.

“You get into Julliard, and I’m 100% on board; but Maia, you can’t do that if the boogeyman is keeping you from succeeding.”

“Ppp…Paul’s right,” said Jonny.

“We got you,” said Paul. “Trust the four of us on this one. Joey already said yes to the meds and he’s the medical professional between us.”

“Until he was blue in the face and down with a migraine,” said Jimmy.

Paul sighed. What do you say, Maia?”

“Can I go home with Jimmy?”

“No—” said Jonny.

“No? Why don’t you want me?” asked Maia shocked and hurt. She pats Paul’s shoulder to be let down and he put her on her bare feet.

“Bbbert said NNNOOO. You…got www… www…warrants and Ppp…Paul will keep you safe.”

Paul nodded. “You can go home when its all worked out and you are safe and well. I have a family therapist who will be working with you. She’s great, and I’ll have her stop by to meet you.”

“I will under a few conditions.”

Dr. Shahere chuckled. This child clearly had these men wrapped around each finger.

“Go on,” said Paul.

“I want a phone and to talk with Jimmy and Jonny every day.”

“Done, I will order you a phone tonight.”

“I want to talk to the therapist by myself. No parents sitting in or getting reports about what I’m saying.”

“I’m good with that,” said Paul. Jimmy and Jonny agreed.

“I want out of quarantine.”

“As soon as you are well enough, you are out of here. We need the room,” said Dr. Shahere.

“I want my own attorney to handle my case. Bert is Jimmy and Jonny’s attorney, and you got your own. I want my own too.”

“Maia, attorneys cost money,” said Jimmy.

“I can pay for it out of her trust. That’s her money anyway.”

“Why do you want an attorney?” asked Jimmy.

“I want to file a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and DSHS. Me. Not any of you.”

“Okay then,” said Paul. “Anything else?”

“No fighting. No crazy custody battling. You guys work together and figure it out. I’m not a child of divorced parents, and I won’t put up with that crap and stress. I am not some red bandana on a tug of war rope. I have feelings, and I love you guys. Do we understand each other?”

Dr. Shahere smiled and winked at Maia.

“I will agree to work with Jimmy and Jonny,” said Paul.

“As will I and Jonny.”

“Yyess,” said Jonny.

“The four of us are here for you, Maia. We want you to be healthy and happy,” said Paul.

“Okay, but don’t fight.”

“No one is fighting, Maia.”

“I’m already calling bullshit on that after today.”

“Look, Maia, Jimmy and Jonny can come to stay in the guest house when Jonny is well enough to travel again. It’s only one level and its connected by a sidewalk to my backdoor on the first floor. Joey and I won’t keep you from them and I hope the same is true with them when you eventually return to Chicago.”

“That’s correct,” said Jimmy.

“But we need you to get well, kiddo. If we, right now, commit to you that we will not fight and work together for a peaceful outcome, will you promise to work with the psychotherapist and psychiatrist?” asked Paul.

“Yes,” she said.

Jimmy held up a finger to Paul. “Hold on, I got to add to this so you don’t get played by Maia. Remember, we’ve been with her since birth and know her ways.”

“Go right ahead,” said Paul. “I’ll learn from you.”

Jimmy exhaled and said loudly for Jonny to hear him. “Maia, you will take any and all medications regardless, and not fight us on it,” said Jimmy.

Maia growled under her breath.

“None of that,” said Paul. “That is not going to fly in my house. Use your words, not sound effects. You are thirteen, not three.”

Jonny laughed.

“Do we have a deal, Maia?” asked Paul.

“No fighting.” She said.

“No manipulating or triangulating either,” he said to her.

“Wait, hold up, who said I was going to –”

“Are you not thirteen?” asked Paul of her.


“I have teenage nephews and nieces. Do not think this is my first rodeo.”

Jonny laughed again. “Yeah, huh?” he asked Maia. “You ahh…ahh…agg..ggree My…ahh?”

Maia furrowed her brow and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Fine, fine, I agree.”

“Good, because the piano tuner will be at the house on Monday to tune the Steinway. I want you to get well so I can take you home. The sooner you get these meds going and comply to treatments, the sooner we can leave Queens.”

“Anything else, Dr. Shahere?” asked Jimmy.

“I’m increasing her breathing treatments, so maybe she can go home next week. Other than that, we are just going to keep doing what we are doing.”

Maia thanked her as she left, and she handed an orange to Paul who peeled it for her through his gloved hands. Maia offered a slice to Jimmy who refused her.

“You have to be hungry, you haven’t eaten since you got here.”

“I haven’t eaten since breakfast,” said Paul. “How about we go eat, and I’ll drop you off where you are staying?” asked Paul.

“Go,” said Maia. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.

“Are you sure?” asked Jimmy.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she said.

“Do your blower and I’ll bring you a shake tomorrow.”

“Chocolate, nothing in it.”

“Right, cherry and whipped on top.”


Jimmy reached into his briefcase and pulled from it the Snoopy notebook with her unicorn pen and Maia’s face lit up when she saw it.

“You found it!”

“It was on your desk in our apartment from the last time you were in the hospital. Write down your numbers if you want that shake.”

“Okay, Maia, we will see you in the morning then,” said Paul.

“Will you please peel me one more orange?”

“Sure,” said Paul, picking one out of the oranges and peeling it for her.

They kissed Maia good night and Mack called Hector’s to see if they had a table available for Paul.

“Eight o’clock is cutting it close, eight-fifteen would be better,” said Mack as Jimmy and Paul tossed their gowns into the linen hamper.

“We should call Joey and see if he wants to join us or if he wants me to just bring him his usual,” said Paul, dialing Joey, who said to do the latter, and let him go back to sleep.

“He took a pill and is in bed. I’ll bring him dinner.”

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