While Joey and Paul went to get lunch, Maia continued to play the keyboard. Joey had chosen this spot based on the window light and that it was out of the way tucked between the bed and the bathroom. She picked up one of her favorite books from the stack on the nearby bed table, determined to play through its pieces from cover to cover.
Midway through Bach chorale, tears dripped down her cheeks, her thoughts on Cat, Jimmy, and Jonny. Seeing the pencil markings from lessons of years past, stickers from fruit and bananas that Cat stuck in her book just to make her giggle and peeve Mrs. Strong and gold stars by Jimmy when the piece was deemed perfect since Mrs. Strong felt it was a juvenile practice. There was little appreciation for this teacher by Jimmy, who vocalized that she was overrated and overpaid, although Maia had many championship medals to prove her worth.
“Your mother must have eaten an avocado this week,” said Mrs. Strong about the avocado sticker. Maia broke down in tears and released the chord. A medical assistant entered the room, hearing the abrupt end to the music.
“Are you okay, Maia?”
“I...just need more Kleenex,” she said.
“I’ll bring you to another box. I got to do your vitals, so I’ll get that too.”
“Okay,” she said, wiping her face. Maia played through to the end of the page, and left the book open, turning off the keyboard before dragging the IV and oxygen pole with her into the bathroom to wash her face before Paul and Joey returned. Maia looked at the clock. It was one o’clock, and Jimmy should have landed by now. She just wanted to hear from him and know that Jonny was okay.
Maia had just stepped out of the bathroom and was walking her IV stand out of it when she saw a camera flash and the scurrying of a bigger woman wearing leopard print rushing past her door and down the hallway.
Maia pressed the call button and her room light flashed just as Joey exited the elevator. Her back was to the door when he entered the room, shutting off the light by the switch near the door. He put hand sanitizer into his palm and rubbed it about both hands.
“What’s going on?”
“Some woman took my picture.”
“Big and Leopard print. Get me out of here, Joey.”
“One thing at a time, Maia.”
Joey went to the nurse’s station and told them what Maia said. Two nurses walked the floor with Joey looking for this woman and found her in the recreation room. They demanded to know who she was here to see, and she identified the child that she was visiting. Joey insisted on seeing the photo and for it to be deleted from her phone or he was calling security.
“Who are you?”
“I’m her private duty nurse.”
“Why weren’t you in there?” asked the other nurse not familiar with Maia.
“I was on my lunch break.”
The offended visitor stammered and turned her ire to Joey, realizing she had been found out. She had just texted the picture to her friends before the nurse caught up with her. She was just saying good-bye to her sister when they approached her.
“I don’t have to show you my phone. It’s my private property,” blustered the woman.
“Could you please call security?” asked Joey again of the nurse.
“Fine, fine,” said the woman flustered. She pulled up the picture on her phone and Joey insisted that she delete it. Which she did, and he walked away from her. The nurse revoked the woman’s visiting privilege and took her out to the security desk to have her banned from the floor.
“I can’t believe he can come in here and do that, it’s not as if he is her parent,” said the woman’s sister in protest as they walked away.
“He takes care of her, so his role here is important to her family,” said the nurse. “Your sister was in the wrong. Especially after we told everyone that they weren’t allowed to take a photo of any children other than their own. I told her specifically.”
“You can’t expect people not to be curious. After all, she’s a celebrity.”
“Her brother is a celebrity. Maia deserves her privacy. What if it were your child that someone snapped a picture of just for the sole interest to sell it?”
The woman said nothing and waved good-bye to her sister and returned to the ward to her own child’s room, shutting the door and drawing the curtain.
“Paulie, I think it’s time for Plan B,” said Maia, after he entered the room.
He nodded. “I really wanted you to be well when you left here. Joey has his job to get back to when we return. If you go home sick, then I need someone else in my house to manage your care when he’s not there.”
“How do we keep people like her away from me?”
“The hospital has to do its part, Maia. They are just as liable as the person posting a photo of you.”
“You could sue them?”
“I could, but I won’t. I don’t need any more legal drama.”
A knock came to the door and there stood Ruby. Her bright white smile contrasted against the cocoa lipstick and her beautiful caramel skin. On her head was another Kente turban, this of purples and golds. Wrapped tightly about her face, Maia smiled at how it spiraled into a halo at the top.
“Ruby,” said Maia, waving her inside. She extended her tubing until Ruby rushed to meet her and embraced Maia, who wrapped her open arms about Ruby for a hug. Ruby hugged the girls' small frame, as Maia breathed in the scent of Ruby's perfume.
“How are you, Maia?” she asked. Paul was shocked at his little sister’s sudden affection for a stranger.
“I’m okay, some woman took a picture of me and Joey went off on her. He’s a real Papa Bear.”
“Pitbull is more like it,” said Paul, getting up to hug Ruby as well.
“How are you, Paulie?”
“I’m great, how are you doing?”
“I’m good. I just wanted to stop in and check on Maia. I know it was a hard morning with Jimmy leaving.”
Maia smiled at her. “Thank you for thinking of me.”
“You’re welcome. How did you do on your homework?”
“Great, it’s all done,” she said, reaching for the Pendaflex inside her backpack. She handed it to Ruby, who sat in the chair next to where Paulie was sitting. Maia rolled the stool over on the other side of her as Ruby opened it up.
“Wow, Miss Maia, I’ll say you were busy.”
“It felt good to get it out of me.”
“I’m sure it did.”
“Your Kente is beautiful. I like this one better than the other,” said Maia about Ruby’s deep eggplant and sunflower gold turban. "How do you get it to stand up like that?"
“Thank you. Years of practice.”
“Purple looks really good on you. I wish it looked better on me.”
“You need the right shade is all,” said Joey, coming into the room. He walked to Ruby who stood and hugged him.
Maia took Joey’s hand and moved him to the stool to sit and she went behind him and wrapped her arms about his shoulders.
Joey patted her hand. “What’s up, kiddo?”
“You got all Papa Bear on that bitch.”
Joey laughed. “Watch your language, missy.”
“You were awesome,” she said, kissing his cheek. “Thank you.”
“You’re my girl, I promised Jimmy I would take good care of you for him and Doc. He called me.”
“They admitted Jonny into the hospital.”
“Come here,” he said, reaching for her. Maia moved around to him and he wrapped his arms about her. “Jonny had another small stroke.”
“Oh no,” she said as tears fell down her face.
“It’s okay,” he said, putting his hands on her cheeks. “He’s getting good care and they are going to be able to get him stabilized and find out what is causing the strokes. As bad as a stroke is, he’s in the right place and they are going to keep a close eye on him.”
“Doc needs you to be strong and get well,” said Paul. “Jimmy does too. He’s bearing a big burden right now and needs all the positive energy and love you can muster.”
“What we need to do is find avenues to happiness and fulfillment for you. All of this,” she said, holding up the Pendaflex of evidence and declarations, “You got out of you. Leave it out.”
Maia looked to Ruby and broke down in tears. Ruby handed the notebook to Paul and drew Maia into her and held the child who sobbed into her cashmere sweater.
“It’s okay, let it out,” said Ruby.
“I’m just so scared that I won’t see my Daddy again.”
“Shh, it’s okay,” said Joey stroking her back. “He’s going to get through this, and you are going to get through this, and we are going to have quite a reunion when you both are well.”
“That’s right,” said Paul. “If I must send my jet to Chicago, Doc is coming out to see you as soon as possible. You both need it.”
Maia reached for Paul’s hand as tears welled in his eyes too.
“I got you,” she said to him, making him laugh.
“I got you too, kiddo,” said Paul.
“So, Ruby, how do we get happy?” asked Maia.
“I think you are well on your way. Acceptance is the key here, Maia. Accepting that home is going to be in both the Poconos and Chicago is a big deal for you right now.”
“Do you own other houses?” asked Maia.
“Sure,” said Paul. “L.A., Philly, San Antonio, and Kissimmee,” said Joey.
“You have a house near Papa?”
“It’s a condo near Universal,” said Joey. “Your brother loves roller coasters.”
“Me too!” said Maia high fiving Paul. “The higher and faster the better.”
“Yes!” he said, making them all laugh.
“My sister Penny lives there with her family. I love her kids and prefer having them at my house and under my rules when we are there. Penny’s rules are non-existent.”
“Where does Philomena live?”
“You know of Philomena?”
“Papa mentioned her.”
“I don't know what he told you about Philly."
"He says she has an issue with drugs."
"Philly is a drug addict who lives wherever she wants with a credit card that I give her to keep her housed and fed. Until some dealer figures out how to take credit card payments, she can’t buy drugs with it.”
“So how does she get drugs?” asked Maia.
Joey sighed. “That’s another conversation for another time,” he said. “Ruby is here, and I believe that the question is how do you achieve happiness.”
“So, acceptance, then what?” asked Maia to Ruby.
“Well, getting you home and settled,” she said. “There’s going to be rules and consequences, I would hope. Just like when Paulie and Joey are in San Antonio with Penny’s children, I’m sure they will have rules for you to live by too.”
“Like what?” Maia said, looking to Paul.
“No piano playing until I’m awake.”
Joey laughed. “I’m amending that to awake and caffeinated.”
Ruby laughed. “Okay, what else?” asked Ruby to Joey.
“You have to make your own bed and keep your room tidy. No clothes on the floor and towels are to be hung up in the bathroom.”
“Okay, I can do that,” she said. “What else?”
“Language,” said Joey. “I want the swearing to end.”
“I agree,” said Paul. “That’s not going to fly at my house.”
Maia frowned. “It’s self-expression.”
“Self express it in your head. I don’t want to hear it out of your mouth.”
“Fine,” she said. “What else?”
“I think that’s enough to start,” said Paul. “Taking meds and doing your therapies, I don’t want any guff or refusal to take or do them, or we are going to have an immediate issue.”
“Okay, okay,” she said. “Jimmy ratted me out.”
“Oh, he most certainly did,” said Paul. “I got your number, missy.”
“Do I need to do chores?” she asked.
Paul laughed. “You can help with the dishes and your room.”
“And your bathroom, keeping it neat.”
“I can do that.”
“Good,” said Paul. “Bedtime is at 10:30,” he said. “You need to sleep. That includes your obsessive reading.”
“And you’re going to St. Nicks to get set up for school within a week of getting home.”
“I know, Father Tim told me.”
“He told me too, not knowing that I was sending you there until Jimmy called him and told him so. He handed me an admissions packet at Mass.”
“Oops,” said Maia with a giggle.
“He was pleasantly surprised and thrilled,” said Paul. “No oops necessary.”
“Then we are good?” asked Ruby.
“We are good,” said Paul. Joey nodded.
“I’m going to check in with you in a couple of days, Maia. How are the nightmares?”
“We got some meds on board now. If they are still here in a few days, I want you to let me know.”
“Okay,” she said with a smile.
“This is good work,” she said, putting the notebook back into the Pendaflex. “It’s time to get an attorney to put the screws to them in Chicago.”
“Once her diversion is complete,” said Joey. “We don’t want to jeopardize that.”
Joey walked Ruby out to chat with her some more privately and left Paul and Maia. She sat down at the keyboard and played the last two pieces in the book she had played through that day.
“Do you want to play cards?” asked Paul as she finished and shut the book and turned off the keyboard.
“Sure,” said Maia.
“Do you want to get in bed?” he asked her. She nodded. “C’mon,” he said, pulling her pole to the bed. Joey had walked Ruby out and went to make them tea and was bringing in a pair of cups with a medical assistant who had Maia’s tea with her lemon and honey.
“You need more lemon, missy.”
“I know, Papa needs to send me some.”
“I will get some from the store. Are we playing cards?”
“Yes,” said Paul, as Maia tucked her legs up under her. He sat on one side of the lower half of the bed and Joey sat on the other.
“Phase 10 or Uno?”
“Uno,” she said making Paul smile. Joey set packages of Oreos on the bedtable and Maia opened hers and ate the half without the frosting and set the other half down then picked up another and did the same.
“Aren’t you going to finish that?”
“I don’t like frosting.”
“How can you not like Oreo frosting?” asked Paul with a laugh, remembering what Jimmy said.
“It’s Crisco and sugar. It’s gross.”
“I have heard it all,” said Paul, picking up her halves and eating them then handing her his package.
The nurse came in with an antibiotic bag and hung it up and Maia fussed about its entry into her vein at first. “How many days do we have left?” asked Paul.
“Three,” said the nurse.
“Can’t wait,” said Maia. “Maybe I can go home when they are done.”
“I hope so,” said Joey. “I got to get back to work and Paul’s got regionals coming up.”
“Do you sing, Maia?” asked Paul.
“Not even Happy Birthday.”
“Oh, come on,” he said, making Joey laugh, “Uno.”
“You would,” said Joey with a fistful of cards.
Maia hit Paul with a Draw Four and Joey thanked her with a Reverse, which went back to Paul who didn’t have the color in this hand so Maia reversed it again so Joey could continue to get rid of cards and fill up Paul’s hand with Draw Twos and changing the colors with Wild cards. Paul still won, despite their efforts to subdue him.
Between hands, Maia ate her halves of the cookies and left the rest for Paul as Joey dipped his in his tea.
“Okay, what foods do you like the most?” asked Paul.
“Oh hell no,” he said. She laughed at him. “Yup, and fries with lots of ketchup.”
“And a chocolate shake with that?” asked Joey.
“With whipped cream and a cherry,” she said. “But I eat the cherry last and suck it up with the straw.”
“And make a mess dropping it everywhere,” said Paul.
“Nah, you gotta know how to do it,” she said.
“I’ll get you one from Steak and Shake, and I want to see you do it,” said Paul.
“Cool, can I have a cheeseburger with extra pickles?”
“Do you want fries with that?”
“Oh yeah, if you will eat at least half of them?”
“You want to share?” asked Paul.
“I can’t eat a whole order of their fries.”
“Yep, sounds like a plan,” said Paul. “Joey, what do you want?”
“What you’re having,” he said to Paul.
“I’ll get two fries. You want a coke or a shake?”
“So boring,” said Paul. He went to find Mack and Joey wrote down the order. Paul handed Mack some cash and told Mack to get whatever he wanted. They spent dinner and the evening together playing cards and eventually watching a movie together. One of the nurses brought in an extra recliner from the rec room and they each had their own chair with Maia in Paul’s lap. He wrapped her up with a warm blanket and she was asleep before the movie was half over.
“Want to put her to bed and go?” asked Joey during a commercial break.
“No. not really. I want to see the end of this movie.”
“She’s really taken to you.”
“She likes you too.”
“Want a cup of tea?”
“Ice water, please. Does she have fresh in her cup?”
“I just refilled it.”
Maia stirred and Paul kissed the top of her head and she sighed and returned to sleep. The MA entered with Joey to take Maia’s vitals and they had to wake her. She got up to use the bathroom after while Paul watched the movie and returned to Joey.
“Can I sit with you?” she asked him.
“Of course,” he said, setting down his tea and moving the recliner down so she could climb into his lap. Joey wrapped her with the blanket, and she sighed, closing her eyes.
“Jimmy said she hasn’t been this clingy ever.”
“Trauma,” replied Joey, kissing her head.