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

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36. Rebound

36. Rebound

Maia woke around six to the smell of beef. She slowly opened her eyes and sat up too fast, again unsure of her surroundings, and had this dizzy and panicked expression on her face.

“Whoa,” she said feeling the room spin as she gripped onto the down comforter.

“Hi there,” said Joey, startling her. He sat in the big chair in her room with his socked feet across the ottoman. Joey set the book he was reading on the ottoman and folded the throw blanket that was across his lap and put it on the back of the chair.

“Joey, I’m dizzy.”

“Lie back down, you’re fine,” said Joey, bringing over his medical bag that was on the other side of the chair. He turned on the crystal bed table lamp and sat on the side of her bed. Maia reached for his hand and he held it, feeling her forehead with the other.

“Better?”

“No,” she said with a sigh. Joey reached into his bag for the pulse-ox and turned it on, attaching it to her finger. The red LCD said 88 and Joey’s brown wrinkled as he pulled her tube out from under her. “We need a better plan for this. Maybe a shorter tube.”

Maia sighed as the air flowed at a greater force. “There we go,” he said. He checked her temperature with the forehead thermometer, that read 100.5. “I thought we agreed that your rebounding was out of the question.”

“I think you need more fluids, and less time in bed,” he said. “It’s time for you to be well.” He pressed the intercom button on the wall near the bed, shocking Maia, who didn’t know it was there.

“Hey Joe, what’s up?” asked Paul.

“Could you bring me two Tylenol and a glass of juice for Maia?”

“Yeah sure, where are they?”

“Elly put them on the sideboard with Maia’s med boxes.”

“Gotcha, be right up.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“Okay that’s cool.”

“We don’t like yelling across the house.”

Expecting Paul, Joey was shocked to see Elly enter the room with the straw cup of cranberry raspberry juice and the Tylenol in a medicine cup. Joey had just written down the numbers from checking her pulse and blood pressure.

“My poor baby, look at all the bruises on you,” said Elly seeing Maia’s forearms.

Maia thanked her for the juice and pills and swallowed them, loving the sweet flavor of the juice.

“Are you hungry, Maia?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Dinner will be in a half hour.”

“Okies, don’t let me sleep through it. It smells awesome.”

“Do you like chocolate cake?”

“There is no way I don’t like chocolate cake.”

“That sounds like a one hundred percent girl child,” said Ruby.

“You rest and let your meds work, so you can come down for supper.”

Ruby nodded to Joey and Elly who left her and Maia behind. Ruby walked to Maia’s desk and drug the desk chair to the side of her bed and sat down.

“You said earlier about your chi being blocked—"

“Right. Anger and resentment destroy my chi—"

“Anger and resentment are parts of the grieving process.”

Maia sighed, not wanting to hear or talk about any of this. She sipped her juice some more through the straw.

“You have a lot to grieve.”

“I don’t have room in my life for self-pity, so grief needs to just go away.”

“So Miss Maia, how is self-pity related at all to grieving?”

“I have not time to sit around and feel sorry for myself and dwelling on the past. I can’t change what happened, neither can they, so I just tell myself to get over it and move on.”

Ruby tsked and shook her head. “Let me fill you in on a few misconceptions you have about grief, Miss Maia. Grieving is not meant for you to feel sorry for yourself. It’s about letting go so you can resume living and learning how to live with different circumstances.”

“Awesome,” she said sarcastically. “Let’s get this grieving thing over with. What do I do first?”

Ruby smirked and chuckled. “Oh, Miss Maia, you’re doing it. You are angry. You resent Cat for dying, for Jimmy and Jonny leaving you with her, and Jonny for his stroke. You resent them for not just taking you with them. You resent your dad for signing you away both times.”

"I know, right?"

Ruby nodded. “He’s not even there daily like Jimmy is. You talk to Jimmy every night at seven. He can’t be here but he’s present in your life. He cares, he wants to know what’s going on, he does what he can for you from Chicago.”

“He’s afraid of losing me.”

“Jimmy?”

“Yes. He won’t say it, but I know it. He won’t say that he failed us.”

“How do you mean?”

“Jimmy decided to stay in France instead of getting them home right away.”

“A doctor wouldn’t clear Jonny for travel. It wasn’t all Jimmy’s fault you know?”

Maia nodded. “He could have just put him on the plane.”

“And if he had a stroke and died there on the plane?”

“He still should have brought Daddy home to me,” she cried. “We would have been better and safe.”

“So, are you more mad at Jimmy than Jonny?”

“Yes.”

“Is he the easier one to blame?”

“No, Cat is the easiest to blame. All that she did to keep it a secret, her lies, her deception. Who got hurt from it? No one, but me. Cat only loved herself. No one else.”

Ruby nodded and handed Maia a tissue. Maia handed her the glass of juice that she didn’t want to spill on the white down comforter.

“So, Cat is who you are most mad at?”

“Yes. I have been for months.”

Ruby nodded. “And that anger is blocking your chi.”

“Yes. My fingerings are so screwed up I had to stop playing.”

“What do you do to fix it?”

“I need to reset, and I can’t do that by myself. I’ve been trying for days, and it’s not working.”

“What is reset?”

“It’s a centering and grounding meditation I do. I need to ask Jimmy to help me. He’s too frenetic now. I don’t even think he can reset.”

“It might be good for both of you to do it together.”

“Maybe, if he’s calm enough to do it.”

“Jimmy sounds like he’s handling a lot right now.”

“Yeah, he is. I want to be home to help him.”

“Acceptance is the key, Maia. You can’t be home. You are here. You need to oversee your own wellness, and that’s all part of this journey,” she handed the glass of juice back to Maia who finished it off.

“So, I need to unblock my chi and reset.”

“Is that what you need to do?”

“Right after dinner and chocolate cake.”

“I’m going to let you get cleaned up for dinner. It should be ready soon.”

“Thank you, Ruby.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Maia. You got this.”

Maia nodded with a grin and got out of bed, unhooking her tubing from the above hanger, and taking her jetpack into the bathroom with her. She looked in the mirror at the person in the reflection not recognizing her. Her hair short, dark circles under her eyes, she’s so thin, and in a prissy flowery nightgown. A nightgown! She had to find something else to wear. She needed to get well. Maia was tired of being sick. Tired of being confined to bed and leashed on oxygen. She knew what she needed to do, she just had to find the energy and the will to do it. Life was no longer hopeless. She was no longer on the street; she was no longer hungry and cold. Right now, Maia had everything she needed. It was time to unblock her chi and thrive again.

With the fresh toothbrush on the counter and a new tube of her favorite toothpaste, Maia brushed her teeth and then her hair. She went in search of real clothes and found a pair of gray leggings and a soft sunflower yellow sweater in the drawers of her highboy. Slipping her feet into her slippers, she pulled the down comforter and sheet where it belonged on the bed and put Papa Bear in the middle, leaving the sham pillows on the bench at the foot of the bed. Maia picked up her phone and took it with her. She was just about to descend the staircase when Paul was walking up towards her.

“Perfect timing, I was just about to fetch you.” He took the jetpack from her and she held the railing on her way down to the first floor.

“This staircase is really high.”

“Yeah, it is. I’ve come close to replacing it, but I like how pretty it is.”

“You need grippy pads for the stairs.”

“I have thought about those too, but they have their own set of challenges.”

“Dinner smells awesome.”

“Elly is a great cook. Have you ever had Beef Bourguignon?”

“Once, at a French restaurant with Jimmy. He likes that frou-frou French food.”

Paul laughed. “So does Joey.”

“Give me spaghetti any day.”

“Spoken like a true Lenci.”

When they entered the kitchen, Elly was carrying the salads out to the dining room table with Mack. There were two place settings at the kitchen nook table and Maia followed Paul into the dining room with its massive oak table and matching chairs in twill with velvet burgundy seat cushions. On the wall was a beautiful impressionist style painting and another buffet table on the wall beneath it. The beautiful brass candlesticks with large fat candles on them book ended each side of the sideboard but were not lit.

“Maia, you sit here,” said Paul, pointing to the place setting next to Joey. She was able to see the painting from where she sat and was glad so that she could look at it more if the adults in her world bored her.

“Joey, would you please say grace?” asked Paul.

Joey nodded and Maia looked perplexed. “Just close your eyes and fold your hands, he whispered to her. “I’ll do the rest.”

Maia nodded and did as he said as Joey and Paul crossed themselves. “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

Maia nibbled on the small salad, loving the flavor of the fresh basil dressing that Elly had tossed into it. She stabbed a cherry tomato with her fork and ate it, letting the flavor burst in her mouth. Ruby watched her and smiled.

Paul was telling them about some news report he saw about Maia’s escape from the hospital, and that they didn’t get a picture of her after all. “They are very disappointed that we didn’t do a news conference for them or at least release a press release.”

“That’s crazy,” said Joey. “She is only your little sister.”

“I know, right?” asked Paul, finishing his salad. Maia still had a few bites on her plate and Elly began clearing the empty plates and refilling the wine glasses for them. When she returned once more, she asked Maia if she was done with her salad.

“Could I keep it? I love the dressing.”

“Of course, you can,” said Elly, moving the bread roll basket to the other side of Joey. “You can put your salad plate right here.”

Maia nodded and stabbed some more lettuce with the fork.

“How are you feeling, Maia?” asked Paul.

“Better since I woke up,” she replied. Elly brought in Ruby and Paul’s plates first and went back to the kitchen. They waited until the rest had been served before eating. Maia set aside her salad as she looked across the table at the steaming beef with carrots and potatoes.

Maia ate slowly and small bites and was still nibbling when the rest were done. She wasn’t very social, and her face was still flushed.

She heard the grandfather clock in the front room ring as she chewed the last piece of beef on her plate, she counted the chiming bell. “It’s seven!” she blurted out, hearing the eighth bell.

Paul raised an eyebrow to her and looked at his watch. He shook his head and smirked. “No, its eight.”

“Well yeah, here, it’s eight. It’s seven central time. I must call Jimmy. May I please be excused?”

“Of course,” said Paul. Maia excused herself and took her plate to the kitchen for Elly who was washing dishes.

“Thank you, Elly, it was amazing.”

“I’ll be serving cake soon.”

“Great, I need to call Jimmy first, and I’ll be right back. I can’t wait to try your cake.”

Elly kissed the top of Maia’s head and Maia left the kitchen, dialing her phone. She sat in her chair and tucked her legs up under her.

“Hello,” said Jimmy.

“Hi Jimmy,”

“You don’t sound good.”

“I’m at Paulie’s.

“You weren’t ready—”

“Well, they wanted to get rid of me and the media circus.”

“What’s going on?”

“I got a fever. I force myself to eat. I just have no energy.”

“Where’s Joey?”

“Don’t be mad.”

“I won’t get mad. I’m glad you are safe and away from strangers.”

“I will take you to him. Don’t get how you get.”

“Maia, I can regulate myself,” he said, taking offense to her chastising him.

“Don’t be pissy, is all I’m saying,” she said, entering the kitchen. Paul, Joey and Ruby were bringing their dishes into the kitchen for Elly and laughing when she entered the kitchen.

“Young lady, I don’t need you to tell me how to act.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” she said. All of a sudden, they all were silent and all eyes were on her. “I just want everybody to play nice on the playground,” she said, looking at Ruby who nodded.

“Let me talk to Joey.”

“I love you, Jimmy.”

“I love you too. Have you done your blower?”

“No.”

“Where is it?”

“I actually don’t know where my blower is.”

“What did you eat today?” asked Jimmy, exasperated with all of them and the whole situation already. He took deep cleansing breaths and awaited her reply. Maia, hearing him, giggled as he cleared his throat and not saying a word. She would not get under his skin. He would not let her do so.

Maia replied in French, “Oui, j’avais des oeufs et des toasts et du boeuf bourguignon. C’était magnifique que vous auriez aimé. Braise parfait—” Maia described the eggs and toast that were nothing compared to the beef bourguignons that she had just eaten, and how beautifully it was braised to perfection.

Elly beamed at the compliment and replied, “Merci, ma Maia,” she replied.

“Elly speaks French?” asked Jimmy, hearing her.

“She was Joey’s French teacher in high school. She even changed his diapers when he was a baby.”

“Oh my, TMI Maia,” said Joey, coming into the kitchen and depositing plates next to the sink for Elly.

“Jimmy wants to talk to you.”

“Au revoir, mon petit chou,” said Jimmy.

“I’m too old to be a Brussels sprout, thank you very much. Here’s Joey.”

“Oh my,” said Joey, as she handed him the phone.

“Hi Joey.”

“Hi Jimmy.”

“She’s rebounding.”

“Yep. Any suggestions?”

“Push fluids big time. Tylenol every four hours. Make her double the effort with the blower, and make sure she uses the whole ampoule with the nebulizer. Don’t let her half use it and pitch it when you aren’t looking.”

“What kind of fluids?”

“Limit her coffee and soda intake to only one a day and the rest of the time push juices, water, and tea.”

“How’s Jonny?”

“Mad. He won’t talk or look at me. It’s been a rough day.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

Joey left the crowd of them in the kitchen and walked back into the dining room and sat down at his place setting. “Don’t beat yourself up over this, Jimmy. You need a break.”

Jimmy brushed the tears away with his hand and tried not to let Joey know that he was crying on the other end. He took quick breaths and blurted out, “On a happier note, I started teaching today.”

“That’s great! How was it?”

“It was fine, I have her lecture notes and text, but it’s seriously been a while since I taught theory. So, I’m doing homework. Why didn’t you tell me they were discharging her?”

“We had a chance to leave in the middle of the night when the paparazzi were sleeping in their cars, so we took it. They needed the bed, and she was ready to go home. I return to work on Tuesday, so we really needed to move her care up here.”

“Which hospital will you be taking her to up there?”

“The Lehigh Valley Children’s Hospital.”

“Good. Please give me HIPPA clearance with her doctors. I’m here if you need me. I don’t care the hour.”

“Thanks Jimmy, we will do that. Do you want to talk with Maia again?”

“Sure, thanks Joey,” said Jimmy.

Joey found Maia in the kitchen drying dishes for Elly. He traded her the phone for the dishtowel. “Hi Jimmy,” she said, picking up her jet pack and leaving the kitchen for the front room again.

“Hi, did you find it?”

“Yes, Elly put it on the sideboard with my meds.”

“Good. Use it yet?”

“I was about to—” she said, wanting to talk to him.

“How’s the Steinway?”

“I haven’t played it yet.”

“You must be sick. Now I’m worried.”

Maia sighed. “I’m okay. I promise. My chi is fucked, but I’m okay.”

“You know what you need to do for that.”

“I can’t reset myself.”

“Sure, you can.”

“Nope. I tried.”

“I need to reset too. I’m going to put away this book and notes. Fix the bench and don’t take all night doing it.”

Maia laughed, and pulled out the piano bench and sat at the piano, realizing that the bench was too low. She adjusted the dial and sat down again, getting up and adjusting it some more.

“Put me on speaker,” Jimmy said loudly into the phone. Maia did as he said and set the phone on the Steinway, realizing the bench was the right height.

“Wow,” she said, opening the fallboard and exposing the gleaming piano keys. “It’s beautiful.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes,” she said, placing her hands in the ready position.

“Breathe and center.”

Maia breathed a few times then her hands landed on the keys and started to play chromatics.

“That’s it. Breathe and center, B Major.”

She played through each of the major scales as quarter notes then stopped.

“How do you feel?”

“Grounded.”

“Good.”

“I miss you.”

“I know. I miss you too.”

“I don’t miss her. I’m mad at her.”

“I am too.”

Ruby stood in the shadows listening.

“I miss my Jonny.”

“Me too,” said Jimmy, wiping the tears from his eyes.

“Why does July seem like forever?”

“It was. Center and breathe. Minors, Maia,” he said.

Maia put her hands in the ready position and quieted herself as she focused on her breath and centered herself. About five breaths later, she started playing the minor chromatic scales. Paul stood with Ruby. She messed up a fingering and stopped.

“Center and breathe and don’t stop. Be present not perfect.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Your chi needs you to be present. Perfection comes later. Center and breathe, Maia. Start over.”

“That’s weird,” mouthed Paul. Ruby rolled her eyes and furrowed her brow at him.

Maia snorted reluctant and frustrated. It was quarter note minor scales. She could do those when she was four and not miss one note. Here she was, at Paul’s house, at his Steinway and she couldn’t play a single minor scale? What was wrong with her?

“Center and breathe, Maia.”

Maia sighed.

“Blow out frustration. Tell the inner critic to shut up. Neither is allowed here. Center and breathe. Reset.”

Maia did as he said and breathed.

“That’s it. Drop your shoulders. Chin up. Ready hands.” Maia did as he said, and Paul watched with great interest. “One more time. Minors,” said Jimmy, very softly.

Maia exhaled and then she did every scale perfectly. She went from quarter note major and minor scales to eighth notes and sixteenth and then triplets.

“How do you feel?”

“Better.”

“Good girl.”

“I’m going to play now.”

“What will you play?”

“I need a little Mozart.”

“So do I,” chuckled Jimmy. “Go on then,” knowing exactly what piece she would play, how the Rondo Alla Turca from Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 became permanently engrained in his skull through eternity as reset became a nightly necessity for ten-year-old Maia when she dealt with the countertheme’s battle with the theme. How it grew in tempo and the staccato sporzando that drove the neighbors crazy as she prepared for that competition.

As Maia started to play the light and peppy rondo, Paul, Joey, Elly, and Ruby entered and sat on the couch and chairs, listening to her play.

Maia smiled as her fingers flew across the keyboard, shocking them with her precision and skill. As the piece grew in volume and intensity, Maia’s face did not show any stress at all, she was in her element and the piece did not master her, she had mastered it, but her eyes remained on the keys.

“Wow,” said Elly, hearing her play for the first time. Paul nodded.

When Maia released the final fermata, they all clapped for her.

“Bravo, Mon Ami,” said Jimmy. “I need to go read for tomorrow’s lecture.”

“Thank you, Jimmy, for helping me reset. I love you.”

“I love you more. You’re welcome. I will not get Allo Turca out of my head for at least two days now, you know?”

Maia laughed. “You’re welcome,” she replied. As the rest left the room, Maia played the melody to one of Paul’s songs.

“Hey now,” said Joey. “Don’t start that. I’ll keep the Turkish March in my head instead.”

Maia giggled and played a Bach chorale until Ruby approached the piano.

“So that was a reset?”

“That’s how its done.”

“And you feel better now?”

“Yes.”

“Is your chi fixed?”

“I don’t think so. I think that reset is only going to be a band-aid for right now.”

“Why?”

“I think this obstacle is the biggest I have ever faced in my life.”

Ruby nodded. “I suspect so. You endured quite a few traumas in a short period of time. They just kept mounding on top of you.”

“Like a snowball rolling down a hill. It grew bigger and dirtier.”

“Dirtier?”

“You know, the branches and the leaves, the slush and dog shit.”

“I get it. Do you feel dirtier?”

“I’m not the same kid, Ruby.”

“No, you are not, by any means.”

“How do we fix this? Reset isn’t going to fix it.”

“Maybe more than one reset. Maybe daily resets and affirmations.”

“God no. I was raised by Buddhists.”

Ruby laughed. “Can you visualize yourself past this?”

“Past what exactly?” asked Maia, stopping.

“Past the trauma.”

“So where do I want to be when I’m better?”

“Sure, let’s start there.”

“On a stage with a Steinway.”

Joey walked through the living room and up the staircase.

“How many years before you get there?”

“Before my twenty-second birthday.

“Okay, so where do you see yourself about this time next year?”

“Starting Spring semester in conservatory program.”

“Where?”

“Juilliard.”

“Not UC or Winston?”

“No. Juilliard. I’m good enough to get in.”

“But would getting in Juilliard be good enough for you?”

“Why wouldn’t it be good enough for me?”

“Well, have you ever known anyone who went through that program?”

“No.”

“My son did. He was a cellist.”

“Really?”

“Julliard is the hardest program in the United States and one of the top programs in the world. It is grueling and stressful, both scholastically and socially. You are in constant competition with yourself and your peers.”

“Where is your son now?”

“My son died about five years ago. He was changing a tire on his car at night in the snow and was hit by another motorist and died.”

“Oh Ruby, I’m so sorry!”

“Thank you,” she said. “He didn’t graduate from Juilliard.”

“Was he a student when this happened?”

“No, he was on his way home from rehearsal with a small orchestra in New Jersey. What Gabe learned while he was at Juilliard, was that he loved music too much to stay at Juilliard, because Juilliard made him resent his gift, that maybe he wasn’t good enough, that he constantly compared himself to others and envied others talents rather than the sounds they were creating. It became notes on a page instead of beautiful phrases that moved him. He left Juilliard in his sophomore year and went on to Penn State and graduated from their music program. He became a junior high orchestra teacher and conducted two small symphonies in New Jersey.”

“Are you trying to tell me to give up on going to Juilliard?

“No, I’m not. I’m asking you if Juilliard is good enough for you?”

“I don’t get what you mean.”

“You are what? Almost fourteen?”

“Yeah.”

“Next year, you will be fifteen. You have a frail system. You need an adult there to remind you to take your meds, to take care of yourself and to eat. You may be brilliant, but that and talent are nothing if you aren’t alive to do just that, am I right?”

Maia sighed and nodded.

“Your parental persons are in the Poconos and Chicago. Which one sacrificing his career to sit in class and take care of you?”

“I don’t need a babysitter.”

“According to the state of New York Board of Regents you will be under the age of majority, so yes, you will.”

“So basically, you are telling me that I can’t go to Juilliard because I’m too young.”

“You can go, but can you handle it? Gabe had a hard time handling it when he was a well-adjusted and healthy man of twenty. What makes you think you can do it at fifteen?”

Maia’s face flushed red. “Ruby, don’t ever tell me what I can’t do. No one has ever told me what I can’t do. I don’t allow that energy into my life.”

“Maia, no one said you can’t be a concert pianist. No one said you couldn’t graduate from high school early and go to college at fifteen. Part of being an adult is realizing if it is feasible or good enough for you.”

Maia stewed. “Fuck feasibility, Ruby. Juilliard is good enough for me.”

“That’s acting your age. Good to know there's really a thirteen-year-old in that chair.”

Maia said nothing in return.

“All right, so let’s go get some cake.”

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