Paint it Black

Same Room Different Day

Shawn had slept for close to fourteen hours after his meltdown. The longest, by far, that he'd slept since losing his sight. Henry had watched over him for the first two before giving in to the urgent call for bed. He didn't remember dreaming. Shawn had still been asleep when he'd woken seven hours later. Not wanting anything to disturb his son, he'd eaten his cereal on the deck; blanket over his legs with the chill of early morning still in the air.

Too early to call the clinic, during breakfast, he'd had to wait an hour to speak to Belic's receptionist. There'd been no openings that day but the following afternoon had been free. Henry had taken it.

A day later, he sat with his son in the clinic waiting room. Smaller and much quieter than the waiting room at the main hospital, there were only two other people sitting in nearby chairs. One of the women sharing a padded bench had smiled at Henry when he and Shawn had entered. He'd nodded back before guiding Shawn to a soft chair.

Another advantage of the clinic was a short wait. Only five minutes in and a nurse came for them. The room she led them to was empty. Henry helped Shawn sit on the paper covered table, unnerved at silence. Still no words from his son other than a muted “good morning” earlier.

But then, he didn't have anything to say back. He couldn't offer false hope. He just couldn't.

There were a couple of wicker chairs in the room as well as a rolling stool, but Henry chose to sit next to Shawn on the bed, his hand resting down on one bouncing knee. Again his attention moved to the vicious gash just above Shawn's collar. Stitches crisscrossed along the five inches of reddened tissue. A large clear dressing had been placed over it in the ER, but Shawn had removed it when he'd had a reaction to the adhesive.

A gentle knock before the door pushed open. Henry didn't miss the small jump from his son at the sudden sound. Standing from the bed but keeping close to Shawn's side, Henry shook Doctor Belic's hand after the man closed the door behind himself.

“Henry, Shawn. How are you feeling today, Shawn? I heard about the incident over the weekend. Nasty stuff; I'm relieved you're alright.”

Shawn hadn't answered the question but Belic didn't seem to be waiting for one as he moved closer to the bed. “I'm just going to take a quick look at that wound. I'm going to place my hands on your collar bone.”

Shawn still flinched at the contact but otherwise seemed calm. Henry knew from the handshake how cold Belic's hands were – probably from washing up before entering the room.

Head tilted back and top lip pulling up from his teeth, the doctor lightly felt around the stitches. Shawn didn't flinch again but his eyes squinted. Even with medication he was still stiff and hurting. When Belic finished and stepped back, Shawn let his head sink again with a grunt.

“Looks like they did a good job. It's a little red but that should clear up in a few days. However, if your pain gets worse I want you to call the clinic so we can schedule an appointment.”

Henry acknowledged the instructions while Shawn sat quietly. Well, not entirely quietly; his hand had located the edge of the paper he was sitting on and he'd begun tearing a narrow strip free. In moments he had a piece roughly the size of a dollar bill. Holding it close to his belly, he was able to use his other hand to start folding.

Henry watched his son while Belic lifted Shawn's chart from the table and began flipping through it.

“You're still taking the Dilaudid?”

Shawn made a small twist as he folded the paper into thirds. When he didn't respond, Henry nodded instead. “Yes.”

The doctor made a check next to the medication. “How about the Fioricet? Oh wait, you stopped taking that because of the headaches?”

Henry nodded again. “That's right.”

Completely focused on his project, Shawn creased the odd shape down the middle before unfolding that portion again and adjusting the flaps on either side. The last two medications confirmed, Belic set down the folder and picked up the familiar pen light.

Just as he moved in to examine his patient, Shawn made the last fold. “Here you go, doc.”

Henry felt a knot twist in his throat even as he smiled. Belic set aside the light to take the tiny boat instead. A little ragged and uneven, it was still easily recognizable. Better than Shawn's first effort when Henry had taught him how to fold the shape when Shawn was eight.

Still looking at his gift, Belic grinned. “You sure are psychic, aren't you.” He laughed, delighted. “I just bought my first boat last week! Took my boys out yesterday afternoon for a short trip up the coast. They had a blast!”

Henry knew that smile and Shawn lost some of the depression that had clung around his eyes the past few days. A subtle step towards the doctor and Henry inhaled the air around him. Barely there. Easily overlooked under the stronger smells of antiseptic and powder but... boat cleaner and gasoline.

Belic set the small boat carefully on the counter next to the jar of long Q Tips. While his back was turned, Henry glanced towards his son and almost winked at him. The warmth at their shared conspiracy disappeared in the sadness that Shawn couldn't see his approval.

Then the doctor was back, light held in his fingers as he stepped close to the bed.

“Okay, Shawn. If you can put up with a bit of handling, I want to get a nice look at those eyes.”

The temporary smile had slipped away again. Wanting to both keep out of the way while sticking close, Henry moved to the other side of the bed and placed one hand against Shawn's back. He felt Shawn lean back just a little – his frame losing an amount of tension.

The exam took several minutes. Now and then Shawn would stiffen, when Belic leaned too close or when a touch caught him by surprise, and Henry would rub his back until he relaxed once more. When Belic finally stepped away, Shawn exhaled a breath and sagged.

The next instrument Belic brought to the bed was the one used to test eye pressure. Knowing how much his son hated that test, Henry moved his hand to Shawn's shoulder. As old school as the man was with his pen light, he was equally as comfortable with more complex equipment. Belic instructed Shawn to rest his chin on the curved plastic and Henry forced himself to let his son feel out the device with his fingers until he found the small dip. As hard as it was to accept his son's blindness it was at least as hard to allow him to figure things out for himself. He'd reverted back to that new father, terrified for his tottering son as he wobbled on fat legs towards the edge of the coffee table. All he'd been able to imagine, then, was that delicate baby skull smacking the corner of the table when those legs gave out. It was the same now; his mind creating a scene where Shawn, unable to see the leg of a chair or a curl in the rug, stumbled and struck his head or landed on his bad arm.

It was literally enough to keep him up at night, concerned when he'd hear Shawn moving down the hall towards the bathroom – picturing him taking a bad step and tumbling down the stairs.

“How have you been sleeping lately?”

The surprise of the question coming just after his thoughts, Henry, for a second, thought Belic was speaking to him.

Shawn jerked as the air pumped against his eye. Fast blinking at the rush of induced moisture and he settled, shoulders tensed, until the second and final pump of air set him blinking again.

“I sleep, I wake up, and sometimes I eat waffles. Or two donuts covered in syrup if the waffles are gone.”

No matter how often Shawn worried his father, he spent an equal amount of time aggravating him. Still, the emotion lost its strength every time Henry looked at his son, the swollen red crease of torn flesh in easy sight. Waffling. Too appropriate as both descriptive as well as distraction. Maybe Belic was easily swayed by the charm, subdued as it was, but it would take more than a paper boat to send Henry down the twisting trail of non sequiturs.

“He hasn't been sleeping well...”

“Daaad...” Meager return of his whine – a trace of his fight coming back in the wriggle of discomfort and the jerk of his chin from Belic's fingers when the doctor tried to guide him to the next test.

Henry, allowing Shawn a moment of rebellion, didn't back down from information sharing. “He'll be up for two days, and then crash for ten hours. Other times he'll fall asleep in the middle of the day for an hour or ten minutes...”

“It's called napping, dad. You know, that thing you do from noon to four every weekend and after you eat dinner.” Shawn pulled away from Belic again, one hand rubbing the blossom of reddened skin around his wound.

“Napping? Kid, you nearly have me checking your wrist for a pulse! I've been tempted to run your soda through the lab to see if someone slipped you horse tranquilizers!”

“Really? Tranquilizers? Dude, enough!” No longer directed at his father, Shawn snapped at Belic when the doctor, again, reached for his chin. Creating more space and abandoning caution, he abruptly jumped from the table and took three steps towards the wall – hands waving before him till they struck the plaster.

“Shawn...” It was the doctor that stopped Henry before more than his son's name could break free. The words he hadn't been allowed to say piled up like cars behind a jackknifed rig. The soft hand against his chest was only there a moment before Belic joined it with the other behind his back. A display of non confrontation that only Henry could benefit from.

“There's just one more test, Shawn. It will only take a moment and then you can take a break, alright?”

Henry was prepared for refusal. Prepared, too, for the flood of vindictive superiority that came when people misjudged their control over his son. His son. As if Henry needed guidance in how to manage his own child. Patting the kid on the head and telling him everything would be alright was an invitation to mischief. Belic would walk out of this with his stethoscope super glued to the back of his head.


No sprinkles on top, no quirked lips, no wheedling. Whispered, and pitched in a tone that took Shawn from thirty three to fourteen when his voice had started to change and he'd stolen his father's razor to practice shaving.

“I promise. I'll even give you a lollipop when we're all done.”

The burst of anger gone that fast, Shawn smiled as the doctor led him back to the table. “Do you have one in pina colada?”

There was no relief that the outburst had resolved. Henry said nothing, arms crossed over his chest, as Shawn settled to the ragged paper and allowed himself to be moved into place.

As Belic promised, the test was completed within thirty seconds. When it completed, he kept his other half of his promise and handed Shawn a green lollipop – apologizing for only having green apple and cherry on hand. Shawn, unconcerned by the flavor options, immediately passed the candy to his father to unwrap it.

Tearing away the flimsy plastic, Henry returned the treat to his son's hand – already outstretched to take it back. Shawn let the stick poke out of his mouth while he sucked at the sweet, making something jar in Henry's chest when, for just a moment, those hazel eyes looked directly at him. But in another blink, the unfocused attention drifted on. Unseeing.

It was Belic's eyes that Henry looked to next. Looking for hope. Looking for answers. Henry was practiced in reading people. Guilt and innocence. Emotion and intent. But Belic was a doctor and just as apt at keeping his thoughts close to the vest. Nothing was given away at his look.

Shawn may seem focused on his candy, tongue and teeth working to shape the disc into a somewhat lopsided Pacman, but silence from Shawn was usually silence with a purpose. Unable to distract himself in the way that came naturally to him he was forced to fall back on a less used but no less honed skill. Never one to shy from eavesdropping Henry had no doubt that his son was soaking up every word spoken around him. For that reason, Henry tried to ask his questions without opening his mouth – using eyebrows and the tilt of his head to convey what he wanted to know.

Belic, showing an aptitude for reading Henry's gestures that far... far surpassed Shawn's less than stellar interpretations, leaned back against counter and...

“I can literally hear your eyebrows doing the Worm. I know you'd like to keep this a big bad secret and all but, seeing as this is my appointment, my doctor, and my freaking eyes... I'd like to be kept in the loop. If you don't mind.”

It was when his voice remained calm that Shawn's anger was at its worst. After delivering his input, he resumed munching his treat – though by now it had been reduced to a nub. Henry, in his bid of protectiveness, was left feeling shame instead. He had no right to try to keep anything from Shawn.

Instead, he put his hands in his pockets and rested one hip against the edge of the bed. Shawn, though he seemed relaxed, had stiffened his spine and was digging his hand into the hem of his shirt.

“The head injury is healing very nicely. There's no swelling and though you'll have a scar, your hair will pretty much hide it when it grows back in completely.”

Henry struggled to sit through the beginning sentence. It burned in him to demand that the man get to the point. It was noticeable that Shawn did not. Maybe the hesitation was a mercy for his son but, to Henry, it had the feeling of putting a bullet through the kneecaps rather than a clean shot to the heart.

“As for your eyesight...”

Unable to keep his distance, Henry moved closer to his son – placing his hand against one bunched shoulder. Shawn didn't shrug him away.

“I don't want to give you false hope. However... there was some reaction of the pupil during the exam.”

Henry couldn't stop himself. “Are you saying Shawn might get his sight back?”

“Henry,” Belic held one hand up, “this is what I was saying about not getting your hopes up. There just isn’t a definitive answer that I can give you right now. Yes, there is healing, but whether that means Shawn will regain his sight or not, I just can't say. I know it isn't what you were hoping to hear. I can tell you what I've told you before. Shawn is young and healthy and his chances are good that he could regain some vision. But you need to be aware that there's a chance he might not.”

Turning to lift the large folder from the counter again, Belic opened the cover and pulled a few sheets of paper free.

“Shawn, I still want to urge you to sign up for a few of the rehabilitation programs offered through the hospital. Regardless of what happens, they will help you with regaining your independence.”

Henry took the pages from Belic when Shawn didn't respond. “Thank you, doctor. We'll talk it over and make a decision later.” The first page was the name of the class and a list of meeting times. The second was a pamphlet from the same class filled with encouraging messages and hope. Since it wasn't printed in those familiar raised bumps the message clearly wasn't intended for the recipients that needed it most.

He folded the paperwork into quarters and wedged them into his back pocket. “Is there anything you can give him to help him sleep... more normally?” The expected complaint never came. Still hunched over his knees, Shawn seemed lost in his own head.

Belic sighed. “I'm hesitant to prescribe anything. From what you've described, it sounds like Shawn has a type of sleep disorder that is common among those without sight. Without the ability to regulate his circadian rhythm, his body thinks the day is longer than twenty-four hours. Unfortunately there is no current treatment for this for someone, like Shawn, who has no light detection whatsoever.”

Shawn's head lifted then and, to Henry's surprise, he reached forward with his hand – holding it in place until Belic took it in a shake.

“Thank you.”

“Of course. I'd like to schedule your next appointment in three months. I'll have my assistant get you an exact date.”

Sliding from the bed, Shawn started for the door. Henry reached for him when he wobbled.

“I just want to go home.”

Henry patted his arm.


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