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The beginning according to
A year ago I posted a 'roommate wanted' notice on the bulletin board in the student center, because I needed one to share the expense of the small apartment I rented. I interviewed several students before I found one who seemed like the kind of guy I'd like to share living space with. Tory told me he needed some quiet space to work in to finish up his masters degree in accounting and study for his CPA exam. I knew he would certainly have that as I was doing my residency in surgery, and was at home only on the few days I had off. Even then I was mostly trying to catch up on my sleep. A lot of people think doctors are overpaid, but they have no concept of the expense of med school and maintaining a practice, especially the malpractice insurance premiums, which are killers.
Tory moved in, and he's all I could have wished for. Quiet and considerate, he goes out of his way to be helpful. He's also quite handsome, thick black hair, a craggy-featured face I find most attractive, and a slender but muscular body that draws looks of admiration from other men. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with him, but I couldn't let him know; I didn't have the time just then to give him
the kind of attention he deserves, so our relationship stayed strictly platonic, much to my regret.
Today, no, the whole week, has been one I want to forget! It's been the worst with long hours in the operating room, but in less than a week I'll be finished with it all. I can hardly wait to get a few weeks of rest at my parents' before I begin considering where I want to practice. I'm hot and tired, wanting only to get home, out of my scrubs and into a shower, but traffic on the beltway is almost at a standstill. Finally the car ahead of me begins to inch ahead. When I draw abreast the cop directing traffic around two mangled cars, he apparently recognizes my green scrubs, because he stops me and asks if I'm a doctor.
"Yes. You need one?"
"Damn right, Doc. Pull over." He waves me toward space on the shoulder several feet beyond the wreckage.
I park and grab my bag, just as an ambulance pulls up. Another cop runs over. "Need you bad, Doc. One guy's dead, and the other looks in bad shape." He walks me over to a crumpled blue Toyota and points toward a young man in the drivers seat. He's whimpering quietly, as blood slowly spreads over the left side of his shirt. "You'll have to get in through the passenger side. We're going to have to cut him out of this."
I move around to the other side and lean in, only to jerk up in surprise and hit my head on the roof - it's Tory! He turns his head slightly and opens his eyes. "Help me, Doc," he murmurs.
I stroke his hair for a moment to comfort him while I pull myself together. "I'm here, luv. Do you hurt?"
"Nooo," he whispers.
A member of the rescue squad looks at me. "What you need, Doc?"
"He's in shock. Start an IV and see if you can stabilize him." I move out of the way. I hated my trauma rotation, and these guys are better for first care of accident victims than I. When they try to move Tory, he screams then faints. I hear one of the guys say, "Oh, shit! We ain't gonna get him out of here like this."
I watch them until they've done what they can. When one of them backs out of the car, I ask, "What's the problem?"
"His right lower leg is pinned between the frame of the seat and the dash. Looks like it's half way cut off already. No matter what we do, ain't no way we'll get him out 'til his leg's free and that ain't gonna happen."
He grabs a flashlight from the cop and puts the light where I can see he's right in his assessment of the situation. "Well, Doc?"
"Better hurry, Doc. The gas tank's leaking." The cop tells me.
Objectivity kicks in. "Do what you can to prepare him for an amputation." The guys move fast, one of them working through the driver's side window the cop has cleared of glass with his baton. When the other medic backs out of the passenger seat, he says, "All yours, Doc."
"Change gloves and prepare to hand."
I'd like to save Tory's knee, but I have no room to work. It'll have to be just above. The rescue squad is well trained, for the moment I need something it's slapped in my hand. With the cop urging me on, I perform the swiftest amputation I can, then let the rescue medics take over. We're just away when the cars erupt in a ball of fire and heavy smoke. I keep my car practically on the bumper of the ambulance, and use my cell phone to alert the emergency room we're on our way in.
When it's over, and Tory is being moved to recovery, I think back on my work. I needed only to trim his stump and suture it, then take a few stitches in a cut on his left side. I've done better with my first real emergency surgery outside a hospital than I ever thought I could. Infection is my only real fear.
I'm dead on my feet, and the recovery room supervisor tries to get me to go home, but no way I'm leaving Tory. I sit by his bed holding his hand, only to fall asleep. I awake when Tory stirs, but he's asleep again almost instantly. I hold his hand again, filled with dread of having to tell him I took his leg, and having him hate me.
A squeeze of my hand awakes me. Tory's conscious and looking at me. "What happened, Doc?"
"How do you feel?"
He gives me a little smile. "I hurt, you turkey."
I know he's fully conscious when he reverts to the name we call each other when one of us thinks the other has said something really stupid. "Do you remember anything?"
"Just some asshole coming at me on the road. There was one time I thought I saw you. Am I hurt bad?"
The moment of truth. I feel tears spring to my eyes. "You'll be okay in a little while."
"My right leg hurts."
I squeeze his hand; my tears welling over. "I was there, Tory. I ? I had to take part of your leg so they could get you out. There was no other way. Your car blew up right after."
"You ? you cut off my leg?"
"I had to." I lean closer. "Don't hate me, Tory. I couldn't let you die; I love you."
His eyes widen. "You do? Oh, God, how I wanted you to say that. I've been in love with you since I moved in, but you don't want me this way."
"The hell I don't, you turkey." I want to say more, but the orderly comes to move Tory. I help him put Tory on a gurney and a few minutes later in bed in a private room. I close the door and kiss Tory. "I mean it. I've loved you from the time you moved in, but how could I tell you when I didn't have a spare minute to do more than sleep. You deserved more than that, now I've can take care of you."
He pulls me down and returns my kiss. "Don't leave me, Doc."
"Not for a second longer than I have to, luv. With us living together, I can get you out of here and home a lot quicker than normal. I've got four more days, then I'm finished with my training. By then you'll be up."
Fortunately, the staff of a training hospital is a bit more tolerant of surgical residents, so I don't get too much flack when I move a cot into Tory's room. I sleep there at night, taking as much care of him as I can which makes it easier on the floor nurses. Questioned by my chief, I tell him that Tory and I have shared an apartment for a year now and are good friends. He suggests that I stay on for a few more weeks for advanced study in amputation, because of the superb (he says) job I did on Tory. Suddenly I'm interested enough to give it some thought, and he promises me a small grant to cover the expense.
A few weeks later, Tory is adept with his crutches and near full recovery. He looks at me questioningly when I remove the bandage from his stump for the last time, then stroke it gently.
I smile at him. "It's beautiful, luv. Does it hurt when I touch it?"
"Not much. You really like it?"
"Hey, I do good work. You think I'd leave you a messy looking stump?"
"Before you know it, the swelling will be completely gone and it'll look great. It just makes me love you all the more."
Damn if Tory doesn't smile. "Then I'm glad you're the one cut it off, Doc."
"Want me to make arrangements for you to see a prosthetist?"
"You want me to get a leg?"
I smile. "Honestly? No. You're sexy on crutches."
"Then I won't get one. Don't really need it anyway. I do most of my work sitting on my ass. Damn! The CPA exam is three weeks off. I've got to burn the books if I'm going to take it."
"Do that, luv. It'll be quiet for you until I've finished with my training. Then we'll take a vacation together."
Since I've already graduated and have nothing more to do other than packing up all my junk, I'm able to see Tory receive his degree. He manages his crutches in the procession and on the steps to the platform nicely. I'm proud of him. As soon as it's over, I go outside and look over the mob to find him. Only after the crowd has thinned a bit do I see him sitting on bench on the green with two older people
I assume to be his parents. His mother is crying, and his father is patting Tory on the shoulder. It's then I wonder if they had known about the accident.
Tory looks up and waves me over. "Hi, Doc. Want you to meet my parents. Mom, dad, this is the guy who saved my life, Doctor Nils Larsen."
His dad wrings my hand. "You're Tory's roommate, too, aren't you?"
"I was really lucky to find such a great guy to share with. I'm proud of him."
His mother wipes her eyes. "Tory told us how much he likes you and how much you did for him after the accident and all. It was wonderful of you to take such good care of our boy. I wish he had let us know. He did call, but all he said was that he wasn't hurt badly and he had a wonderful doctor."
"We're taking Tory to dinner, before we head back home. Please join us if you don't have other plans."
"I appreciate it, but I'm sure you'd like some time alone with Tory."
Tory reaches up and grabs my hand. "Come on, Doc. It won't be a real celebration without you."
"For you, luv."
Tory rides with his parents and we meet at a decent cafeteria instead of a nice restaurant. Looking at Tory's parents, I can see now they're good hard-working people who have likely sacrificed to put their son through school. My own family isn't rich, but comfortable, and I'd have gladly paid for our meal at a better place, but there's pride written all over Tory's dad, as well there should be. But when we reach the end of the serving line, Tory's dad looks miserable. "I'm sorry, son, we should have gone somewhere else. I'll take your tray first."
I tell him not to bother and signal a busboy I see standing near by, slipping the kid a dollar to take Tory's tray to the table his mother has picked out. Conversation naturally turns to Tory's return home. His dad insists that he must come immediately and get fitted for a leg.
He looks upset when Tory says, "Be about three weeks before I get home. Doc and I are taking a vacation together, and he says it's too soon for me to get a leg. Right, Doc?"
"But you must come home," his mother says, "so I can take care of you."
"You know I love you and dad, but Doc knows best what I need." He winks at me.
"Tory's pushed himself awfully hard in order to catch up his work and graduate, now he needs a quiet time away from everyone to finish recuperating. I've just finished my residency and need some rest myself. My parents own a small cabin near Boone, which is where we're going. You don't have to worry about Tory. I'll be with him every moment."
"It's kind of you to take such good care of our son, Doctor, but I wish he would come home."
"Now, mom, I still don't know where I'm going to work. It may not be in Parksville, but I'll see you and dad whenever I can. I want to wait for the results of my CPA exam to come in first."
His dad nods. "I'm sure you passed, son, but having it will improve your chances of getting a job where you want. "
"I know. Besides, Doc and I ?" I kick his leg under the table, and give him a look that says 'later.'
We finish our lunch and go back to the apartment where I help Tory's dad load their car with most of Tory's things. All that's left are some of his clothes. Tory asks his parents to sit down for a minute before they leave. I know what's coming and shake my head, but he nods.
"Dad, mom, there's something else I need to tell you before you leave." He reaches up for my hand and pulls me down to sit on the arm of his chair. "I'm going to set up my office wherever Doc wants to practice."
"Why? You don't need his help now, do you?" his mother asks.
"More than ever. I hate to tell you like this, but Doc and I are lovers."
"Nonsense!" His father roars. "If this man has corrupted you, I'll see he never gets a license to practice medicine if it's the last thing I do. Go get your clothes; you're coming home with us."
Tory jumps to his foot and I put my arm around him to steady him. "I'm sorry, dad, but you might as well accept it. I'm not going anywhere without Doc, and if you do anything to hurt him, you'll never see me again."
His mother comes over and puts her arms around him. "Oh, please, Tory, don't say that. Give your father some time." She starts to cry again. "I think I've known about you all along, but I was hoping I was wrong."
Tory kisses her. "Thanks, mom. I love you, and you'll love Doc, too, when you get to know him."
When Tory's father starts to say something else, she turns on him. "Dan, that's enough. Tory's old enough to make his own decisions, and you can just stop trying to dictate everything he does. Doc has done as much for him as anyone could. Be grateful for that."
"Dammit, Mildred ?"
"Not another word. I should have said that long ago, but I didn't. Now, I'm saying it. Shut your big mouth and keep it shut. I don't want to hear another word from you. If Tory wants to come home, that's fine, and if he wants to bring Doctor Larsen with him, that's even better. If you don't like it, you can leave until they're gone."
Tory's father looks defeated. Tory's smiling at his mother. "Thanks, mom."
She kisses him. "Don't worry about your father, Tory, he'll come around. Most of it's that idiotic excuse for a preacher we got. Thank goodness he's leaving soon." She gives me a kiss on the cheek. "We love Tory, Doctor, and it makes me happy to know he's in good hands. Take care of him for us."
"I will. I love him very much."
On hearing that, Tory's father stomps out of the door and down the steps, without a word of parting. Tory's mother kisses each of us again, and walks sedately to their car. After they've driven out of sight and we're back in the flat, Tory kisses me. "It's a relief to have that over."
"Don't you think you were a little rough on them, luv? First they find out about your leg, and then you spring it on them we're lovers and intend to stay together. That's a hell of a lot for anybody to take all at once. I'm surprised your dad didn't have a coronary."
"No matter what I did, he'd be pissed at me. It's just the way he is. He won't ever like it that I'm gay, but he'll get over it. He always does."
"I hope so, for your sake."
"What about your folks?"
"They've known for years. My dad may be a small town doctor, but he keeps current. He agrees it may be genetic, so it's no big deal. One of his brothers is gay. Gary's always been my favorite uncle, so dad had him tell me the facts of gay life when I was a sophomore in high school."
I kiss Tory. "Yeah, lucky me. Especially when you came along."
Tory takes up the story:
A few days later, I get an official notice that I passed my CPA exam. Doc and I take off immediately for our holiday together. Before going to the cabin, we spend a couple of days with Doc's parents. No bride ever received a warmer welcome than the one they give me. One of the first things Doc's dad wants is to see my stump. His hands are gentle as they probe. When he's done, he looks at Doc with pride. "I don't remember ever seeing such a beautiful job before, son. I'm proud of you."
Doc puts his arm around me. "Nothing but the best for this guy, dad. I love him. It nearly killed me to do it, but Tory understood the necessity."
"I'm glad you aren't bitter about it, Tory. Many new amputees are, especially at your age. Nils shaped your stump perfectly, so I imagine you'll be getting a prosthesis soon."
"I was upset about it at first, but Doc's love makes it insignificant. We've talked about a prosthesis, but my work doesn't require a lot of movement and Doc likes me on crutches, so I probably won't bother with one."
Doc's dad smiles. "Some things never change. Even as a little kid, he was fascinated by every amputee he saw. He made more use of the pair of crutches I used to keep in my office for patients, than any one of them ever did."
I'm surprised at this revelation about Doc. "You pretended?" I ask him.
"Any time I could. I actually enjoyed it when I broke my leg and had a real reason to use them out in public."
"And he didn't need them. It was simple fracture, so I could have given him a walking cast, but he had a fit when I suggested it. I gave him what he wanted, and I damn near never got him off them after I took off the cast."
"You ever pretend now?"
Doc grins. "Didn't have time after I got in med school, but I still have the desire, especially when I look at you."
The night before we leave for the cabin, Doc, his dad, and I sit down for a long discussion about the future. Doc's dad is proud of the small hospital on which construction is all but complete. It's the only hospital within thirty miles. When he begs Doc to join his practice, especially as there's not a surgeon in the area, Doc asks about accountants. It turns out there's only one in town, and he's not a CPA. That's when his dad tells me that will assure me a number of clients if I'll open an office here.
"Well, luv, think you can stand living in a little town?" Doc asks me later. "It'll be best if we aren't open about our relationship, and neither of us will ever get rich here, but we aren't likely to be worked to death either."
"Far as I'm concerned it's your
call, Doc. I'll be happy anywhere you are." I pull him into a hug and kiss him.
"Til death do us part."
We reach the secluded cabin, and as soon as we've settled in, Doc disappears into the bedroom, only to reappear a few minutes later on an old-fashioned peg-leg. He has a broad grin when he asks, "How you like it?"
"Where the hell did you get that?"
"Dad gave me a key when I started college. I used to come up here on long weekends to study. There was an old man down the hill made these, so I got him to make me one. I've kept it here ever since, and wear it all the time I'm here. Well?"
"If you're fishing for a compliment, I guess I'll have to give you one. You look good on a peg-leg, a real sexy stud."
He pulls me up and gives me a hug. "Thanks, luv. You're so beautiful with one leg I'm glad you don't think I'm being insensitive by pretending."
"If I thought that, I'd get an axe and do to you what you did to me, you turkey."
He laughs and drops down on the sofa, pulling me down beside him for some cuddling.
I discover how much he enjoys his game, for the entire two weeks we're at the cabin he uses the peg-leg, or crutches. I become so used to seeing him that way he looks odd to me when he lets his leg down for the two trips we make into town for grocery shopping. I can hardly believe our holiday's over the morning he begins to pack our things in the car. The last thing he does is take off his peg-leg and stash it in the tiny attic space with a look of regret. "Fun's over. Back to real-
ity and finding a place to live, before we both try to find some clients to support us in the way we'd like to become accustomed to."
"We're not moving in with your folks?" His dad and mom have asked us to.
"And have no privacy? No way, luv. The old man's got some property he rents. There's one house I like, because it's on a big lot, and it has enough room for you to have your office there along with mine. If it's vacant, it'll be ideal."
"How you planning to keep our clients separated? You'd probably tell some poor shmuck who came in to get his taxes done that both his legs have to come off."
He grins. "Hey, we gotta live, buddy."
On our way to his home, Doc swings by the house he mentioned. He's right, there's room aplenty, for it's a huge Victorian mansion in good repair. I like it, but I see a major flaw in Doc's reasoning. With a half basement, the porch is some eight steps up from the walk. "If you put your office in there, how the hell is anybody in a chair or with a heart condition going to get up those steps?"
"Damn! I'm supposed to be the doctor. How come you saw that and I didn't?"
"You live on crutches all the time like I do, and you begin to notice things like that."
Doc shakes his head. "Never thought you'd be giving me sensitivity lessons, luv. You're right. I find out what else dad has."
We're welcomed back with open arms, and settle in Doc's old room while we look for a house. It takes a week before we find an undistinguished brick ranch with the amount of room we want. The bank has been stuck with the mortgage and is happy to sell it at a reasonable price. It's near the small business district and only a couple of blocks from the hospital. Great for Doc who will have an office adjacent to the hospital, and a decent location for mine.
Mom, as Doc's mother wants me to call her, goes into action helping us select colours, carpet, furnishings, everything needed to make our house into a comfortable home, even to three phone lines, one for my office, another for my computer, and the third for Doc. She would have ordered a fourth for our personal living quarters, but I point out that it's highly unlikely that more than two lines will be in use at any time and every extension phone connects to all the lines.
The day we get the last of our stuff together to move in, I'm surprised when Doc turns in the drive. There's a beautiful sign hanging from a post by the curb: Tory Adams, CPA. I try to thank mom at dinner that evening, but she waves it off. "It's nothing, Tory."
Her next agenda is Doc's office, which is nearing completion along with the hospital. She's peeved when he won't let her do more than the waiting room and his personal office. Then it's done. Doc's practicing with his dad, and I'm looking over the past financial files of my first clients, Doc and his dad. With no more than this, both Doc and I have plenty of time to enjoy each other.
I'm surprised when early one morning Doc's dad calls me on my office line and tells me he needs my help. I get into the little car I bought with the insurance settlement from my wreck and drive to the hospital.
Doc's dad comes out of the operating room when I have him paged. "What's wrong, dad?"
He shakes his head sadly. "Nils is operating on a kid, but I've never seen him like this before. He's going to need you when he's finished. Go wait in the doctor's lounge. There's coffee in there if you want. I'd better get back and help him."
Half an hour later, Doc stumbles in and fumbles with the coffeepot. He looks totally unglued. "What's wrong, Doc?" He turns and grabs me in a hug a drowning man would use.
"God, I'm glad you're here. I need you like never before." He tells me he's just amputated the leg of a seven-year old runaway.
"That's a shame, but why's it getting to you like this? I mean you weren't this bad when you took mine."
"Wait til you see him. God! It was like looking at myself when I was that age. I couldn't believe it. It was so real I could feel every cut I made on his leg. It was like I was amputating mine." His tears well over.
"How'd you get permission?"
"Dad called the judge and he issued a court order. The kid's got no mother and everybody in this town knows his dad abuses him, but the kid's never complained. His running away was all it took for the judge to make him a ward of the court. God knows what's going to happen to him before it's all over." Doc squeezes my hand. "Be with me when I tell him about his leg. It'll help if he sees you."
"Sure. How'd it happen?"
"He was trying to hop a train and it got his foot. I thought it would simple, but x-rays showed his leg had been broken several times before and never set by a doctor. It was so bad I had to take it just below the knee. Had to be from his dad beating him. That's what the judge thinks, too. The kid's old man was drunk as a hoot owl when the sheriff got him. He's in jail."
"Go change and let's go home, Doc. You need a drink. They can page you when the kid starts to come out of it."
Doc's still depressed when we get home. Instead of having a drink, we sit on the sofa with him huddled in my arms. I say nothing, just holding him and stroking his hair, until his pager goes off. We reach the second floor of the hospital just in time to hear a kid's voice screaming filthy words and see a glass come sailing through a door to smash on the wall opposite.
Doc looks at me. "Can you do it?"
I stop in the doorway amazed. How can a little kid just out of surgery trash a room so thoroughly? In spite of his wild expression, the kid's as beautiful as Doc told me. I crutch into his room. He's stopped swearing, but he's looking frantically for something else to throw. The phone book sails past me in a flutter of pages.
"Hey! Take it easy on a poor one-legged guy."
He's suddenly still, his eyes fixed on my pinned up jeans leg and crutches, so I swing over to his bed. "Hi, guy, I'm Tory. What's your name?"
"Bill. You only got one leg."
"That's right. So?"
He scrubs at his tears with a fist. "They done cut my goddamn leg off. Now what am I'm gonna do?"
"Most anything you want, just like me."
"Shit! You can't run."
"Not very fast, but I have a lot of fun anyway."
"I like to read, swim, and my friend and I go to the mountains and hike all over the place."
"Fuck that. I wanna play ball, do good stuff."
I grab his hand and squeeze it. "Look, Bill, if you want me to stay and talk to you, you're going to stop using that kind of language. I don't like it at any time, especially from a seven-year old kid."
"What makes you think I give a fuck whether you stay or not?"
"Nothing thus far, so I'll go. Hope you feel better soon."
I'm almost to the door when he calls, "Don't go."
I crutch over to his bed again. "Yeah?"
"You gonna teach me to walk like you?"
"If you want, but Doc saved your knee, so if you get a leg, you will be able to walk really well, even run."
"I can?" He smiles with effort. "How come you don't got one?"
"Because I don't have my knee. It's harder to walk without it, and I like my crutches."
He sneers. "Cripple."
"So? Doesn't make any difference to anybody that really likes me. Your leg won't make any difference to any of your friends either."
"Ain't got none."
"What about at school?"
"Don't never go. Don't nobody care."
I take his small hand in mine. "I'll be your friend, if you'll let me."
"Shit! You'll just put me down like everybody else done."
"Watch your language. I don't let my friends down. You can ask Doc if you don't believe me. He's my best friend. He gave me a home when I needed one."
From his expression, I can tell I've finally reached the real Bill. "For real? Wish I had a friend like that."
"Maybe Doc and I can both be your friends. It's up to you."
"I'll think on it."
"Good. Your supper's coming. Now you stop cussing everybody and throwing things, and do what you're asked. If you do that, you'll find some nice people here who want to help you."
"You gonna come back?"
Doc comes in. "Stick around for a minute, Tory. After I check Billy, we'll go home and get some dinner." Doc flips the sheet back.
"I done told you my name's Bill, goddammit. You stupid or somethin'?"
I grab his hand. "What did I just tell you, Bill?"
"Shit! I forgot." Doc starts to cut away the blood spotted bandage on his stump. "That hurts like hell, you mullafucker!" Bill yells.
Doc smacks Bill across the mouth so swiftly, I didn't see it coming, then gives him a freezing look. "If you had behaved yourself, I wouldn't have to do this, so don't cuss me, cuss yourself."
I feel Bill's hand tighten in mine. "You're just like my fuckin' old man. All he ever done is hurt me. I wish the sonufabitch would croak. I ain't goin' back home, neither."
Bill falls quiet when Doc bends back to his work, but I'll have plenty of words for Doc, myself, once we're home. I feel Bill flinch and his hand squeezes mine several times as Doc places a new bandage on his stump.
"You're damn lucky you just pulled a stitch when you were acting like a jackass. If I'd had to do another, you can be damn sure I'd make you feel it. Now behave yourself."
"Doc, shut up and get out of here." I snap. "If you don't want to wait, take my car. I'll walk home."
Doc storms out of the room without another word. Bill stares at me in surprise. "You told him to shut up."
"I did. And when I get home I'm going to tell him quite a bit more, too."
"I hate, 'im. I'm glad you don't take none of his shit."
"Please don't hate him, Bill, Doc's my best friend. I've never seen him act like this before. Something's wrong and I want to know so I can help him."
The nurse comes in with Bill's tray and sets it on the bed table. I move it over so Bill can reach it, and push the button to raise the head of bed.
Bill touches the meatloaf. "It's cold," he says, after he's licked the tomato sauce from his finger.
I lean one crutch against the chair and pick up the tray, carrying it to the nurses station as best I can.
"Surely you don't expect a child to eat a cold dinner."
"I had to wait for Doctor Larsen to finish with the patient. It's not my fault."
At first her attitude pisses me off, then I realize she must have borne the brunt of Bill's temper tantrum. "Is there a diet kitchen on this floor?"
She jerks her head toward a nearby door.
"Good. I suppose there's an oven in there I can heat this in." I start to hop my way to the door, but she comes out from behind the desk and takes the tray from me. "I'll do it."
"Where's my grub?" Bill asks the minute I'm back in his room.
"The nurse is heating it for you. I want you to thank her when she brings it back."
"Okay. I like you."
"I'm glad. I like you, too."
When the nurse returns and sets his tray on the bed table, Bill gives her one of the most winsome smiles I've seen and says, "Thank you."
It startles her for a moment, then she smiles back. "You're welcome."
"You see how nice people can be when you're nice to them?"
"Yeah," he mumbles through a full mouth. I've never seen a kid eat so fast. Just as he finishes everything on his tray, the nurse comes back with a bowl of ice cream. "I put this in the freezer so it wouldn't melt."
"Oh, wow! Ice cream. Thanks."
I stay with Bill until he begins to get drowsy. I lower the bed and tuck him in. "Good night, Bill. I'll come see you tomorrow."
I'm surprised when he struggles up enough to put his arms around my neck and hugs me. I return his hug and tuck him in again. He's asleep almost before I reach the door.
I'm so emotionally drained, the two blocks I have to walk home seem like two miles. The minute I'm through the door, Doc grabs me in a crushing hug, sobbing. I hold him for a minute until I almost fall. "I've got to sit, Doc."
He helps me to the sofa, and falls down beside me. "What's wrong with me, Tory? I've never been so rough with a patient, especially a kid. Oh, God, I actually struck him. Help me, Tory."
I hold him until his crying eases. "Relax and tell me about it."
"God, Tory, it was like cutting off my own leg. When I finished and looked at him, all I could think of was all the things I'd just made it impossible for him to do. The kid's never had a chance at life, and I'd just taken the rest of it away. I know he's never been taught better, but when he had that temper tantrum and started swearing l blew. Damn it, he was forcing me relive my own life. I thought I had forgotten, but it all came back. Thank God you told me to get out and stayed with him."
"What do you mean, your own life? Yours has been nothing like his."
Doc looks at me, tears still running down his face. "My life was almost a duplicate of his. When I was a little younger than him, my mother, I guess it was, I never knew for sure, left me in the waiting room of the old hospital late one night. Dad found me there when he was leaving to go home after taking an emergency call. He and mom adopted me quickly, because the judge is a friend of his. I've always felt they're my real parents, so I hadn't thought of this for years until today. I couldn't help myself." He blinks at me. "Oh, God, luv, I didn't even think. You had to walk home. Can you forgive me?"
I kiss him, then wipe his tears. "Let's go to bed, babe. We're both beat."
Doc snuggles into my arms and drops off to sleep faster than I, because I'm hungry. I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast, but I know if I get up to fix something, I'll wake him.
Dad had told me Doc had nothing scheduled, so I leave him sleeping and make myself a killer breakfast: half a small honeydew melon, two poached eggs on toast with four strips of crisp bacon, and finish off with a couple of waffles with butter and maple syrup. I'm finishing my second cup of coffee when Doc comes in. Once he has his coffee, I fix him a slice of the melon, and two waffles.
In the mornings, Doc has to eat and have a cup of coffee before it's safe to speak to him, but this morning he speaks first. "Come to see Bill with me, luv."
"I promised him I would last night. I'm ready whenever you are, but if you're trying to avoid him, it isn't going to work. You're his doctor of record."
"You come back!" Bill's surprised to see me. He holds out his arms.
I hug him. "I keep my promises, guy. How you doing?"
I see him glance down, then his lips quiver for a moment. "Okay. Can you can make the TV work?"
I hand him the remote, and show him the controls. When he puts his finger on each button and asks me again what it does, I realize he can't read. This I can do something about. I'm making a mental note to ask Doc, when he walks in.
"How's my patient this morning?"
"How you think? My leg hurts." He points to a pair of small crutches in Doc's hand. "What's them for?"
"You. Time for you to learn to walk."
Bill grins. "'Bout time. I'm sick of this fuckin' bed."
"Bill," I say sharply.
He ducks his head. "Sorry. You gonna show me how to walk good with these here things like you do?"
"If you stop swearing."
Doc adjusts the crutches to fit Bill, then has him watch me cross the room a few times, before he helps him stand. Bill almost falls with his first few steps, then he catches on. He manages to cross the room and back, before he falls back on the bed. "Shit, man, that's tough."
"Just until you get used to it." I tell him.
"You really hike and all that?"
"I really do. I walked home from here last night."
"When I learn real good, can I walk with you?"
"I'll be proud to have you."
The kid learns his crutches faster than I did, and it's not long before every morning turns into a game of hide and seek. Bill's likely to be most anywhere in the hospital, but now that he's burning off some of his excess energy, the constant swearing is reduced to an occasional slip. I show up each morning with Doc and, as soon as Doc has examined him, I take over teaching him to read. Bill grumbles, but after I find some simple books that interest him, we begin to make rapid progress. The morning Bill reads an entire book to me without a mistake, he's so proud that after lunch I help him dress in the new jeans and shirt I bought him.
With Doc's permission, Bill and I crutch our way to the old fashioned drugstore, where I treat him to an ice cream soda in celebration. Afterward, I let him pick out a couple of comic books, telling him he'll have to read them himself. It thrills me to see a broad grin split his sweet face. He really does look like a miniature version of Doc.
"I've done something I hope you're going to like. I know I should have asked you first, but I didn't have time." Doc tells me over our dinner.
"I told Judge Barnes we'd take Bill in foster care. It was that or let the county try to place him somewhere."
I jump up and hop around the table to hug him. "I love you for doing it."
"I know it's going to take a lot of time, but it's going to put most of the responsibility on you, since you're home all day."
"So? I've come to love the little guy. We've got plenty of room, and I can schedule my work around his school day. If I have to work nights during tax season, you'll be there."
"Damn right I will. Mom and dad will be thrilled. You better watch them, too, or they'll spoil Bill rotten."
"I'm glad he's going to have a lot of love. He needs it."
It takes Bill two weeks to settle down in our home. The first couple of nights he wakes Doc and me when he crawls in our king-size bed and clings to me. When I finally convince him that I'll be here every morning when he awakes, he stays in his own bed. I continue to home-school Bill in hopes of bringing him up to grade level by the time we send him to school in the fall. When the hospital board retains me as their accountant, I get a small desk for Bill and put it in my office so I can get some work done as well.
The first time we take him to dad and mom's for dinner, mom makes a big fuss over him. I cross my fingers and hope for the best. After she's swept him up and kissed him, he wriggles to get down. When she finally releases him, Bill scrubs her kisses off with the back of his hand. I read his lips well enough to know he's said, 'shit,' but at least he didn't say it out loud. Watching the pleasure Doc's parents get from Bill, I'm hoping it won't be too long before the three of us can spend a weekend with my parents. I want to see them get the same joy from a kid who's likely to come as close as they'll ever get to a grandchild.
When the weather turns unexpectedly hot, Doc suggests a long weekend at the cabin. He has no critical patients at the moment, and my work's been caught up for a day or two. Bill's excited at seeing Doc's other house.
We're only a mile or so from the cabin, when Doc stops at a small house and, after telling Bill and me to wait, goes down a weedy path to a heavily weathered shed. In a few seconds, he's back in the doorway waving for Bill and me to join him.
We go inside where Doc points to a man with a grizzled beard. "This is Mr. Tyler who made my peg-leg. I happened to think Bill might like one."
The old man nods, and points me to a chair. I pull Bill down on my lap and roll his jeans leg higher so Tyler can see his stump. He looks at intently for a minute, then motions for me to hold Bill in a standing position, while he takes some measurements with a tape. He finally nods. "Kin do."
"Tomorrow?" Doc asks hopefully.
"'Bout five." Then he looks at me. "You want one?"
I start to shake my head, but Doc says, "You can make one for him? He doesn't have a knee."
"Ain't no need o' statin' what's plain to see. Hold 'im up."
I drop my jeans, so he can measure my stump. He looks at me questioningly when he presses his hand hard against the end. Doc did his work well, for I don't feel any pain. I shake my head, and he seems pleased. Once I've got my jeans back on, we leave without another word being passed.
"It gonna hurt?" Bill asks plaintively when he's back on my lap in the car.
"Not a bit, babe. You'll like it, because you can walk without crutches."
"Oh. What's it gonna look like?"
Doc reaches over and ruffles Bill's hair. "I'll show you one when we get to the cabin."
When we've got our stuff put away, Doc comes out on his peg-leg. Bill crutches all the way around Doc, taking in everything, then laughs. "You look funny with your leg stickin' out back."
"But you won't, and Tory won't either."
"Why you got it?"
From the way Doc looks at me, I know it's my job to explain. I sit down and call Bill to me. Once he's sitting on my lap, I tell him, "Some people think guys on crutches or peg-legs look so good they want to be like them. That's why Doc likes to look at you and me. Can you keep a secret?" He nods. "Doc doesn't want anybody else to know he likes to pretend, so this is our secret. Okay?"
"Yeah. He don't think I'm no freak?"
I hug him. "No way, babe. If you're a freak, I am, too, and I think you're a cute little guy. I love you."
"I'm glad you're getting' one. I like you guys a lot."
I'm happy he's satisfied with such a simple explanation, but I long for the day he tells us he loves us. The word doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary.
When we go back to Tyler's to get our peg-legs, the old man takes me first. I'm surprised at the slender rod that tapers out only near the top, to which is fitted a leather stump holder about eight inches high, made to strap on my stump. "Gonna be a mite long 'til I fit it," Mr. Tyler says as I put it on. It is, by almost an inch. I sit down while he cuts it off and adds a rubber crutch tip. It feels strange to be standing without my crutches, but after a few steps, I like it.
"It's so slender, will it hold up?" I ask.
"Made it outen rock maple. Mite heavy, but it'll last you."
He picks up a small peg-leg much like Doc's. "This here's fer the kid."
If mine's utilitarian, Bill's is a real piece of art. It's perfectly scaled to Bill's small size, with a dark shiny finish. The main difference from Doc's is that Bill's has an additional narrow strap to fit over the short nub he has below the knee. Tyler is gentle as he straps the peg on Bill's stump and adjusts the length. Once he puts the small rubber tip on the end, he shows Bill how to swing the peg out and around to walk on it.
Bill grins when he takes his first steps. He's so beautiful on his peg-leg I could eat him up, and Doc is slack jawed at the sight. He pays Mr. Tyler and we're about to go when the old man stops me. "You gotta take off that there peg, or you ain't gonna get in no car. Only thing wrong with 'em."
Bill likes to sit on my lap whenever we're riding in a car. With his tiny peg, he can still ride that way comfortably. I can't resist stroking the beautiful finish on his peg. "You got the prettiest one of all, Bill. You look great."
"Yeah, babe. You're real handsome," Doc adds.
Bill beams at both of us. "Now I don't gotta use them stupid crutches no more."
Bill stays in constant motion from the time we get home until I make him take a bath. The minute he's out of the tub, he wants to put his peg back on, giving me a hard time because I won't let him wear it to bed. Sunday morning, Bill is more ac-tive than he was Saturday night. After we've chased him down and gotten him in the car for our drive home, he falls asleep in my arms. I look down at his sweet face, then over at Doc, and wonder how a guy like me can be so lucky.