Castle Roland

Trials and Tribulations

by Billy

In Progress

Chapter 24

Posted: N/A

Trials and Tribulations

By Billy


"I do know, but I'm not sure I can say." The Chief of Staff's facial expression showed his frustration.

"Maybe knowing that Dad plans on taking JT into our home, at least for a while, making him my temporary brother, will allow you to inform me of his status?" I smiled hopefully.

"I'm afraid unofficial plans won't be enough to release me from the HIPAA law, JT's right to privacy." He said faintly, as if to himself, then went on more confidently. "I hope your Dad meets with Miss Anderson and manages to gets everything approved." He paused and looked at me, making sure I understood what he was trying to say. "She will need everything completed before she arrives this afternoon, before two-o-clock, which is when they plan to take him into protective custody at that detention center."

"Me too. I won't keep you from your rounds any longer. Besides, I have some phone calls I need to make." We shook hands with knowing grins and I watched him retreat down the hallway leaving me to my own thoughts.

I needed to call dad as soon as possible. I walked away from the door to Cody's room and called dad. After greeting him, I got down to the business at hand.

"Dad, there were men here earlier that attempted to take JT away with them. I assume they meant to take him to the Detention Center. I spoke with Doctor Collins and he told me that Miss Anderson wouldn't be here until around two in the afternoon to take JT into protective custody. If it hadn't been for the deputy guarding JT, I'm sure they would have taken him away already. As for Cody, Doctor Collins said he was doing well, considering everything he's been through. He said he had been mostly concerned for Cody's emotional well-being this morning, but after seeing all of us there supporting him, he wasn't as concerned anymore."

"Don't worry Andy, I'll contact Miss Anderson myself as soon as we hang-up." He assured me. Then he surprised me.

"Son, I know where this is heading. You want us to help Cody, like we plan to help JT?"

"We have the room, Dad. We have three spare bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs. You and Joey are right to help JT, since he doesn't have anyone, but neither does Cody and we have the ability to help. I think we should."

"Alright. I'll contact Miss Anderson as soon as I hang up with you."

I smiled. I knew I could count on dad to take care of everything. I was surprised at how well he knew me.

"Andy, I want you to realize that this is going to mean we will have to make a few changes. I'll tell Miss Anderson that I'm willing to foster both boys. That will give JT and Cody a safe place to live. In the mean time, I'm going to have to check on getting a housekeeper. There's no way that I'll be able to keep up with three of you. I'm going to have to check on a few things, but I'm willing to make the changes in our lives for them. There are some things we'll have to talk about, so we'll discuss this more tonight. That okay with you?"

"That'll be awesome, Dad."

"Do you plan on staying at the hospital all day?"

"I may. I want to talk to JT and let him know I'm cool with him staying with us. Then I want to get to know Cody better."

"Okay, but tomorrow, it's back to school. Understood?"

"No problem, Dad. And thanks."

"You're welcome, Andy. I better run. I have several phone calls to make and meetings to set up. Let me know if you need a ride."

"I will."

"I'll see you tonight, if not sooner."

"Bye Dad."

When I arrived at JT's room, there was a deputy stationed outside the door. I ignored him and attempted to walk on in, but he stopped me. "Where do you think you're going young man?"

"I'm going to visit with JT. Is that a problem, sir?" I was surprised they had anyone guarding JT.

"What's your name, son?"

"I'm Michael Andrew Collins."

"Are you Judge Collins' son?"

"Yes sir."

He smiled. "You're cleared to visit."

"Is JT under arrest?" Something didn't seem right to me.

"Oh, no. The sheriff just wanted to make sure no one bothered him; call it, protective custody."

"Okay. So it's all right if I visit?"

"Sure, go ahead."

When I walked in, JT was watching some game show on TV. He glance over at the door when he heard it open and excitedly greeted me. "Andy! I didn't expect you. What's up?"

We bumped fists when I reached his bed. "I wanted to visit with you for a while, if that's okay?"

"For sure, dude. How's Joey?"

"He's good. In fact, he's upstairs visiting Cody Morgan."

"Cody Morgan?" From his facial expression, he was clearly racking his brain trying to put a face with the name. "I don't think I know him."

"I doubt it, but you will." I smiled knowing they would soon be living under the same roof. "He's a friend of mine and Joey's. We met him a week or so ago. Sadly, he and his foster family were in a car wreck this morning, and his foster dad and mom were killed."

As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I felt like I had just made a major mistake. I wasn't even thinking about JT losing his own mom and dad.

"I'm sorry, JT."

As a single tear made it's way down his cheek, he resolutely looked me in the eye and said, "It's okay, Andy. I'd like to meet him." A weak, but sincere smile cracked his sad face.

I reached out and took his hand in mine and squeezed. "I promise you, you'll not only meet him, but you'll get to know him, too."

He smiled, nodded, and then changed subjects. "Now that I have the chance, I want to apologize for not being your friend the last couple of years."

"It's okay, JT." I tried to assure him.

"No, it's not Andy. Please let me explain, okay?" His eyes pleaded with me, as much as the tone in his voice.

"Okay JT, if you feel you have to, but really, you don't have to."

"Andy, I do. If you remember, we were friends up until around the time when your mama died. You were always out-going and friendly to everyone, including me. Because of you, I came out of my shell and made some other friends too. But when you lost your mother, I didn't know what to say or how to act towards you. I never really thought of death before. I mean, yeah we see it everyday on TV and in movies and stuff, but I never really knew anyone that it had affected before. Well, at least not after I realized that death was forever." He pushed himself up into seated position and squeezed my hand. "It scared me. And then you started shutting people out until there was only Roger. By then, I knew I had lost my chance in repaying you for being a friend to me when I didn't have any. Instead of blaming myself like I should have had, I blamed you."

I sat and watched him as he struggled to find the words he wanted. It wasn't easy listening to the pain in hiss voice, but it was something I had learned from Joey. Sometimes the easiest way to help someone, was to simply listen to them.

"I was wrong," he continued, his voice cracking with emotion, "and I knew it then, but now, it's so much clearer. I'm sorry. I should have been a friend when you needed one, like you're doing again for me. I'm so sorry." Tears filled our eyes now and flowed freely down our faces.

I leaned over and hugged him. We cried on each other's shoulders for a while, until I pulled back. "We're friends now JT, that's what matters." I said with a smile.

"I have some news I want to share."

"Oh?" He said, with a questioning expression.

"Yup, I do."

"Well, what is it, numb nuts?" he prodded with a laugh.

"How would you feel about staying with me and my dad? For a while at least."

His tears started falling again. "You... you would do that for me? I mean... after the way I treated you and Joey?"

I nodded. Seeing how this offer had affected him, I didn't trust my own voice.

"Oh God, I was so afraid they were going to send me to some group home or jail. I don't know what to say... I'm..."

"Just say, yes!" I grinned.

"Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you, Andy!" His smile radiated like super nova.

I let JT relax for a moment, but I knew I had to tell him everything. He had been through enough already and I didn't want him to have any nasty surprises.

"You're more than welcome and I'm glad you're happy to hear the news, but there's more to tell you."

His whole expression change, and fear seemed to creep into his face. I held his hand a little tighter and continued.

"Wait, JT, I promise that it's nothing bad. Do you remember when I started to tell you about Cody earlier, and I said that you would get to meet him and know him?"

He nodded slowly and never stopped watching my face. I took a deep breath and plunged in with the rest of the information.

"Well, he'll probably be living with us, too. He's been through a lot like you have and I really hope you don't have a problem with this."

"No, not at all. You, Joey, and your dad are special people for helping me after all I've done to you and Joey. There's no way I could object to someone else getting the same help you're giving me. No way. I can't wait to meet him."

"There's a couple of other things we'll need to talk about, but all that can wait until later. I just wanted to let you know you're welcome to stay with us, I have no problem at all with it, if you don't."

Before he answered, he turned towards the window and stared at the mountain view. His expression changed to one of deep thought. A moment or two later, he turned back to me and said, "Andy, I have a question. Please understand, I'm touched by your offer, but why?"

"Well JT," I started, but was interrupted as two uniformed officers entered his room.

"James Thomas McCray?" The taller, older one of the two asked.

"Yes, sir." JT said with a look of a deer caught in headlights.

"You need to dress and come with us." His tone and demeanor made it clear he wasn't going to take no for an answer.

I spoke up. "Sir, I'm Andy Collins, would you please identify yourself?"

He looked at me dismissively. "You need to leave." Then turned his attention back to JT.

I stepped to the door, "Deputy, would you please come in here?"

When the deputy stepped in, I addressed him in dad's judge mode voice. "Sir, I asked these men to identify themselves after they asked my friend to dress and come with them. JT hasn't been discharged from the hospital yet, and they refused to identify themselves."

The deputy turned from me and addressed the two officers. "I'd advise you to identify yourselves to this young man."

"We don't take orders from minors, deputy." The tall officer stated with contempt.

"Okay, we can play this game. Do you have the discharge papers for this young man and an order directing you to take him into your custody?"

"Well, no, but Miss Anderson asked us to pick this boy up. We're just a little early."

The deputy half turned to me and winked. "Then I suggest you take your attitude back to the lobby and wait for Miss Anderson. Otherwise, I may have to arrest you for kidnapping."

"Now just a minute. We're just trying to do our jobs."

"Sir, if you would have been a little nicer, I would have explained that my Dad, Judge Collins, is going to be JT's foster dad, at least for the time being." I didn't really blame these men for their attitudes, so I thought I'd speak up and maybe ease the tension in the room some. "I realize that you have to deal with difficult people everyday, but not all of us are like that. And I'm sorry that you may have made a trip for nothing, but my Dad is supposed to be setting things up with Miss Anderson as we speak. Maybe you ought to give her a call."

The correction officer that had been doing all the talking took a long hard look at me. His face softened from a look of frustration to a half smile. "Thank you, son. You're right and I apologize for my attitude. If we had waited until later like we were supposed to, we might have saved ourselves a trip."

I returned his smile and nodded. "Not a problem."

"Could either of you point us towards the cafeteria?"

The deputy smiled and patted me on the back. "Sure, lets step out into the hallway and I'll give you directions."

I guess Joey's and Dad's way of handling situations like this works. After the men left, I turned to a smiling JT.

"Way to go, Andy. I was afraid they had come to take me to jail, the way they acted."

"I think they did, too, but if they had just spoken to Miss Anderson, none of this would have happened. I'm sorry."

"Why? It wasn't your fault."

"I don't know. I guess because you've had enough bullshit happen to you without this, too."

Just then the door opened and in walked Coach Nettles. "Hi boys. Mind if I come in?"

"Hi coach. It's cool. Come on in. Coach, this is Andy Collins from school. Andy this is my football coach."

"Hi Andy."

"Hi Coach Nettles."

"JT, I'm going back up to visit with Cody for a while and give you a chance to visit with your coach. Cody is in room 401. Call me or have a nurse call me if you need anything, Okay?"

"I will. Thanks, Andy."

"I won't be long and I'll bring Joey back with me." I was about to leave when I remembered what JT had asked before the officers had arrived. I opened the door, but turned back to see JT watching me as the coach pulled a chair up to his bed. "And JT, to answer your earlier question, because we care and it's the right thing to do."

A huge smile broke across his face and he nodded. "I'm not sure I deserve it, but thanks."

"Everyone deserves a second chance." I replied and headed to Cody's room.

Just walking from JT's room to Cody's left me feeling tired, but I put a smile on my face as I walked into his room. I was surprised to find the room empty except for Joey and Cody. "Where is everyone?" I asked. "Has our ride left us Joey?"

"Yeah, they had to get back to school." Joey stood and hugged me, much to my surprise. Not that hug itself surprised me, but doing it in front of Cody did. "I told them we could get a ride when we needed it." He said, and then planted me in the chair he had been sitting in.

"Are you okay, Andy?" Cody asked, his face showed concern.

"Yeah. Why you ask?"

"Because you're as white as a ghost." He said as Joey squatted down in front of me.

"You do look pale, Andy." Joey said, as he ran his a hand across my cheek.

Unconsciously, I leaned into it. When I realized I was, my eyes darted to Cody. Even though his eyes still held the concern they had a moment ago, now they also had a knowing twinkle and his face added a broad happy smile. I decided to throw caution to the wind and pulled Joey into my lap.

"What are you doing?" Joey laughed. His eyes followed mine to Cody's face.

"I think our secret is out." I whispered in his ear.

"Cody," Joey began, but Cody cut him off.

"I think it's awesome!" he said. "There's lots more to you two than meets the eyes, uh?"

"You don't have a problem with us?" I asked.

"Oh, hell to the no. You're my best friends. I wouldn't care if you slept with..." His face crunched up in thought. "I mean, no, I don't care. You're cool to me. Besides, I'm probably gay, too." He smiled.

I laughed. "What was it you started to say?"

He shyly glanced away. "Well, I started to say a snake. I mean I wouldn't care if you slept with a snake, but then I thought about how that sounded and decided not to say it."

Both Joey and I laughed, soon joined by Cody.

After we calmed down, Joey turned to me. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired." I answered. "All this walking is wearing me out.

"Andy," Cody softly started. "Are you sick?"

I decided to be honest with him, since it was quite possible he could end up being my brother. "Yeah, the doctors think I may have leukemia."

"Oh my God, no," he cried.

I edged up in my chair to let Joey know I wanted to get up. He stood and I walked over sat on the bed with Cody. I held Cody's eyes to let him know I was being truthful. "We don't know yet, if I do or don't. But even if I do, I'll be okay."

"But, but, isn't leukemia bad? What is it?" I could tell he was shaken, but determined to know more.

"It a form of a blood disease that requires chemo to fight it, and maybe other stuff."

"Is it like cancer?"

"Yeah." I answered and he frowned.

"I'll do anything to help you."

"Just be my friend, Cody." I said, as I laid a hand on his shoulder.

"You got it!" He nodded determinedly.

"Would you be okay alone for a while if I took Joey with me to visit another friend that's also here in the hospital? He'll be going home soon. In fact, would it be okay if Joey and I waited until tonight to come back and visit?"

"Sure, I'll just watch some music videos on MTV. If I need anything all I have to do is push this button here and the nurses come running and treat me like a king," he laughed.

I affectionately ruffled his hair and suddenly realized why my dad did it to me. Cody giggled.

I smiled, "Okay then, we'll be back tonight. If you need us, tell the nurse to call me." I glanced at his table and saw his dinner menu, grabbed a pen and wrote my cell number on it and showed it to him. "Here's my cell number, so you can call me any time you want." I smiled.

"Kay. Don't worry about me, I'm fine here."

I studied him and thought he really did seem okay considering what had happened to him the last few days. I leaned over and softly hugged him. "I meant what I said. We're working on making everything right for you."

"Thanks, Andy. You really are an awesome friend."

Cody and Joey said their good-byes, and we took off for JT's room. As we waited at the elevator, I could hear a ringing sound, faint at first but it grew in volume until it sounded like a roaring ocean. Joey had a concerned look and his hands were reaching out. I couldn't tell what he was reaching for, because everything began to spin and the light faded until the next thing I knew I was on the floor in his arms and he was screaming for help.

"Hey," I said, as I touched his cheek to get his attention. "I'm okay. What happened?"

"You passed out and scared me to death. I almost didn't catch you before your head hit the floor." He frowned.

"What's wrong?" A nurse asked, as she rushed over to us.

"He passed out as we were waiting for the elevator."

"Wait right here and I'll get a wheelchair."

"Naw, I don't need..." I began as I started to get up.

She quickly put a hand on my chest. "Don't move an inch young man," she said sternly.

I nodded. Joey softly snickered. I quickly glanced up at him and he had a slight smile that barely showed, but it was there.

"Hush you." I jokingly retorted.

"What? I didn't say anything."

"Uh huh. I heard you."

The nurse was back with a wheelchair, with an orderly. "Okay, my friend and me are both going to help you up and into the chair. He'll help you on that side and I'll help you up from here."

When they had me seated she asked, "Are your parents here with you?"

"No ma'am. Dad is at work, I think, but he might be on the way here." I turned to Joey. "Joey?"

"I'll call him and find out."

"While your friend is calling, I need to ask you some questions. First, What's your name?"

"Michael Andrew Collins."

"Date of birth?"

"July 7, 1996"

"Did you hit your head when you passed out?"

"No ma'am, Joey said he caught me before I hit the floor."

"Good. Do you have any illnesses that may have caused you to lose consciousness, like high blood pressure, low blood pressure, diabetes, or a recent concussion."

"Well, yes. I did recently hit my head, but that was last week. I was seen here at the ER and released."

"Anything else?"

"Yeah, I may have leukemia."

"May have?"

"We don't know yet. I have a test on Friday."

"Your dad was already on his way. He should be here any minute." Joey said as he walked up to us, after making the call.

"Before we do anything else I'm going to take your temperature and blood pressure reading." The nurse said as she stuck an electronic thermometer in my ear, checked it, and then wrapped a pressure cup around my arm. "Now don't move any." She told me and pumped up the pressure cup. When she was finished she told us, "Everything is in normal range. How do you feel?"

"I feel better, now. I really don't know what happened. There was a ringing in my ear, then it got louder. As it got louder, everything started to spin and it was like the light slowly went out."

"There was no pain involved?" she asked.


"He looked really paled earlier and he told me he was tired when I asked him about it." Joey told her.

"Yeah, I forgot about that." I shyly added.

"You been doing a lot today?"

"Not really."

"Yeah he has. He's been back and forth a lot between downstairs and up here." Joey said.

"More than your normal routine?" She asked.

I said no, and Joey said yes, at the same time.

She smiled at me and shook her head. "I think you're okay now, but I would feel better if you saw a doctor down in the ER, just to make sure. It's never a good thing to pass out. There's always a reason behind and we should know what it is and prevent it from happening." She turned to the orderly. "Take him on down to the ER and I'll call down and alert them you're coming so they can pull his file and be ready for him by the time you get there. Okay?"

"Yes ma'am. I'll take him straight to the ER." The orderly told her as he moved behind the wheelchair.

"Thank you for everything ma'am." Joey shook her hand.

"It's Kathy. Tell the person at the ER desk that Kathy sent you."

"I will." Joey stayed with me, like a tick on a fat dog. He seemed to be upset he watched me being pulled into the elevator and quickly followed us.

"She was nice." I said.

"Yes, she is." After he pushed the down button, Joey turned until we faced each other. He clearly had something on his mind, and didn't hesitate to share it with me. "You also need to start telling the doctors and nurses everything and stop sugar-coating everything like it's an inconvenience on everyone for you to be sick."

I hadn't realized I had been doing that, but once I thought about it, he was right. It wasn't intentional, I mean, I didn't think about it before I answered their questions. Mainly, I didn't want to make a big deal out of it. I knew others had things a lot rougher than I did, but for Joey, I'd do anything.

"Okay." I nodded.

The ride down was quiet. I wasn't sure what Joey was thinking, but I was wondering just how much this leukemia was going to affect my life. If walking around a hospital a few times was going to make me pass out, then would I be able to do much of anything? I didn't think I could live that type of life for long.

Just as that thought crossed my mind, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I glanced up and saw Joey smiling down at me. I returned his smiled. His little gesture brought everything back into focus. His smile reminded me that there were definitely things worth fighting for, no matter the pain and hardship one had to endure. I was more determined than ever to do whatever I had to do to have a long life with the boy I loved.

"Thank you for reminding me what's important." I patted the hand on my shoulder.

"You're welcome. Anytime," he said and then leaned over and kissed the top of my head.

When we arrived at the ER, Dad, Judy, and Miss Anderson were waiting for us. They quickly walked over.

After Dad made it to me, he took a knee in front of me. "How you doing sport?"

Frankly, the attention embarrassed me. "Dad, I'm fine now. I just over-did it and before I knew it, Joey was catching me." Dad reached up and ran his hand through my hair. "The nurse checked me out and said everything looked normal, but to be safe, she sent us down here."

"I'm happy you're feeling better, but we need to be careful and find out what caused you to pass out."

"Yeah, that's what the nurse said." Dad stood and ruffled my hair.

"Michael Collins?" A nurse asked walking up to us.

"Yes, ma'am."

"If you'll come with me, we'll get you checked out." She motioned for us to follow her.

"Joey," Dad said, getting Joey's attention. "Why don't you go with Judy and Miss Anderson. You can visit with JT while they finish the paperwork to have him released from the hospital. When Andy is finished here we can then all head home."

Joey looked conflicted, like he couldn't decide what he should do.

"I'm okay, Joey. Dad will be with me and JT needs a friend to reassure him that everything is going to be all right. Some men almost took him away earlier before they had talked to Miss Anderson."

Miss Anderson nodded. "I've spoken to them and everyone is on the same page now."

"Okay." He patted me on the shoulder and left with Judy and Miss Anderson.

The ER Doctor did everything the nurse had done earlier, plus he ordered some blood work for the lab, and found me fit to head home. Although he did advise me to limit my activities even more, especially if I were to start chemo treatments.

With that out of the way, Dad wheeled me to JT's room. He insisted I stay in the wheelchair, because he felt I had done enough running around the hospital for one day. Everyone was ready to leave by the time we entered his room; soon, we were all on our way home.

Joey rode with me, dad, and JT. The ladies had their own cars. I have to admit, it was kinda hard at first seeing JT as a good guy, but he was making it easy.

He sat in the front passenger seat. He turned to face my dad and said, "Mr. Collins, thank you so much for your help. I don't know what would have become of me, if not for you and Andy. I owe you my life and I swear, neither of you will regret it."

"JT, there are times we have no control over events, if we do or don't doesn't matter, it's how we react to those events that defines us. From everything I've seen and heard over the last few days, you have acted with the character that any father would be proud of." Dad smiled, but his voice was rich with emotion.

"I don't know if my dad was proud of me or not. If he was, he never showed it."

"I can't say for sure if he would be or not, but I know any father that's worth his weight would be."

"Please don't take this wrong, because I do appreciate it, but why are you guys helping me the way you are. It's one thing to help me find a lawyer, but taking me into your home, I just don't understand."

"It's simple. If you knew an innocent person was being accused of a horrible crime, wouldn't you try and help them?" Without giving JT a chance to respond, Dad plowed on. "I assume you wouldn't and neither could I."

JT nodded.

"In my mind, there's no way you committed the crimes that some would have us believe you did. Frankly, I consider it a crime to attempt to paint a scenario where you and/or Andy committed those crimes."

"I loved my ma and pa. I would have never done anything to hurt them." JT looked down at the floor and wiped the tears that were already beginning to fall.

"I believe you JT. It's bad enough that you have to deal with the loss of your parents, but to then have someone accuse you of it, just for political reasons, is beyond wrong. As a for why I am helping you, as a judge I usually see the worst that this community has to offer. For a change, I get to offer a helping hand to someone who needs it and cannot protect himself. Besides, I believe that you will continue to do good things in your life and one day pass on the kindness you were shown here."

"Wow! When you put it that way, what can I say?"

Even as I sat in the back seat, I could see the look on JT's face as he worked through all that Dad had said. Eventually, he seized on part of it as I knew he would. "Uh... what did you mean, political reasons?"

"At least the part concerning Andy was directed at me to discourage me from running for a state-wide office."

"Oh. Well sir, if we had more men in office like you I'm sure this country would be a lot better off." JT said with a smile. "Again, thank you for your help. And I promise you I WILL pass it on just like that kid in the movie Pay It Forward. I don't know when or how, but I will."

I sat a listened to them and from my point of view, JT had scored some major points with me. He had gone from a bully to someone I could respect and help. I had to be honest with myself and place JT's past where it belonged- in the past. I'm really good at reading people and being able to know if I'm being lied to, and what I was hearing sounded like honest-to-God-truth. To me it felt like it came from his heart, and this feeling made me relax even more with the idea of him living with us and becoming apart of our family.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not perfect with my feelings. After writing that paper last week for my government class, that focused on a situation that affected an author I met on the Gay Authors web site, I had learned that Michael, the author I had thought was a kid from Nigeria, was not only a fake and a liar, but he had also stolen the stories he had claimed he wrote. Michael had seemed to be a nice guy and had a life story that made me feel both sorry for him and proud of him at the same time. The lie he told everyone probably had some truth in it, but in the end, he was just like all the liars I had met on AOL- just old men pretending to be young teens for whatever self-satisfaction they received from deceiving kids. If they only knew that they could have just been themselves and still made friends with kids, maybe things would have been better for everyone involved. I say this because there were a couple of older men that I knew were lying to me and I still maintained a friendship with them, but they weren't aware I knew. Sadly, they died before they were honest with me, and still... I cried.

I glanced at Joey. He gave me a sympathetic smile. I guess he felt the same way I did about JT. Heck, I knew he believed in JT long before I did. There was still one thing I needed to talk to JT about though: Joey and I. If we didn't tell him up front about us, at some point, he would figure it out on his own, because I knew there was no way I could hide my feelings for Joey, at least not twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And I wasn't sure how he would react. But as far as I was concerned, if he didn't like it, it would be his problem, not mine. Still, I had to be honest with him, just as he had been honest with us, maybe not tonight, but soon.

We were first to arrive home, but Judy and Miss Anderson both pulled into the driveway right behind us. Dad went to greet the ladies and I told JT and Joey to follow me and I would show him his new room.

I was digging in my pocket for my key to unlock the front door when suddenly it opened and there stood Nurse Nancy. I was stunned.

"What... why... uh... Nurse Nancy?"

"Hi child. I'm your new housekeeper. And please, Miss Nancy is less formal. Now, why don't you boys show JT to his room."

I looked out towards Dad. They were heading our way and Dad had a big smile. I figured Dad knew what he was doing. "Yes ma'am. This way JT."

"Wow, you have a housekeeper?" JT asked wide-eyed.

"I guess 'we' do." I laughed. "Come on guys."

"Just a second." Miss Nancy called us back. "Aren't we forgetting something?" She asked. "Your father told me about the shoes." She smiled.

"Sorry, I forgot." I said, as I took off my shoes. Joey and JT did too. Once we were barefoot, we took off for the stairs.

I had decided to put JT in the room beside mine and Cody in the room across from me. I opened the door to his room and said, "This is it." Then I saw all the boxes and bags of clothes laying on the bed.

"I hope the sizes are correct." Miss Nancy said from behind us which caused me to jump a little. "I had one of the nurses at the hospital check your sizes. If you need to exchange anything or there's other things you want, just let me know. I'll be happy to take you to the stores tomorrow. That is aonce you get yourself home after school."

"I can go to school tomorrow?" JT asked.

"Most certainly. I insist." Dad told him as he joined Miss Nancy in the hallway outside his bedroom.

"Awesome! Can I rejoin my team? Coach Nettles said he didn't have a problem with it, as long as the doctors cleared me with a written note."

"The doctors told me you could return to your normal activities. They also knew you were on the football team and gave me a note for your coach. So, yes, you may, but after practice, I'll pick you up and we'll go shopping for the other things you'll need for school. But for now, come on downstairs, Miss Anderson wants to chat with you before she leaves."

"Yes sir."

Miss Nancy and JT headed downstairs with Dad, leaving me and Joey alone. "Wanna go to my room and call Cody?"

"Yeah, maybe we should. I don't know when we'll be able to visit him again."

Joey was the first to talk to him. He told him we might not be able to visit tonight because I had fainted while we were waiting on the elevator after we had left his room. Then he had to reassure him that I was all right.

"I promise you Cody, Andy is fine. We just might not be able to visit right away again."

I couldn't hear what Cody said, but Joey shook his head, smiled and passed me the phone.

Taking the phone from Joey, "Hey Cody."

"Are you really okay?" His voice clearly carried the concern and worry he had for me.

"Yes. I promise I'm fine. I just over-did it today and need to be more careful in the future."

"When can you come and visit again?"

"I'm not sure. I want to say tonight, but it'll probably be tomorrow night when Dad can bring us."

"That's okay." He sounded slightly disappointed. "Debbie and Randy said they would be back tonight for a little while."

"I want to come tonight Cody, but Dad has a meeting here tonight and with what happened to me today, I doubt Dad would let me visit tonight even if he didn't have that meeting."

Joey rested a hand on my arm to get my attention. "Tell him that I'll ask Uncle Steve to bring me and Roger over tonight for a while."

"Joey just asked me to tell you that our Uncle Steve probably wouldn't mind giving Joey and our best friend Roger a ride to visit with you for a while tonight."

"That would be awesome. And Andy, I understand you can't. I just want my new best friend to get better. I know fainting ain't cool and can be scary. There was this one time paw beat me so bad I passed out. So, I know what it's like. What scares me the most about you is why you fainted. I don't like that you're sick and I want you to get better."

"Cody, years ago leukemia was very bad, but now the doctors have pretty much gotten so good at treating it that almost every kid lives a normal life after treatments. So, I'll be fine as long as my friends help me through the treatments, cause from what I've read and heard that's the worst of it."

"You can count on me Andy. ANYTHING you need, I'll do it for you. Well, after I get out of these casts," he laughed.

I couldn't answer Cody right away. He had been through so much with his father, brother, and then losing his foster parents on top of it. Yet, here he was worried about me.

"That's really sweet. Thanks Cody. Joey wants to talk to you some more. Take care of yourself and I'll see you soon, I promise." He was so sweet I wanted to reach through the phone and hug him.

"Cool, see ya, Andy."

"See ya my friend." I told him and then handed the phone to Joey. I laid back and listened for a few minutes to Joey's side of the conversation, but in no time, I was fast asleep.

Dad woke me later and told me Miss Nancy had dinner ready for us. I looked around my room still half asleep.

"Where's Joey?" I asked.

"He had to go home. He is going with Roger to see Cody after they have dinner. So Alice had him come home."

"Oh. Okay. What's up with Miss Nancy?"

"Well, with the way we are gathering boys." Dad chuckled. "I decided I needed help with the housekeeping, cooking, and just managing everything around here. Miss Nancy will hire and organize things here for me. She will hire people to help clean the house and take care of the yard."

Dad paused. He watched me and before I could say anything he held up his hand.

"Neither you nor JT will be able to do regular chores for a while. JT has football and you aren't healthy enough. And poor Cody is going to be in his casts for a while, so he won't be able to pitch in either. In the meantime, I want all three of you to help out as much you can, like pick-up after yourselves. Okay?"

"Sure, I don't have a problem with that. I guess you also hired her because you expect me to be taking chemo treatments?" I asked.

"Yes, son, that played into my thinking. But having three boys living here, for however long that may be, I need help or my own work will suffer. When my work suffers, people can be harmed. Which reminds me, after dinner, I have that meeting that Judge Rutherford arranged."

"So, Miss Nancy can cook?"

"I think you'll be in awe of her cooking. She doesn't even burn the toast." Dad laughed.

"Okay Dad, I'll make sure JT and I are out of your way this evening during your meeting."

"Thank you, son." Dad said, ruffling my hair again.

"By the way, if you decide to run for office, I want to contribute to your campaign."

"You may, but not one red cent from your money. I won't take a dime from my son to run for public office. However, they'll be a million other things you can do."

I wrapped my Dad in a hug. "I'm proud of you Dad."

Dad enveloped me in his arms. "I'm proud of you, too, son."

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