Castle Roland

Ten Steps Down

by Owen Hudson


Chapter 9

Posted: N/A

"I'm taking you boys to Topeka to shop for school clothes and supplies this week," Mom announced. "James, you've grown so much that most of what you have is too small for you."

James beamed with pride in the acknowledgment that he had grown. I hadn't noticed it until Mom mentioned that he had grown. "Yeah, he is getting a little fat on your good cooking," I teased.

"You're the one that is getting love handles," James shot back.

"You don't even know what love handles are," I countered.

"I do too," James argued. "There..., oh never mind." James blushed and then asked, "Are we going to take Nicole with us? You said that you were going to help her with her school clothes."

"Indeed I did," Mom said. "I'll call Dan and ask him to bring her here."

"Is Grandma going too?" James asked.

"She is more than welcome to come," Mom said. "She will be here for dinner tonight, and you can invite her then."

Grandma was hardly in the door that evening when James said, "We're going shopping in Topeka for new school clothes, and you're going with us."

"Oh I am, am I?" Grandma asked with a chuckle.

"I mean, will you go with us?" James asked with a pleading smile.

"I would love to go, but my knee still has a way to go before it will allow me to keep up with you young people.

"We'll walk slow," James offered.

"We'll walk slowly," Mom corrected James.

"Yeah, that's what I said," James argued.

"The word is slowly and not slow," Mom pointed out. "Anyway Margaret, there are plenty of places in the mall where you could sit and rest."

"In that case, I'd love to go," Grandma said.

"We'll have an early dinner so that you can eat with us before you drive back to Junction City," Mom said to Dan when he brought Nicole the evening before our shopping trip.

"Thank you," Dan said. "It would be difficult for me to turn down one of your home cooked meals. Thanks to your recipes my cooking has improved, but nothing in the league with yours."

Nicole was excited about going shopping and told Mom about all the cute clothes she wanted. Since James had moved to his new room, his old room was now Nicole's room when she visited.

"How much money do you need for Nicole's school supplies?" Dan asked Mom.

"I think $250 would probably cover it," Mom said.

"Here is $500," Dan said. "Give Craig and James $100 each out of this."

"That won't be necessary," Mom argued. "We've already budgeted money for their school supplies."

"It isn't necessarily for clothes," Dan said. "I want them to have it for all they have done for Nicole and me."

After a hearty breakfast the next morning we were on our way to Topeka. As Dad turned on to Twenty-first Street toward the mall, James called out from the rear seat where he and Nicole were seated, "Dad, are you sure you know the way?"

"Yes Son," Dad said. "I've been here many times."

I turned to tease James about leaving him at the zoo with the other monkeys when I saw a Cadillac Escalade running a red light. I tried to yell out, but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. It seemed as though everything was in slow motion, yet I realized it was real time. When the Cadillac impacted with the rear portion of Dad's Expedition James was sitting, I saw glass scatter toward James and Nicole.

The impact knocked our Expedition into the lane of oncoming traffic and a Toyota Camry hit the front of the SUV. At this point I wasn't sure if the airbags deployed because of the first collision or the second. Almost immediately a police car and an ambulance arrived. I managed to get out of my seat belt and out of the SUV. James and Nicole were bloody, but I couldn't tell if it was from the flying glass or other injuries. James didn't appear to be conscious, but Nicole was crying.

Mom was trying to get into the rear seat to check on Nicole and James when an EMT asked her to wait a minute while he started an IV on James. "Is he ok?" Mom cried out.

"We're checking him now," the EMT responded.

The second EMT was busy checking Nicole when I noticed Grandma sitting silently. "Grandma, are you okay?" I called out.

This seemed to make Grandma aware of her surroundings and she asked, "Is anybody hurt?"

"We don't know yet, Grandma," I said.

After getting IVs and cervical collars on James and Nicole, the EMTs began the process of removing them from the SUV. Nicole was easily removed, but James was more of a problem. He was moving some, but the EMT believed he had a broken lower leg. After placing his leg in an air splint, the EMTs began the process of getting him out of the SUV.

James began to scream loudly when his leg was moved. I wished I could take his pain for him. He had been through so much pain in his short life.

"Call Jason or Ryan," Mom instructed as she got into the ambulance with Nicole and James.

"He ran a red light and hit me," the driver of the Escalade proclaimed when the police office began his investigation of the accident.

"That's not true," an elderly man said. "I saw the entire accident. She was texting on her cell phone and ran the red light.

"That's a lie," the drive said.

"You're the one that is lying," another witness said. "I saw the accident too."

The police office had written a ticket to the Escalade driver by the time Uncle Ryan arrived. After having the wrecked SUV towed away, Uncle Ryan drove Grandma, Dad, and me to Saint Francis Hospital. "Jason will meet us at the hospital as soon as he gets out of court," Uncle Ryan said. "In fact, he may already be there."

"James is in radiology," Mom said when we found her in the emergency waiting room. "They are cleaning the blood off of Nicole. She will be fine."

The doctor came into the waiting room and called for the Turner Family. We all stood and rushed to surround the doctor. "I'm Doctor Shaw, I'm afraid that James has a broken tibia and fibula. The orthopedic surgeon will be here to see him soon. However, his abdomen is tender and his blood count is a little low. He could have a fractured spleen. He is getting a CT scan now."

"Will you have to remove his spleen?" I asked.

"In the past we used to remove a fractured spleen," Doctor Shaw said. "Now we keep a close watch on the blood count and bed rest with pain medication."

"How long will he be in the hospital?" Mom asked.

"About two weeks, and maybe longer," Doctor Shaw said. "However, we won't know for sure until the CT is finished. I've ordered a cross match in case his blood count gets any lower. We'll need to monitor him closely for the next few days. The first few hours are the most critical."

"Wouldn't it be better to just remove his spleen?" Mom asked.

"No Mom", I said. "The spleen is important to fight infection."

"He is absolutely correct," Dr. Shaw said. "Son, how did you know that?"

"I learned that in my anatomy class," I said.

"Most don't realize that," Dr. Shaw said. "Have you considered a career in medicine?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," I said. "I've thought about veterinary medicine."

"If you have the grades you would most likely get into medical school too," Dr. Shaw said.

"He's a straight A student," Dad said. "He will likely be valedictorian of his class."

"Here is my business card," Dr. Shaw said. "If you need any help getting into medical school give me a call. Now, I need to get back to work. Dr. Carrillo will be out to talk to you later about James' fractured leg."

"I'm going back to be with Nicole until Dan gets here," Mom said. "Let me know as soon as I can see James."

"I'll go stay with Nicole," Grandma said. "It shouldn't be long before you can see James."

"Thank you, Margaret," Mom said.

"Craig, will you call one of your friends to see if they can do our chores?" Dad asked. "It looks like we will be here for a while."

I stepped near the door away from the noisy waiting room to call Seth. As my cell phone was ringing Seth's number I saw Uncle Jason entering the hospital. I motioned him toward the waiting room as Seth answered. "Seth, this is Craig," I said when he answered. "We were involved in an auto accident here in Topeka."

"Oh my God, is everyone okay?"

"We're all fine, except for James. He has a fractured leg and spleen, but he will be okay."

"That's good to hear."

"Seth, it looks like we will be here in Topeka for a while. Dad wants to know if you could do our chores until we get back. It will be a day or two. If you need help you can call Jon."

"I'll be happy to do it."

"There isn't much that has to be done. Just check the feeders and make sure they are full and working properly. You know what needs to be done."

"I can handle it. Let me know if you need anything."

"I will, and thanks."

"I don't think he will need surgery on his leg," Dr. Carrillo was saying to our family as I walked up. "He is young and should heal satisfactorily without surgery. We'll reduce the fracture and stabilize it. We'll just put him in a splint for now. After the bleeding from his spleen stops we'll put him in a cast."

"When can we see him?" I asked.

"For now just his parents can go in," Dr. Carrillo said.

"He is really close to his brother," Mom said. "He will be upset if he can't see Craig."

"I think that would be fine," Dr. Carrillo agreed. "But for now we'll limit his visits to the three of you."

I was shocked when I saw James. He was getting a blood transfusion and he had an oxygen mask on. The air splint had been removed and replaced by a more rigid leg splint. Although the blood had been cleaned, there were multiple abrasions from the glass.

"I just gave him some pain medication," the nurse said. "You can talk to him, but he may fall asleep."

I took his hand and said, "Some people will do anything to get out of a little farm work."

This brought about a weak smile and the nurse said, "That's a good sign."

After the pain medication took effect, we went back to the waiting room where the rest of the family was. Dan had arrived from Junction City and Nicole was sitting on his lap. She had several abrasions from the glass, but otherwise appeared to be okay.

"How is James," everybody seemed to say at once.

"He is getting blood, and is sedated," Dad said. "When he is awake he is aware of what's going on."

"I'll be staying here in Topeka to be with James," Mom said. "Don, you and Craig will be on your own for meals."

"I'll cook for them while you're here," Grandma offered.

"Thank you, Margaret," Mom said as she took Grandma's hand.

"It's the least I can do after everybody took care of me after my surgery," Grandma said.

"I'll need my car," Mom said. "I need to figure out how to get it here."

"I'll go with Don and Craig and drive it back for you," Uncle Ryan offered.

"How are we going to get back home?" I asked.

"I can drive you," Uncle Jason offered.

"Thank you, Jason," Dad said. "But, I know the Expedition is totaled. I'll go and buy a new one."

"I can drive you now," Uncle Jason offered.

"Thank you Jason," Dad said. "Libby, will you be okay here?"

"Yes, but as soon as you get back I need to go buy a change of clothes for everybody," Mom said.

"I can drive you while James is asleep," Uncle Ryan offered.

"Nicole, do you want to go with us?" Mom asked. "Your clothes are all bloody."

"I'll wait here in case James needs somebody," Nicole said.

Mom smiled at the offer and said, "Craig will be here, and if you want to go you're welcome."

"I'm all bloody and can't go shopping like this," Nicole said.

"Nobody will care," Dan said. "Go if you want."

"No, I'll stay here with you and Craig," Nicole said.

"We'll hurry and then get you something to eat," Mom said. "I'll bet you're getting hungry by now."

"I am hungry," Nicole said. "But, I can't go anywhere with all of this blood on me."

"When we get you some new clothes we'll go to a restroom and let you change," Mom said.

"I brought her a change of clothes," Dan said. "You said she was bloody so I thought I should bring clean clothes. They are in the car. I'll go out and get them."

"I'll take her to the restroom and help her get cleaned up," Grandma said.

"Could I go see James?" Nicole asked after Grandma got her cleaned up and changed into fresh clothes.

"Honey, I doubt they will let you since you're young," Dan said.

"I'll go ask," I offered.

"The nurse seemed really nice," Grandma said. "She might let her see him."

"Could my little sister see my brother?" I asked the nurse.

"How old is your sister?" The nurse asked.

"She's almost nine," I said in hopes that the extra year might make a difference.

"Is she the little girl that was in the accident?"

"Yes, she is."

"James is going to be transferred to his room in a few minutes. I can let her see him for a few minutes. He'll be in intensive care and they probably won't let her see him there."

"Thank you for letting her see him. It means a lot to her to know that he will be okay."

"Explain to her that he looks worse than he really is. If she gets upset take her out so that she doesn't upset James."

After I explained to Nicole about not upsetting James I took her in to see him. I could see that she was shocked to see him on oxygen and the IV going. But, she put on a brave face and said, "Hi James."

"Hi Nicole," James said in a weak voice.

"They said that you will be fine," Nicole said. "I'm sorry that you're the one that got hurt."

James gave her a weak smile and reached for her hand. Nicole tried to take his hand, but was too short. I lifted her up so that she could reach his hand. James said something in a weak voice that I couldn't understand. "What did you say?" I asked.

"He said that he has to pee," Nicole said.

"That's just the pressure from the catheter," I said. "Your urine is coming out through that."

"That's a lazy way to go pee," Nicole said.

James smiled and began to drift off to sleep. "I just gave him some pain medication," the nurse explained. "They are here to transfer him to his room now, so I'll need you to step outside. I'll write down his room number along with visiting hours for you. Your family will be allowed to see him in a couple of hours. You may want to go get something to eat."

Mom soon arrived back from her shopping and asked, "How is James?"

"They moved him to ICU," I said. "We can see him in a couple of hours."

"I suppose we should go get something to eat," Mom said. "Ryan do you have any suggestions?"

"There is an Applebee's not too far from here," Uncle Ryan said. "I'll call Jason and Don and ask them to meet us there."

We had just placed our drink orders when Uncle Jason and Dad arrived. "Did you find what you were looking for?" Mom asked.

"I did," Dad said. "How is James doing?"

"He is now in ICU, and we can see him in about an hour and a half," Mom said.

"You didn't have to wait for the insurance adjustor to purchase a new truck?" Dan asked Dad.

"I wrote a check for the new one," Dad said. "When the insurance pays I'll just deposit that in the bank."

After eating we went back to the hospital to see James. Since Nicole and I had seen him last we let Mom, Dad, Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan take turns seeing him.

Mom planned to spend the night at the hospital, but Uncle Jason convinced her that he could get her to the hospital in just a few minutes in necessary. "Come to the house and get a decent night's sleep," he said. "Dan, you and Nicole are welcome to stay at the house too."

"Thank you, but I have to work tomorrow," Dan said. "Now that it appears that James will be okay, we'll go home tonight."

It was difficult for all of us to leave James when we left the hospital for the night. We knew he would be sedated and not likely to know if we were there or not. Nonetheless, he seemed so pitiful and small in that hospital bed with his oxygen and IV connections.

When I woke the next morning it took me a few minutes to realize where I was. After showering and putting on the new clothes that Mom had purchased, I went to the kitchen where Uncle Ryan and Mom were busy cooking breakfast. Dad was at the table reading the paper and enjoying a cup of coffee. Grandma was in disagreement with Uncle Ryan that she was needed to help with breakfast.

During breakfast we decided that we would drop Mom off at the hospital. Dad, Grandma, Uncle Ryan and I would drive back to the farm. Uncle Ryan would drive Mom's car back to Topeka. Mom gave Grandma a list of things she wanted sent back. "Oh, and send a sweater back too," Mom said. "These hospitals can get cold."

It wasn't visiting hours when we arrived at the hospital, but the ICU nurse said that James was improving and that we could see him for a few minutes. "I'm sure he would be transferred out of ICU to a regular room sometimes today. Dr. Rasmussen will be in to see him soon and talk with you then."

"What happened to Dr. Shaw?" Mom asked.

"Dr. Shaw was the Emergency Room physician," the nurse explained. "Dr. Rasmussen will be his doctor while he is here. Dr. Carrillo will be his orthopedist."

After allowing us to visit with James for a while, the nurse ushered us out of the room while he gave him a bed bath. "My name is James also," he said. "I'll let you know when Dr. Rasmussen is here so that you can visit with him."

"I can't believe how much better he is today," Grandma said as we made our way to the ICU waiting room.

"Yes, it was good to see that he was asking for some real food," Mom said.

After about an hour Dr. Rasmussen, who looked a lot like Matt Lauer from the Today Show, came in and said that James was doing so well that he would be transferred out of ICU. His blood count was stable as were all of his vital signs. "If he continues to progress as he is he should be going home in a few days," Dr. Rasmussen said.

It was a quiet ride back home after seeing James. Each of us in our own private thought. I was thankful that James was much improved. Even Uncle Ryan, who was normally chatty, was quiet. After several miles of silence Dad finally said, "Why is everybody so chatty this morning?"

"I was just thinking how lucky we are to still have James," Grandma said. "That boy has been through so much, yet he is still the sweetest young man I know."

"I was thinking the same thing," Uncle Ryan said. "When I saw him in that hospital bed I thought of the happy full of life boy we vacationed with in Peru.

"I was afraid that I had lost my brother," I said. "I would gladly have traded places with him to save him the pain he has endured."

"He knows that he is loved," Grandma said. "He needs that."

"I know what you mean," I said. "He never had love until he came to live with us, even in foster care at Mrs. Powell's he was treated like a dog."

"That woman should be in jail for what she did to James and the other kid," Dad said.

"I'll bet she has figured out another way to take advantage of the helpless and get money from the government," Grandma said.

"You're probably right," Uncle Ryan said. "I'll ask Jason to check it out. He knows how to get that type of information."

"Drop me off at my house," Grandma said when we were near town. "I'll get some clean clothes and drive my car over to your place."

"Margaret, Craig and I can manage just fine," Dad said. "You don't have to worry about cooking for us."

"I know you can," Grandma said. "But, Libby has enough to worry about with James. She doesn't need to be worrying if you two are eating properly."

When we arrived home the farm looked forlorn, yet inviting. Jake and Jade came bouncing from the field where they were likely hunting to greet us. Jake and Jade were two pups that James found near our mailbox when he went to check the mail for mom a few months back. There was no question that we were keeping them when James brought them to the house. "They need a good home just as I did," he had said.

James had protested when Dad said it was time to spay and neuter Jade and Jake. However, Dad convinced him that they would have a longer healthier life. "Besides, what would we do with a litter of puppies?"

"I would take care of them," James promised.

"And, what would we do with the next litter, and the next one after that?" Dad had asked.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," James finally agreed.

After Grandma arrived and packed a bag for Uncle Ryan to take back to Mom, he departed in her car. "Wait," Grandma said just before Uncle Ryan departed. "I'd better send some pajamas and some clean clothes back for James. When he is discharged from the hospital he will need something to wear."

I decided to send Maze Runner, a book that I had just purchased for him to read, and to also send his game boy. "Do you think he will feel like reading?" Dad asked.

"You know James," I said. "If he isn't occupied when he is feeling better Mom will have her hands full keeping him in bed."

"One of us will call you tonight to let you know how James is doing," Uncle Ryan said before he drove away in Mom's car.

While Dad and I were doing the chores Seth Drove up and said, "I didn't know if you would be back today or not. I came to do the chores."

"I'm sorry Seth," Dad said. "I should have called you. But, I'm glad you came by."

Dad took some money out of his wallet and tried to give it to Seth. "I can't take your money," Seth said. "We're friends and neighbors and we help each other out during times like this."

"I know that, but I want you to take this," Dad argued. "I know that you can use the money with school starting."

"No, I can't take it," Seth argued.

"You had better take it or he will make me figure out how to get it to you," I said as I took the money and put it in Seth's hand.

"Thanks Mr. Turner," Seth said. "I've been trying to help Uncle Steve and Aunt Stephanie with bills since Aunt Stephanie can't work after the baby was born."

"It is none of my business, but don't your parents help support you?" Dad asked.

"Mom sends a little money when she can, but Dad refuses to send any money at all," Seth said. "Mom has to sneak around to send what money she does."

Grandma was busy in the kitchen when we finished our chores. "Dinner will be ready soon," she said. "I decided on pork chops since I was pressed for time."

"Craig and I both love pork chops," Dad said. "We really appreciate your being here to help out."

"I'm happy to do it," Grandma said. "It is good to feel needed."

"Craig, do you know if Seth has money for school clothes and supplies?" Dad asked during dinner.

"I don't know, Dad," I said. "We have both been busy this summer and I've hardly seen him at all."

"Don't his parents help him?" Grandma asked.

"Seth said that his dad refused to help," Dad said.

"Why would a parent do that?" Grandma mused.

"Usually it is because the find out their kid is gay," Dad said. "Craig, is he gay?"

"Dad, that's something Seth would have to tell you," I said. I don't want to reveal Seth's sexuality to anyone without his permission.

"Something should be done to help that poor boy," Grandma said.

"I wonder if Uncle Jason would know a way to get him some help," I said.

"I'll bet he would," Dad said.

After dinner I helped Grandma clean the kitchen and load the dishwasher while dad sorted through the mail. Before we finished Mom called to give us an update on James. "Mom, it is good to hear that James is doing so much better," I said. "When will he be coming home?"

"Dr. Rasmussen thinks he may go home in about ten more days if he keeps progressing as he is," Mom said. "Do you want to say hello to him?"

"Sure, if he feels up to it," I Said.

"I'd say he does," Mom said. "He keep grabbing for my phone."

"Hi Craig," James said. "Come and get me out of here."

"I wish I could," I said. "I'm already tired of doing your share of work."

"It is about time you did some work around the farm," James said.

"Hey, is Uncle Jason there?" I asked.

"He went to get mom something to drink and will be right back," James said. "Oh, he is here now. Do you want to talk to him?"

"Yes, put him on the phone," I said. "Bye James, I love you."

"I love you too, bye," James said.

After chatting with Uncle Jason for a while I finally said, "Uncle Jason, I have a friend whose dad kicked him out. He now lives with his aunt and her husband. They struggle financially. The dad refuses to help Seth and won't allow Seth's mom to send him money. Is there anything that he can do?"

"Is Seth your friend that I met at your house once?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Yes, and he is the one that I called to do chores for us."

"You don't have to answer, but my guess is that Seth was kicked out because he is gay. The answer is yes, I think I can help him. E-mail me everything you know about Seth and I'll do some checking. My guess is that Seth's dad has some skeletons in the closet that I can use. I have a very good private investigator that does some work for me. I'll have him do some checking."

"Uncle Jason, Seth wouldn't have the money to pay for a private investigator."

"Troy is a gay friend of ours and will be happy to do this for Seth. He was kicked out when he was seventeen after his dad found out he was gay. I won't charge Seth anything either. If Troy finds some dirt we will not likely have to go to court. Ryan and I will be down to see James after he goes home. If I have anything I would like to talk to Seth and maybe even his aunt and uncle."

After saying goodbye I E-mailed everything I knew about Seth. I decided not to tell Seth that I had talked to Uncle Jason about him. However, I would if Uncle Jason needed additional information.

After a two week stay in the hospital James was finally discharged to come home. Dr. Rasmussen had cautioned Mom to watch for any signs that he was bleeding again since his spleen could rupture and bleed again. We were to call EMS and get him to the hospital right away. As a precaution, Dr. Rasmussen didn't want him using crutches. James didn't like the idea that he was confined to a wheelchair though. When Mom informed him that it was either the wheelchair or complete bed rest, he chose the wheelchair.

The weekend after James came home from the hospital Uncle Ryan and Uncle Jason came for a visit. After dinner Uncle Jason said, "Craig lets go for a walk."

"I'm going too," James said.

"You are not," Mom quickly said.

"But, Craig can push me in the wheelchair," James pleaded.

"I'm sorry Honey, but you would be bounced around too much," Mom said. "In a few more days you'll see Dr. Rasmussen again and he may allow you to do more."

I suspected that Uncle Jason wanted to talk to me about Seth. My suspicion was confirmed when Uncle Jason said, "It appears that Seth's dad is a real sleezeball. He is sleeping with his business partner's wife. Troy also thinks that Bruce is ripping off the business partner too. There is no reason the bastard can't help support Seth. He drives a Lexus and they live in an exclusive section of Olathe."

"Do you think you can get some help for Seth?"

"I'm very sure of it."

"I think you've figured out about Seth, but he doesn't want anybody to know. If this went to court would it come out?"

"With what we have on Bruce, I bet it would never go to court. I would like to meet with Seth and his aunt and uncle."

"When do you want to do that?"

"Whenever they will all be home, tonight would be good."

I used my cell phone and called Seth about the meeting. He seemed puzzled, but agreed that they would meet with Uncle Jason if I were there too.

After introductions, Uncle Jason got right down to business. "Seth, Craig said that you're not supported by your parents. They are legally responsible to support you until you graduate from high school."

"Dad isn't about to support me after he kicked me out," Seth said.

"I can force him to support you," Uncle Jason said.

"No, I don't want to go to court," Seth said in a panic.

"Look Seth, usually people like your dad kick their kids out because they are either using dope or they are gay," Uncle Jason said. "I know you're not using dope, and I don't need to know if you're gay. It wouldn't matter to me if you were since I'm gay."

"Yeah, I'm gay," Seth admitted. "My aunt and uncle know and took me in. Craig is my best friend and I told him. But, I don't want to go to court and let that come out."

"I don't think we'll need to go to court," Uncle Jason said. "Bruce is screwing his business partner's wife, and we can use that. We also think he is ripping him off to."

"I knew that son-of-a-bitch was cheating on Cindy," Stephanie said. "Seth, you have to let Jason help you."

"I would talk to him first," Uncle Jason said. "I'm going to ask for back child support from the day Seth came here to live. Seth, I'll see to it that he pays for your college too."

"Do you think he will pay up?" Steve asked.

"I do," Uncle Jason said. "He is big in the republican party and the church. He wouldn't want something like this brought out in court."

"I don't want to go to court," Seth said again.

"I'm pretty sure that Bruce would be more afraid of going to court than you," Uncle Jason said. "Let me talk to him and then the decision will be yours."

"How much money will you ask for?" Seth asked.

"With his income, I think I can get $500 for you and $500 for your aunt and uncle each month," Uncle Jason said.

"I have a job," Seth said. "It should all go to them."

"No Seth," Steve said. "You do a lot of work around here. Besides, $500 is more than enough for room and board. You're family and I would feel bad about even taking that."

"Either you take it all or I won't let Jason go forward with this," Seth said.

"Seth, we're a family and you're part of it," Stephanie said. "The $500 will be enough that I won't have to go back to work until the baby is older. Now, you will let Jason continue."

"Alright, go for it then," Seth agreed.

"My partner Ryan and I will be back next weekend to see how James is doing," Uncle Jason said. "I expect I'll have something for you then."

"Do you think you'll have something that soon?" Steve asked.

"According to Troy, the private investigator, there's probably a lot more dirt on Bruce that we can use if needed," Uncle Jason said.

As promised, Uncle Ryan and Uncle Jason came to visit the following weekend. After dinner Uncle Jason said, "Craig, call Seth and see if he will be home. I need to see him."

"Did you get something for him?" I asked.

"You'll know when Seth knows," Uncle Jason said with a smile.

As much as I pleaded, Uncle Jason wouldn't tell me a thing. I believed that Uncle Jason had good news, but he stood fast about telling me before he saw Seth.

"I had a meeting with your dad," Uncle Jason began when he met with Seth, Steve, and Stephanie.

"I'll bet the asshole refused to agree to pay up," Seth said.

"He did," Uncle Jason admitted. "However, when I confronted him with the dirt I had on him he quickly changed his mind. "I have two checks here," Uncle Jason continued as he removed two envelopes from his briefcase. "There is a $5,000 check for Seth and another $5,000 for Steve and Stephanie. These checks are for back child support. Here is a notarized signed agreement to pay monthly child support and to establish a college fund for you, Seth."

"This says it is for $1200 a month," Seth said when he read the document.

"Yes," Uncle Jason said with a laugh. "I decided to ask for more in the beginning with the idea that he would want to negotiate down. He agreed so quickly that I wished that I had started even higher."

"I'll write you a check for your fee," Stephanie said as she looked at her check with a smile.

"There is no fee," Uncle Jason said. "I did this for my nephew's best friend. "Besides it was worth it to see that hypocritical homophobic bastard sweat."

"I'm sure there were some expenses involved," Stephanie said.

"Troy may have had some, but he wanted to do this for Seth too," Uncle Jason said.

"How much would his expenses been?" Stephanie asked.

"Probably $100 or less," Uncle Jason said.

"Steve, would you write Troy a check for $500?" Stephanie asked. "There will still be enough to pay off my car and that will be one less bill we have to worry about. Seth, what are you going to do with your money?"

"I'm going shopping for school clothes first," Seth said. "Dad wouldn't let me bring my laptop when he kicked me out. I want to go buy a new one and a printer. Last year I had to use the computer in the library."

"We will be going to Topeka next week to take James for his doctor's appointment," I said. "We will be shopping for new clothes and school supplies then. You're welcome to come along if you want."

"I'd like that," Seth said.

James wasn't very happy that Mom insisted that we take the wheelchair for James when we left for Topeka. "I'll look like a cripple," he argued.

"You are a cripple," I teased.

"You just wait until I'm out of this cast and I'll kick your butt," James countered.

Seth laughed at the teasing going on between James and me and said, "James, you wouldn't need to do that. You could get Nicole to do it for you."

"I'm not going to kick either of my brothers' butts," Nicole said in a serious tone.

As we approached Topeka Nicole said, "Uncle Don, you'd better not wreck us this time. I really need some new clothes."

"I promise to do my best to avoid that," Dad laughed. "I would hate to wreck my new truck."

"Dad could you drop Seth and me off at Best Buy before you go to James' appointment?" I asked. "Seth wants to look at some laptops."

"Sure, it's on our way," Dad agreed. "Best Buy is near the mall and you can walk there when you finish shopping there."

"Craig, could I go with you and Seth?" Nicole asked.

"No Honey," Mom interjected. "Boys don't know anything about girls' clothes. Besides you can keep James company while he waits to see the doctor."

"We'll call you when we get back to the mall," Mom said. "We can have lunch at the Olive Garden."

"Your dad is much nicer than mine," Seth said as we entered Best Buy. "Mine would have lectured me for an hour before dropping me off."

"I am lucky," I admitted. "But, you don't have to worry about your dad anymore either."

After looking at the computers Seth decided that he would use his employee discount and buy his computer and printer at Wal-Mart. We did buy a few CDs and I bought a game for James' Game Boy. We then walked the short distance to the mall and the food court for a cold drink before clothes shopping.

Seth and I had finished our shopping and were waiting in the food court when Mom called and said for us to meet them at the Olive Garden. Seth had more bags than I since he needed more clothes than I did. Mom always saw that James and I were well dressed. Seth had neglected buying new clothes since he had come to live with Stephanie and Steve.

After locking our purchases in the SUV, Dad, Seth and I went inside to join Mom and the others where she was getting us a table. I was surprised to see James on crutches. "Dr. Rasmussen said my spleen was healed and it was safe for me to use crutches now," James proudly said.

"You're using the wheelchair when we go inside the mall," Mom said.

"But Mom, Dr. Rasmussen said I could use crutches now," James argued.

"I know he did," Mom agreed. "But, you're not used to them yet and there will be a lot of walking."

"Aw, Mom," James said.

"You heard your mom," Dad said. "Besides you're getting too big for me to carry out of there when you get tired."

The argument ended when our table became ready. Nicole took my hand as we walked back to our table. I looked down at her and smiled. She looked up at me and said, "I'd hold James' hand too, but he is using both of his with his crutches."

"Here, you can hold my hand too," Seth said as he extended his hand to Nicole.

It was a lively conversation during lunch with everybody joining in on the conversation. Nicole did encourage us to hurry so that she and Mom could start shopping.

After lunch it was decided that Mom and Grandma would take Nicole to shop for her clothes and school supplies while Seth and I took James. Dad wanted no part of shopping and decided that he would go to the bookstore and purchase a good book and then meet us in the food court.

It didn't take long to complete our shopping with James. The sales clerks were more than happy to assist an injured boy in a wheelchair. The cast made it difficult for James to try on pants, so he tried on one pair and we gave the clerks his size for the remainder.

After finishing James' shopping we went to the food court where Dad was reading his book. After making James comfortable Seth and I bought a drink and snack for each of us. "Where is the restroom?" James asked after consuming his large drink.

"Over there next to the game room," Seth pointed out.

James began to wheel his chair toward the restroom when Dad said, "Take him."

"I can do it myself," James protested.

"I know you can, Son," Dad said. "But, the mall is crowded."

I pushed the wheelchair up next to the urinal so that James only had to stand on his good leg to use the urinal. While I was helping James a group of three teenagers came in. One of the boys who was fat with long dirty looking hair, and appeared to be about my age laughed and said, "Look at the cripple."

I could tell James was becoming upset and said, "Just ignore him."

"Does the homo have to hold your dick while you piss?" Another boy, with both a nose and lip piercing, taunted.

I pushed James down into the wheelchair and started out the door without even stopping to let him wash his hands. The three followed us out of the restroom when the fat one snatched James' cap from his head. I grabbed the cap back and continued pushing James toward our table in the food court.

The boy with the piercings swung at me, but I blocked his punch. Using my martial arts training, I flipped him to the floor. Before the other two could join in, mall security arrived just as Dad and Seth did.

"He attacked us," the fat one said.

"That's not true, these three followed them out of the restroom and were taunting these two," a woman with two pre-teenage girls said as she pointed at each of us.

"But, he started it in the restroom," the third boy who previously wasn't involved said.

"You're lying, you three started the whole thing, I was washing my hands and saw and heard the entire incident," an elderly man who was still holding a paper towel said. "These two young men tried to avoid the fight by leaving."

The police arrived and arrested the three after taking a statement from James, me, and the other witnesses. Mom, Grandma, and Nicole arrived as mall security was apologizing for the incident. "I can assure you that they will be banned from the mall," he said.

"What happened?" Mom asked.

"We'll explain it on the way home," Dad said. "We need to get back home and do our chores."

"If I could have turned around in time I would have peed on him," James said as we retold the incident.

"Margaret, why don't you come to the house with us for dinner," Mom said when we got back to town. "Craig will drive you home after dinner. Seth, you're staying for dinner too. We'll grill some burgers, if that is okay."

After dinner I drove Grandma home, and as we turned onto her street she said, "There's a fire. I'll bet Neal and Sharon got drunk and burned the house down."

"You couldn't be that lucky," I said.

"Oh no, it's my house!" Grandma exclaimed.

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