"Andy, time to wake up!" Andy pulled the blanket over his head with a groan. "Andy! You have a doctor's appointment!"
"It's still dark out!" Andy moaned. "Can't I sleep in some more?"
"No, you can't," his mother scolded him, pulling the blanket down. "It's a three hour drive to his office, and we need to get going if we're going to make it on time."
"Can I sleep in the car?" Andy asked hopefully.
"Sure," his mother smiled. "Assuming you can figure out how to sleep in that thing, you can. Don't forget, we have to take the rust-bucket."
Andy groaned. They used to have three cars but the SUV for when they needed to get lots of people (or stuff) somewhere and the compact for just the family had been sold a few weeks ago.
Andy knew he wasn't supposed to know, but they'd been sold to pay for this doctor's visit. Unfortunately, the ventilation system in the house carried sound very well, especially when the A/C was turned off despite it being the middle of summer.
"Alright," he moaned as he let himself be rolled out of bed. "I'll dress," he told his mother when she made no sign of moving towards the door.
"You sure you won't need any help?" she asked.
"I'm not dead yet," he pointed out, thumping the ground with his cane. "I don't even need this, really!"
"You will use it young man," his mother scolded him, "because think it or not you do need it."
"Doctor's orders, I know," he whined.
"Do you remember the fall last week?" his mother reminded him.
"Alright, I will use the da-" Andy closed his mouth and growled. "I will use the cane, honest!"
"You're just lucky you didn't break a leg, that would really have put a damper on your birthday party," his mother reminded him.
"Mom, my bones are fine," he reminded her.
"I know, I know!" his mother threw her hands in the air in defeat. "It's only your nervous system, and the bumps and bruises of childhood won't hurt you. It's just..." she looked away. "I'm your mother, and you're my little eleven year old boy. Protecting you is just what I do."
Carefully displaying his use of the damned cane, Andy made his way to his dresser to pick out clothes for the day. His mother closed the door behind her as she left, leaving him with a bit of privacy while he changed out of his pajamas. A bit of privacy he was incredibly grateful for, because as she'd pointed out the other day, it was short-lived. Unless the doctors-
Andy forced his mind away from the subject and back to the task at hand. He needed to get his clothes on 'right' or his mother would jump on that and complain about it to the doctor, even if it was just a normal mistake.
Unfortunately, while accidentally putting both feet into the same hole is an accident that could occur to anyone, his second try simply brought the problem back to the fore. A normal person might make either mistake, but following the first one up by tangling his foot in the crotch material of the shorts simply drove home the point that he was becoming far more clumsy. Too clumsy. Clumsy enough to need the fucking cane!
Andy dashed tears away from his eyes as he gave up and took the clothes back to his bed. Carefully laying the shorts on the ground, he lifted his feet one by one and placed them into the holes before lifting the shorts up. It was easier than dancing around with the cane. Which he did need, since he couldn't stand on one foot long enough to get the other into place. Not reliably. He'd lied about it for months by simply placing a hand on the dresser to steady himself, which had pissed his mother off and earned one hell of a chewing out from the doctor.
Dad probably hadn't heard about it yet, though-
Andy couldn't stomp the tears down this time and he let his shirt finish falling into place before curling up on his bed, sobbing. Dad was busy at work. Just as he'd been the last three years. Every day. Overtime, every week. No vacations in three years. All to pay for Andy's damned medical bills, and even that wasn't enough. Not anymore.
They didn't even have a name for it! Just a 'unique systemic neural degradation of unknown cause'. He'd heard the doctorese until he could recite most of it by heart, but no one had figured out a way to help him. He'd been bounced from specialist to specialist with no result except more tests, more questions, more money spent. For a while it didn't seem that bad, sure it would suck when he started to go but it wasn't effecting the 'now' very much. Money problems weren't something he understood, then. Except Dad had skipped their yearly visit to the lake. And Christmas had been a bit skimpy. And then he hadn't received anything from his parents for his birthday. And then they were renting out the lake house rather than using it themselves. Then selling the lake house entirely. The money from that had kept them for a while, especially once mother had gotten a job. But then she'd lost it, just in time to make them sell their good cars and go with the run down piece of junk that Dad kept running out of 'love' back when he'd had spare time. Nowadays about all they had left was the house. Which meant if this doctor couldn't do anything, Andy was screwed, there was nothing left to sell. His parents were broke enough that they'd ranted and screamed about his having a new brother on the way. Or sister, if Mom had her way.
Andy's five year old brother didn't really understand what was going on, but he understood enough to resent all the attention his older brother was getting. "Crybaby!" he screamed from the door. "Big boys don't cry!"
"Go away!" Andy snarled, throwing his pillow with deadly precision and more power than his brother expected. The boy fell on his butt with a loud 'thump', drawing the attention of their mother.
"Andrew Lloyd Webster and Donovan Micheal Webster, what exactly is going on here!" Mother thundered from the foot of the stairs.
"Andy hit me with his pillow!" Donny screamed, throwing it back.
"And why exactly would he be doing that, Donovan?" Mother's voice cracked out like a whip.
"I didn't do anything!" Donny screamed. "Nothing!"
"He called me a crybaby!" Andy shouted, poking his head out his door, after carefully dashing the tears from his eyes.
Mother's eyes flashed. "I see," she said icily. "Andrew, finish dressing. Donovan, get down here."
"Now you're dead, doofus," Andy sneered as he closed the door.
"What did you call your brother, Andrew?" Mother asked, loud enough to be heard through the door.
"Nothing Mom," Andrew lied, opening the door long enough to speak before closing it.
Andy finished dressing quickly, hoping to quell her motherly wrath by being ready to go. "Can I come in?" she asked as he finished tying his shoes.
"Sure Mom!" he shouted over his shoulders, giving himself the once over to make sure everything was in place.
"Want to talk?" she asked.
"Not really," Andy tried.
"You sure?" she asked.
"Yeah," Andy agreed hesitantly.
His mother knelt down and stared into his face. Next thing he knew she was pulling him into an awkward hug around her swollen belly and rocking him left and right. He couldn't handle it and started sobbing. "Let it out, just let it all out," she said softly.
Luckily for his brother, they weren't late getting on the road for the doctor's appointment.
"Hello Mr. and Mrs. Webster," Doctor Franklin said jovially. "And to you too, young man! The nurse will do your pre-visit checkup while I spend a minute talking to your parents, OK?"
Mom and Dad shared a look. "You seem quite happy doctor," Dad finally asked as Andy was led from the room. Thankfully, the chair the nurse had him sit down in was close enough to the open door that he could listen in as she took his temperature, blood pressure, and all that other fun stuff doctors like to know.
"Well, when I first looked at the medical records of the boy there didn't seem to be much hope," Doctor Franklin shrugged. "Then I took a good hard look at some of the details they didn't think very important. It's not an obvious thing, but they missed a few important details."
"Then you can help him?" Mom asked eagerly. "How much? We... we'll find the money, somehow."
"Well, yes and no," Doctor Franklin hedged. "He can be helped, but I'm unable to do the procedure myself. I'm surprised Doctor Cauthon didn't refer you to the facility himself, I'm sure he knows about their most recent personnel acquisition!"
"Personnel acquisition?" Dad asked, an edge of concern in his voice. "What does that mean?"
"Simply put, modern medical science can't help your son, but there are alternatives that-"
"You can't be serious!" Dad yelled.
"Oh dear," the nurse complained. "I think perhaps I should close the door."
Andy wasn't able to catch the rest of the conversation, only that it was conducted in tones that barely even managed to penetrate the soundproofed door. Finally his parents came out, Dad grabbing him as he stormed by. "Andrew!" Mom ordered coldly, "stop this nonsense this instant!"
"I will not stand by and let his kind touch my son! And I sure as hell won't pay him to do it!" Dad thundered.
"He is my son too," Mom snapped back, "and you are not making that decision without discussing it with me!"
"Don't even tell me you're thinking about it!" Dad screamed, tossing Andy back into the chair he'd been pulled from. "Those freaks are a menace, and I'm not pouring money-"
"Shut. Up," Mom cut him off as Donny started to wail in the corner. "I have had it up to here with your ridiculous prejudice already," Mom held a hand up over her head, "and I am not even going to begin tolerating it when it puts our son's life in jeopardy!"
"You can't trust them!" Dad tried. "Every time-"
"Your family has had a bad time, I get that," Mom cut him off again. "And I will concede that this isn't a blind prejudice. It has justification behind it. But it is a prejudice, and you are judging the many on the basis of a few. That's neither fair nor right."
"Fair? Right? Do you know what those-" Dad broke off and stomped out. "I'll be in the car!" he shouted as he slammed the door.
"Fine, fine!" Mom snapped throwing her hands up in the air. "Alright Doctor, lets-" she broke off as she noticed Donny wailing at the top of his lungs and sagged into herself. "Give me a minute?" she asked.
"I'll perform the physical examination," Doctor Franklin told her. "Take your time."
"Please don't..." Mom hesitated. "My husband and I are going to have to have a long conversation, please don't say anything to make it more difficult?"
"I won't lie, but... I don't think I really need to say anything. Not right now," Doctor Franklin agreed sadly. "But he needs to be able to ask me anything he wants, once he hears about the options available to him."
"I'll make something happen," Mom sighed as she picked Donny up. "Something, somehow."
"Alright," Doctor Franklin agreed. "And... if I may be so presumptuous as to offer a comment?"
"You're our doctor, it's hardly presumptuous to offer a comment," she told him.
"When financial, medical, and parental issues collide, it isn't uncommon for relationships to be... strained," Doctor Franklin said sagely. "You aren't the first couple to have a screaming fit in my office. Adding in ethical issues just makes that worse. I'm not going to say that was handled well; but I will say that you didn't handle it badly."
"Is that another way of saying my husband handled it badly?" Mom asked angrily.
"No!" Doctor Franklin snapped. "Sorry. That's why I was worried you might find this presumptuous. All I'm saying is that while you might not have handled it well, you didn't handle it badly. Without knowing more about the situation -- about the cause for his issues you mentioned -- I can't judge past that."
"Well, thank you for what it's worth," Mom sighed as she rocked Donny back and forth. "Andy, the doctor's ready for you I think."
The physical exam wasn't too terribly horrid. Several meaningless tests, frequently with sensors stuck to various parts of his body, and a number of probing questions on how well he was handling things. Andy wanted to hedge on a few of the questions, but the doctor would probably find out anyway so he admitted to the truth. Even the embarrassing foot in crotch incident from that morning.
"I'm not going to say you're doing well, or doing badly, for your condition. Do you understand why, Andy?" Doctor Franklin asked.
"I'm weird," Andy shrugged. "Doctors haven't seen nothing like me before."
"The word 'weird', while perhaps partially accurate, isn't one I'd prefer," Doctor Franklin chided him. "Unusual, or better yet unique."
"So, do you have a cure doctor?" Andy asked.
Doctor Franklin sighed. "I had a suggestion for a facility that might be equipped to treat your case. They're expensive, but they also take on charity work for reduced, or waived, fees. Your father took exception to them."
"Why?" Andy asked.
"That question, along with how they could treat you there, isn't one I can answer at the moment," Doctor Franklin told him. "Your mother asked me to refrain from answering questions on the subject, and I am bound by the promise."
"But Doctor!" Andy whined.
"No buts," Doctor Franklin told him firmly. "Besides, if you think about it I've already given you part of the answer."
"Huh?" Andy asked.
Doctor Franklin sighed. "I guess you're just too young to have caught the hint, sorry," he apologized. "And I really can't make it any clearer, honesty and honor oppose each other."
"What does that mean?" Andy asked, annoyed.
"It means that my desire to be honest with you, and my honor which compels me to remain silent, are in conflict. I'm stuck in the middle between a spoken promise to your mom, and an unspoken one to you to be honest to the maximum degree," Doctor Franklin explained. "I'm sorry, I really can't say more. Ask your mom and dad."
"Alright," Andy said sullenly. "Any orders?"
"Lets get your mom in here first," Doctor Franklin smiled at him. Once everyone was settled he picked up a pad of paper and started writing. "First, there are some exercises I'd like to have you perform to try and stave off any further degeneration. I'm writing down a list of these, the nurse will provide you with the appropriate documentation. Go over it here, before you leave, so that if you have any questions you don't have to drive back up here."
"Alright," Mom said. "Sounds easy enough."
"It's important to do these regularly; some of them I want done every day, some every other day, and some two or three times a day. It isn't critical if things slip, but try to be regular," Doctor Franklin told her. "Second is medicine. I know none of the other doctors have wanted to try anything, and while I agree with the sentiment the decay is gaining in speed, and that's not good. We need to get ahead of it. While the treatment facility I recommended would be your best bet, we may be able to help slow down the degradation by using some MS treatments. This disease appears to be superficially similar to MS, so they may help. The main reason no one has suggested this to date is because the MS treatments are, quite frankly, suboptimal for this disease. Beyond that, this isn't MS; it doesn't attack the same parts of the nervous system and it doesn't appear to function in the same way. But I think it's close enough that similar treatments are worth a try."
"No one else has been able to provide any suggestions," Mom shook her head. "And now you're saying-"
"Ma'am, I'm one of this nations premier neurological specialists," Doctor Franklin placated her, "and I've shepherded three separate drugs through successful clinical trials. Not only is the drug in question barely out of clinical trials, but it's completely untested for this. That's why none of the doctors even thought about using it. And a lot of those other doctors just don't have the skill to try and develop a course of treatment independent of existing medical advice. That's not to say their stupid, or incompetent, or anything similar; it's a rare doctor who can forge a new path like this and rarer still one with the fortitude to risk the malpractice lawsuits that a mistake would bring down on their heads."
"Alright, what do you suggest?" Mom asked. The doctorese grew worse, and Andy felt himself drifting off to sleep.
"Huh, wha?" Andy asked, shaking himself awake in response to a question.
Mom laughed. "Sleepyhead! Listen to the doctor!"
"It's alright, most of that he didn't really need to hear," Doctor Franklin laughed. "All he needs to focus on are the rest of the instructions."
"Instructions?" Andy asked sleepily.
"Sleep, lots. From the sounds of it, you're sleeping more than is average for someone your age. That might be your body fighting the disease, so don't fight it. Get the sleep you need. Eat well, and healthily. Get plenty of exercise. Drink lots of fluids. I'm sure you've heard that whole spiel more times than you can count, but it's important," Doctor Franklin ordered him. "Also, keep a diary, or journal if you prefer, of how bad your symptoms are. Put down everything; any time you get a pain or an ache , a moment of fatigue or disorientation, any clumsiness, note all of those down, including time, location, whatever you were doing at the time, etc etc. Even if you know the cause already, just note that for me and let me judge if it's important. List what you eat and drink, and when of course; when you go to bed and when you get up; when you use the restroom and the type of activity involved, and any difficulties you may have."
"Doctor, did you just say you want to know when I... I go pee?" Andy asked, shocked.
"Yes. I want to know when you go pee and poop, and a gauge of how much and how readily it came out. Note the color and consistency, too!" Doctor Franklin told him. "Honestly, you should have been doing this already. While it's unlikely that there will be any important information in there, we honestly have no clue what is happening to you; any clue could be the one that leads to a cure, or a diagnosis."
Andy blushed. "Doc!" he complained.
"That is an order," Doctor Franklin said firmly. "I know it's embarrassing, but I'll throw you this bone: so long as you keep it up to date and accurate, your parents won't go in it. I trust you'll abide by that, ma'am?"
"So long as it looks like he's doing what you've asked," she agreed. "I'll get him something he can lock up so no one else can get in it, either."
"Alright then. That's all for today. I'll contact the facility and get the ball rolling while you discuss matters with your husband," Doctor Franklin smiled. "Hopefully, we can turn this situation around and get it on the right foot!"
"I hope so Doctor, I really do," Mom told him.
Andy could only agree. Though the journal thing was incredibly, horrifically even, embarrassing it would be worth it if only it helped find a cure!
"Oh," Doctor Franklin bit his lip momentarily. "There is one more bit that..." he shook his head. "I don't know if you've had a certain important talk with the young man here yet," Doctor Franklin emphasized 'man' slightly, as if it meant something important.
"Um, actually, no," Mom said, embarrassed. "We were holding off until his twelfth birthday."
"Consider this a medical order: have it sooner rather than later. He needs to track certain... behaviors..." the doctor made a gesture Andy couldn't see that made his mother blush beat red, "and any emissions that result. And please, don't inhibit those behaviors; all you'll do is drive him to doing it in secret."
"Doctor, that's... I mean... God, do you really want..." Mom stammered.
"All boys do it, and he's about the right age to start. Have the discussion, soon," the doctor ordered. "You should be laying the ground work already anyways!"
"All right, I'll mention it to my husband."
"Good. Make sure he understands that it needs to go into the journal, would you? And that unless you think the boy is skimping on the records, the journal is a private communication between me and him," Doctor Franklin shook his head. "Hopefully, your husband will be willing to at least listen to my position, even after earlier."
"He'd better," Mom said angrily. "If he pushes me too hard, he will regret it."
"Don't do anything you'll regret," Doctor Franklin warned. "Have a nice day, the nurse will work with you for anything else you need."
"Thank you doctor," Mom smiled.
Unfortunately, it turned out the nurse's idea of 'helping' them was to make Andy run through all the exercises under her stern eye to make sure he knew what he was doing. And giving him a quick rundown on the kind of rough metrics the doctor wanted in the journal he was supposed to keep. And while she was doing that, she also went over the medicines he was supposed to take. Which turned out to include both pills he had to swallow, not chew, and several things that had to be done as shots. Bleh!
As they were getting ready to leave the nurse handed Mom a couple of pamphlets. Mom almost tossed some of them back in the nurse's face, but shoved them angrily in her purse instead. Andy didn't have a clue what they were about, but the picture on one of them reminded him of how his parent's had been fighting earlier.
Andy hated his exercises already, and he hadn't even been doing them a week. Huffing, he collapsed into his bed and pulled out the little notebook his mother had given him. He noted down the exercises he'd done, how he felt before, and how tired he was after. He also added, as an afterthought, the fact that even with bedtime coming up he really didn't feel like sleeping. "'Cause of stuff I overheard through the vent system while I was exercising" didn't really seem like a good thing to write down, but... He couldn't get the argument out of his head. He hadn't caught all of it, but his parents were fighting and the part he did catch clearly...
"I took this ring from you once. Here, take it back," Mom had shouted. "If you want to give it back Friday, before we leave, you can. If you do it. Otherwise, I'm not taking it back."
Andy wasn't entirely sure, but he remembered how Tommy's parents had argued. After Tommy's Dad had thrown his ring in Tommy's Mom's face, they'd split up. And...
Andy wouldn't cry. He would not cry. Not over this. Not over anything. He wasn't going to be a crybaby! No matter how much the thought hurt. No matter...
He fell asleep, still sobbing.
"Happy Birthday dear Aaaaaandy," the chorus of kids shouted -- even Andy couldn't call it singing -- "Happy Birthday to you!" Andy blew out all twelve candles easily with a single breath as the refrain of "And many more!" came from a few people.
"Alright, now... what the heck?" Andy shouted as they candles lit back up. His Mom started giggling madly as he tried to blow them out again, but everyone joined in before long.
"You didn't!" she shouted, pounding dad on the back. "Oh Andrew, you-" she broke off laughing.
"I'm innocent, innocent!" Dad protested between giggles. "I was very careful, I used the ones marked 'regular' after I..." Dad pointed at Donny, who was laughing fit to burst. "Right after I showed him which candles were which!"
"A likely story!" Mom put his hands on her hips in a perfect display of matronly disapproval marred only by her inability to stop giggling. "Do you really expect me to believe that?"
"It's the truth!" Dad managed around another fit of giggles. "I'm going to go get a glass of water," he added as he left.
Andy glared at Donny, convinced by his father's protestations of innocence. The little sucker would find it amusing, ruining his chances of getting his wish like that!
Andy wasn't expecting much when his mother handed him a simple envelope, but the picture he pulled out of the envelope brought tears to his eyes. The lake, the tree with its tire swing, the white three story house with what he'd always called a tower on top. His tower.
"It's been so long," Andy whispered, saddened. "Thanks for the picture mom."
Mom smiled and turned the picture over in his hands.
When your parents sold us the house, they told us how much you always loved it here. So do we, but our kids are all old and grown. This place needs the laughter of children to be just 'right', so we begged your Mom to bring you and your brother over for a weekend sometime.
Like this weekend, as our birthday gift to you!
(signed)Bob and Mary Henderson
Andy just stared at it. "You mean..." he whispered.
"It's their house now, and we didn't want to impose, but..." she looked away and sighed. "They wanted us back. We had to sell it, we had to, but they don't want us gone. And I'm not going to fight when they want to make the trip a birthday gift to you."
The tears that dripped down his cheeks this time were tears of joy. He was going back to the lake house. He was going back to the lake house this weekend! "This is the best present ever!" he shouted happily, holding the picture up for everyone to see. "I'm going back! I'm going back!"
After that, all the other presents just weren't that important.
"Come on, it's time to go!" Donny bounced around the house, eager to visit the lake house. He didn't really remember it, but Andy had talked about it often enough to perk his interest. "Come on!"
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying!" Andy laughed. They were going! It was the day! Tonight, he'd be sleeping in his 'tower' bed, with a view to all four sides of the room!
The car was packed, Andy just had to make a final trip to the restroom. Donny had rushed ahead, but Andy had tripped on the porch stairs and his mother had fussed over him for forever. And now Donny couldn't have Andy loaded in the car quick enough.
Andy caught Donny short as they reached the front door. Mom and Dad were staring at each other over the hood. "We need to let them do this themselves," Andy told Donny. They couldn't hear what was being said, but it was clearly an argument. Dad held his hand up and pulled his ring off. "No," Andy whispered, heartbroken.
He handed it to mother, gently, and wrapped her fingers around it. Crying, she clutched it to her chest as Dad fell to his knees beside her and raised his hand up. Gingerly, she whispered something as she slipped the ring back onto his hand.
Andy blinked, surprised, as Mom fell to her knees and let Dad put her ring back on. "Thank you, God," he whispered. "Come on, we should get going," he told Donny. Donny promptly rocketed ahead and bounced into the car.
"Come on!" he shouted.
Andy walked over and hugged his Dad, and then his Mom, before turning around and frowning at his brother, who had stolen shotgun. "Hey, I called shotgun!"
"I got here first!"
"I called it first!"
"I got it!"
"You should still be in that baby-seat!"
Eventually Mom and Dad stopped laughing long enough to break them up, and put both of them in the backseat, but that just treated Mom to an hour long version of "It's your fault!"
As they were driving over the hills, Mom needed a few minutes break and pulled over at a scenic rest area. Kicking them out of the car, she grabbed some drinks from the cooler in the back. A cold water for them, and a Pepsi for herself. "I want a soda!" Donny whined.
"You get one a day, and you already had it," she told him firmly.
"Moooom!" Donny whined.
Andy wandered away, looking over the cliff edge. There was a guardrail so he couldn't fall over, but he was careful to use his cane anyway just to avoid Mom trouble. He was all the way to the edge of the rest area when a loud booming sound caused him to turn around as his mother started screaming.
His eyes widened as he took in the horrible sight of a small car, spinning out of control and heading right for him. He tried to run out of the way, but got his cane tangled up in his feet and fell flat on the ground, with no time to do anything but scream as the wheels finally started to straighten out, heading straight at him.