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Monday, December 16, 2013

(“Long ago it must be. I have a photograph. Prison your memories. They're all that’s left us.")…Simon & Garfunkle

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Twenty-two

Chicago, Illinois...19, February 1973

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re starting our approach to O’Hare International Airport. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat-belts as soon as the indicators are activated. On behalf of the crew and myself, thank you for choosing United,” the captain’s voice announced over the intercom. The speakers crackled once again and he continued.
   “We should be on the ground in approximately twenty minutes. The current time in Chicago is 4:15pm.”
   “Flight crew, prepare for landing.”
   Paul pushed the button on the arm of his seat, raising the backrest to a 90-degree angle. He nudged me with his elbow, waking me from a really good nap.
   “Come on Ethan, we’re getting ready to land, and I need to piss like a racehorse,” Paul said in an urgent tone.
   I tightened up my entire upper torso and went into a big boy stretch, hyper-extending my flexed arms, my hands curled into hard fists as I slowly rose, rudely wakened from my peaceful slumber. I blinked my eyes rapidly and rubbed them vigorously with my balled up fists until I reached a semi-conscious state. The pillow I had been hugging had fallen to the floor in front of me and I leaned forward to retrieve it.
   “You can take the teddy bear away from the man, but you can’t take the boy away from the teddy bear,” I murmured.
   “Hey, that should be a tee-shirt,” I said out loud as I sat back upright. While I fumbled with the armrest searching for the button to raise my seat, Paul jabbed me again, this time a little harder. He was half standing, his butt wedged firmly up against the tiny defenseless window.
   “MOVE IT ETHAN, before I have an accident doofus!”
   “Alright already,” I said, scooting out of my seat and back out into the aisle a couple of steps giving Paulie a clear path.
  He maneuvered quickly past me and raced up the aisle toward the forward head. A old man a few rows ahead must have had a similar need, as he started to creep out into the aisle, a dangerous move considering the Rhino barreling down on him.
   “COMIN THROUGH,” Paul hollered as he passed the poor man on a dead run, knocking him back into his seat in the process!
   “SORRY,” he yelled without looking back, disappearing into the small bathroom, the little red occupied sign appearing instantly!
I shook my head and walked over to the old gentleman, helping him to collect himself after the crash.
   “I’m very sorry sir, my friend there had a bit of an emergency, too much coffee,” I said apologetically.
   The agitated old man was starting to read me the riot act when he noticed the collar around my neck. He cleared his throat as he swallowed a boatload of profanities, which Paul had legitimately earned by the way, and managed to mumble, “Thank you Father, no harm done,” as he settled back into his seat. I patted him lightly on the shoulder and walked back to our seats to wait for Paul to return. Opening the overhead locker I retrieved our jackets, and tossed Paul’s P-coat onto his seat. I turned just in time to catch him walking up to the poor old fella that he had freight trained. He stopped and tried to apologize, but the old guy was having none of it. Suddenly the man’s even smaller wife began to wail on Paulie with a big red purse and he had to run for his life!
   “HEY, stifle crazy lady, STIFLE,” Paul exclaimed, back-peddling down the aisle toward me.
   “Smooth Yogi,” I said teasing my bearish friend.
   “EAT ME,” Paul replied with gusto, drawing a few stink eyes from our closest neighbors as he belittled a priest.
   “What are you people gawking at? He’s not my father, he’s my brother,” Paul whined, defending his God given right to chop me at will. He shrugged his shoulders at me as he passed by me to his seat.
   “You’re a piece of work,” I said chuckling as I sat down beside him.
   “Aw, give it a rest will ya Ethan. When you gotta go, you gotta go!
   “Nuf said,” I replied, as we fastened our safety belts simultaneously.
   Paul raised the plastic window shade and we watched as the plane descended toward the airport. We could faintly see downtown Chicago and the lake beyond as we flew over the suburban neighborhoods of Aurora Illinois. I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes, involuntarily fiddling with the crucifix underneath my shirt. Take offs and landings were huge issues for me. Once I was airborne I was OK, but I never quite trusted the physics of something so big falling from the sky and transforming itself from plane to bus, it just didn’t make sense to me! I could feel Paul staring at me in disgust.
   “Why are you such a sissy about this Ethan,” he asked, almost spitting the words at me.
   “Where’s your faith Father Scaredycat? You think that the boss is going to let anything happen to his golden boy,” he asked teasing me. He was right of course; I really should set a better example. It couldn’t be very comforting to watch a priest panic-pray the rosary on an airplane. I opened my eyes and turned my head toward my buddy.
   “Thanks for the pep talk Paulie.”
   “Don’t mention it,” he replied, snapping his fingers as he scootched deeper into his seat and leaned his big head back against the cushioned rest. We sat quietly for a moment and then I added, “By the way, I swear by all that is holy, if Sophie Wong ever calls me Father Scaredy-cat I’m coming back here to pound you!” Paul snickered with eyes closed, as he quoted the Sundance Kid from the movie we both loved, “You just keep thinking Butch, that’s what you’re good at!”
   The Boeing 727 touched down with surprising ease, little puffs of white smoke emanating from the tires when the rubber met the tarmac. I watched all of the heads around me bounce to and fro as the plane raced down the runway, decelerating rapidly to an eventual crawl. As soon as we reached the end of the runway and made a slow right turn toward the terminal, the scurrying began. It always amazed me the way everyone would race one another just to be first off of the plane.
   “Welcome to Chicago, we hope that your flight was a pleasant one. And thank you for flying the friendly skies of United,” the captain said routinely.
   Paul was setting his watch to Central Standard Time, but I had decided to wait until I got to California before I did likewise, why do it twice, I thought. Besides, my arithmetic skills were still pretty good, so figured I could just do the math until then.
   “What time is your connecting flight to LA,” Paul asked, holding his wrist up to his ear, making sure that his watch was actually ticking.
   “7:30pm,” I replied.
   “You want to grab an early supper together then,” he asked?
   “Sure, that sounds good. Let’s find a bar and get a bratwurst and a beer,” I said, suddenly very hungry.
   “You’re playing my song Ethan Kelly,” Paul replied, rubbing his palms together vigorously as if he were trying to start a fire with a couple of sticks.
   “That’ll be grand, brats and beers it is then,” I said, confirming our plan!
   The plane stopped suddenly, sending everyone forward then back abruptly. Paul and I remained seated and watched the pageant of hurried travelers push and shove one another as they raced to deplane. Paulie nodded his head toward the frenzied mob, “NERDS,” he said, his mouth twisting in a mild snarl.
   “Yeah,” I said in agreement, as I leaned back and waited for the aisles to clear.
At last the steady stream of passengers began to thin out and we got to our feet to make our way off of United Flight 218. As we reached the front of the airplane, a cheerful stewardess smiled broadly and thanked us for our patronage, just as she had been trained to do.
   “Thank you sir, enjoy your stay,” she said to Paul. He nodded a ‘you’re welcome’ response, and squeezed past her, out of the plane.
   “Thank you Father, enjoy your stay,” she repeated to me, looking a little tired and anxious to leave herself.
   “You’re welcome, and thank you Miss,” I replied, following Paul into the rolling corridor.
   We exited into the terminal and looked around trying get our bearings quickly among the hustle and bustle of hundreds of others trying to do exactly the same.
   “This way,” Paul said, leading toward the first boozer that he spied. We sprinted ahead and walked into a loud place called Chicago Bob’s. The pane glass was decorated in colorful lettering belting out they’re slogan, Dogs/Brew& Baseball.
   “This is the place,” Paulie announced, tilting his head backward and sniffing the air. The aromas of sausage sizzling, sauerkraut pickling, hot peppers steeping, and beer flowing was almost too much for him to bear.
   “Ahh Ethan, this must be what Heaven smells like,” he said with reverence, his hand over his heart like he was reciting the pledge of allegiance.
   “Easy Paulie, let’s not frighten the natives,” I teased.
   We settled in at the bar and ordered a couple dogs each and a pint of Guinness. Paul and I watched the bartender closely as he drew the pints, making certain that he did not ruin the pour by being hasty. When he set the pints in front of us, we waited patiently for the stout to settle and for the creamy foam to collect at the brim of the glass. Then we picked up our libations and clinked the glasses together as we were accustomed to doing at such occasions.
   “SLANITE,” we toasted one another simultaneously, which is cheers in Gaelic basically. Then we tipped our drinks up to our gobs and gulped down half the refreshment before returning the glasses to the bar top.
   A moment later our meal arrived, the thick bratwurst nestled snuggly in the soft bun, smothered in sauerkraut and peppers, a few wafer thin garlic slices adorning the top of the colorful feast. Paul reached across the bar and felt underneath for the condiments, and fished out a large yellow squeeze bottle filled with French’s mustard. He squirted a healthy slathering onto his dogs, handed me the mustard, and I did likewise. We ate in silence, finishing the first Guinness and ordering a second with our mouths full. No Irishman worth his salt would ever leave an establishment before drinking at least two pints of the black stuff or one shot of whiskey, either Bushmill’s or Jameson, it would just be rude! Paul checked his watch as we savored the second pint and I watched a little of the boxing match that was playing on the small TV behind the bar.
   “Hey, it’s almost six o’clock Ethan,” he said to me.
   “I need to be getting on down the road, and you need to see about catching your next flight.”
   “Guess so,” I replied, finishing my Guinness.
   “I still have better that an hour to kill, I think I’ll stay right here and have another pint,” I said, signaling the barman that I was ready for another.
   “Suit yourself, but I need to git! I still have to check in at the hotel and I have an early orientation in the morning,” he said gathering his coat and gloves.
   “OH MAN, I have to start apartment hunting as well, there goes the weekend I guess,” Paul said, slapping his hand to his forehead.
   “YIKES, sounds like your up against it alright,” I said sympathetically. He stood up and put a twenty dollar bill on the bar, waving his hand at me before I could launch a protest.
   “Suppers on me Ethan, I’m a working man now!”
   “Kenny picked up the check at breakfast, remember, and besides, they don’t pay priests squat,” he added, slapping me on the back.
   I got up and pushed his outstretched hand away, throwing my arms around my buddy’s huge shoulders. We hugged one another for longer than the other patrons seemed to be comfortable with and then pushed away, each of us raising a fist to dab the moisture from our eyes before anyone could notice. Both of us sniffled loudly and then dragged our sleeves across our noses, then pointed an index finger at each other. We were so smooth it must have looked choreographed.
   “Have a good trip,” Paul said back peddling toward the door.
   “Yeah, you too,” I said, nodding my head, placing both hands at my waist.
   “I’ll call your Mom later and get the number where you’re staying in California,” he said as he reached the door.
   “Good luck Ethan, I mean Father Kelly,” Paul said as he turned and walked away toward the baggage claim area.
   I waived to him but he didn’t see me. Then I turned back to the bar and sat down. My third Guinness was waiting for me patiently, the foam already settled, the drink calling to me. I reached for the glass and raised it toward my own reflection in the mirror behind the bar.
   “Slainte Paulie, Go mbeannaí Dia duit (may God bless you), I said to myself, toasting my buddy’s future. The barman walked up and set a shot of whiskey down in front of me.
   “Oh no, I didn’t order this,” I said puzzled.
   “Compliments of the lady in the corner booth,” he said pointing toward the red booth over my shoulder. I turned slightly in my chair.
   “Thank you,” I said to the woman I could not see.
   “My pleasure, it’s the least I can do,” a sweet, familiar voice said from behind the high cushion of the booth.
   I sat there staring at the hand that held onto a tall pilsner beer glass. She slowly wiped the moisture from the glass with her slender index finger and suddenly a memory started to bubble to the surface in my brain. Before I could grasp onto it, the woman picked up her glass and it disappeared from my view as she took a drink.
   “How have you been Ethan,” the mystery voice asked?
   “Excuse me,” I said, stalling for time as I tried to put a face and name with the voice I was sure that I knew.
   The woman’s legs suddenly appeared as she swung them out from under the table and stood up. As she rose to her full height, all five feet two inches of her, it all came to me in a flood of recognition. There before me stood none other than Lieutenant Cardinale, Nurse Carla, my second favorite smart-aleck in the whole wide world, next to my sister Shannon of course.
   “Carla? Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s you,” I exclaimed.
   She nearly sprinted over to me and jumped up into my arms. I leaned forward to embrace her and lifted her right off of the ground when I stood back up, her little high-heeled feet dangling in space. I set her down after a moment or two and she enthusiastically kissed me hello right on the mouth before she noticed the collar was wearing.
   “OH SHIT, I’m so sorry Ethan, I mean Father, oh man, I should have known! Oh stupid Carla, stupid, stupid,” she rambled, scolding herself, flustered beyond a quick composure.
   “OH MAN, I said shit to a priest, forgive me Ethan, DAMN IT, I mean Father,” she said, continuing to dig a deeper hole. I put my finger to her lips before she got any deeper.
   “That’s alright Carla, no offense, apology accepted.”
Nurse Carla lowered her face into her left hand and massaged her eyes with her thumb and four fingers.
   “Ethan Kelly, of all the gin joints in all the towns, I had to run into you here,” she said, borrowing a line from Casablanca and doing her best Humphrey Bogart impression.
   “You know, I was actually thinking of you just now, it’s weird, you always seemed to be around whenever I needed a shoulder or a friendly ear.”
   “Really,” I said, legitimately surprised and flattered by her comment.
   “Yeah, really!”
   “I’m on my way to New York City to intern over at Manhattan General, in the ER no less, go figure,” she informed me.
   “I’m a doctor now, can you believe it?”
   “I’ll bet you thought that I would end up raising Arron Walker’s brats,” she teased sarcastically, poking me in the side as she did so.
   “No I didn’t, really Carla I swear!”
   “WOW, a doctor, I’m really proud of you. But to be honest, I’m not surprised, you always were the sharpest knife in the drawer,” I replied, congratulating her.
   “Ethan, if it weren’t for that collar I’d swear that you were flirting with me,” she teased, flashing me that beautiful smile I remembered so fondly. I blushed a little bit, OK a lot, she always could push my buttons, and she hadn’t lost the knack any over the years. She reached around me and picked up my drinks, “Do you have a little time,” she asked?
   “Please say yes, I really want to catch up with you,” she pleaded.
   “Please, please, please?”
   I nodded an okey-doke and we walked back to her booth. I stood next to the table and waited for her to seat herself, admiring the fact that she was still as pretty as I remembered. She was one of the few bright spots from that dark period of my brief history on Earth. I seated my self and played with the shot glass in front of me. She reached across the table and covered my hands with her own.
   “It’s so wonderful to see you again Ethan. It’s OK to call you by your name right? Or is that against the rules or something? “she asked sweetly.
   “Yeah, it’s alright Carla, priests are people too,” I assured her with a smile.
   “Oh good!” she replied, wiping her brow with her sleeve.
   ”Alright then,” she added, checking her watch.
   “Listen, I’ve got a seven o’clock flight so we need to cram as many current events as we can into a half hour, you first!”
   I started from the day we said goodbye in Saigon and then walked her quickly through the events of the last four years of my life. I told her about my new assignment in California and I even told her about my plans to find Mitchell’s family and return the St. Christopher’s medal that he gave me back to his son. I asked her if she knew where all of the others had ended up and if they kept in touch with each other. She told me that Arron Walker had become a successful stockbroker, and was living in San Diego California the last she heard. She told me that Corporal Larry Polen had been killed in action shortly after I had shipped out. And she didn’t know much about anyone else.
   “Oh, I do know something about that big guy from Texas, what was his name, Hightower?”
   “It turns out that he is a cop in Los Angeles. I ran into him while I was attending school at UCLA. Actually, he sort of ran into me when he stopped me for doing 50 in a 35 zone. He did waive the ticket in favor of lunch at a local burger joint though. The poor man didn’t have a chance once I turned on the charm. You remember how effective that can be, don’t you Father,” she teased.
   We finished our drinks and glanced at our watches, agreeing it was time to scoot. She made me write down every phone number and address that I knew so that she could stay in touch. Then we walked out of Chicago Bob’s together and onto the causeway.
   “Oh, I wish we had more time Ethan,” Carla said, reaching up and cupping my face with her two little hands.
   “I know, but you have my Mom’s number in Albany. When I come to visit I’ll call you and we can meet in the city. You can show me all around the Big Apple,” I said cheerfully.
   “OK, it’s a date!”
   She put her arms around my middle and buried her face in my chest, embracing me a tightly as she could. Then she stepped back, kissed her finger and put it to my lips. She turned, waved goodbye and walked away. I watched her for a minute or so and then turned to walk in the opposite direction. I missed her already!

Albany, New York, 20 February 1973

   Kenny Wong turned into the driveway of his home on Newcastle Avenue in a posh neighborhood just three blocks from where he had grown up. It was nearly seven o’clock in the evening and he was looking forward to a nice meal and some quiet time with his little family. The day had been a long one, having had to make up for lost time due to spending the day taking care of Ethan and Paulie. He didn’t mind though, the fellas were his brothers by choice, as much a part of his family as was he in theirs. He pulled up to the garage, put the car in park, and then got out to raise the heavy wooden door.
   “Man it’s freezing,” he said aloud to no one in particular.
   Ken didn’t like the cold much, which kind of made one wonder why he never relocated to Florida or California. Actually, if you knew Ken you knew that he was devoted to his family and that he would never stray very far. He had always accepted the fact that he would be the responsible child, designated to care for his parents and preside over family business. This was a strong tradition in the Asian culture, one that was not spoiled by the decadence of the west and their adopted country. He jumped back into the car and pulled into the garage, shutting off the engine when the hanging tennis ball touched the windshield.
   “Thanks Mr. Kelly,” he said to himself.
   My father had taught all three of us how to drive because Ken and Paul’s parents were too new to the English language, having immigrated from China and Poland respectively. The hanging tennis ball routine was developed after Paulie drove Da’s Camaro through the wall of our garage while learning how to park the car. It was one of the few times I ever saw Da cry in front of anyone without a Kelly surname!
   Ken gathered his briefcase and overcoat from the back seat and walked out of the garage, balancing everything in one hand while he pulled the heavy door closed with the other. He walked toward the back service porch and suddenly felt all itchy on his neck, like he was coming down with a case of the hives or something like that. Something was not right, he always got this feeling when something was wrong, it was as if he could feel the bad vibrations floating on the air. He took the stairs up to the porch two at a time and opened the door leading to the mudroom. He stomped his feet to get the snow off of his rubbers and sat at the bench to remove them from his shoes.
   “Carolyn,” he called out. No answer. He stood up and let himself into the house through the kitchen door.
   “CAROLYN,” he called out again, louder still. Ken didn’t like this at all. He could smell supper cooking and he could see the pots and pans on the stovetop, as well as something through the oven window.
   “What the hell,” Kenny said to himself.
   “CAROLYN, SOPHIE, where are you guys,” he hollered, hoping that they were just playing with him, hiding in the closet waiting to jump out and say BOO!
   He lifted the lids on the pots sitting on the stove. They were still warm but the burners had all been turned off. It looked like some peas and carrots and some mashed potatoes, no gravy pan yet that he could see. Kenny put his finger in the mashed potatoes and scooped up a taste. He looked around quickly, if his wife were here that would have brought her running. She always socked him whenever he would do that little maneuver. He walked over to the oven and peeked inside, meatloaf, and the oven was switched off as well, curious? He set his briefcase and coat down on the kitchen counter and walked out into the dining room. The table was set, and there was bread, butter and condiments on the lazy Susan. Kenny was never one to panic, but he was beginning to move from annoyed to concerned.
   “HEY, is anybody home,” he called out to the house?
   He jogged up the stairs and checked each bedroom and bath, nothing. Everything was neat and clean, there just weren’t any people around? Ken sat down on Sophie’s bed and did some mental gymnastics. OK, what did he know? The food was warm so they couldn’t have been gone long. They only had one car, so they couldn’t have gone far. The appliances had been turned off and nothing had been spilled so they hadn’t been in any hurry. So where could they be logically?
   “The neighbors,” he said to himself. Carolyn probably went next door to the Anderson’s to borrow a cup of sugar or something he reasoned. Ken walked back into his bedroom and picked up the telephone. He dialed Fred and Lori’s number and waited for an answer. After the eleventh ring he hung up the phone.
   “What the f___…” he started to exclaim when he noticed the note. It was right there on his pillow. He picked it up and read…

   ‘Hi honey, sorry about dinner. Sophie got a real bad nosebleed and I couldn’t get it to stop. Lori and Fred are giving us a ride to the emergency room. I’m sure its nothing you know how she has been picking at her nose lately. We should be home soon, an hour tops. Love you…C’

   Kenny let out a sigh and stretched out on their bed. He looked up at the ceiling and scanned the little acoustic bumps for a minute trying to make out shapes and figures in the jumbled mess. After awhile, he yawned and stretched, then swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaped to his feet.
   “Well, I don’t want to eat alone,” he muttered.
   So he picked his car keys off of the bed where he had dropped them and trotted down the stairs. He re-checked the oven and stove on his way out, making sure that everything was turned off, then did his arrival routine in reverse, ending with pulling his rubbers over his shoes on the service porch. The drive to Memorial Hospital was short, only about fifteen minutes. He had no problem finding a parking space because it was after normal business hours. He locked his car and walked toward the building, passing the Anderson’s station wagon along the way.
   “Good, everyone’s still here,” he thought to himself. When he reached the entrance to the building he let himself in trough the double glass doors. The waiting room was nearly empty so he had no problem locating Fred and Lori Anderson.
   “Hey you two, thanks for coming to the rescue,” Kenny said to his neighbors.
   “Have you been here long?”

   ”Just a little while, no more than an hour,” Fred answered.

   “So what’s going on, where’s Carolyn and Sophie,” Kenny pressed gently.
   “Hi Lori,” he added.
   “We don’t really know much Ken. Your daughter’s nose was bleeding pretty badly. They took her in right away,” Fred explained.
    “Carolyn went in with her and we haven’t seen them since.”
   “We heard them once, sounded like Sophie was unhappy with something.”
   “Like what?”
   “I’m not sure, but I know it involved needles because Sophie was screaming bloody murder about not wanting a shot!”
   “Oh man, I hate that,” Ken said wincing as he pictured his frightened little girl.
   “I think I’ll just go up to the desk and see what’s what. There are probably a ton of forms to fill out anyway,” Kenny said calmly.
   As he walked over to the reception desk, the double doors to the ER opened automatically and out walked Carolyn, a tall man in green scrubs walking beside her, his arm around her shoulders. He could see that his wife was visibly shaken. She had not even noticed that he was just six feet in front of her.
   “Carolyn,” he said softly. She looked up but did not acknowledge him right away.
   “Honey,” he said, silently questioning the doctor with the look on his face.
   “Mr. Wong?”
   “Yes,” Ken said without looking at him, reaching out and stroking his wife’s hair.
   “Mr. Wong, why don’t we sit over here and chat for a minute,” said the stranger in green.
   He released his hold on Carolyn Wong and her husband stepped up and walked her over to a small sofa against the wall. They sat down together and Carolyn looked at Ken blankly and mouthed something that he did not understand.
   “Mr. Wong, I am Doctor Meade, I’m the attending on duty tonight,” the man in green said slowly. Ken nodded an acknowledgement and held his wife, softly caressing her shoulder as he waited for the doctor to continue.
   “Mr. Wong, may I call you Ken?”
Kenny nodded an affirmative.
   “Ken, your daughter is a very sick little girl. The nosebleed was not caused by any object or excessive irritation on her part. I suspect that it is symptomatic of a serious blood disorder. We did some preliminary tests, removed some fluid from her spine and drew several vials of blood for the lab to process.”
   “What are you testing for,” Kenny asked, his growing concern evident in the tone of his voice.
   “I don’t want to say just yet. I don’t want to alarm you without cause.”
   “Don’t BS me doctor! If you’re trying not to frighten us forget about it, it’s too late!”
   “Listen, I’m not a specialist, but I am fairly certain that your daughter may have leukemia.”
   “I’m sorry,” Doctor Meade said, reaching across and patting Ken on the knee.
   The words echoed off of all the walls, and the doctor’s voice became fainter and fainter as Ken rolled the word around in his brain, leukemia…leukemia. He didn’t like the sound of it. The word sounded like something that you spit out after a coughing fit. He knew instinctively that this was not good news, he knew just enough about the disease to be scared, to be petrified. He was fighting off the urge to be angry, to lash out at the world, at God, at anyone close enough to ease the pain that was growing in his stomach. Ken could feel the tears forming and falling from the corners of his eyes, and he fought to stay in control of his emotions, like he always did. He needed to see Sophie; he needed to hug his baby, to tell her that Daddy was going to make everything better. He just wanted to go home and pretend that none of this was real.
   “Mr. Wong, Ken, do you understand everything that I have explained to you?”

Ken snapped back into the present and looked up at the doctor.

   “I’m sorry doctor, I lost you after the word leukemia, you were saying,” Ken asked, regaining his composure?
   “I said that the lab tests would take a few days to complete. In the mean time I would like to refer you to a specialist in oncology.”
   “Yes, of course,” Ken said evenly.
   “Until we know more I suggest you take your family home and make them as comfortable as possible,” Doctor Meade said with a smile.
   “Sophie is very young and will need a lot of reassurance and positive re-enforcement. She is a smart little girl, and I believe that she intuitively knows that there is something wrong with her. She’ll be looking to you and Carolyn for strength and support. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of keeping her life as normal a possible.”
   “Are you following me with all of this,” the doctor asked?
   “I get you doc, can we see her now?”
   “Of course, the nurse is just removing the gauze from her nose and probably feeding her some Jell-O and orange juice. Come on I’ll take you to her,” Doctor Meade said standing and gesturing for Ken and Carolyn to do likewise. Ken stood and helped Carolyn to her feet, she was moving a little slow.
   “Snap out of it babe, let’s get the baby and go home.”
Carolyn nodded in agreement and smiled, her strength returning and her eyes becoming clearer. As soon as they entered the ER they saw Sophie sitting up on a gurney dressed in her overall and sneakers. Her long hair was braided into a ponytail with a red ribbon tied around the end. She was spooning Jell-O into her mouth when she spotted her parents. Sophie raised her hand quickly to waive and sprayed the cherry gelatin all over the wall and the nurse.
   “Hi Daddy,” she said happily, the trauma of the exam already forgotten.
   “They sticked me with needles two times,” she exclaimed!
   “But you were very brave sweetie, and you got Jell-O for being such a big girl,” the nurse said lovingly, glancing at the parents with a smile and a knowing look in her eye.
   “I only cried a little bit Daddy, can we go home now?”
   “You betcha sweetheart, let’s go home,” Ken said scooping his daughter up into his arms, causing her to squeal with delight.
   “Can we bring nurse Betty home with us,” Sophie asked looking back over her Dad’s shoulder at the nice woman who had been taking care of her?
   “Not this time honey, maybe next time, OK,” Ken replied, looking over at Carolyn who gave him a thumb’s up and a big smile.
   “Giddy up Daddy, Hi Ho Server,” Sophie said kicking her heels into Ken’s ribs like she were riding a horse!
   “Silver honey, it’s Hi Ho Silver,” Ken said correcting his daughter.
   “OK, Hi Ho Server,” she said again.
   “OK, whatever, I’m ready to go home now,” he said surrendering.
   He reached out and shook Doctor Meade’s hand and then did the same for Nurse Betty, thanking them for their support. Ken then reached for Carolyn’s hand and the three of them walked out of the hospital together into an unknown and unwanted future.

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