Scooter and I got home with Ephraim and Billy and were met by Derek, who was crying, and Brendan, who was smiling proudly. Derek was too emotional to speak clearly, and kept hugging me, and then Ephraim, and then me again. Brendan walked over to Ephraim while Derek was hanging on me and patted the younger boy on the shoulder. "My little nephew, the badass," he crowed proudly. "Dude, if I still had the gang, you would so be getting official membership right now."
"Brendan, language," Grandma scolded as she stepped forward about to grab either me or Ephraim or both until she saw little Billy. Billy was hiding behind Scooter watching everyone nervously. She bent down a bit and smiled at him. "You must be Billy."
"You know me?" he squeaked.
"I'm a grandma, we're magic that way," Grandma told him as she held out her arms for him. "We give really good hugs for cute little boys, too. Do you know any cute little boys that would like a hug?"
"I could has hug?" he questioned as he stepped around Scooter's legs and into her reach.
"You can have all the hugs you want, little angel," Grandma told him as she scooped him up and carried him into the dining room just as Karen came out of the kitchen with a pan of lasagna, sitting it in front of her son and future stepsons. Ephraim sat down next to Peter and they hugged for a moment before Peter wiped tears from his eyes, and then turned his attention to the food. I looked at Karen.
"Don't you give me that look, Cameron Ragland," Karen scolded. "You have been too busy saving the world to worry about making dinner, and I wanted to prove that I can come over here to cook and actually do it sometimes. Now, you get over here and let me hug my brother from another mother after scaring me and poor Peter half to death today."
A little while later, Billy was looking as if he were about to faceplant into his lasagna he was so tired. It suddenly dawned on me that I wasn't sure where to put the boy to sleep for the night. I looked over to Scooter and saw that he had the same dilemma on his mind. Ephraim had noticed as well, and came to our rescue.
"Hey, Billy, are you getting sleepy?" he asked the little tyke who had insisted he sit right next to his Frim for dinner.
"No, not..." huge adorable yawn "sleepy," Billy protested.
"Oh good cause I thought you might like to go see my room."
"You gotsa room?" the little boy yawned again in spite of his interest.
"Yeah it's just upstairs, and I got a secret under my bed just for you," Ephraim told him with a little hug as he picked the tomato sauce covered toddler up and started wiping some of the food off of his face and clothes.
"Yup there's a whole extra bed hiding under my bed and it's been waiting under there for a really special little guy named Billy to come sleep on it."
"Me Billy," the little boy announced with a little more excitement. "It my bed?"
"It sure is, little buddy, all yours," Ephraim told him as they started toward the stairs. "I even got some really special pajamas for you to wear. You get to wear one of my t shirts to sleep in, will that be ok."
"I love you, Frim," the little boy yawned again as he laid his head on Ephraim's shoulder as they went upstairs.
About twenty minutes later, Ephraim returned to the dining room with a dopey smile on his face. "He looks so adorable wearing my t shirt, and he's so cute sucking his little thumb laying there on the bed."
"You're going to make a great dad one of these days," Scooter told him with a smile.
"Thanks Papa, I'm learning from the best," Ephraim said as he came over and hugged me and then Scooter. "I'm going back up there in case he has a bad dream or something. Today was pretty scary for a little guy like him. Can Peter spend the night, please?"
"I don't know," I said as I pretended to think it over. "I mean you just put Billy in your other bed, so where will Peter sleep?" The whole room cracked up over the look I got from both Ephraim and Peter. "Of course, he can stay if it's all right with Karen, and you two remember that Billy is in the room so no hanky panky."
"No what?" Peter asked me as he blinked in confusion.
"No naughty nakee stuff, blondie," Derek teased him.
"Oh," Peter replied, and then repeated sadly, "Oh." Then he looked around the room blushing intensely. "Not that we do that ever. We would never...."
"Careful, Peter," his mother cautioned. "Lying will get you in worse trouble than what we already know you two little horndogs get up to."
"MOM!" Peter and Ephraim both exclaimed as they each went into nuclear meltdown blushes.
"Go on up there and get your cuddles, boys," I told them. "Just remember your little buddy is in there with you. You can come down and wake us up if you need help with him during the night."
"Thanks, Dad," Ephraim hugged me and then he and Peter went around the room hugging everyone except Derek and Brendan. Apparently older siblings do not qualify for goodnight hugs.
"Well, children, I am going to head back home and cuddle with my man for the night," Grandma announced after the younger boys had gone upstairs. "Just you remember this, Cameron Ragland; you are my son even if I didn't give birth to you, and I couldn't be prouder or love you any more if I had. So you take care of yourself, you hear me?"
"Yes, Mom," I told her as I hugged her. "I love you too," I added sincerely.
"I'll be back over tomorrow to help with the little ones," she said as she walked out the door.
"I will take these guys back to their house, along with the leftover lasagna for their dad," Karen announced as she picked up Todd, who had fallen asleep in his chair while we had all been talking.
"MMM Mommy," the little boy mumbled in his sleep. Karen gasped and quickly glanced over to Trey.
"Well, come on, Mom," he smiled back at her. "Dad's going to be hungry and he loves lasagna."
"Oh he does, does he?" Karen smiled as well. "So let's talk about your dad, sweetie. What's his most favorite meal of all?" she was asking as they left the house.
Derek and Brendan headed upstairs to check on the younger boys and their charge before going to their room to watch a movie together, and Scooter and I went to our room, stopping off to check on Caine and Andy who were sleeping peacefully. Just as we got to our bedroom, the phone rang and I answered it quickly so it wouldn't disturb any of the sleeping youngsters in the house. It was Kathryn letting us know about Billy's mom, Chloe.
"So the doctors went in to remove the bullet from her abdomen and found a tumor on her liver," she told me. "Ralph Greenlee was called in immediately and he took over the surgery after the bullet was removed and her intestines were repaired. He believes he got the whole tumor, but she will need to follow up with him as soon as she is recovered from the gunshots. She is resting comfortably now, but has not regained consciousness yet. I have left instructions with the night staff to call me if anything happens overnight as I will be taking over her primary care until we find out if she has a doctor of her own."
"Thank you, Kathryn," I told her. "Billy is spending the night with his hero, Frim. Give my love to Dragonlady and keep us posted. I will want to bring Billy to see Chloe as soon as she is up to that."
"She should be awake enough for that tomorrow afternoon, I would think," she informed me. "I will know more when I get back to the hospital in the morning and see her again myself. I will call you after I make my rounds and let you know. Goodnight, Cam. Oh your sister is demanding extra butterscotch chips in her cookies. I am telling you as a doctor that putting any more sugar into those diabetes bombs you make is dangerous, but as your sister-in-law, if you don't put them in there, I will not step in to save your life when she tries to strangle you."
"You're all heart, Kathryn," I snarked.
"You know me so well," she laughed. "Goodnight, Samurai Jack."
I hung up the phone and relayed the news to Scooter, who just shook his head. "As if getting shot wasn't enough to deal with, poor woman," he mused quietly. "We are going to help her out, aren't we?"
"Any and every way we can, love," I assured him as I snuggled into bed beside him.
The next day Chloe was cleared for a short visit with Billy as long as he only hugged her from the left side. He told her all about eating 'zonnie' and wearing Frim's t shirt to sleep in, and how Frim and Petey cuddled him all night when he had a bad dream about Mommy not getting better. He lay very carefully next to his mom in her bed and cried a little as he asked if she was better.
"I feel lots better now, sweetie," she told him. "But I am still a little sick. See I was sick and I didn't even know I was until the bad guys hurt me yesterday, but I'll be all better really soon. Until then you get to stay with Frim and his dads. Doesn't that sound fun?"
"But I miss you, Mommy," he told her as he kept cuddling.
"I know and I miss you, too, but right now I have a job for you, little man," she told him very seriously. He got up on his knees on the bed beside her paying close attention. "I want you to go ask the nurse if I can have some coffee. She told me no, but I'll bet if you go ask her and give her your best puppy dog eyes look, and do that little bottom lip wiggle you do...."
"Dis one, Mommy?" he asked and he showed us the pleading eyes and quivering lip that looked like he was about to burst into brokenhearted tears at any second.
"That's it, baby, you go give her that look and Mommy will have coffee in no time," Chloe smiled at him.
"Come on Frim, Mommy needs coffee," Billy announced as he jumped into Ephraim's arms. The two boys left the room on their mission as Scooter groaned.
"With that look, I'm not going to be surprised if your coffee gets delivered by Juan Valdez in person."
"Oh, you're going to have build up your immunity in a hurry, or your boys will walk all over you," Chloe told him with a laugh. "I doubt that the nurse will give in, but it was mostly to get him out of the room. Kathryn came in this morning and insisted that I call her Kathryn and told me that she was my primary care physician unless I had one somewhere else. I haven't seen a doctor since Billy was born because I couldn't afford to pay for one. I still can't. The bank was going to turn down my application for a loan yesterday, so I won't have a place to live when I get out of here. If you will bring your lawyer here, I will sign custody of Billy over to you. I don't want him homeless with me."
"Hold up," I told her. "I refuse to adopt your son. I will keep him as long as you need me to, but you will not give him away because you think you are going to be homeless, because that will not happen. Now, you, miss thing, are going to tell me where you live and who your landlord is so I can take care of that for you until you are out of here. You are not going to worry about Kathryn or any other bills from the hospital or doctors, because if the bank doesn't pay for it, I will. Don't even think about fighting me on this. I have beaten a whole gang and I took out two armed bank robbers, killing the one that shot you, so don't mess with me, girlfriend."
"Yes, Chloe, he's always been like this," Scooter giggled at her open mouthed expression. "He's right; you won't win if you try to fight him. Just sit back and enjoy having people taking care of you."
"This isn't exactly a five star hotel," she pointed out. "Message received and noted, though. I am never going to be able to pay you back for this, though."
"Do we need to get in touch with your employer to let them know what is going on?" I asked her.
"I haven't had a job in almost a year," she confessed. "I couldn't find a job that could pay enough to cover child care and still pay rent. I've been living on welfare, but they told me my benefits were about to end next month because I haven't gotten a job."
"Typical of the system," I grouched. "They give you help, but penalize you if you get a job and cut you off completely if you don't get a job."
"What sort of work experience do you have?" Scooter asked.
"I was a receptionist at an accountant's office, until he retired," she told us.
"Perfect," Scooter grinned. "You're hired."
"I happen to know of a business opening up soon that is in need of a receptionist, unless of course you don't want to work there. It isn't everyone's cup of tea, I know," Scooter kept smiling. "I would really like to have you there, though, and you can consider the help with your bills as part of your bonus package. Full medical and dental coverage for you and Billy starting yesterday, and as for child care, I think something can be arranged given all the babysitters we have in our family."
"Why would I not want to work with you? This is...." her voice broke off as she started crying. "I just can't believe.... I never dreamed when I met you in the bank yesterday.... Thank you both so, so much."
"He does mean it, though," I cautioned. "Some people really wouldn't want to work with him."
"I'm opening a funeral home and crematorium," Scooter explained. "With you as a receptionist the only other employee I have to find is a makeup artist and I will be all set. The former receptionist and makeup artist were family members of the previous owner, so they will not be returning to their positions."
"Oh, but I can do that as well," Chloe blurted out. "I just need to take the test and I will be a certified cosmetologist. I had taken the classes a while back, but couldn't afford to pay for the test to get the license."
"Oh my god," Scooter gushed. "You are willing to do that? I mean sometimes it can be pretty gruesome."
"If it means being able to take care of Billy, and staying around such friendly, loving, supportive people as you guys, you bet I can do it," she said firmly. "I was ready to just sign Billy over to you guys and refuse treatment for the cancer this morning. You guys are giving me back my life and giving me the chance to give Billy a real future. You are the most awesome friends a girl could ever ask for."
"Oh, trust me these guys are no one's friends." We all turned in shock at the voice coming from the door of the room. The nurse stood there with a tray of coffee cups in her hands. Billy was standing beside her, looking like a triumphant warrior. "These guys do not make friends, dear. They claim you as family, and you couldn't ask for a better one of those either. I mean everyone loved Dr. Martin already, but we all noticed a difference in him after he took this bunch on as patients. They didn't stop there, though. Oh no, they performed the ultimate miracle. They turned Dr. Grant into a human. For that alone they have the undying devotion of the entire hospital staff." She set the coffees on the bedside table with a smile and then added, "You, madam, play dirty. Sending that little weapon of mass destruction to my nurse's station with those big brown eyes and that lip thing he did.... I will not have you turning my nursing staff into puddles of tears again. Is that clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Chloe blushed, properly chastised. "I get the coffee though, right?"
"Ah, and now we see where he learned the look," the nurse frowned. "I assure it is not as effective from you, however, according to your doctors, one cup of decaf won't kill you, we hope. We will be monitoring though to see how you do with it. You are still on a liquid diet for the rest of the day, however, and no amount of begging from either you, or your son, will change that." She stalked out of the room and we all seemed to relax.
"So can you guys adopt her next and make her a human?" Chloe giggled.
"I think that might actually be beyond even my powers," I told her as I glanced back out toward the nurse station nervously. "You, on the other hand, are under orders from me to write down all the people and places we need to contact and handle for you while you rest, relax, and recover. Kathryn told us that you seem to be doing exceptionally well, all things considered, so by the middle of next week, you should be out of here and staying with your new big sister Karen who will take care of you until you can do it for yourself. Yes, she has already insisted, and not even I cross Karen, so I don't advise you to try it."
Billy cried a little bit at the idea of leaving his mother in the hospital, but once again, Ephraim was his rock. Frim explained that Chloe still had to get a lot better before Aunt Kathryn would let her come home. Everyone wanted Billy's mom to get better so that she could take care of him again, and until she did, Billy got to stay with Ephraim. Getting to stay with his hero was the deciding factor obviously. Ephraim walked out of the hospital with a leech named Billy firmly attached to his left side from hip to shoulder, both grinning happily.