Bobby sat in the wheelchair by the window of his room, flipping idly through a newspaper, and flexing his wrist carefully in accordance with the exercises that Matt had set for him. Right at that moment he was alone, but unlike the previous evening, he wasn’t bothered by it. After a day filled with visitors, he welcome the brief respite.
Alex had eventually gone home with her parents, after he was finally able to convince her that he was okay. Frank, Emily and Sophie had gone off for dinner, after promising firstly to come back, and secondly to bring something back for him. It was an unfortunate fact that the meals served in the rehab wing were no better than any other part of the hospital, and so friends and family had taken to bringing food in for him.
He wasn’t going to refuse the offers. Anything that made his stay more bearable was welcome in his opinion. All in all, he could feel himself slowly coming to grips with what had happened to him, and he was increasingly surprised that the future wasn’t quite as bleak as he’d first supposed.
Matt had told him that he was adjusting, and he supposed that was true, even though the idea of adjusting to life in a wheelchair still seemed impossible to him. Here he was, though – sitting in a wheelchair that he was steadily learning to manoeuvre, and no longer suffering panic attacks over it.
He knew without having to be told that that was an achievement in itself.
His earlier conversation with Matt had been an interesting one. The physiotherapist had a lot to offer him in terms of practical advice, and Bobby had quickly come to trust him. The man put up no pretences, he didn’t try to purport to know more than he really did, and he was honest. That was something that Bobby valued right then above and beyond all else.
After talking about the scan, and the impact of the unhappy result, Matt had gone on to ask him about his goals. It was not a new question. Matt had asked him the same question during their first physio session. Then, his answer had been to do everything he could to get back to a normal life. This time, his somewhat subdued response had been in the form of a prayer; one that he had learnt at the tender age of seven.
The new goal he had set for himself was to be able to change what he could, accept what he couldn’t and have the wisdom to know the difference. The smile on Matt’s face had warmed him right through.
“That’s good, Bobby,” he’d said. “That’s really good. Now we can really get to work, and teach you to start living again.”
It turned out that Matt was also a qualified occupational therapist, and that was just the kind of response he had been waiting for in order to kick-start the next phase of Bobby’s rehabilitation. He was, Matt had said, one step closer to going home.
The thought had filled Bobby with a combination of elation and dread. He’d been elated at the prospect of an end to this long stay in the hospital, but the dread he felt was at the sickening realisation that he had nowhere to go upon being discharged.
Here was an issue that he had yet to face up to. His apartment was no long suitable for him. Even with the installation of ramps for the few steps that existed, there was still the issue of the benches and cupboards now being out of his reach, and there was no way he could afford to have the entire apartment remodelled to suit his needs. At the same time, though, he felt nauseous at the thought of having to look for a new place to live. His apartment was rent-controlled, and he knew his chances of finding another place that was both affordable and wheelchair-accessible were slim at best.
Once more, he found his thoughts turning back to the job offer from the FBI. That was another incentive that the FBI had offered. A house – not an apartment, but an actual house – completely furnished and wheelchair-accessible, and at an affordable, subsidised rent.
No matter what Deakins negotiated for him with the Commissioner, that was one benefit that he knew the NYPD could never offer him. Nor did he expect it, but it definitely gave him a damned good reason to stop and think twice about knocking the FBI back.
He heard footsteps outside, and looked up just in time to see a man come to a halt in the doorway of his room. It was someone that he knew well enough, despite never having met him before.
“Agent Gideon,” he said quietly. “My captain told me that you were in New York. I didn’t know whether to believe him.”
Jason Gideon walked over to Bobby, and the two men shook hands in greeting.
“Detective Goren, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m just sorry that it had to be under these circumstances.”
Bobby motioned to the chair opposite him.
“Sit, please. That is, if you have time.”
Gideon sat without hesitation.
“You look as though you’re doing well, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Bobby glanced ruefully down at his legs.
“I’m… adjusting. It’s slow going.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Gideon agreed. “You’re a smart guy, though, and you’re strong-willed. You were always going to be all right.”
A wry smile touched Bobby’s lips at the certainty in Gideon’s voice.
“You profiled me?”
“Yes,” Gideon admitted shamelessly. “Some time ago, as a matter of fact. You’ve been on our radar ever since a top undercover agent underestimated the intelligence and ability of a certain Major Case detective.”
“John Hampton,” Bobby murmured, and Gideon nodded in confirmation.
“That’s the one. You and your partner did some fine work solving that case, Detective Goren.”
Inwardly, Bobby knew that Gideon was playing to the part of his profile that said he didn’t easily accept praise, but he didn’t care. Gideon had pushed the right buttons by giving equal credit to Alex. Instinct told him it was not an idle comment, either. He suspected that here was a man who did not dismiss a person’s abilities and capabilities purely on the basis of gender.
“I would have thought the FBI would want to keep me at arm’s length,” he remarked, shifting the subject. “I mean, I know I pissed a few of them off.”
Gideon smiled at that.
“The FBI doesn’t like bad apples, Detective, and Hampton went very bad. It might not have seemed like it at the time, but the powers that be were very grateful to you for exposing him.”
Bobby looked away, and his gaze fell on the pile of job offers on the side table. The FBI offer sat on the top.
“I suppose you want my answer.”
“Actually, no,” Gideon told him. “You’re welcome to take as much time as you need to make up your mind. The truth is, Robert… Do you mind me calling you Robert?”
“Actually, I’d prefer Bobby.”
He offered no explanation for the preference, and Gideon didn’t ask for one.
“Okay then, Bobby. The truth is, I just wanted the chance to meet you face to face. You have a hell of a reputation in profiling circles. I’ve made a point of studying your techniques.”
Bobby couldn’t quite conceal his surprise, or his pleasure.
“I’ve studied yours too, Agent…”
“Please, it’s just Jason.”
Bobby fell quiet for a long moment, and Gideon was just about to speak again when Bobby beat him to the punch.
“I already have. Made my decision, I mean. I… I won’t be accepting your offer.”
Much to Bobby’s interest, Gideon didn’t appear to be surprised. Rather, he smiled placidly and nodded.
“You already knew that, though, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Yes,” Gideon confessed. “It’s not in your nature to conform to a bureaucracy like the FBI. You enjoy the freedom too much that the NYPD affords you.”
“Well… Then why offer me a position?”
Gideon gave a small shrug.
“Because I wanted to throw the door open for you. I hope we’ll have the opportunity to work together in the future, Bobby. I’d like you to keep an open mind about the FBI calling on you for assistance in future cases.”
Bobby raised an eyebrow.
“You mean consulting?”
“In a manner of speaking. You wouldn’t be contracted to the FBI. It would be more of a courtesy, but you’d be paid well for it. It’s more a means of keeping that door open. Would you keep it in mind as a possibility?”
Bobby found himself nodded before he quite realised it.
“Yes,” he said quietly. “I’ll do that. Thankyou.”
“And if you ever do change your mind about the job,” Gideon told him with a smile, “there’ll be a place in the unit for you. Just let me know.”
Bobby nodded wordlessly, not trusting himself to speak.
“Have you decided what you want to do?” Gideon wondered. Bobby considered his answer for a long while before responding.
“I want to stay with the NYPD, but… it depends. There are issues, and I don’t know if the NYPD will be willing to make compromises.”
“Let me guess,” Gideon mused. “You don’t want to be tied to a desk.”
“If I’m stuck behind a desk, I might as well be dead,” Bobby said flatly, and Gideon nodded in understanding.
“Like I said, if it doesn’t work out for you at this end, keep us in mind. You’d be a fantastic addition to the team.”
Bobby couldn’t help smiling.
“Two profilers in one team?”
“You’d make six,” Gideon told him. “We’re a team, and we all have our own methods for profiling. Your skills would be hugely appreciated, and I guarantee you’d never be tied to a desk.”
“You’re not making this easy for me,” Bobby said ruefully, and the FBI profiler chuckled.
“Well, that’s because I want you on my team,” he said unapologetically. “I’m hoping that I’ll be able to change your mind.”
“Even with my issues with authority?”
“We don’t always get results by going strictly by the book,” Gideon pointed out. “I know what your reputation is, Bobby. You’d fit in well with our team.”
Bobby had to smile as a comment about him from the past sprung to mind.
“If you know my reputation, then you’d know I don’t play well with others.”
“No,” Gideon argued. “I think it’s truer to say that they don’t play well with you. You deserve to be in an environment where people are willing to work with you, and not around you.”
A soft laugh escaped Bobby’s lips.
“I really didn’t think anyone gave enough of a damn to put this sort of effort into getting me on their team.”
“You don’t think you’re worth the effort?” Gideon wondered, and Bobby couldn’t quite figure out whether the profiler was genuinely surprised by the admission, or whether he had already guessed at that particular insecurity.
“I didn’t,” Bobby admitted softly. “Now… I guess I’m not so sure.”
“Well, you are,” Gideon assured him. “I can guarantee it. I promise you, I wouldn’t be here if all it was only for false comfort.”
Bobby sat back slowly, more than a little overwhelmed by the enthusiastic affirmation from the renowned profiler. Slowly, Gideon got to his feet.
“I need to get going. I have a flight to catch. It was a pleasure to meet you, Bobby. I really do hope you’ll give serious consideration to what I’ve said.”
“I will,” Bobby promised, accepting Gideon’s outstretched hand once more. “Thankyou.”
“My pleasure. You’ll be hearing from me in the near future, Bobby. I promise.”
Bobby nodded, watching somewhat wistfully as Gideon left.
“I hope so.”
By the time Frank, Emily and Sophie returned, Bobby had returned to bed and was already fast asleep.
“He looks…” Frank started to say, and Emily finished the sentence for him.
“Peaceful,” she murmured, and Frank nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, peaceful. I wonder what happened?”
“He had a visitor while you were gone,” the nurse who had followed them in told them. “A man who identified himself as Federal agent. When he left, Bobby seemed very upbeat. He was smiling a lot more, and he went almost straight to sleep after we got him back into bed. He’s been sleeping peacefully since then.”
“A Federal agent?” Frank mused. “Well, I guess it can’t have been anything bad.”
“Wasn’t one of those job offers he got from the FBI?” Emily wondered, her attention going to the conspicuous pile of papers on the side table.
“Yeah, it was,” Frank said. “Maybe they came to up their offer.”
“Alex won’t be happy if he takes it,” Emily remarked dryly, but Frank shrugged.
“I know how important they are to each other, but this is Bobby’s life, and it isn’t as though he and Alex are romantically involved. They’re partners, and in the end Bobby has to do what’s best for him.”
“I’m not disputing that, Frank,” Emily said. “Look, why don’t you take Sophie back to the hotel? I’ll stay with him tonight.”
“Em, I can do that.”
“I know, Hon, but you were here all last night, and all today. I don’t think Bobby would begrudge you a decent night’s sleep, especially when he seems to finally be getting one himself.”
“It’s not that,” Frank protested. “I just… I feel that I owe it to him.”
“Frank, honey, he knows you’re sincere. You don’t have to make yourself sick with exhaustion to prove to him that you’re sincere. Go with Sophie back to the hotel, get some sleep, and be refreshed when you come back in the morning. I’ll stay with him tonight.”
For a long minute it seemed as though he was going to argue, only to finally see common sense and concede with reluctance.
“Okay,” he murmured tiredly. “Thanks, Em.”
Alex arrived early the next morning, delivered to the hospital by her brother. She couldn’t quite contain her surprise at finding Bobby not only still asleep, but also apparently peaceful. Emily smiled at her in greeting, and vacated her chair beside the bed in favour of Alex.
“Good morning. How’re you feeling, Alex?”
“Getting there,” Alex murmured as she settled herself carefully into the chair next to the bed. “It’s hurting a little less every day.”
Emily suspected that she wasn’t referring solely to the physical pain, but decided against speculating.
“How did he sleep?” Alex wondered.
“Pretty good, actually. He only woke up a few times through the night. He’s been pretty peaceful, actually. Listen, Alex, now that you’re here, I might go and get some breakfast.”
“Go ahead,” Alex encouraged her, quietly pleased at the thought of having some time alone with Bobby. “We’ll be fine.”
Emily smiled warmly, and impulsively leaned down to hug her gently.
“I know you will, Hon.”
Alex watched her go, and when she turned her attention back to Bobby, she was smiling.
It was not quite five minutes later when she looked up to find a pair of warm, brown eyes watching her.
“Hey, you,” Alex murmured, putting aside the newspaper to give him her full attention. “Heard you slept okay last night.”
“Yeah,” Bobby murmured. “I did. I, um… I had a visitor last night.”
She raised an eyebrow quizzically.
“Yeah. It was Jason Gideon. You know, from the FBI.”
Alex could quite suppress the brief rush of nerves she felt at that surprise announcement.
“Gideon, huh? What did he have to say?”
“He… He really wants me on his team, Alex. I don’t think anyone has ever wanted me that much before.”
She shifted uncomfortably, not especially liking where the conversation was headed.
“Bobby, I thought you said didn’t want to join the FBI.”
Slowly, Bobby looked around at her curiously.
“You sound upset.”
“I… I just…”
“You just what? What, Alex?”
Alex drew in a long breath, as though steeling herself for a confrontation.
“Bobby, I don’t want to lose you.”
For long minutes, they just stared at each other. Alex watched him almost fearfully, while Bobby’s dark gaze was inscrutable. In the long silence that hung between them, Alex’s imagination ran riot.
She imagined Bobby losing his already thinly-stretched temper, and accusing her of using emotional blackmail to try and sabotage his chances of forging a new career for himself. She imagined him accusing her of not giving a damn about what was best for him or, indeed, giving a damn about him.
Then, slowly, she came back to reality to discover he was watching her with a knowing smile.
“Thankyou,” he whispered.
“For what?” she asked, thoroughly confused. Bobby reached out and took her hand in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“It meant a lot to know that other agencies want me… to know that the NYPD still wants me. But it means even more to know that you still want me around. That… That means more than any job offer.”
Feeling a relief that she didn’t think she was capable of voicing, Alex stood up awkwardly and leaned over to hug him.
“If you want to take that job, I guess I can understand. It looks like a great offer. But I really don’t want to lose you, Bobby, especially not to the goddamn FBI.”
Bobby laughed softly in amusement.
“I told you that I don’t want to work for the FBI, and I still don’t. I told Gideon that, and he seemed to understand. He did say, though, that he hoped I’d stay open-minded about the FBI calling on me from time to time… kind of like a consultant.”
“A consultant, huh?” Alex murmured. “I guess that’s something to think about. Did he say they’d call on you?”
“Yeah, something like that. I wouldn’t mind that, but I can’t work for the FBI full-time. It just wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t feel right. I’m a cop… An NYPD cop. I’m not a Fed. I just… I hope…”
“What?” Alex prompted him when he hesitated. Bobby sighed softly.
“Captain Deakins asked me to wait on making a decision. He said he’d talk to the Commissioner. See, I want to accept that offer, but I just don’t think I’d be able to cope with being stuck behind a desk. I need to be able to get outside… Talk to people… Look at crime scenes. I know I can’t expect to be given active status, but I’m hoping that they might be able to come to some sort of compromise.” He raised his eyes to her, suddenly stricken. “I don’t want to… to resent you because of the things you can still do, but I can’t.”
Tears welled up in Alex’s eyes before she could stop them.
“Bobby, I’m sorry…”
He squeezed her hand tightly, silencing her.
“I don’t want you to feel guilt, either, not for something that neither of us can do anything about.”
“It’s not fair,” she whispered miserably, and not for the first time. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to us. How could everything go so horribly wrong?”
With some effort, Bobby pushed himself up into a sitting position and pulled Alex up and into his arms.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he whispered, holding her close. “You’ll see. It’ll work out somehow.”
“I’m supposed to be the one reassuring you,” she said in a muffled voice. “Not the other way around.”
Bobby sighed softly.
“Alex, you have no idea how much you’ve already done for me. I don’t mind giving a little back. And… I guess if there’s anything good that’s come out of this, it’s that I can hug you like this now, and not feel like I’m overstepping some invisible line of propriety… or undermining you in some way.” He paused, gathering his courage before speaking again tentatively. “I… I love you. You know that, don’t you?”
She hugged him all the more tighter.
“Love you too, you big lug.”
Another sigh escaped Bobby’s lips. He’d wanted to say that for a long time now, but hadn’t dared. Even though he only meant it in the platonic sense, both the fear of being misunderstood and the potential ramifications of any likely misunderstandings had effectively ensured that he keep his mouth shut.
Now, circumstances had been irreversibly altered, and those restraints had had held him in check for so long were gone forever.
“Do you really think you’ll be okay?” Alex asked as she slowly pulled back. Bobby nodded.
“I think so. I know it’s not going to be easy, but… I also know I don’t have to do this on my own. I owe you… and your family… so much.”
“No, you don’t,” Alex countered. “You don’t, Bobby. Don’t you understand?” You’re a part of our family, and we always look after our own. You’ll never be alone again, unless you choose to be.”
“And I don’t,” he murmured. “Thankyou, Alex. For everything.”
Alex leant down to kiss him gently on the forehead, and then on the cheek.
They sat in comfortable silence for the next few minutes until Bobby spoke again.
“Matt seems to think I should be ready to go home in a month… maybe less.”
“Hey, that’s great news,” Alex enthused. Almost immediately, though, her excitement for him waned as she recognised trepidation in his eyes. “Bobby? What’s wrong?”
“It… It’s just… I…” He drew in a shuddering breath as he struggled to say what he needed to say. “My apartment isn’t exactly equipped for me anymore. But… I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Alex shut her eyes, and groaned softly.
“Oh god… Bobby, I am so sorry.”
He stared at her, puzzled.
“Why? What are you talking about?”
“Two days ago, the Super from your building… A Bill Turnbull…? He got in touch with me. He said he had an offer to make that might solve your housing problem, and asked if I’d run it by you. But then I went and forgot!”
“Well, what did he say?” Bobby asked, at a loss to guess what the building Super could possibly suggest that would solve this particular problem.
“He said there are two ground floor apartments in your building. His, and the apartment belonging to a Geoff Winters…?”
“Yes,” Bobby confirmed. “That’s right.”
“Okay. He said Mr Winters is moving away from New York. He’s moving to a retirement home in Pennsylvania, apparently, to be closer to family.”
“And Bill is offering me Geoff’s apartment?” Bobby asked. “Alex, that doesn’t solve anything. Geoff’s apartment is no more wheelchair friendly than mine is.”
“Will you let me finish?” Alex chided him lightly. “Bill said that he was willing to move into Mr Winters’ apartment, and if you’re willing, you can have his apartment.”
“Bill’s apartment?” Bobby asked, stunned.
“Yes, a three-way switch, sort of. He said his apartment is fully set up to cater to someone in a wheelchair. Apparently the previous Super was quadriplegic. Plus, you’d be on the ground floor, and you wouldn’t have to worry about lifts, stairs, or anything like that.”
Bobby stared at her, baffled.
“But… Why would he do all that? Why would he go to that sort of trouble? I don’t understand.”
“He said you were too valuable a tenant to lose, and that he really likes you. He wants to help you, Bobby, and this is his way of doing that. If you’re okay with it, then I’ll let him know. Apparently there’s a bunch of people in the building who are happy to help moving furniture and everything. My dad and my brothers said they’d help, too. You only have to say yes. Oh, and Bill said to let you know that the rent would still be exactly the same. No change.”
Bobby shuddered, overcome with emotion at the generous offer.
“I… I want to…”
“But… I feel like I’m… I’m taking advantage, somehow.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up in incredulity.
“Taking advantage? Of who, Bobby? Seriously, do you hear yourself? That is utterly ridiculous!”
Bobby flushed a dull red at her exclamation.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t ridiculous. But I can’t help how I feel. I appreciate what everyone is doing, but I can’t help feeling embarrassed. I just…”
“You never expected all of this?” Alex asked gently, and Bobby nodded.
“You really had such a low opinion of yourself that you didn’t think people would want to help you?” Alex wondered in surprise. Bobby looked even more embarrassed, if that were even possible.
“I didn’t realise…”
“What? That you’ve had such a huge impact on so many lives? Well, you have, and you’d better get used to people wanting to help you.”
A strange look flickered across Bobby’s face, rapidly shifting to what Alex recognised as a clear sign of withdrawal.
“Don’t,” she murmured, reaching across to grasp his hand. He tried to pull away from her, but she held on tightly, until he ceased fighting her. “Don’t you retreat from me, Bobby. Not now. You can’t just shut yourself away anymore. It’s not like before. You need help. You need to be able to accept help. It’s not an indictment against you, either. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s just plain fact that your life is different now, and it’s time to deal with that. You have to start accepting this, Bobby. We both do.”
Tears filled his eyes as her words finally began to sink in, and the next thing she knew, it was him who was gripping her hand in a vice-like hold. He’d finally stopped fighting, she realised with a powerful rush of relief. He’d ceased fighting, and was finally starting to accept the challenging turn his life had taken.
“I’m scared, Alex,” he admitted in a whisper.
“So am I, but I’m not leaving you. Whether we get to keep working together or not, I don’t care. You’re still stuck with me, Bobby. Besides, if you think my mom and dad are going to let you withdraw, you’ve got another thing coming.”
A tremulous smile touched his lips.
“They… Everyone… has been so supportive.”
“And they’ll continue to be,” Alex assured him. “Just don’t go pushing them away. Don’t push me away.”
“I’ll try not to,” he whispered. All of a sudden, he was feeling almost painfully tired. Alex smiled, and stretched over to kiss him gently on the cheek.
“Go to sleep, Bobby. I promise I’ll be here when you wake up.”
His eyes fluttered closed only moments later and, even as Alex watched, he slid back into the sanctuary of sleep.
“I want to visit Mom.”
Dr Fielding froze in the middle of checking Bobby’s blood pressure. He looked up at Frank, John and Alex, all of whom looked equally pole-axed by the unexpected demand.
“Bobby…” Fielding started to argue, but Bobby cut him off.
“You said earlier today that I was ready to leave the hospital for short stints. I want to be able to visit Mom.”
“I meant going out for a meal, or perhaps a shopping trip, or a visit to the park. Carmel Ridge is a little further than I had in mind!”
Bobby, however, was not backing down, and the challenge in his voice and expression was there for everyone to hear and see.
“She’s my mother, and I have a right to see her.” He hesitated, and then said in a faltering, less certain tone, “I… I need to see her.”
“I’m not disputing that,” Fielding insisted. “It happens that I think you’re right, but Bobby… I honestly don’t think you’re ready.”
Anger flared in Bobby’s dark eyes.
“You don’t think I’m ready to see my own mother? That isn’t your decision to make, Dr Fielding.”
“It is if I think it would be detrimental to your recovery,” Fielding corrected him quietly. The look on Bobby’s face bordered between pleading and threatening, and suggested nothing but pure obstinacy. It was rapidly deteriorating into a battle of wills between patient and doctor, and no one – not even Alex – was sure who would win this particular fight.
“If it makes any difference, he wouldn’t be going alone,” Frank spoke up suddenly, winning himself a dirty look from the doctor. “I’d be going with him.”
“That is beside the point,” Fielding growled. “I do not need Bobby placing himself in a situation that could place undue stress on him, and potentially set back his recovery and rehab.”
“Doc,” John Eames spoke up quietly, “let me put it simply. We either find a way to make this work, or you’re likely to come up and find him gone. I promise you, our boy here has no shortage of friends who would cheerfully help him to do a disappearing act.”
Fielding glowered in frustration as he looked back at Bobby.
“You would really go to those extremes?”
“She’s my mother,” Bobby said plaintively by way of an answer. Groaning, Fielding dropped into a vacant chair.
“Goddamn it. All right… Okay. I’ll call Carmel Ridge and make arrangements for you to visit there tomorrow. But I have a condition for you, and it’s non-negotiable. You accept it and abide by it, or you don’t go at all.”
“What condition?” Bobby asked warily.
“You will be transported there and back in an ambulance. I will not have your physical recovery put in jeopardy by letting you be jolted around in a car. You will go in an ambulance, and I will be sending a nurse with you, to look after you.”
By then, Bobby was looking downright sour.
“That’s two conditions,” he pointed out, audibly and visibly annoyed. Fielding was unapologetic.
“Yes, it is. And you’re going to abide by them, or I’ll personally arrange for you to be locked in your room, and only let out for physio. Am I making myself clear?”
In the end, Bobby had no choice but to comply.
“Okay,” he grumbled sourly. “I got it. Ambulance, and a nurse. Although, I don’t know why any nurse would want to accompany me.”
“Are you kidding me?” John retorted with a grin. “With the way the nurses have been falling over themselves to help you, there could be a riot choosing just one.”
“Don’t tease him, Dad,” Alex chided her father, although she couldn’t stop grinning herself. “Bobby can’t help that the entire female nursing staff is attracted to him.”
“When are visiting hours over again?” Bobby asked ruefully, causing laughter to erupt. Fielding patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.
“Never mind. They’re only jealous.”
Bobby glowered at the floor, red-faced with embarrassment.
“That just makes me feel so much better…”
The following morning, Bobby impatiently endured the morning routine of breakfast, showering and dressing. He was steadily becoming more adept at those basic tasks, although something as simple as pulling on a pair of pants was still presenting him with some difficulties. One thing that he was quietly grateful for was that he was at least able to get himself to and from the toilet, saving himself a considerable amount of embarrassment.
Professional though the nurses were, it was a constant source of embarrassment that so many women seemed to have intimate knowledge of his body.
Once the morning tasks had been taken care, Bobby could do nothing but sit and wait.
Frank arrived just after nine, followed by John, Marty and Alex. Alex had been determined that she wasn’t going to be left behind, even if it meant being confined to a wheelchair herself. John and Marty had both made it clear that they were going specifically to support Bobby in what they all expected was going to be a very difficult visit. Emily had reluctantly agreed to stay behind after she and Frank and decided together that Carmel Ridge was perhaps not the best environment for Sophie.
A transport ambulance had been arranged by Dr Fielding, and now they were only waiting on the arrival of whichever nurse had been chosen to accompany Bobby. When the door opened, though, and Fielding walked in, Bobby’s face fell.
“You’re here to tell me that it’s off,” he said in a soft, resentful tone. Fielding smiled wryly and shook his head.
“Not at all, Bobby. You’re still going to visit your mother today. I spoke to her doctor earlier, and he said today is as good as any day to go to Carmel Ridge. The only change of plan is that I’ve decided not to send a nurse with you.”
Bobby’s face lit up at that news, but Fielding went on quickly.
“Don’t look so thrilled, Bobby. I haven’t finished, yet.”
“Well, then, what…?” Bobby stammered.
“I’m going with you instead,” Fielding told him with a grin. The statement was met with a blank stare from Bobby that rapidly degenerated into a glare of pure antipathy.
“You?” he burst out indignantly. “But how? Don’t you have rounds? Other patients to harass?”
Again, Fielding chuckled.
“Now, I know you’re more observant than that, Bobby. Don’t tell me that you didn’t notice that I was wearing a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt instead of my usual suit?”
“Your day off?” Bobby asked sourly.
“That’s right,” Fielding confirmed. “So it’s my prerogative to come with you if I wish. Now, before you argue any further, you might like to know that the ambulance is waiting downstairs. Are you going to be the one delaying this little field trip now?”
Bobby shot Fielding a dark look, and shoved down roughly on the wheels of the chair, manoeuvring himself out of the room without saying a word.
Fielding regarded Bobby quizzically.
“Why what, Bobby?”
“Why would you come with me?” Bobby asked softly. “Why not just send a nurse? Why would you bother?”
“Do you really not understand?” Fielding wondered, and Bobby shrugged in response.
“I guess I’m just not at the top of my game at the moment.”
The doctor smiled in sympathy. He could understand that more than Bobby knew.
“Fair enough. The truth is, I give a damn about all of my patients, and I would do this for any one of them. But another point is that your mother’s doctor suggested that this might not be an easy visit for you.”
Bobby eyed him coolly.
“So you thought you’d come along and hold my hand?”
“Go easy, Bobby,” Frank said with an uneasy laugh. “He’s only trying to help, bud.”
“It’s okay, Frank,” Fielding reassured him. “Bobby, I understand what you’re saying. All I’m saying is that I want to make sure that this visit impacts on your recovery in the least possible way.”
Bobby’s expression darkened at the doctor’s words, his intuition picking up on a more covert meaning. He wondered just what Dr Shimo might have told Dr Fielding, but decided not to pursue it. He could accept that the doctor only had his best interests at heart, but it was no easy thing for him to accept that his private life was suddenly open to all and sundry.
“Are you okay, bud?” Frank asked tentatively. Bobby looked around at him, his eyes red with unshed tears.
“I’m in a wheelchair, I’m on my way to see Mom in an ambulance, and I need to be accompanied by medical staff. My private life has been thrown open for everyone to see, so what do you think?”
“Sorry, kid, I didn’t mean it like that,” Frank murmured, and immediately Bobby looked regretful.
“I know. I’m sorry. I just... This is hard.”
“We know,” Frank assured him. “That’s why you’re not doing it alone.”
They arrived at Carmel Ridge to a reception committee that consisted of Dr Shimo and two male orderlies, both of whom stepped in to help get Bobby out of the ambulance.
“Hello, Bobby,” Shimo greeted him with quiet seriousness. He made no trite efforts to express his sympathy. All of that was conveyed in the very simple gesture of laying a hand on Bobby’s shoulder.
“Is she ready?” Bobby asked, and for the first time his voice betrayed his nervousness.
“As ready as we could make her. I tried to talk to her about your condition, but I’m afraid she wasn’t very receptive. Her focus has been very much on your lack of phone calls and visits.”
Bobby sighed softly. Go figure...
“Okay. Let’s get on with this.”
At Bobby’s request, he and Frank went on to Frances’ room while Alex, John, Marty and Fielding all waited further down the corridor. Alex had been less than happy about letting him go on without her, and she had shot Frank an absolute death glare to warn him to take care of his little brother.
Frank, to his credit, had responded with a nod, silently promising to do just that.
“You ready?” Frank asked quietly. They had agreed on the way to Carmel Ridge that Frank would go in first, and try to prepare Frances as much as possible before Bobby went in. Now, Bobby regarded the door with visible trepidation.
“Look, if you don’t want to...”
“Just open the door,” Bobby whispered. Nodding, Frank opened the door and stepped through.
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