“We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you….” Children’s voices blended with a few adult ones filled the hallways.
Seriously? Lance Rossiter glanced up from the magazine he’d barely been looking at anyway to peer out the hospital room door. Christmas carolers? So people still did things like that? He found it a little disheartening that Christmas tunes were sung as a background noise to beeping machines- one of them currently hooked up to his five year old daughter to monitor her breathing.
Fine. Maybe some people felt the need to surround themselves with the holiday. He could put on a little cheer and go with the flow. He loved Christmas, as did Tamara, but his bad mood reflected on his first reaction to wave off the cheery carolers.
Nah, really they were a welcome sound. Plastering on a smile, he stood and quietly moved toward the holiday cheerers. He watched as the group of around eight or more kids with two adults slowly walked down the hospital hallways singing. In their hands, they each carried a bag. Lance spotted a teddy bear hanging out of one of them. So not only were they singing, but bringing gifts as well. Maybe a get-well effort? Kind of like candy stripers, or whatever you call them. They weren’t over-the-top loud, and their harmonies blended well. Others had taken up his idea and lined the doors of hospital rooms. Some were wearing a smile, but others were unsure what to make of the whole scene. When the kids spread out and handed each person a bag, his heart melted. Well, this wasn’t something he saw every day. What a sweet gesture. Whoever organized this event deserved a medal. This was a perfect way to brighten a sick child’s day.
A little sandy blond haired boy Lance guessed to be about seven trailed behind. He wasn’t singing, and his face was masked into one of confusion and worry. The woman leading the group stopped, smiled, and held her hand out to him. “Come on, Alex. Don’t be afraid,” she soothed. “You love music.”
The boy didn’t reach for her hand. He trailed close behind the woman, but didn’t make eye contact with her. His gaze was cast downward. The child shuffled his feet along the tile.
“Look up at me, please,” the woman said softly. The rest of their party continued down the hall singing. The kid clutched the gift bag.
Lance should have gone inside, but he continued to watch the two. Most of the other patients and family members had already disappeared from the doorway, probably taking pictures of the goodies, posting them on social media, and sharing them with the patients.
“No! Leave me alone!” The boy screamed and ran from her, barreling straight towards Lance. Startled, he took a step back as the boy plowed into him, ran into the room, and closed himself off in the bathroom.
Alrighty then. Talk about awkward.
“I’m so terribly sorry!” The woman’s cheeks reddened as she darted toward him. “I’d hoped for a better outcome today.” She shoved her frizzy brown curls from her face.
Unsure what to do or say, Lance shrugged his shoulders. “Kids will be kids.” He stared back at Tamara and hoped this situation could be resolved quickly. He felt for the little boy, who was obviously having some kind of meltdown. He also sympathized with the woman, who’d become very flustered and nervous.
“Alex, please come out of the bathroom. I don’t want to have to call your mom. She’s very busy at work today,” she coaxed from outside the door.
The sound of crying wafted through the walls. Lance didn’t want to sit back down, but standing around seemed like the wrong thing to do. He didn’t want to leave the room in search of a nurse or someone else who could help, either. He blew out a breath and hoped to hide his exasperation. While patient and understanding, he silently pleaded with no one in particular for this to get situated quickly.
The woman glanced back at him again. “I really am sorry-”
“It happens.” He waved it off, but Lance wished he’d never walked toward the door. Would that have stopped the little boy from running into his room? Maybe not. Thank God for little favors, though. Tamara hadn’t woken from her nap to this mess.
The woman pulled out a cell phone and, in a desperate plea, spoke into it. “Cara? I’m sorry to bother you, but Alex locked himself in a bathroom at the hospital. In a patient’s room. I think it’s best you come down here.”
Lance stifled a groan. This could take a while.
As the boy inside the bathroom continued to wail, the sound of Christmas carolers on TV now drew his attention, singing the same song he’d just heard.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas….”
Cara McLean ignored the frustrated mixed with pity stare from her boss as once again she had to leave her desk for another meltdown rescue. Alex had been been having meltdown after meltdown at school, and more frequently she continued to go there to coax him out of a room. It wasn’t really the teachers’ faults. They didn’t know how to handle him.
Just before school, Alex had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, after countless appointments and evaluations. She’d dodged the suggestions for months about moving Alex to a more private school setting. He was a bright kid and had a lot of talent, but it appeared his behavioral issues were going to be in the way of regular learning.
It took her a long time to accept it, and Cara hoped the damage hadn’t already been done. She’d agonized over the decision and the pros and cons of it since the diagnosis. It didn’t help being a widowed mom of two and going at this alone, especially since Cara had attempted to convince her late husband that something wasn’t right with Alex. No, he’d avoided the subject and said she was paranoid. Nothing could be wrong with his son.
Now, things were spiraling out of control. Time to actually get something done about it. Swiping at stray tears, she swallowed her regrets, then headed toward her car to drive to the hospital. Ten minutes later, she arrived in the crowded parking lot. Cara called Jean to find out where they were.
“Still in the room. The others have gone on to keep things normal.” There was a frantic note in Jean’s voice. “I made that mistake again- mentioning for him to look at me- and he got extremely agitated. I’m sorry.”
Suppressing a sigh, Cara asked for the room number, then hung up and made her way.
Alex’s cries could be heard all the way down the hall. And no nurses helped? What about the patient in the room? Cheeks heated, Cara stepped up her pace. Nurses stood outside the door, baffled and unsure what to do.
“Excuse me, but that’s my son in there. I’ll get him out. I’m so sorry.” Cara apologized as she blew past them and bumped full force into a body. “I’m-”
Strong arms held her steady. “Careful there.” Her skin tingled where the man’s hands still rested.
Cara stared up into the blue eyes of a gorgeous man. Oh, this must be his room, or at least a member of his family, as this was the children’s ward. There was compassion, curiosity, and a whole lot of torture in those eyes. What a disaster! He continued to study her, and Cara was frozen in place. His bangs drifted across tan skin along his forehead. A tiny mole close to his hairline caught her attention for a moment. Sucking in a breath, Cara realized she’d better move, instead of staring back at this man.
“I’ll have my son out of the bathroom in just a second,” she whispered, regaining her composure and jerking out of his hold. He dropped his hands to his sides. No wedding ring on his left hand. Why did she even look? A shiver rippled through her. Cara briefly searched the room. Her heart ached for the pale young girl in the bed with her eyes closed.
Could this day get any worse? Failure and worry settled over her shoulder like a heavy weight. She needed to coax Alex out of that bathroom, take him home, and make the necessary calls.
Cara ignored the stares and walked with rubbery legs to the door and knocked. “Come on out, Alex. I’m here. Please open the door, okay?” Her voice came out weak and squeaky. Ugh. She dared not to look back at the blue eyed man behind her, though she had to really work at that. Who cared what he thought about her? She’d never see him again. After today, Cara could wake up and forget about this encounter. But those eyes, the way they carried so much, really ate at her. He had a story to tell, but she’d never hear it.
“Mommy?” Alex’s voice came out small and uncertain. What was he doing in there? Had he hurt himself? Was he curled up on the floor, trembling and scared? It bugged her to no end how she couldn’t understand her son sometimes. What went on in his busy brain? What did he think and feel when hit with these meltdowns? Most people who weren’t up to date with signs and symptoms of Asperger’s would naturally assume a spoiled brat temper tantrum. Cara knew better, but she didn’t feel like explaining herself every single time Alex had a meltdown. And it happened more and more in public. What should she do, not go out any more to avoid it? That wasn’t the right answer, but she had no idea how to avoid that type of behavior. It all came down to wishing she could understand, so that making decisions would be easier.
“Yes, buddy. I’m here. Come on out so we can talk. There’s a little girl who needs her rest, and we’re in the way.” She kept her voice calm. No loudness, no distractions. Cara hoped for the best.
For a fraction of a minute, no one said anything. The crying stopped, but no other sounds came from behind the bathroom door. Cara anticipated a wail, a shout, something. Then after the hesitance, the door opened and Alex ran straight into her arms. Cara couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard several sighs of relief.
Yeah, they did what she felt like doing. Tears formed in her eyes as she held her son. “Will you say sorry to the nice man for barging into his room?”
Alex’s lower lip quivered. Big eyes stared back at her, but her son did just what she asked. He pulled out of Cara’s hug and stood before the man. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s okay,” the man awkwardly replied. “I accept your apology.”
“Give him the gift bag for the little girl, Alex.” Jean broke her silence, prodding him gently.
He thrust out his hand, still clutching the bag. “Here you go.”
Mr. Blue Eyes smiled. Dimples. Oh, he had dimples. “Thank you, Alex.” Not a tone of disdain, not even an irritated scowl. He could have really pitched a fit, but the man took it all in stride. Cara sent him a look of relief and a silent thank you. His gaze lingered on her for a lot longer than she anticipated. Alex hung back behind Cara. She blinked, breaking eye contact with the man so she could focus. Time to get out of here.
Cara led Alex out of the room. Jean followed, making more apologizes to the man. Nurses had finally scattered away from the door, but the faster Cara got out of here, the better.
“Cara-” Jean started once they were down the hall. She’d bet Jean had a lot to say right about now.
“I know, okay? I get it. I’m going to make those calls and look into getting him in the school you guys keep suggesting!” She didn’t mean to yell. Her loud voice echoed off the beige walls. Keep calm, keep calm. The last thing she needed was to upset Alex because she got all riled up and defensive.
Jean blanched. “I wasn’t going to say that. It’ll be good for him, though. I was going to apologize because I pushed again for eye contact. That’s what set him off.”
Shaking her head, Cara turned away again, keeping her arm on Alex’s shoulder. Jean was a good teacher, wonderful and patient, but Cara knew that she wasn’t equipped to deal with a child with Asperger’s when the rest of the kids were mainstreamed students.
Keeping her tongue in check, she faced the teacher.
“It’s not your fault.”
The words were meant to be a comfort and a help, but they weren’t at this very moment. Giving Jean a curt nod, she walked Alex out of the hospital, attempting to put her emotions in check.
Lately, she took everything to heart, blaming herself. How could she not understand her son? Why did she feel so helpless? As Alex’s mother, Cara should have some sort of idea how to handle these situations, but she didn’t.
And it bothered the heck out of her.
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