I did it!. I had another job. Well, almost. I had to let Buddha know of course. I couldn’t very well start working for the hospital without being released from my contract with the station. To be released from my contract I had to go into the city for a meeting with Buddha. When I entered the newsroom I went into his office. He asked me to close the door and to have a seat. He started talking quietly.
“How are you and Peter?” he asked trying to make small talk. He was never very good at it before he put my fanny in limbo, and he hadn’t gotten any better.
“I’m doing alright. I wish I could say the same for Peter”
Buddha was puzzled. “What’s going on?” he leaned back in his chair and motioned for me to elaborate.
“Peters is facing another hurdle. The vocal cord that caused all the problems, his left one, isn’t healing the way it should. Dr. Willowby is afraid that whatever is stopping it from healing properly will spread to the right vocal cord. At the end of the year, it will be four and a half months since the last radiation treatment. His next follow-up appointment is on the twenty-third of December. If there’s no improvement or if the right vocal cord starts to look sickly Dr. Willowby may have to operate again and remove both vocal cords.”
Buddha fell back in his chair and looked like he was going to be violently ill.
“Even though neither of us is religious we’re praying. We still have two weeks to go before we find out what’s going to happen.” I added.
“Jesus. If that happened to me I think I’d slit my wrists. Just thinking about it is almost stomach turning. Now, I’m going to speak honestly and candidly to you and I’d appreciate it if you’d pay me the courtesy of doing the same. I think you know I’ve got a soft spot for you and now Peter. You two are kind of special to me. How are you two doing for money? This sort of thing has got to put a strain on any relationship.”
This wasn’t the same man that almost had me for a snack eight months earlier. Something had changed. As I sat trying there to figure out how to word my response I saw it. The picture of a woman on his desk. A woman had come into his life and had begun to smooth out his gruff exterior and expose the human being beneath.
“Peter won’t admit it but this must be putting a strain on his finances. And I’m already well into the nest egg I was building for my retirement. So yes, things are getting tight.”
“Would Peter accept a monetary Christmas gift?”
“That’s a wonderful idea and I thank you, but his pride would not allow any kind of charity. I’ve learned he grew up poor. He hasn’t told me much of his childhood but from what I can piece together life wasn’t very pleasant and finances were tight. He vowed to never be in that sort of situation ever again. When he became a published writer he started putting as much money away as he possibly could for that rainy day that would come far too soon and last far too long.” I looked at the photo again. “OK, I can’t stand the suspense. Who’s the woman in the photo?”
Buddha hemmed and hawed and tried to pretend he didn’t hear the question. When he didn’t answer my question I got up out of my chair, walked to the end of his desk and pointed directly at the picture. He couldn’t avoid the question any longer.
“Oh, you noticed. What sharp eyes you have-”
I sat on his desk till he answered. “Cut the Red Riding Hood guff. Now who is she? And if you don’t tell me I’ll ask the entire newsroom. And you know I will.”
Buddha reached into a drawer and took out a bottle of scotch and placed a glass square in front of himself. When he didn’t offer me a glass I protested. He reminded me I was driving. He also added the cops were about to start their annual red nose blitz. When he upended the bottle and poured the contents into a glass while his little finger pointed at the photo.
“Her name is Gwen and she’s the daughter of the battle-ax that owns the station. Met her at the stations annual general meeting. Her first husband was the head honcho of some oil business in Texas. He did me the service of having a fatal heart attack while golfing. Left her rolling in dough. After I saw you and Peter at the Sloth And Spoon I knew I wanted her in my life. And yes, I’m thinking of popping the damn question.” Buddha was now sweating bullets and holding his left arm. He was in love with her alright. But I was concerned.
“Before you ask her please get a physical first. I can tell you right now you don’t want to make her a widow and I can guarantee she doesn’t want to be one – again! So for your sake and hers get the physical done.” There was a thought rolling around Buddha’s mind that had him mildly terrified.
“What do you suggest I do if I hear a snap and see a latex glove.”
“You’re going to drop your pants and think happy thoughts. Remember, you’re doing this for Gwen. There are a few procedures that are age-related but you already know most of them. Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re no spring chicken.”
“OK, I’ll think about it. And thanks for the advice. But let’s get things done so you can be gainfully employed again. As I see it I can fire you, you can quit with a small severance, or the station can let you go with a big severance. I think the best option is the last one especially if things are getting a little “tight” monetarily. And don’t worry about the station. It can afford to lose you. I don’t want to lose you but I don’t see any other way. Any questions?”
Buddha let me go, tore up my contract, and pretended to kick me out of his office. I even managed to work up some tears. Before he showed me the door I reminded him of the physical. As he opened the door he had a few parting words which he said quietly.
“Text me and let me know how things are going and how Peter’s doing. Now get yer scrawny ass up to Lindsay.” I winked at him and said very loudly “BRUTE!”
As I approached the city of Lindsay Ontario things suddenly became a little awkward for Wilma Willowby. Kenny was playing in the living room when he suddenly asked his grandmother about uncles and aunts.
Kenny was playing with some Mecano that used to belong to his grandfather when he suddenly stopped and froze. His grandmother noticed this and called out to him.
“You feeling alright honey?”
“I’m OK. I was just thinking. Other kids have aunt and uncles. Do I have any?”
Wilma had been peeling carrots in the kitchen. This could be a thorny question if not handled properly. She walked into the living room and knelt in front of Kenny. She wiped her hands on a apron.
“I thought we already talked about this. Aunts and uncles are usually the brothers or sisters of your parents. Your mom doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. And your father….I don’t know if he has any brothers or sisters. So you don’t have any aunts or uncles that we know of. Why the sudden interest?.” Kenny looked his grandmother right in the eye.
“Well, there’s a boy in my class whose has a aunt. She’s not a brother or sister of either of his parents. She’s a friend of his mothers from when she was in school long, long ago. Why can’t I have an aunt like that?”
Wilma could see her grandson had already given the matter some thought.
“Uh oh, the wheels are turning. The little devil…”
Wilma looked at Kenny and stood up. “Who would you want as an aunt. Remember, this person has to be really special?”. Kenny looked like he was thinking. “I’d want Cassie as an aunt. She’s neat.” Wilma made a mental note to mention this sudden interest in relatives to her husband. All of sudden Kenny exploded with another qualification. “And she’s gotta be hot too. Grandma, can I have a hot looking aunt?”.
As I drove to the hospital I think I encountered every red traffic light between the city limits and the hospital. I zipped into the first available parking spot and parked. After I took off my safety belt off I gathered up all the papers human resources wanted me to fill out and went to the department. The formalities had already been done. I was off parole and already an unofficial member of the zap squad. All that was left was simply a matter of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. Once HR got all the forms I would be gainfully employed again. I dropped the forms off at HR, got my ID badge then went downstairs. What I saw brought me to tears.
Kenny was standing in the corner holding a small cake with one candle in it. Dr. Willowby stood behind Kenny and had his hands on his shoulders. The most senior nurse, a thirty-nine year old bleached blond by the name of Trixie, handed me a Tee-shirt with the word “Zap” on it.
“There, its official. You are now a member of zap squad” she said.
I thanked her, Kenny, and Dr. Willowby, who was standing behind Kenny. But I asked her about the single candle.
“What’s with the single candle? I’m way past my first birthday.”
Then Kenny spoke up.
“It’s your first day. You forgot all ready?”
I slipped on my tee-shirt over my blouse and had some cake before I got the room ready in time for Kenny’s next treatment. I got his Batman mask from the shelf. After I placed it on the table I lifted him up. He felt lighter. I excused myself and spoke with Dr. Willowby.
“I remember that you said it was imperative that cancer patients maintain the same weight. But when I lifted Kenny up just now he felt lighter. Is there anything I should know?”
Dr. Willowby looked a little tired and he yawned.
“Sorry. It was a rough night. Kenny is on chemotherapy now. He spent most of the night being sick to his stomach. Wilma is really worried.”
“Poor kid” I said.
Fifteen minutes later I put Batman back on the shelf. I told Trixie that Kenny had had a bad night and I was going take him to the parking lot where his grandmother waited. As soon as I went outside I saw Wilma. Kenny fell asleep in my arms so I was very quiet and gentle when I handed him to Wilma. After she put a safety belt on Kenny we talked quietly.
“Bill wants to give him an anti-nausea pill if Kenny keeps on getting sick because of the chemo. If Kenny keeps on being sick at night we may lose him. We, being Bill, me and Trina would like to ask you to consider becoming an “aunt” to Kenny. With his mother being an only child and his father missing in action and no uncles or aunts to speak of on either side of the family you’d be in a class by yourself. Do you think you’d like the job?”
I was honest with Wilma.
“I’d like to think about it. I’m inclined to yes right now but Kenny’s old enough now that I think we should ask him. Plus Trina and I have never met. She might not think too highly of moi. I think she and I should meet before bestowing such an important job.”
Wilma crossed her arms and looked at me like she knew something I didn’t. And it was unnerving being in that position.
“That sounds fair to me.” Then she coughed a bit.
“Would it surprise you to know the idea originated with his Lordship” she pointed at Kenny in the car “and he said and I quote “Grandma, can I have a hot looking aunt?”. When I told Bill that he roared with laughter. Please say yes or I’ll never hear the end of it.”
I couldn’t help snickering. Kenny the adorable was soon to become Kenny the impossible. Sounded like puberty was just days away. I was snickering and blushing too. But I stuck to my guns.
“I’ll say yes if Trina OK’s me as official aunt material. Have her text me so we can meet. By the way, how old is Trina?”
“Turned 30 last week. Seems like it was last week I found out I was expecting. Time seems to go faster the older I get” said Wilma.
My eyebrows went up. “I know exactly what you mean. I better stop gabbing and let you two go. Would you mind if I kissed his Lordship goodnight?”
“I’m surprised you even asked. Go for it!”
I bent down and kissed the top of his head. What Wilma didn’t know was that I knew Kenny was awake. When my mouth was close to the top of his head I whispered to him.
“Looks like you’re going to get an aunt. Now close your eyes and get some real sleep. See you tomorrow you sneak.”
A tiny thumb shot straight up.
The next day a woman I’ve never seen carried Kenny in for his treatment. When she put him on the ground he raced the length of the hall.
“Aunt Cassie!” he yelled. He slid along along the floor and started hugging my legs. I normally think of myself as a pretty smart woman but its a little unsettling when you discover you’ve been had by a ten year old boy. I bent over and let him know I knew of his “request”.
“Your grandmother told me of your little “conversation” you little sneak. You had this really well planned”.
Then I started tickling him. The woman who brought Kenny in was smiling and leaning against a wall.
“Something tells me you must be Cassie. I’m Trina, Kenny’s mom. He seems quite taken with you. How many kids have you got?” asked Trina.
“None at present. But my fiancée and I want a boy and a girl. Two will do just fine Trina.” Trina looked like she wanted to talk. Before she did I put my index finger up to indicate I had something to do.
“I’ll be right with you Trina but first I’ve got his Lordship to deal with. Then I think we should talk.”
But first I got the Batman mask for Kenny. Then I lifted him up and plunked him on the table. I had an idea that I wanted to ask Trina about.
“While Kenny is in Batman mode why don’t we have some coffee that won’t melt your fillings. I’m buying. Besides you must have a thousand questions.” We both approached Kenny and told him we’ll be be back when he’s ready to go home.
Trina and I walked to the coffee shop. I could tell she was really nervous. “Kenny doesn’t have any other aunts or uncles so why do you want to be his aunt?”
I told her about meeting Kenny when Peter had just started recovering and the creation of Batman.
“So you’re the one my son has fallen in love with. I just wanted to say thank you for what you did but you never really answered my question. Why do you want the job?”.
I wasn’t sure of the answer until I said it and I didn’t plan it at all.
“I love him. I felt an instant connection to him. It was like an electrical charge. There’s something very, very special about him, and with your permission he could have an uncle too. Kenny’s coming up to that stage of life where he’s going to need a lot of guidance. Your mom and dad have done a great job with him. But he’s about to really put them through their paces. All I’m saying is when your parents need a rest Peter and I are here to help out in any way we can. Does that answer your question?”
Trina paused and thought.
“I like you Cassie. I think I see what my son sees in you. Welcome to the family.”
…still more to come!