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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Phoenix from the Ashes Part 4

Thanks to PJ and Rosemarie for their great advice and beta, and to JL of JL's Junction without whom Joaquin might never have existed.

Warning for some foul language

The next morning, Shorty returned the lamp, plugging it in and looked down at the still sleeping boy.  He took a soft tissue and wiped away the tears that had been falling from the boy's eyes as he slept before awakening him with a smile and a nudge.  "Rise and shine, hon," he announced softly.

"Where...? Where’m I? Shorty?"  ‘Keen asked sleepily. 

"You’re in your own bed, in your own room, at the resort.  Do you have your bearings?  Do you feel a little more awake now?"  Shorty asked.

"Yeah, I'm awake now.  Did I really sleep the whole night?" he asked, surprised. His body felt as though he'd run a marathon. He was achy and he felt as though a sack of bricks were weighing him down.

"Only you know the answer to that," Shorty replied with an odd smile as he sat down on the bed beside the boy. 

‘Keen 's eyes widened somewhat even though he tried to remain calm. "W-what do you mean?"

Shorty turned toward the child and lifted ‘Keen’s chin with his fore finger until he was looking at him.  "Where did you get the money, hon?"  he asked gently as he held up the baggie which contained the rest of the cash.

‘Keen felt the blood rush from his face and settle in an uncomfortable lump in his stomach.  “How did you find it!?  Where did you get it?!”

“Easy, hon.  Tell me about it.  Where did you get all this money?” Shorty laid a gentle hand on the child's cheek.

“How did you find it?!  I hid it!  Were you guys spying on me?!” the boy demanded, pushing away the man's hand.

“No one was spying on you, Phoenix.  I saw you leave the house. I could hear you digging.  I saw you come in, half frozen.  I went out to see what you’d been doing and found this.  Where did you get it?  Why were you hiding it?”

After some hesitation, ‘Keen thought it best to just come clean.  He’d been caught.  More proof that he wasn’t nearly as smart as he’d convinced himself that he was.  He leaned away from Shorty, arms and legs crossed, angry, embarrassed and trying his best to stave off the panic he could feel building up inside of him.

"I stole it,” he admitted but then added quickly, “not from you guys though!  I didn’t take a penny from any of you!”  he said hastily.  "I took it from the Drug Rugs and their friends.” He lowered his voice. “The night I ran away," ‘Keen admitted, ashamed, “so that I could get as far away as possible.  I didn't know how much there was when I took it. I just... I just had to get away.”

Shorty nodded his head, remaining silent so that the boy could tell his story uninterrupted.

“Getting away was harder than I thought because everyone kept asking me where I was going by myself and kept trying to bring me to police stations or… or calling the police on their cell phones like I wasn’t right there listening.  Like that stupid Gideon calling the police that first time I ran away from him,” the boy said with quiet bitterness.

“Phoenix, Gideon wasn’t calling the police, he was calling us.  After the first time you escaped him he called shelters and foster homes and there was no room anywhere to place you other than the nearest jail cell,” Shorty explained quietly to help the boy relax.  “He knew you didn’t belong in jail so he was calling us to see if we would take you until we could find out who you were and where you belonged.”

“But I saw him pressing three buttons on his phone!” the boy protested.

“Yes, hon.  He did press three buttons.  ‘On’, ‘Memory’ and ‘1’.  His direct line to us.  He was trying to help you.  Do you understand now?  We’re not here to hurt you.  We’ll help you in any way we can, but you have to be honest with us.”

“If I tell you who I am and where I came from you’ll send me back, or I’ll end up in jail.  Why don’t you just give me back my money and I’ll leave.  You can just tell people I ran away again.  I’ll just get lost again like I did the first time.  No one will ever know I was here.”

Shorty didn't scold or judge.  He didn’t yell at the boy for being an idiot for thinking that they would just let him run off into the night after they’d gone through so much trouble to find him in the first place.

“We can’t do that, hon.  We won’t do that.  I don’t know what background you came from or why no one reported you missing, but we’re not going to do the same thing.  You’re a member of this family now.  We know you.  We love you.  We’ll remember you.  We won’t let you get lost.  Even with every man on the resort in one room, you’ll never be overlooked.  Can you trust me, hon?  Just a little?”

The child’s face showed that he very much wanted to believe and to trust, but experience had shown him that adults were not to be counted on.  His hesitation was obvious.

Remembering how he had clung to him in the car, Shorty took the chance and pulled him gently by the back of the head into a light hug.  At first ‘Keen went stiff with fear, but once he realized that Shorty wasn't going to harm him, he relaxed and leaned into the embrace.

"It's all right, Phoenix," Shorty said reassuringly, "I meant it when I said that you’re part of the family now, so we'll put this money away for you in the meantime. Is that alright? Do you trust me?"

‘Keen hesitated only a moment before he nodded his head.

The older man smiled gently as he looked into the boy's eyes.  "I'm going to put it in my bedroom, on the top shelf of my cabinet. I only ask you not to go into my room to take it.  I'm letting you know where it is on faith.  I believe I can trust you.  If you get scared, or feel like you want to run again, I want you to let me know. Promise?"

"I promise."

Shorty wondered if anyone who was negligent or selfish enough not to report their child missing would be as quiet about someone stealing their money.  Would they have had the nerve to report the money missing but not the child? He'd heard of stranger things. Shorty had promised to keep Gideon up to date on how the search for this teen's identity was going, but he thought he would call his friend with all of the new information they had, and mention the stolen money.  It was a small detail, it was probably nothing at all, but it could be a lead.

" Shorty.  I... I want to trust you. I want to believe you. I want... I want to tell you everything. But... but... I just can't go back there. Please!" the boy begged, "And... if I do tell you the whole story, I need you to promise, not that I deserve anything," he said sadly.

"I'll tell you what you deserve, young man,” Shorty said with mock severity as he looked down into confused grey eyes with his sparkling blue ones, “You deserve, hmmm, a good breakfast and a little television time."

"Man!  I knew this was all too good to be true!"  ‘Keen laughed, bringing a hand down on top of the nightstand for emphasis.  The vibration caused the music box inside to chime a few notes.  Shorty looked down at the small table thoughtfully.

The man hadn’t said a word about the music box or mentioned finding it strange or ‘girly’ that a teenage boy would own one.  But that didn’t mean he wasn’t thinking it or that he wasn’t going use the subject to embarrass him in front of the others.  

'Keen just had to pretend not to care, as he’d done when Ick had found it and called him a fag and a fairy.  Ick had thrown it against the wall, laughing at ‘Keen’s reaction when the lid broke off.  He had spent two hours tracking down the tiny screws that had held the lid on, straightening the metal hinge and repairing the wood so that he could reattach it. After that he’d hidden the box and never mentioned it again.

In his experience, as soon as people knew you cared about something they would usually take it, or break it, or ruin it in some way. Yes, better to pretend not to care.  Best to pretend it didn’t exist.

‘Keen turned his face away, acting as though he were looking out of the opposite window, and shrugged.  "Whatever.  It's just a stupid old music box.  I don't even know why I took it with me."

Shorty watched the boy for a few moments.  Although ‘Keen's expression revealed nothing, Shorty could hear the thickness in the child's voice.  His heart broke for him. 

Shorty had no idea what the boy's story was.  Why had he run away?  Where he had come from, and how it could possibly be that there had been no report of his disappearance?  How long had he been missing?  Had his parents died?  Didn't he have aunts or uncles, friends or neighbors who would have noticed that he was gone and filed a report?  What about schools?  Was there no one who knew and missed the boy?

Shorty felt tears pressing against his own eyes but kept them in check. There was nothing to be gained by falling apart in front of the youngster.

"Well!"  Shorty said with false brightness.  "May as well get dressed, Phoenix. After you have breakfast and catch at least one show on the television, I'm taking you to the doctor and then you have to hit the books."

"Doctor?!  Hit the... what?" ‘Keen asked, confused.  Shorty had said this was a resort, hadn't he?

"Books. You're still of school age, and I'm sure you don't want to fall behind.  Our resident doctor has time set aside to give you a full physical and one of our lecturers, who used to be a college professor, has agreed to take you on as a pupil until we get things straightened out."

"I ain't going to no doctor," ‘Keen said angrily, "And I don't need to 'hit' any books. Just give me a job to do and let me at it."  

"Phoenix, everyone here is required to undergo a physical. You should have had one yesterday but we had other things to worry about.  Today, your day is going to consist of a visit to the doctor and some book work to determine your educational level..."

"I was a senior in high school!" ‘Keen protested without thinking, "And I got good enough grades to pass," he felt guilty for lying again but he didn't want to go back to anything resembling a school ever again. "so, don't worry about me. You can't hold me against my will anymore."  ‘And maybe,’ he thought, ‘I can find Mikey and Sam and take care of them again like I used to.’

Shorty didn't react to the youngster's tirade. Was there any chance that the boy was a prodigy and had been a senior earlier than he should have been? In which case that would give Gideon something to work with.  Bad enough a missing child who no one seemed to want to claim, but a bright young man giving up on everything at such a young age was just intolerable. The man was determined to convince this boy to stay at the resort and obtain his high school diploma, as so many of it's residents had in the past.  

"Heath is expecting us around ten this morning, so shower and change and let’s go have breakfast."

"Who's Heath?" ‘Keen demanded angrily, drawing his knees up and pushing himself toward the head of the bed to get a little distance between himself and the older man.

"That's our resident doctor," Shorty replied calmly.

"I'm not goin'!" the boy maintained.

"You're going if I have to pick you up and carry you. For the sake of both our dignity, I suggest that you get dressed, eat and do as you're told," Shorty said in a firm tone.

"I'm not..."

"If I have to pick you up and bring you there in your pajamas I'll do that too," Shorty said, retaining his calm as best he could. The palm of his hand itched as the man    fought down the desire to swat the youngster a good one, but from what he'd seen in the car on the ride to the airport, any form of corporal punishment, no matter how mild, would not be appropriate at this time. Granted the one small swat he'd given the child  in the car had been enough to quiet him, but given the knowledge he'd gleaned from the boy's reactions afterward, he knew that the teen wouldn't understand.

"Or what, you'll beat on me?" ‘Keen asked sarcastically.  "I knew it was only a matter of time before one of you guys decided to haul off."

"No one is going to 'haul off'," Shorty assured him.  "But I have no problem standing you in the corner until you calm down and decide to be cooperative. And that, my boy, will cancel any of your plans to watch the TV for a little while."

"Corner?! That's the second time you've said that. Just how old do you think I am? Five?" 'Keen demanded.

"The way you're acting right now, I'd have to say yes," Shorty countered, raising his eyebrows.  "It's a simple physical, and then standard placement tests. No matter where you had ended up, you would still have been required to go to school, and we're not going to neglect your studies while you're here. Understood?"

‘Keen took a breath to argue and then let it out in a huff of frustration. Why did all these people think they knew what was best for him?  

"Fine," the boy snarled, throwing off his blankets and getting out of his bed on the opposite side from Shorty, just in case the man made a grab for him.  "You're not gonna stand there and watch me get dressed, are you?" he asked sarcastically.

"Hadn't planned on it," the older man replied wryly.  "I'll meet you downstairs in ten minutes."  He turned and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

The boy had no problem going to the door, opening it, and then slamming it closed three times.  He waited to see if Shorty or one of the others were going to come upstairs, but when he didn't hear footsteps he stood with his arms crossed, wondering at the sort of people he'd somehow fallen in with.  He turned to his dresser, slamming each drawer as he selected items from it.  Again, he stopped to listen for approaching footsteps, but again heard nothing.  

He stood there thoughtfully for a few moments.  Ick would have been all over him like white on rice for even slamming the door once, and he'd have made sure that ‘Keen was in no condition to slam anything else for several days to come.  With a sigh of resignation, he picked up the clothes he'd thrown around the room, took a quick shower, dressed and went to breakfast.

Bo smiled at the youngster when he walked into the kitchen.  "We were about to start without you. You're just in time."

"Have a seat," Little Jake invited with a friendly grin.

"Take a load off," Jare added with a grin to match his brother's.

‘Keen looked back and forth between the two. When they were side by side and he looked closely he could see that one of the twins was just a hair more slender and slightly shorter.

He was surprised when Shorty pulled out a chair for him and smilingly gestured for him to sit down.

Bo promptly served up stacks of pancakes which Little Jake and Jare dove right into, gulping down mouthfuls with large swigs of milk as they talked animatedly about their plans for the day.

"That sounds like a blast!" ‘Keen said excitedly. "Can I go?"

The twins and Bo both looked guiltily at Shorty who scowled at them.

"First things first," the Veterinarian said, still looking at the three young men with displeasure.  He turned his attention to ‘Keen and repeated, "You and I are going to see Heath, and then we're going to talk to Alfred about tutoring you while you're here.  When, and only when there is time, will you be going anywhere else. Got that?"

With a mutinous expression, the boy crossed his arms and remained silent, trying to glare Shorty down.

The older man returned the stare, unblinking. "Are you going to eat?"  he asked.

‘Keen clamped his mouth shut and shook his head. His eyes were beginning to burn with the effort it was taking to keep from blinking.

"Then you and I can head over to the infirmary now," Shorty said, getting up and pulling the boy up by his elbow. "Perhaps you can watch TV sometime later today."

The youngster wrested his elbow away and sat back down, staring at his plate of cooling pancakes.  The other three tried to ignore what was happening and eat, but they all found that their appetites had somehow disappeared and it had become an effort to chew and swallow.  They all knew, however, that if they tried to throw their food away and get to work, Shorty would insist that they finish.

"One," Shorty began.


‘Keen shot Shorty a nervous look. Was the older man serious about carrying him if he didn't cooperate?

"I wouldn't try him if I were you," Little Jake said, an understanding expression on his face.

"Yeah," Jarrod added, "there was one time we didn't want to go for our annual physicals and he threw us over his shoulders..."

"Like sacks of wheat..."

"Both of you? At the same time?" ‘Keen asked nervously.

"Yep," the twins answered in tandem.

"So, we had our physicals..."

"And let's just say it wasn't pretty afterward."

"When did this happen?" the teen asked, nearly breathless with worry.

"Last year," Little Jake said, looking shamefaced at the big Veterinarian    .

‘Keen looked at Shorty and saw that he was on the verge of counting three. Before the large man could reach out to grab him again, the boy stood up quickly and said, "So what're we waiting for?" He quickly left the kitchen and nearly ran outside so that Shorty wouldn't change his mind and decide to carry him after all.

The older man grinned at the boy's retreating back and, taking the time to grab their jackets, followed him.

Once they'd reached the infirmary Shorty introduced Heath to his newest patient.

"It's nice to meet you, Phoenix," Heath said, holding out his hand to shake.

‘Keen wasn't comfortable in the least but shook the young doctor's hand and allowed himself to be led into the first examination room.

"Do you want Shorty to stay with you while we do this?" Heath asked, seeing the boy's unease.

The youngster shrugged and avoided eye contact. He knew he was between a rock and a hard place and there was nothing he could say that would change things.

"This way then, Phoenix," the doctor said, trying to maintain a bright attitude for the child's sake.

‘Keen turned toward the exam room and before he knew it he was in Shorty's arms, looking up into the man's concerned face.

"Phoenix? Are you alright?" Heath asked worriedly.  He was sure the teen would have ended up on the floor if the Veterinarian hadn't caught him.

The youngster shrugged the big man's hands off and scowled. "I'm fine. I just felt a little dizzy there for a minute. Turned too fast probably."

"Do you need to sit down for a little while?" Heath asked.

"I'm fine," ‘Keen replied with some asperity. He frowned when Shorty cleared his throat, giving the youngster one of his patented looks. "I'm fine, Doctor," the boy amended in a more polite tone.

"Well then, come along with me to Room 1. We'll get your basic information, like height and weight and we'll go from there. Alright?" Heath said with a friendly smile.

‘Keen shrugged and looked at the exam table rather than the doctor.  It wasn't as though he had a lot of choice in the matter.  "You're not gonna make me put on one of those paper dresses, are you?" he asked finally.

Heath smiled and replied, "No, I usually put my patients in scrubs. It makes them feel less exposed. Is that alright with you?"

The teen shrugged again.

Taking that as a yes, Heath went into the cabinet where he kept the scrubs and took out a sealed package containing light blue ones. "You can get changed in there, alright?"

The boy took the package and shrugged again as he headed toward the curtained off changing area.  He got out of his new clothes and scratched his arms and legs as the cooler air touched them. It felt so good to scratch.  He paid no mind to the white, flaky patches his nails left and continued to scratch, eyes closed in contentment as the itchy feeling eased.

"Phoenix?" Heath called through the door. "Everything alright in there?"

"Yeah," the teen responded tiredly.  "Almost done."

As soon as he finished he laid his street clothes aside and put on the pair of slip proof socks that had also been in the bag before exiting the dressing room, still scratching his left arm, unaware or not caring about the dry, powdery looking dead skin that flaked off.  He'd had the condition for years and it had ceased to bother him.

Heath did his best to put the youngster at ease, telling jokes and funny stories about the men at the resort during their physicals, causing the boy to smile a little. 

The teen appreciated the fact that Shorty hadn't insisted on coming in with him during his physical as though he were some little kid.

Eventually 'Keen began to relax, even though he knew that Heath was going to tell the vet everything anyway. That knowledge didn't bother him as much as he'd thought it would.

First Heath took his blood pressure and pronounced it good. When the youngster’s temperature registered an acceptable 96.6 he began the rest of his exam.  He was worried about the boy's thin frame which was accentuated by the scrubs still hanging loose on the child, even though they were size small.  He noticed the flaking skin and finger nail breakage immediately but didn't say anything about it, preferring to keep his theories to himself for the time being.

The teen then impatiently stood still while the young doctor weighed and measured him, jotting the numbers down on his tablet. He listened to his heart and lungs. Putting the stethoscope around his neck he began to gently question the boy.

"Are you frequently tired, Phoenix? Do you find that you get sick a lot? " Heath asked.

'Keen thought about the questions for a moment before answering, "Yeah, but..." he stopped himself. Taking care of his brothers was a full-time job, especially when he'd still been going to school, doing his own homework, trying helping them with theirs, to keep the house as clean as he could, his almost nightly forays into the donation boxes. Some days he felt he couldn't move at all, others he forced himself to do what had to be done despite his fatigue and desire to just go to bed and sleep forever. The times that he'd been sick had hit him very hard, but he'd stolen whatever he thought he needed from the pharmacy shelves and eventually he'd felt better.

"Yeah," he finally said, "I guess, but I... I managed."

"Shorty said you have occasional dizzy spells?"

'Keen shrugged and replied irritably, "I just move too fast sometimes, I guess. It's no big deal." He was getting very tired of these pointless questions.

Eventually the doctor stopped asking his questions, much to 'Keen's relief, but then the man proceeded to do a thorough eye exam and checked the teen's teeth. "You're going to need to visit a dentist, Phoenix. I know an excellent one that Shorty can take you to.  I'll call and make the appointment," he said with a smile.

"I don't need a dentist,” ‘Keen said firmly. "I've never been to one in my life and my teeth are fine."

"I'd tend to disagree on that point, young man," the doctor said calmly. "You have a few problems that I can see, that Doc Mac can help with."

"Like?" the boy asked, irritated by what he considered to be a pointless exam.  Whatever else he'd gone through in the past few weeks, he felt fine now and this whole thing, to his reckoning, was a big waste of time.

"Cavities, for one thing, big enough for me to see without any effort on my part. And your wisdom teeth on the bottom are coming in crooked. That's going to cause you a lot of pain and discomfort if they're allowed to grow in fully."

He checked the boy's thin arms and legs, noting the dry, scaly skin.  He then took out a syringe and several vials, then began to swab the inside of the youngster's elbow with betadine.

"What are you doing?!"  ‘Keen demanded.

"I'm going to take some blood samples and send them out to the lab in Masonville to be analyzed,” Heath explained.

‘Keen looked at the needle and the six vials.  "If you try to fill those I won't have any blood left in my body." His protests fell on deaf ears.

Heath smiled.  "When you donate blood they take a pint, and these vials are far less than that, so you don't need to worry."

The boy eyed the syringe and vials dubiously but allowed Heath to do what he had to.  

The doctor gently and smoothly took the needle out and held a sterile pad over the injection site. "Just hold that there for a minute, alright, Phoenix? Hold it tight and bend your arm, like this."

‘Keen shrugged and held it in place the way the doc had shown him.

"Alright then, we're all done here for the time being," Heath said, putting a band aid tightly over the injection site.  "Go on and get dressed, and meet us in my office which is right down the hall."

‘Keen gave his usual shrug and went into the room to put his street clothes back on.

Once in his office, Heath partially closed the door and invited Shorty to sit.  When the older man was seated, the young doctor leaned forward on his desk, his fingers steepled. "Phoenix is not fourteen as you thought," he said, getting right to the point.  "He is about the average height for a fourteen-year-old at 5'3 1/2", but he's only about 105 pounds."

"What? Is he younger than that?" Shorty asked worriedly.

"Older.  I'd estimate he's at least seventeen or eighteen years old, judging by the fact that his wisdom teeth are coming in. The bottom ones have nearly completely erupted, and the top ones are just coming in."

"But what..." Shorty began, until Heath held up his finger in a 'wait a second' gesture. 

The doctor looked toward the door and said, "Come on in, Phoenix.  This concerns you as well."

‘Keen slouched in through the door, looking embarrassed to have been caught listening in.

"Come and have a seat, and I'll tell you and Shorty this at the same time."

The boy walked in, closing the door behind him, and sat beside the Veterinarian.

"Are there any questions you'd like to ask me, or anything you'd like to tell us before I tell you my findings, Phoenix?"

‘Keen shrugged by way of an answer, causing both Shorty and Heath's eyebrows to rise meaningfully.

"I guess not. It sounds like you have all the answers anyway," the boy replied tiredly.

"Alright then," Heath began, "I'd like to know how old you are. Really."

"The truth, please," Shorty added.

"I never lied about my age," Phoenix said, a little defensively. "You never asked me how old I am. You just assumed."

"So...," Heath prompted.

"I'm seventeen and three quarters... give or take. I'll be eighteen in March."

"And what is your real name?" Shorty asked.

‘Keen turned his head away from the two men and clamped his lips shut.

Heath sighed and looked at his notes rather than try to pursue the subject. The teen was obviously not willing to tell them anything more than he already had.

"Alright, Phoenix, here are my findings," Heath began. "Your fatigue and dizziness are caused by malnutrition, as is the condition of your teeth and gums.  It also explains the dry, flaky skin."


"Your height has been compromised by lack of good nutrition, and even for your height, you're underweight."

"And?" the boy prompted angrily.  He already knew he was small; he didn't need some stranger who'd just met him telling him the obvious.

Heath sighed and continued, "Shorty said that you told him you were a senior in high school. When he told me, I thought for sure this was a fabrication on your part."

"Because you thought I was younger," ‘Keen stated flatly.

The doctor nodded.  "Thought being the key word," he said, with a compassionate look at the youngster.  "What happened?"

‘Keen pursed his lips, carefully considering his words, finally deciding on the truth. Nodding at Heath, he said, “I never made it to senior year. I... well, I knew I couldn't drop out without my parent's consent... which, well… I don't wanna get into that, so I... I did some stuff and got myself suspended a few weeks before... It doesn't matter though, really. I'm pretty stupid, and I wasn't doing too well. I didn't see the point in staying." He carefully avoided mentioning his brothers.

The young doctor made notes as ‘Keen spoke, planning to call Gideon with the new information which he could use to track down the boy's family.

"What sorts of things did you have problems with at school, Phoenix? What makes you think you're stupid?"

"I couldn't do the same things the other guys could," the boy said quietly. "I just didn't have the strength to play sports. In gym class I could never seem to climb the rope, you know? Couldn't hit a baseball to save my life. Trying to play basketball was a joke. The coach called me lazy and then just finally stopped asking me to do anything at all."

"The same thing in my regular classes. I could never seem to focus on what the teachers were saying for long. They said I was lazy too, and... well... they just kinda wrote me off.  They'd been passing me from grade to grade just because they knew keeping me back wasn't gonna make me learn anything the second time around."

'Keen stopped for a moment, a sad expression on his face as he remembered his high school days. "It was really hard to learn anything, especially math and languages.  I took Spanish for two years and... pretty much all I learned was how to tell people I didn't speak Spanish and how to count to ten. Then one teacher was trying to get the others to agree to hold me back just after I turned sixteen.  That's when I knew I had to go. So, I... did what I did.  And now you know it all."

Heath masked the sadness he felt as he listened to Phoenix's story. "We hardly know it all, Phoenix, believe me. Back on topic, did you know that lack of concentration and inability to learn are also caused by malnutrition? Do you know what malnutrition is?" he asked.

"I've heard of it, I mean, in those documentaries about Africa and stuff," the boy replied uneasily.

Heath nodded and wrote the information down.  "Have you ever had a broken bone, or frequently suffered broken bones?"

"Only after... um... I fell off of a swing set when I was a kid. I was in a cast for months. I broke my wrist when... um... I was ice skating and I fell... I used to fall a lot," he said, stopping himself from revealing more. He mentally kicked himself for becoming too comfortable around these men. One slip of the tongue could make things much worse for him.

Heath wrote the information down and then noticed that ‘Keen was becoming restive.

"We're going to do our best to help you, Phoenix. As I said, I'll call Doc Mac and make an appointment for you to have your teeth fixed, and I'll have a special diet made up for you to follow, so that you get the nutrients that your body hasn't been getting. I'm also going to order a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement for you. I'll pick that up myself." 

"Will that make me get taller?" ‘Keen questioned, looking both hopeful and doubtful at the same time.

Heath looked uncertain for a moment. He knew that the effects of malnutrition could be reversed if caught at a young age. He decided that he'd have to do a little research to find out if there was help for a boy of nearly eighteen. He wanted to tell the boy that he would grow, but he didn't want to get the kid's hopes up only to dash them later.

"I don't know, Phoenix," the young doctor said gently. "I'm sorry."

The youngster bit the inside of his cheek, seeming lost in thought. "I've always liked the movie Lord of the Rings," he said suddenly.  "I always imagined myself as one of the Hobbits.  Honestly, I'd rather be a Hobbit than an Elf. Hobbits are really down to earth and pretty nice for the most part, if you don't count the Sackville-Bagginses," he grinned.

"I loved The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Hobbit was one of the first books I read in high school," Heath said, happy to find common ground with the teen.  "You like to read?"

"Mostly fantasy," ‘Keen admitted. "But I like thrillers too, and sometimes, depending on how it's written, I like to read biographies. If it's like, a text book, I can't really get into it, but if it's written like a regular book it's not so bad, you know? I read a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and it was really good, it started with what things were like for him as a kid that I found really interesting.  I don't remember who wrote it though."

"I like the same things," Heath smiled. "I have a load of books you can borrow if you like. I've read them all so there'd be no rush in returning them."

"That'd be great," ‘Keen said with a shy smile.  "Thanks."

"My pleasure," the doctor replied, pleased that he seemed to be making some kind of connection with the boy.

"So... ummm... are we kinda done here?" the youngster asked, not wanting to sound rude or insult the doctor.

"We're done," Heath said, patting the young man on the shoulder.  "I'll let you know how the blood work comes up, and don't forget, I'll make that appointment with Doc Mac and tell Shorty the date so that he can take you there."

‘Keen wrinkled his nose at the reminder, making Shorty and Heath laugh a little.  "Don't worry, it won't be as bad as you think" Heath reassured the teen.

"Umm hmmm," the boy replied doubtfully.

"Alright then, Phoenix.  Alfred awaits,” Shorty said as they put on their hats and jackets.

Before the two could leave, Heath said to Phoenix, "With your permission, Al and I are going to compare notes once you've begun classes with him."

'Keen frowned, uncomprehending. "Why? What does my health have to do with my learning?"

"More than you'd believe," the doctor said, smiling gently.  "I won't be too intrusive, just enough so that I can begin to verify my own thoughts on the subject of why you have trouble learning."

"And why I'm so short," 'Keen said thoughtfully.  "My dad... or at least the guy I called dad for most of my life, was tall, and my b...," he stopped himself before he could give his brothers away, "my build is... well, no build. It's no wonder he was sure w... I couldn't be his."

"A lot of physical and learning issues are related. The more we learn about you the better we can help you. Alright?" Heath smiled a little more broadly as he saw the young man's features smooth in relief.  "We'll go at your pace, Phoenix. We're here, Shorty and I, as well as anyone else on the resort you feel comfortable talking to.  Whenever you're ready to tell us your story, we'll be here to listen."

'Keen gave the doctor an uncertain, and somewhat shy smile before turning toward Shorty who put a friendly arm around the boy's shoulders and led him back out into the December sunshine.

Author's Notes

Reference to the book The Hobbit (and Hobbits in general) is all thanks to: 

J.R.R. Tolkien:  best known as the author of the classic works The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King,and Lord of the Rings as well as many others. 

Born: January 3, 1892, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Died: September 2, 1973, Bournemouth, United Kingdom

No Copyright infringement is intended


  1. I'm really getting into this side story line. Looking forward to more.


  2. Heya Mandy,

    While it was written a while back it needs a lot of rewriting and PJ and Rosemarie are working feverishly to help me update it, but there will be more to come soon.

    I can't tell you how happy I am you're enjoying this. Thanks for reading and commenting, and hope you enjoy the upcoming chapters.

    Thank you!


  3. Thank you for the newest chapter. Looking forward to the next one.

  4. Hello again, dragonquest,

    Sorry it took so long to answer. RL is a pain in the rump sometimes. LOL

    I'm glad that you like the series so far and are continuing to read. The next chapter should be up soon.

    Thank you!