September 28, 1988
Cathy Evans had tried to go home. She knew she should get some sleep. The waiting room was quiet and mostly empty. The rows of uncomfortable chairs keeping vigil while a TV high on the wall was tuned to some sort of soap opera. Technically she was Kai’s de facto guardian, but as a ward of the state, she could have passed him onto a caseworker and gone about the business of convincing the governor that closing County House would hurt his chances of reelection.
Art strode in, carrying two styrofoam cups. She could tell that it wasn't the cheap waxed paper ones from the vending machine down the hall, but from somewhere else. The cafeteria, maybe?
He offered her one. “You look like you need this. From my own machine in the shop. And there’s a thermos in my bag if you need more.” He sat, unshouldering a faded blue duffle with the logo for the Jonesville High Bisons barely legible on its side.
Cathy chuckled. “Is that your gym bag from senior year?”
Art smiled and shrugged. “Don't make ‘em like they used to. Plus, not like I have much use for luggage.” He set his cup on one of the tables, nudging a stack of outdated magazines to make room. Then he hauled the bag into his lap and unzipped it, showing her the contents. “Coffee, a change of clothes--something of Martha’s I still had; hope it will do. A couple books worth reading, and some snacks. If you're determined to stay, at least you’ll be prepared.” Art shifted the bag in his lap, apparently growing uncomfortable now that he'd achieved his task. “How is he? Any word?”
Cathy sipped her drink. It was good. Art always did make great coffee. His ice-blue eyes bored into hers. He was losing his hair and had the beginnings of a gut; lines crossed his face. But he was still handsome. Still the man she’d loved once and sometimes regretted turning down. He’d been happy with Martha, but Cathy still sometimes found herself wondering what might have been if she’d said yes. Would they have had children? Would their sons not have gone off to fight and die? Would she and Art have grandkids?
Cathy realized she'd spaced out; she must be even more tired than she realized. She couldn't put in the hours she used to. “Sorry.” She sighed. “The last update was a few minutes ago. They're struggling to keep his blood pressure up. If they can't manage it they may have to abandon the surgery and hope they can finish the repairs later.”
Art cradled his cup of coffee, looking guilty. “I wish I could have come sooner.”
Cathy shook her head. “It’s better you didn’t see him the way he was when they first brought him to the hospital.” Cathy sighed. It was her turn to feel guilty. “I should never have let that woman take him. I knew there was something off about her from the start.”
Art reached over and squeezed her hand. Offered a weak smile. “You know you don’t have any control over which children go to what foster homes.” The truth, but it didn’t make Cathy feel any better. “I’d like to wait with you. At least until we get more news,” Art said. “Someone’s watching the store.”
Cathy let out a breath; he’d preempted her protest, and she really did appreciate the company. With Art, Cathy could be herself, not the representative of County House. And even though she was supposed to be neutral, to not pick favorites among the dozens of kids under her care, Kai had always held a special space in her heart, even if she wasn’t entirely sure why.
Cathy woke to Art nudging her. She’d fallen asleep on his shoulder, and although she tried to hide her embarrassment, Art gave her a smile to tell her it was fine. A nurse was approaching them. “Are you Joseph Taylor’s grandparents?”
Cathy and Art exchanged looks, and then she nodded. “Is he out of surgery? Is he OK?”
The nurse smiled pacifyingly. “I’m afraid I don’t have that information. All I know is the doctor is going to speak with you soon, if you’ll follow me to a consultation room.”
The nurse led them out of the waiting room, down the hall, around a corner, and into a small room that was empty except for a couple sofas. For some reason, it felt ominous despite the cheery paint color and decorations, as if they couldn’t forget this was a floor where children died. Kai wouldn’t be the first child Cathy had lost, but she knew she probably would never forgive herself for not checking up on him sooner. Not doing something to prevent this from happening.
Art seemed to sense her thoughts and reached over to squeeze her hand. “Kai will be OK. He’s a fighter.”
Cathy nodded, even though she wasn’t convinced, and settled in to wait, again.
The doctor didn’t arrive for almost another thirty minutes. When he did, he strode in, dressed in faded green scrubs with the JMH logo stamped on the pocket, his face mask tied around his neck and falling onto his chest, his hair still covered with a paper cap. He was clearly fresh out of surgery. The man was fairly nondescript, that age where he wasn’t young but wasn’t old, thin but not skinny, with a pointed chin he’d probably shaved clean that morning but by now a dark five o’clock shadow was starting to appear. He smiled politely at both of them and offered his hand. “I’m Dr. Strake. I performed the surgery on Joseph.”
“Kai,” Art corrected automatically. Everyone had been referring to Kai by his legal name, and it felt so cold and impersonal, like Kai wasn’t even a real person.
“Kai,” the doctor corrected without blinking. He took a seat and encouraged them to regain theirs. The tension in the air was heavy. Dr. Strake was experienced enough that he wasn’t revealing whether he had good or bad news, and it made the acid in Art’s stomach gurgle up.
After a strangely long, uncomfortable silence, the doctor spoke again. “The good news is Kai survived the surgery. We cleaned out his bowels, and fortunately the injuries weren’t nearly as severe as I had originally anticipated. I was able to make the repair intra-anally without opening his abdominal cavity or diverting his stool.” While they’d waited, Cathy had explained that depending on how bad the damage to Kai’s rectum was, it meant they might have to open his abdomen up, divert his bowels into a bag, and then make the repairs. Doing so would allow his colon to heal without contaminating it with stool. The problem with that was not only was it a more risky operation with more potential for excessive blood loss and infection, but there was always a possibility that the diversion couldn’t be reversed, which would leave Kai having to “shit in a bag,” as Cathy had angrily and crudely put it, for the rest of his life.
Cathy, ever a cynic, spoke up. “And the bad news?”
The surgeon sighed. “We had trouble keeping Kai’s blood pressure stable, so even though I was able to make the repairs to his rectum and anal sphincter, we weren’t able to do anything with his pressure sores or put in the permanent feeding tube.”
Cathy was impatient. “Yes, we’d discussed all this before the surgery. What aren’t you telling us?”
“Kai is very malnourished even now. His muscles are atrophied and weak, especially in his lower body. Once Kai has healed enough from the surgery, and we can get him on a more solid stool-producing diet, he will be incontinent. With therapy, it’s possible, especially since he’s so young, for him to recover, but it’s also possible that he’ll never entirely regain full continence.”
From the look on Cathy’s face, this wasn’t surprising news. “Yes. We talked about all this. What’s the real bad news?”
The surgeon’s demeanor changed and he became more serious. “Kai coded once during the surgery. His blood pressure dropped too much, and even though we were pushing fluids and blood, he crashed. His heart stopped. We were able to restart it, but it’s possible he could have had some brain damage. There’s also a possibility his kidneys will fail and he’ll need to go on dialysis. That’s very taxing on the body, which is one reason his doctors have been doing everything they can until now to avoid it. If that happens, Kai may not survive.”
Art took Cathy’s hand and squeezed it. Even if, outwardly, she seemed unaffected by this news, Art knew it had upset her because he knew Cathy. She was tough, but she had a soft heart. One reason he called her Jennie sometimes because there used to be a local candy with that name that had a hard outer candy shell but a soft, liquid center.
The surgeon nodded, his face long. “So far Kai has survived everything that’s been thrown at him. If anyone can pull through, it’s him.” The surgeon shifted like he was going to stand, but then he added, “Kai is in recovery right now. The pulmonologist on-call was going to evaluate him, but there’s a strong possibility, especially with how unstable Kai is right now, that he may need to stay on the respirator for a while longer. He’ll talk to you about it. One of you needs to come with me as we like a parent or other close family member to be with the children in the recovery room so they have a familiar face as they wake from the anesthesia.”
Art looked at Cathy, ready to tell her that she should call him when she had more news about Kai, but to his surprise she spoke to him, “You should go. Be with him.”
Art’s eyebrows shot up. “Me?”
“I’m ‘the Warden’ to him. An authority figure. What he needs now is someone to comfort him. You’ve done it before.”
Art nodded. He loved Kai like he was his own blood, even if he’d never admitted it to anyone. He’d even thought about selling the store a few times so he could afford to buy a house and maybe foster or adopt Kai. He’d even brought the idea up with Cathy once or twice, since his apartment above Lost Apple was up a very steep flight of stairs. But Cathy knew that selling the place he’d lived with Martha and his sons, and the store that his father had started would break Art’s heart. So instead, he visited Kai as often as the store allowed, and spoiled him with books and treats. Part of him didn’t want to see Kai in this condition, but Cathy was right. If Kai was confused or scared, it’d be better for Art to sit with him than Cathy.
Art rose from his seat. “Lead the way.”
The doctor left Art with a nurse at the entrance of the O-ICU where the recovery suites were. She was a surprisingly kind woman a little older than him who explained what he should expect and what some of the tubes and wires were. Art had visited Kai before in the hospital and even seen him intubated, but despite his experience and the nurse’s warning, he wasn’t prepared for the actual sight of Kai in the bed.
The bed was like an oversized crib, with bars all around it. Kai lay on his back in the center of it, naked except for a diaper that seemed too big for his small body. Even though he’d been in the hospital for several days and must have looked better than when they’d first brought him in, it was still a shock at how frail he looked. Kai had always been thin, but now he was emaciated. With each breath of the respirator, Kai’s small chest inflated, then collapsed, making all his ribs and even his sternum more visible. Kai was an epitome of the expression, “Skin and bones,” and large bruises on his side and legs were still healing, his skin a blotchy blend of greens, yellows, and blacks.
Kai’s hair was very long, and his eye was healing, not puffy anymore, though a deep rim of black and purple circled it, and the doctors--Cathy had told Art--still weren’t sure if Kai would ever see normally out of it. Two tubes went into Kai’s nose. A smaller one that Art knew from previous experience was for nutrition, and went down into Kai’s stomach, and a slightly larger one that led to the respirator that kept Kai breathing. Kai’s small chest was covered in the leads to the heart monitor, and a large IV in his neck fed into a web of lines that Art wasn’t even going to begin to follow. Another was taped to his left arm and fed him from a bag of blood labeled AB- in large, bold letters. Where Kai’s arms weren’t bandaged, and on his shoulders, Art could make out the healing self-inflicted bites and sucking wounds that Cathy had explained were apparently from Kai trying to comfort himself. Both of Kai’s legs were elevated with pillows, one of them in a cast from the knee down, the other wrapped in pastes and bandages.
Art had experienced plenty heartbreak in his life: the death of his own father, his sons, his wife. But seeing Kai like this, the sweet, clever kid who loved to read even if he didn’t always understand the big English words, and yet determined to learn. It broke his fucking heart into a million pieces. Part of him wished Cathy hadn’t asked him to stay with Kai, and the other half was glad that she had, because he wanted to be the one to help Kai recover from this and return to at least a fraction of the happy child he could be.
Art lowered the bed and then pulled a seat up so he could sit beside Kai, holding one of his tiny hands. “You’re going to be OK,” Art whispered. “I’m here. You’re not alone.”
Nearly an hour passed and Kai still hadn’t woken. The nurse checked on him regularly, and each time she grew more and more worried even though she did her best to hide it and assure Art that everything was fine. He’d spent enough time in the hospital when Martha was dying to see through the stoic front. Right now he was glad that he’d finally given in to Cathy two years ago and visited Kai. The idea of entertaining a sick little kid he didn’t know had seemed like the absolute last thing his grieving heart needed, and yet the time he spent with Kai, even when he was ill, was some of the best days he’d had since his wife died.
Art really became worried when the nurse returned a few minutes later with a young doctor who didn’t acknowledge Art’s presence--though he didn’t kick him out, either--and immediately went to work listening to Kai’s chest and abdomen with his stethoscope, then lifting Kai’s eyelids and shining a penlight into them one by one.
“Joseph? Joseph? I’m Dr. Karlsen. Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes for me? I want to see how wide you can open them.”
Kai didn’t seem to respond.
Worry gnawed at Art’s gut now. “His name is Kai.”
The doctor seemed to see Art for the first time, and he consulted with the nurse as if worried he’d gotten his patients confused, checking Kai’s chart.
“Kai is his middle name. He never goes by Joseph.” It was a faint hope, but Art wondered if, as stubborn as Kai was, he wouldn’t wake up if called by his legal name.
A smidgen of relief relaxed Dr. Karlsen’s shoulders. “Kai? Can you squeeze my hand?” When Kai evidently didn’t respond to this either, the doctor whispered to the nurse to call a neuro consult and run Kai’s blood again, stat, because he wanted to know his kidney function.
The worry in Art’s stomach became hollow. After all Kai’d lived through, after surviving two days living outside when he ran away from County House, then a months of being neglected, starved, beaten, and worse, there was no fucking way he was going to die now. Art stood up. “Can I try?”
The doctor seemed surprised, even opened his mouth as if to say that it didn’t matter who called out to him, if Kai wasn’t waking up he wasn’t waking up, but he finally shrugged and nudged his head in Art’s direction as if deciding it wouldn’t hurt.
Art took Kai’s hand in his, and smoothed his hair, gently rubbing his temples and the muscles near his jaw. Art had seen Kai massage there from time to time, occasionally opening his mouth and shifting it from side to side as if to stretch the muscles there. Cathy had explained that Kai’s disease mostly affected his legs, but that it was present in every muscle in his body. “Kai? It’s Art. The book man,” he clarified, which was the sign name Kai had given him. “It’s time to wake up. You’re safe.”
Kai shifted. It was subtle. If he hadn’t been intubated, he may even have sighed. Though his lids didn’t open, his eyes moved beneath them.
The doctor found this encouraging and wordlessly urged Art to keep going.
“If you wake up, I’ll read to you. The Once and Future King. You’ll like it. It’s the story of King Arthur.”
Kai’s nose twitched, then scrunched up. The hand Art wasn’t holding fisted the sheets, and his body started to tense. The monitor spiked and let out a warning. Was he in pain? The thought had barely formed in Art’s mind when Kai’s entire body stiffened, and then he started to shake.
Art could barely register what was happening, but the doctor snapped into work immediately, hitting an alarm on the wall and commanding Art leave. Now.
Art obeyed, standing outside the curtained cubicle, watching as other nurses and doctors flooded the small space, the sounds of urgent talking, the monitor blaring. He remembered the surgeon had admitted Kai’s heart had stopped during the surgery. Was that what was happening now?
After only a few minutes, another nurse, this one younger and so green she was practically an alien found him and offered him some coffee, leading him away from the chaos of what was going on behind the curtain and making him sit down in what had to be the break area for the nurses.
“He’ll be OK,” she said with a smile. She was tall and slim with long straight dark hair she had braided and then twisted up behind her head, out of the way. Her nametag said Victoria Gregory, RN.
Art wanted to believe her, so he strained out a smile and sipped the drink. It was awful, but it was something to do, and this was all too reminiscent of the night he lost Martha that he was grateful Nurse Victoria was sitting with him.
A few minutes later, Dr. Karlsen found him and led him into a small consultation room they apparently didn’t use much for that purpose because half the space was filled with shelves stocked with gloves, tubes, syringes, and other medical supplies.
The doctor’s face was grave. “Jo--Kai,” he correct himself with a pained smile, “had a major seizure. His kidneys are failing and that, combined with the blood loss caused an imbalance in his electrolytes that caused his heart and brain to malfunction temporarily. The neurologist is with him now. But we’re faced with a dilemma: there is medication we can give him to suppress future seizures, but it impairs consciousness and right now we need to know if Kai can wake up, and how aware he is when he does. We also need to decide if it’s time to start him on dialysis. It’ll stabilize his system and prevent a cascade of other problems, but the strain of it could be far too much for his already weak body to tolerate.”
“So we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t?” Art’s smile was bitter.
Dr. Karlsen shrugged, sighed. “My personal recommendation is to move Kai to the pediatric ICU and treat him with some medication to strengthen his heartbeat and give him a few more hours to see if he can pull through without additional intervention. If that fails, we can try dialysis or antiepileptics, but it may be best to keep him comfortable until nature takes its course.”
Art felt like he’d been punched in the gut; for a moment he couldn’t breathe. “You need to call Cathy Evans at County House. She’s his legal guardian and she’s the one who has to make these decisions.”
Karlsen nodded gravely. “You can go back in. Sit with him. Talk to him. I’ll give his guardian a call.”
Kai had been settled into a PICU room about an hour ago. The doctors were still waiting either for Kai to wake up or for Cathy to give them orders on what to do next. Art had read aloud several chapters of The Once and Future King and was getting tired. He rose to check on Kai again. No change. That wasn’t necessarily bad, though. His heart rate was high but regular, and he hadn’t had another seizure despite the doctors’ expectations.
Art smoothed Kai’s hair and held his hand. “You can do this,” he whispered. “You can fight this.” Art leaned in and planted a kiss on Kai’s forehead. He felt silly for doing so, and knew that if Kai were conscious, he would have hated it. He stared down at Kai, willing him to open his eyes. To give him one of his characteristic glares. But the boy didn’t move except for the automated rise and fall of his chest. Art heard what sounded like a camera going off, and he looked up.
Cathy stood in the doorway with a polaroid camera around her neck, shaking the recently taken photo to speed its development. “Whatever happens, I wanted to capture that. The nurses keep this handy for parents. Just in case.” Just in case, what? So they could get a picture of their kid with all these tubes in his body before he died? “You can have it,” she said, stepping closer and offering the photo to him.
Art shook his head. “I don’t want to remember him like this.” Art’s stomach fell when he realized he’d come to think Kai wouldn’t make it, either.
Cathy nodded. Set the camera aside and slipped the photo into her bag.
“So I guess that’s it,” Art said, defeated, still smoothing Kai’s hair. He cleared his throat, realizing he was getting much more upset than he should, especially in front of Cathy. “When do they pull the plug?”
Cathy looked wounded, but then she sighed. She took Kai’s other hand and rubbed it gently, almost fondly. “State wanted to let him die. No dialysis, no more interventions, just keep him comfortable till his heart gives out.” But then she smiled. “But then the governor may have gotten a reminder that letting an adorable, abused, disabled boy die because he wanted to save a few bucks wouldn’t look great for his election campaign, especially when it hit the 10 o’clock news.”
A chuckle escaped Art’s mouth. “You blackmailed the governor?”
“Blackmail is such a harsh word,” Cathy said with a shrug. “I prefer pressured persuasion.”
A huge wave of relief hit Art. It felt like he had when he’d gotten the call that Robert, his third son, was safe and coming home. Little did he know at the time that Robert wasn’t uninjured after all. But Art quickly dismissed the thought of the son he’d lost to suicide, because it would only drag him down. “So what did you decide?”
Cathy seemed fascinated with how tiny Kai’s fingers were; she kept tracing them and smiling unconsciously. “If we don’t do the dialysis, he’ll die. If we do, he may die anyway.” Art knew all this already. “I think it’s worth the risk.” She glanced up, meeting Art’s eyes, as if she were asking if he agreed with her.
“I wish there was another option.”
Cathy nodded absently and let go of Kai’s hand.
When she did, his fingers moved, as if searching for her. Cathy didn’t notice and Art didn’t want to get his hopes up. The monitor beeped, but not like before, more like a warning. Art and Cathy both turned their attention to Kai. The way his chest was moving, it wasn’t right. Like he was struggling. The rhythm of the respirator had gotten off somehow. The monitor beeped again, and the nurse rushed in.
She checked Kai, then adjusted some of the settings on the respirator. The monitor quieted, but Kai still seemed like he was gasping, squirming a little in the bed even if his eyes were still closed and there was no sign he was conscious.
“He’s fighting the respirator,” the nurse explained, but she was smiling.
Art didn’t understand.
“It means he’s trying to breathe on his own,” Cathy explained. She was smiling, too. “It means he may be waking up.”
The nurse was quick to quell their enthusiasm, clearly not wanting to get their hopes up, reminding them it could be a false alarm, but her body language suggested that she also saw this as a good sign. “I’ll get the pulmonologist in here right away.”
While Cathy and Art waited for the nurse to return or the doctor to arrive, they both hovered over Kai’s bed, speaking to him in soothing tones, encouraging him. Kai’s nose kept twitching and scrunching up, and he was moving more and more like he was uncomfortable, in pain, or both.
“Shh. Shh, you’re OK. You’re safe. Relax,” Art coaxed, praying that this movement wasn’t the preamble to another seizure.
Art felt Kai’s hand move in his. The monitor beeped. His heart was racing, and Art worried that instead of all this movement being good news, it meant Kai was dying. But then Kai’s eyes squeezed tight, and a breath later, opened to slits.
Art almost screamed in joy. “Kai? It’s me, Art. The book man. You’re safe. Don’t worry.”
But Kai didn’t seem to hear, or maybe he didn’t understand. He pulled his hand from Art’s with surprising strength, and tried to sign, or maybe just bring his hand to his face, but his wrists were secured so he wouldn’t disturb any of his lines or tubes. His eyes opened a fraction more, the monitor let out a more insistent alarm. He was terrified.
Fortunately, the pulmonologist arrived moments later. Art recognized him because he’d treated Kai before when he’d been hospitalized because of his breathing problem. Something common. Not Smith. No, an ex-president’s name. Jefferson? Johnson?
“Shh, Kai, it’s Dr. Johnsen,” the doctor introduced himself, speaking to Kai but also working at the same time, listening to his lungs, checking the monitors and making a few adjustments. He laid his hand on Kai’s chest so gently that he was barely touching it. The man’s large hand made Kai seem even smaller by comparison. “Shh. You’re safe. Relax.” Johnsen looked up at Art and Cathy. “I adjusted some of the settings so he can control the respiration rate, so he’s not fighting the machine. I also temporarily changed it so he’s breathing in some of the air he breathed out. It’s like using a paper bag. It’ll help stop the hyperventilation and calm him down a little.”
Kai was already a little calmer, and the machine’s beep had settled into a slower, steadier rhythm. But he still was restless. His right hand contracted into a fist, and even though his lids were heavy, he made eye contact with Art, pleading. His nose wrinkled and he pressed his head back against the pillow.
Without being certain, Art said, “I think he’s in pain.” He smoothed Kai’s hair. It was damp from sweat and sticking to his forehead.
Johnsen nodded. “I’m just a consult, but I’ll call his doctor and see what we can do.”
Only one shot of a low dose of morphine was all the pain medicine Kai was allowed. There was too much risk of his intestines shutting down if they gave him more, and his kidneys were too precarious for Tylenol. Despite clearly being exhausted, Kai hadn’t been able to sleep since he’d woken up. The neuro had determined Kai was cognizant but he wasn’t confident that Kai wouldn’t have more seizures, and since Kai couldn’t communicate well, he didn’t want to rule out brain damage, although Kai seemed able to move fine, his weakness and disability aside.
But Kai was hurting. And he didn’t understand why. Art could tell that much by the way Kai looked at him so pleadingly. He was still intubated but it was mostly a failsafe in case he stopped breathing and also to prevent him from hyperventilating too much. Art held his hand and smoothed his hair. It killed him to see Kai so uncomfortable, and not able to do anything about it. He’d tried to read to Kai a few times, but Kai didn’t like that Art had to stop touching him so he could hold the book and turn the pages, so he stopped.
Kai’s nurse came in to do her usual check on his IVs.
“Please, isn’t there anything more you can give him?”
She looked sympathetic and shook her head. “The doctors say he can’t have any more pain medicine for a few hours, unless his kidney function improves.”
Tears seeped from Kai’s eyes, and Art suspected he’d be crying harder if the respirator would have allowed it.
“Can I at least hold him?”
At first it looked like she was going to say no, but then she said, “Let me check with his doctor. He may not want Kai moved.”
Fortunately, the doctor in charge of Kai’s care in PICU had given his nurse the OK, along with a moderate increase in the sedative he was on. It wouldn’t really dampen his pain, but it would make him sleepy and calmer. Art sat in a puffy rocker-recliner the nurse had had brought in, extra pillows and blankets arranged in his lap and on his sides. Then, with the help of another couple nurses, Kai was very carefully and gently moved from the bed to Art’s lap, making sure none of his lines or wires were damaged or kinked and his broken leg was elevated. Kai’s tears came freely despite how gentle they were, and when Art covered him in a warm, soft quilt, Kai gripped it tight.
“Shh, I know it hurts,” Art whispered once Kai was settled, cradling him a little in one of his arms and using his other hand to tuck him in and smooth his face. Kai was so small for his age, even though he was still too big to be a baby, swaddled like this, he almost resembled an overgrown newborn.
Kai continued to cry but he turned his head into Art’s arm and with his outer arm he found Art and clung to him. Art could feel Kai trembling from the pain, and it broke his heart, but he was glad that he was here and Kai wasn’t going through this alone.
The nurses had found a table that they’d modified so Art could use it to hold a book so he only needed one hand to turn the pages. So Art held Kai and rocked him and read to him, encouraging Kai to ignore everything but the sound of the words, picturing the story in his head. Art wasn’t sure if Kai would understand or not, but if this was all he could do to help Kai get through this, then it was exactly what he would do. Even if it meant holding and rocking and reading to him for hours.
And it did take hours, and a second shot of pain medicine before Kai finally did fall asleep. He never let go of Art, and Art never wanted to let go of him. No matter what history lay in the bookstore, maybe it would be worth giving up to give Kai a stable home at last. Or Art could take on a partner so he could afford to live in a house or apartment that would accommodate Kai’s disability. Of course, Kai’s health care costs were enormous, and Art knew it wasn’t realistic, but he hated that after all this Kai would have to go back to County House, to think no one cared for him and no one ever would.
Art held Kai like he hadn’t been held in years and whispered, “You’re safe. You’ll be OK. You’ll get through this.”
He already was. Somehow just being held and reassured and distracted from his pain had helped stabilize him enough the doctors decided Kai would make it without needing dialysis. Kai was a fighter and a survivor, but he was still a scared little boy. Art smoothed his hair out of his face, admiring how sweet Kai looked as he slept. Even with the healing bruises, even with the surgery he’d just undergone, he still seemed so innocent, even if that innocence had been defiled.
Art determined that no matter what, even if he couldn’t foster or adopt Kai, he’d be there for him. It would take a lot of time for Kai to recover physically, and maybe even more for the mental wounds to heal, and Kai would need someone he could cling to, just as he did now, his tiny hand fisted in Art’s shirt. Kai had gone through the experience that brought him here alone, but he’d never be alone again.