“How’s Troy?” Rosalie asked as she entered the kitchen, wrapped in one of Lisa’s dressing gowns.
Alan looked up from where he was packing Troy’s lunchbox and gave his mother a quizzical look. “He seems fine. Why?”
“I heard you and Peter last night. You seemed concerned, though you managed it by yourselves.”
“Sorry. We didn’t want to wake you.” Alan gave her a weak smile. “He seems okay this morning, so we think it was just indigestion.”
“Probably.” Rosalie chuckled. “He certainly ate a lot last night.” She moved to the pantry and pulled out a box of cereal. “What are your plans for today?”
“After I drop Troy off at school, I’ll be taking Bradley to the doctor’s for his appointment.” Alan shrugged. “It may be there’s nothing they can do, but Merry told me to trust my instincts.”
“It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t cost a lot. A lot of doctors bulk bill kids—and I believe Lisa’s doctor is one of them—so it may cost you nothing at all. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.”
Alan stared at the collection of containers that made up Troy’s lunchbox. “I hope I’ve done this right. Troy doesn’t like it when he doesn’t have everything he usually has.” He grinned at his mother. “We both missed him telling Peter off last week. Apparently, he was really angry that Peter hadn’t included a snack for play lunch. According to Peter, Troy even stamped his foot!”
Rosalie chuckled. “And since you’re still working things out, this week will be your turn. Be prepared.”
Before Alan could respond, Peter and Troy entered the kitchen. Troy looked around and then frowned. “Where’s my brekkie?”
Rosalie chuckled as a look of panic appeared on Alan’s face, but she declined to intervene. Alan was going to need to learn all of the little jobs that Peter had been doing first thing in the morning, and it was wiser to let Peter teach him. The sooner the two young men were able to settle into a routine, the better it would be for everyone. That was also why she intended to spend most of the day at the hospital with Lisa. Alan needed to learn to look after Bradley without relying on her to take over whenever he wanted a break.
* * *
Dr. Schiffer smiled as Alan and Bradley entered his office and sat down. “How can I help you today?”
Alan glanced at his nephew. “Bradley’s been wetting his bed a lot recently: three or four times a week. His parents were involved in a car accident just over two weeks ago. His father passed away, and his mother’s still in hospital. We’re not sure if that’s a factor or if this is normal.”
“And you are…?”
“He’s my Uncle Alan,” Bradley said before Alan could answer. “He’s looking after me and Troy because our daddy’s in heaven.”
Alan reached into the bag he had brought with him and pulled out a folder. “I have the guardianship papers here if you need a copy.”
“Thank you, though that won’t be necessary.” The doctor paused before continuing. “A lot of kids his age still have incidents of nocturnal enuresis, and that’s normal. Bladder control at night is not always perfect, even after they’ve mastered daytime control. Stress can also cause a temporary reversion, too. If he’s otherwise fine, then I would expect that to rectify itself over time. However, there are a few other possibilities that we can check out. Firstly, though, did he wet his bed before the car accident?”
“Lisa told me he did. That’s why there’s a waterproof cover on his mattress.”
Alan hesitated. “I don’t know. I can ask her if it’s important.”
Dr. Schiffer shook his head. “Let’s leave that for now. I was more checking to see if the problem has been getting worse. Does anyone in his family have a history of bedwetting at Bradley’s age?”
“Not as far as I know.”
“It’s not uncommon for children to learn night-time bladder control around the same age as their parents. If either of his parents were late, it wouldn’t be unusual for Bradley to be late, too.”
The doctor questioned Alan for a few more minutes until Bradley started to fidget. The doctor then concentrated on the young boy as he conducted what appeared to be a routine examination.
“You seem to be as fit as a fiddle, Bradley,” the doctor said with a smile. “I just need to talk to your uncle for a few more minutes, and then you can go.”
Dr. Schiffer grinned. “I suspect he’s just a little bit late in his development, but not so late that we need to be concerned. Eventually, he should be able to sleep through the night without a problem. In the meantime, there are alarms you can buy that will wake him when they detect moisture, or you can simply wake him in the middle of the night and make him go to the toilet. That will relieve the pressure on his bladder and should allow a dry night most of the time. There are also some nasal sprays we can use that will help control his nocturnal emissions, but they don’t fix the problem; they only hide it by suppressing urine production. I would only recommend them if the bedwetting is causing him distress.”
“Thank you.” Alan sighed with relief. “No, he’s not upset. We were just concerned that it was because of the accident.”
“That may have impacted on his development, but as he settles into a new routine, that will correct itself.” The doctor turned to his computer and started typing. “However, just to check for some other less likely possibilities, I’d like to order a couple of tests. One is a blood test for diabetes. Since we’re taking a blood sample, I’ll order a full blood examination at the same time, just in case it shows up anything else.”
“Diabetes?” Alan blinked. It was something he had never considered.
“A small percentage of bedwetting is caused by diabetes since the condition results in a higher-than-normal urine production. It’s unlikely, but let’s check it out.” Dr. Schiffer gave Alan a reassuring smile. “On a similar vein, I’d also like to order an ultrasound for Bradley to eliminate any internal structural problems. It’s better to be safe than sorry.” He took two sheets from the printer next to his computer terminal and signed both. “Here you are. Take the first one to the front desk, and they’ll arrange for a nurse to take the blood sample. The second order has a list of radiology places that can do an ultrasound on the back. You shouldn’t have any problems getting in today if you have time.”
“Thanks.” Alan accepted the papers and then shook the doctor’s hand. “What happens if one of the tests indicates a problem?”
“We’ll be back in touch. If you like, you can ring here tomorrow for the blood-test results, but if there are any concerns and we need you to come back in we’ll ring you. Similarly for the ultrasound. We’ll generally have those results back within an hour of the test being completed.”
Alan thanked the doctor and then returned to the reception area. After being told that Bradley’s appointment would be bulk billed and hence there would be no charge, he was directed to the area where he took a number and waited for the pathology nurse to call them. They had to wait for another twenty minutes before he and Bradley were seen, but with both a television playing and a collection of toys in the corner, the young boy was kept occupied.
“What do we have today?” the nurse asked once they were in the privacy of the collection unit.
Alan handed over the form from the doctor. “A blood test.”
The nurse smiled at Bradley. “Can you climb into that comfy chair there? I’m going to need you to be very brave.”
Bradley clambered into the collection chair and relaxed against the reclined back. “I’m brave!”
“That’s good, because you need to support your dad to make sure he doesn’t faint.”
Alan grimaced, but Bradley wasn’t upset. “He’s not my daddy. He’s my Uncle Alan. My daddy’s in heaven.”
The nurse winced. “Sorry.” She gave him a broad smile as she took Bradley’s arm and pushed up his sleeve. “Can you help me make sure your uncle doesn’t get upset? You know what grownups are like: scared of everything.”
Bradley gave her a puzzled look. “Uncle Alan doesn’t get scared.” He glanced down at where the nurse was slipping a pressure cuff around his bicep. “What’s that?”
Alan sat in the seat next to the collection chair while the nurse explained how she needed to take a little bit of blood from his arm, but it would only hurt for a moment, and then it would be over. She smiled. “But grownups sometimes get upset when they see a needle, so you need to make sure your uncle stays calm. Can you hold his hand and talk to him while it’s happening so he doesn’t get scared?”
Bradley gave Alan a look of uncertainty. Alan smiled and took the young boy’s hand. “It’ll be okay, Bradley. Why don’t you tell me what you do at playgroup? I’ll be taking you on Thursday to see Mike and the other kids, but I don’t know what happens there. Can you tell me?”
Bradley’s face lit up. “We do all sorts of things! There are blocks to play with and a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. We sometimes play outside, too, and Mrs. Kaye always reads us a story.”
Alan kept his attention on Bradley while the nurse smiled and nodded her approval. Bradley kept talking until the nurse rubbed a wipe on his arm. Bradley turned his head and stared. “What are you doing?”
“I’m about to take a little bit of your blood, but this is when you need to keep your uncle calm. Make sure you look him in the eye and tell him that there’s nothing to be afraid of.” While she was talking, the nurse prepared the needle.
Bradley’s head snapped around so he was looking at Alan and away from what the nurse was doing. “You’re not afraid, are you, Uncle Alan?” He seemed uneasy, and Alan could see that his little body was beginning to tense.
“A little.” Alan wasn’t lying, though it was the possible result of the blood test that was bothering him. He put a smile on his face. “But I’ve got you here with me, and that makes me feel better.”
Bradley stiffened for a moment when the needle entered his arm, but otherwise showed no sign of distress. When the nurse released the pressure in the arm cuff, he looked around. “Is it over?” He stared down at his arm at the blood going into the small tube. “Is that my blood?”
“It is, and you’ve done an excellent job in keeping your uncle calm. Well done, Bradley. We’re almost there…” The nurse adroitly removed the needle and put a small piece of cotton wool on the hole. “…and done! I just need you to put your fingers on this and hold it in place for a few seconds.”
“That wasn’t scary at all!”
Alan smiled at how calm Bradley was as the nurse labelled the tube and put a small bandage on Bradley’s arm. It could’ve been a lot more stressful, but the young boy took everything in his stride.
* * *
After an unexpected, initial busy period in the store, Peter and Scott took a few minutes out to relax.
“You seem a lot happier today.” Scott grinned. “Did you have a good weekend?”
“The weekend wasn’t bad, but it’s more that Alan’s no longer working. It was his responsibility to get Troy and Bradley ready this morning, and that’s a chore I’m glad I don’t have to do anymore.”
“Was it really that onerous?”
Peter considered the matter before responding. “Not really, but it wasn’t something I enjoyed, especially when one of the boys played up. There’s nothing more annoying than getting Bradley ready for the day only to find that Troy hasn’t bothered getting himself dressed and I needed to get him ready, too.”
“Really?” Scott gave Peter a sardonic stare. “Getting two kids dressed is that annoying? Aren’t you exaggerating just a bit?”
“Okay, maybe a little, but I only had a limited time to get them fed, dressed, and ready. That included packing Troy’s school bag and a bag for Bradley to take to childcare. Alan’s lucky; he doesn’t have to do that last one.”
“Alan’s staying home to look after Bradley, right?”
“Yeah…” Peter sighed. “At least he didn’t have to quit his job, which is what we first thought he’d have to do. His boss has given him time off without pay for a few months. We’re crossing our fingers that a spot at the childcare place will open up before that time runs out so we can put Bradley back into care and Alan can go back to work.”
“Money’s going to be tight?”
Peter’s response was curt. “We’ll manage.”
Scott held up both hands in surrender. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
Peter grimaced and then gave Scott an apologetic half-smile. “I know. I didn’t mean to snap, either. I’ve just been so stressed. Some of that has gone now that Alan’s taking over the parenting duties, but I just wish we could go back to the way things were before.”
“They will. You told me that Alan’s sister will be back home by the end of the year, and then you and Alan can go back to being party boys.” Scott grinned.
“We were never party boys!” Peter made a face. “I’ll just be happy not having the kids controlling what we do.” He didn’t correct Scott’s comment about when Lisa would be released from the hospital. They still didn’t know, and Peter was keeping his fingers crossed that it would be before Christmas.
“That’ll happen. Just give it time.” Scott cocked his head. “What are your plans for tonight?”
“What do you mean?”
“From what you’ve told me, Alan’s spending all day with a four-year-old. By the time you get home, he’s going to need a break.”
“Shit!” Peter realised that Scott was right. “Hopefully, his mother will look after the kids for a couple of hours so I can look after Alan.” His shoulders slumped. “I can’t wait for this to be over. It feels like a nightmare at times.”
* * *
Alan was watching Bradley play in the radiology reception area when his phone rang. He expected it to be either Peter or his mother, but an unknown number came up instead. He frowned; calls like these were rarely good news. “Alan Thrush.”
“Mr. Thrush, this is Debbie Goldsworthy from the Department of Human Services. Is this a good time to speak?”
Alan swallowed as his apprehension rose. “Yeah, this is fine, though I may have to go at short notice. We’re at the doctor’s.” He was glad that the reception area was empty apart from himself, Bradley, and the receptionist.
“This shouldn’t take long. We understand that you have recently become the guardian for two young boys: Troy and Bradley Lynton. Is that correct?”
“When would be a convenient time for myself and one of my colleagues to come out to see you and the boys?”
“Is that necessary?” Alan had been warned by Helen Chambers, Lisa’s lawyer, that a visit from the department was likely, but he wanted to see if playing dumb would give him any useful information.
“Unfortunately, yes. We’ve received information that your home may not be suitable for young children and that you may not be suitable as their de facto parent. We’d like to see the situation for ourselves.”
Alan couldn’t keep the anger from his voice. “Who told you that?”
“I’m not at liberty to say, but confidentially…” Debbie lowered her tone and began to sound more human than bureaucrat. “…whoever it was has managed to get their referral bumped up in priority without going through normal channels.”
“I see.” Alan hadn’t known that the Lyntons had some influence within the department. He was hoping that increasing the priority of their complaint was the limit of their power. “Troy’s at school during the day, so if you want to see him, it would have to be either after four or on a weekend.”
Debbie reverted to her earlier formal intonation. “Shall we say four-thirty on Thursday?”
“That’s fine with me.”
“Excellent.” The two confirmed the address, and Debbie provided contact details in case a change of plans was required. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Thrush, and I look forward to seeing you and the boys Thursday afternoon.”
After the phone call ended, Alan pondered his next steps. He was worried that the Lyntons had connections that could force a bad result for him and the boys, though he had the impression that unless she saw something that would concern her, Debbie wasn’t going to go out of her way to look for problems.
He was debating whether to ring Peter or Helen Chambers when the opportunity disappeared. A young man in a white coat appeared at the entrance to the working part of the radiology centre. “Bradley Lynton?”
Alan stood up. “Bradley, it’s time to finish up.”
Bradley stared at the tower he had been building with the wooden blocks he had found. He paused for a moment and then gently pushed it over. Once the blocks were scattered everywhere, he stood up and smiled. “Okay, Uncle Alan.”
Alan turned to the reception and pulled a face. “Sorry. We’ll clean that up once we’re done.”
She smiled back. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll do it while your boy has his ultrasound.”
A momentary smile appeared on Alan’s face as a silent expression of his gratitude. He took Bradley’s hand and then looked at the radiologist. “We’re ready.”
* * *
Rosalie was sitting in the chair next to Lisa’s bed when Steve entered. He paused and then smiled. “Hello, Mrs. Thrush. I didn’t expect to see you.”
“And I didn’t expect you, either.” Rosalie smiled as she stood and gave Steve a kiss on the cheek. “What brings you in here? I presume you’re on your lunch break.”
Steve blushed. “My work isn’t far from here, so I drop in a couple of times a week. I’ve also brought Lisa the photos we took on Friday night.”
Lisa straightened in her bed and then winced from the pain her movement had caused. “Photos?”
Steve leant over and gave her a quick peck on the forehead. “Keidan and I had a spare digital photo-frame at home, so we’ve loaded it with photos of the boys, Alan and Peter. We know you speak to them each night, but we thought you’d like to see what they’ve been up to, too.”
Lisa’s expression told Rosalie and Steve how much she wanted to see her boys again. Without saying another word, Steve pulled the small display unit out of his backpack and placed it on the side table next to the bed and switched it on. As a slideshow of the photos from the previous Friday night appeared, to Lisa’s rapt attention, Steve glanced around. A faint frown appeared on his face. “I’ll be back.”
Rosalie took Lisa’s hand as tears started to cascade down Lisa’s face, her eyes never leaving the screen. “Oh, Mum…”
“I know, dear.” Rosalie was close to tears herself as she watched her daughter’s agony of separation. “Alan and Peter can bring the boys in one night or on the weekend, if you want.”
“No!” Lisa couldn’t take her eyes off the photos as each appeared. “Not until I look more like the mummy they know…knew.” She sobbed. “But I miss them so much…”
“I know, dear,” Rosalie repeated, patting Lisa’s hand. “I know.”
A couple of minutes later, Steve returned with one of the nurses who pointed out a power outlet that he could use. He thanked her and quickly plugged in the power supply for the photo frame. “There! You can watch them for as long as you want.” He smiled down at Lisa, but his expression faltered as he took in her tears. “I’ll bring in new pictures each week so you can keep up with what the boys are doing.”
Lisa’s gaze broke contact with the photos for the first time since the slide show started. “Thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Steve cautiously sat on the edge of the bed. “It was Keidan’s idea. I’m glad you like it.”
Lisa returned her attention to the photos. “I love it. I…” She sniffled and drew a hand across her eyes.
Steve took her hand. “It’s okay. It won’t be long before you see the boys in person again.”
Rosalie made a face. She knew it was going to be longer than Lisa wanted, and it was obvious the pain of separation was affecting her daughter. She made a mental note to discuss with Alan and Peter that night as to when it would be an appropriate time to take the boys to see their mother. Lisa’s hair would need to regrow first as well as for most of the visible signs of injury to fade, but it was clear to Rosalie that seeing her boys in person would be a necessary step in Lisa’s recovery.
* * *
As soon as they stepped inside, Bradley started to run through the house. “Grandma! Grandma!”
Alan chuckled as he carried the now ubiquitous bag of essential supplies into the living room. After placing it in the corner of the room until next time, he headed into the kitchen where he could hear Bradley talking excitedly.
“Grandma, I had jelly on my belly!” Bradley was showing Rosalie a sticker with that slogan on his shirt. “See!”
Rosalie grinned. “I certainly can. Was that fun, and when did that happen?” Her gaze flicked to Alan for a moment, silently asking him to answer, before returning her attention to Bradley.
“It felt a little funny, but Trevor showed me some magic stuff, and that was fun!”
Alan smiled. “We went to see a radiologist for an ultrasound. Trevor was the technician who did the tests. He had the screen set up so Bradley could watch what the ultrasound was showing.”
Bradley pulled up his shirt. “He put the jelly here and here.” He pointed to his abdomen, either side of his bellybutton. “It felt funny, but then he used his magic wand to look inside me. He said he needed the jelly to make the wand work.”
“It sounds like someone deserves a treat.” Rosalie winked at Bradley. “And it just so happens that I’ve made some blueberry muffins. Would you like one?”
While Bradley made a mess with his food on the kitchen table, Rosalie raised an eyebrow at Alan. He grinned as he headed to the kettle. “Would you like a cup of tea, Mum?”
Rosalie glared for a moment and then chuckled. “I suppose this is payback for playing with you and Peter when I arrived last week.”
“Not really. I just could do with a cup of coffee.” Alan glanced at Bradley. “The doctor wasn’t concerned about the bedwetting, but he wanted to check out a couple of possibilities to be safe. Bradley’s had a blood test for diabetes and an ultrasound to check for any internal problems. Trevor said someone else would review the ultrasound and dictate the report for the doctor, but he didn’t see anything to be concerned about.”
“So it all went well, then?”
Alan scowled as he looked away. “Apart from one thing.” He ground his teeth for a moment and then looked his mother in the eye. “Someone from the government’s coming out on Thursday to check out the house and talk to the boys. They need to confirm that ‘everything’s okay’.” He mimed quote marks as he said the last two words.
“Is this because of something that Penny and Henry have done?”
“I presume so.” Alan gave her a half-smile. “The person I spoke to seemed annoyed that the report had jumped the queue. I’m hoping that means they’ll be favourably disposed to us before they even arrive.”
Rosalie patted Alan’s arm. “Just be yourself, Alan. You’re a great dad to the boys, and anyone who’s not prejudiced will see that.”
Alan grimaced. “And that’s what’s got me worried. What if they’re homophobic?”
“Cross that bridge when you come to it.” Rosalie frowned. “Don’t you have a lawyer you can speak to?”
“I’ve already done that. She told me essentially the same thing as you: don’t put on a show. If the report from the department comes back negative, Helen said she’d look at appealing, depending on what’s in the report. She also warned me that even if the report comes back positive, the Lyntons still have avenues they can pursue. A positive report will make our position more secure, but Helen said she doesn’t expect the Lyntons to give up.”
Alan watched Bradley start on a second muffin. While he waited for the kettle to boil, Alan mentally confirmed his resolve. He wasn’t giving up the boys.
Copyright Notice - Copyright © January 2017 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author's express permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank C James for providing feedback on the early drafts, and rec for his invaluable editing. I would also like to thank Ricky for that crucial final review before publication.