Mending Wounded Hearts

Chapter Twenty-two ***Goodbye to an old life

Our dinner out Wednesday was wonderful; we ate at a Santa Paula steakhouse and truly enjoyed ourselves. 

Ally was absolutely stunning and the black pantsuit and heels with a sparkling gold top really made her shine. 

We talked for hours and walked through the airport looking at various aircraft.

"I'm really looking forward to next Friday night, Rob, and I'm glad we delayed our trip just a bit. Hopefully nothing will keep you from resting up for the flight."

"Same here, Ally; it's a good thing because I had told Espen's mom that I would shuttle them home and I think Brandon will go over and help Espen with his mobility issues. I will take Kelly to his old place so he can retrieve some personal stuff and put that place behind him. Plus it will be good for them to spend some quiet time together. Cammy said that Kelly can bunk with Wade and Carter."

"It's good they all get along so well, Carter and Kelly are getting very close. It's like those boys are all family." 

"I think that has a lot to do with our attitudes towards caring for children. They see me, Dennis and Cammie and now you, treating them like our own instead of some visiting kid that means nothing. It makes them more comfortable with the situation and more emotionally open. It was great to see Kelly sitting on Dennis' lap yesterday just hanging out and watching a show," I explained.

"I'm not surprised, he sees Wade and Carter both cuddling up to you and figures he can do the same, and he's right. Dennis is a great guy and Cammie really couldn't ask for a better one."

"He's a standup guy, that's for sure, and a great friend."

"Before I forget, I'm going to ride with you to the hospital and get my truck and then go back to my place and pack for our weekend."

"I was going to ask, Hon, I figured you'd want more than a change of jeans and a pants suit." 

"Is this moving too fast for you, babe?" Ally asked softly.

"Not at all, it goes as fast as it goes, neither of us is setting the pace. Life comes at you whether you're ready or not."

"It takes a lot to ruffle your feathers doesn't it? Carter didn't shake you with his penis questions and even dealing with two homeless boys and all their problems hasn't made you flinch."

"Well, I figure getting all freaked out by a situation won't help resolve it. It usually makes things worse. My dad always said I had the coolest head in the family. My brother would get emotional and my sister would go basket case in any emergency. Dad was steady but Mom was a rock in a crisis and I took after them. I don't think it's something you can teach. I think Brandon has that quality, I'm not sure about Kelly yet."

"Well, I can tell you that Carter is stuck on you and he thinks you are Superman and all that goes with it. He told me he wished he could call you Daddy like Kelly and Brandon do."

"It wouldn't be a problem for me, I've developed quite an attachment for him as well, I think it's safe to say I love him. He's a wonderful boy and very bright. I would be proud to have a son like him; in fact he's a lot like Ewan was at that age. He's my second youngest. I suppose we need to have a get together and introduce you to them, they usually all show up for Christmas but sooner would be better."

"And you have five sons?"  Ally asked.

"Well, five with Carolina but we took in some strays. Most of them went back with their parents when whatever the crisis was had been resolved. Kevin and Riley stayed on until they went off to college. They each came back briefly after graduation but they were anxious to get out on their own. They had a trust that was setup with insurance money and proceeds from the sale of their parents’ house. They were brothers and were orphaned suddenly. Social services kept separating them and one or the other would run away and track down his brother so when we heard about them at a party, Carolina said to send them both to us and we'd keep them together. They were always good as gold for us and just melded into the family. Most of my sons still foster children. And of course there's Henri who is the son of Maurice. Although he lives in France now, he and his wife visit here and I visit there and they have quite a brood including a couple strays."

"Did your family take in kids as well when you were young?"

"Yes, I have several unofficial brothers. And there were a few that only stayed for a couple weeks and went home."

"We did the same on our farm, everybody there was like family anyway with a few exceptions, and those usually only worked a season and then moved on. But for the most part everyone looked after all the kids, it's a great way to grow up."

"Well, it sure worked out for you and Cammie, you two are wonderful people. And judging by what Pam said you come from good people."

"She's a sweet lady and a good friend. We'll have to go to dinner with her soon. We eat together at least a couple of times a month and you'll need to bring the boys."

"I like the sound of that, and we'll need to do the same with Jerry. He's a good friend but he's on his own. He joins me for dinner regularly." 

"He's quite a doctor too, imagine taking the time to grab pruning shears on the way out the door."

"That's probably why he asked me about the size of the twig in Espen's chest." I surmised.

"No doubt."

I detected a shiver and draped my jacket over her shoulders. 

"Ooh, chivalry, how romantic," Ally quipped.

“Well, I was just carrying the thing anyway, It’s always too warm to suit me." Ally giggled but said nothing as we walked back to my car.

"You really seem to like ragtops and this thing is a beauty."

My 48 New Yorker glistened in the moonlight and the beacon from the tower. 

"I saved it from becoming a fake Town and Country. It was largely complete and getting the remaining chrome bits was relatively easy. There aren't a lot of original New Yorker convertibles still existing. T&C's bring so much more at auction that people were manufacturing them from New Yorkers. Record keeping was lousy back then so production figures are iffy at best. But I saved this one."

"I'm guessing that blue is your favorite color," Ally grinned.

"One of them certainly, but it depends on the car. I'll have to show you my stable at some point soon."

"I'd like that, let's head on back before they send out a posse," Ally giggled.

Thursday it was time to head down and bring Espen back to his home in Santa Paula. Claire had accepted Brandon's offer to stay over and help Espen with mobility issues. So Ally, Kelly and Brandon joined me as we stopped by and picked up Claire at her home. Meanwhile Carter would be going riding with Wade and Cammie. Carter wasn't big on long boring car trips. Since the 126 was open all the way through to Ventura and the 101 had been reopened, we took the easy route and dropped Claire, Brandon and Ally with plenty of kisses to tide them over.

Kelly and I drove to his old trailer and sat outside while he worked up his nerve. When he was ready he handed me the key and I unlocked the door and cut the seal. I asked Kelly to wait while I checked out the scene, it was pretty grim. The place stunk and looked like a typical tweaker dwelling. I left the door open and checked the bathroom, it was worse. The scene had not been cleaned and blood spattered the walls and shower curtain. 

I went back and told Kelly he had to stay out of the bathroom. I ushered him in and he walked to what had been his bed. It was a packing case for something large and a small mattress was sitting atop it with faded cartoon characters on the sheets. It was the only clean spot in the whole trailer. Kelly walked straight to it and pulled the mattress off and reached into the head end and pulled out a collection of plastic bags containing photos and cards and other items of concern to him. He put all that in one of the large canvas totes I had brought. He asked me to help tip over the packing case and we were both amazed. A milk crate full of cash and baggies of what I presumed were drugs.

Kelly walked past all that and seized a plastic bag and brought it out. The bag contained a ragged looking teddy bear which Kelly hugged briefly and placed it in another tote. "That's all I was after, Kelly uttered vacantly."

It was all that remained of his past life. We waited for Steve to arrive, take custody of the evidence and reseal the scene. Kelly took the opportunity to look at the pictures he had retrieved. Most were of Kelly or a school friend One was a younger photo of his mother before she met Lyle and got wound up in drugs. The most important photo was his grandmother. It had been hard informing her that her daughter was deceased and that Kelly was alone in the world. She wished she could take him but her health was failing. I had Kelly make a habit of calling to talk to her and maintaining that connection as long as he could. If I could, I would get him back there to visit so she could see he was in good hands.

A young officer in the report car arrived and I informed her that the situation had changed and I had contacted Detective Nelson to retrieve the cash and drugs.

Steve told me later that they brought a dog in but literally every surface had drug residue on it. The dog had to be taken outside and allowed to rest.

We took our leave as soon as an armed officer arrived. You can't leave a non-sworn officer alone with evidence like that. I had photographed the crate and the milk crate with the cash and drugs for safety's sake.

"Did you know that other stuff was under there Kelly?" I asked.

"No but I'm not surprised, Lyle didn't care about anyone except himself. If I had been there when they came they would probably have killed me too."

Almost a year later Paco, Flavio and five others engaged in a gunfight with a rival gang; Paco was killed by the rivals who took heavy losses as well. Flavio was killed when he shot at police officers arriving on scene. Nine men from the two gangs were killed and three wounded.

Kelly didn't smile when I told him the news but he wasn't sad about their fate.

Kelly was quiet  on the trip to the hospital. He seemed to perk up when he saw Espen and Brandon and chatted with them amiably.

We loaded Espen up and I was surprised at how well he was getting around. It wasn't long before he was in his own bed and Kelly and I said our goodbyes and I decided he could use a bump in his spirits, so I swung by the little café that Ronny's folks owned.

We didn't have a chance to surprise Ronny, he was riding his bike in circles in the gravel parking lot and Kelly grinned broadly.

Ronny had heard of Kelly's new situation. They just hadn't seen each other since they said goodbye the last time.

Ronny nearly crashed but pulled it out and rolled his bike to the building and leaned it on a post. I parked and released Kelly to greet the boy bouncing just beyond his door.

"I'll see you inside I called." But I figured I would have to track them down to get Kelly fed."

Mary gave me a hug as soon as I walked through the door. She told me how much better Ronny seemed to feel after his visit. I had told her that Kelly was in my care permanently pending review. We discussed the schools around the area and she recommended Ronny's school, Langham Academy without reservation.

I asked if they would come to a memorial service in the Mojave for Kelly's mom. 

"Just name the day and we'll be there, Rob."

"How do you feel about having Ronny over this weekend, Rob?"

"He's more than welcome, Mary, and it's good timing because next weekend I'm flying North with a nice young woman who seems to find me attractive."

"Wow, I didn't see that coming but it sounds wonderful."

"Shall I just lug Ronny along with us now or do you want to drop him off and meet Ally."

"It will work better for us if we pick him up when we return and maybe meet Ally then, will that be okay?" Mary asked.

"Works for me, I'd like to get Kelly fed though."

"Let's get them in here, Ronny needs to eat too."

I went out and found Ronny and Kelly leaning on the truck and Kelly was showing his pictures to Ronny. I asked them to come in for lunch and told Ronny that his mom wanted to talk to him first.

Kelly and I visited the restroom and returned to the table. We found a jubilant Ronny grinning ear to ear with excitement.

"Kelly! I get to spend all weekend with you and Uncle Rob. Mom just told me."

It was the perfect news for Kelly, he jumped up and hugged Ronny and then ran and hugged Mary. He would have hugged the cook if he could get at him he was so happy.

"Mom and Dad are going to a wedding and I get to stay behind and hangout with you," Ronny chirped.

They settled down enough to get some food in them but they were anxious to get going. Who could blame them?

I asked Mary for a check and she responded with, "Get serious."

"Do I need to run Ronny home so he can grab some clothes?"

"I suppose that's a good idea assuming he doesn't run around naked all weekend. If you don't mind stopping though, I'd appreciate it."

"Consider it done," I promised.

Ronny kissed his mom and then Kelly followed suit and thanked her for letting him visit.

When we arrived, Ally and Cammie were in the kitchen and Wade and Carter were splashing around in the pool. Kelly and Ronny paused to greet the ladies and raced upstairs to change. They joined the other boys in the pool splashing and giggling.

Rob, I hate to bug you but my truck was acting weird just before I got here, could you have a look?

"Sure, it has an OBD port for the newer engine right?"

"Yes, it's right by the wiper motor and has a neon yellow cap on the connector."

I rolled the truck into my car barn and she was right, it was acting badly. The analyzer told me it was the map sensor so I pulled it for inspection and found a crack that was causing a vacuum leak.

"I'll head over to the parts store in the morning and get the new map sensor. It's just two screws and it should be good as new."

"Great, I was worried. I love that old beast."

"I think Carter is tired," Kelly informed me. 

Kelly stood there holding Carter with a towel wrapped around the younger boy.

I reached out to take him and Kelly blanched, "It's okay I'll just take him up and put him on my bed."

I realized that Kelly himself was nude and he didn't want to hand over his shield. Ally and Cammie both waited until he was well away before giggling at his little bare bottom. I spotted him returning with another towel around his waist and chuckled to myself. 

When I spoke to him about his shyness later he told me he was uncomfortable even being in just his underwear around Lyle. He always changed in the bathroom or under his blanket.

After I repaired the truck, Ally and I went on a little drive and I showed her a couple nice views that most folks don't know about. The truck ran great and we headed back.

Upon our return we found Carter playing quietly with a game and Kelly and Wade were conked out on the couch in their towels and Kelly's had slid off completely. Cammie and Ronnie were asleep on a loveseat.

"Kelly sweetheart, let's get you up and dressed for dinner."

"Oh hi Ally, he said groggily. Suddenly he realized he was exposed and grabbed at his towel apologizing profusely. Kelly jumped up and ran to his room and Ally walked behind him giving me a signal to stay put."

She returned fifteen minutes later explaining that they talked and he was okay for now. 

I spoke to him about it later and he said Ally was very nice and told him there was nothing wrong with her seeing him nude and he did nothing wrong. That's when he told me his concerns about Lyle and the instructions that his mother gave him about being undressed where people could see him. I guess it did a number on his poor little head. I suggested he discuss it with Wade for a peer's perspective. He said he would and we got on with other things.