"Hope Trilogy" #1
Disclaimer: They are not mine. I don't make profit from this. ATF universe belongs to Mog.
Ezra's POV. (First of three related stories)
Thanks to my beta Laura and special thanks to Cynthia for her help.
Feedback is welcome, be kind I'm still learning English.
That awful day began with a Charlie Horse that made me leave the bed too early, it also left my calf hurting for a long time and by consequence I was limping most of those ungodly hours.
I hoped that it wasn't going to be a bad day, but I should have known better after I found, while in the shower, that the conditioner bottle had fallen at some time, and all the contents had spilled.
Deciding that going in search of the reserves I always have could be dangerous, (after all I was still hobbling) I finished my shower without it.
I felt the difference but hoped no one else would. They would need to run their hands through my hair to know, so I was pretty safe.
It wasn't really a surprise when I found that most of the things inside my refrigerator had expired a couple of days ago. Happens a lot when you work undercover.
So I left for work earlier than usual... and then fate continued to play its unkind hand to me and to my beloved car. One vehicle had a mechanical trouble, but it wasn't mine. Said automobile was approaching the intersection when the owner discovered that his brake system was malfunctioning. Unfortunately he didn't have time for anything else and just stopped, rather abruptly, when he impacted my car from behind.
The man was visible shaken by the events, and both of us exited our transports without ill-feelings.
I was truly embarrassed when I had to ask to use his cell to call my insurance company. My phone was nowhere in sight after the collision.
I was surprised to see my hand shake when I dialed, but I didn't give it any importance.
In no time a police officer and the insurance representatives did their respective jobs and found the solutions for the entire situation.
One of the insurance's men lend me his cell to call the work shop that would take care of my vehicle. The other car would be towed as the brakes made it a danger to the public.
By this time my head was pounding and I had a little trouble signing the forms.
The officer was trying to convince me to get checked at the hospital when I found that I was late for work. I asked to use one of the phones, again, and promptly dialed Mr. Larabee´s number.
I informed my team leader of the events, but he had answered the call on speaker since the entire team was in the conference room. It was a little strange when they showed great concern for my well being. I was still at the phone, talking with Chris, when Nathan and Josiah arrived at the place of the collision.
It was Josiah who drove my car to the work shop and Nathan took me to a nearby hospital after talking with the insurance guy, but I'm still not sure when I agreed to any of that.
We arrived at the office a couple of hours later, with a neck brace, a bag of prescriptions and the instructions to go back to my home and "take it easy". I had to promise Nathan that I would do that after the debriefing that Mr. Larabee had scheduled that morning. For this same reason, I had not taken any of the painkillers and muscle relaxants the doctor ordered. I didn't need to be drowsy when the brass asked their questions.
After the meeting ended I went to my desk to wait for Nathan to take me home. There I found my briefcase, car keys and cell phone that Josiah had rescued from under the seat of my car.
I had just placed the phone in my jacket pocket when the thing started ringing.
Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by the news I received.
Any other day I could have hidden my feelings better, but that day, (and I'm still blaming the early collision), I was incapable to mask the worry I felt when I found out why this aunt, who had avoided speaking to me for almost 30 years, was calling me...My Grandmother had to be admitted to the hospital and was going through surgery.
Of course notifying me her condition wasn't the reason of the call, but the fact that the hospital asked the members of the family to undergo a special procedure called apheresis to donate blood for her.
It angered me that they wouldn't have informed me of her condition if the need of blood donors hadn't existed.
(How is that always none of the cousins there could donate?)
Like in the past they had ridiculous excuses: aunts breast feeding their three-year-old kids, uncles with heart conditions; they could run and win marathons, but the stress of donating blood could make them ill, all the feminine cousins who had no kids were indisposed by female situations and all the male ones developed cold symptoms just an hour before and their doctors gave them strong prescriptions that they had taken instantly.
So it would be the black sheep or her offspring who were expected to do it. Apparently our unrighteous life had made us healthier than the rest of the Standishes.
I could have just taken the painkillers I had in my pocket and excused myself too... but I didn't.
Instead I told my aunt that I would be there as soon as I could.
I ended the call to find the Team Seven around my desk and I informed them that I would need a ride to the airport without delay.
Nathan wasn't happy with my intention to travel so soon after the car crash, but he had to accept that the situation was urgent and I hadn't been ordered to remain in bed or not to travel.
I was touched when, more than one of them, volunteered to go to Atlanta with me since I would find it impossible to drive with the contraption attached to my neck.
I had to decline their offers politely.
To face the Standish family was a torture that I would not inflict on them.
After reassuring them that at least one cousin would be waiting for me at the airport to drive me to the hospital, they consented to let me go alone.
J.D. was stunned to know that I had a big family living in Atlanta; he didn't understand why I had agreed to the transfer and left the city and them behind.
I don't think that any of my teammates would ever understand why I accepted it... well, maybe Vin could; I heard him commenting one time that a family could raise a kid without really caring for him. But I always thought that foster parents would at least want the kids they get, wouldn't they?
While the airport security checked my luggage I couldn't help it but remember my friends departing words; they wished me luck, told me that I should rest and eat properly after I visited my Grandmother and to call if I needed anything.
Those two last advices almost made me laugh, why would I call them when I would be miles away, in another city?
And about visiting my Grandmother at her sick bed... I would not do that, unless I wanted her to have a stroke by seeing me there. Well, I had already surmised that not one of them understood my situation.
I found myself inside the plane faster than I could have imagined.
Then I arrived to Atlanta, found the designated cousin and went to the hospital.
Things weren't looking good for Grandmother. For over 20 years she had survived with only one kidney and several hernias, later her liver had begun to malfunction and she was having trouble breathing. Now she would need surgery because she was losing blood by an internal bleed that the doctors couldn't locate.
After I had time to think about it, I realized that on more than one occasion people had brought up the stubborn nature of the Standishes in conversation. Obviously it was by this pure self-will that she had survived to this day.
Waiting by the blood bank wasn't easy. If I thought that getting comfortable in the plane's seats with the neck brace was hard, to do it in the plastic chairs of a waiting room was impossible. The fact that I was sick-worried didn't help, either.
I had to convince the doctor that the neck brace was just for precaution and that I was fit to offer my blood, so they did the necessary tests to prove it. Then they proceeded with the apheresis procedure to draw off the required blood components.
If needed, I could donate again in three days.
Later, as Mother and the cousins at hand would stay to talk to the doctors, I was sent to a nearby hotel to rest.
In the cab I learned that the city was going through a heat wave, the hottest temperatures of the year. I chuckled, I had thought that my time in Denver's weather had ruined my resistance to the heat and that it was for this reason that I felt like the neck brace was a mini-sauna.
It made me feel better to know I wasn't become soft while getting older.
Then I felt depressed; some deity must be angry at me up there. There were already too many bad things happening in too short time.
I arrived at the hotel, paid the driver and then, while exiting the vehicle, hit my head against the roof of it...And it hurt.
Getting to my room was not easy with a blinding headache, but I made it.
There was a voice in my head, which sounded a lot like Nathan's, reminding me to eat before taking my prescriptions.
I opted for room service since going to the hotel restaurant would be an almost impossible task in my current state.
It wasn't a big portion of food I consumed, but between the headache and the knot in my stomach, it was all I could handle.
I sat on the bed and took the pills with some water.
While trying to settle down I examined my arms, they were sore and I had a big bruise around the puncture marks, it happened easily to me that is one of the reasons why I don't like being admitted in hospitals; the first thing they do, is to stick a needle in your arm.
I tried to find a comfortable position, but the device around my neck made it uncomfortable to lie down. Fortunately the mix of drugs helped me to relax and I fell asleep without too much trouble.
Five hours later, I was startled awake by the ringing of my cell, Mother informed me that Grandmother had been rushed to an operating room a few minutes before. The urgency of the move letting us know the delicate state of her health.
I arrived at my Mother's side in time to see the doctor approaching the aunts at the other side of the room. The surgeon said that there had been too much internal damage, that not even a younger or healthier person would have survived it.
She had lasted less than 15 minutes after the crisis.
At least she didn't suffer long, as Vin would say.
The doctor left the room then.
I saw Mother take a deep breath and I felt her hand squeeze mine. But it was all she did. In the background I could hear our relatives crying.
I had never realized how eerie it was in the hospital at midnight when you are alone...Waiting alone.
I was trying to take a sip at a cup of coffee without moving my head too much. My jaw hurt where it rested against the neck brace. (Buck would have been surprised to know that I had not said a word in almost three hours)
How had I ended up with the responsibility to claim my Grandmother's body?
Maybe it was all the times I had to mask my feelings after being left behind by Mother, or the times I had to pretend that what the people said to me didn't hurt, and maybe it was also the training I got at the FBI and the practice I did there and at the ATF, but nobody else in the family had been controlled enough to take charge of the arrangements that had to be made.
So I stayed.
I was tempted to call one of my colleagues...or all of them, but it was late and they had probably spent a hard day at the office, so I didn't.
All the family had left the building hours ago; they needed their beauty rest before having to face all the people that would come to give them their condolences.
Earlier I overheard an aunt asking her husband for his credit card; the girls and she would need new black dresses and gloves for the ceremony.
The only thing I could think at the time was that they probably were going to melt at the cemetery because of the heat wave.
By midmorning I had tasted all the options of the hospital's coffee machine, my Grandmother's body was ready to transport, my head, neck and shoulders were throbbing, my lower back was sore and my legs and feet were in pain, I was also tired and hungry so when Mother came back and asked how I was, I informed her that I was just fine.
Do I always say that? Must be a coincidence.
My Mother's oldest brother came a few minutes after her, to inform Maude that she must stay at the house to survey that the food and drinks were ready when the guests arrived. Also, almost in an after thought, he told her that she must take care of Grandfather while the family was at the ceremony.
Obviously they didn't want her at the main event.
For a moment I was afraid that Mother would kill her brother right there in the middle of the waiting room, but she controlled herself, after all: appearances are everything.
So she informed "Junior" that it was her Mother who was going to be buried and that nothing would keep her from being there.
As their argument escalated he mentioned, among other things, the day she was disowned and she mentioned his not so legal business.
I had to interfere before they killed each other... socially. The "appearances are everything" motto stand is not just for Maude but for all the Standishes... even me.
That was how I ended at the Standish mansion, supervising the maids preparing the refreshments and looking after Grandfather, who spent the afternoon watching the cartoons on T.V.
It had been years since I had been inside the house.
None of the old maids remained around and most of the furniture was new, but the place still brought me so many memories.
Maybe it was a good thing that Grandfather didn't remember me, after all.
When the family came back they started arguing.
Since Grandfather had been declared senile, Junior had taken over the family business, but now the rest of the brothers wanted to open the will and divide the goods. The fact that Grandfather was still alive didn't seem to matter to them.
I took Grandfather to his room when I saw a tear running down his cheek.
Everybody thinks that he doesn't understand anything of what happens around him, but I'm not so sure.
At his room I choked out a sob when he took my Grandmother's photography, gave it a kiss and placed it on the bed... on her side of the bed.
Does he know that she is not coming back?
He went to sleep without trouble and I went back downstairs.
I heard talking and a lot of voices, but not a single shout or angry remarks: The guests must have already arrived.
I saw all the Standish family in the salon, dressed entirely in black, which made me compare them to Chris... even if that was neither fair nor kind to my friend. The family wearing designer clothes is a statement, not mourning clothes like my team leader.
I bypassed the hall and went to the kitchen to inform my Grandfather's night nurse that he was already asleep. Then I went in search of Mother. I did not want to stay at the house, but I would have if she had asked me to.
I found her at the dining room talking with some of her childhood friends. She was calm and controlled so, without disturbing them, I left the room and suddenly I found myself face to face with them...What was Team Seven doing here?
Before I could utter the question, Josiah enveloped me in a hug and I had to fight back the tears on my eyes. (I also blame this on the car crash from before, the prescriptions I took, the lack of sleep and the stress I have been experiencing.)
Trying to maintain a blank face, I directed the Team to the library so we could talk.
There I received two more bear-hugs and a couple of clasps from the rest of my coworkers.
Nathan arranged the cushions of one of the couches, made me sit there, and started palpating my back and shoulders checking my injuries, I found myself too tired to argue with him.
Chris sat at my side and started talking of when he lost his grandfather and how much he missed him.
I just rested my head on the cushions and closed my eyes; I was dazed when the tears started falling. Chris worriedly called my name. Must have been as shocked as I was.
I had to swallow before telling him that he had got the entire situation wrong.
His body had tensed at my words, so I tried to apologize and to explain that it was quite the opposite but just managed to mumble an "I'm sorry."
Buck, who had been sitting close asked what I meant. You can trust him to get to the point ... most of the times.
What made me explain it?
Don't really know, but contradicting all my beliefs and instincts I enlightened them in what it meant to be part of the Standish family.
I told them how I didn't have good memories to remember or miss, like Chris does. How Mother and I haven't been welcomed at the house for decades and that there is no lost love with the rest of the family...That I was on my way out when they found me.
Not one of them seemed to doubt my words. They must have already witnessed my family at work.
I had already guessed that something must have happened at the ceremony or my dear mother's brothers wouldn't have come back shouting at each other. But, I wasn't there, so I'd probably never know.
When J.D. had asked if that meant that we all could go he had been incapable of hiding the hope in his voice.
I had already decided that mixing the team with so many Standishes could be really dangerous, since even my youngest cousins have perfected the annoying gene and more than one of my fellow agents are known to have short amounts of patience.
Yes I was a coward, but I chose to protect the innocent city of Atlanta from the deadly combination.
So I had stood and announced that we all should leave, then when I had swayed on my feet, I had to promise Nathan that I would rest at the hotel.
We left in their rental and got to the hotel without complications. They saw me to my room, where I took my prescriptions and, eventually, fell asleep.
It was around midmorning, the next day, when I heard a soft knocking at my door. I had to rise from my bed slowly; I was sore all over, and went to open the door.
There I found Chris who explained that they would go back to Denver on an afternoon flight but they had time to eat something before going and they had thought that I would be hungry by now.
I smiled at that but had to decline the offer; Mother was going to wait for me at her favorite restaurant in a little over an hour.
Chris chuckled and told me that then I should hurry getting presentable, or I would be late to meet her, but to take my time going back home, that he had already talked with Travis and he had okayed the time.
I arrived at Angelo's with time to spare; not having a car to park saved me some more minutes.
I followed the young waitress; her name tag said her name was Marie, to an empty table. Maude had not showed yet.
Marie asked if I wanted to order; so when my Mother came the food would be ready. I agreed, already knowing what my Mother's favorite was.
The young waitress was very attentive and even found a chair that would give me support on my back without being too uncomfortable with the neck brace. She also rearranged the tableware so I didn't have to reach too far over the table for my glass.
After half an hour I was angry with myself, Mother had not showed or called at all. I should have expected it.
I could tell that Marie was worried about me, and it somewhat helped me to forget my sad feelings. It was a slow day at the restaurant and that gave us time to talk.
The young woman told me that she didn't live in the city anymore but that a friend of hers had had an emergency and Marie had offered to cover her at work. Also that today was her last day at the restaurant since her friend had already come back.
It was weird, as J.D. would say, but I felt like I had known Marie for a long time. Something about her made me trust her and I told her some of what had happened to me this week.
Then she had to go to refill one customer's glass... and I had an idea.
After she came back I assured her that I wanted her to bring me my entire order, she had just smiled and promptly served me. She was arranging the plates when I asked her to join me at the table. She was surprised and tried to explain that the boss would not approve. I made a show of looking behind her before asking if she "wanted" to join me at the table.
She had a sweet smile when she answered me; she would like to, but she couldn't.
Announcing that I wouldn't tell if she didn't, I asked the person who was behind her if he approved. And she found the owner of the restaurant holding out the other chair at the table so she could sit at it.
Angelo was the restaurant owner and an old acquaintance of mine. He had been pleased with my idea, he knew that this was the last day of the waitress' and wanted to thank the girl for covering the position for almost a month.
He must also have seen my need for company when I finally accepted that Maude wasn't going to appear, so he granted the permission to Marie to sit with me.
Marie and I talked easily to each other, like old friends. I don't exactly know why during our conversation Marie mentioned that "Family is not always blood related" and I found myself thinking about my co-workers...
She smiled all sweet again and asked me what was I waiting for? I was just in time to join them at the airport and go back home with them.
Chris had mentioned that word too, that same morning.
It felt good to have a place to call home after all those years drifting from one house to another.
So, that was how I ended on this plane, sitting at Nathan's side.
He had donated his pillow so I could rest my head without hurting my neck, Josiah brought me a water bottle so I could take my prescriptions and Chris promised to watch over the young ones and Mr. Wilmington, so they would not play any of their practical jokes on me while I rested.
And here is when I started thinking... How it all began with a bad day, and turned to be a bad week that reminded me of all the bad years. Although at the end it helped me to understand that my life is not so bad now:
That I like my job and I like my coworkers.
That the fight of the Standishes for Grandmother's place doesn't affect me; I have never been part of that family.
That I would probably go back to Atlanta any time they would need blood donors, but that I would never bleed for them like I would for any of the members of Team Seven.
That "The Magnificent Seven", as some people call us, are more than just friends, we are a family by choice. The hope for a better future.
That what Josiah said some time ago is the truth; it was destiny that brought the seven of us together.
...And that I should ask for a change on my medication, these drugs made me all emotive, sleepy and mushy, as Buck would say if he could hear my thoughts right now.
Continues in Don't Lose Hope
PS - They landed safely, at Denver, without any delays. And were happy... for a while, until something work related would complicate their lives. But that's another story. J
The happy ending is a birthday gift for my evil twin. (She likes them.)