The sound of clattering dishes, slamming cabinets, and too many bodies trying to fit into the same space filled the bustling, noisy kitchen. You wouldn't think you'd need more than two hands to make a few sandwiches for lunch, but sometimes Stef found herself wishing for a third and a fourth. Busy mornings like this were sometimes a challenge, but after what they'd all been through recently with the shooting and the loss of Frank, Stef tried to appreciate that the kitchen wasn't just filled with bodies, it was filled with love, and she wouldn't want it any other way.
Over at the table, Lena was helping Jude gather up the pages of his science study guide; she'd been quizzing him on the states of matter over scrambled eggs. Callie gathered up the used plates and started rinsing them off in the sink; she'd been much more attentive to chores since returning from Girls United. There was a rare smile on her face as she worked, and Stef was glad to see it. As much as she missed having Brandon as part of the morning circus now that he was staying with his dad, it did make it easier for Callie to adjust to being back in the house. Two slamming doors in the driveway indicated that Mike and Brandon had arrived. Was it that late already?
"Jesus!" Stef called up toward the ceiling. "Get a move on, love!"
Amid all of the bustle in the kitchen, Stef frowned and looked at the ceiling. That was the third time she'd called Jesus; he didn't respond and she didn't hear any movement overhead. Stef sighed. She knew that Jesus didn't like the side effects from his ADHD medication, but she didn't like the changes she'd seen in him since he stopped taking it. On the one hand, he took his commitment to the wrestling team very seriously, and that was wonderful. But at the same time, wrestling was really the only substitute for the medication that he made any effort with. Jesus basically ignored the other alternatives put in place to help him focus, like acupuncture and meditation. When he wasn't wrapped up in wrestling, it seemed more and more that Jesus was lethargic and distracted. She and Lena needed to have a talk about the next step to take. Maybe all or nothing wasn't the best route; it didn't seem to be working for their boy.
With her hands full of bread and lettuce, Stef turned to Mariana. "Sweets, would you please go upstairs and get your brother moving?"
Mariana rolled her eyes in exasperation and hopped off the stool at the kitchen's center island. Her hair floated out behind her in a perfect, black fan as she flounced out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Mariana liked to make an exit, but Stef knew it was just for show because she greeted Mike and Brandon cheerfully as they entered through the front door instead of pouting and stomping up the stairs.
Stef made a mental note to watch, without really watching, how Callie reacted when Brandon entered the kitchen. Overall it seemed like they were making adjustments okay.
"Mom?" Mariana's cry from upstairs got everyone's attention; movement ceased and silence fell over the kitchen.
"Mom!" Mariana's second cry was shrill and had a tone of fear in it that sent everyone into motion.
Somehow, though Lena was closer to the stairs, Stef crossed the kitchen and got to them first. Mike was right behind her climbing the steps from the living room side.
"Mariana?" Stef queried as she burst into the room Jude shared with Jesus.
Mariana was standing distressed near the head of Jesus' bed. "He won't…I can't…" Mariana waved her hands helplessly at her twin's still form. "He won't wake up!"
In her experience, especially after the twins had been officially adopted and settled into the family, Stef knew that there were many things that Jesus could sleep through,. Thunderstorms didn't faze him. Alarm clocks were a joke. But even in his deepest slumber, Jesus always responded to Mariana, especially if she was upset. Stef's stomach clenched, but her police training allowed her to ignore her own distress and assess the situation.
Jesus was sleeping on his stomach with his face turned to the right and his right arm falling over the edge of the bed. It looked like Mariana had thrown back all of the covers in an attempt to wake him; he was stretched out in a t-shirt and a pair of cotton pajama pants. Stef touched his face with her hand; he was warm and dry - maybe on the edge of a fever.
"Jesus!" Stef called sharply as she knelt by the bed on the right side.
Stef placed her left hand between his shoulder blades on his back. She could feel him breathing through the thin, cotton t-shirt he wore to bed. With her right hand she reached in to his neck to feel for a pulse. Both his breathing and pulse were too rapid. The picture that was forming was not good.
"Lena," Stef directed, "Call 9-1-1."
In the doorway Lena's eyes went wide. With no hesitation she whirled and ran for the phone. Mariana gasped with fear and hovered near the bed foot of the bed until Brandon took her in hand and pulled her over to join the others.
While Stef was doing her assessment, Mike was doing one of his own. Although they were no longer partners, they'd worked together long enough for Stef to know exactly what he was doing and what he was looking for. Mike scanned the bedside table and the areas directly next to and under Jesus' bed on the left side. With his back toward the rest of the family huddled in the doorway, Mike caught Stef's eye and mouthed, "Drugs?"
Stef shook her head in the negative, not simply because she was Jesus' mother and hoped more than anything that drugs were not the cause of the situation, but because there was no drug paraphernalia on or near her side of the bed either.
"Jesus! Jesus!" Stef's voice was sharp and insistent, hoping to evoke a response. But he didn't twitch a muscle and his eyes didn't roll under their closed lids.
Mike knelt on the left side of Jesus' bed. Like Stef had earlier, he placed his hand on Jesus' back to roughly judge his temperature and rate of breathing. He pitched his voice very low and asked, "Could it be his heart, like that day we were playing basketball?"
Stef met Mike's concerned, brown eyes and shook her head again, "He's been off the ADHD meds for weeks. It shouldn't be anything like that."
Mike nodded, willing to accept that response. "Let's roll him." Mike stood up into a crouch; Stef mirrored his stance on the right side of the bed. Together they rolled Jesus onto his back. The lifeless way his head rolled onto the pillow was disturbing to Stef. As Mike adjusted Jesus' legs, Stef sat on the edge of his bed and pushed his hair back off of his face. When did he develop those dark circles under his eyes? When did they start to look so sunken into his face? How had she missed it?
As Mike stepped closer to the foot of the bed, his boot came into contact with something. It got his attention and he crouched down for a closer look. "When's the last time this kid ate a full meal?" Mike asked as he retrieved two plates and a bowl from under the bed.
Stef looked over, surprised. On "let's clean the whole house" days it wouldn't be a shock to find dishes with crusts of sandwiches or remnants of dried salsa in Brandon or Jesus' bedrooms, even though they technically weren't supposed to have food upstairs. But the plates that Mike displayed held not leftovers, but whole meals – untouched.
Before Stef could respond, Mike held up another item; a garbage bag. Stef squinted at the bag, confused; maybe Jesus was planning to throw all the food away before someone found it. But then Stef saw that the bag had a big hole cut into the seam on the bottom. There were holes on the sides too. It didn't make any sense to her, but Mike looked as though he coming to a realization.
"What is that?" Stef asked.
Although she was asking Mike, it was Jude who answered. "He's been wearing it under his shirt at school."
For the first time Stef looked over to the teens gathered in the doorway. Mariana was clinging to Brandon, all wide, worried eyes; her normally rosy and vibrant face was drained of color. Even though Brandon had a comforting arm around her shoulders, and Mariana leaned on him like he'd been her big brother her whole life, she still looked lost without her twin. Similarly, Jude was tucked into Callie's comforting embrace. He was nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot, like someone hiding a secret he knew he could no longer conceal.
"What do you mean, love?" Stef asked Jude.
Jude looked down at the floor, overcome with anxiety. Callie looked just as confused as Stef felt; she'd only been back in the house for a few days, and if something was going on with Jesus, Jude hadn't had a chance to confide in her about it yet. Mike was the one to provide an answer.
"He's been bagging," explained Mike. Stef shook her head indicating that wasn't enough information. Mike grimaced as he looked at the garbage bag in his hand and continued, "It's a fast, dangerous, unreliable way to lose weight."
Mike turned slightly to address Jude. "When was he supposed to weigh in?"
"Tomorrow," Jude responded softly.
Mike sighed heavily. "Did he stop drinking too?" Mike gestured to include the whole group, including Stef. "Did anyone notice if he stopped drinking too?"
Brandon and Callie looked confused. Mariana was too shocked by Jesus' appearance to respond. Jude hung his head and stepped closer to Callie. "He said water was heavy."
Finally it all clicked for Stef. The information Jude provided made Jesus' symptoms make more sense – if Jesus was bagging, but had also stopped drinking because water weight was too heavy, it most likely resulted in severe dehydration. On the one hand it was an intense relief that Jesus' condition was not a result of drug use, but at the same time, severe dehydration resulting in rapid breathing and heartbeat, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness was extremely dangerous.
Skipping meals; worrying about water weight; wearing a garbage bag under his clothes – Jesus was doing all of these things so he could excel and prove that wrestling was the way to keep him off of his ADHD meds, but instead it landed him in a perilous situation. Stef looked down at her unconscious son – How did it go so far without us noticing?
Heavy footfalls on the stairs announced the arrival of the EMTs. Although Stef didn't want to give up her position on the bed, she moved to make way for the medical personnel. Lena arrived right behind the EMTs adding one more to the crowd of family in the doorway. Stef shared a look with her – she hoped she projected more reassurance than fear. In light of what they knew from Jude, at least they had a reasonable place to start with a diagnosis, and from what she knew Jesus' symptoms were highly treatable...if they had caught them in time.
Mike was giving a rundown of the situation to the paramedics. It took Stef a moment to realize that she knew both of them from responding to emergency calls on the job - Gemma and Luke were practical and efficient – and knowing them eased her mind greatly. Gemma walked around the bed to where Stef was standing while Luke tried to insist that the majority of the crowd needed to leave the room.
There might have been a mutiny without Lena's calm strong-arming of the assembled teens. In reality she only needed to get Brandon and Callie moving; they in turn just dragged their smaller siblings along. Mariana might have put up more of a fight if she wasn't so horrified by seeing Jesus so vulnerable; maybe if he'd been awake and in pain she would've insisted on staying to distract him or give him comfort, but with nothing to do for Jesus, Mariana was adrift.
Stef listened with half an ear as Gemma started taking Jesus' vital signs and called them out to Luke. The EMT only confirmed what Stef already knew - Jesus' pulse and breathing were too rapid, and his blood pressure was far too low. Stef tried to retain her professional demeanor but when Gemma took out an oxygen mask to strap around Jesus' head her ability to remain detached cracked; that was her baby they were turning into a lab experiment with all their wires and tubes! Mike walked over and stood shoulder to shoulder with Stef. She grasped his hand, grateful for his silent support.
"How long has he been trying to lose weight for the wrestling team?"
Stef blinked. She didn't realize that Luke was addressing her. "Uh." She cleared her throat. "It's been a few weeks...at least since my dad..." Stef found herself overwhelmed by a wave of unexpected and unwelcome emotion. She took a very deep breath, but that didn't stop the tears from building in her eyes.
Mike jumped in to explain, "Stef lost her dad a few weeks ago…"
Luke seemed to realize that he'd stepped right on to a land mine and backed off. "And you're not sure when your son stopped his fluid intake?"
Stef mutely shook her head.
"He's been unresponsive since his sister tried to wake him up?"
Stef nodded again.
Similarly to what she had done earlier, Luke perched on the edge of Jesus' bed. Luke loudly called Jesus' name and intently searched his face for a response. He pried open one eyelid at a time and used a penlight to check pupil responses. He snapped his fingers sharply right next to Jesus' ear but the teen didn't react to anything.
Gemma and Luke were calling out a lot of medical jargon to one another that in another situation would've made much more sense to Stef. It was a little disturbing that with other professionals in charge of the situation Stef was fully in "mom-mode" in spite of the uniform she was wearing.
"We're going to start an I.V. now, before we get him in the rig." Gemma explained. "Just a bag of saline to increase his fluids and get that blood pressure stabilized."
Stef knew Gemma wasn't asking permission, but she felt like a response was in order. "Yes, okay."
Gemma retrieved what she needed from her kit, and swabbed Jesus' arm where the I.V. would be inserted. Stef swallowed hard and made herself watch the whole process; she felt like she owed it to Jesus after having missed so much. Once the I.V. was in and neatly taped down, Stef released a breath she didn't realize she was holding. Ironically, it was to everyone's benefit that Jesus was unconscious - the kid had a serious issue with needles - if Gemma had tried to get it in when he was awake, it'd probably take Stef, Mike and Luke to hold him down.
Stef's stomach did a slow roll when Luke and Gemma transferred Jesus from his bed to the gurney. There was something so distressing about watching someone lift him; in seeing Jesus so weak and still when he was normally animated and full of life. It just wasn't right to watch these people adjust him like he was an oversized doll, even though all they wanted to do was help him. And, as grateful as she was to have Mike's support, Stef wished it was Lena standing shoulder to shoulder with her.
"You coming with us?" Gemma asked as she helped Luke guide the gurney through the bedroom doorway into the hall. Stef nodded curtly. "Great," Gemma responded, and she handed Stef the bag of saline solution to hold above the stretcher as she used both hands to aid Jesus' descent down the stairs.
Stef never realized what an obstacle course their weird stairs presented until she had to follow a stretcher loaded with one of her kids down them. Luckily the EMTs were pros and navigated the tricky steps with ease. But the descent wasn't fast; it gave Stef plenty of time to examine the anxious faces of the whole family as they watched the scene play out. Brandon was concerned, but his attention was divided between the twins; Mariana was still clinging to him and he might've been the only thing keeping her upright. Mariana was all eyes and seemed to be holding her breath, wincing with each thump of the wheels on the stairs. Jude was frightened and distressed, holding onto Callie; unwilling to watch Jesus being carried out of the house, but unable to look away. Lena was a rock of stability in the center of the children; she appeared calm and composed, but Stef could see the reflection of her own fear and uncertainty in Lena's eyes.
Once Luke guided the stretcher to the bottom of the stairs and reached a flat surface, he headed directly toward the front door. Stef had to keep up with the bag of saline, there was no time to stop and chat; but with Lena, words weren't necessary. As she walked past her partner, Stef was able to reach out with her free hand to grab Lena's outstretched one. Their eyes met before Stef leaned over to kiss Lena's cheek. "I'll see you there," she whispered.
Lena's warm hand in hers gave Stef strength she desperately needed. "I'll be right behind you," Lena promised.
Stef felt a little guilty that all she had to do was climb up into the back of the ambulance knowing that Lena was left to deal with everything else- the kids, Mike, school. Then again, Lena would not have the memory of how sick and broken Jesus looked strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance to haunt her for the rest of her days, so in the end, Lena probably got the better end of the stick.
In short order the ambulance was rolling, the siren chirping at intersections to clear the way. As soon as they'd settled Jesus in the back of the rig, Gemma had strung up the bag of saline leaving Stef with nothing to do but sit and stew. Her thoughts flew in a thousand different directions - where was their insurance card? Did Jesus have any allergies? When was his last physical…probably right before wrestling, right? – all while obsessively watching Jesus for any sign of life. She didn't think it was her imagination that he looked a little better already.
Gemma continued to monitor Jesus, calling out endless numbers to Luke who transmitted them to the doctors waiting at the emergency room. Did it always take this long to get to the hospital? Shouldn't they be there already with the siren and everything? What was that?! Did Jesus move or was that head roll just a result of a bump in the road?
Stef felt like every nerve ending in her body fired at once. She held her breath waiting to see if it happened again. Stef rose in a half-crouch off of the bench where she was seated trying to get as close as she possibly could. Yes! There is was again! Jesus' head moved and his eyes were rolling under his closed eyelids.
Gemma was alerted by Stef's intense attention, and this time she saw it too. The EMT reached to grasp Jesus' right hand in hers. She sharply called his name. "Jesus! Jesus! Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand."
Stef couldn't help but crowd in though she knew she shouldn't even be standing in the back of the moving ambulance. More and more it looked like Jesus was trying to wake up. He had that grouchy crease between his eyebrows that meant he wanted to sleep for a while longer and was going to put up a fight about it. It made her want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Stef exchanged a look with Gemma. Gemma understood that Stef might have a better chance of getting a response from Jesus, but was trying not to get in the way of the EMT doing her job. Gemma moved forward and gestured for Stef to take her place holding Jesus' hand.
"Don't be surprised if he's disoriented," stated Gemma. "That's a common side effect of serious dehydration." Stef nodded her understanding.
"Jesus," Stef encouraged as she squeezed his hand, "you've got to wake up, love."
For reasons Stef couldn't explain it became paramount in her mind that Jesus open his eyes and acknowledge her before they got to the emergency room and the swarm of doctors and nurses got in the way. More than she needed to know Jesus was responsive, Stef needed him to know that she was there and he wasn't alone.
"Come on, love…come on." With her free hand Stef reached over to cradle his face. She rubbed her thumb against his cheek. "Open your eyes, Jesus. Look at me."
Again his brow furrowed, but Stef got the feeling Jesus was trying to push himself to wakefulness. His arms and legs twitched restlessly, but real movement was impeded by the straps holding him on the stretcher. That seemed to cause some distress and was the thing that finally got Jesus to open his eyes.
Jesus' hand clamped down on Stef's in a panic. His eyes were wide, but uncomprehending as he looked around and couldn't make sense of his surroundings. The monitors registered his elevated heart rate and started beeping loudly which only caused more confusion.
"Jesus…Jesus…" Stef called over the clamor of the machines and the siren. With her left hand she guided his head until he was looking in her direction. It was heartbreaking to see the terror in his eyes, and suddenly he looked like the child he was when he and Mariana first came into their home.
"Look at me, honey," Stef encouraged. With her right thumb she brushed the knuckles of his right hand as she returned his grip. With her left hand she stroked his hair back off of his face while she tried to make and maintain eye contact. "I'm right here, Jesus. Okay? I'm right here."
Jesus blinked and took a deep breath. Then he looked, really looked at Stef, and she could see the sense returning to his eyes. He squeezed her hand again, with more control and much less force to reassure himself that it really was her hand in his. "Mom?" he croaked from behind the oxygen mask.
Stef couldn't help but break into a grin even as tears sprang up into her eyes. She leaned over to place a kiss on his head and nearly fell over when the ambulance made the turn from the street into the emergency room driveway causing her to lose her footing. She started to laugh and knew that her hysteria was due more to relief than amusement at her own clumsiness. She swiped at the tears on her face with her left hand; neither she nor Jesus was inclined to release the hold they had on each other – it might be a while until she'd get that right hand back.
"Sorry love, I didn't mean to fall all over you," Stef chuckled as she smiled down at Jesus.
He didn't smile back. He was still confused and his anxiety was mounting. Although he didn't have much strength, he was fighting against the restraints holding him to the stretcher.
"Hey, hey…" Stef shook her head. "Relax, Jesus. We're at the hospital and you'll be off this stretcher when they get you into a bed, okay?"
The reassurance that he wouldn't be strapped down much longer seemed to relieve some of Jesus' anxiety. He turned his head a little to get a better angle to meet Stef's eyes. "Promise?" he asked. He released her hand and held out his pinkie finger.
Again Stef had a flashback to when Jesus and Mariana first joined the family. He was always the spokesperson for the two of them, the one to check things out for Mariana, and even after all they'd been through with their mother and her boyfriends, he was the one who was so much more willing to trust. For whatever reason and it might have been recognizing Stef as an authority figure in her uniform, Jesus would bring his most serious concerns to her. Once they talked it out Jesus would stand in front of her with his serious, wide eyes and ask for a pinky promise. She would solemnly twine her pinkie around his and promise that what she was saying was true. There was something precious about the trust of that little boy. She didn't let him down then, and she wouldn't let him down now.
Stef swallowed hard against the sudden lump in her throat as she threaded her pinkie around his. "I promise."
Jesus closed his eyes, his face relaxed and he appeared much more at ease. Stef listened as the ambulance pulled up to the curb and was thrown into park. Gemma organized the equipment for the move out to the sidewalk and into the hospital. Jesus readjusted his hand until he gripped Stef's completely with his again.
He opened his eyes and sought out Stef right away. "Mom?" It looked like confusion and fear were creeping back in. "Don't leave me."
For the first time since this whole situation started, Stef was finally on solid ground and answered Jesus right away. "Never, love." She squeezed his hand in reassurance. "I'm not going anywhere."