Kevin didn't go straight back to Beth and Liam's room. He wandered around the hospital for a while, his head swimming with information, possibilities and uncertainty. In front of the nursery, he stopped. He remembered what God had said about babies having a calming effect on people. As the nurses scurried around with a newly-born baby, he smiled at how the arrival of that baby changes everything for everyone involved. Every free moment he now stole to spend with his son. He told Luke that he was happy with his life, and he knew that the arrival of that little boy had been much of the reason. Suddenly, he realized how very tired he was, not only physically but emotionally, and decided to make his way back to the room.
He opened the door quietly and was surprised to see Beth awake feeding the baby a bottle. He closed the door and came closer to her.
"Hi. I can do that. You can go back to sleep."
"No, it's fine. I just wanted him close to me. I was a little worried about you, though. You've been gone for hours."
"I wanted to let you rest."
"Is Luke ok?"
Kevin smiled. "Yeah, he's fine."
"He seemed nervous."
"You're pretty perceptive for someone still hopped up on narcotics."
"Maybe I'm just paranoid."
"You look really tired, hun. Let me take him. I don't want you to hurt yourself."
"The nurse said it would be fine for me to feed him. But you may finish if you like. I am a little tired." He took the baby from her arms, and she smiled at him as she closed her eyes. "You don't look so hot yourself," she said as she settled back on the pillow.
He held both Liam and the bottle in his left hand while he took Beth's in his right. Before she could fall completely asleep, the nurse returned to check on them. She gave Beth another dose of Morphine and checked the baby's vital signs before leaving. Beth turned her head toward Kevin as she felt herself starting to fall under.
"You never told me how wonderful this feels," she smiled sleepily.
"I didn't know you were interested, besides, I'm allergic."
"Whatever they gave you must have been pretty good, though."
"We sound like a bunch of addicts, Beth."
"Oh, well, don't tell anyone."
Before he could answer her, she was asleep. Liam finished his bottle and lay in his father's arms, looking up at him intently. Kevin didn't want to put him back in the bed just yet. Instead, he started to talk to him.
"Hi bud. How are you feeling? You and Mommy scared me half to death today. Did you know that? I was so worried about you two. You're going to have to keep Mommy out of trouble while I'm working. She told me what a good boy you were, how you didn't even cry." He stopped and sighed before going on. "Did you know that I was in a car accident once, too? Mommy and I had a fight and I was drunk. I got in a car with my friend, who had also been drinking, and we crashed into a tree. I was hurt really bad and your grandma and grandpa were afraid that I might die. When I woke up a couple of days later, they told me how bad it had been and how badly I had been hurt. The doctor said that I wouldn't ever walk again. So that was that. I worked really hard in therapy and did all the things that I was supposed to do, but there was no way to fix what had been broken, not the bones, but the nerves. That's just the way it is. I spent a lot of years dealing with that, realizing that I'd have to be a different person. Everything changed, so eventually I had to change with it. It was the hardest thing I'd ever imagined I'd have to do, accepting what had happened and moving on with my life. Eventually, Mommy and I decided to get married and then you came along. Things were really going well. But today, I wasn't sure what to do. There was no way that I could protect you or your mom, there's no way that I could have. It's so scary." Kevin's words caught in his throat, but he continued. "And then just now, Uncle Luke told me something that could change everything again. He said he found a way to make me all better. But is that really better? I finally know who I am and now it's all up in the air again. I told Uncle Luke that I would do it, but I don't know if that's what I want. Everything to change, I mean. What if it doesn't work the way Luke says it will? This shouldn't be a difficult decision, I mean, who wouldn't want the chance to walk again, and I do. I'm just afraid. So there you have it, Liam. You're daddy is afraid almost all the time, but you won't tell on me, will you?"
The baby blinked back at him and kicked his feet as Kevin tickled his stomach.
"No? It'll be our little secret, then. Tell you what, whenever you need to, you can tell me anything, ok? I may not know how to fix it, but I'll find out what we need to do. I'll do anything in my power to make sure that you are safe and happy. I just don't want you to make the mistakes that I did." Kevin laughed. "Now I sound like Grandpa Girardi, but I guess there are worse things than that."
Kevin lifted the baby to his shoulder and kissed him on the top of the head. He placed Liam back in his bed before going into the bathroom. He ran his hand through his hair, which really did show signs of graying under this light. Beth was right, though. He looked horrible. Dark circles were ringing his eyes and he was very pale. He used the bathroom and brushed his teeth before settling into the recliner beside Beth's bed. The fatigue hit him again as he lay back. Beth would be out for hours, and Liam was developing into a very good sleeper. He estimated that if he was able to fall asleep, he'd be able to rest until morning. Before he knew it, light was streaming in through the window and Beth was whispering his name.
"Kevin, would you please wake up?" He turned to face her. "Liam is crying and I called for the nurse, but can you go get him and see what's wrong. He's probably hungry again, and I'm sure he needs to be changed."
Kevin rubbed his eyes and nodded at her. By this time, he was aware of his son's cries. Amazed that he hadn't heard them before, he situated himself to go retrieve his son. He lowered the railing and checked Liam's diaper before picking him up.
"Do they need to record when he goes to the bathroom?"
"I'm not sure, why?"
"Well, I mean, that's something that they sometimes do, so I don't want to change him if they need to mark it on the chart. I had to do that."
"Oh. Maybe you should check with the nurse."
"Yeah, ok." Kevin yawned. He replaced the bed rail and went into the hall to find the nurses' station. Since they were on the pediatric floor, the walls were colorfully painted with characters and scenes. The bright purple right outside the door made him squint. It really was time to be awake, but he felt like he needed more sleep. After minimal exploring, he found the nurses' station at the end of the hallway. Two nurses were standing there and one turned when she heard him approach.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, actually. My son and wife are patients on this floor, and he's awake and needs to be changed. I just wanted to make sure that it's ok for me to go ahead and do that, or do you need to keep record or anything."
The nurse smiled. "Let me check his chart to make sure. It's Liam, right?"
She flipped open the chart to check the doctor's orders. "Um, no, nothing written here about needing to do that. Thanks for asking, though. How's everybody doing?"
Kevin rubbed his eyes again. "Well, Beth woke me because he was crying. I didn't ever really get up with him in the night because she breast fed him until recently, so I am feeling kind of bad about not hearing him. I guess they're both doing as well as can be expected. I'm worried about Beth, though. She'll try to do to much too soon."
The second nurse joined the conversation. "You'll just have to take care of things so that she doesn't feel the need to get out of bed for a while, at least."
"I know. She's a very impatient patient, though."
"Dr. Joshua is planning to release your son today, but I think we're going to keep Beth for a few more days, until Monday, I believe."
"That's what the surgeon said earlier." He turned to go. "Thanks for your help, but I'd better get back soon."
"We'll bring some cereal and a bottle in just a little while, ok?"
"Thanks, that would be great. I'm sure he's hungry."
Kevin returned and changed the diaper before Liam's breakfast was brought in. Beth was given some jell-O after the surgeons finished rounds, but she really wasn't hungry. She did manage to drink some water, though. A few hours later, Dr. Joshua came in with her resident to examine Liam once again to process his discharge. When she was finished, she smiled and handed him back to Kevin.
"Mr. Girardi, you have a very healthy little boy here. I don't have in problem with letting him go home today."
"That sounds like a wonderful idea. Thanks so much for everything."
"That's not a problem at all. We're happy to see him ready to go. We like it when kids are well."
"So do we."
"You all take care," she concluded as she left the room.
It took about half an hour for the discharge to be processed, so in the meantime, Kevin called his parents. Will informed Kevin that his vehicle had been delivered to the hospital the night before and Joan had offered to stay with Beth until Liam was settled into the Girardi house in Arcadia. Kevin thanked them and waited for Joan to arrive while he packed Liam's things.
When Joan came into the room she was carrying an overnight bag filled with Beth's things. Beth smiled as she sat up in the bed. The nurses had arrived to have her walk down the hallway and back. She was waiting to follow Kevin and Liam to the elevator. Joan followed the odd processional down the hall and watched as Beth kissed her husband and son goodbye. She winced as she bent over and stood back up. Kevin grabbed her hand. She waved him off and told him to get some rest, that she and Joan would be fine.
He reluctantly left her behind and took his son into the elevator. He carefully strapped Liam into the car seat and placed the diaper bag on the seat. Kevin transferred into the driver's seat and backed out of the space. Cautiously, he maneuvered through the snow that had fallen throughout the night. Fortunately, the roads had been cleared and they had an uneventful trip to his parents' house. Will and Helen were waiting on the porch for them to arrive. Helen unbuckled the baby and handed him to Will as she waited for Kevin to get out of the car. Once he had, she took his hand and he pulled her onto his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck and smoothed his hair.
"Come in and get cleaned up. We'll take care of the baby while you get some rest. You look absolutely exhausted." She kissed the top of his head and stood. All he could do was nod and follow her.
Three hours later, he awoke refreshed and revived. He looked around his old room and thought again about Luke's news. It made his head hurt to think about all of the possible scenarios. Instead, he got out of bed and went to find his son. Helen was feeding Liam when he found them in the kitchen. Helen jumped up and asked if he wanted anything. It was only then that he realized that he hadn't eaten since lunchtime the day before. She placed a sandwich in front of him before he could answer. As he ate it silently, his dad slipped into the seat beside of him and clapped him on the shoulder.
Kevin bit his lip and started to nod. "Her doctor said that she's doing well."
"But," Will prodded, noting Kevin's tone.
"I don't know if I can do everything without her. I mean, with the baby and the house and everything. Actually, I'm less afraid that I can't do it than I am that she'll worry about me doing it and won't take time to get well."
"She does like to keep an eye on you," Will smiled.
"I'm gonna go back now, I think. Can I leave Liam here with you for a while?"
Helen took the baby out of the high chair. "Of course, sweetheart. We were expecting to keep him for a couple of days at least, but he can stay as long as it takes for Beth to get settled."
"Thank you, Mom and Dad. I really appreciate this."
Helen hugged Kevin again. "We're your parents, Liam's grandparents, this kind of stuff is what we live for these days."
Kevin smiled. "I'll call you and let you know what's going on." He turned to go but his mother called after him.
"Someone needs to call Rebecca. She left a message last night on our machine. I didn't call her back because I wanted to check with you first."
"Ok, I'll call her later."
Kevin spent most of the next two days in Beth's room. She was making very good progress, and her doctors were pleased with her recovery. On Monday morning, Dr. Guyton declared that she could be discharged. He began with a list of things he didn't want her to do until she came back to see him in a little over a week. She told him that her sister-in-law had volunteered to stay with them for as long as was necessary to help take care of things. He shook her hand, as well as Kevin's before turning to leave the room.
"Oh, Beth, one more thing. Going up stairs..."
"Won't be a problem," Kevin interrupted.
Dr. Guyton smiled sheepishly. "I guess not. You two be safe, and I'll see you, Beth, at your appointment."
Kevin helped Beth into the car and found himself stealing glances at her as they drove back to their house. When the arrived, he made her sit on his lap as they went up the porch stairs, but he allowed her to ride the lift to the bedroom by herself. Joan and Liam were waiting in the nursery. Beth carefully walked down the hall and into the room. Tears welled in her eyes when she saw her son.
"Oh, baby. I've missed you. Come here and let me hold you a little."
"Beth, are you sure?"
She took him and sat in the rocker. "Yes, Joan. I'm very sure that I'm going to hold my son."
Kevin joined them. He took his place beside Beth and she laid her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his arm around her and stroked her hair. Joan took her cue to slip out the door to start preparing dinner for Kevin's family. Kevin felt Beth's face slide into a smile.
"Why are you so happy?"
"I'm here with you and Liam. We're all safe and relatively healthy."
"That sounds a little pathetic."
"What aren't you telling me, Kev?"
"Wwwhat?" he stammered. "I'm telling you everything."
"Kevin, I know you better than that. At first I thought you were just worried about me and about taking care of everything, but I'm fine and Joan's here until I'm up and around, but you're still not acting normally."
Lying to her crossed his mind, but he decided to tell her everything that Luke had said. He sighed and told her the entire story as he watched her eyes grow larger all the time.
"Kevin! That's amazing news," she proclaimed when he was done. "Luke actually did it? He solved the problem?"
"He seems to think that he's found something really wonderful and special."
"Why am I way more excited about this than you?"
"What if he's wrong?"
Beth scowled at him. "When has Luke ever been wrong about anything?"
"I just don't know if it's the best thing for me to do right now. I mean, you can't deal with that stress now."
"Kevin, you don't want to do it?" she asked quietly. "Why not?"
"Beth, I'm finally, I don't know, myself. I don't like who I was back then. I hurt you and a lot of other people in the process."
"Kevin, you were 17. Now, you're 28. You're an adult, you've matured, and you have a completely different outlook on life. It's irrational to tie that with the accident. If you remember correctly, you were still pretty terrible afterwards, too."
"I guess so."
"Are you worried about the procedure? Luke said that it wouldn't be invasive. You're still on a pretty rigorous therapy schedule, and now he's giving you a chance to get something out of it. Let's face it Kevin, you're not going to regain any more sensation or movement on your own, and that's fine with me if it's fine with you. However, I don't think that it fine with you."
He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
"You're freaked out right now for some reason. Totally understandable, but you've been waiting for this chance for years. The entire medical community has been, too. Luke came to you because you're the reason he's doing this. He wants you to benefit from his research. That's pretty great of him."
"I'm not going to tell you what to do. This is your decision. It's your body. I think you're perfect right now, and I will love you and stand by you no matter what you choose."
"It means so much to hear you say that."
"I just want you to be happy," she finished and then looked down. "Liam's asleep, and I almost am, too."
"Here, I'll put him in his bed, and then I'll give you a ride to the bedroom."
"That sounds wonderful," she yawned.
He placed the baby in the bassinet and Beth sat in his lap. He took her into the bedroom and she climbed into bed. He decided to join her. Joan found them some time later, intertwined in each other's arms.
On the afternoon of Christmas day, the entire Girardi family gathered in Helen and Will's living room. Luke had been dying to talk with Kevin but had felt it best to stay away while he made his decision. But he was getting anxious to hear what Kevin had chosen. Luke hoped that they would get a chance to discuss things later, but first he was looking forward to time with the family.
Hadassah was enamored by Liam, who was rolling all around on his blanket on the floor. She took a break from removing all the tree's ornaments and handing them to her parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents to squat beside him, point and say "Baby?" Beth snuggled close to Kevin on the couch while Grace was leaning back against Luke who was lying back against the armchair. Joan busied herself by playing with the babies, and Helen and Luke watched from matching rockers, the second of which was a present from their children and grandchildren.
As they were gathering up wrapping paper and getting ready for lunch, Luke could wait no longer. He asked Kevin to help him take the trash bags out to the curb. Beth squeezed Kevin's shoulder and watched as Luke walked out the door. Kevin grabbed a bag and followed him. Luke was halfway across the lawn by the time Kevin hit the porch.
"Hey, Luke, if you're going to drag me out into the cold, the least you can do is to wait for me."
Luke placed his bag in the large plastic can and held out his arms for Kevin to throw his. Kevin gave it a toss and made his way onto the lawn as Luke disposed of the other bag.
"Sorry. I'm just a little edgy."
"I know, I should have talked to you sooner. But even with Joan helping out, I've been really busy. I was trying to clear up my projects at work so that if I need to take off some time, I'll be able to do it with very little difficulty."
"You're going to have the procedure?"
"You knew I had second thoughts?"
"I knew that you were a little freaked out."
"I got a chance to talk to Beth, and she said that whatever I decided she would stand beside."
"But she wants you to do it?"
"I really don't think that it matters to her as long as I'm satisfied with my choice, but she knew that I'd never be satisfied unless I give it the best shot that I can."
"We'll take good care of you, Kev."
"I know that you will, Luke."
"Do you mind if I tell everyone? I've been ready to burst, but I wanted you to be a part of the news, too."
"Knock yourself out."
"It's cold out here, let's go in."
The two brothers entered the house to find their wives putting babies in high chairs. Kevin came up behind Beth and took her hand. She turned and he patted his legs for her to take a seat.
"I almost grabbed you from behind."
"You do that and I'll break your ribs."
"Hey, mine have been broken before, twice."
"Well, the first time was your own dumbness. Your dad told you to wear a flak jacket if you were going to be throwing the ball. Come to think of it, so was the second time."
"Traveling 100 ft through the air wasn't one of my better moments, but enough about me. Take a seat, darling. I'll feed the baby."
"He's rather fussy. I think that he'll fall asleep soon."
"Ok, well, get your plate. We'll be fine."
Beth kissed him before taking her seat at the table. Once the rest of the family took their seats Luke got everyone's attention. Beth saw Grace squeeze his hand before he started speaking. Over the next ten minutes, he explained to the family what he had already told Kevin. By the time he was done, Helen's face was streaked with tears and Will was barely holding his back. Luke was almost floating but Kevin kept his eyes low and continued feeding Liam. Finally, Joan broke the silence that had ensued when Luke stopped talking.
"Guys, that's great! I think I speak for our parents, who are clearly unable to do so for themselves, when I say that we are extremely excited for both of you."
Helen composed herself and seconded Joan's sentiments. Will stood from his seat and crossed the room. He hugged his sons, first Luke and then Kevin. The entire family erupted in conversation and laughter until the doorbell interrupted them. They all looked around questioningly at each other. No one was expecting a visitor. Joan left her seat to answer the door.
"Hi Joan." they all heard the visitor say, but they couldn't see who it was. After a little more indistinct conversation, they heard the door close and Joan reentered the dining room, a tall blonde man roughly her age followed. She smiled as she met her family's stares.
"Um, everybody, this is Paul Quinn. He's the guidance counselor at Arcadia High, and we've consulted on a few cases. He mentioned last week that his family is in Wyoming and he didn't have any plans today. I invited him to join us. He said that he didn't want to impose and made some other plans, but those fell through. He was hoping that it wasn't too late to take me up on my offer. I told him that we had plenty to eat."
Kevin, who had the now sleeping baby in his arms, introduced himself before taking Liam into the other room. Helen grabbed another plate while Will found another chair. The family scooted around to make a place for Paul. Introductions were completed as Kevin returned to the room. Beth got up to make him a plate. He grabbed her hand and shook his head.
"Keep your seat, Beth. I'll take care of it."
He followed Joan and Paul into the kitchen where the food was spread out on the table and counter, his plate situated in his lap. Joan left him to fend for himself, and Paul finished filling his plate and looked around the kitchen.
"Can I help you find something?" Kevin asked.
"Ah, yeah, I wanted to get something to drink, but I don't want to go rummaging through your mom's cupboards."
"Sure, actually I need one, too. What do you want?"
"Soda, water, anything," he answered as Kevin found two cups and opened the refrigerator. "How about you handle the drinks and I'll get these." He motioned to the plates.
"Sounds good. I'll be there in a minute." Kevin filled the glasses with ice and grabbed two cans from the fridge. He joined the rest of the family and Paul in the dining room. He laughed to see that Hadassah had already begun "checking out" the stranger. As he took his place beside Beth, he saw that Paul had deposited the plate there. He handed Paul his drink and glass and the two men began eating. Grace tried to extract Hadassah from Paul's lap, but he stopped her.
"She's not bothering me. I have four nieces from 6 months to 6 years. I'm used to it by now," he smiled. Grace shrugged and sat back down.
After dinner the women retreated to the living room while the men cleaned up the kitchen. Luke explained to Paul that it was a new family tradition that his mother had implemented. Whoever made the dinner no longer has to clean it up. Paul agreed that he liked the idea but suggested that the next time the guys do the cooking so that they could catch the game. As he grabbed a dish towel from the drawer, Kevin said that he was in agreement with Paul. The men made short work of cleaning and were soon able to join the girls who were watching "It's A Wonderful Life" on TV. Kevin, Luke and Paul all exchanged pained looks. Paul produced a small package from his coat and handed it to Joan.
"It's really nothing much, but I knew you really liked this but didn't have it, and now that I see what you've chosen to watch this afternoon, I have to insist that you open this."
Joan took the package and pulled back the paper. It was a copy of the movie "Zoolander."
Kevin suggested that they put it straight into use. Lukenodded his head in agreement, too. Helen and Beth shrugged and made room for the rest of them to sit. Joan loaded the movie and the family sat down to watch. Hadassah fell asleep on the floor between Paul and Joan about half way through. Grace got up to take her into the other room with Liam, but Joan stopped her.
"She's fine, Grace. Really." Grace mumbled something about her child no longer wanting to spend time with her and not expecting that for at least 12 more years. Joan turned back at her and smiled.
"What Girardi?"she accused, using her old nickname for Joan.
"Wow, Grace is going old school on us. Look out for the leather jacket!" Joan barely got the statement out of her mouth before a pillow hit her on the side of the head. Grace gave her a wicked, raised eyebrow smirk.
Paul stayed for the end of the movie and then stood to leave. He shook hands with everyone and said goodbye before Joan walked him out. As soon as the door closed the raised eyebrows and excited whispers began.
"Well, I really like him," Kevin said amid the questions and uncertainty of his family. "Joan could do, and has done, a lot worse."
This time Grace threw a pillow at him.
"What did I say?"
"Rove is still our friend."
"I'm not specifically talking about Adam. Remember that guy who stole dad's badge?"
Luke laughed out loud. "Kevin, that's asinine." Kevin just shrugged and they all turned as Joan came back in the room. They all turned to Grace to begin the questioning. It seemed most natural since she was, after all, Joan's best friend.
"Ok, Joan, what's the deal?"
"There really isn't any deal. He's nice and cute and I like him, but he knows about the whole Adam situation."
"There is no Adam situation anymore, is there?" Kevin asked. This time, pillows came from all angles. "No, seriously, I thought that we were all moving on from our Adam Rove infatuation."
"We are," Joan confirmed. "But that doesn't mean that I'm ready for anything new."
"Well I like him. He fits in well," Kevin shot back.
"I'm glad that you approve." Joan kissed him on the top of the head. "Hey, it's getting dark. Are we going to look at the lights?" she asked.
"You should have asked Paul to stay. He would have been fun on the lights tour," Kevin continued.
"Good Lord, Kevin. Do you want to date him?" Beth asked.
"I just think we could be friends, that's all. That would have never happened between Adam and me. He seems like the type of guy that Joan could have a lot of fun with."
"Or that you could have a lot of fun with?" Beth inquired.
"Both of us."
Joan laughed out loud. "Kevin, I'm not sure that I'm up to sharing a boyfriend with my brother. Ok, that sounded really weird, but you know what I mean."
"Whatever, Joan. Get your stuff together. I'll be in the car."
She came over and wrapped her arms around his neck from behind. "I'm sorry Kev. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Your opinion means a lot to me. I do like Paul, and I'm glad to know that you do, too." He decided not to be angry with her or any of them.
Luke spoke up at this point. "Well, I for one, am glad that Paul isn't going with us because if he did, we'd have to break out that hideous station wagon." This made them all laugh.
"Don't worry about that Luke. It doesn't even run anymore. Dad's been bugging me to get rid of it, but it has so much sentimental value," Kevin explained through his smile.
Beth stood from the couch. "I'm going to check on Liam before we go. Grace, I'll look in on Hadassah, too."
"Thanks, she should be out for a little while." She turned to Luke. "She'll be up all night, you know."
"I'll stay up with her."
"Ok, you all heard that."
They assured Grace that they were all witnesses to Luke's promise. Helen and Will wished them a good trip and the kids made their way to Kevin's car. Luke unbuckled the baby seat and put it in the trunk. Grace took the middle between Luke and Joan as Beth slid into the front seat beside Kevin. They drove through the neighborhood and then throughout the town looking at the Christmas light displays. They hadn't really been talking so Joan broke the silence.
"What do you really think about me seeing him? He said that he won't ask me out until I'm sure that I'm ready."
Beth turned in her seat. "So he's waiting for you to be ready to date him?"
"That's the thing. I don't know. It seems like it. He just makes me feel really good about myself and Kevin's right. I do have so much fun with him."
Kevin caught Grace's scowl in the rearview mirror. "So how long have you been seeing him?"she asked.
"No, I just mean when we work together. Today is the first time that we've ever done anything outside of work."
"It better be."
"Grace, I didn't plan for this to happen, but Adam and I hadn't been happy for a long time. We were just at the point where we needed to get married or break up. We tried to get married, but it was pretty obvious that we should break up."
"I know. Is he ok?"
"I really think that he is. He took that job that I know he's been lusting over forever. He just needed a new start, and so do I."
"We've all been friends for longer than I can remember. It's just weird to not have him around."
"I know, Grace. I miss him too, but I don't love him enough."
"I'm aware of it, Joan, and I'm glad that you figured it out, too."
"Are you all even looking at these lights?" Kevin asked.
Beth slapped his arm. "Since when has this trip actually been about looking at lights?" She turned the other way in her seat. "Luke, you've been pretty quiet back there. Saving up words for your Nobel acceptance speech?"
She could hear him smile. "I actually don't have anything to say."
Kevin stopped the car in the middle of the street. "Someone check to see if he has a fever. Quick, he may be dying!" Beth slapped his arm again. "Ow!"
"Stop being so stupid. It's Luke's big day. If he doesn't have anything to say, then that's up to him."
"No problem Luke."
Kevin looped the car around the block and stopped back in front of the Girardi home. They piled out of the car and went into the house to get ready for bed, but Kevin lingered out in the cold. It was an incredibly clear night and millions of stars were visible. After he'd been on the porch for a few minutes, just taking in the night, he heard the door open behind him. He turned to see his mother behind him.
"I was wondering where you got to," she said as she handed him a thermos of hot chocolate. "How was the lights trip?"
"Pretty common, I guess."
She sat in the chair beside him. "How was your Christmas?"
He smiled. "Possibly the best ever."
"I thought you might say that. A lot happened in the past two weeks, though. You ok with everything?"
"Beth is doing really well. Her last check up was good. Liam is right on track for his age. Work is great, and then Luke's news."
"Yeah, I know all that. That's not what I'm asking."
"I'm fine mom. Beth is wonderful to me. I can't believe that we almost missed out on being together. She knew that I was worried about the surgery. She basically told me that she loves me just the way I am and as long as I do what I feel is the right thing, she'll be right there."
"I'm so happy for you, Kevin. This is all a mother wants for her children."
"For what, honey?"
"Everything, mom. I never would have gotten here without you. I probably would have never left my room." Kevin paused. "Do you think I should do this?"
Helen didn't speak right away. "Kevin, since the moment that doctor sat us down in his office, I vowed that I would do anything in my power to make your life as normal and easy as possible. I would have climbed Mt. Everest to give you this chance. But now, it's not my decision. I think it's a wonderful opportunity but only if you want to take it."
"I do want to take it, but..."
"But it's scary. When people look at you they have their own ideas and expectations and more often than not, you get to exceed them because most people are clueless. You're afraid that if that changes, you'll let people down."
"The only expectations you have to meet are your own, Kevin."
"Sometimes I'm not so sure of that, Mom."
"It's not going to be easy, Kevin. Nothing worth having is ever easy. You know that."
"I just hoped that for once it would be. Sometimes I just need a break from all of it."
"Oh, Kevin. We don't often get breaks."
"But you pray or meditate or something, right? Does that help you see things more clearly?"
"Yes. I think that prayer does help me see things more clearly. Are you interested in that?"
"Yeah, I think I am. Do you think that Father Mallory would have time to meet with me?"
Helen nodded her head. "I'm sure that he would. I'll give you his number before you leave." She examined his face closely. "Kevin, the last time we touched on this subject you weren't very open. Can I ask you what's changed?"
"Some things have happened. My perspectives have changed over the last year."
"That does happen, especially when kids come along."
Kevin smiled at the mention of his son. "I want to be able to do things with him, you know, regular dad things."
"I know. You will, even if for some reason this doesn't work out the way you've planned, you'll figure it out."
"Mom, I love you. I probably don't say that enough, but I do."
"I love you too, honey." She stood and hugged him. "But I'm cold now, and I'm going inside. Will you be much longer?"
"No. I'll be in. Just a little while longer."
"Ok, but don't be too long. I don't want you to freeze."
Kevin sat on the porch for a little while longer before he came into the house. He heard Luke and Hadassah playing in the den. He smiled as he popped his head in the door.
"Hey, Kev. You headed up?"
"Yeah, I think Beth and Liam are waiting for me."
"I'm going to try to wear this one out." He pointed to Hadassah.
"Thanks. Merry Christmas."
Kevin rode the lift up the stairs to the bedroom. Beth and Liam were both waiting for him in the bed. He grabbed his overnight bag and headed for the bathroom. Beth begged him to hurry. He smiled. He did take his time, though, but found himself back in the room within a short time. Beth's hair was flowing around her shoulders. He hadn't noticed how much it had grown since she had cut it during the summer. She smiled as he got into bed with her. Liam way lying between them, but she still moved close to him.
"Do you know how much I love you, Kevin?"
"I don't think you do," she said. "I don't know if I can ever express to you how important you are to me. I don't ever want to be anywhere but beside you."
Kevin wiped a tear from his eye. "Beth, I'm not ever going anywhere. You know that I had days when I wasn't sure if it was worth it to try to have a life, to even imagine a future, but now with you, I honestly believe that I can do anything. I can't ever repay you for that."
"Kevin, you do every day. When you look at me the way you are right now, when you touch my face or kiss my lips, you give me all the thanks I could ever want. And this little guy here. You gave me him, too. We are so lucky."
"I think it's more than that."
"Oh, like what?"
"I think that we're blessed."
Beth smiled as she placed Liam in his bassinet and then her head onKevin's chest. "I think you're absolutely right about that."
Final Author's Note:
Thank you all so much for your encouraging reviews. Contrary to what I believed when I began writing this story, more than 18 months ago (I had 11 chapters written before I ever posted), they came to mean so much to me. While I did have a specific direction in which I knew this story would always go, I did read each one of them and took the suggestions into consideration.
In my mind, there will never be another girl for Kevin, nor another man for Beth. Their dynamic was so strong, and I feel like a slightly more mature Beth would have made a different decision on the show regarding their relationship. I read other pairings, but I don't like them. Also, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a sober Kevin would have NEVER gotten in that car. The only time a person of Kevin's character would have gotten into a car with someone who had been drinking or who was drunk would be if he himself were too impaired to know or care. I strongly stand by this. Peer pressure is tough, but it's not that tough, and Kevin absolutely knew better. It's not meant to be an "out" it's just they way that I feel the story most accurately represents teenagers.
Concerning the plot line of the last three or four chapters, I knew all along that Kevin needed some answers. Who else could provide them other than God him/herself? I do believe that he wanted to believe in God, but faith was not his strong point. Considering him the "Doubting Thomas" of this story. Earlier, I tried to factor Will into that a little, but the point was that Kevin had to come to a place, as we all do, where we make our own decisions about our own faith and beliefs. It wouldn't be possible for him to simply adopt the beliefs of his mother, his father, Beth or Joan.
Some people may think that my portrait of Grace is somewhat out of character. There are two reasons for that. First, she's extremely hard for me to write. Secondly, I thought it was important for her to really grow up in this story. In my opinion, her relationship and subsequent marriage to Luke added tremendous stability to her life, so did her daughter. I love the stories about Luke and Grace as adults where they are very much like they were as teenagers, but this worked for my purposes, I think.
Of course, the sibling relationships are pivotal. Joan and Kevin's relationship was a little more difficult for me to write because, as I have stated before, I don't have a brother. It's really difficult for me to feel that this dynamic is truly authentic, but I tried. I think writing Luke and Kevin's relationship was a little bit easier. Also, I knew all along that the premise of this story was going to be an entire revitalization of their roles.
Finally, many of you commented on Luke's "discovery" of a treatment plan for Kevin's paralysis. I must first say that as a biochemist with an emphasis in molecular biology, I honestly believe that we are so very close to a treatment, if not a cure for many neurological diseases. In keeping with what Barbara Hall said in regard to Kevin walking, nothing that I mentioned in this story is a viable technology that would be a possible treatment. Two of my undergrad professors have their research interests in the physics of neuron regeneration and membrane receptors, and I borrowed heavily from their research with a healthy dose of molecular biology. None of it is real. While two types of neural cells do exist, impulse carrying neurons and structurally supportive glial cells, they can't switch back and forth between types. It's been suggested that when neurons are damaged, they can be induced to "regenerate" themselves as glials, but that doesn't help too much with conduction of nerve impulses and muscular stimulation. It's the conversion in the other direction that is described here. Stem cell research is absolutely the key. Unfortunately, due to some overly conservative legislation set forth by the Bush administrations, the United States is falling behind world leaders in this field such as Great Britain, Singapore, China and the Koreas. The issue remains a controversial one, but many Americans are simply uninformed and afraid of what they don't understand. I would urge all of you to research the topic of stem cells and write your congressmen to voice your opinion in the matter, no matter which opinion that is. They will listen and they want to hear from you. Thanks so much for reading. There may be more to come in the future, but for now, you can decide for yourself how this story ends.