"Daniel? I'm Dr. Anders. You're in the hospital. Do you remember what brought you here?" the doctor inquired.
"We'll ask the questions, sir. Thank you. Son?" A man asked before leaning into view. He was wearing a blue uniform and hat. The police? Daniel wondered with a shock. Suddenly, the memory of the recent events slammed into him and he instantly began to panic. They would ask questions about Johnson. About Adam. What did happen to the other kids? Were they okay? He heard a beeping from someone nearby increase in intensity.
"Give him a minute, will ya?" Daniel heard another man say before pushing his way into Daniel's view.
Daniel's mouth dropped. It was his grandfather!
Chapter 18: The End
"Wow," Jack said before giving a low whistle. "Good old Gramps, huh? Didn't see that one coming."
"Yeah," Daniel said. "Shocked me speechless. I was dying to talk to him, but the police made me give them a statement first. One of the many times I had to meet with them. That was really hard, having to talk about what happened over and over, you know? Anyway, after the officers left, the doctor wouldn't let my grandfather back in, saying I needed to rest. I got pretty sick of hearing that from everyone there. I didn't get to talk to my grandfather until the next day."
"How'd that go? When you got to finally talk to your grandfather?" Jack added quickly, deciding to let Daniel's meetings with the police alone.
"Understandably awkard. We hadn't seen each other since my parents' funeral," Daniel answered as he pulled out his pack of cigarettes. One left. Before continuing his story, Daniel put the cigarette up to his mouth, but did not light it.
"Hey, kid," his grandfather said as he walked into the hospital room the next morning as if they saw each other all of the time.
"Uh," was all Daniel could manage, unsure of what to say first.
"So...," his grandfather began as he pulled over a plastic chair to the bed and sat down, suddenly looking uncomfortable.
"Water?" Daniel rasped.
"Of course," his grandfather said, visibly relaxing before reaching for the styrofoam cup on the night stand, as if glad to avoid the topic at hand.
After his grandfather helped Daniel hold up his head and placed the straw to his lips, Daniel eagerly took a few sips before his grandfather laid his head back down. The small movement was exhausting and Daniel couldn't help but close his eyes for a moment. However, he opened them again quickly, afraid if he didn't, his grandfather would disappear.
"How long have I been here?" Daniel asked, not remembering if someone had told him that already.
"A little over a week. You lost alot of blood and...well, it was pretty touch and go there for awhile," his grandfather answered.
"Oh," Daniel said as he digested the information.
"Well, I'm…uh…I'm glad that you're going to be okay," his grandfather said.
"How did he find out that you were in the hospital?" Jack inquired. "I thought he didn't stay in touch with you."
"He didn't," Daniel said. "But I later learned that the welfare office kept his information on file in case of an emergency. Someone called him from there."
"Huh," Jack said. "What else did he say to you?"
"Nothing. We spent the rest of the time just watching t.v.," Daniel explained. "Sports, I think. My memory of those first couple of days after waking up is pretty sketchy though, thanks to the morphine."
"T.V.?" Jack asked. "Guess he likes to avoid the elephant in the room as much as I do."
"I didn't want to talk about it anyway, you know? Just having him there was enough," Daniel explained.
"How did your foster parents take it?" Jack asked.
"Blamed themselves. They didn't say so, but I could see it in their faces when they visited every day after work. But I don't think anyone blamed themselves as much as Ms. Carol..."
That evening Daniel woke to the sound of sobbing as the last images of his nightmare slipped out of his memory, another beneficial side effect of the drugs. He noticed Ms. Carol standing by his window, looking out.
"Ms. Carol?" Daniel asked as he shifted slightly to find a more confortable position. "Are you okay?"
"Am I okay? Am I okay?" she sobbed. "I'm so sorry, Daniel. So very sorry! I should have noticed-."
"It's okay," Daniel said, cutting her off. He had no beef with her. She didn't do anything wrong.
"Please. Let me finish," she said as she wiped her cheeks with a tissue even though more tears took their place. "I should have recognized the signs. I…I..it's still so difficult to believe that all of this happened to you and the other children right under my nose. Right under all of our noses."
Daniel remained silent as he watched her tortured face, his heart going out to her. He was beginning to realize that the pain of this whole situation was not over after all, for him or those around him. It made him angry all of the sudden, that Johnson still had that power and control over their emotions.
"What happened to him?" Daniel asked, still unable to say the man's name outloud. "To the other kids? Adam?" No one would tell him what the hell was going on, telling him to focus on his recovery instead. To not worry. That made him mad as hell too. Ms. Carol did not answer, but Daniel could read the hesitation in her face easily enough. "Please."
"Daniel, the doctor asked that we not-," Ms. Carol began.
Daniel yelled and picked up the vase of flowers next to his bed, hurling it at the wall. It smashed on impact. Daniel cried out, curling in on himself from the sharp pain that now pieced his side from throwing the vase. Daniel squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the agony to pass. When he opened them, he saw that Ms. Carol was now moving to sit down in the chair.
"You're right. You of all people deserve to know," she decided, as if trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing.
Daniel took a few deep breaths, to both calm himself and ready himself for what he was about to hear.
"First of all, J...Johnson was captured. Two days later. The found him a couple of states over. He's in custody."
Tears filled Daniel's eyes now and he turned his head so Ms. Carol wouldn't see. He didn't want her to think he couldn't handle hearing this. Just hearing his name made him sick, but he had to know.
"Adam," she said before swallowing another sob. "Well, you know."
Daniel nodded his head, trying to inconspicuosly wipe the tears away.
"The other kids are...physically okay. Shaken up though. And worried about you. They all want to visit. You got their get well card, of course," she said, glancing up at the brightly colored home made card on Daniel's bulletin board across from his bed.
"What's going to happen...to him?" Daniel asked.
"That I don't know," Ms. Carol said honestly. "The investigation is just getting started."
"Does everybody know?" Daniel asked.
"Not everything of course. Just that Adam died at the school and Johnson was arrested," Ms. Carol answered as she put a hand on Daniel's and began to rub circles on it with her thumb. "But no one blames you for anything. Do you understand me? Not for any of it and especially not for what happened to Adam."
"I did blame myself, though," Daniel said as he continued to hold the unlit cigarette to his lips. "No matter what she or anyone else said. The hours I laid in bed were consumed with reviewing the events in my mind over and over again to see what I could have done differently."
"What do you think now? You still blame yourself?" Jack asked.
"I was in the hospital for about another two weeks before they let me leave," Daniel said next, avoiding answering his friend's question. "And my grandfather stuck around. For awhile anyway."
"Hey, kid," Daniel's grandfather said in greeting as he entered Daniel's bedroom. Daniel, who was reading in bed, closed his school book and put it aside.
"Doing some homework?" his grandfather asked after a long pause.
"Yeah," Daniel answered before picking up a book on his night stand. "Although I would rather be reading this book that you gave me about Egypt."
"It was a gift that I had given your father when he was a teenager, you know, when he and your mom were first dating. He didn't want to put it down either," his grandfather answered.
"Really?" Daniel asked as he ran his hand over the worn leather cover.
"You're alot like him," his grandfather said. "And your mother. That's why...that's why I didn't come to see you after the funeral. When I look at you, I see her and that's still like a knife to my heart every time. I knew that I couldn't give you what you needed...and definitely couldn't adopt you. It's not right, putting all of that on you, and I'm...I'm sorry."
Daniel nodded and put the book down. He had already guessed at what his grandfather admitted, but it still hurt to hear it confirmed outloud.
"But none of that means that I don't love you...or think about you every day. My life's no place for a kid anyway. Traveling all over the world, working non-stop hours," his grandfather quickly added before pausing. "That's actually why I wanted to come by today. I've cherished our time together, these past few weeks, but it's time that I leave. I have to go to Belize. It's an opportunity that I can't pass up. I hope you understand. Okay?"
Daniel's mouth dropped, not wanting to believe what he just heard. His grandfather was leaving? Now? Just when they were getting to know each other again? Was his grandfather's work that important to him or was being with Daniel not worth the emotional pain? Daniel decided that it didn't matter. Wouldn't change the outcome. Doing his best to hide the sadness and complete disappointment from his face, Daniel nodded at his grandfather.
"I'm glad that you understand. One more thing before I go. Here. This is for you," his grandfather said as he handed him a plain white envelope. "Don't open it until I leave, okay?"
Daniel nodded a third time, not wanting to risk his voice betraying how he was really feeling.
"I'll stay in touch this time, okay, kid?" his grandfather said as Daniel took the envelope.
Daniel gave a fourth nod, not believing him.
"Bye kid," the grandfather said before suddenly and uncharacteristically giving him a kiss on the top of his head.
With shaking hands, Daniel opened the envelope. Inside was a letter and a check made out for him in an amount that made Daniel's jaw drop again. The letter read:
Please accept this check for your college education. So much as been taken away from you.
I don't want your dreams taken away too.
The world, past AND present, awaits you."
Angry tears filled Daniel's eyes and ripped up the letter, throwing the pieces into the air. Still he felt compelled to stiffly climb out of bed to look out his bedroom window. He watched as his grandfather drove away and wondered when, or if, he would see him again. Daniel was furious at himself that he had gotten so attached to his grandfather so quickly. He vowed that it would be a long time before he would let that happen again. People hurt. He picked up his father's book about Egypt and began to read the words that he had already read many times before, soon losing himself in the ancient world.
"Wow," Jack said again. "Did he stay in touch?"
"Not really. He was obsessed with his work as I later became about mine. Runs in the family I guess. But when we did talk about our work, it always turned into an argument," Daniel said. "I guess bull headedness ran in the family too."
"What happened to Johnson after all was said and done?" Jack asked.
"Plea bargained to involuntary manslaughter in exhange for all child abuse charges against him being dropped. Can you believe that? Guess everyone just wanted all the unpleasantness to go away," Daniel answered. "I should count myself lucky that Johnson didn't end up filing charges against me."
"Against you? Why?" Jack asked. "It was self-defense! All of it!"
"Not really. I brought the knife and instigated the confrontation. Pre-meditation," Daniel explained.
"Bull," Jack said before saying a number of obsenities in quick succession.
"I guess we should be thankful that he went to jail and that none of us had to testify. Because if I had to see him again? I don't know if I could have done it," Daniel said.
"Daniel?" Jack asked after a moment of silence. "I asked you a question before that I want you to answer before we leave."
"I haven't forgotten. Do I still blame myself, right?"
"Right," Jack confirmed.
"You know? I think...I think that I did the best I could at the time," Daniel answered as he looked down at the cigarette in his hand. Without another word, he put it back in the pack and threw it over the edge of the cliff.
Jack nodded, satisfied with Daniel's response.
"Thank you," Daniel said quietly, knowing his friend would understand how important his support on this night had been.
"You're welcome," Jack answered.
"I'm ready to go now," Daniel said with finality.
Two weeks later, Daniel returned to work. He had wanted to start back right away, but Jack insisted that a couple of weeks alone at his cabin fishing was the necessary final part of Daniel's recovery. Daniel didn't have the heart to tell Jack that he had stayed inside the whole time reading.
That evening, when Daniel pushed open the door open and stepped into the parking lot, he practically ran into his friend Jansen Roberts, a med tech, who had stopped not far from the door to rifle through his backpack.
"Hey, Jackson," the young man said. "Sorry about that. Been a hell of a day, huh?"
A hell of a few weeks, Daniel thought silently.
"Yeah," Daniel agreed, knowing the man was referring to the team that had barely made it back through the stargate from a mission gone bad.
"Yes! Thought I had some left," the man exclaimed as he pulled out his hand from his bag. "I'm sorry. I don't want to be rude. Want one?"
Daniel's eyes fell to the man's hand where he held out a pack of cigarettes.
Daniel's heart began to race and after pausing a moment, opened his mouth to answer...
Can you believe the story is finally over? Thank you to all my wonderful readers and reviewers. I hope you enjoyed the story as a whole, as well as the conclusion. Don't be mad that I didn't write whether or not Daniel took the cigarette. I simply wished to convey that dealing with being a victim of child abuse can be a life long process and one never knows when one will be confronted with a trigger to a memory of it. How one reacts to the trigger can vary from day to day. Do you think Daniel took the cigarette?