Chapter 40. Did You Know the Circus was in Town

The ride home was reasonably uneventful. They took their time, stopping often so that Michael could rest. Even so, there was no question the trip took its toll on the young musician. Everyone in the car remained on high alert as they finally rolled into the garage of their beachfront pad. Kate and the girls went inside while the Micky, Peter, and Davy proceeded to unload the car, insisting Mike remain in the car until either Peter or Micky was there to help him into the pad.

"How long're you all gonna treat me like I'm about to break any second?" Mike asked in frustration.

"Until you aren't," Micky answered without missing a beat. "Mike, you went through a lot. I know you're working through it, but you're still in pain, and then with the headaches, and now the seizures..."

"See, this right here is exactly why I didn't tell you guys about them." Mike groaned. "I handled them on my own for years. I don't need…"

"We do." Davy finally yelled, throwing his hands in the air. "Maybe you don't need us to, but we do. We need to do this. You want to do something for us? Stop fighting us, stop… just stop. Okay? Please?"

Mike looked away in shame. "I'm sorry, guys. I know. You guys've been sayin' it and I just keep trying to push through on my own like I always did. And it ain't like that. I know."

"Okay. Good. Then just give in gracefully," Peter placed a hand on Michael's shoulder. "Relax, okay?"

"Okay." Mike agreed, shame-facedly. Watching them a few minutes more from his designated perch, then he sighed, attempting to rise once more. "Actually, guys, I think I'm just gonna go on in and grab a shower," Mike said, trying not to feel like he was in the way.

"Good idea, Mike." Micky agreed when the light outside of the pad blinked off and on. Moving to Mike's side, he nodded to Peter and the two helped him stand. "That's a great idea." Micky went on," You go on. You go in. Just go on into the pad now and … and yeah… go in and grab that shower, Mike. Just grab a shower and take it easy awhile…"

"Okay, Micky," Davy said, making the kill sign. "He's got it."

"Pretty sure it was my own suggestion," Mike confirmed, eyeing Micky suspiciously.

"Do you need help up the stairs?" Peter offered, remembering how hard they were for Michael to navigate before when he was sick.

Mike couldn't help the smile, saying, "Thanks, Good Buddy, but I'm pretty sure I've got it this time."

"Okay, well… go on in…"

"And take a shower. Right. I'll do that," Mike shook his head, reaching the door a few steps ahead of the others. Opening the door, he was surprised to find the lights inside the pad off, though Aunt Kate and the girls were already inside.

"Now, I know I paid the power bill," he muttered.

The lights switched on and shouts of "Surprise!" sounded all around him as people sprang out from every possible hiding place.

Mike's hand went to his heart as he stumbled back into Micky and Davy, nearly losing his footing entirely.

"I thought we weren't going to yell," Peter said. "Didn't we say no yelling?"

"Apparently not everyone got the memo," Aunt Kate looked around the room sternly from the staircase.

Doc Parsons tapped on the door frame behind them. "If we're done trying to give my young patient a heart attack, maybe we could find him a place to sit down."

"Over here," Clara called, gesturing to the chair bedecked with balloons and streamers.

"This is what you was all set to send me into," Mike looked asked Micky sternly. "Just go on in, he says. Get on in there and grab a shower, right?" Looking at Peter, he had to ask, "You were gonna help me up the stairs?"

"Sure, Mike. I didn't want you to fall." Peter answered as if it should have been obvious.

Mike looked at Peter incredulously. "Did you not know what I was walking in to?" he asked.

"I kind of forgot," Peter admitted bashfully. "I just thought you wanted to go in to take a shower."

"I appreciate the thought," Mike told Peter, smiling even as he shook his head in absolute disbelief.

"So do I," the aged doctor smiled. "It means they're still looking out for you. Now come on. Let's get you to that chair."

"Still made of glass?" Mike asked with a smirk.

"Close enough," Nurse Paige Parsons replied, having followed her father into the room.

Mike couldn't help but laugh. "Oh no, now I know I'm in trouble if they got you making house calls, too."

"Only if you're misbehaving," she replied with a smile. "In which case, I'd be more than willing to knock you out. For your own good, of course."

"Oh no, none of that," Mike replied with a shudder, "Had more than my fill of that, thanks."

Realizing what she'd said, Paige quickly reassured, "I didn't mean that. I would never do that to you. And Grace doesn't work for the hospital anymore and won't be anywhere near you or anyone else with a hypodermic needle ever again."

"Set yourself down, boy," Parsons directed, frowning as Mike lowered himself gingerly into the chair. "Mmhmm. Been forgetting the 'helpers' rule, huh?"

"Not so much," Clara answered for him as she brought him a glass of punch and set it on the table beside him, going on without so much as a breath," Mama's keeping a close eye. We all kind of are because he forgets to mention he might could use a hand or is in pain, like now, and we jus' kinda go on and give him what he needs he might not know he does yet but he does and he don't argue 'cause it's mama and he knows better, see, and he knows it won't do you no good to argue with mama, sides he was raised knowing better than to be disrespectful like that even you can't always tell 'cause he's jus' so dang headstrong, like a mule, mama always said, comes by it true enough, ain't nothing to be done for it 'cept jus' wait for him to stop and get quiet a minute and remind him he ain't got nothin' for it 'cept to jus' go on and do what he was s'posed to do in the first place, 'cause she won't let up 'til you go on and give in, right, Michael?" At his hint of a nod, she went on. "Right. See?" She looked to Doc to indicate he did indeed see it before she turned to Mike again. "You good?"

Mike sat with a bemused expression. At her question, he just sort of waved his hand as if to suggest they could just move on, not daring to say anything lest it set her off again.

"Okay, then. Thank you...I'm sorry, dear what was your name," Parsons asked, amused beyond measure by the petite young lady.

"Clara, sir, Clara Mae Nesmith," she introduced herself with the tiniest curtsy as her mother had taught her.

"Pleasure, Miss Nesmith," Parsons replied. "I don't suppose I could trouble you for a cup of that punch?"

"Of course. It's no trouble." Clara replied before hurrying off to get it for him.

"Okay, quick. Pain levels?"

Mike looked around at the room full of people and replied, "Just fine."

"Okay, that was a good dry run, but maybe we could go at it this time with an honest answer," Parsons tried again more quietly.

"Round about a seven…" Mike answered very softly. "Maybe an eight."

"So I'm guessing you'll be taking those without an argument?" Doc clarified.

Mike glanced toward the kitchen area, both brows shooting up in surprised amusement. "Did you not hear her?" He picked up the pills and the glass of punch and took them swiftly as if to prove his point. "My Aunt Kate and both her daughters came down to visit. I don't dare try to argue with all that."

"If that means you'll always be this cooperative, I vote she stays on for good." Parsons smiled.

Aunt Kate's voice behind him startled the old doctor a bit when she said, "I've got me a ranch to run and oil to drill. I'm just down here long enough to make sure the boy's set to right enough then we'll head on home."

"We might have a bit of a problem, then. I don't see him being 'set to right' quickly." Doc told her. "He's going to be awhile at this. The old damage and the new damage and the re-damaged damage, he's come along way, but some of this is going to be a lifetime battle, and the rest will heal in time, but it's going to take time."

"So I've been led to believe," Kate replied frankly. "Which is why we'll want to keep you around."

"I plan to be around, but I also plan on retiring eventually here," Doc replied, just as frankly. "Eventually everyone will have to grow up and move on. The band might not break up, but they'll meet nice women and start nice families in places of their own, either way. He's going to need someone who'll stay on with him permanent like no matter how difficult he often chooses to be."

Mike watched in increasing frustration as they continued to discuss him, his friends and his future as if he wasn't there.

"Let'em get to the end," Micky whispered in his ear, watching in wry amusement. Reluctantly Mike nodded.

"Even if he has a new doctor, he'll need someone to call for him, since he don't have the self-preservation instincts to call you himself." Kate pointed out. "Elseways he wouldn't a got himself that run down and sick in the first place. Lordy, he does hate just about everything about them inhalers you gave him for all that, though."

"Then he shouldn't have set out to wreck his lungs like he did," Parsons replied, though not without sympathy. "He's going to need those for the long haul if he wants to strengthen them back up again."

"Even after all this time?" Kate asked, surprised by that.

"Kate, if you'd seen how bad it was, you wouldn't need to ask that." He replied. Seeing the look in the woman's eyes, he went on," Luckily, I have already found my replacement. Someone very skilled, patient, firm when he needs to be and, the best part, very familiar with the entire case. And already plans to check in with the boys often to stay on top of their health."

"When did this become a 'their' thing instead of a 'him' thing?" Micky blurted out.

"Let'em get to the end." Michael reminded him with a smirk.

"So who is this medical saint?" Kate asked, curious to know who would willingly take on Michael's case, knowing he had to have been one of the worst patients ever if keeping him on task back home was any indication of what they were going through.

"His name is Paul Sands." Parsons smiled.

"Whoa, wait. Fish?" Mike exclaimed.

"Fish?" Kate repeated, turning to face Michael. "He was one of them…"

"The Sandoval family. Yeah. But he ain't like that." Mike answered. "He's part of how I'm still here."

"A big part of it." Parsons concurred. "We were following Michael's plan, but we were also listening to the bug the police planted on him. We heard everything that happened. If the seizures hadn't killed Mike that day, the family would have if it hadn't been for him."

"How were you still listening in after you left the pad?" Mike blurted, ignoring the rest of that statement entirely.

Micky blushed brightly. He'd really hoped he'd never have to confess to trashing Mike's beloved Monkeemobile. He wasn't sure he'd be forgiven. "Um…well you see Mike… when we left the pad and tailed you just like you said, we couldn't listen to the bug anymore, just like you said. Only we needed to know what was going on, so I… um… I wrecked your dash. And your radio, Mike. I'm sorry, but we had to get the frequency just right so I needed to be able to tweak it, and I did. It just meant… "

"My dash and my radio ain't busted through." Mike pointed out. "I'd have noticed."

"You were in the hospital a long time, Mike," Micky answered softly. "We got it fixed."

"And that's how you knew what was happening. That's how you knew how you knew how much trouble I was... oh, geez, you guys heard all of…I'm sorry, Mick." Mike looked horrified. "You guys shouldn't have had to hear all that."

"We needed to, Mike. It let us know who we could trust." Micky pointed out. "We wouldn't have let Paulo anywhere near you if we didn't know he'd already told the police where you were and that you needed help. And fought with his dad over you."

"What do you mean he fought over him?" Aunt Kate asked, having not heard any of this part of the story other than what was covered in the news.

"He kept begging Sandy to let him go. Insisting he needed to be in the hospital, and he wasn't a risk to anyone. Mike had the first seizure in the car and Paulo discovered where the bug was. Instead of telling the others, he told whoever was listening where they were and that Mike needed help, then made sure that the bug stayed with them and nobody else found it, so we could keep listening. He took care of Mike until he could get him to us and Doc Parsons, then helped even after when Mike went down and Mike's uncle was trying to shoot him."

"Shoot Paulo?" Kate asked, trying to keep up.

"No Mike. He was trying to shoot Mike, only Paulo wouldn't let him, and when he threatened Paulo, Sandy shot him and then gave himself up."

"Shot Paulo?" Kate asked, still trying to sort it out.

"No, Sandy shot Mike's uncle for threatening to shoot Paulo for not letting him shoot Mike." Micky tried again.

"Sounds like I missed quite a story." Kate finally replied once she was sure she had it figured out.

"Me, too." Mike agreed wryly, not having heard that part either. "What else did I miss?"

"Nothing important," Parsons promised, patting Mike's shoulder affectionately.

Mike looked around before asking, "Where is Fish? Seems like everyone else in Malibu is here. Wasn't he invited?"

Micky looked around as well. He knew he'd invited the young doctor, and that he'd said he'd be here.

"He'll be here shortly." Parsons smiled. "He just needed to pick up something on the way."

"I told him he didn't need to bring anything," Micky protested. "We just wanted him here because he was a friend. And for what he did for Mike, back then and now. He didn't need to worry about anything else."

"Trust me." Parsons smile widened. "You want him to do this."

"Mhmm," Kate hummed. "That Cheshire cat grin says a lot." She turned to Paige, "And yours matches. Family, then?"

"Yes, ma'am," Paige replied, offering her hand. "I'm his daughter, Paige. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Nurse Paige?" Kate asked, pleasantly surprised, "I heard a fair bit about you from the boys." Kate smiled, taking the hand of the young nurse. "The pleasure's all mine. Thank you for seeing my boy through all of that ugliness with Bobby. And after. I understand he was a mite difficult."

Paige laughed, looking over at Mike, who at least had the decency to blush. "He definitely wasn't the easiest patient I've ever had, but I'm really fond of him. A lot of us are."

"Seems he's grown on a lot of folks," Kate replied amicably, looking around at the house full of people slowly spilling out onto the beach. "If this turn out is any indication, anyway."

"Yes, ma'am, he has." Paige agreed, helping herself to a glass of punch and enjoying the atmosphere as people came over to greet Mike, one after the other, catching up on how he was doing, and filling him in on what they were up to, then went on to enjoy the party.

Mike finally breathed a little easier once everyone went on to do their own thing and the attention seemed to be on something other than his health. He'd long since grown weary of that topic. Deciding he'd rather put the attention where it was best appreciated, he whispered something to Micky, who went immediately to place a simple wooden stool on the bandstand in Mike's part of the stage.

"You aren't gonna sit up there like that right now," Parsons said quietly, anticipating the boy's plan. "But I'll let them bring that pretty blonde guitar of yours over here for you, and if you use them inhalers like you're meant to I may let them bring a mic over too."

Mike looked up as if he might argue, then just sighed and shook his head, remembering his promise. Reluctantly, he picked them up and used them quickly, though he made a horrid face at the taste that made Paige laugh.

"They can't really be that bad," she scolded, to which Mike offered a wry smile and offered them to her. Pushing them back toward him, she laughed harder. "On second thought, maybe I'll take your word for it after all."

"I thought you might." Mike teased, settling them back onto the table and watching as Micky returned the stool to its original position and Peter brought over his beloved blonde Gretch.

Once the guitar and mic were brought over and the jukebox turned off, the other three took their places on the bandstand and the live music began. The guests were dancing or visiting, and everyone was having a fantastic time. Half an hour later, Mike stopped, stunned to silence mid-song as the door opened and Paulo entered with his surprise