Sarah's eyes snapped open and she was shocked to see Shawn huddled up against the far rail with sweat pouring down his face while his eyes remained closed, "Please, Dad, don't do it," he moaned painfully.
"Shawn, wake up," Sarah said in a worried voice as she got up and hurried around the bed. "Shawn."
Sarah gently placed her hands on Shawn and was about to gently slide him back towards the middle of the bed when he suddenly grabbed hold of her arm with his good hand, "Shawn, I need you to trust me and move back to the middle of the bed right now," Sarah stated in a calm, yet very anxious voice.
Shawn moaned and shuffled back to the middle of the bed, releasing Sarah's hand and not waking up.
Sarah didn't hesitate once she was free; she grabbed pillows from the floor that Shawn had thrown off the bed just hours before when he had suffered a more violent nightmare and she carefully put them against each railing, effectively keeping Shawn in the middle of the bed where he could feel safe.
A quick glance at the clock told Sarah that it was five a.m.; three hours before Shawn was supposed to take his English final, but he was clearly in no condition to take such an important test so early in the morning and it would be better if it was later in the day. Sarah sighed and walked over to the phone.
Silently praying that her father was up, Sarah dialed his number to postpone Shawn's English exam.
"I haven't seen Shawn in four days and whenever I ask Dad where he is, he just tells me to mind my own business," Cory whined to Eric as he sat at the table waiting for his mother to come down from helping Morgan get ready for school. "I asked Mister Feeny what happened to Shawn and he told me to hush."
Eric nodded, purposely stuffing his mouth with another piece of toast from the pile on his plate; he knew that Shawn was most likely still in the hospital being guarded by Feeny, although he didn't know why anyone would bother. To him, Shawn wasn't someone to waste time fussing over excessively.
"Alan, I don't know what good it will do," Eric and Cory suddenly heard their mother say in a distressed voice as they heard footsteps on the stairs. "Chet Hunter didn't leave a phone number or address…"
There was a thump, "…I don't know why you're so worried about Shawn anyway, Amy," Cory heard his father say in an aggravated voice. "We've got three kids to worry about and why worry about him?"
"Do you wanna know why I worry about Shawn, Dad?" Cory asked as his father came down the stairs dressed in dress shoes, slacks, and a dress shirt and tie. "I worry about Shawn because he's my friend."
Alan frowned, "Don't talk back to me, Cory," he replied sternly. "I think Shawn is a bad influence…"
"Right, and you and Mom arguing about everything isn't a bad influence?" Cory snapped as he moved closer to his father, knowing full well he was pushing his luck. "Why don't you set a good example?"
Alan's eyes widened, but he didn't say anything, "You and Mom arguing about Shawn is a distraction and keeps me from studying for my final exams," Cory replied angrily. "I don't like hearing it…"
"Maybe you shouldn't have anything to do with Shawn at all anymore, Cory," Alan said in an unusually angry tone as Amy and Morgan came down the stairs. "If he's distracting you from studying…"
Cory scoffed, "You can't choose my friends!" he shouted angrily. "I can be friends with whoever…"
"If you're friends with Shawn, Cory; you'll end up just like him," Alan snapped. "Trailer trash!"
Amy gaped at Alan, "Alan, stop," she said, quickly covering Morgan's ears. "This has gone too far."
"It's better than ending up like you!" Cory yelled angrily. "I WANT TO BE BETTER THAN YOU!"
Something snapped in Alan and before he could think, he promptly slapped Cory hard across the face three times, "You'll do what I tell you," Alan said in a shaky voice, unable to believe what he had just done to his youngest son out of anger. "If I catch you with Shawn again, I promise that I'll…"
"DO WHATEVER YOU WANT!" Cory shouted as tears filled his eyes. "You're no better than Chet!"
Amy frowned as tears streamed down Cory's face, "Alan, Cory, I think this has gotten out of hand," she said, quickly releasing Morgan and putting herself between the two. "Why don't we just sit down?"
"I'm gonna be late for school," Cory replied tearfully as he backed away and quickly hurried upstairs.
Morgan gaped at her parents and hurried upstairs, not wanting to be near them, but Eric remained at the table deep in shock about what had just happened; their father had actually raised a hand in anger.
"Alan, I think you'd better go to work now," Amy replied in a shocked voice. "We'll talk about this later."
Before Alan could react, Amy hurried upstairs to check on Cory and Morgan. Alan glared at Eric for a moment before grabbing his keys off the wall and storming into the living room to go to the car.
Eric sighed and remained silent for a moment before gazing over at Feeny's yard, which was mysteriously empty. A moment later, Cory came into view with a bag slung over one shoulder and his school backpack slung over the other. To Eric, it looked like Cory was preparing to run away.
Tears unexpectedly came to Eric's eyes and he looked at his plate; why was all this happening now?
Why isn't my alarm clock going off? It's time for school. Shawn thought as he slowly came to awareness.
He tried to stretch out his hand so that he could touch his clock, but it hit something soft instead, causing him to force his eyes open. Confusion washed over him when he saw that there were large, very soft pillows on either side of his body and that he was in a hospital bed covered by very large blankets.
I'm in the hospital. Shawn suddenly remembered as he looked around and realized that he was alone.
"Sarah?" Shawn asked anxiously, suddenly wondering if Sarah had left him to recover alone. "SARAH?!"
Just as Shawn was about to start crying, Sarah came out of the bathroom in jeans, dress shoes, and a lilac turtleneck sweater with her hair in a curly braid down her back, "Good morning, Shawn," she said in a concerned voice as she walked over to the bed. "You had a rough night, so I put pillows around you."
"What time is it?" Shawn asked anxiously. "Where are my books? I've got my English final at eight."
Sarah sighed, "You had some really bad nightmares last night and earlier this morning," she replied in a firm voice. "After I put the pillows around you, I phoned the school and asked Mister Feeny if there was any way you could take your exam this afternoon. He said he'll send someone here after school."
Before Shawn, who was still slightly groggy and very confused as to why he was being treated so well by a total stranger, could reply, the door opened, "Oh, good morning," a nurse with red hair and pink scrubs said as she came into the room carrying a breakfast tray. "How is your son doing this morning?"
The nurse thinks I'm Sarah's son? Shawn thought, keeping his astonishment quiet as the nurse cleared off the portable table, put the tray on it, and wheeled the tray over to his bed. We don't look alike at all.
"Shawn's still waking up, so I don't know quite yet," Sarah replied gently. "Thank you for asking."
The nurse nodded and swiftly left the room, "Why does that nurse think you're my mom?" Shawn asked in a nervous voice as he looked up at Sarah. "I've never seen someone so willingly care about me…"
"Well, the police haven't had any luck in finding either of your parents and I've been your legal guardian ever since you were admitted to the hospital," Sarah explained gently. "Since I've barely left your hospital room for the last few days, I guess the hospital staff assumes that I'm your mother."
Shawn blinked and sighed, "That's not so bad, I guess," he replied groggily. "How do you feel about that? Do you find it weird that hospital staff think you're my mom even though I'm just a stranger?"
"Not really," Sarah said in a gentle voice. "It's not offensive; I feel happy serving as a mother figure."
Shawn frowned, "How come someone as nice as you isn't married with a bucketful of kids?" he asked, deeply wondering why Sarah didn't really have a life outside of her work. "It surprises me a little."
"Well Shawn, life has different things in store for different people," Sarah replied softly. "Now…"
Shawn scoffed, "Okay, so you're my legal guardian, but I don't get to know a lot about you?" he asked in as frustrated a voice as he could muster with his low energy level. "That seems a little hypocritical."
"You're right," Sarah replied, secretly pleased to see Shawn's assertiveness. "It is hypocritical of me to know so much about you and then keep you from knowing about me. What would you like to know?"
Shawn was quiet for a moment and then sighed, "Why don't you have a husband and kids?" he repeated in a softer tone, deeply confused by why she didn't. "You seem really nice and really, really gentle."
"I was sick when I was younger and it damaged my chances of being able to have children naturally," Sarah replied as she sat in the chair beside the hospital bed. "I had the same kind of cancer that my mother eventually passed away from and when I survived, I decided to dedicate my life to helping others however I was able to. My father inspired me to get an education so that I could do that."
Shawn nodded, "I guess education is pretty important, huh?" he asked tiredly. "I've always slacked in school because nobody ever really cared enough to ask me to try my best. I guess that's a bit dumb…"
"Not really," Sarah replied gently. "If nobody encouraged you, why would you want to try to do well?"
Shawn's stomach suddenly growled and he promptly let out an embarrassed chuckle, "I think we should stop talking for now and you should have some breakfast if you're feeling up to it," Sarah said as she looked at the breakfast tray. "There's oatmeal, yogurt, apple juice, and toast. What would you like?"
"Well, since I'm going to have to eat anyway, I'll try a little of the oatmeal," Shawn replied in a tired voice as he looked at the food. "I might make a mess, so would you please grab me a napkin?"
Sarah smiled, "I can help you eat if you'd prefer not to make a mess," she replied gently. "I don't mind."
"That would be great," Shawn replied nervously. "Just don't tell anyone you had to feed me, okay?"
Sarah nodded and took the bowl of oatmeal off the tray, "Scout's honor," she replied. "Now, open wide and eat only what you can handle, okay? After breakfast, I'll help you do some last-minute studying."
"Okay," Shawn replied as he was offered a spoonful; it was nice to know that someone cared about him.
It's a relief that the school is unlocked even though school doesn't start for almost another hour. Cory thought as he slipped into the locker room and immediately made a beeline for a mirror. His father's hand had left bruises on his face that were causing slight swelling and discomfort; he looked awful.
More tears welled up in Cory's eyes as he remembered the fight that morning; how could have his father hit him in anger? He had never felt so alone; he didn't even have Shawn to talk to now.
"…Hey Griff, how come we gotta come in and play in the gym before school?" Cory suddenly heard Joey say in a whiny tone. "It's bad enough that we have to endure physical education every single day…"
Cory froze and immediately ducked into the nearest stall so to hide his injuries, "Gentlemen, I believe in workouts because it makes our bodies healthy," he heard Griff say as footsteps passed by the cubicle. "If our bodies are healthy and working properly, our minds will be able to better think up new schemes."
"I have to contemplate this," Cory heard Frankie say in an uncertain voice. "It sounds so complicated…"
As the footsteps moved away from the cubicle, Cory let out a sigh of relief and quickly let himself out of the small cubicle. He hurried back over to the mirror and continued to examine the bruises on his face.
"I can't get through school today," Cory whispered as he touched his face and winced. "I can't…"
"Lawrence, it's really not necessary to sit in here before the exam starts," Jonathan said as he sat at his desk reading a novel to pass the time before the bell rang. "There's not much else you can study."
Topanga shrugged, but before she could reply, Mr. Feeny came into the classroom and walked right over to the desk, "Jonathan, I was wondering if you got my message?" he asked in a very quiet voice.
"Yeah," Jonathan replied softly. "George, are you sure that this woman knows what's best for Shawn?"
Mr. Feeny sighed, "I trust Sarah with my life and also with Mister Hunter's," he replied softly. "I also told her that you'd be more than willing to visit Shawn after school today and proctor his English exam."
"Of course I'll do that, George," Jonathan replied softly. "I'd like to meet this Sarah and talk to her."
Mr. Feeny raised an eyebrow, "I'm sure you'll both have plenty to say to each other, but she'll be more focused on helping Mister Hunter," he replied in an amused voice. "Remember, there's a fine line…"
Jonathan nodded and scoffed as Mr. Feeny left the room. His scoff faded, however, as Cory entered the room and silently sat at his desk without speaking to him or Topanga. Why was Cory's face bruised?
"…Yes, yes I understand," Sarah said into the phone as she watched Shawn read his textbook in his hospital bed out of the corner of her eye. "I'll discuss it with Shawn and I'll get back to you. Bye."
Shawn looked up from his textbook as Sarah hung up the phone, "Talk to me about what?" he asked.
"Shawn, I was just checking in with my colleagues at DCFS and they say that your mother is believed to have left the country," Sarah replied as she walked back over to the bed. "On top of that, nobody has located your father as of yet and the judge affiliated with Child Services has officially signed a document that terminates all the rights that your parents have to you. DCFS wants you and I to discuss the future."
Shawn nodded, but said nothing, "Once you're released from the hospital, you're more than welcome to stay with me for as long as you want to," Sarah said as she sat at Shawn's bedside. "I may be your legal guardian, but I don't expect you to see me as your mother; I just want you to feel like you belong and to feel safe and happy for once."
"I can have time to think about this, right?" Shawn asked nervously, heavily tempted by Sarah's offer.
Sarah nodded and the door suddenly opened, "Hey Shawn, how are you feeling?" Jonathan asked as he came into the room with his motorcycle helmet in one hand and a thick folder in the other. "Are you ready for the exam?."
"Yeah, Sarah's been helping me study," Shawn replied uncertainly. "Sarah, this is Mister Turner, my teacher."
Sarah stood up and walked over to Jonathan, "Nice to meet you," she replied in a professional voice before turning her attention back to Shawn. "Shawn, I'm going to be out in the hallway while you write your English exam, all right?"
"Okay," Shawn replied nervously, deeply terrified of being left alone forever. "You'll be right out in the hall the entire time?"
Sarah nodded and gave Shawn a reassuring smile, "Just try your best," she replied gently. "Focus on the exam, okay?"
"C-Could you possibly sit by the phone while I take the test?" Shawn stammered, feeling a panic attack coming on. "P-Please?"
Deeply concerned by how scared Shawn was to be left alone, Jonathan nodded to Sarah and she quietly took a seat by the door and watched as he took the exam over to Shawn and quietly explained it.
Jonathan, meanwhile, was still partially thinking about the bruises on Cory's face and if Cory's parents had tried to forcefully convince Cory to stay away from Shawn for good.
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