A/N: Hello guys! For those that are interested in some continuing AK2 goodness, here is my promised sequel to Nobody Knows Where You Might End Up. This picks up five year after the end of that story. I highly recommend you read that one first; it will put a lot of things in better context if you do. If you don't, I think you can still have an enjoyable time reading this one, but be aware that April and Alex are married, she has a bad leg from an injury, Izzie used one of the embryos and Lexie Grey did not die. Again with the usual disclaimer I know nothing about medicine and everything that appears here was researched using google. Lots of interesting twists and turns coming up in this one, so hang on for the ride. Thank you so much for reading and please do let me know what you think!
People act like fear is a weakness. Like it's this terrible Achilles heel that we should all strive to avoid in life. We act as though you are defective if you admit to your fears. If you succumb, you lose, right? Gotta be strong, we say. Get over it. Man up. And all of that. But the thing is, we all have fears. They come in all different shapes and sizes. They can be internal or external. About ourselves or the people we love. They can even be totally irrational. But the feeling is not. Fear is a very real thing.
"Adam's in the kitchen with Mama," Adam Karev sang happily in his chair as he dug into his breakfast, making his own words to a familiar tune, which was one of his favorites at the moment.
April laughed and turned to look at the pajama clad red haired boy.
"Are you singing again?" she joked.
He responded affirmatively, flashing a dimpled grin and lifting his chin in the air in an emphatic nod. Adam was a big fan of singing. And making up his own words for songs. And talking. And eating. Especially in the morning. April shook her head fondly and continued to prepare her own breakfast at the counter as her six year old son continued his song at the kitchen table.
"And Audrey's in the kitchen al-so-o-o-oh," the boy continued, drumming his hands on the table to the tune. "We're in the kitchen with Mom-my!"
He shouted the last high note and paused dramatically as April sat down at the table with her eggs and toast between her two children. Her three year old toddler daughter ate her breakfast, quietly placing small pieces of cereal into her mouth as she watched her brother with wide hazel eyes. Locks of fine tousled brown hair fell on her forehead and April reached out to brush them back. The girl continued to eat.
Audrey took after her father in terms of morning attitude. Actually, as it was turning out, Audrey took after her father in a lot of attitudes. Pouting included.
Adam shot his mother a dimpled grin and concluded, "Eatin our cheerios!"
Joining him in the rest of the chorus, April sang, "Fee-fi fiddly di-day, fee-fi fiddly di-do-oh-oh-oh..."
"Freakin' A," Alex grumbled, shuffling into the kitchen, rubbing a hand down the back of his head and scratching at his belly.
April chose to ignore his word choice. There were bigger battles to be fought. Alex had gotten a lot better with his language since they had their children, but there were times he slipped up. He was not and never would be a morning person, no matter how many early shifts he worked at Seattle Grace. And, so far, neither of the kids had parroted any of their father's more colorful phrases.
Adam's face lit up and he turned around in his seat, "Daddy!"
"Morning dude," Alex grinned, leaning down to kiss the top of Audrey's head and then April's cheek.
"I'm like a wooster!" Adam said happily, cramming his mouth full of cereal. He chewed loudly and spoke, "I wake everyone up in da morning with my voice."
"Chew with your mouth closed," April instructed gently. "Swallow first. Then talk."
Alex smirked and waited for the boy to finished his mouthful before asking, "That's better than an alarm clock..."
"You know, you going to get to play with real roosters on Grandpa and Grandma's farm when you go for your visit..." he explained to the child carefully. "While Mommy and Daddy are in Africa."
In 4 days, April and Alex were scheduled to go to Malawi, to run special crash courses in pediatric and trauma surgery at one of the training center's set up by Alex and Arizona's foundation. They'd now expanded to operating 3 locations, and Lucy Fields had been able to drum up a lot of local support. Alex had been to Africa four times in the past five years, teaching short term 'master classes' but April herself had never gone before.
Between the bum leg and the two kids, she just didn't think it was a feasible idea.
But now that it was almost summer, and Adam was graduating kindergarten that afternoon, and Audrey was potty trained, April thought it might be a doable thing. Alex and Arizona and the foundation had set up a good system of teaching. It wasn't that she didn't want to participate. It was just that parts of April's circumstances made her hesitate. What about her children? Her mobility? Then again, watching Alex over the years had demonstrated just how valuable and effective a short stint with a good teacher would be.
Certainly, trauma training would be of use to young surgeon's in Malawi, and it was one specialty that hadn't been as well represented in visiting surgeons. So, after much discussion, Alex had convinced April that did have something to offer, and she agreed to join him for a 14 day teaching course in Malawi. However, she still worried that her children would miss her. She knew she would ache for them. She also knew that her parents were capable and loved having the chance to care for her kids, but April was still apprehensive about leaving them.
Her son however, was not. He was excited, and had in fact enjoyed all of his previous (albeit shorter) stays in Cook Ohio with his Kepner grandparents. April and Alex had talked to both Adam and Audrey about the upcoming trip, introducing the idea to them slowly over a period of months so they would be used to it.
"I know," Adam said confidently, licking the back side of his spoon. "It's gonna be fun. There's gonna be cows and horsies and piggies. I like the farm."
"Good," April said, smiling approvingly. "And you know we'll only be gone for 14 days. That's not so bad."
She didn't know if she was trying to reassure herself or her son. Maybe both.
"It's two hands and four toes, right, Mama?"
Chuckling April nodded. Alex had had the brilliant idea of teaching Adam to count the days using his body parts. It was funny, but it worked.
"You both will have a blast on the farm," Alex continued, walking over to the counter and dishing a plate of eggs for himself. He glanced back to Audrey and prodded, "Can you say farm, Aud? Farm?"
The toddler didn't meet her father's gaze and continued to chew her breakfast slowly.
Projecting more than normal morning enthusiasm, April joined in, "Farm? You can say it."
"Farm! Farm," Adam piped up, turning to his sister's booster seat. "You can say it Audrey. I've heard you before!"
Adam had been an early talker for a boy, and once he'd started the rest was history. At Audrey's age, Adam was able to carry on long and drawn out conversations. Alex and April had been expecting a similar trajectory for their daughter, but the reality was very different. All kids developed at different rates, April knew. Her nieces all talked at varying ages, and her stepson Kyle took longer than Adam to perfect a lot of his speech. The children of her co-workers were another great example April could think of about the vastly different development rates kids could have.
When Zola was three, Meredith and Derek had had to deal with chatterbox syndrome, while Arizona, Callie, and Mark had to practically wring every single syllable from Sofia's lips. Granted, Sofia had been born a micro preemie, so there were bound to be developmental delays somewhere. They were all actually just really lucky that for the most part now, things had balanced out. Except for the need to wear glasses, Sofia had caught up with Zola and other children her age.
Audrey's case however, couldn't really be explained by premature birth. In fact, April's daughter had been born a week and a half after her due date, and had weight a whole 6 ounces more than her 9 pound brother. It seemed that Karev babies were large. So, April knew that her daughter's tendency toward silence was not a result of being born too early.
The thing was, she suspected Audrey was capable of far more than she would usually display. There were times when the little girl spoke very well and clearly the words she knew, and April always noticed how carefully the child payed attention to certain things. Audrey loved sitting on Alex's lap during all manner of sports games on tv, and would listen intently for hours when April read the children stories, well beyond the capabilities of her sometimes fidgety big brothers. She just knew her daughter could understand so much.
Sometimes April was certain that the girl even understood her father's sarcasm, offering only a small wry smirk at some of his more ironic comments in contrast to Adam's unfailing belief in most of what Alex said. Given the right circumstances, Audrey was very sweet, if occasionally moody like Alex and Amber. It was just a Karev thing.
But sometimes that was why April worried. Because another demonstrated Karev trait was schizophrenia, mental instability, and a whole host of possibilities that she didn't even want to think about.
Maybe she was just being paranoid.
Shaking herself, April returned her attention to the table and the present. There wasn't any reason to get freaked out. Kids really did develop at different rates. Audrey's pediatrician always said so. And Alex worked with kids all the time. He never acted worried. He just did what everyone else did, constantly trying to coax Audrey to engage outside of her comfort zone.
Audrey looked up from her bowl of cereal, chewing carefully and repeatedly running her fingers down the smooth plastic arms of her booster seat, finally offering a faint, but defiant, "No wanna."
Though it wasn't clear whether the girl was referring to having to spend time on the farm with her grandparents or being asked to say farm, the comment made April feel an absurd sense of relief. Audrey was not always in lala land. It was early. Her daughter had never been a morning person.
The family of four finished their breakfast, with Adam's excitement over the afternoon's graduation ceremony dominating the rest of the conversation. He was so excited to start first grade in the fall. April rolled her eyes at the excitement of her son as he waxed on proudly that being a first grader meant that he was going to 'real' school, like Sofia, Zola, and his brother Kyle. It didn't seem that he quite understood that he would still be exactly the same number of years behind his older friends as he was as a kindergartner. He idolized his older friends, and his step brother in particular, but sometimes the age gap between them, combined with the fact that they didn't live in the same household full time, caused friction between Kyle and Adam.
Izzie, Alex, and April had each had to break up their fair share of arguments, and on rare occasion, even a few fights between the two boys. Hopefully, nothing would happen that afternoon.
After they finished eating, April gathered up the bowls and plates, loading them in the dishwasher while Alex took the kids upstairs to start getting ready for the graduation ceremony. Hearing the sounds of shower water coming from upstairs, she took the opportunity to quickly clean the rest of the kitchen, pulling out the broom and sweeping discarded cheerios from beneath Adam and Audrey's chairs. Even though she had the day off from work, with two children around, there was always something that needed to be cleaned.
April took her opportunities when they came. She trusted Alex with this part morning routine. Generally.
By the time she'd finished cleaning up, April was very aware of the lack of noise coming from upstairs. She set down her dish towel and pursed her lips, padding in her socks across the kitchen floor and up the stairs to see what was going on. Even though the ceremony wasn't until mid afternoon, April had a schedule in mind that she wanted everyone to keep. The upstairs was suspiciously quiet, given that Alex, Audrey, and Adam were supposed to be getting ready.
Walking past Adam's room. April peered in to find it empty, with his neatly pressed little suit still hanging exactly where she'd left it. She turned around and poked her head in Audrey's room only to find it unoccupied as well.
Frowning, April called out again, "Alex? Everything alright?"
Maybe Alex had taken them back to the master bedroom. Moving on to through the empty hall toward bathroom, April grew suspicious when she noticed that the door was half closed, and she could hear the muffled sounds of Adam giggling. She knew she was about to be sneak attacked a split second before it actually happened.
"Get her!" Alex shouted, opening the door all of the way, releasing her two damp, towel wrapped children.
They both sported bath mohawks, courtesy of Dad. Adam and Audrey screeched and ran full tilt into April, snapping wet towels at her legs and reaching up to tickle her.
"Oh no," she laughed, easily subduing one of her attackers by scooping Audrey up onto her hip and getting in a few tickles of her own. "Why do have to get Mommy?"
"A'cause Daddy told us to!" Adam grinned, red faced and barely able to speak over his belly laugh.
April rolled her eyes dramatically in mock frustration, "What am I going to do with you?"
"Whatever," Alex smirked. "You know you love us..."
"This is true."
And sometimes, it's truly needed. Fear can be your alarm clock. It can stop you from seeing what's right in front of you. It can spur you to change. So long as you don't ignore it.
"You're not serious," Meredith rolled her eyes at her husband as she pulled the car around a tight corner in Wallingford, searching the block in vain for a parking place.
The neighborhood and the school Zola, Sofia, and Adam attended was exceptionally convenient in terms of coming and going to Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, but it's parking lot was way too small to handle the kind of traffic a graduation could bring. Even a kindergarten one.
Derek, in the passenger seat, tilted his head and regarded her calmly, "I'm absolutely serious."
"There's a spot," Zola offered plaintively from the back, pointed to an open space between two cars. Neither adult heard her comment, and the girl looked glumly out the window as they passed an available option.
"You do remember what happened the last time they let us have a clinical trial for Alzheimer's, right?"
He rolled his eyes, "How could I forget?"
During Meredith's fourth year of residency, she and Derek had been testing a new neurological procedure on patients suffering severe and early onset of the disease. The method had shown some promise in maintaining the memory of some patients, but unfortunately Meredith's actions at the time had invalidated the whole thing. She'd made the decision to alter the trial protocol to ensure that Adele Webber got the active medication rather than the placebo. It had cost Derek his trial, Webber his position as chief, and Meredith her job (temporarily).
It had nearly cost Meredith and Derek their daughter.
That was not one of Meredith's career highlights, though she couldn't exactly say she knew what she would change actions, if given the chance. It was Adele.As an attending with years of work under her belt, she liked to think she knew better. But Meredith knew that it certainly wasn't the last point in her career where ethics had gotten murky.
"Mom?" Zola asked from the backseat, pointing to another parking space. "What about there?"
Meredith shook her head, "We'd never get approval. We've been blacklisted."
"I've been black listed," her husband replied confidently. "You were not."
Meredith tilted her head, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel as she pulled the car around the block again for one more pass. Derek did have a point. Rightly or wrongly, he and Richard had done a great job of shielding her from the consequences. In the end she'd gotten her job back, and, though the incident was a part of her permanent record, that failed trial had not prevented Meredith from passing her board exam, obtaining a fellowship, or becoming an attending. A trial under her direction might not be out of the question.
And the idea was really interesting.
"A pace maker for the brain?"
"A device installed just above the hippocampus. Sends small electrical pulse to maintain neural pathways when they are about to collapse. If the pathways don't collapse..."
"The disease doesn't progress. The patient doesn't loose memories."
Meredith had to admit that she liked the simplicity of the idea. If it were ever possible to say that she and her husband had a vendetta with a disease, it had to be Alzheimer's. It had killed her mother, and Adele Webber, and still loomed large as a possible part of her own medical future. If something as simple as a machine could stop the advancement of the disease by reopening degrading pathways. That would be amazing.
"A pacemaker for the brain," she murmured thoughtfully.
Derek crossed his arms and smirked, knowing he'd piqued his wife's interest, "There's already some successful testing conducted in Canada."
Zola groaned loudly, rolling her eyes and throwing herself backwards into her seat, "You missed another spot! We're gonna be late!"
Finally taking notice of her daughter's words, Meredith looked back at the girl through her rear view mirror, "Sorry Zo. We're not going to be late."
"We are," the 9 year old pouted, arms crossed.
Looking back at his daughter and patting her knee gently, Derek continued, "Don't worry. Aunt Lexie and Sofia will save us a seat."
Meredith squinted and turned her head to see the empty street behind them, noting that she had in fact over looked two potential parking opportunities.
"You know what?" she muttered, scanning the empty block quickly for cops and other cars. Meredith had this.
Those spot were still fair game. It's only illegal if you get pulled over, right? Okay maybe it wasn't the best example to set for her daughter, but Zola did have a point. Adam Karev's official exit from kindergarten was less then 15 minutes away, and even if they parked here the walk to the school would talk some time. So, Meredith threw the car into reverse and hit the gas, coasting backwards down the empty street and maneuvering the steering wheel to guide the car into the second space.
"Whoa," Zola excitedly breathed as the car, lurched to a halt.
Meredith threw the SUV into park and glanced back as her daughter unbuckled, "See? We're not going to be late."
The family quickly clamored out of the car and began to make their way up the sidewalk. Derek grabbed hold of their daughters hand and turned back to his wife with a twinkle in his eye.
"Legendary surgeon Ellis Grey died of Alzheimer's, wouldn't it be nice if history says her daughter cured it?"
Meredith rolled her eyes. Her husband was being grandiose. Again. it wasn't an infrequent occurrence. But, sometimes his arrogance wasn't completely unfounded.
"Think about it Meredith..."
She tiled her head to one side, unable to deny or halt the wheels already spinning in her head. It might be possible.
A pacemaker for the brain. It might be extraordinary.
Alex swallowed hard and leaned forward in his seat, straining to get a better view of his son on the small elementary school stage. Adam was so proud, sitting up ramrod straight in his chair, and bouncing his hands excitedly in his lap. He sat quietly with his classmates, listening to their teacher drone on about whatever kind of crap you talked about at a kindergarten graduation.
More patience and poise than Alex had possessed at the same age. He'd never been good at sitting still in one place as a child.
The teacher was droning on and on about new beginnings and bright futures, and whatever. Alex couldn't really imagine what the hell else the teachers could really say. The kids were 6. What other possible hopes you the teacher talk about, really? Certainly everyone who'd gathered in the tiny elementary school's auditorium to watch the little guys get their mini diplomas wanted nothing more than bright futures and new beginnings for the tykes on stage.
Alex really didn't get all the big fuss about kindergarten graduation crap in general.
But he did appreciate the show of support for his son from his friends and coworkers. The Seattle Grace crew took up a neat little row of seats, and most of the people that mattered the most to Alex (and to Adam) had made it to the ceremony. Lexie and Robbins were there with Sofia and baby Ellie, while their spouses were stuck working at the hospital. Near them, sat Cristina and Jackson also both solo, with their better halves also still at Seattle Grace. On the other side of the long row sat Meredith, Derek, and Zola.
All here for Adam.
By his side, April watched with wide eyes, and Alex could just tell that his wife was doing her best not to cry. He smirked, and noted that to her left his older son Kyle sported a similar wide eyed expression, for completely different reasons. The boy held back a yawn as the teacher continued speaking. And Kyle wasn't the only child of his to be bored by the whole situation. Audrey had dozed off in his lap long time ago.
Kyle and Audrey were more recognizably siblings than either of the children were with Adam. They both had inherited Alex's more olive skin tone, as well as the oval Karev face shape. Adam's paler skin always warranted a generous supply of sunscreen on bright days, and his round face favored Kepner traits. Alex just figured it was part of the DNA deal. Kyle and Audrey also had similar, occasionally grumpy temperaments that were drastically different from Adam's generally cheery and sometimes weepy demeanor. All three children sported the trademark Karev scowl, which, as Alex could see before him, became more pronounced in sleep.
Amber said it was the unified Karev trait, and joked that there was probably a picture of scowling 19th century Karev peasants buried somewhere deep with in the Hermitage Museum.
Gently rubbing Audrey's back, Alex swallowed hard as the speaker began to recite the names of the students, calling them to walk across the stage to much applause from the audience. Finally this show was getting a move on. Anticipation was a bitch. He couldn't wait to get out of the crowded auditorium. He couldn't wait to take his son out for a dinner treat.
Alex couldn't wait to see Adam graduate kindergarten.
"Kaylan Ames." Kid hopped down and grabbed the tiny freaking diploma. Teacher moved the tassel. Applause.
"Robbie Barmore." Kid hopped down and grabbed the tiny freaking moved the tassel. Applause.
Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
Alex smiled as he watched all of his son's classmates made their way across the stage, grabbing the documents that propelled them into the 'real' and challenging world of first grade. As the names inched ever closer to Adam's, April reached over and squeezed his arm. He could tell that she was doing her best not to cry. He could hardly blame her. Time really did fly. It seemed like only yesterday when they were bringing home Adam from the hospital.
"Almost him," Alex whispered with a grin, offering her his free hand. April took it immediately and squeezed his fingers in thanks.
She bit her bottom lip and took a deep breath, "Almost."
Their son was positively bouncing with excitement, leaning so far forward in his seat that Alex was afraid Adam was going to fall off of the thing before his name was even called.
Even with all the clapping, Audrey barely stirred and for that Alex was kind of glad. Audrey being asleep was definitely a good thing. She seemed to be trapped in a particularly long case of the terrible twos, and she'd had her share of tantrums at unfortunate times.
Especially because he knew that his daughter would very soon be spending a total of two whole weeks with his in-laws while he and April flew out to Africa to teach on his Malawi Project. Alex freaking loved the small trips he was able to take to teach in Africa. The residents over there were so grateful, and so determined. They never got up to half the ridiculous crap that Alex, Mer, and Cristina did during their intern year. He loved working with a whole set of folks who truly valued the opportunity they had to learn. And Alex knew that his wife could offer a whole other area of expertise to the students.
It was just...she'd never gone over with him before. Both Alex and April had never been away from their children for such a long time.
He knew they were good caretakers, April's parents. Karen and Joe had turned out to be the best grandparents Alex could ever have hoped for, even if he thought they were a little old fashioned and weird. They treated him like a son, and Alex didn't quite know how to respond to that sometimes.
It made him think about his own parents. His mom and Aaron's medical bills and care and everything else. All that crap he'd learned to cope with in life. Alex certain that April's parents would take excellent care or Adam and Audrey. The niggling concern in the back of his head was about Audrey. She was a great little kid. In a lot of ways she was far less trouble and far less baffling to Alex than Adam could be. And his relationship with her was far less fought with guilt over finding quality time than it was with Kyle, since he went to school and spent most of the time with his other Izzie in Tacoma.
Relating to his sons was sometimes difficult for Alex. But Audrey was his girl. She was the one he got.
And yet...well, Alex could only hope that she'd overdrawn her monthly tantrum quota.
The whole row erupted in raucous cheering and applause. No one clapped louder than Alex. He swelled with pride as he watched his little boy hop out of his chair, and all but strutted across the stage to get his diploma.
And he was still strutting 20 minutes later, after the ceremony, as he walked up and down the row of Seattle Grace personnel showing off his diploma. Alex chuckled as he watched April struggle in vain to get the boy to stand still for photographs.
"Look, Uncle Jackson!" Adam boasted, puffing his chest out, and moving just as April held up her phone for a picture.
A smile played at the plastic surgeon's lips as he regarded his godson, resting steadying pretty boy hands on the child's shoulders, keeping him still long enough for April to get her picture.
Adam clutched his diploma so tightly that the paper wrinkled. As though it was the freaking bible. Alex thought it was kind of hilarious how proud of the credential the boy was, considering that the diploma had Sam the Spelling Worm on it. To him it was as official as either of his parents medical degrees. But at the same time, Alex was happy that he was raising a son who could be proud of his own accomplishments, without any fear of self sabotage or second guessing. He could only hope the boy never lost that as he grew up.
Arizona smiled kindly and patted the top of Adam's head, "Very impressive."
"You should get it framed," Cristina deadpanned, making all the adults chuckle.
Audrey was awake and fussy. The commotion in the room increased, as all the families were on their feet and enduring similar displays from their newly graduated kids. She twisted in Alex's arms and began hitting his shoulders.
"Shh...it's okay. What's wrong?" April whispered, turning back to them in concerned as their friends continued to talk to Adam. Audrey only whined and turned her head away from her mother. "Alex I can take her if you want-"
"Nah," he shook his head, lowering his daughter so she stood in his empty seat. "It's fine. She's probably just bored or whatever..."
Alex could understand that. Heck, he'd probably be bored too if he wasn't at a ceremony for his own kid. And Audrey just woken up. He cast around for something that might distract the toddler.
"I'm a first grader now!" Adam continued, looking to his older brother and friends eagerly.
Both Zola and Sofia congratulated him, but Kyle huffed and corrected his brother, "Not until the first day of school..."
"Well, he's definitely not a kindergarten kid anymore, dude. So, he can say he's a first grader this summer. For practice," Alex bargained, reaching down to Adam's discarded cap on the chair behind him, and offering it to Audrey to investigate. Her cries quieted, and she seemed interested, taking the mortarboard in her hands, before curiously placing the object on her head.
"Ha-t," she murmured. "Hat."
And Alex thought it was all cool then. Arguments between his sons averted, and daughter occupied. He shifted his attention, and started talking to Mer and Cristina. He exchanged a good matured high five with Adam, made fun of Avery's longer than normal hair, and wrapped a loving arm around his wife's waist.
He'd thought it was cool. That everything was fine. They all had.
Until Audrey started to scream.
It wasn't one of those normal whining cries toddlers made a fine art. This scream had another dimension, more shrill, more ear splitting, and more visceral than run of the mill shouts. This had the makings of a full blown tantrum. The graduation cap was still on her head, and the tassel had fallen onto the girl's face. She thrashed her arms in all directions, and threw herself on the the row of empty seats.
His friend's all coughed and awkwardly tried to ignore the scene in front of them, while the children in the group covered their ears. Adam flushed with embarrassment, while Robbins's brow furrowed, and Alex had to look away. It always kind of sucked when your kid misbehaved in public.
April turned around first, immediately but awkwardly lowering herself to Audrey's level, "Audrey? Honey, I know you're bored, but we're going to leave soon, okay."
Alex frowned as he watched his daughter flop backwards again as she continued to scream. The sound shifted again, this time laced with panic instead of frustration. She resisted her mother's attempts to restrain her, and lifted her tiny hands to her face, frantically assaulting the hat and tassel on her head. It was stuck on her hair clips, but Audrey refused to stay still long enough for April to remove the hat.
He felt his stomach drop. The sight was eerily familiar. It was stirring up memories Alex had long tried to bury.
Another state. Another ceremony. Another time. Wrestling junior league championships. His mother pulling huge clumps of her hair out while she screamed in imagined fear of her husband. The room full of prying eyes.
Memories no one knew about. No one around here anyway. Not Mer. Not Dr. Wyatt. Not even April.
Audrey continued to scream, twisting further away from April and scratching at her face wildly. Alex could tell his wife was getting worked up too. They'd experienced tantrums before, but this was something else. Their daughter desperately tried to remove her brother's graduation cap from her head, dragging the blunt nails Alex had clipped that morning for her bath down her chubby cheeks, deep enough to draw blood.
Alex felt his heart thudding in his chest as the situation escalated. Now, more people than their own group had noticed the bizarre outburst. Whispers and stares cut across the room from other families. Some creeps even pointed.
Everyone was looking at her. Everyone was looking at them.
Alex couldn't stand it. He had better joints than April and easily surprised both her and Audrey when he leaned in and gathered the still thrashing child from the seats. He had to get her outta there. He had to get out of there.
"I've got this," was the only explanation he gave before he hastily made his way out of the school auditorium, down a long hallway, and into the sunny weather out side. He cradled his little girl, removing the stupid graduation hat and letting it drop from his fingers somewhere between the front door of the school and his car.
April kept first aid kits in both their cars, not to mention in a dozen other random places around the house and in the garage. Thank goodness it was there today.
Without the hat, Audrey sniffled and took shaky breaths as she tried to calm down. Alex had to focus on his own breathing as he carefully cleaned the small red gash that now occupied his daughters cheek.
"Oh, Aud," he mumbled, gently applying antiseptic cream to the wound.
It was calm outside and few people passed my on the street. Alex could hear the sounds of birds chirping faintly beyond the thud of his own racing pulse in the back of his ears. They'd had such a happy morning too. And the ceremony had gone well. Things had been fine. Alex didn't want to believe what he was seeing in front of him.
"Oh, Aud," he repeated, unwrapping a pink and green striped band aid from the car kit. "You can't be pulling crap like this...trust me, you gotta grow out of crap like this..."
Because, while crap like this seemed to be pretty bad for a 3 year old, Alex knew that it was exponentially worse if someone continued to do it at 6, 12, 18 and beyond. He knew the signs. He grew up with the signs. But Alex just couldn't allow himself to add up the signs he saw in his daughter. He just couldn't face it.
Alex felt like he'd break if he faced it.
Surely it wasn't the same. Surely. She'd grow out of it. 3 year olds have tantrums all the time. Bother her brothers had. Zola and Sofia too. This would pass. It would disappear as she got older. Right?
Audrey looked up at him tragically, with her lower lip jutted out in a deep pout. She ran her fingers rhythmically along the plastic arm wrests of the car seat as he placed the bandage on her cheek smoothing out the edges. He cupped her cheek, smiling sadly, and brushing away her tears. Alex knew she couldn't really even understand him. And if his deepest unspoken fears were really true, he also knew that she couldn't really help it.
So really what we should say about fear isn't get over it. We should say get through it. Because the feeling is real. We're all afraid. And that's okay. Being afraid means you have something to lose. It means you are alive.