A Charmed Life
Chapter 35: Family Matters
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
25 June 1994 - West Ware Road, Enfield, Massachusetts
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...”
Jeff’s smile threatened to split his face wide open; he’d never seen his little sister look lovelier, or happier. He stood next to Stu and Matty Masterson, Stu’s almost eight-year-old son, as one of Stu’s groomsmen. While Matty was Stu’s Best Man as far as he was concerned, the state required an adult as a witness, so Jeff’s name would be on the marriage certificate.
Kara looked at her soon-to-be-husband with pure adoration. She smiled down at Matty. The two had forged a special bond while she and Stu formed their own. Kara understood that she’d inserted herself into a very special dynamic.
Stu Masterson met Jenni Kim early into his first Navy enlistment, in March of 1983; she was a nineteen-year-old waitress at a favorite breakfast place just outside Naval Submarine Base Bangor, Washington. Her parents were not fans of Stu. Stu and Jenni fell in love and were married by the end of that enlistment; her parents cut off all contact shortly after they’d announced their intent to marry.
They didn’t tell her parents when Stu was reassigned to NSB New London, Connecticut and the submarine training school there in 1987. Her parents had made their decision which made the young couple’s easier; they moved without informing her parents. They didn’t inform them a year earlier when she’d given birth to their grandson, either.
Stu’s family was the only family he called three and a half years later when Jenni was killed by a drunk driver. That driver hit her head-on while she drove home from work in 1991, just before he was to reenlist for a third four-year hitch. Instead of receiving transfer orders, he was granted a hardship discharge from the Navy. He and Matty landed in Wilbraham, Massachusetts soon after, the hometown of a buddy from New London who’d recommended it as a good place to live.
Stu was the youngest of five, fully a dozen years younger than his next-oldest sibling, an “oops” baby. The Masterson family was held together by his parents; when they both died within six months of each other - his mom of cancer and his father of loneliness - he and Matty found themselves alone. There was no common ground between him and his siblings without their parents so they drifted out of contact.
Stu’s life focus narrowed to Matty’s well-being. He found a local EMT class which was offered during early evenings, and a babysitter who was available those two nights of the week. He signed up. By the end of 1991 Stu was a certified Massachusetts EMT. He found a home-based daycare that would accommodate his unusual schedule once he’d started at CRVA. Both did their best to help out the single father.
It was while working at CRVA that he started to make good friends again: Connie Willis, Bill Harris and Gene Choamsky; Stu added Jeff Knox to that list after he started there. Stu helped train Jeff and was partnered with him for a July Fourth detail in Jeff’s hometown. Jeff introduced Stu to his family there.
It was in that instant that Stu’s life changed. A pair of hazel eyes froze him in his tracks while Jeff introduced a young lady, his younger sister, Kara. Stu’s mind registered on some level that the eyes’ owner looked a lot like Jeff. He couldn’t help but stare at her. Something about her reminded him of Jenni in a way that no woman had since Jenni’s death.
Stu spent the entire cookout portion of their standby detail talking with Kara, then another three hours at Jeff’s apartment doing the same. The drive back to the CRVA garage following their detail was the cherry on top: Jeff suggested that Stu go out with his sister if he wanted to. It was like an invisible wall crumbling away. Stu helped Jeff put the ambulance away, then rushed home to Matty.
“Matty, I think I’ve just met someone. You need to meet her, too.”
Stu and Kara’s first date was at his apartment with Matty there at her insistence. Kara won Matty over almost right away by talking to him like he was an adult, not as an almost six-year-old boy. Matty gave his dad a nod during dinner; later that night he told Stu, “I like her.”
Stu and Kara dated often after that; on most of their dates, they’d spend hours talking. By October she was offering to watch Matty on the evenings and nights Stu worked; that’s when she and Matty started to bond even more. By July of 1993 Stu proposed marriage with Matty’s urging and Joe Knox’s blessing; they opted for a small wedding in her parents’ back yard rather than a large church wedding.
After the ceremony, after the new husband and wife walked down the aisle with their son following behind, Matty Masterson gave his father a hug. Turning to Kara he gave her the same fierce hug, then whispered into her ear. Kara’s hand shot to her mouth as tears leaked from her eyes.
“Really?” she sobbed. Matty nodded and was wrapped in another hug by her.
“Babe?” Stu asked with concern.
“Stu, he asked if he could call me ‘Mom.’”
Jeff was glad Stu and Kara’s invitations asked everyone to dress comfortably and for the weather, forgoing the normal dress clothes for such an occasion; even the bridal party dressed down for the ceremony, wearing summer casual clothes. Jeff sat in a lawn chair with his feet up, holding a beer, while the party continued around him. A plate of barbecue chicken, beans, cole slaw and potato salad sat in his lap. He soaked up the sun, happy his sister and his friend had found someone to spend their lives with; the fact that “someone” turned out to be “each other” was pretty cool. The almost ten-year age difference didn’t matter to them or his family. Jeff looked over at the person who’d dropped into the chair next to him.
“This meal isn’t going to do anything for my figure.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your figure, Heather, and you know it! You’re twenty-six and an absolute beauty! Geez, woman, stop fishing for compliments.”
“Maybe something needs to be wrong with my figure! I keep attracting every numbnut and dickhead in the Metro Boston area! And that’s at the BU library!”
“Well, you do look fabulous Heather, all kidding aside.”
“Thanks. And thanks for being my date today; I didn’t want to come solo.”
“I thought you were my date?”
“Potaytoe, potahtoe. How have things been in Malden?”
“Busy. I’m getting ready to change my schedule at work to get ready for paramedic school. The good news is that Sean wants to keep on being my permanent partner.”
“I would imagine being the owner’s son helps with scheduling, too? Has anyone else figured out who he is?”
“No, which is shocking to the both of us; we figured someone else would have figured it out by now. I don’t think even the HR person knows. And that ties into his scheduling, too. We requested to keep working together in an open schedule slot; that’s why we’ll still be together, not because he’s Seamus’ son. I have to give the kid a lot of credit: he wants to know the job before he tries to run the company.”
“‘Kid?’ He’s only two years younger than you!”
“Potaytoe, potahtoe. How is the quest for your Masters going?”
“I’ll finish in time for the October commencement ceremonies, which is fine with me. I’ll already be working on my Doctorate by then. Speaking of doctorates, any word from Allison? I know Kara sent her an invitation. It would have been cool to see her again.”
“She sent a card and a gift,” Jeff shrugged. “She’s already started working on her Ph.D., which doesn’t surprise me. She said she was sorry that she couldn’t make it back for the wedding, but that she might be up later this summer. By Christmas, at the latest.”
“It’s too bad the timing hasn’t worked for you with any of us. Pauline, Allison, me? I’m surprised you have any capacity for love left in you sometimes with how we’ve left you high-and-dry.”
Jeff’s feet dropped to the ground and he sat straight up. “Whoa, where is this coming from? Is that what you guys think you’ve done? Left me ‘high-and-dry?’” Jeff asked, surprised. “Don’t I tell you enough how lucky I’ve been to know all you ladies and to still count you as friends? You’re here with me now even though there was no ‘spark’ when we dated. Allison, Pauline and I are still in touch with each other on a semi-regular basis. How can I complain about any of that?”
Heather had no answer for him; she sat in her chair staring out at the woods.
“Heather? Heather, what’s going on?”
“What ... What if he’s not out there, Jeff? What if I’ve already met him and don’t know it?”
“Heather? This isn’t like you. What’s the matter?” She didn’t answer him again, only shaking her head while her eyes watered. “You think you’re destined to be an old spinster or something? You think you’re going to be alone, is that it?” She continued to stare at the trees. “It amazes me how often smart people can be so dumb. Heather, like I said to you five years ago, some guy is going to be very lucky when he gets to date you long-term; you just haven’t found the guy who is good enough for you. So, as a very wise woman said to me five years ago: ‘cut this I’m-feeling-sorry-for-myself shit out, or I’m coming over there to kick your ass!’”
She barked her trademark laugh. “Yeah, good luck with that. I fight dirty.”
“If it isn’t dirty, you’re not doing it right,” he responded while he leaned towards her and wagged his eyebrows.
Heather barked another laugh. “Keep dreaming, hotshot; I’m a double black diamond ski trail, not a bunny slope. You ain’t ready for all this.”
“That’s the Heather I know!”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, have you heard the latest report on the World Trade Center bombing from last fall?”
“No, I’ve been busy with helping Mom and Kara out with today. What’s the report say?”
“The Fibbies are saying that the Arab terrorists who carried out the attack were angry with the U.S. for being in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.”
“We’re all just dirty infidels, that kind of thing?”
“Yeah, and they’re mad at us for bringing our unclean water purification technology, too.”
Jeff shook his head. “So we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t yet again? If we’d stayed out of the Gulf War, we’ve have been called ‘selfish, ‘ and because we went - at Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s request, mind you - we’re still targets? Great. They can do it themselves next time.”
“You’d think between the Soviets and us we could keep a lid on these extremists.”
Jeff snorted. “The Soviets can’t even keep a lid on their own trouble-makers. The hardliners were welcomed back by many of the power-brokers in 1991 when they deposed Gorbachev, but now those same people are getting fed up with the empty promises the hardliners keep making. The fact that they touted how good their military hardware was before we blew it all to kingdom-come in the Gulf War hasn’t helped. They can say it was poor use of it by the Iraqis all they want, but the truth is we cut through it like the proverbial hot knife through butter. It wouldn’t have mattered who was driving it.”
Stu and Sean walked into one of Brophy’s contracted facilities in early August. The Malden House wasn’t as bad as the River House in Springfield, but it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, either. The nursing home odor was mercifully faint here. This call would be Sean’s tech; that is, he’d be the one riding in the back with the patient.
He and Sean stepped up to the nurses’ desk and asked for the patient’s chart. The nurse behind the desk dropped the chart on the counter and turned back to her television. Jeff and Sean shared a look before Sean started his paperwork. Another nurse walked behind the desk.
“Who are they here for?” she asked the first nurse.
“The gorked gook,” she replied. Sean frowned at Jeff. The first nurse looked up. “They told us she spoke English when she came here, but she hasn’t said anything in the last week. Just some gibberish when she first got here.”
“What room?” he asked Sean, ignoring the two women.
Sean flipped the chart closed and look at its spine. “Seven. Bed by the window.”
Jeff got a look at the patient’s name before he walked away. He pushed the stretcher down the hall to the indicated room. Peering inside Jeff saw an older Asian woman staring out the window; her roommate wasn’t in the room. Given the patient’s last name, and the report that she spoke ‘gibberish, ‘ he took a chance.
“Hayashi-sama?” he asked when he stepped into the room. She looked back at him, surprised that someone in the Malden House would be speaking Japanese. He bowed to her and continued in that language. “Konnichiwa, Hayashi-sama. I’m Jeff. My partner Sean and I have come to take you to your appointment.” Mrs. Hayashi continued to look at him in shock. “It’s been some time since I’ve spoken Japanese, so I apologize for my pronunciation,” he said.
“Your pronunciation is perfect. I am shocked to find someone here who speaks Japanese. How is it that you know the language?”
“My best friend, ma’am. He taught me while we were roommates in the Army together.”
“He taught you well.”
“Thank you, ma’am. How long have you been here?”
“A week. My ‘loving’ daughter and her good-for-nothing husband found a way to dump me here after my leg surgery. They’re off on some year-long cruise around the world while this place sucks my accounts dry.”
“You can’t return home once you’re finished with your rehab?”
She snorted. “After my husband died, our daughter convinced me to sell our house and move in with them. My grandson was in college, so there was plenty of room for me; now he’s graduated and in Korea for a year with the Army on his first assignment. His parents, my daughter and son-in-law, sold their house and arranged to put me in here while I was in the hospital following the surgery; I don’t have anywhere left to go. I speak English very well, but I’ve chosen not to speak a single word to anyone here until now. I’m not sure who I can trust.”
Jeff nodded, trying to wrap his head around the situation. Sean entered the room; Jeff put his finger to his mouth in the universal sign for quiet. They helped Mrs. Hayashi onto the stretcher and removed her from the facility without a word. Jeff offered to tech this call and to explain everything to Sean later. Sean nodded, trusting his partner.
“They dumped her there?” Sean asked as they waited at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for Mrs. Hayashi’s appointment to finish. “I can’t believe anyone would treat a parent like that!” He was pissed.
“Calm down, Sean. I know you want to help her, but we need to research her situation a little more. Can you talk to your dad? See if he has any ideas what we should look for and who else we should potentially talk to?”
“I’ll call him tonight when I get home. We can put those two nurses on the list of people I’d like to see fired after all is said and done.”
“Agreed. Looks like they’re done, let’s bring her back.”
Jeff looked around the classroom while he settled into his seat; it was the day after Labor Day and his first day of paramedic school. The other students seemed to be about his general age. He gathered from his application and interview that he was on the low end of the normal applicant’s experience range. He wondered if his Army experience and the fact he’d earned his degree while in the Army helped sway the admissions committee at all.
The textbook for the class was about two inches thick. It contained a bunch of photos the average person would find disturbing; he found them interesting. This confirmed something that he’d noticed about his fellow EMTs and himself: they were all a little sick. He and Charlie often joked about things they’d seen at work, but they waited until they weren’t around “regular” people. Those people wouldn’t understand the need to joke and blow off the pressure that silently built up inside.
An actual weekend off was a foreign concept to many in public safety or other twenty-four hour professions. The Monday through Friday daytime class schedule would take some getting used to again; EMS was not a Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five job. There’d be days coming up where he’d go to class from nine to five, drive home to have a nap, report to work for the overnight shift at eleven p.m., and then drive back to be at class at nine the next morning. He’d have to do that twice during the week and work a twenty-four hour shift every Saturday to get his forty hours.