A Charmed Life
Chapter 46: New Beginnings
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
16 July 1998 - Hilltop Road, Lancaster, Massachusetts
Jeff didn’t hover over Keiko as much as he did when the boys came home; he followed her through the door carrying Sabrina in her carrier. Alex and Ryan came running when they recognized their mother’s voice. Marisa smiled from the couch as Keiko and Jeff appeared. She’d relieved Beth and Charlie the morning after Sabrina’s birth; the boys loved it when their Grandma watched them.
Keiko lifted an awake Sabrina out of her carrier and cradled her while seated on the couch. Alex looked at his sister for a moment then walked away. Ryan clambered onto the couch next to his mother to get a better look; it reminded Marisa of Jenni checking Ryan out after he was born. Ryan sat mesmerized by the sight of the little person wrapped in a blanket in his mother’s lap.
“Ryan, say ‘hello’ to your sister, Sabrina.”
“Say ‘sis-ter, ‘ Ryan, sister. Sabrina is your sister. When two boys share the same parents they are brothers, like you and Alexander. When a boy and girl share the same mother and father, the girl is the boy’s sister. You are her brother.”
“Ryan, would you like to hold your sister?” He nodded with a serious look on his face. Keiko handed him the little girl, showing him how to hold her.
“Hi, Bina,” Ryan said to her while Sabrina looked up at him; she appeared to smile at her brother. Ryan held his sister for five minutes, not moving. Sabrina’s eyes never left his while he held her. Keiko took Sabrina back and Ryan slid off the couch.
“Bye bye, Bina,” he said in a gentle voice before giving Sabrina a kiss on the forehead. He scampered away to find Alex.
“He has to be the sweetest little boy,” Marisa said while wiping tears from her eyes.
“I think I know which of her two brothers will be her fiercest protector,” Jeff said.
“Perhaps, though I believe Alexander will step up to the plate should it become necessary. While Ryan seems to be the more sensitive of the two boys, do not underestimate our oldest.”
“Given who their mother is, I wouldn’t underestimate any of our children.”
“You guys have got to be nuts,” Shawna told Jeff two weeks later when he’d returned from paternity leave. They were leaning against the hood of Paramedic Thirty-one, looking down the apron of Medford Station Five through the open bay door.
“Why do you say that?”
“Three kids, all under the age of two? Isaac and I have enough trouble keeping up with the one kid we have now!”
“Chandra is such a sweet girl! I have a hard time believing she’s that big of a handful.”
Shawna stared at her partner. “‘Sweet girl?’ She has you fooled, that’s for sure. You wait until your little angel is four and a half, then come talk to me. It’s hard to know which word I hear more often some days, ‘Mommy’ or ‘no.’”
“You sound like it bothers you sometimes.”
“It can get on your nerves.”
“How could you not like being called Mommy?”
“When they say it a thousand times a day? You get tired of it real quick, trust me.”
“True story, Jeff,” said Nick DeCosta from behind Jeff and Shawna. They turned to see Engine Five’s captain approaching between the trucks. “My two kids were the same way; just about drove Dawn and I nuts. They only have to say it a certain way one time though and it’ll absolutely melt your heart, no matter how crazy they’ve driven you.”
“Also a true story, Nick,” Shawna agreed, nodding.
“Hey, we’ve got a whole bunch of burgers, dogs and other cookout stuff for lunch. You guys in?”
Jeff received a nod from Shawna. “Absolutely. How much and how soon?”
“Five bucks, and maybe about a half-hour?”
“Sounds good, Nick, thanks. You know the Fire and EMS gods will demand we get a call now, right?”
“We’ll just have to take our chances. Close the door and come on out back.”
Shawna and Jeff followed Nick to the small, private grass area behind the station where the rest of the firefighters were gathered. Shawna joined a no-stakes poker game while Jeff relaxed in one of the chairs they’d brought outside.
The crews at Medford’s Station Five were blessed with the rarest of all occurrences in public safety that day: the no-hitter. Paramedic Thirty-one wasn’t even called to cover other cities because there were no calls in Brophy’s other contracted municipalities either. The seven men and one woman relaxed behind the station until the night shift for the fire department arrived at six p.m. The MFD day shift personnel turned over the shift to the newcomers and left for the day.
“Jeff, you guys really had a no-no today?” Deputy Giaconti asked.
“Yeah, Dep, though I think we’re living on borrowed time.” The echo of Jeff’s voice hadn’t yet faded on the apparatus floor when the tones sounded. “See what I mean?” he asked before the call information came over the speaker.
“Engine Five and Ambulance One, Medford Police Headquarters at one hundred Main Street, for the difficulty breathing. That’s E-Five and A-One to MPD Headquarters at one-zero-zero Main for the diff breather. Time out: 1805.”
“And so it begins, Dep.”
Paramedic Thirty-one responded with Engine Five trailing behind them; dispatch directed both units to the rear of the police station and the sally port to the booking area. An officer held up a finger in a “just a moment” gesture when they approached. He then made a motion for them to listen to the conversation going on inside.
Through the partially-open door Jeff could make out the sounds of a normal conversation as well as laughter. He heard “we’re going to have the medics come in and check you out now” before the officer outside waved them all inside. As soon as the ambulance and fire crews became visible, the patient’s breathing changed audibly. The man in his mid-twenties appeared air-hungry: gasping and drawing in huge volumes of air; high-pitched sounds when he exhaled also appeared as if by magic.
Jeff and Shawna shared a glance. “What’s going on, Fran?” Jeff asked.
“This gentleman says he’s got asthma, and that he’s having an asthma attack,” the officer who’d been inside with the individual stated.
Jeff nodded to the officer. “Is this true, sir?” he asked the man on the bench in the booking area. “You have a history of asthma?” The man nodded, now looking like he’d pass out at any moment. “Mmm hmm,” Jeff commented. One of the firefighters held up the oxygen bag, but Jeff shook his head ‘no.’
Jeff placed his stethoscope on the man’s chest and heard perfect lung sounds; he also saw full, equal chest expansion. When he placed his ‘scope on the man’s neck the high-pitched noises could be heard when the man exhaled. His pulse oximetry reading, the measure of how saturated with oxygen his hemoglobin was, was ninety-nine percent; the normal range is ninety-five to one hundred percent. His pulse was in the eighties. Shawna moved to take the man’s blood pressure.
“Are you allergic to anything, sir?” The man shook his head. “Are you on medication for your asthma?” A nod this time. “And what medication are you on for the asthma?”
“Ativan,” the man gasped.
“I’m sorry?” That was a new one.
“You’re prescribed Ativan for your asthma?” Another nod. “Are you prescribed any other medications?” The man shook his head. Jeff sighed before taking the pulse-ox machine off the man. “Shawna, what was the BP?”
“One-ten over seventy-four,” she answered while removing the cuff.
“Do you have his information?” Jeff asked the booking officer; the officer handed him a print-out with the man’s information on it. The officer also handed Jeff a pill bottle marked as an Ativan prescription, but the name of the person it was prescribed to was torn off. “Lieutenant, we’ll be all set here,” he said to Engine Five’s officer. “Thanks for coming to help.”
“Any time, guys.” Engine Five left.
“Mr. Ducharme, is it?” The prisoner nodded. “Mr. Ducharme, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that you’re not having an asthma attack; the bad news is that this isn’t my first day on the job. You don’t have asthma, nor do I think you know anyone who does. Ativan is not prescribed to people for asthma. I’d lay odds this isn’t your prescription, either; if it was, you wouldn’t have torn the name off the prescription label. The sounds you’re making in your throat are not the sounds someone having an asthma attack makes, and I also know you’re making those sounds in your throat on purpose. So the question becomes: ‘Why am I here, Mr. Ducharme?’”
Jesse Ducharme sat mute on the booking area bench, blinking at Jeff. The high-picked noises from his throat disappeared while Jeff stared at him, waiting for an answer.
“While you’re deciding on an answer you think sounds good, let me give you my opinion of what I believe is going to happen if you are transported to the hospital. First, a Medford police officer will remain with you at all times since you are in their custody; that includes when you go to the bathroom. Second, those shackles on your legs will remain on at all times since you are under arrest. Third, you will likely sit in the emergency room for hours while people who are sicker than you are seen and treated first; this is a system called ‘triage’ which is French for ‘to separate out’ and is often translated as ‘to sort.’ Fourth, when you are done being evaluated and treated at the hospital you will be transported back here to sit in a jail cell until you are bailed out by someone, if you are eligible for bail. I see that this officer here is shaking his head, so I’m guessing you’ll be here until Monday. Now I ask you again: ‘Why am I here, Mr. Ducharme?’”
Jesse Ducharme looked shocked, then disgusted, while what Jeff told him sank in. “It doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”
“So you don’t want to go to the hospital, is that what you’re saying?”
“No, I’m fine,” Ducharme repeated, crossing his arms and looking away.
“If you’ll please sign this refusal of service form then Mr. Ducharme, we’ll be on our way.”
“You just said you wouldn’t take me!” the man protested. “Why should I?”
“If you remember, sir, I gave you my opinion as to what would happen if you were transported, not that my partner and I wouldn’t take you.”
“Fine, whatever. Give me the damn form and get out of my face.” Ducharme scrawled an illegible signature and ignored the ambulance crew again. Jeff held the paperwork out to the booking officer who signed as a witness to the refusal. Once the officer signed Jeff and Shawna left. Back at the fire station Paul Giaconti and the crew from Engine Five approached the ambulance while it backed into its bay.
“You got a refusal from that guy?” Lieutenant Barry Anderson asked, surprised.
“Barry, you heard what he said he took for his asthma, right?”
“Yeah, he said he took something called Ativan.”
Paul Giaconti snorted. “Ativan’s not for asthma! My mother takes Ativan for anxiety, not asthma.”
“Right you are, Deputy,” Shawna confirmed. “It probably wasn’t even his, not with the way the label was ripped.”
“What do you mean?” Kyle Jackson, one of the newer firefighters on Engine Five, asked.
“The label was torn in straight lines, meaning it was torn on purpose, not because it got wet or something. Just the name of the person it was prescribed to torn off? That’s very suspicious to folks like us and the cops.”
Keiko and Jeff held a cookout for their friends the Saturday before Labor Day Weekend. Keiko would start school in two days, which would leave him home with three kids by himself. Despite the fact it was still summer many of their friends were there to join them. Sounds of children filled the back yard while the adults sat and got caught up.
“How are you doing, Kath?” Jeff asked his old friend.
“It’s been a good year, certainly the best I’ve had in a decade.” Jeff nodded but said nothing, allowing Kathy time to gather her thoughts. She picked at the label on her beer bottle. “Two years ago Mom had just died; the following six or seven months was pretty rough for Dad and I. I’m very glad I returned home while Mom was still lucid most of the time. I was able to reconnect with her before her pain medications began to keep her mostly asleep; I became her primary caregiver for her last months. In retrospect, though, I think Dad should have been the one to do that.”
“He’d taken an indefinite leave from GVMC’s Cardiology Department when Mom got sick, so it wasn’t even like he could bury himself in his work while I took care of Mom. He wandered around aimlessly while she withered away; he was lost when she died. Mom was the absolute love of his life from the moment they met. I think when she died the mothering I’d done to Mom while she was sick shifted to Dad. Our relationship had always been good but now we’re closer than ever. I just wish we’d gotten there by a different road.”
“Running into Jack again last May? I think that’s been the cherry on the top of my whole return. I’ve always known I could trust him with anything and everything since high school, but this last year has shown me how deeply he trusts me. There were times while he was wrapping things up in Dallas when I was a total basket case. I had nightmares running through my head where every girl in Texas was all over him when he was back there, and I was having them every night. He picked up on my moods and called me every day. He always knew the right thing to say to calm me down; unlike ‘The Prick, ‘ I knew he was sincere when he said those things.”
“Jack has been very patient with me since we began dating again. That man seems to instinctively know when to back off or get closer; even after a decade apart he can read me so well. There was no way I would ever be allowed to be alone with someone in New York, especially a male someone, or to talk like we are now. I wasn’t allowed to relax or have a beer; school was out of the question ... Jack has encouraged me to do all of those things.”
“How have you been handling the sense of freedom?”
“It’s a little scary at times, that’s for sure,” she responded. “I think I was more comfortable when we first moved to the valley in ‘83 than now, trying to figure out who I am again.”
“Anyone giving you any trouble?”
“There was one guy at UMass that tried to sidle up to me during the start of classes last year, but he got the hint when I gave him the cold shoulder. I’ve acquired the reputation as an ‘ice queen’ among the rest of the students. I’ve been practicing my war face, too.”
“‘War face?’ Do tell.”
“I started taking taekwondo classes last fall. I haven’t progressed very far yet belt-wise, but it’s helped me feel more empowered. I don’t feel scared anymore.” She let out a big breath. “So who are all these people again? Charlie Flaherty I remember from school but...” Kathy’s exposure to folks from outside the valley since her return was still limited.
“Okay, so...” Jeff named off the people milling around his back yard. While he identified his friends, Emilie and Charlie drifted over with Madeline, now three. “Madeline, ah a a a ah a!” Jeff sang to his goddaughter as they approached; Charlie rolled her eyes while her daughter sang the line from the chorus of the Winger song along with her Uncle Jeff. He grabbed the little girl causing her to dissolve into a squirming, giggling mass.
“You look great,” Charlie said while hugging the fellow Thompkins graduate. “How have you been?”
Kathy glanced at Jeff who gave her a small shake of his head; he hadn’t shared her story with anyone who hadn’t been at their table during their reunion last year. “I’ve been good, thanks. Can I safely assume these ladies are Emilie and Madeline?” Madeline squirmed out of Jeff’s lap before her moms could answer and crawled into Kathy’s, shocking everyone.
“Hi! I’m Maddie!”
A stunned Kathy replied, “Hi, Maddie. I’m Kathy.”
“That rhymes!” the little girl giggled. “Hi, Aunty Kathy!” Maddie snuggled up to her new aunt.
“I guess she likes you, Kathy,” Emilie chuckled.
“Mommy E! Mommy C said she was a friend of Uncle Jeff!”
“Jeff, what’s that big crate over there?” Charlie asked, pointing behind the garage.
“That’s our in-home fusion plant.”
“Huh?” three women asked in unison.
“We’re one of the families beta-testing the technology in real-world testing; it’s an off-shoot of the desal/decon technology that kept Boston’s hands off the valley back in the late ‘20s. The company is paying for a separate, stand-alone boiler building to house their unit, the plumbing and wiring costs, and for any increase in our heating costs this winter.”
“Don’t you have radiant heating on the first floor in addition to the forced hot air in the rest of the house?” Emilie asked.
“Yes. Neptune’s Forge, the company developing the boiler, tells us that the electricity generated from the unit will power both the radiant flooring heaters and pumps, and the blowers for the forced hot air system. We’ll use the waste heat generated from the ‘cooler’ fusion reaction for the hot air system as well. The energy output should be more than enough to run our summer air conditioning also.”
“‘Cooler’ fusion reaction?” Charlie asked.
“It’s not ‘cold’ fusion, fusion which occurs at or near room temperature, but this unit does run at a temperature less than that of the sun.”
“Right, ‘cause you wouldn’t want to light off a sun in your back yard.”
“Max internal temp of the unit is reported as under five hundred degrees Fahrenheit, Charlie; it won’t melt the Earth’s crust or anything. It won’t even melt lead. And we’ll have complete control over the unit, not the company. If we don’t feel it’s performing well enough this winter we can shut it down and cut back to the old system. Actually, I figure we’ll sell excess power to the utility company once everything is running as it should.”
“And if this works, you’ll be on the cutting edge of new technology,” Kathy said in a soft voice so she wouldn’t wake Maddie.
“Once a geek, always a geek, Kath.”