The Ties That Bind
They say that high school is the next stage in our lives, when we learn how to stop being children and start becoming adults. I feel like I am the poster child for this idea. Three months ago I was a loner, with a family that regretted adopting me, no friends, and little idea of where I was going. I was totally lost.
In three short months everything changed. I learned I have a purpose in life. Not just a purpose, but a destiny. A reason for being. Sure it is totally overwhelming and I still think there is no way I am going to live up to what is expected of me, but what teenager doesn’t think that. I will admit most teenagers don’t have to worry about being the next stage of human evolution, but that’s just details.
Thankfully I don’t have to go it alone. I’m not that quiet kid without any friends anymore. I have three girlfriends, all of whom love me unconditionally. I have a woman who treats me like I am one of her own kids. I have some great friends that completely support me.
Sadly, I also had a schedule that seemed to want to crush me. There was a company meeting on Wednesday to get the last of the details of Marcus’s drone project worked out so we could get moving on it. I had another football game on the weekend that I hadn’t prepared nearly enough for. But first I had a meeting with the financial guy Jonathan had set up for after school on today to figure out what to do with all the money I was now sitting on, at least until I had to hand it over to Ted and Marcus.
As soon as morning exercises were over I met with Mrs. Runkle, and introduced her to the girls so they could take the aptitude test; but I couldn’t stay to find out how they did. Mrs. Bell was already waiting to take me to the meeting with the financial guy. Since she was now officially in charge of the trust, she had to be there, too.
We met Jonathan outside the office building in the town’s business district. I always laughed when I heard it called that. While not a map dot, Allentown was not that big, and our ‘business district’ consisted of about a one block area with a couple of office buildings.
I had talked to Jonathan about him the night before, and I brought Mrs. Bell up to speed as we walked into the building and rode the elevator up to the third floor.
Jonathan said he hadn’t worked with Mr. Stoner before, but that he came highly recommended. He suggested we get this guy’s thoughts on how he would manage the money, but we shouldn’t commit today.
Mrs. Bell smiled at me, “Cas, you know I am just a figurehead. Business has never been my thing. You seem to know what you want to do, plus it’s your money.”
“Yeah, but you know how much I value your opinion.”
She gave me a one handed hug, and then winced.
“Is it your head again?”
“Yeah, it still hurts. Maybe it’s the florescent lights.”
I knew she was blowing me off. I let her get away with it, but I was worried about her. These headaches had been going on for weeks.
“Have you talked to anyone? Doctor Chang or your regular doctor?”
“No, not yet. It’s just a headache.”
I made an uncertain grumbling sound at her, but we had arrived at the guy’s office so I dropped it. There was a woman that I guessed was in her mid-twenties at a desk by the door.
“Hi. Caspian Grey and Angela Bell to see Mr. Stoner. We have a four o’clock appointment.”
“Please have a seat and I will let him know you are here.”
We sat and waited. I figured it would be several minutes until he got to us, since we got there a little early. I looked around what I could see of the offices while I waited. I hadn’t seen this setup before. There were a lot of office doors and an open area where the receptionist was waiting. Each had an office number and a name on the door.
“Excuse me, but is this all Mr. Stoner’s office?”
“No, Mr. Stoner rents just one of the offices. There are several small offices run by different people that share the space and split the administrative costs. There are two financial advisors, including Mr. Stoner, a CPA, and a guy who does something with computers I don’t really understand.”
“Ahh, okay. Thanks.”
Four o’clock came and went and no sign of Mr. Stoner. Eventually it rolled around to 4:15 and he came out of his office and greeted us, or rather, he greeted Mrs. Bell. Me, he seemed to ignore, but we all went back into his office. Introductions were made and then he jumped right into it.
“What can I do for you?”
He was looking at Mrs. Bell but I answered.
“I received a decent amount of money recently, and I need to see about investing it. I need four hundred thousand in a fairly risk free investment. I need it to be accessible in the next six months, as it has already been committed to a business partnership. The remaining three hundred thousand does not have to be as liquid, but I still want to avoid any high risk investments. I know it isn’t a lot, as far as investments go, but I wanted to try and keep that second amount of money split among several smaller investments if possible.”
“Okay, seems someone did his homework. On the first part I guess what you are thinking of is a CD, but that isn’t going to do you a lot of favors.”
He said the first part very patronizingly to me and then returned his attention back to Mrs. Bell.
“I would suggest putting the entire amount into an annuity. I actually have one in mind that is returning good rates.”
I cleared my throat to get his attention back on me.
“Correct me if I am wrong; but getting my money out of an annuity early, would be a little costly for me, right?”
“Well, there would be some fees, but if you could keep it in there long enough, I am sure you will earn enough interest to offset that. It really is your best option.”
“Aside from the four hundred thousand, which I really do not think should go into an annuity; wouldn’t it be a better idea to keep the remaining money a bit more diversified?”
“Some people might say that, but I say strike when the iron is hot. Now this product I am suggesting is the best performing investment I have seen in years. You would be crazy to look elsewhere.”
This guy was setting off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. It wasn’t just what he was saying, which already seemed sketchy, but his attitude was rubbing me the wrong way. Plus, although I was doing all the talking, he kept addressing Mrs. Bell.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Stoner. We will think about this.”
As I stood up to leave, he leapt up and moved over to Mrs. Bell.
“Ma’am, I think it’s great to have your son in here learning about finances, but this should be taken seriously. This isn’t something you want to wait on.”
Mrs. Bell was frowning, and stepped around him.
“As Caspian said, we will think about it and get back to you.”
As we walked away from him, I shared a look with Mrs. Bell. She was clearly having similar concerns about this guy. There was a guy leaning against the door frame of the office closest to the receptionist as we were walking out, drinking a cup of coffee and watching us.
We stopped as he addressed us in passing.
“Stoner up to his old tricks, again?”
“What old tricks?”
I looked back and Mr. Stoner was glaring at us for a minute, or more likely, he was glaring at this guy, before he went back into his office and closed the door.
“Let me guess, he had this one thing that was the best investment he had seen in years, and thought you should put all your money into it, right?”
“Yeah, that is about how that went.”
“Man, will he ever learn? I swear half my Rolodex is people he made that pitch to, who later got burned.”
“If it is so bad, why does he keep doing it?”
“‘Cause it’s only bad for the client. He always suggests whatever he gets the biggest commission off of. He makes his money up front.”
“So what would you recommend that is different.”
“I couldn’t say. Investing your money isn’t one size fits all. Anyone that suggests the same product to all of their clients is doing them a disservice. It depends on how much capital you have, how diverse you want to be, and how adverse to risk you are.”
I looked over to Mrs. Bell and she gave me a head nod.
“Do you have a few minutes to sit down with us?”
He looked at his watch.
“Yeah. My next meeting isn’t for an hour. Come on in.”
We walked into the small office and sat down in front of his desk.
“I guess I should say my name is Charles Green. Give me a little background on what you guys are looking for.”
“Sure. I’m Caspian Grey and this is Angela Bell. I recently came into some money as part of a legal settlement ... a million dollars, in fact. All of it is sealed up in a trust, with Mrs. Bell here as the trustee. Seven hundred thousand of that is already earmarked for an investment, with the first three hundred thousand already paid. The remaining four hundred thousand isn’t due right away, but I need it available in six months at the latest. I know that really limits the options available on that portion of the money. The remaining three hundred thousand I would like to keep diversified. I am hoping the company we are starting will be able to add more money into my portfolio, enough for the trust to start paying out a stipend to help cover home expenses.”
Mrs. Bell turned to me, “Caspian, you should keep your money invested. You shouldn’t have to help...”
“No, I want to. With me, you have an extra mouth to feed, plus we regularly have the other two girls visiting us, which adds to the cost. I want to do my part. Now, with the company, I am no longer working for Ted ... at least, I’m not getting a paycheck.”
Mr. Green was watching the back conversation.
“Girls huh, that sounds interesting. As for a stipend out of the trust, you need to get it larger to be able to do that. With so much of your money already tagged for a hard investment ... and, I am guessing, not one with a dividend payout or disbursement in the near future ... you need to leave the rest of your money in the trust. Three hundred thousand sounds like a lot, but unless you leave it to build on itself, you will eat your principal up quickly if you start pulling money out.”
“For the first chunk, the only real option is a short term CD. The interest will be better than just sticking it in a bank account, but not by much. But, it would be available in a set amount of time, and it’s fairly safe. The other option is to try and do a bunch of short buys and sells, or maybe short a few stocks. That would increase your return on the investment, but it is also more risky. It is possible that, even if you make the best decisions possible, you would lose some of your principal. The stock market works great on the long term, but for short term investments like yours it is more of a high risk, high reward sort of thing.”
“Yeah, I don’t think that would be the smart play.”
“For the remainder, I would put some into the market, maybe a mutual fund, and the rest into smaller investments. Perhaps an energy company, or some form of real estate investment. I do agree that being diversified is a good idea, but you don’t have enough capital to really spread it around. Still, I think if we played with the money right, you could get close to a ten-percent return on the principal every year. Thirty grand isn’t ‘get rich’ money, but if you leave it in the trust and allow compound interest to do its thing, you should grow your cash nicely. Of course if this initial investment works out and you have more money to play with, we can start getting really interesting.”
“Mr. Green, I’m sold. I will get you my attorney’s information. Please work with him and Mrs. Bell to get it all arranged.”
We got up and both shook hands with him. We were just walking out the door when Mrs. Bell grabbed her head, let out a cry and dropped to the ground. Her whole body was convulsing as I dropped to the ground next to her and tried to hold her still. I noticed her eyes had rolled up into her head.
I could vaguely hear Mr. Green on the phone talking to someone; my guess was he had called 911. I kept calling Mrs. Bell’s name and holding her still, but panic was starting to set in. I looked up at Mr. Green.
“Emergency services are on their way. They said not to move her.”
I absently nodded at him and clung to her with all my might. Tears were streaming down my face. I have no idea how long it took, but eventually I felt someone pushing me out of the way. I looked up and saw two paramedics and a rolling gurney.
“She is having some sort of seizure. Give me the Lorazepam.”
The other EMT reached into her bag, pulled out a syringe of some kind, and passed it over to the guy kneeling next to Mrs. Bell. The guy gave her a shot and the shaking started to subside.
“I think we are good, for the moment. Let’s get her on the gurney and into the bus.”
They maneuvered some kind of stiff board under her and lifted her onto the lowered gurney. Once that was done, they started to walk her out. I followed closely behind them. At the ambulance, the guy turned around to look at me.
“You’re going with her?”
“Okay, get in.”
I sat on a bench and held her hand once they had her in the ambulance. The sirens started and we were headed to the hospital. The guy started to attach stuff to her, checked her blood pressure and started making notes on some kind of pad.
“What’s her name?”
“Are you related to her?”
“I’m her son.”
I was still on the verge of panicking just looking at her with her eyes closed, and didn’t think before I answered. I have no idea why I said that, though.
“Does she have a history of seizures?”
“No, but she has been complaining about a headache for weeks.”
He made some more notes.
“I need to call the family doctor and her daughter.”
“You can do that at the hospital ... and you mean your sister, right?”
He gave a ‘whatever’ look and let it pass. We pulled up to the hospital and I had to scrunch back in my seat while they pulled the gurney out. Once she was out of the ambulance, I followed closely behind. They stopped me from going into where they were taking her, and redirected me to the waiting room.
I took the opportunity to call Zoe first. She picked up on the first ring.
“Hello? Cas, why aren’t you and mom home yet?”
“Zoe, we are at the hospital.”
“What’s wrong, are you hurt?”
“No. It’s your mom. She had some kind of seizure. I am calling Doctor Chang, next, but can you get a ride up here?”
She had started crying pretty hard. I head a thunk as the phone was dropped and then another voice on the line.
“Cas, what is going on?”
It was Vicki.
“Vicki, Mrs. Bell had a seizure and is in the hospital. Can you get Zoe up here?”
“Oh my god. Yeah, I will get her there. What are we going to do?”
“I am calling Doctor Chang next. She will know what to do.”
I hung up and started to pick up the phone again when the nurse at the desk held up a hand.
“You’re looking for Doctor Chang?”
“Yes. She is a family friend and our doctor.”
“I think she’s working, tonight. Let me page her.”
A page went out and I stood there for a few minutes. I wasn’t sure what the clerk was doing, but she talked to several people on the phone. I couldn’t say if one of them was Doctor Chang or part of the clerk’s routine. However about ten minutes later Doctor Chang came through the door leading back into the emergency room.
“Caspian, is everything alright?”
“No. Something’s wrong with Mrs. Bell. She had been complaining about a headache and collapsed into some kind of seizure. They wheeled her back there a little bit ago. I was hoping you could help, maybe find out what is going on.”
“Yeah, I can do that. Just wait here.”
I reached out and grabbed her arm as she turned away.
In a whisper is said, “Also I told them I was her son on the off chance they might tell me what was happening.”
“Okay. Let me go see what is happening.”
She disappeared behind the doors again. I just stood there for a long time. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to find out what was going on when I heard a shout from behind me.
I turned around and saw Zoe, Vicki, Tami and Megan. Zoe ran at me and threw her arms around me. Her eyes were puffy from crying, and as soon as she hugged me, she started crying again.
“What’s happening? Is she alright?”
“I don’t know. I got Doctor Chang to go back and check on her, but she hasn’t come back yet. Here, let’s sit down.”
There were several open seats. I sat down and pulled Zoe into my lap. She curled herself into a ball and clung to me. Tami and Vicki sat on either side of us and kept petting Zoe, whispering that everything would be alright, but looking at me in concern when Zoe wasn’t paying attention. Eventually, Doctor Chang came out.
“I see everyone is here. She is under observation, now. I admitted her to the hospital and had her moved to a room. If you are quiet, we can go up and see her.”
“Yes. We would like that very much.”
We all followed Doctor Change up two floors in the elevator and down to a room. Inside was just Mrs. Bell, who seemed asleep. All kinds of wires and tubes ran to her and there was a steady beep ... beep ... sound from one of the machines.
She motioned for us to sit down in the seats already in the room.
“I had them run a few tests. There is a tumor in her brain. It is pressing pretty hard on her primary motor cortex. What you saw wasn’t a seizure, at least not in the practical sense. We think the tumor is messing with her motor control and causing involuntary muscle spasms.”
“How serious is this?”
She looked at Zoe and then looked at me. I knew before she said a word this was going to be bad.
“I will be honest with you, it’s very serious. The neurologist doesn’t think she is going to wake up.”
Zoe lost it. I hugged her tight, and the other girls pulled in to hug her as well. We completely surrounded her, trying to give Zoe as much love and support as possible.
“There is an option.”
I looked up from the girls, all of whom snapped their heads towards the Doctor.
“We could administer her a treatment of your blood.”
“Cas, we know what your blood does. We don’t know if it will affect past the blood/brain barrier, or if it will be able to reduce or remove a tumor. But, from all my experiments, I think it might. We couldn’t tell anyone about this and I have to come up with some way of hiding what is happening from the hospital staff, but it might work.”
“Cas, this is something hardly anyone ever comes back from. Where it is, we couldn’t really operate on it. Using conventional medicine, I think she will die. But, I think you can save her.”
Zoe turned to look at me, pleading in her eyes.
“I will do it. There is nothing I wouldn’t give to save Mrs. Bell.”
She nodded and left. That is when it struck me that Megan was still in the room. I was in so much shock that it never occurred to me. She was just staring at me.
Vicki looked at me, “What?”
I nodded towards Megan, and both Vicki and Tami turned to look. Zoe still had her face pressed into my chest and was oblivious to the world in her panic.
“Oh,” was Vicki’s response when it dawned on her what was happening.
“Yeah,” I said.
Megan was looking back and forth between Vicki and me.
“What’s happening? What did the doctor mean about administering her your blood? What does she mean ‘she knows what your blood does’?”
Doctor Chang came back in at that moment carrying a syringe. Vicki pulled away from me and walked past Megan, grabbing her hand and pulling her out the door.
“I will explain as much as I can, while they try to save Mrs. Bell.”
As they walked out the door, Megan was looking back at me. As usual, Doctor Chang was wrapped up in what she was doing and was oblivious to the interchange.
“Okay, Cas, I am going to take some of your blood and inject it into Angela. It’s a little crude, but I don’t want to wait to get a donation and hook up a bag of it for her. Plus, my tests have shown it shouldn’t matter one way or another. It if is going to work, it should work from just an injection and the quantity of blood doesn’t seem to matter either.”
There was a short but sharp pain as she jabbed me with a needle and started to draw blood. Her bedside manner was as brusque as ever, but at this point, I just didn’t care about that. Once the syringe was full, she went over and injected it into one of the tubes coming out of Mrs. Bell.
“And now we wait.”
The doctor puttered around for a few minutes cleaning up the supplies to erase the evidence of what she had done, and then left. I noticed Zoe had fallen asleep. That much panic and stress can really do a number on your body. There was a small couch, and I laid her down just as Vicki and Megan reappeared.
Megan’s eyes were like saucers as she stared at me.
“Is all this real?”
I looked at Vicki then back at Megan, unsure of what all Vicki had told her.
“It seems so. The Doctor that was in here and Mrs. Bell have been doing experiments on me and the girls, to try and figure out what is actually happening. They are pretty certain at this point that my biology is different from everyone else, but we are still trying to figure out the entire scope of what that difference is.”
She sank into a chair and stared at me some more before speaking again.
“I don’t know what to do with this information.”
“You don’t have to do anything, except keep it secret. This is very important. You can’t tell anyone what you know. We have been trying really hard to keep this in the family, as it were. The only people that know about it are my sister Tina, the Doctor, and everyone in this room. Honestly, had I not been in so much shock, I would have made sure you weren’t in here when we were discussing it. But now that you know, you have to keep our secret. Otherwise, me and the girls could be taken away. Imagine what the government or pharmaceutical companies would do to get at my cells.”
“Yeah, I can see that. I won’t tell anyone. Actually, it is exciting. Vicki said you were going to change the world.”
I frowned at Vicki, “That isn’t exactly what I am planning on. We haven’t really discussed it yet, but I do have some thoughts. We were going to be having a family meeting soon, at least before this happened. Would you like to be there, now that you are on the inside? I find myself in need of some sage advice from time to time, and could always use an extra counselor.”
She beamed at me, “Yes. I would love to. I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Yeah. Why don’t you get Zoe home? She needs to change and we should pick up some stuff for Mrs. Bell when she wakes up, clothes and what not. Vicki, will you go with them?”
“Yeah,” Vicki said as she went over and shook Zoe awake. She wiped the stained tear streaks from her face and gave her a small peck on the lips, then started to whisper at Zoe. After a minute, Zoe nodded, gave me a hug, and left with the other two girls. Tami came over and sat in my lap, hugging onto me. We probably sat like that for almost half an hour, just thinking.
Tami eventually pulled herself from my lap.
“I am going to go get us a couple of drinks, okay?”
“Sure. Thanks, Tami.”
She leaned down, gave me a short kiss, and then walked out. I moved over to a chair next to Mrs. Bell’s bed. I reached out to hold her hand and dropped my head onto the bed.
“Please get better. I need you to stay with us. I love the girls but I rely on your advice above everyone else. With everything that is happening, I need your experience.”
I was silent for a while longer, tears starting to pour out of my eyes soaking the bed sheet.
“I don’t know what I would do without you. You are the closest thing to a mother I have ever had. I never realized before how much I really wanted a mother, and now that I have one, I don’t think I can go back to not having you. I love you. Please don’t die.”
My tears turned into sobs as I thought about a world without Mrs. Bell. Panic was starting to creep up on me again.
And then ... she squeezed my hand. My head shot up and I looked into her open eyes. Her cheeks were wet with tears. She let go of my hand and reached up to stroke my cheek.
“I love you, too, Cas,” she whispered.
As she said that, Tami walked in carrying two sodas. Seeing Mrs. Bell awake, she set down the drinks and ran over to give her a hug.
“You’re awake. We were so scared.”
Mrs. Bell stroked Tami’s hair with one hand while she held onto my face with the other.
“I am okay, kids. What happened?”
Both Tami and I sat up. I took one of Mrs. Bell’s hands and held it tightly.
“Tami, could you go find Doctor Chang?”
“Of course,” she said as she practically ran out the door.
“We sent Zoe home with Vicki and Megan to get stuff for you, in case you woke up. I also wanted to get Zoe away from the hospital for a little bit. She was really panicked and I was worried about her. They should be back soon.”
“As for what happened, you collapsed in Mr. Green’s office, and had some kind of seizure. I had Doctor Chang take over your care and they ran some tests. You have a large tumor in your brain. The doctors were sure you wouldn’t make it, and would probably never wake up. That is when Doctor Chang suggested we give you some of my blood. It was a long shot, but here you are, awake. So it must have worked.”
She squeezed my hand again.
“So, I guess I have to thank you for saving me ... first Zoe, then me. It’s like God sent you down to save this family, and gave me a wonderful son at the same time.”
I lay my head down on our clasped hands. I was just thankful she was still with us as I basked in the love I felt from her. A few minutes later, the door opened and Tami came back in the room, followed by Doctor Chang.
“I see it worked. Excellent. We need to get you down to Radiology and get some more pictures of your brain. I want to see what changes have happened and make sure things are turning around.”
“So, what do you think happened, Doctor?”
“Last week I administered your blood to some tissue from a cancer patient. Your blood eradicated the tumor cells and removed all trace of them. I need to confirm it with actual scans, but I am betting you have removed or are starting to remove the tumor from Angela’s brain. I wasn’t positive it would work, but my tests had indicated it would. I wish there were some way I could market you. You are literally the cure for cancer.”
I frowned at her, “We talked about this.”
“I know, I know. I am just thinking out loud.”
An orderly walked in at that point.
“Okay, let’s get you wheeled down to Radiology.”
I looked over at Tami, “Could you go with her? I am going to try and catch Zoe at home, and give her the news.”
She nodded and held Mrs. Bell’s hand as they walked out of the room, followed by Doctor Chang. I reached over to the bedside phone and called the house, where Vicki answered.
“Great, I caught you. Mrs. Bell is awake.”
“Yeah, the treatment worked, we think. They are taking her back to re-scan her brain now, and check. Can you get Megan to bring you guys back up?”
“Sure. Man, I can’t believe she is going to be okay. We were all sick with worry.”
“I know. Me, too.”
“Okay, we will see you soon. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I sat down in a chair and waited for everyone to come back. Relief washed over me, knowing we would be able to hang on to Mrs. Bell a while longer.