It was barely a month since Audrey and Greg brought little Ramon back to their tidy proper home in Portland but it seemed like yersterday to everybody around. First few nights, as Audrey dared to recall later on, were a nightmare. Ramon was running with fever immediately they brought him on the plane. Naturally, Audrey blamed herself. At least up to the point where she redirected her frustrations and fears over the toddler to the adopting agency and all those people who previously cared for little Ram. When the plane landed they even rushed him to the ER, Greg trying to calm Audrey down by reminding her it was only common for babies to have tiny fevers from time to time. Only when a doctor told them it was actually measles and it could possibly be dangerous for the guy even Greg started panicking a bit. And Audrey would be ready to say I told you so but she was so scared they migh have really loose the baby that she stayed quiet afterall. Greg was silently freaking out.
Since the day one Ramon got the most of attention Audrey and Greg could have get to anybody. And truth to be told, it wasn’t exactly undeserved. On the other hand, at the time Audrey and Greg were already proud parents of the two. Eight years old Subeedo alias Ashley, Liberian orphaned girl, and an eleven year old Vietnamese boy named Duc. Those two were one true siblings. Always plotting together, having their secrets and weird games, being like one. And then Ramon got in and well, that dynamics had changed a bit. Not that they weren’t close anymore but they had to share now. And well, Duc wasn’t exactly keen on sharing...
In fact, Duc remembered the day Ramon was finally brought home from the hospital quite clearly. He was playing hide and seek with Ashley, overwatched by a teenaged babysitter, when the front door suddenly opened and his mom walked in, a tiny bundle wrapped in a blanket. Few years later, Duc actually realized Ram looked way more tiny than he probably should have but at that moment it was just a small baby with huge brown eyes, not really paying any attention to his new siblings, nor the rest of the family. He was strangly calm at that moment, which couldn’t have been said about the nights though.
Duc’s mom and dad had been gone for so long it sometimes seemed like they went off and left him and Ashley for good. He knew it wasn’t the truth of course but during the nights he woke up and they weren’t there, he sometimes convinced himself it was the true story. So when Greg finally closed the door and Audrey sat down to the couch he was so relieved he saw them again. Not that he didn’t see them before, Audrey stayed in the hospital with the new baby but was coming home to change and shower from time to time, Greg stayed more for sure. But this time it felt more permanent... final even.
Ashley was watching him from a distance seeing her bŕother for what is was. She felt the restlessness in him and all the doubts and she wished she could help him somehow. But apart from occasionally talking about their past, creating huge stories with bits of truth in them she had no clue how to reach out.
Audrey was watching her little kids, hushing Ramon a bit and trying to figure out why they were so cautious all of a sudden.
"Hello. How was your day, my little ones?"
She smiled and used her mommy voice on them.
Ashley smiled immediately and walked to her. Obviously very keen on looking at her new brother.
Duc stayed in the middle of the room though. Watching them carefully.
"What’s up, Duc? Don’t you want to meet your little baby brother?"
Greg was trying to encourage him, noticing his son was a bit shy again. He didn’t like Duc like that. It reminded him first few months after they brought the boy home with them. He was so frightened and not trusting anybody who came even remotely close to him. The last thing that Greg wanted was to spook Duc again and bring back those unwanted memories. He was doing so well afterall...
"Come here, Duc. Meet Ramon. He was so looking forward to meeting you, guys."
Audrey was openly smilling at them, ocasionally checking up on the baby.
Ashley started giggling. Ramon was staring at her now, trying to catch her hair in his little fingers.
"Look, he already likes you, Subeedo."
"He looks like a baby jesus!"
"He does, doesn’t he."
Audrey was looking at the baby now, actually thinking about his name briefly. Jesus would make so much sense. But then again, Ramon was such a pretty name anyways.
Duc was stepping on the spot, visibly reconsidering moving forward and looking at Ramon.
Greg was observing him, trying to give his son needed space.
Ashley was obviously charmed by their new family addition. What if she changes him over that kid... sometimes he was so sure people would actually traded him again that he tended to forget how intense and loyal his younger sister could be. He didn’t even notice when she came to him, took his hand and literally dragged him back to Ramon.
"He is our little brother, Duc. Ramon, this is Duc. Our big brother. He has his moods sometimes..."
Ashley laughed a little.
"It’s true! But if you are our little brother, baby jesus, it means we will protect you, and we will play with you... and you will need to listen to us."
Now was the time for Duc to laugh. He was actually so wraped up about Ramon replacing him and Ashley that he didn’t even consider to think about all the perks of having the brother... younger brother that is. Ashley was right. He needed to listen to them now when he made it to the family.
As it turned out Duc had different ideas about their new brother in mind when Ashley welcomed him to the family.
The only thing Ramon actually knew and did was constantly crying or babbling nonsense. He was little indeed but Duc somehow expected that he would be independent already. Like he and Ashley were when they came in. Of course they were bit older than Ramon but if he was so special like everybody obviously thought he was it shouldn’t be a problem.
And Ramon really did cry a lot during nights. Years later it was a favorite family story at parties but Audrey and Greg weren’t that amused when they had to get up in the middle of the night and trying to calm him back then. First they thought it was because of the new surroundings. Bayer Boatwrights’ home wasn’t a Colombian orphanage for sure. Then Audrey got an idea of Ramon missing all the children so she tried to move his cot bed in Duc’s room. After two nights of Ram crying and Duc not sleeping he was moved back to his own nursery... Duc was that glad... it was a nonstop torture for three weeks straight... Audrey finally came to a decission to let him cry for a bit... no necessary attention given... Greg wasn’t sure she would be able to endure...
One night, Duc was so angry at his baby brother that he actually persuaded himself to get up and try to talk some sense to him.
The house was quiet. Even his parents seemed to sleep. Duc slowly opened the door to Ram’s room, the little boy huddled in the corner of his bed, now more sobbing than actually crying, huge tears rolling down his chubby cheeks. He was clutching Ashley’s most favorite plush rabbit toy, Pete. Ashley gave it to him the other day so he wouldn’t cry that much anymore. She thought he was missing his first mommy and crying for her. Babies did that sometimes apparently. Duc didn’t. Audrey was his mom and she took care of him now.
He was observing Ramon for a while, the boy looking at him as well. Duc wanted to leave all of a sudden but he remembered what Greg told him when they first came with the news of bringing new guy to their household. He told Duc that he needed to take care of him now because he would be a part of their family forever. Like his sister was. And when he looked back at Ramon, he realized the boy was scared. If Pete was alive, Duc was sure Ram would have suffocated him ... that much he was clutching him in his tiny arms. And he wasn’t really looking at Duc, he was looking behind him. Duc turned over but there was nobody. Just closed door.
When Duc was little he was scared too. And when he came to that home for the first time, everything felt so strange and weird. No wonder little Ramon couldn’t sleep. When Duc looked around the room, he noticed there were all sorts of weird and scary shadows. Even on the door. It was night but the lights from the street were coming to the room, making all the stuffed animals and pieces of furniture grow bigger and uglier... he took deep breath and went to the bed.
It seemed like Ramon noticed the movement and started finally concentrating on Duc. He was still sobbing but it was already quieter than minutes ago. He had wet cheeks from all the tears running down and Pete had his top of the head and big pointy ears covered by baby snot and and rest of the tears. Duc was bit smaller than he should have been at his age and Ramon’s bed was bit higher up than Duc’s one so he couldn’t really kneel down to his brother as he first intended to do. He stood next to the bed and pushed his hand through the bars, touching Ramon lightly on the left cheek.
The boy flinched at first, ready to sob yet again but when Duc started hushing him and quietly talking to him, he finally gave up.
Duc slowly and carefully wiped the tears away and started stroking his hair. It was soft. He had already quite a lot of it but it was so soft. The little guy obviously liked it because after 15 minutes of Duc carefully moving his fingers through Ramon’s hair the boy started babbling nonsense. Very quietly and for what it seemed to Duc, very happily. Duc even thought he caught a tiny smile. In the meantime, Duc was trying to remember all the stories his mother had ever told him before sleeping. And when he realized Ramon probably liked rabbits he focused on The tale of Peter Rabbit. And so it happened that when Audrey went to check on Ramon early in the morning she found her other son huddled next to the cot bed too.
It took Ramon few other weeks to fully settle in. Night fits calmed down, though there still were some occasionally. Something that would follow Ramon for several years. Audrey especially was keen on the moment they could finally present their bigger family to the world... and to her and Greg’s friends and coleagues. Their little family project as Greg remarked occasionally. But there was one person who didn’t yet meet the baby and was supposed to.
Audrey was hesitant at first but Ike was her brother afterall and he loved the kids. And he was so good with them too.
They invited him for the afternoon and the dinner so he would properly meet Ramon and played a little with Duc and Subeedo. They adored their uncle even though they didn’t see him that much lately.
Ike had one of his episodes two months ago and it seemed he was distancing from others as of late. However, Audrey made sure he would always be a part of their family.
So when he was about to come in, she was up from early morning, cooking Ike’s favorite food, trying to handle the kids and maneuvering Greg into tidying the house and making it as much comfortable for Ike as it was humanly possible.
Kids were playing in the living room when Ike finally arrived. Ashley was trying on several hand made outfits for her dolls and Duc was looking over the map of South America, trying to figure out from where Ramon exactly came from. Ramon was napping in his nursery.
Ike looked thin and tired but he obviously tried to play it down for Audrey’s sake. She was cleening herself in the kitchen, so kids took the advantage of having their favorite uncle for themselves and threw themselves on him. Greg thought to himself that he didn’t see Ike that happy for a long time. He was always caucious around them... almost like he was afraid he would have hurt them somehow.
Duc was trying to stole him from others, so he could have asked about maps but Ashley was quicker and was already dragging him towards her dolls. Greg used the opportunity to taking Ramon from the bed and showing him to Ike. Afterall, that was the main point of the visit.
He briefly contemplated if it was a good idea. Ramon was still sleeping and nobody really wanted cranky Ramon for the rest of the afternoon. But this was a special occasion.
Ike was patiently waiting for Ashley to show him all of her dolls when Greg came down with the little one in his arms.
Duc was about to finally steal his uncle for himself but when his dad came, it was obvious, it was yet again not his time. Ashley laughed at him which made him even more angry. Audrey was looking at them from a distance, feeling of coming kid fight in the air already. Duc and Ashley didn’t fight that much but sometimes sibling’s rivalty got better of them both.
Greg was just putting little Ramon into Ike’s arms when he heard Ashley shrieking loudly. He was afraid it would wake up the baby, so he turned abruptly only to see Duc throwing all of the dolls as far away as he could... and he was talented in that matter, Greg had to admit. Ashley didn’t like it a bit, so she currently tried to steal Duc’s book and slip it under the sofa.
Greg heard Audrey yelling at them from the kitchen and was just putting his own body between Duc and Ashley when he heard the tud and then the loudiest cry he ever heard in his all life. It seemed like a lifetime but it was just few seconds in real time. Greg turned over immediately, kids dead silent and staring at their uncle Ike... who was completely petrified and visibly shaking.
"It’s ok... it’s ok, Audrey. He is fine. He’s fine."
Greg was kneeling on the carpet, holding crying Ramon in his arms again. He was closely inspecting the boy’s little head while the baby cried for his life. It seemed ok, though Greg was sure his son had to suffer a concussion at least and there would definetly be some bruises later.
Audrey was livid though. She pushed Ike aside and knelt down next to Greg, touching Ramon and looking for traces of blood or a broken skull. She couldn’s see anything though.
"You dropped him!"
"I... I... he was on fire, Audrey... I didn’t... is he ok? Did I hurt him? He was on fire... he was on fire..."
Ike was pretty much mumbling now... Audrey wasn’t paying any attention to him. She gently grabbed Ramon and headed towards the door.
"Audrey, where are you going?"
"He needs to go to the hospital, Greg. He might be seriously hurt."
"Somebody needs to watch over kids... and Ike..."
"I can’t wait Greg, what if he has an internal bleeding... he needs to go to the hospital."
Greg just noded, fully understanding the emotional state his wife was in.
When Audrey left, he turned towards Duc and Ashley who forgot about their fight completely. Ashley seemed on the verge of crying and Duc was his usual silent self... Greg didn’t like it when Duc was that silent.
Ike was still standing on the same spot where Audrey pushed him, he was still shaking and mumbling too. Greg had no idea what to do first.
He took a cell phone and called one of his neighbours, Mrs. Applebee, kids could stay there until he comes back from the hospital.
"Take what you want, it won’t be long. Mrs. Applebee will take care of you until I pick you up again, ok?"
"Will Ram die?"
Greg froze. He sometimes forgot how his children could be so straightforward at times.
"No, Subeedo, Ramon will not die. He is probably just freaked out. Babies are incredibly resiliant. He will be fine. Few years from now, he won’t even know something like that ever happened."
"But uncle Ike said he was on fire."
Now Duc was trying to wrap his mind around what happened.
"Uncle Ike was just mistaken. That is all. It was an accident. When Ramon comes back, we will celebrate it properly... with uncle Ike."
Duc nor Ashley seemed to believe it but Mrs. Applebee showed up in the right time, as always.
When Ike got like this, he was pretty much unreachable. Greg was actually scared he would make it even worse but he had to try at least.
"Ike... Look at me, Ike. It was an accident. Ramon will be ok."
"He was on fire. I swear. He was on fi..."
"I know, I know, I believe you, Ike. It’s ok. He will be fine."
"Audrey will get over it, don’t worry about her. She was just scared about Ramon. But he will be ok. You just freaked him out. He is little, he is afraid of everything these days. He will grow up from it, you will see."
"But he was on fire..."