Alicia Hardison was only fourteen years old when she brought a baby boy into the world one winter day in 1987. He was premature and sickly. His teenage father was unaware of his existence. For the next two years the girl lived with her reluctant aunt, struggling to stay in school and take care of a newborn at night. Frustrated, the aunt gave her an ultimatum: keep the child and live on the streets or relinquish him and finish school. The day Alicia handed little Alec over to the social worker was the worst of her life. Alec would have no memory of a loving mother, nor would he find another one for three more years.
Bounced from home to home, his clothes and few possessions were kept in a garbage bag that wasn’t replaced when it showed signs of wear and tear. Before sending him back with the social worker, someone merely slapped tape over the holes as if to tell him he wasn’t worth a new bag. No one seemed to want the thin, black child whose loud, wheezy respiration and frequent coughing in the night kept the whole house awake. Other times the system simply, arbitrarily, moved him for no reason. He learned not to attach himself to anyone or anything.
Until the day his caseworker took him to Nana’s.
A middle-aged black woman with a big heart and gnarled, hard-working hands, Nana lived in a small frame house on the edge of town. What little she had was shared with a multitude of foster children of all ages and all races, for despite the small stipend Nana got for each child, money was always tight. Little Alec Hardison had at last found love, acceptance and security.
He also found some relief for his asthma. Now, instead of being scolded for the sounds he made, he was regularly treated with old-fashioned, country remedies. One day Nana lifted him to her lap. ‘Child, I swear you sounds jus’ like a freight train. A big ol’ rusty one w’bad gears an’ a loose wheel. Lemme listen to that chest o’your’n.’
She pressed his frail, five-year-old body against her ear and listened for a good, long time. She shook her head. ‘Son, has you ever been to see a doctor?’
‘What a dot-tor, Nana?’
‘Lawd, child - ain’t nobody never taken care o’you? Never you mind. You jus’ stay there a minute. I be right back.’
Alec obeyed, watching his Nana move from the back porch, where she kept a collection of herbs, spices and other greenery, to the sink and back to the stove. She crushed something green between her palms before dropping it into a simmering pan of water; stirring as she added more ingredients. Alec thought perhaps she was cooking something for him to eat, but when she brought the steaming pot toward him, the potent odor made him wrinkle his nose. Alec looked at her apprehensively.
‘Naw, honey, you don’t gotta eat this. It don’t smell real good, but it’s good for you. Just relax.’ She let the pot cool a little and spooned some of the mixture into her cupped palm. Then she vigorously rubbed her hands together. The minute she placed her hot palms on his small chest Alec winced, but as the mixture of plantain leaf, mustard, eucalyptus and camphor penetrated the skin and wafted into his nasal passages, he smiled.
‘That feel good, Nana.’
‘Yep, we gonna keep doin’ this ever’ night and I think we gonna whip that asthma you got.’
‘What azma, Nana?’
‘You know how a balloon get narrow when you stretch it?’
‘That’s what yo’ breathin’ tubes do when you got asthma, son. They can even close off and you cain’t breathe a’tall. But we gonna fix that. I got some other remedies we can try if this don’t work. Now, my experience is, you might grow out of this an’ then again, you might not. We’ll just have to wait and see and keep feedin’ you up. I wants you to take a nap now but when you get up I’ll have some chicken soup for you.’
‘I won’t get any. Somebody else always get it ‘fore I can even taste it,’ he grumbled.
‘Might’ve been true where you was livin’ before, but you with Nana now, son. An' you ain’t leavin’ ‘less you wants to.’
Alec’s big eyes filled with tears. Despite being moist and sticky, he threw himself into Nana’s arms. She rolled her eyes and hugged him close. ‘Child, now you got me covered in dat stuff! I ain’t got no asthma! Lay back down and lemme rub you some more,’ she said, grinning.
Thanks to years of Nana’s tender care, Alec grew to be quite tall and very strong. As the years passed, two things became apparent. One, Alec Hardison’s IQ was off the scale. Two, despite his height and strength, he would never outgrow his asthma.
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Parker came bouncing into the screening room at Leverage, Inc. headquarters with a vase under one arm and an awkward bundle wrapped in green tissue paper under the other. Hardison was sitting at the bar alone, busily writing code.
‘Where is everybody?’ Parker asked.
‘Eliot’s downstairs working on the heavy bag,’ said Hardison. ‘I dunno where Nate and Sophie went.’
‘Aw, I wanted Sophie to see my bouquet!’
‘Somebody bought you a bouquet?’ Hardison asked, his little green monster perched on his shoulder. ‘Who?’
‘Nobody, silly. I went out and picked these myself.’ With that, she tore off the paper with a flourish. Framing the rather messy collection of wildflowers, including daisies and sunflowers were large, scratchy ragweed stalks.
Hardison’s eyes grew wide with alarm.
‘Aren’t they pretty?’ said Parker.
‘Parker… Parker, don’t you remember what I told you?’ Hardison’s eyes were already red and beginning to weep. He could feel his sinuses burn; his nose started running.
Parker was busily shaking out and arranging each flower in the vase, looking pleased with herself, unaware that she was spraying the entire room with pollen. ‘What?’ she asked, not looking at him.
Exasperated, Hardison repeated himself. ‘You don’t remember me telling you how allergic I am? You know I have asthma - allergy-induced asthma, they call it. Bringin’ in some’m like that’s gonna put me in the hospital.‘
‘I thought that was just outside.’
‘Inside, outside, anywhere.’ He watched incredulously as she continued to arrange her ‘bouquet,’ oblivious to the fact that he kept pulling tissues from the box to blow his nose. He shook his head. ‘Okay. You know what? I can write code anywhere. You or Nate or anybody need me, I’ll be at Starbucks.’
Hardison closed the laptop, stuck it under his arm, grabbed the box of tissues and stalked out the door.
Parker shrugged her shoulders and stood back, head tilted, admiring her creation.
‘Big Baby,’ she muttered.
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Eliot Spencer reclined on the leather couch, simultaneously watching three football games, a soccer match, basketball and indoor hockey on Hardison’s big wall of six screens. One arm was draped over his new lady love, cuddling her. The other hand alternated between the bowl of popcorn and the bottle of beer on the chairside table. He offered her a piece of popcorn but she refused. She seemed focused on the soccer ball.
‘You’d like to get out there and get that yourself, wouldn’t you, Sweetie?’ he murmured.
‘Who are you talking to?’ It was Sophie, back from an afternoon-long shopping trip. She slipped her heels off, dropped her bags on the floor, grabbed a beer out of the fridge and joined the duo on the couch.
‘Oh! Hello! You’re certainly gorgeous,’ Sophie remarked, smiling. ‘Where did you get her?’
‘Just picked her up off the street. We got in the shower and took a bath together then I brushed her hair and dried her off.’
‘Are you keeping her?’
‘Yep - gonna take her to the ranch as soon as the games are over.’
‘That’ll be hours. You do know Nate and Parker and Hardison will be here by then, don’t you?’
‘So Nate and Parker aren’t into dogs and I think Hardison’s allergic.’
‘I remember him telling me that he was.’
‘Aw, Sophie, how can anybody refuse that face?’ He turned the dog’s head in Sophie’s direction; as if on cue she cut her eyes up at Sophie and whined.
Sophie scratched her ears and crooned to her. ‘Well… I hope it won’t be long before you take her home because I know that Hardison is allergic, Eliot.’
Eliot, annoyed, scoffed. ‘Sophie, he goes on and on and on about this ailment and that ailment and the other ailment until I swear, one of these days, I’m...’
‘No, seriously!’ she interjected into his tirade.
‘...gonna pop him one. Hell, I get pounded on at least once a week and you don’t hear me complain!’
‘Apples and oranges, Eliot,’ she said, reproachfully.
Eliot shook his head, petting the dog. ‘Look, the kid needs to grow up. Nothing wrong with him that a little nose spray won’t fix. I tell ya, Sophie, if he’d get out in the fresh air a little more, he’d get over that crap.’
Now it was Sophie’s turn to be annoyed. Once Eliot set his mind to something there was no changing it. She sighed, shook her head, rose gracefully from the couch, collected her things and started upstairs.
Eliot was immune to her drama. He turned his attention back to the screens, scratching the beautiful Irish Setter behind her ears.
Nate came in the door just then, Parker right behind him. Hardison was still parking the car. Nate did a double take; Parker, thinking Eliot had a long-haired girlfriend sitting beside him, bounced in to meet her.
Eliot couldn’t help grinning at the expression on Parker’s face when she saw the dog. Parker looked from the dog to Nate. Nate looked from the dog to Eliot.
‘No,’ said Nate.
‘No?’ said Eliot. ‘Just, no? Just like that?’
‘Just like that. Out.’ Adamantly, Nate poured himself a drink.
‘Me and her was watchin’ the game! She likes soccer!’
‘Fine, she can like it wherever you’re planning on taking her.’
Eliot’s temper flared. ‘Fine! I’m takin’ her home! I’ll watch the game there and I won’t be back ‘til tomorrow!’
‘Fine,’ said Nate, evenly.
Eliot glared at Nate, picked up the dog lead in one hand and his beer in the other and headed for the door, leading the big girl. Her clean, long hair floated after her as if she had completed her ballet rehearsal and was exiting the stage.
Just then Hardison entered, saw the dog, screamed and ran back out, yelling as he went. He could be heard all the way to the garage.
‘Hadn’t I done told all o’you I can’t be in the same room with a dog?! ‘Specially one with long hair! Dander!! Oh, my Lawd, dander gettin’ all up in my nose!’ He sneezed mightily. ‘My sinus cavities!’ His quivering voice faded into the distance as he continued his lamentations. ‘I don’t see why ya’ll always do this to me. I ain’t comin’ back in here ‘til ya'll change the filters and dust every surface! Keep tellin’ ya’ll I got asthma and ya’ll never listen! Never! No dogs! I vote no!’
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3. The Team
Parker was growing impatient. They had to get a move on and all Hardison could do was whine.
‘Parker, tell me we ain’t gotta do that again.’
‘That again? That again what? C’mon, we gotta hurry!’
‘Out through the vents. The First Contact job - remember? The air vents? Dust mites? Mandibles? Then there was the dusty ol’ police archives in the 15 Minute Job. Makes me choke up just thinkin’ about it. Oh, my God… remember the Van Gogh Job?!?’ he squeaked.
Parker was incensed. What was he talking about?! Why was he always holding everything up? Parker had been trained by Archie Leach to be swift and efficient. There was no time for anything right now but action. ‘All right then! You stay here. I’m going out the vent. Be sure to write me from prison!’
The job had gone south; they were blown; the only option left was to bail and run. The other members of the team had made it out of the building. Nate and Sophie had brazenly strolled out the front door. Eliot took a construction chute in the back; not a bad ride as long as he caught the bolted lip of each section with his fingertips that halted his fall. Somewhat. He fell onto on crushed drywall which cushioned his landing. Somewhat. Everybody reported in through the coms as they dashed for Lucille parked a block away. Seconds were ticking by.
Nate counted heads. ‘OK, where are Parker and Hardison?’
‘If he holds us up one more time…’ Eliot didn’t finish the threat but his stormy expression spoke volumes.
‘We’re coming!’ Parker’s urgent whisper came echoing through the coms.
‘Air vents?’ Nate guessed.
‘You got it. I’m dragging him by the collar. Literally. He’s got both hands clamped over his mouth and nose.’
‘Dammit, Hardison, use your hands and climb! Don’t make me come after you!’
Nate seconded the motion. ‘Hardison - I don’t care if you choke to death; we’ll revive you. For now, forget that nonsense and you and Parker get out of there. That’s an order!’
Sophie looked at Nate in surprise. Never had he sounded so much like a drill sergeant. It must have worked, because after another few seconds Parker and Hardison could be seen running toward the van. Parker had him by the hand, pulling, running for all she was worth. Hardison was hacking and spitting and coughing the whole way.
Eliot flung himself into the driver’s seat; glancing through the rear view mirror he saw Nate and Sophie literally yank the other two into the van a split second before he hit the gas. He laid rubber for half a block getting out of there.
Once back at headquarters the team would usually relax, unwind and count their losses. There would be other jobs. Now, however, once they were all seated with beers in their hands it seemed an appropriate time to castigate Hardison.
‘Something like that happens again, you either find another, better route or you follow Parker out however way she chooses. She’s the expert at that. Hadn’t been for her, you’d still be there. We need your skills, Hardison. You nearly let us down.’
‘Honestly, Hardison, I know you were trying, but still…’
‘Dust mites won’t hurt you! That first time I mentioned them in that other job you didn’t even think of them until I said something. It’s all in your head!’
‘Hardison, man, you ever pull a stunt like that again and anybody bearing the slightest resemblance to you is gonna hurt from the beating I’m gonna give you.’
Hardison looked at each of them, left to right, right to left. He got off the barstool and rose to his full height. He was so uncharacteristically furious his voice shook. ‘Not one of ya’ll has any clue what I’m feelin’ nor cares how I feel. I have told you and told you I have allergies. I was born with asthma. It don’t kick up all the time but when it do, I’m miserable. Everything I do for you people doesn’t matter as long as I get ya’ll past security, get ya’ll paychecks and make ya’ll signs. I tell you one thing. Just for tonight I’ve had enough. I’m goin’ home.’
Hardison left, slamming the door behind him.
‘Think he’ll be back?’ Sophie queried.
‘He left his laptop here,’ Eliot growled. The others went about their business. Eliot flicked several channels on and tossed the remote on the couch. His fingers were bruised and his elbow stung where he had smacked it against the side of the chute. He rubbed it, thinking of Hardison.
‘Wuss,’ he muttered to himself.
4. Eliot Again
In preparation for a job, Nate Ford assigned Eliot and Hardison to a stakeout at the top of a wooded hill overlooking a notorious mobster’s mansion. They had been there for hours, since early dawn, equipped with long range binoculars. It was a beautiful spring day, and this normally, Eliot thought, would have been a plum assignment if it were not for his constantly complaining companion.
Hardison sneezed. Again. So distracting.
‘Will you cut that out? You keep doing it!’
‘I cain’t help it, man!’
‘You’re ruining my concentration, Hardison!’
‘Ain’t we watched ‘em long enough? We ain’t seen nothin’ and it’s gettin’ late.’ He checked his watch. ‘On toward lunchtime,’ he muttered.
‘You wanna go back to Nate and report we ain’t seen nothin,’ huh? What’s he gonna say to that? This is crunch time. They’re gonna come out with the money. Trust me.’
‘They are, huh? Well, you know so much, how about you stay here and let me go home? I can barely breathe.’
‘Hardison, every time we get out in the woods, you crank it up. The Wedding job. The Gone Fishin’ job. Any job that takes you away from glass ‘n’ concrete, you become a pain in the ass. I’m just sayin’.’
‘I have told ya’ll and told ya’ll… I have allergies!’ Eliot and Hardison spoke the last three words simultaneously.
‘Didn’t seem to bother ya gettin’ rubbed down with skunkweed. Didn’t seem to bother ya hunkered down in high grass. How come it’s so selective, Hardison?’
‘Just depends on what I’m ‘round,’ he shrugged. ‘Sometimes it triggers, sometimes it don’t. I’m just sayin’ none o’you people ever takes me seriously. One o’these days I gon’ wind up in the hospital - then maybe you take me seriously.’
‘Hardison, I swear, man, you’re the master of kvetching.’
‘Shut up, they’re comin’ out! I told you! Now get down!’ Eliot shoved Hardison down into the soft, loamy forest floor and crouched low, glasses trained on the men carrying zippered money bags out of the basement entrance and stacking them in the back of a black van. Armed guards were posted everywhere with scope rifles. All it would take, Eliot thought, would be the reflection off their binoculars if the sun caught them the wrong way. Hardison didn’t have a clue how to avoid that. Eliot memorized the license plate and estimated the haul at a quarter of a million. He nodded with satisfaction. ‘We get our hands on that, Hardison, and our client is set for life.’
He took his hand from the side of Hardison’s head. The Hacker had inhaled plant spores, pollen and particles from rodent and other small animal droppings. He sat up, coughing and hacking. Eliot unceremoniously shoved him back down.
The Hacker had known the Hitter for nearly four years and had been the recipient of many a growled or shouted ‘Dammit Hardison!’ but this was the first and only time he had ever seen him mouth it silently. It was no less intimidating.
Eliot lay flat, watching intently through the tall grass. Apparently, none of the guards had heard Hardison or seen any indication that they were being watched. The guards got into a black sedan and followed the van out the long driveway. Only when they reached the main road did Eliot motion Hardison to follow him backwards in a crab-crawl to where they had parked Eliot’s car.
Hacking, coughing and spitting, (and retching; Hardison had recognized bird and mouse droppings in the grass) flung himself into the passenger seat and reached in the back for a box of tissues.
Eliot glanced at him scornfully, certain he was exaggerating, camping it up, playing the sympathy card.
‘Keep your window rolled down, Hardison. You throw up in my car, you’re gettin’ it detailed!’
Sophie swiftly reached for her glass of tea and took a big gulp. Her Spicy Beef soup was delicious but just a bit too spicy. Eliot must be cooking today, she thought.
She was seated at a booth in the Bridgeport Brew Pub, relaxing after a delightful day of shopping. Three pairs of shoes, two scarves and five dresses later, she decided to grab lunch there and perhaps take a nap on Nate’s couch afterward at Leverage Headquarters. It was a slow afternoon at the restaurant; she was grateful for the quiet for her feet hurt - but it had been worth it.
She raised a graceful hand to call the waitress over.
‘I’m sorry, this is just a bit too spicy. Could I maybe just have a BLT instead?’
‘Of course, Sophie, I’m so sorry. We have a new cook, a young guy. Frankly, just between you and me, I don’t think he’s going to last long,’ she added, sotto voce. ‘Your order will be right out.’
So it wasn’t Eliot cooking, after all. Sophie sipped her tea and waited. And waited. And waited.
Presently, she detected a rather disagreeable odor, something similar to cotton cooking in bacon grease, which was exactly what it was. The smoke alarm went off; the four patrons swiftly arose from their tables and exited, leaving their food on their plates. Sophie, holding a napkin to her nose, watched a wall of smoke pour from the open kitchen door. The incompetent cook and two waitresses broke holes in the roiling wall as they made a beeline for the exit.
‘How bad is it?’ she yelled after them. ‘Did anyone call the fire department?!’
No one answered her. She looked after them incredulously.
Sophie had a one-fifth interest in this place; she wasn’t about to let it burn down. She dipped her napkin into her tea glass, held it over her nose and mouth and bravely entered the smoky kitchen. Yanking the Class B fire extinguisher off its perch, she pumped it onto the flaming skillet in which she could see the bacon meant for her sandwich, garnished with the remnants of a dishtowel.
If Hardison didn’t fire that boy, she would.
‘Well!’ she said to herself, after setting the exhaust to begin removing the smoke and dabbing at her running eye makeup, ‘I don’t think I’ll be eating here again any time soon!’
She set the fire extinguisher down. The kitchen was a mess and smoke was everywhere. Exiting the kitchen, she caught a glimpse of Hardison - the co-owner who was supposed to be on duty that day - peeking around the corner. He had smelled the fire and taken the elevator down, but he seemed in no hurry to take action, even with a thick cloud of smoke undulating through the room. Sophie’s appearance - limp, smoky hair and smeared mascara - was scarier than the threat of fire.
Sophie was lifting her new dresses out of their bags and sniffing each one. They all smelled like burnt dish towel. She turned to face Hardison.
‘Where were you just now?!’ she demanded to know.
‘Well, I, uh, I was on my way down to check it out, Sophie,’ he assured her. ‘Figured my people could handle the situation.’
‘Your people ran out of here!! I put the fire out! My shopping items are ruined!’
‘Sophie, I - I just couldn’t go in there; my allergies… the asthma… you know I cain’t go near that smoke, I be up all night coughin’ and hackin’.....’
‘Your asthma! Always your best excuse! My shopping items are ruined!’
…..and the One Time They Did...
It had become something of a Leverage, Inc. tradition. Once a job was completed successfully, Eliot Spencer donned his chef’s apron and whipped up an amazing dinner for the team. The more successful the job, the fancier the meal.
Plus, unknown to the others, Eliot was authoring a cookbook he hoped to get on the market. It was one of his pet projects and the team would make four perfect guinea pigs on which to try his new recipes.
This most recent job had netted their client five million dollars; that called for a five-million-dollar dinner.
He assembled the main ingredients for what he had in mind - steak was an all around favorite - and considered what he might add as a salad and side dishes.
Buckwheat, quinoa, cumin seeds… sprouted sunflower seeds… that would add heft and texture to a fresh fennel and mandarin salad with bits of sweet spicy shrimp mixed in.
He set to work.
While the steaks were sizzling, he whipped up his special garlic potatoes and crisp green beans, placed homemade rolls in the warmer, and started on the salad.
An hour later, he called the team in.
They sat down to a beautifully set table, expressing their admiration and their thanks to their multi-talented Hitter, who could not only bust heads, keep their cars in running order and get them out of impossible situations, but who also could lay before them such sumptuous feasts.
Eliot brought in dinner rolls, butter, and everyone’s favorite drink.
‘You’re too good to us, Eliot,’ remarked Sophie. He grinned.
Next was the shrimp salad.
He watched with interest as each took a bite. Nate’s face broke open in a pleased smile. Parker dived into her bowl as if she hadn’t eaten in a week and was making up for lost time. Sophie closed her eyes in blissful appreciation. Hardison nodded; even he liked it.
Eliot sat down next to Hardison. He had tasted it already but was looking forward to eating with the team before he brought the next course in.
He glanced at Hardison, who was nearly finished. He was raising the fork to his mouth but he set it down. He looked at Eliot quizzically; as he inhaled he wheezed, audibly. His dark face appeared dusky; he shook his head.
‘What’s the matter, man? You ok?’ asked Eliot.
Hardison dropped his fork and waved his hands.
‘Hardison? Something wrong?’ asked Nate.
Sophie looked closely at their Hacker. ‘He appears to be choking!’
Parker immediately got up and began striking Hardison on the back. She lifted his arms over his head. Eliot saw this was not working; he got up, lifted Hardison out of his chair and applied the Heimlich Maneuver to no avail. Hardison went limp in his arms.
‘I don’t think he’s choking, man,’ said Eliot. ‘I think something in that salad triggered an allergy. Does he have an inhaler?’ Eliot laid Hardison on the floor and checked him. ‘Hell, he ain’t breathing, an inhaler ain’t gonna do any good now. Do we have any epinephrine?’
‘I’m calling 911,’ said Sophie.
‘Parker, you breathe while I pump,’ Eliot commanded, and began CPR.
Nate went outside to watch for the EMTs. He couldn’t lose his Hacker this way. He just couldn’t.
In the Emergency Room, Parker, Nate and Sophie waited for what they were sure would be bad news. Eliot was with the doctors, reeling off the exact contents of the dish he had served Hardison.
‘Does your friend have a history of asthma?’ the doctor asked, while nurses worked over the limp form on the table. ‘That’s what this appears to be - a very severe reaction. From what you tell me, everything that can trigger an attack was in that salad.’
‘Dammit. He’s always goin’ on about being allergic and, I dunno, maybe something about asthma, but none of us thought anything of it. He’s a chronic whiner. We never took him seriously.’
‘Well, maybe you should have taken him seriously, and maybe you should from now on. Your friend very nearly died.’
‘Damn, I didn’t mean to kill ‘im, man!’
‘I’m sure you didn’t. Excuse me now while I attend to my patient.’
Hours later when Hardison, on oxygen, was resting comfortably in the ICU, his doctor spoke to the team.
‘Alec will recover in time. We’ll keep him in the ICU overnight and transfer him to a room if he continues to improve. He’s going to have to carry albuterol - an inhaler - from now on. You may not be aware that this condition worsens over time if not monitored. He was apparently born with allergy-induced asthma and never outgrew it, as some patients do. He’ll have to watch what he eats, avoid smoke, animal dander - you don’t have pets, I hope - remain indoors when the pollen count is high - I’ll leave instructions. You can all go home now. We’ll take good care of him.’
The four left the building, dispirited. Once seated in the van, Nate swiveled in the driver’s seat and looked at his team. ‘Thinking back, did anyone ever take Hardison seriously about this?’
Sophie sadly shook her head.
Eliot gazed out the window. He said nothing.
Only Parker spoke up. ‘He, uh,’ she said, reluctant to look anyone in the eye, ‘he told me about his Nana, about growing up. She, uh…’ Parker sighed deeply and cleared her throat. She had let Hardison down. So had Sophie. Eliot, Nate...they had all let Hardison down. They had to be oh so careful never to do that again.
‘What about Nana, Parker?’ asked Nate, softly.
‘She took him seriously. She nursed him as long as he lived with her. He said he wouldn’t have grown up if it hadn’t been for her.’
‘Well, then,’ said Nate after a long pause, ‘we’re going to pick up where Nana left off. Agreed?’
Everyone nodded assent. Nate put the van in gear and drove slowly home.