“You what ?!”
“I thought you’d be happy,” I said, feeling at a loss.
I taken off after talking to Louise to go home, talk to Frank, and get the spare room set up for our new ‘guest.’
“Happy?” Frank asked sarcastically. “You thought I’d be happy that you sprung something like this on me? This isn’t like bringing home a stray puppy, Claire. You’re talking about taking in a kid . And not just any kid, but a kid with problems.”
“Fergus is a sweet boy,” I said. “Yeah he’s had some issues, but if he were put into a good home with good people…”
“Oh I see, you think you’ll be able to fix him? He’s not sick, Claire. At least, not sick in a way you can treat.”
“I don’t understand. We’ve been trying for over a year to get pregnant…”
“With our child,” Frank broke in. “I want to have our child, Claire. My child. The fact that you don’t understand the difference…”
“I know it’s different,” I hissed. “But we don’t have a child, and this child needs us right now!”
Frank shook his head, and waved a hand to dismiss me. “He can stay the weekend,” he said. “But that’s it.”
He turned and stalked to our bedroom, leaving me standing there stunned and speechless. True, I hadn’t thought Frank was going to be particularly happy that this was so happening so suddenly, without time to properly prepare, and I wouldn’t have even blamed him for being upset that I hadn’t talked to him before agreeing to it, but it had never occurred to me that he would just reject the idea completely without even giving it, and Fergus, a chance.
At that point, all I could do was hope Fergus would win him over as surely as he did me, and change Frank’s mind.
It was after nine that night when came the knock on the door.
Fergus stood there, shuffling his feet nervously, a bright blue cast on his left arm. Behind him stood Louise, holding a garbage bag of all things.
“Here we are,” she said cheerfully, a nervous look on her face, no doubt afraid that I’d changed my mind after having time to think about it.
“Hey, Fergus!” I said, stepping aside to let them in. “Come on in! You must be tired.”
Fergus nodded, his eyelids already drooping.
“He’s already had dinner,” Louise said. “Here’s his medication, and I’m sure you know all about how to take care of the cast. And here’re his things.”
I looked down, realizing she was handing me the black plastic bag. “In a garbage bag?”
Louise smiled apologetically. “If I could afford to buy them all suitcases, I would. But it gets the job done, right, Fergus?”
Fergus nodded again, wandering tentatively around the living room, peering at the pictures on the end table.
“Frank,” I called. “Could you come in here and meet Fergus?”
I’d told Frank that under no circumstances was he to let on to Fergus or Louise that he didn’t want the boy there, and he’d agreed for propriety’s sake if nothing else.
Frank came in, shaking Louise’s hand and nodding at Fergus, who nodded back with exaggerated primness that made me smile.
Louise caught on to it too, and knelt down to him, giving him a stern look before it melted into one of genuine concern. “You’re going to be okay here, you know? Behave yourself, and do as Dr. Beauchamp and Mr. Randall say, alright?”
Fergus nodded. “Thank you, Louise.”
Louise kissed Fergus’s forehead and stood. We then went on a brief tour of the house, and I saw her nod in approval at Fergus’s bedroom. I hadn’t had time to learn all of the rules for fostering, but I knew a bed of his own was of utmost importance. Granted, I wouldn’t have even considered this arrangement if I couldn’t offer him a room and space to call his own.
“I guess I’ll go and let you all get settled,” Louise said, looking like she wished she could drag her feet longer. I didn’t blame her; it was an emergency placement on the recommendation of her trusted friend, but it still must have been nerve-wracking for her. “I’ll call tomorrow though, just to see how he is.”
“Of course,” I said, walking her to the door. “We’ll take good care of him.”
“Please do,” Louise said sincerely, and then was gone.
“So,” I clapped my hands once, turning to face where Fergus and Frank were staring one another down. “Are you still hungry, Fergus? Would you like a little snack before bed?”
Fergus perked up at the suggestion. “Yes!”
I led him into the kitchen, pointing out where various necessary things were located. “And don’t be afraid to help yourself to anything. I fear we keep things pretty healthy around here, you might just have to get used to that. But if you tell me what some of your favorite snacks are, I can pick them up at the store tomorrow.”
Fergus stared wide-eyed at the big black refrigerator, but then his eyes widened further when he opened it to find it well stocked with fruits, vegetables, juice, yogurt, etc.
“Claire,” Frank hissed at me while Fergus was rooting around. “Don’t give a ten year old free access to the fridge. He’ll eat us out of house and home.”
“If he does, it's because he needs it,” I hissed back. “He’s a growing boy. It’s not like we can’t afford it.”
“I know,” Fergus said. “Do you remember the Andersons?”
“What was that?” I asked.
Fergus looked up at me sheepishly. “Sorry...not you, Dr. Beauchamp. I was talking to…”
“Jamie, right,” I said, nodding. “What was that you were saying, about the Andersons?”
Fergus wrinkled his nose. “They kept a padlock on the fridge.”
I huffed. “Well you’ll find no such thing here. Have you found something you want?”
He didn’t seem all that interested in what was in the fridge, but then his head whipped around like he heard something, and he turned back to me hopefully. “Could I have one of the scones?”
“Oh, of course,” I said, moving toward the counter. “I forgot we…” I paused, reaching behind the coffee maker where the box of scones was, then looked back over my shoulder at Fergus. “How did you see these?”
“I know it probably looks a little girly,” I said to Fergus as he climbed into the bed. In truth the guest room was fairly neutral in decoration, but the bedspread was rose pink, and there was an antique wardrobe with roses carved into it that had, until that evening, held some of my clothes that didn’t fit into the closet I shared with Frank. “But we can pick out new bed things, and anything else you like to make it a little more your own.”
Fergus shrugged. “It’s okay, you don’t have to go to any trouble. I know I won’t be here long.”
I frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“I never stay anywhere long. And Mr. Randall doesn’t like me.”
“That’s just not true,” I said firmly. “He doesn’t know you. And he’s not really very experienced with children. Neither am I, for that matter. Just give him time. I want you to try and feel at home here, Fergus.”
“Thanks, Dr. Beauchamp, but...it’s really better if I don’t. No offense, you’re really nice but…” he looked away. “It’s okay. At least I get to keep Jamie with me.”
I smiled, even though my heart was breaking a little. “That’s a very good thing. Would you like to tell me a little more about him? Is Jamie a little boy, like you?”
Fergus shook his head. “No, he’s grown up, like you. He’s really tall, with red hair. And he wears a kilt, which looks like a skirt but…” Fergus flinched away, laughing. “But he hates it when I say that! He’s always around to take care of me. He even stopped me from falling all the way down the stairs.”
“How...how did he stop you? Are you saying he can move things?”
I was wary of challenging Fergus, not wanting him to think I didn’t believe him, but I was curious about what he’d say. “Could he move something right now? Like...that picture on the wall?”
Fergus grimaced. “He can’t do it all the time. If he does it once, he can’t do it again for a while. He has to recharge, sort of. Like a battery. He’s still tired from saving me, and besides, he likes to save it for when it’s important, and he doesn’t like to scare people.”
“Right, that makes sense,” I said, fighting a smile. “Well, it’s very late, and you’ve had a very long day. How’s your pain?”
He looked at his cast, giving it a little pat. “Not so bad.”
“Good. Now, I’m just across the hall, okay? Call out, or come find me if you need anything . You won’t bother me.”
Fergus smiled, his cheeks dimpling. “I will. Thank you...Sassenach.”
Chuckling, I stood to go, passing by the mirror on the side of the wardrobe. When I did, I could have sworn I saw something reflected there that wasn’t me or Fergus, but when I looked again, all I saw was myself, staring in confusion. I looked at Fergus again, who was watching me with a knowing grin.
“Goodnight,” I said, trying not to act like I was running from the room.
When I shut the door behind me, I shook my head, feeling silly for letting Fergus’s imagination make my own go into overdrive.
After tucking Fergus in, I retired to the bedroom I shared with Frank, who was scowling at me from over his phone.
“What?” I asked shortly. “Come on, he is a perfectly pleasant little boy.”
“He’s ten and he talks to an imaginary friend,” Frank said. “I overheard you just now. Claire, we can’t keep a child like that in our home . What if he snaps or something?”
“Will you keep your voice down? He’ll hear you! And for Christ’s sake, Frank, you can’t honestly expect me to believe you’re scared of him. He weighs sixty pounds, if that.”
“Like you haven’t heard the horror stories. We should keep our door locked.”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling loath to get into bed with him, but the sofa in the living room wasn’t the most comfortable and our guest room was occupied. “Forget it. Fergus needs to be able to come in if he needs me for anything. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”
“What do you plan to do with him on Sunday? You work that day.”
I didn’t respond, but he quickly picked up on my expression and he shook his head. “Oh no. He’s your project, Claire. I won’t be responsible for him.”
I had originally believed that Frank would be willing to look after him on Sunday, and hoped that it would let them bond a little, but I saw then that that had been a foolish thought.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said glumly, crawling into bed but turning my back on Frank and remaining at the very edge of the mattress. “I’ll figure it out.”
Frank was gone early the next morning, claiming he had work to do at school, but that was just fine with me.
To say I was disappointed in Frank’s reaction to Fergus was putting it mildly. True, I shouldn’t have sprung it on him without discussing it first, but it had just honestly never occurred to me that a man who wanted a child so badly would hesitate to open up his home to one in need, especially considering the possibility that a biological child might not even happen.
I’d worn pajamas to bed instead of my usual t-shirt or nothing, in case Fergus had come in the night, and when I got out of bed I took care to put on a robe as well, not entirely sure what the protocol was when you brought a young boy into your house.
But as I was splashing water in my face, I thought I caught a whiff of something burning, and just when I was beginning to wonder what it was, it grew suddenly much stronger and I flew out of my room and to the kitchen which was becoming engulfed in dark smoke, making it there right as the smoke alarm started up.
“Fergus?!” I shrieked, darting through the smoke to find the fire extinguisher.
“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed, and I found him standing beside the stove, clouds of smoke rising up from a skillet, but no flames.
Discarding the fire extinguisher, I snatched the skillet off the burner, scalding my palm in process.
“ Fuck !” I snapped, tossing the skillet and what looked have once been bacon into the sink before throwing open the window.
That taken care of, I switched off the stove, then grabbed the broom to take a swing at the smoke alarm, beating it ruthlessly with my uninjured hand until it finally shut up.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” I breathed, cradling my hand. “Fergus...what the hell happened ?”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, his voice shaking. I turned to look at him, and he was standing in the corner of the kitchen on the other side of the table, practically cowering. “I’m sorry!”
Everything in me simply deflated, and as my own panic faded, I could see the fear in his eyes, and it broke my heart.
“Fergus…” I began softly. “It’s...it’s alright. I’m not angry. I was just frightened, that’s all.”
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, on the verge of tears. “I just...I just...I thought I’d make you breakfast...to thank you. Jamie was trying to tell me how but he didn’t know how to use your stove, and it was hard with just one hand and...and…”
I went and sat in a chair near him, beckoning him closer, but letting him come to me instead of the other way around. After a moment of hesitation, he came up to me, wringing his hands.
“That was really sweet of you to try,” I said. “I gotta say, I can’t remember the last time someone made me breakfast!”
Fergus sniffed, but then he frowned. “Not even Mr. Randall?”
I chuckled and shrugged. “We both stay so busy, we hardly ever eat breakfast together, much less make it for one another. It’s something I’ve wanted to change but…change isn’t always so easy, you know?”
He nodded in understanding. “I’m really sorry. So is Jamie, he wants you to know that.”
“Well, tell Jamie I forgive him, and I forgive you, too. Just...next time, I’d rather you ask for help. I just wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Like you…” he said worriedly, leaning over to look at my hand. “You’re hurt!”
“Just a little burn,” I said, showing him my reddened palm and the small blister forming there. “Luckily, I’m a doctor.”
“Jamie says that pouring milk on it will help.”
I nodded. “Jamie’s right, that does help to take the sting out, but I have some salve in my bathroom that’ll do the trick too. You didn’t burn yourself anywhere, did you?”
He shook his head. “But I burned all of the bacon. What are we going to have for breakfast?”
“Why don’t we go out? There’s a cafe right down the street that makes the best pastries. We can walk there.”
“Okay!” he said excitedly.
“Go change, and I’ll go take care of this and get ready.”
Leaving the mess for later, I went to my bathroom to apply salve and a loose bandage to my palm, hissing in pain and frustration when I struggled to wrap it with my left hand. I suddenly got a weird feeling that I was being watched, and turned around, thinking Fergus had come into my bedroom, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Shaking myself, I hurried to Fergus’s room, worried he’d hurt himself, but he was just standing there in his jeans and holding his shirt in his right hand.
“I need help.”
Chuckling, I went to help him get his shirt on around his cast, but we were both struggling one-handed, and wound up laughing so hard we could hardly get anything done.
“Well, at least with your right hand, and my left hand, we can function as one person!”
“Barely,” he chuckled. “Do you need help?”
I gave him a sideways look, but realized by the look on his face that the question had been entirely innocent, and not some stupid trick other boys his age might try to pull to see an undressed woman.
“Thanks, but I think I can manage.”
“Better stay here this time, Jamie,” Fergus said. “I don’t think she wants you in there when she’s getting dressed .”
“Quite right,” I said lightly to cover up how unsettled I felt at the implication that Jamie had supposedly gone with me before, considering the funny feeling I’d gotten while bandaging my hand.
The cafe was just a couple of blocks away, but I marveled at how Fergus was just taking everything in around him, pointing out big houses, little dogs, kids on hoverboards.
“Most of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in are nothing like this,” he said. “Are you rich?”
I chuckled. “I’m comfortable.”
He watched a woman pushing a cat in a pram and laughed. “How come you don’t have any pets?”
“Frank doesn’t like them.”
“What, pets ? How do you not like any pets?” he asked. “It’s one thing not to like dogs but just...pets?”
“Well, we both stay so busy with work anyway, it wouldn’t really make sense to get a pet.”
Fergus glanced up to his right, then back at me. “But it made sense to get a kid?”
He caught me out, and I wasn’t really sure what to say. “I don’t know,” I said honestly, then held out a hand to stop him, then pulled him off to the side of the walkway. “Maybe I didn’t think this through at all, and I don’t know if it was right, but...if you’re ready to take a chance, then so am I.”
The corner of Fergus’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “ Je suis pres.”
I smiled back as we resumed walking. “That’s...I am ready, right? Are you fluent in French?”
Fergus held up his good hand palm-down and wagged it back and forth. “Ish. But that’s not why I say that. It’s Jamie’s clan motto.”
“Clan motto? Oh that’s right, you said he’s Scottish. Why does a Scottish clan have a French motto?”
“Beats me. He’s never given me a good answer for that.”
We reached the cafe, and the hostess asked for how many, and I said ‘two’ before taking it back, eyeing the small two-tops. “Make that three,” I amended.
“Three?” Fergus asked as we were shown to our table out on the porch. “Is Mr. Randall coming?”
“No,” I said, suddenly feeling a little foolish. “I just thought maybe Jamie would want to sit with us.”
Fergus gave his right side a wide-eyed look, then grinned. “He says thank you!”
My foolish feeling faded in the face of Fergus’s obvious pleasure. I didn’t know if indulging his fantasy this much was a good thing or not, but I had a feeling he’d experienced very little indulgence in his life, and for however long he was with me, I wanted to correct that a little.
We went to the grocery store and I let Fergus pick out whatever unhealthy foods he wanted, but he insisted I pick some of my own favorites as well, and together we loaded our cart with Doritos, Oreos, Cheez-wiz, and my contributions of brownie batter ice cream, dark chocolates, and the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jamie’s suggestion, according to Fergus, was more bacon, so that we could give breakfast another try.
We spent that evening curled up on the couch watching Marvel movies and nearly making ourselves sick with junk food.
When Frank came home, Fergus was in a food coma, so I left him bundled up on the sofa for the night and turned in.
“I’m taking a personal day tomorrow,” I said to Frank. “On Monday, I’ll see about getting Fergus into the Boys and Girls Club, or something. I wonder what ages are allowed in the hospital daycare…”
“Whoa, wait, stop,” Frank said. “What Monday ? We agreed that this was just for the weekend.”
I sighed, having rather hoped that Frank would have at least softened to the idea of having Fergus around until another suitable placement could be found. “And what if Louise can’t find another foster by Monday? Frank, this boy has been shuffled around from home to home most of his life. I am not turning him out unless I know for damn sure he’s going into a good situation.”
Frank’s jaw clenched. “I didn’t agree to this, Claire.”
“I don’t know why you’re getting so upset!”
“I don’t know why you’re trying to manipulate me into something I don’t want! This is my house, too.”
“I know,” I said flatly. And he was right. If he really didn’t want to do this, it wasn’t fair of me to try and make him. It wasn’t fair to Frank, or to Fergus. I just didn’t know how I was going to tell Fergus.
Suddenly, our bedroom door flew open, and we both nearly jumped out of our skins. I stared, expecting Fergus to be there, but there was no one in the hall. And then, I thought I felt something touch my wrist. I looked at Frank, but he was standing a foot away.
“What the hell…” he said. “Must have been a draft.”
It was then I heard a clatter, and I went to go check on Fergus, concerned when I didn’t find him on the sofa.
“Fergus?” I called, hearing him moving around in the kitchen.
Figuring he was in search of a late night snack, I went in, prepared to tell him that he really shouldn’t eat any more junk, but I stopped dead in my tracks.
Fergus was sitting on the floor of the kitchen, rocking back and forth and hyperventilating...with a steak knife clinched in his fist.
“Fergus…” I said softly, not wanting to startle him. “Fergus, kid, what’s wrong? What are you doing?
But Fergus was just staring straight ahead, a blank look in his dilated eyes.
“Jesus Christ!” Frank exclaimed, grabbing my arm and pulling me back. “What the hell?!”
“Stop!” I snapped, snatching my arm away. “I think he’s asleep.”
“ Asleep ? He has a fucking knife!”
“Get out of here, Frank,” I growled, stepping over the spilled box of coffee pods that were scattered across the floor. “Fergus, hey…”
I was afraid of waking him too suddenly, in case he startled too badly and cut himself, but he was holding the knife dangerously close to his chest, and with the way he was rocking I was terrified of what might happen if I didn’t wake him up.
“Fergus, wake up…”
“No…” he murmured between gasps of breath.
“Fergus, honey, it’s alright...you’re safe...nothing’s going to hurt you…”
I knelt beside him, my hands fluttering around uncertainly for a moment until Fergus cried out and pressed the knife closer to his abdomen, so I didn’t hesitate and wrapped my hand around his, yanking it back at the same time I squeezed one of the fingers peeking out of his cast, trusting the slight pain to wake him up immediately.
I watched awareness and fear flood Fergus’s eyes, and his body jolted violently, but when he pulled his arm with surprising strength, his grip firm on the knife, it was flung up above his head, along with my hand still wrapped around his, and the knife flew from his fingers and went sailing across the room.
Fergus blinked rapidly, his breathing evening out. “Sassenach?” he said weakly.
“Shh…” I hushed him, pulling him into my arms. “It’s alright, you’re alright.”
I looked over his head at the knife laying on the floor, unable to make sense of the way it just flew out of his hand without him throwing it, and then at the coffee pods all over the floor, likely the cause of the clatter that led me to check on Fergus.
The box of coffee had been on top of the refrigerator. I couldn’t imagine how it had fallen off, and Fergus wasn’t nearly tall enough to reach it.
It was almost like...it had happened on purpose.