“When Michael arrives at the end of next week, Noah, you will be allowed to help Bryan
and me with his care. I’m also going to teach you how some of the medical equipment
works.”  

Noah nodded, scared and excited at the same time. It felt like he was being promoted.

“You will not be required to do any complex medical procedures, so there’s no need to be
concerned. Still, you’re going to have to be on your toes.”
  
“Yes, ma’am.”
  
“It’s vital that you listen closely to Bryan and me, and that you ask about anything you
don’t understand. You seem to be good at asking questions, so I’m not concerned about that.”
  
The high of a moment ago fizzled. Noah stared at the felt blotter on top of the desk. “Is
there something that you are concerned about, Dr. McFadden?”
  
“I do have one particular concern that we need to address.”
  
He shifted his gaze to her face, forced himself to look her in the eyes.
  
“I’m concerned about your self-esteem.”
  
He quickly glanced away.
  
“You lack confidence in your ability.”
  
It was true, he thought ruefully. Not a day went by that he didn’t second guess himself at
least a half-dozen times.
  
“You mentioned during your interview with us that you wanted to be a dancer before you
were injured. I’ve been thinking about that. You know, it takes someone extremely
dedicated and highly confident to be a successful, professional dancer. On a whim the other
day, I researched your student profile from the college. I also checked your high school
record.”
  
He waited.
  
“You have quite an impressive background. Your high school guidance counselor posted
notes in your file. Some of the teacher comments that caught my eye: …has exceptional
leadership qualities. …is highly motivated. …is an extremely talented dancer.” Lauren
looked to the young man for some kind of reaction. “There’s more. Noah is confident and
creative. He’s a strong academic performer.” She paused again. “I could go on.”
  
He hoped she wouldn’t.
  
“Julliard accepts only the best of the best, Mr. Dellinger. The competition to get in is
fierce, but your dance instructor seemed to think you had a good shot at getting a
scholarship.”
 
“You talked to my dance instructor?”
  
“Yes, I did. He told me he was willing to keep you on as a student after the fire. He
believed that with a lot of hard work, you could still perform in some capacity. But instead
of sticking with the program, you disappeared.”
  
“He was wrong about performing,” Noah mumbled.
  
“Why did you leave something you loved so much and had so much passion for? Did you
discuss your background and your career goals with the therapists while you were in rehab?”
  
“Some.”
  
“Did they advise you not to dance for some reason? What were your program goals in
outpatient therapy?”
  
“They didn’t know I was a serious dancer. And I left outpatient rehab a few months after I
started.”
  
“You what?”
  
Noah cleared his throat. “I left rehab.”
  
“Why in the world did you leave therapy?” No answer. “Noah, why did you leave your
therapy program?”
  
His shoulders were already tense. His jaw tightened so that he could barely speak. “I don’t
know.”
  
“Yes, you do. What’s the story?”
  
He hesitated. “Where do you want me to start?”
  
“At the beginning—with the fire.”
  
“July sixteenth, two thousand nine.”
  
Almost two years ago, Lauren realized.
  
Noah told her how the blaze started, and described the agonizing days that followed in the
burn unit in the Boston hospital. “I stayed in the hospital through October. If you’ve ever
worked with burn patients, Dr. McFadden, then you know daily wound care and physical
therapy sessions are excruciating. I cried every single day until I had nothing left inside.”
  
“I’ve worked with quite a few burn clients.”
  
“After I was discharged, I stayed with Dean Westcott for a while. During that time, I went
to outpatient therapy three times a week for a couple of months, but I didn’t make much
progress.”
  
“Progress can be agonizingly slow for burn patients. I’m sure they told you that.”
  
“Yes. But it was too much for me—was more than I could stand. I…I remember wishing
that I’d died in the fire. I kept asking myself why…and what did I do to deserve something
like this?”
  
“I seriously doubt you did anything wrong, Mr. Dellinger. The fire was an unfortunate
accident.”
  
“I stopped going to rehab the week before Christmas, and never went back.”
  
“What did Dean Westcott have to say about you quitting rehab?”
  
“He got angry. Even when I signed up for night school to complete my senior year, he
wasn’t satisfied. He said he would allow me to remain under his roof, but we barely spoke
to each other. I tried talking to him, but he didn’t want to hear what I had to say.” And here
he was now, Noah realized, trying desperately to make Dr. McFadden understand. His
voice wavered. “I was just a kid and scared to death, Dr. McFadden. Everybody kept
telling me that even though I’d lost everything, I should be thankful to be alive. They said I
had to move on. But it just wasn’t that easy, you know?”
  
She nodded. “It takes time to deal with that kind of loss.”
  
“I left Dean Westcott’s house at the beginning of summer—last year. I lied and told him I
found a job and a place to stay, but the truth was I was living in my car. I continued to go
to night school.”
  
“I’m glad you did. It must’ve been rough.”
  
“I spent a lot of time in the public library, studying and doing homework. It took me until
the end of the year to get my diploma. I started college in January of this year, but
continued living in my car until I moved in here.”
  
“How did you eat, take showers and manage everything for the entire year you lived in
your car?”
  
“I worked at a few odd jobs here and there, and earned enough for food and gas. It was
harder than I expected; I couldn’t bend my joints very well, and I was hurting all the time.
When the weather turned cold, things got worse. I got a room at the Y when I could afford
it. Other times, I spent nights in a church or mission when the temperature dipped below
freezing.”
  
Lauren got up from her desk and came around to where Noah was sitting. He acted like he
was going to tell her more, but suddenly stopped. She put a hand on the back of the chair.
  
Noah leaned forward, rested his head in his hands.
  
“So for the last eighteen months, you’ve had no rehab therapies. What about wound care
instructions, follow-up visits with your doctor and reconstructive surgery?”
 
“I haven’t seen a doctor since I quit rehab.”
  
Lauren stepped over to the small kitchen area. She took a liter of bottled water from the
small refrigerator and a paper cup from the overhead cabinet. At her desk again, she
offered him a drink. “Here.”
  
Noah discreetly swiped his eyes, hoping the doctor wouldn’t notice. It was all he could do
to hold the cup steady.
  
“Tell me what happened when you started your first semester at Rollins, in January.”
  
“I wanted to make a clean start, even though I was still living in my car. I thought I would
do well, but being in a classroom wasn’t the same…I just couldn’t concentrate. I have a
full-tuition academic scholarship and I’m required to maintain at least a three point zero
grade point average. Dean Westcott took it upon himself to monitor my progress. He stays
on my case constantly.”
  
“That doesn’t help matters.”
 
“No, it doesn’t. I’m sure he’s keeping up with everything I do here, too.”
  
“He won’t get any information out of us. If we have any concerns, we’ll address them with
you, not him. I do have one question for you, Noah, and please be honest with me. I
noticed in your file that you didn’t declare a major until April. Did Dean Westcott push you
into enrolling in the physical medicine college?”
  
“No. It was my choice. Even though I dropped out of the rehab program in Boston, I was
still impressed by what the therapists did. One of the occupational therapists led a dance
therapy program. I wasn’t able to participate, but it opened my eyes to wheelchair dance.
I’d like to teach a class like that someday.”
  
“It’s certainly something to consider. I’m glad Dean Westcott suggested this job to you.”
  
“I figured by now he would have put me on probation. My GPA is only two point nine.”
  
“Are you afraid of him?”
  
“Dean Westcott? Yeah. I guess I am.”
  
“Why?”
  
“He’s a control freak like my father was. After the fire, everything had to be done his
way—my parents’ funeral, my hospital recovery, rehab… And even now, if you question
anything, or disagree with him, he gets bent out of shape.”
  
“What did your father want to control?”
  
“My life. He didn’t want a son who was a dancer, even when I told him my instructor
wanted me to apply to Julliard. I embarrassed the hell out of him one day when I was
thirteen. One of his buddies asked me what I wanted to be when I got older. I said I wanted
to be a ballet dancer. Afterward, my father shook his fist at me and told me that if I ever
disgraced him like that again, he’d kick me out.”
  
“That was harsh. What about your mom, how did she fit into the picture?”
  
“My mother was diagnosed with depression shortly after I was born. The doctor put her on
pills, but nothing really seemed to help. She was in therapy for a while, but her condition
only got worse. She started having anxiety attacks when I was eight. I was eleven when she
had to stop working at her job as a lab technician.”
 
“Did it help her to stay at home?”
  
“No. She had a mental breakdown and ended up having to spend some time in a hospital—
about three months, I think it was.”
  
“That must have been hard on you and your dad. Did the doctors ever determine a cause
for her condition or did they try any other treatments?”
  
“No. My dad said the pregnancy did something to her mind. He got fed up and stopped
paying the doctors when nothing worked.”
  
“Were your parents ever involved in your school life at any time?”
  
“At least one parent had to go to the school when the teacher scheduled a conference at the
beginning of the new school year. They never came to any of my dance recitals or the
school drama productions I was in. I don’t think they ever saw me on stage. They never
went to any school-sponsored events.”
  
“Dance lessons and equipment cost quite a bit. I’m being nosy when I ask this, but how did
you afford lessons? Did your parents pay for them? You don’t have to answer if you don’t
want to.”
  
“I began taking lessons when I joined the drama club in middle school. The teacher thought
I had talent and connected me with the instructor you talked to on the phone. My father
wasn’t about to pay, so I worked out a deal. The instructor needed someone to clean the
studio at the end of the day and do other chores. When I moved into the advanced ballet
class, he actually let me tutor some of the little kids in the beginners’ classes. The pay I
earned covered my lessons and whatever outfits I needed.”        
  
“What a remarkable story; thank you for telling me. How do you see yourself now, Noah?”
  
“I don’t know. Some days I feel okay about myself. Other times, I feel like a first class
loser who can’t make a single intelligent decision. I’ve let Dean Westcott down…and a lot
of other people who expected more from me.”
  
“You put too much pressure on yourself, worrying about everyone’s expectations. One
thing is certain; you’re not a loser.” Lauren paused. “Perhaps it’s time you asked yourself
what Noah wants.”
  
“Right now, I want to stay here. I like the work I’m doing, Dr. McFadden. I know it takes
me longer to catch on to things, but I’m a hard worker. I have no intention of disappointing
Bryan, the boys, and especially you.”
  
“You won’t disappoint us. You’re catching on quite nicely, now that you’ve settled into a
routine. Just keep in mind that you’re going to make some mistakes.”
  
“Yes, ma’am.”
  
“You still have a lot to learn.”
  
“Dean Westcott still didn’t have much to say to me when he was here last week. I guess
he’s finally given up on me going back to rehab. When he summoned me to his office last
month, I expected him to bring it up, but he didn’t. The last thing I expected was to be
recommended for a job.”
  
Lauren put both hands on the back of the chair. “Noah, Dean Westcott did send you back to
rehab. He sent you here.”
  
“I was sent here to work as an employee.”
  
“That was only part of his plan.”
  
“But I … He …”
  
“Arthur’s plan was twofold.” She stepped around the chair. “He’s hoping you’ll continue
rehab with us.”
  
“Why didn’t he tell me?”
  
“He was afraid you wouldn’t take the job if you knew what else he had in mind. He talked
to me the day he came to see Buddy. He said he’d made some terrible mistakes with you
that he deeply regretted. He also told me why he was so adamant about getting you back
into rehab, and asked me to do what I could to get you back on track.”
  
Noah just stared at her—at her eyes. “He told you, didn’t he… about the scars and how bad
they were.”
  
“Yes. He did.”
  
“Damn! I should’ve known he was up to something. He just couldn’t leave it alone! So,
Doc…what happens now?”
  
“First of all, you can calm down. Second, you’ll continue to work and go to school, as
planned. Your job doesn’t depend on you going back to rehab. And third, if you want
medical intervention anytime in the future, we’ll assist you. We’ll get you the help you
need from whatever services are required to repair the damages.”
  
“You can’t fix what I see every time I get undressed, Doctor.”
  
“Not all of it. But we may be able to do more than you think. Laser treatments have come a
long way in the past few years and so have surgical methods. At least give it some thought.”
  
“May I be excused now, Dr. McFadden?”
  
“In a minute. You told me shortly after you arrived here that you’d been having bad
headaches for quite some time.”
  
“I worry about school a lot. The over-the-counter drugs aren’t helping much anymore.”
  
“Yes, and you worry about your job. You also worry about Dean Westcott interfering in
your life. I doubt modern medicine can stop the dean. However, I can get you something
stronger to manage the headache pain. Okay?”
  
“Yes, ma’am.”
  
“One more thing, Noah, and then you may leave. It concerns your clothes.”
  
He looked up at her. “My clothes?”
  
“Yes. You don’t want anyone to see the scars, and we are sympathetic to that, but the long
sleeves and long pants have got to go. They’re making you miserable when you go outside
in the heat. They restrict your ability to move freely when you work in the gym. By
Thursday, Bryan and I want to see you in shorts and a short-sleeve cotton shirt or nice tee
shirt for the gym.”
  
“Dr. McFadden, I can’t…”
  
She gave him time to finish, but he stopped talking. “Go shopping for a new wardrobe.
Pick out some clothes to wear anytime in addition to what you need for work. It’ll be my
treat. Wearing comfortable clothing will make you feel a lot better. It might even relieve
some of your stress.”
  
Noah propped his elbows on his knees and rested his forehead on balled fists.
  
Lauren stepped close, stroked the fine blonde hair on the back of his head. “Things will
work out, Noah. Dean Westcott means well, but he should have told you everything from
the start. No one here is going to force you into getting medical procedures you don’t want.
As for work, you’ve suffered in those uncomfortable clothes long enough. The change will
make a world of difference for you.”   
Chapter 9
“It was a social call, Lauren,” Bryan told her when she joined him at the front door.
“Sheriff Milhouse dropped by to see how Adam and Philip are progressing.” He didn’t
mention the envelope.
 
“Good. In that case, I’m going to work with Buddy for an hour or so unless you need me,
Bryan.”
 
“No, I’ve got a few things to attend to in Michael’s room before he gets here.”
 
“Oh, that reminds me…John Reynolds got your message about adding on another wing. He
apologized for taking so long to get back to you, but he’s been vacationing in the Bahamas.
He went scuba diving and got a nice tan. I told him about Michael. Call him, he said, when
you’re ready to start talking blueprints.”
 
“How does he think we’re going to handle more construction once Michael arrives? We
were planning to put the addition on the back burner for a month or so, remember?”
 
She shook her head. “I know, but he sounded so excited about us adding on, I didn’t want
to put him off. At least discuss it with him.”
 
When she started to leave, he called after her. “Lauren, would you ask Philip to meet me in
the sunroom, please?” She turned to face him, walking backwards as she headed for the
west wing.
 
“Sure. Is everything okay, Bryan?”
 
“Yes.” He wasn’t sure she was convinced, but she took his word and spun forward again.
 
Lauren called over her shoulder. “I’ll tell him.”
 
When his wife was completely out of sight, he picked up the envelope from the table. In the
sunroom, he thumbed through the contents. He’d just slipped the photos back into the
envelope when Philip turned the corner.
 
“The doc said you wanted to see me.”
 
“Yes, Philip.” Bryan pulled the chair away from the table so Philip could roll in close.
 
“What’s in the envelope?”
 
“Sheriff Milhouse said one of his officers found these pictures and your birth certificate in
the trailer. He thought you might want them.”
 
“He was wrong.”
 
Bryan removed the dozen or so photos and two worn report cards that had no jackets. The
birth certificate, folded in half, fell out last.
 
“I don’t want any of it. I sure as hell don’t want any pictures of my parents. I don’t want
any of that stuff!”
 
“Okay son; calm down. Do you mind if Lauren and I hold onto these things? We really
should keep the birth certificate.”
 
“Do what you want, but I don’t want to see any of it ever again!”
 
“They’re photos of you when you were little, Philip. There are no photos of your mother or
father here.” The first photo was that of Philip as a baby. The second photo showed a thin
little blonde boy in blue coveralls and tiny sneakers. “They’re baby and toddler pictures and
a few taken when you were older.”
 
Philip pulled back from the table. “Can I please go now?”
 
“I don’t want you to be upset with me—with us—for keeping them, Philip.”
 
“I…I’m not upset. I just hate having you touch anything that my father or she touched.”
 
“I’ll give the birth certificate to Lauren to put in your file. I can put the rest in the safe in
my office. If you change your mind later on and want them, they’re yours.”
 
Philip half nodded. “Is the sheriff going to keep coming back here…bringing stuff and
reminding everybody of what happened?”
 
“No, Philip. The case is closed and the trailer is gone.”
 
A chill raked across Philip’s shoulders.
 
“I love you son. Sheriff Milhouse was right, you know. You’re a great kid. I’m proud of the
way you’ve dealt with this. Now, I guess it’s time to put it behind us and move on.”
Ray Milhouse was a busy man, but the errand was important and he wanted to deliver the
envelope in person. He turned the car into the drive and made his way to the house. He
circled to the right where the drive split and pulled alongside the Z-shaped ramp. Rather
than take the incline, he chose the stone steps that led to the front door.

He removed his sunglasses and put them in his pocket. No sooner did he ring the doorbell
when one of the fancy white doors swung open. “Mr. McFadden, good to see you, sir.”
 
“Sheriff Milhouse. Come in.”
 
Ray removed his hat and accepted the handshake. He stepped into the foyer and stopped.
Never in his life had he seen such a magnificent home. He’d tried to describe some of the
rooms to his wife after his first visit a few months ago, but words couldn’t do it justice.
“You know, I cannot get over the stunning appearance of this place. It reminds me of a
king’s palace.”
 
“Well thank you, sheriff. What can I do for you?”
 
“No need to worry. I’m making this an official social call.” He pretended not to notice the
relief on Bryan McFadden’s face. “I have something for Philip. Is he here?”
 
“Yes, he’s here. May I ask what you have, Sheriff?”
 
Ray partially pulled out the contents of the envelope. “One of the officers found these when
the team was doing one last inspection of the Barrister trailer before they destroyed it. I
thought Philip might like to have the pictures. You and your wife could probably use the
birth certificate. There are a couple of report cards in here, too.” He shoved the contents
back inside the envelope and handed it to Bryan.
 
“I tried to get him to go out there and get his things” Bryan said, shaking his head, “but he
didn’t want any part of it.”
 
“I can’t say I blame the boy. A lot of bad memories up there. Most of what was in there was
trash. How’s he doing, Mr. McFadden? I mean is he still talking?”

Bryan set the envelope on the small table beside the front door. “Have a seat, Sheriff, and
I'll get him for you. But don’t say any-thing about the pictures right now. I want to show
them to Philip in private.”
 
“How about Adam? Is he around?”
 
“Yes. Give me a minute to round them up for you.”
 
Both boys appeared from two different directions at the same time. Both stopped in their
tracks when they saw the sheriff.
 
“It’s okay,” Bryan said and signed. “Come here, boys. The sheriff wants to see how you
two are doing. There’s no trouble.”
 
Ray stood. When the boys came close, he did a double take. “My God, would you look at
them!” He cast unbelieving eyes on the teenagers. “I don’t recognize these fine-looking
young men.”
 
“Their appearances have changed quite a bit, Sheriff,” Bryan beamed. “I’m really proud of
them.”
 
Ray shook hands and talked briefly with each teen for a few minutes. “I am just amazed.
This kind of ending makes my job worthwhile. You boys keep up the good work.”
 
Philip replied. “Yes, sir.”
 
Bryan signed for Adam.
 
“Yes, sir.”
 
Twenty minutes after he arrived, Ray Milhouse got back into his cruiser. He wondered what
his wife would have to say about bringing an older child into their household. Their two
teenage boys were in college. The house was empty—too quiet—and he missed the noise,
the girlfriend drama, the dirty laundry, and even the loud music. He would talk it over with
her, and maybe get back with the McFaddens to get their input.
 
He turned the ignition and headed up the long drive toward the front gates.
*****