WARNING: Within the entirety of the story, there will be violence, language, abuse, sex, bullying, and discipline. (A/N: And because I don’t care to fixate too much on my mistakes, let it be known that Wes/Nate’s ages regarding Wes/Harris/Thad’s birth doesn’t add up really. But oh freaken well! That’s what happens when 80% of a story comes from a dream. Dreams don’t do math well! And muses don’t feel like fixing it! <<call it ‘Soap Opera Magic’ or whatever>>)
NOTES: I often write original characters into already established fandoms, or I write personal pieces that I am still plotting and planning and hoping to someday finish. There are even a few ideas I would try to publish. This story, however, is for completion. I want to write something to test the length of this idea (it’s a big one), but also my ability to create a realistic enough world. I hope not to bore, and above all I hope to entertain. Proceed with caution and honesty, please. I would love to know what you think.
BLURRED– 13, 505
SUMMARY:A middle of the night call has Nick reminiscing about his earlier years with Wes.
Some nights, being a father was the worst thing in the world.
On any given night, any one of his kids would and could enter into their bedroom and disrupt his sleep. On the first night of February, it wasn’t one of the kids that woke Nate from his deep sleep at 2:57 AM. It wasn’t even Gabe’s drooling on his shirt or Tony’s insistent kicking in his sleep.
It was the ringing of the phone. And everyone knew that at that hour, nothing could be good.
Nate groaned, opening one eye on the third ring. There was a phone in the master bedroom, but also one in the hall, downstairs office, kitchen, family room, and formal living room. Meaning, if he didn’t get the phone fast, someone was going to wake up and not be happy about it.
Plucking Gabe off of him, Nate got out of his bed and walked over to the dresser and the insistent ringing. Phone in hand, he frowned at the unrecognizable number on the ID.
Rubbing at his eyes, Nate answered it before it could ring again. Walking over to the walk-in closet, he turned on the light and closed the door behind him.
Good morning, this is Allison Howard, I’m a nurse at Mathis Medical Hospital. Can I speak with Mr. Nathaniel Ryder?
The word hospital brought all thought of sleep and tiredness and irritation clear out of Nate’s mind. Instead, it was replaced with fear and a gut-wrenching nausea.
Mentally, Nate went through all of his loved ones, wondering what kind of news he was about to receive.
“This is Nate,” he said, clearing his throat and leaning starting to pace within the closet. “What happened?”
Nate held the phone in his hand as he left the closet. He could still hear the nurse’s words in his mind – there’s been an accident. He had so often thought that was so cliché. But as soon as he heard them, his world seemingly stopped.
He could feel his hands shaking. His heart was pounding loudly in his chest, in his ears, he was surprised it hadn’t woken the whole house up.
There’s been an accident.
Nate blinked and brought a hand to his face. The wetness he found surprised him. He hadn’t realized that he’d been crying.
Putting the phone down on the dresser once again, but not on its cradle, he moved over to where Emma laid sleeping.
“Emma,” Nate went to turn on the lights. It would do nothing to either of his sons, but it would likely help his wife to wake once she got her eyes opened. “Emma wake up.”
Emma groaned, squinting her face.
Nate walked over to her, grabbing at her shoulders and shaking her twice, hard.
Startled awake, Emma gasped and her eyes widened.
“Nathan!” she yelped seeing him. “Goodness, you frightened me.”
Nate released her and moved over to his closet, getting some pants and his shoes.
“Nate? What is it?” Emma glanced over at the boys, getting her legs out from under the blankets. Tony and Gabe were still very much asleep, intertwined together and very much okay. “Nate?”
Nate got out of the closet, tugging on his sneakers, his jeans loosely hanging on his hips.
“I just got a call from the hospital, Wes’ been in an accident.”
Emma gasped. Her eyes went wide and her hand flew to her mouth.
“Oh my God!”
Nate walked straight over to the door, heading out into the hall and towards the stairs. Once Emma noticed, she moved to follow him.
“Nathan? Nate! Hold on.”
“I’m heading over to the hospital,” he said, going down the stairs two at a time. Emma rushed behind him, trying to catch up and having to hold onto the banister so as not to fall. “I’ll try and call Dev on the way.”
“Nathan, please, would you slow down!”
“No!” he snapped, turning to see her for a second, a few steps away from the bottom. The look he gave her was of complete and utter terror. He turned right back around and continued down.
“I can’t slow down. Damn it, how many times have I told him, begged him, to not ride that goddamned thing!”
Nate walked back between the double stairs and to the closet, grabbing his jacket just as Emma finally came to his side.
Thad too came out of the family room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Why are you stomping around?” he yawned, looking from Emma to his dad. Seeing their faces, Thad frowned. “What happened?”
“Nate,” Emma was still sighing, her feet cringing on the cold marble, as she tried to get her husband to calm down. “Please, just try and calm down.”
“I’m not calm, Em,” Nate said, tugging on his jacket. Turning to look at his present son, Nate tried his best to take a deep breath and address his son’s concern. “Your brother’s been in an accident. I’m heading over to the hospital now to see how bad it is.”
Thad’s disbelief was clear on his face. He looked from one parent to the other and shook his head.
“What? Wait! Which brother? What happened?”
Noticing Thaddeus’ impending panic, Emma moved over to the teen. She took the seventeen year old’s hands in hers and gripped them tightly in her own.
“We don’t know yet.”
“I’m heading out,” Nate came over to them, checking for his wallet and keys in his pocket. He kissed his wife’s forehead and Thad on the cheek before heading to the door. “Try and get some sleep, both of you. I’ll call you as soon as I know more.”
“Dad wait!” Thad said, following even as Emma went ahead of him.
“As if I’m going to just sit and wait-
“You have to stay with the rest of the kids,” Nate turned to her and sighed. “Em, I really don’t have time to waste.”
“I’m getting H,” Thad said, moving before either could protest. He turned and went back to the family room, where he and Harris had spent far into the wee hours of the morning. They were actually pretty lucky that Nate had called it an early night, and when Emma had headed up at eleven, she had only warned them to be in bed soon, but hadn’t thought to force them.
Now, Thad dashed over to his older brother, yanking him up off of the couch by the arm and instantly awake.
“Wha-Thad! What the hell!” Harris blinked awake, shoved at his brother and tried to lie back down again. Instead, Thad grabbed his arm again and pulled him to his feet. “Dude!”
“Wes was in an accident,” Thad blurted out.
Harris instantly stopped pulling at his arm and stared back at Thad.
“Dad’s headed to the hospital now,” added Thad, looking over to the dimly lit foyer area. “I don’t think he should go alone.”
Harris blinked and took a deep breath. He nodded, trying to wrap his head around what was being said to him.
“Right, okay,” he said, pulling his arm out of Thad’s now lax hold. “I’ll go with him. Grab my sneaks, from my gym bag, will ya?”
Thad nodded and headed towards the kitchen, going to grab the gym bag from the adjacent mud room. Harris briskly walked over to the foyer, almost colliding with his dad and Emma as the two appeared.
“What happened?” he asked, sidestepping them and following as Nate walked in the direction Thad had headed.
“An accident,” Nate said. “They don’t tell you much through the phone.”
“Is he okay?” Harris continued entering the kitchen a step behind Emma.
Nate sighed and shook his head, but then he just passed his hand through his hair and stopped walking, right in the middle of the kitchen. Thad returned, walking over to Harris and handing his brother the sneakers.
“Nurse said he was still in surgery, I don’t know anything else.”
“Alright then,” Harris said, leaning his foot against the bench seat to do up his shoes quickly. “Let’s go then.”
Harrison drove. It wasn’t that he was the better driver of the two, but when Nate couldn’t get the key into the ignition, or get his hands to stop trembling, Harris quietly placed his hand over his father and took the keys.
He was driving extra carefully, knowing that not only was his dad next to him, but his big brother had already been in an accident that night. He didn’t need to chance his luck.
For his part, Nate was fidgeting like crazy in his seat. It was almost half an hour drive over to the other town, where Mathis Medical Hospital was located. And that was plenty of time to think. Think and remember a load of things that Nate had long half-forgotten.
September 6, 1987
Twelve year old Nathaniel Ryder woke up to the excited bustle of hushed voices. It was just after four in the morning, and he was dressed still in his pajamas, with his coat under his head as a pillow. As he opened his eyes, he knew the news before anyone else had to tell him.
His sister had just had her son.
Tabitha was sixteen, and for the past two years, she had done all in her power to make their parents’ lives hell. Nate couldn’t quite point out why Tabitha was so angry, but it was clear that she was deeply troubled.
And then, of course, she got herself pregnant.
Jenna Ryder had been devastated. She had never imaged her daughter’s life would take such a turn. As for David Ryder, the pregnancy had been the last straw for him. No longer could he see his little girl in Tabitha, but instead this teenaged hoodlum she had become.
Needless to say, Nate had quickly become the main attention for his parents.
But one thing Jenna had been clear about eight months back, was that in no way would her grandchild be discarded away like yesterday’s meatloaf. There would be no abortion. Tabitha was to not even consider the thought. It was a non-starter.
From the beginning, Nate could tell his sister was going to be a crappy mother. She had been a decent enough sister, up until he was about six years old. Not that Nate wanted to place the blame of everything on Tabitha becoming a cheerleader at ten for the first time. He was just going to point out that Tabitha was the fourth cheerleader he knew of that had gotten pregnant. Clearly the squad didn’t teach abstinence, or safe-sex.
Throughout her pregnancy, Tabitha could barely be counted on to not harm herself in some way. Nate could still remember the one o’clock shouting match that had woken him between a near-drunk Tabitha and their father. It was Jenna that forced the vitamins and such into her daughter, and made her drug and alcoholic ways impossible. As the time passed and Tabitha was less and less interested in the child, and more frustrated in its endless intrusion to her life, Jenna became a near-permanent fix in her daughter’s life.
“Hey champ,” David kneeled down beside the seat Nate had stretched out on.
“Are they done?” Nate asked, scrubbing at his eye.
“Yep,” nodded David, a tired grin on his face. “All of eleven hours later.”
“Took long enough,” Nate said, his eyes slightly widened and yawning. “When can we go home?”
David smiled and softly laughed.
“Hold your horses, kid. Don’t you want to meet your nephew?”
“It’s on Perry, right?” Harris asked, frowning at the streets as they passed. When no response came, he glanced over to his right, to the passenger’s seat. “Dad? Dad!”
Nate blinked awake from his thoughts. “I’m sorry. You were saying?”
“Mathis Med,” Harris repeated. “It’s on Perry Street, right?”
“Perry Road,” Nate corrected. “Yes.”
Harris nodded. They were a few minutes away now, and he could feel his own feelings starting to question things, his mind pondering. But it couldn’t be Harris to lose it, not this time. He could see what this was doing to his dad, and it wasn’t going to be any better getting in there.
With any luck, the surgery had been for a broken leg or something, and his dad could spend until discharge yelling some sense into Wesley.
Worse case scenery, Harris shuddered to even think about it.
“Pull in through the Landen entrance for the ER,” Nate said, pointing at the street as they approached.
“I know, Dad,” replied Harris, mostly out of habit. It was such a thing for Nate, he was not a good passenger on a good day. This time however, Harris bit his lip in apology. “Sorry. I’m not trying to lash out or anything.”
“No, it’s fine,” Nate sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Harris smirked, pulling into Landen Way, taking the calmer entrance through to Mathis. Calmer when there weren’t any ambulances dashing by.
February 17 1988
It was Wednesday, it was cold, and Wesley Samuel Ryder was all of six months old. It was also just after Valentine’s Day, and all his mother, Tabitha, could think about, was that how she hadn’t been able to do anything that weekend.
Nate was lying on the floor in his room, his homework laid out in front of him. Beside him, Wes laid on his stomach, happily gnawing on one of his stuffed animals. Better that than on his homework, again.
Nate glanced up as he heard his sister’s angry steps heading towards her room. His mother was right behind him.
“Well, you’re underage, for one,” Jenna was saying. “And secondly, I said you can’t! You have no business going out with that man! You are sixteen years old, Tabitha! You have no business in a bar!”
“Oh please,” his sister had scoffed. “What are you scared of? My virginity?”
Nate cringed. He so did not want to hear this. Standing up, Nate went to close his door. He knew his mother was correct, but his sister never listened. His dad wasn’t home yet, and that was probably why Tabitha was rushing to get out of there. Not only would David not let her leave, he’d probably put his fist to the man who would be coming by to pick her up.
“You have a child to think about,” Jenna pointed out. “He needs a mother that isn’t out until dawn! He’s barely weaned yet. You can’t think to drink and feed him at the same time!”
As Nate reached his door, Tabitha turned to glare at her mother. Spotting him, she walked over to him, shoving him aside and entering his room.
Startled, Nate could only watch as Tabitha’s heels clinked their way over to Wes’ blanket and reached down, plucking him up off the floor.
“Watch it!” Nate yelled, seeing the rough way his sister picked up the baby.
“Shut it, brat,” she glared at him. Tabitha walked over to her mother and thrust the babe into her arms. Jenna reacted fast enough to catch the baby before he dropped to the ground. “You want him-
But before she was able to finish her childish retort, Nate came at her side and shoved her away.
“What the hell is your problem!” he yelled, his hands fisting with the very real feeling of smacking all that hooker paint off her face. And maybe some clarity and thought could reach her stupid head.
“What the fuck!” she snapped back.
“You don’t ever touch him like that again!” Nate said, moving to stand in front of both his mother and nephew.
“He’s not your-
Tabitha got her French tipped finger into Nate’s face, but he smacked it away. He wasn’t one to take crap from his sister laying down, and normally his parents could defend themselves too, but Wes? For goodness sakes, he was just a babe!
“You don’t EVER touch him, like that, again! Or I swear, sister or not, I will make you pay.”
“Nathaniel David,” his mother sighed behind him.
“I don’t care,” he turned briefly to his mother, but he brought his attention quickly back to his sister. “I don’t care if he’s your son. I don’t care if he’s twenty. You don’t get to be a bitch to him. He didn’t choose to have such a fuck-up for a mother!”
Tabitha slapped him, and he might have deserved it, but he still pushed her back. She titled enough on her too high heels and landed back against the wall.
“Nathaniel David!” his mother chided again. Jenna moved them, tugging Nate back and placing the now crying baby into his arms. “Go to your room.”
“But Mom!” his eyes widened at the injustice.
“I know,” Jenna took his shoulders in her arms. “Sweetheart, go to your room.”
Nate was frustrated. He could feel the bile rising in his stomach and the tears forming in his eyes. His sister was still a good four inches taller than him, closer to seven with the heels but he didn’t care. He could and would put her down if he had to. Dad might tease him, calling him the man of the house, but he took it seriously on things like this.
“Go,” Jenna nodded. And with one more glare towards his sister, he took a better hold of his nephew and turned towards his room.
Finally closing the door behind him, Nate locked it and found himself sliding down to the ground. He cradled Wes against his chest and they both cried, him more silently than the baby’s, as they heard Tabitha curse out once more and head in a heated huff out the door.
Nate stayed there for an hour, cursing his stupid sister in his mind, wishing she wasn’t Wes’ mother, until his father came home.
“We can only give information to family members,” the nurse shook her head.
“I’m his father,” Nate said, his fingers drumming against the counter.
The nurse frowned at him. It wasn’t the first time either. Nate was already pulling out his wallet for his ID.
“And his emergency contact,” Nate continued. “An Allison Howard called me an hour ago.”
The nurse took his ID and took note of it. She glanced back up at Nate, and handed over the card.
“I’ll get Allison.”
Nate nodded his thanks and he sighed as she moved away.
Harris scoffed, taking a look at his father and then smirked. “Bet you get that a lot, huh?”
Nate scoffed. “Kid, don’t even get me started.”
March 24 1991
At sixteen, Nate Ryder had his own car. Normally, that would a pretty popular kid make. But in Nate’s case, it wasn’t that simple.
Getting home from school, his friend Travis promptly told him why.
“Seriously man,” Travis sighed. “You’re worse than my mom.”
“Man,” Nate sighed, turning into his driveway. “That’s just wrong.”
As Nate parked the truck, Travis just shook his head.
“You do realize this kid isn’t actually yours right?”
Nate glared at his friend as he grabbed his backpack from the back. From where he’d tossed it on top the booster seat that was mostly a permanent fixture there.
“Try and be any less of a jackass, Trav, and I’d barely recognize you.”
“I’m serious!” Travis insisted. “You’re going to miss out on Janet Wilson’s party, to take a toddler to the dentist. Just let your parents take him.”
Nate led the way up the walkway and pulled out his keys.
“He’s missing a tooth, alright. I want to know if it’s still normal at his age. Besides, my dad has to work, and my mom spends all day with him. And I don’t mind taking him. And he’s no longer a toddler. He’s three.”
“Nathan Ry,” Travis turned to him as Nate got the door unlocked. “Janet Wilson.”
“Trav,” Nate returned, in all seriousness. “The kid comes first.”
Opening the door, the teens headed inside. Travis was over to finish up some report. It was Nate’s day off from work, so he volunteered to help.
As soon as they were inside, little feet could be heard running hard on the wooden floor beneath them.
“NATE!” Wes could be heard all the way from the kitchen.
Nate dropped his bag on the couch, turning just as a little blond headed bullet appeared. Making a mad dash towards him, Nate easily crouched down catching his little torpedo and standing once more. Wes’ arms tight around his neck and his legs limp on Nate’s side.
“I missed you,” the little boy sighed, as if he hadn’t just seen him that morning. Still, it brought a bright smile to Nate’s face.
“Same here, shorty.” Nate held him with one arm, the other rubbing the small back. “You remember my friend Travis?”
Wesley looked up, frowning in Travis’ direction before nodding. While Nate spent most of his days talking about the little guy, it was rare for him to let many people near him. He was extremely protective of Wesley, and instead, they spent most of their time together just the two of them.
“Well, Trav and I have some work to do. Think you can keep it from getting boisterous around here?”
“What?” Travis frowned.
“Okay,” Wes sighed, his voice much smaller than the loud yell of his entrance.
Nate kissed at his temple and squatted down, placing him once more on his feet.
“Go clean up your mess so Grandma can head out, alright?” Nate said, giving the boy a slight swat as he dashed out of there once again.
“It means loud, rude,” Nate said, standing back up. “And you, my friend, are going to have a hard time getting into college.”
“You’re teaching that kid words I don’t even know?” Travis shook his head. “Harsh man.”
“I’m not trying to raise an idiot,” Nate rolled his eyes.
They started walking over to the kitchen, intent on getting some kind of food, as boys there age did, before heading back to the living room to get their work done. As they entered the kitchen, Jenna left the bathroom, getting her earrings in place to head out.
“Afternoon Mrs. Ryder,” Travis greeted.
“Hey Mom,” Nate said, leading the way over to the fridge. He got them two sodas and handed one back to Travis.
“Hello Travis,” Jenna smiled. “Nathaniel, can I have a word?”
Nate frowned but he nodded. He followed his mom over to the laundry room.
“Okay, what’d I do?” teased Nate.
Jenna sighed, turning to her son. Already, Nate was taller than her, and it was looking like he was going to be taller than his dad too, before he stopped growing. He was already three inches taller than his sister.
“Tabitha called,” Jenna started. Nate groaned. “Now, before you say anything-
“I can’t believe we’re still even talking about this!” he groaned. Nate turned and braced himself against the washer. The very thought of his sister got his blood pressure rising.
“Nathaniel David, that is your sister you’re thinking about! And my daughter! She deserves another chance, and as her brother, you have to believe in her.”
“Another chance?” scoffed Nate. “To what? Break his arm this time? Come on!”
“She has never,” countered Jenna.
“Not by lack of trying!” Nate interrupted her. “Mom, he’s your grandson! You’re supposed to want to protect him! I mean, he’s just a kid.”
“And your sister?” Jenna crossed her arms. “She’s not much older than you, Nathaniel David! Am I supposed to just give up on her, huh? On my own daughter?”
“I don’t know why you think she’s suddenly going to change? Don’t you care about Wes!” Nate countered. “He hates seeing her! He cries the whole times she’s over, and he’s going to be wetting himself for days after.
“Just because she says she cares about him, doesn’t mean she does!”
“Don’t jump to conclusions, Nathaniel Da-
“Jump to conclusions?” Nate shook his head in disbelief. He turned away from his mother and groaned, gripping the washer tightly beneath him. “Agh! Why do you want to be so blind! She’s the worst mother in the world! If I can get through a few hours without flipping out on West, then she should be mature enough to do at least that!”
“That’s not fair, son,” Jenna shook her head. “You spend more time with him than she does. You know that!”
“And whose fault is that?” Nate snapped back. “She’s the one that moved out! Mom, I’m serious, she’s not coming anywhere near him!”
Nate turned then and started walking out of the room. He headed over to the kitchen and his abandoned cold cola. Jenna, however, followed him.
“Nathaniel! You have no reason to be so hostile!”
“No reason? Really?” Nate turned and glared at his mother. “Last time she decided to be a mother for a few hours, he came back with bruises all on his arm and he said she slapped him! I don’t trust her around kids in general, especially him!”
“We don’t know that was her,” Jenna stated, looking away from her son as if to compose herself.
“Are you calling him a liar?” Nate walked over, getting in his mother’s vision. They were still feet away from one another, but the intense look Nate gave her more than dominated her space. “Seriously?”
Jenna remained silent for a while before she sighed. Reaching up, she wiped at her eyes and shook her head. Nate sighed too. He really loved his mother, and despite her current statements, she was great grandmother too. But he knew that she had greatly failed when it came to his sister. He just wished she’d own up to that and move on. Tabitha, as far as Nate was concerned, was beyond their help.
“Does Dad know?” Nate asked instead. “What’s he got to say about it?”
“He won’t be home until late tomorrow,” Jenna replied.
Nate again groaned and shook his head.
“And you told her?” but he turned away, knowing the answer to the question. Of course she had. As tough as Jenna had been to ensure Wes a healthy pregnancy, she had feared losing her daughter more since then. Nate might have just been twelve then, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew that Tabitha could care less about her son. She didn’t deserve him. Wes was the greatest kid in the world. No matter how many times Tabitha claimed he had talked back or done something bad, Nate knew better. The kid never provoked her. Tabitha was abusive, and Nate wouldn’t stand for it.
“She’s not stepping foot in this house. You can call her all you want, but she’s not going anywhere near him.”
“This is not your decision to take, Nathaniel,” Jenna said. Her eyes finding her son’s, but his were more intense than hers. It might not be his house, not like it was Jenna and David’s, but he lived there. And more importantly, he cared too much about Wes.
“Mom,” Nate placed his soda on the counter and walked over to place his hands on her shoulders. Behind him, he could feel Travis’ eyes watching them and listening. He didn’t care. Travis could judge them or not. He could tell the whole world what a screw up their family was, he just didn’t care. The most important thing to Nate, was insuring one little boy’s safety. “Please don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to pick a side. Because I promise you, if I have to call the cops on her, I will. I won’t think twice about it.”
Jenna’s eyes widened in fright. Nate knew she hated the thought of calling the police. He had made effort after effort to get her to call someone in against Tabitha. He knew it was wrong how she treated them all, but Wes in particular. As he got older, he also realized that if someone was called, they would likely take Wes – maybe even him – away from home. He didn’t like those thoughts, but if it came to that, he knew he would do it.
Nate dropped his hands and took a step back. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. He was both angered and frightened now. He was just a kid himself, but why was he the only one who seemed to realize the severity of everything?
“I think we’re going to head out for the night. I’ll drop Wes off at school in the morning, and get him for his appointment. You just, you go out and don’t worry about it, okay?”
Jenna Ryder’s eyes were filled with tears. She wiped at them, but they still silently streamed down her face. Turning away, she blinked to regain herself, but instead saw Wesley, quite as a tree, standing by the opening leading to the hall. His lip wobbling in fright and his own eyes red rimmed with unshed tears.
“Oh sweetheart,” she started to say, turning to her grandson, wondering how much he had heard.
Wes gave a gasp and ran forward. But instead of heading to her, he ran over to Nate; who easily bent down and picked him up into his arms. One arm beneath him, the other wrapped tightly across his back, Wes burst into gasping tears.
Nate kept looking at his mother. Jenna, for her part watched them back. She was going to be late, that’s what she told herself. She told herself a lot of things in fact. Like how much she wanted to believe that her daughter couldn’t be this horrible person that her son made her out to be. Like how she hadn’t raised one of those people that was written about so harshly in the news, talked about for weeks or months to come. How could someone do that? People would ask, and she would shake her head, completely unable to answer them.
Jenna watched them until Nate nodded his head. Whatever that was supposed to mean, she took it as an okay for her to leave. She had things to do. Errands, work, she still hadn’t gotten the groceries that week. So she turned and started to walk away, grabbing her coat from the back of one of the chairs in the dining room, and trying not to think about how her sixteen year old son was maybe a better parent than she could dream to be.
As soon as the front door sounded shut, Nate kneeled down, trying to get a real look at his nephew. But Wes didn’t want to leave the relative safety of being hidden against Nate’s neck. He gripped tightly at Nate’s shirt and refused to let go, he toes curling in enough for his nails to graze against Nate’s hips.
“Hey, shorty,” Nate said, his tone teasing in a way that surprised Travis behind him. The other teen’s own breathing was haggard from what he had heard. There was all kinds of talk surrounding Nate and his nephew. Some people said it was probably incest, others said that he didn’t even have a sister. Travis had known the Ryders long enough though. He remembered being thirteen and freaked about the thought of sex and girls getting pregnant. He remembered reading the library books with Nate so much, to the point that their parents were called in and they had to explain that they weren’t interested like that they were just trying to figure out how fat Tabitha would get.
He remembered the talk then too. About whom the father was. About the kind of freak the kid would have to turn out to be.
“Wesley, baby, please don’t cry,” Nate pleaded. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to be there, but as thoughts raced through his head, each seemed less plausible than the next. “Please don’t cry,” he pleased, choking back his own tears of frustration.
Travis came up beside them. He squatted down, placed a hand on his best friend’s shoulder.
“How about we hit the library and make a night of it at my place?” he asked, almost as easily as he had just an hour ago, when Janet’s party and getting his best bud to go there had seemed like the most important thing in the world.
Nate started to shake his head.
“Dude, I’m sorry,” sighed Nate. “I really can’t right now.”
But Travis shook his head back. Wes’ crying was starting to die out, but his grip was still intense.
“Don’t worry about it, alright. My little brother’s got bunk beds. You can have his room.”
Nate rolled his eyes.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Ry,” Travis looked his friend in the eye. “Come on, man.”
Nate shook his head, but with a sigh, they both knew he had accepted. There wasn’t much two teenagers could do. Not with problems way over their heads. But sometimes, they could make their own paths, if only for a second.
“Mr. Nate Ryder?”
They both turned as a young, dark skinned woman with her hair up in a tight ponytail came towards them. She had to be around Wes’ age, and Harris would normally think that she was kind of hot, especially in her nurse’ uniform.
Just goes to show, how not in his normal mindset Harrison was at the moment, he barely noticed her.
“You’re here for Wesley Ryder?”
Nate nodded, already pulling out his ID once again.
“He’s my son. He was in some kind of motorcycle accident?”
Allison Howard took his idea and nodded, quickly giving it back. She had a file in her hand but she didn’t open it.
“There was a crash. Your son’s motorcycle, and another woman’s SUV both collided against a third vehicle, whose driver had suddenly stupid at an intersection. From what the paramedics informed us, your son was found several yards from the site.” She then opened her file for a second and closed it once more. “He was unconscious and regained consciousness on the ambulance over here, which is a very good thing. He arrived conscious, but he was induced once the surgery began. He had multiple lesions, and initial Xrays showed broken arm, leg, sprained ankle, broken nose, and fractured jawline. He was taken into surgery for fear of internal bleeding, and I’m afraid that is all I know at this moment.”
Harris felt his breath grow haggard and almost cold. Panic perhaps. It was much worse than what he had suspected. In his mind, he could almost picture Wes – ever so careful but still the thrill seeker, big brother, confidant, future lawyer, Wes – flying at great speed, airborne through the some nameless intersection. Crashing down against the unforgiving ground. His big brother, bloody and broken, and unresponsive as people crowded around, emergency vehicles called.
His brother could have died tonight. Still could, he thought with a choke, and he hadn’t felt a thing. He hadn’t known. It felt wrong. Bad in all the wrong places. Nauseating and mind-numbing. Wesley could have died and Harrison would have slept through it.
“Are they still-
Allison nodded at Nate.
“They’re still operating. Four people were brought in tonight from the crash. The police are in right now, speaking with two of them. The doctors shouldn’t be much longer. They’ve only been in there, barely two hours. I know, it sounds like a lot, but you’d be surprised how long even the simplest procedures last.”
Nate nodded. He knew this, kind of. He had never had interest in medicine, but he had quite a rowdy bunch of wildings for kids. They always managed to get hurt, and they always managed to be okay.
Wes would be okay.
“I’ll call you once the doctor lets us know more,” she said, in form of dismissal. She was actually quite pleasant, soft spoken and seemingly not rushed. Nate was grateful, since his own mind was so fumbled. It was almost like he could calm and concentrate because she was so. And she seemed to believe that things weren’t as grave as Nate felt them to be.
“Did you see him? When they came in?” Harris voice was hard with the edges of sleep disrupted, but it was still quieter than Nate was used to from his son.
Allison looked over at Nate for a moment, who nodded his consent and introduced his son – family – so that she could continue.
“I saw him come in, yes. But I wasn’t one of the nurses who treated him. I treated the woman in the SUV. She’s speaking to the police now. I would tell you, your brother was talking, answering the paramedics, the doctors.” She smiled softly, giving almost a wistful look if Nate thought back to it later as such. “He asked about his motorcycle, and he wasn’t happy to hear about the state it was in. He asked about the other victims too. You have quite the son, Mr. Ryder.”
“Thank you,” Nate nodded. “Could I ask one more thing from you, if it’s no trouble?”
“If I can help,” she nodded turning towards Nate.
“Dr. Devon Lessing should be working tonight. He’s working the pediatrics ER. I know he’s probably busy, but if you could page him?”
“Dr. Lessing, yes,” she nodded, her mind ringing up a picture for the name. “I do think I saw him a few hours back. He took Dr. Jenkins’ shift. Is he a family doctor or friend?”
Nate nodded, “More like family,” he replied.
August 24 1991
Nathaniel Ryder had always imagined he would one day find himself on the doorsteps of some college. He had just never thought he’d do it with a small child at his hand. Wesley had insisted on walking.
It was hard, watching all of the other teens getting help from their moms and dads, unloading their vehicles together. For Nate, it was just him and Wes.
Father and Son.
It was so strange to think about that, but it was impossible to consider the alternative.
When he had decided that he was going to school, suddenly his parents had decided that Tabitha had to take her son in. Nate knew that he did the most childrearing when it came to Wes, and it sounded ridiculous, but it was true. Nathaniel loved his nephew. He didn’t think the boy deserved his sister as a mother, and while he hadn’t thought of himself as Wes’ father, the building blocks had all been there.
Nate had had four months to think about this.
In the end, he had managed to get his sister on a slightly agreeable mode, and she had signed away her parental rights. Since there was never a father listed for Wesley, it had been rather simple from there.
Almost. Nate was only seventeen himself. So, essentially, he had had to get himself emancipated in order to adopt his nephew at his age. His parents now, legally, had no obligations to him.
Thankfully, his father had agreed to help him pay for school. Otherwise, Nate would have been thoroughly terrified.
At first, Nate had been scared that Wes wouldn’t like the idea. All of his life, Wes had lived in his grandparents’ house. He had never had his own room, and his relationship with ‘Abitha’ was a terror. Wes almost always cried when they spoke of her, and would shake at the sight of her. Nate knew the boy couldn’t stay with his parents, not when his mother would likely give no second thoughts of handing him over to Tabitha.
“Ready Shortstuff?” Nate asked, giving Wes’ hand a slight squeeze.
Wesley took a big boy breath. His shoulders dramatically rising and falling heavily again.
“I’m gonna college,” he nodded, determined.
“I’m going to college,” smirked Nate. “You are going to be on your bestest best behavior and not get us kicked the heck out of here. Come on.”
Wes had his Ninja Turtles backpack and a simple, dark blue roller suitcase, covered in stickers of stars, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, Big Bird, and Barney. A stuffed lion was tightly held under his arm. Nate had a box under his arm, backpack was black and cream, with a larger duffle bag across his back. He had to move carefully, making certain no one walked all over his kid.
They reached a cream and white building, a huge letter J on its side. This, Nate had been informed, was to be his housing assignment. He had requested a first floor, though they normally went to the upperclassmen. But he had insisted, since no one would take kindly to living under an excited four year old for long, even college kids.
For some reason, Nate had thought he would have an apartment to himself.
However, reaching J:A1-2, Nate was surprised to find that the room’s door was already wide open.
Wesley hesitated following him in. Nate would have likely not wanted to go in either. But he knew that now having accepted fatherhood, he had to be bold. He couldn’t let his own insecurities and fears hold him back.
Entering, it was quick to know who the student was moving in. He had just his mother and father at his side, unlike some other kids whose siblings had also followed them.
“Hi!” Nate turned around and a brown haired teen came out of the kitchen. He wiped his hands on his jeans, spotted Wes beside Nate as he neared them. “Hey Slugger! I’m Devon!”
Nate released Wes’ hand long enough to shake the outstretched hand.
“Hey, I’m Nate, and this is Wesley.”
“Hey Wes, how you liking college so far?” joked Devon.
Wes’ face scrunched up in thought and he nodded.
Devon grinned. “Nice kid. Your brother?”
Nate shook his head. “My son.”
The look Devon gave him was first surprise, but then, instead of the accusation, disgust, whatever that Nate expected, Devon just smiled.
“Oh yeah? Cute kid.”
Devon’s parents came out of one of the rooms them. There were two bedrooms, on opposite sides of the apartment. One closer to the kitchen, the other through the living space, which was the one Mr. and Mrs. Graham exited.
“Hello,” Mr. Graham approached them. “Doug Graham,” he too shook Nate’s hand. Doug looked down at Wes and patted his head. “I’m Devon’s father, and my wife, Meredith.” Nate shook her hand too, though her grip was much gentler. “Are your parents here?”
“No sir,” Nate shook his head. “I’m here alone. Nathaniel Ryder.”
A quick glance from Nate to Wes and Doug’s eyes widened, before nodding in seeming understanding.
“I assume I won’t have to warn you about the dangers of over partying while at college.”
“Dad!” Devon groaned, shaking his head and wishing to hide his face in his hands. “Really?”
But Nate only smiled. He assumed most people would think that of him.
“Thank you sir,” he nodded instead. “I have a lot riding on this, so yeah. I’m hoping to keep my head straight on this. If you’ll excuse us a moment, I think I’d rather place this down before I drop it.” Nate motioned to the box in his arm.
“Right!” Devon quickly moved forward. “Your room’s over here. I guess I get it now.”
Nate frowned, but as soon as they reached the second bedroom door, Devon pointed at the sign tapped on it. Private it read.
Devon opened the door for him however, and inside, Nate was surprised to find not only a spacious loft bed for himself, but a toddler sized bed and desk as well. A small sized children’s tee shirt with the school’s name was placed on top.
“I kind of thought a midget was coming,” Devon shrugged, blushing. “Sorry, I peeked. My mother was setting up my room for me. There, I don’t think I can get further embarrassed than that. It’s out there.”
“Wow!” Wes dropped Nate’s hand and his rolling case, rushing over to the small bed. He had long shared Nate’s bed with him. “Is it for me?”
“I don’t know, Shorty. I think that one might be mine,” Nate teased. He placed his box on the clear desk for him. On top of it were several brochures, which Nate noted were mostly child centered.
“No!” Wes rolled his eyes.
“You’ve got quite the setup, Wesley,” Devon smiled, watching Wes get up and back onto the bed with ease.
“Nate, I love it! Can we take it home?”
Nate rolled his eyes.
“Wes, your short term memory haunts me,” he groaned. “I told you, we’re stuck here for a while.”
Wes seemed to sadden for a second but nodded. Then he was mostly over it.
“Um, sorry,” Devon frowned. “I thought he was your-
“Son,” Nate nodded. “Yeah, it’s a recent thing.”
Devon frowned but nodded. He left them to themselves, but after peeking into the closet and bathroom, Nate left Wes in the room for a moment. He had to get the other two boxes he still had in his truck.
“Is everything alright, hun?”
It took a moment for Nate to realize Meredith Graham was speaking to him.
“Um, sorry. Yes ma’am. Everything’s pretty good. Better than I had expected, actually.”
She walked over, concern look on her face. Before she got to him, however, Devon got in front of her.
“Mom, I think Dad was saying about heading home now.”
Meredith turned to her son. “Oh, Devy, we were going to take you out. For dinner.”
“Mom, it’s eleven in the morning. Besides, college now. Have to fend for myself, right?”
Meredith looked torn. But she sighed and nodded.
“Seems we’re heading out,” Doug Graham came over, smiling at his son and shaking his head. “I wish you boys the best of luck. Study hard, this is still a school after all, but enjoy yourselves too.”
The look Mr. Graham gave him, it made Nate felt somewhere between dirty and despised. And still, Graham’s look was masked in sympathy.
“I’m not big on parties,” Nate found himself explaining. “I know, it looks like I had a kid at thirteen, but honestly it wasn’t like that. I adopted Wes two months ago. And if you must know, he’s my nephew. I, in no way, want to tarnish your son’s chance to a successful college life and future career. I had to-
“You don’t have to explain,” Devon interrupted him. “I think it’s cool, what you’re trying to do. Son or not, it takes a lot of guts to bring him to school.
“I will be more than fine,” Devon continued, turning to his parents. “My dad’s a lawyer, he tends to over categorize everything.”
“Son,” Doug sighed, but just shook his head. “My apologies, Mr. Ryder.” He looked between Devon and Nate and just shook his head smiling. “If it helps any, I think you two boys will do fine here.”
Nate glanced up, and started standing up from his seat in the waiting room. Others there had raised their heads at the approach of a white coated doctor too, but seeing Devon head to them, they stilled their own hopes again.
Nate stood and gripped his friend in a tight hug. Devon returned it, glancing over at the room, spotting Harris easily enough. The twenty year old approached him too, getting pulled into a less frantic hug.
“West was in an accident,” Harris murmured against his white coat.
Eyes widening in fright, Devon turned looking at Nate, who had sat down once again.
“What happened?” he asked again, taking a seat beside Nate and another person. Harris stood in front of them.
“His goddamn motorcycle,” Nick growled.
“Some car stopped in the intersection and West and some other woman both hit it,” Harris explained.
“The three vehicle thing,” Devon nodded. “Yeah, I was with the kid in the van.” Devon sighed and shook his head. “Crap, that was Wes?”
“I’m going to burn that piece of shit.”
“Dad’s kind of pissed,” Harris said, his eyebrows raising at the rarity of curses coming from the man.
“Here,” Devon dug around in his coat, pulling out his card and handing it over to Harris. “Go get yourself some breakfast.”
“I’m not leaving here,” Harris sighed, ignoring Devon’s offer.
Devon looked up and glared at him. “As your doctor, I advise you to eat. Go.”
“I’m not,” Harris started, but the glare Nate sent him stopped that particular statement.
“Harrison, don’t start. Just go. Say thank you and go.”
Harris sighed. Clearly, he felt, no one cared that he was twenty now, not twelve.
“Uncle D,” he gave him an incredulous look. But he was ignored. “Unbelievable,” he groaned, yanking the card from Devon’s hand and heading over to the elevators, for the basement cafeteria.
Devon watched Harris leave, feeling slightly bad about sending the kid away. But while he knew that Harris needed to know about his brother, Dev also realized that Nate wasn’t in a good place either. And sometimes, kids aren’t meant to see their parents and protectors like that.
“Why are all your kids such hardheads?” he smirked, trying to tease some other emotion out of Nate. But the latter just shrugged. “Alright,” he sighed, “Let’s talk and walk. Tell me what you know.”
September 6 1991
Between Devon and Noah Graham, Nate was surprised at how quickly things were becoming normal. Especially with Wes.
To say that Dev and Noah had taken to Wes was an understatement. Dev seemed to like kids well enough, and while Noah wasn’t open to it at first, about an hour in, and he thought Wes was the greatest kid in the world. Nate really lucked out.
So while the other two thought it odd that he would choose to raise Wes and start college, they volunteered to help him out. (Well, Devon volunteered and Noah begrudgingly followed lead.) That didn’t mean, however, that Noah wasn’t going to fulfill his mission of having a fantastically cliché college experience. All night beginning of term parties? He was all for it!
“And what, leave him alone,” Nate shook his head as Noah insisted that he joined them. He had already spent most of the day convincing Devon to go along.
Unlike Devon, Noah was the second of three sons. His older brother was about to finish in another college, and Noah had likely heard –or overheard- more than plenty of conversations that had made him wishful for the freedom to experience such things. And unlike Devon’s legal plans, and Nate’s business plans, Noah had no such concrete intentions.
“No,” Noah sighed, glancing over to where Wes and Devon were watching TV, though Devon was going through some papers at the same time.
Noah was pouting. His two roommates seemed to be the only two guys who didn’t want to have any kind of fun in college! His mother would be too proud, and that made him frown more.
“You plan on making that same excuse for the next four to six years, or just until he’s in college too? Come on, Nat,” Noah shook his head. “You have until tomorrow night to figure something out. And it’s only for one night! And then, it’s going to get crazy busy around here, with classes and work and everything. If not tomorrow, you might not get a chance!”
Nate shook his head and turned towards the living room from the kitchen. He really wished that he could have the kind of life that his roommates were talking about, but it wasn’t going to happen. He didn’t want to seem like a downer, but he also wasn’t delusional. He had chosen to keep Wesley. He had chosen that responsibility, and he was happy, considering the alternative.
“I would volunteer,” Devon said as he sat beside him. “But I’ve already been roped into this thing.” Wesley looked up and frowned at them, but turned back to the TV.
“Come on,” Noah said, sitting on the other side of the coffee table from Wes. “You’re going to miss the first college party?”
“I wanna go to a party,” Wes said, still looking at the TV.
Nate scoffed and shook his head. “That’s even less likely.”
“At least he’s willing,” Noah added.
“I wanna go to a birthday party.”
“Not that kind of party, Warren,” Noah teased. Wes turned then and shoved at Noah’s shoulder. He moved sitting beside Noah on his knees.
“That’s not my name,” Wes said for the hundredth time since they had all moved in together. It appeared Noah had his own system to call people by any list of names but their own.
“Wes,” Nate sighed. “This isn’t a conversation for you, alright. Don’t they give homework in daycare or something?”
“Seriously,” Noah glared at Nate.
“You want to torture him with that now? Poor kid,” Devon shook his head.
“I no want homework,” Wes frowned.
“Got that right,” Noah patted his head.
“I just got a party,” Wes continued.
“And we’re back to this,” Nate rolled his eyes.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” insisted Wes. Frowning over at Nate.
“Probably more fun than the kid even realizes,” scoffed Noah.
“Can I go?” Wes frowned. Pouted really.
“Kid,” Noah said. “You’re not invited.”
But Wesley just frowned at him. “Yes I am,” he frowned. “You’re not.”
Which caused Noah to frown. “Yeah I am.”
“Nuh uh,” Wes crossed his arms.
“Yeah huh,” Noah replied.
“Why do I get the feeling this could go on forever,” Devon sighed, rolling his eyes.
Nate scoffed, but he had to agree. Wes was young enough to keep that up forever, and Noah didn’t seem much older maturity wise on a good day.
“You guys,” Nate said, standing up and walking towards the kitchen once more. There’s was probably the only dorm that didn’t have beers in the fridge, and not just because they were all underage either. A fact that only caused Noah great sadness. “Stop.”
“But everyone else is going,” sighed Wes.
“Well, he’s got that right,” Noah shrugged. “Though, I still don’t think that includes you.”
“Yeah huh!” Wes retorted.
“Nuh uh,” Noah replied.
“Ahh,” Devon groaned, hiding his head in his hands. “The madness.”
“Tyler said his mom said that everyone could go!” Wes remarked, glaring at Noah and crossing his arms in defense.
“Okay,” Nate returned with a can of soda in hand. “Now I’m lost.”
“Are we talking about the same thing here?” Noah frowned at Wes.
“I doubt it,” scoffed Devon.
“Wesley,” Nate started, crouched down beside the little boy. “What are you talking about?”
“Tyler’s birthday party,” he replied.
“You got invited to a party? At school?” Nate asked confused, but also glad that the kid wasn’t talking about a college party. Because then he would seriously have to find whatever dickwad thought it would be funny to invite a little kid to a college frat.
“Uh huh,” nodded Wes.
“At school,” Wes replied.
“Like, an invite?” Devon asked.
“I didn’t see anything,” Nate frowned.
“In my bag,” Wes said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Wesley,” he passed a hand over his face. “You’re supposed to show me if someone gives you something.”
“But why?” Wes frowned back.
“Just, go get your bag,” Nate tugged him off of the table and turned him towards their room, where his backpack would be.
“I think you’re failing in your fatherly duties,” Noah pointed out.
“Shut it, Noah,” Devon shook his head.
“Seriously though,” Noah turned back to them as Nate sat once again on the couch. “My dad went through our stuff all the time. He’s too young to hide things in not so obvious places. You’ve got to get to it, Nick, you’re losing your golden times of innocence, man.”
“I’m not going to go through his stuff,” Nate rolled his eyes. “He’s just a kid.”
“And already you have no idea what he’s up to,” shrugged Noah. “Who his friends are. What his teacher’s teaching him.”
“Well, you should probably know things like that,” Devon agreed. “Isn’t there like a meet your kid’s teacher thing?”
Nate sighed and nodded. “Yeah, but I have class.”
“I’ll go,” Noah shrugged. “Wait, when is it?”
“You’ll go?” Devon shook his head.
“Tuesday, at four,” Nate replied. “And you can’t really go.”
“What! Why not?” Noah shrugged. Wes emerged from the room, pulling his bag behind him.
“Don’t drag it!” Nate sighed. “Pick it up!”
Wes stopped and made a dramatic show of pulling the bag up again, carrying it in front of him in a hug.
“Didn’t we just all last week agree to help you out, or was I somehow drunk and imagining?” Noah continued.
“Here,” Wes said, dropping his bag on the couch between Nate and Devon.
“But meet your teacher night?” Devon frowned.
Nate pulled the zipper apart, tugging the bag open. And just as he feared, the bag was filled with not only notes and packets for home, but even papers that Wes had worked on at school.
“What?” the boy frowned, leaning on Nate’s knee to gather a look at what he was being yelled for.
“Okay,” Nate pulled a half-eaten sandwich out and groaned. “This is trash!”
“But I’m not finished!”
“Okay,” cringed Noah. “That’s just gross.” Noah stood up and grabbed the plastic bag from Nate’s hand and headed straight for the garbage.
“Wes, you’re supposed to show me these things! Not just stuff them all in your bag!” Nate said, tossing paper after paper onto the table. Taking out an orange folder with Wesley Ryder written with marker on top, he groaned. “Seriously?”
“You didn’t say that!” Wes crossed his arms.
“Failing,” Noah repeated, coming to kneel beside the table and glancing at the papers. “You realize, you’re supposed to send some of these back?”
“What!” Nate turned to Noah, who pointed at one of the papers. Nate took it and noted that it was an information packet for the teacher. How to contact him, allergies his kid might have, etc. “Wesley!” he thumped the paper against Wes’ head and sighed. “Did your teacher ever say to give me something?”
“No,” Wes’s face scrunched up in confusion. “She said to give some stuff to my parents at home.”
“That’s me you brat!”
Wes pouted and crossed his arms again, leaning back against the couch and Devon’s leg. Devon picked him up and held him on his lap.
“Did you explain the whole adoption thing to him?” Devon said as Nate and Noah started going through the papers.
“I told him he got to stay with me if he told the judges he wanted to,” Nate shrugged.
“You didn’t tell him you’re his father now?”
Nate looked up from his reading and looked thoughtful for a second. Realizing one of his many mistakes he shook his head and laughed dryly at himself.
“Oh man, I am a total failure.”
“Hey! Easy man, that’s easily fixed,” Noah said in his defense. “Walter!”
“That’s not my name!” Wes said, glaring back at him.
“You know how you keep calling your uncle Nate, Nate?” Noah continued, ignoring, as he usually did, Wes’ remark.
“Well, you’re adopted now. He’s not your uncle anymore. He’s your dad, your parent. So, call him Dad now.” Noah turned to the other two and shrugged, as if to say see? Easy!
Wes glanced at Nate. He turned to Devon, and Noah, but his attention remained on Nate. It was strange. He had so strongly and for so long, loved Nate more than anybody. Nathaniel was his whole world. Granted, his world also consisted of two very nice (but misguided) grandparents and one woman that called herself his mother. Wes didn’t like her too much. He had never thought to call Tabitha anything other than Tabitha. It was what Nate called her, and what his grandparents called her. No one addressed her as his mother, unless they were pointing out how much of a bad one she was.
But the talk of a father? Wes had never even thought about it. He could see sometimes, on movies and TV shows, what a dad was. His grandpa was a dad to Nate and Tabitha, he understood that, but he had never thought that he had one. Maybe he didn’t need one. He had never really needed a mother, he knew this. He had only ever needed Nate.
“Dad?” Wes frowned, saying it for the first time.
Nate glared at Noah.
“You don’t have to call me that,” Nate said, turning to look at Wes.
“Actually, it’d probably be a lot easier,” Noah shrugged. “You’re already telling everyone that you’re his dad, but he’s going around calling you by your name. It’s weird. Besides, kids need Dads, or Moms. He needs a parent Nick.”
“I hate to agree, but,” Devon shrugged too.
Nate sighed and looked back at Wes. He could tell that Wes was puzzled. He didn’t like that this as being pressed onto the two of them so suddenly, but he also understood what they were saying.
“I don’t know,” he started shaking his head.
“Listen,” Noah punched at his knee and glared at him. “You’re thinking about this too hard. He’s just a little kid. If you’re uncomfortable about this, he’s going to think something’s wrong. I’m not telling you to growl at him if he calls you Nate. But you would probably start thinking of yourself as a dad more, if he called you that.”
“I don’t know,” he again shook his head.
“If I could get my little brother to believe in monsters and that enough kool-aid would turn his penis blue, I think you can believe in the power of believing.”
All three of them frowned at Noah, who didn’t seem bothered by the slightest.
“Okay,” Nate said, deciding maybe this could get a trial run or something. “Wesley?”
“It’s okay,” he nodded. “I think you’re a okay Daddy,” he tilted his head, giving Nate a thoughtful look.
“You think you can call me Dad, instead of Nate?”
Wes shrugged and nodded, not thinking it too much of a big deal.
“Can Noah stop calling me Walter?”
“Probably not,” scoffed Devon.
“Easy now, Warren,” Noah said, taking the invitation and thumping it against Wes’ nose. “You just gained yourself a father and two bachelor uncles. Your life is getting more interesting by the minute.”
Harris watched the minutes pass them. they’d been there for an hour themselves now. Which meant that Wes had been in surgery for almost three. Devon insisted that kind of thing was normal. He said that surgeries took time, doctors didn’t like to miss anything. All that BS that people tell you to make you feel better.
It was almost six in the morning.
“Have you called Emma?” Harris frowned, watching the seconds ticking onward on the clock in the room. Devon had taken them to a smaller waiting room, had sat with them for almost fifteen minutes, but then he had headed back to work. He would return, he said, and Harris knew he would. Devon loved his brother as a real uncle, maybe like they were his own kids.
Heck, if it hadn’t been for Wes, and maybe Harris and Thad too, Devon would never had thought to be a pediatrician. And they had certainly used his services plenty through the years.
“Oh fuck,” Nate sighed. Harris’ eyes widen at the uncharacteristic cursing from his dad. It was always a sure sign of the man’s frustration level with how often he cursed and the weight of the words used. Apparently, he was feeling pretty frustrated at the moment.
“Damnit,” Nate groaned, checking his pockets.
“Here,” Harris said, pulling out his phone from his sweats’ pocket. “It’s about halfway through battery-wise,” he added. “I never charged it last night.”
“Thanks,” Nate sighed, taking it in hand. “She’s called you like four times already,” he shook his head, seeing the numerous missed calls on the screen.
“Tell her I’m sorry,” Harris said. “It’s probably on mute.”
Nate nodded and pressed to call Emma’s cell phone. She had probably been calling his cell too, but if memory served him right, it would be in the kitchen counter or in his office, charging.
“Hey hun,” Nate sighed, leaning his head back against the wall. “How’s it going?”
Harris could hear the tone of Emma’s voice, but not the words. She’d be frustrated, he knew, having been in the dark for this long.
“We don’t know a whole lot yet,” Nate explained. “He’s still in surgery…No, it’s normal enough. No complications that we know of, just fixing him up…Yeah, we were with him for a few minutes, but then he headed back to work…Em, he’s a kid doc. He’s not going to be needed to treat West…He’s twenty five now,” Nate smiled. “That’d be a bit of a stretch.”
Harris sighed and glanced at the hall through the blinds on the window in the room. He couldn’t think of any other places that had inside windows. It was kind of a funny thing. He wondered, briefly, if they opened.
“Well, we’re going to wait to hear what’s going on. I’ll probably send Harry home soon,” Nate continued.
Harris looked at him and frowned. He didn’t plan on going anywhere. He was the oldest brother with Wes out of commission, he had to stick around, both for his dad and for himself.
“Well, tell Thad that if he thinks he’s skipping school to come over here, the second he gets here he’s going to be sorry he didn’t rethink his plans…I think it’s best not to tell them anything. Just get them to school, and I should know more by then. I don’t want them all to get upset…Well, fake it…Honey, I’m not asking you to be cheery, I’m just saying, get them ready and off to school. You’ve got six kids to get out the door today, you’ll barely have a chance to breathe…If you think you should miss work, I’m not going to stop you. But I’m probably going to need you tomorrow or something with him, so think about that before you decide. Shit,” Nate sighed again. “Nothing, I have to call Noah…No, I’ll call him now. You can call my parents for me…Yeah, well neither do I…Well, you can call Angie. She’s going to freak out…Emma, just stay calm, okay? I’m doing a standup job of freaking out for the both of us. One of us has to stay sane…Love you too. Tell Thaddeus to keep quiet alright? He can talk to you, me, Harrison, but not the younger ones. Not yet…Thanks babe. Bye.”
As soon as Nate shut the connection, Harris retorted.
“I’m not leaving.”
“I’m not leaving. I’m old enough to be here, and moreover, I’m too old for you to tell me what to do.” Nate frowned at him, and Harris refused to be intimidated by it. “Not with West, Dad. He wouldn’t leave, I’m not leaving him.”
“You’ve got your own classes to attend,” Nate started to explain.
“Because that’s more important than my brother?” Harris crossed his arms.
“I would never say that.”
“I get the little ones not knowing. Even Ave. He’d get too upset, and we don’t know enough to warrant upsetting them. But I don’t think it’s fair to send Thad to school. We both know he’s not going to concentrate, it’s mean to make him.”
“He needs to get his mind on other things. It’s still too early to get worked up over things. I don’t want him, or you for that matter, making yourselves worried over this.”
“You’re freaking out,” Harris countered.
“I’m his dad,” sighed Nate. “It’s my job to worry.”
September 7 1991
Nate couldn’t help himself but to keep looking over at this one girl. She was dancing all over the floor. Other guys would start dancing with her, and she seemed interested enough, but one or two songs later, and she would move on.
Clearly, she was there to party.
“You like her?” Noah nudged him.
Nate rolled his eyes. “I barely just saw her.”
“So, that’s a yes,” smirked Noah. “I’ll go get her name.” And with that, all Nate could see of his friend was the trademark curls signaling his path.
Her name, it turned out, was Angela Madison. Angie. Noah had danced with her for two songs before walking her over to him. She was easy to talk to, had a beautiful smile, and while Nate wasn’t thinking about falling in love with anyone anytime soon, he could see himself really liking that girl.
He had to leave the party early. Before anything ‘good’ even happened, according to Noah. But he had to get his son, and having met Angie, well it wasn’t such a bad night.
When Noah and Devon returned that night, they told him Angie planned to see him again in the morning.
And just like that, almost stupidly really, he had his first college girlfriend.
It wasn’t official, of course. Not just then. That weekend, they had breakfast but Nate wasn’t able to see her again until Monday. She was in his Art History class. She smiled at him the whole class through and well, by the time it was Friday, with Devon volunteering to stay with Wesley for a few hours, Nate had sex for the second time in his life. Except this time, Wes didn’t walk in on him.
By the end of the month, Nate and Angie were officially dating. And unbeknownst to them, she was already pregnant.
Harris and Nate both stood up as the (cute) nurse, Allison Howard, appeared at the door.
“Ms. Howard,” Nate said, wiping his suddenly sweaty hands against his sweatpants. “Is there any news?”
It was 6:34 AM. The Ryder household would likely be dragging themselves out of their beds, moaning and groaning about having to do so. Hopefully, Emma would be okay to handle it and Nate knew that Thad would help out where he could. Noah had said he would stop by too, drive some of the kids to school if needed.
Allison nodded. “Dr. Braylon will be out shortly.”
“How is Wes?” Nate said before Allison was able to turn and leave.
“I’m sorry”, she shook her head. “I don’t know anything else at the moment. Dr. Braylon will let you know how the surgery went.”
November 4 1991
Wes frowned at what Nate was telling him. Apparently, Angie was having a baby. He wasn’t certain all that had to do with him, but she didn’t look fat enough to have a baby. His friend, Morgan, his mom was really fat and she was having a baby. And Tyler said that when his mom had his sisters, she got really, really fat too.
But Angie still looked skinny.
“Where is it?”
“The baby?” Nate frowned.
“You’re not fat,” Wes pointed out.
“Thanks, Westie,” she ruffled his hair. “I’m not really showing yet, but Doc gave me the greenlight, so it’s a go-ahead.”
“Showing what?” he slumped confused.
They were sitting on the grounds of the campus. Nate was fidgeting with Wes’ backpack and sighing a lot.
“I mean,” Angie said. “My stomach isn’t big yet. The baby inside, it’s still pretty tiny in there. But as it gets bigger, my stomach is going to show how much the baby’s growing.”
Nate nodded. He wasn’t saying a lot. Wes was sitting between the two. They had taken him out to eat, just some simple chicken nuggets, and he had even gotten a small Super Bugs Happy Meal toy. It was a pretty good day. Now his Dad and Angie were being all weird and Wes just wanted to be home.
“How’s he breathing?” Wes tugged on his ear, the chill in the air making them numb and tingly.
“He’s not,” Nate replied.
“Not yet!” Angie added quickly. “Babies don’t need to breathe until they come out. That’s a pretty smart question, Wesper!”
And for the next twenty minutes, he came with question after question, until Nate decided that Wes knew more than enough and it was time to get home.
Wes was walking, holding onto his dad’s hand, but looking at the ground. Angie held his backpack now, and she was holding Nate’s other hand. Wesley was hopping cracks, kicking rocks and pinecones, and twirling the Bugs in his hand. When they started crossing the street, however, the toy came out of Wes’ hold and fell onto the street.
Wes yanked his hand out of Nate’s hold, causing Nate, and then Angie to stop. Wes rushed back to get Bugs, Nate a step behind him. Angie watched them, but Nate told her to keep going as he lifted Wesley onto his hip.
“Daddy,” Wesley squirmed. “I can walk!”
Reaching the sidewalk, Nate walked over to where Angie was standing waiting for them. He yanked the toy out of Wes’ hand, eliciting an outraged yelp, and tossed it into Angie’s purse.
“Hey!” Wes’ hands fisted in anger, his face frowning and his foot moving enough to kick the back of Nate’s leg. “That’s mine!”
Nate stopped walking and glared at the boy in his arms.
“Are you serious right now?”
“Here,” Angie handed the backpack over and held her arms open to take Wes. “I’ll hold him.”
“I’m not having him kick you, Ang,” Nate gave the boy a firm look. “You’re pregnant.”
“He’s not going to kick me, right Westie?”
But Wes just pouted. He squirmed against Nate’s hold and didn’t say anything.
“Unbelievable,” groaned Nate. “And I’m getting another one.” He shook his head.
“Stop it,” Angie shoved at his arm. “You know he’s a pretty awesome kid. We’ll be lucky to have one like him. But without your frown lines.”
“Haha,” Nate said, shaking his head and started to walk again. “You, little boy,” he said, taking a firm hold on Wes, turning him into a proper carrying hold. “Know better than to let go of my hand and run off like that.”
“I didn’t!” Wes insisted.
“Yes you did!” Nate replied. “And just for that, no TV.”
“No!” pouted Wes. Even though the boy didn’t watch all that much, having it taken away was still an unwelcomed consequence. “I don’t like you!” he said, shoving at Nate’s shoulder.
“Keep it up, kid,” Nate warned. “And you’re going to get a sore bottom to boot.”
“Nate,” Angie rolled her eyes, wrapping her arms around Nate’s spare one. “Jeesh, you’re such a dad.”
Nate looked over and found a fond smirk on her face.
“I’m completely serious,” he insisted. “Don’t mock me.”
“Oh, I know,” she nodded. Angie released one of her hands to reach up and poke lightly at Nate’s forehead. “The frownlines told me so.”
“Wesley Ryder’s family?”
Again, Harris and Nate looked up to find a woman in a white coat coming into the room.
“Yes?” Nate replied, slowly getting to his feet. He could feel the lack of sleep and racing thoughts taking a toll on him.
“I’m Dr. Braylon,” she greeted, her hand out in greeting, which Nate and then Harris quickly shook.
“Nate,” Nate said. “My son, Harris,” he quickly introduced. “What can you tell me about Wes?”
Dr. Braydon motioned over to the chairs.
“Wesley was brought in with multiple contusions and lesions. We ran X-rays on him, found his right arm fractured and his shoulder dislocated. His right leg broken, left leg with a sprained ankle. He had a broken nose and fractured jawline. The initial surgery fixed his leg, but while he was under, his blood pressure dropped considerably. We ran an ultrasound on him and were fortunate enough to find the source of his internal bleeding quick enough to rectify.
“It took some time, and we believe he might have a severe concussion, but we’ll know more when he wakes up.”
“Man,” Harris shook his head.
“He’s stable then?” Nate asked, his hands grasping together tightly.
Dr. Braydon nodded. “He’s stable, but he’s being moved to the ICU. The surgery went well. It’s still pretty early to know more, though.”
“Can we see him?” Harris asked.
“As soon as he gets to the ICU, you’ll be able to see him. But, he will be sleeping for the next couple of hours. I suggest you go home and get some rest before returning. I can have a nurse call you as soon as he wakes up.”
“I’d prefer to stay,” Nate said, already moving towards the door.
Dr. Braydon nodded. It seemed pointless to insist on something very few people ever budged on.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” she replied. “Just be certain to let him get plenty of rest. Don’t try to wake him, he’s going to be pretty out of it for some time.”
The three headed into the hall and towards one of the many nurses’ stations.
“Tammy,” Dr. Braydon said to the first nurse she spotted. “Can you show these men to the ICU when Mr. Ryder gets settled?”
Nurse Tammy nodded. The doctor bid them farewell and headed on to another patient or such. Harris and Nate waited by the counter, Harris leaning against it and barely noticing Tammy’s flirty smile.
January 25 1992
Wes frowned at the blanket in the basket beside Angie’s bed.
“Where is he?”
Nate looked up from where he was consoling Angela. She was beyond herself crying, wondering what she had done wrong.
“He’s with the doctor,” Nate replied.
It was four in the morning. Wesley shouldn’t have been awake, and Nate almost wished he could have left the kid back at the apartment. But with Noah having a graveyard shift and Dev still visiting his family, there was no one else that Nate trusted Wes with.
His own father would have taken Wes, Nate knew, but David was out for business and his mother hadn’t even answered the house phone when he called. Beside, Nate still couldn’t trust that Jenna wouldn’t call Tabitha when Wes was over.
It was safer for the boy to be with Nate.
Angela had been rushed to the hospital. Pre-termed labor. She had thought it was – something, anything else. She had done all the things right, as far as the doctor could tell. But sometimes, babies are just born early.
Nate had barely seen him when they had rushed the boy away.
Wes looked away from the empty basket and went to climb up onto the bed. He stayed by Angie’s feet. When he had first came into the room, he had rushed right at her, but Nate had stopped him, telling him that Angie wasn’t feeling too good.
“Is the baby sick too?”
Angie was pretty good usually at answering Wes’ endless stream of questions. Not that Nate wasn’t, but Angie seemed to enjoy it to a point that Nate didn’t quite understand yet. But just then, all she could do was nod and cry.
Nate held her in his arms. Wes rested his hand on Angie’s leg. He looked sad and tried to make Angie feel better by rubbing her leg slightly, like she would do when he was sick or something.
“It’s alright, Angie,” he assured her. “The doctor’s going to make him all better. They’ve got lots of practice!”
Angie smiled and nodded, reaching a hand out for him to hold.
“Is he okay?”
Nate turned at the new voice. The click-click of the heels only surprised him slightly as he saw Angela approaching them.
She was wrapped tight in her coat, her pajama pants clearly visible and not enough protection against the winter wind outside. He should know, his own legs were cold too.
“Have you heard anything?”
“He’s out of surgery,” Harris said.
Angela’s eyes went to Harrison then, and they misted over slightly. Nate could only imagine what she was thinking. Probably something along the same lines that he was, about their first born and the very real dangers of losing them.
“Is that good? That’s good right?” Angie said, coming over to Harris and holding him tightly.
There was a lot about Angie that bothered Harris. More than once, Nate had had to calm the boy over the years in regards to his mother, but today those thoughts were seemingly, thankfully, not present.
“They’re moving him to ICU,” Nate explained. “We’ll get to see him then.”
Angie nodded. She rested her head against Harris’ shoulder, holding him tightly. His arms came around her too, and neither said anything. Nate started pacing, walking anxiously back and forth in front of the nurse’s station, waiting until someone came to tell them where Wesley was.
It was an agitating fourteen minutes before Nurse Tammy returned.