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Ethan walked with his head down, collar turned up against the chill wind that chased him down the dark street. Leaves rustled and tumbled by as the limbs overhead creaked and shivered against the cold fall wind. Even though it wasn’t quite seven o’clock, the sun had long disappeared before Ethan began his walk home from the library to his home. He was in no hurry. When he got home he knew he would still be alone. His mother worked second shift as a floor nurse at the hospital and his father had gone out for milk when Ethan was five and now that Ethan was eighteen, he knew it was unlikely he’d ever see his father again. It had been five years since Ethan had stopped hoping, scanning faces in crowds, hoping to see his father come home with an explanation why he had thrown away his family so carelessly.
Ethan was a good kid, smaller than most of the guys and some of the girls in his senior class. He was a good student and turned in his homework on time and well done. He volunteered at the city library after school. In part because money was tight at home and his mother couldn’t afford internet or even cable TV. Ethan didn’t have a smart phone or his own computer. The city library offered free internet, plenty to read, people to talk to, and a couple dozen regular elementary school students that Ethan helped tutor when they needed it. It gave him plenty of time to do his homework as well. The rest of the time, Ethan pushed the book carts around, carefully replacing the books back where they belonged on the shelves. Another perk of being a volunteer was the free coffee and cookies in the staff lounge. No matter how hungry Ethan was, he never took more than two cookies and one cup of coffee, though he was generous with the cream and sugar. He remembered all the librarian’s birthdays and would give them something he had made himself, since he didn’t have a paying job and money was too tight for him to receive an allowance. Ethan never complained. Their apartment was warm enough. He had clean clothes and most of the time plenty to eat.
Ethan heard a rustle of paper and tin and looked to his left to see a woman struggling at the door of her building. Without thinking, Ethan quickly mounted the stoop and caught the bags the woman struggled with.
“Let me help you with that,” he said quietly.
The woman was startled but looking at Ethan’s face she could tell he was a young man to be trusted, in a city where a woman alone was safer not trusting any strange men.
“Thank you. I bought too much and its so chilly tonight I couldn’t manage to get my keys out without losing my groceries.” She slipped her key in the door and pulled it open, propping it against her thigh. “I think I can manage now.”
She reached for her sacks. Ethan handed them to her and turned to leave. Something in Ethan’s face made her feel sorry for him.
“Would you like to come in, for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate? You looked chilled to the bone.”
“No thank you, miss. I need to get home. My mom will be worried. Have a nice evening,” Ethan replied as he walked down the six steps to the street.
He resumed his walk up the street, considering the eight cold, dark blocks to his family apartment and wondering why he didn’t take the stranger up on her offer of something warm and probably some nice company too. The longer he walked the more he regretted turning her down. She was attractive from what he could see. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, though Ethan didn’t understand why that would have mattered. He’d never kissed a girl or even gone on a date. Without access to privacy on the internet, Ethan hadn’t even seen much pornography, which his classmates seemed to watch endlessly, judging by their conversations he could overhear walking from class to class. Ethan understood the physical workings well enough, he just didn’t have any firsthand experience or observation. He dwelled on that shortcoming in his upbringing as he walked along. A scuffle broke him out of his inward thoughts. He turned his head to the alleyway between two of the tenement houses that lined this neighborhood. Three young men, about Ethan’s own age from the looks of them, had an old man backed up against the wall, but the old man was defiant and standing his ground.
“Do you young punks think I fought in two wars and lost my sons in another just so you could come rob me of my hard-earned pension? Come on, I’ll show you what an ass-whipping feels like. I’ve buried plenty of punks like you. I’ll probably get a medal for wiping the streets with you three fools.”
Ethan felt sorry for the old man, whose tough words weren’t going to get him out of this. Those three gang members weren’t frightened in the least of a crazy old man, war hero or not. They pressed closer.
“Just give us the money old man, and we won’t cut your heart out and let you hold it while you die.”
Ethan knew he should just keep walking. But he’d already made one decision he regretted so he stopped.
“Hey, why don’t you leave the old guy be? He bedava bahis didn’t do anything to you. If you need money that bad, get a job.”
“Why don’t you just keep walking, Ethan?” replied one of the trio. Ethan recognized the voice. He was a senior at the same high school and a known trouble maker and gang member. Ethan shifted his gaze and realized he knew all three.
“He’s not worth the trouble. Just go on home. It’s too cold to be out playing pranks on old farts,” Ethan replied, giving his classmates a way to exit the scene, probably without any repercussions.
They didn’t take the hint.
“Maybe we should make this a two-for-one. You’ve got to have something good on you worth taking. Come on, give it up.”
Ethan gripped his backpack strap firmly. All he had were schoolbooks and library books. He didn’t know what was worse, being robbed or being robbed for something so trivial and being found out by his classmates that he didn’t even have enough money to make being robbed worthwhile. Something inside Ethan changed in that moment.
“No, I don’t think I will. All I have are books, and those won’t do you donkey’s any good. And I am not about to give them to you so you can wreck them just because you can. Now leave us be and maybe we’ll let you walk out of here in one piece.”
His brave defiance worked. The three thugs took a step back. And then the effect wore off.
“Fuck that and fuck you,” said the biggest.
While Ethan was being held and beaten, he hoped that the old man had gotten away. And then he hoped that the books would survive. Then he felt darkness closing around him and he had the fleeting thought that he really should have gone up with that strange young woman instead of walking home. Ethan could see a light and struggled to make out what it was. He felt a touch on his wrist and then nothing at all. Ethan thought to himself that he wasn’t cold anymore. Maybe death wasn’t so bad after all.
Ethan waited in the darkness for a long time. Then the darkness turned to gray, like false dawn. Muffled noises in the distance drew his attention but he couldn’t move anything to turn and see what they were. Then the darkness fell again, and he dropped into the abyss.
Ethan woke to pain. Every bone and muscle in his body hurt and there wasn’t anywhere that wasn’t screaming for relief. He tried to open his eyes and couldn’t. He tried to scream and shout and found his mouth blocked.
“He’s awake! He’s awake!” his mother’s voice parted his fog of pain. She gripped his hand. “Can you feel my hand? Grip it if you can feel my hand.”
Ethan mustered all his strength and gripped her hand. “You’ve been badly beaten, Ethan. You’ve been in a coma for three days. Are you in pain. Squeeze my hand for yes.”
He gripped her hand tightly.
“Ok, I’ll get your doctor. Don’t try to talk. You’ve had a machine breathing for you, your lungs were collapsed. Your eyes were badly bruised, so your head is completely wrapped. Don’t try to speak or open your eyes. You need to rest.”
A nurse came into the room and Ethan felt warmth spreading from his left arm and across his body. The pains went away, and he felt much better. Much, much better. He tried to grin, but the tube in his throat blocked his efforts. He drifted back into unconsciousness, blissfully numb on morphine.
He could feel the pain returning as he came around again. The tube in his throat was bothering him and he wished he could talk to his mom, to let her know he was going to be all right. He felt a warmth in his chest and his breathing got easier. The pain in his ribs was fading quickly. He tried to move his arms and realized he was restrained. His mother roused from her sleep in the chair by his bed and rushed to his side.
“Hello honey, I’m here,” she said, stroking his arm gently. “Are you still in pain? Do you need another shot?”
He pushed her hand away and made scribbling motions with his hand.
“Do you need a pencil and paper?”
He nodded his head yes, as much as he dared. In a few moments he felt a pencil being placed in his hand and a pad being held up. He tried to imagine the letters as he scribbled ‘Remove the tube.’
“We can’t Ethan. Your ribs were badly broken. The machine is breathing for you. You will need it for another week or two at least.”
Ethan shook his head from side to side and tapped the note violently.
“Let me get your doctor,” she replied.
All her years of nursing seemed to have left her, since it was her only child laying in the ICU. In a few moments his mother returned with the hospitalist and the ICU nurse in tow.
“He’s asking to have his breathing tube removed,” she explained.
Ethan wished he could make the doctor understand that he needed to speak to his mother, to make her feel better, to let her know he was going to be ok. He tapped on the paper, hoping the doctor was getting his message.
“You’re right. He does seem pretty set on getting off the bedava bonus machine. I’ll just do a quick examination of his ribs and see how he’s progressing.”
The ICU doctor began to probe Ethan’s chest, certain that a few sharp jolts of pain would change Ethan’s mind. But Ethan didn’t react like a patient in pain. He didn’t have a pain response at all.
“Nurse, call down to imaging and get a full chest series on our young patient. It may be time to remove his chest tube and the breathing machine.”
Ethan couldn’t see his look that he gave his mother. It was a look of stunned bewilderment. Ethan appeared to have healed his crushed ribs completely in a matter of five days. He needed a set of X-rays to confirm it.
The X-rays confirmed what the doctor’s examination had revealed. A few minutes later, the tube was removed, and Ethan was breathing on his own. He mother held a bent straw to his lips and Ethan sipped the cool water.
“It’s going to be OK, mom,” he croaked. “I’m going to be just fine. I already feel loads better.”
He felt his mother’s tears falling on his face as she bent to kiss him.
“Thank God Ethan! Thank God! I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”
“Have you slept? Have you even gone home?” he asked.
“Of course not. My baby was in my hospital, so I stayed here too. Don’t you worry about me. I’m just fine now.”
“Go home mom, get some sleep. I’ll be ok. They will be removing me from ICU shortly, I am sure. I really am feeling much better.”
It took a while for his mother to understand her son was feeling better. He was healing faster than anyone ever thought possible. As she left, Ethan wished he could look her in the eyes, so she could see that he really was much better.
The next morning the eye surgeon stopped by on his rounds.
“Hello Ethan, I am Dr. Walthill. I received word that your ribs have improved, and your lungs are strong enough for you to begin the next phase of your recovery. You took quite a battering young man. Both of your orbital bones were fractured, and your left eye was nearly crushed. I am guessing it was from repeated kicking and stomping. I am going to remove your bandages and see if you are ready for the surgery to repair the damage. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Dr. Walthill. But are you certain surgery is absolutely necessary? I don’t feel any pain in my eyes anymore, not like the first time I woke up.”
“It would take a miracle to avoid surgery, I’m afraid,” he said he slipped the surgical scissors under the gauze wrap and cut away the bandages covering Ethan’s face.
Ethan felt the light hit his face and then his eyes. He slowly opened them, feeling the crust of a week in bandages restraining his eyelashes. They finally gave way to his persistent efforts and he blinked against the brightness of the room, even in dim lighting.
Ethan looked at the elder doctor’s kind face and thought he detected some befuddlement there. His eyes followed the surgeon’s as he examined first one side of Ethan’s face and then the other. Ethan allowed the doctor to probe and press. He couldn’t help himself and broke into a grin when the eye specialist called for the portable x-ray to be brought in for a full facial and cranial series. Even with the x-rays in hand, the surgeon could scarcely believe what he was seeing.
“In all my years of medicine… no one can heal like this… it’s like it never happened…” the surgeon was mumbling to himself.
“Is it a miracle doc?” Ethan asked with a tone of amusement.
“A miracle?” repeated the surgeon. “A miracle? Yes Ethan, I think that’s just what it is. A miracle.”
“So surgery…?” Ethan asked.
“Out of the question. No need. You appear to be completely healed.” The surgeon rose to his feet, still examining the x-rays and shaking his head.
A short time later, Ethan was moved from ICU to a regular medical bed. His new nurse came in and introduced herself. When Ethan saw her face, he recognized her immediately.
“Good morning Ethan, my name is Becky, Becky Hearn. I’ll be your nurse until four, then the evening nurse takes over,” she said, raising his arm to take his vitals.
Ethan stared at her, waiting for her to recognize him. She was intent on the machine taking his blood pressure. When she finished, she rolled it to the corner and turned her full attention back on Ethan. The dawn of recognition crossed her face.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” she asked.
“Well, we haven’t met,” her replied. “But I did help you with your groceries one night.”
“The Good Samaritan!” she exclaimed. “You were so gallant that night, helping me in my time of distress. Now I’ll bet you wish you had come up for that hot cocoa, don’t you?”
Her smile was warm and genuine.
“Probably. Do you know what happened after I left you?”
“Not all the details, only that you were jumped and beaten pretty badly. But not as badly as I was told, because you are here now and it looks deneme bonusu like you will be discharged soon. That’s too bad. Nice guys like you are hard to find and now that I know who you are, you are going to be gone from my life again.”
Ethan missed the exaggeration and dramatic flair entirely.
“I walk past your building twice a day. If you ever need anything, I’ll be glad to help. Let me give you my home number. You can leave a message.”
Nurse Becky laughed.
“You don’t want to give me your cell phone number?” she said with a mock pout. Ethan missed that too.
“Oh I don’t have a cell phone. But our home phone has an answering machine. Or if you prefer, I can stop at your stoop and call up on your intercom, though I don’t know your apartment number.”
Becky patted his arm.
“You really are a chivalrous young man. You are going to make some young lady a very fine husband someday.”
Ethan felt the warmth of her touch and felt a stirring in his loins. He wished it would quit before he embarrassed both of them and thankfully it began to subside.
“You get some rest and I will see if I can get you some food. I imagine you are famished after a week without solid food. I’ll be back in a jiff!” she exclaimed as she breezed from the room.
Before she came back with the food, his mother entered the room.
“My goodness Ethan, you are a sight for sore eyes!” she crossed the room and gathered him up in a crushing hug.
He returned the hug with equal ferocity. She finally relented.
“You have much to tell me, young man. Like how you came to be involved in a fight. And more importantly, when did you get a tattoo?”
“A tattoo?” he asked. “I don’t have a tattoo.”
She twisted his right arm and pointed to his wrist.
“THAT tattoo. I know you are 18, but I wish you had said something first.”
“Mom, I swear, I never got a tattoo. I don’t know where it came from.”
He examined the jagged line on his wrist. It was barely three fourths of an inch long, but it was clearly a mark in the shape of a lightning bolt, though didn’t look like a tattoo. To Ethan it looked more like a birthmark. He rubbed it and when he did he felt electricity buzz in his arm, all the way to his shoulder.
“Honestly, I don’t know where it came from.”
“Ok, Ethan. You can have your secret. I am just glad you are getting well so quickly.”
“Mom, what about the old guy? The one in the alley with me? Did they… Did those boys… Did they kill him?”
“What old guy, Ethan? You were the only victim during the assault. Do you remember any of the details? There have been two detectives here several times trying to see you and get your account of the crime. Did you recognize your assailants?”
“Yeah mom, I know them. They are gang members from my school.” He knew she would worry now, even more.
“Gang members? You can’t tell the police. Gangs in our neighborhood are ruthless. If it gets back that you pointed them out, they will retaliate. It would be even worse. You have to tell the police you don’t remember any of the details that night.”
“No mom, I have to tell the truth. What if they kill the next person they attack? I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt and neither would you. It will be ok.” Ethan wished his mom would see it the way he did and didn’t pressure him to lie.
“You’re right Ethan. Of course you are. You need to tell the truth. I am just so worried.”
“It will all work out mom. Those three will get what’s theirs and we will be just fine. No one will retaliate, I promise.” He stroked his mom’s hair and she calmed down.
“BREAKFAST!” chimed Becky Hearn as she entered the room.
“Sylvia! How are you? Your son has been so brave! You must be very proud.” She pushed the hospital table over Ethan’s bed with the tray of warm food. She opened the lid and displayed a stack of gorgeous pancakes. On the side was orange juice, a cup of pineapple and strips of crispy bacon.
“Looks great, smells better!” beamed Ethan. He grabbed his fork and shoved a bite of pancakes into his mouth. His face was pure joy as the wonderful flavors filled his mouth.
“Ethan was my knight in shining armor, the night of the assault,” stated Becky, going on to fill in the details. Ethan noted she left out the part where she invited him up. “He’s quite a polite and considerate young man.”
Sylvia blushed with pride. Ethan feigned oblivion through pancakes and kept his eyes on his plate.
A little after noon two detectives came in and took Ethan’s statement. He gave it in great detail, omitting the invitation given by Becky Hearn and his refusal to go up. When he finished, he asked the two detectives about the old man.
“There weren’t any other victims. All the blood at the scene was yours. To be honest, I thought we’d be closing this case as an unsolved murder. To see you recovered and able to identify your assailants is a miracle.”
“Will you be arresting them soon?”
“We will take this to the DA, but I think we have enough to go on to arrest these three and bring them in for questioning. But to be safe, we will be assigning an officer to monitor your home and see you to and from school until we have all three in custody.”
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