~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Gary Hobson was exhausted. The four-year-old boy crying in his arms seemed to get heavier with each step but he couldn’t stop to rest. The child needed a doctor’s care and soon. The Halsted Street Clinic was only a few blocks away but to Gary it may as well have been twenty miles. His arms and shoulders ached from the strain of carrying the child for the last ten blocks. His arms and legs were beginning to tremble with weariness and sweat ran down his face in spite of the cool air and his lungs were on fire.
At last the door to the clinic was in sight. As Gary struggled to open the door with one hand it suddenly flew open and he stumbled across the threshold almost falling to his knees only to find himself steadied by a tall blond man.
“Easy does it partner,” Sam Delaney said as he caught Gary. Turning toward the back room he called, “Hey, Doc, better get out here.”
Schuyler “Sky” Fairfax, a tall dark-haired, blue-eyed woman with her right arm in a sling from a horseback accident a few weeks ago, came into the room at Sam’s summons.
“What is it Sam?” she asked. Her eyes darkened with concern when she saw Gary standing there holding a child whose head was bleeding. Gary himself didn’t look much better.
Elena Prescott a pretty young nurse who worked with Sky and Sam at the clinic on occasion was right behind her and took the crying boy from Gary’s arms.
“What happened Gary?” Sky asked.
Between attempts to get his breathing under control Gary managed to stutter, “Gang - gang of k-k-kids had a st-street fight. This one g-got hit w-w-with a r-rock. Clin-clinic was c-cl-closer than hos-hospital.” Gary’s eyes rolled upward then and he started to fall.
“Catch him Sam!” Sky cried.
There was no need for Sky to make the request. The ex-boxer was there as soon as he saw Gary’s eyes roll and the lids close as the exhaustive effort of getting the child to safety took it’s toll on his already tired body and oxygen deprive brain. He caught him as he started to fall and picked him up as easily as if he were a small child himself.
“Bring him into Room Two Sam. Elena would you take our little friend
there into Room One and see what you can do about cleaning him up and how
deep that cut is? I’ll be there as soon as I see how Gary is.”
Sky was thankful she had two good nurses working with her. Elena would
be good with the child and Sam would easily handle Gary if he got stubborn.
Since the day they met Sky and Gary had bonded as “forever friends” almost
as close as she was to her two older brothers. She could still remember
that day as clearly as if it were yesterday…..
The sun shone brightly in the summer sky. A slight breeze rustled through the trees. A young girl with jet-black braids and dark blue eyes bounced down the stairs of a house in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.
“Schuyler!” a woman’s voice called from inside.
“Yes Mama?” the girl answered.
“You forgot your lunch darlin’”
Schuyler went back up the stairs of the front porch.
“Thank you Mama,” she said as she kissed her mother’s cheek.
“Do you have everything else honey?”
“I’m wearing jeans and tall boots and I have my knife on my belt. You just gave me my lunch and I have a first aid kit and water, my sketchbook and everything in my backpack.”
“I still wish you’d take one of your brothers with you.”
“Mama, I’m not a baby anymore. I’ll be thirteen in a couple of months!”
“But you’re still my little girl and your Daddy’s. We worry about you.”
Schuyler gave her mother another kiss and a hug. I’ll be fine Mama. I’ll see you at supper.” So saying she picked up the backpack she had lowered to the floor to put her lunch in it, put it on her back and headed into the nearby mountains.
“Doc, relax,” Sam told Sky. “He doesn’t seem to be hurt - just exhausted.”
Sky hovered over Gary who lay on the examination table with an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. It was strictly a precaution on her part as Gary had been having some difficulty breathing when he arrived. Standing to his right she brushed the hair back from his forehead. Briefly Gary opened his mud puddle green eyes and tried to smile.
“I know Sam but I never can help worrying about him.”
At a campsite about ten miles away a small boy with dark hair and brownish green eyes was fishing with his father at the stream near their campsite.
“Bernie,” a woman’s voice called. “Are you watching Gary or are you too busy watching your fishing line?”
“He’s right here Lois,” the man replied.
“I’m here with Daddy Momma,” the little boy said.
The boy’s mother, a petite blonde with big blue eyes approached their fishing site. She smiled as she watched her boys while they fished in the stream.
“Why don’t you put that stuff away for now. Let’s go for a walk. It’s a nice day.”
“Aw Lois,” Bernie complained, “I haven’t had a chance to really try out this new rod yet.”
“You can do that later. We’re going to be here all week.”
Bernie sighed in disappointment as he took his line out of the water and closed his tackle box.
“Come on Gar. There’s no sense in arguing with your mother.”
Bernie put his fishing gear next to the tent and took his young son by the hand. They joined Lois and started off on their hike. None of them had any idea how eventful this day would turn out to be.
“Gary, Hon,” Sky asked in concern. “Are you ok now?”
His breathing had gradually become easier and he wasn’t really in need of the oxygen but neither Sky nor Sam was going to let him leave yet. His color wasn’t normal. Now instead of being flushed he was pale. He was reluctant to admit that he hadn’t had much to eat all day or the day before. The Paper had kept him extremely busy. He knew it would bring the wrath of his friends down on his head. Instead he nodded.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “Can I go now?”
“No,” Sky said. “I want to keep an eye on you a little longer.” Turning to her male nurse she said, “Sam you watch him while I go see about the youngster he brought in. Elena’s got him calmed down and cleaned up. I need to look him over now myself.”
Gary watched her leave and thinking about how good she was with children remembered his first meeting with her.
“Gary come back here sweetie,” Lois called to her young son. “Don’t wander off.”
“Ok Momma,” he answered skipping back to her side.
The trio continued walking for about an hour. During that time Gary continually went off on his own in pursuit of some woodland creature, such as a chipmunk, trying to catch it. When they stopped for lunch Gary threw crumbs for the birds and laughed with delight as they swooped in to get them.
Schuyler sat in the shade of a grove of cedar and pine trees eating her lunch. When she was finished she brushed the crumbs off her shirt, put her trash in her backpack and took out the sketchbook she had brought with her. One of her hobbies was drawing or sketching pictures of the wildlife and plants she saw on these hikes. She sat there for fifteen minutes sketching, with colored pencils, from memory, the bright red cardinal she’d seen swooping in and out of the trees she was in. Then she put her art supplies away, shouldered her pack and started walking again.
“Gary!” Lois called. “Where are you?”
“Gar!” his dad bellowed.
Still no answer.
“Gary!” Lois was frantic now. They’d only turned their backs on him for two minutes while they washed up at the brook near the spot where they’d stopped for lunch.
“Bernie where can he be?”
“I don’t know Lois,” Bernie answered. “But we’ll find him. He couldn’t have gone too far.”
The boy’s frightened parents searched frantically for him to no avail. He was nowhere to be seen. Lois started crying for her lost baby.
“Where is he Bernie? He’s too little to be out there alone.”
Bernie hugged his wife. “We’ll find him Lo. He has to be around here somewhere.”
The boy’s parents were wrong. Their son was several miles away from them. He’d wandered off when he spotted a wild rabbit. He thought it would be a neat pet and decided to try and catch it. The rabbit was too fast for him and by the time Gary realized he wasn’t going to catch it he was a long way from where he left his parents. Looking around he decided it was too dark and scary under all those trees so he started walking toward a sunny spot a short distance away.
When he got there and he didn’t see his parents he got scared. After all he was only four years old. He wouldn’t be five for a couple of months yet.
“Momma? Daddy” he started calling for his parents. When they didn’t answer he called again not knowing that he was walking into danger.
About a mile away the young girl Schuyler heard the boy and changed direction to follow his voice. Something told her she was needed.
“Momma, Daddy?” Gary’s tears were falling freely now. “I’m scared. Where are you? Come find me.” The little boy sobbed in fright.
As Schuyler approached she noticed that the little boy was headed into an area where there were apt to be snakes sunning themselves. She quickened her pace in an effort to reach the child before he really got into trouble. She was almost too late. The little boy screamed when he heard and saw the large timber rattlesnake so close. The snake was poised to strike as Schuyler snatched the boy up and put him down in a safe place. Then she calmly walked back and placed her right foot on the snake’s body, pulled her hunting knife out of its sheath on her belt and cut the snake’s head off. Then she used the knife to cut its rattles off as a trophy to brag to her brothers about. When she had done so, put the rattles in her pocket and sheathed her knife she turned to the badly frightened little boy.
“Come here sweetie,” she said picking him up.
Gary’s arms went around her neck and he sobbed almost hysterically. His rescuer just held him, swayed and pat him on the back as well as stroking his hair and trying to soothe him with her voice.
“Ssh, it’s ok. You’re safe now. That snake’s not gonna hurt anybody any more.” Sensing his ongoing fear of the dead reptile she carried him to a spot where he couldn’t see it any more. It took another ten minutes but finally the frightened little boy’s sobs ceased with a couple of hiccups.
Schuyler took a handkerchief from her back pocket and the canteen from her backpack and gently washed the little boy’s face. After she replaced these items in their original location she knelt down in front of Gary.
“Now we have to get you back to your parents. What’s your name little guy?”
“Gary what?” Schuyler asked.
“Gary Matthew what?” she asked with a little chuckle.
“Gary Matthew Hobson.”
“Well Gary Matthew Hobson, my name is Schuyler Jane Fairfax.”
“Schuyler. But you can call me Sky if you want.”
“Where do you live Gary Matthew Hobson?”
“Hickory? Where’s Hickory?”
“A long, long way from here,” was the answer.
“Probably another state,” she thought to herself. “I’ll have to try something else,” looking into the dark eyes of the little boy standing in front of her. “Where did you come from honey? I mean how did you get here?”
“I followed a bunny rabbit while Momma and Daddy were washing their hands,” he told her. “It ran away and I got losted.”
“You sure did honey,” Schuyler said to him. Sitting him down in a safe place she went looking for signs of which way the little boy had come. It only took her a couple of minutes. She’d been a good tracker since she was eight. Almost five years later she was an excellent tracker. Once she found the trail she went back and got her young charge.
“Come on honey,” she said taking him by the hand. “We’re gonna go find your parents.”
A few miles away Lois and Bernie were frantically searching for their son without success. Lois, in particular, was nearly out of her mind. It had been hours since Gary had disappeared.
“Where is he Bernie?” she asked her husband. “Where’s my baby?”
“I don’t know Lois,” he said. “We’ll have to keep looking. Keep calling.”
Little Gary was having a hard time keeping up with his new friend. He was also very tired. Schuyler noticed this and decided that the best course of action was for her to carry him. She stooped down and picked him up. Gary’s head rested on her right shoulder and he wrapped his arms around her neck. Within a minute one very tired little boy was sound asleep.
Schuyler smiled and snuggled him closer as she followed the trail he’d left back in the direction they led from. It amazed her how far he’d traveled. He must really have wanted that rabbit. Well she had some rabbits at home. She’d ask his parents whether he could at least come to play with them and the other animals on their farm.
About half an hour later she could hear some people in the distance calling somebody. As she got closer she could make out the words.
“Gary?” a woman’s voice was heard first.
Then a man’s voice yelled, “Gar? Where are you son?”
“Gary?” Lois was close to tears. “Where could he be Bernie? He’s so little. You said he couldn’t have gone far.”
“We’ll find him Lois,” Bernie put an arm around his wife’s shoulders. We’ll find him.”
Bernie and Lois resumed walking and calling their son’s name for another five minutes. Their attention was drawn to a young voice calling to them from a distance of half a mile or so.
They looked to the East and saw a young girl with black braids calling
them. In her arms was their missing son.
“Gary!” Lois screamed as she ran toward them.
“Hello. You must be Gary’s parents,” Schuyler said as she approached.
“Yes,” Bernie said as his wife took the sleeping child from her arms. “Where did you find him?”
“A few miles east of here.”
“Is he ok?” Lois asked anxiously.
“He’s fine, ma’am,” Schuyler reassured the anxious young mother. “He’s just all tuckered out. He wandered a long way before I heard him crying.”
“Momma?” a sleepy voice said.
“I got losted.”
“I know sweetie.”
“I tried to catchy a bunny rabbit but it got away. And then a snake almost bitted me. But Sky saved me.”
“Who’s Sky?” Lois asked him.
“I am,” Gary’s new friend replied. “Actually it’s Schuyler but he shortened it. I guess Schuyler is too much for such a little guy to remember.”
“Schuyler how can we ever thank you?” Lois asked.
“Aw shucks there’s no need to thank me. I’m glad I was there. He’s a cute little guy. How old is he?”
“He’ll be five in September,” Bernie replied.
“Really? My birthday’s in September too!” Schuyler exclaimed. “September 17th.”
“That’s Gary’s birthday!” Lois exclaimed.
The two adults and the girl chatted happily for a few minutes while Gary slept in his dad’s arms. He was a little heavy for his mom to hold for very long. Finally Schuyler asked them where they were camped. When she heard the location of their camp she volunteered to show them the way back.
“It’s no bother Mr. & Mrs. Hobson,” she said. “This country’s mighty tricky if you’re not familiar with it. But I’ve been tramping around these hills since I was no older than Gary. With or without my brothers.”
So saying she led the way and got them back safely. Noting Bernie’s fishing gear and some of their other camping equipment she had some suggestions and advice.
“Mr. Hobson have you got yourself a pair of high wading boots or chest waders? If you do please make sure you wear them and keep your eyes open. We sometimes have cotton mouths in these streams although it’s usually in the swampy areas.”
“What’s a cotton mouth?” Lois wanted to know.
“It’s a nickname for a water moccasin - a poisonous snake. Unlike the rattler though they don’t necessarily give a warning before they strike. If you’re careful to wear chest waders when you're in the water and keep your eyes open you should be fine. A cotton mouth gets it’s nickname from what the inside of it’s mouth looks like when it’s wide open.”
Lois was visibly disturbed by the thought of poisonous snakes nearby. Even more so when Schuyler mentioned copperheads. She would have packed up and left if Bernie hadn’t promised to be extremely careful and never let Gary out of his sight.
The afternoon wore on and it was getting very close to suppertime when Schuyler heard her name being called. Looking in the direction of the voices the group saw two boys - young men really - come out of the woods on horseback.”
“Schuyler Jane Fairfax!”
“Uh oh,” she said. “It must be later than I thought if Mama sent
them for me.”
The older boy appeared to be about eighteen, had red hair, brown eyes and rode a chestnut colored gelding. He had a frown on his face. The younger boy was sixteen with blond hair and dark blue eyes. He rode a brown mare and led jet-black gelding behind him. It was the older boy who had spoken. He looked slightly concerned but relieved as soon as he saw she was unharmed.
“Schuyler Jane Fairfax Mama’s worried sick about you.”
“It’s not like you to be so late when you go hiking six,” the younger boy said. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, Jamie,” she answered. “I ran into a little emergency.” Turning to Lois and Bernie she said, “These are my brothers Jamie and Alan. Jamie and Alan this is Mr. ND Mrs. Hobson and their son Gary. They’re visiting from Hickory, Indiana. I found their little boy Gary when he got lost this afternoon.”
“She did more than that!” Lois exclaimed. “She saved my baby’s life! He said he almost got bitten by a snake.”
“Is that true Schuyler?” Alan asked his little sister.
“Yes. I’ll tell you the details later.”
Just then Gary woke up from his nap and came out of the tent where his dad had laid him down. He squealed with excitement when he saw the three horses and would have run straight to them if his dad hadn’t caught him. That and the fact that there were two strange boys sitting on two of them. His innate shyness kicked in and he hid behind his dad.
“We’d better go sis,” Alan insisted. “Mount up. Mama’s going to worry even more if we don’t bring you home soon.”
“I’m comin’” she answered. Before mounting she turned to Bernie and Lois and said,” We’d love to have you folks come and visit us at home. I’ve got a collie dog named Rob Roy and some rabbits Gary can play with. And we have a lot of land he can run around in. Mama would love the company and since tomorrow is Saturday Daddy will be home too.”
“Can we go Daddy? I wanna see Sky’s bunnies.” Gary turned his big greenish brown eyes toward his dad.
“Ok, if you mom say so.” Bernie looked at his wife. “What do you say Lo?”
“Well if you don’t think your parents will mind.”
“Mrs. Hobson,” Alan said, “My sister is right. Our folks would love for you to come by.”
Schuyler took a piece of paper from her sketchpad and drew Bernie a map on one side and wrote out directions on the other. It was settled. The Hobsons would come to the Fairfaxes the next morning and stay all day.
As Schuyler started toward her mount her new little friend grabbed her around the legs. Squatting down she asked, “What do you want little guy?”
In answer Gary threw his arms around her neck and hugged her tight. Then he gave her a big juicy kiss on the cheek in the manner that small children often do.
“Thank you for saving me form the snake. I love you,” he said to her.
“You’re welcome and I love you too,” she answered him as she hugged and kissed him back. “I have to go home now buddy. I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that she mounted her horse and she and her brothers started toward home.
At supper that night Schuyler told her family all the details of her eventful day.
“Wait ‘til you see him Mama,” she said. “He’s so cute! He’s got dark hair and these big dark eyes that kind of greenish brown. He’s so sweet and he’s very shy I think. When Jamie and Alan came looking for me he hid behind his daddy.”
“Tell Mama and Daddy what he calls you,” Jamie said.
“Sky. He calls me Sky. I think Schuyler is too hard for him.”
The talk at dinner continued to revolve around Schuyler’s new friends. Those friends arrived at the Fairfax house around ten the next morning.
“Mama, Daddy this is Bernie and Lois Hobson. They’re visiting from Hickory, Indiana.” Schuyler introduced the two sets of parents. “And this,” she said indicating her new little friend, “is their son Gary.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you folks,” Sarah Fairfax said. “Welcome to our home.”
As the adults shook hands Gary hid behind his dad. Seeing this Mrs. Fairfax smiled and said to her daughter, “Schuyler why don’t you take Gary out back and show him your rabbits? I’m sure he’ll like that much better than sitting around listening to a bunch of grown ups talk. Maybe he’d like a ride on Major too.”
Gary looked up at his parents with pleading eyes. At their nod he took Schuyler’s hand and they started around to the back of the house. They were greeted by a sable, white and black bundle of fur. Schuyler calmed the excited dog down never letting go of Gary’s hand because Gary was slightly afraid at first.
“Rob Roy! Settle down!” Schuyler commanded the dog. “You know better than to act like that around a little kid! Now sit!”
The dog did as he was told and Schuyler rewarded him with a “good dog”.
“You don’t need to be afraid of him sweetie,” she told the little boy clinging tightly to her hand and halfway hiding behind her. “He’s an overgrown puppy. He’s just excited to meet you. It’s ok to pet him.”
At first Gary did so reluctantly but soon he and Rob Roy were running around the spacious back yard together. Then it was time to visit the rabbits. Harmless though he was Rob Roy was not permitted near the rabbit hutches this time. Schuyler didn’t want a repeat of yesterday’s adventure. The Dog was sure to scare the rabbit Gary was holding. She didn’t want that to happen and have Gary go chasing it getting lost again - or hurt.
Schuyler let Gary play with the rabbits for half an hour. Then she took him to the small pasture where their horses were grazing. She gave a whistle and the black gelding she’d ridden home the day before came trotting over to the fence. Eagerly he thrust his nose over the fence looking for a treat. Schuyler gave him a lump of sugar giggling when his soft muzzled tickled her hand. Then she gave Gary a piece of carrot.
“Here honey,” she said to the boy. “Put it in your hand and hold your fingers flat like I did. He won’t bite you.”
The little boy did as she said and he too giggled when the horse’s lips tickled his palm. “That tickles,” he laughed.
Schuyler walked over to the gate and opened it. The gelding approached at a walk. When he had reached the gate Schuyler took him by the halter and Gary by the hand after securing the gate again and together the threesome walked to the barn with Rob Roy right behind them.
In the barn Schuyler snapped a pair of cross ties to the horse’s halter, put Gary on a bale of hay close by and commanded her collie to sit next to him. While she groomed, saddled and bridled Major Gary sat quietly with big eyes and watched her every move while hugging the dog. When Major was ready to go the group moved back outside and Schuyler lifted Gary up and put him in the saddle.
“Hold onto the saddle horn Gary,” she told the youngster.
When he was following her instructions she took the reins in her right hand and proceeded to lead him back into the pasture. After a few times around the paddock she was satisfied that neither Major nor Gary were nervous about each other. She stepped up the walk from slow to faster then stopped. Flipping the right rein over the horse’s neck she held onto the left one then mounted and sat behind Gary. Together they rode Major twice more around the paddock until she was satisfied that her unaccustomed position behind the saddle didn’t bother him. Then she guided him out of the paddock and into the quiet woods behind the Fairfaxes property. It took some doing but she got the excited little boy calmed down and was able to point out the wildlife they saw during their ride.
“See that red bird over there Gary?” she asked pointing toward some nearby bushes. “That’s a cardinal. The boy cardinals are bright red by the girls are dull red. They’re not as pretty. And that goes for Mr. and Mrs. Blue Jay too.”
The two youngsters rode through the woods for a couple of hours.
When they returned Schuyler took care of Major before they went up to the
house for lunch. After lunch a sleepy Gary was taken upstairs to Schuyler’s
room where, surrounded by some of her stuffed animals and snuggling a spicy
smelling stuffed monkey he fell asleep in a matter of a couple of minutes.
Looking down at Gary whom she’d forced to lie down Sky couldn’t help thinking that in some ways he looked so very much like a little boy. It was sometimes very difficult for her to think of him as an adult. She was never quite sure whether it was because they’d known each other for so long or because after his High School Graduation they had lost track of each other. That, in part, due to her time in Texas and Scotland and home again in Kentucky.
“All right Gary Matthew,” she said coming out of her reverie. “I want an explanation. Why did you faint?”
“Just tired I guess,” Gary said avoiding telling her the whole truth for fear of a lecture. “Th-that kid’s heavy.”
“Uh huh.” Sky looked at him suspiciously.
“Sam what do you think?” Sky trusted Sam’s opinion on virtually everything and he’d been by Gary’s side at her request while she had patched the little boy he’d brought in.
“Well he was pretty flushed when he came in,” Sam started. “And I have to agree that the boy would be heavy after a while, but I don’t think that’s it. His temperature is normal, his pulse is steady and his BP is well within a safe range now. His breathing is back to normal - no need for the oxygen any longer. However, he is a bit pale and it’s not normal for anyone to just faint like that. I can’t find any injuries - by the way Gary how is it you didn’t get hit with one of those bricks or whatever they were throwing?”
“Just lucky I guess.”
“That leaves one thing,” Sky said, “and I’m going to sound just like his mother. When’s the last time you ate a decent meal young man?”
“Oh, gee, uh,” Gary’s face flushed as her question hit home. “I had a couple pieces of cold pizza for breakfast.”
“And what about supper last night or lunch or breakfast yesterday?”
“Not much,” Gary flushed guiltily again. The truth was out and now he braced himself for the lecture he knew was coming.
Sky exploded with concern and frustration. “Gary Matthew Hobson! You mean to tell me that all you’ve had to eat for two days is two pieces of cold pizza and little else? What do you own a restaurant for if you can’t get a decent meal? What am I going to do with you?”
“Let me go home?” he asked hopefully wincing as she glared at him in the manner that his mother would have.
“Fat chance!” she said. “Not until you’ve had something to eat. And in my presence so I can be sure you don’t skip out.” Turning to Sam she said,” Sam, Mrs. Inatelli said she’d have our lunches ready about now. Would you mind skipping out to get them and ask her for an extra one?”
“Sure Doc,” he replied giving their friend a half-scolding, half-sympathetic look on his way out the door.
“And as for you Gary Matthew you’re going to call McGinty’s and tell Chuck and Marissa what happened and that we’ll see that you get home safely in a while. Now march yourself over to that desk and do it! Then you’re coming back in here and lie down again.”
Gary did as she told him. He knew it would be useless to argue with her. Explaining to his two best friends what had happened was more difficult. He didn’t want to worry them but until they could see - or in Marissa’s case - hear for themselves in person they’d be nervous.
“Yeah…really…Marissa I’m fine. You know how Sky is…Ok. Hopefully soon.” Gary hung up the phone and headed back into the room where he was to lie down. Sky was on his heels so he had no choice. As she closed the door behind her on the way out again Gary’s thoughts drifted back over the years.
The Hobsons spent a fun filled day with the Fairfaxes. When it was over Gary had managed to appropriate Sky’s - for such she would be known from then on - stuffed monkey as his own. She just laughed when his mother tried to make him give it back. She’d won it at a carnival the year before and didn’t really care that much about it. If her little friend was that enamored of it he was welcome to it. He promptly christened it “Vinny” and held on tightly after giving Sky a hug and a kiss for letting him keep it.
“We had a wonderful time,” Lois said as they got ready to leave. “I hope you’ll come visit us sometime.”
“Yeah,” Bernie agreed. “We’ll go fishing or something.”
The Hobsons drove back to their campsite for their last night. In the morning they packed all their gear and headed home to Hickory. They were amazed to find that one of the small farms on the edge of town was for sale. They’d be even more surprised when they learned who was moving in.
August 1970. Soon to be five-year-old Gary Hobson sat on the stairs of his front porch watching the cars go by. It was hard being an only child - especially when there weren’t many kids in the neighborhood his own age. It seemed like they were all a lot older or younger than he was. Today was different, however. Instead of being bored he was excited. His mom had promised him a surprise today, but he had to sit on the porch and watch for it.
Cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes passed his house even a station wagon towing a horse trailer. But Gary still didn’t see his surprise.
“Momma?” he called.
“I don’t see any surprise.”
“Keep watching sweetie,” Lois told him. “It’ll be here soon.”
Gary went back to watching the street. Ten minutes later a slim figure in jeans and a pink and white checkered shirt approached the Hobson’s house from Gary’s right. His eyes opened wide and he launched himself off the stairs and down the sidewalk.
“Sky!” he shrieked.
“Hi sweetie pie,” she chuckled as he threw himself at her. As she bent down to pick him up she said, “Surprise!”
Gary wriggled from her arms after a quick but enthusiastic hug and pulled her toward the door.
“Momma! Momma!” he cried. “Sky’s here!”
Lois came to the door to greet the girl. “So I see. Hello Schuyler. Did you just get in?”
“Yes ma’am,” Sky replied. “About an hour ago. Daddy and the boys are moving furniture and boxes into the house. I just turned the horses loose in the field to get the kinks out and put their feed and stuff in the barn. Mama knew you were expecting us so she sent me ahead.” Squatting down by her little buddy she said, “Guess what Gary - we’re going to be neighbors. I just moved to Hickory.”
Gary’s big eyes looked from Sky to his mother. “Is that true Momma? Does Sky really live in Hickory now?”
“Yes sweetie,” Lois told him. “Sky really lives in Hickory now.”
“And Jamie and Alan and her Momma and Daddy and Rob Roy and Major?”
“Yes, Gary,” Lois told her son.
“Yippee!” he shouted and wrapped his arms around Sky’s neck again. “Can I go to Sky’s house and play with Rob Roy Momma? Can I? Please?”
“Not today Gary,” his mother said. “Sky and her family aren’t ready for company yet. They’re not even unpacked or anything yet.”
“Please Momma? I want to go see Rob Roy and Major.” Gary pleaded turning his adorable puppy dog look on her.
“It’s ok Mrs. Hobson,” Sky said. “Mama figured he’d be all excited and I need somebody to help me unpack my stuffed animals and books and posters. He won’t be underfoot. I’ll bring him home at suppertime.”
“You’ll do more than that,” Lois said. “You and your family are coming here for supper tonight. I’ve made enough spaghetti sauce to feed everyone. You two run along and tell your parents, Schuyler, that supper is at five-thirty.”
Eager to be off Gary grabbed Sky’s hand and tugged. “Come on Sky. Rob Roy needs me. You said so.”
Upon arrival at the Fairfaxes new home Gary was greeted with a hug from Sarah, Sky’s mother, and a solemn handshake from her father Bryan. The boys grinned and tousled his hair. Once in Sky’s new bedroom Gary was eager to help. He handed Sky her books for the top shelf and put the books for the lower shelves in place himself as Sky directed him.
Rob Roy lay in a corner of the room watching everything and staying out from under everyone’s feet. Gary spent almost as much time patting him to make sure he didn’t feel neglected as he did helping his “sister’ put her things away.
Promptly at five-thirty the Hobsons and the Fairfaxes gathered around the Hobsons’ dining room table for supper. It was a jolly affair as the Hobsons got the Fairfaxes acquainted with people and places in the town. They visited long enough that it was past Gary’s bedtime when they were ready to leave. Sky volunteered to put him to bed. It was the first of many nights to come when she would do so by helping him into his pajamas, making sure he had Vinny and tucking him in. Most nights there was a story too. Curious George and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel were among his favorites.
School started in September. Sky started Junior High and Gary started pre-school. Painfully shy at times, Gary had a tough time for a while and the only girls he appreciated were his mom, Sky’s mom and Sky herself. All other girls were poison as far as he was concerned. And in his five-year-old mind Sky was more of a big sister who was almost as good as a boy. Jamie and Alan took time from their busy schedules to entertain him when they could. Jamie was in his sophomore year of High School that year. Alan was in his first year of law school but since he attended a school within commuting distance he was home every day after his last class let out. He worked part time in a local lawyer’s office to help pay for school.
On the Saturday after their children’s mutual birthday the Hobsons and the Fairfaxes held a joint party for Gary and Sky. To help Gary make friends Sky had given the Hobsons a list of names of younger siblings and cousins of her classmates to invite to the party. The younger kids had rides on Major, Jubal and Noelle , the Fairfax siblings horses and played games such as Pin The Tail On The Donkey. The older kids played records and danced a little or helped entertain the younger ones. Rob Roy was everywhere romping and barking. All the kids loved him and roughhoused with him. Bryan Fairfax and Bernie Hobson cooked burgers and hot dogs on the grill while Sarah Fairfax and Lois Hobson kept the folding table loaded with corn on the cob, chips, tossed salad, Cole slaw, potato salad and deviled eggs. Alan and Jamie were in charge of sodas and ice. An old washtub was set on the ground at one end of the table and filled to capacity with ice and sodas. For dessert there was a marble cake decorated with cowboy figures and matchbox cars.
Sky received gifts of stationery, books, new boots for riding and a couple of record albums. Gary got a lot of matchbox cars, some new clothes, a couple of books and games and a nameplate for his new bike from Sky.
A couple of weeks later Gary’s class was asked to tell about their best friend. Gary had made some new friends by now but it wasn’t one of them that he told the class about.
Shyly he stood in front of the class and told of the friend that had found him when he was “losted” in the mountains. “And she cut off the head of that mean old snake that almost bitted me,” he said. “And she took me back to Momma and Daddy and let me play with her dog and her bunnies and took me riding on her horse. She’s my best friend.”
Most of the children in the class believed every word. But there’s always one who doesn’t. There’s always one who has to make fun of the other kids and Jack Wallace was the one in Gary’s class. Bigger than most of the class he made many of them miserable when the teacher wasn’t looking.
“Aw, there’s no such person. You’re making it up,” he jeered “No girl would touch a snake. A big girl like that wouldn’t bother with a little shrimp like you.”
“She is so real,” Gary said. “Her name is Sky and we’re best friends.”
“I say there’s no such person,” Jack said belligerently.
“There is too!” Gary’s eyes welled up with tears.
“Is too,” Gary sobbed.
The teacher, Miss Crane tried to put a stop to the argument. “Jack I’m sure Gary wouldn’t lie. It he says this girl did all that then I’m sure she did.”
“She’s real Miss Jean,” Gary sobbed. “I didn’t make her up.”
“I know Gary,” Miss Crane reassured him. “And you told about her very well. Now go back to your seat.”
When Gary’s Mom picked him up at school that afternoon he was still upset over how Jack had picked on him. As soon as they got home she called the Fairfax farm to see if Sky was home and available to talk to Gary. It wasn’t long before the girl was at the door.
“Where is he Mrs. Hobson?”
“Upstairs in his room dear.”
Sky flew up the stairs to Gary’s room. Stepping over matchbox cars and other toys littering the floor she went straight to where her little friend lay on his bed hugging Vinny the stuffed monkey like he’d never let go. His face was tear stained and tears were still forming in his eyes.
“Hi pumpkin,’ she said as she sat down on the bed. “Your mom tells me you had a bad day at school. Something about us being friends?”
“Want to tell me about it?” she asked pulling him into her lap and cuddling him.
Gary snuggled close and looked up at the girl who’d become his “big sister”. “Jack says you’re not real. He says that no girl would touch a snake.”
“Well Jack doesn’t know me does he?”
“But you know me. And you mom and your dad know me right?”
“And didn’t I let you change my name and let you play with my rabbits and my dog. And didn’t I give you some long rides on my horse?”
“And didn’t you help me unpack my books and stuff when we moved here?”
“Then why are you so upset about what some bully has to say? He’s only one kid out of a lot of kids in your class. So do the other kids think like he does?”
“No,” Gary sniffed.
“You see there? You have nothing to worry about. If you know and your mom and dad know I’m real and I say we’re friends that’s all that matters.”
“Are we really friends Sky? You’re not pretending?” Gary still needed reassurance.
“We’ll be forever friends sweetie,” she answered hugging him tight.
And so it was. Sky even arranged with her parents to miss a couple of her classes in order to go to Gary’s preschool to meet the class and settle the issue of Gary’s friendship with her.
Upon her graduation from High School the three Hobsons presented her with a silver necklace with a heart shaped charm and an inscription on the back. Before she left for college the 18-year-old girl reaffirmed with the ten-year-old boy that they would be friends forever.
When, a few years later, Chuck Fishman and his family moved to town, Sky was in college. But she came home on every break and always managed to find time for Gary and his new best friend. Hiking, fishing, swimming, biking in the warm weather were followed by skiing, sledding and skating in the winter. The boys, for all their athletic prowess- real or imagined - never quite licked Sky, her brothers and the cousins who lived close by in a snowball fight. She was there when they graduated from High School but went back to Texas immediately afterwards. Gary didn’t see her again until the break-in at her clinic years later.
Gary smiled as he lay there resting. There were so many good memories
As much as he would hate to admit it to Sky he really was feeling tired and a little weak. He knew that he needed to eat better but it seemed lately that the paper kept him running all day and half the night as well. He couldn’t tell sky that though - she didn’t know about his mysterious paper and he intended to keep it that way.
“The Paper!” Gary sat up in a hurry immediately wishing he hadn’t. The lack of decent filling meals and the strain of carrying the injured child to the clinic had taken its toll. The room spun around him briefly. When it stopped he looked around for his paper. Breathing a sigh of relief he found it lying on a nearby chair half hidden under the windbreaker he had been wearing. Sam had removed Gary’s jacket when he brought him into the examination room. Gary had been a little too lightheaded to notice when he did and that he put the paper that was tucked inside with it.
Careful not to lean over too far Gary reached for The Paper so that he could check for stories needing his attention. As he did so he heard a commotion out in the front lobby of the clinic. Quickly he started scanning The Paper. His eyes found a very disturbing article.
“Street Fight Spills Over Into Clinic. Members of two rival gangs carried their fight over into the Halsted Street clinic run by Dr. Schuyler Fairfax when members of The Copperheads sought treatment for an injured gang member. Members of The Blades, a rival gang, also sought treatment for injured members. A fight ensued and several people were seriously injured. Dr. Fairfax, the director of the clinic, already nursing injuries from a horseback riding accident a few weeks ago, was among them. She’s listed in critical condition at Cook County General Hospital. Elena Prescott, Dr. Fairfax’s nurse was treated and released.
Gary dropped his paper where he stood. Fighting off the weakness and the light-headed feeling from his own condition he pulled the door open and ran out. He was shocked momentarily into inaction as he saw a dozen or more teens screaming in English and Spanish, Elena trying to protect the youngster he’d brought in for treatment and sky, broken shoulder and all, trying to get between two young men armed with knives. She looked positively furious and was matching the teens shout for shout in English and Spanish. Suddenly one of the club wielding teens swung on her.
“Sky! Look out!” Gary shouted as he launched himself at the teen. Their momentum carried them across the lobby and into the far wall. The teen dropped the club when his arm hit the wall. Unfortunately for Gary it was his forehead that hit the wall and he fell to the floor stunned and struggling to remain conscious. Sky witnessed this but didn’t dare move from her position between the knife wielding teens lest they do each other in. They were yelling at her to get out of their way and she wasn’t about to do that. Gary would have to wait for her attention until she was sure everything was under control again.
It was into this chaotic scene that Sam Delaney returned- not only with the lunches he’d gone to get - but also with four police officers and the father and uncle of the little boy Gary had brought to the clinic. The men waded into the fight and in a matter of maybe five minutes had the situation under control Two of the officers disarmed the knife wielding boys that Sky had somehow kept apart, the other two officers put handcuffs on the two brawlers with chains that were terrorizing the little boy Elena was trying to protect and the father and uncle of the boy had knocked a few heads together - literally. Sam jumped to Gary’s defense. While Gary was still lying stunned on the floor the club wielding teen had recovered and was about to beat Gary with it. That kid never knew what hit him. The ex-boxer had disarmed him and knocked him cold before he knew what was happening. At this point four more patrol cars, each with two uniformed officers on board, arrived at the clinic. Neighbors had seen the gangs arrive and knew there was trouble afoot. They were the ones who had called the police. Rough neighborhood or not they knew a good thing when they had it and Sky’s clinic was one good thing they had no intention of losing.
Sam helped Gary up and over to a chair. Elena hugged the little boy, Raul by name, to calm him down. The boy’s father took Sky by the arm and gently led her to a different chair. The incident left her momentarily shaken until she saw Gary’s ashen face and the bump that was forming on his forehead. Then she became all doctor and bustled around getting his vitals and directing Sam, who was way ahead of her, to get a cold pack. The boy’s father came over to her as she was looking after Gary.
“I want to thank you doctor for what you did for Raul,” the husky Puerto Rican man said.
“Don’t thank me,” she said. “Gary’s the one who found him when he was hurt Mr. Cardoza. He carried him several blocks to bring him here to be treated.”
Jose Cardoza took Gary’s hand in both of his and shook it vigorously. “Thank you, Mister, thank you.’
Gary managed a weak smile in spite of his pounding headache. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
“If I can ever do anything for you - either of you - just say the word.”
The boy’s uncle came over to them with little Raul in his arms. The boy reached for his father who took him in his arms. The little fellow said thank you to Sky and Gary and the trio left. The ranking police officer, a sergeant, approached next.
“I need to get your statement doc if you’re up to it.”
“Sure. Give me a minute will you? My friend here needs to go lie down with that cold pack>” Sky motion to Sam who took Gary’s arm and helped him make his way, somewhat unsteadily, to the back room again. Once there Sam helped him get settled on the padded table again and put a sheet over him to guard again the cold brought on by shock. He stayed with him while Sky and Elena gave their statements to the police. The ever-protective Schuyler Fairfax would not let them talk to Gary that day. He was too close to having a concussion from slamming into the wall headfirst. Tomorrow would be time enough.
Ten minutes later they were through. All the gang members had been rounded up, placed in custody and hustled off to the local precinct for processing. By this time it was late afternoon. Elena was a little shaken up as was Sky. Her head was pounding and her shoulder was aching but she was much more concerned about Gary. This would be the second time she would treat him because he’d been attacked in her clinic. Technically he’d been the aggressor but that didn’t change the fact that he’d whacked his head on the wall again.
“Elena go on home, dear,” Sky said to the younger woman. “We’ll clean up this mess in the morning. I’m too tired to deal with it right now. Sam and I will take Gary home.”
“Are you sure?” Elena asked.
“Yes,” Sky said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Elena gathered her purse and jacket and departed. Sky rose from her seat and went into the back room.
“How is he Sam?” she asked as she entered.
“He won’t admit to anything but I’ll get our friend here has a whale of a headache,” Sam answered her.
“I’m sure,” Sky said as she approached the table.
“Will you two stop talking about me like I’m not even here?” Gary was annoyed and tried to sit up too quickly in order to defend himself. “Ow!” Gary raised his hands to his head.
“Going to admit to the headache now?” Sky asked.
“Ok, so I have a little headache,” Gary said. “It’s no big deal.”
“It’s big enough with that lump on your head,” Sky retorted. “Sam, I just sent Elena home. We’ll clean up this mess in the morning.”
“Ok doc,” Sam said. “You two wait here while I get my car. We’ll take Gary home first then I’ll take you home.”
So saying he left his employer/friend and her “baby brother” alone. He was back in five minutes and helped the still shaky Gary into the back seat.
Chuck Fishman and Marissa Clark, Gary’s partners in his bar & grill McGinty’s, were seated at a table talking when the trio of Sky, Sam and Gary arrived.
“Gary! What happened to you?” he asked as the trio entered the main room.
“I had a little accident is all. I’m fine,” Gary answered.
“What he means to say,” Sky told her friends glaring at Gary’, “Is that he ran into a wall headfirst protecting me from a club carrying punk involved in a gang fight in my clinic.”
“Sam, is that true?” Marissa asked. No one questioned how she knew Sam was there - not even Gary who was most apt to. Marissa had been blind since a very young age but she had an uncanny knack for knowing who was in a room and if they were telling the truth. She knew Gary better than he knew himself and sometimes it drove him nuts.
“Yes, Marissa me love,” Sam said with his playful Irish brogue. “Yeah but he’s going to be fine. He’s got a whale of a headache though. He doesn’t want to admit to it but I’m sure he does.”
“Nice lump on the head too,” Chuck commented.
Gary started to sit down but Sky stopped him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I was just gonna sit with Marissa and Chuck and have something to eat,” Gary said. “You did tell me to eat a good meal.”
“That was before you whacked your head on the wall,” Sky told him. “Now you’re going to go upstairs to the loft and lie down for a while after you take some ibuprofen.” Pulling him toward the door to the office through which they would go to climb the stairs to the loft she added, “Let’s go. Upstairs. Now!”
Propelled by her pulling and Sam’s presence backing her up Gary reluctantly climbed the stairs to his loft. Sitting down on the edge of his bed he removed his jacket and shoes which Sam took from him and put in a place where he wouldn’t stumble over the shoes.
“Ok, now take these.” Sky handed him the ibuprofen tablets and a glass of water. Once he had taken them she made him lie back and handed him the ice pack she’d prepared knowing the cold pack wouldn’t be any good any more.
“I’ll wait downstairs Doc while you finish up here,” Sam said not waiting for Sky’s confirmation before leaving the room.
“Feeling better sweetie?” Sky asked Gary.
“Yeah I’m fine,” he replied. “I wish you’d stop worrying so much.”
“I’ve worried about you for years darling. I’m not about to stop now. Especially when you get hurt defending me.”
“You know what?” Gary said. “I was thinking about us- about how we met and all that -while I was lying down in the back room at the clinic.”
“You still remember that?” Sky asked. “Getting lost and the snake and the whole bit.”
“Yeah.” Gary said. “And I remember what you said to me when Jack Wallace picked on me at pre-school.”
“You mean about us being friends and Jack not knowing what he was talking about?”
“Yeah. And how Mom called you when she brought me home that day and you came running over.”
“I remember it very well,” Sky told him. “I told you we’d be forever friends.”
“You know what?”
“What?” Sky asked.
“I’m glad we’re friends,” Gary told her.
“Forever friends Gary,” Sky said as she hugged him with her good arm and kissed his cheek gently.
“Forever friends,” Gary said as she rose to leave. Then he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Email the author: Janet.E.Brayden@nae02.usace.army.mil