“You’re being ridiculous, Edmund!” Dixie protested, slamming the silverware into a drawer.
Edmund sat across the kitchen peninsula from her. “Dixie, please, you know what happens this time a year: someone leaves their home never to be seen again. How am I supposed to react, little sister?!”
Staring him in the eye, she exclaimed, “Little?! I am a grown woman if you’ve forgotten.”
“Who lives under my roof.” He leaned over the counter
She mimicked him. “Says the one that begged me to help him with his son! He has a doctor's appointment tomorrow. Are you going to take him? No. ‘Cause you and June will be working, and I’ll be taking Ambrose to the doctor as I have for the last three years.”
They stayed like that - staring each other down - until a little boy ran into the kitchen. His hair was a wet mess, and most of the rest of him was covered in a white nightie. His arms were clenched around a book half his size.
"Bedtime story!" he announced.
"Did you have a nice bath, Ambrose," Edmund said, getting off his chair and crouched down.
"Uh-ha," he said, with a corresponding nod. "Bedtime story?"
"Yes. In a moment. Where's mommy?"
Ambrose shifted his book so he could point behind him. His finger pointed to a woman walking from the inner of the house, shaking a towel through her hair. “Someone decided I needed a bath, too,” the woman said.
Before anyone could even snicker, Ambrose started to lose his grip on his book. He couldn’t move his arm fast enough to stop it from falling to the ground. In seconds of the bang, he fell on his rear, with his hand glued to his ears and tears crawling down his cheeks, screaming for the havens to hear.
Being the closest, Edmund dropped to his knees as June dropped her towel, racing back through the archway. He hovered his hands over Ambrose's shoulders, knowing if he got any closer, it would just make everything worse.
With the presence of his father’s hands and his aunt coming into his frosted view, Ambrose’s screaming slowly de-escalated into a whimper in a sea of turbulent breathing.
June came running back into the room, carrying a blanket in both hands. Meticulously, she draped it over her son's shoulders.
Ambrose immediately wrapped up in the blanket. The last tears fell. The raggedy breath was still there but not in its former glory.
As Ambrose's eyelids fluttered open and closed over his red puffy eyes, Edmund cradled his son. He slowly swayed as Dixie picked up the storybook. "You ready for a bedtime story?"
Wrapped in his weighted cocoon, Ambrose shook his head with his normal - but over the top - excitement.
Edmund sat Ambrose on the couch. Ambrose scooched over a hair to be in his spot, right next to the edge of the middle cushion. Even before curling into a ball, his feet and head were nowhere near the top and end of the cushion.
Dixie plopped down between him and the armrest. Placing the spine on her left leg (the closest one to Ambrose), she opened the book near the middle. The first page was an ink picture of a forest and the next with a cascade of words.
She started their journey into the woods as Ambrose leaned against her. His head bobbled long her arm as the story weaved its magic. By the end of the chapter, his head accompanied the book on Dixie’s lap.
The next morning, Ambrose woke up with the first sun. He walked to the family room where his toys laid in wait. He chugged his trains and dinned his teddy bears as he waited for the second sun to wake everyone else for breakfast.
Edmund and June hallmarked a breakfast together and Dixie took Ambrose away from his toys to get ready for their fast-approaching appointment. Both armed in blue from head to toe, they were ready for today’s quest.
With his favorite teddy bear - a grey kitten - in tow, he forked at his eggs until June gave Kitten a plate. He ate a fork-full after fork-full, ignoring the emptying plate next to him. His parents were proud of his empty plate and he gave his kitten the same beaming smile and gleaming eyes for her clear plate.
Giddy, Ambrose picked up their plates and ran to the sink. His arms were extended as far as he could, and he was on the tips of his toes, but he couldn't reach the sink.
Dixie looked at the clock and promptly put out his step stool. "It's time to go, Ambrose."
"Okay," he said, scrambling up and dropping the plates in the sink.
He hopped down and raced for Kitten. As Dixie threw her bag on, Ambrose attached Kitten's leash to her and himself. Ready to go, he had Kitten in one hand and the seam of Dixie's dress in the other.
The street outside their house was empty and clam but as they got closer to the doctor's office, things started to pick up. The sidewalks were crammed with people. So we're the streets with vehicles.
Ambrose stuck close to Dixie’s side, getting closer to her when others got close to him. He gripped Kitten like a stress ball. By the time they entered the doors of the office, he needed to sit down and catch his breath.
He climbed into a chair as Dixie checked in at the desk. When she turned, she saw Ambrose slowly rocking, petting Kitten, who sat on his lap. She took the seat next to them as they waited for the doctor.
A half-hour later, a tall woman with a white doctor’s coat and her black hair in a rolled bun and a shorter man in a dress shirt, pants, and shoes walked into the waiting room. The man ignored their presence, but the doctor smiled at them. “Come on in, Ambrose.”
Ambrose slid out of his chair. He nearly skipped, letting Kitten skim across the floor. Stopping halfway, he turned to make sure Dixie was coming - she was adjusting her bag straps.
In the hospital room, the doctor was pulling a new piece of paper over the bed. Ambrose watched as she pulled out the steps in the front of it. “Hop up, Ambrose,” she said as she patted the bed.
He put Kitten up first then followed himself.
“How was your birthday?” the doctor asked, sitting on a wheeled stool.
His breathing increased and he bounced a bit. “It was good,” he squeaked, “I got to blow out five candles and got a new train, a bubble bath, and a leash for Kitten. No more losing her.” He wagged his arm up and down, showing how Kitten was stuck to him now.
“That sounds great,” she said, through her toothy smile.
She continued asking standard questions: how have you’ve been feeling, sleeping, had he had any more anxiety episodes, etc. By the time she started her examination, Ambrose had yawned a few time and his head nodded off. The two women had done the same.
When she turned on her examining flashlight, the three of them collapsed in turn - Dixie, Ambrose, then the doctor. The last thing any of them heard was the fire exit beginning kicked.
Ambrose awoke and stretched on a cold metal floor. He looked around and found Kitten next to him, dusty and dirty. With her in hand, he spun a little more, to see the moon out the window, but bigger than he had ever seen it at home.
He moved closer but found a counter-like thing in the way. Smiling, he played with the buttons unreached unlike the ones at home. After pressing a red button, he was forced forward into the panel.
Falling to the floor, he buried his face into his hands. His wailing flooded the room as his tears bubbled out of his hands. His sound covered the clunks of heavy boots.
Two figures - dressed in black - marched into the shuttle’s bridge. With guns in hand, they scanned the room with a glare.
Confusion fell when they couldn’t find the source of the crying. Nothing was visible from their height.
Leaning against the panel of buttons, one looked to the ground. He - in a flash - dropped to his knees.
“Who’s down there?” the standing one asked.
The man spun on his knees with Ambrose cuddled in his arm. “The Alexandrians sent a child this time.”