Here is part two.
Gerard’s eyes darted from the road to the rear-view mirror as he navigated the silver BMW along rain-slick streets. The intermittent squeak of the windshield wipers working against light rain was the only sound inside the vehicle.
Every third or fourth glance at the reflection of the backseat of the sedan, Gerard’s gaze would linger for perhaps longer than would be considered safe. But it was late and the rain which had finally subsided into a light shower meant there was very little traffic.
The boy, who was now Jimmy, sat quietly, a small, ragged, stuffed brown teddy bear nestled in his lap. Jimmy tugged the toy’s arms in short punching motions and giggled as his innocent looking trinket battled with some unseen foe.
Driving with one hand on the steering wheel, Gerard’s other hand was firmly entwined in his wife’s hands. She kept a firm hold on her husband, as she sat in the front passenger seat turned so she could face the boy who was her son and at the same time a complete stranger.
She was desperately trying to reconcile the child’s unfamiliar features with his very familiar mannerisms. He moved, spoke, laughed, even sounded like the boy she had given birth to and raised for the past eight years, and on the inside he supposedly was.
“What’s the matter, mommy,“ the little boy asked, looking up at his mother, his brown eyes curious.
Cheryl suppressed the sob the little voice evoked, bringing her hands and her husband’s hand to her mouth to cover the distress she was sure reflected on her face.
“Nothing, sweetie. Mommy’s just happy to see you,” she responded softly, her voice a whisper as she forced the words out; her throat felt as though it was stuffed with cotton.
“You’re silly. We see each other every day,” the boy said happily, before returning his attention to the teddy bear. Still focused on the imaginary battle Jimmy asked “Why was I at the hospital?” His tone was matter-of-fact, he obviously had no memory of the ordeal.
Cheryl couldn’t speak. Instead, she turned around in her seat, clenched her husband’s hand harder and began to cry.
Gerard’s thumb wriggled free from the iron-like grip and caressed his wife’s hand. The action comforted him, made him feel supportive, despite the helplessness that ached in the pit of his stomach.
He could almost sense his wife’s thoughts and fears because they were ones he shared. Neither of them had ever considered themselves religious. But when they received a call from the school that Jimmy had been in an accident and was being rushed to the hospital and that he probably wouldn’t survive long enough for them to say good-bye, they had both prayed for a miracle.
Answering their prayers was Dr. Grace O’Donnell. Shortly after arriving at the hospital Dr. O’Donnell came to say their son had died. Before the shock could register, she told them of a treatment too fantastic to believe and that she could save Jimmy if she went to work right away.
Without hesitation or consideration they agreed, as any parent would, given the chance to save their child, no matter how far-fetched. The ramifications were unimportant when compared to the life of their son. Dr. O’Connell gave them a consent form and with their signatures in hand scurried off to another part of the hospital. For the next two days the Williams waited. They were given accommodations in one of the hospital’s private rooms. They picked without interest at the food brought to them as they waited in silence, and thumbed through magazines they didn’t read, too afraid to give voice to their fears. Denied the chance to see their son before the procedure began Cheryl and Gerard waited, each hour producing an imaginary scenario more horrible than the last. But nothing they could envision was worse than the feeling they would never see their child again. Now, as Gerard stared at the boy in his rear-view mirror, he couldn’t help wonder if he ever would.
The drive from the hospital to their acreage home on the outskirts of the city took a little more than an hour. Neither Gerard or Cheryl spoke during the drive except to answer a child-like question from the boy in the back, who they hoped they would soon recognize as their son and not an imposter.
Jimmy watched out the window as the car ascended a steep driveway to the large two-story house atop a hill. Surrounded by trees, the brick, colonial-style home was completely secluded from the main road and the closest neighbours who lived a few 100 metres to the north and south.
Jimmy watched an old three-seat porch swing rock under a bright sensor light over the front door that flared to life when the car approached.
Gerard cut the engine and exited the car. As Cheryl went towards the front door, fumbling for keys in her purse; Gerard opened the back door of the BMW. The actions were automatic, done with a practised efficiency, but to both Gerard and Cheryl it felt feigned, the intimacy they normally cherished in such communal cooperation had vanished.
Gerard buttoned the boy’s coat against the cooling night air. It was early September and the evenings were struggling to maintain the day’s warmth.
“Come on, son,” the words felt awkward as Gerard spoke them while easily scooping the boy into his arms.
“Can I have some hot chocolate before bed, dad.” the request was like clockwork. After every car trip Jimmy would always ask for hot chocolate upon returning home. This, is Jimmy, Gerard forced himself to think.
“Sure, buddy,” he replied patting the boy on the back.
By the time Gerard and Jimmy were in the house and had removed their jackets and shoes Cheryl had already begun making the hot chocolate in the kitchen. The boy may not look like her son, but if his mind was truly in that little body she knew he would want hot chocolate.
Jimmy sipped the hot chocolate from a large green mug, a colourful puffin bird embossed on the front. After each sip he would put the cup down and fish a marshmallow out of the steaming liquid with a spoon. Spilling more than a little, he slurped the softened white blob into his mouth and grin while making sucking sounds in an effort to cool the sweet treat as it burned his mouth.
Cheryl leaned her head on her husband’s shoulder, a smile stretching the length of her face. Gerard was also smiling as the pair sat across the table from their son. Simultaneously, they marvelled how something as simple as drinking hot chocolate could convince them of Jimmy’s authenticity.
“No one drinks hot chocolate like our Jimmy,” Gerard said, laughing at the absurdity of such a boast. And then Cheryl began to laugh. Jimmy soon joined, not sure what was funny, but enjoying the joy in his parent’s eyes, they had seemed so sad during the ride home.
Two cups of hot chocolate and a ginger snap later Gerard was carrying Jimmy up to his bed, the boy’s head nodding against his shoulder as Jimmy fought to stay awake.
“I need to brush my teeth,” Jimmy said sleepily.
“Not tonight, buddy. You can do it twice in the morning.”
“Okay, dad. Can you read me a story?” Jimmy’s voice was fading.
But before Gerard could answer Jimmy was snoring softly into his ear. Easing the boy into his bed Gerard tucked his son in and gave him a kiss on the forehead. He sat for a moment and looked into the boy’s sleeping face. The sense he was looking at a stranger was beginning to fade. He wondered if soon he would forget that this was not how Jimmy had always looked and then he wondered if that prospect should bother him.
Deciding he was too tired and emotionally spent for such a philosophical debate he dismissed the question and walked from the room, closing the door until just a sliver of light from the hallway shone into his son’s room. Jimmy had only recently stopped sleeping with the light on.
He went back to the kitchen and sat down just as Cheryl finished loading the dishwasher. She joined him at the table and for moment they were both silent.
“You’ll take all the mirrors down before you go to bed,” she finally said. Gerard shook his head while he nodded in agreement, so much of what was happening remained in the realm of the unbelievable.
“We’ll have to find him a new school. What about his friends?” Gerard rested his forehead in his hands as he spoke, exhaustion was creeping over him.
“Maybe we should just move,” Cheryl said seriously.
Gerard looked up. Dr. O’Donnell said it was vital that nothing shake Jimmy’s sense of identity for the next three years. The reality of the enormity of such a task was now beginning to sink in. Every photograph, video, relationship Jimmy was involved in would have to disappear.
“Maybe you’re right, Cheryl. Maybe we have to start all over…..”
Gerard was cut off, his train of thought shattered. Upstairs, Jimmy was screaming.