Jon lies sleeping in his incubator, not much larger than when he was born; the doctors, unable to determine the cause, used the generic diagnosis of ‘failure to thrive.’
As the evening wore on, shift change took place, so the change in Jon’s vital signs went unnoticed. They slowly plummeted until the alarms sounded. Doctors and nurses responded, starting resuscitation of their young patient. All efforts failed.
The doctor, glancing up at the clock, announced “12:03AM.”
Heads dropped at the loss of Jon, tears flowed freely. Despite their attempts at professional detachment, when a child dies, they grieve as if they’ve lost their own child.
“I’ll called the Austin’s,” another doctor announced. He returned to his desk and dialed the number, preparing to deliver the sad news.
The phone rang, jarring Steve out of a deep slumber. He grabbed the phone so it wouldn’t awake his sleeping wife. “Hello?
He listened for a moment, his knees buckling, dropping him to the floor. The receiver turned to dust in his had as he let out a blood-curling scream.
The scream woke both Helen and Jim from a sound slumber. Jim raced down the hall to his son’s room, throwing open the door.
“Steve!” he yelled, shaking his son awake.
Steve bolted upright, looking around the room, confused.
“Steve, it’s okay, you had a nightmare,” Jim said.
Helen arrived a moment later, trying to comfort her son. She held him close; noticing his whole body was shaking. “What’s wrong?”
Steve broke the embrace and scrambled out of bed. He grabbed his clothes and strode into the bathroom to change; a moment later he was out looking for his shoes.
“Steve, what are you doing” Jim asked, concerned about his sons condition.
“Hospital,” Steve replied, putting on his shoes.
“Whoa,” Jim said, blocking the door. “You are not driving. I’ll take you.” Jim quickly headed down the hall to get dressed.
Helen sat next to her son, “Steve, what’s wrong?”
“I have to go see Jon,” Steve said, tears starting to flow. “I have to see that he’s okay.”
“The doctor would have called if something were wrong,” Helen assured him.
“I have to see for myself,” he replied.
Jim returned a moment later, “Let’s go.”
Steve arrived at the nursery unannounced. The nurse tried to tell him that visitors were not permitted at this time, but he brushed her aside.
Jim caught up with them and filled the nurse in on the situation. Once she had the details, she went over to Steve and placed a hand gently on his shoulder.
“Your son is doing fine. Stay with him as long as you want.” The nurse quietly backed away, instructing the remainder of the staff to give Col. Austin a wide berth.
Steve sat next to his son, sobbing. Jon woke momentarily, staring at his father. He reached over and grabbed hold of Steve’s finger then drifted off to sleep.
The following morning Jan woke to a partially empty household. Making her way into the kitchen, she seated herself at the table.
“Where’s Steve and Jim?” she asked.
Helen took a seat at the table, filling Jan in on the details. “He’s still at the hospital. Jim can’t get him to leave.”
Jan hadn’t heard the commotion during the night since she’s not only a sound sleeper, but had three fans on in the room.
“Could you call Jim to come pick me up? I’ll see what I can do with Steve,” Jan asked.
Within the hour Jan entered the nursery, walking to her ragged-looking husband. “Steve? Jon’s okay; I’ve already talked to the doctor.”
“I want to take him home,” Steve said quietly, still watching his sleeping son. “If he’s doing fine, I want him at home with us.”
Jan began to cry, not understanding the sudden need. She had wanted Jon home for some time, but Steve kept assuring her it was best if he stayed in the hospital. Now suddenly her strong husband has had a change of heart.
Arrangements were made that afternoon for Jon to be released on Saturday, four days away. Steve argued against the wait, but the doctors insisted, stating they wanted to conduct one last battery of tests before releasing Jon.
Steve finally caved in, insisting that he be permitted to spend as much time as he wanted at the hospital with Jon. The doctors agreed as long as Steve would keep up with his health; they have seen too many parents put their lives on hold while keeping vigil over their child.
Jan understood her husband’s concern, and even agreed with his staying at the hospital during the night. With Helen and Jim at the house, if she needed help she would have it.
In the meantime, Josh assumed as many duties as he could, especially when it came to making sure Jon’s room was set up with everything his little brother would need.
Max sensed something was wrong, so he stayed a discrete distance during the daytime and slept with Josh at night.
Come Friday morning, Steve returned from the hospital for a few hours sleep. He found Jan pacing the living room.
“Jan? Are you okay?” he asked, walking to her side.
“I'm fine,” she replied. “I couldn’t get comfortable last night, so I finally gave up. I’ve been up for a couple of hours now.” Jan sensed the time was near, but with the raw emotional edge that Steve had been perched on for the past few days, she didn’t want to alarm him at this time. "Go get some sleep. If I need anything, I'll let you know."
Steve hesitated a moment, not sure whether to head for bed or stay with Jan. When she gave him the 'GO' glare, he retreated to the bedroom.
As the morning wore on, Jan knew she was in labor and that it would still be a while. They would just have her up and walking at the hospital, or worse, in bed connected to various machines. Opting to let nature take its course in the beginning stages, she kept quiet and continued walking.
Helen and Jim had been up for an hour or so, watching Jan pace the house. Helen whispered something in Jim's ear. He smiled and nodded, disappearing for a few minutes. Upon his return, he smiled at his wife. Everything was set; baggage and all necessary items were in the car. Now they waited.
Josh bound down the stairs with Max following. They headed outside, Josh to fill the feeders, Max to take care of business. Once inside, Josh was ready to go to school. Jan called him to her side.
"How about you stay home today, Munchkin?" Jan asked.
"I have a few tests to take," he replied.
"Do this for me, please?"
Josh stood looking at his Mother, slightly confused. She had never requested he stay home from school. A moment later, he caught the hint. "Sure thing Mom. I can take make-up tests as long as I have a note," he replied with a lopsided grin. He put away his school bag and changed out of his good clothes.
Max retired to the corner, slightly confused by the change in routine.
About an hour later, Jan stopped in the middle of the family room. "Jim?"
Jim walked to her side.
"It's time," she said.
"Josh!" Jim called. "Go wake your Dad. It's time to go to the hospital."
They heard Josh thumping up the stairs while Jim and Helen helped Jan to the front door, and carefully down the stairs to the car.
Throwing the bedroom door open, "Dad! Dad! It's time!" Josh yelled.
It only took Steve a moment to comprehend the meaning. He threw off the covers, grabbed his jeans and tee shirt and headed downstairs with Josh following close behind.
Steve stopped at the bottom of the stairs "Where?"
"In the car," Josh replied, racing past Steve.
Steve closed up the house, locking the door behind him.
Max sat in his corner with a befuddled look on his face. Padding to the front window, he spotted the whole family climbing into the cars. Letting loose a heavy sigh, Max circled three times then laid down in front of the window, patiently waiting for their return.
Jan was admitted and placed in a room where her doctor did a thorough exam.
"You're doing fine," the doctor said. "Let's get that husband of yours in here to help you along."
A few minutes later, Steve entered the room with a lopsided grin. He pulled a chair up close to the bed and held Jan's hand. "How are you doing?"
"Okay, I guess," said Jan. Another contraction started, "Time it."
Steve glanced at his watch, waiting. "40 seconds," he announced once Jan relaxed. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Talk to me," she said. "I need a distraction." Jan was extremely nervous about this baby and worried about Jon. Adding labor on top of her already raw nerves was too much for her.
Steve sat with her, recalling the memories of their first meeting, the dinner, the phone calls, all the while timing the contractions. Once they were four minutes apart, the doctor announced it was time to take Jan into the delivery room.
"May I be with her?" Steve asked.
The doctor nodded. A nurse took Steve to a little changing room so he may put on a surgical outfit. Once done, the nurse led him to the delivery room where Jan had already been settled. A chair had been placed near Jan's head so Steve could be with her, yet out of the way.
Labor progressed slowly, often appearing to stop. Steve continued to talk quietly to Jan, urging her along. Two hours later, delivery started. Steve had moved to hold Jan's hand; quite thankful his hand was bionic.
At the end of the first hour, the doctor had Jan stop pushing. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck. After carefully rearranging the cord, the doctor instructing Jan to continue pushing. Almost an hour later, the baby was born.
Steve was dismayed, expecting to hear the first cry. He watched as the doctors quickly cut the umbilical cord and transfers the infant to a nearby table.
"What's going on?" Jan asked, scared.
"I don't know," Steve said, just as scared.
Five long minutes passed before the terrified couple heard a loud cry from across the room. Both parents started crying, out of joy and nervousness. The nurse brought the little bundle to Jan.
"Congratulations, it's a girl and she's beautiful," the nurse said.
The happy couple ogled their daughter, who quietly eyed the strangers in front of her. She has a mass of jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, bordering on black. Here at seven minutes old she had already captured her parent's hearts.
"Welcome to the world, Katherine Elizabeth," Steve said, giving her a gentle kiss on the forehead. He kissed Jan tenderly on the lips, before departing to tell the waiting family members.
Steve entered the waiting room, grinning from ear to ear, "It's a girl; eight pounds 6 ounces and she's beautiful."
"Name? What's her name?" Josh asked, bouncing up and down on his toes.
"Katherine Elizabeth," Steve replied, receiving hugs from his parents. Steve gave Josh a big hug, then stood. "Jan is doing fine. The nurse said she would be settled into a room soon, then we can see her."
"What about the baby? Is she okay?" Helen asked anxiously. She could see something in Steve's eyes that told her everything wasn't fine.
Steve hugged his mother again. "There were some tense moments. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, but the doctor took care of it quickly. She has quite a set of lungs; you should have heard her first cry."
A doctor came out of the delivery room, asking to speak with Steve privately. The doctor led Steve to a small conference room. Once the door was closed, Steve asked, "What's wrong?"
"Your daughter is fine," the doctor assured. "Our immediate concern was her breathing, but after cleaning out the mucus she was fine, as you heard yourself."
Steve grinned, "Yes, she has quite a set of lungs."
The doctor chuckled. "We've conducted the APGAR test to assess her health."
"The what?" Steve said.
"The APGAR test checks for color, heartbeat, reflex, muscle tone, and respiration. A healthy baby should score a minimum of 7 out of a possible ten. Your daughter scored a 9," the doctor said.
"Wonderful," Steve said, relaxing noticeably.
"I'd like to talk to you about Jon. I'd like him to stay until your wife is ready to go home. I know you've been adamant about taking him home tomorrow, but with the turn of events, I think he'd be better off staying here. This way he can spend more time with Jan, just the two of them alone. They never did have the chance to properly bond."
Steve agreed without hesitation. "Could he be moved into Jan's room?"
"You think like your wife," the doctor chuckled. "She's already requested both children be in the room. It's being arranged as we speak."
"Doctor, will Jon be alright?" Steve asked. The memory of the dream never ventured far from his conscious mind. "What about that test? What did he score on it?"
"At the time he scored a 5, but he has improved since then, scoring a 7 as of this morning. At this time I believe he is out of the woods. He's still got a way to go to catch up with his sister; you'll notice a bit of a difference when you compare the two side by side," the doctor replied.
Steve relaxed slightly, "I could tell the difference the minute you handed her to Jan. Thanks for everything you've done, we really do appreciate it."
"No problem," the doctor said, opening the door.
Steve returned to the waiting room, smiling. "Nothing is wrong with Katie. He wanted to discuss Jon's condition. The good news is Jon will be going home when Jan and Katie go home."
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Steve wandered off to make a couple of phone calls, then returned in time to hear the nurse announced they could go in for a short visit.
Steve slowly opened the door to the room, peeking inside. "Can we come in?"
Jan smiled, holding both children. "Sure, quietly," she said.
The door opened all the way admitting the whole family, who spread out around the bed. Steve leaned over and kissed Jan on the forehead. "Ya done good," he whispered in her ear.
"The doctor said Katie is fine," Steve said.
"She is beautiful," Helen said just before bursting into tears.
"You both did good," Jim said, slapping Steve on the shoulder.
Katie was sound asleep in Jan's arm, while Jon was wide-awake, looking around the room. His eyes fell upon Josh; Jon smiled.
This had not gone unnoticed by the happy family. "Josh, would you like to hold Jon?"
Josh grinned, nodding. He seated himself next to his Mom. Steve transferred Jon to Josh's waiting arms. Josh held his brother close, staring into Jon's eyes. The parents sensed an immediate bond between the two boys. Jon reached out and grabbed Josh's nose, eliciting a grin from both boys.
"Well it looks like Jon is going to have Josh wrapped around his finger. Isn't that right, Josh?" Jan said.
Josh looked up grinning, "What did you say?"
Everyone laughed, realizing Josh was wrapped up with the little bundle in his arms.
Katie started fussing, which turned into a full-fledged cry.
"I think visiting time is over," Steve announced.
"Can I stay here with Jon?" Josh asked.
"It's up to Mom," Steve replied.
"Seeing that I have my hands full at the moment, yes," Jan replied, trying to calm Katie. "She really has a temper."
Josh sat holding Jon as everyone said their good-byes. Steve said he'd be out in the waiting room, while Helen and Jim headed to the house.
Josh looked up, "Max!" he said.
"Don't worry, we'll take care of him," Jim said, leaving the room.
Josh sat staring at Jon while Katie continued to cry. Jon seemed oblivious to the cries of his sister, content to watch his big brother. Katie eventually settled down, while Jon drifted off to sleep. Josh carefully placed Jon into the open incubator.
"He's asleep," Josh said, giving his Mom a quick kiss. "Do you need anything else?"
"Just a hug from my boy," Jan said. Josh carefully hugged his mother, trying not to disturb Katie.
"She's beautiful, Mom."
"Yes she is," Jan said. "It's been a long day for everyone. Why don't you take your Dad home and make sure he gets some sleep."
Josh nodded. "Sure thing." He started to walk away, and then turned back, "So Jon's birthday is May 18th and Katie's birthday is September 19th, and they're twins. Weird," he said heading out the door.
Jan smiled as the door slowly closed, looking down at the little bundle in her arms. A nurse appeared a few minutes later, taking Katie from Jan and putting her back in the open incubator. Jan fell asleep before the nurse left the room.
Josh sat quietly on the way home, deep in thought. Steve wondered what brought on the mood and finally asked. "Josh? What's wrong?"
"It's probably nothing."
"Try me," Steve said, wanting to know what is on his son's mind.
"Well, when Katie started crying, everyone flinched, except Jon. He didn't even seem to notice she was crying. He fell asleep about the same time she stopped. I just thought it was weird," Josh said.
Steve's heart dropped. Recalling all the time he spent with Jon, he couldn't remember a single time his son responded to his voice. A touch always caught Jon's attention, and kept it. He had thought Jon was responding to his voice, but maybe he wasn't after all.
"What does it mean, Dad?" Josh noticed the concerned look on his father's face.
"Maybe nothing. He may be used to all the crying in the nursery that Katie didn't bother him," Steve said. He didn't believe it, but felt Josh needed a reasonable explanation.
"I guess that could be it," Josh replied. "There is definitely a lot of noise in the nursery."
They rode in silence the rest of the way home. As soon as the car stopped, Josh was out the door and in the house, looking for Max. Steve sat in the driver's side, trying to control his emotions before heading into the house.
Helen and Jim stood at the front window concerned, watching their son break down in tears.
The following morning, Steve rose early. He showered, dressed and headed for the hospital. He barely slept, thinking of any time at all that Jon may have responded to a noise or voice. He was unable to think of a single instance.
After parking the car in the visitor's lot, he jogged into the hospital, heading for Jan's room. A nurse stopped him just short, informing him his wife was still asleep. Steve stared at the nurse, not knowing what to do. He asked if the doctor was in, saying it was an urgent matter.
The nurse said the doctor was in the nursery making rounds, and if Steve wanted to wait she'd let the doctor know he was here. Steve thanked her, and then headed for the waiting room.
The doctor appeared a few minutes later. Steve filled him in on the conversation with Josh the prior day. When Steve finished, the doctor mulled over the boy's observation.
"Is Jon deaf?" Steve finally asked, saying the word out loud for the first time.
"We'll have to conduct some tests, but yes, it sounds like a distinct possibility," the doctor said. "I'll have the nurse get Jon out of your wife's room and we'll check his hearing."
Leaving Steve to pace the waiting room, the doctor gave the nurse her instructions, and then returned to the nursery.
An hour later, Jan awoke, noticing Jon was missing from the room. She pushed the call button. The nurse arrived a moment later.
"Where's my son?" Jan said as she accepted Katie from the nurse.
"The doctor is running another set of tests on Jon," the nurse said.
"What kind of tests?"
"I honestly don't know," the nurse replied. "Your husband is here. Shall I show him in?"
"Please," Jan said. She positioned Katie for nursing while waiting for Steve.
A moment later, Steve entered the room.
"Steve? What's wrong? Did you sleep at all last night?"
Steve bent over and kissed Jan on the lips. "I love you very much," he said.
"The doctor is running some..." Steve was interrupted by a knock at the door.
The doctor poked his head in, "Colonel? May I speak with you?"
"Be right back," Steve said, kissing Jan one more time. He followed the doctor to the same conference as the day before.
"Colonel, you have a very astute son. His observation picked up something we hadn't. Jon's ears are severely infected. He has not shown any signs of infection, and a cursory examination of his ears would not have given a clue to the problem. We have started him on an aggressive treatment of antibiotics. At this time, we can't tell if he's hearing impaired. Once the infection clears, tests can be conducted to see if there is total or partial loss, or possibly no loss at all," the doctor said.
Steve sunk into a chair. "How long has he had the infection?"
"There's no way of knowing. As I said, he's shown no sign of infection at any time. Colonel, this is not uncommon in preemies. Considering the circumstances of his birth, he's very fortunate we haven't found anything else wrong with him." The doctor knew the explanation wouldn't comfort Steve, but he felt Steve needed to hear it.
"What are the odds of him not having any hearing loss?"
The doctor sighed. "Unfortunately, a premature baby with severely infected ears stands little chance on not having some form of hearing loss. The odds are very low." During his career, the doctor only knew of one child who went through the same scenario as Jon and came out unimpaired.
"What should I tell Jan?"
Two days later, mother and daughter were given a clean bill of health. Steve arrived early to retrieve his beautiful women. The homecoming wasn't as joyous as they hoped since Jon remained in the hospital hooked to IV's. Steve was torn between spending time with his wife and daughter, and staying with Jon at the hospital.
Jan noticed the strain on her husband's face. "Steve, I'm going to put Katie down and I'll take a nap. Helen and Jim are downstairs if I need anything. Go to the hospital and visit with Jon, then pick Josh up from school. Why don't the two of you stop for ice cream? You both need some time together."
Steve reluctantly agreed to leave Jan at home, but at the same time was happy to be heading for the hospital.
The nurse looked up in time to see Steve enter the room. She greeted him, filling him in on Jon's current condition; a slight sign of improvement had been noticed during an earlier exam.
The nurse ushered Steve to a rocker, then retrieved Jon from his crib. Steve carefully positioned his son, who was currently asleep, so he could watch his little face. Steve carefully bent over his sleeping son and kissed him on the forehead. He then placed a finger in Jon's hand, trying to get him to grip it.
Steve sat for more than an hour, gently rocking his son and imagining how all their lives would change if Jon turned out to be profoundly deaf. Steve's gaze had drifted outside, but quickly returned to his son when he heard a happy gurgle. Steve looked down into his son's smiling face. Jon had a firm grasp on Steve's finger, a much stronger grip than a few months prior. Jon continued to gurgle happily while Steve sat making silly faces at his son.
As time passed, Jon turned from a happy little infant into a very hungry infant. The nurse retrieved a bottle and handed it to Steve. Jon quickly accepted the bottle, emptying it in short order. Setting the bottle aside, Steve carefully placed Jon on his shoulder, rubbing Jon's back until he heard a loud burp. Steve held Jon out in front of him, fingers supporting his head, "You, little Jon, are definitely an Austin."
Jon started kicking his legs and gurgling again. Steve sat bewildered. Jon had never reacted to his voice. Thinking maybe it was his imagination, Steve waited for Jon to settle down, then started singing a lullaby to his son. Jon immediately focused upon Steve's face, watching him intently. "You heard me, didn't you?" Jon giggled slightly, staring up into Steve's face again.
Steve called the nurse over to them and asked her to stand a few feet behind Jon. Once Steve had Jon's attention, the nurse clapped her hands together. Jon shivered, then turned to the source of the noise. Both Steve and the nurse had tears streaming down their faces. The nurse went in search of the doctor while Steve sat cuddling Jon; afraid it was all a dream.
Steve stood outside of Josh's school, leaning against the car, arms folded, grinning broadly. School would be out in a few minutes, and Steve couldn't wait to give Josh the good news.
Josh exited the school shortly after the bell rang, flanked by friends, heading for the bus. Josh stopped when he heard his name. Looking around he spotted his Dad leaning against the car. Excusing himself from his friends, Josh headed over to the car.
Steve gave Josh a big hug, "I have great news."
"Oh?" Josh said while climbing into the car.
Turning to Josh, "Jon can hear."
Josh sat stunned. "What?"
Steve explained the events of the past few hours as they drove to the ice cream shop. Over hot fudge sundaes, Josh shot question after question at Steve regarding Jon's condition.
"It will be a couple of years before they can do a proper hearing test, but at least at this point we know he can hear," Steve said, scooping the last bit of fudge out of the bottom of the dish.
"Does Mom know?"
"Not yet," Steve said.
Josh gulped down the last few bites. "Let's go," he announced, wiping his face on a napkin.
Jan heard the slapping of two car doors, and Josh racing up the stairs. "In here," she called, hearing the front door open. Jan sat in the living room, giving Katie a bottle.
Josh sat next to his Mother, adoring his little sister. Looking up to his Mom, "Dad has great news!"
Steve entered the room, followed by Helen and Jim. Once everyone was seated, with a broad grin on his face, Steve announced, "Jon can hear."
He explained what had transpired a few hours past. "Jon's not out of the woods yet, though. We know he can hear, but the doctor said it might be a couple of years before we know how well he can here. The earliest they can give him a thorough hearing exam is age 2. In the meantime, we're to pay close attention to how he reacts to sounds and voices."
"We'll do whatever we have to," Jan said.
"And," Steve continued, "the doctor said that Josh may very well have prevented Jon from going completely deaf. If Josh hadn't noticed Jon's behavior the other day, the ear infection may have gone unnoticed until it was too late."
A celebration was planned in Josh's honor. Steve invited Rudy and Oscar, who agreed they would be there Friday afternoon, four days away. The plan was to have the party once Jon was home; the doctor planned on releasing him Thursday.
Helen, Jim and Steve prepared supper while Josh and Jan sat on the couch with Katie between them. She had fallen asleep shortly after their arrival. When supper was ready, Josh placed Katie in the portable crib, which was set in the corner of the family room.
Max padded over and looked at the little bundle. He was a little puzzled by it, but since his Master seemed to think it was important, Max decided it could stay. Having already eaten his dinner, Max climbed under the crib and went to sleep.
Thursday afternoon, Steve and Jan sat waiting for the school bell to ring. They promised Josh he could go to the hospital with them to bring Jon home. No sooner had the bell stopped ringing, the lanky ten year old exploded out the door and ran toward the car. Once inside, "Let's go!"
Steve and Jan laughed at the enthusiasm; Steve put the car into gear and headed for the hospital.
While Steve attended to the discharge papers, Josh gathered Jon's stuff, placing it in a cloth bag. In the meantime, Jan changed Jon's diaper then dressed him in a pair of jeans and a little tee shirt with the phrase 'Spoiled Baby' on the front. All the while, Jon watched his brother; following Josh's moves the best he could. When Josh approached the crib, Jon let out a high pitched squeal and started giggling, his bright blue eyes appearing to smile.
"Well Josh, I think we know who's going to be helping with Jon," Jan said.
When his Mom finished dressing Jon, Josh picked up his brother, holding him close. Jon reached out and grabbed Josh's nose. Josh made a honking noise, which caused another fit of giggles to erupt from Jon.
Steve appeared in the doorway a moment later, along with the doctor and most of the nursing staff. They all wanted to say goodbye to the little boy they had adopted over the past few months.
Within the hour, the whole Austin family resided under one roof. By early evening, Josh helped put the twins to bed, and then realizing he was tired, headed for bed. Jan stopped by with Steve to tuck him into bed.
"Josh, you have no idea how happy we are right now," Jan said. "We are so proud of the way you've been handling things recently. I know it hasn't been easy, but you have been a big help."
Max padded into the room and hopped onto the bed, snuggling with Josh.
Steve and Jan gave Josh hugs and kisses, which he gleefully accepted and returned. They turned off the light and closed the door as Josh rolled over to snuggle with Max.
The happy couple checked on the sleeping twins, then returned to the family where Helen and Jim sat going over last minute details for Friday's celebration. They planned to make it as special as possible.
The sun slowly peeked over the horizon, signaling the start of a new day. Steve had been awake for a couple of hours, taking care of the twins needs, prior to waking Josh.
Without opening his eyes, Josh climbed out of bed and started his morning routine, heading downstairs when he was done. He plopped himself into a kitchen chair, staring at an empty table.
"Dad, where's breakfast?" Josh said. Normally his food was waiting for him when he sat down at the table on a school morning.
"We'll catch breakfast when we get back," Steve said nonchalantly while reading the newspaper.
Josh, with a puzzled expression on his face, stared at his father. "Get back from where?"
"Edwards," Steve replied.
"What are we going to Edwards for? I've got to go to school," Josh said, slightly confused.
Steve looked up from the paper, "Well, either you can go to school or stay home and go flying. Your choice."
It took a moment for Josh to comprehend Steve's comment. Suddenly his eyes popped wide open. "Flying?"
"I've arranged a two hour window for us this morning, starting at 7:30, which means we need to get going soon," Steve explained.
By 6:30 they arrived at Edwards and headed for the flight school. Ted met them at the door, glad to see Josh back for another ride.
"How are those twins of yours doing, Steve?" Ted asked. Pictures already adorned the walls of Steve's office, having brought them in late one evening for everyone to see.
"They're great, both at home and trying to take over the house. I discovered last night that Katie is a night owl while Jon goes back to sleep quickly after a diaper change," Steve said.
Ted followed them into the locker room. "So Josh, a little birdie told me you were the one who diagnosed your little brother."
Josh, slightly embarrassed, said, "I just noticed he wasn't responding to sound. The doctor's found out what was wrong with him."
Ted laughed, "You have a modest son on your hands."
As they started changing into flight suits, Ted once again helping Josh, Steve told Ted of all the help Josh has provided to date and a celebration had been planned for later in the afternoon. "You and Karen are more than welcome to join us," Steve invited.
Josh looked up to Ted, "Please Uncle Ted?"
"I think it can be arranged," Ted said, winking at the boy. "You take good care of your Dad while you're up there. He likes to show off when given half a chance."
"Yes sir!" Josh said with a mock salute.
The trio walked out to the plane; Ted helping Josh get settled while Steve did a final walk around. When he was satisfied with what he saw, Steve climbed into the pilot's seat and started his checklist.
Since they were early, Steve decided to educate Josh on the control panel in front of him. Josh was a quick study, able to answer all questions put forth after the instruction. He also came up with a few good questions, which pleased Steve immensely.
Once Josh had the basic instrumentation down pat, Steve started instructing him in the use of the pedals and maneuvering. By the time he finished, flight control broke and cleared them to taxi out to the runway.
Steve went through the final preparations, then taxied out and held his position.
When he received final clearance, he released the break and taxied down the runway, gaining speed until liftoff. A loud hoot came from the backseat. Steve checked the mirror and could see Josh grinning. "You doing alright back there?"
"Great Dad, just great!"
Steve took them through a variety of maneuvers, making sure Josh could handle the G forces. After a half hour, he was confident Josh could handle more complicated maneuvers.
Josh thrilled at the acrobatics his father performed, hooting and hollering all the while. Steve finally leveled off the plane, much to Josh's dismay.
"It's not time to go in yet, is it?" Josh said.
"No," Steve replied, "It's time for your first flight lesson." Steve spent the next few minutes guiding Josh with the pedals and stick, taking him through a simple barrel roll. As Steve continued to guide Josh, he slowly removed his hand from the stick. "Check your heading," Steve said, then instructed Josh to slowly turn to the right and stopping at a given point. Once the maneuver was complete, "You did that all by yourself, Josh. I wasn't holding the stick."
"No!" Josh said, amazed.
"Yes," Steve said, taking the stick back for a moment. "I'm going to set up for another run and this time you'll have the stick and pedals."
For the remaining time, Steve guided Josh through simple maneuvers. Comfortable with Josh's skills, he finally permitted Josh to do a barrel roll on his own.
By the time they landed, so much adrenaline pumped through Josh that Steve figured the boy would never calm down. While changing out of their flight suits, Josh replayed the whole thing to Ted, barely stopping to take a breath.
As they walked out to the car, Josh raced ahead, arms straight out like airplane wings.
"You better hope he calms down soon," Ted commented.
"If not I'll throw him on my treadmill and have him run the energy off," Steve said teasingly.
Josh had calmed down enough prior to getting home that Steve decided to treat him to breakfast. Josh ordered chocolate chip pancakes and milk while Steve opted for buttermilk pancakes and coffee. They sat talking about the flight; actually, Josh did most of the talking while Steve listened, thrilled that Josh had taken an interest in planes.
Once finished with breakfast, they stopped at a hobby store. Steve had promised some time ago to get Josh extra supplies for the microscope Rudy had provided, but they had yet to find time.
Josh carefully selected the prepared slides for botanical studies, and replenished his stock of regular slides, specimen stains, and glass covers. Steve spotted a couple of reference books, which would be beneficial to Josh. While his son was preoccupied, Steve took them to the register and paid for them, planning on giving him one now and the other at Christmas. He managed to get them out to he car and himself back in the store without Josh noticing he was gone.
After paying for Josh's materials, they headed for the car when Josh noticed a baby store across the street. "Hey Dad, can we go over and look?"
Steve noticed the store and grinned. "Sure, why not."
They left the car in the parking lot and walked across to the store, spending the better part of an hour browsing through infant toys. By the time they left, each had a bag in hand.
Steve's bag contained the essentials, including diapers and baby powder. While Steve changed Jon's diaper earlier in the morning, he hadn't moved the baby powder out of reach. Jon swung an arm and sent the bottle flying. It hit the wall sending up a cloud of powder, which Steve spent an hour cleaning up.
Josh's bag contained two infant-safe stuffed animals, made out of the softest material he had ever felt. He selected a blue bear for Jon and a pink dog for Katie. Steve assured him the toys would be a hit.
Returning to the car, Steve suggested hitting the sports store for more tennis balls. "At this rate, we should take stock in a tennis ball company," he said.
They purchased a case of tennis balls, receiving a strange look from the clerk. Once the package was stowed, they headed for home, arriving in time for lunch.
Josh spent the entire mealtime telling of his time in the air and of the time he spent commanding the huge plane by himself. Jan shot Steve a disapproving look at this revelation, Steve replying with raised eyebrows and a lopsided grin. After lunch, Jan suggested taking Max out to play for a while.
Josh called for Max and led his friend out the door. He had no sooner closed the door than the twins started wailing. Jan retreated to the upstairs to feed them while Steve cleaned up the dishes, sparing his parents of the duty.
"Is everything set for this afternoon?" Steve asked his Mom.
"Sure thing," Helen replied. "The cake has been ordered. Jim will go pick it up along with the ice cream and drinks. The balloons will be delivered. We picked up the gifts this morning while you were at the base."
Jim wandered into the kitchen. "Oscar about an hour ago," he said. "They'll arrive around 2 our time and will drive out as soon as they acquire a car."
Once Steve finished in the kitchen, he walked to the sliding glass doors to see what Josh and Max were doing. He spotted Josh sound asleep on a deck chair with Max sleeping at his feet. Jan joined Steve at his side, hugging him.
"Dale would be very proud of his boy," Steve commented.
"I'm sure he is," Jan replied. "I'm sure he is."
The doorbell rang shortly before 3, announcing the arrival of Oscar and Rudy. Steve opened the door and led them into the family room, where the twins waited to meet their Uncles. The two older men took seats next to the babies, Oscar picking up Katie and Rudy picking up Jon. Jon was ready to play, the best he could for his age while Katie fell asleep in Oscar's arms.
Jan entered the room, spotting the men with the babies. "Now isn't that a sight to behold," she said. "Where's my camera?"
Steve was a step ahead of her, having his Dad hunt it down. Knowing that both Oscar and Rudy hated having their pictures taken, he quickly snapped a shot of them with the babies. Much to Steve's surprise, they didn't complain.
"Where's Josh?" Rudy asked, while amusing Jon with a toy.
Glancing out to the back deck, "Still sleeping."
"Sleeping?" Oscar asked quietly.
"I wore him out this morning," Steve said, explaining the morning's activities. "We weren't home for an hour before he fell asleep out on the deck. From the looks of it, Max is guarding him."
Rudy asked how Max was working out with the home environment. Steve assured him that Max was now a part of the family, and was very well behaved.
Jan went out to wake Josh and bring the two inside. The dining room had already been prepared, with the cake sitting on the table. Balloons floated freely in the room, adding a spectacular splash of color against the walls. A variety of gifts were strewn across the table, and sitting in the corner was a huge teddy bear wearing a specially made T-shirt reading 'My Brother, My Hero'; the picture was of Josh and Jon sitting in the rocker at the hospital.
Steve excused himself, needing to start the grill. "Steaks are on the menu this evening," he announced. Oscar settled Katie into her little seat, careful not to wake her. Following Steve outside, he nearly collided with Josh, who stopped in time to exchange hugs.
Once inside, Josh spotted Rudy with Jon so he took a seat beside them. Jon spotted Josh in a heartbeat and leaned over toward his brother. Rudy handed over the bundle of energy to Josh. "Where did that come from?" Rudy said, questioning the sudden burst of activity.
Helen entered in time to hear the question, "That always happens when Josh is nearby."
Jon reached out with one little finger and carefully touched Josh's noise. His efforts rewarded him with a 'beep beep' from Josh. The two boys continued to play in this fashion until Jon suddenly screwed up his face and let out a scream.
Jan, who had been heading for the kitchen, changed directions now seeking out the noisy baby. Josh passed her in the hall, "Don't worry, Mom. I'll change him." Josh bounded up the stairs with the crying bundle.
Rudy followed Josh, stopping at Jan's side. "They have a tight bond," he commented.
"They certainly do," Jan agreed. A moment later they heard singing coming from the upstairs bedroom, which seemed to calm Jon.
Rudy and Jan chuckled, heading to the kitchen to help with whatever they could.
The group ate dinner on the back deck, enjoying the fading afternoon sun and cooling breeze. Once finished eating, Josh excused himself to fill the bird feeders and clean out the birdbaths. The men cleaned off the table, taking the dirty dishes and leftovers inside. A good size chunk of steak was leftover.
"Rudy, can Max have the steak?" Steve asked.
"Sure, no reason why he can't. Other than his bionics, he's a normal dog," Rudy replied, watching Max pad into the room.
Max sat in front of Steve, looking up. Steve placed the meat in Max's bowl. Max sniffed it first, and then devoured it in three bites. He glanced back to Steve, looking for more.
"Sorry boy, that was it," Steve said. He chuckled as Max let loose a heavy sigh then walked away. "I swear he understands English."
"Anyone want cake?" Jan announced.
Everyone gathered in the dining room, surrounding the table. Jan and Steve placed Josh between them, in front of the cake.
Josh saw the bear sitting in the corner and blushed. "Aw Mom," he said, not finishing the sentence.
Jan ruffled his hair, and then held him close.
"I'll make this as short as I can," Steve started. "Jan and I felt that Josh needed recognition for the contribution he's made to this family. Although he may not feel like he's done anything, the fact is he may have very well saved Jon from a life of deafness."
Several cheers went round the table. Steve held up his hand for quiet.
"Before we cut the cake, there is one more important thing I'd like to add. Jan and I have kept this well hidden for over a year now, and we were notified this week that the paperwork has been finalized. I figured this would be a good time to make the announcement," Steve said, pausing to take in the puzzled looks.
"Dad?" Josh said, looking up to Steve.
Steve smiled, knowing it was official.
"I'd like to present the newest member of the Austin family, Joshua Alan Austin-Tanner, our son."