Chapter Twenty-Seven

Evan was dreaming of home, his parents' home specifically. All of his siblings were there, along with Ainsleigh and Michelle. The radio was blaring so loudly that he found himself trying to shout over it, but every time he went to turn it down, he got sidetracked. He eventually made his way over to it, only to find that the knobs were missing. He grew frustrated with his family for not helping him because there was something he wanted desperately to tell them. He shouted for everyone to stop talking and was met with a room full of silent, dumbfounded faces. His mother walked over to him and touched his face. "Son?" she said, staring quizzically.

"Son?" she repeated, a little louder this time. Before he could answer she called him again, louder still.

"Son!"

Evan jumped when he felt the slap on his face. He opened his eyes to find a strange man standing over him. The man was small and wiry with a neat white beard and only a few wisps of white hair on his head. He was dressed neatly in khakis and a white button-down shirt. It seemed to be a uniform of sorts for him. Evan realized he had never seen him in anything else. His skin was oddly smooth for a man of his age, but there were deep frown lines on his forehead. He stared expectantly at Evan with sharp blue eyes that peeked out from behind round, rimless glasses that could usually be found sitting atop his head.

"Did you hit me?" Evan rasped, his voice rusty from lack of use.

"Don't be talkin' now, son."

He couldn't decide if his host was angry or just mean. "Why?" he challenged.

"Because you need to stay calm," the old man snapped. "And I don't like a lot of yappin'!"

"Fair enough," he said, "but why did you hit me?"

"Looked like you were having a bad dream. You were agitated and all that caterwauling was drowning out Lena."

Evan was taken aback. He stared at the man, who held one finger in the air and waved it like a conductor's wand. That's when he heard the music for the first time.

"Lena?"

"Lena Horne," the man said. His face softened and his eyes took on a faraway look. "The love of my life, but don't tell Ella," he added conspiratorially.

"Fitzgerald?"

"Now you're gettin' it. We're gonna get along just fine, kid." For the first time he could remember, the man smiled. But his good mood was fleeting.

Evan had a million questions and wasn't sure which one to ask first. "Who are you? How long have I been here? What's wrong with me?" He tried to sit up, but the old man quickly pushed him back down.

"Well now, maybe I spoke too soon. That's a lot of yakkity-yak right there." He scratched his bald head and frowned.

"I have a right to know."

The man glared at him for a long time, then slumped his shoulders in defeat. "Fair enough," he said and he turned off the radio. "You've been here about six weeks. Maybe a little longer. I know it sounds like a long time," he added quickly when he saw the look on Evan's face. "But you've been pretty bad off. I've about got you fixed up now, though."

"What's wrong with—"

"Don't interrupt me, son! I don't like repeatin' myself. Now let's see, where do I start? At the beginning, I guess." He pulled up a chair and sat down right beside the bed. "I found you on the side of the road a couple of miles from here. You were out cold, so I had to haul you here all by myself."

"Why didn't you—" The old man's glare stopped Evan short. "Sorry," he muttered.

"You didn't wake up for several days, and even then it was only for a few minutes at a time. Probably for the best, though. Gave your body time to heal. Plus, I ran out of morphine after the first week." The last sentence was said under his breath, but Evan heard it anyway. Had he really been hurt that badly?

He listened in silence as the grumpy little man told him about his last few weeks. It was a lot for Evan to absorb. He still had a lot of questions, but he settled for any easy one to get things started.

"What do I call you?"

The man's face clouded with suspicion before settling back into mild hostility. "Call me whatever you want. What difference does it make to me?" he grumbled.

Evan smiled. He was beginning to see through the old guy's bluster. "How about if I call you Gabe, after the angel Gabriel? You are my guardian angel after all."

"Hogwash!" he spat. "You're too old to believe in fairy tales. Or maybe that head injury was worse I thought. My name is Loper. Hank Loper," he said at last. "You can call me Doc. Or Hank. Or Santa Claus, just don't be calling me no angel."

"Well, you do have a white beard," he teased. "But I can't tell from this angle if you have a belly like a bowl full of jelly."

"Zip it, boy, before I leave you for dead."

Evan laughed. "Too late, Doc. You've already save me. Can't throw me back now."

"Never too late," the old man muttered as he stood and walked away shaking his head.

"So what is this, some kind of hospital?" He looked around the room at all of the medical equipment. It had to be a medical facility of some kind, but he never saw or heard any other patients.

Hank grunted. "Naw, this ain't no hospital. I gave up treating humans a long time ago. Too much yapping, and they never do what they're told." He glared knowingly at Evan as he said the last part, but the young man was not paying any attention. Something the doctor said had send him reeling.

"So you're a — veterinarian!"

The old man took exception to his tone. "Yeah, so? I don't need 10 years in a fancy hospital to know how to set a broke leg, now do I?"

Evan remained quiet, afraid to admit that he had been asking himself that same question.

"You're alive ain't ya?" Hank's voice had risen from its usual low grumble to a high-pitched sneer. Evan realized that he had hurt his feelings and immediately regretted his reaction. Despite his misgivings, the doctor was right. He was alive, and nothing mattered more than that.

"Yes, I'm alive," he said with renewed enthusiasm. "Thank you, Jesus!" When the old man grunted, he turned to him and said softly, "Thank you, too, Hank."

Hank muttered something about "fresh air and vitamin D" as he threw open the window and walked out of the room.