Episode Fourteen: Karma


**NOTICE: Episode 15 was accidentally posted. Episode 14 is below. Sorry that you all know how this ends.**



The heels of my boots were planted against the hot asphalt at the main intersection in the tiny college town of Eakins. The hum of my Harley’s engine helped me relax. It was easy to forget or focus while driving around town on my bike, even if my muscles were aching and exhausted from a full load of clients at Iron E.

Abby had been damn near euphoric since our date. Her luck proved endless when we realized we’d picked a night the owners weren’t there. Parker Hayes’ parents might have owned Biasetti’s, and it might have been the place Parker had taken Abby for their first date, but the second we sat down, Abby was the giggling, witty, sarcastic, natural beauty I’d taken to the pizza parlor on our first non-date. It was like we were just college students again: no bills to worry about, no federal agents sniffing around our apartment. Even so, we knew we were lucky. Adam was sitting in the country jail waiting for a pre-preliminary hearing. I was taking my wife on dates and pretending like the worst problem we had was Abby and Camille getting along.

The light turned green, and I picked up my feet the same time I twisted the throttle, clicking through each gear like the speed limit was for everyone else. Another work day and semester behind me. I had an entire summer to hang out at home with my new wife; no papers to write, no juggling time with her with my new job and homework. Work… home… Pigeon. Sounded like Heaven to me—if I didn’t end up getting handcuffed and escorted out my front door by federal agents. That scenario was always in the back of my mind.

I tried to remember the summer after my freshman year of college: a lot of drinking and fucking—no worries about a life sentence locked away from Abby, or any worries at all—but looking back it was one long waste of time. Abby made every moment mean something. Realizing that I’d just met her eight months before made me have momentary freak outs that none of it was real. We’d been through so much crazy shit in a small amount of time, and somehow ended up together and happy. Some days I felt like I was waiting for reality to kick me in the balls.

The gravel in Dad’s drive crunched under wheels of the Harley, and I pushed down on the kickstand as the engine cut off. Dad stepped out onto the porch, greeting me like he did every time I visited, but this time Trenton stood with him, holding his casted arm with his free hand.

“Well, hey there,” Dad said with a warm smile. His cheeks pushed up when he smiled, narrowing his eyes. “Good to see you. Come in… come in.”

I patted Dad on the shoulder as I passed, and nodded to Trenton.

“Hey, pussy,” I said.

Trenton just nodded.

I made my way down a short hall and turned into the living room, falling into the couch. It banged against the wall, but Dad didn’t mention it. He just sat in his recliner and pushed back, letting himself rock while he waiting for me to state the reason for my visit.

Trenton sat beside me—carefully—seeming more fragile than I’d ever seen him.

I frowned. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he grunted. “I’ll live.”

“I’m serious. You look like shit. You’re moving even slower than you were.”

“Thanks, dick head,” he grumbled.

I looked to Dad. “Is it just me?”

“No, I’ve told him,” Dad said. “I was hoping you’d say something.”

Trenton leaned back and groaned, letting his head fall against the couch cushions. “Fine. I’m dragging ass. I just haven’t been feeling great. But, on top of being a cripple, I’m not going to get sick.”

“Don’t be a fuckin’ idiot, Trent. Ignoring it is going to make it worse. Especially when your body is already working hard to heal,” I said.

Dad and Trenton both stared at me.

“What the hell, Trav?” Trenton said. “You got married and turned into Dad.”

Dad’s belly bounced as he laughed, and I looked down, cracking a smile.

“Well? How’s the new job going?” Dad asked.

I sat back, trying to get comfortable on Dad’s worn couch. It was lumpy and had lost half its stuffing, but Mom had picked out that couch before I was born. Dad had to let her go, so he chose to hold on to things he had a choice in keeping.

“It’s okay. My boss is a dick, but I’ve learn to dodge him for the most part.” I glanced at Trenton. Sweat was beginning to form along his hairline. “Trent. Have you taken your pain pill today?”

He shrugged with his good shoulder. “Took one this morning.”

“Then what’s your deal?”

“I don’t know, man. I just don’t feel good. Quit bustin’ my balls.”

“How did you get here?” I asked. Camille’s car was totaled, so she’d been driving Trenton’s dilapidated Dodge Intrepid since she’d been cleared to drive.

“Dad picked me up in the truck.”

I glanced at Dad, who was watching Trenton with a concerned expression. “He didn’t sound good on the phone,” Dad said.

“All right,” I said, standing up. I held out my hand. “Toss me your keys, Dad. We’re taking Trenton to Urgent Care.”

“What? Fuck no,” Trenton said.

“Get up,” I demanded.

“Trav,” Trenton said. He looked up at me, exhausted. “I can’t afford it.”

I stared at him for a minute, and then sighed. “I’ll cover it. You’re going.”

“No. I can’t ask you to do that,” Trenton said, looking worse by the second.

“Get up, Trenton, or I’ll toss your ass over my shoulder.”

Trenton glared at the carpet, cussing me under his breath, and then stood. He wobbled, and I slung his good arm around my neck, carrying his weight as we walked to Dad’s pick up. I helped my big brother in, and then Dad. He tossed me the keys, and I walked around to the other side, making sure my bike was far enough out of the way.

I pulled my cell from my pocket and started to text my wife, but knew any way I explained would be alarming, so I decided to wait until we had some news to report. I slid in behind the wheel, and stabbed the key in the ignition. Dad’s truck whined, and then silenced before turning over.

“Don’t pump the gas,” Dad said. “You’ll flood the engine.”

I turned it again, listening to it crank without catching. I looked at Trenton. He was the one always working on Dad’s truck, but he’d been hurt and not feeling well, so no telling what was wrong. Dad’s old Chevy was a constant patch job.

Dad pointed to the ignition, rolling his finger in a circle. “Okay, turn it one more time, let it sit, then turn it again, pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor.”

I did as he said, and when I pressed the gas to the floor, it cranked four times, and then caught. I tapped the steering wheel, pulled down the gear shift, and backed out of the yard. Trenton grunted when we bounced over the curb, and then again when I pulled away. The farther we drove, the worse he looked.

“Trav,” he said, closing his eyes. “I’m not feeling so hot. Pull over.”

I glanced over at him. His face was ashen, the sweat now beading and falling down his forehead.

“Fuck this, I’m taking you to the Emergency Room.”

Trenton said a few words that didn’t make sense, then passed out. Dad held his head against his chest, watching him intently.

“Travis,” Dad said. His voice was calm, but it was tinged with fear.

“Two minutes.”

Dad nodded, knowing I was driving as fast as I could.

We all bounced as I yanked the wheel and gunned the engine into the hospital entrance. The truck whined to a stop just inside the ambulance bay and I shoved the gear in park, running around to the passenger side. Dad was already stepping onto the cement. I reached in, pulling Trenton out and lobbing him over my shoulder like he weighed nothing.

As soon as the sliding door sensed our presence and opened, the receptionist took one look at us and called for nurses. Three women in brightly-colored scrubs rushed out of double automatic doors pushing a gurney. I lowered Trenton onto his back, and the three women were already taking his vitals as they moved him toward the double doors again.

Dad looked at Trenton, and then at me.

“Go ahead, Dad. I’ll take care of it,” I said.

Dad nodded and followed his unconscious son. The double doors closed, and I cleared my throat, looking at the receptionist. She seemed unfazed, using her mouse to click a few times before readying her hands to type.

“Name?” she asked.

“His name? Trenton Allen Maddox.”

She typed his name and nodded. “He’s in the system… fairly recently looks like.”

I nodded.

“Oh. He’s the one who…” Her voice trailed off, and she stopped before divulging any more information.

“Yeah, he’s the one.” I said.

She took the information from me, and then offered to take me to Dad and Trenton. She called first to get the room number, and then escorted me through a single door. We walked through a triage room, and then I followed her down a white-washed hallway. She gestured for me to enter Exam Room Ten.

“Thank you,” I said, walking in. I brushed back the curtain to see Dad standing in the corner, watching the nurses just finishing up with an I.V. Trenton was awake, but exhausted.

“Hey,” he croaked.

I ran my hand over the stubble on top of my head and sighed. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“Hi,” a woman in a white lab coat said, holding out her right hand. I shook it. “I’m Dr. Walsh. He’s stable and alert. His heart rate isn’t where I’d like it to be, but I think with fluids we’ll get there.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.

She smiled, a bright red curl falling from a loose bun on top of her head. She pushed her black-framed glasses up the bridge of her nose. “We’re running tests. Your dad said he was in a pretty significant accident somewhat recently?”

“Yeah, almost two months ago,” I said.

She kept smiling, staring at me as if she were waiting for something.

“What?” I asked.

She looked down at a tablet in her hand. She tapped it a few times, and then looked up at a screen on the wall. It brightened with the images of Trenton’s first and last X-Rays. Her nose wrinkled. “That’s a pretty ugly break. It’s amazing you didn’t need surgery.”

“He wouldn’t leave his girlfriend’s room long enough to have surgery,” I said.

“Right, she was in the wreck, too. He carried her with that arm, didn’t he?” the doctor asked. She was still smiling, and I finally realized why. The hospital staff were probably still romanticizing the story. We were a novelty to them.

“Yeah. Is he going to be okay?” I asked, annoyed.

Dr. Walsh reached down to touch my hand, and I frowned at her. She pulled me closer to the door, glanced over her shoulder at my dad and brother, and then leaned in, keeping her voice barely above a whisper. “My little sister goes to Eastern. You probably don’t remember her.”

My stomach knotted. Did I bag this doctor’s sister and she’s going to bring it up here? Now?

She smiled. “She liked this boy. She’s hopeless,” she said, shaking her head. “Once she falls for a guy, she follows him everywhere. She followed him to Keaton Hall the night of your last fight.”

I swallowed.

Her smile changed, and her eyes lost focus. “Once the fire broke out, he left her. He bolted. She wasn’t familiar with the building. There was a lot of smoke. She got turned around. She ran straight into you.” Dr. Walsh’s gaze met mine.

My eyebrows pulled together.

“Do you remember?” she asked. “She was terrified. She thought she was going to die. You pushed her toward the guy who ran the fights… Adam? You pushed her toward him because you knew he knew the way out, and you told him to help her. And you know what? He did. He helped her and sixteen more people to safety when all he wanted to do was run. It was just a few seconds, but you, Travis Mad Dog Maddox, saved my baby sister’s life.”

I glanced back at my Dad. “I …”

“The cops and federal agents have already spoken to my sister.” The doctor’s smile returned. “She never saw you. Adam said you never showed, the sixteen students Adam saved said the same, and your brother’s hospital stay is on the house.”

She grabbed the handle on the door and opened it.

“What?” I asked, stunned.

“I can’t tell everyone what you did, so I’m going to thank you in my own way.” She closed the door behind her, and I looked at Dad, trying to keep the tears from my eyes.

“Am I gonna die?” Trenton asked.

I chuckled and looked down, pulling my cell phone from my pocket to text Abby. “No, circle jerk. You’re gonna be just fine.”

“Did she say what it is?” Dad asked.

I tapped out a short message to my wife, and then another to Camille. I cringed when I sent it, knowing they would both be blowing up my phone any second. “They’re running tests. We’ll know soon.”

Trenton relaxed back against the pillow, making a crackling sound. “I’m gonna die.”

A woman pushed through the door, carrying a container with tape, gauze and other supplies. “Hi, I’m Lana. I’m going to be poking around on you for a second.” She checked Trenton’s wrist band, and then her small info sheet. “Can you tell me your name and date of birth?”

Just as Trenton began giving Lana his information, my phone buzzed. I held the receiver to my ear. “Hi, baby.”

“Trav? Is he all right?” Abby asked.

“They’re running some tests. He’ll live.”

She sighed, and I smiled, loving my wife for loving my family as much as I did.

The phone beeped. “Oh, hey, Pidge. Cami is calling.”

“Okay. I’m half way there.”

I clicked over. “He’s okay. They’re running tests. Taking his blood now.”

“He’s okay?” Camille said, panic in her voice. She sighed. “God. He hasn’t been sleeping well. I knew this morning I shouldn’t have left him. I knew it.”

“Is that Cami?” Trenton asked.

I nodded.

He held out his hand, and I gave him my phone. “Hey, baby. I’m okay. Shhh… shhh. I’m okay. I know. I shoulda told the doctor at the appointment.” He paused, and then frowned. “Cami, it’s not your fault. Stop. Baby, stop. No. NO, don’t drive here. Wait for Abby.” He looked to me. “Can Abby pick her up? She’s upset.”

I nodded.

Trenton resumed his conversation. “Abby’s on her way to get you. It’s gonna be okay, I promise.”

Trenton handed me the phone, and I tapped out a text to Abby. She responded with a quick “K”.

“Abby’s picking her up. They’ll be here soon.”

Trenton sighed. “Damn it. She’s probably freaking out.”

“Get comfortable,” Lana said, tagging all the vials with stickers. “They said you’re staying.”

Trenton’s eyes widened. “What? No. No, I can’t.”

“Hey,” I said, walking to his bedside. “It’s covered.”

“Trav,” he said, the muscles of his jaw ticking. “It’ll cost thousands.”

Lana excused herself, and I waited until she was completely out of the room. “I spoke to the doctor. It’s covered.” I leaned over to whisper in his ear. “Her little sister was at the fire. She got out.”

I stood up and Trenton’s brows pulled together. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I’ll explain later. For now, you rest easy.”

I glanced at Dad, seeing the suspicion in his eyes.

Trenton nodded and relaxed back, his breath slowing, allowing himself to feel the misery that was taking over his body. He closed his eyes and winced, his body curling inward from the pain.

Dad stood by Trenton’s bed and ran his hand over the buzz of Trenton’s brown hair. “Just rest, son.”

Trenton leaned into Dad’s touch, keeping his eyes closed.

Whatever it was, I had a feeling Trenton would be spending more than one night.

Thank you SO MUCH for your patience as I tried to work around the holidays this year. I know I said the episodes would be posted as usual, and I missed last week. The translators are volunteers, and like me, they're doing this for free. We decided two weeks ago it would be better to post all the languages at once so everyone could read at the same time, so we skipped a week to get caught up. Thanks again for your understanding, and I hope you've enjoyed this season so far!