Everything I Know
An excerpt from the novella by Josh Lanyon
It's true what they say. Shit happens. It happens fast. In the blink of an eye.
Or, in Con's case, out of the corner of his eye.
He caught a flash of small black patent leather shoes kicking in the air, a wild flutter of pale pink--heard a frightened squeal.
At the same instant, Miss Pip exclaimed, "Oh, shit."
The following chorus of gasps from Con and Miss Pip's kindergarteners might have been due to Miss Pip's potty mouth or it might have been due to the sight of Elizabeth Callahan crumpled on the sand beneath the monkey bars on the playground of Sunshine Cottage Preschool and Kindergarten.
Elizabeth--Dizzy Miss Lizzy to the teachers and staff--was one of Con's favorites, though officially teachers did not have favorites, and the sight of her fragile, crumpled form was like a punch to his chest, stopping his heart mid-beat.
"Lizzy?" he got out.
Lizzy raised her curly dark head and screamed bloody murder. She was always a little bit of a dramatist but that shriek was the real thing. That was pure pain.
Pip was closer. She knelt beside Lizzy, feeling her over with experienced hands. "Lizzy, can you move your arm?"
"No!" Lizzy screamed, her elfin face screwed up in childish anguish. She was a tiny thing, small for a five-year-old and prone to asthma attacks, though there seemed nothing wrong with her lungs at the moment.
"Her left arm," Pip told Con. "She fell wrong." Pip mouthed the dreaded word. Broken.
Con's heart sank. He nodded.
Broken. A fracture, anyway. No blood, thank God. No bones sticking out anywhere they shouldn't. But he'd known it was more than a sprain the instant he saw Lizzy crumpled in the sand. Not enough sand, unfortunately, and they'd been complaining about that to Miss Bea and Miss Andy for months. They'd been assured it was on The List.
Lizzy sat up, her face white, her eyes huge and wet with tears. She gulped, "Mr. Connor..."
"Lizzy, don't move yet." Con said to Pip, "I'll carry her down to the office."
"They're not there. They're buying snacks. It's Costco day."
"Shit," Con said.
There was another murmur from the concerned citizens now circling them. Not because these kids didn't hear that language at home, but because at school it was an automatic time-out. Even Con and Pip pretended to give themselves time-outs when they slipped up, to the gloating delight of the munchkins.
"You should call the firemen," Michael B. put in helpfully, and this received unanimous agreement from the rest of the kids.
"Can you feel your arm, Lizzy?" Pip asked.
A flash of almost adult fury flashed across Lizzy's face. "Yes, it HURTS," she yelled. Yep, those lungs were definitely in working order.
"I'll take her up to the main building and call her dad," Con said. "Can you--?"
"Got it," Pip said.
"Keep your arm just like that, Lizzy. Don't move it, okay?" Lizzy nodded, her expression aggrieved. Con picked her up very carefully--she felt like a broken doll in his arms--and she planted her face in his chest and sobbed.
"Is she going to die?" a freckled-faced girl asked hopefully.
Con said, "Of course not."
"Shannon, shush." Pip whistled for the kids to line up as Con whisked Lizzy up the yellow brick walkway.
"It's okay, Lizzy. We'll get your dad over here," Con tried to reassure her as he reached the long wooden covered walkway.
"Daddy," wailed Lizzy. There were a lot of tears in those little eyes. The front of his polo shirt was getting soaked.
Miss Honey, who taught the Pre-Ks, opened her classroom and stuck her blonde head out. She spotted Con and Lizzy. "Uh oh."
"When did Bea and Andy leave?"
"About half an hour ago." Honey slipped outside her room and sprinted past Con and the still-sobbing Lizzy, running up the walkway to hold open the blue-and-green Dutch doors to the "reception area."
Lizzy continued to call plaintively for her daddy.
"We're going to call Daddy now," Con promised.
"Hang in there, Dizzy," Honey said, briskly cheerful. Playground accidents were not a common occurrence at Sunshine Cottage, but they weren't unheard of either.
Con carried Lizzy into the reception area, formerly the kitchen and dining room of the rambling, single-story ranch house which had been converted into Sunshine Cottage Preschool and Kindergarten. The room smelled of lunches, Lysol, and Play-Doh. Lizzy's cries ricocheted off the linoleum and wooden cabinets.
Through the large divided window Con saw Pip, ponytail bouncing as she marched the long line made up of their joint kindergarten classes in quick time. She gave him a thumbs-up as she sped past, a trim figure in khaki shorts and yellow polo. Pip, as usual, had it under control.
"Want me to take her?" Honey asked, reaching for Lizzy.
Lizzy's good hand fisted Con's shirt and she squirmed away from Honey. "No!"
"I've got it," Con told Honey apologetically.
"She's going to wake up the Pre-Ks on the other side of the building."
Yeah. Or possibly the Pre-Ks in the next school district.
Con said, "Lizzy? Elizabeth, I need you to listen for a second."
A small, plump black girl appeared in hallway leading to the Pre-Ks. She whispered, "Miss Honey, Adam Z. is off his cot again."
Miss Honey muttered something PG-13 under her breath and departed to restore naptime order.
Con put his face down to Lizzy's. He said softly, "Lizzy? Anybody in there? Can anybody inside Elizabeth Callahan hear me?"
Lizzy hiccupped a couple of sobs and raised a flushed, wet face from his shoulder. Her long lashes were starred with tears. Her rosebud mouth trembled in a downward curve.
"Lizzy, I have to put you down so I can call your daddy, okay?"
Lizzy gave a shuddering gulp and nodded. Con deposited her onto one of the bright flower-shaped chairs and went into the kitchen. He scooped out a clean dishtowel, and returned to Lizzy, doing his best to immobilize and cushion her little arm. It was already discolored and swelling. He found one of the extra quilts--acquired through the years of Lost and Found--in the linen cupboard on the back porch and tucked it around her.
"You're being very brave, Miss Callahan."
Miss Callahan's lower lip trembled, but she hung onto her composure.
Having done what he could to make her comfortable, Con went to the filing cabinet, searching for Wes Callahan's cell phone number. He found the number, made the call, and Callahan's phone rang. His pleasant baritone invited Con to leave a message.
Con left a message that he hoped conveyed urgency without terrifying Callahan, who was a devoted dad and a generally nice guy. Not to mention one of the school's "VIPs" or Very Important Parents. Then he tried Callahan's construction company. The perky receptionist told him the best way to get hold of Callahan was by cell phone.
Pip joined him as he was trying Callahan's phone a second time. "Did you try her mom?"
"Ashram," Lizzy said dolefully from across the room.
Con said, "She's on another yoga retreat this week." He didn't know much about Lizzy's home life other than her parents shared amicable joint custody and that her mother spent a lot of time seeking spiritual enlightenment. He was all for spiritual enlightenment, but couldn't she have picked another week?
"Crud," Pip said. "Who's next on the In Case of Emergency?"
"There's a grandmother, but it's landline only and she's not picking up."
Con called Dr. Li, Lizzy's pediatrician, spoke with him briefly, then tried Callahan a third time. Still without success.
Pip frowned. "Is that usual for him?"
They both studied Lizzy's woebegone form in the lime-green flower-shaped chair. She had stopped crying. She looked like the wilted pistil of an exotic bloom--Con's kindergarteners had been studying the parts of a flower that week.
"Is there another grandma?" Pip asked. "Or how about an aunt?"
"Grammy Angie lives in Minnesota," Lizzy said.
"God. Should we wait for Bea and Andy to call the ambulance?"
Con said, "On Costco Day? You know Bumble Bea. Lunch and shopping. They won't be back for another hour at least. Even if they started driving right this second, it'll take them forty-five minutes. I'll just go with Lizzy in the ambulance."
Pip opened her mouth, but Lizzy cut her off with a loud and terrified, "No! No ambulance. I'm not going in a ambulance. I won't go!"
Pip and Con both made shushing sounds. Honey poked her head briefly through the doorway. She scowled ferociously.
"Sorry," Con and Pip whispered loudly in unison.
Honey shook her head and withdrew once more.
"Maybe try her dad again," Pip suggested.
Con glanced at the clock. It was past three. The school day was basically over. Most of the kids would be gone within the hour. In fact, Wes Callahan might already be on his way. "Do you think you're okay watching both our classes?"
"I'll just drive her myself."
Pip's expression grew doubtful. "Drive her? I don't know, Con."
"I'll use one of the school car seats. It's ten minutes. Tops."
"I know but--"
"We've got all her info. Dr. Li is already on his way. I can have her at Mayo Memorial in less time than we're taking to discuss it. We can tell her dad to meet us at the emergency room."
"We're not doing her any good making her wait around here."
Pip threw an uneasy glance at Lizzy. "True." Her voice dropped. "I'll tell you one thing. I sure as hel-eck don't want to try and wrestle her into an ambulance."
"All right. I can fill out the accident report. I'll keep trying to reach her dad."
"I'm thinking he's probably on his way. He usually picks her up by three-thirty. If Bea and Andy get back before me, will you fill them in?"
"You think they'll be back before you?" Pip snorted. "In that unlikely event, sure."
Pip looked sideways at the tiny, tear-stained terror across the room. "No. On behalf of Sunshine Cottage, thank you, Mr. Connor."
* * * * *
Con was talking to Dr. Li when Wes Callahan arrived.
Con did not know Lizzy's father well. Every morning and every afternoon they exchanged a few polite words as Callahan dropped off and picked up his daughter. It had been no different that morning. The exception had been on Back to School Night when they had spoken for nearly five minutes. Con had told Lizzy's dad what a great kid Lizzy was--and he'd meant every word. She was funny, smart, a little precocious, and a total charmer. Lizzy's dad had told Con how much Elizabeth adored Mr. Connor. Men like Callahan did not use the word "adore," but that had been the gruff gist of it.
Basically that was Con's entire experience and understanding of Wes Callahan. A courteous and concerned parent who looked better in his usual jeans and T-shirts than most of the dads did in their suits and ties. That, and Wes Callahan was the biggest VIP of all Sunshine Cottage's VIPs. Callahan was Sunshine Cottage's only millionaire dad. In other words, handle with care.
And it was very obvious from Con's first glimpse of Callahan striding through the sliding glass door of Pediatrics, that kid gloves would be required. Lizzy was an only child, and both her parents doted on her--their natural protectiveness heightened by the fact that Lizzy had been a frail and sickly baby.
Through the glass of the reception area, Con watched Callahan pause at the front desk. Callahan's face was white, his brown eyes seemed to blaze with emotion. Instead of his usual jeans and T-shirt, he wore a dark suit--a very nice dark suit--which probably explained why he had been unreachable by cell. Some kind of conference, maybe a power meeting with prospective clients.
"Here's Dad," Dr. Li said, smiling as Callahan barged through the communicating door that separated the waiting room from the examining rooms.
"Mr. Callahan." Con took a step forward.
Callahan yelled, "Who the hell do you think you are, dragging my kid around town without my permission?"
Con stopped in his tracks. "I'm sorry?"
"You will be. I'll make damn sure of that."
"I was trying to get Lizzy medical attention as quickly as possible. I do have your written permission on fi--"
"If you wanted to help, you'd have done your job and made sure she wasn't hurt in the first place." He jabbed his finger at Con's chest for emphasis. "I'm holding you personally responsible for this, Myers."
Con was speechless.
"OH-kay." Dr. Li opened the door to the examining room. "Mr. Callahan, if I could have you step inside here."
"Daddy! Daddy!" Lizzy squeaked from inside, and relief flooded Callahan's colorless face.
"Is she okay?" he got out.
"She's going to be just fine," Dr. Li said, throwing an apologetic look at Con.
Con couldn't have responded to save his life. He had anticipated Callahan being upset, worried, alarmed. He hadn't expected fury. Let alone fury directed at himself. It felt like he was watching this play out from a distance. Not far enough of a distance, unfortunately.
Everyone, from the girl at the front desk, to the toddler and his teenaged mother playing with blocks on the floor of the waiting room, were staring open-mouthed at him.
It wasn't like that. That's what he wanted to say. It wasn't like he hadn't been watching, hadn't been paying attention, hadn't been doing his job. Accidents happened. Sometimes they happened out of arm's reach. But how did you explain that to someone who didn't have firsthand experience of supervising over twenty active children on a small playground? Anything he said was going to sound like an excuse. But that was the excuse--or explanation, at least.
"Mr. Callahan," he finally managed to croak, as Dr. Li ushered Callahan into the examining room.
Callahan rounded on him, his expression so contemptuous that Con broke off.
"I don't want to hear it. What kind of normal grown man makes a career out of hanging around little kids?" Callahan's voice was scathing. He turned his back on Con and went into the examining room.
Copyright 2000-18, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.