Hennessey's Handler (Protect and Serve #4) - Pandora Pine



January 1999…

Snowy nights were my absolute favorite. I loved camping out in front of the television, listening to my favorite weatherman explain how the storm was bubbling up from the south and would clash with cold air swooping down from Canada. A classic Nor’easter, which of course stood for Northeastern. Named for the direction the wind was blowing.

After the news, my dad made Jiffy Pop on the stove and let me shake the kernels over the burner while my mom made cocoa. When it was time to go to sleep, I lay at the foot of my bed, staring out of the window to watch the flakes fly. The ultimate wish in my heart was that the morning would bring a snow day. I’d already done my homework, so I would have the entire day to play in the snow with the other neighborhood kids.

The falling snow was almost hypnotic. I felt my eyes getting heavier and heavier. I offered up one final snow day wish before falling asleep.

Later, I didn’t know how much, I was startled awake by the ringing phone. “What kind of idiot calls someone at nearly midnight?” I muttered to myself. Maybe one of my grandparents was sick or being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance like they did on ER. I had the biggest crush on Doctor Doug Ross and those dark, soulful eyes.

My mother’s voice pulled my head out of my fantasies. Heavy footsteps on the stairs indicated both of my parents were heading up to my room. I took a deep breath and tried to prepare myself for the bad news to come.

There were two sharp raps on my bedroom door before my mother, Mandy, stuck her head in the door. “Hennessey? Are you awake?”

“Yeah, Mom. What’s wrong?” My stomach tossed and turned, sending the chewed popcorn surging as if it were on its way back up. I swallowed hard, willing the snack to stay put.

The bedroom light came on, causing me to cover my eyes with my left arm. I sat up, throwing my legs over the side of the bed. When I peered through half-closed eyes, I could see my parents were sitting on the other twin bed in the room. They were holding hands and Mom could hardly sit still. “We just got a phone call.” She turned to her husband, nudging him to continue.

“A child needs us,” David said simply.

In an instant, I knew what was going on. Seven years ago, one of my kindergarten classmates had died in an accidental drug overdose, spurring my folks to become foster parents. “We’re getting a foster kid.” It wasn’t a question. I knew I’d be getting the same explanation and admonition I always got when a new “little lamb” was coming to stay with us. I’d been a foster brother for six years. Half of my life on this planet. I knew the drill, but Mom and Dad always wanted me to know this new boy wouldn’t be replacing me.

“A little boy named Kevin is coming to stay with us.” Mom wore a serious look; the most serious look I’d seen since the time I threw a baseball through the living room window.

I was getting a roommate. Again. Whenever a new foster kid came to stay with us, he was always put in my room to help him feel loved, instead of isolated in the room next door. I rolled my eyes. “I know the drill.” All I wanted to do was get back into my own little world where it was snowing and I might not have to go to school tomorrow.

“I don’t want to see or hear any of that attitude when Kevin gets here. Today is the worst day of his life, and we’re here to help him feel safe any way we can.” My dad meant business. “Be ready to go when he gets here.” Dad whacked my knee on his way past.

I flopped back onto the bed. I didn’t want to get up, and I sure as hell didn’t want to go greet some foster kid in the snow. It was really coming down now. Blizzard-like conditions were what had been forecasted and that prediction was right on the money. I couldn’t see the neighbors’ houses across the street through all the snow falling.

From the bathroom, I could hear Mom and Dad setting out new towels, soap, and a toothbrush. They always kept extras stocked. The phone could ring at any time like it did tonight,