The Unexpected Reunion
The kids raced through the alley as fast as they could. The relatively short trip back to their house had never seemed so long. Trees, houses, and trash cans whipped by as their footsteps crunched the gravel underneath.
Worry multiplied at a brisk pace in Zach’s head. What if Cassie was hurt? What if she was – killed? The two possible outcomes circled each other in Zach’s mind like two predators about to pounce. It didn’t matter which won the day. Either option was unthinkable.
When the kids rounded the corner up the hill, heaving, the car their parents had left in was now parked out front. Zach was glad they were home but also scared to death of what they would say to him. They had left him in charge. The magnitude of his bad judgment was just starting to sink in.
As the three children arrived on the front porch of the Jordan house, their desperation was quickly replaced with absolute bewilderment as they stood in the entry way and stared into the living room.
Their parents and the man were in the living room, smiling and laughing, and acting like old friends. Standing between the adults was Cassie, periodically getting her mop of curls tousled and her shoulders squeezed. What exactly was going on?
“Where have you guys been?” The jovial mood of the gathering changed once Julie noticed the three kids gawking from the front door.
Penny noticed the not-so-subtle change in tone, caught Binny’s eye, and decided it was a good time to make her exit. Binny mouthed see you later at her new friend.
“I thought we asked you to keep an eye on your sister? We were gone for barely more than an hour.” Jay demanded, his former worry quickly turning to anger.
“It was my fault,” Binny stepped forward past her brother’s surprised face. “I distracted Zach and we didn’t notice Cassie wandering off.”
“Both of you should know better.” Julie cut in.
Zach closed his eyes for a brief moment and then raised his head to accept what was coming, “No. Binny didn’t distract me. And we both didn’t need to know better, because I knew better. You asked me to watch her, and I screwed up. I’m sorry.”
Trying to relieve a little bit of the tension that hung thick between the family members, the man added with an all’s-well-that-ends-well tone, “Well, it was pretty lucky that it was me and Rembrandt she decided to visit.” Cassie smiled an “uh-huh” at the mention of the dog.
“It’s a crazy coincidence is what it is. How long have we been neighbors and not even known it?” Jay remarked.
Binny was trying to process the incredible scene in front of her. Not only had the man not kidnapped Cassie, but he’d taken good care of her and returned her home safely. Furthermore, her father seemed to indicate that they somehow knew this stranger? “Do you…” Binny paused having a hard time getting the words out, “Do you know each other?” Binny’s question was almost a shout.
“Do we know each other?” The adults in the room looked at each other and started laughing. Binny and Zach were getting visibly stressed, still not understanding what was so funny.
Julie saw her older children’s concern and came to the rescue. “Zach, Binny, this is Dr. Huitre – your obstetrician.” The way she pronounced his last name sounded like ‘wheat’ with a soft ‘ruh’ on the end. “He delivered all three of you. Just like he delivered your sister home today.” The adults all chuckled at Julie’s joke. “He’s responsible in large part for your very existence.”
The ad-hoc ‘party’ sat down on the couch, with Julie bringing in some beverages for the adults. Cassie had tottered away, interested in some new shiny thing. Zach and Binny had slumped to the floor in the living room, exhaustion and relief washing over them. The adults reminisced.
Binny was still a little puzzled by the conversation. Her mother had said that this man, this doctor, was “responsible in large part” for their very existence. What could that possibly mean?
“I really should have come over sooner and introduced myself. I have seen the kids a few times around the neighborhood and put two and two together when I heard them calling to each other. Of course, now I am convinced that I could recognize every baby I deliver even years later.” Dr. Huitre laughed as Jay and Julie followed suit. Julie laughed a little too much, Binny thought to herself.
Dr. Huitre continued, “I end up seeing a lot of the neighborhood kids thanks to Rembrandt, my Bernese Mountain Dog. He is big but really kind-hearted and gentle.”
“Oh, you should have brought him with you.” Julie gushed.
“I try not to bring him to the homes of people uninvited. He is sweet but a lot to handle. He is safe at home in the backyard.”
A look passed between Zach and Binny.
“Well it seems like he’s already gotten the seal of approval from Cassie, though we try not to send our children to the homes of people uninvited either.” Jay shot Zach and Binny a look as well.
For a moment, Binny thought Jay knew what they’d been up to at Huitre’s house, but quickly realized he was just reminding them that the issue of their irresponsibility had not been resolved or forgotten.
Binny’s mind was now racing. The man, or rather, Dr. Huitre, was interested in Cassie. But was that now really just because he was their obstetrician? Maybe Huitre hadn’t seen Cassie do her disappearing act. After all, he’d had Cassie in his house, all to himself, and no government people came to dissect her. The worst Dr. Huitre had done was contribute to a tummy ache.
But what about the phone call they’d overheard the previous day? The man had talked about his responsibilities, and keeping his eyes open, and danger. He’d said he would continue the conversation the next day. That was today. That must have been the phone call he was on when Cassie was busy eating him out of house and home.
“I bet the technology has advanced quite a bit over the last six or seven years,” Binny heard her father remarking to the doctor.
“Well if so, it is thanks to your family in no small part,” Huitre responded.
Binny was now really confused. Now they were talking about technology? Was it government technology? What did her family have to do with any of this?
Huitre continued, “All that matters is that you got three beautiful children out of it. I am happy I could help in some small way.”
“I still am not sure we ever thanked you enough for convincing us to participate in that study, Dr. Huitre.” Julie gushed.
“Please call me Henry. My job as your doctor has been done for some time. Now I am just Henry, the guy from down the street with the big dog.”
“OK. Henry it is.” Julie said.
Something about this entire conversation made Binny want to barf. She wasn’t entirely sure if it was how friendly her parents were with ‘Henry’ or whether it was all the cryptic mentions of technology and studies and how they might relate to her and her siblings’ existence.
She looked over at her brother, who still looked kind of dazed from the entire experience. He’d confronted his fear of dogs to save one sister, and he stepped up and took the blame from his parents for another. Despite herself, Binny found she just couldn’t be mad at him anymore for lying earlier in the day. He may not be perfect, but he wasn’t all that bad either. And once in a while, he was even pretty good.
“Is the treatment now in broad use? Did it get FDA approval?” Jay was asking the Doctor.
Huitre seemed caught off guard by the question, looking uncomfortable for a moment. Binny’s parents didn’t seem to notice but Binny did. “Good question. Luce Laboratories has many studies. I am not sure what exactly came of this one.” The doctor seemed to hit his stride a little bit, adding, “I administer the medicine, and report back on the results. They do not always worry about us ‘little people’ in the process.” The doctor made a show of laughing at his own joke. Binny’s parents laughed along with him.
“What are you talking about?” Binny’s question punctured the conversation like a needle taking the air out of a balloon.
“Excuse me?” Julie asked. Her tone made her disapproval clear.
Binny paused and regrouped. “What is all this talk about a study and a treatment? What did you mean when you said he,” gesturing roughly at Dr. Huitre “was responsible for our very existence.”
“I had something to do with it too.” Jay interjected and Huitre laughed.
Binny’s face remained serious.
Huitre turned in his seat to face Binny, “There are some prospective parents who really want children but nature does not always comply. I am not just an obstetrician, I am a fertility doctor. Your parents came to me to help give nature a shove in the right direction.” Huitre was smiling down at Binny.
Binny wanted to give him a shove in the ‘right direction’.
“What was your partner’s name again? Travida? Pravida? Oh, it doesn’t matter. We had another fertility doctor at first but her husband got some incredible once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity across the country. We were so worried about having to start the search all over for a new doctor, but Dr. Huitre,” she glanced at the Doctor, “I mean Henry,” Julie smiled, “was her partner and convinced us to stay. He had the chance to include his patients in the study of a new fertility drug and we got to participate by staying on.”
“You took an experimental drug in order to get pregnant with us?” Binny asked, incredulous. In every corner of her brain little puzzle pieces were falling into place.
Zach was alert now as well, sitting up a little straighter and listening intently.
“Oh, it was not all that experimental,” Huitre laughed condescendingly. “It was a late stage trial, and your parents fit the profile. The FDA does not let us give anything too ‘out there’ to human beings.” He smiled at Binny as if to indicate that he’d answered her question satisfactorily.
Binny was about to reply when she felt a gentle but insistent elbow from her brother. By the time she looked back at the adults, they’d already moved on to some boring discussion about the price of neighborhood real estate.
Zach and Binny were about to slink off when the adults stood up from their seats to wind down their impromptu gathering.
“We can’t thank you enough for keeping an eye on Cassie.” Julie said.
“It was really no problem. I was just getting back to the house from walking Rembrandt when I ran into her. I did have to distract her with junk food but only because I was finishing up a call for work. I brought her over as soon as I completed the call.” Huitre explained.
“I promise there won’t be any more uninvited visits,” Jay motioned over to where Cassie had fallen asleep on the couch in the family room.
“I am afraid the sugar crash is probably my fault.” Huitre chuckled.
Binny really didn’t like how friendly everyone was being. “Oh Dad,” she interjected, “Dr. Huitre lives in that house you always comment on when we take walks in the woods.”
Jay’s eyes darted angrily towards Binny, and then a smile plastered on his face he added, “Oh yes. The design is so interesting and modern. So nice to get a break from the more conventional architecture in this neighborhood.”
Dr. Huitre made his exit and goodbyes were said. Jay made dinner, they woke Cassie, and the family ate together. Like everything was normal. Like nothing had happened.
But things had happened. Just not necessarily the things Binny thought. Her sister had disappeared. The man had made a suspicious phone call. He hadn’t hurt Cassie. That was a good thing of course. But it was strange to all of a sudden meet someone who was there at Cassie’s birth. He was there at Binny’s and Zach’s births, too. Giving their mother experimental drugs! Was her sister the result of a medical experiment with unintended consequences? What about Zach? What about Binny herself?
The day had been such a whirlwind, Binny hadn’t had time to consider even more minor things. Like how did Zach know the alarm code at Huitre’s house? And how could she have been so wrong about Penny?
But most of all, Binny couldn’t help but wonder where Cassie’s power had come from in the first place? She hadn’t had time to think about it earlier with all the tumult, but now she was worried. Somehow it all seemed less, well, magical than it had at first.
Zach didn’t say much during dinner. He seemed more worried than he should be now that Cassie was safe and the mystery of the man’s identity was solved.
Binny inquired when her parents were away from the table for a moment. All Zach said was, “When Huitre gets home, he’ll know it’s us that broke in.”
“How? How can he know it was us?” Binny whispered a little too loudly.
“Fingerprints? I don’t know. He’ll just know.”
This realization crossed Binny’s face like a wave crashing on rocks. Any minute the phone was going to ring. Her father would answer it. And his face would get progressively more angry and disappointed as Huitre calmly explained that Binny and Zach had broken into his house and vandalized his back door. She could deal with her father getting angry. That happened often enough. But Binny was filled with dread at the thought of disappointing him.
It was hard enough to digest her food while considering all the news of the day, but thinking about what was all but guaranteed to come next made her sick to her stomach.
But the call never came.