Sunday Evening, Early March
Danny and Gary stepped out of DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies into two feet of dirty snow that had been pushed to the edge of the sidewalk. Danny's breath looked like smoke coming from his nose, as his mouth and lungs protested the inhalation of the sub-zero air. The sidewalk was icy, and Gary grabbed at Danny so he wouldn't slip. Danny glanced across the street and saw a small figure huddled near a pile of snow against the aged brick façade of the old Roebling building. A cardboard box with a plaid blanket hanging out the end sat next to the snowdrift, elevated from the sidewalk by discarded wooden pallets.
Danny shivered in sympathy. He remembered his two months on the street after his parents threw him out for being gay. He'd been lucky that it was springtime and although chilly at night it had been relatively easy to keep warm. He had a part-time job at McDonald's and a membership at the Y that had kept him clean and fed while he finished high school. It was two months before his brother Caden had come home from Afghanistan for his graduation, found him on the streets, and got him an apartment and a good job. Just the memory of being homeless and scared gave Danny shivers that didn't come from the cold.
"Sir, would you mind if I go across the street and give that man money for a room tonight?"
"You can't save the world, baby, but if it makes you feel better, go ahead." Gary removed his leather gloves and pulled his wallet from the inside pocket of his tailored topcoat. He took out five twenty dollar bills and passed them to Danny.
"I'm going across the street with you. I don't want you in danger."
"Thank you, Sir." Danny crossed the street quickly, with Gary on his heels.
Danny leaned over the huddled figure and immediately noticed the shock of dark red hair sticking out of the battered knit cap on his head. Danny's mouth opened in surprise and joy. He leaned over and shook the sleeping figure. "Robbie, wake up, it's Danny."
"You know this boy?" Gary asked.
The boy was lethargic; he barely stirred when Danny said his name. "Please Sir, we have to help Robbie. I wouldn't have survived the two months I spent on the street if Robbie hadn't taken me under his wing."
"Let me look. Robbie…" Gary knelt and placed his hand on the head of the boy lying on the cardboard box. Danny stood behind him. The boy turned his head to Gary as if in slow motion.
Gary stood, making a quick decision. "The Navigator is up the street. He may have hypothermia. Let him hold onto you. I'll bring the car up and we'll get him into it and take him to Greg at St. Mary's. Cisco said he was pulling a shift tonight." Gary ran up the dark street to get the SUV.
* * *
Danny helped Robbie get to his feet. "Danny, is that really you?" Danny saw the hope flare brightly in Robbie's eyes for a moment, then extinguish.
Robbie let his eyes drop closed, avoiding Danny's face. "Don't…don't let me mess you up. You found someone. Leave me here." He stopped talking as a long spate of coughing rendered him unable to speak.
He rasped, "Don't screw up by getting involved with me." He tried to control his constant shivers, the tears running in rivulets from his eyes, freezing on his cheeks.
The Navigator pulled up. "Don't worry, come with me," Danny said, "everything is going to be fine. It's my turn to take care of you." Robbie attempted to resist but obviously didn't have the strength.
Gary got out of the huge blue SUV and with his help, Danny half carried and half dragged Robbie into the SUV, pushing him up and onto the beige leather backseat. Gary jumped back into the driver's seat and turned on the heat to the highest setting. Danny got into the car beside his friend with an old stadium blanket he retrieved from the rear of the Navigator. He pulled the blanket over both of them to try to warm Robbie by sharing his body heat.
"I can't afford a hospital," Robbie said in a barely audible voice.
Danny shushed his friend and pulled Robbie closer as he buckled him in the seatbelt.
Gary turned and asked, "Ready?" Danny nodded his head.
Gary took off into the night. On the way to St Mary's he called Cisco. Danny was whispering reassurances. Gary sped through the Trenton streets. The ten minute ride to the hospital took less than five minutes.
* * *
Cisco met them at the door of the Emergency Room. He was always there when Greg pulled a shift. After one of Greg's patients tried to kill him a few years ago, Cisco never left Greg alone at the hospital. He had scheduled a meeting with Caden, Danny's brother and his sub, Johnny, looking at the resumes of prominent immunologists and rheumatologists. They were trying to recruit doctors and research staff for the new autoimmune research lab that Caden and Johnny wanted to fund. When Caden heard that his brother was coming in, he and Johnny insisted on going with Cisco to the ER to see Danny and Gary. They all met in the waiting room outside of triage as Danny and Gary came in the door. Robbie was taken in right away.
Danny was so distracted he didn't notice his brother until Gary nodded his head at Caden and Johnny. Danny and Gary trailed Robbie back into the treatment area. Johnny and Caden went to sit and wait; Cisco used his prerogative as chief of staff to follow the others inside.
"Put a warming blanket over him." Greg ordered briskly. Greg took his stethoscope and listened to Robbie's chest then turned to Gary. "He's malnourished, but we have to treat the hypothermia first. He has pneumonia. I won't know how serious it is until I see an x-ray." Greg turned to the ER nurse. "Insert an IV line and give him electrolytes. Have radiology bring up the portable x-ray, I want film of his chest. He has a lot of congestion. Do CBC, HIV and STDs tests then we'll take it from there."