Baby, the Rain Must Fall

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Due to the length of this story, it will be divided into chapters. This sucker is my longest to date! 84 pages! Links to the chapters are at the end of each chapter.

Mike had learned a long time ago to expect the unexpected. But sometimes, life dealt such blows that expecting the unexpected seemed impossible. Especially when everything was calm around town.

It was springtime, early March. Jerry and Mike were on the softball field at the park, giving the Gems a practice session. Jerry had made Mike the "official" assistant coach of the Gems. Although Jerry was perfectly capable of taking care of the kids himself, he needed a hand with some of the more self conscious kids (such as Julie Olsen, Leland Lizard, and Rudyard Lion). Mike wasn't really too fond of kids in general, but he was good with them, after getting to know Gosalyn and her friends more.

In any case, Jerry was giving the kids a run through in the basics. Gosalyn was pitching, Dotty Dog was on first base, Jennifer Tabby on second, Bobby Powers on third, and Portia Porcupine was the shortstop. In the outfield were Montgomery Moose, Julie Olsen, and Leslie Peterson. The others were waiting to go up to bat.

After a few of the kids went up, Jerry assigned Leland Lizard as the next batter. Leland was quite possibly the worst batter on the team. Mike had done all he could with him, but not even that helped.

"Just remember what I told you," Mike said. "Step up to the plate, choke up on the bat, and keep your eye on the ball, okay?"

"Okay," Leland said.

Leland walked up to the plate and shouldered the bat. He gulped. He knew Gosalyn was known to throw some wild pitches. However, she decided to give Leland a break, and she pitched an easy one. Leland hit it, and took off for first base. Gosalyn caught the ball, and was about to throw it to Dotty, but somehow, the ball connected with Leland's shoulder. WHACK!

"Ow!" Leland shouted, grabbing his shoulder.

"Oops," Gosalyn said. "Sorry, Leland."

"You didn't break anything, did you Gosalyn?" Jerry asked, as he and Mike ran over.

"I said I was sorry!" Gosalyn shouted.

Jerry didn't say anything. He just helped Leland roll up his sleeve so they could see the damage. It wasn't much, just a nasty looking bruise.

"Looks worse than it is," Jerry said. He had seen worse injuries while coaching the kids. He was ready for anything by now.

"I think practice is over," Mike commented. "It's startin' to get late, and I'm sure these guys have homework to do."

The kids groaned, but went home anyway, as did Mike and Jerry. However, Mike began to get a weird feeling in his sixth sense. He wasn't sure exactly what it was. It wasn't trouble brewing, he knew that. And it really wasn't a tingling feeling he got when something was going to happen. As a matter of fact, he couldn't place this feeling. He'd figure he'd check it out when he got home that night.

When Leland got home, he was tackled by his six-year-old brother Greg the minute he got through the front door. Both of them crashed to the ground, resulting in Leland banging his elbow on the couch, giving him another bruise.

"Ow!" he shouted.

"Sorry, Leland," Greg said, getting off his big brother. "I didn't mean it."

"Are you boys rough-housing again?" their mother, Marcia, asked, coming into the living room from the kitchen. "Greg, I've told you a million times . . . ."

"It's okay, Mom," Leland said.

"Are you sure?" Marcia asked.

Leland groaned. He hated it when his mother started acting like this. She was very overprotective of him, due to the fact that Leland was born premature. He was due in August, but he ended up coming in May. Surprisingly, Greg was right on time, which was why Marcia wasn't as overprotective of him as she was of Leland.

"Is Dad home?" Leland asked, changing the subject.

"Leland, you know Dad doesn't get home until around seven," Marcia said.

"Why can't he do the morning news instead of the evening news?" Greg asked. "Then he'll be home when we get home."

"I don't know why either," Marcia said, shrugging. "But I wish he did the morning news, too."

Link Lizard (short for Lincoln) was Channel 8's co-anchor on the five o' clock news. Leland and Greg thought it was great having their dad on TV, but sometimes, they wished he would be home when they got home from school, or softball practice. Because of this, they never really had a family dinner together. It was usually always family breakfasts, and the boys got to spend the entire weekend with their father.

In any case, Leland and Greg went into their shared bedroom and started on their homework. Greg looked at Leland's elbow and stared at it in awe.

"That's a big bruise," he said.

"That's nothing," Leland replied. "Gosalyn hit me with a softball today and the one on my shoulder is bigger than that."

"Can I see?"

"Maybe later."

Greg accepted this, and went back to his homework. Leland went back to his, as well, although, he couldn't concentrate on it very well. He was feeling a little tired.

After awhile, Marcia called the boys to dinner. Greg practically flew to the dining room, but Leland sluggishly went.

"Rough softball practice?" Marcia asked, when she noticed how tired he looked.

"I guess," Leland said, a little listlessly.

Marcia didn't say much to that. She just sat down at the table, and let the boys attack their spaghetti and meatballs. Well, at least Greg attacked it. Leland more or less played around with it.

"Greg, stop that," Marcia said. "You're making a mess."

"I like to make a mess," Greg said. He picked up one of the noodles in his hand and sucked it up in one slurp.

"Greg, please," Marcia said. "Use your fork."

"Okay, Mom," Greg said, and he picked up his fork. But that didn't stop him from slurping. Marcia gave up. She focused on Leland, who didn't seem to be eating.

"What's the matter, Leland?" she asked. "You're not eating."

"I'm not hungry," Leland said, picking at his dinner with his fork.

"I hope you're not coming down with something," Marcia said.

Leland didn't answer.

The next morning, Marcia called Leland and Greg to get up and get ready for school. Usually when she did that, both boys would get up and race to get things done. They liked to time themselves to see how quickly they could get up, make their beds, get dressed, and get into the kitchen for breakfast. That morning, Greg practically sprung out of bed, as usual. Leland felt like he was going in slow motion. He had gone to bed right after dinner the night before and instantly fell asleep, but this morning, he felt as though he had been up all night.

"Come on, Leland!" Greg shouted. "We'll never beat our record if you don't get up!"

"Start without me," Leland mumbled, as he tried to get up.

Greg shrugged, and started to do his morning routine. Leland followed, but at a much slower pace. Greg decided to wait for him. It took about ten minutes until Leland was finally ready. But by that time, Marcia sent Link in to check on them.

"What's the hold up, guys?" he asked.

"Leland," Greg said. "He's moving in sloooowwww motion."

"Well, let's hustle," Link said. "Your mom wants you in the kitchen ASAP."

Greg and Leland followed their dad down the hall and into the kitchen. The boys climbed onto the stools by the kitchen counter, and waited for breakfast. Marcia gave them both their current favorite cereal, Cocoa Krispies, although the thought of eating them made Leland a little sick to his stomach. He took about two bites, but that was about it.

"Okay, guys," Marcia said. "Time to go. Don't want to miss the bus."

Leland and Greg climbed off their stools and grabbed their backpacks. Marcia then gave them their lunches, and kissed them both goodbye. Then Leland took Greg's hand, and the two of them left the house and walked towards the bus stop.

Some of the other kids were already waiting for the bus. Lilly Cat looked at Leland oddly.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked. "You look tired."

"I am tired," Leland said. "But just a little bit."

Lilly was about to ask about it when the bus came. Then she knew she wouldn't get the chance until later. This was because she usually sat with her sister, Katie, on the bus. And Leland sat with Greg. It was how the two liked it. They were more like best friends than brothers. When they got to school, Leland walked Greg to his classroom, and then went to his. He stashed his stuff in the coatroom, and then sat down at his desk.

"Boy, Leland, you look terrible," Catchum Crocodile said, sitting at the desk next to Leland's.

Leland just shrugged. The bell rang before he could say anything.

Later in the day, the class filed out of the room for gym class. This was something Leland was not looking forward to. The kids were playing dodge ball.

"I hate dodge ball," Julie groaned.

"So do I," Tina Cooke replied. "Especially with Bobby, Zipper, and Gosalyn!"

"Bobby especially," Sharon Porter replied.

The other kids agreed. Bobby took dodge ball much too seriously. He threw the ball too hard at times, and it would really hurt if you got hit with it! The dodge ball game that day was no different. Bobby practically "killed" everyone in his path. Lilly, Leland, and Julie were in the way of each other when Bobby threw, and the three of them crashed to the ground. The ball then bounced against Julie's head.

BONK!

"Ow!" Julie shouted, rubbing her head. "Bobbyyyy!"

"Sorry, Julie," Bobby said. "I didn't mean to hit you on the head."

Julie sort of grunted, and stood up. Leland and Lilly got to their feet as well. Leland was inspecting the bruise he had just gotten on his knee.

"Boy, Leland, you sure bruise easy!" Julie commented, looking at not only the bruise on his knee, but also the one on his elbow.

"You never used to, did you?" Lilly asked.

"I never really noticed," Leland replied with a shrug. Luckily the bell rang, and gym class was over, much to Julie's relief.

Lunchtime rolled around. All Leland had of his was a box of apple juice, and that was it. The other kids stared at him as if he were nuts.

"I thought you liked the lunches your mom packed," Catchum commented.

"Yeah, your mom packs a good lunch," Zipper Cat said.

"I guess I'm just not hungry," Leland shrugged.

"If you don't want it, Leland, can I have it?" Bingo Beaver asked.

"Sure, I guess," Leland said.

Bingo licked his lips, and began unwrapping Leland's peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Everyone looked at him oddly.

"Well, no sense for a good lunch to go to waste," Bingo said, taking a bite. Everyone else groaned.

After lunch came recess (of course). Usually the kids went their own separate directions. Dotty, Woolma Lamb, and Bernice Bear went to jump rope. Julie, Tina, Lolly Squirrel, and Flora Fox were climbing on the slides.  Leslie, Sharon, Gretchen Halloway, Angela Hirtz, Gosalyn and Lilly were playing on the swings. All of the boys were gathered around for a game of kickball. On one team was Montgomery, Zipper, Bingo, Rocco Rabbit, Rudyard, and Braker Turtle. The other team was Catchum, Ronnie Demuth, Colin Cavanaugh, Billy Wilson, and Bobby.

"Wait a minute," Colin said before they started. "We need one more player. Otherwise the teams won't be even."

"I'll solve that," Catchum said. "Hey Leland! Come here!"

Leland was walking around the black top, not really doing much of anything except kicking a pebble around. He heard Catchum and walked over.

"I think that should even up the teams," Catchum said. "Let's go."

The kickball game started. It went on for about five minutes before they decided to end the game. Leland was up after awhile. He managed to kick the ball, and it went flying. He was about halfway to second base when he suddenly stopped to catch his breath. Rocco tagged him out with the ball.

"Well that sure was a dumb move!" Catchum shouted.

"Why'd you stop like that?" Bobby asked.

"I don't know," Leland said, catching his breath. "I ran out of breath."

The others groaned. By that time, the bell rang, and everyone went back to their classrooms. Science was usually after recess. Mrs. Lee's class was learning about plants. She started writing on the board, and then turned to the kids.

"Okay, guys," she said. "Who can tell me what photosynthesis is?"

A bunch of kids raised their hands. Mrs. Lee thought about it, and called on Ronnie.

"Photosynthesis is the process in which photos get synthesized," Ronnie said, with a complete straight face. Every single kid in the class cracked up over it. Ronnie was the class clown. He was never disruptive or anything like that, but there were times whenever Mrs. Lee called on him, he would always throw out a joke instead of an answer.

"Very funny, Ronnie," Mrs. Lee said. She knew better than to call on him for that, but she did. She was always waiting for the day Ronnie would give her the correct answer when she called on him.

When no one gave the right answer for the question, she showed a film strip on the subject. Film strips were not a lot of the class's favorite things in the world. In fact, most of them were downright boring. But there was no choice but to put up with them. This one was no exception.

When the film strip was over, Mrs. Lee turned the lights back on, and walked over to Rocco's desk. She found him sleeping. This was nothing new. Rocco always slept when the lights went off in the classroom.

"Okay, Rocco," she said. "The film strip's over. You can wake up now."

"Huh?" Rocco said, coming to his senses. "Oh. Oh yeah. Thanks, Mrs. Lee!"

"Rocco, why do you always fall asleep whenever I turn off the lights for anything?"

"I can't help it, Mrs. Lee. I'm a Narcoleptic!"

Several of the kids snickered. Mrs. Lee sighed, shook her head, and began passing out worksheets. Catchum looked at the worksheet and made a face.

"Boy this looks like tough stuff, huh, Leland?" he asked. He didn't get an answer. "Leland? Leland!"

Catchum looked over and saw that Leland had fallen asleep. Mrs. Lee didn't really notice. She knew Rocco always fell asleep whenever she turned off the lights, but Leland never did. Catchum sighed, and pulled his science folder out of his desk. He took out the papers, and gave Leland a good whack with it.

"Huh? What?" Leland asked, waking up.

"Catchum, why did you do that?" Mrs. Lee asked. She didn't tolerate any kind of hitting in her classroom, but she would always give her students a chance to explain themselves.

"He was asleep, Mrs. Lee," Catchum said. "I was just trying to wake him up."

"Leland, you fell asleep?" Mrs. Lee asked.

"I guess," Leland said.

"Maybe Rocco's Narcolepsy is contagious," Woolma said. Everyone started laughing at that.

"Okay, that's enough," Mrs. Lee said. "Everyone get back to work."

The kids went back to work. But Leland found he couldn't concentrate. He was too tired. When school was out for the day, he took his sweet time getting to the bus. Greg was waiting for him outside.

"You'd better hurry up, Leland!" he shouted. "Or else you'll miss the bus."

Leland stifled a yawn, and climbed on the bus. The rest of the afternoon was pretty much a repeat from the day before. Leland barely touched his dinner, and he hardly got any of his homework done.

"You're going to bed early again tonight," Marcia said.

"Okay, Mom," Leland said. He wasn't about to put up a fuss about it. He was too tired.

The next morning, Greg practically had to drag Leland out of bed.

"Come on, Leland!" he shouted, impatiently. "You slept through the alarm!"

Leland groaned, and managed to get up, although he wasn't looking forward to facing the day. He was tired, and feeling a little nauseated. He didn't even touch his breakfast at all.

"You sure you're not coming down with anything?" Link asked.

"I'm just tired," Leland said.

And with that, the boys left for school. Marcia and Link exchanged a glance. Somehow, they knew better, but they weren't exactly sure what they were going to do about it. Other than being tired, looking a little pale, and loss of appetite, Leland seemed all right.

The ride to school was the typical noise fest. Leland didn't pay much attention to it, at least until Julie, who was sitting in the seat in front of him, kneeled on the seat and turned around to ask him something.

"Hey, Leland," she said. And that's when she saw it. "Hey, ew! Your nose is bleeding!"

"What?" Leland asked, and he swiped his the back of his hand across his nose to see if Julie was right. Sure enough, she was. Most of the other kids on the bus were now staring, because of Julie's outburst.

"How'd that happen?" Greg asked. "One minute, you're just sitting there, and the next, your nose is bleeding!"

"Did you hit it against something and not realize it?" Bobby asked. "I mean, the whole school knows you're kinda dumb."

"Bobby!" Lilly, Julie, Tina, and Gretchen shouted in unison.

"Well, he is," Bobby said with a shrug.

Leland didn't say anything. He was busy trying to clean up before he got to school. Julie reached into her pocket and gave him a tissue.

"Here, Leland," she said.

"Thanks," Leland said, and began mopping up. But as soon as Leland got off the bus, he started sniffling and snorting, and keeping the tissue in front of his face, trying to keep any excess blood in his nose so nobody noticed.

Unfortunately, on that Wednesday morning, Mrs, Lee decided to pass out worksheets for the kids to work individually on while she worked on putting together a science test for Friday. Leland couldn't concentrate. He was too tired, and he was beginning to feel a little hot. And he kept sniffling, snorting, and blowing his nose, trying not to show that he had a nosebleed. It was driving Bingo crazy, since he sat in front of Leland. Bingo finally whirled around and glared at Leland.

"Do you mind?" he asked. "I'm trying to get my work done."

"Sorry," Leland said, meekly.

"What's the matter with you, anyway?" Catchum asked. "You got a cold or something?"

"Well . . . ." Leland said, but he hesitated. He just snorted into the tissue Julie gave him, and went back to work on his worksheet.

Since the room was so quiet, everybody could hear Leland snorting. And it was annoying everyone, especially Woolma, and she didn't even sit anywhere near Leland! Julie took another tissue out of her pocket, and passed it to Zipper, who sat behind her diagonally. In turn, Zipper passed it to Leland, who was diagonal to him. Leland ripped a sheet of paper out of his notebook, wrote "thanks" on it, and passed it to Zipper to give to Julie, which he did. They did it sneakily. Mrs. Lee didn't like note passing in class.

After awhile, Mrs. Lee began walking around the classroom, seeing how everyone was doing. She glanced over at Leland, who seemed very fidgety. He was still snorting and sniffling, too. Everyone was being driven crazy at it. Mrs. Lee noticed Leland's strange behavior since the beginning of the week, and it wasn't like him to act this way. Finally, she collected the worksheets, and put them into a bin on her desk. Then she turned to the class.

"Okay, guys," she said. She never called her students "class" like most teachers did. "Please open your history textbooks to page two hundred fifty, read the chapter, and answer the questions at the end."

The minute she finished, Leland snorted again, quite possibly the loudest snort he gave out for the entire day. Some of the boys giggled.

"Eeeuuuww," Woolma grimaced.

"What's the matter with him, anyway?" Rocco whispered to Montgomery, who sat in front of him.

Montgomery shrugged, and started his work. Mrs. Lee sat down at her desk, and looked over the worksheets, but she kept glancing up at Leland, who had a very bad case of the fidgets going. Mrs. Lee put down the worksheet she was grading.

"Leland, can you come up here, please?" she asked.

"Oooooohhhhhh," everyone said, as Leland got up and walked to the front of the classroom. Mrs. Lee gave the entire class a Look, and they went right back to work.

"Yes, Mrs. Lee?" Leland asked.

"Come with me," Mrs. Lee replied, taking Leland's hand. "Montgomery, you're in charge of the class until I get back."

"Yes, Mrs. Lee," Montgomery said.

Mrs. Lee smiled. She knew she could count on Montgomery to keep order in the classroom. Once she and Leland had left the room, everyone looked at each other, wondering what was going on.

In the meantime, Mrs. Lee was leading Leland down the hall. He was sure he was being taken to the principal's office for disrupting the class. But Mrs. Lee walked right past the main office, and turned right, straight to the nurse's office. Leland had never been to the school nurse's office before.

"Hi, Sandra," Mrs. Lee said to the nurse, Sandra Kent. "This is Leland Lizard, one of my students. Leland, this is Mrs. Kent."

"Hi, Leland," Mrs. Kent said. She was a pretty young woman with chestnut colored hair and brown eyes.

"Hi," Leland said, waving a little uncertainly.

"I don't think Leland is feeling very well," Mrs. Lee said. "So I brought him down to be looked at."

"No problem at all, Janine," Mrs. Kent said.

"I have to get back to my class," Mrs. Lee said. "See you guys later."

Mrs. Lee left the room. Mrs. Kent directed Leland to a chair sitting near the desk, and pulled a thermometer out of her desk drawer. She had one of the old fashioned oral kind.

"Okay, Leland, open up," she said.

Leland hated having his temperature taken. His mother practically took it five times a day until he was four years old. But he let Mrs. Kent put the thermometer under his tongue anyway. After about three minutes, Mrs. Kent took the thermometer out of his mouth, and tilted it so she could read it. Then she clicked her tongue against her teeth, and put the thermometer down.

"Leland, it appears you have a temperature of a hundred and two degrees," she said. "I think you ought to call your mother and have her come take you home."

Leland didn't say anything, although he now understood why he was so tired. Mrs. Kent pushed the phone towards him. Leland picked it up, and dialed the number of Carter's Department Store. Marcia worked in the sales department.

"Can I speak to Marcia Lizard?" he asked when the secretary answered.

"Who's calling, please?" the secretary asked.

"Her son, Leland."

"Hold on."

The secretary put Leland on hold, and then walked over to Marcia's office. Marcia was sitting at her computer, typing away, when the secretary knocked on her door.

"Mrs. Lizard," she said. "Your son is on line two."

Marcia picked up the phone, and punched a couple of buttons.

"Marcia Lizard," she said, while typing.

"Hi, Mom," Leland said.

"Leland, what's wrong?" Marcia said. She knew neither of her boys would be calling during school hours unless something was wrong.

"I'm at the nurse's office," Leland said. "The nurse says I have a temperature of a hundred and two, and she wants you to pick me up from school."

"A hundred and two? I knew you must have been coming down with something. Okay, sweetie, just stay there. I'm on my way."

Leland hung up the phone and turned to Mrs. Kent.

"Can I lie down until my mom comes?" he asked. "I don't feel so good."

"Sure," Mrs. Kent said, leading him to a cot. "You stay right there until your mom comes for you. I'll go back to your classroom to get your things."

Leland nodded, and began to lie down. He closed his eyes, thinking maybe he could catch a nap while he waited for his mother.

It was about twenty minutes later when Marcia pulled up to the school. She knew where the school nurse's office was. She had to pick Greg up from school the year before when Greg broke his finger while playing a game in kindergarten. She went to the nurse's office, and walked in.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Marcia Lizard. I'm here to pick up my son, Leland."

"Come with me," Mrs. Kent said. She led Marcia to the back of the room. Marcia found Leland fast asleep on the cot.

"He's been so tired lately," Marcia said. "I'm not surprised he's asleep. Leland? Leland, honey, wake up."

Leland stirred a little, and opened his eyes about halfway, but not completely. He let his eyes focus on his mother, and then closed them again. Marcia didn't have the heart to wake him up again, so she simply swung his backpack over her own shoulders, picked him up, and carried him out of the nurse's office. She was on her way to the front door when Gosalyn came walking down the hall herself. She had just come from the girls' bathroom. She saw Mrs. Lizard carrying Leland down the hall, and went back to her classroom as fast as she could without running. She didn't want to get stopped by the hall monitor.

Gosalyn nearly flew back into the classroom, tossed the hall pass to Mrs. Lee, and then ran to her desk.

"In a big hurry to learn, Gosalyn?" Mrs. Lee teased.

"Yeah, whatever," Gosalyn said, rummaging through her desk. She finally pulled out her notebook, ripped a page out, and scribbled furiously on it. Mrs. Lee turned her back, and began writing on the blackboard. Gosalyn folded her note, and held it underneath her desk.

"Psst!" she hissed to Bernice, who sat next to her.

Bernice took the note, and unfolded it carefully. Gosalyn had written:

Emergency meeting at recess today. Something's up with Leland. Pass it on 'til it gets to Sharon.

Bernice folded the note, held it under the desk, and threw it to the floor next to Flora's desk. Flora sat in front of Bernice. Flora picked it up, read it, and passed it onto Lolly, who passed it to Gretchen, who passed it to Angela, who passed it to Catchum. Catchum read it, and then folded it again. He sat it upright on his desk, and flicked it to Bingo. He would normally pass the note to Leland, and then Leland would flick it to Bingo, after creating a diversion. Since he sat next to the window, he usually made up some crazy story about a wild animal in the schoolyard. Mrs. Lee usually humored him, and looked, and it gave Leland a chance to flick the note to Bingo.

In any case, Bingo unfolded it, and passed to his right. Zipper passed it along to Rudyard, who gave it to Woolma. It went down the line from Woolma to Leslie to Jennifer. By that time, Mrs. Lee was turning around. Immediately, Jennifer raised her hand.

"Mrs. Lee?" she asked.

"Yes, Jennifer?" Mrs. Lee said.

"Uhh, I didn't understand question two of the science homework last night. Could you draw the diagram on the board for me?"

"Sure."

Mrs. Lee turned back around and began to draw the elaborate diagram from the homework the night before. Jennifer took that opportunity to throw the note to Bobby. Bobby caught it in midair, and passed it down his row. It went from Billy, to Tina, to Julie, to Colin, to Rocco. Rocco knew exactly how to get it to Montgomery. He put the note on the floor, and covered it with his foot. Then he rested his head on his desk, and began to snore, much louder than he usually did when he fell asleep in Mrs. Lee's class.

"Oh Rocco!" Mrs. Lee groaned. "Don't tell me I'm getting boring!"

Rocco continued to snore. He opened one eye slightly to see if Mrs. Lee was coming towards him. She was. When she reached his desk, he slid the note to Montgomery. Montgomery stepped on the note, and kept his foot there. Mrs. Lee shook Rocco's shoulder gently.

"Who? What?" Rocco asked. "Oh. I'm sorry, Mrs. Lee. But I told you before, I'm Narcoleptic!"

"Maybe you should see a doctor about your Narcolepsy, Rocco," Mrs. Lee said. Then she walked back up to the blackboard.

Montgomery picked up the note. Then he dropped it on the floor, and slid it towards Ronnie. Ronnie accidentally-on-purpose dropped his pencil on the floor, and bent to pick it up. He picked up the note along with it. He read it, and passed it to Dotty, who passed it to Braker, who passed it to Lilly, and passed it along to Sharon. Sharon read it, and stuck it inside her desk. Then she took off her glasses, and held them up to the window, as if she were inspecting them to see if they were dirty. The sun flashed off of the lenses twice. That was Sharon's signal to Gosalyn saying that she got the note, and everyone had read it.

This was the system the kids had when they needed to pass notes in class. Mrs. Lee had never once caught them.

By the time recess came along, the entire class gathered around the slides. Gosalyn stood on top of the wooden platform and leaned against the railing.

"Okay, guys," she said. "Here's the scoop. I was coming back from the girl's room, and I saw Leland's mom in the hallway. She and Leland were on their way out of the school."

"Big deal," Woolma said. "What's so weird about that, Gosalyn?"

"Woolma's right," Dotty said. "When Mrs. Lee and Leland left the room, they were probably going to the nurse's office. Leland wasn't looking very well."

"He hasn't been looking very well all week," Catchum commented.

"The nurse probably told Leland to call his mom to take him home," Montgomery said. "That's happened to you before, Gosalyn. You know that."

"Yeah," Gosalyn said. "But every time I had to call my dad to come pick me up from school when I was sick, he never had to carry me out the front door!"

That got everyone's attention. They all stared at Gosalyn as if she were crazy.

"No way!" Bingo shouted. "Leland's mom was carrying him out of school?"

"Yeah, and it looked like Leland was asleep," Gosalyn said. "Boy, he looked terrible. He was pale and sweating."

"Poor Leland," Julie said. "I hope he's okay."

The others agreed. Never had anyone in the history of Carson Elementary School had ever been too sick to walk out of school.

For the rest of the day, the kids had a hard time concentrating. Their minds were on Leland. Mrs. Lee noticed, but didn't say anything about it. She knew as much as they did.

By the time school was out, Gosalyn and her classmates filed out of the building, and made their way toward the playground for softball practice. They usually had practice Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons. That usually meant Greg had to go home on the bus by himself on those days. He didn't care. He knew Leland had to practice. And that's where he thought Leland was when he didn't see him on the bus.

Greg let himself into his house with his keys when he got there. He threw his backpack on the living room chair, and went right into the kitchen, where Marcia was stirring something in a pot. Marcia only worked part time, so she was always home when the boys got home from school.

"Hi, Mom," Greg said, reaching into the cookie jar on the counter.

"Hi, Greg," Marcia said. "How was school?"

"Pretty good. I'm gonna go do my homework."

"Okay. Oh, Greg, do me a favor and . . . ."

But Greg was off and running before Marcia could finish. She had wanted to tell him to keep things quiet, but she'd have to do that later.

Greg, in the meantime, retrieved his backpack from the living room, and went down the hall to his bedroom. He noticed that when he got there, the shades were pulled down. They were usually pulled up at this time of day. So he yanked on the string, and the shade flapped up, making a terrible noise. Then he threw his backpack into the room, and it landed on Leland's bed. And right on Leland, for that matter.

"Ack!" Leland shouted, shooting up. "Greg! What did you do that for?!"

"What are you doing here?" Greg asked, surprised to see his big brother. "I thought you had softball practice on Wednesdays!"

"Mom had to pick me up from school early."

"You sick?"

"Yep."

"Okay. I'll do my homework in the kitchen."

Greg picked up his backpack, and went into the kitchen to start on his homework. Leland moaned. He was feeling terrible. Marcia came into the room just then.

"You okay?" she asked.

"No," Leland replied. "I feel awful."

"Well, I got a doctor's appointment for you tomorrow morning."

"I won't have to get a shot, will I?"

Leland was scared to death of needles. No matter what happened at the doctor's office, no matter what Marcia did to try to distract him, no matter what Leland's pediatrician, Dr. Lang, tried to divert his attention, whenever the needle went in for the routine blood tests, Leland always screamed his head off. He was one of those kids who just couldn't take needles at all.

"Probably not," Marcia said. "Most likely she'll just check your temperature and things like that."

Leland nodded, and started to lie back down. Marcia put her hand on his forehead and sighed. She pulled the shade back down, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Meanwhile, the other kids were at the ballpark. Jerry was going through his clipboard. Mike was sitting on the bench, watching the kids pitch, catch, and field.

"Hey, Jer?" he asked. "You notice we're missin' a kid out there?"

"Hmm?" Jerry asked, not looking up from his clipboard.

"Leland's not around. You think he's skippin' practice?"

"Nope," Gosalyn said, walking over. "I saw him leave with his mom at school today. I think he went home sick."

Mike nodded, and moved his hand to the side of his head for a moment. His sixth sense was telling him something was wrong, but it wasn't telling him what it was. He massaged his head for a moment, and the tingling subsided.

"What's wrong with your sixth sense?" Jerry asked.

"Not sure," Mike said. "It's tellin' me somethin's up, but it's not tellin' me what."

"When you say something's wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean trouble, does it?"

"No, not really, but whatever it is, it's drivin' me out of my mind!"

Jerry shrugged, and went out to home plate to give Julie some batting tips.

That night, Marcia put Greg in the family room on the sofa bed for the night.

"How come I can't sleep in my own bed?" Greg asked.

"I don't want you catching whatever Leland has, in case he's contagious," Marcia said. "You can go back to your own bed tomorrow night after I take Leland to the doctor and find out if he's contagious or not."

Greg accepted this. Marcia was thankful both her kids were easy going when it came down to it.

Leland had a very restless night. He kept tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. He felt as though his stomach was tied in knots, and like his fever was rising every two minutes. By five that morning, he was a wreck. Marcia was usually up by then, so she went in to check.

"Hi, sweetie," she said, sitting down on the edge of Leland's bed. "How are you feeling this morning?"

"Yucky," Leland answered.

"I know. But I'm sure you'll feel better soon."

Leland hoped she was right. He didn't believe her, but he hoped she was right. It was pure agony waiting until nine that morning. That's when Leland's appointment with Dr. Lang was. Finally, nine rolled around. Leland thought about what his friends were doing. Mrs. Lee was probably giving the English lesson for the day right about now. He wondered how long he would be out of school, and how much work he'd have to do over the weekend to catch up by Monday. He was sure he'd be all right by Monday. Even by Friday, he was sure he'd have this bug licked.

Dr. Lang's office was in a converted row house. She was in her mid thirties, with brown hair and blond highlights, and blue eyes. She was a nice doctor, and Leland didn't usually mind seeing her, except when he knew he was going to have to get a shot.

"Good morning, Mrs. Lizard, Leland," she said when she entered the examining room. "Long time, no see. Let's see what we have here."

Dr. Lang started her examination. She checked Leland's blood pressure, and his temperature (still a hundred two degrees). She looked at his eyes, ears, and throat. She wrote a few things down on her clipboard, and examined the bruises on Leland's shoulder, elbow, and knee.

"How did you get these bruises, hon?" she asked him.

"I was hit by a softball in the shoulder on Monday," Leland said. "And I hit my elbow on the couch on Monday, too, and I banged my knee in gym class on Tuesday."

"Okay, anything else?"

"I feel nauseous all the time, and I'm tired all the time, too."

"When did you start feeling like this?"

"Since Monday, I think."

Dr. Lang nodded, and made a note on her clipboard. Then she opened a drawer, pulled out something Leland was all too familiar with.

"Oh no," he moaned. "Mom, don't let her give me a shot! Please don't let her give me a shot!"

In a sudden burst of energy, Leland practically leaped off the examining table, and tried to bury his face in his mother's arms. He was about to burst into tears any second now.

"Leland, I have to get a sample of your blood," Dr. Lang said, calmly. "If I don't, I won't be able to tell what's wrong."

"No, no, no!" Leland shouted, and he turned away from Dr. Lang completely. Marcia scooped him up, and put him back on the table.

"Leland, relax," she said, calmly. "Don't you want to get better?"

"I don't want to get a shot!" Leland shouted.

Marcia sighed. She had been through this for ten years with Leland. She thought he was getting too old for these tantrums at the doctor's office over getting a shot. Dr. Lang didn't say anything. She just remained calm. She opened another drawer, and pulled a lime flavored lollipop out of it. She knew lime was Leland's favorite flavor. Normally, she would save the lollipop for after the shot, but she always gave Leland the lollipop first, and the shot while he was sucking on it. It didn't really distract him completely, but it helped a lot.

This time, it didn't do much. Leland just looked at the lollipop, and moaned, buring his face in his mother. Even looking at food was enough to turn his stomach. Marcia took it in stride. She just wrapped her arms around Leland, and just let him cry into them. Dr. Lang took Leland's hand, cleaned off his finger, and stuck the tiny needle in. Of course, Leland shrieked.

"Shh, it's okay, Leland," Dr. Lang said. "It only hurts for a little while. You know that."

Dr. Lang managed to get the blood into the plastic container she used to do blood tests. Then she put it away, and cleaned up Leland's finger.

"We probably won't know anything for awhile," Dr. Lang said. "As far as it looks, Leland just caught a stomach bug, which has been going around, but I want to check his blood to make sure it isn't anything too serious. Call me any time if you have any other concerns."

"Thanks, Dr. Lang," Marcia said.

After that, Marcia took Leland home, and called the Lizards' next door neighbor, Mrs. Cole. Marcia had to get to work, and she didn't want to leave Leland by himself when he was this sick. Mrs. Cole, an elderly lady, was glad to come over. She had always come over to watch the boys whenever one of them was sick and had to miss school.

"Leland's probably going to sleep all day," Marcia said. "But try to get at least something in his system. You know, chicken soup, ginger ale, orange juice, that sort of thing. I'll be back by two thirty, so you won't have to worry about taking care of both Leland and Greg when Greg gets home from school. Let's see . . . . I'd like to keep Leland in bed as much as possible, so if he gets bored, we have a battery operated portable TV in the basement we bring into the boys' room whenever they're sick. I think that's it, but I'm sure I'm forgetting something."

"Don't you worry about a thing, dear," Mrs. Cole said. "I'll take care of everything. Leland will be just fine."

Marcia nodded, grabbed her keys, and left. Once she was gone, Mrs. Cole decided to check in on Leland. Just as Marcia predicted, he was fast asleep. Mrs. Cole figured this would be an easy sitting job.

By Friday morning, Leland was feeling about the same. Marcia was sure it was just a forty-eight hour virus of some kind. Maybe longer. She wasn't too worried just yet. However, while she was at work, she got a call from Dr. Lang.

"I strongly suggest you take Leland to see a hemotologist," she said.

"What for?" Marcia asked.

"Well, those bruises he has for one thing. Also the fact that I picked up something strange while examining his blood under the microscope."

Marcia refused to put Leland through any more tests, and hung up the phone. She was sure all he had was a virus.

The entire weekend went by. Leland was still as sick as he was on Wednesday. By Monday morning, Link and Marcia were having a talk in the kitchen.

"Maybe you ought to have another doctor look at him," Link said. "He's not getting any better."

"I don't know if I can put him through more tests," Marcia said. "Dr. Lang took one tiny blood test, and Leland nearly went berserk! What's going to happen if we take him to the hospital?! He'll have a complete system shutdown!"

"Marcia, there is no way around this! Dr. Lang wouldn't suggest us getting a second opinion and more testing if it wasn't serious! We have to take him to the hospital. A stomach virus does not last this long, and it's not what this is."

Marcia gave in. She reluctantly agreed to take Leland into Rampart General Hospital later in the morning. Leland was not ready for this. He had heard horror stories about hospitals from other kids at school. Gosalyn had been to Rampart before, and she had said that the doctors were pretty cool. As a matter of fact, she usually got checked up by Dr. Joe Early, who dated Mike's Aunt Kate. Everyone knew that, even the kids. But that didn't reassure Leland.

"Mom, do I have to do this?" he asked, nervously.

"I don't like it, either, but we have to," Marcia said, heaving a sigh.

Unfortunately, they had to wait about ten minutes before a doctor was available. That was agony to Leland. He wanted to get this over with as soon as possible, especially if needles were going to be involved. Finally, Dixie came into the waiting room.

"Leland Lizard?" she asked.

"Let's go," Marcia said.

Leland moaned, and followed his mother into an examining room. Marcia explained to Dixie what was going on as she was checking Leland's temperature and blood pressure.

"Our pediatrician suggested we take him to a hemotologist, but I don't think I could have taken that," Marcia said.

"Well, don't worry," Dixie said. "Dr. Brackett is a very good doctor."

"Isn't he the one Mike calls Dr. Uptight?" Leland asked.

"Don't listen to what Mike calls him, sweetie," Dixie said. "He and Dr. Brackett don't get along. It's a personality clash."

Leland nodded. He knew a thing or two about personality clashes at school. A lot of the kids from Mrs. Lee's class clashed with a lot of the kids from the other fifth grade class at Carson Elementary. In any case, Dr. Brackett came into the room after a moment or so. Dixie handed him her notes, and Dr. Brackett skimmed through them.

"This his medical history, Dix?" he asked.

"Yes, Kel," Dixie said. "Mrs. Lizard said that Leland's pediatrician suggested a hemotologist, but Mrs. Lizard is uneasy with that. And we have the information from Dr. Lang. She faxed it over."

Dr. Brackett nodded, and looked through Dr. Lang's notes. Then he put them down, and walked over to Leland.

"Hi, Leland," he said. "I'm Dr. Brackett. And don't listen to a word Mike Nesmith says about me. It's not true."

"Not all of it, at least," Dixie muttered under her breath.

"I heard that, Dix," Dr. Brackett said. Leland managed a small smile.

Dr. Brackett did some of the same things Dr. Lang did. He placed his hands gently on the sides of Leland's neck for a moment, and then made a note.

"Your lymph glands are a little swollen," he said. "Did Dr. Lang check that?"

"No," Leland said.

Dr. Brackett nodded, and did some more examining, mostly around Leland's neck and abdomen. He found that was a little swollen as well.

"Mrs. Lizard," he said. "I'm going to perform a series of tests on Leland, just to determine a diagnosis. I'd like to perform them all today, so I can get the results in as soon as possible."

"What exactly is this going to involve?" Marcia asked.

"I'm sorry to say needles," Dr. Brackett said.

"Mom!" Leland screeched, nearly jumping off the examining table, like he did at Dr. Lang's office.

"What kind of tests are you going to do?" Marcia asked, grabbing Leland before he could jump off the table completely.

"I need to take a bone marrow test, a spinal tap, and a chest X-ray," Dr. Brackett said. "The bone marrow test and the spinal tap involve needles, so those are going to be a bit painful. And I'm going to have to draw some blood, too. We'll do that first."

Leland backed away from Dr. Brackett immediately. He didn't want to be poked around with needles. Dr. Brackett had delt with difficult patients before, especially concerning needles. But this had to be done. The minute Dr. Brackett took Leland's hand, he began to squrim.

"I don't want to get another shot!" he cried out. "No needles! No needles!"

"How old did you say he was, Mrs. Lizard?" Dr. Brackett asked, trying to hold Leland's hand still.

"Ten," Marcia replied. "But when it comes to having shots, he has the maturity of a three-year-old."

"Now, Leland, just relax," Dr. Brackett said. "This is going to be just like the needle you get at Dr. Lang's office. It will only hurt for a little while. It's just a little pin prick."

Leland still squirmed a little, but Dr. Brackett was able to successfully stick his finger with the small needle. Leland grimaced, but he didn't scream.

"There," Dr. Brackett said. "Now, I'm afraid, comes the hard part. I have to take a bone marrow test, and this one will definitely hurt. I'm not going to lie to you, Leland."

"Mom, do I have to?" Leland asked, coming close to whining.

"Yes, you have to," Marcia said.

Within minutes, Leland was prepped for the bone marrow test. Dixie injected some anesthesia into Leland's skin, in order to numb the site. That pinched quite a bit, and Leland let out a painful moan.

"I know it hurts," Dixie said. "But it will hurt a lot more when Dr. Brackett does the bone marrow test if we didn't put the anesthesia in."

Dr. Brackett decided to do both a marrow aspiration, and a marrow trephine. Whichever the case, Leland was ready to bolt. This involved two needles. When Leland saw them, he jumped off the table, and ran straight into his mother's arms.

"I can't do it!" Leland cried. "Don't make him do it, Mom! Please don't make him do it!"

"How about we get him a sedative?" Dixie suggested.

"Absolutely not!" Marcia shouted. "You are not administering any kind of drug to my son!"

"It will help him stay calm during the procedure," Dixie explained.

Marcia shook her head. She refused. Dixie sighed. There was no point in arguing. Once the anesthesia kicked in, Dr. Brackett was ready for the test. He picked up the needle for the marrow aspiration, and was ready to stick it in, but Leland started squirming. He was squirming even more than when Dr. Brackett took the blood out of his finger. There was no way he was going to get the needles in if Leland kept squirming like he was.

"Mrs. Lizard, do you think you can hold him while we do this test?" Dr. Brackett asked. "I can't have him squirming while I do this one, or the spinal tap."

"I'll do my best, doctor," Marcia said. She held Leland by the shoulders, and squeezed them.

"Just relax, Leland," she said. "The sooner we do this, the sooner we can go home."

Leland moaned, and squeezed his eyes shut as Dr. Brackett stuck the needle in for the marrow aspiration. Leland screamed, and tried to bury his face in his mother's arms. Dr. Brackett took it in stride. He started drawing the blood, and Leland burst into painful tears.

"It's okay," Marcia said, trying to comfort him. "It's almost done."

Dr. Brackett took out the smaller needle and handed it to Dixie. Then he took the bigger needle.

"Okay, Leland," he said. "We're almost done. I just need you to hold still for a little while longer."

"I can't, I can't!" Leland cried out. "It hurts too much!"

"I know it hurts," Dr. Brackett said. "But it has to be done. Now hold still."

Dr. Brackett pushed the trephine needle in, and began turning it back and forth. Leland shrieked. Marcia felt terrible. Now she wished she had gone along with Dixie's suggestion of giving him a sedative, but it was too late now. Dr. Brackett began drawing the marrow out.

"There we go," he said. "You're doing great, Leland. Just hold still a little longer."

Finally, Dr. Brackett pulled the needle out. Leland started sobbing in pain. Marcia wrapped him in a tight hug, and rocked him back and forth a little.

"Calm down," she said. "It's all right. That test is over."

"We're going to send these to the lab immediately," Dr. Brackett explained. "But it could take awhile before we have the results."

"Are the painful tests over?" Leland asked, tearfully.

"I'm afraid not," Dr. Brackett said. "We still have a spinal tap to do. I'm afraid that one is going to be very painful. But we'll do the chest X-ray first."

"Will that hurt?" Leland asked.

"No," Dr. Brackett said. "The X-ray will just take pictures of what's going on inside your body."

"Like when Gosalyn Mallard broke her leg, and she said she had to get it X-rayed and the doctors saw the actual bone that was broken?"

"Exactly. It's painless."

Leland nodded, and agreed to have the X-ray done. That didn't seem so bad. Leland was able to get that out of the way without going crazy.

About an hour later, it was time for the spinal tap. Dr. Brackett told him to lie on his side and curl up a little.

"I need you to remain very still," he said. "I'm going to inject the anesthesia first, so the pain won't be as bad."

Leland whimpered, and began to shake. How could the doctor possibly expect him to hold still when he was about to jam a needle into his back?! Like with the bone marrow test, the anesthesia needle pinched as it went in. Leland let out a moan. After about fifteen minutes, it was the moment of truth. Leland did his best to stay still, but it was no use. It was a general reflex of his to start squirming when he knew a needle was coming.

"If he doesn't hold still, I won't be able to position the needle," Dr. Brackett said. "It has to go in at an exact spot."

"Leland, honey, you're going to have to hold still," Marcia said.

"I can't!" Leland cried.

"Mrs. Lizard, you're going to have to hold him down again," Dr. Brackett said. "Listen, Leland, it won't take long. This test will only take a couple of seconds. Just hold still for ten seconds, okay? I have to do this carefully. Ten seconds."

Leland sniffled, and nodded. He held as still as he possibly could. Dr. Brackett carefully pushed the needle in, and was able to get what he needed.

"Okay," Dr. Brackett said. "We're finished with the tests. Now what I want you to do is just lay flat on your stomach for awhile, okay? You're going to have to stay here for a couple of hours, and then you'll be ready to go home, okay?"

"Okay," Leland said.

"Doctor, how long are the results going to take to get back?" Marcia asked.

"A week at maximum," Dr. Brackett said. "I'll get these back as soon as I can. But in the meantime, all we can do is wait."

Marcia nodded. She knew she was going to be on pins and needles waiting for the results. But there was nothing she could do about it.

Wednesday rolled along. Leland was still a wreck. Greg was getting ready for school, taking to his parents.

"Is Leland staying home again?" he asked.

"Yep," Link replied.

"What's he got?" Greg asked.

"We're not sure yet. We have to wait until the hospital calls with the test results."

Greg nodded, and left for the bus stop. When the bus came, the kids climbed on. Julie looked around the bus for a minute, and then turned to Montgomery.

"Hey, Montgomery," she said. "You seen Leland around?"

"No," Montgomery said. "I haven't seen him since Wednesday."

"Neither have I," Lilly said.

"Hey, Greg," Julie's brother, Tommy, said, turning around to Greg. "Where's your brother?"

"Still sick," Greg said. "Not even Mom and Dad know what he's got!"

Julie and Montgomery looked at each other. When they got to school, they practically sprinted into class and told the others what was up.

In the meantime, Marcia was in the kitchen of her house, pacing. The wait was killing her. She had decided to take a leave of absence from work, at least until she figured out what Leland had that was making him so sick. Finally, the phone rang, and Marcia practically snatched it up.

"Hello?" she asked.

"Mrs. Lizard? This is Dr. Brackett at Rampart General Hospital," Dr. Brackett said. "We've got the results from Leland's tests back, and I'm afraid we have some bad news. Leland has leukemia."

"LEUKEMIA?!" Marcia shrieked at the top of her voice. She could feel the pit of her stomach drop out right then and there. She felt faint, but she controlled herself.

"How can he have leukemia? Are you sure, doctor?" she asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," Dr. Brackett said. "We checked and double checked everything. I'm afraid Leland does indeed have leukemia."

Marcia didn't have the slightest idea what to do next. Luckily, Dr. Brackett told her that she could bring Leland into Rampart General, and they would do their best to fight it off.

"I can't guarantee anything," he said. "But with the new technology we have for fighting cancers, there is a good chance we can beat this."

"Okay," Marcia said. "Thank you very much, Dr. Brackett."

Marcia hung up. She let the news sink in, and then immediately called the Channel 8 studios, and asked to speak to Link.

"What's up, Marcia?" he asked.

"They got the results from the tests back," Marcia said. "And I need you to come home right now."

"Why? What are the results?"

"I can't tell you over the phone. I'm a nervous mess! Please, Link, it's important!"

"Marcia, calm down. How bad can it be?"

"Real bad, Link. Very, very bad. I haven't even told Leland yet."

"You haven't even told me, yet."

"Link! Please!"

"Oh . . . . all right. I'll be home as soon as I can."

Link hung up the phone and walked over to his co-anchor, Dana Jennings.

"Dana, I have to get home," he said. "Family emergency. Apparently, the hospital called with my son's test results."

"What is it?" Dana asked. Link had told her, and the other personnel on the show what had been going on.

"I don't know," Link said. "My wife wouldn't tell me over the phone. Listen, Dana, you're on your own tonight. Something tells me this is important."

"Of course," Dana said. "And don't worry, Link. It can't be that bad."

Link nodded, and left the station. When he got home, he found Marcia waiting on the front stoop, wringing her hands together.

"I have been on pins and needles since Dr. Brackett called," she said. "I really don't know how to tell you this, Link."

"Just come right out and say it," Link said. "The suspense is killing me."

Marcia nodded, took a deep breath, and dropped the bomb.

"Leukemia," she said, bluntly.

Link grew pale. He looked at Marcia wide-eyed, as if he couldn't believe it. Marcia just nodded. She did her best to fight back tears, but it wasn't successful.

"How are we going to tell a ten-year-old he has cancer?" Link asked. "And how are we going to tell his six-year-old brother, too?"

"I don't know," Marcia said. "But let's wait until Greg gets home, and then we'll tell them together. I don't want to repeat this more than I have to."

Greg wasn't do home for another two hours. That gave Link and Marcia time to prepare what they were going to say, although it wasn't going to be easy. Finally, Greg came home. Marcia and Link were a little nervous about what they were going to say.

"Hi Mom!" Greg shouted when he came through the door. "I'm home!"

"Greg, we have something important to tell you," Link said, coming into the room.

"Hi, Dad!" Greg shouted, cheerfully. "Wow, you're never home when I get home from school!"

"I know," Link said. "Listen, Greg, we have something important to tell both you and Leland. And it's not good news."

"Did you get fired? Is that why you're home early?"

"No, it isn't that. Look, just wait in the living room while I go get your brother, okay?"

"Okay."

Greg walked into the living room. Marcia pulled him into her lap and gave him a hug.

"Mom, are you okay?" he asked. "You're crying."

"I'll tell you when Leland gets here," Marcia said.

Greg was confused. He didn't know what was going on. Link walked into the bedroom, and gently shook Leland's shoulder.

"Leland, wake up," he said. "It's family meeting time."

"Dad, what are you doing home?" Leland asked, waking up slightly. He had been asleep all day.

"Your mom called me at work and told me to come home," Link said. "Come on, we have to have a family meeting."

"Is something wrong?"

"Yes, I'm afraid there is."

Link picked up Leland and carried him into the living room. A bunch of thoughts were forming in Leland's head. Most of them pointed to his parents either losing their jobs, or worse yet, getting a divorce. Not once did he think that the family meeting pointed to him.

"Boys, this isn't easy to tell you," Marcia said. "But Dr. Brackett called from the hospital with Leland's test results."

"Uh oh," Greg said. "Is it bad?"

"Yes, it's bad," Link said.

There was a slight pause. Link and Marcia looked at each other, not really sure how they were going to say it. Leland and Greg looked at their parents, waiting. It was making them nervous. Finally, Marcia heaved a sigh.

"There's no easy way to say this," she said. "Leland, your blood tests showed . . . . well, uhhh, you have leukemia."

Leland didn't say a word. Not one word. He couldn't. For two seconds, he felt like he couldn't breathe. He just sat there, frozen. Greg looked very confused.

"What's leukemia?" he asked.

"It's cancer of the blood," Link explained.

"It's cancer? Leland has cancer?!"

"That's right."

Suddenly, Greg jumped off his mother's lap, and burst into tears. He began screaming, almost as loudly as Leland had when he had to get the bone marrow test and spinal tap!

"He can't have cancer!" he wailed. "He just can't! It's not fair!"

"Greg, sweetie," Marcia said, trying to calm him down.

"No!" Greg yelled. "He can't, he just can't!"

Greg ran down the hall and into the bedroom, slamming the door shut. Link, Marcia, and Leland could still hear him screaming.

"You take Leland, I'll take Greg," Marcia said.

"Right," Link agreed. "Come on, Leland. Let's you and me go watch some TV while your mom talks to your brother."

Link picked up Leland, and started carrying him to the den. Leland was not interested in watching TV. As a matter of fact, he was scared senseless about what was going to happen, but he didn't say anything. He was still trying to get over the initial shock.

Meanwhile, Marcia walked into the bedroom and sat down at the edge of Greg's bed. Greg was sobbing hysterically, with his face buried in his pillow.

"Aw, Greggie," Marcia said. She only called him that when he needed extreme comfort. This was one of those times. "It's going to be okay."

"No it isn't!" Greg shouted, looking up. "Ritchie Rabbit's grandpa had cancer, and he died, and that's what's going to happen to Leland! I don't want Leland to die!"

"Oh Greg. It's okay, sweetie. I don't want Leland to die, either. But there are ways to make the cancer go away. It's going to be a long process, but Leland will be okay. I'm sure of it."

"Are you really, really sure?"

"Yes, I am. But you've got to realize there are going to be a lot of changes around here. Daddy's still going to have to go to work for most of the day, and I'm going to be at the hospital a lot with Leland. That means you'll have a lot of baby-sitters and you'll be spending a lot of time at your friend's houses."

"How come you have to go to the hospital, too? Are you sick, too?"

"No, but Leland can't be alone when he's getting his treatments."

Greg still didn't understand any of this. It was going to take some getting used to. But he was still scared. Marcia didn't blame him. She felt exactly the same way.

The next day, Link and Marcia took the boys to Rampart General. They allowed Greg to miss school that day. Leland wanted to make a run for it the minute they got to the admission desk, but Link, who had been carrying him, refused to put him down.

"This has to be done, Leland," he kept saying.

Link, Leland, and Greg sat down while Marcia talked to the receptionist. Then she was handed a clipboard, and asked to fill out some forms.

"What are those, Mom?" Greg asked.

"Basic medical information," Marcia said. "Name, birthday, insurance information, medication information, that sort of thing."

Marcia got to the next form, which was basically check boxes. She had to give her consent to the hospital for certain procedures. After she gave the forms back, she was told to wait.

"Mom, my stomach hurts," Leland said, with a slight whimper.

"You're probably just nervous," Greg said. "My tummy feels funny when I'm nervous."

Leland figured that was it, but he wasn't so sure. Marcia took him into her arms, and rocked him back and forth. Leland knew he was too old for that, but he didn't care.

After what seemed like an eternity, a nurse finally came out and talked to the receptionist. She indicated Link, Marcia, and the two boys, and the nurse came right over.

"Hi there," she said, smiling. "My name's Nurse Jody. If you'll come with me, then we'll get started."

Marcia stood up, and carried Leland into an examining room after Nurse Jody. Link and Greg followed to see what was going to happen.

"Dad, I can't see anything," Greg said, pulling on Link's sleeve. "Pick me up like Mom's doing with Leland!"

"I don't think I heard you, Greg," Link said.

"Please," Greg said, grudgingly. He often forgot to say that when he wanted something.

Link then picked up Greg, and carried him into the examining room. Nurse Jody stuck a thermometer in Leland's mouth, and strapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm, and began pumping. Once she got done with that, she wrote some things down, and then left the room.

"Dr. Brackett and Dr. Taylor will be with you in a moment or so," Nurse Jody said.

"Two doctors?" Greg asked. "How come two doctors?"

"Probably because Dr. Brackett performed the tests," Marcia said. "And the other doctor is an oncologist."

"What's an on . . . . on . . . ." Greg said, struggling with the word.

"A doctor who specializes in cancer or radiology," Link said. "I forget which."

"What's radiology?" Greg asked.

"Radiation therapy," Marcia explained.

"Is Leland going to get radiation therapy?" Greg asked.

"We don't know yet," Marcia said.

Leland didn't like the sound of that. Finally, Dr. Brackett came into the room, followed by a woman with strawberry blond hair.

"Hi, Leland," Dr. Brackett said. "This is Dr. Taylor. She's one of our oncologists."

"Hi," Dr. Taylor said. "Are you ready for your treatment?"

"No," Leland said, and he almost climbed off the table, but both Marcia and Dr. Brackett stopped him.

"Whoa, hold it there," Dr. Brackett said. "This has to be done."

Leland groaned. He was not ready for this. Dr. Taylor was very patient with him, though. She started to prepare an IV, which, for Leland, was going to be easier said than done. He began squirming a bit. Marcia had to hold him down while Dr. Taylor tied a constricting band around his arm, in order to find a vein.

"It hurts," Leland said. "It's too tight."

"I have to make it tight," Dr. Taylor said. "I have to find a vein. The band makes the veins easier to find."

Leland whimpered, and looked over at his parents, giving them a look that plainly said "don't let her do this to me." Marcia heaved a sigh. She wanted nothing more than to just scoop up Leland, and run home with him, and make everything better there, but she knew she couldn't.

"You've got small veins, Leland," Dr. Taylor said. "They're going to be a little hard to find."

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Link asked.

"Relax, Mr. Lizard," Dr. Brackett said. "Not only is Dr. Taylor a certified oncologist, she also happens to be a great IV technician. If she can't find a vein, no one can."

Dr. Taylor undid the constricting band of Leland's left arm, and tried his right. She also looked at his hands, too, trying to see if the veins in his hands were more suitable to use than the ones in his arms. Finally, though, she found a good vein in his right arm.

"All righty, here we go," she said.

"No!" Leland shouted, yanking his arm towards him. "No more needles!"

"Leland, please," Marcia said. "You need this IV."

"No, no, no, no!" Leland cried.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Taylor, he gets like this every time a needle is involved," Marcia said, a little wearily.

"It's all right, Mrs. Lizard," Dr. Taylor said. "I have just the thing for Leland. Although it could take about an hour or so before it kicks in."

"If it'll prevent pain, and prevent Leland from screaming his head off, I'm all for it," Link replied, feeling a little weary himself.

Dr. Taylor nodded, and brought out a jar of some kind of cream. She rubbed it on Leland's arm, and then let it sit for awhile. Leland wanted to lie down. He was feeling exhausted.

"Go ahead and lie down," Dr. Taylor said. "But let your arm hang over the side of the table, okay? This is just so I can find your vein again."

Leland nodded, and nearly flopped down on the examining table. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Brackett left the room to look in on other patients while they were waiting for the cream to take effect. Marcia practically flopped down in a nearby chair, and began to massage her forehead.

"This is going to be a long day," she groaned.

"Tell me about it!" Link shouted. "Greg, I gotta put ya down. My arms are gonna fall off."

"Fine," Greg said, grudgingly. Link put him down, and sat down as well.

Greg walked over to the examining table, and tried to climb up.

"Boy, Leland, are you a baby!" he shouted.

"I am not," Leland moaned, although he knew that Greg was right about that.

"I don't yell and carry on when I have to get a needle," Greg said. "But you always do. You are a big baby, Leland!"

"Greg, stop it," Marcia said.

"But he is, Mom," Greg replied.

"Greg," Link said, giving his younger son a Look. Greg stopped, and climbed into Marcia's lap.

Marcia had a feeling Greg was going to get bored just sitting there waiting, so she decided to take him down to the cafeteria for a snack while Link staid with Leland. Link stood up, and walked over to the examining table.

"Dad, do I have to get another needle?" Leland moaned.

"I'm afraid so, pal," Link said. "But it'll make you better. How's the arm feel?"

"Tingly. Like that pins and needles feeling your foot gets when it falls asleep."

Link nodded. The cream was starting to take effect, but it would still be another half an hour or so before it fully took effect. Link didn't have to worry about entertaining Leland until then. All Leland wanted to do was go to sleep, so Link let him.

About an hour later, Dr. Brackett and Dr. Taylor returned, as did Marcia and Greg. By that time, the cream had taken effect, and Dr. Taylor put the IV needle in with no problems. It also helped that Leland was asleep at the time. He woke up after the needle went in.

"Glad you slept through that needle," Dr. Taylor said.

"You put it in already?" Leland asked. "Gee, maybe I should fall asleep every time I have to get a shot."

Everyone laughed over that. Greg stared at the bag that was hanging on the metal pole, which was attached to the tube that was in Leland's arm.

"Is that the chemo . . . . . chemo stuff?" he asked.

"No, this is just something to help Leland get hydrated," Dr. Taylor said. "We're going to give him this for about fifteen minutes, and then do a CBC."

"What's a CBC?" Greg asked.

"A complete blood count," Dr. Brackett explained. "We're going to have to do these a lot, as well as bone marrow tests, blood tests, and spinal taps."

"Oh no," Leland moaned. "More needles."

"It's all just to make sure they get all the cancer out of your blood, honey," Marcia said.

Leland groaned. He was not going to like this, he knew that.

Fifteen minutes went by, and Dr. Taylor performed the CBC. They would probably get the results a little later that day. After that was over, Dr. Taylor removed the IV, and she and Dr. Brackett took Leland, Link, Marcia, and Greg down the hallway, and into a room. There were two beds there, both with metal bars on them. There was a window on one side of the room, welcoming in oncoming sunshine. Pictures of singers and movie stars were tacked up on one side of the room. Leland recognized a poster of Gosalyn's father on the wall, when he was in his "Darkwing Duck" get up.

"You'll be meeting your roommate a little later, Leland," Dr. Taylor said. "He's having a treatment today, and one tomorrow, too."

Leland nodded. It was about all he could do. Within minutes, he found himself dressed in a hospital gown, being placed in one of the beds, and having another IV started in his arm.

"We'll be starting your treatments tomorrow morning," Dr. Taylor said.

"Can I change my mind about them?" Leland asked. "Can I say that I don't want them anymore and go home?"

"Sorry, Leland," Dr. Brackett said. "It doesn't work that way. This is the only way to make you better."

"I don't see how turning my brother into a pin cushion is gonna make him better," Greg said. "Are you guys sure you know what you're doing?"

"Yes, we're sure," Dr. Brackett said.

Greg wasn't satisfied with that answer, but he dropped the subject. He, Marcia, and Link went home after that. There were a lot of phone calls to make. Leland looked out the window. The sunshine that was coming into the room was suddenly halted, by the appearance of dark gray clouds. Rain began to fall. Somehow, Leland thought that seemed appropriate.

On to Part 2