A Penny on the Train Tracks

Chapter 5

Brian came to a skidding stop as I killed the engine and threw open the door. You could literally see the blood drain from his face as he froze like a deer in the headlights.

"You even think about moving from that spot and you better pray that you are faster than this truck." I said as I walked around the truck, not once losing eye contact with him.

He opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but nothing came out. I heard the other door of the truck being closed so I knew my reinforcements were at my back.

"Get off the bike" I demanded. "Mikey, you boys put it in the back of the truck while my friend and I have a little chat." I said grabbing Brian's shirt and half dragging him further away from the boys.

"What are you gonna do?" Brian managed to squeak out while stumbling to remain upright as I released him with a shove.

"What do you think I should do? So far I've met you twice. Once while you were tormenting a friend of mine, and now while riding a bike you stole from another friend." I said not waiting for a response. "I should beat the living hell out of you right here and now."

He just stood frozen, obviously waiting for me to make a move on him. I took one step toward him and he took a half step back. Probably getting ready to take his chances and run.

"I catch you touching any of these boys, or Tommy again and I swear to you I will hunt you down. Is that clear enough for you to understand or do you need a demonstration of what I really would like to do to you right here and now." I said while clenching my fists, so mad I was beginning to shake.

"I won't touch him again" Brian said while trying to put even more distance between us as slowly and carefully as possible. "Can I go now?" he said sarcastically just as he tried to take one full step backwards and tripped, causing him to lose his balance and land flat on his back.

I just stood there watching as he scrambled to his feet. "Yeah, get out of here." I said, and watched as he turned and ran in the other direction without another word said.

"Mike, are you ok?" Dale asked as he carefully stepped into view.

"Yeah sport, I'm fine." I replied reaching over and ruffling his hair. "Almost lost it there, huh?" I asked looking at my hands, still clenched into fists.

"Uh-huh, I thought he was dead. You looked like you were gonna kill him." Dale said, and then motioned to the truck. "Mikey just got back into the truck cause he didn't want to get near you like that."

I turned and saw one small head in the middle of the window. Great, I scared him. I thought as I looked back at Dale.

"Could you make sure the bike isn't going to slide around in the back before we take off?" I asked knowing I needed a minute alone with Mikey. "While you're doing that, I'm gonna make sure I didn't scare the hell out of your buddy in there."

"Ok, just let me know when you want me to get in." Dale said with a smile.

"Thanks Kiddo, I owe ya one." I said as I walked back to the truck to do some damage control.

When I opened the door I could feel a lump forming in my throat. Mikey looked over at me with tear stains running down his face. I sat down without a word and he didn't push away like I thought he would, but he did remain dead still.

"Are you ok sport?" I asked looking right at him in the most soothing tone I could muster.

"Mm-Hmm" was his only answer as he turned and looked out of the passenger side window.

"You really thought I was going to hurt him, didn't you." I asked trying to get any kind of an answer.

"You sounded like Dad." He answered and I could see the tears starting again.

"Mikey, no one but you knows me as well as I do." I said while fumbling for the right words. "Do you really think I could hurt a kid? After the hell I went through as one?"

He looked back at me with a stare that I swear was looking right into me but still no response.

"You have to believe me when I say there are few things on this planet that could ever make me sound the way I just did. Try to hurt me, or someone I care about and I will retaliate. But unlike Dad, I didn't hit him. I'm not saying I didn't want to but, I kept my cool and didn't let it come to that."

Mikey looked down toward his feet for a minute, wiped his eyes then looked back at me. "You weren't gonna hit him?

"Nope, but I sounded like I was going to, which I think got the message to him to stop messing with Tommy. At least I hope that message got through to him."

Mikey sniffled and then cracked a smile that was more of a relief than I could have imagined for me. "Yeah, I bet he has to change his shorts now." He said through a strained laugh.

"Look sport, I'm not sure how I can ever prove to you that I am nothing like Dad. His little fits for me died when he did, which I know you haven't given much thought to this soon in life. I do know that you never want to be anything like him, and from what you just saw, I think it's safe to say that you won't. But lie down and let people think that they can hurt you without fighting back and that can be just as hurtful. Because then, they know they can get away with it. It's going to take years for you to learn that but keep this in mind, separate bodies, but we share the same soul. You wouldn't hurt a fly unless it bit you, and years later you will still feel the same way."

I reached over pulled a napkin out of the glove compartment and handed it to him to wipe his face. Then added "We need to get back to the house and find out what is going on. You ok now?"

"Yeah" he said while clearing the tears. "Sorry, I should have known that I wouldn't be any different when I get older. You just sounded so much like Dad when he's mad that you scared me. I just forgot who you were I guess."

"Fear can do that sometimes. If I ever scare you like that again, just remember what you are capable of doing. I'd be willing to bet that will give you a clearer idea of what I will end out doing, even in a situation like this. Only difference is, I've got a little less fear in my life now and so much more to protect." And with that I pulled him into a hug that melted the last of the tension from within his little frame.

"Now, we need to get moving." I said as I reached back to knock on the window to get Dale's attention. I knew I was in deep, when my hand didn't make contact with glass but grazed Dale's face instead.

"Oh shit." I mumbled. "The vent window has been opened the whole time." I said as I slowly turned and saw a now blushing Dale.

Mikey turned around in the seat and looked at Dale. "You were listening?" He said more as a question than an eavesdropping accusation.

"I didn't mean to, I just wanted to tell Mike that the bike was ok, then didn't want to interrupt." He replied with a look that clearly showed that he didn't mean to listen in.

"It's ok Dale" I said. "But I suppose some time for an explanation is in order now. Can you keep this conversation between us until we have some time to sit down and talk?" I asked getting a nod as a reply.

"It's ok that you know, but it needs to be our secret, ok?" I said extending my closed fist in his direction, earning an odd grin from him. "Softball practice…" Mikey said realizing that I remembered our team handshake. Dale reached over my fist to my wrist and grabbed on, then Mikey mirrored his actions grabbing Dale's wrist. It was a dumb handshake I'll admit, but it was ours.

"You don't forget anything, do you?" Mikey asked with a now 'Mile Wide' smile.

"Try not to." I replied as I turned and started the engine. "Come on Dale, hop in. We'll talk more about this later."

A few minutes later we were getting out of the truck in front of the house. On the way Dale never said a word but constantly switched stares between Mikey and me getting a giggle from Mikey.

Julie and Mikey's grandmother were sitting on the front porch talking when we walked up the steps.

"Oh my, you're right Julie" His grandmother said while looking at me, with Mikey practically glued to my hip.

"Are we in trouble again?" I asked with a smile. "Cause if we are, he made me do it." I said as I pushed Mikey away and pointed at him like a kid trying to keep from being punished. Which earned a laugh from everyone except Mikey, who only smiled and said "Yeah right, it was your idea." In a serious tone that got us all laughing.

"Mike, this is Michael's grandmother, Grace Avery. See what I mean Ma?" Julie said to Grace. "You would swear they were brothers." Then she added "Michael, take off your glasses and look at your grandmother." Mikey did as he asked and his grandmother looked back and forth between us. "I noticed this morning how much they looked alike. Isn't that weird?" Julie stated getting a nod as an answer.

"Mike, what's your last name?" Grace asked me.

"Page." I answered "I used to live in this area when I was a kid." I said trying not to sound nervous that my cover was once again about to be blown today.

"Anything's possible" she replied with a smile. "Ever consider the fact that you two may be related to each other somehow?"

"Related?" I asked playing it up a bit. "To him?" I added pointing to Mikey with a concerned look on my face. "Nah, the people in my family are taller." I finished with a snicker as I dodged the playful swat from Mikey who now acted like I had mortally wounded his feelings, complete with the 'I'm hurt' look on his face. Priceless, even if I did patent that act when I was a kid.

"Aw, don't be sad, you may grow someday." I said as he chased me off the porch with his fist in the air, laughing so hard he couldn't keep up.

Once we returned to the porch, Julie chuckled "Yeah, you two clowns are good for each other."

"He's been great, actually forgot I liked to have fun until yesterday." I said patting him on the head. "Any word about what's going on down the street?"

"No, it's been quiet since I last spoke to Gloria. The police hadn't left when I spoke to her last though.

I took a step off the porch and looked down the street. "Looks like they are all gone, I'll take a walk down and see if she's ok or needs anything." I said noticing Dale and Mikey following me off the porch. "Why don't you two stay here? I'll only be a minute."

They shrugged their shoulders and sat on the step as I walked the few houses down and went up to knock on the door.

"Hello?" Came the voice through the screen door.

"Hi Mrs. Russo. I'm Mike, a friend of the Avery's, and your son Tommy. I just came down to see if there was anything I could do since Julie told me what had happened." I said staring more at the floor than the shadowed figure from the partially opened door.

"No Mike, thanks for asking. I just would rather be alone right now." She replied.

"I understand," I answered. "If you need anything, just give Julie a call."

"Thanks, I appreciate that." She said rather flatly. I could tell she just wanted me to leave.

"Mrs. Russo, do you know if Tommy is allowed any visitors? The kids are really worried about him and if it is allowed I would really like to take them to see him. It may help him to have friends with him as well." I said not knowing if she would mind us going to see him. "If you would like to come with us, you are more than welcomed. Besides, I would really like to let him know I have recovered his bike."

"You found the kid who jumped him?" She asked opening the door a bit more so I could see her face. If Tommy had longer hair and was a bit taller they could pass for twins, I thought getting my first look at her.

"Yeah, Julie's oldest son and I spotted the kid on Tommy's bike near the interstate. We just sort of convinced him to give it to us." I said with a half grin thinking of how he was convinced.

"Well, I'm not sure if they are allowing visitors this soon but, just tell them you are family." Then she added "They can call me to verify that you are. I'm sure it would brighten his spirits to know you have his bike back. I'll get there once I am finished dealing with the police and his father."

"We'll try then, so he isn't alone while you are tied up. If you need anything at all, I'd be more than happy to help in any way I can."

"Thanks Mike, I would feel much better if someone he knew was there with him."

"Not a problem at all. If they call, my last name is Page. I'll just tell them I am his uncle, would that be ok?"

"I'm sure it will be. I'll give them a call in a few minutes and let them know you are heading there to make it easier. I have to go to the police station and see what they are doing with his father, then I'll be heading over as well."

"Alright, I'll see you there then," I added as she forced a smile, nodded her head and then silently closed the door.

Knowing she was upset, I just turned and walked back up to the house. I can only imagine all that is running through her head right now.

Back at the house, I was actually able to get one foot on the steps before Mikey started firing off questions as to how his friend was doing.

"Ok, slow down. I don't know how he is yet. We can go over if it's ok with your mother, she's going to let them know it's ok for us to go see him. Dale, if you would like to come along as well, you have to call your mom first."

Both boys looked at each other, then at Julie who responded with a nod of her approval sending both boys rushing off, Dale practically being dragged by Mikey.

"Julie, she is going to be tied up with the police for a while, so I offered to be there so he wouldn't be alone. If it runs too late, I'll call and we can deal with getting the boys home. I did tell her if she needed anything, to call." I said hoping for her opinion.

"That's fine; Dale's parents know how to get in touch with me if they need to. Either way, just have Mikey give me a call to let me know what's going on with Tommy. I'll stay here in case Gloria needs anything." She said while looking at Mikey's grandmother who just sat back and shook her head.

"Mike, you are a kind man for helping out like this." Grace said with a smile I never thought I would see again in this lifetime. "You must have made your parents proud to have become such a gentleman."

"I hope so," I said fighting off blushing and probably failing.

The boys came running back out to the porch, skidding to a stop just beyond the doorway. "Dale's mom said it's ok for him to spend the night so he isn't coming home too late. Is that ok Ma?"

"Sure it is, Dale knows he is always welcomed. Did you tell Anne to call me if she needs anything?"

"Yup, she said she will." Then Mikey looked at me and added: "I guess we won't be working on your new room tomorrow then, huh?"

"Oh no, I completely forgot about that. Well, if I can get you guys back here early enough and go straight home, I'll still be able to get a start on it." I replied trying to come up with a plan.

"New room? Mike, what did you have planned already?" Julie asked having no idea what we were talking about.

"I'm sorry; I totally forgot I had news." I said knowing there was no time to talk earlier considering what was going on. "While we were out, I found a place to stay and a job. I'll be working at the Turf Motel as their head of maintenance along with the position I am getting a place to live, but it needs cleaning up and repairs. Mikey wanted to ask if he could go up there with me tonight and help with the work tomorrow morning, since that will be my first day on the job."

"Why can't we just go up there after we leave the hospital? Dale wanted to help too and it will be easier if we both help." Mikey said with a determined look on his face as his eyes shot back and forth between his mother and I as Dale just stared at his shoes with his hands in his pockets.

"Honestly, you guys don't need to get roped into spending the whole day up there working. I'll be fine if you would rather come back home and not lose the entire day." I answered getting a serious glare from Mikey before Julie stepped into the discussion.

"They are offering to work without a gun to their heads, you better take them up on their offer." She said with a smile.

"You two sure you want to get into this one? It's going to be a long, hard, boring day you know." I said thinking I may be able to give them a graceful way of backing out.

Both boys looked at each other and then back at me as Mikey stepped up and said "Yeah, we're sure. That place is neat and we had fun today. We both want to help, and talked about it when you went to Tommy's house."

"Thanks guys, I appreciate it. It probably will be more fun with help. Julie, is it ok with you?"

"Of course it is, Michael you should go get some clothes to wear that you can work in. See if you can find something for Dale to wear too." Sending them blasting back into the house with the echo of a "Thanks Ma." coming from both boys on their way by.

"I've never seen them so driven to work before. I think I'm going to like having you around. We'll talk about his bedroom later." She said earning a laugh from Grace and I.

"One miracle at a time." Mikey's grandmother said as she stood from her chair. "Mike, I'm going in to rest. It was great to have met you; I hope you will be around more often now that it appears you are being adopted." She said as she stepped through the door.

"I hope to be," I said getting a smile from her as she closed the door behind herself.

"Julie, I'll have Mikey give you my new phone number, just in case you need to get in touch with us."

"That's fine, I can't imagine anything coming up but it would be good to have. So, just how did you land this deal in such a short period of time?" She asked as we both sat on the steps waiting for the race team to return with cargo.

"Just in the right place at the right time I guess." Then just to be sure she was ok with my keeping the boys overnight I added "You're sure it's ok with you that they stay overnight? I can easily come pick them up in the morning if they are that dead set on helping."

"Pfftt… Of course I'm ok with it, just seeing how you treat them and everyone else for that matter just proves to me that I can trust you. My only question is, are you sure you want to subject yourself to them for 24 hours?" She said getting me to laugh.

"Oh sure, I have dealt with enough kids to know that those two are the best-behaved kids I've seen in a long time. Thoughtful too. Helping restore that room was Mikey's idea and until just now I had no idea Dale wanted to help. I'm impressed with how mature they think."

"True, but can you keep up with them? Many have tried and failed." She replied with a chuckle.

"I'm up for the challenge," I said in a military tone, mocking a salute.

"Well, you know you can bring them back here and I'll deal with getting Dale home if you need a break from them."

"Deal," I said as I heard a stampede quickly threatening to overtake us.

"We're ready," Mikey shouted as he rushed past us and threw their backpacks into the back of the truck with Dale slowly following.

"Mikey, why don't you go upstairs and write down the phone number for your mother to have, Dale and I will take the bike out of the truck and put it in the basement so it won't disappear while we're at the hospital."

As Mikey and his mom went back into the house, Dale climbed into the back of the truck to roll the bike out without a word.

"You don't mind me coming, do you?" He asked as we were walking to the back of the house.

"Mind? Why would I mind?"

"Well, you never asked me if I wanted to help, and I feel kinda bad about overhearing you and Mikey talking earlier. Since you said we would talk about it, Mikey and I thought it would be a good idea if I went too." He answered as we went into the basement.

I stopped and set the bike on its kickstand then knelt down in front of Dale who now looked a little down about being an imposition. Or at least that's what he must have thought.

"Dale, I know what you overheard, and how confusing it must be to you. Honestly, Mikey and I are just as confused by it. But you can believe me that I am really happy that you want to come along. For me, a long time ago I had a best friend and hated doing anything without him. You are that best friend to Mikey, and just because I am here now doesn't mean that you need to be left behind while we work this situation out." He looked into my eyes with a questioning look before I added, "Actually, I'm glad you will be a part of this now. Maybe you will help us figure out what's going on."

I reached over and ruffled his hair getting a smile from him finally. Then he returned the favor and reached over to mess my hair up ending in a hug. "You really don't mind me staying too?" He asked my right shoulder.

"Nope. I do have a problem with one thing though." I stuck in there, feeling his body go ridged in my arms, probably waiting for some bomb to be dropped. "I have a huge problem with you thinking you weren't welcomed to come along."

"Hey, I'm free help." He stepped back and said with a smile.

"Free? I still need to feed you two clowns. That bill is gonna put me in the poor house." I said with a laugh as I chased him up the stairs.

Back at the truck, Mikey had already jumped in the middle, had his seat belt on and looked as if he were late for a meeting or something.

"Ready to go?" I asked as we both joined him in the truck.

"Yeah, what took so long?" He asked with a grin.

"Mike and I had a talk, you were right. He really does want me to come." Dale replied with a renewed smile on his face.

"See, I told you, dork," Mikey said as he poked Dale in the ribs, starting a playful battle that even got me laughing.

A few minutes later we were pulling into the parking lot of the General Hospital where Tommy had been taken earlier that day.

"I still don't get how you and Tommy got to be friends. I thought you hated him, we both did." I overheard Dale whisper to Mikey.

Before I was able to say anything, Mikey turned to him and said, "I did, but yesterday he did something I never thought he would. He said he was sorry to me for being a jerk, and meant it."

"You believe him? That he's sorry I mean?" Dale asked a little louder than a whisper as we walked to the main entrance, me pretending to not hear the conversation.

"Yeah, I do." He answered. "I think you will too after you get to talk to him."

"Why don't you guys go sit over there in the waiting room while I see if we can go see him?" I said, breaking into their conversation.

"Ok Mike," Dale answered.

"Hey, don't we have to be family to all get in?" Mikey asked.

"Mrs. Russo called already and said I was Tommy's uncle, we shouldn't have a problem."

"But won't it look funny cause we are calling you Mike? Shouldn't we be family?" He asked sort of hushed as if we were going to be busted or something.

"I don't think it'll be a problem, they don't need details." I said ushering them toward the waiting room. "I'll try to be quick, you two behave in here." I said with a smile.

"Ok Uncle Mike." Dale said with a giggle as Mikey caught on to his comment and added: "We'll be real good Uncle Mike, we promise."

"Clowns," I said as I turned back and went right to the desk.

Behind the desk was an older woman with ultra-white hair and those old horn-rimmed glasses. She looked more like an old school teacher, and one of the mean ones at that.

"Can I help you sir?" she asked breaking into my thoughts as I fought off the urge to think up a reason for not having homework to turn in today. "Sir? Is there something I can help you with?" She repeated.

"Yes, please. My name is Mike Page. I was hoping to see my nephew Tommy Russo. He was admitted earlier today. His mother Gloria called earlier to let you know I was coming with his cousins to see him, if he is allowed visitors."

"Hmmm…" She said as she looked through the admittance ledger. "Thomas Aaron Russo, brought in by ambulance earlier today?" She inquired.

"Yes, that's him," I answered.

"Before anyone can see him, the doctor who treated him requested to speak with his family, wait here, I'll go have him paged." She ordered as she stood and left me standing alone at the desk.

About 10 minutes later, an older looking man in a white hospital jacket met me at the desk. "Mr. Russo?" he asked as he approached.

"Page, Mike Page. I'm Tommy's uncle." I answered as I extended my hand toward him.

He shook my hand and asked me to join him in a private room off of the waiting area. I motioned to the boys to wait knowing they were watching from their seats.

"Please, have a seat Mr. Page." He said as he motioned towards a chair, and sat behind the desk that was in the center of the room. "My name is Stephen Carter, I saw Thomas when he first arrived." He said thumbing through the file in front of him not once looking up. "He was unconscious and pretty badly banged up upon arrival. Mr. Page, I am required to ask how this happened before I let anyone visit him." He said finally looking at me.

"Doctor, the information I have is second hand. I do know that it was his father who did this, and he is currently in police custody. His mother is at the police station answering questions now, which is why we came first. I didn't want him to be alone until his mother got here." I stated knowing I had no authority to go into details about what happened.

"Do you know when his mother will be arriving?" He asked as he scribbled something on one of the sheets of paper.

"She'll be here as soon as she leaves the police station," I replied. "Is Tommy ok?" I asked having no clue of his current condition.

"He is awake and resting comfortably right now. He took quite a battering and is in some pain. Just to insure he isn't upset, I do need to check in with him before you see him. Would you mind waiting while I go mention to him that you are here?"

"Absolutely, just tell him his uncle Mike is here with Mikey and Dale. That way he knows I have the boys with me." I said, hoping Tommy would get the "Uncle" reference and not blow our cover. "Is there anything I should know before we see him? I mean so the boys will be careful when they see him and not unintentionally hurt him."

"Well, since you are a relative, I can tell you he has bad bruising on his face, arms, chest and back. He had a laceration above his left ear that required 12 stitches to close and it is possible he has one broken rib, also on the left side. He is on mild painkillers but otherwise looks worse than he seems to feel. He's being real tough about all this but, I have no idea how much is an act for our benefit. I would suggest just being careful about what is said, let him talk if he wants to but don't question him too much. We don't want him upset." He said as he stood and motioned for me to follow. "I'll be right back to let you know if he's up for visitors."

"Thank you Doctor. If there's anything else I can do, please just ask." I said as we separated and I joined the boys in the waiting room.

"Is he ok? Can we go see him?" Mikey asked as I sat in the chair directly across from both of them.

"He will be fine, but he is hurt pretty badly. The doctor said he is all banged up and sore, so if they let us see him, we need to be careful." Then I added "Also, we have no idea just what his father did, so unless he wants to talk about what happened, don't question him. OK?"

"Okay," Both boys said in unison and the three of us waited for the doctor to return.

About a half hour later, Dr. Carter returned and informed us it was ok for us to go up to see him. He gave us the room number and led us to the elevator with directions once we got off on the third floor. Once arriving at the door, I entered first with the boys close at my heels.

"Hi Mike," Tommy said as I got the first look at him. If I didn't know any better I would swear he had just survived a car wreck.

I fought off the lump in my throat but couldn't stop from clenching my teeth in anger at what that bastard had done to his own son; Mikey on the other hand gasped when he saw him and went right to the side of the bed.

"Tommy, um, this is my best friend Dale. He was with us when my mother told us what happened. I hope you don't mind him being with us." He said trying really hard to fight back the tears I could see welling up in his eyes.

Tommy reached over and wiped a stray tear from Mikey's cheek. "Dude, I'm fine, don't get upset ok? It looks worse than it feels, honest." Then he added "Hey Dale, I do know you from the area. Since I've been such a prick to you guys before, I'm surprised that you wanted to come up here."

"Mikey told me what happened yesterday. He said you were sorry about the stuff you did so, I wanted to come." He said then as only a kid could do came right out with "Your dad did this to you?"

'So much for tact Dale.' I thought to myself as I rolled my eyes and hoped Tommy wouldn't be upset by the question. To my surprise, he wasn't.

"Yeah, he only slapped me around until my mom tried to get him to leave me alone, then he just got more mad and really started swinging. Last thing I remember was him shoving me and calling me a wimp, when I fell and hit my head on the coffee table. Mike, is my mom ok?"

"Yeah sport, she's fine. They arrested your father and she had to go in to answer some questions. We came to keep you company til she gets here." I said getting a smile from him.

"Thanks Mike, I'm glad you guys came." Then he looked at Mikey and said "Looks like we fixed the bike just in time for it to get all messed up. Brian has it again." He said shaking his head.

"No he doesn't, Mike got it back from him. It's in my basement now and looks ok. He won't bother trying to take it again, Mike saw to that too." He said with a grin getting an odd look from Tommy.

"Yeah, I think he peed his pants when Mike jumped his truck up onto the sidewalk to block him off. I know I almost did." Dale said ending his sentence with a giggle.

"You got my bike back?" He asked looking at me then added: "I thought I'd have to fight him for it, and probably lose cause he's so much bigger than me."

"No, It's fine and at the house now. Unless you go looking for your buddy Brian, I have a feeling he'll leave you alone now. If not, I want to know." I said as I sat in the chair that was right next to the bed.

Tommy reached his hand out toward me, so I leaned in and took it in mine. I saw a tears begin to build up in his eyes so I tried to change the subject and divert the boys. "You thirsty? I can have the guys go ask if you can have a soda or something."

With a sniffle, he said, "Yeah, please. I haven't had anything at all since I woke up here."

"Dale, Mikey. Could you two go back to the desk near the door and ask them if it's ok for Tommy to have something to drink, please? Get something for us all if he can, ok?" I said as I reached out and pulled out some money in case it was needed and handed it to Mikey.

"Ok, what do you want Tommy?" Mikey asked.

"Orange juice if they have it. Thanks Guys." He said still fighting with his tears.

"No problem, C'mon Dale…" He said as he almost dragged him out the door.

"Mike, what's gonna happen now? Is my dad gonna stay in jail because of this?" He said finally giving in and letting the tears go.

"I don't know yet. What he did was wrong and now he has to answer to the authorities." I said using my free hand to push the hair out of his eyes and carefully wipe his tears away.

"This is all my fault, if I hadn't let Brian take the bike, he never would have got mad and none of this would have happened."

I squeezed his hand and sternly said, "This is NOT your fault. Don't ever think it is. Your father is the one who can't control his anger; you have no control over that." I said in the most soothing tone I could muster.

"But I didn't even try to fight him for the bike, he said he would kick my ass so, I just handed it to him. My dad says I'm a wimp and that's why he got mad, cause his son is a wimp…" He said as he began sobbing uncontrollably.

I got up from the chair and let go of his hand and carefully sat on the bed next to him. He winced with pain trying to reach over but was able to lay his head on my leg and wrap his arm around my leg.

"This won't happen again Tommy. The police will see to that." I said as he buried his face into my leg, trying to fight off his crying. "There is a difference between being a wimp, as your father so kindly put it and knowing when you are outmatched, know what I mean?"

Tommy nodded his head and began to calm down a bit. "I don't want him to come back home." He said between gasps, half muffled by my pant leg. "I don't want him to ever hit me again…"

A few minutes later, the boys returned with four cartons of orange juice and Dr. Carter. "Found these two in the hall, do these belong to you Tommy?" The doctor said with his hands on each of the boys' shoulders as he entered the room before noticing that he was crying.

Tommy sniffled one last time and worked his way back into a sitting position with a little help from me, wiped his eyes and smiled at the two as they meekly offered him his juice.

"I opened it and put the straw in for you," Mikey said as he held the carton out for Tommy.

"Yeah," Tommy said looking at the doctor then at his juice, "They belong to me." He said accepting his juice and smiling at the boys. "My cousins…" He said as he took his first sip. "Thanks guys, you're the best."

The doctor gave me a questioning look but shrugged his shoulders before breaking the silence in the room. "Mr. Page, may I have a word with you outside please?"

"Sure," I replied to him. On the way out of the room, I turned back toward the bed where Dale and Mikey had carefully climbed up on either side of Tommy, all quietly sipping their juice. "Be right back guys," I said getting smiles and nods, Tommy still trying to dry his tears.

The Doctor closed the door and led me to the desk. He opened a large manila envelope and pulled out Tommy's X-Rays. "May I call you Mike?" He asked as he held each up to the lights inspecting them.

"Absolutely. Did you find something wrong Doctor?" I asked as he said nothing more.

"Actually, what we found was a hairline fracture, you can barely see it right here." He said as he pointed to the bottom rib on Tommy's left side. "At his age, with rest, it should heal just fine." Then he put the x-rays back in the envelope and continued.

"Mike, the reason I asked to speak with you is about Tommy's safety. Obviously he is in a violent household and I need to intervene. I'm guessing there is no blood relationship in that room right now, is there?" He asked without an upset look so I answered him honestly.

"No, there isn't. It seems these boys, who are all friends have sort of adopted each other. That's why we came rushing once we heard what happened. I hope you understand why we said there was."

"Of course I do, after what I just saw I am convinced that you three being here is a comfort to him, which I wouldn't dream of depriving him. I am concerned about releasing him back into his parents' custody. He is troubled now and another episode of this nature could be just as damaging mentally as it is physically. I was hoping to get your thoughts on the matter."

"Well," I started. "His father has already been arrested. Once his mother arrives, we should have a better idea whether his father will be returning home. If he isn't, I whole-heartedly trust his mother, but his father is a known alcoholic and has demonstrated that he is a violent one at that. I personally hope they let him rot in a cell for a long time, but god only knows." I said hoping to instill some trust for the sake of Tommy's mother into the doctor.

"I was prepared to begin the paperwork to remove Tommy from his household today to be frank with you. I would however like to hold that judgment until we find out what is being done with his father." He said as he leaned on the counter. "Should the need arise, is there a safe place Tommy can go where his father would not be a physical threat?" He asked me, leaving me scrambling for an opinion.

"Well, I'm not in the position to make final agreements on anyone's behalf. Once his mother arrives, she may have family or friends that she trusts. I barely know her, and actually have only been friends with Tommy for a short time. If push came to shove, I would take him in if it was to protect him, but I have no idea how his mother would feel about that. Right now I can only pray that she allows charges to be pressed but, not knowing the family all that well, I may be out of line even saying that."

"No, that just means you are concerned, and entitled to your opinions on the matter. Based on what you have voiced to me, I will speak to her about the possibilities of his staying elsewhere until the situation at home is settled. Would you mind if I brought up the fact that you are willing to help in that regard? Possibly looking after him for a couple of weeks as he heals?" He asked with a dead serious look on his face.

"I'll help in any way that I can, Gloria knows that much already. I just don't know how she would feel about it." I answered: hoping they would be able to resolve the situation without me but knowing that there is no way I would turn my back on him.

"Well, it will be at least two days before we are able to release him from here. Is there a number we can contact you at should we need to speak with you?" He asked with a pen in his hand already.

I gave him my phone number and any other information needed, hoping he wouldn't ask for any identification, which thankfully he didn't, and went back to Tommy's room.

Inside I had to grin at what I saw. All three boys were still seated on the bed watching TV, as comfortable looking as if they had been raised together. I stood and watched for a short time as they watched and laughed.

"Tom & Jerry?" I said stepping into their view. "That's my favorite," I said as I plopped down in the chair and began to watch with them.

"Mike?" Tommy half whispered over to me.

"Sup Bud?" I asked, not looking away from the TV.

"I um… I have a problem." He replied, earning my complete attention this time.

"What's wrong?" I asked as he received an identical pair of concerned looks from his two new friends.

"I gotta pee…" He said in a loud whisper with a pained look on his face.

"You want me to go get a nurse?" I asked as both boys carefully shuffled off of the bed.

"No… I can do it but, could you just help me to the bathroom?" He asked reminding me how embarrassing it is to have some strange woman help you go to the bathroom.

"I'm not so sure it's a good idea for you to be up and walking around yet, you do have one cracked rib and there is a possibility if you put too much pressure on it too soon that you could make it worse." After thinking for a second I said "Wait a second." opened the supply closet and pulled out a plastic urinal. "Ever use one of these babies before?" I said with a grin having been stuck in hospital beds more than my own fair share of times.

"No, but I'll try anything. I have to go bad."

I handed him the plastic bottle, drew the curtains and the three of us stepped outside of them to give him some privacy.

A couple of seconds later I heard a meek "Mike" come from behind the curtains.

"You all done Tommy?" I asked ready to pull the curtains away.

"No, can you give me a hand, please? I can't get this stupid gown thing out from under me. It hurts too much to move."

I stepped inside the curtains and found him half uncovered and gripping the sides of the bed with his eyes clenched shut in pain.

"Hold on buddy, Hope you don't embarrass easily." I said as I carefully peeled the blankets away from him. "By the way, your gown is called a jonnie" I said trying to give him something other than the pain to focus on as I pulled the back out from beneath him and lifted it enough to expose him watching him wince at every move. I opened the bottle and aimed him into it so he wouldn't have to move again. "Go ahead sport, I got the bottle."

Just as the words left my mouth, he let go and almost filled the bottle. "Damn, I guess you really did have to go," I said as I covered him back up and opened the curtain to go empty it.

"I've been holding it for a while. I kinda didn't want to ask for help." He said looking a little defeated at not being able to do it on his own.

"Don't worry about it. I've been there before. Just don't wait til you are ready to explode next time, ok?" I said as I went into the bathroom and emptied and rinsed the urinal out. "Now that your jonnie is partially open in the back, if you are careful, you may be able to do it on your own next time." I said hooking it on the side of the bed.

"Thanks," he said with a grin. "I don't mind one of you guys helping, I just don't want some 400-year-old nurse messin’ around down there."

Mikey and Dale looked at each other and began to snicker at his comment. "I'll see if I can have her come in and give you guys a sponge bath," I said, stopping their giggling, and getting a laugh from Tommy.

About an hour later, the three boys were beginning to sound as if they were long lost brothers. I just sat silently staring at the television and listening to them talk about what had happened, my new job and the room that we were going to redesign and such when Tommy's mother appeared in the doorway.

"Mom!" Tommy shouted, grasping his side in pain but not seeming to let it get to him too much. "How long were you stuck there?" He asked as she reached over Mikey and planted a kiss on her son's forehead.

"Too long" She answered as she ruffled the hair of each one of Tommy's new friends. "You boys taking good care of him?"

Mikey and Dale both lit up at the question. "Yeah" Dale answered. "There's some 400 year old nurse that Tommy's scared of. She comes in here and she'll regret it." He said seriously enough to get a chuckle from us all.

"Gloria, are you here for the duration, or do you need us to stay longer? I have so much I need to get ready for tomorrow if I hope to bring these two clowns by for their meeting with the ring leader."

"Clowns?" Mikey said with a pained look on his face. "You are so mean"

"You are so right, now say goodbye so we can give Tommy and his mother some time alone."

Both boys looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and carefully gave Tommy a hug before working their way off of the bed. "Bye Tommy, Bye Mrs. Russo" They chimed on their way to the door.

"Mike, I owe you one. Thanks for keeping Tommy company." She said as I was about to follow the boys out of the room.

"You owe me nothing, and if you ever need me for anything, don't hesitate to ask."

"Mike?" Tommy cut in as I was about to turn once again for the door. "Are you coming back tomorrow?"

"If you're still here, we will be too." I said with a smile, getting one from him in return. "See you both tomorrow." I said as I took my leave.

Back at the truck, both boys seemed unusually quiet. As I pulled out into traffic, I finally couldn't take the silence anymore. "You guys ok?"

"Yeah" Mikey said just staring out the side window at the hospital. "I hope his father never does that again." He added sounding as if he was getting a little choked up.

"I'm sure the courts will make him think twice before ever laying a hand on him again," I said in reply not knowing what the real answer should be.

"Mike?" Mikey asked finally looking over in my direction.

"Yeah Sport"

"Will Dad ever get in trouble for the stuff he does to us?" He asked, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

"No, but he will eventually regret every bad choice he ever made from the bottom of that bottle. Trust me on that one."

Dale had just been sitting back listening before he finally broke into the conversation. "Mikey, is he really you?" Making me chuckle a little at the way he asked.

"Yeah, he really is, just older." He said, probably confusing him even more.

"How… I mean how did you get here?" Dale asked now turning his attention to me.

In the half hour it took to get to the motel, I did my best to answer all of Dale's questions so he would understand. More importantly, so he would know that neither of us really knew the "how and why" behind the truth.

It was just getting dark when we pulled into the parking lot of my new home. After killing the engine, the boys jumped out and grabbed their bags, and I gathered up everything I needed and head for the door.

"Welcome home guys." I said as I opened the door and noticed the lights were on. "Hello, is anyone here?" I asked into the seemingly empty room getting no answer.

After a brief inspection, I assumed Mrs. Stewart must have left the lights on because the room was much cleaner than when we last saw it.

"Wow" Mikey stated as he set his bag on the now uncovered and made bed. "They must have been in here for hours." He said, as he looked the place over.

He was right, not only was the bed clean and made, but all the coverings from the floor and furniture had been removed as well as all the boxes of tools and stuff that cluttered the area earlier that same day.

"All that’s left is that big sign and the coke machine, the kitchen is still a mess though," Dale said as he circled the room.

"Well, we have a better idea of where to start in the morning then." I said as I began to unpack my new clothes into the dresser. "Why don't you guys go in and get washed up, then we can head back out and see about getting something to eat."

Mikey went into the bathroom and flipped the light switch on. "Hey, they cleaned in here too." He shouted back to us as I heard him inspecting everything. "There's a shower curtain, towels and soap. We can use the shower now." He said as Dale looked at the door, which was still off the hinges and leaning against the wall.

"Let me take a look at that." I said as I closed the drawer on the dresser and noticed that Dale could possibly like to have a working bathroom door.

"There are no hinge pins, and that's why it just fell when you opened it." He looked at the door and then at me with a confused look. "They must have pulled them out to fix a door somewhere else in the motel." I said while thinking that they must have replacement parts hidden somewhere in the storage room and hoping that they were just being lazy when they decided to steal these.

"You think we'll be able to use it tonight?" Mikey asked as I opened the door to the storage room and felt for a light switch.

"Hope so. If not we'll hang a blanket or something over the door way." Finding the switch and turning on the lights, I looked at the mess that we would soon have to contend with. There were free standing metal shelves randomly placed throughout the room, which must be at least half the size of my own room. Once finding a workbench, I started rummaging through drawers and searching through bins.

"Are there any hinge things in here?" He asked as he poked around the pile near the door.

"Maybe, seems like you could build a whole new building out of all the stuff in here." I said continuing my search.

"OH SHIT!" I heard Dale screech out as he fell backwards into a set of shelves, scattering its contents on the floor.

"Hey, Wh.. Who the hell are you?" Shouted an unfamiliar voice.

I turned with a jerk and ran over to where Dale was sitting on the floor, looking as if he had seen a ghost. He just pointed behind another set of shelves opening his mouth but obviously not able to find his voice again. I looked in the direction he was pointing and slowly walked over to the shelves, to see what lay behind them.

"Hi" I said cautiously as I spotted a kid, about Mikey and Dales age, looking as if he was scared half to death cowering in the far corner of a couch that had been stored there. "I'm Mike, the new caretaker here, and you are…?" I asked leading him to talk.

"Oh, you're Mike." He said, as the color appeared to be returning to his face. "I thought someone broke in." Then he paused, and released a sigh. "I'm Josh. My dad ownes this place."

"Ahhh… Nice to meet you Josh." I replied and offered my hand for him to shake. "You know me, the brown haired, brown eyed wrecking machine on the floor over there is Dale and The one standing at the doorway looking as if someone just screamed "Bomb" is Mikey." I said noticing the stunned look on Mikey's face as he obviously heard the commotion from the other room. "It's ok men, this is Josh, he lives here." I said to put the two at ease.

"Here?" Dale asked looking around at the mess. "In a storage room?"

"No, I live with my parents here at the motel." He said with a giggle. "My mom and I cleaned up the room some so you wouldn't have to sleep in piles of junk. She went back home and I stayed to put the rest of the stuff away. I just sat down on this couch, and sort of fell asleep." He said looking at Dale as he stood up. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you like that." He said as he offered a hand to help him stand up.

"That's ok." Dale said looking up at Josh, who was only about 6 inches taller than himself. "I just didn't expect to find a person in here." He added as he brushed himself off.

"Ok now that the introductions are out of the way and no one has had a heart attack…yet," I said grinning at Dale who just gave me an 'Up Yours' glare. "Josh, if I were a couple of bathroom door hinge pins in this mess, where would I be?"

"Hmm…" He said as he looked to the far side of the room. "Hinges, doorknobs and stuff should be in that metal box on the shelf over there."

I walked over to the box and started digging through it while listening to the boys talking in the background.

Josh: "Hey, How old are you guys?"

Mikey: "He's 10 and I will be too on the 17th ."

Dale: "Yur about our age right?"

Josh: "I just turned 12 last month, you go to school around here?"

Dale: "Nah, we live in Lawrence and go to the same school. Where do you go?

Josh: "Here in Salem, we moved here when my parents bought this place, about three years ago."

Mikey: "It must be cool living up here near all the stores and stuff."

Josh: "Not really, nobody else lives around here, and there's no place to hang out or nuthin."

Me: "Found some I think will work."

I headed straight for the bathroom door with assorted hinges and loose pins to try, all three following my lead. I set the door back in place and Josh, without being asked rushed right over to hold it as I tried the pins I found.

"We're in luck men." I said as I stepped away from the door and Josh released his end. "Thanks for the help Josh." I said reaching over to mess up his long blond hair, which earned me a dirty look, followed by a huge grin.

"The guys that were doing the repair work before must have been too lazy to look around and just swiped the ones from this door." Josh said with his arms crossed and shaking his head.

"Well, at least there were spares." I said as I walked over to close up the storage room and turn off the lights. "Now, back to the original topic… Food. I'm starving and I'm sure you two are as well. Josh, have you eaten yet?"

"No, but I'm sure my mom has already cooked dinner. I didn't think I was going to be here until after dark. I better head home." He said looking out the window toward the office.

"Maybe next time then. I'm sure the boys wouldn't mind having you tag along." I said hoping to derail any ideas he may have of intruding, since his mom says he doesn't get out much.

"Yeah, that'll be cool." Mikey said with a big smile. "Josh, are you gonna be around tomorrow? We are both going to help Mike work on the room so, we'll be here."

"Cool!" Josh said enthusiastically. "My dad told me I was supposed to help you guys. He said that the room wasn't fit to be lived in and he wanted you to be happy. It's been a while since he's had help around here." He said before turning for the door. "Night guys, see you tomorrow, is 10 too early Mike?"

"Nope, we'll be up at the crack of dawn, I plan on working the life out of these two." I said with a wink as both boys shook their heads in a 'Yeah Right' manner, causing Josh to laugh.

"Ok, if you start earlier, one of you guys can come get me. I'm normally up at 7, Later." He said as he quietly closed the door.

"He's cool." Mikey said looking at Dale and then me. "I thought he was way younger than 12 though."

"Yeah, he does look young for his age, seems like a real nice kid." I said getting two nods of agreement. "I think he's excited to have some guys closer to his own age around here, his mom says that doesn't happen all that often."

"He must get bored." Dale said sitting down on the end of the bed. "Mikey, maybe sometime we can invite him to come home with us. We can take him to the fort and stuff."

Mikey just smiled and nodded his head.

"Well, what would you guys like for dinner, before it gets too late." I asked.

"Can we go to Jim's Subs?" Mikey asked getting a huge smile from Dale and me.

"Now that I can go for, They in the building close to the house now?" I asked knowing they had moved a couple of times but not remembering when.

"Right across from the vacuum cleaner place, you forgot where it was?" Mikey asked with a giggle.

"Nah, but they moved like three times, and I forget when and where."

"Mike, are they still around when… I mean where you are from?" Dale asked with a confused look on his face as to how to ask the question.

"Oh yeah, they are but they are up on the hill now further south." I said remembering the last time I went there, causing my stomach to growl. "Still have the best subs around in my time too."

After a short drive we were there and just like at the ice cream stand, I ordered for Mikey and myself without even asking him first. This got a giggle out of Dale and smile from Mikey. The old place was small, so we decided to head back to the motel room to eat. It also would give us a chance to just sit and talk about all things unimportant.

After returning to my new home, we cleared off the mess from the small table in the kitchen area and sat down with our sandwiches and sodas.

"Mike, can I ask you a question?" Dale asked between mouthfuls.

"You just did man, wanna try for another?" I playfully replied as I took a sip from my coke.

"No, seriously" He said, putting his sandwich down.

"What's on your mind kiddo?"

"What am I like, you know all grown up and stuff?"

The mouthful of coke I had when he asked went down hard, as if I tried to swallow it can and all. How the hell do I answer this one without upsetting him? I thought putting my can down and looking into two wide, curious brown eyes.

My silence while trying to put together an answer definitely tipped him off that something was wrong. "We are still friends, aren't we?"

"To be completely honest with you, I haven't seen you since I was about 12 or 13." I replied staring intently into his eyes, trying to read his response.

"Why not?"

Ok, I can't just tell him we drifted apart after being sent to separate schools, and I really can't tell him how hard my family problems were on our friendship, or could I? Is this why I'm here? I drifted away from all my friends, except Dale after fall of this year passed. I'm not sure I dare tell them why.

"Well" I started stalling for time. "I guess stuff going on with your family and mine kinda caused us to not be able to hang out as much. We sort of drifted apart just before Jr. High."

"But, we're like brothers" Dale said, with tears welling up in his eyes. "How could we just forget we are friends?" He said now looking to Mikey for an answer he couldn't possibly have.

"Mike, do you think maybe that's why you're here?" Mikey said directing his attention to me "To keep us friends?" He said almost pleading for that to be the answer.

"You know, that is possible." I replied hoping that I found a way to smooth out the conversation. "Maybe that's why I'm here with both of you, I never thought of that." I said while silently thinking to myself that, although I really do miss Dale, there was probably a more urgent reason for my presence, if there’s any reason at all. "I'm thinking about talking to Leo again. He may be able to help me figure it out."

"Leo?" Dale asked as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hands trying to rid himself of the proof that he almost started to cry about the loss of his best friend in any foreseeable future.

"Leo from the Saunders School?" Mikey asked.

"Yeah, of all the people I can think of for some honest help, he's at the top of the list." I said while watching Dale's face for signs of cheering up, and not seeing any.

I took another sip from my coke and wrapped the rest of my sandwich, having lost interest in eating. "Dale, you know that Mikey's dad has some problems. You and I were always honest with each other. I remember over the next two years, you were the only person I had to talk to when things got rough." I said getting up to put my sandwich in the fridge. "I don't know you as an adult, but here and now we are still friends even though I am an adult now. That's a good sign that maybe there is something that can be done now, maybe just by talking about it, we just changed what's going to happen. You never know."

Dale finally looked at me and then looked at Mikey. "We can't let that happen, I won't let that happen. We're brothers." He said getting a determined nod from Mikey and a smile from me.

"I'm going outside for a smoke, why don't you two finish eating, shower and change for bed. Then we'll see if there's something on TV we can watch. Remember, we need to get up early so we will have time to go see Tommy tomorrow." Without waiting for a response from the boys, I walked out the door, closing it softly behind myself, and sat on one of the chairs that was outside the room.

"What am I doing to my past?" I asked out loud in the direction of my truck, it being my one and only physical connection to my own time. I pulled out my cigarettes and took one out of the pack. "Hanging with the boys may actually make me quit these." I said to the pack realizing I hadn't really wanted one all day until now.

I took a long drag off of my smoke and stared at the stars thinking of what was going on in my own time. Had time continued on without me? Did it stop? Does it even exist anymore? The last thought causing my vision to blur as the tears started to well up and one single tear escaped down my cheek.

"I want to go home." I said, sort of mumbling to the night air. I crushed out my cigarette realizing I really didn't want it, leaned forward in my chair holding my face in my hands resting my elbows on my knees. "I like it here, but I want to fix whatever it is that needs fixing and go back where I belong." I said to the pavement just venting the emotions that had been building and ignored since arriving here."

"I thought you wanted to work here?" A voice echoed back at me causing me to jump as if someone set off a firecracker beneath my chair.

"Oh my god!" I said looking up and seeing Josh standing next to me. "You scared the hell out of me dude, how long you been standing there?"

"Long enough to hear that you don't want to be here." He replied with a deflated look on his face.

"It's not that, I just miss my family. Homesick I guess." I replied hoping that would assure him that I really did want to be here and that it was nothing personal.

"Oh." Was his only response. God I hope I didn't hurt his feelings.

"What brought you back out tonight? Everything OK?" I asked trying to change the subject.

"Yeah, I was actually thinking about asking…" He said trailing off as if he was having second thoughts about his question.

"Asking what? Don't let my mood fool you buddy, everything is fine, honestly." I said patting the seat next to the one I was sitting in offering it to him. "I actually could use a friend right now."

Josh smiled and sat down and we both sat back and looked up at the night sky.

I heard a sigh come from him as he seemed to settle in and relax just as I was.

"Your kids seem really cool." He said breaking the silence.

"They are two great boys, not mine though." I said as he turned his head with a questioning look on his face. "Well, Mikey and I are related but Dale is his best friend, not his brother. Although they might as well be brothers." I said, as he seemed to get the answer he was looking for and stared back at the open sky.

"Do you think they like me? I mean I am older than them."

"Yeah, I know they do."

He looked back at me and asked, "You know they do? How?"

"They said so. Said you were cool and hoped they could hang out with you." I said nodding my head in agreement adding, "Actually, so do I."

"You really mean that, don't you?" He asked as if he were trying to verify what he just heard.

"Sure do. Why? Did you think we were gonna hate you or something?" I said getting an odd feeling from him, as if he was holding something back, but tried to sound as if it was obvious that we all liked having him around.

He looked at me with a dead serious look on his face, then looked away and said "No, but you probably will when you get to know me." He spit out and stood to leave.

'What the hell was that all about?!?' I thought as I instinctively shouted when he began to walk away… "Josh… Josh… JOSHUA!"

* * * * * * * * * * * *

To Be Continued...