A Penny on the Train Tracks

Chapter 4

Black… All I see is blackness.

I feel someone holding my hand.

People are talking, am I dreaming?

"Mike, Mikey. It's Mum. Come on honey, it's time to wake up."

That's Ma, I know it is.

The grip on my hand gets tighter.

"Michael, Michael Jeremie. It's time to wake up…"

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

"Okay Ma, I'm up," I say opening my eyes to Mikey's mom standing above us grinning.

"Aren't you two cute?" She said with a smile on her face.

"Oh Hi Julie," I said with a yawn. "Must have dozed off; what time is it?"

"2 am. Sorry I was so late getting home. Once my mother and sister get to talking, time really flies." She said sitting back on the coffee table. " I see Mikey burned you up some popcorn tonight." She said with a chuckle as she picked up the bowl and two empty glasses.

"No," I said with a chuckle. "That was me. I can't pop that stuff to save my life."

"Must be in the name I guess." She said standing back up. "I'll be right back to get him off to bed."

I tried to sit up a little but realized my left arm was still pinned beneath Mikey's head. I brushed the hair away from his eyes and stared at his lifeless face. He looked so peaceful and comfortable that I would deal with a numb arm if it meant not disturbing him.

Julie came back in the room and sat back down on the coffee table. "What time did you fall asleep?"

"Not sure. I think it was around ten." I answered trying to keep my voice low.

"Oh, good. I was worried you two would sit up and wait for us to get home."

"Nah, I guess we wore ourselves out today," I said while stretching out a little.

'Well, why don't I wake him up and get him off to bed. Would you like a cup of coffee or something?"

"Coffee sounds great but, don't wake him. I'll carry him into his room. I don't think he'll even know he was moved." I said as I reached down with my right hand and scooped up his legs lifting him to my chest.

"He sleeps on the top bunk. Why don't I just get a blanket and we can let him sleep in here tonight." Julie said as she stood up to go get a blanket.

"Okay, I'll just lay him back down then." And I stood up with him in my arms, turned around and gently lay him back on the couch. He stretched a little, felt around as if he was looking for something and then curled back up and once again became still.

Wow, without his glasses I can really see myself in him. I thought realizing I hadn't really noticed a huge resemblance between the two of us until just now.

Just as I was standing back up, Julie returned with a blanket in her arms and handed it to me. "Why don't you cover him up and I'll go make that coffee."

"Best deal I've heard all day," I answered taking the blanket and unfolding it as she left for the kitchen.

"Goodnight Mikey" I whispered after carefully tucking him in. "I'll see you tomorrow," I added as I stood up, went and turned off the television and the lights and then made my way to the kitchen.

"So," Julie said as we took a seat at the table to wait for the coffee to finish. "How did the two of you get stuck with each other today?"

"You know, I was wondering that earlier." I started. "I guess we just bumped into each other and hit it off. I had a great time though. He's a good kid."

"Yeah, My little Man. He's been through some rough times but has a big enough heart to not let anything bring him down." Then she added "He usually doesn't warm up to strangers like that so fast though. You must have some special talent with kids." She said with a smile as she got back up to pour us both a cup of coffee.

"Nah. I had a pretty rough childhood myself. I guess I respect kids and they can feel that. I don't talk down to them and I don't let them talk up to me. I suppose I just naturally level the playing field. It's helped me with many of the kids in my family in the past."

I took the first sip of my coffee and just closed my eyes and smiled. "Thanks, I definitely needed this," I said earning a smile for my comment.

"Anytime. Hey, did you ever get your clothes washed?"

"Oh Damn," I said as I stood up to head for the laundry room. "We never got them into the dryer."

"Tell you what, there is a second couch in there if you would like to finish your coffee and go back to sleep. Then you won't be rushing around this early in the morning half asleep." Julie said as I threw my clothes in the dryer and started it.

I returned to the table and sat back down to cradle my cup. "No. Thanks though. You don't need a strange man in your house while your husband is at work. I'll be awake enough to take off once those are dry."

"Strange? You just spent the entire day with Michael and then pretty much baby sat until I got home. You are staying here tonight, and I won't argue with you over it."

"Yes Ma'am," I said hanging my head like a scolded child, earning another laugh.

"Besides, you still look familiar. I think we've met before but I just can't place when and how."

"It's possible I guess. I lived in the area for years." I answered, not knowing what else to say.

"Well then, Let's finish these and I'll grab you a blanket and you can curl up on the other couch and get some more sleep."

"You know, the more you say it, the better it's sounding. I probably should get out on that bike a little more often. Today wiped me out." I said stretching my arms out a bit.

"Well, how often do you have a ten-year-old running you ragged?"

"Recently? Not too often. It's good medicine now and then though." I said with a smile.

"Sure it is," Julie said before downing the rest of her coffee. "I'll grab that blanket so you can lie back down. You look more tired than I feel right now;" and she went off into the laundry room coming back out with one more blanket.

"Here you go." She said handing me the blanket. "I'm sure you can find your way back in there cause I'm going straight to bed."

"Okay, Thanks Julie. I'll see you in the morning." I said as I drank the last of my coffee and went to stand up.

"Not a problem. I'll probably see you fairly early because I have a feeling you are going to get a wakeup call once someone realizes you are still here." She said with a smile and went into her room.

I gathered the empty cups and brought them to the sink before grabbing the blanket and heading back to the living room. It took no time at all to get comfortable and I was soon starting to feel sleep taking over again.

"Mi… Mike?" I heard from the other side of the room.

"Its okay sport, I'm right over here," I said into the darkness.

"Why are you over there?" He asked with a yawn in his voice.

"Cause your mom wouldn't let me leave. It's too late and my clothes were never dried."

"Oh, you could have climbed back in over here. There's plenty of room." Mikey said as I was just barely able to make out his form now that my eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness of the room.

"Well, I figured you would be more comfortable. Besides, I just got comfortable." I said hoping to get him to lie back down and drift off once again.

"Oh." Was his only answer.

"Something wrong?" I asked.

He seemed to think a little before answering. "Well no, not really."

"Come on, spit it out bud. What's on your mind?"

"Can I go over there with you? I kinda thought you disappeared when I woke up and I don't want you to." He said in a meek little voice.

"There's room for two come on over. Just think though. I already fell asleep once and woke up here. I don't think I'm going to vanish, at least not just yet."

He bolted out from beneath his covers and practically sprinted toward me. Hoping he wouldn't just lunge for the couch, I held the blanket open and he hopped in and wiggled into a similar position as earlier in the evening.

"Better?" I asked the back of his head.

"Yeah, sorry. It's just that I know you are here cause I can feel you. It's weird, I know."

"No, it's not weird. I sort of feel the same way. Don't be sorry. I'll share a couch with ya anytime." I said as I gave him a squeeze and snuggled in for the night. "Night Kiddo. See you in the morning."

"Night Mike." He replied and settled down pulling my right arm in tight to his chest.

Not even a full minute later, Mikey's breathing let me know he had dozed back off. God, I would kill to be able to fall asleep that fast again. I thought as I listened to his breathing and let it finally lull me back to sleep.

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

"Uncle Mike"

"Uncle Mike. It's me, Justin."

That same dream, I can hear you. Why can't I talk back?

"I brought you something"

I feel him, he put something in my hand I think. Felt small and furry but I can't move my hand to feel it as if it was there and now it's gone.

"You gotta wake up, I miss you"

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

"I miss you too," I say as I open my eyes. The sun shining brightly in the window was blinding me.

"Yur up early," Mikey says as he rolls over and snuggles into my chest.

"Yeah, I guess I'm a little homesick. I had a dream about my Nephew, Justin. He said he missed me."

"Sounds like a nice dream," Mikey said, his voice muffled into my chest.

"Yeah, but I couldn't see him. I guess my brain is having fun with me." I say as I lay my head back down, my dream drifting away in my thoughts as they often do. "What time is it anyway?"

"About 7 I think. Why? Are you getting up?" He asks without showing any signs of wanting to get up.

"Well, if I don't soon, I won't have to rush to the bathroom anymore."

"Okay," He said with a giggle. "I guess we should both get up then." He said as he sat up and smiled. "Race you to the bathroom."

"No, you go ahead. I need to figure out how to make some coffee."

Mikey was off like a shot as I just sat up and stretched, trying to get the feeling back in the arm Mikey used as a pillow. I wandered to the window, opened the curtain and looked outside. My street… I thought to myself as I looked at the unchanged surroundings. Maybe after a cup of coffee, some exploring was in order.

I made it to the kitchen just in time for Mikey to come out of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth. "Your turn;" he said around his brushing and allowing the toothpaste to create an outline around his mouth.

"Thanks, but you could have finished brushing your teeth," I said patting his head. "I wasn't serious about needing to go THAT bad."

He just grinned and turned toward the window as I closed the door. "Oh man…"I said to no one in particular. "I can't brush my own teeth or even shave yet."

"Yeah oou cam." I heard the voice through the door. "I od a pare ome"

"You have a spare one? Is that what your toothbrush is trying to say?" I said laughing as I opened the door.

"Yeah, I goh oo pit," He said as he spit in the sink.

"Better?" I asked as he rinsed off his brush and took a hand full of water and rinsed his mouth out.

"Yeah." He replied. "I have a spare toothbrush and you can use my father's old razor. He was gonna throw it out but must have forgotten about it." He said while digging through the medicine cabinet.

What he pulled out just made me laugh.

"What's so funny?" He asked while handing me the razor.

The razor he handed me was one of those 'Double sided razors' that you turned the handle to open and replace the blade.

"This razor is," I replied with a big smile. "I learned to shave with it," I added as he tilted his head at me with a grin.

"How old were you?" He asked.

"Not too much older than you. My mom decided it was time to start getting rid of that fuzz beneath my nose and down the side of my face so, she showed me how to use it and let me finish up on my own." I said while opening it to check the blade.

"This fuzz?" He asked pointing to his upper lip, where there was some really fine, almost unnoticeable fuzz developing.

"Yup, in about a year, you will probably shave that off once every couple of weeks," I said as I moved in behind him and looked for some shaving cream.

"How often do you need to shave now?" He asked.

"Every day, well if I shave close enough I can skip a day still though," I said while wetting my face and beginning to apply the cream to my face.

"Cool, I can't wait 'til I get to use it then."

"You will have a different opinion once you nick yourself enough times with this bad boy." I said now getting ready to face the nearly forgotten wrath of the 'Man-Eating Razor' as I used to call it.

"Oh, be careful then." He said stepping away from the mirror. "Did you ever start the coffee?"

"Nope, took too long getting my lazy butt off the couch," I said as I made the first pass with the razor and smiled because I saw no blood.

"I'll make you some while you shave then." He said as he turned and bolted off through the kitchen to get started.

"Thanks Sport," I said to the blur as it left. "That sounds great."

"Hey, what are you boys up to?" Julie sleepily said as she walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table.

"Ow…"Came the first nick… "Just getting up ourselves," I said as I surveyed the damage. "Why do they call these things 'Safety Razors' anyways?" I asked the mirror.

"Because a straight edge cuts deeper" Julie replied chuckling knowing what razor I was using. "You aren't used to them are you?"

"Nope, how'd you guess?"

"No idea." She replied as Mikey returned to the kitchen with coffee cups and a cereal bowl.

"Morning Ma, I made coffee for you guys," He said as he strutted back to the pantry returning with a full pot of coffee.

"Thanks sweetie, that's just what I need right now." She said as I rinsed off the shaving cream and began to brush my teeth.

"Mike." Julie said getting a stereo "Yes?" From us both.

"Big Mike I meant, there's some after shave and a styptic pencil in the medicine cabinet you can use." She said with a chuckle.

"Thanks, I'm not bleeding all that bad though," I said as I wiped off the tiny cut on the side of my jaw. "You only need to do it once to remember how to avoid it happening again."

After brushing my teeth, and splashing on some aftershave, I sat down at the table and poured myself a cup of coffee and took a long sip. "Good coffee kiddo, thanks," I said as Mikey was digging into his bowl of cereal.

We sat and made idle chat about what kind of day it was going to be and what our plans were. I told Julie I was going to take a ride into work and just check in. Then head home for a while before running some errands.

"Can I come?" Mikey asked in an excited tone. "Pleeeeaaase?"

"Hehe, if it's okay with your mother, it's fine with me," I replied, causing Mikey to turn his head in her direction fast enough to give anyone but a 10-year-old kid whiplash.

"You sure you want to be stuck with him again today? I don't want you to get an overdose of him." She said with a grin without looking in Mikey's direction.

"Never thought of that, I guess you have a point," I replied as his head spun back toward me with a now pleading look on his face.

"I won't be a pain, I swear." He said looking back and forth between us.

Before his feelings got hurt I said "I know you won't sport, you can come along for the ride if you like. It might be a little boring though."

"I don't care." He said looking back at his mother "Can I Ma?"

"Yes you can," She said while sipping her coffee again. "But you have to promise to behave. Mike is being really nice so please, don't make him regret offering."

"I won't, I promise," He said as he grabbed his empty bowl and returned it to the pantry, returning with two bowls and spoons for his younger brother and sister.

I watched as not a word was said while he poured cereal in the bowls, getting them ready for when the younger kids got up. I knew what they were for but decided to play with him a bit.

"Still hungry?" I asked with a mock look of surprise on my face.

"No, these are for Matt and Angie. Matt likes to see how much he can fit in a bowl without it overflowing."

Julie looks up at me and smiles "Oh yes. Matthew really enjoys experimenting with anything that can potentially make a mess. I think he's perfected the art." She said with a chuckle. "My little 'Dirt Magnet' she added getting a laugh from Mikey and myself.

"I'm gonna get dressed. You want me to wake them up?" Mikey asked after returning the box of cereal to the pantry.

"Nope, they were up late. May as well let them sleep a little longer." She said as Mikey headed into the bedroom. "So make sure you're quiet in there."

"Okay," He replied and vanished into his room.

"You know Mike; if I weren't his mother I would swear you two were related." She said to me with a smile.

"Really?" "What makes you say that?" I replied while pressing the tip of my spoon making the handle rise up and down.

"Look in the mirror then take a long look at him. Without his glasses on you, two could pass for brothers." Then she added while watching my spoon; "and you share some of the same mannerisms. Mikey does that when he's got something on his mind."

I looked at my spoon, grinned and took my hand away. "Busted," I said with a chuckle. "I guess I am a bit preoccupied this morning."

"Anything I can help with?" She asked with a smile while lifting her coffee cup once more.

"Nah, actually just thinking that I had nothing planned for this vacation and how funny it was that I suddenly have stuff to do and a new friend to keep me moving," I said and took a sip from my cup. "Just funny how it worked out." I continued hoping it was enough of an answer to derail her thoughts of how much we looked like each other.

Just then Mikey came out of his room dressed in nothing but a baseball shirt and his underwear.

"I am not taking you out dressed like that Bozo," I said chuckling into my coffee cup and giving Julie a laugh.

Mikey stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips, looked himself over and with a serious look on his face, asked "I need shoes?" With an evil smirk beginning to develop.

"Go get some pants on you little monkey," I said not being able to keep from laughing.

"Ooohhhh, I knew I forgot something." He said breaking out into a huge smile, then turned to the laundry room.

"He is such a clown sometimes." Julie said while standing up from her chair and then pointing toward my nearly empty cup asked: "Need a refill?"

"Please, something tells me I may need the extra caffeine to keep up today," I said while getting a playful scowl from Mikey, now returning to his room with jeans draped over his shoulder and socks in hand.

Julie and I sat and chatted as Mikey finished dressing and returned to the table with his sneakers and quietly put them on. Just as I was about to get up, the phone rang and Julie went into the living room to answer it.

"Mike" Mikey whispered to me.

"Yeah, sport?"

"You gonna get some clothes and stuff today?"

"Have to, what little I have right now doesn't exactly fit in nowadays" I answered as I thought of some strange looks I was getting from the over-sized clothing, that sort of stands out in this day and age.

"Michael, it's your friend Dale," Julie called to Mikey. "Mike, I'm going to get dressed. I'll be right back."

"Okay, I should do the same" I replied as Mikey ran for the phone and I retrieved my clothes from the dryer and went into the bathroom to change.

Just as I was coming back out of the bathroom, Mikey came to a skidding stop in front of me. "Mike, is it okay if Dale comes with us for a while today? His dad is working and his mom is going out."

"It's okay with me, as long as his mom knows that you are riding with me running errands." I replied as Julie returned to the room adding, "Just tell her you will be with a friend of mine, actually could you ask Dale to let me talk to Anne? Mike's right, she should know that you two won't exactly be in the area. And also that you will be spending the day torturing a family friend." She said with a laugh as she went into the living room being led by Mikey.

I just sat back down and finished my coffee remembering that Tommy had asked if Mikey was going to be around today.

As the two returned to the room, Julie looked at me and stated "its official, you have two clowns instead of just one today. You sure you're up for this?"

"Yeah" I replied as I tied my shoelaces. "Dale will help keep Mikey from getting bored to tears." Then I looked up at Mikey and said: "Do you think it would be a good idea to give Tommy a call and let him know you aren't going to be home until later on today?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot he asked if we were gonna be here. Thanks Mike." And back to the phone he ran.

"I still want to know how those two all of a sudden got so chummy," Julie stated not really aiming it at anyone in particular.

"Well, the short story would be, Tommy and one of his buddies tried to pick on Mikey one last time, not expecting me to be there. The head punk tucked tail and ran but Tommy stayed and apologized for being mean and once the two of them talked a little, they seemed to hit it off." I said.

"Oh, so this is your doing?" She said with a smile. "I've sent his father down there to ask those boys to back off but he seems to get lost on the way there, and nothing ever gets resolved." Then she raised her mug to me and added "Just another one I owe you"

"You owe me nothing. A cup of coffee and popcorn to burn is payment enough for me." I replied as we both laughed.

"Okay," Mikey said as he trotted back into the room. "Tommy thinks Brian is heading over to his house today and says he thinks it would be better if I wasn't there cause I guess he's gonna talk to him about yesterday."

"I told your mom what happened." I snuck in so he would know Julie wasn't in the dark.

"Okay, thanks." He said as he directed his smile toward his mother. "Dale is at his house and says whenever we're ready, so is he."

"Well then, you ready to get an early start?" I asked as I stood up and motioned toward the door.

"Yup." Mikey said as he gave his mother a hug "Love you Ma, see you later on." Then bolted out the door ahead of me and down the stairs.

"Julie, we'll be back probably around two or so. Is that too late?"

"No, that's fine. If they get to be too much, just drop them back here. I don't plan on going out at all today so whatever time you get back is okay with me."

I agreed and followed Mikey's trail of dust down the stairs and out front to the truck to find Mikey patiently waiting at the passenger's side door. We jumped in and took the short ride to Dale's house to find him waiting on his front porch.

"Dale!" Mikey shouted out the window as we came to a stop.

"Hey Mikey!" He shouted back and ran down the steps to the side of the truck.

Mikey slid to the middle and let Dale jump in and close the door. "Hi Mister, I'm Dale Newbury… Um… Mikey's friend" He said as he extended his hand for me to shake.

"He knows who you are dork" Mikey teased and poked him in the side with his elbow.

"Yeah, But we've never met, Bonehead" I answered copying his elbow jab and earning a smile and a giggle from Dale. "Nice to meet you. Since 'Monkey Boy' here doesn't do introductions, I'm Mike Page one of Mikey's older friends" I said with a smile.

"Cool" Dale replied, followed by sticking his tongue out at Mikey giving us all a laugh.

Once we took off, I decided to head straight to where my work should be. Since today should be a work day, I had this strange feeling that I should at least make sure the building hadn't been built yet. I guess so I would lose the feeling that I was skipping out.

"Where are we heading first?" Mikey asked.

"Well, I was planning to go into the city and check on the site my employer is supposed to be looking into for a future building." I said adding emphasis to the word 'Future' knowing Mikey would understand I meant 'In the future' then added. "And then I have some clothes shopping I need help from you guys with and I need to pick up some things for my stay. Then I need to find a place to stay while I'm here."

"Ma would let you stay with us," Mikey said as Dale sat and silently took in the conversation.

"I'm sure she would but I'm also sure your father would have a real problem with that," I said looking at the deflated look on Mikey's face.

"Yeah. I guess…" He answered staring at the floor of the truck.

"How long are you staying for Mr. Page?" Dale asked breaking the silence that had developed.

"Honestly I'm not sure. All depends on when I get called back to work. Until then I'm on vacation, and unemployed." I answered leaving it a vague as possible. "By the way Mr. Newbury, You can call me Mike if I can call you Dale. We're all friends here so you don't need to be formal." I said with a grin getting a chuckle from both boys.

"Okay Mike." Then with a scowl on his face added "Mike and Mikey. That's funny." He added tilting his head a bit and looking out the window at the passing scenery on the interstate we had just gotten on.

"What did you and your dad do yesterday?" Mike asked.

"Oh, we went down to Riverside Park with his family." He said reminding me how awesome that park was back in this time. Now being run by a nationwide chain it was even better in my time, but just not the same.

"Oh cool," Mikey replied. "I've heard of that place, it sounds really Neat."

"You've never been there?" Dale asked Mikey.

"No, my family doesn't travel much. The last trip we all took together was one a few years ago. It was cool but we were trapped in the car for days."

"Your trip to Indiana?" I asked, to stay in the conversation a bit and to help Dale get more comfortable with me being around, since he looked like he was trying to be on his best behavior, and not relax.

"Yeah," Mikey said smiling at me knowing that I knew all about it. "It was a long time ago; I remember we visited the aunt of one of my father's favorite actors. She was really nice to us."

"James Dean" I added in. "I remember talking to your mom about it."

"Who?" Dale asked now lost in the conversation.

"He was killed in a car accident a long time ago," Mikey explained to Dale. "He was in a few movies; ask your dad about him, he'll know who he is." Getting a chuckle out of me while I thought back to that trip. I really had no clue why we went there then but liked all the people we met.

The boys chatted back and forth between themselves as I drove along. I took note of all the changes I had noticed along the way. Different signs, a lower speed limit and such. I took the off-ramp into the city and continued north, pulling over near a wooded area earning a confused look from Dale.

"Well boys, if it ever goes through, there should be a large shopping plaza here sometime in the future," I said while pointing out into the trees.

Mikey leaned over to me and whispered, "This is where you work?"

"Yup" I answered. "Not today though," I added as I made a U-turn and headed back in the direction we came in. "Now we need to get some clothes cause this stuff is not gonna cut it," I said heading back to a shopping plaza I knew existed in this time.

"Yeah, the stuff you're wearing looks a little too big" Dale commented verifying to me that I stood out.

"Well, I need you two to help me pick out some stuff. So I'm dressed like everyone else around here." I said earning a smile from both that made me wonder if I was in trouble.

We arrived at the shopping mall and wandered the aisles of the clothing store within. Looking at the clothes, I tried to find something I liked not being happy with the styles of the early 80's anymore.

"Okay men, where too first?" I asked.

Mikey pulled me down and whispered, "We gotta replace everything?"

"Yeah, nobody wears baggy clothes now and I remember when Airwalk began making board shoes… in 1988. Nothing fits in here."

We started out with the boys picking through shirts. They stumbled across a couple of Ocean Pacific surfer shirts I liked and a couple of printed tees and even a couple of IZOD polo shirts. Then we moved on to pants. We were able to pick out a couple of pair of denim jeans that I didn't feel were going to fit too tight, but not look out of place. Mikey grabbed two pair of jogging shorts in red and blue, they showed more leg than I was currently used to but, I have to fit in so I bit my lip and put them in the cart. I also picked out two pairs of denim shorts the boys approved of.

"We need socks, underwear, and sneakers, right?" Mikey asked looking up and down the aisles.

"Yup, lead the way," I said and we were off once again.

Two packs of tube socks, as short as I could find them got tossed in. Being used to ankle socks, I turned my nose up at them but, I planned to push 'em down anyways. Underwear wasn't much of a choice either.

"Boxers in tight pants, no way," I said to Mikey while grabbing a couple of packages of briefs. "Back to Tighty Whities I guess," I said as I tossed them in the cart.

"Back to what?" Mikey asked looking completely baffled.

"That's what we call them. Haven't worn them in years." I answered with a smile.

"Tighty Whities" He repeated giggling and shaking his head. "You need sneakers." He announced and led me to the shoe section.

"Let's just grab a pair of Chucks and call it quits," I said looking over the selections.

"Chucks?" Dale asked looking as confused as Mikey.

"Yeah," I said as I grabbed a pair of black Converse All Stars – Canvas high tops and pointed to the signature on the side. "Chuck Taylor" I read out loud as Dale said in realization, "Chucks. Never heard them called that."

"They go with everything," I said as I caught both boys eyeing the sneakers as I tried them on. "You like?" I asked as I stood back up and showed them off.

Both boys nodded.

"Look, these aren't all that expensive. Since you both helped me out today, if you really like them, pick out a pair each for yourselves. My treat."

Mikey came over and wrapped his arms around my waist and asked "Are you sure? I mean they are cool but I have sneakers and they are okay still."

"Look," I said while ruffling his hair. I always liked these sneakers, even when I was your age but they just weren't something my parents would pick out because they weren't practical. The sneakers that got worn out in school were always the ones I wore out of school. These are just for outside of school. OK?" This earned a huge smile from Mikey. "Now pick your colors wisely," I said as I pushed him off. "And I want to check the sizes, to make sure they will fit right."

Mikey started picking through the displays when I noticed Dale staring at the floor, kicking at a tag someone must have dropped.

"Dale, I meant you too buddy," I said as I dropped to one knee in front of him.

"But you don't gotta buy me sneakers. I just met you today and I don't want you to think I'm here just to get stuff." He said not looking up from the floor the whole time.

I placed my fingers beneath his chin and raised his face to mine. "You're right; I don't have to buy these for you. You also didn't have to help me shop for clothes for myself."

"But I wanted to help." He stated. "It was fun."

"It was fun, and I want to get you something you would like, just to say thank you. If you would like something different just say the word. I just saw how you both looked at these and figured, it would be cool if we all got a pair."

"You're sure?" He asked obviously not knowing what to do.

"Yeah, do you know what you would like? Because I'm not taking 'nothing' as an answer." I said as I stood up and ruffled his hair.

"These are neat sneakers." He said poking at the display.

"Mikey" I shouted down the aisle. "Wanna help your buddy pick out a pair?"

"OK, Dale check these out." He shouted with excitement as he ran back and dragged Dale off by the arm leaving me standing there laughing at the two.

Mikey was dead on with the sizes as I had them try them on and I checked for room to grow. Mikey picked out a red pair, which was no surprise to me and dale picked out a royal blue pair.

"Great, now let's pay for this stuff and get going. I need to change and still need to find a place to stay." I said as they put their new shoes back in the boxes. "Why don't we grab something to eat over at Denny's since it's in the same parking lot? This way I can slip into the bathroom and change into some normal clothes before we hit the hotels."

"Can we put these on before we go there?" Dale asked as he hugged his box to his chest.

"Well you have to; cause if you don't you won't match," I said with a smile as we headed for the registers. "But you will need to give them up so they can be wrung in," I said making him realize he had a death grip on the box.

"Oh yeah." He said as he handed the box to me and I placed it back in the cart.

In all, the shopping spree cost me just under a couple hundred dollars which didn't break the bank but made me realize I needed to find a way to earn money. Have to give that some serious thought, and soon.

Once we unloaded everything into the truck, the boys began lacing up their new footwear and putting them on.

"On our way over, could you guys lace mine up?" I asked getting a grin from both.

"Okay." They said in unison as they tore my box open, each setting to work on one.

In the few minutes it took to get to the other side of the mall to Denny's, we were ready to head in. I took one of the bags and packed a full change of clothes into it. Once we were inside and seated, we ordered our drinks and I snuck off to the bathroom to change.

'What a throwback.' I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror and packed away my old clothes in the shopping bag. After one last inspection, I figured it was time to get the opinions of my team of experts. Once I had their opinions it was definitely time to eat.

Back at the table, the two boys were chatting up a storm about their sneakers and what they wanted to eat before I interrupted them.

"Well guys, can I hang out with you now?" I said with a grin getting a couple of nods as my answer.

"I guess." Mikey said with an evil smirk, "Since you have clothes that fit now." Getting a stifled giggle from Dale.

"Fit? That's a matter of opinion." I said as I realized it was time to get used to confining jeans again. "At least I was comfortable before."

"Mikey said you grew up in our neighborhood. Why do you need to find a hotel room?" Dale asked innocently enough but making me scramble for an answer.

"Well, I used to live in your neighborhood but moved away years ago. I just came back to visit my old streets and hangouts. I doubt anyone I knew is still around."

"But how do you know Mikey and his family?"

"Well, I…"

"He didn't, we bumped into each other yesterday after I found out you weren't home and we sort of hung out." Mikey cut me off and answered. "Then my mom had to go out, and since she thinks she remembers him from years ago, he stayed with me 'til she got home. It was lots of fun."

Mikey, I could kiss you right now. I thought as I realized I was about to conjure up some sort of lie, and he proved the truth was just fine.

"Wow, so you two only met yesterday and you are being so nice to us and stuff? Are you always this nice to people you don't really know?" Dale asked.

"Nope. Just to people who deserve it." I replied with a smile as I noticed the waitress making her way to our table.

About half an hour later, I gave the boys the money to pay the bill as I finished my coffee. Dale had bombarded me with questions the whole time even though Mikey kept trying to change the subject. I had never seen Dale with strangers before so I wasn't prepared to get the third degree from him. If it weren't for Mikey's quicker responses, he probably would have seen right through me in no time at all.

"We all set?" I asked as the boys returned with the change.

"Yup," Mikey answered, "where are we gonna start?"

"Only two places I can think of right off, Fireside and the Turf Motels. The Turf is kinda run down, so we'll check there last."

"There's only two?" Dale looked at Mikey then me for an answer.

"No, but they are the closest. I don't want to have to drive too far while I'm here."

We piled into the truck and went right to the Fireside first. It was just as I had remembered it before it became a strip mall. I left the boys in the truck and went into the lobby to inquire about a room.

"May I help you sir?" The clerk at the counter asked.

"Yes please. I'll be staying in town for a week or better and was hoping to find a room for that time. Just need the details of nightly or even weekly rates if available."

"Certainly sir, will it be just you staying with us?" He asked flipping through a ledger.

"Yes, so one single or full-size bed will be fine" I replied.

"Well, we do have several vacancies. Our current rates are $35 a day or $150 for the week in a single room. Would that be acceptable?"

I thought quickly that it would buy me some time to find a way to make money to continue on and opted to pay for one week, at least by then I would either be gone or would have found some sort of income. "Yes, that would work out fine."

"And will this be cash or charge sir?"

"Cash" I simply answered while reaching for my wallet.

"Excellent, if you will just look this over and sign the agreement, I will need to see a picture ID and we can get you settled right in."

I opened my wallet and looked at my driver's license. Oh no. I thought as I realized that it wouldn't pass for an ID in 1980. "Oh boy," I said out loud gaining the clerks attention.

"Problem sir?" He asked while laying his pen down.

"I'm afraid so, I'm not sure how, but I don't seem to have my driver's license with me," I said while closing my eyes and rubbing them, anticipating a headache.

"I'm sorry sir, but without proper identification, I'm not allowed to sign you into a room. Please come back if you do find it." He said as he wasted no time crossing out all that he had written down.

"I'll do that, thanks for your time," I said just receiving a nod.

Outside the motel, I lit a cigarette and slowly walked toward the truck. Mikey spotted me and jumped out, leaving Dale behind and ran up to me.

"Everything okay?" He asked, probably noticing that I looked less than happy.

"Not really no," I answered as I opened my wallet and showed him my driver's license. "Won't do me much good here now will it?" I asked, not expecting an answer.

"It expires in 2004?" He said sounding kind of amazed.

"Yup, even better, my date of birth proves that I'm going to be turning 10 in a couple of weeks," I added taking a long drag from my smoke. "Besides, it's not even legal as a driver's license here either," I added.

"Why does it matter if you can drive a car to get a room?" He asked innocently enough.

"It doesn't, but I do need to have a legal picture ID before they will give me one though."

"So now what do we do?" He asked as I threw my cigarette down and stepped on it.

"We go to the Turf. If that place is as much of a dive as it was before it got torn down, I may be able to get around not having an ID." I said putting my arm around his shoulder and walking him back to the truck. "Let's see how well I can act"

A few minutes later we pulled into the parking lot. After I parked near the office and stepped out I looked around at the place. "Well, it doesn't look as bad as I remember it" I said to the boys before heading to the door.

Once entering, I looked around. The office was small and dark. The guy behind the counter was an older looking guy I didn't ever remember seeing here before. I had stayed here a couple of times in the early 90's and only remember seeing a younger guy in his early 20's behind the desk.

"Hey," The man said as he brushed potato chip crumbs off of his tee shirt that was obviously the remainder of the lunch he was just finishing. "Lookin for a room?"

"Yeah." I said holding my hand out for him to shake. "Names Mike, Mike Page"

"Nice to meet ya" He said shaking my hand "Ed Stewart is the name, how long you looking to stay?" He asked while scribbling on pad of paper with a couple of pens before finding one that would write.

"At least a week. I'm kinda stranded here for a while so it could be a bit longer."

"Stranded? How'd that happen?" He asked making me scramble up a story that would be believable.

"Well, I drove up here to do some contracting work, only to find the job I was promised fell through. I had already planned on starting over up here and finding a place but, now I gotta find a job and survive until I get on my feet. So I got the clothes on my back and enough cash to survive for a couple of weeks. It's just turning out to be a bad week." I said trying not to over play the part.

"Really? Well I may be able to help you out some." He said while putting his pen down and standing up. "What kind of work do you do?"

"Well, I started out in retail management. Once I realized that I wasn't happy with it, I started working for a general contractor doing finish work for houses. I've been doing maintenance work and landscaping for the past year or so."

"Hmmm…" He said looking out the front door. "That your truck?"

"Yup," I answered. "Small but gets me from point A to point B without trouble."

"You poor bastard, you're stuck up here with two kids?" He asked looking back at me.

"Oh no, I'm just watching them today. It's my nephew and a friend of his." I answered with a smile thinking I could have lied for a bit more sympathy. "I do have some family south of here but, they don't have room enough for a boarder."

"Oh, I was gonna say that would just make things worse." He said turning back to me. "Look, if you're interested. I have been looking for a maintenance person to help out with some of the repairs that I normally have to hire companies to come in for. It's getting a bit out of hand lately and I'm no good fixing stuff up on my own." He said, peaking my curiosity.

"Really? What you have in mind?" I asked.

"Well, if you aren't opposed to working off the books, I can offer you a room for as long as you're here, and $100 a week to take care of the grounds and repairs needed during the week. You can make your own hours and I can leave you a list of things that need attention. What kind of work don't you do?"

I just laughed and replied "Don't know. Never hit anything I wouldn't do. Hell, I'll mow lawns, trim hedges, repaint the building, and replace lights… Just name it and I'll do my best to get it done." I said with an enthusiasm that made Ed chuckle.

"Well I can definitely use someone around here that can hold his own with a hammer." He said. "You sure you're okay with working under the table? It's just my wife, son and I running the place so I'm not set up to hire anyone legally"

"Are you kidding? I was getting scared that I would end out on the streets sleeping in my truck." I said patting him on the back. "I have no problems with it at all."

"Okay then, I have a maintenance log I'd like you to look over first of all the repairs I need done. You look it over tonight and see if there's anything in it you can't handle. I'll supply the tools and anything you need." He said while handing me a notebook. "I usually have to let it build up to make it worth calling in a contractor. Normally costs me a bundle once a month but, if I can bring someone in who can take care of it for me, then it'll save me some money in the long run and the place will look better for it."

I started thumbing through the book while he was talking. Broken windows, broken door frame, Shorted out lighting… "My god, a general contractor would have a field day with this list." I said looking back up at him. "But I don't see anything I can't handle in here."

"Great, wait here a second." He said as he left the room to an adjoining room and returned with a key ring. "We have 20 rooms, I live in #1 right here and #20 is set up more for a care taker having its own kitchenette and access to our maintenance closet. It hasn't been lived in for a few years now so I'll have my wife open it up and give it a good cleaning for ya." He said while taking some keys off the ring. "This is the key to your room for as long as you need the work. The smaller key is for the maintenance closet in the room and the largest key is the master for this office and all the rest of the rooms." After explaining what each key was for, he put them on a ring and handed them to me.

"Work no more than 8 hours a day, 4 days a week unless an emergency comes up and I will be more than happy to provide you a roof over your head and money in your pocket for as long as you need it."

'Wow.' I thought as I was worried about just getting a room a few minutes before walking into this office. 'A room and a way to survive for now, someone up there likes me still. I thought to myself as put the keys in my pocket.'

"Wow Ed, I really don't know how to thank you. You are really saving my skin here." I said as he sat back down behind the desk.

"No need to thank me, you will be helping me out just as much by cutting my maintenance costs. Besides, it will be nice to not have to sweat the small stuff for a while." He said with a smile. "Now why don't you go check out your new living arrangements, and plan not to start 'til tomorrow. If you're out for the rest of the day, Marion will have it ready to sleep in tonight. After that, consider it your home."

"Will do Ed, I'll go check it out and then I'll be gone until later tonight since I have the kids with me. I'll see you in the morning." I said once again shaking his hand.

"Sounds great, just don't let the look of the room right now scare ya off. Since the maintenance closet is inside it, that room has been the catch-all for everything. I'll have it ready by tonight." Ed said as he scribbled on a piece of paper. "Here, since I never turned it off, that room has its own phone line as well. You can use this number as your own while you are here. Just don't go runnin' up the bill too much." He added with a chuckle.

"I'm at a loss for words. You have no idea how much I appreciate this." I said staring at the number, still in a bit of disbelief.

"Glad to help out; now don't keep those boys waiting out there too long." He said as he walked back through the door to his room. "See ya in the morning." He shouted back on his way out.

Back out at the truck, the boys had obviously gotten bored and decided to climb out and lay down in the back out of sight. At first I thought they had wandered off, until giggling gave away their hiding spot.

"Well, Looks like they wandered off," I said to the door before opening it and climbing in.

They remained still until I started the truck up and started to roll backward.

"Hey, you forget about us?" Mikey sat up and asked me through the opened vent window in the back.

"Nah, just thought you had hitched a ride home or something." I answered as I continued to back up through the parking lot to my new room.

"Where we going? Did you get a room?" Mikey asked as Dale hung his head over the tailgate watching where we were going.

The motel was in an almost perfectly rectangular lot, and was shaped almost like an upside down 'L'. Room #20 was in the back section on the end so the boys may have thought I was going to back around the building, until I parked in the spot nearest the door.

"You did get a room!" Mikey shouted as both boys leapt out of the truck and rushed my door. "Which one?"

"Number 20, but it needs to be cleaned up the owner said," I said as I opened the door.

It was dark inside so I felt up and down the wall looking for a light switch. I almost gasped when I flipped the switch at what I saw.

"Oh boy," I said flatly as the boys rushed around me and poked their heads inside for a peek.

"Whoa, what a mess," Dale said as he slowly wandered inside followed closely by Mikey who hadn't said anything yet.

"They're making you sleep in here?" Dale asked as he poked at what appeared to be the old street sign to the motel, right there in the middle of the room.

"Yup. Not to worry though. They plan on cleaning it all up before tonight. Shouldn't be too bad though because it looks like everything is covered in tarps, including the floor." I said as I opened the door to the adjoining room which appeared to be the maintenance closet. "I'm guessing all this junk belongs in here." I said to the boys as I noticed that the room was fairly large, but for the most part empty.

"Mike, are they gonna be able to get all this stuff out of here today?" Mikey asked as he tried to find the end of the tarp covering the bed to see what lay beneath.

"I don't see how, I mean it is only one older guy, his wife and son here. Maybe I'll just ask him to make sure the bathroom and bed are cleaned and do the rest myself. This is going to be way too much for them to do in one day.

"Can I help?" Mikey jumped up from behind the sign and shouted. "I can sleep over and help you get it done tomorrow. Please?!?"

"Well, I'm not sure if he intends me to start work on the rest of the motel tomorrow or not." I replied and then thought a moment and added; "Oh yeah, I got a job here."

"You got a job? Already?" Mikey asked, now jumping around. "This is so cool.

"Yeah it is. I love old places like this. Now I get to work in one for a while." I said as I looked around at all the old junk that at one time or another used to be a part of this motel. "Must be a history behind some of this stuff." I said as Mikey looked just as amazed as I did at things like the sign, old furniture and even an old Coke machine that vended glass bottles through a door you needed to open yourself in its time.

"Tell you what; I'll go talk to him because I don't want his wife to get stuck lugging this mess around by herself. You go ahead and find the phone and call your mom and see if it's okay with her. If both are in agreement, then it's fine by me."

"Cool." Mikey said as he and Dale searched for the phone and I left to go back to talk to Ed.

I returned to the office and asked Ed if he really knew the condition of the room and then relayed what I found. I also told him that I felt it was just a little too much for just his wife to clean up and of our plans to work on it the following day.

"Oh that's fine." He replied. "We'll consider it's renovation as one of your first jobs then" He said with a smile as his wife entered the room. "Marion, Mike here says that room was left a mess from all the work they have been doing. He doesn't want you to clean out the room, just clear off the bed and bathroom and he and his boy will clean up the rest tomorrow."

"Oh okay." She replied. "I knew they were just throwing all that garbage in there but never had a real reason to go look." She looked at me and said.

"Oh, they sure did leave a mess. Probably going to take Mikey and I the whole day just to get it livable again."

"Well, we have everything you will need, including paint and Spackle if it needs it. I'll see what my son is doing when he gets home tonight and see if he would give you a hand as well so you will have a decent place to stay." She added.

"That would be great. Well, I'll be back later on tonight. Probably should go collect my monkeys before they get lost in the piles." I added before turning for the door.

"How old is your boy?" Marion asked causing me to chuckle. "My nephew? He's going to be 10 in a couple of weeks."

"That may work out well, our son is 12, maybe they'll get along. Josh is always hanging around here pouting because there isn't anyone his age around here that lives close enough to get to easily."

"Well, Mikey is a pretty outgoing kid. I'm sure he'll be up here often enough to hang out. You never know." I said and then said my goodbyes and walked back to my room to collect the boys.

Once I walked back into the room, I had to laugh at what I saw. Mikey was beneath the tarp on the phone talking to his mother and Dale was in the bathroom peeing in plain view with the door wide open.

"Dale, you could have at least closed the door. I know it's just us guys here but what if Marion came back with me?" I asked trying to keep from laughing as he rushed to finish and fumbled to get his jeans zipped up quickly.

"Sorry, but the door was broken." He said as he pointed to the floor at the door, which probably just dropped off the hinges when he opened it.

"Ahhh, you didn't get hit by that thing, did you?" I asked with a bit more concern knowing he really could have gotten hurt by it.

"No, but it hit the wall and I think it put a hole in it. I'm sorry Mike." He said probably thinking I was going to be upset.

"Don't be sorry, it's not your fault. I'm just glad you didn't get hurt." I said as I tucked him under my arm and walked back over to where I could have sworn I had seen a couple of feet sticking out from beneath the tarp.

"Mike," A muffled voice could be heard over the shuffling of plastic as Mikey tried to back out of the pile dragging the phone with him. "Ma needs to talk to you, it's important." He said with an urgency that made me worry.

"Is she okay?" I asked as I accepted the receiver.

"Yeah, but Tommy isn't." He said and I noticed his eyes welling up with tears.

I took the phone from his hand and hugged him to me as I began to speak. "Julie? It's Mike. What happened?"

"Mike, I just got off the phone with Gloria, Tommy's mother. Evidently this morning after Tommy came here to get his bike out of our basement; someone jumped the poor kid and stole his bike." Julie said with a sigh.

"Oh my god, is he okay?" I asked squeezing Mikey a bit more.

"He was until he went home and told his father what happened." She said flatly. 'Ma's Pissed.' I thought because that's the only time she speaks in that tone.

"Why, what happened when he told his father?" I asked with a cringe in my voice. I had a pretty good idea what kind of 'Dad' he was from the way Tommy spoke of him.

"Well, he evidently started drinking earlier than normal today, and got mad enough to put his son in the hospital over being 'Stupid Enough' to let someone jump him." She said confirming that she was seeing red. "Now she's home being questioned by the police, they took him out in cuffs and Tommy in an ambulance to the General Hospital."

"Does she know how bad Tommy is?" I asked while listening to Dale whisper to Mikey "Tommy? The bully that lives down the street from you?" As Julie said Gloria never got a chance to see him before they took him out.

"We're on our way home Julie, just in case anything turns up." I said and then quickly said goodbye and ushered the boys back to the truck.

"Is he gonna be okay?" Mikey asked obviously not noticing we had blasted out of the parking lot like we were just shot from a cannon.

"I don't know yet, but to be safe we are going to go back to the house just in case Tommy's mom needs us." I replied as I took the truck back up on the interstate and turned a 20 minute drive to the neighborhood into a 10 minute flight.

Just as we made the first turn from the off ramp, I spotted a kid on a chrome looking bike going in the opposite direction down the road.

"Mikey, is that Brian on Tommy's bike over there?" I pointed in his direction as we came to a complete stop.

"Yea… Yeah it is." And as fast as the words left his lips, my foot was to the floor and aiming in his direction. "What are you gonna do?" He asked as he put a death grip on my leg and Dale grabbed the armrest for dear life.

"I'm going to get Tommy's bike back…" I said as I slammed on the brakes and came skidding to a stop dead in Brian's path. "Right now."

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

To Be Continued...