"Can I get you guys something to drink?" The waitress asked as she seated us at our table.
"Can we have orange juice?" Mikey asked as Dale just nodded his approval.
"You sure can sweetie, and for you two?"
"Two coffees" Joshie stated with a huge grin on his face. The waitress looked at me and I nodded in agreement giving her a smile as she set menus on our table.
"Aren't you a bit too young for coffee?" She asked with a smile which I knew to be teasing.
"Nah, my dad said it was ok as long as I don't drink too much." He responded adding. "Besides, I like coffee."
"Ok then, I'll be back with your drinks and take your orders." She said as she ruffled Dale's hair and turned to leave.
'Oh, just wait til you see these guys eat.' I thought to myself knowing the horror of watching three boys in a feeding frenzy. 'They may be cute now, but that's gonna change.'
"I can't believe how long it took just to get a table." Dale said as he looked at the group of people still waiting at the door.
"No kidding." I replied with a smile. "I was starting to think we were gonna starve to death." I continued, noticing Josh staring out the window at the parked car. "You ok buddy?"
"Me? Oh yeah." He replied, seeming to have been snapped back to reality. "Just thinking." He managed to get out as the waitress returned with our drinks.
"Two Ojs and two coffees." She said with a smile as she set them on the table. "You guys ready to order?"
I thought she was going to drop her notepad when these guys got started. I wasn't at all fazed and even got her to laugh when I got the strange looks from the boys after simply ordering bacon and eggs.
"That's all you're having?" Dale asked before looking at Mikey and giggling.
"It's breakfast, not my last meal." I replied with a laugh. "Besides, normally I don't even have breakfast."
"You're kidding?" Mikey said, almost choking on his orange juice. "You must be almost dead by lunch time."
"Lunch. Yeah right." I said with a laugh as I took a sip of my coffee. "Normally I don't have the time."
"My dad's like that too." Dale announced taking a large gulp from his glass. "He can eat a lot, but he just doesn't."
I sat and watched as the boys continued to make small talk among themselves. I honestly had fun just listening to them get to know each other while waiting for their food. The thing I found the most amusing was how silent it instantly got as soon as plates were set down on the table. Even our waitress snickered at the instant silence.
About an hour later, our check paid and three full bellies later, we piled into the car to run our last errand before heading back. "Ok men, we need to get some snacks and soda." I said to the three sets of eyes. "Then I work your little butts off." I continued with my best maniacal laugh.
"Can we get sodas to put in the Coke machine?" Dale asked with a hopeful smile. "That'd be cool."
"That depends on if it works or not," I replied watching his smile slowly vanish in the rear view mirror.
"It works." Joshie said with a grin. "The only reason it got put in there is cause we got the new one by the office. Dad said it was safer to have cans for the guests cause we kept finding broken bottles in the parking lot."
"Makes sense." I replied pulling into the gas station on our way back. "That old one dispenses glass bottles, so I guess that's what we need to grab."
Piling out of the car, Joshie led the way inside and up to the counter. "We used to fill it with Coke, Root Beer, Sprite and Diet Coke." Joshie said as he pointed out where the bottles were. "Other than the diet stuff, we can probably do a few of the rest and unlock it so it gives them free."
"Sounds good to me as long as we replace the diet with Mountain Dew." I stated getting a strange look from Joshie.
"In a Coke Machine!?!" He laughed. "Isn't that against the law or something?"
"No." I chuckled in response. "Coke would have a problem with it if we were selling it that way; but since it's just for us..." I said not completing my comment.
Our purchases out of the way, we went right back to the room and began literally tearing the room apart. Joshua was right about the Coke machine still working. I was thankful he was familiar with it as he knew just how to set it up and load it. It seemed to take a while for it to begin getting cold but, once it did the boys had fun getting a free soda from it whenever they wanted to. I guess having paid for them earlier didn't count in their eyes.
We worked hard on the room for the better part of the afternoon. We opened both doors and the windows to help keep the dust down as we went. It was actually funny watching the three of them, and how serious about their work they were. Five hours of what turned into back breaking work, they began to lose steam when I decided to call it a day.
"It doesn't look much better, does it?" Mikey asked as he looked around the room, his eyes settling on the old street sign, still leaning on the wall going into the kitchenette.
"It just needs a good cleaning." I replied ruffling his hair. "I'll take care of that tomorrow. Why don't you guys get cleaned up while I go talk to Ed." I said to the three nodding, dirt covered heads. "Then we'll find some food and see about taking a run to visit Tommy before I bring you home."
"We gotta go home?" Dale asked with his shoulders beginning to slump. "We still have work to do." He protested crossing his arms.
"Yeah, I thought we were gonna finish," Mikey added.
I smiled as I watched Joshie's smile widen at their comments. "We need to talk to your parents before we make that call. Unless Josh is tired of your company."
"ME?!? No!" Joshie said as his eyes got wide. "I don't want you guys to go home." He added looking toward the floor. "It's fun having you guys here."
"Well, it's still up to your parents," I said to Mikey and Dale. "Shower up and get some clean clothes on while I talk to Ed. When I get back we'll make some phone calls and see what the plan is. Joshie, I'll walk you back to your place so you can shower and change."
"Can I just take a shower here? I have clean clothes in my bag." He asked with two pleading looks on his new friends' faces backing up his request.
"I suppose that's ok. Just don't take too long. We still have things to do." I said as I turned for the door, snickering at the excited "Yeah!!!" shouts as I stepped outside and went to the office.
"Well hello Michael," Marion said as I walked through the door. "How's that room coming?"
"It looks like we uncovered an ancient tomb." I replied with a laugh. "We got a ton of stuff put away or thrown out. That storage room is still a disaster and we still have some repairs to the walls and stuff to do but, once it's cleaned up it'll be really nice I think."
"You are planning to take a break, right?" She asked as Ed walked into the room from their apartment.
"Oh yeah. All four of us have had enough for one day." I said smiling at Ed. "I was thinking about feeding the kids since they worked so hard before running Mikey and Dale to visit a friend of theirs at the hospital."
"That's fine." Ed replied with a smile. "I was watching the boys half fill the dumpster earlier." He said as he pulled some money out of his pocket. "Give each of the boys five and feed them with the rest." He said putting two twenties and three five dollar bills on the counter. "No arguments Mike." He quickly added as I had just begun to give him a questioning look.
"I'm sure they will appreciate it Ed." I said shrugging my shoulders in defeat. "What time would you like Joshua home?" I asked as he took his seat at the counter.
"Well," Ed said smiling at Marion. "I was hoping to talk to you about that. You and the crew are heading out, right?"
"Yeah," I answered with a confused smirk.
"My wife was planning on doing some cleaning before Rich, the night manager comes in." He said with a smile. "I was hoping if Joshua was planning on staying with the boys again tonight that I could actually take my wife out to a movie or something. Unless you have plans that is."
"I'll check with Josh." I said with a grin. "The boys were hoping to convince their parents that they had to stay until all the work was done. Even if they end out going home, Joshie is more than welcomed to stay." I said with a smile. "You two go out and have some fun."
"If the boys aren't going to be there we can stay home. I really don't want to impose." Ed said with a serious expression. "We don't have plans or anything yet."
"Make plans then." I said with a laugh. "I'll talk to the boys and make sure there aren't any complaints." I added with a grin. "You know, since they get along so badly with each other." I continued with a sarcastic smile.
"I've seen." Ed laughed in response. "As long as you're sure."
"I'll send your son home to get some clothes if he's up for it." I added heading back for the door. "Marion, please don't go overboard cleaning in my room yet. I still have walls to patch and the ceiling needs to be repaired in a few places. It's going to get messier before we're done."
"You just let me decide how much cleaning I get to do." She said with a wide smile. "As long as you are sleeping in there, I want to make sure you aren't doing it in filth." Marion added in a grandmotherly tone.
"Yes Ma'am," I replied with my head down, earning a laugh from them both as I tiptoed out the door like a cowering puppy.
Stepping back into my room, I had to laugh as I watched the commotion in the bathroom. Mikey and Dale were wrapped in towels, appearing to have just stepped out of the shower, being immediately replaced with Joshua. The bathroom door was wide open as they rushed into the living area to grab their clothes.
"Hi Mike," Dale said as he grabbed his bag and began rifling through it. "We're almost done."
"Yeah," Mikey added. "Joshie's in the shower now." He said as he rushed over and wrapped his arms around my waist. "Can we call my mom now?"
"When you two are dressed, then we all need a moment to talk," I said getting questioning glances from both boys.
"Okay." They replied as they rushed back into the bathroom, closing the door behind them.
About 15 minutes later, all three emerged from the bathroom. Mikey and Dale fully dressed and dry while Joshie was still wrapped in a towel, his long hair still wet from his shower. "I just gotta get dressed and brush my hair." He said as he grabbed his bag and rushed back into the bathroom.
"Can we call my mom now?" Mikey asked as he bounced up and down on the corner of the bed.
"Go ahead," I said as he bolted for the phone. "But I want to talk to her too." I managed to get out as he hurriedly dialed and waited for his mother to answer.
"Hi Ma." He said as I listened to one side of the conversation.
"We're not done yet. Do you think... But Ma... Can we at least visit Tommy first?" He whined into the phone as I watched his happy expression literally melt. "Okay. Mike wants to talk to you... I love you too." He said as he handed me the receiver.
"Hi Julie," I said as I watched Mikey pull Dale aside and begin whispering to him.
"Hi Mike. Did he behave himself last night?"
"Oh god yeah. They were a huge help today. The owner even wants to pay them because they worked so hard." I said with a smile. "I'm guessing from the look on his face you need him home?"
"I'm afraid so. His father is home tonight and..."
"No problem Julie. Are Dale's parents expecting him home as well?" I asked trying to get an idea of how the night was going to go now.
"I believe Dale's parents have plans for tomorrow. Mikey said you guys were going to go visit Tommy?"
"Yeah." I replied as I sat down on the bed. "I had hoped to at least buy them dinner, swing by the hospital for about an hour and then the rest of the night was up in the air. I can run both boys home after that, unless you need Mikey home earlier than about six."
"Oh no, that's fine. Anne was planning on picking Dale up from here around then anyway."
"Well then, I'll see you at about six?" I asked nodding my head.
"That'll be great. See you then." She replied as she hung up the phone.
"This sucks." Mikey spat out as Joshie came out of the bathroom, attempting to brush the knots out of his still damp hair.
"What happened?" Joshie asked as I grabbed the brush from him and began to brush his hair while he pulled his socks and sneakers on.
"We gotta go home tonight," Dale said as he slumped down in his chair.
"You're coming back soon though, right?" Joshie asked hopefully.
"I'm sure they will be able to." I answered handing the brush to Mikey to take over so I could get cleaned up and change. "Dale's parents have plans for tomorrow and Mikey's mom needs him home tonight." I said watching Mikey carefully brush his new friends hair while Joshie finished tying his shoes and sat still, obviously enjoying the attention. "We can go get some dinner, swing by and see Tommy and then run you guys to Mikey's house."
"When do we get to come back?" Dale asked as I found three sets of eyes meeting mine.
"I'll talk to both of your mothers when we get there." I said heading for the bathroom. "Mikey, your dad gets home from work at like five or six at night, right?" I said trying to remember back that far.
"Yeah. Unless he goes out first." Mikey replied as I turned around and got a look that must have been a mirror of my own expression. Concern about what his father's mood would be that night.
"Okay then," I said with a wink. "Joshie, you don't mind doing the running with us, do you?"
"I don't have to go home?" He asked with a grin beginning to surface.
"Nope," I said grabbing the doorknob on the bathroom door. "We're forcing your parents to have a peaceful night out," I added with a grin as I closed the door.
Fifteen minutes later, I rushed to get dressed and we were on our way. First a quick stop at McDonald's to fill the now growling bottomless pits, where I gave each of them their pay for the day. The look on their faces was priceless as even Joshie stared at the five dollar bill in shock. After our meals, we hopped right back into the car and headed for the hospital. I think the depression of having to go home finally wore off as the boys actually began talking, mostly thanks to Joshie.
"Is the boy we're going to visit going to be ok?" He asked half turning in his seat to look at Mikey and Dale.
"I think so," Mikey replied. "His dad beat him up pretty bad."
"Oh." Josh simply responded as he faced foreword, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his five dollar bill. "Mike?"
"Yeah kidoe?" I replied without looking back at him right away.
"Can we stop somewhere to get something for him?" Joshie looked at me continuing; "You know, to maybe cheer him up a little?"
"Yeah, can we? Please?" Mikey and Dale agreed.
"I'm sure he'll appreciate that," I said as I diverted us toward a department store. "That's an extremely thoughtful idea guys," I added with a smile.
It took about twenty minutes combing through the store before the boys had finally picked out the gifts they wanted to get. I even grabbed a couple of things myself in the spirit of the moment and off to the hospital we went. Tommy's face seemed to brighten as he spotted us entering his room. His mother stood from her seat, looking as if she hadn't slept since the last time we saw her.
"Hi Tommy!" The boys almost shouted as they rushed up to the bed. "This is our friend Josh," Mikey added as the boys began to chatter between the four of themselves.
"Hi Gloria, have you slept at all?" I asked pulling a seat up next to her.
"A few minutes here and there." She yawned. "Actually, since you guys are here, would you mind if I took a walk down and grabbed a coffee?"
"God no, take your time. I don't have to have the boys home for another hour yet." I replied as she thanked me, gave her son a hug and left the room.
"Tommy, we brought you some stuff to do while you're stuck in here," Mikey said as he handed him a paper bag.
"We all chipped in," Dale added with a smile.
"You didn't have to get me stuff," Tommy replied with tears welling up in his eyes.
"We wanted to," Joshie said with a smile.
"You don't even know me." Tommy sniffled. "None of you do really."
"Whatever, just look at what we got you," Mikey said, totally ignoring his last comment and earning a giggle from Tommy for it. "Maybe it'll make time go faster."
Tommy pulled out all the books and magazines first, reading them off out loud with a smile. "Mad, Cracked, Ad Libs..." He said through sniffles. "This is so cool guys. Thanks."
"That's not all," Dale said getting him to pull out all the matchbox cars, Checkers and Connect Four game's the boys picked out. "Maybe next time we visit we can play some of them."
"That'd be cool," Tommy replied, still needing to wipe his eyes. "This is awesome guys." He said as he pulled out a small sketch pad and a box of colored pencils.
"Look inside it," Mikey said as all three grinned.
Tommy did as he was asked and the water works started back up in full force. Inside the front cover all three boys scribbled three messages hoping that he would get better fast, signing their names at the bottom, with the word "FRIENDS!!!" written big and in bright red. "Thanks guys." He said again as he wiped his nose on the sleeve of his hospital gown.
"How long are you trapped in here?" Joshie asked as he looked around the room.
"I dunno," Tommy replied, hugging the sketch pad to his chest. "They won't tell me."
"Yur gonna be ok though, right?" Mikey asked as I watched him start to take all the stuff that was scattered on the bed and place it in the top drawer of the nightstand so he could reach it.
"My mom says so. I guess I still have a ton of tests and stuff to do. They took x-rays and a ton of pictures earlier. There was even police here asking me all kinds of questions. Some lady was in here earlier today asking me questions about my dad and then about my mom." He said with a grin. "I threw her out." He giggled.
"You what?" Mikey laughed. "Why?"
"She was asking me stuff like how all this happened, and how often my dad hits me. Then she started asking me if my mom beats me too. When I told her she never does, she didn't even sound like she believed me." Tommy said rolling his eyes. "So I told her to get the fuc... Um... I told her to get out and not come back. The doctors made her leave too." He said as his blush began to show through the bruises. "She was mad."
"Don't take it personally, it's her job to make sure you will be safe when you go home." I said as all three sets of eyes suddenly locked on me.
"I don't like her." He said tightening his grip on the sketch book. "She wouldn't even listen to what I was trying to say to her." He said as his mother came back into the room with two cups of coffee and four juice boxes.
"I take it he's telling you about the little visit we got from child welfare." She said as she distributed the drinks, getting thank-you replies from each of us.
"Yeah, sounds like she was a little less than friendly," I replied as I took a sip from my cup. "Do you think she'll be a problem?"
"No, the officer assigned to this floor told her she was out of line and asked her to leave." She replied as she took her seat. "Those kinds of questions are to be expected I guess considering what happened."
"Yeah, about Dad!" Tommy barked. "I don't like her."
"Forget about it, she's not coming back," Gloria said to her son with a smile.
We spent another half hour visiting before we had to say goodbye. The boys spent quite a bit of time getting to know each other better while they played some of the games, and even did a couple of the Ad Libs stories, giggling at how funny they came out. Once back at the car, we went right straight to Mikey's house, being met outside by Julie, Anne and Mikey's grandmother.
"Hi Ma. Hi Grammie. Hi Mrs. Newbury." Mikey said as he gave all three hugs, Dale repeating the greetings but, both froze at Mikey's mother's expression. "He's home, isn't he?" Mikey asked as my back stiffened when a familiar presence came out of the yard.
"Well, look who decided to come home." Mikey's father said with a fake smile plastered on his face and a beer in his hand. "Did you have fun?"
"Yeah," Mikey answered, not moving from his spot behind his mother.
"Good, because we need to have a little talk. I seem to remember asking you to clean your room before I went to work and guess what I found when I got home tonight?" His father asked as he gave me a dirty look before putting one foot on the steps and taking a swig from his can. "Instead you go out and have fun?"
"I did clean it." Mikey softly protested.
"Kevin, he really did. The other kids have been in there all day." Julie added.
"Well, it needs it again then." He said with an annoyed look, directed at his wife before looking back at Mikey. "Get on it, we'll talk about this later," he said turning toward me and squinting. "Time to say good bye to your friends Mikey."
"Julie, I'm gonna take off." Anne said as she gave Mikey and his grandmother a hug before leading Dale off the porch. "Mike, thanks for taking the boys out. I'm sure they had a great time." She said with a smile while Dale waved and silently turned toward the car.
"Yeah right..." Mikey's father said loud enough to be heard. "Good bye Anne." He spouted in a mocking tone since she hadn't bothered to say good bye to him. "Your room Mikey. Now!"
"I'll give you a hand Mikey," Julie said beginning to stand up from her seat.
"Don't baby him. If he's man enough to hang out with the BOYS, he's man enough to do as he's told." He said emptying his can. "Now Michael!"
"Bye Mike, I'll talk to you later." He said with a noticeable tear running down his cheek before turning and entering the house.
"You know it buddy. Thanks for the help today." I said as dear old Dad turned his attention to me.
"So, do you need an invitation to leave?" He asked as he crossed his arms.
"Nope." I said as I locked stares with him and stepped closer. Once realizing Julie and Mikey's grandmother had stepped back into the house I turned to Joshie. "Why don't you go start the car, I'll be right there." I said tossing him the keys.
"O... Okay." Joshie replied and rushed for the car.
As I turned back toward Kevin, I saw him stand up so I stepped back up to him and just stared. With a grin I decided to break the silence. "You don't recognize me, do you?"
"Should I?" He said standing up straighter.
"Maybe someday you will." I said with a smile before adding; "Funny, I always pictured you as taller. I guess some things do change." I said as I eyed him up and down, noting he was about my height and possibly about the same build. Knowing full well Mikey would probably suffer his wrath if I angered him too much; I stuck out my hand toward him. "My name is Mike Page. I haven't seen you since I was a teenager but I do remember you." I said noticing he wasn't interested in shaking my hand, so I let it drop back to my side. "Okay then." I said taking a step backward. "Maybe you will recognize me eventually." I stated turning back to the car. "See you later, Buzz." I said as I hopped in the driver's seat, noticing the use of his nickname got his attention.
Not waiting for a reply, I took off with a wave, laughing as soon as we were out of sight.
"What was that all about?" Joshie asked with a confused expression. "I thought you were gonna hit him or something."
"Tempting but, no," I replied with a grin; heading the car homeward.
"Okay," Joshie said with a giggle. "What are we up to now then?"
"Good question," I answered. "It's just you and me. Anything you'd like to do?"
"Wanna get some snacks and just watch some TV or something?" He asked with a smile. "I'm just tired."
"That sounds great," I said as I looked for a store, and planned for a quiet evening. Something at this point that would be a welcomed change.
After staring at the television for a few hours, I decided to go outside and have a cigarette. "I'll be right outside." I said as I opened the door, Joshie jumping up off the bed.
"Me too." He said flipping the TV off. "There's nothing on at all." He smiled so I waved him to follow.
"God it's nice out," I said as we both sat in the same seats we were in the night before.
"Yeah," Joshie said thoughtfully as he sat back and looked at the night sky. "Why doesn't Mikey's father like you?" He asked innocently.
"Probably because he doesn't know me." I replied with a chuckle. "If he does recognize me, he'll find out he still doesn't know me, at least not anymore." I added smiling at his confused expression. "Maybe I'll tell you the story someday."
"Is it bad?" He asked, watching a car pull into the parking lot, stopping at the office.
"I used to think so." I replied watching as a man stepped out of the car and staggered into the office, leaving what appeared to be a young woman in the car.
"One nighter," Joshie said with a giggle. "We get tons of them." He continued as the passenger hung her head out the window.
"Yup." I simply replied as the man exited the office, still staggering. "They're both trashed." I said with a laugh watching the guy pull the car up to room #2 and both managed to get their impaired frames into their room.
"That room will be a mess in the morning," Joshie said with a sigh. "Mike, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," I replied and turned to look at him.
"Why didn't you freak when I told you I was gay?" He asked seriously.
"Well." I began. "Why didn't you freak when I told you I was?"
"You didn't. Well, not exactly." He replied sitting back in his seat.
"I did, it just took more words for me to get it out." I answered, playfully punching him in the arm. "You know what the worst thing you can do in life is?" I asked as he simply nodded that he didn't. "Meeting someone and judging them by the first thing you learn about them. If I had freaked out, I would have missed out on being your friend." I continued, wrapping my arm around his shoulder and giving a squeeze. "Looking back, that would have been a huge mistake on my part."
"You really think that?" Josh asked leaning his head on my shoulder.
"Nope, I'm lying. Can't stand ya." I laughed as he hit me in the chest.
"You're a dork." He giggled.
"I try." I answered poking him in the side. "Wanna turn in for the night? We can get an early start and maybe see what plans we can make with the other clowns and when."
"Should I pull the cot back out of the storage room?" He asked as we entered the room.
"Why? Did I snore too loud or something last night?" I asked with a laugh.
"Well, no." Joshie replied. "I mean last night you let me sleep with you cause there was no room."
"No, I let you sleep with me cause you wanted to." I answered.
"Cause there was no room." He replied and sat on the corner of the bed.
"This is getting nowhere fast." I said as I knelt down in front of him. "Do you want to sleep on the cot?" I asked getting a shrug for my answer. "Ok, do you want to sleep in the bed?" Another shrug. "Fine, You sleep in the bed and I'll sleep on the cot." I said, almost laughing at his shocked expression.
"No! It's your room. That's not fair!" He almost shouted until he saw me grin.
"Okay then, can I sleep in the bed with you?" I asked stifling a laugh.
"That was a trick," Joshie stated, folding his arms.
"A good one too." I replied as I stood up to grab a soda. "Want one?"
"You're nuts. Anyone ever tell you that?" Joshie asked with a giggle.
"Is that a no on the soda? Cause if it isn't, I plea the 5th." I said grabbing a bottle of Dew and a Sprite for Josh, not waiting for him to stop giggling.
"Thanks." Joshie said with a smile as we flipped the TV back on, pulled off our clothes and climbed under the blankets.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Mumbling, murmuring, whispers. Am I dreaming again?
It's dark and cold. I can hear a light snoring. Must be Joshie.
What a weird feeling, still can't move. Still see nothing. Snoring, nothing but snoring.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Morning." Joshie said with a smile as I opened my eyes.
"How long have you been watching me?" I asked with a grin as he snuggled into my chest.
"A while, you started shivering in your sleep." He said. "It was kinda cold so I hopped out of bed and turned the AC off."
"That explains it." I said with a stretch.
"Explains what?" Joshie asked, tilting his head.
"I've been having weird dreams lately, I thought the one I just had was another one of them. But I guess not." I continued with a grin as Joshie cuddled up to my side. "Mmmm, you're warm." I mumbled pulling him into a hug.
Joshie melted into my hug for a few minutes until a rumble from his stomach made us both laugh. "Are you hungry?" He asked with a grin.
"Sounds like you are." I replied, poking at his belly. "Why don't we get dressed and see about getting breakfast before we tackle this mess again."
"Okay." Josh said with a smile, planting a quick kiss on my cheek and giving me a smile before hopping out of bed. "You know, if we can get the kitchen cleaned up I can make eggs and stuff." He smiled as he opened his bag and pulled out a change of clothes.
"That'd be cool. Being able to make coffee would be nice too." I added as I sat up and stretched. "You gonna take a shower?"
"Nah, were just gonna get dirty. I'll take one after we finish today like yesterday." He said heading for the bathroom door. "Unless you are."
"Nope, coffee is the priority here." I smiled as I reached for my pants and pulled them on. "Not sure I wanna mess with Denny's again though." I said with a laugh. "There's a small diner down by where Mikey lives. Maybe we could stop there and check to see if Mikey can come out."
"That sounds cool." Joshie said with a mouth full of toothpaste. "If his dad is still there, do you think he'll let him come back over? He looked pretty mad yesterday."
"Good question." I answered pulling a shirt over my head. "Never even thought to get his phone number."
"You don't know it?" Joshie asked as he came out of the bathroom.
"I used to know it." I answered honestly. I mean come on, we're talking 23 years ago. The only phone number I remember from being a kid is the one we had when I was in kindergarten. That's only cause it was drilled into us.
"I should have asked him for it." Josh said sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling his jeans on.
"Not a problem. We can take a swing by and see what he has planned. Maybe he would like to go to the diner with us." I said earning a smile from Joshie as he tied his hair back into a pony tail.
Getting out of the car at Mikey's house, we were both greeted by Mikey's mother and grandmother, who really seemed relieved to see us. "Mike, oh thank god." Julie said getting up from her seat on the porch. "Have you seen Mikey?"
"No, we just came from home. He's missing?" I asked scratching my head.
"Yes." She replied. "He and his father had a... disagreement earlier. He took off about three hours ago and we can't find him." She said with concern.
"Have you called Dale's house?" I asked, knowing there were a few different places I used to go when Dad and I had one of those 'disagreements'.
"Yes, I tried there and his friend Freddy's house. He's not at any of the school yards or any place he usually goes. Anne is on her way with Dale now." She replied with tears welling up in her eyes.
"Is his father out looking for him?" I asked forcing myself not to roll my eyes.
"No." Julie replied flatly. "He had somewhere else to go."
"Well, I know he showed me a couple of places he does ride his bike that are kinda secluded." I replied looking at the car as I remembered my bike was still here in the basement. "Joshie, you stay here and wait for Dale and his mom to get here, I'm gonna grab my bike out of the basement and see if he's nearby." I said getting an appreciative nod from Julie. "Don't worry, I'll find him." I added before rounding the side of the house and rushing for the entrance to the basement.
About 15 minutes later, I found myself on a road that I remember walking or riding down at least twice a day when I was a kid. I thought back to the times my father would go off the handle, just because I was in his face. There were only two places I'd go where he never found me. Our old fort was okay unless I wanted to be alone.
Once I got to the rail road crossing, I took a right and rode along the tracks through the train yard. Sure it was an open area but, further down the line there was a bridge that was too far off to be seen from any of the roads. He's here, I just knew he had to be.
Just as I expected, there was Mikey sitting up against one of the supports for the bridge. As soon as he heard me coming he looked up and then seemed to slump his shoulders. "I should have known." He said drawing his knees up and resting his forehead on them.
I set the bike in the grass next to his and went to sit down next to him. "This is where I'd be." I said as I looked at the tracks in front of us. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" He asked, not allowing me to see his face.
"About that." I replied pointing at the penny he put on the tracks. "I had to be mad, depressed, sad or frightened to come down here and do that." I said remembering when I was really young finding a flattened penny near the tracks at my grandmother's house. Back then she told me to keep it, cause it brought good luck. Since then, anytime things looked hopeless or I was just upset about something; this is where I'd be. "What did he do?"
"Started yelling about my room again." He replied with a sniffle.
"That's normal." I said under my breath. "You cleaned it right?"
"Yeah." Mikey sniffled again. "Not fast enough though." He continued as he looked up at me, allowing me to see a bruise forming on the side of his face. "Then he just wouldn't stop."
I had no idea what to say. This was definitely not something that he was a stranger to. It seemed anytime he woke up in a bad mood he'd either pick a fight with me or my mom. Sometimes even Matt which meant either me or my mother would step into it. There never seemed to be a way to win. I reached into my pocket and looked through the change I had before picking out a penny. "1980" I said placing it on the track next to his.
"That's new. I had 1978." He said with a teary laugh as I sat back down next to him and wrapped my arm around his shoulder. "That's when I met Dale." He said resting his head on my shoulder.
"Good one." I replied and leaned against the concrete support. "But mine is the year I got to come back and see you guys." I replied getting a smile from Mikey. Oh yeah, not just any penny worked you know. The date had to stand for something. A memory, a person, a place... For years I had a collection of them. If you could still make out the date afterward, even if it was hard to see it was lucky and worth keeping. It was the small things that I made up that kept me going when I was a kid. When you don't have much going for you, you make it up along the way.
"Is he still home?" Mikey asked, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.
"No, Ma said he had somewhere else to go." I said, causing Mikey to giggle. "What?"
"You called her Ma." He said with an actual smile starting to show. "Is she ok? I mean in your time?"
"Oh yeah." I answered with a grin. "Still someone you don't wanna mess with." I added noticing the sound of a freight train off in the distance.
"Do you still come here?" He asked, sounding as if he was lost in thought.
"Nah, haven't had a reason to." I replied as the train got closer and louder. "You think they'll stay on?" I asked pointing at the pennies.
"Mine will." He replied with a grin. "I haven't..." He got out before I cut him off and finished the sentence.
"...lost one yet?" I grinned when he laughed. "You will." I added remembering the last time I came to this exact spot. The day my grandmother passed away. I remember picking out a 1977 to represent the year we moved into the house Mikey was in now because it was owned by her back then. It was weird thinking only a year ago for Mikey they had bought the two apartment buildings. Just a year; for me it may as well have been a lifetime ago.
"Told ya!" He shouted as the train got them both before knocking them off the track. "Two wheels, they should be good." He added making me smile.
"I forgot about that." I said remembering that the sooner they get knocked off, the better your chance is of being able to still read the year.
We watched in silence as the train continued on its way. The nearly hypnotic 'Click, Clack' of the large steel wheels hitting the seams in the rails, bringing my memories back to this time and place. Back when things should have been much simpler. This boy sitting next to me had been through more than I would ever like to see a child of nine years old ever have to live through. A simple prelude to things to come for him, a bitter memory for me.
After the train had passed, we both got up and searched out our prizes. A good luck charm formed out of a common every day item... if they were good that is.
"Found mine!" Mikey shouted as he looked it over. "Mike check out what it did." He yelled excitedly as he ran to where I was kicking through the gravel in search of my penny. "The date is wicked clear but, stretched out."
"Definitely a good one." I said before scratching my head and continuing to search.
"Can't find it?" Mikey said beginning to look around as well.
"No, and I could have sworn I saw where it landed." I replied before shrugging my shoulders. "I guess you get the luck today."
"Wanna try again?" He asked reaching into his pocket.
"No, we really should head back to your house. Your mother is really worried." I answered walking back to grab my bike. "Besides, Dale and Joshie will be there and worried as well."
"Ok." Mikey answered stuffing his penny in his pocket. "Did you and Joshie pick Dale up?"
"Nope, your mom called Dale's mom to see if you were there. You know how it works." I answered as Mikey hopped on his bike and we were off.
"Oh thank god." Julie said as we both came to a stop in front of the porch. "Dale and Joshua are with Anne, Mike. They decided to take a drive to see if they could spot you." She continued as she grabbed Mikey's face. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I just wanted to be alone for a while." Mikey replied, flinching when Julie touched the bruise on the side of his face. "It's ok. Just a bruise."
Julie simply shook her head in disgust before stepping back and sitting on the steps. "When the others get back I'm thinking about taking a ride to your grandparents house. Mike, are you taking the boys again tonight?" She asked in a hopeful tone. Reinforced by a now pleading look coming from Mikey.
"I can." I replied. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Mikey? You told him what happened?" Julie asked with a surprised expression.
"He knows mum." Mikey replied getting off his bike. "I didn't have to say anything." He continued reaching his hand out toward the handlebars of my bike. "Lemme take these down and put them away. Then I'll go get my stuff ready. Did Dale bring clothes and stuff?"
"I didn't ask Anne about another overnighter." She replied. "I'll talk to her when she gets back with the boys."
"Ok." Mikey replied as he walked both bikes into the yard.
"Mike, I didn't mean to assume you would take him again. You can say no." She said as I sat down next to her on the steps.
"Don't worry about it." I said with a smile. "Keeps me from getting bored really. They're all great kids."
"You're a saint." She said with a smile as Anne pulled up with the boys. "He's here!" Julie shouted.
"Oh thank god." Anne replied looking relieved as she put the car in park and all three got out.
"Hi Mike." Dale said with a smile. "Did you find him or did he come back on his own."
"I found him." I answered, standing up as he got closer and ruffling his hair. "He was just out blowing off some steam. He's upstairs if you guys wanna see what he's up to." I continued, causing the boys to rush around to the back entrance of the house.
"Anne, what did you and your husband have planned for today?" Julie asked as Anne sat down on the steps next to her.
"Nothing special." Anne replied. "We were probably just going to go out and catch a movie or something. Why? Would you like me to take Mikey for the night?"
"That, or I was going to see if the boys could go back up with Mike. He's been making sure they get to visit their friend Tommy since he's in the hospital." She said looking at me with a smile. "Besides, Mike says the dynamic duo adopted a third." She added with a laugh. "I just want to get the kids out of the house for the night to let things cool off between Kevin and Mikey. By tomorrow it'll all be forgotten."
"Forgotten? By who?" I asked before thinking, a little more forcefully than I would have liked as well.
"By his father." Julie replied, tilting her head with a quizzical expression on her face. "He really did tell you all that happened, didn't he?"
"No, but I've been in his shoes before." I replied honestly, hoping it would cover my slip up a little. "With the little bit that he did say, I figured it out for myself."
Anne sat and listened to the conversation before shaking her head in disgust. "Look it's none of my business but, if you ever need Chris to come over and talk to your husband, he will." She offered.
"Thanks Anne." Julie said before staring down the street blankly. "He's not as bad as he used to be though, this will blow over." She continued, seeming to snap out of her daze. "You think Dale would be interested in another night out?"
"I might be able to twist his arm." Anne giggled. "Mike, you up for another work out?"
"Oh please." I answered with a laugh. "I wore them out when they were up there."
"That's not normal." Julie said as the sound of all three rushing out of the house made us all smile. "So, this is more of a rematch then?"
"What is?" Mikey asked, causing Julie, Anne and myself to laugh out loud once again.
"Mike, being the sick man that he is thinks you guys are fun to be around so, we decided to test him and see if he can survive another night with you guys." She said as all three boys started to smile widely. "If he survives, then you guys have finally met your match."
"We're not that bad." Dale almost whined before looking at his mother. "I thought you and Dad wanted us to all go out tonight?"
"Your father and I still will." She said with a smile. "After a nice quiet dinner, followed by a nice quiet ride. When were done, we'll get to go to a nice quiet house and..." She managed to get out before Dale sighed and cut her off.
"I get it already." He laughed.
"Go have fun." She giggled and gave Dale a kiss on the top of his head. "He gets out of line Mike, you have my permission to hang him by the toes and torture him." She said to me with a laugh.
"MAAA!" Dale shouted in protest.
"Hanging by the toes? You'll have to show me that one." I said, ignoring the dirty looks Dale was now shooting in my direction. "I mean that sounds way better than just regular torture." I added getting a laugh from Julie and Anne.
"Adults." Mikey said with mock sarcasm before the boys all said goodbye to their mothers and then hopped in the car.
"Does Dale have everything he'll need for a sleepover?" I asked knowing full well Mikey already had it covered.
"I'm sure of it." Julie said as she stood up. "I still have your number if I need it Mike." She continued.
"Great, can you make sure Anne has it too, just in case she needs it?"
"Will do. Thanks for everything Mike." She said as she looked at Anne. "Come on up. I have some coffee on."
A few minutes later we were back on the road and aiming toward our almost forgotten destination. Well, almost forgotten by me that is.
"I'm starving." Joshie announced from the back seat where all three boys were huddled.
"I'm on it." I replied with a laugh. "Mikey, Dale? Have you two eaten yet?"
"Yeah." Dale replied.
"I have." Mikey added before they both looked at each other. "But we could have a snack or something." He added with a giggle as Dale nodded his head in agreement.
"Al's Diner sound ok?" I asked, knowing Mikey absolutely loved the small place and Dale had been there with them a few times before.
"Awesome." Mikey replied, giving me my answer. "Joshie, have you ever been there before?"
"No, is it good?" He asked as I chuckled and kept driving.
"The best." Dale replied, starting an extremely animated discussion in the back seat about the food and how cool looking the place was.
The boys were so into their discussion that they seemed surprised when I parked the car and turned it off. "We're here!" Mikey shouted. Causing all three to bail out of the car like rats on a sinking ship, leaving me still sitting in my seat, laughing.
"At least we'll get a table here sometime this year." I said out loud sarcastically as I locked up the car and slowly followed the direction the boys took to the entrance.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
To Be Continued...