Again, the physical aspects, as related to the effects
of a lightning strike, are based on a true story. The rest comes out of my head,
where you can lay the blame for any errors. Thank you to those who liked
One and thereby encouraged this sequel. I apologize for the mental torture in
this one. There will be one more part.
A Time to Remember
By D. Kelley
The young boy listened carefully as he approached the battered old house at the end of the lane. His footsteps began to drag although he didn't hear any of the angry sounds he usually did. He pushed his bangs out of his eyes as he reached the next-door neighbor's house, carefully avoiding the glance of the woman working on her yard. She just as carefully avoided his glance.
The boy knew that at best, he was invisible to most people. Some didn't like him because of who he was. Some didn't like him because of who his family was. And then there were the nice ones, the ones that didn't want to like him. He knew who they were. They always avoided his eyes. They didn't want to make contact.
There had been times in the past when he wanted to force people to really see him, to really look. Sometimes he felt like screaming at the top of his lungs, I'm here, look at me, help me! But he didn't. He knew what would happen. People saw what they wanted to see, believed what they wanted to believe, and absolutely no one wanted to get involved.
Besides, he knew what the repercussions of telling anyone would be. He had told his grandfather once, and there had been a huge fight. Now he never saw his grandfather any more. He didn't want any other people to disappear. So he kept quiet.
The thin boy forced himself to lift his feet, one after the other, up the steps to the porch he desperately wanted to run away from. As he came up the steps, he could see in through the front door. He halted abruptly.
The door was open and the screen door in place, so he could see in through the living room. His eye had been caught once he came high enough up the stairs to see into the kitchen. Then he felt his feet start moving again of their own accord, bringing him closer to a scene he absolutely did not want to see.
She was laying on the floor in the kitchen, and her face was turned to look directly out the screen door. He laid his hands on the door frame for a moment, pausing. Her usually brilliant green eyes seemed dull. They stared straight at him unwaveringly.
He saw his hands move of their own accord, slowly, as if he were swimming in cold water instead of baking in 90 degree mid-summer heat. His fingers curled around the handle of the screen door, and then he was inside, moving as silently as possible through the living room. He couldn't pull his eyes away; there was something so unnatural about her that he could not get his mind to accept, to understand. He looked up and down her torso, which was utterly still. Her chest was not moving. Her green eyes, which he had always thought so beautiful, were not blinking.
There was a cough from another room, and his heart seized up. Hide, he screamed at himself, but he was frozen in place, seeing the blood pooled on the floor. Run and hide!
Then a shadow fell across his face and he jumped, instinctively searching for an escape route.
* * *
Roy awakened to a sharp thud from the room beneath his bedroom, and he jolted to his feet instantly, knowing what it was. He heard Joanne sigh behind him, "Oh, no . . ." as he rushed out of their bedroom.
Roy ran down the stairs and across the living room to the guest room, where he heard another thud. He threw open the door. Johnny was on his knees by the dresser, having knocked over a nightstand and a lamp already, in addition to himself. Roy stopped a few feet away. He had learned over the past few nights not to get within arms' reach immediately.
"Johnny?" he called quietly, stepping farther back as Johnny's arms flailed suddenly. The frenzy of movement, away from Roy's voice, startled Roy as it always did. Johnny lost his balance again and went down on his side, practically crawling backwards.
"Johnny, it's me, Roy," Roy told his still-sleeping partner. "You're having a nightmare. You need to wake up, Johnny." He stepped a little closer, but still stayed out of reach.
Johnny swung his arms wildly, crying out in a language Roy had heard over the last few nights, but which he had never heard from Johnny while awake, as long as he had known him. He knew that it was a Native American language, but Johnny refused to discuss it, or any other aspect of his nightmares. Avoiding the issue wasn't helping; Roy had noted that Johnny was getting harder and harder to wake from these nightmares. And tomorrow Roy would be back on shift; he was worried about Joanne having to deal with this.
"Johnny!" he called again, louder. "You have to wake up now, Johnny." He moved as close as he dared. He'd been caught in the throat by a wildly swung fist with the first nightmare, and had nearly choked for a moment from the pain. He still had the bruise. "Johnny!" he shouted firmly, accepting that he was probably going to wake his own kids. "Johnny, you're having a nightmare! You need to wake up now!"
Johnny collapsed in a heap without warning, and Roy cast an uneasy glance at the doorway where Joanne was hanging back. "Johnny?" Roy asked.
He could hear his friend panting beneath the arms he'd wrapped around his head. Roy could just make out the faint whisper in the catching voice, and he realized Johnny was still speaking Native American, repeating the same phrase over and over.
"Johnny?" Roy asked again, venturing a little closer. He reached out and put his hand cautiously on Johnny's arm. "Johnny, are you awake?"
The chant stopped, and the arms lowered. "Roy?" Johnny looked up at him in confusion, and then looked away in embarrassment as he realized he must have had another nightmare. He struggled to gain his balance and sit up.
Roy helped the young man get to his feet, and hovered as Johnny walked back to the bed. "Sorry," he mumbled as he got under the covers.
Roy righted the nightstand and lamp, which fortunately, wasn't broken. He pulled up a chair next to the bed and looked up as Joanne approached him with a glass of water. "I'll be upstairs," she told the men. "Goodnight." She kissed Roy on the top of his head.
Roy handed the water to Johnny, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. He sipped the water, not meeting Roy's eyes.
"We have to talk about this," Roy told him.
Johnny set the glass on the nightstand carefully. He had to consider all his movements carefully now, Roy knew, because his coordination and balance were still recovering from the lightning strike. Roy also knew it frustrated Johnny to no end to have to be so meticulously careful. He was used to practically bouncing off walls with endless energy. Now he had to think before every movement, and he tired easily. When he moved quickly, as he did trying to escape these recent nightmares, he would fall. His balance and coordination had improved greatly over the past three weeks he'd spent at Roy's house, but Roy knew that it was still incredibly frustrating to his physically-oriented partner. Johnny wasn't accustomed to being overly cautious about anything, especially not about something he'd learned, like most young men, to take for granted, his physical capabilities.
"There's nothing to talk about," Johnny replied softly.
These nightmares couldn't come at a worse time, Roy thought. Johnny was already depressed and frustrated, trying to recover his own life. Although the doctors promised he would likely return to 100%, Johnny mourned his independence. He loved Roy and Roy's family, but he hated needing someone looking after him. He couldn't take walks by himself, requiring someone to 'spot' him in case he lost his balance. He required even more assistance if he tried to walk on uneven ground, even a sidewalk with an incline. And he had to keep walking, exercising, in order to recover his balance. The loss of simple physical independence was already galling to someone like Johnny, Roy knew, remembering all the times Johnny had thrown himself into whatever physical task he had at hand, without thought, and usually come through with no problem. To have to deal with these nightmares on top of everything else just didn't seem fair.
"They're getting worse," Roy told him. "I have a shift tomorrow, Johnny. What is Joanne going to do?"
Johnny's cheeks were flushing. He glared sullenly at the opposite wall. "I could go to my apartment--"
Roy shook his head violently. "We've been all through that," he insisted. "I know your balance is better, Johnny, but you still fall!"
"I'll wear the bike stuff," Johnny protested. The doctors had him riding Roy's bike in the back yard as much as he could, and had presented him with a motorcycle helmet, knee pads and elbow pads for falls. The grass helped too. "I'll wear it in the apartment," Johnny promised.
Roy shook his head again. "You can't wear that stuff 24 hours a day," he replied, feeling like he was talking to one of his kids. "You'd get sick of it and take it off, anyone would. And even if you didn't, you get too tired to be alone. You wouldn't take care of yourself." Roy didn't add that he thought left alone, Johnny would be too depressed to take care of himself. Roy immodestly credited his own children with part of the reason Johnny kept going. His partner adored Roy's kids and they adored their 'Uncle Johnny.' Johnny made extra efforts to be cheerful when they were around.
"I would," Johnny muttered.
"And what about the nightmares?" Roy asked him. "If someone doesn't wake you up, what happens then? Do you try to go outside? Or worse, do you go out on your balcony and fall off?"
"I wouldn't do that." Roy could hear the uncertainty in the mumbled response.
"Johnny," he said gently, "I want you to be back to normal too, and you will be, but you have to accept your limitations until then."
"Fine." Johnny closed his eyes.
"Uh-uh," Roy corrected, leaning closer. "This conversation's not over." He rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. "You have to do something about these nightmares," he told Johnny firmly. "If you don't want to talk to me, that's okay, but you have to talk to someone."
Johnny crossed his arms. "I can't talk about them, Roy. I can't talk about what I don't remember. As soon as I wake up, they're gone."
"You don't want to remember," Roy corrected, knowing exactly how true that statement was. He and Dr. Brackett had discussed this newest development, Johnny's nightmares, earlier that day. Both men felt Johnny's nightmares were the combined result of the memories that had been stirred up when Johnny was in the hospital, and Johnny's growing frustration and depression.
Johnny opened his eyes and looked straight at Roy challengingly. "Roy, do you remember every nightmare you ever had?"
Roy sighed. "This isn't one nightmare, Johnny. Tonight makes three nights in a row, plus some during the day when you lay down." The family had learned very quickly not to use the word 'nap.' Johnny's quick fatigue called for frequent rests, but he would fight it if the word 'nap' was used. Joanne had hit upon calling it 'laying down.' She said she'd used it with Chris when he was little.
"You'll only be gone 24 hours," Johnny reasoned. "I can stay awake that long, Roy."
No, you can't, Johnny, Roy thought, considering his words. "You need your sleep," Roy replied. "You can't pull an all-nighter every time I work for the next week."
There was a dark scowl at the indirect reminder that Johnny had ear surgery scheduled for next week. Roy winced. They'd had an unspoken agreement of sorts not to mention the upcoming surgery to replace the ear drum that had been blown out by lightning. Johnny was dreading the event, especially after learning all that was entailed. His ear would be essentially detached from his head on three edges, leaving only the skin at his face untouched. Then it would be folded out of the way, and muscle and tissue removed from the back of his jawline would be sliced out in order to allow the otolaryngology surgeons to create a new eardrum for him. Although there would eventually be no scars and he'd recover nearly all hearing, the utterly gruesome-sounding procedure had Johnny reluctant to return to the hospital as a patient. He was especially dismayed to hear that what balance he had recovered would experience a temporary set-back due to the surgery.
"What do you want, Roy?" Johnny asked wearily. "I don't know what you want me to do." He lay back against the pillows, eyes still shut, clearly worn out, as he had been after each nightmare so far. Roy wished for the thousandth time that he could undo the past, particularly the moment when he'd asked Johnny for a ride on Memorial Day.
"I wish I knew what to say," he told Johnny delicately. "I wish I knew the right words to make you feel better, Johnny. But I don't, I really don't. That's why you have got to talk to someone else."
"A shrink," Johnny whispered.
Roy nodded, then realized Johnny couldn't see a nod with his eyes shut. "A counselor," he corrected. "Dr. Brackett said he could arrange--"
"You told him," Johnny accused, eyes still shut. He didn't seem surprised.
"Yes, I told him." Roy agreed. "It's interfering with your sleep and wearing you out. And I don't like seeing you upset," he defended himself. "So sue me."
Johnny sighed. "Counseling'll go in my file," he said.
Roy smiled, glad Johnny wasn't looking. He'd see that Roy knew Johnny had just given in. "Not the details," he answered. "And do you know how many guys in the department have had counseling? Heck, if you haven't, you're one of the few, then. You know HQ's always pushing it at us." That was true; firefighters and paramedics led hazardous lives and dealt with stressful situations on a regular basis.
Johnny finally opened his eyes. "This is different," he said grudgingly. "This is personal."
"They won't know that," Roy shrugged. "The counselors are there for everything. It's in the Department's best interest to keep us healthy in every way they can, right? And they know that."
Johnny chewed on his lower lip, closing his eyes again. "I'm not doing too well, am I, Roy?" he asked quietly.
Roy's jaw dropped. "Johnny, you're doing great! Gee whiz, give yourself a break! You were almost killed--no, you were killed, brought back to life, survived when none of the doctors thought you would, and against all the odds, the indications are that you're going to come back 100% from this. You just gotta give yourself some time, buddy, and take advantage of help when you need it."
Johnny opened troubled eyes. "Do you really think I'm gonna be okay? 'Cause after the first 20 falls of the day, I have to tell you, I start to lose the faith."
Roy smiled. "I know," he nodded. "If it was me, I probably wouldn't have gotten as far as you have. You've always been the one with all the enthusiasm."
"It's so hard," Johnny confessed, admitting it out loud for the first time. "I feel like an old man."
"You're doing great," Roy repeated. "You're getting better all the time. The only one who doesn't see that is you. Don't you remember when you were discharged? Just walking from the car to the guest room wore you completely out. You fell asleep for hours. Remember? You're a lot better than that now. You've got to be more patient. You've only been out of the hospital three weeks."
"And I'll be back there in a week," Johnny said bitterly, bringing up the subject himself this time.
"It's gotta be done," Roy said warningly. "You want full hearing, don't you? Now quit changing the subject, Johnny. Dr. Brackett said he could get you an appointment tomorrow. Will you let Joanne take you?"
Johnny grimaced. "All right," he acquiesced. "But I don't know what I'm going to talk about. I don't remember what happens in the nightmares."
"Let the doctor worry about that," Roy advised him. "Now, I'm going to try and get a little more sleep before my shift. You okay?"
"Just peachy," Johnny answered sarcastically, eyes shut again.
Roy stood up and took the glass off the nightstand. "You want any more water? I'm taking the glass with me." Leaving glasses of fluid unattended near Johnny with his current coordination status had proven in the past to be a bad idea.
Roy laughed. "Watch it, Junior." He left Johnny's room feeling a little bit more hopeful about going to work tomorrow.
* * *
Joanne winced, watching surreptitiously out the back yard
window, as Johnny fell off the bike he was riding, into the grass. With slow but
definitely angry motions, Johnny picked himself up off the ground and then
picked up the bike, standing it up. Joanne expected Roy's tenacious friend to
get back on again as usual, but instead Johnny sat back down on the ground,
heavily. Joanne fought the urge to go outside as she saw Johnny's bowed head.
The doctors had told them that riding a bike was good practice for getting his
balance back, and Johnny was determined to recover fully. However, over the past
three weeks that he'd spent recovering at the DeSoto house, they had seen him
fall off that bike scores of times, and Joanne knew Johnny didn't appreciate an
Chris ran down the stairs to the living room, pulling Joanne's attention from the window, and she reached out to catch her son as the boy jumped off the lower landing. "I've told you not to do that, young man," she reproved, setting Chris steadily on his feet. "Now, please go out and tell Uncle Johnny it's been an hour. And put the bike away, please," she added in a soft voice, knowing that Chris would understand he was to do it so that Johnny would not attempt it. Joanne and Roy had been a little surprised at how both Chris and Jennifer seemed to understand the situation and were very good with Johnny.
"Okay," Chris answered cheerfully, and yanked the sliding glass door to the patio open. Joanne pulled back so that Johnny wouldn't know she had been watching. She headed into the kitchen.
A couple of minutes later, Johnny joined her. He sat down at the first available chair.
"Tired?" Joanne asked innocently, picking up a head of lettuce and a knife.
Johnny rolled his eyes. "I know you were watching, Jo."
"Hey, I've been in here getting lunch," Joanne fibbed, smiling, knowing she'd been caught. She started chopping lettuce. "You were out there for a good hour. That's a record," she said encouragingly.
"A record of how many times a man can fall down in 60 minutes," Johnny agreed.
Joanne came around the counter and patted his hand. "Why don't you go lie down until lunch?" she suggested, noting the obvious fatigue on Johnny's face. "You'll feel a lot better then."
Johnny stared at her unblinkingly and then nodded slowly. "Did Roy call about the appointment?" he asked quietly.
Joanne was surprised he broached the topic himself. "It's at 4:30," she answered. Johnny nodded and gathered his balance around him, getting carefully to his feet. He headed out to the guest room.
He's getting so depressed, Joanne thought, returning to lunch preparations. And these nightmares aren't helping any. The day before yesterday, she had been the one to find Johnny at the end of one of the nightmares; he had fallen asleep on the couch, and she had walked in to find him gasping for air and sweating as if he'd run a marathon. Before she could call for Roy, Johnny had lurched to his feet and attempted to go somewhere, but in his nightmare-induced state of disorientation, he didn't get far before his lack of balance worked against him. Hearing the loud thud he'd made falling, Roy had run in from the kitchen and set about waking Johnny up.
Joanne said a silent prayer that the counselor would be able to help Johnny. Dr. Brackett had told Roy the man was top-notch in emotional trauma. Brackett had called in a favor to get Johnny in so quickly. Joanne hoped he was as good as Brackett thought.
* * *
The blows fell so heavily, and the words fell hard too,
telling him how worthless he was and how everything was his fault. It was his
fault they lived in a dump. His fault she'd had to find a job. His fault the man
drank. Even the blows were his fault. The man wouldn't have to hurt anyone if it
wasn't for him.
And the boy knew, deep down through the pain in his bones, that it was all true. If your own father didn't love you, then you simply were unworthy of being loved. That was a fact of life he'd learned all too well.
The boy curled up in a ball, one arm up over his eyes to shield his face, the other laying weakly over his ribs. It wouldn't help. It never did. He kept his eyes tightly shut despite the slow realization that the blows had finally stopped. He didn't dare open his eyes to see if the man was gone. If it was noticed, the blows would begin again.
* * *
Joanne hung up the phone as Roy got toned out on a call. She'd hated having to call and tell him that as far as she could tell, Johnny's session hadn't gone well. She'd gotten the impression from the remarks of the doctor as they were leaving that Johnny hadn't opened up much. She knew Roy had been hoping for a quick fix to Johnny's nightmare problem, and now she had to tell him that it didn't look like it had happened. She knew her husband would worry that much more now.
She wasn't surprised, then, after sending the kids off to a friend's for a backyard campout, to see a car pull into the driveway and Dixie McCall get out. Joanne smiled and opened the door wide. "Come on in," she invited, partly in relief. It would be good to have someone to talk to, if nothing else.
Dixie handed over a bottle she'd picked up on the way. "This is an apology for not calling first," she told Joanne, who immediately tried to give the bottle back.
"Dixie, I know Roy probably asked you to come over--"
"He did not!" Dixie protested. "We just talked, and I thought I'd come over and visit."
Joanne nodded in mock-skepticism. "And he told you how worried he was."
Dixie laughed. "He didn't have to tell me," she admitted. "Roy's very good at worrying."
"You're telling me," Joanne grinned, leading the way into the kitchen. "I was just about to get Johnny. Will you join us for a late dinner?"
Dixie looked pleased that they were eating late; she'd left the hospital late herself and hadn't been home yet. "Well, I don't mind if I do," she smiled. "How can I help?"
Joanne pointed at a cupboard. "Why don't you get out some of the good glasses for the wine while I go wake up Johnny?" The outing and its emotional nature had taken its toll on Johnny's reserves, so she'd had him 'lay down' for a while. Joanne left Dixie in the kitchen and crossed the living room to the guest room.
Dixie had just gotten the cap off the bottle when she heard Joanne call her, tensely. Dixie ran out across the living room. Joanne stood in the doorway of the guest room. Dixie came up behind her. Johnny lay on the floor beside the bed, curled up in a ball and whispering in a language Dixie didn't recognize. "Don't get too close," Joanne cautioned, as both women entered the room. Johnny's actions explained that warning to Dixie as he swung his arm out at the sound.
"Johnny," Joanne called, kneeling out of reach. "Johnny, come on, now, it's time to wake up."
Dixie knelt as well. The paramedic showed no signs of understanding them. He batted at the air wildly as if trying to knock someone away from him. "Johnny!" Dixie called in her best no-nonsense voice. "Johnny Gage, you wake up right now! You're having a nightmare!"
Johnny paused in his whispered chant, and his arm came down. He hugged his chest tightly, curled up on his side. "Dixie," he whispered, eyes still shut.
Dixie moved in cautiously. "Yes, Johnny, it's me," she answered. "Are you awake?"
Johnny said something to her urgently, but he said it in Native American, and Dixie didn't understand.
She laid a hand on his back and rubbed it soothingly. "You have to speak English," she told him.
Johnny's eyes opened and focused on Dixie. Later, both women would agree that his eyes had seemed like the eyes of a stranger. "You have to hide," he whispered to Dixie.
"Hide?" Dixie asked. "From what, Johnny?"
He glanced around them in obvious fear. "You have to hide," he repeated, curling in upon himself even more tightly.
Dixie rubbed Johnny's back in wide circles. "Sweetheart, what are you hiding from?"
"He'll find me," Johnny choked on a sob. "He'll find me, he will, he always does."
Johnny's eyes focused intently on Dixie again. "She's. Not. Moving," he intoned carefully. "She can't see me." He looked at her pleadingly, as if she could change things.
Dixie felt her heart in her throat. "What did he do to her?" she asked quietly.
Johnny shut his eyes. "I don't want to look. There's blood all over the floor, Dixie." He stated it in a calm tone of voice, but tears squeezed past his closed eyelids.
Dixie moved in closer and gathered Johnny up in her arms. She rocked him as he cried. Dixie looked across his back, and saw that Joanne was crying too.
* * *
After Johnny drifted back into normal sleep, the two women
lifted him into bed, and then went out to the kitchen. Joanne debated calling
Roy, but opted not to, knowing he didn't need more reason to worry at the
moment. And as Dixie pointed out, there was nothing he could do from the Station
Joanne poured herself a third glass of wine. She reflected, staring into the tumbler's contents, that drinking that much on a nearly empty stomach probably wasn't a good idea. But neither she nor Dixie had wanted dinner any more. They sat at the kitchen table drinking Dixie's wine and picking at a bowl of pretzels.
"He saw somebody die," Joanne said, bringing up the matter they had been avoiding since they sat down. Joanne set her glass down. She was feeling a buzz, but none of the usual giddiness she usually felt. If anything, she was more depressed.
"He's seen lots of people die," Dixie observed, playing Devil's Advocate. She was working on her second glass of the night, slowly, since she still had to drive home.
Joanne shook her head. "He was speaking Indian," she said. "So it happened in Montana."
"We don't know that."
Joanne ignored the nurse. "And he left Montana when he was 17," she mused. "So it happened when he was a kid."
Dixie put aside her glass, done drinking for the night. "He never talks about Montana," she told Joanne.
"Roy told me he talked about it at the Station once," Joanne remembered. "Chet Kelly was teasing him about being Indian, and Johnny told him a couple of things about the reservation. And Johnny told Roy once that he lived with his aunt on her ranch. But that's all we know. A ranch, on a reservation," she declared.
"I knew he had an aunt," Dixie agreed. "Lily Gage. She died a few years back. I only know that because Johnny changed his next of kin to Roy."
Joanne nodded. "We're all he's got," she hiccuped. She pushed away her glass. "Guess that's enough for me."
Dixie pushed her glass farther away too. "He's been going through this every night?" she asked Joanne.
Joanne nodded and leaned on her elbows. "Four nights in a row now. Plus sometimes during the day. And it's worse each time." She leaned closer. "Dixie, you know, there's something I never told Roy."
Joanne looked out the window at the back yard. "The first time Roy ever had Johnny over, the first time the kids and I met him, we had a barbecue. At one point, Johnny and I were on the deck, and Roy was in the yard roughhousing with the kids."
Joanne looked back at Dixie. "Chris got the better of Roy, somehow--usually Roy lets him," she smiled anxiously. Dixie nodded.
"Well," Joanne went on, "Roy and the kids, they have this little routine, you know, where they do something, and he pretends to get all angry about it, and tells them he's going to 'beat' them. He chases them, and when he catches them, he tickles. That's what Roy means by it, and the kids know." She shrugged. "Maybe it's a little weird," she admitted, "but the kids love it, and it is pretty funny to watch. Anyway, I think Chris splashed Roy from the kiddie pool, and Roy yells out, 'That's it! Christopher DeSoto, I am going to have to beat you!' And he starts chasing Chris and Jenny around the yard like a big monster."
Dixie nodded again, grinning as she pictured mild-mannered Roy DeSoto playing the big, bad monster.
Joanne smiled. "It was obvious pretty quickly that it was a game, but--" she pursed her lips and looked out onto the dark deck again. "Johnny was in my line of sight just as Roy yelled it out. And he did sound pretty fierce--he only sounds fierce when he's playing that game--and, Dixie? I swear, Johnny flinched, and for a second there, he was as white as a ghost. He recovered real fast, but--" Joanne shook her head. "I swear, I saw it. I never told Roy because I didn't know what it meant. But I've been looking at that incident in a whole different light since Johnny was in the hospital."
Dixie nodded sadly. "I know what you mean," she agreed. "Johnny said some things in the hospital that have me worried too."
"Roy was really hoping this new doctor could help," Joanne told her. "But Johnny told Roy he doesn't even remember what happens in the nightmares. How can the guy help him if Johnny can't remember?"
"I think he doesn't want to remember," Dixie observed. "I can't say I blame him."
"But he can't keep on like this," Joanne protested. "He's gotten more tense with every passing day. In the hospital, Dr. Brackett said Johnny's condition improved by leaps and bounds once he calmed down. It's the same thing here, only in reverse. He hasn't made much progress with his balance over the past few days, and I know it's because he's got this cloud looming over his head. He's so wary, Dixie, like he's expecting somebody to jump out of nowhere and attack him."
"I think you're right," Dixie agreed. "I'm going to have a talk with Kel tomorrow. Maybe he can think of something."
Joanne nodded glumly. "I hope so."
* * *
Roy didn't think he'd ever dressed so quickly before. He had a bad feeling about the previous night, and what might have happened at home, even though Joanne hadn't called back about any problems. He knew she was perfectly capable of handling what came her way, but it didn't make him feel any less guilty. Despite the fact that he left her alone with the kids for sometimes days at a time, he just felt very nervous about leaving her with Johnny when he was in one of these nightmares.
Why does everything have to happen to him? Roy wondered. There were times he thought his partner was cosmically cursed. There were other times when he thought Johnny had to be the luckiest guy in the universe--or the world's greatest survivor. Any other man would have been dead ten times over by now.
Roy slammed his locker and headed for the door, pulling up short as Chet Kelly came in the locker room. "In kind of a hurry there, aren't you, pal?" the Irishman teased.
"Yes, Chet." Roy sidestepped the firefighter, but Chet blocked his way again.
"Wait, Roy," Kelly bit on the inside of his cheek and looked at the floor. "I--uh--I was wondering if I could come over today? You know, visit--" He stopped just short of saying it.
Roy grinned and crossed his arms. "Visit?" he prompted. "Visit me? Visit my kids? Not my wife, I hope."
"Ha, ha," Kelly said flatly, biting the bullet. "Visit Johnny."
"Better check him for water bombs," Mike suggested dryly, coming in through the open door.
Marco followed him, and had picked up the gist of the conversation. "And itching powder," he added.
"Hey!" Kelly protested with all the innocence of a saint. "The Phantom would never take advantage of a wounded pigeon!"
Hank Stanley stepped in the locker room, looking for the rest of the crew. "What was that?" he asked, looking stunned. He jerked a thumb at Kelly, scanning the other men's faces. "Did I just hear what I thought I heard, coming from the man who put Gage's hand in a bowl of warm water while he lay sleeping in a hospital bed, only just recovered from that virus?"
"I only did it 'cause I knew it wouldn't work," Kelly protested lamely. "I wanted to scare him."
Marco snorted. "Yeah, right, Chet. Just like you knew he wouldn't jump a mile when you rigged his wheelchair to give off a shock, when the poor guy already had a headache from a concussion."
"Or when he broke his leg and you put itching powder down his cast," Mike put in. "Personally, I would have killed you for that."
"Dr. Brackett had to take off the cast and put on a new one," Roy remembered. "You're lucky Johnny didn't rat on you."
"I know," Kelly nodded solemnly. "That's why I wouldn't do anything to him today, honest. I just want to visit!"
Roy exchanged glances with the other men, amused. He reached out and spun the Irishman against the wall, frisking him, as the other men snickered. "Hey!"
"Where's your car?" Roy demanded, letting him go. He turned on his heel before the surprised Kelly had time to answer. "Never mind, I'll check it myself."
They all followed him out, having a good laugh at Chet's expense for once. They laughed harder when they saw Roy checking out Chet's car for real. Stanley thought the look on the Irishman's face was priceless.
"Nice to be so trusted by a guy's best buddies," Kelly pouted.
Stanley laughed and slapped his shoulders. "You brought it on yourself, Chet." He looked up at Roy. "So what's the verdict? You want company for a little while? I was hoping to visit Johnny soon myself."
Mike and Marco agreed quickly.
Roy nodded, hoping Johnny had had a good night's sleep for once. "Sure," he told them. "But I gotta warn you, he's been kind of down lately."
"He's entitled," Mike added.
"Who could blame him?" Marco said feelingly. "We'll cheer him up."
"Well, I'm just letting you know," Roy warned them. "Let me call Joanne and we can head on over." He headed back into the Station, hoping Joanne wouldn't mind. She usually didn't. The guys from 51 were like Roy's family, and Joanne's own brothers and sisters lived scattered in other states, so she had grown close to 51's crew as well.
* * *
Despite looking unusually pale and weary, having the guys over looked like it was doing Johnny good. He laughed with the rest of the guys, and Roy was glad to hear it.
"Hey, what is this, Pick on Chet Kelly Day?" Kelly complained, having been zinged well by Johnny for once.
Joanne took the last of the breakfast dishes from Marco and Mike, and then patted Kelly on the head. "That's right," she said cheerfully. "Didn't you check your calendar today, dear?" The guys snickered and Kelly squirmed.
"Fine lot of thanks this is, reign in the Phantom and what do I get? Grief, grief, grief." He put on his best mock-wounded face.
"You didn't reign in the Phantom, Roy did," Mike stated.
Roy smiled at Johnny's questioning look. Stanley gestured at Roy with his fork. "You should have seen him, John, he actually frisked Chet! Then he went and checked out Kelly's car." He chuckled, clearly tickled.
Johnny gaped at Roy. "My hero," he said melodramatically. The men laughed again.
Joanne pulled up a chair next to Roy. "He's something, isn't he?" she leaned on Roy's shoulder, giggling.
Kelly was shaking his head. "Man, I am going to remember this, you guys," he said warningly.
"Uh-oh," Marco replied. "Come on, Chet, we're only teasing."
A little voice spoke up righteously from the doorway. "Right, Uncle Chet, that's what you said you were doing to Uncle Johnny last time you were here. You said he shouldn't get mad 'cause you were just teasin'."
They all turned to greet Jennifer, still in her PJs. "That's right," Stanley agreed conspicuously. "Come on over here, kiddo."
Jenny took a seat on Stanley's lap without hesitation. Stanley had four grown boys, and everyone knew how much he'd missed having a daughter. Jenny turned promptly to her favorite uncle. "Uncle Johnny, did you go back to sleep like I told you?"
Johnny winced, and Roy and Joanne both leaned forward. "What?"
"Uncle Johnny stayed up late last night," the six-year-old informed them. "I told him he should go to bed."
Everyone turned to Johnny, who fidgeted. "I--ah, I woke up around 11, and couldn't go back to sleep. I watched TV."
Jennifer nodded solemnly. "I heard him. I told him, 'Uncle Johnny, one show and then you get yourself right to bed.' That's what you say, right, mom?"
Joanne nodded, smiling grimly. "Is that what you did, Johnny?" she arched an eyebrow at him.
Johnny grimaced and gave a little shrug. "More or less," he hedged, not meeting her eyes.
He's such an amateur when it comes to lying, Kelly laughed to himself. He hummed his impression of a funeral march, enjoying the tables turning.
"You need to get your sleep, pal," Stanley told him, concerned. Jennifer nodded, face very serious.
Joanne rose and picked Jennifer up, setting her on her feet. "Go get dressed now," she instructed. She turned back once Jenny was gone, and put her hands on her hips. "Johnny," she began ominously.
Mike and Marco got to their feet simultaneously. "I think that's our cue," Marco smiled. "John, it's good seeing you--you're looking good, pal."
Stanley joined them. "Yeah, same here, Johnny--you take care of yourself."
Johnny sighed. "I will, Cap, thanks."
Roy got up to walk the men out. He paused next to the smirking Kelly. "Well?"
Kelly looked up from the table. "Well, what?" he asked innocently.
Roy smiled patiently. "Don't you have someplace you need to be running along to?"
Kelly crossed his arms. "I was thinking I'd stay and keep Johnny company a while lon--" he stopped as Roy squeezed the back of his neck. "Or I could be going," he surrendered. "Gage, get some sun. Geez, I'm going, I'm going, Roy," he protested, ducking so his neck slipped out of Roy's grip. He noticed Johnny grinning and let loose one parting shot. "Laugh it up while you can, skinny boy. The Phantom awaits!"
Roy closed the door on him and turned around.
Johnny's grin faded. "I didn't want to have another nightmare," he protested. "One a day is more than enough!"
Roy glanced at Joanne as he returned to the table, and she nodded, confirming that Johnny had already had one nightmare yesterday.
"You need your sleep," Roy stated firmly. "How long did you stay up?"
Johnny's eyes fell again. "I just watched a few shows," he shrugged.
"How many?" Joanne asked pointedly.
Johnny cleared his throat and pulled at his collar. Then he looked up at them. "All right, I stayed up all night."
"Johnny!" Joanne exclaimed in dismay. No wonder he looked even worse than usual. She had thought it was the lingering effects of the last nightmare.
Roy shook his head. "Didn't we talk about this?" he asked. "Johnny, you need your sleep."
Johnny leaned forward on his elbows and cupped his face. "I don't need what comes with it," he muttered.
Roy nodded decisively. "All right. You are going to go get some sleep," he told Johnny firmly. "Then we're going back to see Dr. Nathan."
Johnny stood up, too quickly, but caught himself on the table as he started to fall. "I'm not your kid, Roy," he said angrily. "I can decide for myself what I want to do and when I want to do it."
Roy opened his mouth, but closed it as Joanne laid a hand on his forearm.
Johnny moved away, again too quickly, and had to brace himself against the wall. It made him that much more angry. "You treat me like a little kid!" he exploded. "I'm so sick of all of this. I have to walk, but I can't stay on my own two feet! I have to ride that damn bike, and all I ever do is fall off of it! I have to sleep, but I keep having these--these--" his breath caught, and he got even angrier, "stupid nightmares where I can't even wake up and I hurt myself in my sleep! And now you want me to talk to some complete stranger about something I don't even remember! And you're right--I don't want to remember!" Anger and frustration took over completely and Johnny desperately wanted to leave the room. It overpowered the caution he needed to take in keeping his balance, and he slipped, stumbling to his knees against the kitchen wall. He sat down heavily, face averted.
Roy saw Joanne tearing up. He patted her shoulder once, and then got up slowly. He walked over to where Johnny sat and lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the floor. He inclined his head to catch Johnny's gaze. The dark eyes were bright, and Johnny wiped at them clumsily.
Nobody said anything for a few minutes. Roy heard Joanne grab a napkin. He saw Johnny take a deep breath and lean his head back against the wall to stare at the ceiling.
"Why did this have to happen?" Johnny asked quietly. "I just wish I knew why this stuff always has to happen to me."
"I don't know the answer to that," Roy told him.
Johnny sighed and nodded. His gaze came down slowly. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Roy smiled. "No problem," he shrugged. "I'm sorry I acted like a Dad."
Johnny wiped at his eyes again and smiled ruefully. "The twisted part is, I like the way you act," he confessed. "You care. I've just been in a bad mood lately. I didn't mean what I said."
Joanne knelt behind Roy and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "He knows," she told Johnny knowingly. "He is a Dad, after all."
Johnny pulled up his legs and leaned his chin on his knees. "Not my Dad," he said hesitantly. "Roy, I think--" he bit his lower lip and released it. "I think the nightmares are about my Dad," he said softly.
Roy nodded, not taking his eyes off Johnny.
"Remember once I said that--that I was a dumb kid?" Johnny asked. Roy nodded again.
"That's 'cause I don't remember much from before I was 11. The first ten years of my life--I just don't remember most of it."
Roy watched as Johnny looked up through his lashes. "That's not dumb," Roy told him. "I've been reading some stuff about it lately, since you were in the hospital. It's called repressed memories."
Johnny shook his head. "It has nothing to do with the lightning. I didn't remember before, either."
"I know," Roy agreed. "But the lightning shook up your memory, Johnny. You said some things, while you were in the hospital." Johnny looked at him curiously. "You sounded like someone had hurt you, back when you lived in Montana."
Johnny surprised both Roy and Joanne with a short laugh. "Heck, Roy, I'm half-Indian and half-White. I got hurt almost every time I left the ranch." He took the arm Roy offered and carefully got to his feet. They all moved back to the table.
Roy looked across the table at Johnny soberly. "I don't think that's what you were talking about," Roy told his friend. It was so difficult to put into words. "You didn't come right out and say it, but I got the impression it was a parent who had hurt you."
"Do you remember your mother?" Joanne asked.
"I don't remember much of any--" Johnny shook his head. "No, I--I do remember green eyes. Very pretty green eyes." He shivered. "I don't want to talk about this any more," he said abruptly.
Roy nodded. "Okay. Well, at the risk of sounding paternal, why don't you go lay down for a while? I'll be in the living room and I'll wake you up if I hear the slightest sound. How 'bout it?" He made his tone say just a suggestion as much as he could. Johnny gave him a crooked smile. An apologetic crooked smile.
* * *
Dr. Nathan had both men in at first, deciding that he wanted to hear what Roy knew, and he wanted Johnny to hear it too. Roy found relaying the scene in the hospital, and what he knew from Dixie, much more difficult than he had thought it would be. It wasn't an easy thing to face, and he understood how much more difficult it was for Johnny. Then Dr. Nathan brought up the subject of recovering the lost memories.
Johnny looked decidedly uncomfortable. He had crossed his ankle over his knee, crossed his arms on his chest, and alternated biting his lower lip with chewing the inside of his cheek. Dr. Nathan found his body language classic. All Johnny needed was a sign around his neck stating, I do not want to talk about this.
"I don't understand why it's so important," Johnny declared, a note of dread in his voice. "I mean, there must have been a reason I forgot everything."
Nathan nodded. "Yes, just as there's a reason why your unconscious wants you to remember now."
"That was just the lightning," Johnny retorted.
"I don't think so." Nathan disagreed. "You went a good few weeks between the time you first thought you were back in Montana, and the onset of these nightmares. Now, if you'd had the nightmares immediately, I might be tempted to agree with you. But the fact that these nightmares are only now beginning to return, coincident with your rising stress level, tells me that subconsciously, you want to deal with this issue."
Roy could have faulted the logic, but he had the same goal in mind; he thought Johnny needed to confront the issue. He kept quiet.
Johnny shook his head. "I don't, I really don't."
"This isn't going to go away, Johnny," Roy told him. "The nightmares aren't going away, and you've even remembered a little on your own. You remembered enough to think it's something to do with your father. I think the doctor's right; you've got to work through this."
Johnny looked very uncertain.
Nathan closed the file and set it aside. "Johnny," he said gently, "It's like I told you yesterday. You don't have to do this. You don't have to talk to me; you don't have to find out what happened; you don't have to work it out. I can't make you, and Roy can't make you. If you don't want to talk about it, nobody can make you.
"But keep this in mind: You can't control your memory. It's easy to think you can; I mean, look, you've kept this buried down deep for years, right? But memory doesn't work like that. When you repress a body of memories like that, especially 10 whole years' worth, what you're really doing is building a sort of container around the memories. You've piled on layer after layer, like ceramic or pottery. Those layers get hard and tough, and they can be pretty strong for a long time. But eventually, there comes a time when you either need those memories back, or a time when something deep inside you senses that you don't need to wall those memories off any more. You're strong enough to handle them. And then something comes along, and makes a tiny chip in the outermost layer. And that chip cracks into a bigger chip."
Nathan shifted in his seat, and waved his hand. "Let me give you another analogy now: You've got that piece of pottery, those memories encased in layer after layer, in a backpack you're carrying on your back. There's already a chip. Now, with every step you take, the items in the backpack rubbing against the ceramic create more and more chips, until it's not just chips any more, it's a crack. Now, say those memories inside are liquid. With every step you take, the pottery cracks more. Eventually it's going to break altogether, right? You feel that liquid leaking out, getting your backpack, and your back, wet."
Nathan leaned forward, looking Johnny intently in the eye. "So what do you do, Johnny? Do you run like mad, trying to get away from the liquid at your back, and thereby increasing the cracks and the leakage? Or do you stop, look in the backpack, examine the pottery, and either use or move the contents? What do you do, Johnny?"
Good analogy, Roy thought. Just let him go for it, please.
Johnny looked miserable. "I see what you're saying--"
Roy could sense the but coming. Evidently Nathan could too, because he abruptly changed tactics.
"Why do you think people have dreams, Johnny?" he asked.
Johnny blinked, derailed. "Huh?"
Nathan nodded. "What are the reasons that people have dreams?"
"You have to dream," Johnny answered. "It's part of REM sleep. You need it to live."
"Dreams help you stay alive," Nathan paraphrased. "What else?"
"What are the other reasons that people have dreams?" Nathan repeated.
Johnny considered it reluctantly. "They dream about things that are on their minds," he guessed.
Nathan nodded. "What else?"
Johnny felt like he was in school. "I don't know. Why do people dream?"
Nathan turned to Roy. "What do you think, Roy?"
Roy searched his mind. "Um, well, it's a long shot, but--there are dreams that warn people."
Nathan looked happy. He turned back to Johnny. "What about you, John? Do you think dreams can carry a warning, or a message?"
Johnny crossed his arms even tighter. "Are you asking that because I'm Indian?"
Nathan looked surprised. "No, I'm asking that because I believe it. I think some dreams are warnings or messages. Usually, they come from one's own subconscious, a little reminder to 'think about this' or 'be careful of that.' I can't discount other possible sources, but that's beside the point. Mainly I believe that we dream for a reason. No dream occurs without a reason. Do you agree with me so far?"
"Well," Nathan went on, "you've had several nightmares lately, in a short period of time, all presumably about the same thing. Wouldn't you agree there's probably a reason why your unconscious mind is stuck on that nightmare?"
Johnny shrugged again, obviously reluctant to agree.
"What is your subconscious trying to tell you, Johnny?" Nathan asked. "Why do you think you've had the same nightmare so many times, in such a short period of time? What is your subconscious trying to tell you?"
Johnny closed his eyes. He wanted to disagree, he wanted to clam up and not say a word; most of all, he wanted to leave. But he could feel the truth in his spirit. He could tell it was the truth--there was a reason why he was having this nightmare. Like it or not, he believed he wouldn't be able to rest--literally--until he figured out what the purpose of the nightmare was.
Johnny opened his eyes, resigned. "What can we do to help me remember?" he asked directly.
Nathan and Roy both were taken aback by the 180 degree turn. "Well," Nathan answered, "there are a couple of choices. We can work together to recover the memories you've repressed--"
"Which would take a long time," Johnny interrupted, despairing.
"--Or," Nathan paused, "we could use regression hypnosis."
"Regression hypnosis?" Roy repeated. He had never heard the term before.
Nathan nodded. "It's gaining a lot of popularity in the psychiatric community," he told them. "It has the advantage of being quick--if it works. It has the disadvantage of being much more intense than if you recover the memories gradually."
Johnny uncrossed his arms and brought a hand up to briefly chew on a nail. "Sounds like the difference between peeling a bandage off and ripping it off."
"Is it safe?" Roy asked.
"Very safe," Nathan assured him. "You don't have to worry about Johnny clucking like a chicken, or being stuck in a trance forever, or any of that stuff you see on TV. The hypnotist I'm familiar with doesn't do that kind of thing. And as for lasting effects, hypnosis wears off on its own. Even if the subject is hypnotized and the hypnotist leaves entirely, the subject will come out of the trance on their own in a matter of hours. It's not like you see on TV."
"You are growing very sleepy," Johnny grinned.
"Right," Nathan agreed. "I'll give you some pamphlets to take home and look over. If you still want to do it, call me tomorrow and I'll set it up. Agreed?"
Johnny exchanged glances with Roy, who nodded. "Okay," Johnny shrugged. "I guess."
* * *
Roy had been stunned by how quickly Johnny went under. The
hypnotist, a pleasant man in his mid-50s, had been talking to them about
hypnotism and how it worked, and what the general public thought of it, and the
next thing Roy knew, Johnny was leaning back in his chair with his eyes shut.
Roy blinked at the man. "How--" he whispered.
The man smiled. "You can talk," he invited. "I told you, it's not like people think." He gestured at Johnny. "It could have been you there if I'd wanted." He grinned.
Roy was amazed. "How come we can talk?" he asked, still keeping his voice down.
"Oh, your friend can hear us." The man turned back to Johnny and Dr. Nathan. "He can hear everything in earshot, can't you, Johnny?"
"Yes," Johnny replied, sounding only as if his eyes were shut. Again Roy was amazed. He had thought Johnny would sound like a zombie or something.
"Now, Johnny, this is still me speaking, Eric. I want you to focus on my voice at all times. You can hear what goes on around you, both in this room and in your memory, but my voice will always take precedence. Do you understand?"
Eric nodded. "Now, Johnny, in the state I have placed you, you can remember anything that has happened to you. If I ask you to remember, you will find you are able to. Your memories will not hurt you; they're not happening at this moment. You will understand and know at all times that you are only remembering. You will not be living the event over again."
Eric glanced down at his notes. "I understand you've been having some very bad dreams lately, Johnny. Is that correct?"
"Are these bad dreams based on memories?"
Eric checked his notes again. "Did the events of these memories happen during your adult life, Johnny?"
Roy could have sworn Johnny only had his eyes shut. He was speaking in a perfectly normal tone.
"Did the events of these memories happen during your childhood?" Eric asked.
There was a long pause. "Did the--"
"Yes," Johnny replied.
Eric and Nathan exchanged glances. Eric wrote in his notebook and showed it to Nathan. Roy could see the words. It's a little early for resistance. Nathan nodded.
Eric furrowed his brow. "Johnny, did the events of these memories happen when you were 15 years old?"
"Did they happen when you were 12 years old?"
"Did they happen when you were 10 years old?"
There was no answer. Eric and Nathan exchanged looks again. Eric pulled on his lower lip for a moment.
"I want you to go back in time, Johnny, only in your memory. You will still be sitting here, in Dr. Nathan's office, but you will be able to remember anything that I ask you. You don't have to worry about anything bad happening to you; these are all events of the past. They have already happened and are over. You will only be remembering them. Do you understand, Johnny?"
"I want you to go back in time to when you were five years old. I want you to remember a happy day. A very happy day. Look around you, and tell me where you are."
Johnny's eyes stayed shut, and his head did not move, but he smiled. "I'm with Grandfather," he answered.
"Where are you and Grandfather?"
"We're camping. Grandfather is showing me how to walk without making any noise. He's so good at it." Johnny looked delighted.
"How are you doing?"
Johnny scrunched his face up. "Not too good," he giggled. "But I have to learn. Grandfather says I have to know how to walk without making noise."
Nathan made a note in his book. He shrugged at Eric.
"What else does your Grandfather teach you?" Eric asked.
Johnny frowned in thought. "He taught me how to hide," he giggled again. "Grandfather plays Hide and Seek with me. He taught me very good places to hide."
Nathan leaned closer to Eric. "Hide where?" he said quietly.
Eric nodded. "What hiding places did your Grandfather show you?"
"Under the sink," Johnny replied promptly. "In the back of the closet, way in the corner, behind the suitcase. And under the firewood rack in the backyard. If I can get to the woods, then he showed me how to hide under the leaves and grasses, and which trees are good to climb. And what to do if I have to hide there for a long time."
Roy felt his flesh crawling. It almost sounded like Johnny's Grandfather had been teaching him how to survive some evil in his own home.
"We have a secret sign," Johnny volunteered.
"What's your secret sign?" Eric asked.
"Can't tell ya," Johnny shook his head. "But we have it. If I'm hiding in the woods from the enemy, Grandfather will give a secret sign. If I hear it, I know it's him."
"Enemy," Nathan whispered, writing.
"Who is the enemy?" Eric asked.
Johnny crossed his arms. He bit his lower lip.
Eric sighed. "Johnny, do you know where your Grandfather is in the present time?"
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"There was a fight," Johnny whispered.
"Who was fighting?"
"Grandfather said, 'I didn't raise you this way. Why do you do this?'"
"Do what, Johnny?"
Johnny hugged his arms around his chest tightly and pursed his lips.
Eric wrote another note to Nathan and Roy. Strong inhibitions against talking about it. Need to reinforce authority again. Nathan nodded.
Eric turned back to Johnny. "You aren't supposed to talk about things like that, are you Johnny?"
"Someone told you not to."
Johnny nodded again.
"I want you to listen to me very carefully," Eric said firmly. "My instructions are all that matter now. It is imperative that you do as I ask you to. No one will hurt you, and no one will know you told me. What I ask you to remember, and talk about, you must talk about. Do you understand, Johnny?"
"It is extremely important that you tell me what I ask. You will feel a very strong compulsion to tell me what I ask. My instructions supersede all other orders. Do you understand, Johnny?"
"How old were you in the nightmares?" Eric asked quickly.
Johnny seemed caught off guard. "10."
Eric nodded. "I want you to go to that day," he instructed. "I want you to go to some point before the events in the nightmare occurred."
Johnny frowned. "I--"
"It's twenty minutes before," Eric insisted quickly. "Where are you, Johnny?"
Johnny sighed. "I'm walking home," he answered.
"Where are you walking home from?"
"It's late afternoon, then?"
Roy thought he was getting it, Eric would reinforce his authority, then ask Johnny questions that weren't hard to answer, getting him in the habit of answering. He only hoped Johnny would stick with it this time.
"Now it's ten minutes before the event," Eric told Johnny. "Where are you now?"
"On the lane," Johnny answered nervously. "I'm listening."
"What are you listening for?"
"For yelling," Johnny replied sadly.
Eric nodded to himself. "What do you see?"
"Rosie Two Feathers. She's in her yard."
"Do you say hi?"
"Does she say hi?"
Nathan wrote in his book again. Roy saw him write the name of the woman.
"You're at your house now, Johnny. I want you to tell me everything you see. Tell me what you see, Johnny."
"My house," Johnny supplied. "The steps. The porch. The screen do--" He stopped. His face froze.
"The screen door?"
"Is the front door open?"
"Can you see in?"
"I don't want to look."
"Can you see in, Johnny?"
"What do you see?"
* * *
Roy made it across the hall to the bathroom although his
legs felt amazingly shaky. He splashed water on his face and looked in the
"He was 10 years old," he protested aloud to his reflection. "Chris is 10. He's just a baby. How could a 10-year-old live through that?"
Rosie Two Feathers. While Johnny had described the dead woman in the kitchen, and being beaten nearly to death by a large man, he refused to state whether they were his parents or not. Most likely they were, Roy thought unhappily. But Johnny had given the neighbor's name, and this Rosie Two Feathers would know for sure. Roy was determined to find out.
Roy straightened up and wiped the water off his face. He needed to get back in there. Eric would be bringing Johnny out of it.
* * *
Patamon Summer Sky carefully cut the article out of the
paper. It was a Los Angeles newspaper. He had subscribed to it several months
ago, when he'd gotten out, and learned that his sister and her husband had
relocated there several years ago. He wouldn't have cared about that, but they
took something that belonged to him when they went. It didn't matter that he was
in jail at the time. They never should have done it.
He smoothed out the edges of the cut-out. The banner read, Local Firefighter Struck By Lightning. The story was actually several weeks old; he'd been lax lately in going through the papers. But he'd just known the boy would show up sooner or later. That boy was lucky, just as his name implied. Wapi. Lucky. Hell, you could tell that by the fact he survived being hit by lightning.
Of course, they called him John now. Thinking back, he thought he did remember Nora sneaking two names on the birth certificate. John Wapi Summer Sky. Only, somewhere along the line, the boy had taken on Patamon's brother-in-law's name. Gage. Pat, as they had called him in prison, wondered why he hadn't thought of that sooner.
He folded the article and tucked it in his shirt pocket. Time to break parole and take a trip on down to California. He wasn't upset about breaking parole. He'd known he'd do it sooner or later. But now that he knew where the boy was, he had to make the trip. The boy owed him. He had stolen all of Patamon's luck on the day he was conceived. And if the first ten years hadn't proved that, the 17 spent in jail had. Time to take his luck back.
The End (of Part 2)
Better Off Forgotten Part 3: Conquer The Past