"Mikey, NO!" TJ laughed and attempted to cover his face, but his friend had already launched himself from the dock and into the lake, dousing the others in cold water.
Vince, who had been trying to ease himself in the water a little bit at a time made a sort of shriek and immediately started shaking. "Well, there goes the idea of a slow introduction…"
The six best friends were spending their Saturday at the small lake in town, but in their own special spot. It was Spinelli who had discovered it in the third grade - she had picked on someone a little bigger than her own size at the nearby park, and it was as she frantically pedaled away from the fifth-graders she had threatened, looking to hide, she took what looked to be an old overgrown trail. It was at the end of the weed and thorn-covered path she found it and immediately shown the others. Their own secret spot… so they named it, without much originality, The Secret Spot.
The water was chilly despite the sun being high, and it took several minutes of shivering to become used to the lapping water. Further into the lake, a few people rode jet skis and there were some adults canoeing. But here, they had their own little slice of heaven. TJ floated on his back and breathed a sigh of easy contentment. "What a great way to spend the day. Good call on coming here, Gretchen!"
Gretchen was perched on the dock reading a book, feet dipped into the water. "It doesn't make sense to only enjoy The Secret Spot in the summer. We should come down here more often."
"You think so?" Vince's teeth chattered as he dragged himself from the water and wrapped himself with a towel, looking quite like a soggy and displeased cat. "It's freezing like it's the middle of winter."
"It's October!" Spinelli snorted as she tread through the water. "Even Gus is manning up and taking a dip."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Gus whined with a sound of offense.
The six friends spent several hours of their Saturday enjoying the lake, playing games of chicken and skipping flat rocks across the surface - Mikey beat the all-time record and got up to six skips. They sat on the docks with their towels beneath them, chatting until the water dried from their bathing suits. It was a much needed day of relaxation - life at Third Street Elementary just didn't seem to be the same or as fun ever since the playground turned topsy-turvy with King Bob's accident, and with the somber faculty trying their best to act like everything was fine.
"What do you guys say?" TJ asked as he pulled his usual tee shirt and jacket over himself, "Kelso's for a milkshake?"
He was met with an approving audience as the friends got dressed and tackled the overgrown path back to the park for their bikes. They might have gotten a few bites from the thorns and Gretchen was certain they steered clear of any poison ivy they saw, but the six just figured it was an appropriate price for having their own Secret Spot.
In the park, kids streaked past on roller blades, high school couples sat on benches, and adults threw frisbees for their dogs to catch. They unlocked the chains from the bikes and took off down the quiet streets.
"Hey, this way," they heard Vince say, "I found a new way to Kelso's."
So they followed their friend, and it turned into a race of sorts, because everything was a competition between their group of friends. They whizzed passed the houses and people jogging and walking their dogs, and it was several minutes later when they slowed down, out of breath.
"I win!" Vince cheered and threw his hands up in the air.
Spinelli skidded in close behind him. "What! You didn't even call the finish line!"
"Yeah, well," Vince began and then looked around him with a weak grin. "Um. Actually, I might have gotten a bit turned around."
"I've never seen this neighborhood before," Gus chimed as they took in their surroundings.
The neighborhood was not as clean cut as others, but more so in a historical sense. The houses were older but in good repair, and the sidewalks were uneven and cracked, but late flowers bloomed at their sides. "Neat," TJ said. "Let's do some exploring."
They pedaled lazily through the quiet streets, Vince explaining that they must have sped past their turn while racing. The streets were quite empty, but it was when they turned a corner they saw quite a few people milling about a yard just ahead. A sign was posted near the head of the driveway with the words 'Estate Sale' in a boring looking font.
"Ah, an estate sale," Gretchen said with interest.
"A what now?"
"It's kind of like a yard sale," she answered and she began dismounting her bike and clicking down the kick stand with her toe. "A really big yard sale. And with all of these historical houses, there might be some neat vintage items that are being sold!"
TJ rubbed his hands together. "You had me at yard sale."
In his experiences, yard and garage sales were good spots to find comics and toys from adults who were not quite aware of the value of what they were selling. One time he even found a rare Senor Fusion volume for a third of the price that was still in the original packaging. He was still afraid to open that one and it sat on his shelf at home.
"Maybe I can find some old World War stuff for my dad," Gus exclaimed and followed the tall girl.
The six friends stepped into the yard and went their own ways, flipping through books and opening cabinets and drawers in furniture in curiosity. Mike was looking at some paintings and Spinelli was idly looking at some jackets and coats hanging from a clothes rack when Gretchen laid eyes on something. "Oh, my."
She had opened the case to some sort of instrument and what was inside was a rather worn looking violin. The rosin had not even been cleaned from where the bow would meet the strings, and there were delicate plucking sounds when she raised it from the case. She could already play the piano decently, and had always wanted to learn a new instrument…
"Sheila!" that was when she heard a voice to her side, and the violin left her hands.
It wasn't exactly snatched from her fingers, but the hands that took it had big white bandages on the palms. "King… King Bob?"
He looked upset, and he wasn't even paying attention to Gretchen when he turned to face a young woman standing and talking with some adults a distance always. "Sheila! How could you put this with everything?"
"Ah, sorry," Gretchen stuttered. "Sorry, King Bob, I didn't know it was yours!"
"It's not mine," the sixth-grader responded with frustration as if he suddenly realized she was still there. Gretchen was still thrown off by just how odd it was seeing him without a helmet or his signature hockey gear, and he was still covered head to toe with little bandages. The bruises on his face were not as dark but still quite obvious. "It was my mother's, and now my sister is trying to sell it!"
The young woman, now identified as his sister Sheila, approached the two kids and spoke with a hushed voice as if she didn't want to make a sort of scene. "Bobby. We talked about this," she said in what was supposed to be a stern voice.
"Her violin? You really want to sell that, too?"
"Sorry," Sheila then said to Gretchen, who looked more than awkward. "But this is actually quite an expensive instrument. It's two hundred dollars… you may want to look at some other things."
"You wouldn't." Gretchen heard Bob hiss. "Sell one of the other ones. The ones she didn't use so much. Please?"
And he was holding the thing to his chest protectively, the strings making those harp-like twangs as he held it tight. Sheila looked on the sight pensively, biting her lip and then sighed. "Okay. We'll keep it. We'll sell the training violins only."
And the young women rubbed her temples and went to continue her conversation with the adults again. TJ and the others joined her, having watched the little altercation, and she gulped. "I'm sorry Bob. I had no idea. I didn't even know you... "
"You live here?" TJ finished her sentence.
Bob just looked over to them and it was quite hard to tell if he was annoyed or not. Gretchen was blushing profusely, realizing what she had done and who exactly the estate sale was for. The king of the playground nodded and then went to secure the instrument back into its case.
"Your mom played the violin?" Gus asked. He was teaching himself how to play the guitar himself and was getting quite good at it.
Bob lifted the case and TJ saw how he held the thing so delicately as if he was afraid of breaking it. It was then he noticed that the sixth grader had those blown-out pupils again, and his words slightly ran together. "Yeah. She was really good at it. She gave lessons."
And then he seemed to get some far-off look in his eyes, and TJ gulped. "Well, sorry King Bob. We didn't have any idea you lived here, or who all of this stuff belonged to."
"It's fine," was the short answer and he turned to go.
"Wait, King Bob!" Mikey suddenly blurted, as if he wanted to say anything.
The sixth grader paused but did not face them. "You don't have to call me 'King' Bob anymore. Just Bob."
"But- But you ARE the king of the playground," Mikey cried, "And things aren't the same without you around fixing everything. Please come back! Sit on your throne again."
Then Bob finally turned to look at them, and his dilated eyes were completely indifferent. "Do I look like a king anymore?"
And he stalked away. TJ and the others watched with dropped jaws as he went to sit on his porch swing, still holding the violin to his chest and staring vacantly forward. "Come on guys," TJ said, "let's go to Kelso's."
And they went to their bikes, leaving Bob and his house behind.
Bob knew that Sheila was going to give him some big news.
He had been anticipating it ever since he left the hospital, but his sister had been so concerned with his recovery it kept getting postponed. He already knew it was something that would be way over his head - he had glimpses of documents on the kitchen that looked far above his comprehension and sure the big words he read on the pages were significant. And on several cases as he hobbled through the house, struggling to move and gain his strength back, he would overhear her sister on the phone.
"No, no… I really appreciate the offer but it's up to him. I don't think he would want to leave, honestly," he heard her saying one day as he shuffled into the kitchen with effort, holding on to his side. "Yes I'm fine, grandma. I know it's a big responsibility, but-"
And then she would realize he had entered the kitchen and pause her conversation. Bob watched as she lifted the power source of the phone and pulled it into the next room, whispering, "Go to bed, Bobby," and continuing to talk in hushed tones from the other room.
The day after Sheila picked him up from school, when he had tried to sneak back on to Third Street without telling anyone, she kept her promise. That morning Bob hobbled down the stairs to the kitchen, Molly the german shepherd at his side as usual. It was always worse in the mornings, his side and ribs throbbed especially at these hours and he cracked his neck to ease some of the stiffness, but it didn't do a thing. Sitting on the table before him were his medications that he was supposed to hand over to the school nurse, already sealed in a plastic bag for him. Sheila was off in another room making some noise, and Bob vacantly read the little text at the bottom of each bright orange bottle: Take every 4 to 6 hours with food.
Bob frowned. That wouldn't do. Sure, the little pills helped his pain quite a bit, but the puncture wound at his side always seemed to pulse with some discomfort, even after a dosage. He could not wait every four to six hours. That was only once a school day.
Being sure that Sheila was off and occupied, he rattled a few pills into his palm from each bottle. It wouldn't hurt to bring his own. When he resealed the plastic bag, Sheila entered the room sporting her server's apron. She was working full-time at the craft brewery now, the very one their Father is - no, was - the brewmaster for. Bob could tell she had quite a bit of coffee that morning, getting her things together quickly.
"Alright, everything is in order for you to go back to school," she said and shuffled some papers towards him, "Take that to the front office and you'll be good. I got some lunch for you, make sure you take it with you to the nurse for your medicine…"
It was odd to Bob, to say the least.
Sheila was never the maternal type and had always been his teasing and sarcastic older sister, yet here she was prepping him for the school day. "I don't need help, its okay," Bob mumbled as he slowly ate his bland cereal. He just never seemed to have an appetite anymore.
"Just do it," Sheila sighed in exasperation and then moved off to do something else and calling behind her, "We leave in fifteen."
As promised, Bob found himself sitting in Sheila's old car and buckling himself in fifteen minutes later. "I swear, I can just walk," he muttered, but she just gaze him an unflinching look that said 'don't try me.'
The car began rolling out of the driveway. "Alright, we were gonna talk, remember?" she said.
Bob slouched down in his seat. "What about."
"I know with everything that has been happening to us, it's the last thing that you should be worrying yourself over and I'm sorry," she began and Bob winced to prepared himself, "But there are some real-world things that we need to figure out and I'm gonna need you to work with me. Promise?"
"What happened to Mom and Dad… leaves some 'legal' things open we need to figure out," she said as she turned the car on to a new street, "You don't have a guardian right now. You need someone to be responsible for you."
Bob just looked on her, not understanding. He had taken one of his pills with breakfast and was beginning to feel that comforting haziness creep over him. "Because I don't have parents?"
His voice came out so small. "Look. Someone needs to… to 'fill' their spot," she said with a wince, "Which sounds so stupid and wrong and I don't want to be asking you this because it's all so messed up. You have a choice…"
And they pulled up alongside the curb to Third Street Elementary. Sheila was gripping the wheel in a way that made her knuckles white, and it alarmed Bob to see his older sister like this. "I can be your guardian. You can stay here, I'll take care of you, and we'll keep living together. Or you can go with Grandma and Grandpa and live with them."
"But… but they live hours from here!" Bob cried.
Sheila put her sunglasses over her eyes in an attempt to hide how upset she was getting. "I'm sorry. But this is a decision that we need to make. It can't wait, and there are going to be some bigger legal challenges coming up. This is what we need to take care of first and foremost."
"Legal challenges?" Bob echoed in confusion. All of this was so above his head and the pill he took wasn't helping.
"Yeah, it's," and Sheila made a sound like a bitter laugh, "It's a lot. And I'm struggling to keep up. There's finances, your guardianship, we need to figure out this whole lawyer thing…"
"Lawyer?" Bob was more confused than ever.
"That's right. We'll talk more tonight," she said and then pressed the button to unlock their doors. "But it's up to you. Whatever you want, we just want you to be happy."
And she walked around to his side of the car and opened the door. Bob just sat there for a moment, reeling. He had never even thought of this side of everything. Is this how the world worked when someone lost a parent? Losing Mom and Dad was already so… so messed up, and now he had to choose who he wanted to live with? He did not want to move away, he did not want Sheila to be his mom, he wanted his parents back.
His sister's concerned voice snapped his attention back to reality. "Bobby?"
She offered him a hand out of the car but he did not take it, and he looked dazed. "We'll talk tonight, okay?" she said and put a comforting hand on his shoulder before going to the driver's side and peeling away from the curb. It was as if Bob was in his own world, barely registering the children chattering and filing past him. What was he going to do?
A/N. Hey, guess who is back three years later with a new chapter! Having Disney+ has really revitalized my affinity for this cartoon and my fanfic, and I also need to take a step back from another fic I have in the works so I don't get burnt out on that plot. Also, I never mentioned it before I believe, but the times in this story are all over the place between characters and scenes. So if you're like 'wtf is happening' the scene transitions are not chronological in any way. Cheers!