The household woke early the next morning and went about their duties as usual. All the children asked about Joe when they came down for breakfast, but the only answer they received was that he was still asleep and the doctor was coming that afternoon.
School, as well, was performed, although one or two of the boys found it exceptionally dull after the excitement of the last few days. Jo didn't come downstairs until lunchtime. When she did, she was greeted with enthusiasm by all, including Nick, who, although his frostbitten feet were still sore, was now limping around in stocking feet. Catching on to Asia and Franz's plan to keep everything as normal as possible, she wouldn't let either Bess or Nan stay out of school in the afternoon to serve her. They grumbled about it, but obeyed and Jo watched as they trudged across the yard to the old barn that served as school.
"My, it's been an interesting week, hasn't it?" she commented to Asia, turning from the window with a mug of tea in her hands.
Asia nodded. "You can say that again, Mrs. Bhaer. That boy has sure caused some havoc in this house."
Jo smiled. Her thoughts drifted upstairs to the boy laying quietly in bed. "He needs our help." She said absently.
Asia looked up from her kneading. "Yeah, but he's a lawbreaker. We's going to have to turn him in."
There was no reply from Jo. She just stood sipping her tea thoughtfully.
The doctor came that afternoon and proclaimed Joe in pretty good shape for what he had gone through. He said that he might have some visitors now, so, after supper, Emil and Nat went up to the bedroom to see their temporary guest.
Joe was sitting up in bed, propped up by pillows. He looked up from the book he was reading as the two came in the door. His eyes darted from one to the other, resting particularly on Emil.
"Hey, it's okay." Nat said, with a grin, lowering himself into a chair next to the bed. "We just wanted to chat for a while."
Joe nodded, still wary, but as the other two began to talk about school, and what they were learning, he relaxed and even seemed to enjoy the conversation, joining in occasionally. Jo stopped by once to see how the three were doing, but, hearing the steady stream of voices, smiled and passed by.
After nearly an hour had passed, a knock came on the half open door of the room and Dan poked his head around. "Hey guys, can I talk to him a sec?" Dan looked straight at Joe as he said this and the younger boy's gaze faltered under Dan's steady one.
Emil and Nat, sensing that it was important, rose to their feet and, after bidding Joe good night, exited the room. But Nat, as he went out the door grabbed Dan's arm and pulled him out with him.
"What are you doing?" He inquired.
"I just want to talk with him." Dan responded, holding Nat's gaze.
"Go easy on him, he's still pretty weak." Nat said, letting go of Dan's arm and stepping back.
Dan grinned. "Since when am I hard on anyone?" And before Nat could retort, he stepped back into the bedroom and shut the door.
Joe looked a little nervous as Dan came and took the seat that Nat had vacated. Neither boy said a word for a moment, the Dan leaned forward.
"I don't know much about you. But there's something I gotta know. In Boston, a couple winters ago. There was a fire, and you were there. Remember?"
Joe's gaze drifted from Dan's and his hands began to shake.
It was cold in the alley. Joe had been living there for three days now. He had run away, again, from his father, trying to escape the memories of his brother, his mother, and trying to escape that hard backhand as well. He looked up. So many stars. Suddenly aware of someone else there, he turned to see someone coming down the alley toward him. The black figure stopped to light a cigar. The match illuminated his face for one quick second. That second was long enough. It was Joe's father that stood in the darkness of the alley.
Joe leaned against the wall, trying to make himself invisible. He shouldn't have come here. He should have known his father would guess this place. His foot struck a can, his father turned at the sound. Lighting another match, he saw the figure of his son. Grinning, he blew the flame out and threw the match behind him. He stepped toward Joe, reaching out, Joe tried to run, tried to get away, but fear paralyzed his limbs and he couldn't take a step. He just stood there as his father grabbed his hands with one beefy hand.....
"You do remember, don't you." The question was more of a statement than an inquiry. "Did you set it?" When he didn't get an answer, Dan tried again. "Two people were killed. They may still be looking for the one who set it. Was it you?"
"Thought you could escape me, huh?" He tried to push away, but he possessed none of the strength of the grown man holding him and the beating continued. Joe fell to the ground and his father stood over him. His father pulled the cigar from his mouth and dropped it to the ground, on top of a pile of papers. Joe saw the flame start as his father lifted him to his feet. It grew quickly, the flames beginning to devour the board wall behind them. His father noticed them too, and, his attention momentarily distracted, Joe put forward his remaining strength and pulled away, running out of the alley, looking back only to see his father raise the alarm, then come after him....
Joe looked at Dan, shaking his head, afraid of him, afraid of what he was asking. "No."