A/N: Inspired by the story "Thinking". This is intended to be fairly short, but we'll see how it goes. This story was inspired by the song "Soon You'll Come Home" from All Dogs Go to Heaven (hence the title). If you have the song I would suggest you listen to this either before or while reading this little fic of mine. Thanks so much to darkhelmetj for beta-reading this for me! She is amazingly awesome!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters.
Title: Soon You'll Come Home
"We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today." Stacia Tauscher
September 1st, 2053
It is amazing the capacity a human being has to feel guilt. It seems like a bottomless abyss that once you climb in you can never get out again. Even after those who should hold you responsible have forgiven it, the guilt does not truly fade. That black tide nearly drowned me today. I thought that one of my boys was lost to me forever. I thought I had driven him away and he wasn't coming back.
I suppose I ought to start at the beginning.
The problem comes from having five very active boys and not enough people to attend each extra-curricular activity. With Jeff, Jeff's mother, and myself being the only adults, if events overlap we tend to have difficulty. Like today, when every single one of my boys had something going on. Scott had a football game, his first of the season. Virgil had his beginning school year piano recital. Gordon had a swim meet where he would be competing for the first time in the butterfly stroke. Alan had a go-cart race where he would be racing The Flash that he and his older brothers had all worked on together. Johnny had a gymnastics competition, one he was projected to do very well in.
I had, foolishly, promised John I would be there no matter what. It was a dumb thing to do because if one of the other events ran late I would not be able to make it. I was going to have to choose between Scott and Alan as it was. I was painfully aware, though, as he reminded me about the competition, that I had missed the last five of his things to go to someone else's. I could not resist those blue eyes that held so much hope that this time I would make it.
It turned out that not just one, but all of the events ran late. Jeff was stuck, willingly, at Scott's game with the video camera as it went into over time. Mother Josie, as I call Jeff's mother, was with our second video camera at Virgil's recital, as the performances took longer than expected. She made an attempt to get out and go after Virgil had played, but they wouldn't let her out while students were performing and she wasn't fast enough to get from the back row to the door before the next student began. I, for my part, ended up rushing Alan to get stitches in his forehead after he crashed. The Flash ran right into a tree when Alan lost control of it. I didn't even get to see Gordon race. I just got there in time to pick him up.
John, my poor quiet child, was once again lost in the shuffle. I showed up at the arena for the competition only to discover it was already over. The arena was empty and locked before I got there. I felt pained, and rushed home to explain to John why I had not been there. I will never forget the oppressive silence as I walked into the house.
"John?" I called, my voice echoing, Gordon and Alan quietly followed me inside. "Johnny? Are you here?" There was no answer, only the continued silence. As Gordon and Alan sat nervously on the couch with Alan still clutching his ice pack, I climbed up the first staircase to the second floor. I strained my ears for a sound from John's attic bedroom, but there was nothing. I pulled down the ladder and climbedup. John's room was empty, his window open, and his white curtains fluttered in the chill night breeze. I tried to suppress my instant urge to panic. It's okay, Lucille. John just went to a friend's house after. I'm sure he'll be home shortly. Maybe Jeff or Mother Josie showed up and he's with them.
At that moment I heard the sound of a car pulling up and doors slamming. I raced down the stairs, reaching the door just moments behind my two youngest boys. I could see Jeff and Scott starting up the walk.
"Hullo Mother," Scott smiled, waving to me. "We had a fantastic game. We won by 6 points."
"Scott scored the winning touch down," Jeff beamed proudly and he lifted the camera, "got it all on here."
I tried to act composed. Tried not to treat Scott like all that didn't matter simply because I didn't know where John was. "That's wonderful, Scott. I'll watch it as soon as we get a chance to sit down, and you can tell me all about it then." Scott nodded, I think he sensed the urgency in my voice and decided to let this slight brush off pass. I turned to my husband, still urging myself to remain calm. "Jeff, do you know where John is? I stopped by the arena, but they said the gymnastics competition was already over. I checked his room, he isn't there."
Jeff frowned slightly, his dark eyebrows coming together. "Have you checked all over the house?"
I began to shake my head when Gordon piped up.
"I did! I looked all over down here and he wasn't there. If he were upstairs, I would have heard him. It was so quiet I would have heard a fly walking across the floor."
"It's true," Alan, said earnestly. He was careful not to nod his head and was still holding the ice pack to his stitches even though the ice must have long ago melted away.
"What happened to you?" Scott asked Alan, and Alan opened his mouth to reply but I interrupted him.
"Jeff, I'm worried. It's not like John to go somewhere without telling anyone."
"Don't worry, Lucy, we'll find him. Maybe he's with my mother. We'll wait until she gets here and then begin calling every one of his friends."
"That'll be a short list," I heard Scott mutter under his breath. I wanted to scold him, but I couldn't find the heart to. My unease was growing every passing moment and as I realized it was now getting close to nine at night I could feel my heart clench.
"If you say so Jeff." We did not have long to wait as Mother Josie's gray station wagon pulled up to the front walk. I could see immediately that there was no John in the car.
"What's all the hullabaloo about?" Virgil asked as he climbed out of the car, "why are you all standing on the front porch?"
"Do you know where John is Virg'?" Jeff asked our middle child, and Virgil blinked in surprise.
"No, sir. I thought he'd be home already."
"He should be," was all Jeff responded with.
"Do you have any idea where he might have gone?" I asked, pleading with him to think of anywhere he might be. "It doesn't look like he's been home at all."
Mother Josie said nothing, but I'm sure she noticed my trembling hands. Virgil frowned, his face thoughtful.
"I can't think of anywhere…he doesn't have many friends and those he has he isn't close to. Besides, he always tells us first." Virgil shook his head. "Sorry, Mom, but I don't know where he could be."
"Are you sure you checked everywhere in the house, Gordon?" Jeff questioned our red-haired child.
"Well I didn't look upstairs. If he'd been walking around I would have heard him, though," Gordon protested.
"Virgil and I will go check, Father," Scott said, already moving toward the stairs. Virgil was only moments behind him, and I heard them trample up the stairs and across the hall. Doors began to open and shut.
"Is there anyone you can think to call, Lucy?" Mother Josie asked kindly. "Anywhere John might have gone to discuss the competition with?"
I shook my head; the feeling of dread became almost unbearable. "No, Virgil is right. A lot of people like John, but I wouldn't consider any of them his friends."
"Well he didn't just fall off the face of the earth," Jeff said. Inside, I began to fear that was exactly what John had done. It is so like John to do the impossible.
A yell from Scott upstairs drew my attention away from that thought. "Mother! Father! I found something!" Those of us who had remained on the first floor raced up the stairs. Jeff was in the lead, but I was right behind him. I was so close I nearly stepped on his heel.
Scott came out of his room; his face was white and his hands were trembling as they clutched a piece of paper. His voice was faint and raspy as he spoke. "This was pinned to my pillow. Its from John."
Jeff took the note from Scott's hand and began to read it out loud. "Dear Scott- I decided to leave this note for you to explain my disappearance. You can tell Mom and Dad if you'd like. By the time you get this I'll be long gone. I couldn't stay anymore. I can't ask Mom and Dad to do the impossible, which is to look after all of us. Five boys, that's just one to many. I decided to make Mom and Dad's job easier and took it upon myself to find a place to live.
Scott, please make sure that everyone knows I'm doing this because…" here Jeff's voice broke, "because I love you all so much. I don't want anyone to get hurt because Mom and Dad couldn't do everything they've needed to. I've made up my mind. No one is going to get hurt on my account. I didn't take any of my stuff because it isn't mine. Mom and Dad bought it, so it's theirs. I did take some food, but the money for it is under my pillow. Make sure they get it, would you, Scott? Please understand, Scott, and don't come looking for me. With my love and regards, your brother, John Glenn Tracy."
Jeff looked at me; his brown eyes were a tempest of emotions. He clutched the note so tightly in his hands I was afraid he would rip it. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
I felt as if someone had kicked me in the chest. The world below me seemed to tilt and I fell upon my knees. I felt ill and terrified. John, my Johnny, had run away. He wouldn't be coming home. I would never see my darling second son again. A sob clawed its way out of my chest and I felt tears start to fall from my eyes. I felt Jeff kneel next to me and take me in his arms. He was rubbing the back of my head and whispering soothing words I couldn't hear. All I could do was sob. "John! Oh God, John!"
I was dimly aware of Scott leaving, but I noticed when he came back with five jackets, seven flashlights, seven walkie-talkies, and extra batteries. He tossed Virgil a jacket and two flashlights. "Virg', you and Gordo start looking up and down the streets going south. I'll take Alan and start in the garden, then head north."
Jeff shook his head. "I appreciate what you're doing, Scott, but don't let Gordon and Alan stray to far from the house. You can check the nearby neighborhood, but I don't want Gordon and Alan to go to far. You can check out where you've said, but meet me back here in half an hour. We'll take the car and look on the outskirts of town."
Scott nodded, "yes sir." He then knelt in front of me, laying a jacket on my lap. His clear cerulean eyes met mine. In them I could see unshed tears, but I could also see determination. "Don't cry, Mother. We'll find him."
I nodded even as I sobbed. We would find John, and we would bring him home. What I would do with him then I didn't know, but right then all I wanted was to hold him, to tell him I loved him, and to let him know he was loved and wanted. Jeff helped me to my still shaky feet.
"I'll call the police and the neighbors," Mother Josie whispered, her voice trembled slightly, and she started down the stairs. I looked at Jeff, forcing the tremor out of my own voice.
"Jeff, lets go find our son."
I took one of the flashlights and a walkie-talkie Scott offered me. "I'm going to check the park. Make sure you check the arena, Jeff, and everywhere on the way home he might be. Every ice cream parlor, every book store, I need you to check there."
For once he didn't joke about being bossed around by a woman or how horrified his father would have been. I almost wish he would have- it wouldn't have made the situation seem so serious. He put on his own jacket and headed downstairs. Scott and Virgil walked slower with me because my legs were still shaking. When we reached the bottom they instructed their younger brothers to start putting on their jackets. Gordon and Alan broke all precedent by not arguing about it.
"Scott, where's Johnny?" Alan asked his eldest brother, his voice having a slight edge of fear to it. Alan and John are close to each other. So close that it's usually John that Alan insists read him a bedtime story.
"I don't know Allie," Scott answered truthfully, kneeling down so they were eye level, "but we're going to see if we can find him, okay?"
Careful of his head, Alan nodded, "Okay, Scott. Are you sure he's okay?"
"No, but I hope so." Scott gently took his younger brother by the hand, sticking one flashlight and batteries in Alan's pocket, and led him toward the back door. I could hear them call John's name before they were three feet from the door. Virgil and Gordon have both just left, heading off in the direction Scott had told them to go without question. They too begin urgently calling their brother's name before they'd left the front yard. I zipped up my jacket and decided to check on Mother Josie before I leave. I stuck my head around the corner to listen as she talked to the neighbors over the phone.
"Mrs. Carter? This is Josie Tracy. Yes, I realize it's late but this is important. John has run away and we need all the help we can get looking for him. Yes, he's the older blond one. You'll help? Thank you so much! I'm going to be here organizing parties, so please bring any flashlights you have and meet out front. Thank you so much, Mrs. Carter. Good-bye." Mother Josie looked up at me, silent tears running down her face. She offered me a somewhat shaky smile. "Don't worry, Lucy. We'll find him."
"I know," I whispered, and found that deep inside I believed this. Hope was beginning to find its way through my initial sorrow. "Jeff is retracing John's path. Scott and Alan are in the garden, and then Scott is going north when they're done. Alan will help you. Virgil and Gordon have begun looking south. Jeff is meeting Scott and Virgil here in half an hour, and then they will be setting out again to look further out. I'm going to check the park."
She nodded, picked up the receiver and began to dial a new number. I walked out the front door just as three people walked down the sidewalk with flashlights to come to the "command center". Eager not to have sympathies expressed to me, I raced past them toward the park. If they had told me how sorry they were I wouldn't have been able to stop the tears and never would have reached the park.
I jogged through the silent entrance, and began to call my son's name. "John! John! Johnny, it's mommy! Please come back!" I had to fight not to sob. "John, please!"
I had not expected the park to hold so many memories that were hard to deal with at the moment. Everywhere I turned it seemed some memory of my little John came back to me. The first was the merry-go-round at the center of the park. On it was a space shuttle that John had insisted he ride in when ever I took him.He told me that someday he'd fly in one just like Daddy did. After Jeff retired, John insisted on riding in it more. I could remember one time specifically that the boys had come home with a John who couldn't talk. Scott had explained that it was because the merry-go-round operator had tried to make him get off after riding it twenty times and John had screamed himself into silence. He seemed to have determined that the little plastic space ship could take him up to the stars his father had left behind if he willed it to hard enough.
Just around the next corner was the tree John had broken his arm by falling out of. He had been Alan's age at the time, and Scott had bet him he couldn't use two of the branches like uneven bars. John had taken gymnastics since the age four, and felt confident he could win the five dollars from Scott. He had misjudged the distance between his branch and the one above. When he'd tried to do a handstand on the branch his legs had hit the one above, and he'd swung down the other way to fast. With his hand positioned the wrong way he had lost his grip and fallen, breaking his arm. At least, that was whatJohn hadtold me. Scott's version is stillJohn came up with it on his own.
By far the worst, however, was the soccer field. When Virgil had been born John hadn't quite been a year old. He felt insulted by the new baby, and became not only fussy but also clingy and wouldn't sleep at night. One night, out of nowhere, I had decided to dress him warmly and take him out to the soccer field. I had sat with my young son and pointed out to him the constellations and stars that I knew. I showed him the moon and told him all about how his Daddy had touched it. He was fascinated, and instantly he quieted in my arms. Soon, he was asleep. After that I only had to show him the stars from his window before he slept. Every anniversary of that day, the 5th of September, we would come look at the stars from the field. It was something special that only John and I did together, though those outings now include a telescope. Now I saw the field and began to cry. I couldn't help it. If I did not find him, I would never have the chance to be alone with John again. That was a thought I could not bare.
"John! John!" My voice was starting to grow hoarse, and I was beginning to wonder if he was in the park at all. My walkie-talkie sometimes made noises, but most of the time it was just questions of if anyone had seen any trace of him. So far there was nothing. Once again I wondered if he hadn't simply fallen off the face of the earth, or perhaps he'd gone to join the stars he'd loved so much.
It was growing later and later. It had to be near eleven o' clock at night, and I still could not find him. It was cold, and he had taken nothing. Not even a coat. He was probably cold by now, hungry, and tired. John was stubborn though. As long as he believed it was the right thing to do, he would not come home.
The sudden futility of my situation overwhelmed me. Hopelessness and guilt over having not gone to his competition washed over me. If I had only gone, John would never have reached his conclusion. He would be- we all would be sleeping-sound in our beds. My son would be safe and know he was loved instead of just a burden.
I collapsed on the nearest bench and began to sob again, my body shaking. "Oh, John! John!"
To my immense surprise, I heard a soft voice answer from the tree above my head. A voice filled with pleading and genuine distress. A voice I thought I would never hear again. "Don't cry, Momma! I didn't mean to make you cry!"
"John!" I jumped to my feet and raced to the bottom of that tree. He jumped down and landed in front of me with cat-like ease. He looked at me with soft, sorrowful, and forgiving blue eyes. I pulled him to me, and he stiffened, but I didn't care. "You're here, you're alive! Do you have any idea how worried I was?"
"You weren't supposed to worry." He pulled away from me, awkwardly not using his left arm, and sat on the bench. I sat down beside him, trying to decide whether to be relieved or angry.
"Not worry? John, how am I not supposed to worry? You're my son! Of course I'm going to worry."
He seemed not to have an answer for that. "No one was supposed to realize I was gone so fast. You weren't supposed to realize it until tomorrow when I'd be far away. Scott always crashes on the couch after a football game, so I knew he wouldn't go in his room until tomorrow."
"Well, I was worried about you. I went to tell you I didn't come because I had to take Alan to the emergency room and I was late…"
"Alan went to the emergency room? Why didn't you guys come get me? I would have happily left to competition to make sure he was okay! Is he okay? He wasn't badly hurt was he? What happened?"
I had to smile to myself. Of course John would be concerned about that. "Well, I honestly didn't think about coming and getting you. He managed to crash The Flash and get a nice gash across his forehead. He had to get stitches and has one awful headache. He's really worried about you, you know."
John sighed, looking up at the stars as if they could help him. "I know, but…I felt bad because I knew if you came thensomeone else would be feeling like I would have if you hadn't come to mine, and if you didn't come to mine then I'd feel that way. Either way I lost, and I decided that wasn't fair. I thought that if there were only four of us then maybe…maybe you wouldn't have to chose so much anymore." I could see him flush a bit in the dark. "I don't know, it made sense at the time. Seems kind of silly now."
"Some things do," I said honestly. I then look at him. I tried to get him to look up at me. I wanted him to meet my eyes. "John, this is more about missing the competition today then you're going to admit, isn't it?"
John winced. "It isn't so much that you weren't there. In fact, I'm glad you weren't. I blew it."
"What do you mean, you blew it?"
"My vault. I screwed it up. I broke my wrist. I took off before the medical team could take a look at it. It hurts so bad right now!"
I could see the tears in his brightly sparkling eyes, and I sighed. While I was concerned for his well being, I couldn't seem to understand his logic and until I did I would not be able to talk him into coming home. Getting him home was the most important thing to me right that minute.
"Why did you run, John? What were you really afraid of? You've broken enough bones to not fear doctors anymore."
I watched my son chew on his bottom lip for a minute, and for the first time since he'd pulled away his eyes met mine. "I was afraid I'd disappointed you. I was supposed to do so well at this and I choked. I just didn't want you and Dad to be disappointed in me. You've always been so proud of Scott…" His gaze dropped back to his broken wrist.
"Johnny," I said gently, "look at me." He did, and I continued. "Nothing you do will ever disappoint me. I will love you always for just being my John. I will not ask any more of you than you can give, and I will never expect you to be anyone else. I especially will not ask you to be Scott. One Scott is enough in my life, thank you. You are John Glenn Tracy and that is the only person I ever want you to be."
He was silent for a moment, thinking this over, before his face crumbled and he threw his good arm around my neck. "I'm so sorry! I'm sorry!"
"Shush, John, its alright. It's all right now. You're safe, that's all that matters." He sniffled and hiccupped in my arms as I held him. I just rocked him, pretending for a moment he was my shy little four-year-old once more. I rocked him for what seemed just a moment, but must have been at least ten minutes. When he finally looked at me again, his face was tear-streaked and he was red eyed,but calmer. The fear was gone.
"Momma…can we go home?"
I smiled at my poor lost little boy, lost no longer, and radioed in that I had found him. There were many cheers of delight over that small walkie-talkie. I then took John's good hand in mine and began to lead him home. He followed me in a slight daze until we got within a block of home. Then he started dragging his feet, and finally he stopped altogether.
"I can't do it Mom," he whispered, "I just can't do it."
"Johnny," I looked back at him, "what's wrong?"
"They're going to be furious with me for causing all this trouble. I didn't mean to…I really didn't think…"
"John, sweetie, no one will be mad at you. They'll be happy to see you, I'm sure of it. They love you, John, just like I love you. I don't want you to ever forget that. Your father and your brothers all love you very much."
He swallowed and nodded, once again following me even though he'd dropped my hand. We made our way up the steps toward the house, which had never looked more welcoming. I could see two silhouettes in the window, both male. I pushed open the door as silently as possible, John following behind me as quiet as a cat. What I saw in our living room was a sight I will never forget.
The family was gathered there waiting for us. They had made a warm fire in the old fashioned grate, something Jeff had insisted we have in our house. Alan was asleep on the couch, his poor little self exhausted from waiting for his big brother. Virgil was sitting with Alan's head in his lap and Gordon leaning against him on the other side. He was simply holding the half-asleep Gordon while running a hand through Alan's blond hair. Mother Josie was sitting in a rocking chair, rocking it back and forth quietly and looking at the fire. Scott and Jeff were standing by the window, talking in low voices about something. John hesitated, but I pushed him forward.
Scott was the first one to see his brother. His face lit up, the darkness that seemed to have settled on it dissipating with the joy of seeing his little brother standing before him in one piece. "John!"
Jeff turned and Scott rushed past him. He embraced John tightly; fighting the tears he felt he was too old to shed. "John, you're back! You're okay! You have no idea how worried I've been! I love you, Johnny-boy, so don't you ever scare me like that again!"
"Scott!" That was the only thing my poor little boy could think to say as he clutched his older brother tightly, like he were some kind of life line.
"John!" Virgil and Gordon were the next to attack their big brother. Virgil wrapped his arms around John from the back while Gordon latched onto his waist.
"Hey guys!" John smiled, now carefully pulling his wrist out of harm's way. Alan, suddenly finding his pillow gone, jerked completely awake. His little face lit up at seeing his beloved brother standing there.
"Johnny!" He ran toward them, and all three of my older boys stepped aside. John knelt down so he was on Alan's level before pulling him into a tight embrace.
"Oh Allie, I'm sorry! I'm so very sorry!"
"It's okay, Johnny. It's okay!" Alan said, honestly surprised that John would be apologizing to him. John just kissed Alan's forehead and stood up. He turned slowly so he was facing his father. I stepped closer; ready to jump to John's aid if Jeff lost his temper as he did from time to time. I needn't have worried.
Jeff saw his son standing there, studying the floor intently. My husband took two strides to cross the living room and pulled the slightly trembling boy into a tight embrace. "You're safe now, John. You're safe."
John's tears came again, and he allowed himself to be held with no protest. "I'm sorry, Daddy. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you worry; I just didn't want to disappoint you! I'm sorry!"
"Hush now, Johnny. Hush. You'll be fine. We'll be fine. You're safe now."
I caught Scott's eyes, and he smiled at me. "Nice tracking skills, Mom."
"It's a mother's intuition, Scott, it never fails."
"Isn't that the truth," Mother Josie smiled from her chair. She'd been watching the whole scene play out with a loving and warm smile on her face. She beckoned me over and gave me a hug.
"You go rest, Lucy girl, soon as we get that boy of yours bandaged. You've had a long day. All of us have. A good night's rest will do us all some good and we can discuss it in the morning."
I was suddenly dog-tired, so I nodded numbly. Jeff had John's wrist set in no time, at least until morning when would take him to see the doctor he was should have seen hours ago, and all of us bade each other good night- John receiving extra special love from us all.
Jeff has been sleeping now since I began this, but I could not sleep without writing it down. Thought I doubt I will ever forget the terror of this day, I need it to be written down. I need to remember it was real and not just a nightmare when I wake up tomorrow morning.
I know I wasn't truly to blame for John's leaving, but I cannot help but feel a bit guilty about it. My heart aches as I think about how he must have looked for me after he fell, only to realize I wasn't there. I am sure, however, that it is nothing compared to the guilt that same son feels now for the heartache he caused this family. Or would, if Jeff hadn't loaded him up with enough painkillers to knock down a cow. Not really, but it seemed so at the time. I will talk it over with him in the morning. Everything will look better in the morning. It always does. Besides, we have his thirteenth birthday to plan, tomorrow.
We will always have tomorrow.