((Hey guys! So, long overdue, here's the next chapter! I have an overabundance of time this summer, so I expect to pick this up for the summer. I'm also working on other stories, so stay tuned for those! As always, please R & R - I don't know if anyone is still reading this, but I hope so!))



Marty tossed down the controller in disgust, sighing as it clanged loudly against the pristine tile flooring of the hospital room. "You win again."

"You're getting better," his companion said cheerfully, pulling the string above his own bed to signal a nurse. "How about two out of three?"

"I'm pretty tired…" He groaned as the other boy gave him wide, sad eyes. "Sure, sure, two out of three. Then we're done with this little 'Sonic the retarded porcupine', or whatever this is. We'll play Madden 2009 for a couple hours, and then we'll see how much you still want to play."

"He's a hedge hog," his 'roommate' corrected (or cellmate, as Marty liked to call it when one of the nurses gave him a hard time). "And I'll kill you in Madden, too. Face it, I'm the champ."

Marty rolled his eyes, but glanced over at the boy and had to laugh as he looked eagerly at the screen, setting up the next game. At twelve years old, Tyler Audley was as typical an all-American, fun-loving boy as they came; just like Marty had been at that age. After his surgery, he'd been placed in a room with the boy, and though at first sharing a hospital room with some other damaged person had seemed like it would be awful, it was probably all that was keeping him from going insane.

Despite his heavily-medicated first couple of days, he'd become coherent sooner than the doctors had planned, and it was Tyler who kept him from getting depressed while the doctors scrambled about, trying to determine whether or not Marty would ever be able to walk without help again. It was something else, to wake up with no memory of anything but running towards those bright field lights with a football in your hand, and being told that your leg may be permanently damaged and your dreams of College football may never be realized. That your dreams of walking again may never be realized.

Tyler was worse off than him, though; he'd felt guilty for feeling bad for himself at all, when he first heard the story. A wheel on the boy's skateboard had broken off, sending him rolling… right into a speeding car. His prosthetic leg was supposed to be on its way to replace what had previously been his healthy, strong left leg. He wasn't scared or angry, though; in fact, he was looking forward to it.

"I'll be like Superman, right? Can you see it? There'll be a robbery, and the guys'll be all like, 'get down!' and I'll be all like 'make me!' and they'll be all like, BANG, BANG! Two shots right in the leg, that's enough to take down a normal man. But oh no, I'll be all, 'have to do better than that, ladies!' and I'll run over and kick them in the chest with my super leg!" Tyler had said, getting so excited that the nurse who was trying to deliver his dinner had to wait until he was done before she set the tray down, in fear of him knocking it over with his wild gestures. "I mean, sure, most of the time bad guys probably wouldn't shoot me in the leg, but that's what bullet-proof jackets are for."

The kid talked a mile a minute, and once he'd found out that Marty was a 'big, awesome high school football player', he'd talked even more. Despite what Marty thought might be some ADHD tendencies in Tyler, they'd made fast friends, and his sunny disposition kept Marty in one, too. They traded tales of adventure and mischief, laughed about the things they were missing in school, and even told each other a few secrets. After all, age difference or not, they had both seen each other at what would probably be their absolute worst. Overall, Marty considered himself to be in even higher spirits than before the accident.

The closest he came to upset was when his friends would stop by, giving him that uncomfortable, uncertain look as they dropped by their flowers and cards and gifts, and then made tracks to get out of there fast. It looked like a flower shop in the room, and yet his parents were the only people outside Tyler and the nurses that he'd had real conversations with. He wasn't really upset, though; after all, if someone else were in the situation, maybe he would act the way they did, too. Maybe.

As the nurse came in, rolling her eyes as she saw the controller on the floor and wordlessly going to pick it up and hand it to Marty before leaving the room, he glanced over at Tyler, who was smiling brightly. The boy's parents had been there a lot over the weekend while his sister stayed home and looked after his youngest brother, who was only a baby. It was obvious the kid enjoyed his parents enough, but Marty could count on one hand the number of conversations where the emerald-eyed boy hadn't brought up his older sister. With an international race-car driver as a father, Marty couldn't imagine what kind of big sister the girl had to be, to be the family member the younger boy most idolized.

"Hey, hey, are you listening to me?" Tyler demanded, interrupting Marty's thoughts.

"Yeah, sorry, keep going," Marty replied, giving the boy an apologetic smile.

Tyler shrugged it off, the indignation apparently gone. "Like I said, my sister is the only one who ever beat me at this game. One time, she did it with her eyes closed the entire time! She says she'll teach me some of the tricks she knows for the game, but only if I make honor roll this semester."

"So, I finally get to meet this amazing sister of yours today, right?" Marty questioned, laughing as Tyler started up a new game.

Tyler shrugged, eyes now locked on the television screen. "I guess. She's supposed to be here now, but she's always late. Probably got some stupid boyfriend to drive her, they're always trying to impress her. Most of them are jerks."

So, she was good looking. Marty tried not to appear like he was dwelling on that fact, if only for Tyler's sake; after all, it was Marty's bones that were damaged, not his testosterone. And after being stuck in this place with only their grizzly, over-worked, older nurses (and the male nurse who made it a point to be as rough as possible; Marty suspected a masculinity issue), and a few concerned friends, he could surely use a new, pretty girl's face.

They played that stupid Muskrat game for another half an hour, much to Marty's disgust, before a light knock came to their door. "Get decent!" Was the only preparation they had, before in walked… "Well… wow. Last time I saw you, you were helping me lift my battered body off the pavement, where you had just put me. Sort of an ironic turn around."

"Hannah Audley?!"




There he was. The other teachers that surrounded the table in the small, crowded teacher's lounge glanced nervously at each other as the pounding at the door continued. Bryan Denton simply sat back, looking at his watch before taking the last bite of his sandwich. Yep, the boy was right on time. As always.

"Mr. Denton! I really need to speak to you! Look, I know you're in there. This is very important!" The voice behind the door became louder as the knocking became more persistent.

Finally Denton stood up, nodded to his colleagues, and opened the door just in time to be knocked to the floor by a swift rap to the head. "Mr. Martin, always a pleasure." Poised as ever, though he did make it a point to rub his forehead in the spot that would undoubtedly sport a bruise later, he climbed to his feet to come face to face with the wide-eyed student.

"Sir, I am so sorry. I didn't realize you were going to open the door and I just thought that you might be having trouble hearing the knocking and…" Dee Martin's blue eyes were frantic as he rubbed his hands together, looking even more anxious and fidgety than usual.

Denton rolled his eyes, starting down the hall. "Mr. Martin, I'd be surprised if the entire floor didn't hear you. Listen, I know I said at the beginning of the year that I was always available, but really, every lunch? And for the same reason? You must realize this seems a bit… like overkill."

"Well, Sir, if you'd just say yes, I'd stop bothering you," Dee pointed out, rushing to keep up with the man.

"We've already been over this, Mr. Martin. I'm not writing you a College recommendation letter," Denton said, with an amazing amount of patience.

Dee heaved an exasperated sigh. "But why not? I know you write them; the one you wrote for David Jacobs is the best I've seen. A letter like that is just what I need to really compete on an Ivy League level."

"I only write what I believe in, Mr. Martin. I believe Mr. Jacobs will make an excellent addition to whichever academic institution he decides to attend. You and Mr. Jacobs are not one in the same," Denton said, sharply turning a corner.

Dee very nearly slammed right into it. "Are you saying you don't think I should go to College?

"Watch the corners, son. I'm not saying that at all. But I am saying, that I don't believe you would be the best possible addition to a higher learning community at this point. You have some growing to do." The teacher shrugged, before slipping into his classroom. "But, again, what do I know? Just get another teacher to write your letter for you."

"But I want you," Dee protested. "What growing do I have to do? A 1530 on my SAT's, a 4.2 GPA, a ton of extracurriculars, even volunteer work… I'm the perfect student."

"Academically, yes, you're a good student. But Colleges want more than that, and I'm afraid that you lack necessary… social skills that I feel will be rather important to your success. You plan to major in political science, isn't that right?" He opened his briefcase and began pulling out papers, undoubtedly for the next class.

"Yes, that's right. Hey, is that an exam?" He casually leaned over the desk, peering at the papers.

Denton rolled his eyes and covered them with his briefcase. "Which brings me to my point. I'm going to be frank with you, Mr. Martin. You need to stop being so concerned with your own goals, and start making it a priority to be concerned with your peers. To be a good leader, and a good politician, you need to be personable."

"You're not writing my letter because I'm not popular enough?" Dee demanded.

"Also, because your ethical fiber leaves something to be desired," Denton replied dryly, but then felt a pang of empathy for the boy. "Listen, it's not your popularity. It's that you seem to hold no regard for anyone but yourself. Prove to me that that's not the case, and I'll write your letter."

Dee looked more than mildly unhappy, but shrugged if off. He wanted this letter. "And how am I supposed to do that?"

"Well, I'm an English professor; write me a paper. Find a subject, and improve their lives, then tell me how you did it and what you learned. Easy enough, right?" Denton guided the boy to the door. "And, before you ask, those are the only parameters. So, go. Improve. Let me know when you've finished."

"But… But…" Dee suddenly found himself out of the classroom, with Denton smiling at him once more before shutting the door, albeit gently, in his face.

"Of all the stupid… Improve someone's… this is so…" Dee kicked a crumpled piece of paper down the hallway, red-faced as he thought of what had just happened. Him? Not personable? Everyone liked him! He wasn't self-obsessed, just driven. Unlike most of these useless drones, just here to get their diploma and slink off to go work in some car repair garage in Harlem…

"Talking to yourself. Attractive," came a voice from behind, right before he was shoved face-first onto the floor.

"Melody. We've really got to stop meeting like this." Great, just what he needed. Wait… it was just what he needed! "Melody! You're poor, unpopular and generally a boil on society, right?"

"Excuse me?" If Dee wasn't so busy picking himself up and mentally patting himself on the back for this brilliant idea, he likely would have noticed Melody's very red face and angry demeanor.

"I can help you! I'll turn you into a productive member of the community. Yes!" Visions of 'My Fair Lady' came dancing through his head – the good parts, that was.

Unfortunately for Dee, in My Fair Lady, the men offering their help were not punched in the face, so he was reasonably unprepared for the event. The hit laid him out against the floor once more, this time leaving him to look up at the rapidly spinning ceiling.

"Moron. Come near me and I'll help you – into the hospital." Turning on her heel, Melody stormed off, leaving Dee to lay in the hallway and likely be trampled when the bell rang.

But unfortunately for Melody Steffanson, Dee was already putting together his plan to turn the girl into a Lady. It would take more than a stupid assignment – and a punch to the face – to keep him out of the college of his choice.



"Not again!"

Tyler moaned as once again, Hannah beat him badly at the video game. Marty had been playing as well, but had long since given up; trouncing didn't quite cover how badly Hannah had beaten them. For the past ten games.

"What are you guys doing in here, talking about flowers and painting each others' nails all day? Come on, you should be able to kill me in this!" Hannah declared, reaching out to ruffle Tyler's hair as he gave a slight pout.

"I'll never beat you in this. I'm getting a super leg, not super thumbs," Tyler said, and perked up a little bit at his own joke. "Again?"

"Well…" However, they paused when a nurse came in, busily looking over a chart.

"Mr. Audley, time for your meds," she said, before glancing at Hannah. "You can stay, if you want, but…"

"I'll wait over there," the girl replied immediately, not eager to watch her brother get poked and prodded.

Hannah went over and sat in a chair next to Marty's bed while the nurse drew the curtain around Tyler. "Almost forgot we were in a hospital," she said, a bit dryly.

"He won't be here too much longer. Another week or two, right?" Marty offered, feeling the need to cheer the suddenly unhappy girl. She'd been so chipper since she'd gotten here… however, Marty realized rather suddenly, that may have just been for Tyler's benefit. The girl's little brother had nearly died and just had his leg removed; how chipper could she truly be? Still, even he hadn't noticed any sign of wear on the girl until this moment, which he was sure was her intent; she certainly was a good older sister.

"I hope so. Mom and dad have to get back out on the road in about three weeks; I want him settled in by then so I know all about how to take care of him and stuff." Hannah's voice was low, and Marty knew to lower his voice in return.

"I think he'll get better fast. The nurses are all saying how he's the most upbeat kid they've ever seen who's been through… what he's been through. With the whole permanent, missing limb thing." Marty realized halfway through that that might not have been the best thing to say, but it was sort of like a train wreck; he just watched helplessly as the words tumbled from his mouth.

Hannah put her face in her hands, and Marty instantly felt lower than he had since he'd been brought to this place. "Sorry," he managed, running a frustrated hand through his hair. Great – now his hair would be sticking up all over the place. So now he wouldn't just be the jerk that had made the pretty girl cry; he'd be the goofy-looking jerk that had made the pretty girl cry.

"No, it's fine. It's true." Hannah took a deep breath and straightened up, and Marty was relieved to see that she was not crying. Close, but not quite; was the whole Audley family just inherently tough, or what?! "I just don't… it's hard, to see him. It's the first time since that day, and now that I see him and it's real and he'll never… I just wish it wasn't this way."

Disjointed as her words were, Marty understood. "At least you have those friends of yours, to help you." She started to cut him off immediately, but he held up his hand. "I mean, not that Tyler's not the focus. But, you should have someone to talk to, too. It's got to be hard on all of you, and you don't want to put all that pressure on yourself and up snapping at somebody who doesn't deserve it, like Tyler."

Seeming to get a bit less defensive, her shoulders sagged slightly. "They try. They just, they don't understand. I want to just make this all go away, to fix this, and for once I can't. I can't make this better for him, and all I can think of is if I had been there, or done something differently… it's not their fault, I just don't think they would understand. I mean, who could?"

"I would." Marty looked just as surprised that he had spoken as she did, but then decided to press on with sudden, newfound courage. "I mean, I do. When he gets out and your parents take off, why not let me help out? I'm not real proud that my best friend is a twelve year old, but he sort of is, now, and if I could help you out, make things easier on the both of you, I'd like to. It would give you somebody to talk to – I mean, I know we're not friends, but I do understand what you're feeling. Besides, it gives me something else to think about besides just trying to get this thing working right again."

As she glanced at his leg, looking guilty, he caught on to her thoughts and shook his head immediately. "Don't worry – I'll be on crutches. Might be a little clumsy, but I can get around. Just, think about it, huh?"

"Okay," she said, but sounded a bit like she thought his medications might be getting to him. "I'm sorry, I never did ask how you were. I just came right over to complain; how much of a jerk am I?"

"No, I'm glad," he said, and then went wide-eyed at inadvertently calling her jerk. However, he relaxed a bit when she laughed lightly. "I mean, I'm glad you talked to me like a normal person. You guys are the first people to treat me normally; makes me feel a little better, actually."

She gave a hesitant smile. "Well, you are normal – or at least, getting there."

"Yeah, I guess so. Though, if you wanted to take it easy on a poor, crippled jock and let me win a few times at the video games…" She really laughed, then, and he couldn't help but crack into a grin of his own. "Just thought I'd put that out there."

"I'll bet you did – but, not a chance. Nice try, though." They smiled at each other, in a moment of comfortable silence, before Tyler's curtains were pulled back and the nurse left the room, marking things off on that clipboard of hers.

"I'm not going to miss the shots," Tyler said, as Hannah stood and walked back over to him. He looked a bit ashen, and slightly in pain, but still managed to have that silly grin of his as his sister kissed his forehead and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"What were you guys talking about? I tried to listen, but that nurse kept getting in my way and jabbing me with stuff. Tell her to be nicer next time, Hann," he complained.

"We were talking about your super leg," Marty replied, to which Tyler smiled even wider. "I figured I should probably let you tell her the story about how you'll use it to fight crime, though."

"Thanks," Tyler nodded, and Hannah shot him a secret smile over her brother's head. Marty quite suddenly felt that, as he looked at them and felt a strong sense of belonging with the tight duo, this might not have been the worst thing to happen to him, after all. And he couldn't help but laugh as Tyler started in on his story again.

"So, like, there'll be a robbery, right? And the robbers, they'll be all like, 'get down!' and I'll be all like…"



Coming Up in Chapter 8: David and Rose find out they have something in common, much to Jack's dismay, and Justine finds that life as a senior is a little more confusing - and overwhelming - then she'd anticipated. All that and more, next time! Stay tuned!