Thank you to everyone who has read and commented. Your words helped inspire me. And now, alas, this beast is done and I hope you enjoy the chapter. Love, Phoenix
Little Boy Lost
One Week later…
Eight year old Biff Hooper was so excited he actually vibrated. Today he was going to see Joe Hardy for the first time in over two years and he just could not wait.
"Do you see them yet?" he asked his mother as she walked past the large picture window in the living room. He was already there with his nose pressed against the glass before she could answer. "I don't see them…" His brow puckered. "It's today, right? Joey is coming here today?"
Mrs. Hooper, a pleasant plump woman with snow blond hair and twinkling eyes smiled and shook her head. "Mr. Hardy said they'd be here around two-"
"Is it two yet?" Biff demanded impatiently, getting a reprimanding look from his mother, and ignoring it. "Is it?" His nose squished even further into the glass as he tried to see down the street. "I don't see them coming yet."
"Biff, honey, settle down-"
"They're here! They're here!" the blond boy suddenly burst out as he saw a large silver SUV turn the corner and pull up in front of his house. He was already out the front door and halfway down the walkway before the vehicle stopped.
"JOEY!" Biff hollered as he raced towards the truck, "FRANK!" He skidded to a stop, rocking back on his heels in his excitement.
Mr. Hardy and Frank got out first but he barely gave them a glance, his gaze trying to burn through the tinted window to see his sorely missed friend.
And then Joe was right there.
For one long moment the two boys just stared at each other. Biff almost didn't recognize his best friend in the thin, uncertain, pale looking kid standing quietly in front of him. But then he saw what Joe was clutching in his non-sprained hand and Biff's face lit up. "Holy crap -" he blushed, shot Joe's Dad a worried look, which the man met with a raised eyebrow, and quickly corrected, "I mean, cow… Holy cow, is that Pal?" Mr. Hardy nodded in approval.
The blond boy opened his hand and held it out. He smiled. "You want to play with her?"
"Her?" Biff frowned as he took the offered car and scrutinized it carefully. Although he knew that Frank had it, Biff hadn't actually seen the prized toy in a long time. "I thought it was a him…"
"It was," Frank interjected as he flanked his brother and then gave Joe a knowing look. "Until boy genius here pointed out it had no rocket launcher…" He gave Biff a significant look. It took Biff a moment to get the significance but when he did, his mouth opened in a wide O.
Behind them, it sounded like Mr. Hardy was choking on something.
Biff barely paid any attention as he grabbed Joe's good arm and started towing his best friend towards the house. Frank followed. "C'mon Joey," he chattered having no trouble knowing this boy now, "you gotta see my room -" he paused and looked back at the man watching them. At one time he had been afraid of Fenton – he was armed after all – but now, Joe's dad didn't look so scary… now he just looked kinda scared. "Don't worry Mr. Hardy, we'll take good care of him… I promise!"
The detective got a very weird look on his face and then gave a pained looking smile. Biff briefly wondered if the man had swallowed his tongue but then promptly forgot all about that two seconds later. He had a new transformer that Joe just had to see.
Watching his sons go with Biff was the hardest thing Fenton had ever done. He had to fight every impulse not to grab the boys, toss them back into the SUV, take them home and never let them out of his sight again. But he couldn't. Not if he wanted Joe to properly heal…
It was still hard.
Things had changed a lot in the last week. Some things were immediate and good, like Fenton's redemption in Joe's eyes, but other things were more gradual and heartbreaking, like trying to get the still skittish child used to the routine of an every day normal life. A life that included the outside world; a place Nestor Watersmith and his wife worked hard to keep Joe separated from to protect themselves. And it showed in many ways, from Joe's almost panic attack the first time they went to a store, to his reluctance to be alone and his need for physical comfort. It was as if the child had been starved for companionship and affection, and in every way, Fenton knew he had been.
It was nothing Fenton, Laura or Frank held against their little boy and they were only too eager to help him find his balance again, but if Joe ever stood any chance of truly getting past this, they had to also let him go. A little. In ways like this – his first trip, with Frank of course, as if anyone could keep the older boy away, to Biff's house for a playdate.
Baby steps. He kept reminding himself. Baby steps for them all.
By the time the three boys got to Biff's room, Biff had forgotten all about the transformer he had wanted to show Joe, he had something else more important in mind.
"You guys have got to see this." Passing the toy car back to Joe, Biff got down on the floor and reached under his bed.
Joe sat down on the edge of his bed and watched.
"It's not another moldy sandwich is it?" Frank teased as he crouched down next to Biff and held up the end of the sheets for his friend.
Biff shot him an indignant glare. "Hey that was one damn scary sandwich." He grinned as the two other boys stared at him in shock.
"You swore?" the reverence in Joe's voice had him beaming as he sat back on his knees and nodded.
"Yup. I've been practicing," he boasted.
"Why?" Frank demanded, obviously not as impressed by Biff's brashness as Joe was. But that was okay because Frank was only Biff's best friend; Joe was Biff's BEST friend. "It sounds stupid. Swearing is stupid." The nine year old rained on his parade.
"It makes me sound older," Biff defended, back to hunting under his bed again. He knew it was under here somewhere…
"Soap tastes bad, Biff," Joe's quiet admittance surprised Biff. There was experience in the tone that caught him off guard and he opened his mouth to ask Joe how he'd know but was stopped when Frank caught his eye and shook his head. The message was clear. Drop it.
Biff scowled back, not liking the brief flash of warning in the dark eyes that held his gaze but then sighed and dropped it. How had he ever forgotten what Frank, the big brother, was like? Then he sighed. Maybe his friends were right, now that Joe was back, swearing didn't seem such a big deal. In fact, it did kinda sound stupid…
And then he found what he was looking for.
"Aha," he cried out as he pulled out a large scrapbook. It was dusty and dog-eared but was just as important now as it had been then.
The Hardys watched him expectantly as Biff dropped the heavy book down on the bed next to Joe and then plopped down himself.
"Here," he said, his pale blue eyes smiling, "I made it for you."
Joe looked at him for a moment and then glanced back at Frank. The older boy gave a subtle shrug.
"It's not going to bite," Biff pushed the gift towards his friend.
A tentative smile was his reward as Joe reached out and touched the cover. He read the words written in Biff's childish scrawl, "My Best Friend," his voice sounded oddly thin. He looked up at Biff again but the other blond boy, impatient for the thing to be opened just waved at the book with his hands.
"C'mon already," he grumbled, "open it!"
And Joe did.
Inside the book were pictures, drawings. Each one a painstaking testimony of a friendship that had continued and grown during the time Joe was gone.
The pictures were each neatly labeled:
Me and Joe at the park…
Me and Joe playing tag…
Me and Joe splashing Frank at the beach…
Frank chasing me and Joe.
It went on and on until the scrapbook was almost completely filled.
The last picture didn't have Biff in it. It was a family portrait, a tall dark haired man, a petit blond haired woman, and two boys, one dark, one light; simply labeled, Joe is home with his family.
Joe's vision blurred and something tightened in his chest. All the times when he had thought he was so alone, so unwanted, so unloved… Biff had been making this scrapbook. Remembering Joe when Joe couldn't remember himself…
A traitorous tear dropped onto the page.
And then he felt Frank standing beside him, the warmth of his leg pressed against Joe's, grounding him, supporting him, loving him.
"Thank you." He wasn't even sure Biff had heard him until his friend beamed widely and saved him from himself,
"Bet you didn't know I was such an awesome drawer, did ya?"
Joe laughed, and it felt good. He felt good. Beside him, Frank groaned good-naturedly. "Great… We are never going to hear the end of this, are we?"
"Nope," Biff grinned. "Now if the girly stuff is over, let's get something to eat and watch a movie or something."
"Actually," Joe spoke up, "If you don't mind," he turned to Frank for reassurance, still not used to actually being allowed to ask. "Can we go outside to play?"
His brother and friend didn't even miss a beat…
"Outside works for me."
Joe Hardy smiled and followed his friend out of the room, his big brother barely a breath behind him. He paused and looked back at the scrapbook on the bed.
Frank waited wordlessly, a serious look on his face. Enough of this, thought Joe. He stuck out his tongue and then raced down the stairs, his brother hot on his heels.
It felt good to be back.
I am going to start posting a story I am particularly pleased with called 'The Collector' and I hope you'll stick around and enjoy that one too!