Whoever developed the saying 'three's a crowd' didn't know how true that statement was. Joe Hardy perfectly understood how this could be. He also knew the feeling of being alone in a crowd. He'd always thought that it would be impossible to feel lonely amidst so many people, but now things were different. He was different.

He watched as couples danced merrily, the girls' fancy dresses twirling around their legs and swooshing against the couple next to them. Joe spotted Frank and Callie among the group, laughing and spinning round so care free. Joe remembered a time when he was like that. It seemed ages ago when he and Iola had danced in this very room. Back then, he would laugh at the guys standing by the sidelines, now he was one of them.

If Joe had had his way he wouldn't have even attended the spring formal. However, he'd come to please his mother. She was worried that he was taking Iola's death too hard and that he wasn't socializing enough.

So here he stood, wearing the same suit and tie he'd worn to Iola's memorial service watching other people laugh and dance without a care in the world.

The past six months had been very hard for Joe. It started with the first week back at school. Word had gotten around that Joe had been flirting with Val, the red head. Only it didn't stop there. One rumor said he was making out with her, and one even went so far to say that he'd been two-timing Iola with her for months and Val was pregnant with his child!

It took every ounce of strength he had not to pound the living day lights out of the guy that started that rumor. Yeah he might have been doing a little flirting, but he would have NEVER hurt Iola by cheating on her.

Eventually the rumor died down, but it didn't stop the stares. It almost drove Joe crazy, the look of concern on his parents face, the sympathy in the teachers' eyes, and the plain ice cold stares from the kids at school.

His parents and teachers wanted him to see a therapist. What good would that do? He couldn't talk to some stranger who would try to say he had depression and put him on meds. He didn't need meds he needed time to think.

The kids at school, however, showed him no mercy. His locker was broken into, notes that said murderer and killer were mysteriously dropped near him, his usual spot in every class was always taken forcing him to sit in the front row, and students always kept their distance when standing near him. What hurt the most though was being taken off the football team.

The coach hadn't wanted to remove him, but all of the other team mates showed they no longer wanted him to be a part of the team. During practice, they always tackled him needlessly and hard, during games no one would pass to Joe even if he was open. Coach had tried everything he could think of short of suspending the whole team, but to no avail. After losing their third game in a row because of the vendetta against Joe, the coach told him it might be a good idea to just sit this season out. The week after Joe left, the team won and hadn't lost a game since.



Frank had suggested he become a member of a club. Joe hadn't really wanted to but his brother insisted so he tried. Joe knew it was really bad when the chess club wouldn't even allow him to join. When Frank learned this he was steamed and planned to say something to the principle. But Joe knew it wouldn't do any good and talked his brother out of it.

"It will only make things worse."

"Then I'll quit being a member of every club I'm in." Frank stated.

"Why should you stop having fun just because some people are mad at me?" Joe questioned. "I still get to hang out with and Chet, Tony, Biff, and Phil."

So Frank dropped the subject. Joe quickly found out though that even hanging out with his friends at Mr. Pizza's wasn't the same. The boys talked about upcoming sports games and club events while Frank and Callie made goo goo eyes over each other. Joe quietly slipped away and sat at the counter watching the merry group joke and laugh. They didn't even notice he was gone. Soon they got up to leave. Joe followed them out side where Chet and Biff were picked up by Biffs' dad and Phil left on his moped.

Joe watched as Frank opened the door for Callie and helped her inside the van. Frank rushed to the driver's side, climbed in, and drove away leaving Joe watching from the parking lot. He stood there a few seconds before he was drawn to where Frank had been parked. It was the very spot where their car had gone up in flames and Iola had disappeared.

His hand went unconsciously to the chain that dangled from his neck. He clung to the twisted, melted keys as if it was his last link to life and in a way they were. At least life as he knew it before that day.

The music stopped and the crowd began dispersing about the room while the band took a small break. Joe realized that he was holding on to the keys and quickly let them fall back on his chest.

"So Joe, having a good time?" Frank asked from behind him. Startled, Joe spun around.

"Wha.. Oh yeah great. I think I'm starting to get a headache though. So I'll probably go home soon." Joe was going to say more, but realized that Frank wasn't paying attention. Joe couldn't blame him Callie looked really hot tonight. Her blonde hair hung just right and the sky blue dress hugged her very curvy body. Joe couldn't even figure out how she'd managed to get the thing on let alone how it managed to say up.

The music started and once again Joe was the only one on the side lines. After a few more minutes, he decided to leave. Glad that he'd driven separately from Frank, he started their parent's car and headed home.

Laura and Fenton had gone on a second honeymoon, so for the past 2 days it had just been him and Frank. He entered the dark house looking around as if it was the first time he'd been there. Three more days till his parents would be back. Frank wouldn't be home tonight because he was 

going to stay with Callie and leave with her and her parents first thing in the morning for a three day trip to visit Mr. Shaw's parents in Maine. It was the perfect opportunity.

Joe raced upstairs, reaching under his bed he pulled out his back pack and an old shoe box. He'd had this shoe box ready for years. In his father's line of work you never knew when you would have to leave in a moment's notice. Therefore, every since Joe was eight he'd had a show box stashed under his bed full of his most special things to take with him should he have to leave quickly. Over the years the items in the shoe box had changed from action figures to baseball cards. Now, the box held pictures of Iola and his family, his state quarter collection, the engagement ring he'd never had the chance to give Iola, his postcard collection, and his passport, birth certificate, and social security card.

He emptied the box and quickly decided to leave everything except the pictures of Iola. He considered taking the ring, but decided against it. Iola hadn't even known it existed therefore what value did it hold to him?

Joe wasn't taking any clothes because he was afraid Fenton may have placed locator chips in them. His father had done it before, and Joe didn't want to be found. Besides, it would be easier to travel without a lot of luggage.

However, he did need to do a few things on the computer before leaving. He took his laptop and turned it on. Frank had installed the same programs on Joe's computer that were on his incase of an emergency. What Frank didn't know was that Joe had learned how to use them over the past few months.

He knew a lot more about hacking and systems than anyone thought he did. It didn't take long for him to hack into the social security files. He then proceeded to create his new identity. One that had no connection to his old life.