The nurse locked her office, and the three walked down to a dark green minivan. The boy nervously twirled the brim of the Hat in his hands, giving them something to do so he wouldn't freak out. Allie saw the hat in his hands, only noticing it now for some reason.
"That's a cool hat." She said with a smile. He looked up at her, not sure what to say. He wasn't sure if others could see it, but he was somewhat relieved when she acknowledged that she could.
"Thank you." The boy managed to say. He wanted to mention something, anything about how he got it, or who gave it to him, but he kept silent, worried about the two's reaction to it. They were already driving him home; he didn't need to give them any more reason to worry about him.
The ride was quick once the boy told the two where he lived (87 Mulberry Street). It was fairly silent as well, save for mother and daughter's "How was your day?" discussion. In no time at all, they pulled into the driveway. There were no lights on inside, he could already see that from the car.
Hopping out, the boy walked up the snow covered path to the house, peering inside. Right away, he realized that this was not the house he knew. The pictures were completely different from the ones that used to hang up there of his family. They were ones of a family, yes, but not his family. Not the brown haired, brown eyed people that he grew up with. The memories from the walls were gone. Instead, they were replaced with a smiling, posing blond haired, blue eyed family of 5. All the pictures seemed to be looking at him, mocking him.
The boy staggered backwards, trying to catch his breath. Where was his family? Who were these strangers in his house? Why were they here? Suddenly, a bright light silhouetted his body. The boy turned to see a minivan pulling into the driveway.
Run! Run you idiot, RUN!
He couldn't run. He couldn't move! His feet were seemingly glued to the ground. He never took his eyes off of the van, and watched as three people got out. A father, and two kids, one boy and one girl got out, and saw him immediately.
"Dad, what's that kid doing on our doorstep?"
He took a step back, leaning on the door for support. His doorstep? Oh no, this is his doorstep. This is his house... or... it was.
The boy locked eyes with the dad, looking for anything, anything that would tell him where his parents are. But there was nothing. Only the cold, confused look that a young boy was on his doorstep. Still in a tee shirt and shorts. The dad shook his head, looking down at his son. "I don't know son. He must be looking for something."
The boy took a step towards them, all eyes on him. "Do..." words failed him momentarily. Then, mustering up some courage, he asked, "Who are you, and why are you at my house?"
The family stared, and the boy felt himself shrink slightly. He wasn't in his fantasy world anymore. He was just some kid, looking for a place he could belong. The daughter, who looked a bit younger than him, was the first to speak up. "Your house?" she asked with overwhelming amounts of sarcasm. "This is our house. What are you doing here?"
Wow, she sounds like Mayzie. The Cat commented. A flicker of a smile came across the boy's face. When he looked at it that way, she wasn't so intimidating anymore. Like the Hunches. You just gotta look at them in a different light, and everything turns out alright. "I live here... my name is JoJo."
The adults gasped slightly, looking at each other before looking back to JoJo. "JoJo Santo?" the father asked. "The kid that went missing over a year ago?" JoJo nodded. "Your parents sold us this house!"
"Where are they?" JoJo asked, the scared, worried tone of a child creeping back into his voice. His moment of bravery was over. All he wanted to do was find his parents and get back to normal life.
Normal life, save for his Thinks.
The father of the family looked to Allie's mother, then started walking towards JoJo. "Here, come inside, I'll explain everything." JoJo hesitated at first, not sure if he could trust him. But then he figured, what more harm could he possibly do? He nodded at the man, following him and the two others inside. Allie looked to her mom, not sure what to do. Her mother reassured her though, that JoJo would be fine. They drove off, heading home after a long day.
As soon as JoJo walked through the door, he got an odd feeling of belonging and outsideness. Not everything was different, in fact, not much had changed at all. Just the pictures, the pictures. They were still mocking him, their eyes seemingly following his every move. He avoided their gaze, looking down at the hardwood floors. The two other kids walked past him, and dashed up the stairs, shouting at each other as they did. The father ignored it though, as he gazed at this helpless little boy. He knew the stories, he had read the papers. He had talked to his parents for Christ's sake! The parents had left because they didn't believe their son was coming back.
He cleared his throat, causing JoJo to look up. By god, how innocent he looked. It was as if he had just stepped out of a children's book. JoJo, meanwhile, was silently smiling. This man, this father looked so much like General Schmitz. The concentrated, stern look, the straight posture, the serious air of a general; he had it all! It took a lot of willpower not to shutter, and a whole lot more not to laugh at the idea of General Schmitz being viewed as fatherly. Or, rather, the father that a child would want to have.
"JoJo." He started, his voice cracking slightly. JoJo's brow furrowed, and a knot started to form in his stomach. When adults' voices crack, you know that bad news is coming. He braced himself, trying to prep for anything that he could think of.
"Where are they?" JoJo asked again.
"Last I heard." The father said, biting his lip. "They were in California. They just moved there not a month ago." He looked at JoJo, softly whispering. "They gave up. They didn't think there was hope, so they just… gave up."
JoJo staggered backwards slightly, suddenly feeling dizzy. They… gave up? "No…" he whispered, grasping for a chair or a wall or something, anything to get a grip on. He needed to know that he had a hold on something in his life. "No, no. You're… you're lying!"
There was a sad sort of pity in the father's eyes that twisted knots in JoJo's stomach. "JoJo-"
"They wouldn't give up on me!" he exclaimed. "They couldn't have! I'm their son! They can't give up on their son…" his voice had gone from a loud accusatory tone, to the whisper of a lost little boy. "They can't give up…" There was silence between the two, as JoJo fought back tears and tried to Think of a way out of this. Nothing was coming to mind though. Only to escape back into his Thinks, with Horton and Gertrude and his parents there that, sure betrayed him for a perfect son, but at least never gave up on him. The sound of breathing was the only noise in the room. The children that had previously gone upstairs were now sitting on the stairs, anxiously waiting what came next.
"There's more." The father whispered. He heard a sharp intake of breath, and debated whether he should tell this boy or not. Perhaps he should know what happened first… that would give him slightly more insight. "But, if you don't mind, could you tell me what happened?"
"No." JoJo answered immediately in a harsh tone. The father was rather taken aback by his tone, but nodded. He had figured his answer would be something like that. "If you don't want to talk about it, that's… fine."
JoJo looked up from the floor and stared straight at the father. He could barely see, his head was spinning so much. However, he could see well enough to see the shocked look in the dad's eyes. He knew this wasn't a look that his children would give to him, if he were lucky. Not the look of utter defeat. Not the look of a lost soul. No, this was a new experience for both of them. "I rather liked where I was." JoJo started, leaning against a wall, trying so hard to keep himself standing up. "It was nice, despite some minor things."
"Not you Cat…" JoJo murmured, avoiding the gaze of the father, who he could tell was looking strangely at him. "Just what you did."
"JoJo." The father said in a firm tone. "What, or who are you talking to?"
He shut his mouth, trying to hide his mistake. "He… it…" There was no way he would be able to get through this without sounding insane. "I… I don't know."
JoJo winced slightly. "I'm sorry…" he whispered, more in apology to his imagination than to the man. "I can't…"
Sure ya can. Just say it. Ya already sound crazy enough!
He had a point. Taking a deep breath, JoJo said in a rush, "I got carried away with my imagination, and created this… Think. This Think called the Cat. The Cat in the Hat, to be exact. And… he made me Think more, and more, until I had created this world of my imagination! There… I got put into it. After that, I sort of lost control, I didn't think that I could Think my way out, and then stuff happened, in the military, and I was there, but… I got out. And I saved it. I saved the Whos, and Horton wasn't condemned, and… then it was over."
The father gave him a blank look, one of confusion. JoJo could hear the kids giggling from the stairs. Then, the man groaned, rubbing his temples. "Kid… this isn't the time to fool around. Are you going to tell me what really happened, or not?"
"But that IS what happened!" JoJo exclaimed.
"The Cat in the Hat took you into your imagination?" The father yelled. "JoJo! That doesn't happen in reality!"
"Maybe not your reality." JoJo yelled back. "But it's my reality!" the father got a little quiet after that, and so did JoJo. "It was my reality for a whole year…" he whispered. Then, an idea striking him, he pulled up the sleeve of his shirt, revealing a burn mark. "I got this when the landmine blew up. I didn't get hurt more than that, just a little bruised because it pushed me rather far, but that's there. It'll stay there, forever." He pulled the sleeve back down again, after the man looked at it. "Where in this town, or this state rather, is there land mines?"
The father didn't answer, his face pale white. JoJo looked to the stairs, where the kids had been. They were still there, but their eyes were wide and frightened. Seeing as he wasn't going to answer, JoJo kept talking. "I don't understand how it happened either. I was bored when I was walking home from school, and there was this red and white hat on the sidewalk. I walked over to it, and started thinking about who could own it, and then… he appeared. Then a musical number started… which was odd, because I've never been good at coming up with songs."
It's because I had taken over at that time, obviously.
"Yeah, why would I ever think that I was in charge of something?" JoJo muttered jokingly back. He heard the Cat's impish laughter echo throughout his mind, and smiled. "He's still in there." JoJo explained, not even looking at the father now, who was secretly debating whether to call the state asylum or not. "In my mind. Just hanging out, causing trouble, distracting me from my school work. But… unless there's some way that you can into my mind, I doubt that you'll-"
JoJo stopped mid-sentence. Looking past the man, he saw a glimpse of red and a secret smirk. "No." he whispered.
"No?" The dad cut in. "What do you mean-"
JoJo pushed past him, running to see if it was true. It couldn't be! He had gone back into his mind like all the rest! Or, rather, he was in his mind while the rest simply vanished. HE'd already taken him on one little adventure, wasn't that enough? It couldn't be, it couldn't be!
And yet it was.
Standing there in the living room was a cat, six foot tall, directly resembling the one who had tormented him for the past year, only without his red and white hat. JoJo instinctively reached up on top of his head, feeling the stovepipe hat that resided there. The Cat looked at him, smirking. "It looks good on ya kid."
"What are you doing here?" JoJo asked, half panicked, half furious. "I just left!"
The Cat shrugged, in usual cat-like fashion. "I got bored, and you were tripping all over yourself to explain the unexplainable." The Cat glanced from the father to the kids, then back to JoJo. "Your parents are in Cali." He said, looking at his young victim. "They left here just last week, after living in an apartment for a month or so. They still miss you dearly, and they left earlier then they probably should have because your dad got transferred about a week after you "went missing". Now they live in La Jolla, and still miss you very much, but have again given up hope." The Cat looked outside the window at the snow swirling down. "Better head to the airport then, catch a ride to California."
JoJo just stared at the Cat. "How did you-"
"JoJo." He said, cocking an eyebrow. "Do you really want to know?"
He was silent for a moment, then shook his head. "No. Not really."
"Dad! The Cat in the Hat is in our house!"
JoJo looked back to see the kids running towards him. Gulping, he instinctively ducked down, and the Cat disappeared, leaving the kids to stumble over to nothing. The dad was still frozen, shocked. JoJo looked around, eying the door. There was nothing left for him here, how could he continue? His gaze traveled back to the father, who was still staring at him. "You… you saw him." He said, his voice quivering. "I-I'm not crazy!"
The father shook his head. "JoJo, you can't be serious. We saw nothing."
"But dad-" One of the kids piped up.
JoJo backed up slightly. "No… no, you saw it! I know you did! You saw him, and so did they and…" he froze, looking around. A sudden realization came to his mind. I can't win. A shutter ran through his body, and he couldn't speak, not even to defend himself. So he did the only thing he could think of doing.
Throwing open the door, he dashed out, ignoring the calls of the father to come back, ignoring the threats and worried cries of the kids, and just ran. He had brief flashbacks to his alternate reality, and wanted nothing more than to go back to that place. Even if it put his life in danger, it was better than being locked up. Not seeing his parents again. Everyone thinking he's crazy.
He belonged in that world.
JoJo didn't stop running until he reached a small park. He slowed down, leaning against the metal gates. "Let me go back." He begged, shaking his head. "Please… let me go back…"