Choices

A/N: I started writing this story back in the day (like 1995 or 1996) It was intended to be the introductory chapter to a "book" about Rob's adventures after he moves to Australia. After many, many edits, rewrites, name changes, and POV changes, this is the version I published to my old GW website in 2003. It looks like this story keeps coming around every 8 or so years for me. So here it is.)

Friends are forever

"Not for me," Rob thought as he read the inscription written inside the one of the writing notebooks he'd found in a still unpacked moving box. When his friends first gave him these notebooks as a going away gift, he'd planned to use them to record the things that had happened to him when he lived in New York, but since then he hadn't wanted to think about it. He kept the notebooks and other reminders of his time in New York buried away, like he tried to bury the memories of the friendships that he'd gained and then lost again. But then again, he couldn't really forget about them. The reminders were everywhere.

The reason he was looking at the notebooks now was because he was working on an English project about New York and was hoping to find some pictures or memorabilia that might be helpful. When he came across the first notebook, the inscription on the inside cover caught his attention. He pulled out the notebooks one by one and read them all.

Keep up the slammin' detective work.

When he moved to New York he had never expected to make a group of friends that he would solve mysteries with, but there were so many. They'd solved all kinds of cases from finding out who was sending threatening messages to the famous former actress Lana Barnes and busting Miller's Hauling Company for dumping toxic waste, to finding out who had stolen a model spaceship and who was vandalizing their school. Those were some great adventures with some dangerous moments included as well.

Stay out of subway tunnels.

No one needed to tell him twice He remembered how stupid he felt when he and Lisa were trapped in that tunnel while looking for Double T. Luckily Ghostwriter and his friends had been there to help him get out.

Gonna miss you, Pink Guy.

"Pink Guy." He had to smile whenever he thought of that nickname that he and Jamal had made up. But at the same time it reminded him of his encounters with the Thunderheads and how he relied on friends, Victor that time, to help him out. He wondered who would be there to bail him out if he got in trouble now. Not the Ghostwriter team. They were about as far away from him as one could get.

Ghostwriter is with you always.

Rob let out a sharp sigh and mustered a slightly sarcastic smile. It was a nice thought, but he had been doubtful. He was just so used to moving away and being forgotten. Why did he let himself think that New York was going to be any different?

He tossed the last writing book down with the others and looked around the room, his new bedroom. It looked more like a storage room by the way the moving boxes were stacked up. The room had been that way ever since they came to Sydney, but Rob didn't seem to mind.

When his dad said that he was retiring from his job in the military and that their family wasn't going to move around anymore, Rob had his doubts. He'd lived his whole life moving from place to place. Sometimes he'd meet people and even start to make friends, but they never lasted. He always moved again. Even if they tried to keep in touch, it never lasted past a few short letters. He'd just gotten used to being on his own.

After his dad retired, they started to settle into their new life in New York. His dad took a desk job with the Veteran's Administration, the family moved into a nice apartment in Fort Greene, and most importantly to Rob, he made friends.

Life was good for awhile. It was better than good. It was everything that Rob had wanted. Until . . . Rob looked around at the moving boxes surrounding him in this still strange bedroom. "Until now," he concluded.

If it wasn't his dad's job that kept them on the move, it was his mom's. He just couldn't win.

He left the writing notebooks laying on the bed and turned to the journal on his desk. That was the past, it was over with. He just had to accept it. He was in Australia now and there was nothing he could do about it.

Rob started school in Sydney just three days before. On his first day he walked through the hallways, keeping to himself, just trying to find his way around. His first class was his favorite subject, English. When Rob walked into the classroom the other students there were chatting among themselves. Rob didn't know a single person in the entire school, but it wasn't anything that he wasn't used to. No one seemed to pay much attention to him, so he took a seat towards the back of the room, near the wall, and took a notebook out of his book bag and started to write.

Rob suddenly felt eyes looking at him. He looked up and saw a group of girls across the room staring in his direction. A couple of them turned away as soon as he looked up, but one of them wasn't so quick. Their gazes met for a moment and she gave him a slight smile before she turned around to face her friends and Rob returned to his writing. When he glanced back again the girls were talking to each other quietly. No doubt they were interested in who the new kid was. He knew how it was going to be. People would stare at him and talk about him at first, but after awhile they'd lose interest and leave him alone.

As he turned back to his notebook, about to write another line, a familiar glowing ball of light flew into the room and scanned over the page.

"Ghostwriter," Rob whispered. Then he started to write, "GW, what are you doing here?"

"I thought you could use a friend."

"You've got that right," Rob thought to himself, as he wrote, "Yes."

"I'm always here for you, Rob and the team is too. Friends are forever."

Rob looked at Ghostwriter's words skeptically as the teacher for the class entered the room. "Thanks."

"That's what friends are for."

As the bell rang and the teacher began to speak, Rob shut his notebook and Ghostwriter sped out of the room. Class was starting.

"Rob, are you home?" Colonel Baker's voice called through the house.

"I'm in here, Dad," Rob replied. He was sitting at the desk in his bedroom that afternoon after school. He finished the sentence he was writing, just in time to look up and see his father appear in the doorway.

Colonel Baker stepped into the room and around the still packed moving boxes. He tried not to make a big deal about it, although it annoyed him to no end.

"What are you doing in here? It's a beautiful day. You should be outside in the fresh air and the sunshine. Not in here with your nose in a book. They didn't give you a bunch of homework on the first day, did they?"

"No, sir. This is just for myself."

"Oh, I see . . .Well, you can write anytime. It's a nice day outside and I noticed a group of kids about your age were starting up a baseball game down the street. Why don't you go out and join them? It might be fun."

"Maybe . . .But I think I'd rather stay in here and finish what I'm working on."

"Oh . . . You know, you can't keep yourself barracked up in this . . .so-called room, forever. You need to get out, meet some people."

"I know, Dad . . .just not right now, ok?"

"Ok . . .Well you could at least try unpacking. . .it would be so much more convenient for you if you would just get these boxes out of the way."

"It's fine."

They had been over this before, practically every time one of his parents stepped into or even just walked past his room. He tried to explain once why he hadn't unpacked, saying that there was no point in unpacking when they were only going to move again. But that reply only lead to an argument where his dad told him not to be so smart. After that they tried not to press him about it, hoping he would come around on his own.

"If you say so . . .well . . .I'll see you later, son."

Rob turned back to his desk, but looked straight ahead in thought. He sighed.

"Ok class," Rob's English teacher announced the next day. "Today we're going to start working on a group writing project. I'm going to assign you each a partner, in alphabetical order." Most of the class groaned and looked around the room, trying to figure out who they would be stuck with. Rob, however, didn't bother to look up from his notes. It didn't matter to him who he was paired up with. He didn't know anyone in the class and he wasn't sure he particularly wanted to. "Let's start by moving to new assigned seats so you can be next to your partners."

Rob picked up his backpack and books as the teacher walked from desk to desk giving out the assigned pairings. He vaguely noticed that the girl he had seen yesterday was his partner and managed to catch her name, before he sat down again.

Once he was settled in his new seat, Rob turned his attention to the teacher as she explained the upcoming project. Each pair of students was to write a brief descriptive essay about a place. Once the specifics were covered, the teacher started lecturing on the mechanics and techniques necessary for the assignment.

When the bell rang for the end of class, the students quickly closed their notebooks, grabbed their belongings, and hurried out of the classroom. Rob filed out into hallway along with the others, unaware of the group of girls gathered a few feet away, huddled together as they talked and glanced in his direction. They seemed to be urging a reluctant member of their group to go over to him. They practically gave her a push forward so that her step fell in place next to Rob's as they made their way through the busy hallway.

"Hi," she said hesitantly.

"Hi," Rob replied indifferently, although he was slightly surprised that someone was addressing him personally.

"So, I guess we're going to be working together on the project for English . . .I'm Krista. Krista Barnett."

"Rob Baker."

"So you're new to the class?"

"Yeah."

"Did you just move to the area?"

"From New York."

"I guess that is out of the area," she grinned. "But that's cool. My grandparents actually live in New York."

"Really?" he asked indifferently. He wasn't really interested in talking to her, but was trying not to be rude. But one detail did interest him slightly. "You aren't from around here either, are you?"

"You could tell by my accent right?"

"Or lack of one."

Krista laughed. "Around here, we're the ones with the accents and some people won't let you forget it,"

"I noticed," he mumbled. Already he'd been picked on by a few people for the way he talked and the way he dressed, not that it mattered to him what other people thought.

"I was born near Chicago area and lived there until we moved here about four years ago," she continued.

Rob only nodded, but didn't say anything.

Krista paused, noticing her friends, already standing at the cafeteria doors motioning some sort of signal to her. She stared at them as she walked, trying to figure out what they were trying to say. Apparently coming to some conclusion about what they were getting at she turned back to Rob, who was more focused on making his way down the hallway than on whether or not she was still following him. "Um, since you're new here, if you needed somewhere to sit at lunch, you could join our table."

"I don't think so," he declined.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, thanks for asking, but I think I'd rather eat alone," he explained.

"Oh, ok," Krista said feeling a little rejected, but trying to sound upbeat. "I guess I'll just see you in class then." She said, walking ahead quickly and leaving Rob on his own.

"So Rob . . .how's school?" Colonel Baker asked with some effort as he and his son sat together at the dinner table. This was always so much easier when his wife was there to carry the conversation. Since she'd gotten this job in Australia he faced the nights she worked late with a mixed sense of hope and dread. He was always hoping to make some kind of meaningful connection with his son, like they had when Rob was younger, but he dreaded the heavy awkward silences that fell between them during the last several years whenever they were together.

"It's alright," Rob replied, only barely looking up from his plate. He knew his Dad meant well, but sometimes he felt like his father was only asking because he was supposed to, not because he was actually interested.

"Good. Why don't you tell me . . .something about it?"

"Like what? There's not much to say," Rob shrugged.

The Colonel breathed a frustrated sigh. He knew it would be this way. It always was.

"Just say anything," he said sounding a little more commanding than he had meant to. Rob looked up at his father, slightly startled. Colonel Baker suddenly realized how harsh he had sounded in his desperation. He lowered his voice and shook his head as he spoke.

"Can't you see I'm trying here, Rob? I'll I want to do is . . .is have a normal father-son conversation with you, but you . . .you won't even answer a simple question."

"So it's all my fault?" Rob asked with shocked disbelief. He couldn't believe his father would blame all of this on him, when for all of those years, he was the one who didn't care. When his father didn't answer right away he just became more upset. "This is just great!" he exclaimed as he stood from his chair.

"Rob!" the Colonel reprimanded as he too stood up. "Sit down and lower your voice. You don't need to get so . . .excited."

"No. This is crazy! You mess up my life, take me away from my friends, and still make everything my fault."

"This move wasn't for me. This is for your mother."

"Yeah and I suppose pretending to take an interest in my life is for Mom too."

"Rob . . ." Before he could continue, his son was halfway to the door. He hurried after him. "Rob. Where do you think you're going? We aren't finished . . ."

"I need some air." Rob stepped outside, grabbing his skateboard on the way.

Rob skated around the block, barely noticing the neighboring suburban houses as he passed them by. He really hated fighting with his dad. He thought things were starting to get better in New York when his dad said he was going to be more accepting of his interest in writing. This father had even made a few gestures to show that he was taking some interest in his life, like reading one of his poems and helping out his homeless friend, Double T. But he should have known that the effort wouldn't last. His dad still expected certain things of him and they weren't always what he wanted.

It wasn't that he deliberately tried to oppose his father. In fact it was just the opposite. Rob really did want his dad to be proud of him and take an interest in him, like he did when he was younger. It seemed so much easier back then. His dad must have been just as busy, but it seemed like they spent more time together. He remembered going on trips, having picnics with the whole family, and playing catch with his dad. The Colonel was gone a lot, but the time they spent together was always quality time. Now they were just pleasant memories and his dad seemed like a completely different person. But Rob couldn't help wondering if he was actually the one who had changed.

As he started to grow up, he developed his own interests, interests that he and his dad didn't share. He could remember when he first became really interested in writing. He'd written an essay for school and not only got a high grade on it, but also received some really encouraging comments from his teacher written in the margins. He was really excited about it, but when he showed his dad, the Colonel didn't share the same excitement. Sure he said he was proud of the good grade, but he seemed more interested in talking about the recent sports headlines. It was a small thing. His father probably didn't even realize the impact his reaction had, in fact Rob was sure that his dad hadn't realized how disappointed he had felt after that, but in the future he chose to keep his writing to himself.

As the years passed, they grew farther apart. It's hard to believe that two people living in the same household could lose touch with each other, but that's what seemed to happen. The Colonel didn't realize that the expectations that he held for his son weren't the same as the ones that Rob had for himself.

'Like baseball', Rob noted as he passed by a group of kids standing around a vacant lot holding bats and gloves as they stood in a group in the middle of the lot. It wasn't that he disliked baseball. It simply wasn't a priority for him.

As he skated past, the kids' loud voices and laughter reached his ears. He glanced at them again. He had to admit that it would be nice to be one of them, to be part of a group. But then he remembered that he had been like them, before he came here. Now his friends were on the other side of the world. He had his parents to thank for that.

It was too easy to blame his parents, but he couldn't forget that his dad had made a promise to him. When he retired, they were going to stop moving across the country and stay in one place. He would finally have the chance to join teams and make real friends. He had been right on most of it. Being a part of the team, a group of friends, had been great. But leaving had been terrible. For him, it had been the most difficult move they made.

He took one last glance at the kids before turning the corner and skating away from them. He couldn't go through that loss again.

When Rob walked into the house he crossed paths with his dad who was on his way out of the kitchen. They both slowed their paces when they saw each other and stood tensely facing each other, seeing who would speak first.

"You're home," the Colonel gave in and spoke up first.

"Yeah."

"I'm glad . . .It was starting to get dark."

"I only went around the block."

They stood in front of each other in silence, each searching for something to say.

"Rob," the Colonel said finally. When his son looked up at him expectantly, he hesitated. He opened his mouth to say something, but at the last second he seemed to change his mind. "Your mother's in the kitchen finishing up the dishes . . .If you don't have any homework, why don't you give her a hand."

"Sure," Rob replied, masking his disappointment and retreating to the kitchen.

"Hey," Krista greeted Rob the next day in English class when the teacher gave them time to work on their project.

"Hi," he said in an obligatory reply.

"I was wondering . . .you wouldn't happen to live out on Gibson Street, would you?"

"Yeah, how did you know?" Rob asked, surprised.

"Oh, I live out that way on Kadina Avenue. I was outside with my friends yesterday evening and I thought I saw you pass by. One of my friends mentioned they saw a moving truck in the neighborhood not long ago. So I was just wondering . . ."

Rob nodded. "Yeah, I guess that was me."

"You know, bunch of us from the neighborhood meet to walk to school and back together. We pass right by your street. If you'd ever want someone to walk with you could join us."

"Uh, no thanks," he said. "It's nice of you to ask, but I don't think so."

"Oh ok," Krista said, shrugging off the dull feeling of rejection.

Rob started to feel a little bad about how nonchalantly he had turned down her invitations. He was about to say something else, when she changed the subject. "I guess we'd better get working on this project."

"Right," Rob agreed.

"About the assignment . . .I was thinking that maybe we could write about New York, since we've both been there before," she suggested. "And it's probably different than what any of the other groups will be doing."

"Fine," he shrugged. It really didn't matter to him, but he did need to participate if he wanted to get a good grade. "Which part of New York? It is a big place."

"I don't know. It should be a place that we've both been to and remember fairly well, so we can come up with enough details for the essay."

"Right," he said thoughtfully. There were so many places that flashed through his mind: the locations on the Cosmic Comics scavenger hunt, the community youth center, the subways, the Steadmore Hotel, the community garden, the Thunderhead's gang hideout, the place by the creek where Victor had shared his poetry and talked about his brother. And of course there were the usual places like Hurston Middle School and the Bodega. Every place that came to mind was connected to his best friends, the team. The friends that he had left behind.

"The place I remember most is the park," Krista spoke up as he was lost in his thoughts.

"Which park is that?"

"It was right next to my grandparent's apartment building . . .Fort Greene Park, I think."

"Your grandparents live in Fort Greene?" he asked sounding just slightly more interested than he had been so far.

Krista nodded. "Yeah, that's a neighborhood in Brooklyn, right?"

"Yeah. That's the same neighborhood I lived in."

"Really? That's a weird coincidence."

"Yeah."

"So then you'd know the park that I'm talking about?"

"Yeah, I was there with my friends just last spring." His mind raced back to that day in the park. He and Jamal had just written their note to try to get the team back together, when they ran into the others standing in the middle of the park fighting. They had just gotten those phony "Ha Ha Ha" notes from that sneaky Calvin Ferguson. Their arguing had gotten so bad that he had to yell at them to shut up to get their attention. That was one of the worst memories he had in New York. Even worse than being trapped in a tunnel or beaten up by gang members was thinking that he was losing his friends just because they were fighting with each other over something stupid. But it ended well, at least for the others.

He was right to think that friendship always had to end.

"Good. I was there a couple of Christmas's ago," Krista continued. "During our Christmas vacation, my family and my uncle's family went to visit my grandparents. My cousins and my brother and I were always sneaking off to the park whenever we got bored. We had a good time there."

"So did I," Rob said in a far off voice. Krista looked at him curiously, but didn't say anything for a moment.

"Do you miss it?" she asked hesitantly, hoping she wasn't getting too personal.

"More than I could have imagined," he thought, but replied with a simple, "Yeah, a little." Krista only nodded solemnly. "Did you miss Chicago when you moved here?"

"Not really. I was kind of ready for a change and it turned out to be a better deal for me. I got my own room and my cousins live just down the street . . .My older sister took it kind of hard though. She left a lot of friends behind."

When the bell rang, the other students started to file out of the classroom.

"Well I guess we've got a topic, at least. If that's ok with you."

"It's fine," he assured her.

"Ok, I guess we can come up with some ideas on our own and talk about them tomorrow?"

"Sure."

Rob stopped at his locker as a group of students passed by him on the way to the cafeteria. He caught a fraction of the kids' conversation, something about meeting each other later. He watched them for a second, noticing how happy they seemed. Maybe friendship just worked for everyone besides him, he thought, before turning his attention back to his locker.

When he entered the cafeteria he found the room was just one big social gathering. The lunch period was more about meeting up with friends to talk than it was about eating. All around him people were talking and laughing. He felt completely out of place.

Already he was starting to recognize some of the people from his various classes, but no one even seemed to notice him. The only person he had really talked to had been Krista from his English class and that was only because they had a project to work on. He caught a glimpse of her sitting at a table with a group of kids as he searched for an unobtrusive place for himself to sit alone.

For a second he was half-tempted to go over and take her up on yesterday's offer, but he decided against it. What if they didn't really want him there? He would just be sitting there awkwardly feeling out of place. Even if things went well and they did get along, it wouldn't last. Something would happen to make them move away and he'd lose any friends that he had made. He was only setting himself up for failure. He decided he was better off alone, as usual.

"Is that you, Robbie?" Colonel Baker called out from the kitchen room, when he heard the front door open later that afternoon.

"Yeah, Dad," Rob replied. He was headed straight for his room, but before he could get there his father came up behind him and called out to him.

"You're home kind of early."

"Not really," Rob replied, glancing at his watch. He'd walked into the house at the same time for the last three days.

"I guess I thought you might want to stay after school and . . .check out what's going on," the Colonel explained. "There might be some teams or a club or something you might want to join."

"Trying to get rid of me?" Rob asked somewhat sarcastically, but his father didn't see any humor in the comment.

"You know I want to have you around," Colonel Baker said, choosing to ignore Rob's doubtful expression. "I just thought it might be good for you to get involved in . . . in something. It doesn't even have to be sports. I think you should spend more time with kids your own age . . .or with anybody for that matter."

"I'm fine, Dad. I don't want to get involved in anything right now," Rob said calmly. He waited a second and when his dad didn't respond, he turned and headed towards his room.

"I worry about you. You spend too much time alone for a kid your age . . .You should be around your peers more, doing teenage things, not . . ."

"Not what?" Rob asked sharply.

"Isolating yourself in your room. I'd like to see you making more friends . . .I know it hasn't been easy for you before, but . . ."

"But what? 'This time is going to be different'? I heard that line before and I did make friends, but it didn't change anything, did it? Otherwise we wouldn't be here now."

"Rob, I wasn't expecting . . ."

"Yeah, well maybe I should have. I actually had friends, Dad. Good friends."

"I know you miss them, but you'll make new ones."

"What's the point?" Rob asked angrily, his voice raising in pitch.

"Rob, calm down. It's nothing to get upset over."

Rob was so frustrated and agitated with his father that he was having trouble verbalizing his thoughts. His dad wouldn't be so calm about this if it was his life they were talking about.

"Nothing to . . .You have no idea, do you, Dad? How can you tell me what to do, when you don't even understand?"

"I'm trying to . . ."

"No, no you're not."

"That's it," the colonel said raising his hands in the air. "I give up. I try . . .but I just . . . I can't talk to you."

Rob said nothing and watched as his father walked away, before turning and going into his room. He dropped his backpack on the floor and slumped down into his desk chair. His father just didn't understand. Friends weren't something that you could just replace, especially friends like the Ghostwriter team. They had meant more to him than he realized and he knew he'd never have friends like them again.

His dad just didn't understand and worst of all he didn't care. He had made their family move from place to place Rob's entire life and then he had the nerve to suddenly order him to make new friends like it was nothing. Rob had tried once, but it always ended with him moving away and starting all over again. It wasn't worth it.

When Rob finally looked up from his journal, it was nearly dark outside. He heard his mom coming home from work. No doubt they would be calling him for dinner soon and by the time it was ready his dad would have told her all about the argument they had that afternoon. Frankly, he wasn't eager to go out and see either of them.

As he stood up and stretched he noticed the writing notebooks scattered across the bed. Quickly he gathered them up and packed them away in their box. It had been nice of the team to write their messages to him, even if they were wrong. It was the thought that counted, he guessed. He'd just have to let it go.

As soon as the box was closed his eye caught a glimmer of light that bounced around the room collecting letters along the way. He grinned. Maybe they weren't completely wrong.

My old life seems
so long ago
and so far away
I'm glad I came here
and glad things have changed
It wasn't the place
that made the difference
but the great friends I found
the best friends who found me
I don't know where I'd be
if I hadn't came here

Rob read over the words that Ghostwriter had sent him and then read them over again. He hurried to the desk to grab a pen and paper to copy them down before they dissolved. Then he reached for a second sheet to write to Ghostwriter.

"Ghostwriter, where did this come from?"

"SCRAPBOOK"

"A scrapbook?" Rob said to himself and then wrote. "What scrapbook? Who wrote this?"

"?"

"Why did you send this to me?"

"I thought you should read it."

Rob didn't quite understand what Ghostwriter was getting at, but the former person never was one to spell things out clearly. Sometimes he didn't seem to quite understand it himself and sometimes it was just something that they had to figure out on their own.

He puzzled over the words for a few minutes, until he heard his mom's voice calling him from the hallway. Now that he had his mind on something else, the frustration he felt with his parents began to fade away and he joined them in the kitchen.