An Alternate Life AU

Chapter 16 Family

The next time Bogg opened his eyes, the sun was streaming in the window and Jeff was dozing in a chair across the room. He moved cautiously and then stretched. The pain from the bullet wound was dull yet he felt surprisingly wide awake and smiled. He would let Jeffrey sleep, the kid had probably been up much of the night.

"Hello," whispered a pretty nurse as she approached the bed.

"Hi."

She glanced over at Jeff, "your son refused to leave last night."

"He can be pretty stubborn," he paused and smiled, "how'd you know he was my son?"

"I tried to send him home when we took you to the OR to remove the bullet. He told me in no uncertain terms that he was your son and family was allowed to stay."

"Oh." He smiled, thinking that no matter the situation, when the chips were down, Jeff stuck with him like glue. No matter how defiant he got in the throes of adolescence, that was something that never seemed to change. "So, how am I?" he asked.

"The bullet's out," she answered and smiled back, "you look pretty good to me."

Phineas smiled again, amazed at how well he was feeling.

"Hey, you're awake," Jeff said as he sat up. He moved beside the bed and smiled as the nurse walked out.

"Yeah, I'm doin pretty good."

The next day, Bogg was discharged and they walked back to the apartment. Once inside, Phineas stopped and stared at the piano that was now positioned against a wall of the sitting room. "What's that doing here?"

"I know your arm hurts now, but I thought you might like to play when it feels better, before we get back into the field."

Bogg paused, considering what to say. "I can't play, remember?" he said, and was surprised to hear an edge to his voice.

"I'm sorry I didn't believe you," Jeff told him. Then he suddenly balled up his fists and cried out, "why didn't you make me?"

Still Phineas didn't answer. Finally he took a deep breath. "I did tell you …twice…and you didn't believe me either time. So I stopped telling you. No one wants to be made fun of you know." Phineas' tone became angrier the more he spoke. "Anyway, it's not important," he finished quietly.

"Yes it is!" Jeff yelled at him.

"It's only the piano."

"We're supposed to be a family!" Jeff grabbed his good arm and made him stop. A tear spilled out of each eye, "families know this kind of stuff about each other ... "

"You made fun of me."

"I asked you to play and you wouldn't, what was I supposed to think?"

Phineas looked away, then shook his head. "I hadn't played in years, do you think anybody who hadn't played in so long could just sit down and play something? Especially in front of a critic who was just waiting for them to make a mistake?"

Jeff looked at the floor and didn't respond.

"And you said you took lessons, so I figured you were a lot better than me and you'd know how bad I was."

Jeff waited, but Bogg didn't continue.

"Keep going," Jeff prompted him quietly.

"Look, I don't care that you make fun of me about most things, but I care about this," he paused, "I'm not very good at it, but it's fun, I like it, that's all. I just don't want you to make fun of it."

"I bet you ARE good," Jeff replied.

Bogg shook his head, "don't lie to me kid. I know you could play rings around me."

"I'm not lying," Jeff began. "Do you want to know why I didn't think you could play, I mean really?" When Bogg looked at him he continued. "It's because I can't. I took lessons for 3 years Bogg, and even when I was practicing all the time, I could never play half as good as you probably do." Jeff paused, "it's because I have no talent for it," he finished quietly.

"I don't believe that."

"It's true, my mom didn't want to believe it either. I tried to tell her, because I knew, but she wouldn't listen." Jeff's voice got softer as he talked about his mother. "She was really musical, and she wanted me to be too," he finished in an even softer voice.

"I guess parents always want their kids to be a little like them," Phineas told him.

"I guess."

The next day, Phineas and Jeffrey walked to the library for some sheet music and two days after that, Phineas Bogg sat down at the piano and began to play. Jeffrey lay back on the couch, a notebook in his lap, writing the reflection component of the Alternate Technology project. He thought back to the scene of himself in 1986, about to rob a store and possibly hurt someone in the process. He'd thought a lot about that during the past few days. His other self had been so angry, he had seemed like another person. Would Jeff really have been angry enough for his life to have taken that turn? Reluctantly, he realized the answer was yes. Even with Bogg, in the beginning, there were times when he'd felt very angry that his parents had died. The difference was that he'd been with Bogg, and every angry episode seemed to end with tears and companionship, not isolation or violence.

The project had started out as a way to prove that being picked up by just about any voyager would have been better than Bogg. But he'd proved just the opposite. If he was truthful in his reflection, he'd say that he had learned how lucky he was.

Later that night, Jeff thought about the music Bogg had played. It was true that he had made some mistakes, and that he had played the difficult parts over and over again. Before their conversation, Jeff might have teased him and made a joke about it. Now he realized that he could never do that. The piano was important to Bogg and it might hurt his feelings. It was obvious that Bogg enjoyed playing, because when he stopped he was happy.

There was another funny thing about Bogg's playing that surprised Jeff. When he made mistakes it made Jeff feel like they were home, like a regular family, just being normal. The things they usually did and the people they met always seemed to be so exciting and larger than life. But writing his reflection essay while Bogg made mistakes on the piano just seemed warm and friendly, like a normal home. Since home was a different place every day, that feeling seemed even more precious to Jeffrey and he realized he had a lot to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!