NOTES AND TIMELINE: Part Pre-Powers, part Post-Powers. This story builds on situations and references established in my stories "Forged in Flames" and "Someone to Watch Over Me". While it is not absolutely necessary to read either, it might help.
March 15, 2015
Jason Scott carefully carried the two cups of juice down the hall toward the large, comfortable den, where his two daughters were stretched out on the couches. Both Heather and Haley were recovering from a particularly bad bout of the flu, and it was Jason's turn to stay home and take care of them. He didn't mind in the least, he was as much at home playing nursemaid to his girls as he was teaching karate. Thirteen year old Heather was talking on the phone when he arrived with their drinks, while ten year old Haley was flipping through the channels on the TV in an attempt to find something to watch. They had been sick for over a week now and boredom was setting in.
"Honey, please stop that before your wear it out," he requested gently as he handed her one of the cups of juice.
"I'm bored." The sickroom whine in his younger daughter's voice reminded Jason of his own reaction to being sick when he was a kid.
"I know, but you have to stay inside and quiet for at least another day. I'm sorry, but you don't want to get sick again, do you?"
"No. But there is nothing on TV and we have watched all the videos a million times," Haley complained.
"Maybe later Mom or I can go rent a couple of new ones. But I'm afraid for now you will have to make do. Why don't you read a book?" Jason suggested.
"It makes my head hurt, so Mom told me not to read for a couple of days," Haley explained.
Jason could tell she was at that stage of an illness where she was feeling too well to stay still, and too sick to resume normal activities. She was restless and bored and nothing was going to appease her. Haley physically resembled her mother, and had inherited her more impatient nature as well. Heather took after her father in both looks and disposition, being more even-tempered and patient. Both girls had inherited Jason's dark eyes and hair. In Jason's admittedly biased opinion they were exceptionally pretty girls, who would grow into extraordinarily beautiful women.
"Here, I brought you some juice, sweetheart," he said to Heather as his elder daughter hung up the phone and settled back down. Heather had been extremely ill, Jason had feared they would end up taking her to the hospital a few days before when her fever spiked alarmingly. However, with Jason's mother helping out, they had gotten Heather through the crisis and she was well on her way to a full recovery.
"Thanks, Dad," she said without enthusiasm.
"Something wrong?" Jason asked gently, worried that she seemed so depressed.
"Sandy's dad had a heart attack, and Sandy is all freaked out. She was there when it happened, I guess it was pretty awful. He collapsed and couldn't breathe, and her mom got hysterical. I wish I could be with her, not stuck here sick. What are they going to do if he dies or something?" Tears shone in her eyes, threatening to spill over.
Jason sat down beside her and pulled her into his embrace. "I know how painful it is when a friend is hurting and you can't do anything for them. You are so sweet and kind, and I know you want to be with her. But it wouldn't do Sandy any good if you got sick again because of her. Sometimes all you can do is wait, and pray your friend makes it through okay."
"You don't know how hard that is!" Heather sobbed, giving in to her fear. Sandy was her best friend, and it was tearing at Heather's heart that she couldn't be there.
"Actually, I DO know how hard that is. Truly, I do. I wish I didn't." His tone softened, and sounded so far away that Heather looked up at him worriedly.
"Dad? How do you know?" she asked softly.
"Oh, that's 'ancient history', but a long time ago, during a spell of about a year and a half, all my friends and I had bad times, back to back to back. Injury, illness, divorce. It was a hard time for us all." His voice was still distant. Then he seemed to snap out of it and looked at Heather with concern. "Why don't you call your grandmother and see if she can find out how Sandy's dad is. Maybe that will make you feel a little better."
Heather did as he suggested, and he and Haley listened to her half of the conversation, sharing a relieved smile as Heather seemed to receive good news. She hung up the phone and faced her father and sister.
"Grandma says Sandy's dad is doing really good. It was a mild heart attack that looked much worse than it was. Sandy and her mom are there now, getting the good news. Thanks, Dad, that was a good idea," she smiled. Jason felt more than amply rewarded when he saw her lightened mood.
"That's what fathers are for: to deliver juice and sage advice," he chuckled.
"You got another job, too," Haley declared with a mischievous look.
"Oh, yeah? What's that?"
"You have to entertain us! I want to hear the story of when you and your friends all had such a hard time. Please?" she added, giving her father her most pleading look.
"Yeah, please?" Heather added. She and Haley loved hearing stories from their dad's childhood. They knew all his friends, except two.
"Who all had problems? You and Kim and Trini and Zack and Billy?" Haley asked curiously. "How old were you?"
"Right between you girls' ages. When it started I think some of us had just turned eleven, when it was over we were all twelve. But, really, that is hardly the story to tell to convalescing flu patients. How about I read to you instead?"
"No!" both girls cried as one.
"We want your story. Pleeaasee?" Haley pleaded, joining Heather and Jason on the couch and cuddling up to both.
Jason looked at his girls with a resigned sigh. He couldn't deny them much, and he and Emily both felt it was good to be open about their pasts with their daughters. They often told stories from their youths, omitting only those stories too adult for their children, and any stories about Jason's time as a Power Ranger.
"Oh, okay. I give in. I'll tell you about it, but you have to promise to keep still and drink all your juice. You need the liquid," he tried to sound stern, but didn't quite make it.
"Okay! Before you start, can we see the picture, please?" Haley requested.
Jason reached back awkwardly and managed to extract his wallet. Opening it, he withdrew a small photograph that was somewhat frayed and mangled about the edges. He handed the small picture to Haley, who studied it carefully before handing it to Heather. She also studied it quietly then returned it reverently to her father. They had seen the photo before. In fact it was something of a family tradition to ask to see it before Jason told a story from his childhood.
Jason looked at the photo with a slight smile. It showed him and his four friends when they were all ten years old. It had been taken at a picnic the families had enjoyed together, about a week after the five kids had been trapped in a raging forest fire. During that fire had been the first time the assorted parents had met, there at the base camp, waiting for word on their missing children. It had been a terrifying experience for all, and the picnic had been their way to celebrate the happy outcome.
In the photo the children were standing in front of the jungle gym in the park. Kimberly was standing arm in arm with Trini, with Zack behind them, perched on the lower rung of a ladder leading up into the monkey bars. Next to Trini stood Jason, leaning on Billy, using his shoulder as an armrest. All five were smiling broadly, innocently. Looking at the photograph, Jason wondered if they would have smiled so if they had known what the future would bring. He doubted it.
Heather saw her father run his finger gently over the figure standing farthest to the right-Billy. His expression saddened as he contemplated the picture, and all that had happened in the intervening years. Heather and Haley had never met Billy, but they knew his story well enough. How he and Adam Park had been killed in a car accident only a couple of weeks before Heather's birth. Billy's father, Wallace Cranston, was Heather's godfather.
The girls both knew the other three of their dad's oldest friends. Kimberly was married to Tommy Oliver, and they had three daughters. Trini was married to Rocky DeSantos and they had three children. The oldest of their children, Adam, was the son of Adam Park. Zack Taylor was married to Angela. They lived in Hollywood and had one son, William, named in honor of Billy.
Heather and Haley waited patiently for their father to begin the story. They knew he always took a bit of time to organize his thoughts before he started, so they didn't press him.
"Now I don't want to make it sound alarming, but actually it all seemed to start with a cold. Just a stupid cold Zack caught and couldn't seem to get rid of..............
February 20, 1991
"Bless you," Kimberly looked over at Zack with some concern.
He had been sneezing, coughing, and wheezing for two weeks now. He had missed a couple of days of school, but had told them later that it seemed to make no difference if he stayed home or not. He just stayed the same. He didn't feel good, but didn't feel bad enough to stay in bed. He coughed, he felt tired, his head hurt. So, in typical Zack fashion, he decided to simply ignore the problem and let it go away on its own. He did the best he could to hide his illness from his parents, his mom could be a bit over-concerned in his opinion. So he went about his normal routine and ignored his illness, letting his friends think his parents knew all about it.
"Thanks," he mumbled in response to Kim. He was definitely feeling worse today, so much so that he was considering taking himself off to see the school nurse. Instead he headed on down the hall toward his next class, which happened to be P.E.
This week they were playing basketball, and Zack was having a hard time keeping up. Jason and Billy, who were on his team, were keeping an eye on him, recognizing that something was very wrong. The teacher, Mr. Daniels, was at the furthest court when Zack was suddenly overcome with a dizzy spell. Jason and Billy realized simultaneously that Zack was in trouble. He staggered around the court drunkenly, gasping for breath, trying to stay on his feet. Jason grabbed him and encouraged him to sit down on the court, then turned to Billy with a terse "Get Mr. Daniels, NOW." Billy took off at a dead run.
"Sit still, Zack. Mr. Daniels will be here in a second," Jason encouraged him.
"'M okay, Jase, just a little dizzy. Be okay in a minute, 'm not sick. Just dizzy, we can take them, just got to make the basket." Zack's rambling, gasping monologue was worrying Jason.
Just then Mr. Daniels arrived with the worried Billy.
"What seems to be the problem, Zack?" the teacher asked gently as the other students gathered around curiously.
"Feeling a little dizzy is all. 's okay," Zack mumbled.
"I think a trip to the nurse's office is in order." He looked up at the students gathered around. He signaled for Jason and Billy to come forward, knowing the three boys were friends. "You two can help him to the nurse's office. Take it nice and slow and help him all you can. Then come back to class. Okay?" Both boys nodded solemnly.
With Mr. Daniels' help they got Zack on his feet, his arms slung around Jason and Billy's shoulders. The three boys started slowly to the school's main building, where the nurse's office was located.
It was a slow trip, they had to stop frequently when Zack complained he felt sick. Finally they made it to the nurse's office, and turned their charge over to her capable care.
"Here, Zack, lie down here. I am going to take your temperature. How long have you been feeling sick?"
"Not sick. Just a cold, that's all," Zack muttered.
"He's been sick about two weeks, I think," Jason offered. The nurse turned to find the other two boys still standing quietly in the doorway.
"Two weeks, huh? How sick has he been?"
"Not very. Just coughing a lot, seemed a little tired at times," Jason replied.
The nurse sighed to herself. "That does not sound very promising," she said softly. She turned to the two boys again. "Shouldn't you two return to class?" she asked, not unkindly.
"Yes, m'am," Jason replied. He and Billy turned and walked back to class, their minds still with Zack.
After P.E. ended both boys hurried toward the main building, hoping to peek in on Zack before the start of their next class. When they got to the nurse's office they found the nurse there alone. She looked up at the two with a kind expression.
"Zack's mom came and picked him up. She is going to take him to the doctor. If you call her after school you can find out how he is doing then."
School couldn't end fast enough as far as Jason was concerned. He and Billy had told the girls about Zack and all four of them decided to go to Billy's house to call Zack at home after school.
Jason placed the call, since he knew the Taylors the best. Mrs. Taylor answered the phone sounding upset.
"Mrs. Taylor, is Zack okay?" he asked.
"No, Jason, he isn't. He is very sick, I don't know how I could have missed it. The doctor wants us to admit him to the hospital for tests and observation, so we are taking him over there when his father gets home from work," she said.
"Can we come over and see him before you go? Please? We won't get him upset, or anything, we just want to see him." Jason pleaded their case.
"Jason, you really shouldn't. Zack is sleeping now, and he really needs his rest. I'll tell him you called, but he shouldn't have visitors right now," her kind voice was nonetheless firm in this matter.
"Please tell him we all called: Me and Billy and Kim and Trini. And tell him we hope he gets better soon."
"I will, Jason. Bye."
"Bye." Jason turned stricken eyes to his friends. "His mom says they are taking him to the hospital later. He must really be sick."
"Did his mom say what was wrong?" Kim asked.
"No, she didn't. Maybe they don't know yet, that happens a lot according to my mom," Jason replied. His mom was a nurse at the hospital, and Jason had listened to her stories about work since before he could remember.
"Maybe your mom can find out how he is," Trini suggested.
"I'll ask her tonight. Guess we better get our homework done," Jason sounded like homework was the last thing he wanted to do.
"You guys want to do our homework here? Dad won't be home for a couple of hours at least. If we work together we can do it faster," Billy spoke up.
They all agreed and settled around the kitchen table and set to work, trying not to dwell on their worry about Zack.
* * *
The next day Jason told the other three that his mom would make it a point to check in on Zack for them. She found out that Zack had pneumonia, but it was expected to be a mild case. He was a little rundown from being sick for two weeks, and Marjorie Scott had used the opportunity to remind Jason once again of the importance of not ignoring his body's needs and signals.
The friends decided to stop by the hospital after school to check on Zack's condition for themselves. They met outside the school and walked over as a group, not talking much. Among them, Jason had the most experience with hospitals, mostly because of his mom's job. He had also been treated a couple of times at the emergency room for injuries, fortunately none that were very serious. Trini and Kim had never been patients at a hospital, but both had visited there before. Trini to see her aunt after her cousin was born, Kimberly to see her mom after her brother, Kenny, was born. Billy had only one experience with a hospital, that being when he and his parents were in the car accident that took his mother's life. He had an understandable aversion to hospitals after that experience, and it was taking all his nerve to continue on with the others.
When they got to Angel Grove Memorial Hospital Jason approached the receptionist alone.
"Hi. We were wondering how Zack Taylor is doing. And if we can see him?" Jason asked politely.
"I'm sorry, but you are all too young to see a patient unless with an adult. But, let me see if I can find out how he is doing, okay?" she said kindly.
"Thanks," Jason said, disheartened he couldn't see Zack. He joined the others to wait. They sat quietly, watching the people come and go. They looked up to see Jason's mom approach them.
"Hi, kids. Joann told me you all were here. Zack is doing a little worse today. They moved him to intensive care so they can monitor him better. But that makes it so you guys cannot see him at all, at least not until he is moved back onto the floor. Now, don't look so worried, he is getting the best treatment available, and his doctor is very good. He should be fine." Marjorie Scott was moved by the concern she saw in the four small faces before her.
"Is it okay if we stay here for a while. We won't get in anyone's way, we just want to be near him," Jason asked.
"Of course you can stay here for a while. But just a little while, okay? It's not good for you kids to just sit and worry."
"We'll do our homework while we wait," Jason told her.
Marjorie smiled gently at her son and his friends. "Okay." She headed back to her duties.
The four children knelt down around the low table and spread out their homework. Speaking in hushed tones only as much as necessary, they quickly finished their assignments, then sat in silence for another hour or so, before they all headed to their respective homes.
That began a ritual they would follow for the next few days. The walk to the hospital, checking in with the receptionist (who after the second day always had a report ready for them), quietly doing their homework, then sitting together simply being there as much as they were allowed to for their friend.
Those who frequented the reception area in the course of their work in the hospital grew accustomed to the sight of the four children who haunted the room. The story of their show of friendship made its way through the staff, who all hoped it would have a happy ending. But most of whom knew the likelihood of that grew more remote each passing day.
For Zachary Taylor was a very sick young man, indeed. Now on oxygen, struggling for each breath he drew, his young body was decimated by the illness. His parents were there every day, every hour they could be. Taking turns caring for their two younger sons so one of them could be at the hospital all the time. They were both on the verge of emotional and physical collapse as they hovered and prayed over their son.
One afternoon, as Clayton Taylor left the hospital to head home to take care of Zack's brothers, he noticed the four kids in the reception area. He and Sheryl had seen them there often enough, but today especially, the sight moved him. He knew how much these four meant to his son, and it heartened him to see the feeling was obviously mutual.
The doctors had been telling the Taylors to talk to Zack as much as possible, to encourage him to fight. It occurred to Clayton that it might also help his son to hear it from his friends. He decided to ask the doctors in charge if they could circumvent the rules, and allow Zack's friends to see him for a few moments. Perhaps knowing his friends were there for him would bolster Zack's will to live.
The doctors agreed to allow the other children to see Zack, but only one at a time, and with their parents' permission, preferably with their parents' attendance. He drafted a note to send home to the parents explaining Zack's condition, and warning them that the children could be upset by his appearance.
That evening Marjorie and Jack Scott discussed Zack's condition at length with Jason, who didn't care what Zack looked like as long as he could see him.
"Jason, you really need to think about this. Zack is VERY sick. Every breath is a struggle. He's surrounded by tubes and equipment. He doesn't look very well. I'm just afraid you may find it a bit frightening," Marjorie explained gently.
"Mom, it's still Zack, isn't it? I can't be afraid of Zack. And if I was sick I'd want my friends to visit me, no matter how bad I looked," Jason argued with a child's directness.
Marjorie reached out and enveloped her child in a tight hug. "All right, I guess we'll sign the permission slip. Do you want me to go with you? Or Dad?"
"Would you mind taking me, Dad?" Jason turned to his father. He couldn't say why, but he preferred his father take him. Maybe because he knew Zack's illness upset his mom, who lived in fear of seeing her son in such a condition.
"I'll be glad to take you. About four tomorrow afternoon?"
"Yeah, we can meet at the hospital, right?"
"Sounds like a plan to me." Jack also embraced his son warmly.
"I'm gonna call the others and see if they got permission, okay?"
He hurried to the phone and started calling. Trini was going with her father, Kim with her mom, both planning to visit about the same time Jason was. Billy reported his dad had signed the slip, but couldn't get away from work in time to take Billy until much later in the evening. Jack overheard Jason's side of the conversation and signaled to Jason to give him the phone. He asked to speak to Billy's father and arranged to take Billy about the same time the other kids were going. He felt it would be best if all the kids went together at about the same time. That way, if they were upset they could also support each other.
* * *
The next afternoon found the four children sitting quietly in the reception area, waiting for their parents. They had discussed their impending visits with Zack, comparing notes about what their parents had told them. They all had said pretty much the same thing: Zack was very sick, was surrounded by equipment, and might look a little scary to the kids. None of them were deterred by the warnings, but it did have the effect of muting their excitement to a degree.
Jack Scott was the first to arrive. He greeted the four kids warmly, sitting down with them and looking them over carefully. The girls seemed a bit nervous, though not really apprehensive. Jason seemed the calmest of all, Billy the most nervous. He decided he would see if Jason could go first, that way if Jason reported back that things were okay Billy and the girls might be reassured.
"Come on, Jason, let's go see if they are ready for you to visit. We'll meet the rest of you back here in a little while," Jack said as he rose with Jason and headed toward the door leading to the patient areas.
Jason walked beside his dad, not speaking. Now that the moment was at hand, he felt more nervous than he had before. He waited as Jack spoke to the nurses at the main nursing station, then they headed to the ICU. Jack buzzed for permission to enter, announcing them over the intercom. The answering buzz that opened the door for them made Jason jump.
"You okay, son?" Jack asked quietly.
"Yeah, I think so. Just a little jumpy." Jason looked a bit embarrassed by the confession.
"I don't blame you. Hospitals make me jumpy too," Jack said easily.
They approached the ICU nursing station, where Sheryl Taylor waited for them.
"Thanks for coming, Jason, Jack. Did they explain to you what the doctors are doing for Zack, how he looks?" she asked Jason.
Jason nodded solemnly, unconsciously taking his father's hand as he stood there.
"Okay, just remember Jason, Zack can probably hear you, so you need to sound positive. Say whatever you think will help, but try to talk to him the same way you would if he was conscious. Okay?"
Jason nodded again, then Sheryl led them to the door of the room where Zack was. Jason's mouth felt dry and he could feel his heart beat as he entered the room. There, surrounded by beeping, whirring, gasping, ticking machines, tubes going in and out, was Zack. His face had an odd, grayish tinge, and his chest hitched up and down with his struggle to breathe.
For a moment Jason struggled with an overwhelming urge to rush from the room, from the hospital and his father, from the ghastly appearance of his friend. Then he remembered why he was here, and what Zack needed. Mustering his considerable courage, Jason approached the bed and spoke softly, but confidently.
"Hey, Bro, how you doing? We miss you. Hurry up and get better, we have a lot we need to do. Billy and I went and bought a new rocket last weekend, and we are waiting for you to get better so we can set it off. The box says it will go much further than the last one. And in a couple of weeks we are going to be studying ships in history class. We have to build a model of one, and you have been saying how much you want to do that. Soccer season will be starting soon, too. I think I talked Billy into trying out, so maybe the three of us will be on the same team. That would be great. Billy and Kim and Trini will be coming in to see you in a little while. They are making us come in one at a time. Guess we would be too exciting all together, huh? You hurry up and get better now, please," Jason's voice was starting to waver a bit, and Jack put his hands on his son's shoulders reassuringly. Jason was having a difficult time reconciling the wasted, wan figure on the bed with the happy-go-lucky, vital boy he knew. He reached out tentatively and touched the still hand lying on top of the covers, finding he was reassured by its warmth. "I should go now, the others want to come in, too. But I'll see you soon, bro." He backed away from the bed slowly, feeling his father's hands still on his shoulders, lending him encouragement.
Sheryl offered Jason and his father a sad smile that worried Jason more than Zack's appearance did. It was a smile without much hope. Jason was vastly relieved to leave the ICU, the machines, Zack's gray visage, and that strange, sad smile Mrs. Taylor wore.
"Are you okay, son?" Jack asked gently as they walked back toward the reception area. To Jack's surprise, Jason stopped and thought about the question.
"I don't know. He looked so bad, and his mom seems so.....odd. I guess, it was pretty awful, wasn't it?" Jason looked at his father in some confusion. "But, I'm glad I went. It wasn't as bad as I imagined it was. At least now I know."
"Yes, at least now you know. You did very well, I know it was hard." Jack stopped and gave his son a strong hug. "Let's get back with the others so the next one can go," he said as he released Jason.
* * *
That evening when he came into Jason's room to bid his son goodnight, Jack asked again how he was feeling about the events from that afternoon. The visits had actually gone fairly well, according to Sheryl. All four kids kept from showing too much fear or grief, all said encouraging things to Zack, telling him how much they wanted him to get better. But the kids' reactions after the visit had been cause for some concern among the parents. Kim and Trini had both left the hospital with their respective parents immediately after their visits, and both girls had been crying. Jack had taken Billy in last, and while he had done well enough in Zack's presence, he had been silent and pale afterwards. Jack had insisted on taking the boy home instead of letting him walk, but his attempts to get Billy to talk had proven futile. Jack had called Wallace later to check on the boy and had found out that Wallace had been no more successful than he had in getting the shy youngster to open up. Wallace admitted this was normal behavior for his son.
In response to his father's question Jason sat up in his bed and looked at him solemnly. "Do you think Zack will be okay?"
Jack had expected that question, but it still caught him a bit off guard. "I hope so, son. It's so hard to tell with kids your age. You can get sick so quickly, and recover just as fast. Sheryl told me a little while ago that Zack's vital signs were actually a bit better after the visits this afternoon. So maybe he's turning the corner. All we can do is hope and pray, and believe that whatever happens is how it is meant to be. Do I sound like the reverend when I say that?" he concluded with a grin.
Jason smiled back. "You don't sound strict enough to pass for the reverend, otherwise you do just fine."
"Oh, thank you so much. Everyone's a critic! Get in bed and lights out," Jack chuckled, holding up the covers so Jason could scoot down in the bed. "Sleep well. I love you."
"Love you, too," Jason murmured sleepily as his father leaned over to kiss his forehead. Less than two minutes later he was sound asleep.
* * *
The next afternoon found Jason, Billy, Kimberly, and Trini back in the reception area as usual. They had discussed their visits amongst themselves, and had all agreed it was hard going to see Zack, but they were glad they had done it.
"Really, it wasn't as awful as I expected. I mean, I had visions of something out of an old horror movie, with Zack all gooshy or something," Kim had said with a self-conscious giggle.
"I know what you mean, I expected the same thing," Jason agreed.
"And, it was awful, I mean, he looked pretty bad, really sick, but, it wasn't scary, you know?" Kim continued, trying desperately to convey her feelings to her friends. She looked up to see the other three nodding in agreement.
"It was still Zack, and Zack isn't scary," Trini said quietly.
They hadn't even discussed the possibility of not going to the hospital that afternoon, they had simply all met in the usual place and walked over. The report from the receptionist was that Zack had improved slightly, and she would try to get more details for them later. So the four went to their usual table and started in on their homework.
They were interrupted by the arrival of Clayton Taylor, who sat down on a chair near their table and regarded his son's closest friends with a warm expression.
"I wanted to thank you all for visiting Zack yesterday. He's doing much better today, and I think the visits from you kids helped. The doctors aren't saying too much yet, but this is the first positive turn his condition has taken. Zack's mom and I are hoping this means he will start to get better finally. But, whatever happens, your visits yesterday did some good, and we wanted to thank you."
"Zack's our friend. We wanted to see him," Jason said.
"I'm glad you did," Clayton smiled back at the youngsters. "I should get back to him now. We will keep you posted on how he is doing."
It turned out the Taylors' optimism was well founded. Zack started to improve rapidly, within a few days he was off the oxygen and out of the ICU. Once he was in a regular room the kids were allowed to visit again, two at a time with a parent. They made the most of their visits, bringing Zack up to date on all the school news, helping him with some easy homework, which was all he was allowed to do at that time.
Almost two weeks after he was first admitted, Zack was released from the hospital. He was ordered to bed rest for another week, then a gradual resumption of his normal activities. During his week at home his friends continued to help him catch up on his schoolwork, keeping him company after school and on the weekend.
Thanks to their combined efforts, when Zack returned to school after three weeks gone, he was not far behind the other students in his class, and quickly caught up.
* * *
Jason, Zack and Billy were riding their bikes in Angel Grove Park the first weekend after Zack returned to school. They were going fairly slowly, and still Zack found he had to ask them to stop so he could rest.
"I'm sorry, guys. I gotta stop for a while," Zack announced, embarrassed he couldn't keep up.
"Okay," Jason agreed easily. His mom had warned him, and he had passed the warning to Billy, that they should not tire Zack out too much. He still had some recovering to do.
"Man, I hate this! I shouldn't be so tired, and I feel so weak," Zack complained.
"Hey, you are lucky you are doing so well. At least that is what my mom says. And you will get stronger every day. I don't mind taking it slow for a while, I'm just glad you are able to be here with us," Jason told him quietly.
Billy murmured his agreement.
"Thanks, guys. I don't mind admitting I don't really want to end up in the hospital again. Man, that was not fun! And my mom is so worried about me now. If it is less than eighty degrees outside she wants me to wear a jacket. I was kinda surprised she let me come with you guys, she's been keeping a close watch on me."
Jason had a sudden memory of the ghastly smile Mrs. Taylor had given him when he had visited Zack in the ICU. "I'll bet she has," he agreed.
The three of them flopped down in the shade of one of the big trees that were scattered throughout the park. The day was unseasonably warm, so much so that Jason and Billy were wearing shorts and tee shirts. Zack was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, but despite the warmth of the day he wasn't complaining of being too hot.
He leaned against the tree and closed his eyes with a slight smile. "Boy, it sure feels good to be outside."
"Yeah, it has to be nice after being inside for so long," Billy concurred.
"You have no idea! Say, when are we going to shoot off that rocket you guys got?" Zack asked suddenly.
Jason and Billy exchanged surprised expressions. "How do you know about that?" Billy asked at last.
"Jason told me about it when I was in the hospital. So when are we going to shoot it off?"
Jason was amazed to realize Zack had heard him when he visited him in the Intensive Care Unit.
"Anytime you want to, Zack. Anytime you want."
* * *
April 13, 1991
Trini Kwan looked over at where Kimberly usually sat in English Class and sighed. Kim wasn't in class today and Trini was a little surprised. Whatever was wrong with her must have come on suddenly. She had been fine yesterday.
However, recently at least, 'fine' had been a relative term in regards to Kimberly. Her parents' always shaky marriage was rapidly rattling apart, and Kimberly was showing signs of the stress. She tended to slump at her desk, not looking around and only speaking when called on. She scurried around with her eyes downcast, completely lacking her normal exuberance. Though still always neatly dressed and groomed, something about her appearance spoke of her lack of interest in taking care of herself.
Trini had tried to get her to open up about what was going on, to give Kimberly a way to express her feelings, but Kim had resisted her efforts, saying only that the situation had gotten worse and she was afraid her parents separation was inevitable. But more than that she wouldn't, or couldn't say.
That day at lunch Trini used the pay phone to call Kimberly. Kim's mom answered the phone, and reported that Kimberly was feeling ill and was taking a nap at that time. Trini got the distinct impression that Kimberly's mother was not being completely truthful with her, but she was far too polite to say so. She hung up the phone more worried about her friend than she had been before. Unhappy, she drifted back into the cafeteria to eat her lunch.
"Hey, Trini, we saved you a spot!" Zack called out to her as she entered the large room with her lunch bag in hand. Trini spotted her friends and walked over to join them at the table.
"What's wrong?" Jason asked, noticing her downcast expression.
"I tried calling Kimberly and her mother said she was sick, but I just have a feeling it is something more than her just being ill," Trini replied.
"You think things got worse with her parents?"
"Maybe. I think it has been getting worse all along, but she won't talk about it. I tried, but she just wouldn't. I'm worried about her, she thinks she's responsible for their fights," tears glistened in Trini's eyes.
"But she isn't responsible," Zack noted, confused.
"I know that, but I don't think she does. She's told me that if she would just be good enough her parents wouldn't fight so much. Remember when we were in the fire, what she said then about how she wasn't supposed to cause any problems? She still feels that way. Like it is all her fault," Trini's voice was sorrowful for her friend.
"I wonder why she would think that. I mean, it's not her fault, is it?" Billy asked.
Trini's first reaction to Billy's innocent question was anger, until she realized that he probably had no idea what it was like to hear parents fight. "No, it isn't," she said evenly. "I think they would fight, no matter what. At least that is what my parents told me. I asked them about Kim's parents one night when I had been over visiting her and heard them arguing." That had been the last time Kimberly had invited Trini over to her house, almost four months ago.
"Tell you what, why don't we all go over to Kim's after school, you know, just sort of check on her. Sound like a good idea?" Jason asked the group. They all quickly agreed to meet in front of the school when it let out that afternoon.
Three thirty found the four friends briskly walking toward the Hart residence. Kimberly lived near Billy, within easy walking distance of the school. The four children laughed and joked as they walked, comparing notes on their day at school. But as they approached Kimberly's front door they settled down, and when Eileen Hart opened her front door she found the kids standing there quietly.
"We missed Kimberly today and wanted to see if she was okay," Jason said for the group.
Eileen looked, and felt, wrung out, but she had to smile at her daughter's friends. "Let me go tell her you are here," she said, not even bothering to keep up the pretense of Kimberly's illness.
A few minutes later Kimberly herself came to the door with red, puffy eyes and a sorrowful expression.
"Kim! What's wrong?" Trini exclaimed, reaching out to embrace her best friend.
Kimberly backed off a bit, allowing Trini's embrace, but not returning it.
"Guys, I don't feel very good, that's all. But I should be able to come back to school tomorrow. Thanks for coming by, and all, but I just want to be alone for a while," she said as tears stood in her eyes.
"Are you sure? Is something else wrong? You can tell us," Trini prompted as the boys all nodded in agreement.
"It's nothing. Really. I'm okay." Kimberly's voice was fading rapidly.
"Is something going on with your parents?" Trini asked watching Kim closely.
Kim burst into tears at that question. Trini reached out to hug her again as Kimberly sobbed out brokenly, "My dad moved out last night."
The others all exchanged a look. They knew Kimberly's worst fear was her parents breaking up, and now it had happened. Trini, Jason and Zack had all asked their parents about Kimberly's situation, as none of them quite understood what it was like to have parents that fought openly and loudly. The Kwan's infrequent disagreements were kept very quiet, and Trini and her sister never knew of them. The Scott's also argued rarely, but on those occasions that they did they tried to keep the volume down so that Jason wouldn't hear it. The Taylor's arguments were louder, but very brief and usually ended with humor. Billy had no memory of his parents fighting, and he did not question his father about it.
None of the kids had gotten satisfactory answers to their questions, as none of their parents could come up with a way to explain the situation to young children. Despite the fact the kids could not really understand the situation completely, they offered Kimberly all the support and kindness they could.
"I'm so sorry Kim," Trini said softly, as she hugged her best friend close. The boys all stood around looking, and feeling, uncomfortable, wishing there was something they could do for her.
"It was awful. They kept yelling and yelling, then he just slammed out the front door and took off in his car. He pulled out so fast his tires squealed, you can see the marks over there," Kim pointed to some black streaks on the driveway. The other four regarded the marks solemnly. "He hasn't come back at all today, but he called Mom and said he was coming by tomorrow to pick up some of his stuff. He...he...he's n-n-not coming b-back," she choked out.
"Want me to come in with you for a while?" Trini asked.
"Please, yes," Kimberly whispered.
"Can we do anything for you?" Jason asked hesitantly.
Kimberly just shook her head, and Trini gave the three boys a meaningful look as she herded Kim back into her house.
No one but Kimberly and Trini ever knew what was said between them that afternoon, but the already close friendship the two shared was even closer afterwards. Trini became Kimberly's shadow-wherever Kimberly went, Trini was sure to be close by.
Jason, Zack, and Billy were also solicitous regarding their diminutive friend. They refrained from teasing her, instead going out of their way to be careful of her feelings. Perceptive enough to see what they were trying to do, Kimberly nevertheless found it irritating that they were so nice to her. Between Trini's mothering and the boys' treating her like she was made out of glass, she was starting to grow irritated with them all.
Two weeks later in the park, it finally got to be too much. Billy innocently asked her if he could get her something to drink and Kimberly blew up in his face.
"Quit being so..so...so..NICE to me! Just stop it! You are worse than my mom is! Just leave me alone!" seeing the shocked, hurt expression on Billy's face, Kimberly suddenly burst into tears and ran towards her home, yelling at the others to just "leave me alone!"
Shocked into immobility, they stood in a group, watching her retreating figure, wondering what had just happened.
"I didn't mean to upset her," Billy said softly, sounding on the verge of tears himself.
"We know you didn't, Billy. I don't know what is wrong with her," Trini said, putting a comforting arm around the upset boy.
"Should we follow her?" Zack asked, sounding doubtful about that idea even as he said it.
"Why don't we just make sure she got home okay. I don't think she wants to see us right now," Jason suggested. The decided to walk over to Billy's house, as he lived the closest to Kim.
When they got there they called the Hart's residence, and Kim's mother told them she was home, in her room and very upset.
"We didn't mean to do anything to make her upset," Jason explained.
Eileen Hart knew her daughter's friends were trying their best to help Kim, but they were too young to understand what Kimberly needed. She reassured Jason that she knew they had not done anything intentional to upset her daughter, and promised to tell Kim they had called and were sorry.
"I still don't understand what got her so upset," Zack said with a puzzled expression.
"Got who so upset?" The voice from the doorway surprised them all as they turned to find Wallace Cranston standing there.
"Kimberly. I offered her a drink and she got mad and yelled at me, then ran home crying," Billy explained.
"Oh. What did she yell at you?"
"To quit being so nice to her, and that I was worse than her mom, and to leave her alone," Billy was sounding upset again and Wallace put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"I may know what the problem is," he said quietly. Seeing the curious looks on the youngsters' faces he smiled a bit. "Why don't we sit down and talk about it?"
Once the kids were settled down around the kitchen table Wallace spoke again. "I think it may be that you are treating her differently than you usually do. Her parents split up, and things are probably very strange at home for her right now, and she is feeling like everything is kind of topsy-turvy. She needs for something in her life to be normal, and I think she was looking for that from you guys. Instead, she found you all acting differently also, and it upset her. Now, I know you all meant the very best, and it was very good of you to be so nice to her, but maybe you should try treating her normally and see how that goes. Does that make any sense?" Wallace looked around the table to find the kids all thinking about what he had said. He spoke from painful experience. After Marie had died he found his own life a confusing mess, nothing was as it should be. He had looked forward to work as a place of normalcy, only to find his coworkers were treating him with kid gloves. It had taken some time for them for start treating him normally again, but once they did he had finally found a sense of place again, and from that was able to rebuild his shattered life.
"I guess that makes some sense," Trini finally said a bit hesitantly.
"So, we should treat her like we used to?" Zack asked.
"Yes, I think that would be good for her," Wallace concurred.
"It won't upset her more?" Billy asked.
"I doubt it. It's worth a try at least. Just don't forget she is having a hard time, so if she seems really moody, try to understand it probably has nothing to do with you. Okay?"
"Okay" four voices chorused back at him.
* * *
The next day Kimberly approached them a bit hesitantly at school. "I'm sorry I yelled at you guys yesterday. I was upset."
"That's okay, Kim. We know it is hard for you," Trini said with an encouraging smile. "We'll try to be more understanding. Do you want to come with us to the park to study after school?"
"Oh, I can't. I have to go...be...somewhere after school. Maybe the next time." Kim hurried off toward her classroom without another word.
"Wonder what's up now?" Zack commented as the four of them prepared to head to their own classrooms.
It was later that day, during lunch, that they found out what was up with Kimberly. She joined them for lunch, but hardly ate anything and was obviously upset. The others tried to get her to join in their conversation, but she was impervious to their attempts. Finally exasperated, Zack flat out asked her, "What's wrong Kimberly?"
"My folks are sending me to a shrink," she whispered.
"Oh. Maybe he can help you with dealing with your parents," Jason said calmly. Given his mom's profession, he had met a few psychologists and psychiatrists, and had found them to be nice, normal people. He did not have any prejudices concerning their profession, or their patients.
"Yeah, you can psych them out," Zack added with a laugh, finally eliciting a smile from the unhappy girl.
"You don't think I'm nuts?"
"No, we think Zack is nuts," Billy said with a smile, and a yelp when Zack slugged his arm. The others all burst into laughter. Billy rarely attempted a joke, but when he did it was usually quite funny, at least partly because it was so unexpected.
"Thanks, guys," Kimberly said softly, smiling a little at her friends.
So it was that Kimberly spent the rest of the school year and the first part of the summer seeing a therapist. The others did not ask her any details about what they discussed, but if she indicated a need to talk, they were there to listen. Other than that they all made the effort to treat her like they usually did. With their support and friendship bolstering her, she made significant progress in her efforts to adjust to the new realities of her family life. Once the first shock of the separation was over, and with her therapist's help, she began to see that things might actually become better than they had been before, when her parents were fighting all the time.
* * *
July 16, 1991
Jason, Zack, and Billy were in the Scotts' family room, enjoying a "Star Wars" marathon and tub of popcorn. They were an hour into "The Return of the Jedi" when they heard Jason's mom come home. Jason looked up with a smile when she came into the room, but the smile quickly faded when he saw the expression on her face.
"What's wrong, Mom?" he asked, the movie forgotten for the moment.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news. Why don't you turn off the movie?" she replied.
In the sudden stillness, she spoke again. "Just before my shift ended, there was a call to the emergency room for all available staff. There had been a bad accident just outside of town. I went to help them out, and that is when I found out one of the families involved was the Kwans."
The three boys looked stricken. "Trini and her family?" Zack asked.
"Yes. Trini has some broken ribs, and I think her left arm was broken as well. Also, a lot of cuts and bruises. Her mom and sister didn't have any broken bones, thank goodness. But her dad was very badly hurt-both his legs were broken, he suffered significant head trauma, and he underwent surgery for internal injuries. He will be in the hospital for several days, and they are keeping Trini overnight for observation. Maybe you guys could go visit her later with me. I think she'd like to see her friends. I'm sure she was very scared."
"Can we? We'll call Kimberly and get her to come too," Jason replied, his expression grave. Trini and her family had been out of town for several days on a mini-vacation, the accident happened just a few miles from their home.
"I think that would be a good idea," Marjorie agreed. She hated the thought that the kids would again be going to the hospital to visit a friend, but she felt in her heart that Trini really needed to see them. She didn't say so to the boys, as she didn't want to upset them more than necessary, but Trini had been absolutely terrified. Marjorie had spoken to Michelle Kwan for a few minutes, and Michelle had agreed Trini would benefit from seeing her friends.
Late that afternoon Marjorie went with the four children to the hospital to visit Trini. All four had gotten their parents' permission, and had been told the extent of Trini's injuries. They would visit two at a time for a few minutes, keeping the conversations focused on buoying the girl's spirits.
Kimberly and Jason went in first with Marjorie. Kim in particular had a hard time hiding her dismay at her friend's appearance. Trini had two black eyes, numerous small cuts and bruises on her face, and her left arm was encased in a bulky cast. The car that had hit the Kwan's sedan had struck at an angle, doing the most damage to the driver's side, and the occupants there. Trini had been sitting behind her father, who had been driving. It was the expressed opinion of the rescue workers who had been called to the scene that Trini and her father had actually been very lucky, and that the luck had been helped considerably by the fact that they had been wearing their seatbelts. Accidents such as theirs with unbelted victims usually resulted in fatalities.
"Trini, how are you feeling?" Jason asked awkwardly, knowing the question sounded stupid, but unable to think of anything else to say.
"Not too good. My side hurts, and so does my arm. Is my father okay?" she asked, her voice small, and somehow lost sounding.
"I don't know, we didn't see your family outside. Are your ribs broken?" Jason countered, desperate to keep off the subject of Trini's father.
"Yeah, that's what the doctor said. How bad do I look?"
"Not as bad as Billy did when the Martinez brothers finished with him last year," Jason grinned. The previous fall Billy had been waylaid by the Martinez brothers and beaten up pretty badly. It had been the first time he had been beaten up since he had become friends with Jason and Zack, and Jason had felt extremely guilty for not being there when Billy had needed him.
Trini smiled back a little puzzled, she knew Jason hated talking about what had happened. "I guess I'm okay, then," she murmured.
"Of course you are!" Kimberly suddenly declared with a stern look. She had finally gotten over her initial shock. "You are going to be completely fine in no time. You promised to attend a week of summer camp with me and I am not letting you off the hook. So you are going to be fine SOON!"
"Yes, ma'am," Trini said with an awed look at her petite friend. Even Jason was a bit taken aback by Kimberly's emphatic tone of voice.
"Not to sound mean, or anything," Kimberly demurred.
"Oh, no, not at all!" Jason laughed, while Trini grinned at them. Standing quietly to the side Marjorie smiled in satisfaction. This visit was exactly what Trini had needed.
* * *
Two weeks later the kids had decided to meet in the park for a picnic lunch and an afternoon of goofing off. Trini was the last to arrive, walking slowly and looking obviously dejected. The facial injuries she had suffered were already faded to almost nothing, but her arm was still in a cast, and she moved with the careful motions of a person who expected pain.
"Hey Trini! Pull up a corner of the blanket and grab something to eat before Zack gets it all," Jason invited with a smile.
Trini's return smile was barely existent, and Jason immediately sensed something was very wrong with her. He shot a questioning look at Kimberly, but saw she was as confused as he was.
"What's wrong, Trini? Did something happen?" Jason asked in his direct way.
Tears began to run down the girl's face as Jason asked his question. "I think we may end up moving to Houston, to live with my grandparents," she said softly, not looking at any of her friends.
"Why?" Zack asked.
"My dad can't work yet," she replied, still not looking up. "I heard my parents talking last night, they said if Dad couldn't start back at work soon they may replace him, and we would have to move in with my Mother's parents until he can find another job."
The other four children all looked mystified at the idea. None of them had ever heard their parents discuss financial matters, or faced the possibility of a change in their lifestyle due to a parent's loss of a job. They were at a loss to understand how this could happen, but realized that Trini was very upset and uncomfortable talking about it.
"Well, maybe something will come up so your dad can work again soon," Kimberly said, knowing it sounded lame, but unable to think of anything else to say.
"Maybe," Trini murmured with no conviction.
"Isn't there anything anyone can do?" Billy asked.
"I don't think so. It didn't sound like it."
No one could think of anything to say to offer hope to the downcast girl.
"You guys want to play tag Frisbee?" Jason finally offered, wanting to do something to work off the unhappy feeling Trini's announcement had caused in him. The others agreed and soon even Trini was engrossed in the spirited game they had dreamed up the previous summer. Because it was difficult for Trini to throw the Frisbee, but she was still adept at catching it, they teamed her with Billy who was the least skilled player among them. This allowed Trini to participate in the game despite her injuries, and gave Billy a fighting chance against the better players.
Later walking home Jason, Zack and Billy talked amongst themselves about what Trini had told them. Zack knew more about financial problems than the other two boys did due to having overheard his parents discussing his uncle, who had lost his job the previous year.
"My folks were talking about how they would have to give up their house, and their car, and even some of their furniture, and move to a small apartment until my uncle could find work. My mom was crying a little, cause that's her favorite brother. I guess he found another job before they had to move, which was really lucky. But it sounds like Trini's dad can't work because of the accident, and that's mean if he loses his job because of that-it wasn't his fault," Zack said.
"Yeah," Jason agreed. "I'm going to ask my dad if there is anything that can be done, I don't want Trini to have to move."
"Me neither," Billy added. "I'll ask my dad, too. He knows a lot about finances."
"Good deal. Maybe we can find out something to help Trini."
* * *
That night Jason asked his parents about the Kwan's problem.
"How did Trini hear about this?" Jack asked.
"She said she overheard her parent's talking. She's been really worried about her dad, and I guess she was going to check on him and that's when she heard them discussing the move. She's really upset about moving. It's not fair, Dad. He was hurt in an accident. Can he really lose his job for that?"
"Possibly. Though most employers try to avoid that, it can lead to all sorts of legal problems, depending on the situation. Hmm, I wonder if there isn't some sort of precedent for this sort of situation? I think I'll give Wallace a call, maybe he knows someone who can help the Kwans," Jack decided. He looked at Jason with some sympathy. It sure seemed like his friends were having a spate of perfectly horrible luck. Zack getting so sick, Kim's parents divorce, now Trini's problems. He found himself idly hoping the old wives tale would hold true about troubles coming in threes, and there would be no more bad news for Jason or his friends.
He went to his study to make the call, and came back a half-hour later with a satisfied expression. "Wallace said he has a client who handles this sort of situation all the time. He's going to talk to him tomorrow, and maybe steer him toward the Kwans. Wallace said he would ask that his friend not mention how he heard of the situation. So, Jason, that means you keep mum about it to Trini, okay?"
"Okay, I guess. But, can I ask why?" Jason looked very confused. "Isn't it a good thing we are doing?"
Jack smiled at his son's innocent question. "Yes, it is. But, adults, parents in particular, don't like others knowing they are having financial problems, especially their children. I think Mr. Kwan, for all he is such a good person and very nice, would be upset if he knew we had been told of his problems. It's hard to explain, Jason. Let's say you were taking a class, and you just didn't understand the subject. No matter how hard you tried, you just didn't get it, and it seems like everyone else does. Now, let's say the teacher goes to your friend, Billy maybe, and says 'Jason is failing the class, will you please help him study', and Billy tells you that the teacher said that. How would that make you feel?"
"Pretty stupid, I guess. Like I couldn't take care of myself, or do the work for myself."
"Right. Now, let's say Billy just approaches you and wants to study for the class with you, no mention of how you are doing in the class, but giving you the opening to ask for help without it seeming to be a big deal. Would that be better?"
Jason nodded, thinking it over. "I think I get it. And I won't say anything to Trini. I'll make sure Billy doesn't either. Thanks, Dad." He gave his father a big hug with a smile.
"You're welcome, kiddo," he hugged his son tightly, then looked at him warmly. "You know, you are a very special person."
Jason smiled as he headed toward the den to watch some TV before bedtime.
* * *
A few days later Trini appeared to have been relieved of a tremendous burden. When the others asked about it, Trini told them that her family would not have to move after all. It seemed that the company her father worked for was willing to keep his position open until he was completely recovered, and set up some sort of plan to help pay for some of the Kwan's living expenses until he could resume work. Trini admitted that she had finally confessed to her parents that she had overheard their discussion earlier, and so they had told her of the good news so she could stop worrying.
"That's so great!" Kimberly squealed, carefully hugging her best friend. Kim was doing better all the time, herself. She was down to bi-weekly sessions with her therapist, tapering down to the point where she would finally be done completely with therapy. She had made great strides in dealing with her parent's separation, soon to be divorce.
"Wonderful news, Trini," Billy added with a big smile.
"We should celebrate! I have my allowance, plus some money I earned mowing lawns, so I'll buy us a round of smoothies at the Juice Bar. Sound okay?" Zack offered expansively.
A round of enthusiastic approval met the proposal, and they trooped to the Juice Bar to celebrate Trini's news that she would be staying in Angel Grove.
* * *
October 11, 1991
Jason came home from his Friday afternoon karate class to find his parents in a serious discussion in the kitchen. He came in and looked at them with mild curiosity as it was a bit unusual to find both home at this time of the evening, and odder still to find them sitting at the kitchen table this way.
"Hi Mom, Dad. When's dinner?" he asked casually.
"In an hour or so. Jason, come over here and sit down. We need to talk to you for a few minutes," his mom replied quietly.
"Sure," he said with a slightly apprehensive look at his parents. Something was definitely wrong.
Both Marjorie and Jack looked at Jason with somber expressions. "I guess there is really no easy way to tell you this, so I'll just say it straight out. Billy's dad is very sick, he has kidney cancer. He has to go to the medical center in the city to undergo treatments for a few months. He will be staying with his aunt, but there is no room there for Billy. Wallace asked us, and we agreed to let Billy stay with us for that time. I hope you will have no objections to that."
Jason looked at his parents with a fearful expression. "Is Mr. Cranston going to die?" he asked, tears in his eyes.
Marjorie looked taken aback at the question, and the look on her son's face. "There is a very good chance he will be okay. This sort of cancer usually responds well to treatment. You know, not everyone who gets cancer dies," she added.
Jason looked at her doubtfully. "But you are always saying how so-and-so died of cancer, it seems like that is what kills all the patients at the hospital."
His mother was surprised by her son's inference. "Oh, Jason, I didn't mean to give you that impression. When one of our patients dies, it always makes me sad, and when I talk about it to you and your dad it helps me feel a little better. But the patients die of all sorts of different causes, not just cancer. And maybe I forget to talk about those patients who get better. A lot of those are cancer patients. Just because he has cancer does not mean Billy's dad is going to die. According to Wallace his doctor is very optimistic. But, treatment for cancer is not fun, and he is going to be very sick. That is another reason he wants Billy to stay here, to spare him seeing his father so ill. That, and his aunt really doesn't have room for him. But you have to understand, Billy is going to be upset no matter what. He's so intelligent, it is hard to hide things from him, and he is sure to find out all sorts of information about his father's illness. We have to be ready for that."
Jason was still trying to assimilate the information he had been given so far. Another question rose in his mind. "When is he leaving?"
"Wallace is telling Billy tonight. Then he will drop him off before he heads to his aunt's on Sunday," Jack told him.
"How long will he be gone? And is he going to come to visit or something?"
"The doctors believe Wallace will be in treatment for four to eight months. We will be taking Billy to visit him every other weekend."
"Okay. Is he going to stay in my room or the guest room?" was the next question. Usually when Billy stayed with them he slept in a rollaway bed in Jason's room. Since the two had become friends, Billy had spent about a week every couple of months with the Scotts while his father worked out of town.
"At least at first I'd like him to stay in your room. Jason, he's really going to need your friendship now. He's sure to be worried and scared. He's already lost one parent, it would be his worst fear to lose his other one. I don't really know how he is likely to react, but we need to realize he is going to need a lot of patience and understanding. And love. We can give him all that, can't we?" Marjorie asked.
"Yeah, we can," Jason agreed. His expression was thoughtful, and he asked to be excused so he could go to his room and change clothes. His parents realized he needed some time to deal with what they had told him, so they ended the discussion for the time being. They both knew Jason would likely have more questions and concerns later once he had thought it all through.
* * *
It was the next morning before Jason asked any further questions about Billy's situation. He was sitting at the table eating his cereal when he suddenly asked his mom a question she was not expecting.
"Mom, what will happen to Billy if his dad dies?"
"Oh, Jason," she sighed, "I thought we explained to you that his father has an excellent chance of being okay."
"You did. But I'm still wondering, what if? You know? What would happen to him? Would he stay with us for good?"
"Possibly. Probably. BUT, we are not going to think that way, and we certainly aren't going to talk that way. Billy's dad will be okay. That is what we need to believe. That is what Billy needs to believe. Okay?" It would be many years later, when her son was already the father of two growing girls, before Marjorie would tell him that Wallace Cranston had already had legal papers drawn up giving custody of his son to the Scotts in the event of his death. He had done so three months before he was diagnosed with cancer. Wallace was nothing if not thorough.
"Okay. And don't worry, I won't say anything to Billy. I just wondered."
"I know, Sweetie. And don't ever feel like you can't ask us a question. This will be hard for you, too. So you come to us if you are having any problems, okay?"
The next morning Wallace arrived with Billy. The boy was quiet and pale, and greeted the Scotts solemnly.
"Jason, why don't you help Billy get settled in your room?" Jack suggested.
"Sure. Come on Billy, I cleared out some room for you," Jason said, leading toward his bedroom.
Billy obediently followed, lugging a large suitcase while Jason took another one. The two boys quietly distributed some of Billy's clothing to the closet and the dresser drawer designated for him. Billy said very little, keeping silent unless asked a direct question. Soon they heard their parents calling for them.
"There you two are. I've got to get going, the Sunday afternoon traffic is terrible down there. I'll see you in a couple of weeks I guess," Wallace said to Jason and his folks. The slight man then headed out to his car, escorted by his son. The Scotts watched from their front porch as Wallace turned before getting into his car and enfolded his only child in a tight hug. It was clear he was speaking softly to the boy, but whatever he said remained between the two of them. After a few moments he gently removed himself from the child's embrace and opened the car door to get in. A final word, a longing look, then the car was pulling out of the driveway, and heading toward an uncertain future, leaving a small, solitary figure standing in its wake.
Marjorie choked back a sob as she looked at Billy, seeing his yearning look after his father. She turned abruptly and went into the house before the kids could see her tears. Jack and Jason went down the driveway and stood beside Billy.
After a few moments the three turned and went back into the house together.
* * *
The medical center where Wallace was taking his chemotherapy was in a primarily industrial part of the city. The apartment building where he was staying with his aunt was one of the few residential units in the area. It was very convenient for Wallace's purposes, as its close proximity allowed him to receive his treatments mostly as an outpatient. His aunt was in her late 50s, and had never married. She was prim, proper, and very set in her ways. She tolerated her nephew's presence, and considered helping him to be her 'Christian duty', but she did little more than provide him with a place to sleep and eat. When Thanksgiving rolled around, she announced she would spend it as she always did, with a group from her church. Wallace was too ill to spend the day in a group like that or to drive back to Angel Grove to spend it with his son. He figured he would spend the day alone, probably sleeping as that seemed to have become his favorite pastime in recent weeks. So he was startled when he heard a knock on his door just past noon.
He opened the door and was almost bowled over by an enthusiastic hug from his son. "Billy! Jack! Marjorie! What in the world are you all doing here? I thought we'd agreed that you'd spend the day in Angel Grove."
"Well, we changed our minds. It just wasn't right that you should spend the day alone. Besides, this gets me out of an entire day of cooking," Marjorie said with a chuckle.
"But I have nothing to offer you. Kate has no extra food in for Thanksgiving since she wasn't going to spend the day here. Otherwise, she keeps very little extra food around," Wallace was almost babbling in his embarrassment.
"We don't need anything. We planned to take you out to dinner. There are plenty of restaurants that offer special menus on Thanksgiving," Jack explained. He gave Wallace a meaningful look, with a glance toward Billy. Wallace knew the boy was having a hard time with his illness, and felt a lump in his throat as he considered his friends' kindness toward them both.
"That sounds wonderful," Wallace said at length. He was still holding on to Billy, who was returning the embrace enthusiastically. The Scotts drifted in to the kitchen area, giving Wallace and Billy a chance to speak to each other privately. A while later the Cranstons joined them in the tidy kitchen.
"Why don't we visit first for a while? Just be sure not to make a mess, boys. Kate doesn't like her stuff to be disturbed," Wallace suggested.
"Okay," they agreed, settling down quietly to play with a deck of cards they had found on the kitchen table. Soon they were engrossed in a spirited game of 'war', joking back and forth. Their parents retired to the living room.
"How is he doing?" Wallace asked quietly. "He isn't causing you any trouble, is he?"
"Oh, heavens, no. He's so well behaved it's almost frightening," Marjorie smiled. "But, I know he misses you, and worries a lot. I keep trying to get him to talk, but it usually doesn't work very well."
Wallace sighed. "He keeps his feelings pretty much inside. Maybe it would have been different if his mother was around, but maybe not. He's always been reserved."
"Well, I'll keep trying. How are you doing? What are the test results showing?" Marjorie continued. Soon they were engrossed in a discussion of Wallace's medical condition, using jargon Jack couldn't comprehend. He drifted out to check on the boys' card game.
"So, who's winning?" he asked, sitting down at the table to watch them.
"Jason. For now. I'll get him back, though," Billy said with a grin. The two of them didn't compete in any sort of athletic endeavor as Billy was at a severe disadvantage, nor did they in academic pursuits as Jason was clearly overmatched. But when it came to card games, they competed fiercely. Jack chuckled at them as they continued to slap the cards down.
"Well, don't get too wound up. We'll be heading out to dinner pretty soon," he told them, enjoying watching their antics. They played the game so fast it was hard to follow, and they muttered dire threats at each other with regularity. As he continued to watch them play, Jack considered how things had gone the previous month or so.
Billy had quickly settled in with the Scotts, adjusting to their routines with little trouble. He was still staying in Jason's room, and the two boys got along better than most brothers do. There were occasional squabbles-they were too different not to clash on some things-but the arguments were always short lived. Jason was too kind hearted and easy going, and Billy was too passive to maintain long term disagreements.
For their part, Jack and Marjorie strove to treat their guest like one of the family. He was given regular chores to do, and was subject to the same house rules as Jason was. They did allow for some leeway considering his situation. Generally they expected Jason to eat most of what he was served at each meal, but they had discovered Billy couldn't eat when upset, and he was often upset. At first Marjorie had tried to force the youngster to eat, but after he was sick to his stomach a couple of times she realized it was actually physically impossible for him to keep food down sometimes. So she relaxed her efforts to force him to eat, and when he wanted a snack because he had missed a meal she usually relented.
Jason's only complaint, which he kept to himself, was he sometimes lost sleep with his new roommate. He would awaken in the deepest part of the night to hear Billy quietly sobbing in the other bed. He would lie on his side of the room, listening to his friend's muted grief, puzzling over what he should do. He was afraid if he went to Billy the other boy would be embarrassed, or ashamed, and would reject Jason's comfort. Jason instinctively knew that under the shy, reserved exterior was an innate pride that might not have responded well to knowing his grief was heard. So Jason would lie there quietly in the dark, tears in his own eyes, until Billy drifted off to sleep again.
Jason, Zack, Trini, and Kimberly, remembering the lessons they had learned when Kim's parents separated, treated Billy much the same as they always had. If he seemed to be having a particularly bad day, they would make sure he knew they were available for him if he needed them, but didn't push it. They continued to include him in all their activities, sometimes forgetting that he was usually gone every other Sunday to visit his dad. After the first couple of weeks Jack and Marjorie began to trade off the trips, and Jason occasionally stayed home as well. It was a seven-hour round trip, and Billy usually only got to spend two to three hours with Wallace. But the Scotts knew how much they both needed the contact.
Jack pulled his thoughts back to the present as Marjorie and Wallace came in to see if everyone was ready to eat. They ended up in a small restaurant with a homey atmosphere. The food was good, and plentiful, and they had a leisurely meal punctuated by pleasant conversation. After a couple of hours though, it was obvious that Wallace would be glad to go home to rest. The Scotts dropped him off, then headed back to Angel Grove.
That night Billy cried for two hours during the night, while Jason listened with a heavy heart.
* * *
Christmas Eve, 1991
"Come on, Jason! Hurry up!" Kimberly's exasperated voice carried down the hall to Jason's bedroom.
"We're coming, just a sec!" Jason shouted back, searching desperately for the red stocking cap he was supposed to wear. He caught sight of Billy standing by the door, hat in hand, grinning at him.
"Looking for this?" he asked with exaggerated innocence.
"You little poop!" he mock growled as Billy laughed and darted down the hall towards the other kids, still holding Jason's cap.
"Whoa! You know you aren't supposed to run in the house!" Marjorie stopped Billy and deftly removed Jason's hat from his possession, passing it to her son casually. "Let me get a picture of you all before you go." She snapped a couple of quick photos of the group of children, which included Jason, Billy, Kimberly, Trini and Zack, as well as about a half dozen others. All were wearing white pants, red shirts and red stocking caps, the casual uniform they had decided on to go caroling in. They would be wandering throughout a twelve-block area, including the rest home where they were planning to start. Marjorie had to smile as she looked at the fresh-faced youngsters, so excited to be going caroling, so excited about it being Christmas Eve, just so excited.
"You kids have fun. Jason, Billy, you two come right back here when you're done, okay?" Getting affirmative responses from both boys, she watched them troop out with the others. She was especially glad to see Billy looking so happy. Though his reason had less to do with singing and more to do with the fact his father would be home in a couple of hours to spend three days in Angel Grove. Wallace was too weak to take care of himself and his son, so Jack and Marjorie had insisted he would stay with them. They pointed out the most important thing he could do would be spend some time with Billy, not waste his energy trying to cook, clean, and shop. Wallace had agreed, reluctantly. Marjorie had moved Billy's bed into the spare bedroom Wallace would be using so they could be together.
Just before she expected the boys back, Jack arrived with Wallace. Marjorie greeted him with a warm hug. "I'm so glad you could come home for a while," she said softly. She backed away a bit and looked him over. Always slight, Wallace was slimmer than she had ever seen him. His clothes hung on his spare frame, and he wore a cap to hide his hair loss from the chemotherapy. But despite his obvious tiredness, he looked happier than they had seen him in a while. He looked around the festive home and smiled.
"Thank you again for letting us stay here. You were right, of course. I would be hard pressed to spend any quality time with Billy if I was trying to run a household. Where is he, by the way?"
"He's with a group of kids. They went out caroling. They should be back soon, they only expected to go for a couple of hours. Why don't you make yourself comfortable in the den?" Marjorie replied.
When Billy and Jason arrived back home a half-hour later Wallace was rested enough to greet his son enthusiastically. The two boys entertained the adults with stories of their adventures caroling, including their stop at a house where a loud and rambunctious party had been going on.
"They stood on the porch and sang along with us. They were really BAD!" Jason laughed. "And they were also very loud. We decided we should move on before they wanted to join us or something."
* * *
The three days passed all too quickly. Christmas was a huge success by everyone's standards. Wallace had enlisted Jack and Marjorie's assistance in purchasing gifts for Billy and the others on his gift list. The morning when they exchanged gifts was filled with the laughter and joy of those who gave and received gifts chosen with love and care.
Though he had to rest frequently, and slept more than normal, Wallace enjoyed the visit immensely. A somewhat undemonstrative person by nature, he made an extra effort to ensure his son received all the affection he could give. It was sadly ironic that they seemed to spend more quality time together in those three days than they had in the previous three years.
It was a couple of hours before he was due to leave with Jack to return to the city when Wallace asked to speak to them privately.
"I apologize for waiting until the last minute, but I need to let you know what is going on. The chemo isn't working the way they want it to. The cancer is growing again, threatening to spread. They are going to start me on the more radical chemo regime day after tomorrow. As you know, that one is much more severe, and I'm going to be feeling worse than ever. I'm tempted to ask that you not bring Billy for a while, I'd like your opinion on that, actually. He's too darn bright not to notice when I start to really feel bad."
Marjorie and Jack thought it over carefully. Marjorie spoke first. "I think Billy needs to know what is going on, Wallace. In the long run it will probably be a mistake if we try to hide your condition from him. And not letting him see you, well, I think that would be even worse. God, I'm so sorry, Wallace. I was hoping this regime would work for you." She looked at their friend with tears shimmering in her eyes. "But, bad as this other chemo is, it usually gets great results. You will be fine, I just know it."
"Thank you, the doctors told me about the same thing. I guess I'd better talk to Billy," Wallace sighed heavily. "The worst thing isn't how I feel, it's how I'm making him feel. Seeing the hurt and fear in his eyes. You can't know what a comfort it is to me to know he is in such a stable, loving environment. Especially now. I can never repay you for all you have done."
"No repayment is necessary. We care about you both. Don't worry about Billy, you need to concentrate on getting yourself well. We'll take care of him, as best we can," Jack laid a comforting hand on the smaller man's shoulder.
"I know you will. Well, I'd better get this over with."
* * *
February 22, 1992
Jack Scott was deep in thought as he drove over to pick up Jason and Billy at the Taylor's. The two boys, along with Zack, Kim and Trini had spent the day with Clayton Taylor up in the nearby mountains, sledding. Zack had gotten all A's and B's on his last report card and the day of fun in the snow was his reward for doing so well.
But Jack wasn't thinking about what the kids were doing this weekend. He was contemplating the week that had just passed. It had not been a good one for their houseguest. First, the visit with Wallace on the previous Sunday had gone very badly. Wallace was extremely ill. He had only been semi-conscious when Billy saw him, and the experience had shaken the boy badly. Then on Monday a couple of bullies had roughed him up a bit at lunch before Jason stepped in to help. Tuesday Billy got sick, apparently some sort of 48 hour bug that really hit him hard. Friday he was called up to the blackboard during math class, and one of the other students tripped him. In falling his pants ripped in the back, embarrassing him in front of the entire class. Jack was glad that Billy had been offered this chance to have fun with his friends. God knew the kid could use a break.
Marjorie was very worried about him. She knew Billy was keeping most of his feelings bottled up, and the stress was bound to get to him soon. Her repeated attempts to break through the boy's reserve had failed. She told Jack that he was like a powder keg, ready to blow at any time, for any reason.
When Jack reached the Taylor's, Kimberly's mother was just pulling away from the curb with the two girls in her car. The three boys were standing on the front lawn with Clayton.
"Here to pick up your boys, are you?" Clayton called out cheerfully.
"If you're through with them, sure," Jack replied with an easy smile. He noticed a sudden scowl on Billy's face.
"What's wrong, son?" he asked, laying a hand on the boys shoulder comfortingly.
"I'M NOT YOUR SON!" Billy shouted, slapping Jack's hand off his shoulder. "I don't belong to you!" He began to hit at Jack, who was stunned by the outburst. Realizing Billy was completely out of control Jack did the only thing he could think of under the circumstances. He grabbed the youngster's arm, turning him around and giving him a hard swat on the seat of his pants.
The result was unexpected. Giving a howl of pure despair, Billy collapsed in a boneless heap, crying hysterically.
"Ah, damn. Here it is," Jack murmured unhappily. He bent down and gently picked the distraught child up. "Shhhh, shhhh, it will be okay," he said softly, trying to comfort the boy as he walked toward the car. Seeing Clayton approach he spoke quietly. "Could you open the back door of my car please? I need to get him home." Clayton held back his questions, and opened the door. Jack quickly strapped Billy in the seatbelt, despite the fact he immediately curled up into a fetal position, still crying in huge, gulping sobs.
"Come on, Jason. Get in the front seat," Jack said. The drive home was as quick as he could make it. He and Jason didn't speak, both just listened to the sobbing coming from the back seat. Once home Jack efficiently got Billy out of the car and carried him into the house. Hearing the crying, Marjorie hurried to meet them.
"What happened?" she asked, already reaching out to take him from Jack.
"Darned if I know," Jack replied. He quickly filled Marjorie in on what had transpired at the Taylor's. Marjorie nodded tersely, then headed towards the boys' bedroom with her sobbing burden.
Jack and Jason shared a worried look. "Did something happen while you guys were playing today?" Jack asked his son. Jason shook his head in a negative gesture. "Guess we could go in the den and watch a movie or something, huh? Give Mom a chance to help Billy," Jack suggested.
"Sure," Jason replied, his gaze turning down the hall toward the room his mother had just entered. "Is Billy okay?"
"I think so. He's just really upset about his dad. And it just sort of piled up on him until it got to be too much. At least I think that is what happened. Your mom will find out for sure."
It was almost an hour later before Marjorie rejoined Jack and Jason in the den.
"How's Billy?" Jason asked when he saw her.
"He's okay. He's asleep," she reported.
"Did you find out what set him off?" Jack asked.
"Yes," Marjorie sighed. "It was Clayton's comment about you picking up 'your' boys, and you calling him 'son'. He got the idea that we don't think his father is coming back. That we don't want him to come back. That we are taking him over. God, the ideas kids get!" She shook her head sadly. "That was the trigger, but there is so much more involved. He loves being with us, and I think he's feeling guilty about enjoying being here as well. That, and of course, he is scared for his dad. Plus, I think it is stirring up feelings about his mom as well. I've always wondered if he really had a chance to grieve for her. Talk about a big burden for a youngster. He's been trying to be 'brave', and not 'bother us'. Those were his words! Can you imagine? It's really a good thing this happened, at least that is how I see it. But I've never seen anyone cry that hard or that long. He literally cried himself to sleep, and he was still sobbing a bit even then."
Jack looked unhappily at Marjorie. "And this is a good thing?"
"Yes. It is better than his keeping it bottled up inside. In the long run, he'll feel better."
"If you say so."
Jason had listened to his parent's conversation quietly. "Why does he bottle things up, Mom?"
"I don't know why, Jason. Some people just do that. I suspect Wallace is that way, and Billy learned from him. I sometimes wonder what Billy's mom was like, since he seems so much like his father. I should warn you, Jason, he is likely to be kind of 'weepy' for the next few days. So don't worry if he cries a lot. That would be expected."
"Okay," Jason replied, doubt evident in his voice and expression.
Marjorie gave Jason a considering look, but decided to leave it at that. "Should we order pizza for tonight? I don't feel like cooking."
The idea was met with enthusiastic agreement from Jack and Jason, so she went to order their dinner. When it arrived she sent Jason to check on Billy.
"If he's awake, see if he wants to join us. If he's asleep, just leave him be. I can always warm his dinner later."
Jason found Billy still sleeping on his side. As Jason watched, a tear formed in the corner of his sleeping boy's eye, then slid down his face. Young as he was, Jason felt a stab of pain in the face of his friend's sorrow, thinking of how much he must be hurting to cry in his sleep. He turned quietly, and went back to the den.
It was almost three hours later before Billy joined them. Marjorie happened to glance up and see the boy standing quietly in the doorway.
"There you are. Come on in, we're just watching 'Police Academy'. Some people seem to think this is a comedy, but I just don't see the attraction," she said cheerfully, as Jack and Jason both blew raspberries at her.
A faint smile ghosted around the corners of Billy's mouth as he entered the room.
"Come on, Billy, you can join me here. We haven't gotten to the good parts yet," Jason invited. He was lying on an oversized beanbag chair, plenty large enough for both boys. It was their favorite place to sprawl when watching TV.
Before joining Jason, Billy stopped by Jack's chair. "I'm sorry for hitting you and yelling," he said quietly.
Jack reached out and pulled Billy into a rough embrace. "That's okay. I know things have been tough for you recently," he gently pushed back Billy's hair and looked into his too-serious eyes. "Just don't do that again," he said with exaggerated sternness, earning another faint smile.
Billy then hurried over to join Jason, and soon his laughter (perhaps not as hearty as usual-but laughter nonetheless) joined his friend's as they enjoyed that particular movie as only eleven-year-old boys can.
* * *
April 26, 1992
Wallace was coming home. Looking back, it was almost as if the outburst of grief Billy experienced in February was the harbinger of better times. The very next weekend saw a marked improvement in Wallace's condition. He had been thrilled to learn the cancer was retreating under the onslaught of chemotherapy. And now, only two months later, he had been declared cancer-free. If he remained so for five years, he would be considered cured.
So, Wallace was coming home, for good. The day before Marjorie, Jack, Jason, Billy, Zack, Trini, and Kimberly had cleaned the Cranston home from top to bottom. Food was purchased and now filled the once empty shelves. Windows were opened to allow crisp, spring air to fill the house with freshness. It was a merry swirl of activity-fun coupled with efficiency. Now all that remained was for Wallace and Billy to move back in.
When Wallace arrived with Jack the next day, he was moved almost to tears when he walked into his house, escorted by his excited son.
"I don't think this house has ever been this clean. You guys have performed a miracle," he declared, looking around with an astonished expression. "I don't know how to thank you."
"Thank us by continuing to get well. That is all any of us want," Marjorie told him, putting her arm across his shoulders.
"Believe me, that is what I want as well. No offense to your profession, but I would be just as happy if I never saw another hospital. I have had my fill of them."
Marjorie laughed at that. "I wish I had a dollar for every former patient I have heard say that. I could retire."
"And if they felt the way I do, they meant every word."
A while later the Scotts went home, leaving Wallace and Billy to begin the process of reestablishing their life together. Father and son quickly fell back into their comfortable routine, and as Wallace began to regain his strength the memories of that miserable period in their lives faded some, though they never disappeared.
* * *
August 3, 1992
Zack and Billy waited impatiently at Zack's house for Jason to show up. He was supposed to be there a half-hour ago, and it wasn't like him to be late. Finally irritated, the two boys set out toward the Scott's house, figuring they would encounter their wayward friend en route.
The had only gone a few blocks when they saw the flashing lights of emergency vehicles and a lot of activity at an intersection ahead. The shared a conspiratorial grin, figuring Jason had stopped to watch the action. Little did they know, Jason WAS the action.
The two friends skidded to a stop just as the attendants were loading someone into the back of the ambulance. Zack saw Jason's twisted bicycle first, grabbing Billy's arm and pointing wordlessly. The crumpled mass of metal was wedged under the front bumper of a bright red Volkswagen Beetle that sported flashy bolts of lightening painted on its sides. It now also sported a broken windshield and dented front end. Zack and Billy looked at each other in horror, then dropping their bikes hurried toward the ambulance, needing to see how badly Jason was injured. They were stopped short of their goal by a young policeman, who grabbed both boys.
"Sorry, fellas, you can't come any closer. You need to get back there on the curb, better yet, you need to go on home," he said in a stern, yet not unkind, voice.
"But I think that is our friend, Jason. Please! We need to see him, he didn't meet us the way he was supposed to," Zack pleaded with him.
The policeman, Max Frost according to his name badge, looked at the two youngsters with some sympathy. He started to say something when another officer hailed him. "Will you two please wait over there, and I'll be right with you. The ambulance is leaving now for the hospital, but I'll tell you what I can in a minute, okay?"
Mutely the two nodded their heads, picking up their bikes and moving to the curb as had been requested. They watched the proceedings with little interest until Officer Max strode over to them.
"Thanks for your cooperation, boys. Now, who am I speaking to here?"
"I'm Zack Taylor, this is Billy Cranston."
Max looked closely at Billy. He had thought the boy looked familiar. Max had been one of the unlucky officers on duty the night the accident that took Mrs. Cranston's life had occurred. He sighed a bit-why did he always seem to be on duty when kids were hurt? And today it was the lieutenant's son, no less.
"Well, I guess you already knew it was Jason Scott that was hurt, right?" Both boys nodded. "He's hurt pretty bad, but he's alive. It's a good thing he was wearing his helmet, that's all I can say. He might have been killed without it. You two might be able to find out how he's doing if you go to the hospital, just try not to get in anyone's way, all right?" Both boys nodded again, solemnly.
They mounted their bikes and made the now familiar ride to the hospital. They entered the reception area and went to the window where the receptionist sat. Joann was on duty again.
"Hi, boys. What brings you here today?"
"Jason just got hurt, they brought him in the ambulance. Could you let us know how he's doing, please. We'll wait here," Billy asked politely.
Joann agreed to give them an update on Jason's condition as soon as she got one, and gave a sad sigh as she watched the two walk over and sit down quietly on the uncomfortable chairs.
* * *
When Jason regained consciousness in the emergency room he found his mother hovering over him, holding his hand gently and reassuring him he would be okay. He looked into her eyes and saw another truth there. He figured he must be pretty badly hurt for her to look so upset.
Focusing all his energy, as he had learned in karate classes, he managed to speak. "I'm okay, Mom, really," he rasped out. "Don't worry, please."
Marjorie gently held his hand. "I know, sweetie, you are going to be just fine. They are going to look at your legs now, it might hurt a bit."
That was an understatement if ever there was one. The shock was rapidly wearing off, and when one of the doctors gently moved Jason's leg the boy screamed in pain. The doctor immediately stopped and barked out orders. Jason was aware of a pricking sensation on his arm, then the world went fuzzy as the pain receded.
The next time he regained consciousness he found himself on his back in a hospital bed looking at one of his legs suspended in a pulley type contraption. He could see his other leg was encased in a bulky cast, as was his right arm. It felt like his entire body hurt, his mouth was dry, and he was absolutely terrified to find he couldn't move. He let out a whimper of pain/despair that brought his mom and dad from the chairs where they had been sitting, Jack reading and Marjorie staring out the window.
"Welcome back, son," Jack said gently, reaching out to brush Jason's hair back from his pale face. "You're going to be just fine."
"I can't move," Jason said, his fear evident in his voice.
"Jason, you have a lot of plaster on your body, you have taped ribs, they have you pretty much immobilized to prevent you from moving and inadvertently causing yourself pain or additional injury. There is no paralysis," Marjorie reported, relieved to be able to give her son some good news.
"That's good, I guess. When can I go home?" he asked plaintively.
"Not for a while, son. Your leg is in traction, it will have to be for at least four weeks. You will have to stay here for that time. But we will do all we can to make that time as pleasant as possible," Jack said.
"A month? I have to stay here a month? School will be started before I get out. I'll miss the best month of summer! Can't I leave sooner than that? Please?" Jason was nearly in tears.
Marjorie willed back her own tears. Jason really didn't understand how badly he had been injured, but Marjorie certainly did. From what she had heard from the policemen and ambulance attendants at the scene, Jason was a very lucky young man. The fact he was wearing a helmet saved him from a potentially fatal head injury. The fact the car that hit him was quite compact had also helped. If the car had been bigger or going any faster, Jason would have become just another statistic. She knew the recovery from his injuries would be long and arduous, but he WOULD recover. She was not about to let him start feeling sorry for himself.
"Stop that whining this instant Jason Lee Scott! There is nothing we can do about you having to be here. So we will do all we can to make it better for you, but you have to do your part, too. You have a job to do here. You will do everything the doctors say, you will not bother the nurses unnecessarily, and you will remember that it could have been much worse, so you should count your blessings. A lot of boys hit by cars never walk again, but you will," Jason looked at his mother with wide eyes. He had not expected her outburst, and it shocked him out of his self-pity like a slap to the face.
"Okay," he agreed in a small voice, a little intimidated.
"Sorry, Honey, but you needed that. Now you need to rest. Your body has been through a lot and needs time to adjust. Just close your eyes and allow yourself to drift off. We will be here when you awaken."
A little reassured, Jason did as he was told. He was asleep in minutes, snoring quietly.
Jack indicated for Marjorie to join him just outside the room.
"What was that all about?" he asked, also a little surprised at her outburst.
"If we let him start feeling sorry for himself, he won't fight back. I didn't want to say anything to him, but there is some possible nerve damage in his leg, he will have to do rehabilitation after the bones heal. He must not be allowed to lose his will to work toward the goal of total recovery. I won't allow it."
Jack smiled at his wife, impressed as always by her determination and good sense. "I agree completely. You're the boss on this one."
"I've been concentrating on Jason so much I forgot to ask what the deal was with the guy who hit him. Was he drunk?"
"No, it was a kid driving, he swerved to miss another kid on a skateboard and Jason was in the way. It was an honest-to-goodness accident. The kid stopped, actually both kids stopped, and did what they could to give first aid. There most likely won't be any charges made. Actually, I really wish the kid was to blame-I'd like to blame someone."
Marjorie gave him a sad, understanding smile. "You and me both. I wonder if the other kids know what has happened? He was supposed to go over the Zack's to spend the day with him and Billy."
"I guess I could check the reception area and see if any of them are there. Why don't you go back in with Jason and I'll be right back."
Jack strode toward the reception area, reflecting that it seemed he had seen a lot of hospitals recently. He looked around the nearly deserted room and spied Zack and Billy still sitting quietly. He walked over to them, strangely heartened by the sight.
"Hi, boys. Guess you know Jason had an accident, huh?"
"We got there just as they were taking him away in the ambulance. Is he okay?" Billy asked anxiously.
Jack looked taken aback. The accident had happened hours ago. These two had been sitting there all that time? He was struck once again by the strength of the friendship these kids shared.
"Well, he will be okay, but he has some pretty bad injuries. Both his legs are broken, as are some ribs and his right arm. As well as a bunch of bruises and cuts."
"Can we go in and see him?" Zack asked.
"Not today, boys. But maybe tomorrow. Since you are both twelve I think you can visit without your parents now. Why don't you come by tomorrow. In fact, I'll tell Jason to expect you, okay?"
"Yeah, we will be here. Thanks," Zack replied.
* * *
In the two weeks since the accident Jason had come to hate the hospital. He was kept immobile most of the time, except for when his position was altered to prevent bedsores. He had never done well with confinement, he hated being forced to keep so still.
Zack, Billy, Trini, and Kimberly visited every day. The nurses soon knew the four kids by sight, and often turned a blind eye when they saw too many of them in the room at one time. The rule was two visitors per patient, but there were times the rules could be relaxed. The youngsters were never rowdy, they seemed to realize the privilege of visiting their friend could be revoked if they acted up.
Their visits went a long way toward reconciling Jason to his situation. They brought a variety of board games, videos, books and any other diversion they could think of to entertain Jason. The also brought him news of the 'outside world' as they called it: stories of other kids' adventures, rumors they had heard concerning the upcoming school year, and other matters of concern to pre-teens.
When the school posted the classroom assignments they hurried to let Jason know whose room he was in.
"Hey, Jase, you got Mr. Peters this year. He's supposed to be the best, I was hoping to be in his class, but no luck, I got Mrs. Kalk," Zack reported.
"Great," Jason replied, his tone unhappy and disinterested.
The four of them had learned that Jason had his bad days, and they tended to ignore his periodic bad moods.
"I'm in your class. I should be able to help you keep up on the work until you are able to attend the class yourself," Billy added.
Kimberly was looking at the other three with some concern. Jason was never THIS moody.
"Something wrong, Jason?" she asked.
"Oh, no, what could be wrong. I'm lying on a hospital bed pretty much covered by plaster and tied to weird contraptions that prevent me from moving. No, nothing's wrong, nothing at all!" His voice had hardened, but stopped short of shouting. However, Kimberly recoiled as if struck physically.
"Jason! You just stop that! I know it's hard, but yelling at us won't help," Trini said sternly, reaching out to put her arm over Kim's shoulders.
Jason started to retort, then realized that Trini did know about being injured and scared in a hospital. He was suddenly ashamed of his outburst. "Sorry Kimberly. Sorry guys. I'm not in a very good mood today. The doctor said it would be at least two more months before I can even try to walk. Then I'll be in rehab for a while. This sucks. I won't be back in school until at least November."
"But you will be back, right?" Zack asked.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"So in the meantime we will help you keep up. It sounds like a miserable thing, having to do rehab, but we will be there for you. Okay? We'll help as much as we can," Zack declared. The others nodded and murmured their agreement.
Jason looked around at them gratefully. "Thanks. You guys want to play Scrabble?" he asked, mostly to break the solemn mood.
Soon they were playing their variation of 'team scrabble' which was Jason and Zack against Kimberly and Trini, with Billy playing alone. Zack, Kimberly and Trini's parents all had no objection to their children visiting Jason daily, but they all had to leave by three or so, as their parents all insisted the kids spend at least part of the day with their own families and outside activities. Only Billy had no restriction on the time he could spend there. Partly because his father was at work until evening, and partly because Wallace would never dream of denying Jason anything that would make his hospital time better. He knew all too well how miserable a protracted hospital stay could be. So Billy was always the last one to leave when the evening visiting hours ended at five.
Though the time spent with his friends had lifted his depression about the length of time it would take for a full recovery, Jason was still feeling unhappy. When the nurse informed them that visiting hours were over, Jason asked if Billy could stay at least until his mother got home. Marjorie was at a continuing education seminar and was not due back until later that evening. Jack was still on duty at the police station. Jason really didn't want to be alone.
"I'm sorry, boys. But this is one rule they will enforce. Your parents can see you outside of visiting hours, but they are the only ones. Come on, Billy, time to go," her kind voice was nonetheless firm.
Billy gave Jason an apologetic look and headed out the door. Jason turned his face to the window, feeling miserably alone. He didn't want to watch TV, he wanted someone to be there with him. He closed his eyes in the halfhearted hope he would fall asleep. So the knock on the window startled him some. He opened his eyes to see Billy just outside his window. The entire wall was made of glass, to provide a pleasant view of the park beyond for patients. So Jason was able to see Billy clearly as his friend sat down close to the window. Jason felt his misery fade, and a warmth steal over him at this open display of loyalty from his friend. He could not express how much that gesture meant to him, but it went straight to his heart, acting as a balm to his troubled spirit. He smiled at Billy as he settled down more comfortably in the bed, no longer feeling alone.
For his part, Billy sat quietly, watching over his friend. Intelligent as he was, he could not have explained the force that moved him to do this. But some part of him knew beyond any doubt that Jason needed for him, for someone, to be here. So he would remain, until Jason's parents arrived for their visit a few hours later. Seeing them enter the room, the silent figure outside the window rose to his feet and headed toward his home, secure in the knowledge Jason was not alone.
* * *
September 6, 1992
Jason sighed in contentment, settling down deeper into his bed. HIS bed. He was finally home, after thirty-four days in the hospital. Both his legs were still in casts, but the one on his arm was removed. The doctors expected to remove the left leg cast in a couple of weeks. The cast on his right leg was scheduled for removal in just over a month. Then he could begin physical therapy, which they were expecting to take six to eight weeks at least. But these longer term plans did not concern Jason today. All he cared about was that he was finally out of the hospital.
Marjorie was taking a leave of absence for at least a month to allow her to care for Jason. Until the casts came off he would still have to use a bedpan, and sponge baths were his only option. He would need to be assisted in changing his position in the bed to avoid bedsores and regular monitoring to check that he was otherwise okay. For all intents and purposes, Jason was completely dependent on others for his every need. Though he had gotten somewhat used to the situation, he still hated it.
He had barely settled in when Kimberly, Zack, Billy, and Trini arrived to greet him. School had started the week before, and they hurried to his house directly after school to visit.
"Hey, it's great to see you out of that hospital! This is much better, with no nosy nurses to bother us," Zack declared with a happy expression.
"I'm glad to not have to go to the hospital anymore either. I was getting sick of that smell there. This is much nicer," Kimberly added.
"YOU guys are glad I'm out of there. Think how I feel," Jason laughed. He noticed that Billy's book-bag was pretty much overflowing. "What do you have in there, Billy? The whole library?"
"Not quite. Just your textbooks," Billy informed him, starting to remove an impressive selection of books from the bag. "Math, science, history, geography, english, geology. And here is last week's assignment list. Your mom told me to set them over here and she'd go over it with you tomorrow. Mr. Peters is a pretty good teacher, you will enjoy his class when you are able to attend. And he agreed to give me the work-papers and stuff you will need to keep up."
"Thanks Billy. I guess," Jason looked a bit overwhelmed by the stack of books and sheath of papers Billy had laid out on his desk. Billy finally seemed to notice Jason's apprehension.
"It's not as bad as it looks, really. We are still doing a lot of review of what we did last year. You should find it very easy to keep up," Billy assured him.
"Sure, if I was as smart as you are," Jason grumbled. But he felt oddly heartened by having his schoolwork there. It reassured him that he would indeed eventually be able to go to school and engage in his normal activities again.
He soon had a regular daily routine. During the day he would work on his schoolwork, with his mom assisting as needed. After regular school hours his friends would arrive for a visit, during which they would play board games, watch TV or just talk. Billy would wait until the others had left, then he'd brief Jason on what was covered in class, and what needed to be done on the various assignments. Though Jason was fairly lonely during the weekdays, the time passed quickly as he had plenty of homework and studying to keep him occupied.
* * *
October 19, 1992
The last of Jason's casts had finally been removed. Jason felt a deep disgust when he looked at his legs, particularly the right one. They were white and withered looking, lacking even the strength to allow him to stand. The first time he tried to put his weight on his legs the pain nearly knocked him out. Unused muscles, tendons and ligaments all screamed in protest at having to try to support his weight.
His mother walked into his room with a young woman, just after noon. Jason looked up from his math homework with some interest.
"Jason, this is Mary Donnelley. She is your physical therapist. She'll be coming by daily for the next couple of weeks, until you can get around well enough to go to her office. You mind what she says, and you'll be up and around before you know it," Marjorie told him, before discreetly leaving the two of them together.
"Hi, Jason. Let me first take a look at your legs, then we can work on some stretching, okay?" she said briskly, smiling at the youth sitting on the edge of his bed.
"Hi," he muttered back, feeling uncharacteristically shy.
She seemed to sense his discomfiture, and sat back on her heels, regarding him with a warm smile.
"We will be spending a lot of time together in the next few weeks. And, you will have times when you absolutely HATE me, but I promise you, Jason, if you stick it out, you will walk and run again. It's not magic, and it's not quick, and it certainly is not easy, but it can be done. Are you willing to go on this journey with me? I do think you will find it was worth it at the end."
"Yes, ma'am. I will do whatever I have to, to make it so I can walk again. What do we need to do?" Jason replied seriously.
Mary smiled happily, sensing the strength in her young patient. Soon she had him stretched out on the floor, working on his damaged legs. Jason found her manipulations to be very painful, but he stoically endured it, keeping in mind the ultimate goal of being able to walk again.
* * *
November 10, 1992
Jason was waiting anxiously for his friends to arrive. He had a surprise for them. It had been three weeks since he had started physical therapy, and he had endured hours of pain and moments of utter despair to get to this point. He had worked his way from being unable to stand, to being able to hobble with the aid of crutches.
He had pushed himself extraordinarily hard. Some days his mother helped him do the extra exercises he insisted on to speed his recovery. Other times he asked Zack or Billy to help. The only ones he wouldn't ask were the girls. A combination of adolescent shyness and a bit of injured vanity made that too difficult for him.
He looked up eagerly as he heard the familiar sound of the gang trooping toward his bedroom. They surged in, full of laughter and news, like they always did. But, gradually they quieted, sensing Jason had something he wanted to say.
"Guys, I want to show you this new trick I learned," he announced, then pushing against his desk, he stood up. As his friends watched in silent awe, he took his first faltering step away from the support of the desk. He continued on toward the center of the room where the Zack and Billy stood watching. Jason's steps were slow, careful, and very small, but for the first time in over three months he was walking unassisted.
"Oh, my God, Jason! You're walking!" Kimberly squealed in excitement.
"Yep! But don't distract me," Jason grinned. He made it to Zack and Billy's location with a triumphant smile on his face. Then he promptly neglected to pay attention to what he was doing and lost his balance. As he started to fall, the other two boys tried to catch him, but stumbled amongst themselves and all three ended up in a muddle on the floor in the middle of the room. And, all three of them were laughing hysterically.
"Ah, man, Jase! That was awesome. But the finale needs some work," Zack laughed as he tried to extract himself from the tangle of arms and legs.
"You are such a great help," Jason grumbled at him. "You were supposed to catch me, not fall with me."
"Hey, is it my fault you weigh a ton?" Zack shot back.
That started a wrestling free-for-all between the three boys, much to the girls' amusement. Hearing the ruckus, Marjorie arrived to settle them down.
"Okay, you three. You know I don't allow wrestling matches in here," she said, trying to sound stern, but unable to completely suppress her joy at Jason's recovery. The boys stopped their antics, but still sprawled out on the floor, laughing.
"Sorry, Mom, but it was all Billy's fault," Jason reported, earning a jab in the ribs from Billy.
"Billy's fault, hmm? Why do I find that so hard to believe?" she chuckled. "Well, the three of you get up and start behaving yourselves," she scolded as she left the room.
She waited until she had gotten far enough away from Jason's room before letting out her laughter. At long last she felt like she truly had her son back.
* * *
November 28, 1992
Jack Scott went to his son's room, grinning a bit with anticipation.
"Jason, would you mind coming out in the back yard for a moment?" he asked.
"Sure, Dad, you need me to help you with something?" Jason replied. He followed his father toward the backdoor. He still limped a bit to the right, but otherwise he could get around easily enough. He had started back in school the week before Thanksgiving break, and thanks to his friends' constant updates on schoolwork and social news he had been able to ease back into the school routine with little effort.
"No, I don't need any help," Jack responded to his question. "I want you to see something."
Then Jack stepped aside to join Marjorie so Jason could see what was waiting for him. It was a brand new bike, the mountain type he liked best. Standing behind the bike were Trini, Kimberly, Billy and Zack, all smiling widely.
"Oh, man, a bike!" Jason cried happily. "I was wondering how I was ever going to save enough to buy another one. Who got this for me?"
"We did," Kimberly announced. "We all chipped in and bought it for your. And if you break this one, you are on your own!"
They all laughed a bit at that as Jason walked around the bike, admiring it. He looked up at his parents expectantly.
"Can I go for a ride?" he asked.
"Of course," Marjorie replied with a smile. She refrained from reminding him to be careful. She was quite certain he would be.
"Here, we got you this, too," Billy said, holding out a new helmet.
Jason looked at it, moved. "Thanks, guys. Thank you so much," he was having a hard time controlling his emotions.
Zack decided to have mercy on him. "Well, hurry up, slow poke, It's not like we have all day, or something," he prodded.
"Actually, Zack, we do have all day," Billy pointed out reasonably.
"Billy-boy, you keep that up and you'll find yourself eating turf," he threatened theatrically.
That started more laughter, which continued as the kids all mounted their bikes and headed out toward the street. Marjorie and Jack watched them go, trying not to worry about what might happen. They realized that Jason needed to test his wings again.
That evening when Jack went in to say goodnight to Jason, he found the boy sitting in bed, a preoccupied expression on his face.
"What are you thinking about so seriously?" he asked gently.
"I was just thinking about all the things that have happened to us recently. You know, it seems like ever since Zack got so sick last year, we have all had a lot of problems. It doesn't seem very fair, really."
"Well, kiddo, I hate to tell you this, but life usually isn't very fair. A lot of bad things happen. But, you know, even bad things can have a good effect."
"Huh?" Jason was confused.
"You can learn a lot from life's hard times. There's an old expression-'that which doesn't kill you will only make you stronger'. Does that make sense?" Jack replied.
Jason thought it over carefully, before nodding his understanding.
"But, Dad, if you don't mind, I'd rather not get any stronger for a while."
* * *
March 15, 2005
Emily Scott's cheerful voice preceded her into the den where her husband and daughters sat, Jason having just finished his story.
"Have the three of you managed to stay out of trouble today?" she asked with a smile.
"Yes, ma'am," three voices chorused back at her.
"That was a great story, Dad," Heather said, looking at her father with admiration. "I never knew you had that happen to you. That would be so scary."
"It was," Jason agreed.
"What was?" Emily asked, looking at the others in confusion.
"I just told the girls about when Zack, Kim, Trini, Billy and I had such a hard time when we were eleven, twelve years old," Jason explained.
"When you were hit by the car?"
"Yeah. And Kim's parent's divorce, Trini's accident, Billy's dad's cancer, and Zack getting pneumonia."
"Oh, great choice of subjects, Jason. Just depress the girls while they are trying to recover from the flu," Emily said with exasperation.
"But we wanted to hear it! We nagged him into telling us," Haley defended her father.
"And we are glad we did, it's a great story," Heather added.
"Hmph. Well, I guess I forgive it this time," she smiled. "I picked up a couple of videos in case anyone was interested."
The girls immediately commandeered the videos and popped the first one into the player as Jason and Emily headed toward the kitchen to see about dinner. Jason assisted his wife with an ease born of long years of practice. But his mind was clearly elsewhere.
"Jason, what's bothering you?" Emily finally asked him.
"Nothing," he replied automatically.
"If nothing is bothering you then why did you put the milk in the freezer?" she pointed out.
"Guess I'm busted. I was just thinking of Zack, Kimberly and Trini."
"And Billy?" It wasn't really a question.
"Yeah, and Billy. You know, I guess it seems silly, but I still miss him."
"It's not silly. He was a big part of your childhood. A big part of your time as a Power Ranger. His death was a tragedy. No, not silly at all."
"I was also thinking that I've let time and distance separate me from Zack. I don't see him very often, he's so far away. Trini and Kimberly are closer, but I still don't see much of them either. And we used to be so close. Those bad times we went through, they seemed to make us even closer."
"They made you stronger. Perhaps that is what gave you five the strength of character that Zordon was looking for when he assembled the first Power Ranger team," Emily mused.
"You know, I never really thought of that. Of why Zordon chose us. You could be right. Guess I married a wise woman."
"You certainly did," Emily joked with a superior smile. "And just to prove it, I'm going to share some more of my much vaunted wisdom. Call Zack. Call Trini. Call Kimberly. Touch base with them, find out how they are doing. Maybe plan a weekend cookout with them. Do whatever you need to do to assure yourself they are still a part of your life. I don't think I need to remind you of how quickly that can change."
Jason looked at her solemnly. "No, you don't. Thanks, Honey." With a kiss to her forehead, he reached for the telephone on the counter and dialed from memory.
Author's note: Special thanks to Lorie, who for 25 plus years has been a living example of what friendship is all about. Anything I got right about the power of friendship is thanks to her. And thanks to Vanessa, who suggested the VW Bug with the lightening bolt-that one's for you, kiddo.