This story is copyrighted to me Dark Star and may not be posted anywhere other than and Nifty. It may be downloaded for personal use only and may not be used in any other manner. This story is one of love and redemption and is a short story which is unlikely to be continued. It was written and conceived to be a short story only and not a series.

All persons, places and things within this story are completely fictitious and are not meant to resemble anything in real life at all, if anything does, then you're imagining it. J

I would like to thank Hammer who bugged me to write a story for him even if he couldn't use it in his anthology and strongly urge you to read his story "Falls on Deaf Ears" is also located at the Café.

Lots of great stories around and I invite you to where you'll find links to all of them.

Special thanks go as always to Darryl and TSL for editing this as well as my other stories which make them readable to you the reader.

Also a word of thanks to ACFan for hosting my stories on his site. You can find all my stories except one on his site and MWC A New Life can be found on an affiliated site which is

Thanks also to my wonderful friends and fellow writers with the Fort and you the readers who make it worthwhile.


P.S. This story has no sex or sexual content. It's G rated. Anotherwards you can read it to your kids safely.

Please feel free to drop me a line at or



                                                                                                                                   By Dark Star

"Come on old girl" I said to the puppy as I dragged myself into the house.

I guess she wasn't really a puppy anymore, after all she was nearing seven now.

Seven long years I thought, as I looked down at her only to find her looking back at me with what could almost be considered a grin on her face as if she could tell my thoughts.

My constant companion, my only companion now, a beautiful black lab fully as intelligent and loving as you could ever wish for in an animal or even a human I thought fleetingly.

A lot more than you could expect of a human it often seemed.

God this weather wasn't doing me any good, I thought as I could almost feel my old bones creak with the damp and cold of this season.

Still it was a time of year I loved and I thought back to all it had meant to me in years gone past as I moved on into the house and over to the kitchen where I took out a glass, a large one, and added some ice cubes before pouring a generous helping of Brendan's into it.

With Candy at my side, I went on out, cold or not, and stood on the back deck looking out on the oversize area that I called my backyard covered in leaves from the trees that were in abundance.

Such a beautiful time of year, the changing of the seasons, the colors of the leaves, the heralding of the winter to come.

Kelly so loved this time of year and I could picture him there laughing merrily as the wind would gust blowing leaves around in what to him were such interesting patterns.

He was convinced that someone was doing it just for his amusement and I wasn't going to be the one to disillusion him of such childish fancies.

I could almost see him rolling there in the big pile of leaves, giggling madly, so full of life as he would sit up covered in them and yell "Daddy, it's pretty ain't it."

"It's pretty, ain't it mister?"

"Huh?" I said, as I was brought back to the here and now and looked around suddenly not believing what I thought I had heard.

"It's pretty, ain't it?" the young voice repeated and I gasped in shock as I saw a young boy standing there just past the corner of the deck looking outward.

"Kelly?" I asked in disbelief before reality fully returned upon seeing the boy turn towards me and look up at me questioningly.

The age was about right, but it wasn't my Kelly.

"What are you doing here? This is private property," I said rather gruffly.

"Looking around," he replied in a totally unconcerned manner.

"The property is posted for a reason, you know?" I told him.

"Yeah I saw the signs," was his answer.

"Can you read them then?" I said sarcastically.

Having a child around me was not what I wanted or what I needed.

I wanted my peace back, my peace and my memories.

He just turned and looked at me then and I felt like a heel upon seeing the hurt look on his face.

"Sorry mister, I didn't mean nothing by it," he said as with shoulders slumped he turned  and began walking away.


Candy was whining and looking up at me as if to say "What, are you stupid or something?"

"Hey wait," I called, but he kept going.

"Look, I'm sorry, please," I said and saw him stop.

He didn't move and with a further whine from Candy although I didn't know why, I suddenly didn't want him to go.

"I'm sorry, I'm just not used to people, especially children," I said rather lamely I thought.

He finally turned around and looked up at me, gazing at me with deep penetrating look as only children can do.

I used to think that a child could read you to your very soul with that look, but it had been a long time since I had felt it yet I was feeling it again now.

"You mean that?" he finally asked.

After clearing my throat a bit, I said "Yeah, I mean that."

It was like the sun came out then, as a smile graced his features turning everything bright and sunny in the world.

I had forgotten what the smile of a child could do.

I guess I had forgotten a lot of things.

"Why don't you come on in and I'll make you some hot chocolate, it's getting too cold for me to stay out here any longer," I said.

I said it without thinking and it was only after it had came out that it hit me, strange men do not ask children into their homes, not in this day and age.

He was probably terrified now I thought, but to my surprise he just cocked his head up at me and grinned before bounding up the stairs to my side saying "Sure, that'd be great."

A little bit shocked, I said, "Okay" and turned around to hobble back into the house with him following at my side.

I noticed that Candy was jumping on him and licking whatever she could reach acting all frisky like a puppy would, like she used to with Kelly when she was but a puppy.

"You hurt yourself or something?" he asked, as we entered the kitchen and I turned to close the sliding glass door.

"Something," I replied as I went over and got out a sauce pan and then the milk before looking for and then finding the Nestles.

I didn't have any cream at the moment or I would have added some to the mix but settled for putting a good portion of milk into the pan before placing it on the stove and turning up the heat.

"Don't you have the packets?" he asked, bewildered after watching all of this.

I turned to him and smiled saying, "Packets don't make good cocoa, if I wasn't so lazy I would use real cocoa and sugar, the way it's supposed to be done but since I am, you get this."

He just watched, as I turned back to the stove and started heaping big tablespoons full of chocolate into the milk stirring as I went along.

I figured like most boys he would like it real chocolaty and I certainly did, so I made it that way.

"I ain't never had it like this," he finally ventured.

"Well then, you should be in for a treat," I answered.

"Cool," he replied.

After I had a bunch in there and tasted it a few times to make sure it was sufficiently chocolaty, I went to the freezer and took out a container of cool whip before placing it in the microwave and turning it on for twenty seconds, then went back to my pan and stirred it some more.

"What's that?" he asked

"Whipped cream. You can't have hot chocolate without whipped cream" I said.

"Oh," he replied.

Kids now days just didn't get things like we used to, and thinking about that made me kind of sad.

Pretty soon it was boiling and I removed it from the stove grabbing two mugs and the whipped cream before pouring and adding a big dollop of the topping to it.

"Here you go, be careful it's really hot," I said, as I handed him the mug.

I watched with some amusement as he looked at it for a minute or so, occasionally glancing up at me not quite sure what to make of this strange way of getting what he liked but finally he raised it to his face and sniffed at it and then with a big smile brought the mug to his lips and took a sip.

The look of surprise and wonder on his face was priceless as he found that it was actually good and he went back for another longer sip before saying "This is good."

I laughed as I said, "Glad you think so," then stopped realizing that I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed about something.

"What's wrong?" he suddenly asked, and I realized something must have shown on my face that he had noticed.

"Nothing, I just don't get to laugh much anymore," I replied without thinking really.

He finished the rest of the cup in silence occasioning watching me but not saying anything then asked for more.

I made him a second cup and after handing it back to him asked, "Would you like to sit down?" motioning into the living room.

"Sure," he said, smiling again between sips.

I led him into the other room and sat in my favorite chair while he sat on the sofa next to it looking at me.

"What?" I asked

"Nothing," he replied, but before I could say anything he asked, "You got any kids?"

"No," I said, swallowing a painful lump that was suddenly in my throat.

"Oh," he replied, suddenly looking down and a bit uncomfortable.

"So are you new to this area?" I asked, thinking he had to be to have come on my property like that.

I seemed to have garnered a reputation amongst the local kids and they pretty much stayed away from Old man Martin's place.

"How'd ya know?" he asked, looking back up at me.

"Well, most of the kids around here stay away from my place," I told him.

"Cause you're such an ass...?" he started to ask then swallowed noisily as he realized what he had said.

I found myself laughing once again as I answered, "Something like that."

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"It's okay kid, I am kinda grouchy, I suppose," I told him, still chuckling.

"Why?" he asked.

I should have expected that answer, but somehow it still caught me off guard as I looked out the floor length window behind him at the leaves blowing through the yard for several minutes.

Why indeed.

"I'm sorry, you don't have to answer if you don't want to," he finally said, breaking the silence.

"No that's okay, I'm just old and grumpy is all," I told him unwilling to answer the real reasons for my being the way I was.

"You're not that old," he said, trying to cheer me up and I suppose technically he was right, forty-five wasn't really that old, but I sure felt like it.

"I suppose you're right, but I have what's called an old man's disease. Arthritis, it's in my hips, knees, elbows and wrists, so it makes living painful at times," I told him.

"I'm sorry," he said and I could see that he meant it as he gazed once again at me, looking straight into my eyes.

"So am I son, so am I," I replied.

"We used to live here, but we went away and I just came back," he said throwing me for a second until I realized I had asked him that question several minutes ago and he was answering it.

Children had that habit, another one I had forgotten about in the passage of time, it seemed, they kept your brain working just to keep up with them.

"So you're getting to know the neighborhood again, eh?" I asked him.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, I guess."

"You know, I haven't even asked your name?" I told him, which got a giggle out of him as he said "Andrew"

"Well Andrew, my name is Kevin, it's a pleasure to meet you," I said which got some more giggles out of him.

We sat there for another hour or so and talked about this, that and the other thing and it was like a breath of fresh air had come into my life, after all of these years.

Something began to stir deep within me that I hadn't felt in years, something I didn't want to feel and hadn't let myself feel, but stir it did.

I couldn't put a name on it, but it was there.

Finally though it began getting dark and I made mention of the fact in case he had to be home by then.

"Yeah, I guess," he said, rather reluctantly I thought.

"Well I don't want you getting into any trouble for staying out later than you're supposed to, and parents generally like their kids in by dark," I told him.

I got a smile at that as I stood up and he did as well.

"I won't," he said, but he didn't protest as I led him to the door.

"Can I come visit you again sometime?" he asked, as I held it open for him.

Why I said it I don't know, I suppose I shouldn't have, but for some reason I wanted to.

"Sure, I'd like that, if it's okay with your parents, of course," I told him.

"Cool," he said as he walked out the door then suddenly dashed back inside and wrapped his arms around me giving me a hug.

Then just as quickly while my mouth was still open, he dashed out again and ran towards the front gate stopping there to yell back "You ain't so mean," and then he was gone.

It was like a dream, as I just stood there in the open doorway looking down towards where he'd run.

He'd hugged me.

The feel of his arms around me for those brief few seconds brought tears to my eyes as I shut the door and made my way back to the chair where I sat down in it and just stared off into the fireplace that hadn't been used in years.

Candy was there placing her head on my leg and I absently began petting her head as she looked up at me with those big brown eyes of hers.

He hugged me.

I felt myself shudder with the unaccustomed feelings coursing through my body at remembering his touch, his smell, him.

Oh God, he hugged me.

It had been so long, so very long.

"Hugs daddy, hugs," he squealed as I smiled down at him and said, "Of course my little man, I've always got lots of hugs for you, anytime you want them," and I picked him up squeezing his little body to mine as he tightened his arms around me as hard as he could while he giggled in pure joy.

I felt the tears running down my face as I came back to the empty house once again, so drab and silent without those giggles filling it, without those cries of "Hugs daddy, hugs" and "More daddy more."

He could never get enough, and I don't think I could either.

Karen always said I was spoiling him, but I just laughed and told her you can never give a kid too much loving.

With a weary sigh and a shake of my head I chastised myself for thinking of that, it certainly wouldn't do me any good and got up and retrieved my glass of Irish Cream taking a sip before making a face and dumping it out.

It had become watery and I hated it like that so I refilled the glass with ice cubes and more cream before starting my nightly ritual that would ease the pain.

I went back into the living room and walked over to the front window looking out once again while drinking my liqueur, stupidly thinking I might see him again, but of course he was long home now where he belonged.

As I stood there, the afternoon replayed itself in my mind as I first saw him thinking the impossible, then realizing that this little guy wasn't him but someone else.

He was about eleven the same age as Kelly, but Andrew had dark brown hair and eyes filled with golden flecks if the light hit them just right, while Kelly had a light brown or what some would call a dirty blond hair color. Kelly also had green eyes the color of emeralds, bright, inquisitive, and so full of emotion and wonder  that it would take your breathe away.

Andrew's eyes, I realized, had those same things in them as my Kelly's did, even though he was so much older.

I found it a miracle that he hadn't lost at least some of them as he grew up, so many kids did.

It was when I went to take a sip of my drink and got nothing that I realized how long I had been standing there and how stiff I was from it.

Stupid, stupid, stupid I thought, as I shook myself and began tottering back to the kitchen for some more pain medication.

Candy just whined as I walked by and looking down I could imagine she didn't approve of my pastime, although she should be used to it by now.

After getting my drink and bringing the bottle back with me, I went back out and turned on the television and listened to the news not that there was much new there, as usual.

Someone killing someone else, someone kidnapping a child, politicians lying about everything, the same old shit on a different day and not for the first time did I wonder why I even bothered to watch it.

Finally, I turned it off and picked up a book settling back to read and drink which I did until the pages began to blur at which time I decided it was time to make my way to bed.

That was always fun, and tonight was no different as I staggered out of the living room and down the hall to my bedroom, stopping as I always did at Kelly's room.

"Goodnight Son, I love you," I said into it looking at the little boy's things scattered around it and the unmade bed waiting for him to come back to it.


Then it was off to my room where I gingerly sat on the bed to take off my clothes as standing up wasn't the best of ideas by this point.

Once naked, it took some effort to get myself up again to get rid of some of the liqueur I had consumed and being as I wasn't too steady on my feet, neither was my aim.

Oh well it would give me something to clean up tomorrow, I thought as it did every day.

Then it was making my way back to my bed without falling or tripping on the clothes I had just recently thrown down there.

Lying back and pulling the covers up, brought blessed relief and the primary purpose for imbibing as I began to drift off to the sounds of "Hugs daddy hugs" and my boy running towards me.

I didn't see him the next day, although foolishly, I spent the afternoon looking for him, somehow expecting him to show up, wishful thinking I know, but I did, or maybe I just hoped so desperately that he would.

When he didn't show up on the following day either, I told myself I was being foolish to expect an eleven year old boy to want to hang around with an old crippled up asshole like me.

I even asked myself what I wanted with a kid hanging around me, I had never wanted one before, not since Kelly at least.

So it was with some surprise that the third day my doorbell rang.

I hadn't been looking for him on this day, but when I opened the door there he was grinning up at me with his irrepressible smile and saying "Hi, did ya miss me?"

I found myself smiling back and saying "Yeah, I did," shocking even myself as he walked on in by me and took a seat on the sofa.

"Come on in," I said to him smiling, which earned me a giggle and an unapologetic "Sorry."

That was how our relationship began, for that is what it was, oh not anything to be considered untoward or anything, but it was almost like having a son.

The first time he curled up on my lap I was speechless but he wanted contact so much and as I wrapped my arms around him I realized that the feeling was definitely mutual.

It felt so good and so right to have my arms around a child again, this child.

We talked or watched TV, sometimes he had me read to him, and sometimes he even read to me.

We went on walks and to the ice cream parlor or maybe the park.

We just spent time together which I guess we both needed so much.

He had a million questions and comments about the world we lived in, and I found him extremely intelligent and articulate.

He came by almost every day and I found my heart doing things it hadn't in a long time.

It was several weeks later that it finally happened as I suppose I knew it would someday.

I always shut the door to Kelly's room in the morning so I wouldn't have to look at it all day.

This day I had forgotten for some reason, although I didn't know that at the time and he got up to go to the bathroom, coming back a few minutes later just as I walked into the room with a piece of pie for him.

I noticed he had a perplexed look on his face as he looked up at me with something of a look of accusation in it.

"What?" I asked him

"You told me you don't got no kids?" he said, and there was a definite note of accusation in his voice.

"I don't" I replied, not understanding why he would ask that.

He looked at me then with a look of surprise and I think maybe even a bit of fear because suddenly he backed away from me a little bit.

"Then why a kid's room down there?" he asked, pointing back down the hall he had just came from.

I was at a loss as to what to say, and then anger surged through me as I thought he had been snooping.

"Why are you snooping around my house, that's no business of yours" I shouted in anger moving forward only to stop in horror as I saw the look of fear come across his face as he stumbled backward away from me, crying now and saying over and over again "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, the door was open, really, I'm sorry."

I couldn't believe myself, or what I had just done to a little kid.

"Andrew wait, please, it's I who am sorry," I said, but he had backed away against the wall and was edging towards the door.

I sat down on the closest spot to me and said "Please don't go."

He just stared at me for several minutes not moving, breathing rapidly, eyes wide, trying to decide whether to stay or flee.

I could still see the fear in his eyes as I said again "Please"

"You lied to me, why?" he asked, the hurt clear in his voice.

I took a deep breath looking down at the carpet for long moments before saying softly, "I didn't, exactly."

There was silence for a bit before I heard, "What does that mean, exactly?"

How was I going to do this, hell, could I do this, was all I could think.

He hadn't moved from where he was, although he seemed to have calmed down some.

"Andrew I don't have any children, I didn't lie to you about that, but I used to." I finally said, looking at him but at the end I had to lower my gaze as I felt tears coming to my eyes.

He didn't respond for a while again, but then I heard what I knew I would "What do you mean?"

Candy had come up and placed her head in my lap as she often did when I was sad, trying to comfort me I suppose, and I took the opportunity she brought to try to compose myself and gently kneaded her soft head.

Finally I looked up at him and saw him start a bit at seeing me crying I suppose, and this was confirmed as he asked "Why are you crying?"

"Well Andrew you see, seven years ago, I did have children or at least one and another one on the way. I also had a wife and I loved all of them very much. Kelly was my son's name, and he was four years old. He was born on Halloween by the way, which maybe explains why this was always his favorite time of year. I was a teacher at Adams elementary, not far from here and we had a good life," I told him, but had to stop as memories threatened to overwhelm me.

Suddenly he was crawling into my lap hugging me and I wrapped my arms around him and held on for dear life.

When I could, I continued, "We had taken Kelly up to Magic World for the weekend and were driving home. It was raining hard and Karen, my wife, was driving, trying to let me get some rest since I had to work the next morning. She was eight months pregnant and was already on maternity leave. Kelly was so excited about the baby, he never stopped talking about it. He would just walk up to strangers all the time and announce "My mommy's having a baby," or "I'm gonna have a little brother," of course sisters were out, but I think he would have loved even one of those. We'd had a wonderful time Andrew, Kelly had so much fun it was unbelievable and it is something I'll never forget," I stopped again trying to get through this and heard him softly say, "You don't have to tell me."

"Thank you sweetheart, I know I don't, but you deserve an explanation, just bear with me though, cause it's hard for me," I told him.

He just hugged me tighter and I went on.

"We had been on the road for about three hours, and it was about eleven at night by then. We were only another hour away from home, but like I said it was raining real hard. Kelly was curled up at my side in the back seat, where I was trying to sleep, with his arms wrapped around me. I found out what happened later because thankfully, I don't remember much of it myself. All I remember was Karen suddenly screaming and the car swerving before I don't remember anything else. That and Kelly calling out, `Daddy' just before everything went black."

I had to stop then as the tears were flowing freely and I couldn't even speak for a minute or two.

When I could, I finished the tale.

"I woke up in the hospital two weeks later where I was told what had happened. Karen was driving when a big rig crossed the line, she tried to swerve out of the way but she couldn't in time, and the truck struck our car on the front left side. Karen...Karen died instantly they say, along with the baby. Kelly and I survived barely, but we survived. They had to cut us out of what was left of our car and airlifted Kelly to Children's hospital, while they airlifted me to another one for adults. I was hurt pretty badly, mostly broken bones and some internal injuries, but Kelly was...well he was hurt real bad. They did everything they could, but they just couldn't save him and two days later he joined his mother, and as it turned out the little brother he had wanted so much."

I gave up telling it now, as the sobs overtook me.

Seven years later, and it still hurt to the center of my being, thinking about it. They say time heals all wounds, but I can tell you it doesn't, at least not this one.

Through it all he just held me and made little comforting noises as his hand stroked my arm.

That made it so much different than before, because for once someone was there to help me through it, this little child who simply gave me his love and tears, to share my pain and try to lessen it.

It took a while but eventually I could go on, there wasn't much to tell.

"I spent a long time in the hospital and even longer in rehab learning to walk and do the most basic stuff again. Eventually the time came and I got to come home, what was left of it. The truck that had struck me was being driven by a man who was in violation of a bunch of regulations about how long he could drive and they found amphetamines in his system when they tested him, so the trucking company tried to settle right away. They just couldn't understand that no amount of money could bring them back. I wanted revenge though, and showed up at every hearing I could for the man who did this. He was finally sentenced to thirty years in prison, but it just isn't enough. I won the lawsuit against the trucking company as well, and have more money that God, but you know, that really isn't enough either, nothing could ever be," I stopped to take a breath thinking about that lawsuit and the callous lawyers who kept saying that it would help ease the pain of my loss. Fools, stupid fools. They could have given me every dollar in the world and it wouldn't ease a single thing.

"They warned me in the hospital that it was a possibility and several years later they proved right when the arthritis set in which causes me to move as if I were many years older. I couldn't go back to teaching again either, it would be just too painful to be around children anymore. The room you found is Kelly's room. I keep it clean but I haven't been able to bring myself get rid of it in all these years. It's just as he left it that Friday morning when we left. So I live here, sort of and just exist waiting until it's my time to join my family," I told him ending softly.

Nothing was said for a while until he said, "I'm really sorry."

"So am I Andrew, every day and every night, so am I," I said.

"Why didn't you marry again and have more kids, you miss them so much," he asked with childish innocence.

I drew in a ragged breath and finally said, "I couldn't take that."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Andrew, I...I can't bear to go through it again and I don't think I could, even if I wanted to. Something died that day on that road, a large piece of me died with my family, that and nothing would replace them, nothing," I told him gently.

"It's not about replacing them, it's about loving again," were the words that came out of his mouth.

There wasn't anything I could say that would explain it to him so I didn't.

How do you tell a young boy that you don't have any love left to give anymore, it was destroyed on a lonely and rainy mountain road, seven years ago.

We sat in silence until he left that night, not saying anything, just holding one another tightly.

It was as he was leaving that he said, "I love you Kevin," and was out the door leaving me stunned and speechless in his wake.

Then he turned around on the steps and said "And you're wrong Kevin, you still have lots of love inside you."

Before I could say anything he was gone and like that first day, I was left standing in the open doorway staring after where he had run, too surprised to move.

It was also when I realized something else I didn't want to know about myself, something I had made damn sure wouldn't ever happen again.

I began to think that I might be falling in love with him as well, or worse yet, already was.

I felt the tears running down my face when I finally shut the door and went back to my chair, realizing that I didn't ache as much tonight.

That made me think and come to the realization that I hadn't had as much trouble lately as I usually do with the arthritis and relished the relief from it, as I went to make my nightly drink.

But for the first time in years when I brought the glass to my lips I stopped and stared at it instead of drinking, just standing there in the kitchen looking at this glass before I slowly set it down on the counter and walked back into the living room.

For the first time in a long, long time, I spent the evening with nothing stronger than a Pepsi to drink, and didn't stagger when I finally decided to go to bed that night.

I saw my son's room then, sober for the first time in recent memory, as I could never bear to look at it in the daylight only at night and just stood in the doorway looking at it realizing just how pathetic it was to keep it this way and just how pathetic my life had become in these last years.

I don't know how long I stood there taking in everything that was still in there, just the way it had been when he left it that morning so long ago.

I hadn't even picked up the underwear he had been wearing the night before that he had thrown down against the wall across from his bed before he had gone to sleep.

Somehow Andrew had made me see things I hadn't wanted to see and I now realized he had made me feel things I didn't think I was capable of feeling anymore.

As I stood there looking at this, it all hit me and I knew that while I wasn't healed, something had at last finally started the process as I said the words I had said every night since I returned from the hospital,

"Goodnight son, I love you," and then turning off his light and taking one last look said again, "Good night," as I walked to my own room.

I also knew it was that I was beginning to say goodbye and that tomorrow I would do what I should have done seven years ago, even if it broke my heart, it was time.

As I crawled into bed that night and began to drift off, I was surprised to hear childish giggles again and "Hugs daddy hugs" only this time I heard "You're silly, Daddy, I'll never leave you."

It was something that he used to say when I told him he would grow up one day, get married and move away from us, but tonight it took on a whole different meaning, but one that I knew to be just as true.

He would never leave me.

And with that, I slept better than I had in years with sounds of childish laughter and delight filling my dreams mixing between Kelly and Andrew, until they almost became one.

Andrew didn't come the next day and I was almost glad of that, as I had to do this and do it by myself.

I spent the morning sitting in his bedroom on his little bed just looking at everything, touching this or that, remembering.

Finally though in the afternoon, I started boxing things up.

I couldn't, no I wouldn't put it off any longer, and after seven years I laid my son to rest at last.

I kept some little things that were especially precious to me, or had been to both of us, but the rest, the bedding, the toys, the books and his clothes, they all went into boxes along with a great many of my tears.

It was probably silly to fold them so carefully and place them just so, but I did it anyway.

"You're silly, Daddy," seemed to echo in the room as I thought that, and it brought a smile to my face upon hearing it.

"Yeah, I am Baby Boo," I said to the now empty room, "I am."

I carried the boxes, my son's all too short life, out to my suburban and placed everything slowly one box at a time into the back, before closing the hatch and returning to the house.

There was a children's home not far away, and I had once tutored children there on a volunteer basis, and that was where I had decided to take Kelly's things.

I knew they could use them and I thought Kelly would agree.

I could almost feel him here with me.

I cleaned myself up and grabbing my cane went back out to the suburban where I got in, backed out of the garage and then pulled out onto the street for the short drive there.

Pulling into their driveway brought back a lot of memories, and some sadness as I remembered the children who lived in such a place. I hadn't been teaching long and Kelly had been only two at the time I started here, but after a year of working with the kids there, and even Karen came along when she could we had almost reached the decision to adopt one or more of them. We had even filled out all the paperwork but then she had gotten pregnant and we decided to put it off for a while even though we had been approved. With the accident, well all thought of that had ended, but it still brought back a lot of memories.

As I stopped out front and opened the door a bunch of kids came running up to me and I said hello, but turned as they were quickly followed by an older woman whom I recognized immediately.

It figured that Melissa would still be here, she was a fixture of the place for as long as anyone could remember.

"Kevin Martin, my God, is that you?" she asked, as she came closer.

"Yeah it's me Mel," I said, smiling.

She came right up to me and wrapped me in a huge hug as she said, "I never thought I would see you again."

"Well, surprises do abound," I replied laughing.

"They surely do, they surely do. So what brings you back here?" She asked.

"Overdue housecleaning, Mel," I said, looking down for a moment.

She didn't say anything for a minute and when I looked back up at her was surprised to find her staring at me with a look filled with compassion and understanding.

"Kelly?" she asked, and I knew she didn't need me to tell her why I was here.

I just nodded my head.

She called to a bunch of the older kids and I opened up the hatch and watched as they all helped carry the boxes out and into the home.

I felt each one pull something out of me, a piece of me went with them but surprisingly also something came back as well, a sense of peace, if you will.

I knew I was doing the right thing, I could almost feel Kelly there approving of what was happening and it gladdened my heart even if I knew it couldn't be true.

Mel had gone inside to direct things and after the last box, the last piece of my son disappeared though the large oak doorway, I sighed with the sudden relief that struck me.

It was over, finally.

I went on up the stairs slowly as the kids came running back down only to be met by Mel who invited me in and sat me in a chair while she grabbed some sodas for us.

"What brought about this change, and after all this time, Kevin?" she asked.

I shook my head but finally said, "A little boy."

"Really?" she said.

"I don't know how Mel, especially after all this time, but no matter how hard I tried, the little guy wormed his way into my heart, and suddenly I knew it was time. For the first time in years I felt something other than pain and the emptiness. I felt love again," I told her, blushing slightly.

She looked at me for a bit but finally said, "I hope I can meet him someday."

"I'll try and bring him around sometime," I said.

We talked for a while and she asked me if I would consider coming back to teach there.

My first instinct was to say no, but suddenly I realized that I might just be able to do it, that I might even like it, like it a lot.

I told her so and she simply told me when I was ready.

After another hug, she said her goodbyes when one of the little ones had an accident and she had to go and take care of him.

I smiled, thinking of the times Kelly had them, and how bad they always felt about it.

I was still smiling as I walked out onto the front porch, looking around and seeing just how little had changed here in these last years since I had been here before, when I heard something that raised all my teacher instincts to the fore.

It wasn't so much anything said, but a tone that I heard in the voices coming from around the side of the house that let me know something was wrong, very wrong.

Shocking myself at how quickly I moved, I almost ran down the stairs something which I hadn't been able to do in years and then around the side of the building.

There, back against the tree by the swing were a group of older boys beating on a younger one and calling him names.

Cold fury took me as I began running towards them screaming "What in the hell do you think you're doing, get away from him or I'll tan you hides!!"

They looked up at me running towards them and all but two, took off running and of the last two only one was brave or stupid enough to stick around when I raised my cane up in the air as I approached them.

That last one got a good swat on his butt as I got there when he didn't make the decision to run away fast enough.


There was a little kid lying there with his face bloody looking up at me as I slid to the ground beside him.

"Are you alright, little one?" I asked, looking him over and beginning to feel his arms, legs and chest.

"Come on, can you tell me if you're alright?" I asked again.

I looked up at some little kids standing there and said, "Go get Melissa Now," and they took off running.

"Come on, talk to me," I said again to the wide eyed child staring up at me.

He didn't seem to have any broken bones, but he was bleeding from his lip and nose.

I took a handkerchief out of my pocket and dabbed at his nose, but he still didn't talk just looked up at me with the most startling blue eyes I think I have ever seen, made all the more unusual because of his dark hair.

"Did they hit or kick you in the head?" I asked

He didn't answer me but he did shake his head which was reassuring.

"You're going to be alright, okay?" I said to him, still trying to wipe the blood up.

"What's goin' on here, Kevin?" I heard Mel ask, as glancing up, I saw her running towards me.

"Some older kids were hitting and kicking him along with name calling. He doesn't seem to be hurt badly, other than the nose and lip from what I can see so far, but he hasn't spoken since I got here either," I told her.

She got down on her knees and smiling, said, "And  you won't now, will you Danny?"

The boy, Danny just looked at her, but still didn't speak.

"Are you hurt bad anywhere Danny?" she asked and got another head shake from him.

"Good, then lets get you in the house," she said.

I, without thinking, reached down and picked him up in my arms, staggering to my feet, only to be rewarded with a surprised look on the boy's face.

"You'll be okay," I said softly to him, and was rewarded with a little smile.

I couldn't get over those deep blue eyes and almost lost myself in them as he gazed up at me.

"Kevin, you want to bring him in the house or stand there staring at him all day?" Mel said chuckling, but I could feel my face blush as I broke my gaze away and followed her.

I couldn't believe I was doing this, hell I shouldn't be able to do it, but here I was without my cane walking and not only walking, but carrying this boy who was about eight or nine years old in my arms.

He felt light as an angel I thought, as I carried him and he was still smiling slightly at me as we got into the house and Mel led us up the stairs and down to a bathroom.

I sat him down on the edge of a bathtub and held him steady as she took his shirt off and looked him over before getting a washcloth and beginning to wipe the blood from his face.

Once he was clean she told him to go and get a clean shirt on and meet her downstairs.

I followed her down, remembering now that blood always made injuries on a child seem a lot worse than they were.

He certainly had a split lip but so far it wasn't even swollen and his nose wasn't broken.

When we got downstairs, Mel informed me "Danny doesn't speak, he hasn't since his brother was killed last year. The poor boy has been through so much. He lost his parents three years ago, to a drunk driver and then last year..." but she trailed off as the boy in question came bouncing down the stairs as if nothing had happened.

The resiliency of kids in evidence.

"How are you doing champ?" I asked, as he came to a stop beside me.

He nodded his head and then surprised me by climbing into my lap, wrapping his little arms around me.

I found my arms going around him without conscious thought and returning the hug gently, not wanting to hurt him if he was bruised in body as well.

"It looks like you made yourself a friend there, Kevin," Mel said laughing lightly.

"It looks like it," I said smiling down at the boy who raised his head to see if I was alright with that.

He smiled and lay his head back down on my chest, almost purring as I found myself lightly stroking his back.

"So you think you might be interested in coming back now?" she asked teasing, and I found myself thinking `yes' before I said anything.

It was Danny looking up at me with pleading eyes that made me say it though, as I opened my mouth and heard the words "Yes I think I would like that very much."

"Well it's plain to see someone would, even if you didn't," Mel said teasing again as Danny turned to glare at her.

"You can just lose that look there young man, right now," she said laughing, as Danny shyly put his head back down.

"It's okay little one, she won't bite," I said.

"You wanna bet, you just watch what I do to that Derek then tell me I don't bite" she said getting up and for a second I thought maybe I should be worried about the boy, but then remembering what that boy had done to this one, I figured a few good nips wouldn't hurt him none.

That left me with Danny cuddled up in my lap and I stopped thinking about what I had just gotten myself into or anything at all.

There was something special about this boy, I could just feel it, a connection if you will, and I was almost frightened by it, but for now I just enjoyed cuddling him.

Eventually though, I did have to leave and with sad puppy dog eyes, I moved him out of my lap and said goodbye, but promised I would be back soon.

Soon turned into the next day when Mel made it clear I was expected to come back then.

I smiled, gave up and agreed.

Andrew didn't show up the next day either, although I waited till dark to head over to the children's home.

When I got there, Danny was waiting on the porch and almost flew down the stairs to launch himself into my arms and be hugged.

I spent several hours with the children but always had Danny in attendance.

I could lose my heart to so many of them I thought, as I made my way home that night.

The next day Andrew was back and the first thing I did was take him down the hallway and stop at Kelly's room.

He just looked in it and then turned to me with tears in his eyes and hugged me to him.

"You did it, you really did it," he mumbled against my chest.

"Yes I did, it was time, and you showed me that, thank you," I said softly.

We spent the afternoon together as usual and I told him about the children's home and meeting Danny.

He seemed really happy about it, but when I told him I wanted to take him there sometime he said he couldn't.

I offered to talk to his folks, but he said no they wouldn't let him and I dropped the subject.

That became our routine, Andrew in the afternoons and Danny and the kids at the group home every evening.

Danny couldn't speak, but he seemed to be able to communicate volumes with those eyes of his or a gentle touch.

Mel had filled me in that it wasn't a pathologic condition, but a psychosomatically induced one, so we could only hope that one day he would find it in himself to talk to us again.

I also realized that I was falling in love with him, and maybe even already had.

Alright hell, I think I fell that first day, there was just something about him, so lonely, so much in need.

I could understand that, I had Andrew but he didn't have anyone until now.

I finally began thinking about something more permanent with Danny.

I found it increasingly hard to leave him each night and I could see the pleading in his eyes begging me to stay just a little longer every time.

I could also see the tears when I said I had to go and it broke my heart, a heart I didn't think could or would ever love or be capable of being broken again.

Mel would just watch us every night and say nothing, although her looks spoke volumes.

It got to the point that I would end up staying each night until bedtime and then tucking the younger ones into bed, that way it didn't seem so hard when I did leave, since they were asleep.

I was also becoming quite attached to a number of them which was making things even harder.

They were so in need of loving and as I was discovering, Andrew had been right, I was so in need to love.

It finally happened that Mel convinced me to take Danny on home visits with me.

I thought he was going to burst, when I told him, he was so excited.

The only damper on it was that Andrew seemed kind of sad when I told him the news.

I told him that I still loved him and couldn't wait for them to meet, but it didn't seem to help much, so I did the only thing I could think of, I just hugged him.

That first weekend I thought Danny was going to pee himself he was so hyped up, bouncing around everywhere and just generally as happy as can be.

It made me feel so good to see him like this from the quiet withdrawn boy that Mel had described in such detail to me.

Candy, of course, loved him to death and I could tell the feeling was mutual as they took to one another like chocolate syrup to vanilla ice cream.

They were just made to go together.

I was beginning to think we were all made to go together.

He would see me looking at him and just come over and look up at me with this wise look in his eyes that took my breath away as I lost myself in them.

It was the end of that weekend which strangely hadn't seen Andrew around, which concerned me, as I had begun to think that maybe he wasn't as alright with my relationship with Danny as I had thought that I said it for the first time.

It surprised me, heck it actually shocked me when it happened, but I knew the minute my mouth opened that I hadn't ever spoken truer words than those at that moment.

I had gotten him packed up and he was dragging his feet, obviously not wanting to go back when I went to find him after he didn't respond to my call.

He was sitting on the bed in the guest bedroom staring at his feet and I could see the tears splashing down one by one.

"Hey little man," I said.

He didn't look up, as I came and sat beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders hugging him to me.

"Didn't you like this weekend?" I asked gently, which brought his head up and he started nodding it vigorously at me looking at me with those pools of his eyes.

"Me too, but you don't want to go back, do you?" I asked him.

He looked down but then back at me and almost fearfully shook his head from side to side.

"I know, I don't want you to either. You see Danny, I love you, I love you very much," I said never breaking from the gaze he had on me.

He just looked at me searching my heart and then he threw himself into my arms, sobbing as he nodded his head up and down.

I am pretty sure that meant he loved me too.

Then he pulled away and pointing at his heart he then pointed at me mouthing the words "I love you too."

All I could do was smile, as I realized I was crying too and we went back to hugging one another for a while.

Eventually, we pulled apart and I looked at him before saying, "There are some things you need to know about me, Honey, you see I once was married and had a little boy. His name was Kelly, and he was four years old, one weekend..."

I finally finished telling him about Andrew and how much he meant to me, and what he had done for me, telling him that Andrew was why I ended up being there to meet him that day.

He smiled and I knew he wanted to meet this other boy, and that they would get along if I could only bring them together.

The last thing I said was "Danny, what would you think of coming to live with me all the time?"

He looked at me like he didn't understand for a moment, then he threw himself back in my arms and there was no need for the head bobbing this time, although it certainly was, as I knew quite well his answer was yes.

When he pulled away this time, I told him, "That means if you'll do me the honor of being my son, I would like to adopt you."

He looked long and hard at me before pointing at me and then beginning to trace letters on my leg


I looked at him then asked "You want to know if that means I would be your dad?"

He nodded his head up and then down and I said, "Yes that is exactly what it means, forever and ever, if you want it."

This time, the nodding almost made me fear that he would injure himself and we spent forever just holding one another, crying until the phone rang and I found Mel on the other end wondering if I had kidnapped one of her children or not.

"Not yet,"  I told her which got a smile I could just about hear over the phone as she said "It's about time."

Apparently, she had seen it before I did, or at least before I was ready to admit it, but she was happy for me and I knew she wanted this for Danny as much as I did.

I hung up after talking to her a bit about what would be required and turned to find my smiling boy standing there.

"Well, Mel is all for it," I said, which got an even bigger grin on his face.

"Now the bad part. You have to have at least four home visits before they'll let you stay here full time," I said, and could almost hear the "Why?" even though he didn't say it out loud.

"Because that's the rules, but basically to make sure you'll like it with a prospective family. Then there will be a waiting period of six months where you will live with me all the time, but only then after that six months is over, will I be allowed to adopt you if you still want me to," I told him.

He nodded his head again and I could see several other comments in there as well about adult's stupidity and at least one, `Duh' but he understood.

I took him back and tucked him in for the night and went home happier than I had been in years, seven years to be precise.

Andrew came the next day and I told him the news, but was surprised when he ran out of the house crying and I didn't see him for two days after that.

When he came back he apologized, but didn't want to talk about it so I just gave him lots of loving and let it go, only hoping he would come around.

I didn't want to lose him, I loved him just as much, and made sure to tell him as he was leaving that night.

He said he loved me too, but I could see the tears in his eyes as he turned away and ran down the walkway.

I just didn't understand it, he must think I was going to abandon him or something when Danny got here, but that would never happen.

Danny wouldn't want that and I would never do it either.

The weeks went by with me having Danny on the weekends and spending each evening after Andrew went home with him and the other children at the home.

After the second week, I managed to catch a cold and by the time the third week had come around, it had settled in my chest something fierce, which in this weather wasn't all that good.

That third weekend I didn't want to take Danny home, but he was so devastated when I told him, that I relented.

He kept by my side all weekend and was a great comfort to me, but by the time Sunday came around I could barely get out of bed to take him home.

I could tell he was worried, but I reassured him I was fine and was going to stay home for the next few days and not to worry about me.

I got a `Yeah right' from him but he went on in.

Mel came out to the car and said I looked like hell for which I thanked her and told her I wasn't going to be in for a few days.

She said that was fine and she would explain it to the children.

One more weekend and Danny would be coming to live with me.

Andrew had been coming over and staying with me during this time, but the sadness still seemed to be there and he still wouldn't talk about it.

I spent what I think was the most miserable week of my life that week, lying in bed mostly and drinking lots of fluids as I seemed to have developed a fever somehow.

I had never had one with a chest cold before, and the cough was worse than anything I could ever remember either.

An entire week of bedrest and Andrew's love and concern seemed to do wonders for me, and by Friday while I still felt like crap, I also felt I could stand to see my baby again so dragged myself out to the car and went to pick him up.

I had called ahead so he was waiting and came running worry obvious on his face.

I didn't want to kiss him but I did give him a big hug and told him I loved him and had really missed him.

We went home and I was just snuggled to death by one very frightened and loving cuddle puppy.

Of course Candy was there as well to snuggle the other puppy, and if only Andrew had been there, my family would have been complete.

Funny to think of someone else's kid as part of your family, but funny or not, I did and wanted him here with us in the worst way.

Saturday, I felt a lot worse again and as weak as I was feeling, was starting to worry some.

Something was wrong, but I didn't want to worry Danny anymore than I had already, so toughed it out although from some of the looks I got, I don't think I fooled him much.

Sunday though was a different story.

It was Sunday that made me realize something was dreadfully wrong, possible deathly wrong.

The first thing I realized when I woke up was that I couldn't breathe.

I tried to sit up and ended up falling out of bed onto the floor.

I could feel the panic setting in, as I tried to get air into my lungs but while some was going in it wasn't enough.

Then Danny came running into the room and I could see the panic in his eyes.

"Can'" I managed to gasp out, before falling back to lie flat on the floor.

I could see Danny's mouth working but as usual, nothing was coming out and then he ran from the room.

I could only pray that he would be able somehow to get help here before it was too late as the fire in my chest was becoming unbearable and getting worse.

I could feel my vision going as Danny came running back into the room the darkness increasing with every moment and all I could do was beg please don't let him see me die.

Then I heard something I had never heard before but knew immediately what it was, my son's voice.

"D...ddd...daddy...ccccan't bbbreathe...ppplease help" with a gasp of air after every word.

I forced open my eyes to look at him and managed to get out "" before the blackness overtook me.

The last thing I heard was an anguished cry of "Nnnot...again, please"

I woke up three days later in my favorite of all places, the hospital, just as Danny came out of what I would learn later was the bathroom.

Upon seeing me he yelled "Daddy" and ran towards me full tilt, then suddenly stopped and very gently crawled up on the bed with me wrapping his little arms around me and hugging me gently to him.

I heard a muffled "I was so scared."

"So was I, sweety, but you saved me, you spoke. You're speaking Danny, you're talking" I said, and was shocked with how weak my voice sounded.

He raised his head and looked at me and told me "I couldn't let you die, too."

"Oh baby, thank you. I'm glad I didn't die either," I said, as I reached up and caressed his cheek.

I was appalled at how weak I was, it wasn't just my voice.

The nurse came in then, probably because my son's voice could be heard half way to Cincinnati and walked quickly back out only to return moments later with a doctor in tow.

"So, we're awake today, are we?" he said smiling down at me.

Wonderful, one of those.

"Yes we are, apparently," I replied, but could tell the sarcasm was lost on him even if it wasn't on Danny, whom I heard a muffled soft giggle from.

"Good, good," he said then proceeded to explain that I had had a very bad case of a very bad pneumonia which had almost killed me.

I found out I had been out for three days, and that Danny wouldn't leave my side the entire time, and after the fit he threw when they tried to remove him, it was thought best to leave him be.

I could also tell they didn't like it, but I told them I wanted my son by my side, and he was going to stay, so it got left alone.

I would spend another week in the hospital before going home, and Danny never left my side the entire time.

Mel had come by to try and take him, but he had indignantly to her great amusement told her that four home visits had taken place, and that meant he got to stay with me forever, so she couldn't take him.

How could she, or anyone, argue with that?

When I was finally released, Mel picked us up and home we went with me feeling much better if not for the arthritis.

Mel had told me that all the kids were worried about me, and Danny too, and I assured her I would be back tomorrow to see them all ,and I was also hoping I would get to see Andrew.

I really hoped he hadn't thought I had abandoned him or something because I hadn't been here for so long.

We went on into the house and settled down, just cuddling on the couch and I realized something that even after a week, Danny was still real clingy to me and I knew this was going to take some time to work through.

But we had all the time in the world, and I would give it to him.

I got up later to put some clothes in the wash, then came back and sat down pulling my cuddle puppy back into my arms again.

A while later when the wash was finished, I was going to go and put it in the dryer, but Danny said he would do it and before I could say anything, he bounced up and ran out of the living room and into the laundry room.

I waited for him to get back, but when he hadn't returned in a while, I started to get concerned and when he didn't respond to my call, I got worried and jumped up, heading into the laundry room only to find him on the floor holding Andrew's jacket and crying.

"Danny, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" I asked concerned, going over and sitting down gingerly beside him.

I was kind of surprised when he pulled away from me and jumped up putting his back to the wall.

I slowly got up and backed away slightly, as I could see he was scared for some reason.

"Danny what is it?" I asked him again.

He just looked at me but finally said "Where did you get this?" looking down at the jacket before looking back up at me.

I didn't understand what was going on here, but just said "I didn't, that's Andrew's he's always leaving it here," but he was shaking his head before I had even finished.

"No it isn't this is Mark's jacket," he said to me, and I could see accusation and even some anger in his face and voice.

"Honey, I swear that jacket belongs to Andrew, I told you about him, remember?" I said

He shook his head again then turned one side of the jacket up to me "See this, dad had it made special for him, and put his initials on it," he told me.

I looked and saw the orange tabby kitten that was always there and the letters MAM above it.

"Look I can't tell you how Andrew got it, but I am telling you that it's his jacket, Danny, I won't ever lie to you," I said.

He just looked at me before turning away saying, "I killed him,"

"What?" I asked, not understanding.

"I killed Mark" he said

"Your brother?" I asked.

He nodded his head and said, "He told me to wait for him, but I didn't listen and started to run across the street,. A car was coming and he...he pushed me out of the way hit him. I killed him, but this was his jacket," he said sobbing, and all I wanted to do was go and take him in my arms.

"It's yours now, shoofly," I heard, as I spun around to see Andrew standing there smiling at Danny.

"Andrew?" I said at the same time Danny looked up and gasped, "Mark?"

I looked back and forth between the two, and didn't know how I could ever have missed it.

It was obvious they were related.

Then Danny was running across the room and throwing himself into his brother's arms crying, "Mark" over and over again.

I watched this, as Mark/Andrew just smiled at me with a sad look on his face, but I didn't understand.

It didn't make any sense because Danny had said that Mark was dead.

"I am," he said softly, causing me to gasp.

Danny pulled back and looked up at him.

"I have to go shoofly," I heard him say sadly, as Danny cried, "Noooo!!!"

"I told you I would always look out for you shoofly, and I didn't forget that promise,. I found you someone to take care of you, and love you like you need," he said softly, to the boy.

"Don't go, please," Danny begged.

"I'll always be here, you just won't see me," he said, placing his hand on Danny's chest over his heart.

Then he turned his gaze on me and walked past Danny to me and once more his arms wrapped around me in what I knew would be our last hug.

Then he looked up at me and said, "My name is Mark Andrew Malone."

"Oh Mark," was all I could say through the tears.

"That's why I was so sad lately, I knew I would have to go when it was over, and now that you have found each other, it is," he told me.

"You gave me back life, I wish..." but I couldn't go on.

"I know, but some things just can't be," he said softly.

Then he released me and stepped back brushing his brother's head in passing before looking at him and saying "Danny, you didn't kill me, I made the choice to save you, and I wouldn't make it differently if I had to do it all over again."

"I love you, little brother," he added.

"I love you too, Mark, I'll never forget you," Danny said, through his sobbing.

I walked forward and took him in my arms, wrapping them around his chest.

"I love you as well, Andrew," I said to him.

"I know, and I love you too, Kevin, you were like another dad to me."

He stretched out his hand then and a soft glow came from it enveloping Danny and me and making me gasp as I felt a warmth flow through me that was truly indescribable.

When it subsided, he just smiled at us and said, "Goodbye and take care of your new dad shoofly, he needs you so much, and he needs lots and lots of loving."

"I will," Danny cried, and then I staggered in shock as another form appeared there next to Mark Andrew and said, amid giggles, "And hugs, lotsa hugs,"

Then both began to fade from sight, as I gasped, "Kelly."

"I love you daddy, and you too Danny," the small voice said.

"Oh and shoofly take care of your little brothers too," Mark's voice came through as they faded completely from our sight.

We just stood there for a while in shock before Danny turned to me and buried himself in my arms.

We sank to the floor and cried for what we had lost, and more importantly what we had been given.

Sometime during that the jacket had slipped to the floor, and glancing down, I saw something that hadn't been there before, new letters underneath the kitten.

"Danny look" I said, pointing.

I heard him gasp and then giggle so I asked him, "What?"

"It's my initials, Daniel Alan Malone, DAM" he told me.

That got me laughing too, and soon we were both sitting there with smiles on our faces.

Eventually though, we got up and it was then I realized that Mark/Andrew had given me one final gift.

I didn't hurt anymore.

Danny looked at me with stunned eyes, as I started doing jumping jacks and laughing at being free from pain after all this time, but I finally explained what his brother's final gift had been to me, and he just hugged me and we walked out of the laundry room together and I knew now it would be forever in more ways than one.

We had just gotten back to the living room, when it suddenly hit me and I came to a dead stop, pulling Danny abruptly to a halt as well, as he had his arm wrapped around my waist.

"What?" he asked, turning to look at me.

"The last thing your brother said to you," I said, getting worried now.

"What to take care of you?" he asked.

"No, after that when he said to take care of your little brothers," I told him, wondering but not wanting to know.

"But I...I don't have any little brothers," he said confused, just as we heard two children giggling and from out of nowhere two voices said at the same time.

"Not yet, you don't."

Author's Notes

Well the other night I was on an instant messaging program when Hammer asked if I was going to write a story this time for his short story contest he and some others are running on the board. I kind of felt bad because I hadn't done one for their previous one but I was also swamped with stuff to do in my story as well as other ones. So I told him I would try but don't hold his breath. He told me it needed to be Halloween or Fall themed and have a twist at the end. Well I was driving from Omaha to Des Moines and once he said that I got to thinking. Then when I started my drive the thoughts just kept running through my head. I couldn't get rid of this idea that insisted I do it. So when I got to Des Moines I ended up starting about 11pm and did not stop writing until 7 the next morning. This is the story that resulted from that marathon writing session. It wasn't my intention to write all night like that but once I started with this short story I found that I just couldn't stop. So I wrote it. That morning I sent it off to Hammer and asked him to get back to me if this was what he needed for his contest. Then I got to talking to Darryl about it and he told me the strangest thing, the short story contest was limited to 10,000 words which wasn't good as this one went slightly over that. Anyway that night Hammer got back to me and it was even worse, he said it was limited to 5000 words. Well needless to say this one exceeds that threshold ever so slightly so it wasn't any good for the contest although Hammer was gracious enough to say he really liked it. I find that I write the story and the length of it doesn't matter overly much to me. I just couldn't limit it to that length even if I had wanted to. I don't think I'll ever be a short story writer in that vein. This is what I consider to be a short story though with a beginning and an end contrary to what Darryl and Roland seem to think, the end you see is the end. I hope you enjoy my contribution to the Fall stories even it isn't part of the official group.  Thanks again to Darryl for editing this for me, ask Hammer he makes it readable. J

Until next time...DS

Editor's notes:

Well, DarkStar has managed once more to raise the stock price of Kimberly Clark. (the makers of Kleenex)

This is indeed a wonderful story. I had it figured that Andrew/Mark was not an ordinary boy. There were several factors that convinced me that he was possibly a ghost. Those were the fact the he didn't show up when Kevin was with anyone else. He wouldn't go to the orphanage, which, of course, also played into the not having anyone but Kevin see him, When he was upset that Kevin had found a boy that he loved, it seemed to upset Mark/Andrew. That made me think that he was worried that Kevin wouldn't want him around once he had a live little boy to love. I must admit that I didn't tumble to the fact that he was Danny's brother, till Danny found the jacket. Did anyone besides me catch the significance of the name. Andrew Malone?

I have told DarkStar that there needs to be a second chapter. There are a few small details that need to be resolved. They are not vital details and we can of course infer them ourselves, but it would be nice to have them put into another chapter. Roland and I are going to spearhead the campaign to get DarkStar to write chapter two.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher