Grounded in Air


Gee Whillickers

Copyright © 2009 by the author under the pseudonym Gee Whillickers. All rights reserved.

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This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual place, event, or person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This story is intended for adults and contains subject matter not suitable for children. Parental Advisory in effect.

** 6 **

It was Wednesday after school when Rick accompanied Donny on the walk home and everything began to go wrong. Donny and Ricky had spent most of the free time at school this week with each other. They were friends now. Maybe not best friends, but definitely friends. It felt so nice to Donny to be able to talk and laugh and joke and tease and get teased. He had forgotten what that felt like, how much fun it was. Rick was working on his parents to take the training course at the track and Donny hoped he would succeed. He stopped by Fred's classroom each day, at least for a few seconds to smile and say hi. He always had to remember to call him Mr. Dorian in school, rather than Fred. Longer conversations waited for evening phone calls or visits, one or another of which happened every day. Donny's nagging doubts about having friends were almost completely gone now. Good riddance as far as he was concerned.

Donny was grinning and laughing at Rick as they walked up Donny's driveway on Wednesday afternoon. Ricky was telling him a story about finding some magazines and a crusty sock in his brother's room when he was a bit younger and his older brother was thirteen, and bringing the sock and the magazines downstairs to ask his mom about them just as his brother walked in the front door. Donny was laughing so hard his stomach hurt. Donny looked up as they walked up the driveway. The first thing he saw was the open garage door. Mom must be home, that's weird. The second thing he saw was the boxes filling half the garage. Moving boxes.

Donny stopped. Silent. His eyes wide. He could feel his heart squeeze in his chest until it hurt. He bit down hard on his tongue, feeling and tasting the blood in his mouth. His stomach roiled. He couldn't move. He could see Rick stopped beside him, looking at him curiously. His mom was in the garage busily packing some boxes. She looked up as she heard their arrival.

Laura smiled slightly, uncertainly. "I have a new contract Donny. A longer one, and for a lot more money. We'll be there for a year, at least. Maybe we'll have enough to buy you that new bike. We're leaving on the weekend."

Donny stood silently. His brain wasn't working right. He couldn't talk. He couldn't even think in words. He felt his head shake slowly, tears on his cheeks.

"Now Donny, I know you don't like this. But this will be different. We'll get a nice place. And I'll be home more, I won't have to work two jobs. And we'll finally be settled for a little while." Laura still didn't get a reaction.

Donny felt his expression change, his face twist in rage. He heard himself talk, not yelling, but loud enough. Emotion charged his words like vile poison, emotion like he had never before felt.

"I hate you!"

His mom looked at him in shock. It was her turn to be paralyzed. Rick had moved apart, to the edge of the driveway, obviously completely unsure what to do. Donny still felt like he was watching himself rather than being in charge of his own mind and body. He watched himself run into the garage and, before his mom could realize what he was doing and stop him, he had pulled his bike off its stand, jumped on and, while rolling down the driveway, managed to bump start it. He was shifting into third gear, accelerating hard five houses away before his mom or Rick had moved three steps.

* * *

Ricky didn't know what to do. He was scared for his friend. He watched Donny disappear around the corner two blocks up. Going much too fast, not slowing down for the stop sign, and swerving around a car. He heard Mrs. Sherbrook yelling, "Donny! Donny!!!" and saw her half running down the sidewalk before stopping in confusion and turning back to the house. She looked at Rick. She was crying. Loudly. Rick wanted to leave, to go home. But he couldn't. He walked tentatively towards Mrs. Sherbrook, not really sure what he was going to say or do. Before he could figure that out he felt Mrs. Sherbrook's hands on his shoulders, shaking, as she looked at him.

"Oh god! Oh god! What is he doing?! Oh god!"

Rick didn't think she was ready to made any decisions.

"Uh Mrs. Sherbrook?" No response. He tried it again, a bit louder, a bit more direct. He didn't like talking to adults like that. "Mrs. Sherbrook..." He kept his eyes on hers.

She backed up a couple of steps. Trying to pull herself together. "Oh jesus. Sorry Ricky. Oh god, what am I going to do?"

Ricky thought that was obvious. "Maybe we should phone the police? And I could phone some people Donny knows?"

Laura looked at him as though he was some kind of genius before turning and marching into the house, towards the phone.

After Mrs. Sherbrook was done with her phone call to the police Ricky called Ray. Ricky didn't know Mr. Dorian's cell phone number but he guessed Ray or Patrick probably did, he knew they were pretty good friends. He didn't understand Donny's sudden strong friendship with Mr. Dorian, but he knew it existed, and he knew Donny might go to his house.

Once Ricky had Ray on the phone and he had made a quick explanation of the events, Ray told him he would talk to Mr. Dorian and get a few people looking for him. Ray wondered if Rick knew where Donny might go. Unfortunately, other than the possibility of Mr. Dorians's house, he didn't.

That done, he didn't know what to do. It somehow didn't seem right to leave Mrs. Sherbrook alone, but he didn't really feel comfortable being here, she was still almost hysterical. Maybe he could to go Ray's. He didn't want to go home. He wouldn't know anything if he went there. And he was worried. Real worried.

* * *

Donny was cold. His leg hurt. He sat in the ditch holding his leg and trying to stop the bleeding. He started shivering. His butt was wet from the damp grass beneath him. It was getting dark now, he wasn't sure how many hours it had been since he left in a blind unthinking rage. The boulder behind his back made for a cold and rough backrest but it was better than trying to hold himself up. On the other side of the boulder, he knew, was his bike, or at least what was left of it. He couldn't look at it. The first glance at the broken and bent frame and smashed crankcase after it hit the boulder was enough. The boulder that had missed his un-helmeted head by inches. It didn't miss his leg though.

It was funny how his leg didn't seem to hurt as much as all of the emotions swirling through his body. He felt so many things at once. Mostly he felt stupid. Riding his motorbike, while he was mad and crying, on city streets, no helmet, gear, gloves, or anything. Now, he was hurt and his bike was smashed. He was still angry at his mom, but now he felt guilty too. But more angry. Also, he was worried about what Rick was thinking when he left like that. He was worried that Fred would have called by now. Probably several times, and would be wondering why he wasn't home. Mostly, he was worried about his mom wanting to move. He knew he couldn't do that. He didn't know how he could possibly stop it, but he knew it couldn't happen. Just couldn't. If he left here now, after meeting Fred, starting to fall in love with Fred, after meeting Rick and starting to make friends after all this time, if he left here now he didn't think he would ever be the same again, would ever take a chance again. On anything.

Donny looked around him. A farmer's field on one side of the road. No buildings as far as he could see, maybe some trees or something in the distance. It was hard to tell in the dark but even earlier when it was still light he couldn't see anything except the top of a gently rolling hill in the distance. A new development was being built on the other side of the road. Concrete foundations of houses and some with frames. A few pieces of construction equipment. No people anywhere. No traffic had gone by since he lost control and slid into the ditch. Not one car. The only sound he could hear was insects and wind. Maybe those were some lights in the distance, on the other side of the construction, it was hard to tell. They were at least a mile away. Probably more like two.

Donny was hopelessly lost.

He didn't even remember how he got here, and only had a vague idea what direction he was from home. He hadn't been thinking, just riding, and reacting, and crying. It was a wonder he had made it this far considering how dangerously he had been riding. Now here he was, angry and hurt and scared and sore and depressed and cold and feeling stupid. He had tried to get up about an hour ago, thought to try and walk towards the distant lights or whatever it was. As soon as he put weight on his leg he fell down again. He hadn't tried since.

Despite his pain, his anger, his fear, or maybe because of it, he fell into an uneasy sleep.

* * *

Almost two in the morning now. Fred had been driving for hours, up and down the streets near Donny's home. The radius of his search gradually getting larger and larger. He was tired now, but edgy - the caffeine from too many cups of coffee mixed with tired anxiety. Fred pulled into a parking lot of a strip mall and opened up his cell phone. He phoned Laura, and then Patrick and Ray, on their own search. Nobody had found him, nobody had heard from him. Fred was aware that he had moved from worry to strong anxiety to panic. He could feel icy claws of anxiety and fear in his chest, seeming to push ever harder, making it difficult to breathe. Fred couldn't lose him...he couldn't. He knew that he hadn't really known Donny for long but that didn't matter at all right now. They had made a connection. No, that wasn't the way to say it. That was way too clinical, too objective. They hadn't made a connection. They were falling in love, and he knew it. He tried to explain this to Patrick on the phone during one of their calls back and forth while searching for Donny. The only response he got in return was a quiet, "I know. We'll find him." Fred knew that Ray and Patrick were still looking as much, probably more, for Fred's sake as for Donny's.

Fred put away his cell phone and squinted into the harsh lighting surrounding the gas station in the strip mall. Getting out of his car he walked shakily towards it, needing to empty his bladder and maybe get more coffee. The attendant pointed to the washrooms and after taking care of business there he saw the coffee pot and paper cups and began to fill one.

The attendant was watching his shaky hand trying to pour coffee into the cup and not on the counter. "You look like you've had a long night. Working?"

Fred answered, "No. Looking for a lost kid. Eleven years old, blue T-shirt and shorts. Dark straight hair. I don't suppose you've seen any kids around here that look like they may be lost?"

Fred was going to add more detail but the attendant interrupted, dashing his hopes. "No, sorry. Haven't had a customer, or anyone at all for that matter, for hours. A quiet night until you came in."

Fred nodded slightly. "Ok, thanks. Good night." He paid for his coffee and walked out towards his car.

Fred backed his car up and was about to drive forward when he was startled by a knock on the driver's window. He looked over and saw the gas station attendant. He let out a breath. If he was so out of it on worry and caffeine that he didn't even see the man until he was knocking on his window, then how was he going to manage to find Donny? Fred rolled down his window.

"Hey, I dunno if it helps, maybe a long shot, but just when I came on shift, around six o'clock, some kid on a motorbike almost ran me over while I was walking across the parking lot. Looked a bit odd, young kid, wasn't wearing a helmet or anything. Didn't seem to hear me when I yelled. Looked a bit out of it."

Fred's heart jump-started itself. Adrenaline surged through his body, making his dull senses sharp again. This was the first lead of any kind all night.

"What did he look like? Which way was he going?!"

"Well, lemme think. I didn't get a real good look at him. Green bike I think. Maybe black hair? Or dark anyway. Not really sure."

Fred's voice sounded strained, harsh, demanding, even to him. "Where? Which way was he heading? Where did he go?"

The attendant scratched his whiskers. "Well, lemme think. I was walking in to work from that direction, and he came at me from there." He pointed. "Then I remember he swerved out of the lot and then took off down one of those unfinished roads in the new development. I thought he was just some young troublemaker. We're having a lot of vandalism..."

Fred was already driving away before the attendant had finished talking. He turned into the new development and bumped up and down the unpaved, unfinished streets, crisscrossing his own path several times. Dangerous streets these, lots of construction debris, equipment, large rocks, and even glass. He had to navigate carefully. Donny would have had a tough time in here. His lights were on high beam, searching for a safe path to drive through the obstacle strewn roads, his eyes searching everywhere for any sign of his boy.

Fred reached the other side of the development and turned right onto a gravel road dividing the development and farmland. Sighing to himself he decided to drive to the other end and then crisscross through again from the other direction. Almost finishing his turn, his headlights glinted off a boulder in the ditch and then something else. A small green wrecked motorcycle.

Fred had found him.

His heart was beating very fast in his chest, and his brain wasn't really working right; he was almost out of the car before he realized he hadn't even put it in park and turned it off. Fred closed his eyes and counted to five. He needed to have some wits about him, and he needed to be ready for what he might find. The bike was destroyed, that much he could see. Instead, he backed up slightly and maneuvered his car so the lights shone on the bike. He caught something and then turned the car slightly more. A small body, lying on the ground on the other side of the boulder. This time he was careful to put the car in park before exiting. He didn't think about his phone though, still sitting on the passenger seat beside him. He ran towards Donny, tears in his eyes, dread and hope warring with each other in his mind.

Fred reached Donny. He saw the blood. It looked confined to one leg. Donny was lying on his side, curled up in a fetal position, his back to the rock. Fred could see Donny's eyelids fluttering, see him breathing. An audible sob of relief escaped from Fred's mouth as he moved his hands over Donny, looking for other damage, being careful not to move him.

"Donny? Donny, can you hear me? It's Fred. You're safe. You're ok. Everything will be fine. Can you answer me? Tell me what day it is."

Donny's eyes opened. He shifted and then winced as he accidently put weight on his injured leg. "Fred?! Oh god, Fred!" His voice was high pitched and almost incoherent. Donny began crying and blubbering and put his arms fiercely around Fred's neck, hugging hard.

Fred was still crying, but mostly in relief now. Donny's talking and movements were obviously a good sign. The only injury seemed to be his leg. He wasn't about to take any chances though.

"You're ok, buddy, you're ok. I'm going to take care of you, don't worry," Fred said.

"But my bike!" Donny cried louder.

If circumstances had been different, Fred would have laughed. If Donny was more worried about his bike than anything else, he knew everything would be just fine.

Phone calls were made, an ambulance arrived, and soon Fred was meeting Laura, Patrick, and Ray in the waiting room of the hospital. They didn't have to wait long. Soon they were in with Donny, looking at his bandaged leg and listening to the doctor explaining that the leg was broken, his tibia, but the wound that was bleeding wasn't associated with the break. That was caused from his shin hitting the boulder and was actually several inches below the break. The doctor explained that it looked like there wouldn't be any complications in treating either the wound or the break. However they couldn't put a cast on his leg until the wound healed, and they had to wait for swelling to subside first anyway, so he would be wearing a splint until then.

After the news Ray and Patrick said their goodbyes, Ray giving Donny a long hug before leaving. Ray for some reason was looking very anxious to get out of the hospital.

Fred sat beside Donny, holding his hand after giving him a gentle, and probably much too long, kiss on his cheek. They looked at each other, not saying anything, for several long seconds while Fred brushed his fingers across Donny's cheek and nose. Donny had reached for Fred's hand immediately after Fred had sat down. When Fred had tried to remove it Donny just held on tighter. Fred noticed Laura's odd expression at all of this, but she didn't say anything.

Laura was smiling at her son and gently smoothing his hair back. Donny looked at her and began to cry softly.

"Sorry mom." It was so quiet it was difficult to hear.

"Shh, it's ok. We'll talk about it another time. I'm just glad you're ok. The doctor said we can go as soon as they're finished putting the splint on. I'm just going to talk with Fred for a few minutes outside before we go home. I'll be right back."

She motioned Fred to come with her into the hallway. Fred followed. Once in the hallway Laura turned sharply to face him, her expression tense with the nervousness and anxiety of the evening.

"Just exactly what are your intentions with my son?!"