"What's going on?"

"You're free to go."

"What?"

"You can go home. Grab your clothes, and run off." The doctor had signed the release. There was nothing else for him to do. He had to pay of course, but that could go to his insurance. Oh, and Junior. He had to bail him out somehow. They couldn't keep him here forever. They just couldn't.

He realized he'd suddenly begun to think as if he were back in prison. He laughed a little, and then began to change into his normal clothes. He signed out of the hospital with a brief, dramatic swipe of his credit card, and then went for a visit to his son. The sight shocked him.

It seemed every joint in the tiny body was stabbed with needles, and whatever spans of skin left were covered in sticky pads to monitor his pulse and breathing patterns. He was sweating despite the air-conditioning in the room from a dangerously high fever. The hospital gown stuck to the small boy's skin, showing through and exposing the scar in the middle of his chest. Blood trickled out a corner of his mouth and sprayed down onto his lip from his nose when he breathed. Where his eyes should have been were two dark shadows that made it seem as if he'd been punched numerous times in the eyes. But none of this swayed him worse than how thin his little boy seemed. Despite bright red lips and the darkly-shaded eyes, the rest of his skin was pale, and clung to his bones like a rubber band stretched just beneath the point of snapping. He felt afraid even to approach. There was too much danger to break the skin. He listened to the steady beeps of the monitors, saying everything was okay. But everything wasn't okay. He saw before him, while his son lay asleep, drugged up on morphine and who knows what else, attached to those infinite wires and machines, that there wasn't much time left.

He covered his mouth and nose with his hands, pressing on the bridge of his nose, hoping his eyes were deceiving him. But still before him lay his son, dying with each second. He forgot about his best friend in a coma, he forgot about his lost father, he forgot about his runaway sister, he forgot about his dead wife. Now his son was dying. God, what a terrible word. Dying. Die. Death. All those are such terrible, terrible words. He felt he would never have the same taste in his mouth again after saying any of those words. God, what terrible words. His heart ached as he realized he would soon be alone in the world, without a family, without friends. What a bleak future to look forward to. He shuddered, and held back his tears. He lowered his hands and approached his son, despite the mighty fears in his heart. He went up to the side of the hospital bed, and leaned over and kissed the blazing forehead. Junior shook a little, and then woke up, and stared around him. He saw his father, and smiled.

"Daddy!"

"Junior." The almost-seven-year-old shot up and threw his arms around his father's shoulders. Aaron hugged back, with barely any touch at all, for fear of snapping the fragile bones in his spine. But Junior's hug to his father was strong and tight, and held no hint of fear at all. Aaron held his breath to not cry.

"How's Uncle Popo?"

"He's fine, Junior, he's just sleeping right now." The little boy pulled away, and coughed into his hands. Aaron noticed after just one his fingers were soaked with blood. His heart skipped a beat with each cough as he swore he could see his son getting thinner with each choked sound. Aaron saw he was trying to talk, and stopped him, shaking his head. "Don't try to talk right now. I want you to rest."

"O-*cough*-okay." And the little boy laid back down, and closed his eyes, coughing. Aaron kissed the burning forehead, and then left the room, slamming into the doctor in his hurry to leave his son with the safety that he wouldn't bleed to death from Aaron's faults.

"Jesus."

"Sorry. I can't look at him though. I don't want to think what's gonna happen."

"He's not responding to antibiotics anymore. I don't think he has much. At the most, a week."

"No, please." He began to cry, and raced out of the hospital, not wanting to hear any more. Everything in his life was spiralling downward. He ran to the nearby waiting bench, and fell and cried onto it. He didn't care who saw him. Nobody could be feeling as much pain as he was right then. There was no pain worse than this. He swore he could feel his heart ripping in two again. He didn't want to look at his son anymore. He didn't want to see the death that he knew was there. Just let him live past his birthday. That's all he wanted.

He sat up, and wiped the tears from his eyes, and then discovered he was in the company of a woman. He glanced at her, and realized she had been staring at him for a long time. She came and sat beside him, and offered him a kleenex. He took it gratefully, blew his nose, and then held the tissue tightly in his burly fist. She reached over and put a hand on his forearm. Just the simple touch made him grateful; he felt like they'd related with physical contact. He looked to his left at her, and saw the concern in her eyes. He looked down at the ground some four feet away from him, scanning and subliminally counting the rocks in the gravel, and sniffed.

"I'm sorry."

"It's all right. I don't have a problem with seeing a man cry. It's wondering what pushes him to it."

"I'd rather not talk about it right now."

"Okay. That's fine." She drew her hand away from his skin, and he instinctively, selfishly grabbed it back into his. He felt her squeeze a little, and then hold her hand still. They sat like that for a long time, at least it felt like a long time, neither speaking a word, feeling too awkward with the circumstances. It was as tense as if they'd met at his wife's funeral. He sobbed once as he remembered that day not too long ago, when he'd stood and watched them lower her coffin into the hole in the ground and buried her. Then a flash of anger quickly subsided the threatening onslaught of tears. He sighed, and let go of the woman's hand. He turned to her, and she just smiled. He smiled back.

"I am truly sorry."

"Don't be, please. You have no reason to be sorry."

"Yes, I have."

"What is it, then?" He frowned a little, and then grinned, and she smiled even wider, showing her teeth.

"You've made your point."

"Thank you. So what started you crying?"

"Just little shit. My son's dying, and my best friend's in a coma. I'm fucked up majorly, lost my wife almost a year ago, and now I just can't keep up with myself or my life anymore."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"Oh, please, don't. That's the last thing I need."

"What's the last thing you need?"

"Pity."

"Oh. I won't say it, then."

"Thank you." There was more silence. He took her hand again, without realizing it, and sighed again. He looked up over him at the blue canopy that protected the bench. He thought of the days way back when, that his family had been together, happy, healthy, oblivious to any of their own problems while they were concentrated on everybody's happiness. There were times when they had been a perfect family; there were others when they were exactly the opposite. He realized that there was usually a very small period of time between family perfection and family imperfection. He remembered, soon after Junior's first birthday, his first trip to the ocean. Junior had been able to walk since two weeks before his birthday, run three weeks after, and began learning to swim at sixteen months. He took to the water like a fish with the inflatable water-wings he had. Aaron had lain on the beach, watching his baby and his son play in the water together, both of them laughing without a care in the world. He watched them with tears of joy in his eyes, and wondered how he lived without her for so long, and how he had lived through the nine months waiting for Junior. He had gotten up then, and taken his son from his wife, catching her slight yawn as she set him back down in the water. He caught her a kiss on the cheek, and then she went off to lie on the blanket and probably fall asleep. She'd been up a lot lately, and she worried him so much. She'd been so worried lately, always up, constantly working. That night, he had talked with her, and discovered something outrageous. He stared at the cement that made up the sidewalk, recalling that night vividly in his mind...

"What's wrong, baby?" He'd turned her over to look at him. He only got a brief glance, but her eyes were flamed with fear. She quickly turned away again.

"Nothing's wrong."

"Tell me. Don't make me worry."

"Don't use my lines, baby."

"Then tell me what's wrong."

"It's just something at work."

"Is it your boss?"

"I wish it were. That'd be easier."

"What is it, baby? You can tell me anything, you know that."

"Not this." She pulled the blankets up over her head then, and when he tried to bring them back down, she resisted. He slipped his hand beneath the blankets over her breast, feeling her nipple in the middle of his palm. She'd cried out and pushed him away. He yanked himself back as she turned to him and sat up, pressed against the headboard and scared as a kitten. They were frozen in those positions for a moment. No sound penetrated the night around them. Then she turned her head away from his direction, her mouth on a downturn. He grabbed her before she could fight, and tackled her down on the bed. She screamed, but he covered her mouth quickly.

"Think about the baby." She was silent then, her eyes wide over her nose. He pulled his hand away, and let her bite her lip. He began to unbutton the shirt she was wearing.

"No, Aaron." She put her arms over her body in a protective manner.

"I promise I won't do anything. I just wanna see." He moved her arms away and continued to unbutton the shirt. It didn't take long for him to discover she was wearing more layers underneath. Her eyes grew ever larger as he peeled away each shirt she wore, but she willingly let him do it. He finally got down to her skin, and could only kneel over her and stare in shock. This explained why she was so very timid lately. There were bruises all over her upper body, a majority of them around her perfect breasts. He moved down over her thighs, and yanked down the pants she wore. She screamed again, but he slapped her thigh to stop her. More bruises covered her thighs, in the shape of fingers and whole hands, perfect imprints on her once-perfect skin. All of them varied in color, from an ugly yellow to a deep black. He noticed a trace of a cut in her bikini line, a scratch from a human fingernail. He slipped her panties down then, very gently, and saw how stretched out she was. He looked up at her face, and he knew an expression of shock covered his. She was crying, tears streaming down out the sides of her eyes and into her hair. He took her hands and brought her to a sitting position, and he hugged her. "Who did this?"

"The same one from the laundry room." The burn of hatred in his heart flamed up, and she seemed to sense it on her bare skin. "I have to let him do it. He's worth millions."

"No, baby. You're worth more than that, so much more, and you know it. If I have to come into work with you, I will."

"No, Aaron, please. I'll only have to see him for another week."

"I'm not letting him touch you anymore. I'll tie you down and keep you here if I have to."

"Please, baby. It's money for us, and you know how much we need it."

"I'd rather be living on the streets than let you let people harm you like this." He kissed her head, and then forced her to look at him. "Promise me you won't let him do this anymore."

She was completely silent, her mouth open just a little. He knew she wanted to stop it, and he also know that she felt she had to let it happen. He didn't let her answer him, if she was going to. He kissed her mouth gently, and then put the clothes back onto her body. She straightened them out so that she was comfortable, and then they laid down together, sides switched, with him hugging her. He'd kissed her forehead one last time, and then slept...

"You okay?" He shook his head, and turned to the woman sitting beside him. She was still holding his hand, this time in her lap. He realized once again where he was and what he was doing. He held his breath to pause the panting he hadn't even known had begun, and nodded.

"I'm fine." He began to breathe normally again, and turned his head back to a normal position. He heaved a sigh again, and glanced at a piece of paper blowing in the wind. He swore he caught a scent of his wife's smell in the air as it passed over his head.

"You sure you're all right?" He realized he was panting again.

"Yes, I'm fine, really."

"Well, I have to get in to see my husband, but if I give you my number, do you promise you'll call me if you need to talk?" Here she began reaching for her purse, her slender fingers and almond-shaped nails slipping into the pocket. He nodded, mexmerized by the sight of just her hand. He saw the corner of her lipstick-painted mouth rise in a smile, and he was able to look away from her hand and at her pretty face, framed by her chestnut hair. She reminded him of someone, with her deep green eyes and full mouth, but he couldn't remember who. She brought a business card from her purse with three New York numbers on it. "Work or home, you call me. Slip in the name 'Emma' at work, and they'll put you through."

He looked down at the card and read over the embossed name, sounding it out in his mind, mouthing it silently.

"Thank you, Maria Anderson-Morrisan." She laughed.

"Please, call me Arie."

"Arie."

"Thank you. Well, I should go visit my husband before the hours are up. You promise you'll call me?"

"Yes, I promise."

"Good." She smiled again, then brought her purse to her lap and snapped it shut. "Well, it was nice meeting you."

"Yeah, you too." She stood then, releasing his hand without him realizing it, and walked away. He looked down at the card again, and read over it:

Maria Anderson-Morrisan
Publishing Agent
Random House, New York

Beneath her title was the motto of her workplace, and below that were the three numbers. He could merely stare for a moment at the name. Who did she remind him of? He couldn't quite recall. He didn't think about it then. He took out his wallet and put the card into the place with the money; what few bills he had accompanied her card. He put it into his back pocket again, and stood up. He felt much calmer, feeling as if he'd talked for hours with someone he'd known for years. The feeling was quickly fading though, he could feel it in his heart. He ran to the car, and began to drive home. He didn't know exactly what he was going to do once he got there. Maybe he would search for some overlooked anesthesia and a syringe, and commit his own suicide. It was agreed that Nike would take their son if anything should happen to them, but their son would soon be with them, and they would be a family together in death. Somehow, this didn't appeal very much to him.

The drive home was arduous. He wanted to tell someone of the encounter he had. He thought of going to the hospital, but he knew that there would be no one there to listen, and just the thought of his son there dying brought tears to his eyes. He stared straight ahead, all of these thoughts flooding his head and soon making nothing. It was a blissful nothing; he seemed to take in everything and nothing around him at the same time, and the driving seemed to do itself. He seemed to wander into his own state of color-filled darkness, an oxymoronic world that folded into itself only to find itself in the same place. Everything and anything could jump into his thoughts at any time, and he would wander off from there into random places in time and memory.

It must have been seven hours of just driving around the town, not really knowing where he was going or even where he was or what he would do once he got where he was going. The answer to his question lingered for the longest time. Then it dawned on him who that woman actually was: Mandy's agent. That woman was Mandy's publishing agent. He screeched to a halt where he was, and nearly caused an accident right in front of the local prison. Oh God, the prison! He turned his head to the right, and did a U-turn, heading for the entrance of the parking lot. He had to tell someone this. For now, these were the only people he could think of to tell.

He checked in and went through the necessary procedures, planning the conversation as best he could. He would tell the first few topics he could, and be able to vent. Maybe there would even be something meaningful in this talk.

He went into the visitor's room and up to the reserved booth and sat down. Ten minutes of waiting brought forth the murderer that had confronte him about his and his wife's books while he was in prison. The eyes brightened when he saw Aaron, and neither man could help smiling. The murderer sat down, adn took up the phone and began to speak.

"I''s be'n a lon' time."

"Yes, it has."

"This is my fi's' visi'o' in 'bout fi'e yea's, too."

"Yeah, life sucks. I'm getting Mandy's book out soon, and then I'll donate a few free copies to the prison for you."

"Tha'ks, rea' noble of yeh."

"I try."

"'Ow's yer sto'y comin' alon', an'way?"

"Nearly there. Once I get that one published, I'll donate copies to the prison as well."

"Goo', goo', I can'' wai'."

"How's your friend?"

"They 'ad t' give 'im the chai'."

"Oh shit, I'm sorry."

"No no no, don'' be. I'm okay."

"Why'd they do that?"

"Dumbass ki''ed a rapis'." The murderer's eyes turned dark briefly. Aaron's heart skipped a beat at the sudden look of hatred, and quickly changed the subject."

"Sorry. Did my dad talk to you before he was pardoned?"

"Ye'h. Sai' 'e was gonna finish some shi' in the crap-sta'e 'e grew up in, an' then come back."

"Really?" So there was hope. He wouldn't be alone for long, oh thank God. "That's cool."

"Ye'h. I''s coo' 'e go' ou'. Afte' you lef', 'e was the on'y one tha' woul' talk t' us."

"Sorry."

"I''s a'ight."

"I would have visited, but I had shit I had to do."

"Li'e wha'?"

"My son was kidnapped, I had the funeral. Shit like that."

"Wha' was the wors' of it?"

"Sherrie was almost raped."

"By 'oo?" The tone was dark and foreboding, and Aaron found it hard to hold back the urge to recoil.

"One of my wife's old friends from online, wanted to keep a piece of her alive in Sherrie."

"Di' you fin' 'im ye'?"

"I think they took him away."

"If they pu' 'im in this priso', I'll ta'e ca'e of 'im."

"Good. His name is Josh."

"Too ma'y Joshes in this worl'."

"How true."

"Also too ma'y Bran'ons."

"Brandons?"

"The man I ki''ed was my wife's love'. 'Is na'e was Bran'on."

"Jesus."

"Befo'e I was figu'ed ou', I go' a few tries wi' 'is widow, though. Then she ma'e me admi' to the mu'de' an' tu'ned me in."

"Damn."

"Ah, I'm a'ight wi' it. She was a bitch an'way."

"Still."

"Don'' wo'y 'bou' it. I''s be'n a lon' time."

"A'ight then."

"Goo' boy." There was a small break of silence between them, not even two minutes, when the prison guard came and put his hand on Aaron's shoulder.

"Time to go, son."

"A'ight, just two minutes." The man walked out, and Aaron turned back to the pane of glass.

"I guess I'll see yeh la'e', then."

"I'll be back tomorrow."

"A'ight."

"A'ight." Then the prisoner hung up, and Aaron did the same. The two men stood then, and left each other. Their exchange was brief, but they would talk again the next day. Aaron didn't sleep that night. He was up twenty-four hours, typing up a new story.

The next day, Aaron left at ten in the morning. He drove first to the hospital, and visited Popo and his son. While Junior talked back at him, no matter how disoriented, Popo did not. At least his eyes were open, though. That seemed like progress. He talked of the brief conversation with the murderer yesterday, and his reflections on it. He hadn't felt a hint of fear, ever. That was the strangest thing of all, to him. There'd been no fear, like there had been with his father. What was different with the two? Maybe it was the sense of protection the plexiglass gave. There hadn't been the feeling that one of them would snap and attack. But there were guards when his father had been there. What was different? Maybe it was the lack of tension from being separated after almost fifteen years. Whatever it was, it was strange to him. He explained about the meeting with Mandy's agent, which had induced the prison visit, and the new story he was typing. At least now he had the confidence to say his was good. He could continue writing and find the courage to make it a job. He told of how he would sometimes dream of writing, and could finally fulfill those childish dreams. He told the plot of his story to Popo, and suggested his ideas for more stories. He knew what sold and what flopped, just by what his wife had written. He could attempt to finish her anthology, try and finish what she hadn't. He felt a strange pride in himself as the thought dawned on him: he was accomplishing something that people would notice. This felt wonderful. He realized in his conversatioin with Popo how his wife had felt when she'd gotten her first book published. As he thought about it more and more on his way to prison, he began to feel exhilarated. He felt good that he would be famous.

He arrived at the prison once again, and went through the procedures to get to the visitor's area. Today was the day that they could be in the same room. But still, strangely, there was no fear like there had been with his father. He couldn't understand what was different. But it made no difference to him anyway. This was a friend. There wasn't supposed to be a tension. He saw the man sitting at a table alone. He approached, and the man stood and hugged him, then sat back down again. They were silent for a minute, leaning onto their elbows and staring at each other, waiting for the other to start. The tension that hadn't been there before suddenly was present, and changed everything. The usually talkative murderer had nothing to say, and Aaron felt uncomfortable beginning the conversation. He felt stupid for expecting a lack of tension.

"So..." Always a great inductor of conversation.

"'Ow's your son?"

"He's in the hospital. Tuberculosis, I think. Might be leukemia too. He's not responding to treatment anymore. They give him a week, since he lasted this long already."

"Then wha' the 'ell a'e you doin' 'ere?"

"Keeping a promise."

"Stay wi' your son, assho'e."

"Let's get this visit over with first, and then I'll think about it."

"Goo'. I'll dea' wi' tha'."

"Good, 'cause I'm not doing anything else."

"Damn, you're persis'en'."

"I get it all from my wife."

"Wha' 'appene' to 'er again?"

"Suicide."

"'Ow'd she ki'' 'erse'f?"

"A lot of animal anesthesia."

"Damn. 'Oo foun' 'er?"

"I did. In front of the computer. She typed a damn note while she was dying."

"Damn."

"Yeah. But I'm over it now. Mad as fuck at her, though."

"Why?"

"She left me accused with first degree, a sick son, and put me out of a job. My sister paid the wages of the funeral, so I have to pay her back. I've gotta pay for the tending of her gravestone, not to mention the autopsy bills, and on top of that the hospital bills for my son. Not to mentioin paying back the bills to my landlord for my God damn apartment. The only reason he paid the bills is because of my wife. If he hadn't known her, I'm sure I'd have no story right now."

"Tha''d suck ass."

"Yes it would."

"'Ow's the sto'y comin'?"

"Same as last time. I started a new one too."

"Rea''y?"

"Yeah. It's-" He was cut off then when he heard the familiar song his wife had always loved, playing over the speakers. He held his breath and listened to the words for a moment. He suddenly, for teh briefest time, regressed to his stage of denial when he hadn't wanted to accept the fact of her leaving, and remembered her singing as she wrote her stories. He remembered listening to her in those late nights before Junior, up till all hours of the morning, releasing her inspiration. He remembered sometimes walking in on her early in the morning, even when she was very pregnant, having been up all night and written very few pages in her story at all. She'd enjoyed her music a little too much. God he missed her.

He realized a hand was waving in front of his face. He shook his head and blinked, and then leaned onto his elbows again. His imprisoned friend had a worried look on his face.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. Sorry, the song distracted me."

"They a'ways play tha' kin' of musi' at these visi'ing sessions. Suppos'ly ca'ming."

"My wife used to always listen to that music. That song especially."

"Rea''y?"

"Yeah. She had a weird way with music. She saw some deeper meaning in every song she listened to."

"Damn."

"Yeah. She was one of the smartest people I knew."

"Wow. Soun's li'e you ma'ied a grea'."

"She only wished, but never accomplished. No, that's not true. She accomlished the first published book, and wished for three. When she got there, she started on her next five. All of them were linked."

"Damn. She soun's so fuckin' ambitious."

"She was. She strived for everything she could reach."

"I rea''y wish I knew 'er now."

"Everyone that knew her loved her. She was that wonderful. She continually recalled that she only had one enemy, as well. She was just the greatest little thing in the entire world."

"She soun's li'e it."

"Oh God, I loved her."

"I loved mi'e too unti' the infide'i'y."

"What was yours like?"

"Camerin was jus' beau'iful. Paranoi' 'bou' every detai'. She coul'n't 'ave ki's, an' she crie' when she foun' tha' ou'. I foun' 'er a fos'er mothe', and then we 'ad twins."

"Do you remember her when she was waiting?"

"She was bea'iful when she was expe'in' John and Libby. I wish I'd be'n the'e more then. Bu' I 'ad to earn money for the surroga'e, an' I coul'n't be the'e wi' the job I 'ad. She resen'ed tha', an' when the babies died, I guess it pushed 'er ove' the edge."

"Damn, I'm sorry."

"Don'' be. I didn'' wan' the ki's, she di'. An' she was crazy. My crime was a crime of passio'. If I 'adn'' ban'ed Bran'on's wife afte'wa's, I prob'ly woul' 'ave go'en away wi' it."

"But then you wouldn't have met the wonderful writer's husband."

"True. Then I woul'n't know someone befo'e they're famous."

"Haha, cute."

"Tha'k yeh."

"You're very welcome." There was even more silence then, while the song continued to play over the speakers. They didn't talk for a very long time. They listened to the song, one remembering, one imagining. All was well and good until the song paused for repeat, and the two men snapped out of it very suddenly. Both of them felt as if they'd just arrived, and acted shocked when they looked at each other. It was very strange until they remembered that they'd been here for at least fifteen minutes. There was a mutual sigh, and then the song began again. Aaron laughed.

"The 'ell you laughin' at?"

"My wife. Now I know why she loved music so much."

"Why you laughin' at 'er?"

"She had the exact same reaction to her music. She told me once that even during the songs she would forget how far along they were, and sing the wrong words at the wrong time. She told me she felt timeless when she listened to her music."

"Wow. Tha''s li'e, science-fi'tion or somethin'."

"Yeah. She was a living work of art. I miss her."

"No mo'e grea' wor's of li'rature."

"No, just trashy romantic novels."

"Trashy? Wha' you wri'e ain't trashy."

"I make up stories as well as the next illiterate."

"I knew some peo'le 'oo coul'n't rea' or wri'e a wor', an' they tell amazing sto'ies."

"Oh? Like who?"

"Well, my frien' for exam'le, tol' some rea''y grea' sto'ies. Neve' rea' a wor' in 'is life."

"Whoa. Anyone else?"

"The'e was one man 'oo became a wri'er. 'E di'ta'ed an' go' mi''ions off 'is boo's."

"Cool. Maybe I'll read it sometime."

"'E wro'e some goo' boo's."

"Cool." Then, a buzzer sounded, and the music that had been playing ended.

"Shi'."

"Tomorrow, I'll be here."

"Okay, coo'."

"I'll see you then."

"A'ight." The two men stood at the same time, and Aaron was about to turn his back and walk out. But then the man came at him, and hugged him tight around the shoulders. Aaron was slightly shocked at first, and then hugged him back. "Tha'ks for comin' t' see me, Aaron."

"It's no problem." The murderer pulled away, and laughed briefly.

"Do yeh even know my name?" Aaron froze, and looked at the murderer's face, looking for a sign of dismay hidden beneath his smile. The man simply laughed again, and held out his hand, offering a handshake. "Jeff." At first, Aaron couldn't move or do anything. Then he took the man's hand in a friendly shake.

"Jeff. Finally, I have a name to call you." He laughed again, and this time Aaron laughed with him. They hugged one last time, and then parted for the day. The inmate went back to his cell, Aaron out to his car. He was searched one last time before leaving, and then he went off to his apartment. Waiting to greet him were three kids, worried and panicked. He greeted the two younger ones with hugs. Lane stood apart from them, staring up at him. Innocent little Sherrie and the incorrigable Alex were begging for food, desperate for a meal.

"Please, Aaron, get us some food, we're starving."

"I want McDonald's tonight!"

"Okay, kids, okay, calm down." He was laughing a little as he heeded their wishes. "We'll go to Mickey D's, just because I haven't done any shopping lately."

"I want to stay here." He glanced at Lane, and held out his hand.

"Only if I can have the keys to your father's car."

"Fine." The teenager threw the keys at Aaron, and he snatched them with a quick eye and reflex. "I know how to hotwire anyway."

"What are the wires then?"

"Red to black."

"Your funeral." Aaron just shook his head and turned around, carrying Sherrie on his hip and holding Alex's hand, like he had seen his best friend do once. He looked over his shoulder, and Lane had come up behind him.

"I'll come, but only because of my brother and sister."

"Good decision. I'd hate to have to report a car stolen." The oldest child opened the door, and led the way out to his father's car. Aaron put Sherrie in the back seat, in the middle, and then got into the driver's seat. He adjusted it to his liking, and then put the keys in the ignition and started the car. He drove to the McDonald's, making it in just under three minutes. The place was extremely busy that day. He ordered the food, and paid with his last few dollars, and then sent Sherrie and Alex off to find a booth. He got drinks and begged the help of Lane to get them to the table, then brought the food there as well. The oldest pair sat across from each other, the younger two taking their places alongside, by the window. Sherrie and Alex were playing across the table, and once they had finished their food, they ran off to the indoor playground. Aaron finished first, and put all the trash he could gather onto the tray, letting Lane continue to eat. He leaned back against the window and put his foot up on the seat, keeping an eye on the young ones and observing the older one out of the corner of his eye. The teenager was staring at the far wall, contemplating something with all the brain power he could muster. Aaron could only wonder what it was.