IN MEMORY OF ANGELS
*In Memory of Angels is written under the assumption that Jack Simon wasn’t killed until A.J. was approximately ten years old, as alluded to in the aired episode, Revolution Number 91/2, and based on a work of fan fiction entitled Journey Into The Past by Brenda A.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Rick Simon sat alone in the office he and his brother shared on a sunny afternoon in mid June. The lanky detective was shuffling through the papers piled on his desk in an effort to organize them and return them to their file folders. He looked up when the door flew open so vigorously that it hit the wall behind it.
A slightly built five-year-old boy with strawberry blond hair bounded into the room. "Rick! Rick!" the youngster shouted with glee, his arms outstretched.
Rick stood and walked around his desk, grinning. He swung the giggling child in the air, holding him high over his head.
"Whose juvenile delinquent has lightened my door step?" the detective teased of the small boy.
Rick continued to tease and tickle the youngster, even as A.J. and the boy's mother entered the room. When the little boy's giggles turned to loud, piercing shrieks of excitement his mother admonished, "Okay, Josh, that's enough now. Calm down."
Rick continued to playfully torment Josh, making it impossible for him to obey his mother.
A.J. was then forced to echo the words of the mother. "Okay, Rick, that's enough now. Calm down."
Rick gently deposited the child on his feet, pouting, "Aw, A.J., you're no fun."
Josh waggled a finger in the direction of Rick's nose and teased in a singsong voice, "You got in trouble, Rick. Aaay Jaay scolded you."
"It's not the first time for that, partner," Rick dismissed as he perched on the edge of his desk.
"Nor will it be the last, I'm sure," A.J. quipped dryly while indicating for their client to take a seat in front of his desk.
A.J. moved to sit behind the desk, taking a few seconds to leaf through the mail that was piled on it. Before that task was completed, however, a squirming five-year-old had managed to worm his way into the blond man's lap.
"Josh, come sit here by me and leave A.J. alone," the child's mother instructed.
"He's okay, Melanie," a preoccupied A.J. assured as he held the little boy against his chest and continued to look through the mail.
Josh sat quietly leaning back against A.J., seemingly satisfied and occupied with the important job A.J. had given him of holding onto each piece of mail as A.J. finished with it.
"How'd it go today?" Rick asked of their pretty, petite client. Her own strawberry blond curls fell to her shoulders in natural waves, and she had a sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks just like her son. Those freckles made her appear to be at least ten years younger than her thirty-three years. Her tiny, fine boned face was accented by large gray eyes.
"All right, I guess. The judge gave us no problems in regards to putting a restraining order against...him," Melanie finished softly.
son possessed a sharp mind, as well as sharp ears. He looked over at his mother from A.J.'s lap. "You mean Daddy?"
Melanie nodded. "Yes, Josh, I mean Daddy."
The little boy bent his head back, looking up at A.J. "What's that mean, A.J.?"
A.J. affectionately brushed the boy's bangs back from his forehead. "What Josh? A restraining order?"
The blond man looked at Melanie. Upon seeing her nod he answered the boy with, "Well, Josh, a restraining order was put out on your dad to keep him away from you and your mom. It means he can't see either one of you, phone you, or come near you in any way."
"Or else he'll be in trouble with the police. Right, A.J.?"
A.J. nodded. "Yes, Josh, that's right."
adults all exchanged glances as the little boy stated firmly, "Good."
Rick asked their client a few more questions concerning the afternoon she and A.J. had spent in court before picking up Josh at day care. A.J. kept the boy's attention away from the adult conversation by starting a lively game of tic tac toe on a piece of office stationary.
Melanie Cason had been a client of the Simons for four weeks now. Her divorce had been final for only two months when her abusive ex-husband began to harass her. At first it was simply annoying phone calls at both home and work, but soon moved beyond that when the tires of her car were slashed one night, her phone line cut, and then her home broken into and ransacked. As in most cases like this, except for the phone calls, Melanie had no way to prove the vandalism had been caused by her ex, although she had no doubts that it was. Neither did the police, who had seen many cases such as this in the past. Unfortunately, without proof, there wasn't much the police could do either except to go over with Melanie certain safety precautions she should take in an attempt to keep herself and her son free of harm. The police officer that was assigned to her case also suggested that she might look into hiring a private investigator. When she told the cop she didn't know of any private investigators and asked if he could recommend one, he highly recommend two, off the record of course. That's how Melanie obtained the name and address of Simon and Simon Investigations.
The harassment of his former wife on the part of James Cason didn't end just because she had suddenly acquired two body guards. Nor did it end when Rick and A.J. cornered the man on his way out of his work place one Friday evening and very politely, but very firmly, advised him that it would be in his best interest to leave Melanie alone. As Rick said to A.J. later that night, "I'll give the guy this much credit, he's one heck of an actor. If I didn't know better I could have almost bought his, ‘Who, little old me?,’ act."
For the first week that the Simons were employed by Melanie, she and Josh remained in their condo while Rick and A.J. took turns on stakeout duty. A.J. also drove Melanie to and from work each day, as well as dropping Josh off at, and picking him up from, the summer day care program he was enrolled in.
By the end of the second week, with very little decrease in the harassment, but no hard evidence against Jim Cason, the Simons moved Melanie and Josh to Cecilia's home at two o'clock one morning. What could fit in the trunk and backseat of the old Impala borrowed from Carlos went to Cecilia's with Melanie. The rest of her belongings were loaded into the back of a moving van borrowed from a client of the Simons and were taken by Carlos to a storage facility he had recently purchased. The brothers hoped this middle of the night move would finally shake Cason loose of Melanie since her condo was up for sale anyway. They were keeping their fingers crossed that her ex-husband would quickly grow frustrated in his search to find her and ultimately give up.
Now, almost four weeks into the case, all was going as they had hoped, which caused the skeptical Rick to say to his brother when they were alone on morning the previous week, "I don't know, A.J. I don't like it. I've got a bad feeling about all this. The guy's giving up too easy."
"That's what we were hoping for,” A.J. pointed out. “That the guy would give up."
"Give up, yeah. But not roll over and play dead." Rick shook his head. "I don't know. I just don't like it." Rick's words hung heavily in the air, like some kind of ominous prediction.
A.J. chose to ignore his brother's gut feeling. "Maybe now that Cason's got to put some effort into his search he's getting tired of playing cat and mouse."
"You didn't see any sign of him when you were takin' Mel to work, or droppin' Josh off at day care?"
"No, none at all. That's four mornings in a row now he hasn't made an appearance."
"And everything was quiet at Mom's last night?"
A.J. had nodded and answered his brother with, "Yes. No problems there at all."
"What are we gonna do on Monday when Mom goes up to San Francisco to visit Aunt Marion?"
"I've been giving that some thought these past few days. Since we've both agreed that it would be best if Melanie doesn't return to her condo, and we don't want her and Josh alone at night, I can stay with them at Mom's next week. That way there's no need for one of us to sit outside the house all night like we've been doing these past two weeks."
"Okay, fine," Rick had agreed, before playfully pouting, "How come you though, and not me?"
"Because Josh is already picking up on all your bad habits. His mother's hoping to end this business relationship with her child's mental health intact."
Rick had thrown his brother a dirty look for that remark, before the two men moved on to mapping out their strategy for the next week when A.J. would be staying at Cecilia's with their client and her son. It was then that they decided, in light of the fact that they couldn't go on being Melanie's bodyguards forever, that the woman should have a restraining order put out against her ex-husband.
It was that act that Rick and Melanie were now discussing as A.J. and Josh played tic tac toe.
"So what are your plans now, darlin'?"
Melanie smiled at Rick's term of endearment. Coming from any other man she would have found it an insult, but with Rick...well, just the way he said it made you know he only used it when he felt a brotherly type of affection toward someone of the fairer sex.
Because of his choice of words, she replied in kind, "Well, cowboy, I think after this week you and I, and your blond side kick over there, have ridden this range as far as we can go, and about as far as my checkbook can afford."
Rick shrugged. "We'll work something out if it becomes necessary."
Melanie smiled fondly at the kindness of the Simon brothers. A.J. had told her the exact same thing the other day when she had discussed finances with him.
"I'm hoping it doesn't become necessary. My company has been so sympathetic about my situation. I was just telling A.J. on the way over here that my boss found a high security apartment for me in his neighborhood, and is paying for a moving company to relocate Josh and me. From there, if things stay calm for a few months, I'll begin looking for a new condo or small house for the two of us. If it becomes necessary, we'll move. The company I work for owns several other chemical plants across the country. I'm considering making a major change. You know, a fresh start for both Josh and myself. As a chemical research engineer I can easily make a transfer to another plant somewhere far away from San Diego."
"That might be a good idea, but just be careful and don't rush into things," Rick cautioned. "A.J. and I don't wanna see you or Josh get hurt. It's like our mom always says, it's better to be safe than sorry."
Melanie smiled once again. "You and A.J. have been more than kind, Rick."
"Well, you did hire us you know," Rick teased.
"I may have hired the two of you, but both of you, as well as your mother, have done more for me and Josh than I can ever repay you for."
"Aw, me and A.J. are just knights in shining armor at heart, darlin.’ We hate to see a beautiful damsel in distress."
A.J. looked up from the tic tac toe game. "Don't believe anything he says, Mel. I'm the knight in shining armor. His armor, on the other hand, is so tarnished it's rusting."
Rick growled at A.J., only to have Melanie smile at their antics and bantering, while Josh started to laugh from where he still sat on A.J.'s lap.
"Hey, what are you laughing about, squirt?" Rick asked the boy in a tone of mock anger.
"I like it when A.J. teases you, Rick," Josh giggled. He found the Simon brothers to be great fun.
"Oh, you do, do you?" Rick made a big production of advancing toward Josh with his hands outstretched, fingers waggling in the vicinity of the child's rib cage. The laughing boy stood up in A.J.'s lap and wrapped his arms around the blond detective's neck. Between giggles he pleaded, "Save me, A.J.! Save me! Rick's gonna tickle me!"
A.J. joined in the spirit of the game, holding the boy to his chest while promising, "I won't let that mean old bald man tickle you, Josh."
Just as Rick's fingers almost came in contact with the laughing child's midsection, he moved his hands and dug his fingers into A.J.'s rib cage instead.
"Rick, stop it! Stop it!" A.J. commanded while trying to swivel his chair out of Rick's reach, yet ever mindful that he had Josh in his arms. When A.J. tried to put the boy down so he could better defend himself, Josh only clung to him more tightly, finding great enjoyment in the game the two grown men were playing.
"Josh, let go! Let me put you down!" A.J. pleaded between his unintentional bursts of laughter. “Let go!”
"Nope, I'm not going to let you go,” osh giggled. “I'm gonna hold you so Rick can tickle you."
"Yeah, partner. You hold on to him real tight now."
"Rick, stop it! Come on, you two, have some sympathy," A.J. laughed.
When it looked like A.J.'s chair was about to tip over backwards from all the rambunctious shenanigans, Melanie intervened. She walked over to the three 'kids' and got a hold of her son. "Okay, Josh, let go. Let go of A.J."
"Awwww, Mom," the boy said as he released his hold and was lifted by his mother out of A.J.'s lap.
"Rick, you too," Melanie went on to admonish. "That's enough now. Leave A.J. alone."
With one last poke to his brother's ribs, Rick did as he was told, teasing, "Awwww, Mom, you always take his side."
"With good reason," a red faced A.J. panted breathlessly. Rick hadn't tormented A.J. by tickling him in well over thirty- five years. The blond man found that he didn't like this type of 'fun' any better now than he had as a child.
"Always some mother's golden boy," Rick muttered with playful disgust. The dark headed man then looked at his watch and changed the subject. "Hey, it's after five. Why don't we all go grab a bite to eat before you guys head back to Mom's house for the night."
Melanie and A.J. were agreeable to that suggestion so everyone headed for the door. Josh ran to A.J.'s side and took the blond's hand.
Rick saw the soft smile of affection that lit up A.J.'s face as the little boy gazed up at him with an open look of love, trust, and hero worship.
A.J. gave the youngster a big dimpled smile and wink, then picked the boy up and settled him sideways on his hip.
Rick shot a fond smile in the general direction of his brother's back before slipping an arm around Melanie's waist and flirting, "Let's dump these two worthless guys, lady, and go somewhere nice and romantic. Just you and me."
A.J. turned around with Josh still in his arms. "I'd better warn you right now, Mel, that Rick's idea of romantic is a table for two at McDonalds."
"That'll never do, Richard."
"For you, darlin', I'll change my ways," Rick vowed as the foursome made their way to the elevator.
"I'm willing to bet you've fed that same line to a lot of women over the years," Melanie tossed back.
"He has," A.J. confirmed. "Without much success, I might add."
A.J.'s smart remarks earned him another poke in the ribs and a threat of prolonged tickling much to the enjoyment of Josh, who began to giggle once again at Rick's mischievousness.
As Rick slid the elevator gate shut A.J. said, "We'd better feed these two boys, Melanie, and put them to bed. The big one with the cowboy hat is really starting to get on my nerves."
A.J.'s words prompted another round of playful teasing and bantering among the four as they rode the elevator to the ground floor, and then walked down the street to a favorite restaurant.
Later that same evening Josh and A.J. were playing on Cecilia Simon's living room floor with some old metal cars and trucks Cecilia had dug out of the attic for her young visitor.
Melanie appeared from the basement where she had been putting a load of laundry in the dryer. "Time for bed, Josh."
"Not yet, Mom. I'm not ready."
"I didn't ask you if you were ready or not. I'm telling you that it's time for bed," Melanie said with quiet firmness. "Pick all these toys up please."
"Oh, all right," the pajama clad boy moaned. That tone brought back many memories to A.J. of a time when he was five years old and was being made to pick up these exact same toys before he was sent off to bed.
A.J. helped Josh pick up the scattered toys while Melanie sat on the couch, watching the two of them with a smile on her face. A.J. caught her gaze and gave her his most charming smile and a wink.
You're a shameless flirt, Andrew Simon, whether you realize it or not, Melanie thought with amusement.
When the toys were all put back in their cardboard box and stuffed in the hall closet Josh asked, "Can A.J. read me my story tonight, Mom?"
"I don't know. You'll have to ask A.J. that question."
The boy looked up at A.J. "A.J., will you? Will you read me a story?"
"Sure, buddy," A.J. readily agreed, then waited as Josh gave his mother a good night kiss.
The youngster then ran over to A.J., took him by the hand, and urged him toward the stairway. The excited boy stopped his progress only long enough to turn and ask, "Mom, can A.J. sleep in my room tonight?"
By 'my room,’ Josh meant the Simon brothers old bedroom, the room Cecilia had made ready for him while giving Melanie the guest room.
"Josh, I don't think A.J. wants to sleep in one of those twin beds. He's a little too big for them, wouldn't you say? He's going to sleep in Mrs. Simon's room since she’s gone this week. It has a big bed. You'll see him in the morning."
"But, Mom, I want A.J. to sleep in the same room as me," the tired boy whined.
"Joshua James," Melanie began firmly, intending to put an end to this behavior. Before Melanie had a chance to scold her son, A.J. intervened with, "I'll sleep in there, Mel. I don't mind."
"A.J., you don't have to do that. Josh has been fine in there by himself for two weeks now. There's no reason for you--"
"I know," A.J. acknowledged. "But it's okay. Really."
"Well...if you're sure," Melanie reluctantly agreed, not wanting to put A.J. out in any way.
The excited child jumped up and down, whooping with excitement. "Yay! Yay!"
A.J. swooped the boy off his bare feet and charged up the stairs with him. "Okay, pal, let's get the story read and get you in bed before your mom changes her mind."
"Good night, Mom!" drifted down the stairs to Melanie's ears.
Melanie smiled. "Good night, Josh!"
Melanie could tell when the two 'boys' reached their destination by the way the bed springs creaked from up above. Considering the way Josh was laughing she had no doubt A.J. was allowing her son to use the bed as a trampoline.
A.J.'s done more for Josh in a month's time than his father did for him five years, the woman thought with heartfelt gratitude as she sat quietly and listened to the animated chatter coming from above.
Twenty minutes and one Dr. Seuss books later a tired Josh was leaning against A.J. as they both reclined on the detective's boyhood bed.
Just as A.J. was about to get up and tuck the child in for the night, Josh asked, "You used to share this room with Rick, didn't you, A.J.?"
"Yes, I did."
"And that's his bed right there, isn't it?" Josh pointed to the empty bed on the other side of the nightstand from A.J.'s.
"Yes, it is."
"Your mom told me that. She told me this bed was yours. I asked her. That's why I picked this one to sleep in."
A.J. smiled. "You did, huh?"
"Yep. And you're gonna sleep in Rick's old bed tonight, right?"
"Yes, Josh, that's where I'll sleep if you still want me to."
"I do. But do you think Rick will be mad if you sleep in his bed?"
A.J. chuckled. "No, I don't think so."
"Maybe we should call him and make sure it's okay."
Knowing that Rick had an evening on the houseboat planned with a favorite lady and probably wouldn't appreciate any type of interruptions, prompted A.J. to state, "I don't think we need to do that, Josh. Rick won't mind."
"Well...okay. If you're sure."
Josh bounced from one subject to another for a few minutes, as children often will at bedtime in an effort to stall sleep.
"Rick was a soldier, wasn't he?"
"Yes, he was. How did you know that?"
"I saw a picture of him in his uniform. You were in the picture too, A.J. Your mom showed it to me. You looked real young."
A.J. laughed. "Thanks a lot."
"Rick looked young, too. He didn't have a moustache then."
"No, he didn't."
Josh looked up at A.J. "Were you scared when Rick was a soldier? Scared that he might get shot or something, I mean?"
A.J. nodded. "Yes, I was. Sometimes I was very scared."
"Sometimes I'm scared, too...of my dad."
A.J. gave the boy a little squeeze. "You don't have to be scared of your dad anymore, Josh."
"He used to hurt Mom."
A.J. rubbed a hand over Josh's arm. "I know."
"It scared me when he would do that. Why did he do that, A.J.?"
"I don't know. Some people...like your dad...have problems. Problems inside themselves that no one knows how to fix. Sometimes those problems cause people to do things and say things they really don't mean. All we can do is try to understand that, buddy."
I don't understand it! He hurt my mom,
A.J. I'm glad he's gone! I don't ever wanna see him again. You won't let him come back, will you?"
A.J. looked down into trusting blue eyes. "No, Josh, I won't let him come back."
as quickly, the subject changed again.
"You know what I really want, A.J.?"
A.J. smiled at the ways this bright little boy could find to avoid the sandman.
"No, Josh. What do you really want?"
"I want a brother. One just like you have. One like Rick."
A.J. made a big production at being horrified over this wish. "One like Rick? You've got to be kidding me. Why in the world would you want a brother like Rick?"
Although there were lots of times when Rick's 'fun' drove A.J. nuts, he couldn't help but smile now and agree, "Yes, he is, isn't he?"
"Yep. Was Rick fun when you were a little boy, A.J.?"
Thinking of all the mischief he and Rick had gotten into as children as direct results of Rick's countless schemes, caused A.J. to reply with a laugh, "Yes, he was, Josh. Often to the dismay of our mother."
"Did you guys get in trouble?"
"More times than not we sure did."
"You know what, A.J.?"
"No. What, Josh?"
"Your mom told me sometimes she still wants to spank you and Rick 'cause of the trouble you guys cause her."
"My mom told you that?" A.J. asked, wide-eyed with mock fear.
Josh giggled. "Yeah."
"Well, I guess I'm going to have to start behaving myself, aren't I?"
"Yep," Josh nodded. "I think so."
A.J. rose from the bed, not allowing the boy to stall any longer. "Okay, kiddo, let's get you under the covers and get this light off."
Josh snuggled down in the bed as A.J. rearranged the sheet and blanket, then handed Josh a stuffed dog he had brought along from home.
Just as A.J. was about to say his final good night, Josh stopped him with a stage whisper. "A.J., I've got a secret."
"You do? Well, you'd better keep it then."
The child shook his head against the pillow. "No. I wanna to tell you. Only you though. Not my mom, or your mom, or Rick. Just you."
Josh crooked the index finger of his right hand and motioned for A.J. to lean closer.
A.J. bent down and smiled as he felt two small arms wrap around his neck and warm breath flutter on his ear.
"I want you to be my dad, A.J. No one else. Just you. I want my other dad to go away forever."
A.J. slowly pulled away from the child and sat on the edge of the bed, not sure how to reply to Josh's words.
Two blue eyes held the blond man's gaze, awaiting an answer.
A.J. gave the boy a warm smile. "You know, Josh, I was only little older than you are now when my dad died, so I know what it's like to be lonely and to miss--"
"I don't miss him!"
A.J. ignored the outburst. "I know your dad did some terrible things to your mom, and I understand why you don't want to see him again. But I think you do miss him just a little bit...don't you?"
Josh hesitated for a long moment before reluctantly admitting, "Sometimes I miss him. Sometimes he played ball with me and was real nice to Mom. Sometimes he said he was sorry and that things would change. But they never did. Most of the time he was mean. All I want is a new dad, A.J. One who will be nice to my mom like you are, and one who likes a kid like me, like you do."
A.J. chuckled at that last remark. "You're an easy kid to like, Josh."
"So do you think you could do it? Marry my mom, I mean?"
Not knowing quite how to handle this situation without talking to Melanie first, A.J. pacified the youngster by saying in a gentle, teasing tone, "Josh, it's getting kind of late here. There's one thing you need to learn right now, and that thing is, that a man should never discuss marriage when it's late and he's tired. That's a very dangerous situation to find yourself in."
A.J.'s words were lost on the boy as he replied, "Because you might make a decision you'll find yourself regretting come morning."
Josh was no exception to the rule that, at five years old, most children will take the words they hear spoken by an adult literally. The boy stretched, then laced his hands behind his head.
“Okay, A.J., we won't talk about it anymore tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Or another day we can talk about it again. It doesn't have to happen right now. But maybe by the time I'm six. I think that would be good."
A.J. laughed at the boy, thoroughly tossing the strawberry blond hair. "You're a nut, kiddo, you know that?
A.J. kissed Josh's forehead, then stood. "You know, Josh, just because I'm not your dad, or married to your mom, doesn't mean we still can't have good times together. It doesn't mean that we still can't be friends."
Josh nodded. "I know that."
"Good. Don't you ever forget it either, okay?"
"I won't," Josh vowed.
"Good night, A.J."
A.J. didn't even make it to the doorway before being summoned again.
The blond man turned. "Yes?"
"Just think about it though, okay? If you marry my mom it'll be real neat. Then Rick will be my brother, too."
A.J. just laughed at the boy, not bothering to straighten him out on that last fact.
A.J. flipped off the light, giving one final, "Good night, Josh."
"Night, A.J.!" came the call the blond man heard as he descended the stairs.
A.J. was still chuckling to himself over Josh's request of matrimony, and his desire to have Rick as a brother, when he arrived in the living room. He found Melanie standing in front of the fireplace looking up at a portrait Cecilia had hanging over the mantel. She turned at the sound of A.J.'s approaching footsteps.
"What are you smiling about?"
A.J. plopped down onto the sofa. "Your son. He's quite a character."
"That he is. What's he done now?"
"Oh, he just had a long discussion with me regarding marriage."
"Marriage? What marriage? Who's getting married?"
A.J.'s eyes twinkled. "No one yet. But if Josh has his way, you and I will be sometime around his sixth birthday."
A faint pink twinge began to color Melanie's cheeks. "Oh, A.J., I'm sorry. I don't know where he would have gotten such an idea. I never, ever said anything to him in that regard. I thought he understood that you and Rick are two men that I hired to keep us safe from Jim, and that while you've both grown to be our friends, there's certainly nothing more to it than that."
"Don't worry about it," A.J. dismissed. "I know you haven't led him to believe anything that isn't true."
"I'll talk to him about it in the morning," Melanie assured.
"No, Mel, don't do that. This was supposed to be a secret between Josh and myself. The only reason I told you was that I felt you should be aware of the...expectations he seems to harboring. I don't want to do anything to disappoint him."
Melanie laughed. "So does that mean you've just proposed to me?"
"You just said you didn't want to disappoint Josh. So if you don't want to disappoint him, and if he's counting on us getting married, then I take it that you just proposed to me."
A.J. couldn't help but smile at the woman's teasing. She'd gotten the best of him this time. "You know, I just finished telling your son that a man should never talk marriage when it's late and he's tired. I think I'd better heed to my own advice."
"Oh, so that's how a handsome, debonair private investigator like yourself has managed to stay single all these years."
"That's one way," A.J. acknowledged with a laugh. "The other way is by pursuing a career that isn't particularly financially stable, is physically and emotionally demanding, and involves a lot of weekend and night hours. Not many women are willing to hang around too long after you've stood them up in favor of a stakeout three Saturday nights in a row."
"I can see where that could be a problem," Melanie agreed. "But considering what your career involves and all the sacrifices you've made in order to attain your goal, I would guess that private investigation work is your first love."
"It is," A.J. admitted. "Though someday, when the right woman comes along, I'll be willing to shift some of those goals on my priority to list in order to make marriage and a family work as well."
Melanie smiled fondly. "You'll make a terrific father, A.J. You've been wonderful with Josh this past month. It's no wonder he wants you as a permanent member of the family."
"I don't know if it's me he wants as a father so much, or if it's Rick he wants as a brother."
Melanie laughed. "Yes, he's quite taken with Rick too. Of course, Rick's just a little boy in big boy's clothing, so it's easy to see why Josh loves him so much."
A.J. chuckled. "A big boy in little boy's clothing. I don't think I've heard my brother described in quite that fashion before, but it fits him. My former fiancé use to accuse him of being Peter Pan."
"He is, to a certain extent," Melanie agreed. "But there's another side to Rick as well. A very adult and responsible side that he uses when he has to. I think a person would be making a big mistake, and doing him or herself a big injustice, by taking Rick Simon at face value only."
"You're very perceptive, you know that?"
Melanie shrugged her shoulders. "I'm a Scorpio. We're known to be observant."
"Sounds like you'd make a good private investigator."
Melanie laughed again. "Or a good research chemist. But hey, speaking of observant, what's this about a former fiancé?"
"Ah...that's another story. For another time," was all A.J. was going to say on that subject.
Melanie accepted A.J.'s answer and didn't push for further details. She turned around and resumed what she had been doing when A.J. had entered the room, staring up at the picture hung over Cecilia's mantel.
"I thought you said you were going to soak in a hot bubble bath and curl up with a good book after Josh was in bed," A.J. reminded.
Melanie turned. "What? I'm sorry. I wasn't listening. What'd you say?"
"I thought you said that you were going to soak in a hot bubble bath and curl up--"
Melanie turned to face the picture once more. "Uh...yes. I am. In a minute. A.J., when was this picture taken?"
A.J. looked up at object of Melanie's interest - a studio portrait of himself and Rick. "Do you mean what year was it taken?"
"Whatever. How old were you? How old was Rick?"
"I was nine...almost ten. It was taken about a month before my tenth birthday. Rick was fifteen. Mom has others that were taken that day in a photo album somewhere. This one was just part of a package that included all four of us - Mom, Rick, my dad and myself. This one of Rick and me by ourselves was Dad's favorite for some reason. That's why Mom's had it on display all these years I suppose. The pictures were taken just two months before he died. They were the last family pictures of any kind we had taken before his...accident."
Melanie turned to face A.J. once again, moving to sit in an overstuffed easy chair. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up painful memories."
A.J. smiled softly. "You didn't. They're all good memories actually."
"They are?" Melanie asked in a skeptical tone that A.J. had never heard her use before.
A.J. was confused by what he perceived to be a look of disbelief on Melanie's face. "Well, sure. Other than Rick and Mom spending most of the morning fighting over whether or not he was going to wear that tie, we had a great day. Rick got to clowning around so much in the photography studio that we were both almost in hysterics. We probably would have ruined the picture if Mom hadn't given Rick one of her stern looks and warned him to behave himself in that tone she possesses that can still strike fear in our hearts. After the pictures were taken Dad took us out to dinner at a very expensive restaurant, then took us to a play performed by professional actors. That was the first play Rick and I had ever been to. I remember I felt very proud to be included in something I thought to be
an adult activity."
Melanie's gaze returned to the picture. "So you guys really were as happy as you seem in that picture?"
Not knowing how else to answer the woman but with the obvious, A.J. said, "Sure. We were smiling, weren't we? Isn't that proof enough?"
Melanie looked away. "A smile can hide a lot of things, too, you know."
"I'm sure it can,” A.J. agreed quietly, not sure how to read the woman’s mood. “Melanie...are you okay? You seem--"
Melanie didn't allow A.J. to finish his thought. "A.J....did Rick ever hurt you?"
"Yes, hurt you."
"Well...sure, I guess so. All brothers fight on occasion - hurt one another's feelings. Even brothers as close as Rick and me. We used to get into it every now and then over our room. I'd get so mad at him because he was such a slob and his garbage was constantly spilling over to my side. And he used to get mad at me because I was always getting into his things; his model airplanes, his bug collection, his B.B. gun - the kinds of possessions a six-year-old finds fascinating simply because they're not his. And sometimes, like all kids, one of us would go a bit too far with our teasing and get the other one really upset. We both knew how too push each other's buttons, so to speak. And if you promise not to fink on us to our mother, I'll tell you about the two fist fights we had that she doesn't know anything about," A.J. ended in an attempt to lighten his companion's sudden melancholy mood.
Melanie couldn't help but smile. "No, I won't tell. But that's not what I meant by the word hurt. I meant...I meant did Rick ever do anything to you that wasn't appropriate?"
"You mean like the time we were playing cowboys and Indians and he tied me to a tree in the backyard, then ran off and forgot about me for the next hour?"
Again, Melanie gave a small smile. "No, not like that. I just mean...what I said, I guess. Did Rick ever do anything to you that wasn't appropriate?"
A.J. stared across the room at Melanie, waiting for her to expound on her question. When she didn't, he was forced to confess, "Mel...I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're trying to ask me."
Melanie sat tracing a finger over the fabric pattern on an arm of the easy chair for a long moment. She finally took a deep breath and said, "Did he ever...touch you in a way he shouldn't have? Do things to you in a...sexual way that he shouldn't have?"
A.J. didn't even try to hide his shock and indignation. "No. Never! Rick would never have done such a thing! Would never do such a thing!"
The enraged detective rose from the sofa, his mind jumping to several conclusions. He stopped in front of Melanie's chair and pointed a finger at her.
"Look, lady, if you're going to start accusing my brother of having done something to Josh, you're barking up the wrong tree! You were the one that came to us for help! You were the one who checked out our credentials! You're the one who has been telling us how much you appreciate the time we've devoted to your son! If you think that you can get some trumped up charges filed against my brother and come out ahead on some lawsuit, you've got another think coming! I'll--"
Melanie rose from her seat as well, holding her hands out in front of her. "A.J.! A.J....please. Calm down. You misunderstood me. Please...I'm sorry. I wasn't going to accuse Rick of anything. Please."
A.J. stopped his tirade, dumbfounded. "Well then, why all the questions on that...particular subject?"
Melanie placed a hand on A.J.'s chest, urging him to reseat himself on the sofa. She sat down next to him, resting a hand on his knee.
"I'm sorry. I really am. You and Rick have been wonderful friends to Josh. Never would I accuse either one of you of harming him in any way. I...I shouldn't have asked you those questions. I'm sorry. I didn't mean...well, if I would have realized how my questions sounded, what it sounded like I was accusing Rick of, not just in regards to Josh, but in regards to you as well, I never would have asked them. I apologize. I...I wasn't thinking clearly. It's just...that picture of you and Rick brought back a vivid memory of a picture my mother has hanging in her home of my brother Douglas and myself. Coincidentally enough, we were the same ages in that picture as you and Rick are in this one."
A.J. took note of the trembling hand resting on his knee. Gently, he asked, "And what does one have to do with the other?"
Melanie bowed her head, whispering, "Nothing. Nothing at all."
A quiet anguish radiated from the petite woman. As was his nature, A.J. was quick to forgive and forget the anger and misunderstandings of moments earlier, and replace them with empathy and an ever-ready ear. He placed a brotherly arm around Melanie's thin shoulders.
"Mel? Come on, talk to me. I think there's a lot more to it than nothing. You wouldn't have asked me the kinds of questions you did unless you had a good reason to. I'd like to help you if I can. And if I can't...well, I have been told that I'm a pretty good listener."
Melanie allowed A.J. to lean them both back against the sofa. She rested her head on his shoulder and smiled softly. "That you are, A.J. Simon. That you are."
"Then don't ruin my reputation by refusing to talk to me. I'll warn you, the only person who ever does that and gets away with it is Rick. And even then, eventually, I can usually get him to come around and tell me what's on his mind."
"That's because you're a Leo. Aside from possessing strong persuasive skills, Leo's are also known to be empathetic listeners. They're also very strong, very stubborn individuals. As for Rick...what's his birth date?"
"Ah...he's an Aries. The ram. How appropriate."
"He rushes in where angels fear to tread. It's also the first sign in the zodiac, much like he's the first born son. To the outside world an Aries personality often comes across as powerful and dominating, someone not to be messed with. But inside, Aries are usually soft-hearted souls. A very gentle, deep-thinking person. That's probably why Rick loves puppies, and kittens, and little redheaded five-year-old boys."
A.J. chuckled. "It sounds like birth signs are one of your hobbies."
"Oh, back in college they were. I haven't paid any attention to them in recent years. To be honest with you, I just happen to have the ability to remember every little bit of trivial information I’ve ever read."
"Yes, it is."
A.J. decided they had steered far enough away from the subject. Now it was time to bring it back on course. "So, are you going to put my listening skills to the test yet this evening?"
Melanie lifted her head from A.J.'s shoulder and brought it to rest against the back of the sofa. "Let's just skip it. Okay? I can't apologize enough for the things I asked you, for the way it sounded as though I was accusing Rick of wrongdoing, or trying to get you to confess to wrongdoing on his part. Let's just leave it at that."
"Let's not," A.J. negated. "I think until we got sidetracked a moment ago you needed a friend to open up to. I'm still willing to be that friend. You have to know by now that anything you tell me in confidence will stay a confidence."
Melanie thought this over for a moment. "You won't even tell Rick?"
A.J. shook his head. "No. Not if you don't want me to. I don't share every aspect of my life with my brother, Melanie."
“No,” Melanie acknowledged. “I'm sure you don't."
Three cars passed by at various intervals on the quiet residential street outside A.J.'s mother's home before Melanie spoke again.
"It started when I was six. At first I was too young to realize what was happening. He said it was just a game we were playing. I thought it was rather odd that he kept telling me we had to keep the game a secret. That we could never talk about it to Mom or Dad. But I was willing to go along with it. After all, he was so much older than me. Almost six years older. And up until that point in time I could never remember him paying much attention to me. I was just the pesky little sister that he was told to keep an eye on when we were out playing in the backyard, or whose hand he had to hold onto when we walked to school. I was thrilled that all of a sudden I had become so important to him. I just didn't know, A.J. I was just too young to know or understand. My parents never talked about it...about touching. About what was okay and what wasn't. It's not like today when they even talked to the kids about it in Josh's kindergarten class this past year. I was so...unaware. And so little. I was just a little girl, and I just didn't know."
S&S S&S S&S S&S S&S
He alternated between seeing red flashing lights, and then complete blackness. He heard sirens, and then nothing. His eyes were assaulted by a fixed beam of light and he could hear voices, but none of them made any sense to him, and he found it was less painful to just float away than to try to do what those voices asked of him.
"Get his blood typed."
"Keep the oxygen on him. Let's make things as easy as we can for him right now."
"I want a full set of X-rays stat. I don't like the way this leg looks."
"Dr. Raj is on his way down from the third floor. Says he knows this guy. He's a patient of Raj's."
"Make sure someone is trying to find a family member. We're going to need some decisions made here as soon as possible. One of the cops at the scene said something about a brother. Is someone trying to get a hold of him?"
Even as Raj tried to keep A.J.'s attention by shining a light in his eyes and demanding loudly, "J.A.! J.A.!" the detective drifted off into oblivion, simply because it was too much effort for him to do otherwise.
The first thing A.J. Simon was aware of in over twenty hours was voices once again. He spent a period of time drifting in and out of a heavily sedated sleep, while trying to put faces to those voices and meaning to the words he heard. His eyelids were so heavy, and his brain so foggy, that no matter how hard he tried to be a part of the voices and their conversations, he repeatedly failed in his attempts. He was so weak, and in so much pain, that he finally decided being a part of what was occurring around him took more energy than he could spare.
Rick stood in his brother's hospital room talking to his mother, who had just arrived from San Francisco. Abigail Marsh was there as well. She was giving the Simons the latest information she had regarding the accident that had brought A.J. to the hospital.
Rick shook his head in both anger and deep, deep sorrow as he asked of no one in particular, "Why would he do that? Why would that bastard do that to his own child?"
"He didn't realize Josh was in the car, Rick,” Abby said. “He thought it was just A.J. and Melanie."
"As if that makes it all okay! As if that gives him the right to do what he did!" Rick shouted. "He killed Melanie and Josh! They almost lost my brother on the operating table - as it is he may never have full use of his right leg again, and I'm supposed to feel sorry for the guy because he didn't know Josh was in the car?"
"Rick, I didn't say that," Abby attempted to quietly pacify from where she stood next to Cecilia. "I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for him. He'll be punished to the full extent of the law."
"Oh yeah, right," Rick scoffed. "He'll be punished only until he hires himself a slick attorney who manages to paint a picture of a broken hearted husband and father, wronged by his ex-wife." Eyes flashing, Rick went on, "And then they'll get up in court and insinuate that my brother and Melanie had some hanky panky goin' on the side. Somehow they'll try to make it look like A.J. was in the wrong, that it was his fault, that--"
"Rick, stop it. That's enough," Cecilia admonished in an effort to hush her oldest, who was growing increasingly louder with each passing moment. "We don't need this entire hospital to know our business, and, your brother is sleeping."
Rick was too angry to be embarrassed by his mother's scolding, or the truth to her words. He turned away from the women in frustration. He didn't even notice Abby leave the room to consult with a police officer who had come to the door.
For the longest time Rick stood motionless at his brother's bedside staring down at the pale bruised face, the bandaged forehead, and black eye. His eyes traveled further down the IV line to A.J.'s bruised and swollen right arm, then over to the sprained left wrist that was resting gently on a pillow. Down farther was the right leg that was bare and sitting outside the blankets and sheet, also propped up on a pillow with the knee wrapped in many layers of gauze and bandages.
Rick reached out, lightly touching the warm skin of his brother's right forearm. Softly he said, "They thought for a little while that they might have to amputate his leg. The doctor told me I'd have to sign the papers allowing it to be done if necessary."
Cecilia approached her oldest, laying a hand on his back. "Honey, don't. Don't do this to yourself."
Still staring at A.J.'s pale face, Rick continued hoarsely, "I kept thinkin' to myself, ‘How will I ever tell A.J. that I let them do that?’ I knew I'd be the one who'd have to tell A.J. if it came to that. How the hell would I have ever told him that, Mom?"
"Rick, stop it. Please. Don't think about it anymore. They didn't have to take the leg so there's no use dwelling on it," was the only practical advice Cecilia could offer.
Rick shook his head with remorse as his eyes traveled back down to his brother's mangled leg. "Mom, they just don't know how much use that leg's ever gonna be to A.J. again. They told me that with a lot of hard work and therapy, it might come back one hundred percent, but they also told me he might walk with a limp for the rest of his life, or worse yet, with the aid of a cane. I keep picturing him playing tennis, boxing, running - and I just can't imagine him not being able to do those things anymore. I don't know how he'll handle it."
"Rick, look at me," Cecilia ordered firmly.
When Rick's eyes met his mother's she stated firmly, "A.J. will handle all of this only as well as we do. If you and I are optimistic about the outcome of these injuries, then he will be too. This may sound old fashioned to some, but I'm a firm believer that a positive outlook in life goes a long way in creating a positive outcome to the hard times. This is going to be one heck of a hard road for all of us to travel; I won't lie to you about that. Between the injuries, and the...deaths of Melanie and Josh, A.J.'s got a long, uphill climb ahead of him. We all do. But it's going to be left to you and me to help get him started on that road back."
Rick smiled and pulled his mother to him, hugging her tightly. "How do you always know the right things to say to make me feel better?"
Cecilia squeezed her lanky son's middle. "I've got forty seven years of practice under my belt."
Rick chuckled. "That you do, Mom. That you do."
The two parted. It was now Cecilia's turn to gaze down at A.J. "Does he know about the accident? About Melanie and Josh?"
Rick shook his head. "He really hasn't been awake since it happened. He drifts in and out now and then, but I don't think he even knows I'm here, let alone what happened."
Tears sprang to Cecilia's eyes. "I don't know what the news will do to him."
Rick nodded. "I know. I'm worried about that too. Raj said that until A.J. asks, we shouldn't say anything. A.J.'s surgeon agreed. When he does ask, I'll tell him, Mom. I don't want you to have to do that. I just hope it's a couple of days before it all comes back to him. He doesn't need that news on top of everything else right now. It's gonna be bad enough tellin' him about Melanie...but Josh..." Rick took a deep breath as he looked up at the ceiling and said past the lump in his throat and the sudden tears in his eyes, "A.J. really loved that little kid, Mom. He was...real attached to him. And Josh worshipped the ground A.J. walked on. These past couple of days before the...accident, Josh took to wearin' a tie to day care. When I'd tease him about it he'd tell me, ‘I want to look like A.J., Rick. I want to look good.’"
Cecilia smiled at that while wiping at her tears. "Josh was such a cute little boy. A real charmer, and so well behaved. Melanie was a very good mother. She and I had quite a few conversations about being single mothers, about the challenges she faced raising Josh alone. I kept assuring her she'd do fine, that she had been doing fine since the day Josh was born, and that she'd made the right decision by getting Jim out of her life. She had her head together. I had no doubts she and Josh would do great on their own. Now...they'll never get the chance."
Cecilia began to softly sob, "That poor little boy. I just can't understand how that man could have done such a thing. Why did he do it? I'm so afraid A.J. will be the one who pays the price for his actions."
Rick hugged his mother to his chest once more. "I'm afraid of that too, Mom," he admitted. "Believe me, that thought scares the hell out of me."
Cecilia and Rick broke apart as Abby entered the room once again. "I'm sorry Cecilia, but I have to go. If you need me, either of you, just call any time of the day or night."
"Thank you, Abby, for everything."
"I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. A.J.'s doctor said he should be more alert then. As much as I hate to do this, I'm going to have to get a statement from him."
"We understand," Cecilia acknowledged.
"Just check with one of us first, okay?" Rick requested. "That way we can let you know how much he remembers. You
"No, Rick, I won't say anything about Melanie and Josh. I'll leave it up to the two of you to decide when that should be done." Abby gathered up her purse and blazer from the back of the only chair in the room. "You two take care of each other. Both of you get some rest tonight."
Cecilia moved to hug her friend. "Bye, Abby."
"Bye. When A.J. wakes up please tell him I said hello and that I'm thinking of him."
"I will," Cecilia promised, breaking their embrace.
"Thanks, Abby, for...uh....everything you've done today. I know it...uh...went above and beyond the call of duty," Rick stammered uncomfortably, not used to expressing his gratitude to one of his most worthy opponents.
Abby gave the surprised Rick a hug too. "Hey, let's face it, I don't have the time to break in two more pain-in-the-butt private citizens who go around obstructing justice. I've got to take care of you and A.J. for just that reason."
Rick chuckled while returning Abby's hug. The lieutenant left then with the promise to call Cecilia in the morning to see how A.J.'s night was.
Later that evening, shortly before the end of visiting hours, Rick was sitting alone at A.J.'s bedside. He had talked his mother into going home an hour earlier. The long, frantic drive down from San Francisco, combined with the stress and grief of the present situation, was taking its toll on the older woman. Rick was finally able to convince Cecilia she'd be of more help to A.J. by getting a good night's sleep and arriving back at the hospital well rested the next day.
A nurse had just been in to check on A.J. Rick was pleased with her report that his brother's vital signs were strong and that things were continuing to look positive for the blond detective despite his injuries.
A soft chiming sound emitted from the P.A. system soon after the nurse left signaling the end of visiting hours. Rick was in the process of putting on his field jacket when A.J. began to mumble in his sleep and stir restlessly in the bed.
As he had done for the past few hours when this same action had occurred, Rick stood over his brother, lightly laying a hand on A.J.'s shoulder while waiting for him to settle down and slip back into a deeper sleep.
This time that didn't happen, however. A.J.'s eyes blinked several times before finally opening for good. The blond man gazed around the room in dazed bewilderment for a few moments, his eyes eventually focusing on the owner of the voice that was quietly calling his name.
A smiling Rick gave the shoulder his hand was resting on a squeeze. "It's about time you joined the real world again," he gently teased.
"Wha...what happen...happened?" A.J. mumbled while trying to access where the sharp pain he was feeling was coming from.
Vaguely, Rick answered, "You were in a car accident, A.J."
It took a moment for Rick's answer to register with A.J.'s foggy brain. "Whe...when?"
Confused, the blond mumbled, "Wha...what dayz...day is it?"
Rick had to lean closer and listen hard to understand the next slurred question. "What time...time is it?"
"A few minutes after nine p.m."
A.J. squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. "How did...how did it happen?"
I guess he's not just gonna drift back to sleep this time.
Rick sat down again in the chair he had pulled up to A.J.'s bed.
Being as truthful as he could be while still being vague, Rick answered, "You were on Sanora Road and a...a guy lost control of his truck and hit you. You went over the guard rail and ended up down in the ravine."
A.J. tried to think past the pain and recall the accident, but to no avail. He focused his eyes on Rick's face. "Why was...why was I way out there?"
Rick decided that at this time it was best not to mention Melanie and Josh, or the fact that A.J. had been taking them to see the apartment they were to move into over the upcoming weekend.
Rick had to look away from his brother's glassy eyed gaze.
"I don't know, A.J."
"But why would I--"
Rick squeezed A.J.'s shoulder once more. "A.J., right now it's not important. I need to let a nurse know that you're awake, and then you need to rest. We'll sort it all out together when you're feeling stronger."
Searing red-hot pain was beginning to overtake A.J.'s ability to think clearly and ask coherent questions. Without realizing it he mumbled, "Hurz, Rick. My...leg hurts."
"I know," came Rick's soft words of sympathy. "Your knee is pretty banged up, but everything's gonna be okay with time."
A.J. wanted to ask Rick exactly what he meant by, "Everything's gonna be okay with time," but the part of his brain that was registering the pain decided it was too much of an effort right at the moment.
Rick could tell by his brother's face that the pain A.J. was feeling was rapidly increasing. "A.J., I'm gonna get a nurse," the blond was informed as his older brother headed for the door.
Ten minutes later A.J.'s vitals had been checked once more, he'd been asked some questions, and then given a shot for the pain. Rick stood by A.J.'s bedside once again, waiting for the medication to take effect before leaving for the night. Just when Rick thought his brother had drifted off to sleep, A.J.'s eyes snapped open. The look of terrified panic on A.J.'s face was not lost on the older man.
"Melanie...Josh? What...what happened? They were...in the car. Rick, they were in the car!"
"Calm down, calm down now," Rick attempted to soothe, rubbing his brother's shoulder in a circular motion.
"Rick? Rick...tell me. Tell me!"
Shit. Why did he have to remember now? Why couldn't this have waited just a couple more days until he's stronger?
Rick's silence only served to increase A.J.'s panic. Despite the sedative he'd just been given, the blond struggled to sit up.
Rick quickly exerted firm pressure on both of A.J.'s shoulders. "Stop it! Stop it, A.J.! Stop it! You're gonna hurt yourself if you don't calm down."
Those words of wisdom had no more than left Rick's mouth when intense pain shot through the blond from his injured knee. He collapsed back against his pillows with a stifled cry.
"Damn it, A.J.! What'd I just get done tellin' you? Now calm down."
A.J. reached up with his right hand, firmly latching onto the lapel of Rick's field jacket. "Rick, tell me. Tell me please. What happened to Melanie and Josh?"
Rick Simon stood there, trying to recall a time in their shared lives when he had ever lied to his brother about something important. Yes, there had been lies about borrowed sweaters and tools, and lies about the amount of money spent on some gadget or another at Surplus Sammy's. But lies about the important things? Never.
Rick looked down at the pale, pain drawn face and drug glazed eyes. At that instant he made a decision that went against his grain.
Hopefully, if I'm really, really lucky, A.J. won't remember we had this conversation come morning, 'cause if he does, I'm sure gonna catch hell.
Squeezing the hand that still clung to his jacket, Rick soothed, "Everything's fine. Everything's okay."
Rick had no choice but to look away from his brother’s face.
"Thank God," A.J. whispered as his hand slipped from Rick's jacket and dropped back to the bed. Within a matter of seconds, the blond man was asleep.
Rick stood looking down at his brother for several long minutes afterwards. Right before he left the room to go home for the night he said softly, "I'm sorry, A.J. I'm so damn sorry. I hope you'll be able to understand why I had to do what I just did. I hope you'll be able to forgive me."
Rick had barely gotten off the elevator the next afternoon at the start of visiting hours when his progress toward his brother's room was halted by the floor's head nurse.
"I'd like to speak to you for a moment before you see your brother if I may, Mr. Simon."
The woman smiled. "Rick.
"Things are still okay, aren't they? The nurse I talked to on the phone this morning said A.J. rested fairly well last night."
"Yes, things are still okay. I'm sorry I scared you. And yes, according to his chart A.J. had a good night considering his injuries. The reason I stopped you, is because I wanted to let you know that A.J.'s been asking a lot of questions regarding the woman and little boy who were in the car with him. The nursing staff was briefed by Dr. Raj yesterday as to the situation, and told not to say anything until you had talked to your brother. I'm afraid that time has come."
"Thank you. I'll take care of it."
"I'll be close by if you need me," the woman offered.
"Thanks. In your opinion is he...is A.J. strong enough to handle the news right now?"
"These types of situations are never easy for anyone, but A.J.'s alert and asking coherent questions, so we're doing him a disservice by lying to him. The longer you wait the harder it's going to be on him...and on you. If you'd prefer to speak to Dr. Raj about it first, though, I'd be happy to see if I can locate him."
"No, that won't be necessary. You're right. If A.J.'s asking questions about Melanie and Josh then he deserves some honest answers."
"I'll check on the two of you in a little while then," the nurse promised before walking away.
Rick entered the room to find his brother lying with his eyes closed. He wondered if A.J was sleeping, but soon found out otherwise. The blond man's eyes opened and his head turned toward his older brother as Rick came to sit by his bedside.
"Hi," came the groggy greeting.
Rick smiled. "How ya' doin'?"
"Okay, I guess. I'm not going to be winning any dance contests for a while, but Raj says things will get better."
"They will," Rick confirmed. "Can I get you anything? Something to read, some juice, some--"
"No, nothing. How are Melanie and Josh today? Have you seen them?"
"Uh...uh no I--"
"When can I see them? You said they were okay."
"Yeah...uh...about that, A.J...I...uh need--"
Suspicious of the vague answers he'd been given all day, A.J. asked, "If they're okay, how come Melanie hasn't called here today? I thought she'd be with you this afternoon. It's kind of funny that she hasn't at least given me a phone call, don't you think?"
"Look, A.J., I uh...I need to talk to you here for a minute."
At the look of sorrow on Rick's face, and at the hesitation in his words, A.J.'s heart began to pound in his chest. "What? What's going on, Rick? They were hurt in the accident, weren't they? They were both hurt and no one wants to tell me. How bad is it? Can I see them? What about Josh? God, he's so little. Please, take me to see--"
Rick laid a calming hand on his brother's shoulder. "A.J....A.J., I can't take you to see them."
"Why? Is it serious? Are they in Intensive Care? How bad is it?"
Rick's eyes clearly reflected the pain that was in his heart. "It's...it’s bad, A.J. Melanie and Josh...”
"They didn't make it, kid. Melanie and Josh were both...gone before the paramedics got there."
A.J. shook his head in disbelief. "No...no...no!"
"It's true, A.J. I'm sorry. They were both hurt very badly. I'm-—“
"You lied to me! You lied! Why? Why did you lie to me, Rick?"
Rick looked away, biting his lower lip and shaking his head in sorrow and regret.
A.J.'s repeated demands of, "Why? Why dammit? Why the hell did you lie to me about something like that?,” finally brought Rick's attention back to his younger brother.
Looking down at the pale face, trembling hands that were clenched in fists, and stormy blue eyes, Rick apologized, "A.J., I'm sorry. I--"
"No, don't be sorry! Just tell me why you lied to me! Why did you let me think they were okay?"
Rick began to run a hand up and down A.J.'s forearm. "I'm sorry," was all he could say.
A.J. jerked his arm from Rick's touch. "Don't do that!"
Defeated, Rick sighed, "A.J., just listen to me for one minute. Please."
"Am I going to hear the truth this time?" came the scathing question.
"A.J....that's not fair and you know it."
"Well, welcome to real life, Rick. The place where things aren't always fair. Just ask old A.J. about that. He knows."
"A.J., stop it! Just stop it right now and listen to me!"
A.J. looked away from his brother and stared up at the ceiling, face set in anger.
"I told you I was sorry about lying to you and I am. I’m real sorry. But the doctors didn't want you to be told last night, and to tell you the truth Mom and I didn't either. After everything you'd been through you didn't need that kind of news right then. When you asked me about Melanie and Josh visiting hours were over. I couldn't stay. I'd already been here with you for twenty-four hours. Raj had left strict instructions with the nurses that I was to go home. There was no way I could have given you that kinda news and then walked outta here. Maybe you don't think I made the wisest decision, and maybe I didn't, but I made the one that I thought was best for you and your health. I just wanted to give you one night of restful sleep. I just wanted to give you...one more night."
Whether his words struck a chord with A.J., or whether the entire situation was just too painful for A.J. to remain angry, Rick didn't know. All he knew was that by the time he was done offering his explanation there were silent tears streaming down his brother's face. Tears for the loss of the woman he'd been hired to protect, and tears of sorrow for the little boy he had grown to love.
Rick reached over and encased his brother's right hand in a firm grip. A.J. squeezed the offered hand back as hard as he could before turning his head and facing the wall.
In a choked voice the blond said, "It's my fault. It's all my fault."
Rick had been fully expecting this self-incrimination. He squeezed the hand he held. "No, it's not, A.J. Don't say that. Don't even think it. The only person to blame for this is Jim Cason."
A.J.'s head turned on the pillow. "What? Cason? What do you mean?"
"Cason ran you off the road. He kept knockin' into the side of the Camaro until he sent you over the guard rail."
"But why? Why would he do that? Josh...Josh was in the car dammit! How could he do that to his son?"
"He didn't know, A.J.,” Rick said softly. “He didn't know Josh was in the car."
A.J. squeezed his eyes shut. "No...oh God no. He thought it was just me and Melanie, didn't he? He didn't know Josh was with us. No! It never would have happened if he had known Josh was with--"
"A.J., stop it. Stop it now," Rick ordered gently. "We don't know that for sure. We don't know what he was thinkin' or what he might have done. The guy's crazy."
A.J. opened his eyes, focusing with intensity on his brother's face. "But don't you see. He thought it was just Melanie and me. He wasn't after Josh. We should have left Josh with you. We could have. You offered to keep him at your place while I took Melanie to see the apartment. I should have insisted that Josh stay with you."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, A.J. Don't do this to yourself. You can't blame—“
"No. Cason was after Melanie because I was with her. I should have thought about that. She said he’d always been jealous. I should have known something like this would happen. I should have--"
"A.J., that's enough now. Stop it."
A.J. turned away from his brother once again. In a weak voice he told Rick, "I wasn't doing my job. If I'd only been watching. If I'd only been thinking, I'd have been more careful. I've done hundreds of jobs like this one. Why didn't I know? How could I have been so stupid? Why didn't I--"
Rick was growing more and more concerned over his brother's mental state with each passing second. "Stop this! Stop it right now! I don't want you sayin' this stuff or even thinking it. It's not true."
"Yes, it is," came the choked reply.
Rick looked up at the head nurse who was suddenly at A.J.'s bedside with a syringe in her hand. Whether A.J.'s shouts from earlier had brought her, or whether she'd been standing at the doorway listening, Rick didn't know. He was grateful for her presence, however. He nodded his agreement when she silently indicated that she was going to insert the needle into A.J.'s I.V. line. Without having to ask, Rick knew the syringe contained a sedative of some kind.
A.J. wasn't even aware that the woman had come and gone when he finally turned heavily lidded wet eyes back on his brother. His speech was slower this time, and the animation from earlier was gone.
"I was so damn careless. If only I'd been doing the job I'd been hired to do, this would have never happened."
Rick squeezed the hand still encased in his. "A.J., I want you to listen to me and listen to me good. None of this was your fault. Not any more than it was mine. You were right. We've done hundreds of jobs like this one in the past. Hundreds where nothing like this has ever happened. We couldn't have known, A.J. We couldn't have. The guy set out to kill Melanie. He saw his chance and he took it. He was waitin' for you to come around that curve. The Camaro didn't stand a chance against the truck he had. I want you to stop blaming yourself for this right now. It wasn't your fault."
"But why, Rick? Why Josh? Why did that little boy have to die?"
This is one time, kid, when big brother just doesn't have all the answers, Rick thought with sorrow.
"I just don't know, A.J."
Tears began to trickle down A.J.'s cheeks once again. "I really loved that little boy. He had his whole life ahead of him and now, because of me--"
"A.J., come on. Stop it. Stop it right now."
A.J. said no more, and after another moment of staring up into Rick's face in hope of finding the answers to life's cruelties, he closed his eyes.
Rick gave A.J.'s hand another squeeze. "Do you want me to stay a while?"
Without opening his eyes A.J. nodded his head yes.
"I'll be here when you wake up. Mom will be here by then, too. And uh...Abby's comin' by sometime this afternoon to get your statement."
A.J. never opened his eyes as he said, "I don't have anything to say to her."
"She just needs to know what you remember, A.J. What you saw."
"Obviously not enough. If I'd seen what I was supposed to, this never would have happened."
Because his eyes were still closed A.J. didn't see Rick shake his head in frustration. By the time Rick had formulated a reply to A.J.'s self-incriminating words, the blond half of Simon and Simon was asleep.
Despite the devastating news of the deaths of Melanie and Josh, A.J.'s physical condition continued to improve, although four days after the accident the multitude of cuts and bruises he had sustained were just beginning to stand out and turn glorious shades of black and blue. He was lying with the bed at a forty- five degree angle, asleep, when Cecilia arrived that afternoon for the start of visiting hours.
After getting an update out in the hallway from a nurse regarding her son's condition, Cecilia sat quietly in a chair by A.J.'s bedside, leafing through a magazine to pass the time. Every five minutes she'd glance over at her youngest, finally seeing two somber blue eyes staring back at her.
Cecilia smiled as she rose to kiss her son's cheek. "Hi, sweetheart. How long have you been awake?"
"A few minutes."
"Why didn't you say something?"
A.J.'s right shoulder lifted in a shrug. "No reason."
Cecilia discretely studied her son, taking note of his demeanor.
He seems more depressed today than he did yesterday. He's got to stop blaming himself for all this. Until he does, I'm afraid things are only going to get worse.
Cecilia gave her head a small shake of discouragement before reseating herself. She made cheery, one-sided conversation for a few minutes that quickly fell as flat as an open can of soda.
A.J. didn't even notice that his mother let her last sentence trail off unfinished. He simply lay back against his pillows, staring at the far wall.
Lost in her own worries over her son's mental state, Cecilia was startled when A.J. broke the silence.
For a brief second Cecilia considering lying to her son, but just as quickly decided nothing would be gained by it but more upset. "He's at the funeral, honey," she offered softly.
A.J. closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "It should have been me, not them."
Cecilia reached out and grasped her son's right hand, giving it a hard squeeze. "Don't say that, A.J. It wasn't your fault. You almost lost your life in that accident, too, you know."
"I wish I would have."
A.J.'s words scared his mother. "Andrew, stop this. Don't talk like that. Open your eyes and look at me."
When A.J. made no attempt to do what his mother ordered Cecilia gave his hand another hard squeeze. "Andrew Jackson Simon, I don't care if you are almost forty-two years old. I'm still your mother and you'll do as I say. Now open your eyes and look at me."
A.J. slowly shook his head back and forth on the pillow. "There's nothing you can say that will change things...that will change what happened. This is one time when you can't make things better, Mom. Just...just leave me alone...please."
Cecilia was so upset with A.J. right at the moment, yet so frustrated with him as well, that she was torn between bursting into tears, or grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking some sense into him.
With a great deal more control than she was feeling, Cecilia asked, "Is that what you want? For me to leave?"
There was just enough hesitation before A.J. answered to make his mother know he was internally warring with several parts of himself. Finally though, much to Cecilia's dismay, he said, "Yes. I want...I want to be alone."
Cecilia sat in her chair for a full minute longer, observing her son.
Do you keep your eyes closed, A.J., so that you can block your family out? So that you can pretend we're not here? Do you honestly think that's going to keep your brother and me away? If you do, you're in for a rude awakening, Andrew.
Finally, in response to A.J.'s request to be alone, his mother rose. "I'm going to take a walk around the hospital for a little while, maybe stop in the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee. Rick is going to meet me here at four o'clock. I'll be back then."
When A.J. failed to respond to her, Cecilia picked up her purse and headed for the door. She had only taken a few steps away from the bed before turning around.
"You can try your hardest to shut Rick and me out of all this, A.J., but it won't do you any good. We'll still be here for you...and with you, no matter how many days you choose to lie there stone faced. You'd better realize right now that you're not the only one who is hurting over the deaths of Melanie and Josh. We're all hurting. But no one blames you for any of this, son, except yourself. I hope that in time you'll come to understand that none of this was your fault. I hope in time you'll let your brother and me help you to understand that. Your family loves you, A.J., and we always will. No matter what the circumstances, we'll be here for you when you're ready to turn to us."
Without another glance at her son, Cecilia walked out the door. Because of her abrupt exit she didn't see the silent tears her words prompted that slipped out from underneath A.J.'s tightly closed eyes. The droplets trailed slowly down his cheeks, only to be stopped when they rolled off his face and were absorbed in the cotton of his hospital gown.
Rick Simon, still dressed in a black suit and tie, walked across the hospital parking lot headed toward the building's main entrance. His mind was a thousand miles away, replaying with great heartache the funeral he had just attended.
Rick stopped and squinted into the afternoon sunshine, trying to determine if he had heard someone calling his name.
"Rick! Over here!"
Rick walked across the neatly manicured lawn toward the large fountain and the woman who was sitting beside it hailing him.
"Hi, Mom," Rick greeted as he seated himself next to his mother on the wooden park bench, loosening his tie in the process. “What are you doin' out here? Is A.J. asleep?"
Cecilia stared down at the flower-lined sidewalk that led to the fountain, not answering her son immediately.
"Mom?" Rick prodded.
Cecilia looked up at her eldest, sighing heavily. "No, Rick, A.J.'s not sleeping. He...he asked me to leave."
"He asked me to leave. He said he wanted to be alone."
Shaking his head in frustration, Rick stared at the fountain in front of him. The water that was spouting out its various branches looked like small diamonds dancing in the afternoon sunshine. Unfortunately, neither Rick nor Cecilia could enjoy the beauty before them.
"So I take it his mood isn't any different today than it was when we left here at nine o'clock last night?" Rick asked darkly.
"No, it's not. If anything, I'd say it's worse. Only today it seems more like anger. Except A.J. isn't directing that anger at the right person...James Cason. He's directing it at himself."
"I have to admit that doesn't really surprise me," Rick acknowledged. "But I was sure hopin' it wouldn't go this far."
"I know. I was too, Rick. I was too. The head nurse told me that A.J. didn't rest well at all after we left last night, even with the sedative they gave him at the end of visiting hours. She said he slept from about nine-thirty to eleven, but then was awake on and off for the rest of the night. And, much like he is with us, he's very distant with the nursing staff, not responding to them when they ask him questions or when they make requests of him."
Rick started to rise, his mouth set in a grim line. "I'll go talk to him."
Cecilia reached up and shagged her son by the arm, urging him to reseat himself. "Rick, don't. Not right now. Just give him some time."
Rick sat back down. "Mom, don't you think we've given him enough time?"
"You only told him two days ago, Rick. He has the right to grieve."
"Grieve, yes. But not to shut us, and everyone else, out. Not to lay there blamin' himself for something that isn't his fault."
"I've been thinking a lot about all of this while I've been sitting here. Maybe A.J. just needs that distance right now. Because I understand A.J., I understand why he blames himself, even if I don't agree with it. Maybe he just needs some time to come to terms with all of this."
Rick gave his mother a small, knowing smile. "Do you really believe that?"
Cecilia smiled back, realizing she'd been caught. "No, but it's sounds good in theory...and it makes me feel better."
Rick put an arm around his mother's shoulders. "There's nothin' wrong with tryin' to make yourself feel better. Or trying to make me feel better for that matter."
Cecilia smiled against her son's chest before pulling away.
"How was the funeral?"
"Painful...for everyone. I was glad when it was over."
"Did anyone give you a hard time? For being there I mean?" Cecilia asked, realizing that some of the family members might blame Simon and Simon for the events that had occurred.
"Melanie's brother got a little mouthy when I introduced myself to him and his mother, but it was nothing I couldn't handle."
Rick chuckled. "No, Mom, I didn't deck the guy. Although I was tempted to, let me tell you. Especially when he said..." Rick stopped there, deciding it was best not to finish that thought.
His mother wasn't about to let him off that easily, however. "Said what?"
Rick hesitated a moment before confessing, "Said that it should have been A.J. that was killed, not Mel and Josh. Said that he had heard A.J.'s leg was really banged up and that he hopes A.J. will never walk again. That he hopes A.J. ends up a worthless cripple. I woulda' hauled off and hit the guy right about then if it hadn't been that Melanie's mother stepped in and shut him up. At least she was gracious enough to thank me for being there and to ask how A.J. was doing. She also thanked me for the flowers you sent on behalf of the three of us."
"That was kind of her. I mailed a sympathy card to her today and enclosed a letter of condolence. I'm sure the poor woman is going through a lot right now."
"Yeah, I'm sure she is too, Mom."
Changing the subject, Cecilia informed Rick, "A.J.'s refusing to do the range of motion exercises for his knee the nurses were to start with him today. And he's already told his surgeon that he has no intention of going to the physical therapy session that's been scheduled for next week."
Rick's face set with anger at this latest news of his mother's. "He'll go if I personally have to carry his sorry little butt down there and exercise that knee myself. What the hell is his problem, Mom?"
"Don't you know?"
"No, I don't. If I knew I'd be able to sleep at night."
"He's punishing himself, honey. Right now A.J. truly believes that he should have been the one to die in that car accident. Because he didn't, he's punishing himself in the only way he knows how, whether he realizes it or not."
"At the expense of making himself permanently crippled."
Cecilia nodded. "I talked to his doctor for a moment as I was leaving the floor this afternoon. Doctor Samuelson feels, as well, that by refusing the help of others, and refusing to help himself, A.J. is punishing himself for the accident. He also believes that depression over all that's happened plays a significant part in A.J.'s refusal. He suspects that A.J.'s so depressed right now, that whether or not he'll ever be able to walk normally again, really doesn't matter to him."
"So what do we do about it?"
"The doctor suggested we let it go a few days, let A.J. try to sort things out on his own. He said that many times when a person's been through all that A.J. has they'll start to snap out of their depressed state as they begin to feel better. He reminded me that even though A.J. isn't letting on, he's still in a lot of pain. And, if nothing else, Dr. Samuelson will refuse to release A.J. until he's attended a certain number of physical therapy sessions. He says he'll tell A.J. that the insurance company will refuse to pay the hospital bill if he doesn't follow the prescribed treatment for his injuries."
"Sounds like this guy plays dirty,” Rick smiled. “A man after my own heart."
"I don't care if he plays dirty or not, I just want your brother to give himself every chance to be one hundred percent whole again."
Again, Rick hugged his mother. "I know, Mom. I know. I do too."
When they broke apart this time Rick announced, "Oh, hey, I do have a small bit of good news."
"Abby called right before I left for the funeral this afternoon. Cason entered a plea of guilty at his appearance before the judge today."
“He did? Really?"
"Yeah, I was shocked at the news myself. According to Abby the guy's so broken up over having killed Josh that he hasn't even hired a lawyer to defend him. In the statement he gave to the police he basically said his desire was to kill Melanie and A.J. With Melanie out of the way, he planned on getting custody of Josh. Without Josh...well, I guess he doesn't care anymore."
"How sad," Cecilia commented softly. "I suppose I should feel sorry for the man. He's obviously got emotional and mental problems. I just wish it hadn't come to all of this."
"At least with him entering a plea of guilty there won’t be a jury trial. A.J. will probably have to make a statement to the judge as to what he remembers happening the night of the accident and possibly give background information as to why Melanie hired us, which I can do, and that should be about it."
"That's what I say too, Mom. It was hard enough for him to get through the statement he had to give to Abby the other day. The last thing he needs concerning all of this is to be raked over the coals by some two-bit defense attorney."
"That reminds me, I've been meaning to ask you what A.J. told Abby."
"Not much. He doesn't remember a whole lot about the accident. He remembered the white truck coming up from behind him at a high rate of speed, and remembers it pulling out around the Camaro as if the guy was going to pass him. He remembers the truck ramming into the side of the car a few times, and the car bouncin' off the guard rail, but that's about it. He doesn't remember the car going over the side, or down the ravine, nor anything that happened until he woke up here a day later."
"So he had no idea it was Melanie's ex-husband in the truck?"
and A.J. doesn't think Melanie did either.
Abby said Cason bought the truck brand new the day before this
happened. How A.J. survived all of this
is beyond me, Mom. The truck was a
three quarter ton Ford with dual wheels. The thing had to be four times as big
as the Camaro."
"He did enough damage as it was," Cecilia said softly.
"More than enough," Rick agreed before reaching down and giving his mother's hand a squeeze. "Well, should we go see what A.J.'s up to?"
"Probably still staring at the wall."
Rick smiled and gave his mother a wink as he rose, pulling her to her feet in the process. "Well, then we'll just stare at the wall with him until we drive him completely nuts. I can guarantee you that will get some kind of a reaction outta my brother."
Cecilia chuckled. "I'm sure it will, Rick. And honestly, right now I'll accept any reaction we get from A.J., as long as it's more than disinterested shrugs and a few mumbled words."
Rick put an arm around his mother's shoulders and led her to the hospital's entrance. "Let's go to work on that this very minute then, Mrs. Simon."