Saturday, February 27th, 1993
This was the first time in all her sixty-seven years, that Cecilia Simon could recall having sunk to a sofa cushion in shock caused by the news someone relayed to her over the telephone.
Cecilia had been in contact with Rick every evening since he'd been in San Francisco. As the week wore on she could hear the utter dejection in his tone when, night after night, he was forced to tell her they had no leads. That neither he, nor Town, nor Elizabeth, had run across anyone who had seen or heard of A.J. Not that Cecilia was anticipating they would. She had already prepared herself for this final heartache. The final heartache that would come when Rick returned home from San Francisco without his brother, and without anywhere else to look.
About the time the phone rang that Saturday evening was about the time Cecilia had been expecting to see Rick’s truck pull in her driveway. When she talked to Rick on Friday night he told her he had decided to come home with Town on Saturday morning, as opposed to staying on an extra week as he had thought earlier he might. She could hear the choked tears in his voice when he said over the phone line, "I'm so sorry, Mom. I just don't know what more I can do."
Cecilia began to cry as well, though not for A.J. This time her tears were for Rick, and his overwhelming pain and sorrow.
Cecilia had longed to take her eldest in her arms, but had to make do with comforting him via long-distance. "Oh, sweetheart, don't apologize to me. You've done everything you possibly can to try and find A.J. I know that, honey. I know that."
Now Cecilia ran for the phone and picked it up on the third ring. "Hello?"
where are you? I thought you'd be home
right about now. I've got supper
waiting in the oven."
"Well, I guess it's gonna have to wait a little longer."
Cecilia thought she could detect a small hint of glee to her son's tone. "What do you mean?"
There was a significant pause, as though Rick didn't quite know how to break the news to his mother.
"Mom...Mom, we found A.J."
That's when Cecilia's knees wobbled back and forth like gelatin right before they gave away completely. The woman slumped to the couch. A trembling hand came up to cover her mouth. The only sounds she managed to get out were repeated, gasping sobs.
"Mom? Mom, are you okay?"
"Yes...yes," came Cecilia's shaky reply. "Just...just...just give me a minute."
"Sure, Mom," Rick intoned with soft sympathy. "Take all the time you need."
When Cecilia was able to speak her words tumbled out like rushing water tumbling over falls. "Where did you...how did you...when did you...is he all right?"
Rick had known that would be one of the first questions his mother asked, and yet he still wasn't sure how to answer it. "He's...all right in terms of his physical health. At least as far as I can tell. His state of mind...well, it's pretty much like you and I discussed it might be before I came up here."
"He doesn't know who he is? He doesn't know you?"
wouldn't say that exact...I guess I don't really know."
"Mom, it's a heck of a long story. A lot longer than I can relate over the phone. I'll tell you everything tomorrow evening. We're still at the same motel we've been stayin' at all week. Town and I wanna get an early start tomorrow morning, so A.J. and I should be to your place somewhere around four o'clock."
Despite the fact that there was so much more Cecilia needed to know, she agreed, "All right. I'll have supper warming in the oven."
"That's fine. And listen, go over to A.J.'s house and get some clothes for him. Everything from underwear, to socks, to jeans, to shirts, to his pajama bottoms, bathrobe, shoes, and a jacket. And maybe his razor and toothbrush, things like that as well. Anything that might be familiar to him would be good I think. And you'd better make an appointment for A.J. to see Joel as soon as possible."
a good idea, but why as soon as possible?
I thought you said he was all right."
"As far as I know he is. But I don't think we want to delay in getting’ Joel's opinion regarding a variety of areas. We're gonna need his help in determining how we go...forward."
"How we go forward?"
"A.J.'s not himself, Mom. Far from it. He's gonna need some kinda professional help."
For the time being Cecilia swallowed her many questions and worries. "I'll mention that to Joel as well."
"Good. Oh, and call Abby, please. Let her know what's goin' on. But don't tell anyone else until after I get A.J. home. Not even the relatives. The last thing we need is for a buncha people to be waiting in your driveway for us. That'll be more than A.J. can handle right now, especially if word is leaked to the press."
"Okay," Cecilia agreed. "Maybe Abby can take care of that end of things for us. If she's agreeable, we can request that all inquires from the media go through her."
"Good idea. If nothing else it's worth a shot. That won't keep 'em from camping out on your block once the news is out, but it may limit their numbers somewhat."
"Rick...I'd like to talk to A.J. for a minute, please."
"Uh...look, Mom, I'm callin' from Town's room. A.J.'s next door in our room with him."
"That's okay. I'll wait. Just put the phone down and go get him."
"Mom...Mom, A.J. doesn't wanna talk to you right now."
Rick could hear the bruising hurt in his mother's voice.
"Oh. Did you ask him if he did?"
"Yeah," Rick reluctantly confessed. "Right before I came over here to make this call. But, Mom, don't let that upset you. He's just...he's confused right now. Confused and frightened. It'll be easier for him tomorrow when he gets to see you."
Cecilia didn't sound like she believed her oldest, but didn't argue with him further. "Okay, if you're certain."
Mom, I'm not certain of anything right now.
"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, Mom. Bye."
Rick. I love you. And tell...tell A.J. I love him too."
Rick disconnected the call then dialed one more number. He got his cousin Elizabeth's answering machine. He left a brief message that told her A.J. had been found, and that he was okay. For the same reason he'd made the request of Cecilia, Rick also asked Elizabeth not to tell any other relatives about A.J. at this time, not even her own family. He ended the one-sided conversation by thanking her for her help, and promising he or his mother would call early in the week to fill her in on the details.
Rick placed the handset back in the phone's cradle and locked Town's room as he exited. He had to dodge intermittent raindrops on his way to the motel's office. He walked out carrying two newspapers, one for himself and A.J., and one for Town. In his other hand he carried a bag filled with three different kinds of chips, six cold sodas, a handful of candy bars, and a paperback book he'd bought on impulse for his brother.
Rick juggled his baggage while fishing around in the pocket of his jeans for his room key. He stopped himself from kicking the door shut, to instead close it quietly, when he caught sight of his sleeping brother. A.J. was lying half on his stomach, half on his right side, on top of his bedspread. His head rested on one pillow, the second one was perpendicular to his body and he was hugging it loosely to his chest.
Town was seated in the same chair he had been when Rick left the room thirty minutes earlier. He had a basketball game on the television with the sound barely audible.
Rick sat his load on the table and spoke in a hushed tone. "When did A.J. conk out?"
"About ten minutes ago."
glanced over his shoulder as he unpacked the bag. "Did he say anything to you?"
Town shook his head. "If I asked him a question he answered me with as few words as possible like he's been doing all afternoon. Otherwise, he didn't say anything. I thought he might ask me about Agilar. About whether or not he was in jail, things like that. But he didn't bring it up, so I decided the subject was best left alone for tonight."
Rick left two sodas, a bag of chips, and two candy bars in the brown paper sack. "Here's some stuff for you. Oh, and a newspaper, too."
"Thanks. But you didn't have to get me anything."
shrugged. "We ate kinda
early. I figure this stuff will ward
off the hunger pains until morning."
Town chuckled. "Temple's gonna put me on a diet when I get home. I think I've gained ten pounds on this trip."
Although Rick was ready to be alone in the room with his brother, he didn't want to be rude to the friend who had done so much for him. "You wanna stay and watch the game with me?"
As if sensing Rick's need, Town replied, "No thanks. I've gotta call Temple. She'll be wondering where I'm at."
Mom was wondering the same thing."
she take the news?"
was elated, of course, but pretty shocked as well. I didn't tell her too much about how we found him or
anything. I figured it would be easier
to go over it with her in person."
"I'm sure you're right. Unfortunately, that news-reporter-wife-of-mine won't let me off the hook that easy. If I know Temple she'll have a hundred questions for me, and think of a hundred more before I get the first hundred answered. I'll probably be on the phone for the next hour." Town glanced over at A.J. "Then I think I'm going to follow your brother's lead and get some sleep. This has been one long, rough week."
"Don't I know it, Towner. Don't I know it."
handed Town his room key. The black man
picked up the bag and his paper.
"I'll meet you guys at the Jeep at seven tomorrow morning. We can eat breakfast across the street then
fine. See you in the morning,
indicated to A.J. with a nod of his head.
"If you need me for any reason tonight, no matter what time it is,
call me. Or bang on the wall a few
times. I'll hear you."
Rick opened the door for the black man. "Thanks. I'll do that. Hopefully it won't be necessary."
Rick locked the door after Town and slid the chain lock in place as well. He quietly opened the dresser drawers until he came across a blanket. He prayed he wouldn't disturb A.J. as he laid it over him. His prayers didn't go unanswered. A.J. didn't so much as shift in his sleep.
I suppose after sleepin' in a noisy cold alley for five months, nothin' much is gonna bother him now.
Rick ran a light hand over his brother's damp hair and down one bare shoulder.
It's gonna be okay, A.J. I promise, given enough time, everything's gonna work out.
Rick would have liked to perch on the bed next to his brother for a few minutes and simply offer both of them what little comfort he could. He was afraid, however, that movement would indeed wake A.J. The detective didn't want to force his brother out of what little peace he had managed to find after this long and disturbing day.
The eldest Simon muted his movements as he moved about the room and small bathroom. Ten minutes later he pulled off his boots, then stripped away his shirt and jeans, leaving him clad in just his boxer shorts and a kahki T-shirt. Rick turned the TV so it faced only him and kept the sound at the same low level Town had it set on. He walked over to the table and picked up a soda and the newspaper. He flicked off the lamp that rested on the table. He replaced it with the soft glow of the lamp that was on the stand in-between the beds, while at the same time hoping its dim light wouldn't disturb A.J. It didn't. Once again, A.J. went on sleeping deeply and peacefully.
Rick threw back his bedspread and covers, and plumped his pillows. He leaned back against them and opened the paper.
When Rick had read the paper front to back he carefully folded it and laid it on the nightstand. If A.J. woke up later on he might want to read it as well. The detective channel surfed a while before settling on a movie. He caught himself dozing off about nine-thirty and fumbled for the remote control. He aimed it at the TV and clicked, causing the screen to go black. Rick hiked himself up on one elbow to see that his brother was still asleep and covered, though A.J. had rolled onto his back. Rick reached up and shut the light off. His jumbled thoughts and concerns kept him awake another fifteen minutes. He finally forced himself to relax and slowly drifted off to sleep.
A brilliant flash of lightening and loud crash of thunder woke Rick several hours later. Outside, rain was falling fast and heavy. The detective lifted his left wrist and pushed a dial on his watch that caused the face to glow green. It was seventeen minutes after one. He rose on an elbow and clicked on the bedside lamp. He looked over at A.J.'s bed, only to find it empty.
Rick flung his covers back and catapulted off his mattress. "A.J.!" He ran for the bathroom and slammed on its light. "A.J.!" Rick jerked the shower curtain aside, though wasn't surprised to find the tub empty. He hardly thought A.J. would be taking a bath in the dark at one o'clock in the morning.
Rick fled back to the main room. "A.J.!" He dropped to his knees and looked under A.J.'s bed, then crawled over and did the same to his own. Having exhausted all possibilities, Rick raised his fist to pound it on the wall in an effort to rouse Town. Just as Rick's hand was about to connect with the plaster he heard a strangled whimper. His head whipped to his left.
In a far corner of the room a few yards from Rick's bed A.J. sat on the floor. His body was huddled into a tight protective ball, his arms wrapped around his head. He had pulled a chair in front of him, giving Rick the impression he was trying to hide.
Rick slowly rounded his bed. He came to within five feet of A.J., then stopped to study him. At first, Rick thought his brother was in the throes of some kind of sleepwalking nightmare. But as he watched him, as he watched A.J. move, and react, and cry out as though someone was hitting him, Rick came to the devastating realization that his brother was suffering a flashback.
Rick crouched down so he was at A.J.'s level, but didn't move any closer. "A.J.!" he called over the powerful rumble of the thunder. "A.J., it's me, Rick. A.J., it's okay. You're here in a motel room with me, remember? No one's going to hurt you. It's just you and me, A.J. Just you and me."
Had it not been for storm raging outside Rick had no doubt A.J.'s shouts would have woken a good portion of the motel's guests.
"No! No! Stop! I won't say anything! I already told you I won't say anything!"
"It's all right, A.J. It's all right. No one's going to hurt you."
A.J.'s left arm flew out as though he was trying to sweep someone away from him. In his current state he didn't feel its repeated solid connection with the wooden leg of the chair. "No! No! Get away from me!"
wasn't sure how long they went on in that vein, A.J. shouting with wild fright
while Rick countered the shouts with soft words of reassurance. It seemed like hours to the elder Simon, but
in truth ten minutes passed from the time Rick knelt down in front of his
brother, to the time his words started to penetrate A.J.'s mind.
A.J.'s cries began to subside, and his head painstakingly emerged from his right arm like a frightened turtle emerging from its shell. He looked over at Rick with a blank stare.
held out a hand, but again, didn't advance on his terrified sibling. "It's okay, Andy. It's okay.
See, it's just me. I'm not going
to hurt you."
Rick began to see slow recognition dawn in A.J.'s eyes, as though a play's curtain was coming down at the end of one act, only to be lifted again to start another. Rick scooted forward on his knees and wrapped his hands around the front legs of the chair. Just as swiftly, A.J. grabbed the back legs and yanked the chair toward himself.
Rick let his hands drop. "Okay. Okay," he crooned. "If you don't want me to take the chair away I won't. But you're all right now, Andy. There's no reason for you to hide. There's no one for you to hide from. I'm the only one here, and I'm not gonna hurt you."
A.J. clung to the wooden legs of the chair until his knuckles turned white. Rick sat down on the floor across from A.J. and continued to talk to him in soft gentle tones, until he could see his brother's grip begin to loosen. Being careful not to advance too quickly, Rick scooted forward once more. When A.J. didn't show any signs of backing away from him, Rick allowed his movement to progress until he came to rest against the wall within an arm's length of his brother.
Rick sat down on the floor once again and let the wall support his back. He studied A.J. a moment, then slowly offered his right hand, palm up. A.J. stared at the hand as if he didn't understand why Rick would make such a gesture. Several seconds of painful indecision passed. With great hesitancy, A.J. finally raised his left arm. His hand inched forward, then stopped, then inched forward again. Rick held his own hand steady in willing offering.
Rick finally felt the light touch of A.J.'s fingertips against his. A.J. stopped his motion there, as though having to reacquaint himself with a hand he knew so well. Although his outstretched arm was already beginning to tire, Rick didn't move. His eyes held his brother's, as A.J. seemed to try and gauge what was in store if he extended his trust further.
"It's okay, A.J.," Rick reassured. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm only here to help you."
A.J. studied his brother's face. What memories that open scrutiny brought forth Rick didn't know, but they must have been comforting ones, for A.J.'s fingers slowly slid over Rick's until his palm finally came to lay within his older brother's.
Rick made sure the grip he encased A.J.'s hand within was gentle and without threat or undue constriction. A.J.'s face fell to hide against his right arm, which was resting on his upraised knee.
you okay now, A.J.?"
A.J. nodded his head.
"Do you know what just happened to you?"
A.J. turned his head so that he could make eye contact with his brother. "No."
"You had a flashback. Have you ever had one before?"
That answer didn't surprise Rick. For a good number of months, A.J. had been able to block out who he was and what had happened to him in regards to the many tortures Agilar had inflicted upon him. Rick's sudden appearance forced A.J.'s mind to acknowledge what he had so long been holding at bay. Rick knew from personal experience his brother was going to pay a painful price for all that had been locked away and denied.
For the time being all Rick could do was offer his sympathy. "They're pretty scary things, aren't they?"
A.J. rubbed his face against his arm in an effort to wipe away the beads of perspiration. "I'll say."
Despite the gravity of the situation, Rick couldn't help but smile a little. Those two words, "I'll say", had been spoken with a tinge of the humorous sarcasm that was so much a part of A.J.
Rick gave his brother's hand a light squeeze. "Whatta ya' say we get you out of that corner and back to bed?"
Rick pulled the chair away. Still holding onto A.J.'s hand, Rick inched his body up the wall, leaving his brother no choice but to come with him.
When A.J.'s full weight bore down on his legs they buckled like an accordion. Rick's free hand flew out and snared A.J. underneath his right armpit.
"Gettin' too old to sit on the ground that long, huh, A.J.?" Rick teased lightly.
"Yeah," came the raspy acknowledgment. "I guess so."
Rick didn't like A.J.'s pasty complexion, sweat soaked hair, the glassy brightness of his eyes, or his erratic breaths.
Damn. He looks like he's goin' into shock.
Rick disengaged his hand from A.J.'s, to instead use it to grip the blond's upper arm. "Come on. Let's get you back to bed."
A.J. allowed his brother to lead him across the room. Rick hastily threw the blanket aside that had been covering A.J. and turned the bed covers down. He picked a discarded pillow up off the floor and piled it on top of the one that was still resting on the bed.
on. Climb in."
With disconcerting and uncharacteristic capitulation, A.J. did as he was told. He turned on his side and brought his knees up in the fetal position. Rick tucked the covers around the blond’s shoulders before heading to the bathroom with a firm promise of, "I'll be right back."
The detective let the water run in the sink until it was lukewarm. He thrust the empty plastic ice bucket that bore the motel's logo underneath the faucet and allowed the water to fill it three quarters full before setting it aside.
Rick unwrapped one of the matching plastic cups left by the maid. He turned off the hot water and only let cold run this time. He held the cup underneath the faucet until it was full. He grabbed a towel and washcloth off the rack, picked up everything else, and headed back to the main room.
Rick sat his paraphernalia on the nightstand. A.J. watched him with wary eyes as though what little trust had been gained could easily be eradicated with one wrong move. Rather than sit on the edge of A.J.'s mattress, Rick walked over to retrieve a chair. There was just enough room for him to place it between the two beds.
Rick sat and picked up the glass of water. He reached down and cupped a gentle hand underneath his brother's head. "Here, take a drink." Mindful of what had happened to A.J. at the hands of Eduardo Agilar he added, "It's just water."
A.J. lifted himself up on one elbow and took a hold of the cup. He drained it dry of the cold liquid before handing it back to Rick.
"Do you want more? We have soda, too. It's probably pretty warm by now, but I could go get some ice. There's a machine just a few doors down."
Despite their physical closeness, Rick had to strain to hear his brother's words. "No. I've had enough."
"Okay, but if you change your mind just tell me."
A.J. nodded as he lay back down. His eyes tracked Rick's movements as the oldest Simon dipped the washcloth in the ice bucket. He wrung the excess water out of the rag, then ran it over his brother's warm face. He repeated this comforting action for several minutes until A.J. finally allowed his eyes to drift close. He opened them again when he felt the covers being pulled down to his waist, but didn't protest when the cool cloth was wiped over his sweat soaked chest and shoulders as best it could be considering the position he was lying in.
Again, A.J.'s eyes tracked Rick's movements as the elder Simon headed to the bathroom once more. This time he filled the ice bucket with cold water. When he returned to A.J.'s side he doused the washcloth in the frigid liquid before wringing it out.
"Let me see your left arm," Rick instructed.
A.J. brought his knees down and shifted position so that the inside of his left arm was visible to Rick. As Rick had suspected it would be, the fair skin of A.J.'s inner arm was already a mass of discolored bruises. He loosely wrapped the cold washcloth around the angry splotches.
"You were hitting your arm against the leg of the chair," Rick explained. "I'll hold this on here a few minutes. If nothing else it should help keep any swelling down."
A.J.'s right shoulder lifted in a small shrug. "It doesn't matter. No one's cared before when I've been bruised up except Malachi and Dominique."
"A.J., that's not true," Rick stated in mild reproach. "Regardless of whether we were with you or not, Mom and I have always cared. So therefore, yeah, it does matter to me when you bruise your arm like this. You got that?"
The blond man studied his brother's face a long moment before finally giving a small nod in answer to Rick's question.
A.J. kept an ever-watchful eye on his older brother as Rick went about his various ministrations. Without consciously thinking about it first, Rick began to quietly talk of things that had happened in the year A.J. had been missing. He steered away from the subject of Agilar and anything pertaining to the man, but rather told about trivial occurrences within the family, or among friends, or happenings at the Simon and Simon office. It was as Rick was turning to dampen his cloth once more that he noticed A.J. was asleep.
Rick picked up the towel he'd brought along and ran it over his brother's damp torso. He pulled the covers back up to A.J.'s shoulders.
The detective reached out to brush sweat-dampened hair away from A.J.'s face. "Oh, A.J.," he whispered. "I'm so damn sorry about all that bastard put you through."
A.J.'s blue eyes opened, his alertness catching Rick by surprise.
"Don't pity me. I don't want your pity, or anyone else's for that matter."
"I'm not pitying you. I'm just...I just hurt for you."
turned his face so he was looking up at the ceiling. In so doing he broke eye contact with his brother. "Well don't. It doesn't do either one of us any good. Maybe it was...maybe it was better when I
was Jack. Maybe we would have both been
better off if you hadn't found me."
A.J.'s eyes flicked to Rick. "Is he...is he...is he in prison?"
A.J. nodded his head.
yes and no. He's in jail right now.
There hasn't been a trial yet or anything, but I'm sure it's only a matter of
time before he'll be sent away for good.
Maybe even tried for murder."
looked at his brother. "For
"Carson Baily is dead. The cops think Agilar killed him. They're gathering evidence in that regard right now."
A.J. said as he turned away once more.
"Because if I'd have gotten the chance, I'd have killed the bastard
So would have I, little brother. So would have I.
A.J. closed his eyes, signaling an end to the discussion. Rick sat by his side for a long time thereafter, listening to the rain pelt the window while lost in deep and troubled thought.
Saturday, February 27th, 1993
The weeks ahead were not unlike a wild ride on an emotional roller coaster. Rick Simon felt like he chugged up more hills, plunged down more stomach-in-your-throat drops, and careened around more hairpin turns than he ever could have on any amusement park ride.
The phone rang with Rick's six a.m. wake up call that first morning after they'd found A.J. Rick snatched it up on the first ring with the hope it wouldn't wake his brother, but to no avail. As he thanked the desk clerk for the call, Rick was looking across the small space that bridged the beds into A.J.'s open eyes.
Rick hung up the phone and kicked his covers off. "How long have you been awake?"
Rick got in return was a small shrug and a noncommittal, "A little while."
Rick had his doubts A.J. had ever really fallen back to sleep that night. Rick had sat by his brother's side for a half an hour before returning to his own bed, where he laid awake another thirty minutes.
"You can lay there and doze awhile longer if you want to." Rick pushed himself into a sitting position. "I'll get done in the bathroom first then turn it over to you. We're supposed to meet Town by his Jeep at seven."
A.J. nodded his understanding.
"Yesterday's paper is layin' up here on the nightstand if you want it. Or I bought you a book. It's over on the table."
A.J.,'s "Thanks," was devoid of feeling.
you want me to get either one of them for you?"
"Not right now."
He looks so wrung out.
Rick smiled and patted a foot underneath A.J.'s covers as he passed by.
Like Rick had promised Town would be the case, he and A.J. were waiting at the Jeep at the designated time. After Rick was done in the shower A.J. had brushed his teeth, shaved, and combed his hair. He then exchanged his jeans for the loose fitting pair of blue cotton work trousers he'd gotten the first day he met Dominique. The red polo shirt he'd been wearing the day before had been neatly folded and carefully stowed with the jeans in his backpack. He wore a blue striped short-sleeved oxford shirt in its place.
The rain had stopped during the night. Even at this early hour the sun was already promising a day of mild weather and pleasant temperatures.
Much like the previous day, A.J. was unnerved upon entering the restaurant. His agitation was magnified by the fact that the eating establishment was already awash with the noise and confusion of the breakfast crowd. Rick requested a secluded booth again as far from most of the people as possible. A.J. still wouldn't talk to the waitress, but at least today he gave Rick his order prior to her arrival.
The restaurant personnel were used to waiting on workmen needing to start their day, and vacationers eager to start theirs. Amidst the clatter of silverware and plates, cooks shouting to one another in the kitchen, and the buzz of patrons' voices, the morning meals were served in well-organized harmony. It was ten minutes to eight when the three men piled back into Town's Jeep and headed south.
Town had taken immediate note of how tired A.J. looked. He didn't question either brother as to the weariness he saw in the blond's eyes, but as they climbed in the Jeep after breakfast he tossed over his shoulder, "There's a pillow and blanket in the cargo hold behind you, A.J. Feel free to use them if you want."
For just that reason Rick joined Town in the front of the Jeep. He thought A.J. might stretch out and lie down if he wasn't sharing the back seat with him. Plus, Rick didn't think A.J. would try to jump out of a vehicle going seventy miles an hour down a four lane interstate highway.
Rick's thoughts were correct. Within a half an hour into their trip home, A.J. was sound asleep with his head resting on Town's offered pillow. His right hand was wrapped loosely around a strap of the backpack that sat on the floor beside him, as though even in sleep he felt the need to protect his meager possessions.
Town glanced in the rearview mirror at the slumbering blond man. He looked over at Rick. The noise created by vehicles flying by them on the left and right prevented his words from carrying to the back of the Jeep.
night last night?"
"You could say that."
had a hell of a flashback around one o'clock."
"What brought that on?"
"Who knows? Coulda' been the thunder, coulda' been the lightning, hell, it coulda' been the way the bathroom soap smelled or the color of the carpeting. With those damn things, Town, almost anything can bring them on. I'm just damn lucky he didn't get out of the room on me. I woke up to find him huddled in a corner hiding behind a chair. It took me a good twenty minutes to bring him all the way out of it. And it's anybody's guess as to how long he'd been there before that." Rick looked out the side window. "A.J.'s gonna pay a high price for what Agilar did to him, Town, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it except be right there with him every step of the way."
won't ask anymore of you than that, Rick."
Rick looked across the seat at his old friend. "No, he won't. But I'm already wonderin' if it will be enough."
Town had no easy answers to offer as he changed lanes and accelerated.
men made good time that morning. A.J.
woke up shortly before they stopped at a Subway sandwich shop. The three of them went in only long enough
to stretch their legs, use the bathroom, and order sandwiches and drinks to
Early that afternoon they pulled into the driveway of Town and Temple's suburban Los Angeles home. Rick was in the process of transferring his duffel bag and A.J.'s backpack to his pickup truck, when Temple came out to welcome her husband home with a hug and a kiss.
No one could mistake the fright in A.J.'s eyes at the sudden appearance of this new person. Town had explained enough to Temple on the phone the previous evening for her to know what to expect upon first seeing the blond man. She started to approach him, but halted when he took a step backwards. Instead of the hug and kiss she would have normally greeted him with, the black woman settled on, "I'm glad you're home, A.J."
turned to Rick and bestowed on him the affection she couldn't give his
brother. "I'm so glad you and
Brown found him, Rick," she said softly in the detective's right ear. "You and your mother will help A.J.
find his way back."
"I hope you're right, Temple," Rick murmured. "I hope you're right."
Rick and Town exchanged a hug that spoke volumes of all they had been through together in the past year. "Take care of yourself, pal. And take care of your brother. I'll call you later this week and see how things are going."
"Thanks, Towner. For everything. I couldn't have done it without you, man."
A.J. allowed Town to approach him and lay a light hand on his arm. "Take it easy, buddy. When things...calm down, you and Rick and I will take a week off and go fishing. How's that sound?"
A.J's nod was tentative, as though he wasn't certain if this was an activity the three of them had engaged in at some point in the past.
Rick opened the passenger side door of the Dodge for his brother. He waited until A.J. had climbed in before rounding the truck and getting behind the wheel. With a final wave and goodbye to Town and Temple, Rick backed the large 4x4 out of the driveway.
After a few false starts at conversation on Rick's part, the remainder of the trip home to San Diego was made in silence.
Rick watched A.J. out of the corner of his eye as he turned down the street they grew up on. Whatever A.J. might be feeling he kept well hidden. Rick couldn't detect a hint of reaction, good, bad, or otherwise.
The lanky detective pulled the pickup as close to his mother's side kitchen door as possible. The last thing he wanted was for one of the neighbors to spot A.J. and come rushing over, or worse yet, to alert the media of the blond's sudden appearance. He hoped that if anyone did happen to glance in their direction, A.J.'s shoulder length hair and second hand clothes would prevent it from dawning on them as to who he was.
Rick gave his mother great credit for the remarkable restraint she practiced when he led his brother into the house through the kitchen door. She was waiting for them on the other side of it, but allowed Rick to get A.J. all the way in the room, and get the door shut and locked behind them.
Tears streamed down Cecilia Simon's face as she got her first look at her youngest son in over eleven months. A.J. didn't step away from her as she walked toward him, but he didn't show signs of recognition, nor did he move into her open arms.
With all the perception a mother possesses, Cecilia clearly read the situation at hand. "A.J.," she requested softly. "May I give you a hug?"
A.J. studied the petite woman with the overflowing tears as though he was afraid to allow himself to feel for her all he had been forced to forget.
"A.J.?" Cecilia repeated with outstretched arms. Please, son?"
A.J. bit down on his lower lip before finally giving a barely discernible nod. As much as Cecilia wanted to run to him and throw her arms around him, she was careful to make her approach slow and gentle. When she was close enough to touch him, she wrapped her arms around his ribs. Although she tried not to, Cecilia broke down and sobbed against her youngest's chest.
After a long moment of standing at stiff attention, A.J. bent down and returned his mother's hug. He barely touched her, nor did he offer her words of comfort like he normally would have when she found reason to cry in his arms, but for now what he offered was enough for Cecilia Simon. For almost one full year she had been certain she'd never see her youngest son alive again. If all A.J. could bring himself to do was allow her these few seconds of quiet closeness than that was enough for her.
Cecilia still held A.J. snugly in her arms when an over-joyous Rex bounded into the room. The only thing Rick could figure out after the dust settled was that the dog had gotten a whiff of A.J.'s scent from where he'd been slumbering in the living room and immediately recognized it.
Rex sped by Rick and launched himself like an air-borne missile at the blond man. Cecilia was knocked out of A.J.'s loose embrace by the seventy pound golden retriever. Before the dog could do further damage, A.J. raised his right arm and backhanded Rex so viciously in the chops that the dog sailed across the room on his hindquarters with a high pitched yelp.
Rick ran to the whimpering dog's side and enfolded him in his arms. He glared up at his brother. "What the hell did you do that for?"
A.J.'s eyes were dilated, and his breaths came in hard frightened pants. "Keep that dog away from me!"
didn't mean anything by it! He's just
happy to see you."
"Keep him away!"
"Okay! Okay! I've got him." Rick turned to the quivering dog, who'd never been hit by anyone. "It's okay," he soothed, while running a comforting hand over Rex's head. "You're okay now, boy."
Cecilia took the situation in hand before it could get any farther out of control. "A.J., let me take you upstairs. Rick's going to be staying here with us for a while, too." Though they hadn't discussed it Cecilia knew, based on her youngest son's condition, that Rick would stay at the house with them for as long as Cecilia and A.J. needed him. As far as when A.J. could return to his own home, Cecilia could already tell that wouldn't be anytime soon. Randy Wells was still renting it, so for the time being there was no need to make a rushed decision. "Rick can stay in the room you boys used to share, and you can have the guest room."
Cecilia reached for the backpack Rick had left laying by the door, only to have it snatched out of her hands by her youngest.
Cecilia spoke quietly to the man whom she could plainly see was frightened, agitated, and confused. "I know it is, A.J. I was just going to carry it for you, but if you'd rather carry it that's all right as well. Let's go upstairs. I'll help you unpack your bag if you'd like. And I'll show you what I brought over from your hou...what I have here for you in the way of clothing. We can decide together if there's something else you need."
hand tightened around the strap of his coveted pack. "Everything I need is in here."
"Okay. Then maybe you'd like me to wash some of it for you." The unflappable Cecilia Simon turned to her oldest son. "Rex hasn't been walked in several hours. His leash is hanging on the inside of the pantry door. Perhaps both you and he could use a bit of fresh air."
"Yeah," Rick agreed succinctly. "Perhaps we could."
When Rick returned from his walk forty minutes later Cecilia Simon's household was in a much calmer state. The persuasive woman had managed to obtain A.J.'s permission in helping him unpack. She even convinced him to allow her to throw his meager belongings in her washing machine. He followed her every step of the way to the basement, as though needing to see for himself that she was going to do as she said. Cecilia got the impression A.J. was fearful she would throw the few articles of clothing he had away.
Cecilia stood at the stove putting the finishing touches on dinner when Rick walked into the kitchen. Rex appeared to be unscathed from the earlier upset and trotted along happily behind his master.
Rick gave his mother the hug and kiss that had been neglected in all the excitement. "Where's A.J.?"
"Up in the guest room," Cecilia answered from within her son's arms. "He seems to feel...safe there right now, so I'm giving him time to adjust."
Cecilia swallowed back her tears as she leaned into her oldest's chest. "Oh, Rick, he's so frightened. So terribly frightened."
Rick ran a hand through his mother's hair. "I know, Mom. I know."
Cecilia looked up into her son's eyes. "Why is he scared of us? Why is he scared to be in this house? The house he grew up in?"
"I'm not sure. But later on, after A.J.'s gone to bed, I promise I'll tell you everything I know."
much as she wanted to hear the whole story now, Cecilia knew it would be best
for all concerned if she and Rick partook in that discussion in private. "You can go and tell A.J. supper's ready
if you'd like."
gave his mother a smile and a final kiss.
"I'll do that. I need to
talk to him for a minute anyway."
returned her son's smile with a knowing one of her own. "I thought perhaps you did."
Rick took the stairs two at a time. Though the door to the guest room was open, he knocked on its frame. A.J. turned from the window where he'd been staring down at the side yard.
"Supper's ready, A.J."
gave a nod of his head. His eyes
dropped to the carpeting. "I...I'm
sorry about hitting the dog before.
He...I didn't know what he was going to do."
Rick walked into the room and sat on the edge of the double bed. "I know. And I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have yelled at you. It's just that both of you...you and Rex, kind of took me by surprise."
Rick cocked his head. "Yeah, Rex. My dog."
"A.J....Marlowe's been dead now for several years. You gave me Rex as a gift shortly after he died. Do you remember that?"
"I don't..." A.J. turned to look out the window once more. "I don't know. Maybe. Right now everything's kind of...unclear."
"Everything will be for a while," Rick acknowledged. He recalled his own long period of adjustment after returning home from the horrors of Vietnam. "All we can do is take it one step at a time, little brother."
A.J. ran his fingers over the smooth wood of the windowsill. It was almost as if he was talking to himself when he said quietly, "Sometimes...sometimes he turned a dog loose on me."
rose and crossed the room.
Rick's hands came up to rest lightly on his brother's shoulders. He could feel the knotted tension in the muscles there as he gently kneaded in a circular motion. "I'm sorry, A.J. I'm so damn sorry. If I had known, I would have made sure Rex was locked up before we arriv--"
"I already told you, I don't want your pity."
"And I already told you, it's not pity. It's sorrow."
"Pity, sorrow. They're one in the same."
"No, they're not. And it doesn't matter much if they are. I'm your brother, and I have the right to hurt along with you. Let me do that, A.J. If you try to block me out things will only be worse."
"Maybe not," A.J. shrugged with his back still to Rick. "Things were okay before you found me. When I was...Jack. I was doing okay with Malachi and Dominique."
This was the second time in less than twenty-four hours that A.J. had made reference to being better off as Jack.
"That's right, A.J. You were doing okay. But you weren't living."
"I honestly don't know if I want to, Rick."
shoulders slumped in defeat.
We've got to get him some help as soon as possible, Rick's mind told him with frightened urgency. And I've got to tell Mom we can't risk leavin' him alone for even a brief second.
"A.J., please," Rick begged. "Just give yourself some time. Everything is new and confusing for you right now. I realize that. Mom realizes that. Neither of us expects anymore from you than what you can give. But you'd better listen to me and listen to me good. There was a time in my life when everything was new and confusing to me, as well. And I think you know when that time was."
words were a statement of fact, as opposed to a question. "When you came home from Nam."
"That's right. When I came home from Nam. And you didn't let me give up, when givin' up seemed like a helluva lot easier than facin' another day. And I'm not gonna let you give up either."
More to himself than to Rick, A.J. whispered, "If I could just go back to being Jack, things would be okay."
No they wouldn't, A.J. But I guess you can't see that right now.
Rick didn't know what more he could do for his brother other than to maintain contact through gentle massage. When their mother called them to supper, Rick left an arm slung around A.J.'s shoulders as they descended the stairs.
Considering the shaky start the family had experienced, dinner that evening went fairly well. Like Rick had discovered the previous day at the restaurant, Cecilia quickly came to the conclusion that falling into smooth, easy conversation with her youngest son was almost impossible. To begin with, A.J. was introverted in way that had been foreign to him prior to his ordeal. And then just like Rick and Town, Cecilia found herself not knowing what exactly to say to A.J. It should have been so simple. There was so much she wanted to tell him, and yet it was all so complicated and difficult. By virtue of all he'd been through, the man sitting beside Cecilia at the kitchen table was, in many ways, a stranger. Just like Rick had been stranger to Cecilia when he'd returned from Vietnam.
We weathered that storm, the resilient Cecilia thought. Somehow we'll weather this one as well.
Cecilia's other observations as she watched her youngest eat weren't that different from Rick's either.
I wonder how long it's been since he's been able to eat as much and as often as he wants? A.J. never shovels food down like that. And the way he's clutching his plate with his left hand, why he acts as though he's afraid someone's going to snatch it from him before he has had his fill. Is that something Agilar did to him? Oh, sweetheart, I hurt so much for you.
When A.J.'s plate had been scraped clean Cecilia asked, "A.J., would you like more?"
A.J. gave his mother a guarded look, as though trying to determine what her real intentions were.
Cecilia held out the platter of baked chicken to her son. "Honey, it's okay. You can have as much as you want. If you're still hungry when it's all gone, I'll make you something else."
A.J.'s hand hesitantly reached for the plate. Again, Cecilia had the impression he was waiting for her to pull it away from him. Without asking, Rick slid the bowl of mashed potatoes toward his brother, the bowl of stuffing, and the green beans.
While A.J. refilled his plate, Cecilia stated what at one time her son knew so well. "You don't have to ask when you want seconds, A.J. You take as much as you want, whenever you want it. There will always be plenty. And anytime you're hungry, feel free to come into the kitchen and get yourself something to eat, okay?"
A.J. looked at his mother as though he could hardly fathom such a generous offer. "I only ate twice a day at the shelter. All they offered was breakfast and supper."
Cecilia's eyes flicked briefly to Rick, before settling back on A.J. She smiled and lightly teased, "Well, this kitchen offers three free meals a day and all the snacks you want. In addition to that, it's always open around the clock to my sons."
Rick reached across the table and patted his mother's hand. "Plus, it's run by the prettiest cook in San Diego, wouldn't you say, A.J.?"
A tiny smile flitted across A.J.'s face. For the first time in almost a year he remembered what it felt like to be part of a family. His response to his brother's question was nothing more than a nod and a shy, "Yes." That endearing and uncharacteristic shyness emphasized to Cecilia even more that A.J. was far from comfortable with herself and Rick.
Cecilia was surprised when A.J. jumped right up after dessert and began helping her clear the table. She couldn't help but think this was what he had always done every time he'd dined with her prior to his disappearance. She hoped even just this small show of habit was a good sign.
"You don't have to help, A.J.," Cecilia smiled. "Why don't you go relax in the living room."
A.J. shook his head as he crossed to the sink. "This is my job at the shelter."
Cecilia glanced at Rick again after this second puzzling reference A.J. had made to ‘the shelter.’ Rick gave his mother a look that told her that's part of what he'd explain later.
In relationship to A.J.'s words, Cecilia thought with discouragement, Maybe this isn't a show of old habit then. Perhaps it's a show of new habit.
Rick made a big production of being forced to rise from the table. "Geez, A.J., if you go volunteerin' to clean up Mom's kitchen for her every night you're gonna make me look bad."
Over the sound of the running water A.J. quipped, "That won't take much effort."
Cecilia and Rick exchanged smiles behind A.J.'s back at this small bit of familiar banter. Their smiles quickly changed to grim frowns when an apprehensive A.J. ducked away from Rick as the older man, without thinking, reached out to pull his brother into a headlock. The playful gesture that now scared A.J. dated back to the brothers' childhood, and should have brought back nothing other than fond memories.
With the three of them working together, Cecilia could only manage to stretch out cleaning up the kitchen for so long. At least during that small time period the uncomfortable moments were few and far between, and the conversation didn't have to extend past Rick's inquires of, "Which containers do you want me to put the leftovers in, Mom?" and, "Do you want this on the bottom shelf of the fridge or on the top shelf?"
When the kitchen was so clean and spotless it could have been used in a television commercial, Cecilia convened her family to the living room. She couldn't help but wonder if A.J. deliberately chose the easy chair to avoid being seated on the couch with either her or Rick. In the end, that he chose to sit apart from his family didn't make much difference. It was painfully obvious the blond man had no desire to be a part of the gathering. His eyes kept darting to the stairs, as though wondering how he could get out of the room without anyone noticing. When he could stand the strain no longer, A.J. rose with jerky abruptness.
where are you going?"
"I...I...I think I'll go upstairs."
looked across the room at the VCR clock.
"But it's only seven o'clock, sweetheart. Are you sure you want to go to bed this early?"
A.J. sidled for the stairway. "I...I want to read for a while. Rick got me a book."
right," Cecilia reluctantly nodded.
"You do whatever you please.
Feel free to take a shower if you want one. Do you...remember where I keep everything?"
A.J. nodded. "I think so."
"If you can't find something you need, just give me a shout."
A.J. was like a jittery five-year-old who couldn't escape the adults fast enough. "I will."
Cecilia rose and began to cross the room with the intention of giving her a son a kiss. When he backed away from her, she stopped.
If A.J. noticed the tears shimmering in his mother's eyes he ignored them.
"Night, A.J.," Rick echoed from where he sat on the couch observing.
It was all Cecilia could do to choke back her sobs until she heard the guest room door close firmly behind her youngest.
In two strides Rick was at his mother's side. He had no words of comfort to offer. He could only enfold her in his arms and allow her to cry out her sorrow for all that had been so cruelly altered.
When Cecilia Simon had no tears left and her eyes had been dried on Rick's handkerchief, she allowed her oldest son to lead her back to the couch. Once there, he filled her in on all he knew that had happened to A.J. from the day Carson Baily dumped him along a roadside in San Francisco, until the day Rick and Town finally located him.
Cecilia asked Rick a multitude of questions, some of which he could answer, but most of which he couldn't.
"I don't know, Mom," Rick said for the final time. "There's just a lot of things only A.J. can tell us. And as to when he can tell us those things, or if he ever will be able to tell us those things, well quite frankly, I don't know that either."
"Now I understand what you meant last night on the phone, Rick, when you told me you weren't really sure whether A.J. knew who you were or not. It's as if he knows perfectly well who we are and that we'd never hurt him, while at the same time we're strangers who are threatening to him."
the same impression I get. I assume
it's an aftereffect of the drugs and brainwashing, but hell, I don't know for
sure. Speaking of which, did you get a
hold of Joel?"
"Yes. And he couldn't have been more kind or helpful. I explained the situation to him as best I knew. He wants you to call him at home tonight, or tomorrow morning, in order to fill him in completely before he sees A.J."
"When's that gonna be?"
"At five o'clock Tuesday evening. It was the best he could do considering he's already booked with patients that day."
"That's understandable." Rick gave his mother a kiss on the cheek as he rose. "I think I'll see if I can catch Joel at home right now. With A.J. upstairs, this is as good a time as any for me to talk to him."
Cecilia was so lost in thought she never heard her oldest return from the kitchen thirty minutes later. It wasn't until Rick turned on the television that she was startled out of her musing.
"Is A.J.'s appointment still scheduled for Tuesday?"
"Yeah," Rick stated as he retook his seat beside his mother. "But not at five o'clock. Joel wants to see him at seven in the morning instead."
"Based on everything I told him, Joel thinks it would be best to get A.J. in and out before the waiting room starts filling up with patients. Plus, he wants to take all the time with A.J. he needs. He wants to get a good assessment of A.J.'s...mental state. From there, he'll help us decide how to proceed."
a good friend," Cecilia said.
"Yeah, he is."
Rick took his mother's tiny hand in his larger one. "We've got a lot of good friends, Mom. They're the people that have helped get us through everything this past year." Rick paused, as if unsure as to whether to voice the rest of his thought. When he did, his words were quiet and barely audible. "And I've got a feelin' they're the people who are gonna help get us through the next one."
Monday March 1, 1993
Other than A.J.'s vehement protests over the impending visit to Joel Lankey, the remainder of the weekend and Monday passed quietly. A.J.'s presence in Cecilia's household remained a well-guarded secret. Cecilia and Rick decided to keep the blond man's return under wraps until after A.J. had seen Joel.
Rick stopped at the police station on Monday and saw Abby behind closed doors. Based on everything Rick told her, she agreed it would be best to hold off announcing anything to the media until after A.J.'s doctor appointment.
"I'll wait until I hear from you," Abby told Rick as they shared coffee in her office. "However, I want you to be aware Dylan Reed, the investigative reporter from the Journal, has been poking her nose around here ever since we arrested Agilar. She's the woman who covered the story regarding Androu Agilar and Elena Monterro back in '87, as well as the one who wrote so much on A.J.'s disappearance. I have no doubt she knows something big is going on. If she gets wind that A.J.'s been found...well, you know what that means."
Rick studied the coal black liquid in his cup and gave a grim nod. "Yeah, I know what that means. And I also know A.J. can't handle any of her questions right now. He may never be able to handle them."
Abby studied the lanky detective, whom she thought of as a brother, though she rarely admitted that even to herself. "What about my questions, Rick?"
Rick looked up. "What?"
"My questions. I've just about exhausted every avenue open to me in terms of keeping Agilar in jail. If he did murder the Bailys, then he did a damn fine job of it. We have yet to find one piece of evidence that ties him to the crime. Or ties anyone else to it for that matter. Despite the Agilar family history, I'm not going to be able to convince Judge Sanken to keep Eduardo locked up much longer. Agilar's lawyer has been screaming unlawful arrest for two weeks now, and is threatening to file a lawsuit if something doesn't shake loose soon. The only reason Eduardo's still in jail is because I met with the judge in his chambers last Monday and told him you and Town were in San Francisco pursuing leads regarding A.J.
"I'm going to need a statement from A.J. as soon as I can get it, Rick. Even if we can't pin murder charges on Agilar, we can certainly pin charges of kidnapping and aggravated assault on him. If nothing else, that will leave him sitting in prison for a few years."
"What about the guards who were arrested outside Agilar's estate? They confirmed everything Jose¢ told me."
"Yes," Abby nodded. "They did. But the judge is well aware they're young and they're scared to death. Keep in mind I'm only speculating here, but I feel it's quite likely the judge won't have Agilar bound over for trial based solely on the words of those two men, who may be doing nothing more than lying to save their own hides."
"Oh, come on, Abigail," Rick spat with disgust. "I found A.J.'s wallet in Agilar's damn dungeon for heaven’s sake! And you know as well as I do that there's no way those punks coulda' made up a story, that right down to the very last letter, matches what Jose¢ told me."
"You're right. You know that, and I know that. Unfortunately, neither one of us has the power to keep Agilar behind bars. Only Judge Sanken does."
"And A.J.," Rick stated quietly. "Provided you get a statement from him.
right eyebrow rose as if it were a question mark. "I take it you have concerns that I won't?"
"I...I can't answer that, Abby. I don't know. I just don't know if he'll be willing to talk to you or not."
"But he knows me," Abby protested. "And I'll certainly allow him all the time he needs, regardless of how long it takes. We can even do it at your mother's home, as opposed to making him come down here."
"I appreciate that, Abby, I really do. But...don't think just ‘cause A.J. knows you that will automatically make this any easier for him. Right now...well right now, in some ways, he doesn't seem to know anyone."
Whatever questions Rick's words prompted within Abigail Marsh she kept to herself. Rick Simon was as troubled and concerned as she'd ever seen him. She sensed any further discussion would be unproductive, simply because Rick had no answers to give.
Rick left the police station that day with the promise to contact Abby upon Joel's completion of A.J.'s physical. The woman was more than willing to take on the role as spokesperson to the media on behalf of the Simon family when the time was right. There was, as well, still the issue of the statement Abby needed from A.J., which she and Rick more or less left hanging without a firm commitment as to day or time. Rick merely nodded when Abby reminded him gently as he headed for the door, "Let Joel know I'll have to talk to A.J. as soon as possible. Please get his opinion as to when it will be feasible to do so."
Abby barely heard Rick's soft, "Yeah, I will," as the door swung shut behind him.
Monday, March 1st, 1993
By Monday evening Rick Simon was beginning to wonder if he'd get his brother to the designated doctor's appointment the next morning by any other means than dragging him. From the time Cecilia had first mentioned the appointment to A.J. on Sunday morning, the blond firmly maintained he wasn't going. Cecilia and Rick had expected this reaction, and for lack of a better idea, chose to ignore it. It wasn't until Monday night that the situation came to an explosive head.
It had become A.J.'s habit over the past two days to immediately disappear to the guest room after supper. Before he could do so on Monday evening, Cecilia reminded nonchalantly, "Don't forget your appointment with Joel tomorrow, A.J. You and Rick will have to leave here at six-thirty. I didn't ask, but I don't suppose you should have any breakfast before you see him."
looked at his mother from where he was putting the last of the dishes
away. "I already told you I'm not
Having long tired of this argument, Rick firmly stepped in.
"A.J., yes, you are."
"No. I'm not."
"A.J.," Cecilia beseeched. "Please. You've been...through a lot in the past year. It's important to me that Joel gives you a clean bill of health. We have to know if there's anything that needs attending to. I'm sure it won't take long."
nothing wrong," the stubborn A.J. maintained. "Dominique took care of me.
I don't need anyone else bothering me."
"Honey, I know how you feel, it's just that--"
A.J. hurled the dinner plate in his hands to the floor. The force in which it shattered sent small fragments of ceramic flying like shrapnel.
"No, you don't know how I feel! You don't know have any idea how I feel!"
Rick attempted to gently intervene. "A.J..."
A.J.'s left arm swung out and swept three drinking glasses off the counter top. Like oversized hockey pucks, they sailed through the room.
"No!" A.J.'s shout and the sound of breaking glass overruled whatever words Rick might have offered. The blond backed away from both his mother and brother. "No one is going to control me again! Do you hear me? No one! And I'll be damned if anyone - anyone - is going to tell me what I can do and what I can't do!"
Before Cecilia or Rick could think of a way to diffuse the situation, A.J. was gone. He slammed the guest room door so violently the force rattled pictures on the kitchen wall.
An ominous silence prevailed in the kitchen. Neither Cecilia Simon nor her oldest son knew what words to offer one another. The one thing they both recognized, however, was the importance of A.J.'s words. Without intending to, he gave them a small clue as to all he was keeping locked inside.
No one is ever going to control me again!
Those words, roared with so much vehemence and conviction, echoed in Cecilia's and Rick's thoughts as they worked side by side without speaking to clean up the mess that littered the kitchen.
When the last of the glass had been deposited in the garbage can Rick put the broom in the pantry closet. He turned to find his mother missing. As his eyes cast about the room, he caught sight of her petite form sitting at the table on the patio.
Rick slid the doors open in the same silent way his mother had a few minutes earlier. He took a seat next to her and reached for her hand. For a time, the two sat in silence and watched the evening sun slowly disappear.
As cool night air began to blow in off the Pacific, Rick shook himself free of his swirling thoughts and broke their self-imposed silence. "I'll talk to him, Mom. Somehow...somehow I'll get him to Joel's tomorrow."
Cecilia shook her head and rose from her seat. "No, Rick. Let me talk to him. I'm afraid he'll only perceive you as a threat right now."
As much as it hurt Rick to acknowledge that fact, he was well aware it might be true.
Rick offered his mother a small smile. "You mean this is one of those times that takes a woman's touch?"
Cecilia kissed her oldest son's cheek and smiled back. "Yes, dear. This is one of those times."
Cecilia knocked softly on the closed bedroom door. "A.J., it's Mom. May I come in please?"
Cecilia's mind cast itself in a variety of dark directions when she received no answer. When she tried the door only to find it locked, her heart began to pound and her throat became devoid of saliva.
We shouldn't have left him alone!
Cecilia's voice rose with panic as she franticly twisted the knob. "A.J.! A.J., please! I'd like to come in!"
Cecilia was just about to scramble down the stairs yelling for Rick when she heard a ‘click’ that indicated A.J. had unlocked the door.
She entered the room to find he had already reseated himself on the bed and was leaning against the headboard. Without asking A.J.’s permission, Cecilia sat down beside him.
The woman reached out and gently laid her hand on A.J.'s bare forearm. Not knowing what else to do, she caressed in a soothing motion. A.J. didn't acknowledge her, but he didn't pull away from her either.
Cecilia was taken by surprised when A.J. broke the silence that prevailed in the room. “I'm sorry about the mess I made in the kitchen," he apologized while staring down at the thick comforter that covered the bed. "I'll clean it up and replace whatever I broke."
"Rick and I already took care of it," Cecilia quietly stated. "And as far as you replacing anything, it's not necessary. I had an odd number of plates from the last time Rick broke one while doing the dishes. Now I'm back to being able to host an even number of dinner guests."
Cecilia was pleased to see that her attempt at light humor got a small smile out of her son. He even hazarded a glance in her direction. The smile Cecilia gave A.J. in return was meant to tell him all was forgiven.
Cecilia wasn't sure if the subject she was about to bring up was going to cause another violent outburst or not, but she felt it had to be broached.
"A.J...neither Rick nor I are trying to control you."
A.J.'s eyes fell back to the bedspread.
"I do understand it may feel that way to you right now, but that's not our intention. It's just that in order for all three of us to have a place to...start, you need to see Joel."
If A.J. realized Cecilia meant Joel was going to evaluate both his physical and mental health, he didn't let on. Regardless, Cecilia strongly suspected he knew.
Cecilia gave the arm under her hand a light squeeze. "Please, A.J. I've been so worried about you this past year. If for nothing more than my piece of mind, won't you please see Joel?"
A.J. had to swallow back the strong emotion his mother's heartfelt plea caused to swell in his throat. He didn't make a verbal reply, but did give a small nod of his head.
Cecilia knew just how much this acquiescence was costing her youngest son. Even the most trivial of experiences were
now new and frightening to him. His
strong love for her was the only motivating factor behind his reluctant
will be with you," Cecilia reminded.
"And Joel is a good friend of yours and your brother's,
"He won't hurt you, A.J."
Cecilia sat with her son a while longer. When she rose, she bent over and kissed the top of his head. Without thinking about it, she finger combed his thick hair in place like she used to do when he was a little boy. "Before you go to bed come downstairs and have a snack since you won't be able to eat again until after you see Joel."
"I will," A.J. promised.
Cecilia Simon left her son shortly thereafter. He appeared in the kitchen an hour later and shared pie and ice cream with her and Rick. Nothing was said about what had occurred earlier in the evening.
Cecilia thought it was good sign that A.J. kept his promise about eating something before he went to bed. Rick thought it was a good sign that A.J. was now willingly to see Joel. What A.J. thought, neither Rick nor Cecilia knew. Once again, he'd fallen into that non-penetrable silence that had already become frustratingly familiar to his mother and older brother.
Tuesday, March 2nd, 1993
Rick Simon would forever be eternally grateful to Dr. Joel Lankey and the solicitous, patient way in which handled A.J. Joel seemed to immediately recognize what it was he needed to do in order to gain A.J.'s trust.
The doctor was waiting for the brothers outside the deserted clinic early on Tuesday morning and led them to his office. He allowed Rick to remain seated next to A.J. while he asked the blond questions regarding his physical condition. Based on what Rick had already told him over the phone, Joel had a fairly good idea as to what A.J.'s past injuries had been, and as to what repercussions he might yet find as a result of those injuries.
Joel flashed A.J. a reassuring smile as he rose to lead the blond to a nearby examination room. "We'll be back in a little while, Rick. Help yourself to all the outdated magazines you can find."
Rick gave a sarcastic grin. "Oh, boy, what a treat. Yesterday's news."
A.J. was hesitant to follow the doctor. He pulled away from him when Joel laid a guiding hand on his back.
Joel didn't miss A.J.'s eyes flicking to his brother. If the only way he could proceed with this physical was by having Rick present in the examination room, then so be it. He preferred otherwise, however, knowing he'd come away with better conclusions if he had some time alone with A.J.
Rick seemed to read Joel's thoughts, as he didn't offer to accompany his brother. Instead, he offered a reassuring smile and words. "I'll be waitin' right here for you, A.J. When Joel's finished we'll head back to Mom's. She promised a big breakfast with all the trimmings - pancakes, eggs, and bacon."
"Even though it would raise my cholesterol another twenty points, it sounds darn good to me," the good-natured husky doctor quipped. "I might even join you guys. If I remember correctly, your mother's cooking can bring tears to a grown man's eyes."
Although A.J. didn't take part in it, the light-hearted banter seemed to relax him. With one last brief glance over his shoulder at Rick, from whom he received a smile and a wink, he allowed Joel to lead him from the room.
At one o'clock on Thursday afternoon, Rick and Joel could be found sitting together at a corner table in the cafeteria of County General Hospital. Joel had wanted to meet privately with Rick regarding A.J.'s physical before speaking with A.J. via a phone call. These arrangements were the best the doctor's busy schedule would allow.
In-between bites of the meal Rick had insisted on buying him, Joel reported his findings to Rick.
"A.J.'s blood work came back clean. He is slightly anemic, but considering how he's been forced to live for the past year that doesn't surprise me. For the time being I'm not going to prescribe anything for it other than an over-the-counter vitamin supplement with iron. I think that, and a well-rounded, consistent diet will easily take care of the problem. I'll follow up on it next month when I see him again."
"See him again?"
took a sip of hot coffee.
"Yes. He's underweight by
twelve pounds as you probably guessed.
I want to keep an eye on his weight and the anemia. You said he's been eating well since he's
been back with you?"
Rick nodded. "Yeah. There hasn't been any problem there. I think he...well, it's almost like he's afraid we're gonna take the food away from him before he can finish. I suppose that stems from what that bastard Agilar did to him."
imagine. We'll get to the psychological
ramifications in a minute. The other
thing I'm a bit concerned about physically speaking is his right shoulder. The one you said the nurse thought had been
"It seems rather loose in the socket, though the X-ray I took didn't reveal much. When a joint has been dislocated like that and has gone without treatment it can cause a person a variety of problems. I talked to A.J. about it. For whatever reason he was reluctant to admit it's been giving him trouble, but he did finally tell me it aches now and again when he's been using the arm a lot."
"Mom and I have been wondering about that," Rick said. "We've noticed as the day goes on he uses his left hand more and more. By the end of the evening his right arm is just kinda hanging at his side as if it hurts him."
Joel nodded. "And it's for just that reason I encouraged A.J. to slowly return to his normal physical routine. I believe the weight lifting he does, the boxing, the tennis, and the racquetball, will all promote self-healing provided he doesn't overdo. But again, I'm going to keep an eye on it. I may be forced to recommend some short-term physical therapy if the joint doesn't heal to my satisfaction. A last resort would be surgery."
Joel forked a piece of meatloaf. "Overall, I'm pleased with A.J.'s physical condition. Considering what he's been through he's in pretty good shape. That nurse you were telling me about, and that homeless shelter, were God-sends."
"I realize that," Rick agreed as he took a drink of Pepsi. "But what about his mental state?"
"That's a different story all together." Joel pushed is empty plate aside. "He needs professional help, Rick, as would anyone who's endured what he has. The kind of help I'm not qualified to give him. But I think you already know that."
A disheartened Rick Simon agreed. "Yeah, Joel. I pretty much already know that."
"You told me over the phone you have someone in mind?"
"Yeah. A guy by the name of Clayton Burrows. He's a psychologist who used to work for the VA. I...the guy helped me out a few years back," was all Rick would say in reference to his past troubles regarding Delayed Stress Disorder.
"And he now works where?"
"For a place called Bayside Center. It's a private...mental health facility that accepts both in and out patients."
"I've heard of it. It's supposed to be staffed with a team of excellent doctors."
in your opinion I should contact Clay?"
right away. The sooner A.J. can start
treatment the better. You call Dr.
Burrows, then have him call me. They
may need a physician's recommendation to get A.J. admitted to their program,
but even if they don't, I'd like to talk to the man."
"I appreciate that, Joel. I just hope...I hope I can convince A.J. to go."
"I hope you can too. Unfortunately, he's probably going to resist at first, just like you told me he did in regards to coming to see me. At least he already knows Dr. Burrows, I assume?"
"Yeah, he does. Pretty well as a matter of fact."
"Good. That will be to everyone's benefit."
the mean time, what about the statement I was tellin' you about that Abby Marsh
wants from A.J.? I don't think it can
wait until after he starts therapy."
Joel shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you except you can't protect A.J. from everything that he perceives to be a threat. Keep in mind he managed to survive for close to a year in some extremely adverse conditions. A.J. did that one his own, Rick. His own inner-strength and inborn resources got him through." The ever-practical Joel concluded, "In terms of Abby...well, he'll tell her what he can. If A.J. can't tell her anything right now, then he can't. Nothing you or I can do will change that fact. Nothing Dr. Burrows can do will change that fact. Certainly it's possible that given some one-on-one time with Dr. Burrows, A.J. will be better prepared to speak to Abby. But if she needs something from him now, then she's going to have to come right out and ask him her questions. The worst that's going to happen is, he's not going to tell her anything."
"No, Joel," Rick said darkly. "The worst that's gonna happen is by A.J. not tellin' Abby anything, Agilar will be let outta jail."
Rick rose from his chair with a heavy sigh. "But I guess we have no choice. Abby called me last night. The judge is gonna release Agilar if she doesn't have a statement from A.J. by Saturday morning."
“All I can tell you is to have Abby tread very lightly," Joel cautioned as he, too, stood. "No amount of pushing is going to make A.J. talk. I think you've already seen that."
Rick gave a grim nod. “Yeah, I sure as hell have."
"It's not because he doesn't want to, Rick. Although what I know about brainwashing you could put on the head of a pin, it's my belief A.J. can't talk about the situation because he's been conditioned not to."
"I understand that. And it's not A.J. I'm angry with, believe me. If I get a chance to get my hands around the throat of that bastard Agilar again, I swear next time I'll kill him."
"I don't blame you," Joel stated as he thought of the many ways his friend, A.J. Simon, had been changed because of the treatment he'd endured at the hands of Eduardo Agilar. "I don't blame you one bit, Rick. As a matter of fact, I might even help you."
Friday, March 5th, 1993
Rick was torn as to whether or not to prepare A.J. for Abigail Marsh's visit. A part of Rick felt he was deceiving his brother if he didn't, another part of him was well-aware long term preparation would allow A.J. time to add another layer to the wall of silence that was always so close at hand. Cecilia finally suggested they simply tell A.J. the woman was going to join them for lunch on Friday.
A.J. gave his mother and brother a knowing look upon receiving that announcement.
He knows perfectly well what's gonna happen once Abby gets here, Rick told himself as he sat across the table from A.J. on Thursday evening. But if A.J. had any questions regarding the real intention behind Abby's visit he didn't voice them, so neither Cecilia nor Rick volunteered any more information.
Abby arrived shortly before noon on Friday. She joined the Simons for lunch as Cecilia said she would. It was after the meal had ended and the plates had been pushed aside that the real purpose for her visit was announced.
glanced from his mother to Abby before his eyes settled on his brother. "A.J., Abby needs to talk to you for a
few minutes. In order for...Agilar to
remain in jail, she's gonna need a statement from you."
Anger flashed in A.J.'s blue eyes, turning them as dark as a wildly churning sea. Cecilia briefly wondered how many more dishes she was about to lose.
But A.J.'s anger didn't erupt with volcanic force this time, but rather he was calm in an unnerving way. He glowered across the table at Rick, tight-lipped with fury.
"You told me you had it under control," A.J. hissed in accusation. "You told me it was only a matter of time before they put him away for good."
"That's what I thought, A.J.," Rick pleaded his case. "Because that's the way it stood as of last week. But things have changed in the past couple of days. The police can't find the necessary evidence to pin Baily's murder on Agilar. Abby needs you to tell her what happened so they can charge him with kidnapping and aggravated assault."
For the time being A.J. completely forgot about the two women. He spoke solely to Rick, as if he were the only person present in the room.
“You told me I could trust you! You led me to believe that it was safe for me to come back. I told you I couldn't come back! I told you I didn't belong here anymore! Why the hell didn't you listen to me, Rick?"
Cecilia didn't miss the anguish in Rick's eyes or voice.
"A.J., please. I didn’t know-—“
"If all you're going to do is lie to me again, then save your breath. I'm so damn sick of people lying to me!"
Cecilia quietly intervened. "Your
brother's not lying to you. And it is
safe for you to be here. This is where
you belong. We're not going to let
anyone hurt you, son."
A.J. sprang to his feet, sending his chair sailing out from behind him in a misguided course. "Don't you people understand anything, goddamn it! It's not me I'm wor--"
A.J.'s cut his words off as he abruptly spun away from his family and the police lieutenant.
A.J.?" Cecilia pressed. "What
were you going to say?"
Cecilia heard A.J.'s quiet, "Nothing." What she, nor Abby, nor Rick didn't hear, was his whispered words of, "I can't talk about it."
For the first time Abby joined the fray. "A.J., let's just try. If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out. No one's going to think any less of you if you...can't tell me what happened."
From where he stood with his back to the room A.J. finally nodded his consent. "Fine," he spat. "Whatever." He turned and shot Abby a scathing glare right before marching out of the room. "And for your information, Lieutenant Marsh, I don't much give a damn what people think of me."
With a final look to Cecilia and Rick, Abby grabbed her purse from the back of her chair and followed A.J.
"Use the study," Cecilia told the woman as she passed. "No one will disturb you there."
Abby nodded. In a few seconds time, Cecilia and Rick heard the door close to the only bedroom on the main floor of the house that had long ago been used as a home office by Jack Simon.
Rick and his mother busied themselves cleaning up the kitchen. Rick didn't venture far when the job was done. He wanted to be available to Abby should she need him. Calm prevailed throughout the house, however. As the minutes ticked away Rick began to wonder if Abby was, indeed, managing to extract a statement from his younger brother.
Thirty minutes after Abby had entered the study with A.J., she exited. She left the door open, but A.J. didn't follow her out.
Rick jumped up from his seat at the kitchen table when Abby entered the room. The woman could read the expectancy on his face, and on Cecilia’s face. Abby didn't bother to mince words as she leaned wearily against the refrigerator.
"He couldn't do it," she quietly stated. "He tried. He really tried to tell me, but he couldn't. Whatever fears Agilar planted in A.J.'s mind, he planted deep."
Abby looked at the small tape recorder in her hand. "All I've got on this tape for Judge Sanken are a lot of false starts and long, painful pauses." She glanced up at the Simons. "I'm sorry. But you both know that won't be enough to hold Agilar."
"We know, Abby," Rick nodded. "And it's not your fault. I know you did the best you could."
Abby felt the pain of each member of this family as if it were her own. "Go to him, Rick. For all A.J.'s angry indifference before we entered that room, he's torn to pieces because he couldn't tell me. He needs someone to be close right now."
"I'm sure he does," Rick agreed softly. "I'm just not sure that someone is me."
Abby gave a slight smile. "I think you'll do, Rick Simon. I think you'll do."
Rick left Abby quietly conversing with his mother. He found A.J. seated in a winged back easy chair. Rick sat on the ottoman in front of his brother. A.J.'s right elbow was resting on the arm of the chair, and his right hand was on his forehead and cupped so it shielded his eyes from the outside world.
laid a hand on his brother's blue jean clad knee. "You okay, buddy?"
voice was husky with unshed tears.
"Leave me alone, Rick."
A.J.'s hand dropped to reveal wet eyes. "I couldn't do it, okay? Is that what you want to hear? I'm a coward and I couldn't do it."
Rick's words were spoken evenly and with great sincerity. "A.J., you're not a coward. I don't think that, and neither does Mom or Abby."
The blond man looked up at the ceiling. He blinked rapidly to clear his eyes of unwanted tears. "What the hell difference does it make anyway? I knew I should have never come back here. I knew something like this would happen. He told me it would. I should have believed him."
told you what, A.J.?"
A.J. shook his head. "It doesn't matter now. It's too late."
who are you talking about?" Rick
A.J. shook his head no once again, but didn't offer any type of verbal response. Rick was left wondering if that negative head movement was the answer to his question, or if it was A.J.'s way of saying he didn't want to discuss the issue further.
For now Rick decided a shift of subject was in order.
"I...I met with Joel yesterday."
"So he thinks...he thinks you'd benefit from a few counseling sessions."
Way to go, Rick chastised himself. Make Joel the heavy here.
"I'm not talking to anyone, Rick. Don't you understand that I can't talk to anyone?"
"No, A.J., I don't understand that," Rick honestly admitted. "What about Clay Burrows? Would you consider talk...seeing him?"
A.J. stood up and walked over to stare out the window. "Why? So you can prove to yourself I'm crazy?"
swiveled on the ottoman so he was looking at his brother's profile. "Is that what you thought I was when I
was seein' him?"
A.J. swallowed hard and bit his lower lip. He hung his head in a gesture Rick interpreted as being one of shame. "No," the blond quietly stated. "No, I never thought that."
"So do you honestly believe I'd think that of you?"
"I don't know,” A.J. shrugged. “Maybe you should."
"A.J., I've heard you spout a lot of bullshit over the years, but that's just about the bullshittiest thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth."
A.J. couldn't help but smile. "Bullshittiest? What kind of a word is that?"
Rick rose and approached his brother. "It's one of them Rick Simon all-purpose words that you can feel free to borrow whenever the moment's right."
"I think that's one I'll leave to you."
Rick chuckled as he brought a hand up to his brother's shoulder. He squeezed the cramped muscle. "A.J., no one thinks you're crazy. But we'd all be ignoring the obvious if we just sit around and pretend everything's gonna go back to normal on its own. It's not, kid. I'm so damn sorry, but I can tell you from experience it's not gonna happen that way. So please, let Clay help you. All I gotta do is pick up the phone and call him."
"I...I'll think about it," was as much as A.J. would agree to.
Although Rick wasn't pleased with his brother's answer, he admitted it was more than he expected.
"How about if you and I take a little walk?" Rick suggested. "Maybe the fresh air will do us both good."
"I didn't think I was allowed."
"You and Mom haven't let me go anywhere other than to Joel's office. I didn't think it was allowed."
At first Rick thought his brother was kidding, or being sarcastic. But as he studied A.J.'s face he saw the blond was serious. Again, it was as if A.J.'s mind was having a hard time adjusting to its new surroundings.
"A.J., you're not a prisoner here. If Mom and I gave you that impression then I'm sorry. We're simply...concerned about you. We don't want you disappearin' on us without telling us where you're going. And as far as only being to Joel's office this week...well, there's a reason for that, too. I guess I should have told you sooner."
"Told me what?"
"The media has yet to be informed that you're back home. Mom and I haven't told anyone other than Joel and Abby. That's all gonna change in a little while. Mom's gonna be makin' phone calls to some of the relatives. Then this evening Abby's going to release a statement to the press."
With a hint of underlying panic to his tone A.J. firmly declared, "I can't talk to them, Rick. Not any of them."
"I know that. And you're not gonna have to. Abby's going to request that the media respect our privacy. and she's going to make it clear to them that we're not granting any interviews whatsoever. It might not work so good at first, but in a few days, when they see they're not gonna get anything from us, they'll leave us be. And as far as the relatives and friends go, Mom's just going to tell them you're back, but that she'll let them know when you're ready for visitors."
"I don't want to see anybody."
"You might in time."
"Why? So I can talk to them the way I talked to Abby today? I wish you'd start listening to what I say for a change."
"A.J., I've never stopped listening to you."
To diffuse the anger Rick could see boiling just underneath the surface he said, "Now, how about that walk?"
Rick's tactic worked. He and A.J. took a long stroll around the neighborhood unhindered. By the time they returned to the house Cecilia had spoken to a number of friends and relatives, and asked them to notify others.
This turned out to be one night Cecilia was thankful A.J. retreated upstairs soon after supper. He missed the first news broadcasts about his return, and wasn't privy to his brother chasing off three reporters who ventured onto the lawn. After the third call from a local newspaper Cecilia took the phone off the hook.
looked out between parted draperies a final time before going up to bed at
midnight. All seemed quiet in the
neighborhood. The detective knew he
should enjoy the peace while it lasted.
For reasons even he couldn't name, Rick feared that, all too soon, it
would be shattered.
Saturday, March 6th, - Tuesday, March 9th, 1993
At a time when A.J. needed it the least, the coming days were wrought with tension and the unexpected. The story of his return, and then Eduardo Agilar's subsequent release from jail, made front-page news three days in a row. Though the media had yet to confirm how the two tied together, a number of reporters had written articles based on speculation, and in so doing had come very close to the actual facts. Dylan Reed was promising her readers a complete investigation into the events, and was secretly hoping for a Pulitzer Prize and a lucrative book deal to boot.
Cecilia Simon's phone hardly stopped ringing throughout that weekend. If it wasn't a member of the media trying to get a statement from her or her sons, then it was a friend or relative who had just heard the good news regarding A.J.
Unfortunately, a few well-meaning friends and relatives ignored Cecilia's request that they not visit for the time being. Several people popped in unannounced on Saturday and Sunday to see A.J. Regardless of who they were, or how long A.J. had known them, the visitors' presence unnerved the blond man to the point that all he had gained in one week's time seemed to be lost in a matter of only a few hours. By Sunday night A.J. was as silent and unresponsive to Rick and Cecilia as he had been when Rick had first found him eight days earlier.
The only person whom Cecilia invited over, whose presence she thought might be a comfort to A.J., was Dianna. In the end, that decision proved to be a disastrous mistake as well.
Through all that long year the petite blond Dianna had remained faithful to the man she loved. At first her friends and family offered nothing but support and heartfelt sympathy over A.J.'s disappearance. But as time went on, and Dianna continued to grieve as though her heart was breaking, those same friends and family members began to tell the tiny beauty she should move on with her life. They began to tell Dianna she was too young to remain loyal to a man who was probably dead. They urged her to date again, and began offering to set her up with male friends, colleagues, and neighbors. But Dianna would have no part of it, though she wasn't foolish. She realized that, as time went on, there would come a point when she would be ready to move forward. There would come a point when she would be ready to put A.J. Simon, and the warm feelings his memory created within her, aside. That hadn't happened yet, however, and when Cecilia's phone call came on Friday evening all Dianna could do was slide down her kitchen wall to the floor and sob with disbelief.
After giving Dianna a thorough briefing in regards to all that had happened to A.J. and how those events had changed him, Cecilia asked the woman to join the Simons for dinner on Monday evening. At the time Cecilia thought she was doing the right thing by not telling A.J. of Dianna's impending visit. Cecilia was certain he'd balk at the notion and demand she call Dianna and cancel the plans. Although she expected communication between the couple to be a bit rocky and awkward at first, Cecilia felt that, given a little time, A.J. would open up to his girlfriend in a way he had yet to open up with anyone.
A.J. was out in the backyard by himself early that Monday evening. That area of Cecilia's home had become a haven and hideaway for A.J., in much the same way the guest room was. He seemed to find peace there among his mother's brightly colored flower beds and the towering old trees he and Rick had climbed as boys.
Before Dianna could ring the bell Rick opened the front door. The two exchanged a long hug that spoke of the pain and uncertainty they'd both been living with each day since A.J. had been kidnapped. When they broke apart, Rick led Dianna into the kitchen. Tears mingled with the hug she and Cecilia shared.
"Oh, Cecilia, I'm so glad he's home."
Cecilia closed her eyes and tightened her grip on the small woman. "I know you are, sweetheart. I know you are."
As they released one another, both women had to wipe at their tears.
"He's out in the backyard," Cecilia said. "I...I don't know how he'll react to your presence. I haven't told him you were coming over."
Dianna nodded. "I understand."
Cecilia took Dianna by the hand. Together, the two women walked out onto the patio. Rick followed a few steps behind and came to a halt in the doorway.
A.J. was standing on the edge of his mother's expansive flower garden with his back to the house. The long hair he had thus far refused to allow Cecilia to cut for him blew about his face in the gentle evening breeze. Rex lay on his belly in the grass by A.J.'s side. The affable golden retriever had long ago forgiven A.J. their rocky first encounter. He seemed to sense A.J.'s unrest and confusion at a level unattainable to humans. He'd become A.J.'s loyal companion, and A.J. seemed to take comfort in his faithful presence. Rick understood all too well as to why. Unlike everyone else in A.J.'s life, Rex didn't make any demands of him other than an occasional pat on the head, or the tossing of his favorite rubber ball.
Cecilia gave Dianna's hand an encouraging squeeze. "Go to him, honey," she softly urged.
Dianna's heart beat a rhythm in her chest that was both excitement and trepidation. She glanced over her shoulder at Rick, who offered his encouragement through a small smile and nod of his head. As Dianna stepped off the concrete of the patio Rick and Cecilia moved back into the house. They planned to discretely watch the reunion through the screen of the sliding doors, then if all went well, would leave the couple alone as long as they desired.
Dianna made no sound as she approached the blond man. Rex's ears perked as he caught her scent on the breeze and he turned, but he didn't bark. If the dog's movement made A.J. aware there was someone behind him, he was choosing to ignore the person's presence.
When Dianna was within ten feet of the blond man she stopped and said quietly, "A.J.?"
A.J. turned around. A number of seconds passed in which his face was devoid of recognition, as though he had no idea who his visitor was. But then recognition slowly dawned, and with it came a range of emotions that passed so swiftly across his features they were impossible to capture and name.
held out a hand. "A.J.?"
A.J. shook his head and backed up. His panic increased when Dianna advanced on him.
"A.J.? Honey, it's Di." Dianna reached out and made the barest of contact with A.J.'s arm. "A.J., please."
A.J. jerked away. He shook his head in silent communication once more.
Oh no, Rick internally moaned from his observation point in the kitchen.
Cecilia could barely keep the tears out of her voice. "This isn't working. The only thing her presence is doing is scaring him."
Dianna's gray eyes pleaded with the man she loved. "A.J., it's me, Dianna. I came over to see you for a little while. Your mother called me and told me you were here. I've missed you so much, A.J., and I've been so worried about you."
When A.J. didn't pick up the conversation and continue it, Dianna's confusion increased. "A.J...what is it? What's wrong? A.J., please. Please talk to me."
Through the patio doors Rick saw A.J.'s fists clench in frustration. The more Dianna urged him to talk to her, the more obvious his distress became. For every step she took toward him, A.J. took a step back. As the blond man’s eyes began to dart about the backyard in search of an escape route, Rick slid the screen open. In an effort to distract his brother Rick called, "A.J.!"
The lanky man quickly descended onto the grass. Dianna rushed past him with tears streaming down her face. Rick could just barely hear the hushed words of comfort his mother was offering the woman from somewhere behind him.
Rick's right hand made brief contact with his brother's arm. "A.J...look. Di just came over to see you. She just wants to say hi. That's it. Nothing more."
A.J.'s glared at Rick, then beyond him to the two women on the patio. For as silent as he had been only seconds earlier, A.J. suddenly found his voice. His words were loud and crisp, and easily carried across the backyard. "Well I don't want to see her!"
Dianna gave a little gasp of pained astonishment. For just a moment her eyes met A.J.'s, as though she was expecting to discover this had all been some sort of a cruel joke. But A.J. Simon had never played cruel jokes. Whatever was going on was far too real, and far too heart wrenching, for Dianna to bear. She whirled around and fled through the house, intent on reaching her car before her tears turned to uncontrollable sobs.
"Dianna!" Cecilia called. The older woman ran after her guest. "Dianna!"
Rick stared at his sibling in open amazement. "What the hell did you do that for?"
Anger ascended on the backyard like the first forceful winds of a hurricane. "You told me I didn't have to talk to anyone I didn't want to!" A.J. shouted. "You said it was up to me to decide what I'm comfortable with and what I'm not!"
Rick was forced to admit his brother was correct. He had told A.J. that back in the restaurant the very first day they'd been reunited. Rick supposed that after everything that had happened since A.J. had been forced to see Joel on Tuesday, it probably did feel to the blond man as though he'd been betrayed.
Rick's apology was spoken softly in an effort to calm his brother down. "I'm sorry, A.J. You're right. I did say that."
"Then why?" A.J.'s questions came out in the form of a plea. "Why do you keep doing this to me? First Joel, then Abby, then...then everybody who showed up over the weekend. And now Dianna."
Before Rick could answer, his mother was at his elbow.
"A.J., please. Don't be angry with Rick. I'm the one who invited Dianna over this evening. I'm the one who decided we wouldn't tell you she was coming."
A.J. transferred his wrath from Rick to Cecilia. "Why did you do that to me? Why did you humiliate me like that? You know I can't...don't want to talk to people. What did you want to do, let her get a look at your loony son?"
Cecilia's gentle admonishment of, "A.J.," was cut-off by enraged shouts.
"Let her see for herself that I'm not the person she used to know? Let her see for herself that I can't even talk to the woman I used to make love to, much less give her all the things a woman needs from a man? Is that what you wanted to do?" A.J.'s eyes traveled from Cecilia to Rick then back again. "Is that what both of you wanted to do?"
"A.J., no," Cecilia denied. "No, sweetheart, none of those things are true."
"Yes, Mom, they are. They're all true." A.J. whirled away from his family. His voice dropped, but Rick and Cecilia were still able to hear the accusatory words he spoke. He sounded like a child whose parents no longer allowed him to associate with his best friends. "It was so much easier with Dominique. So much better. She understood. She and Malachi were the only ones who did. They never expected anything of me. They never asked me to give anything I couldn't."
Without acknowledging his mother, A.J. stomped off toward the house.
"A.J., please." Cecilia ran until she'd caught up to her youngest son. "Please. Let's go inside and talk."
A.J. made no reply. He simply sped up his footsteps until his mother could no longer keep pace. By the time Cecilia reached the patio doors A.J. had disappeared to the upper level of the house.
Cecilia's body crumbled into a ball of misery. Rick raced forward and took her in his arms. Together, they slid down to sit on the concrete. Rick could feel its harsh coldness seep through the seat of his blue jeans.
Cecilia cried into her son's shoulder. "Oh why, Rick? Why?"
Without her saying anymore, Rick knew his mother's choked litany of "Why, Rick? Why?" encompassed a thousand questions to which he had no answers.
"I don't know, Mom," Rick whispered as he rocked back and forth with Cecilia in his arms. "I just don't know."
Circumstances only worsened the following day.
Rick left right after breakfast to go to the office. He had been in the middle of several cases when he'd dropped everything to head up to San Francisco in search of his brother. Now, despite the turmoil their lives were mired in, Rick was forced out of obligation to his clients, and his thinning wallet, to return to work.
Rick's truck pulled into the driveway at noon. He'd promised his mother he would come home and have lunch with her and A.J. The detective's boot heels had just hit the blacktopped pavement when Cecilia came running around the corner of the house.
"Rick! Rick! A.J.'s gone!"
Rick met his mother halfway and grasped her by the shoulders. "What? What do you mean, he's gone?"
Cecilia's words wheezed out between gasping, winded breaths. "He was helping me in the garden. I asked him to get me a spade from the garage. When he didn't come back I went looking for him. He's gone, Rick! He's gone!"
"Whoa, Mom, whoa. Just calm down a minute. Did you look in the house? Did you--"
"Of course I looked in the house! I even looked in the basement and the attic. He's not here, Rick!" Sunlight glistened off the tears shimmering in Cecilia's eyes. "Where could he have gone?"
Rick projected an unruffled composure he didn't feel. "Calm down, Mom. He couldn't have gone very far. He probably just went for a walk. Or maybe he's talking to one of the neighbors."
Cecilia's voice rose to an almost hysterical pitch.
"Rick, after this past weekend do you really think A.J. is talking to anybody?"
She's gotta point there.
"Well, he mighta gone for a walk, like I said. Why don't you search the house one more time. If you don't find him, call Abby. She can radio the patrolmen to keep an eye out for him. In the meantime, I'll take the truck and--"
Rick never finished his sentence. Through the open windows of the house he could hear the phone ringing. His boots clacked against the drive as he raced for the kitchen door. "Phone!" He yelled over his shoulder.
Rick snared the instrument on the fifth ring. He was gasping for breath almost as hard as his mother had been a few seconds earlier. "Lo?"
"Rick, it's Randy." Randy Wells' voice dropped in tone as though he had turned away from someone in an effort to muffle his words. "Rick...A.J.'s over here."
The skin on Rick's forehead furrowed. "Over where? Where are you?"
"I'm at the house. I didn't go into the office today because I'm scheduled to fly out on a business trip at three this afternoon. I stayed home to catch up on some paperwork. A.J. showed up here about fifteen minutes ago. He's very ang...well, you'd just better come over."
By now Cecilia was standing at Rick's elbow. She had a feeling the phone call pertained to A.J., but she had no idea who Rick was talking to.
"I'll be right there. Just don't let him leave, Randy. I don't care if you gotta sit on him to do that, but don't let him outta your sight."
The phone was slammed back in its cradle. Rick exited the house the same way he'd entered it, running. Once again the only explanation his mother got was what he tossed over his shoulder on his way to the truck.
"That was Randy! A.J.'s at the house! I'll be back with him in a little while."
"But, Rick! Wait!" Cecilia thrust her head and upper body out the open door. "At the house? Why? What did Randy say?"
The only answer Cecilia received was the roar of Rick's truck engine as the vehicle came to life.
Rick hadn't been to the house on the Grand Canal since the day nine months earlier that he and his mother moved and packed A.J.'s belongings. He'd had no desire to be there, despite the fact Randy had told Rick he needed no invitation to stop by for a beer, or just to shoot the bull if he felt like it. The one and only time Rick tried to take his friend up on that offer the detective found he couldn't bring himself to turn down the familiar street that led to his brother's home. His heart had expected A.J. to greet him at the door, but his mind had told him that would never happen again. Ever since then, Rick had stayed as far away from the Grand Canal neighborhood as possible.
Rick paid no attention to the minor changes that had occurred in the neighborhood since he'd last been there. He pushed his speed as high as he dared on the quiet residential streets marked 25 miles an hour. He parked the pickup in the driveway next to Randy's Blazer. He was careful not to slam the door as he exited the vehicle. The last thing he needed was a nosy neighbor calling Dylan Reed to let her know something was going on at A.J. Simon's house.
Rick entered the house through the kitchen door. Randy was standing by the dining room table looking as uncomfortable and uncertain as any innocent bystander looks who has inadvertently gotten caught in the middle of a family squabble. A.J. was in the living room, his stance as stiff and straight as a general about to declare war. Rick had no trouble reading the unrestrained fury on his brother's face.
A.J. didn't give Rick a chance to prepare his own battle plan. He whirled on his sibling while jutting a pointed finger in Randy's direction. "What is he doing in my house?"
"No!" A.J. commanded. He marched toward his brother with lead steps that caused the dishes in one of the cabinets to rattle. "Don't tell me you're sorry. You're always sorry! It seems to be a permanent state with you and Mom lately. Now I wanna know what the hell is going on!"
Rick's reply was calm and even. "A.J., I think we'd better save this discussion until we get home. I've got the truck parked out in the drive--"
"Until we get home!" A.J. roared. "If you have yet to notice, Rick, I am home!"
"You're right," Rick agreed, with all the quiet patience of a parent who's dealing with an unreasonable child. "You are. Nonetheless, I think once you calm down you'll realize you'd rather we have this discussion in private."
Randy decided he'd rather the Simon brothers have this discussion in private, as well. Before A.J. had a chance to erupt again, Randy, in a voice full of strained cheerfulness, said to no one in particular, "I need to get moving." He reached for the suitcase he had resting at his feet, and picked up the garment bag that had been hanging across the back of a chair. "I've got a few errands to run before my flight takes off."
Randy's voice was barely audible as he paused behind Rick on his way to the door. "Do you need my help?"
Rick's eyes never left the enraged A.J., as he shook his head no. He didn't miss the relief he heard in Randy's, "I'd better be going then. I'll call you when I'm back in town."
Again, without diverting his attention from A.J., Rick nodded. He heard the firm click of the door catching with the latch as Randy hastily left the house.
A.J.'s tone was harsh and impersonal. "Okay, Rick, now you've got all the privacy you want, so start talking. What the hell is Randy doing living in my house?" A.J. glanced around the room. Though his furniture was still in place, unfamiliar pictures hung on the walls. Other personal mementos were missing as well, not only in this room, but in all the others he'd frantically searched before Rick arrived. "And where are all my things? And my car? Where's my car? I suppose you sold that out from under me, too! "
"A.J., no one has sold anything out from under you."
A.J.'s fury echoed throughout the house. "Well then what the hell is going on?"
Rick Simon took a deep breath in preparation for the storm of violent proportions he knew was bound to erupt upon A.J. hearing his explanation.
"Mom and I are renting the house to Randy. Your car...the police have never found your car. We assume it was sold to a chop shop. And as far as your things go - your clothes are in the bedroom you use as an office. All your other stuff is either at my place, at Mom's, or...packed in boxes out in the garage."
A.J.'s eyes narrowed with fury that refused to be contained. He rounded the snack bar with lightening speed and grabbed a fistful of his brother's field jacket. Rick saw the other fist flying for his face, but could do nothing to stop the bone jarring contact it made with his right cheek. The hand that still clung to Rick's jacket shook him in time to A.J.'s words.
"You bastard! As soon as I was...gone, you and Mom took my house away from me! You took everything I own away from me!"
Although the room was swimming before him in a staggering counter clockwise motion, Rick managed to attain a firm grip on each of A.J.'s wrists. By the time he'd righted himself the room had stopped moving and he was no longer seeing double.
"A.J., stop it! Stop it now! Nobody has taken anything away from you, and if you'd just calm down a minute and listen to me you'd see that."
A.J. jerked himself free of Rick's hold. His chest heaved with anger and exertion. "Then if no one's taken anything away from me, how come Randy's living in my house, and my things have been packed away as if I'm dead!"
I'm not gonna have this conversation with you if all you're gonna do is
"I have every right to yell!"
Rick ignored his brother's shout and nodded toward the den. "Let's both sit down."
"I don't wanna sit down, dammit! I wanna know why everyone else thinks they can suddenly run my life!"
"No one else is running your life, A.J."
A.J. refused to meet the blue-gray eyes that held a year's worth of pain, while at the same time they pleaded for his understanding. He turned his back on Rick and declared, "Well that's how it feels."
For one full minute the only sound in the room was the faint ticking of the battery operated kitchen wall clock and A.J.'s labored breathing. The silence that filled the house seemed to calm A.J. down in a way Rick couldn't. When Rick could no longer hear A.J. drawing in air like an enraged bull, and when the blond's rigid back and shoulder muscles began to relax, Rick spoke.
"A.J., Mom and I made the decision to rent your house to Randy so that we wouldn't be forced to sell it. I tried, but I couldn't make enough of an income workin' by myself to cover the expenses of your place, my place, and the office. And as far as packing your things away goes...believe me, we didn't do that with the hope that you were dead. That notion's so far from the truth that I refuse to entertain it. We simply did it so none of your stuff would accidentally get broken, or put some place where Mom or I couldn't find it."
If A.J. heard the sorrow in his older brother's voice brought on by the painful memories of the day Rick and Cecilia packed up his belongings, he chose to ignore it.
"I want him out."
Rick didn't have to ask who or what A.J. was referring to. "That can be arranged. He's only renting on a month-to-month basis."
"I want him out now."
"No, A.J.," Rick firmly refused that command. "Not now. First of all, he's paid up through March 31st. That's three weeks away. He has the right to stay at least that long. I'll talk to Randy when he gets back from his trip and see what we can work out."
A.J. whirled around. "See what you can work out? What you can work out, Rick?" It's my house!" A.J. slammed a finger into his chest for emphasis. "I'm back now, and you have no right to work out anything!"
Rick refused to allow his brother's outrage to ignite a fire of his own.
"By seeing what we can work out, I meant you, me, and Randy. All three of us. It wasn't my intention not to include you. But you'd better come down off your goddamn high horse, kid. I sympathize with how you feel, I really do, but you need to start seeing that everything Mom and I have done in the past year, we've done out of love for you. We may not have always made the right decisions, but we're doin' the best we can, A.J. I tried real hard not to let it get to the point that we had to rent this house out, but we had no choice. I couldn't bring in the necessary income. Then once that decision was made, Mom and I were very careful as to who we rented it to. We wanted to make sure the choice we made was one you'd approve of. Randy is an old friend. Out of loyalty to him, and in thanks for the way he's taken care of this place for the past nine months, we're not just gonna kick him out on the street."
Rick's lecture proved to be an effort in futility. All he got for his common sense and gentle patience was a wilting glare and harsh words full of bitterness, sarcasm, and cold hate.
"Oh good, we're not just going to kick Randy out on the street. Heaven forbid we should do to anyone else what Agilar did to me."
Rick tried to snare his brother's elbow as A.J. blew past him, but the blond eluded him with a side-stepped spin that would have put Michael Jordan to shame.
"A.J.!" Rick called to his brother's retreating back. The door was thrown open with such careless violence that it banged against the kitchen wall. Rick could see the clear indention of the knob in the wallpapered plasterboard.
Rick couldn't help but find a small amount of humor in the situation.
Randy rents the house for nine months and doesn't cause one iota of damage, then A.J.'s in it all of a half an hour and manages to leave a dent in the wall. Go figure.
Rick shook his head, but didn't linger any longer. He turned the lock on the knob, shut the door behind him, and trotted down the driveway after his brother.