forgive the past with me
 

Chapter 3: The Way That I Have Been Hurt

August 19, 1957

"So, where are we going exactly?" Dan filled up his coffee mug and then sat back down at the table.

Regan took a deep breath. "The orphanage."

Dan glanced over at his uncle. "The orphanage? The one that gave my mother nightmares?"

Regan had asked Dan to stay behind when the other boys had marched over to the Wheeler apartment across the hall. He wanted Dan to accompany him somewhere, but Dan had not expected this.

Regan nodded grimly.

Dan frowned back at him. "And why do you want to go there now?"

"I know it's a long shot, but maybe if I go there I'll remember something else that will help us with the code." Regan gave Dan a somewhat sheepish look. "It's better than doing nothing."

Dan wasn't sure he agreed, but he had no qualms about visiting the place. "Do you remember where the orphanage is?"

"Not exactly. I know it's not in Manhattan." Regan scratched his head. "At least I don't think so."

Dan stared into his cup of coffee for a moment before taking a drink. He put the cup down on the table and looked at his uncle. "Do you know what it was called?"

Regan stared at the refrigerator, and then his eyes moved to the stove. "Uh, no."

Dan let out a short laugh. "So what was the plan then? Call the operator and get the addresses of all the orphanages in the area?"

Regan coughed lightly. "Well, yeah."

Dan stared at his uncle, disbelieving.

"I did that yesterday. There are six that are still active." Regan studied his cup, turning it around slowly, but his mind was obviously not on the coffee. "I checked them out, and it's not any of those."

"You're sure?" Dan raised an eyebrow. He didn't see how Regan could have gone to all those places yesterday in the amount of time he was gone.

Regan nodded. "Positive. One is Russian, one is Jewish, two only takes blacks. The other two that were possibilities were here on Manhattan, but it wasn't either of them from what little I can remember.

"So maybe the place has shut down?" Dan drummed his fingers on the table.

"God, I hope so. I went to St. Patrick's yesterday, told the Cardinal what I was looking for, and they gave me two other places to check out." Regan stood up and walked over to the kitchen counter. He picked up a piece of paper and brought it back to Dan. He pointed to the second one. "This name here sounds familiar. I think it could be the one."

Dan read the name and address. "Vernon Boulevard. I don't know where that is."

"It's in Astoria, Queens." Regan sat back down. "I looked it up yesterday on one of Mr. Wheeler's maps."

Dan finished his coffee and pushed the cup around on the table, shoving it from one hand to the other and back again. "Is this something you want to do alone or can we invite others along?"

Regan raised an eyebrow and then frowned. "You want to bring Honey?"

Dan blushed. "Well, yes, but I was actually thinking of Trixie."

"Oh?" Regan put his hand over Dan's coffee cup to keep it still. "We should talk about you and Honey, though."

"Mm." Dan didn't particularly want to talk to his uncle about Honey.

The two sat quietly for a few seconds.

"Matthew Wheeler is very protective of his daughter." Regan stated the obvious.

"So am I." Dan didn't know where those words came from. It wasn't how he expected to answer.

Regan sighed. "Dan, you've grown up really fast. You may only be fifteen but you have a lot more experience and you've seen far more of life than most fifteen year olds. Honey, on the other hand, has been sheltered. She's very innocent."

Dan's heart started beating erratically. He was not going to stop seeing Honey no matter what anyone said. Unless she herself said it, but that thought filled him with a new kind of dread. "I'm not going to hurt her. I … I care about her. A lot."

Regan shook his head slightly. "Take it slow with her, and her father. Very slow."

"I am." I've only kissed her three times. Little kisses. You have no idea how often I've wanted to do that and more.

"You may think you are, but you're going too fast." Regan frowned. "Just think it through. Pushing her to do too much too soon will just turn her, and her father, against you."

Dan started to get angry. "Just what the hell do you think I'm pushing her to do?! I'm not pushing her to do anything." Dan stood up and took a couple of deep breaths to calm down. "I'm not pressuring her, Uncle Bill. I swear it. I'm not one of those kind of boys. I'm not."

Regan set his jaw, looking at him stubbornly. "You may be pressuring her without even realizing it. She doesn't know anything about—"

Dan cut him off. "She spent most of her life in a boarding school. How do you know what she does and doesn't know?" Dan shut his mouth before he completely lost his temper. "Forget it. I'll be out on the terrace when you're ready to go." He turned and walked out of the kitchen before his uncle could say anything else.

 

"So where are we going exactly?" Trixie was sitting in the back seat of the taxi with Dan and Jim.

"31-01 Vernon Boulevard, Astoria." Regan was addressing the cab driver, not Trixie.

Dan did answer Trixie. "The orphanage where Regan and my mom had to stay for a few years."

Trixie looked at him quizzically. "What do we hope to find there?"

"Something to spark Uncle Bill's memory. Or any kind of clues to the music puzzle. Or both." Dan sat back in his seat and crossed his arms.

Jim raised an eyebrow curiously. "And you're sure he wants us along?"

Dan's mouth turned up in a half-grin. "I'm sure." He paused. "Sorry for the tension. Uncle Bill and I had an argument this morning. I'm sure he'll get over it soon."

Regan turned around to look at the three teens in the backseat and grinned. "You do know I can hear you, right?"

"Yep." Dan did know that.

"I'm already over it. You know I never stay mad long." Regan turned back around.

"Where is everyone else headed?" Dan asked, wondering what fun Jim and Trixie were foregoing to join him and his uncle.

Jim grinned. "Dad's taking everyone to your house. Well, Coney Island, anyway."

Dan let out a little snort. "Well, at least I've been there plenty of times. You two don't mind missing out?"

"Of course not," Jim answered easily. "We've both been there before, but not together—" Jim looked over at Trixie fondly. "Anyway, she'd rather go to this mysterious destination, and we'll have other chances to go there again."

"So why the two of us?" Trixie grabbed Jim's hand. "I would have thought you'd rather take Mart or Neil. Or Honey."

"She wanted to come," Jim whispered.

"I know." Dan turned to glare at the back of his uncle's head and rolled his eyes. "But apparently only three of us could come along since a taxi only holds four."

"So why did you think of us?" Trixie repeated.

Dan shrugged. "I know you really want to solve this mystery and I figured exploring buildings was more your thing than trying to figure out that code."

Trixie giggled. "That is true. Thanks." She turned to look out the window as the taxi drove onto the Queensboro Bridge.

Jim grinned. "I'm glad she likes exploring, otherwise she may never have found me. So why me?"

Dan looked over at the red-headed boy, still holding Trixie's hand. Regan wouldn't let me bring Honey. He suppressed a sigh. "The two of you both broke into your great-uncle's house and the two of you both found the money hidden there."

"We do make a good team." Trixie smiled affectionately at Jim.

 

The taxi pulled away, leaving the four of them standing on the sidewalk. Regan gazed up at the red brick building. "This is the place."

Dan looked at the building. Rows of small windows went across evenly for three floors, and tall trees lined the sidewalk in front, but the building had obviously been abandoned. Graffiti decorated the walls and some of the lower windows had been broken. "Should be easy enough to get inside."

Regan turned around and looked across the river, and Dan, Jim, and Trixie followed suit. Dan could see the lighthouse on Welfare Island and the tall buildings of Manhattan in the distance.

Regan pointed to the buildings on the smaller island. "The island—I should have remembered that before. A couple of the nuns used to tell us if we didn't behave we'd either end up in the prison or in the insane asylum on Welfare Island."

Dan raised an eyebrow. "You know those both closed a really long time ago?"

Regan nodded. "I do now, but I didn't know that when I was just five years old. One of the sisters would tell us scary stories about Blackwell's Island. That's what some of them called the place."

"Scare tactics. Jonesy would try those on me after my mom died." Jim clenched his fists.

Trixie frowned. "I think it's just awful that people who are supposed to take care of you can be so cruel."

"They weren't all cruel," Regan quickly responded. "Only two of them were, really. The rest of the nuns were pretty nice."

Dan studied the building from the outside. "So where do we start, Uncle Bill?"

His uncle frowned as he turned to face the door. "Let's get inside. Then we can start with her room."

Jim went over to one of the broken windows, but the hole in the window wasn't wide enough for him to be able to reach in and unlatch the lock.

Regan took off his jacket and wrapped it around his hand. He slammed his fist sideways into the glass.

Dan chuckled. "And I thought I was supposed to be the one who did stuff like that." He reached his arm into the broken window and unlatched it while his uncle tried to shake pieces of broken glass out of his sports coat. Then, being careful not to cut himself, he lifted the window sash with its jagged pieces of glass out of their way.

Jim grinned. "Run-away orphans unite." He clasped his hands together to create a step for Trixie so he could give her a boost.

"I'm not a run-away orphan." Trixie stuck her tongue out at him but took the offered boost and climbed inside.

Dan snickered as Jim nearly looked up her skirt as she climbed up, but then quickly turned his head away like a true gentleman should. "Be careful of the glass on the floor."

"I'll open the front door for you if I can," she called back to them. Dan could already hear her footsteps fading away from the window.

As promised, she was soon standing at the front door gesturing for Jim, Dan, and his uncle to follow her into the building.

Once inside, Regan led them with a purpose, pausing only briefly as he made his way up stairs and along hallways. He looked at doors, opened some of them, and then continued on his way. At last he stopped and gazed long and hard at one of the doors on the third floor of the building. "This is it." He opened the door and they all stepped inside.

Dan looked around the room. Very little light came from the window, and the walls were covered in dark wood paneling. The floor was also dark, making the whole thing feel more like a prison cell than a child's room.

"Sarah stayed here, with three other girls near her age." Regan's voice reminded him why he was here, and it made Dan sadder still to think of his mother staying in such a depressing place.

"Three other girls? Where did they all sleep?" Jim asked.

It was a good question. The room was only six by eight feet at the most. How could four beds fit into this space? And did they even have a dresser or armoire for their clothes?

"Bunks. Hard, metal bunks, two high on each side." Regan frowned. "Places like this operated on very little money. It might be small, but it was clean, at least."

"You're sure it was this room?" Trixie had probably observed the same thing Dan had; all the rooms looked pretty much the same.

"Positive." Regan went back to the door of the room, hanging open on its hinges. He pointed to faded impressions on the wood where numbers had previously been mounted. "Number 27. This was hers."

The room was empty and Dan wasn't sure what they should do. "There's nothing here."

Regan shook his head. He pointed to the walls. The wood paneling was scarred with numerous marks, possibly made by girls writing on it with pencils. Dan turned to the wall closest to him and saw a simple drawing, a circle for the face, a jagged line for the scowl, and dots for the eyes. More jagged lines were probably supposed to be hair.

He wasn't sure what he was looking for but he started a systematic search of the wall, while the other three did the same along the other walls.

"Regan." Trixie's voice startled Dan. He turned around to see her pointing at the wall in front of her. "Is this something?"

He watched as his uncle went over to look at what she had found. "Her initials. Yeah, I'd say that's something." His eyes scanned the wall. "And look, musical notes."

Dan stopped his search and went over to look at what they had found. The musical notes were not on staff lines like the code they had, just loose little musical notes. "And there." Dan pointed to what he had just spotted. "Her three-leaf clover."

Ten minutes later, Regan sighed. Dan had watched his uncle as he pored over the wall, then given up, and then tried again.

He exchanged a look with Jim and Trixie.

Trixie bit her lip. "Is there somewhere else she went pretty often? Somewhere she might have written something more, rather than just these few scribbles here?"

His uncle looked up at her. "There was one other place. She was always getting in trouble with the head nun, the one in charge of the older girls. She'd often leave her … locked in the closet."

Dan noticed a look of fear cross his uncle's face. He wondered if the closet was what had made her so claustrophobic.

Jim shuddered and Dan figured he must have seen that same look. "I don't even know what you're referring to, but I am so glad this place has been shut down."

Regan stood up. "Let's go."

Regan led them down a corridor. It was just a small closet, far smaller than the space he had hidden in when she was killed. It was probably supposed to hold brooms and other cleaning supplies. Two large metal shelves were bolted inside. He felt his stomach turn. His mother had been locked in here?

"Your sister was locked in here?" Jim's voice was incredulous.

"That's … that's … inhuman." Trixie sounded like she wanted to kill someone, she was that angry over it.

Dan took a breath and stepped inside. "Shut the door."

Regan shook his head. His eyes were full of fear. "I can't."

Dan stepped back out, and reached for the doorknob so he could pull the door closed as he stepped back in. He had to know what his mother had gone through.

He realized if he wanted to fit in the space and fully shut the door he would have to crouch under the bottom shelf. The thought made his stomach turn again. He contorted himself to squeeze into the space and nodded to Jim to latch the door shut.

He heard Jim's voice from the other side but couldn't make out the words through the thickness of the door. It was very dark; much darker than the closet in his old apartment. He waited a few seconds and noticed the small sliver of light that came from under the door. It was such a thin small line, but it offered him some hope, and some air. He had just started to notice how difficult it was to breathe in the space.

He managed to get his arm free from its cramped position and started to trace his fingers along the edge of the floor. It was grimy and sticky. He tried not to think about what he was touching, and he wasn't even really sure what he was hoping to find, but then he found it: a hole. He quickly drew his fingers back. It was probably a rat hole or something equally disgusting. Gingerly, he poked his finger back inside. There was something fuzzy in there. It didn't smell especially bad in the closet, so he really hoped it was just a ball of dust. This is crazy. Mom wouldn't poke her fingers inside a rat hole. He moved his fingers to the other side of the hole and felt something smooth and round. He pulled it closer to him and brushed against something else; something thin, a little bit rough. Maybe it was paper.

He wanted to get out but he couldn't reach the doorknob. He rapped as loudly as he could on the bottom of the door.

The door opened with a jolt and Jim's worried face stared at him. It took Dan some maneuvering to get himself back out of the cramped space. He stood and stretched his legs, understanding just why his mother had become claustrophobic. "How long would they keep her in there?"

His question went unanswered and he looked around the hall. "Where are Uncle Bill and Trixie?"

Jim frowned. "Regan took off and Trixie followed him. I don't think you should have done that."

"I had to." Dan looked down at his shoes. He hadn't meant to worry his uncle or cause bad memories to surface. "I had to know what she went through. Why she was always so frightened of this place. Why she hated it so much."

He laid himself down on the ground and looked inside the closet again. He tried to find the hole he had found with his hand, but he kept the door wide open this time.

"What are you doing?" Jim asked.

He found it. "There's something inside here." He sat up. "It's probably nothing, but we came all this way, we may as well check it out." He tried again to reach into the hole. He pulled out one of the things he had felt before. It turned out to be a tube of lipstick. He reached in again. "I can't quite get it."

"Let me try." Dan showed him where to reach and Jim took his place on the floor. "I think I can feel it, but my fingers are too big." Jim slid out and stood back up. "We need Trixie. Her fingers are smaller and thinner than ours."

"Can you go find them? I'll wait here."

Dan watched as Jim ran down the hall, presumably in the same direction his uncle and Trixie had earlier. "Mom," he whispered, as if her ghost could hear him. He finally let himself feel what she might have felt trapped inside there and he started to cry. "Mom," he whispered again. "You were so strong, so full of life. And some … bitch in this place tried to torture that out of you. And then Tony … oh, Mom." He let out a sob. "I couldn't have stopped him. But why did he want to kill you?" He heard footsteps down the hall and swallowed back his tears, trying to compose himself. "I'm sorry, Mom."

It took less than a minute of Jim and Dan explaining to the curly blonde what they wanted her to do, and she was already on the floor, reaching her hand in to find the hole. "Ew."

"Can you reach it?"

It was Jim who asked. Dan heard him, but he stood with his uncle a few feet away. "I'm sorry, Uncle Bill. I just …."

"It's all right." His uncle tried to smile, but failed. "This place was ... tough."

"Someday, could you tell me?" Dan was afraid to ask the question now.

But his uncle didn't understand. He raised an eyebrow, clearly puzzled. "Tell you what?"

"How long they would keep her in there? How often? Why?" Dan looked at his uncle. "And what they did to you?"

Regan swallowed loudly. "They didn't do that to me. I just got whipped sometimes. But Sarah … she had to talk back to Sister Maria Dolores. She tried to stand up for herself; to stand up for us all. She even tried to stand up for some of the other nuns. Most of them were just as terrified of Sister Maria Dolores as the rest of us were."

"I got everything I could!" Trixie yelled triumphantly as she pulled herself out and sat on the floor. Around her lay a button, something fuzzy that looked like it could have come from a sweater or jacket, and three pieces of paper. One of the papers was crumpled up, and, as Trixie started to try to open it, they could tell it just held some chewed up gum. The other two papers looked more promising; they were both neatly folded and only a little yellowed and frayed on the edges.

Dan and his uncle approached her and Jim. Dan stared at the little scraps of paper and then bent over to pick one up. On the outside, he could see the staff lines and musical notes. His heart was pounding as he slowly opened it up, making sure it didn't rip.

He stared at it blankly. "It's nothing." The ink was clearly not from a pen but from a professional typesetter, and near the top of the page was the part of the title: "We Three K". The rest of the words were ripped off, but it was probably part of a Christmas song book.

Trixie took the other one and started to open it, and then stopped herself. "Here." She held it out to Regan.

His uncle took it hesitantly. "What is it?"

Dan shrugged. "We don't know. It might not be anything, either. It might not have been Mom's at all."

Trixie gingerly stood up and wiped her hands on her red sundress, already showing a few dirt stains from the day's adventures. "All of this," she waved her hand over the stuff on the floor, "was in a hole in the closet. I'm surprised rats didn't chew it up."

His uncle carefully started to unfold the scrap of paper, making sure not to rip it, and then he suddenly let go of it. It dropped to the floor, swaying back and forth in the air lightly before hitting the ground.

Dan reached down and picked it up, immediately noticing the three-leaf clover his mother always drew. He handed it back to his uncle.

"It's a clue! It really is a clue!" Trixie's eyes sparkled and Jim looked at her with admiration.

"Not necessarily." His uncle wasn't ready to declare victory. "But it was Sarah's." He continued opening it, and then silently handed it over to Dan.

Dan could hardly believe it. "It really is a clue."


chapter 4: they're liable to send you home