forgive the past with me
 

Chapter 8: The World Is So Tough

August 21, 1957

"Brian's sleeping?" Regan raised a russet eyebrow, obviously surprised by this news.

"He is." Neil smirked. "I don't think he actually went to sleep until after seven this morning."

Dan nodded. "True. He was up all night trying to solve the code." He fingered the note in his pocket that Brian had written for him. The handful of musical notes looked almost like the other messages they had managed to decipher, but this one was meant for Teddy Hill. Now, he just needed to get it to him.

"Did he get anywhere with it?" Trixie yawned over her bowl of cereal even though it was nearly ten in the morning. Dan wondered how late she and the other girls had stayed up.

Mart tousled his sister's hair. "And what were you doing all night?" He effectively avoided answering her question.

Trixie snorted. "I was trying to think of some other ways to approach this whole thing, without doing anything dangerous." She stuck her tongue out at Regan while his back was turned to her, and Dan stifled a laugh.

Barbara shook her head, her loose black curls waving with the motion. "We should do some more sight-seeing today, before we have to go back to Iowa."

"That's a great idea." Miss Trask smiled at the group of youngsters. "Take some time to do something fun while you're still here."

"Don't mention going home, Babs." Bob frowned. "Our flight is tomorrow and we're no closer to solving this thing than we were on Saturday."

"As much as I hope we, well, the rest of you anyway, can decipher that code, we're spending far too much time on it and it may not even amount to anything." Honey sighed, placing her elbow on the table and then resting her cheek against her palm. "I'm really kind of worried we'll never solve it."

"I know." Harvey nodded in agreement. "I mean, maybe we'll figure it out eventually, but I don't know what more we can try."

"Sight-seeing should take our minds off it, at least temporarily," Ned commented, without any of his normal enthusiasm in his voice.

"Why don't we go see some of the museums today? I know Di's wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art." Barbara smiled at the other girl.

Miss Trask reached for her light raincoat. "If it's museums you're interested in, I would suggest going across the park to Fifth Avenue. You can visit both the Whitney and the Met. They're quite close to each other."

"That sounds divine." Di grinned. "I'd love to go to the Whitney. I've never been there before."

It wasn't long before the late breakfast was finished and the kitchen was cleaned.

Jim opened the front door and everyone started to file out of the apartment.

"Are you all coming?" Regan forced a flat cap on his head and ushered the group to the elevator. "Do you really think we should leave Brian alone here?"

Honey glanced at the door to Mr. Whitney's apartment. "He's sixteen, almost seventeen. I'm sure he'll be fine."

"Let's just leave him a note to say where we'll be. We can give him a couple of meeting times, too." Jim went back into the Whitney's home.

"Meeting times?" Di asked.

"Sure. If he's up by 1pm, we can ask him to meet us in front of the Whitney," Harvey suggested. "But if it's after that, he should meet us at the Met."

"I think it's an excellent idea. If he was up all night, he needs some rest, but I'm sure he'll want to meet up with you later." Miss Trask pushed the button for the elevator.

Jim returned with a piece of paper and a pen. He had already started the note. "What should I say our schedule will be?"

"Harvey suggested we stay at the Whitney until one," Ned repeated.

"I guess that would work. Although I love just browsing through all the displays, and I'm not sure I'll remember to keep track of the time." Di looked unsure about the idea.

"I can always go to the meeting places on my own," Dan volunteered, "and then you won't have to interrupt your fun." He watched the lighted numbers above the elevator change, indicating the car was on its way.

The elevator chimed and the door slid open. Regan held his hand against the door to prevent it from closing while everyone entered. "Let's go."

Jim nodded, quickly finishing up the note for Brian. He slid the piece of paper under the door of the Whitney's apartment. "He should see that."

 

The rain outside was light, but the occasional roll of thunder threatened a larger downpour.

"You're being quiet this morning." Dan and Honey were walking next to each other along a path in Central Park as they headed to the first museum. He looked around warily, but ever since Pedro had been arrested, he hadn't seen any sign of Tony or his scar-faced partner.

"Just thinking." Honey looked around as well. "Are you okay with walking through the park? I mean since Tony ...?"

"Yeah. I don't think he's hanging around anymore since we don't have the diamond." He reached for her hand. "Hand holding is still okay, right?"

She smiled up at him. "Yes."

They walked along quietly; some of the group was ahead of them and some behind. A couple of young kids on bicycles sped past them. "So what are you thinking about this morning?" Dan asked.

"Right this second? I was just wishing I could have had a bike when I lived here. But Mother wouldn't hear of it." Honey frowned on one side of her mouth. "At least I have one now that we live in the country."

"Why wouldn't she let you have one before?" Dan looked around at the other people enjoying the park in spite of the light rain, mostly kids playing.

"She was worried about the traffic along Central Park West." Honey frowned outright. "Though I would've walked my bike across and only ridden here in the park."

He frowned slightly, as well. "What about at boarding school? Briar Hall, Saint Elizabeth's? Did anyone ride bikes there?"

"Yes. I would really have liked to have one at Saint Elizabeth's. I got teased awfully for not knowing how to ride." She let out a small, sad sigh, and then lifted her other hand to her head and started twirling her hair around. "But at least they weren't even allowed at summer camp."

Dan was a bit surprised by that. "Really? I thought camp was supposed to be about doing all kinds of outdoor things." He would have to ask her about that teasing sometime later, but he recognized her regret in even bringing up that subject.

They turned off the street onto one of the many foot paths that took the visitors past Sheep Meadow. "Well, yes, but you have to do the camp's activities when they're scheduled."

"Oh. I've never been to camp." They continued on in comfortable silence until they got to the next road.

She shuddered slightly. "Why do they call this Dead Road?"

"I don't know. Maybe because of the eagles and their kill?" He pointed to a statue of two eagles over their prey.

She shuddered again. "That statue has always given me chills." They were approaching The Mall with its stately elm trees lining the paths. Honey pointed ahead vaguely. "Have you ever walked under the Bethesda Terrace? The tiles on the roof are so beautiful."

"They sure are." He hadn't ever thought much about the tiles before she had mentioned them. "Say, Honey, what kind of activities did you do at camp?"

"Hmm? Oh, swimming, horseback riding, archery, tennis, that kind of stuff. Why?" She walked on but he noticed the slight frown still marred her face.

"Like I said, I've never been. I was just curious, even though I've heard stories from Neil and Harvey. But theirs was a Jewish boys' camp." He shrugged his shoulders. "It sounds pretty nice. Why didn't you like it?"

Honey glanced at him, one eyebrow quirked. "Who says I didn't like it?"

He squeezed her hand lightly. "The little frown when you answered and the lack of enthusiasm in your voice."

"Oh. That obvious?" She scrunched up her mouth in that cute way he liked. "I guess it wasn't the camp itself, just the other girls there."

He nodded with understanding. "Same girls as at the boarding school?"

"Two of them were, but not the others. Unfortunately, they were the same two that have hated me and made my life miserable ever since I can remember." She frowned outright.

A group of noisy birds chirped from one of the trees. Dan listened to them squabble and glanced up to see two of them screeching loudly and chasing each other through the branches, causing the leaves to flutter in protest. "How long have you been going to schools and camp?"

"Ever since I was four. Well, summer camp anyway." She paused, breathing in deeply as if to steady her nerves. He didn't think she would say anything more, but then she did. "Boarding school started at five, at Saint Elizabeth's. That went through sixth grade. I did one year at Briar Hall and then we moved to Sleepyside."

He noticed moistness in her eyes when she answered. Four? He had a hard time imagining a mother letting her child go away for so long at such a young age. And to be gone pretty much year round from five years old, he just couldn't understand it. He squeezed her hand gently. "That must have been hard to be away from home so much."

She sniffed back some tears. "You get used to it."

He didn't think so, or at least he didn't think she ever had. "I don't think I would."

She glanced at him, looking surprised. "Why, I suppose you would. You had to live on the streets and you didn't have a home to go back to and that seems far worse."

He shook his head. "And I never got used to it."

"Oh." She put her head down and mumbled, "I'm sorry."

"So were you ever home then, between school and camp?" He thought back to her wanting a bike and was wondering when she would have ever been home to go riding here in Central Park in the first place.

"Sure. A week or so at the beginning of summer and a couple of weeks at the end. Plus Easter break and Thanksgiving, and Christmas of course." She shrugged. "To be honest, I didn't care much for going home, either."

"Oh, why not?" He would've thought she'd be happy to get away from the girls at school.

"Between the awful governesses and my parents never being there anyway, the only good thing about it was getting away from Millie and Fran." Honey sighed. "I'm sorry. I keep complaining about my life, when I've been really fortunate in so many ways, especially compared to ...." Her cheeks started to flame.

"Don't. Don't compare your life to mine." Dan tried to figure out how to say what he was thinking. He imagined himself just writing it down, and then spoke. "Just because ... just because I lost my parents and made some poor choices, that doesn't make your feelings any less important." He hoped that didn't sound as lame to her as it did to him. It had sounded much better in his mind.

Honey shook her head.

In front of them, Jim and Trixie stopped. She let go of his hand and jogged to catch up with them. He watched her hook her arm through Trixie's, and the two of them put their heads together, whispering, as they kept heading toward the museum.

Jim waited for him, and he was scowling as Dan approached. "What did you say to my sister?"

"Why?" He was surprised at the other boy's anger.

"She was crying. Which means I should probably punch you." Jim glared at him. "So, before I do, what exactly am I punching you for?"

Dan frowned. He had made her cry, but he sure hadn't meant to. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet as they walked. "We were just talking about her school and camp and how she didn't even like coming home all that much." Dan felt like a heel for being the one to bring up the subject.

Jim calmed immediately. "Oh."

"I didn't mean to upset her, honest." He half wished the other boy would punch him. He'd be able to take that better than this ache in his chest.

"Did she say anything?"

"Well, sure."

"Like what?" He sounded surprised at Dan's response.

He glanced at Honey's brother, wondering if her not talking about her past was specific to him, or if she hadn't really talked about it to any of them. He debated saying anything, not wanting to betray her confidence, but he trusted Jim, and he knew Honey trusted him even more. "Not much. Just that the only good thing about coming home on breaks was getting away from Millie and Fran." He found himself hating those two girls, faceless though they were to him.

Jim's eyebrows shot up. "Who?"

"Millie and Fran. The two girls who made her life hell at school and camp." He accidentally swore, but Jim didn't seem to notice.

"She's never told me about them." Honey's brother shook his head, bewildered. "How did you get her to open up?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. I was asking her about stuff and she just mentioned them." He'd seen the tears pool in her eyes; he should have changed the subject.

"Why wouldn't she have talked to me about them?" Her brother sounded hurt.

Dan didn't know the answer to that. He replayed the conversation in his mind, and while she had seemed sad, she didn't get really upset until she apologized for complaining and he had told her not to. "Maybe she felt like her problems didn't compare to what you had been through, like she didn't want to complain about something that she had been through when you had lived through worse?" He shrugged.

Jim nodded, a smile spreading across his face. "You're sounding an awful lot like my sister right now, but I think I get what you're saying."

They had just gotten to the Bethesda fountain and Dan turned back to look at the arches under the terrace. They had walked down the stairs on one side of the terrace rather than walking under it. He wished he and Honey would have walked underneath together and she could have shown him those tiles she admired.

Beside him, Jim was still talking. "When I first met Honey and Trixie, I pretty much blabbed my whole life story to them. It was like I had been holding all this stuff inside and I just needed to let it out. And I didn't think I'd ever see them again anyway, since I wasn't planning on staying, so it seemed fine to tell them everything. I probably shouldn't have."

Dan glanced over at Jim. "What all did you tell them?"

"Oh, you may not have heard, but everyone else in the group knows it." Jim frowned. "Mostly stuff about how my step-dad beat me, whipped me, burned me with his cigarettes, and how he tied me to the bed sometimes. For three days straight, once."

"Crap. No wonder you ran away." He knew Jim had had a mean step-father, but not to that extent. He felt a bit sick to his stomach, and he suddenly felt like he understood Honey better. His own life seemed pretty good in comparison to that. "I'm glad you got out of there."

Jim grimaced. "Me, too. But I think maybe if I hadn't told her all my troubles, she might have opened up to me more about her own."

"To be fair, she didn't say much. She just told me their names." Dan gazed ahead of them at Trixie and Honey, both wearing their Bob-White jackets. He still didn't know what exactly Millie and Fran had done to Honey, but he imagined it was pretty bad.

As if she knew they were being watched, Trixie turned around. Her eyes met Dan's and she smiled widely at him. "What was that for?" he wondered out loud.

"I don't know. I don't need to be jealous, do I?" Jim winked.

Dan shook his head. "Your step-father tied you to the bed?" He regretted asking the question aloud. "I'm sorry. It's just kind of a shock to hear that."

"No, I'm sorry. I seem to just spill my guts to anyone that will listen." Jim sighed.

"I'll listen. I think it's good that you can talk about it. I wish I could ...." Dan glanced over at the other boy again as they continued along the road.

"It was the first time I had tried to run away. I'd gotten as far as this little town called Canajoharie. I was trying to make my way back to Rochester. That's where I had lived when both my parents were still alive." Jim paused, taking a couple of deep breaths. "I'd walked all day and was looking for a place to sleep. I don't even know how he found me. Maybe someone he knew recognized me and alerted him. But I was just turning onto a side road that led into a farm and I heard the sound of Jonesy's truck behind me."

Jim looked around them warily, almost as if he expected to see his cruel step-father nearby. "I was too tired and too hungry to run or fight. He grabbed me, whipped me pretty good with his belt, and then shoved me in his truck. I thought that would be it, but he just sat, brooding, the whole ride home. I knew I'd be in for an even bigger punishment when we got there."

Jim had paused again and Dan was about to ask him a question, when the more talkative boy continued his narration. "He'd tied me up before, but he'd always let me go the next day. He expected me to be able to do my chores, after all. Only, that time, he didn't come back for me in the morning."

Dan had no idea how to respond to that. He waited a little while for Jim to go on, but the other boy remained silent. "He just left you there?" he finally asked. "He didn't even let you go to eat something? Or ... pee?"

"No." Jim shuffled along with his hands stuffed in his pockets. "The pee wasn't so bad." There was another long pause, and Dan thought he wouldn't actually talk any more about it, but he suddenly continued. "I never actually told the girls about that part of it; having to lay there in my own ... waste. It kind of killed my appetite at least, so even though I was starving, I really didn't want to eat. By the third day, I had become so dehydrated ...."

Dan felt the bile rise in his throat and forced it back down. "And your mom? Had she already passed away by then?"

"Oh, yeah. He wouldn't ever have been that cruel to me while she was still alive." Jim's eyes turned cold, scaring Dan a little. "I still don't understand why she ever married him. Anything would have been better ...."

Dan and Jim walked on quietly. Dan thought about the times he'd been beaten up by the gang, or a rival gang, or his times on the street, alone and looking for food, for warmth. He had to admit, he felt like Jim had gotten a far worse deal.

Jim turned to him, his green eyes wide, as if he had just realized something. "Well, you must have something about you that makes it easy to tell you things. No wonder she told you about those girls."

Dan shook his head, disagreeing. But, for once, he didn't want to switch the subject back to Honey. "I'm really glad you got away from him. Where is he now?"

"Back in Albany, I suppose." Jim frowned. "That's where we lived."

They had almost reached the museum when Jim spoke again. "Someday, it would be good to talk about stuff ... like our parents or our past ... and not have it hurt so much."

"I don't know," Dan answered. "If it didn't hurt, that would mean we didn't feel it anymore, right? I don't ever want to stop feeling that hurt. I think that's how people like Tony and your step-father manage to live with themselves; they don't feel the hurt anymore."

"Maybe." Jim shrugged his shoulders. "But shouldn't there be some in between place? Where we remember what we've been through, and it's sad and painful, but it doesn't pull us into our own personal hell?"


chapter 9: worry all day 'bout who they can trust