don't know what i thought i would find

Chapter VIII: We'll Talk About Some Things

February 11, 1957

Danny spent the last full day of the long weekend with his uncle. While he liked spending time with the Bob-Whites, he really needed more time just hanging out with Regan. He met Regan at the stables and helped him out with the day's chores. He also received another riding lesson with Spartan.

At the end of the day, when the stables were clean and every piece of tack was in its place, the two of them walked over to the apartment above the garage that Regan occupied.

Regan opened the door and then wiped his feet before entering. Just inside the doorway was a wooden bench. Regan sat down and removed his boots, replacing them with slippers. He put the boots inside a small coat closet. "Which was more work?" Regan asked, winking. "Yesterday at the clubhouse or today at the stables?"

Danny grinned as he followed Regan into the apartment. "I can see why you say a groom's work is never done. But yesterday at the clubhouse seemed harder. We got a lot done. Everything is back to how it was, plus we helped them polish up some pieces of silver and finish a couple more chairs." He kicked his shoes off also and placed them near Regan's boots. "It wasn't all work though. We took a break in the afternoon and went skating at the lake."

"You like to skate?" Regan asked. "I remember you were skating Saturday, too."

"Yeah, it's fun. You ever skate?" Danny followed Regan into the kitchen. The room was mostly green and cream. Cream-colored walls and the cream countertop complemented the forest green paint of the backsplash area under the cabinets. Forest green café curtains screened the single window, and a dark green and cream checked tablecloth decorated a small square table. There were only two chairs on either side of the table, also covered in green fabric that matched the curtains.

Regan reached into a cabinet and pulled out two pots. "Nah. I own a pair of skates, somewhere, but I don't think I've ever even tried. Spaghetti okay?"

"Spaghetti sounds fine. Can I help?" Danny watched as Regan filled the larger pot with water and set it on the stove to boil.

"Nothing to do," Regan admitted, pulling out a jar from the fridge. "This is Mrs. Belden's canned sauce. Just need to warm it up."

"Why do I get the feeling Mrs. Belden feeds all the bachelors around here?" Danny asked, grinning. He pulled out one of the kitchen chairs and sat down.

"Because she does," Regan answered, his deep green eyes twinkling merrily. "She's a terrific lady and an even better neighbor." Regan sat across from Danny at an angle that allowed him to both watch the stove and face Danny. "Danny, ever since I've known who you are, I've been thinking." Regan's look became suddenly serious. "I know you're doing well with the Diamonds."

"Yeah. They're like family," Danny stated. He'd said pretty much the same thing to him the other day.

"That's good. Good." Regan hesitated.

"And you're family, too." Danny said. He wanted to say more, but wasn't sure what to say.

"Yeah, I'm family." Regan sighed. He got up again and grabbed two glasses from a cupboard. He filled them each with tap water and sat down again. He faced Danny. "I want to really be family to you, Danny. Not just some uncle that lives nearby. I know things are going well for you in the city, but I was kind of hoping you'd consider moving here, to Sleepyside."

Danny reached for his glass of water. It wasn't like he hadn't thought about it. He'd thought about almost nothing else. He'd talked with Neil and Harvey about it at length.

Being in Sleepyside, living with his uncle, and having Honey as his neighbor: it was appealing.

"This apartment is plenty big enough for us both," Regan said, when Danny still didn't reply.

Danny looked around. The apartment was much bigger than he thought an apartment over a garage would be. Then again, this was the Wheelers' garage, not some small Harlem or Brooklyn home garage.

Regan sighed. "Why don't you sleep on it a bit? Get used to the idea."

Danny looked up at Regan. "Uncle Bill, I don't need to sleep on it. I've already made up my mind." Danny's eyes held his uncle's. "I'm going home. To Brighton Beach," Danny stated. Regan looked like he was going to protest, but Danny cut him off. "I didn't come here to replace one family with another; I came here to find more family. And I have."

Regan nodded. His voice, when he spoke, showed his understanding, and yet also sounded somewhat defeated. "Home could be here, too."

"Yeah, home is here, with you. I already feel like this is home in so many ways. But my home is also with the Diamonds. I've gone through enough change for now. I have a good home. The Diamonds are really great. Plus, I'm in the middle of a school year." Danny fidgeted with his glass, turning it back and forth, recounting in his mind the various reasons he had to return to the city. "Then, well, you're young. And I need a mom."

"Are you trying to say I should settle down and get married?" Regan winked.

"Nah. Not yet." Danny grinned back at his uncle.

"But you need a mother. I think I get it." Regan glanced at Danny again. "And you're right in a sense. I am young. I don't know the first thing about being a parent. I just know you're the only family I have left. I'd probably treat you more like a younger brother and not be stern enough to be a father either."

"And that's a bad thing?" Danny asked, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

"You need a father. A mother. A stable, normal home life." Regan looked sad.

"The stables here aren't normal?" Danny asked, still grinning. He leaned back in his chair.

Regan grinned back, his green eyes sparkling with humor. "With Trixie and the others around, no, our stables are far from normal. Heck, I'm not even sure if our horses are normal." He lifted his glass and took a sip of water. Then, he grew serious again. "But the point is, you think you need that 'normal' family, right? A mom and a dad? All I can provide is the love of family, not the picture of one."

"The Diamonds love me," Danny stated. He'd never admitted that out loud before, but he knew it was true.

Regan's eyes widened at the resolve in Danny's voice. "I didn't mean to imply that they don't. And I'm glad to hear it. I guess you're making the right decision for yourself." He drummed his fingers on the table nervously. "I support your decision, not that you really need my support."

"Yes, I do." Danny took a deep breath before he spoke. "Saturday night, when Brian got us from the party, he said your name, that something must've happened. I didn't have the details. I was scared that I'd lost you already. I can't handle losing more family."

"I don't want to lose you either. Even if you go back to the Diamonds, I'm still your uncle," Regan affirmed. "And I'll be here for you."

Danny nodded. It was the reassurance he needed. "There's a train from the city to Sleepyside. I can be on it almost every weekend if you'll let me come visit. And you can always come down to see me, too."

Regan smiled. "You bet. I haven't been the best at this stuff in the past, you know, this keeping in touch, visiting, writing ... but I'm sure going to try harder now."

The metallic clatter of the pot lid could be heard, signaling that the water on the stove had come to a boil. Neither Danny nor Regan got up to drop in the pasta. "Then, maybe after the school year's over, and we know each other a bit better ...." Danny started. He looked at his uncle again. "When you know more about me, you can decide if you really want me around here or not."

Regan shook his head at Danny's words. "Listen, Danny, you hinted yesterday that there are some things you've done that you're not proud of. I don't exactly have a pristine past either. But I can see the person you are now. Whatever has happened, whatever either of us has done, we'll work through it and still be family." He stood up to attend to the spaghetti. "Why don't you take a look around the apartment? One of the bedrooms is empty, and as far as I'm concerned, it's yours."

Danny nodded appreciatively. He took a quick tour of the place. When they had walked in the door, they had turned to the left to get to the kitchen, which also opened up to a living room. Regan hadn't decorated much. There weren't any pictures on the walls, no knick-knacks on the end tables. The place looked bare. The sofa looked comfortable at least, and there was a TV in the room as well as a radio. But he couldn't help comparing the stark room to those in the Diamond house that were filled with all sorts of tchotchkes, as Mrs. D called the knick-knacks.

He went back toward the front door and the small hallway they had gone through. There was a door at either end of the hallway as well as one in the middle. He went over and opened the doors at the far end. The bedroom was also bare. The bed was covered with a blue spread, and a dresser stood off to the side. Danny guessed this must be the empty room. He went in and opened the closet door, surprised to find clothes hanging there, and even more surprised to see a rifle leaning in the corner. Feeling like he was intruding on his uncle's privacy, he left the room and went across the hall to the other bedroom. It was identical. The only difference was the empty closet.

He stepped into a small bathroom between the two bedrooms. Aftershave, toothpaste, and a cup holding a toothbrush were perched on the edge of the sink. Danny washed his hands quickly before returning to the kitchen.

Regan was standing by the stove, stirring Mrs. Belden's spaghetti sauce as he heated it over a burner. "Do you even live here?" he asked his uncle, half serious.

Regan chuckled. "No. I live in the stables. You've seen my office there."

Danny nodded. "Yeah, thankfully. If I hadn't seen that, I think I'd be worried. You don't mind if I bring stuff when I come to visit to make this place look, I dunno, like an actual home?"

Regan laughed harder. "Like what?"

"Pictures. Souvenirs. Books. Anything." Danny grinned.

"It is pretty bleak, isn't it?" Regan admitted. "I don't spend much time here. Half my meals are eaten at the house, so it's really only for sleeping."

"Maybe you could bring some of that personal stuff up from the office," Danny suggested. "And do you have a turntable? Mom had lots of recordings and always had music on. She didn't like quiet. Especially after dad ...."

Regan shook his head. "We have the radio. But I could get one if you like." He turned off the stove, and drained the pasta. Then, he pulled two plates out of a cupboard and started serving.

Meanwhile, Danny opened a couple of drawers until he found the silverware. He also grabbed a container of Parmesan cheese out of a cabinet. "This is supposed to be refrigerated, you know."

"Is it? I never refrigerate that stuff. I'm not even sure it's real cheese." Regan put the plates down on the table, and the two of them sat down.

A few times while they were eating, he thought Regan wanted to say something, but then didn't. Danny wondered what was on his mind. "Uncle Bill?"

"Mmm?" Regan answered, through a mouth full of pasta.

Danny decided to be direct. It always seemed to work out best when he was. "Whatever it is you want to say, could you just say it please. You're making me nervous."

Regan swallowed. "I was going to wait until we were done eating."

"Is it about my mom?" Danny pushed some pasta around with his fork, but suddenly didn't want to eat anymore.

Regan apparently felt the same. He swallowed what was in his mouth and then pushed his half-finished plate away from him. His eyes held curiosity and a hint of fear; his tone was soft and sympathetic. "You never did tell me what happened to Sarah."

"Yeah, I know." Danny wasn't sure he could say more.

"She—she always seemed strong to me. I just can't believe she's dead." Regan shook his head, as if trying to shake off some memories. "I was so mad at her when she left me at the orphanage. I found out later that she wanted to take me with her, but they wouldn't let her. She was too young to adopt me and too old to stay."

Danny listened with interest. The few stories his mom had told him about the orphanage were always bitter and angry. She had both hated and feared that place.

Regan stared at the wall as he continued his story. "When she met Tim, she wrote me, saying she could marry him and then she might be allowed to adopt me. I didn't want to be her son though, and I certainly didn't want this Tim guy around. I didn't even know him. I was seven years old and stubborn as anything. That's when I ran away."

Danny waited for his uncle to go on with the story, but Regan seemed far away. "Seven's pretty young to be on your own. How'd you manage?"

"I was scared, alone, hungry ... and lucky." Regan smiled at Danny. "Very lucky. Things could have gone wrong in so many ways. I ran into this other guy, a teenager, twice my age. He was a runaway, too. He never told me what he was running from. But he took care of me. We walked away from New York City, literally. Once in a while we'd catch a ride, hitchhiking. But mostly, we walked. We'd steal food from farms, houses, stores, anywhere we could. We got caught at one farmhouse. He ran again; I stayed behind. Best choice I made. Mrs. Oleksiuk even encouraged me to get back in touch with my sister. Not to mention she made the best pot roast I have ever tasted. Don't let Mrs. Belden know." Regan chortled.

Danny winked. "Your secret's safe with me. But if I ever find this Mrs. Oleksiuk, I will ask for some of that pot roast."

"Oh, I still have her address. Haven't written her in years, though. I suppose I ought to." Regan drummed his fingers on the table again.

Danny sat quietly for a minute. He pictured the box of letters in Regan's office. He knew he should tell Regan about his mom. He had a right to know. "She was murdered," Danny said quietly.

"Sarah?" Regan asked, his voice just a whisper.

Danny nodded. Tears burned and smarted in his eyes. Tears he hadn't ever cried. He blinked them back. "Coroner stated it was an overdose. It wasn't. The police wouldn't believe me."

Danny couldn't look up. He didn't know if Regan would believe him either, but it didn't matter. "I was home, and when Tony came in, I hid. I never liked Tony." He felt like he should explain who Tony was, but that just didn't seem important.

He continued his story, trying to stick to the facts. "Mom wasn't home. She came home while he was still ransacking the place. Looking for some papers from my dad." He didn't know if he was making any sense. The sentences were said without order. "He grabbed her, demanded she tell him where the papers were. When she didn't, she couldn't, he—. I had the papers. I'd hidden them. I should've just come out and told him. I was hiding."

Danny shook his head. Everything became muddled together. "Always hiding. From Paul. From Tony. Have to hide. I didn't think he'd ...." Danny let the tears start to fall. "I mean they couldn't have been worth ... it was ... just music." He stopped talking altogether and broke into uncontrollable sobbing.

He didn't know when it happened, but he felt strong arms holding him; protecting him. He took a few more deep, gasping breaths, letting the panic abate. He blinked his eyes a few times until his vision started to clear. Slowly, the dark blur he was seeing focused into the plaid pattern of a shirt. It took another minute for him to realize that he was in Sleepyside, in his uncle's apartment, safe.

"Shh ... Shh," his uncle was whispering softly.

Danny felt something wet splash on his cheek, one of his uncle's tears. He pushed Regan away just slightly.

Regan loosened his grip but still held him. "You okay?"

Danny nodded, and then shook his head. "No. But yeah." How could he ever really be okay?

Regan nodded, understanding. He stood up from the uncomfortable-looking crouch he'd been in to hold Danny so tightly, releasing Danny as he did so. "I'm so, I—there are no words, are there? You shouldn't have been there. I'm so very sorry."

Danny closed his eyes. Usually, he hated those words; coming from his uncle, hearing the sincerity in his uncle's voice, they were actually comforting. He opened his eyes again and looked into Regan's green eyes. The same shade as his mom's. God, he missed her. He missed her laugh, her teasing nature, even her quick temper. He started to cry again, more quietly. He didn't want to think about the past anymore. He clung to his uncle, clung tightly to the present.

chapter ix: taking me home