By Thalia


Eyes opened wide, blanket clutched in tight fists as close to his chest as humanly possible, JD was unseeingly looking at the ceiling. They'd all gone to bed around 9pm, although it was clear to everybody that Ezra didn't feel like going to bed so early but didn't say one word about it.

The afternoon had gone so fast his head was still spinning. Chris and Buck had walked them around the block and into the district to help them situate everything and everybody… Just in case, even though they'd been told not to walk around, they'd at least know the area. And to avoid dark alleys… he already knew all that, having lived in a not so secure area of downtown Chicago. But then, better be safe than sorry… he had spent his afternoon eyes and ears wide open taking it all in, wanting to show them he was taking all this seriously, tamping down on his usually hyperactive temper. Then he had helped set the table, just like he did at home, helped with the dishes under the surprised look of the other 'guest' who had tried to shy away from all this… what did he call it? Oh, yes 'menial labour' with this strange singing accent in his voice. But one look from Chris and Buck had him sharing the cleaning with the other boys.

And then had come the time to call his mother to tell her he had arrived safe and sound. It had been one of the conditions of his leaving. He had to be able to talk to her at least once a week, to know if she was alright. He had told her it would be the only way he would have good vacations, if he knew she was doing okay. After all, she had just finished treatment for cancer. She had been in remission for six months now, but he could still remember a time when she was so sick and he would be so scared he'd lose her for good.

Unchecked, tears began rolling off his eyes into the pillow. He didn't know for how long she'd be able to speak to him on the phone, but he wanted to be able to hear her voice for as long as she would be able to. His heart was torn apart, thinking about her and not being there for her. But it was her wish that he had at least one summer like all the other kids his age. He could still remember when he had overheard a conversation he wasn't supposed to and his world had come crashing down on him.

During her illness, his mother had befriended a man whose daughter was dying of kidney cancer. She had seen him crying his heart out after visiting the child and had talked to him, helped him through his grief… and they had become so close that he had almost been a father figure to him. But they were just friends… on his mother's part. And that day, when JD had come home early, ready to walk her across the street into the park, he had heard them talking. And his little world that had barely found its balance again had been overthrown. He could still hear their voices.

"Jim, I want him so much to have that normal summer at least once in his life before…" her voice had dipped then.

"I understand, I know but my question is when are you gonna tell him about you? He has a right to know what's going on, you know…"

"I can't do that to him… if I tell him, he will never leave here… are you sure that friend of yours won't mind?"

"Ryan? Of course not. Like I told you, they've been trying to have another child and when they didn't succeed, they looked for adoption. But it takes years before a file goes through and they have more or less lost hope… but they are always happy to help. Maggie, she's a good mother, just like you and she would like nothing better than to take care of JD, I'm sure."

"And about… the rest?" Her voice was painfully strained.

"After I told them of your boy, they were so sure they were going to love him they told me to send them the papers. They'll have them underhand and they said JD should be the one to decide what he wants. It's his life after all. They have already received the power of attorney and this morning, I mailed them the papers naming them as JD's guardians… Honey, please, don't cry…"

Muffled sobs could be heard and soft rumbling words that wanted to be reassuring.

"I'm gonna lose my baby," she finally managed to wail through her tears.

JD had been about to jump into the room at that point, when her next words had stopped him cold.

"Damn that cancer, it had to come back and haunt me when everything was finally going alright in my life… how am I gonna make him understand that I am not abandonning him? That if I had a choice I would never leave my darling boy? How? How can I bear to let him go when I have so little time left? Oh God, how can you, how can you do that to me?"

"Honey, please, let me tell him, he has the right to know… he needs to know… there is so little time left, you should let him spend those days with you, make quality time for him…"

"And let him see me get sick all over again? Let him see me so weak I won't even be able to hug him? Or stay awake enough to get my fill of looking at him? I can't, Jim, I just can't do it all over again… not a second time. I want him to keep in mind the person I am now, not the wreck I was and will soon be again… I want him to remember me alive and smiling, not so tired and sick enough to drop into unconscience… not again, never again…"

But those words could hardly be heard through the haze that had drifted into his mind after suddenly learning that the cancer was back again, and worse since… no, he couldn't believe it. No, she couldn't be… 'NO!', his mind had been screaming. And yet, all the desperate gestures, all the sudden tight hugs, all the watery looks she had directed to him these last days… all had clicked in his mind and told him that truth that he didn't want to know: his mother would not make it this time. Her tears and desperation were screaming out at him that she would never again be alright. It was there, in the hall, in front of the door opening into that little apartment that they shared that JD Dunne lost his youth as he learned he was losing his mother.

He could still remember leaving the building and stepping into the park to sit on a bench. What had gone through his 13 year-old mind at that time, he didn't know. He had been torn up inside, wanting to go to her, drop in her lap and cry his heart out like any other kid. But he just wasn't any other kid. His mother was dying and her last wishes were that he didn't know so he could go wherever that man named Ryan was and spend a summer like any other kid would. His throat had closed. He would have to go and learn to live with strangers that were to become his family. The only way his mother would be at peace was if he got along with them. And he had vowed he would. Leaving her behind had shredded him to pieces. And every fake word of happiness he had thrown into the phone tonight had been like salt onto a fresh wound.

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

Buck wasn't sure what had waken him up at first… an uneasy feelig had made its way through his deep slumber, a feeling that was soon screaming at him to wake up, that something was so very wrong…

When his mind had been clear enough, he had heard the soft sobs and something in him had suddenly weighted so heavy, a feeling at the same time so familiar and so strange. The kid was crying. Why? Feeling homesick? And then, he remembered. Chris and him had been told to keep a close brotherly watch on young JD because his mother was sick. 'Hell', he suddenly remembered, 'she was dying'. He sighed, remembering a same hurt that had been part of his life not so long ago… when he, himself, had lost his mother to a jail breakout. She had been in the middle trying to appease both sides… and when the guards had started shooting, she had been among the first to fall. Two weeks before her release. One day before he was to visit her. His world had been destroyed, or so he had thought, until the Larabees had come forward with that idea of theirs. And a few weeks later, the adoption papers had been signed by the judge and he had been part of a family once again. And there had been a brother to stand by his side when the grief had been so strong it would tear him apart. And there had been a mother to hug him to her bosom when the need had been so strong for sweetness lost. And a father to guide his steps towards manhood.

And today, JD was walking the same path. Losing his mother to illness and himself to grief.

Wordlessly, he stood up, crossed to the other bed, and still not uttering a single word, he took the sobbering boy in his arms and hugged him fiercely to his chest, murmuring reassuring nothings, letting him know that he wasn't alone in his hell any longer.

And there, in a bedroom alighted by the moon, under the watchfull eyes of the stars, a bond was formed between two lonely, torn hearts. And the healing started, before anyone else was aware, one silently promising to always be there for the other, and the other finally accepting to let go of his hurt and be a child again, just as his mother wanted him to be.

And none of them saw the door to their room close quietly on a relieved Maggie.


To Street Gang III