The two blocks Rick and I had to walk to get home from the bus stop were the longest two blocks I’ve ever walked. Rick leaned so heavily on my shoulder I ached right down to my hips. I glanced up at him once and saw his face was the color of cheese and slick with sweat. His eyes were dull with pain.
“Almost there,” he muttered through gritted teeth and I don’t think he was talking to me. We turned into our street and I could see the lights on at our house. I was so glad to see the place, I could have cried. I wanted to run the rest of the way, but Rick couldn’t move any faster. We made it to the door. For a moment we stood on the doorstep, Rick gulping air and wiping sweat from his face.
“Ready?” He glanced down at me and tried to smile. I nodded and pushed open the door.
Alan sat in one of the armchairs reading the newspaper and turned when he heard the door open. He froze for a moment, staring at us, then dropped the paper on the floor and got up.
“You’re here!” Alan leaped toward us. “Thank God!” He was not surprised to see us and that seemed strange to me. Thinking about it now though, it shouldn’t have been. Will would have told him that we’d disappeared, and where else would Rick and I go? Where else did we have to go? The only thing Alan would have been surprised by was how long it had taken us to get there.
He stopped just in front of us and took in our appearance. I wonder what he saw. I knew we were filthy and scrawny from not having had enough to eat. He saw the way Rick leaned on me, and the stick, and came around behind us, slipping an arm around him and helping him to the couch. I shrugged my stiff shoulders several times, trying to work out the pain that had settled there from carrying much of Rick’s weight along with the two backpacks.
“What is it?” Alan asked, crouching down on the floor next to the couch. “Where are you hurt?”
“My ankle,” Rick said. Alan pulled the coffee table closer and very carefully lifted Rick’s injured foot so it rested on the edge.
“Can I take a look?” Alan was already pushing the wet, muddy leg of Rick’s jeans up.
Rick nodded. “Sure.” In the light he looked worse that he had outside on the street. His face was almost bloodless and the circles around his eyes were so dark that it appeared his eyes had receded into his head. He cried out once as Alan unwound the filthy bandages from around his ankle. The sticks I’d used to splint it fell to the floor. Rick’s foot sat at an awkward angle, the flesh around it black and swollen.
“Oh Rick!” Alan exclaimed. “That’s terrible. When did you do it?”
“Three or four days ago.” Rick’s voice was small.
“My God! Are you in agony?”
Rick started to shake his head, started to give Alan the same wry smile he’d been giving me for the past couple of days, but then stopped and nodded.
“It hurts,” he admitted. “It hurts a lot!” And then he was crying and it was a terrible thing to see. Rick had been so strong, so brave. It seemed wrong for him to be crying now. Alan got up and sat by him, putting his arms around him. Rick wrapped his own arms around Alan’s neck and sobbed into his shoulder.
“It hurts,” Rick choked, “I was so scared….”
Alan rubbed at the back of his head. “Shush. Don’t cry. It’s okay, Ricky. You’re home now. You’re home and I’m going to take care of you.”
“I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too.” Alan kept petting Rick. “You have no idea how much I missed you.”
I realized I was crying too. I still stood by the door, the two backpacks clutched in my arms. I dropped them to the floor and shuffled across to the couch. Before I’d even gotten all the way, Alan had one of his arms around me and pulled me down to sit on his other side, holding me tightly.
“Are you okay, little girl?” Alan’s voice was husky. I couldn’t speak, so I nodded and pressed my face into his chest. For several minutes Alan held the two of us, not speaking, just rubbing at our hair and the back of our necks. Rick stopped crying first and Alan turned back to him, face grim as he let go of me.
“We’d better go and get that ankle fixed up before we do anything else,” he said in a low voice. “It doesn’t look good. Do you think you can get up, Ricky?” Rick slid forward and started to get up, but fell back a moment later, whimpering. Alan didn’t say anything, just scooped Rick up in his arms as if he were a child, as if he were me.
“I’m too big!” Rick protested.
“No you’re not,” Alan said. He had no problem carrying Rick. “You’ve lost a lot of weight. You don’t weigh a thing. Casey, can you grab my car keys off the table?”