MoonFish–Surprise Visit!–Part 6

Okay folks– just the MoonFish tonight. Enjoy–

Surprise Visit! Part  6

The trip up was surprisingly quiet, and at first, Jackson thought it was just because the damned tank was so loud without the extra padding and insulation that Sonny and Ace had pulled out to make it slightly more fuel efficient.

Then he’d glanced in the rearview mirror and had seen Lucy Satan asleep, hands folded in her lap, head against the head rest, perfectly composed like a vampire.

But vulnerable still.

He felt bad for a moment. Ellery’s mother didn’t deserve a hit out on her–but then, she was fighting the same people in court that Jackson and Ellery had fought on the ground that winter, so maybe what she deserved and what was happening had no relation whatsoever.

“What?” Ellery practically shouted in his ear.

Jackson just shook his head, unwilling to tell Ellery that his mother looked helpless, because as far as Ellery was concerned, Lucy Satan was invulnerable and perfect, and Jackson didn’t ever want to change that for him. He felt like it was wrong on a cellular level, to let Ellery think his mother could be harmed.

They made it to Kaden and Rhonda’s house, which was back in a little development called SugarBaker’s Cove. The houses were on four to five acre plots, most of the plots filled with dense woodland beyond whatever yard development the homeowner implemented. Some people had four acres of swimming pools and tennis courts, but Kaden and Rhonda weren’t rich, only prudent. They had a backyard big enough for the kids to play kickball in, and a lot of fucking trees.

Kaden and Rhonda, and their children, River and Diamond, were out in front, nervously pacing as they pulled up. Two ginormous fucking Boxer/Mastiff hybrid dogs were sitting patiently at their heels, waiting for the occasional pet so they could slobber on whoever offered.

“Uncle Jackson!” River had grown. She was, what? Eleven this year? A beauty like her mother, she wore her hair back in thick braids, and had gotten tall enough for Jackson to rest his chin on her crown when he lowered his head.

“Hey, pretty girl,” he murmured. “What’s going on? You haven’t found him yet?”

River shook her head and wiped her eyes. “He was weird all week, like freaking out and crying and Mom and Dad couldn’t get him to talk and this morning we were supposed to go to school and he was gone before we woke up!”

“It’s a good day at school!” her brother Diamond told him. “We get treats and stuff, but maybe not…” He looked at his sister nervously. “Maybe not in the seventh or eighth grade.”

“WE get them in the sixth grade,” River sniffed. “I don’t see why Anthony wouldn’t get them in the seventh.”

Anthony had started out as a lonely kid who’d taken a job to bug Jackson and Ellery’s car. But once Jackson grabbed him–and realized that the one witness to the transaction had been killed–he’d become a witness in need of protection. Kaden and Rhonda had stepped up because Jackson had asked them to–and because the police didn’t see the need at first.

But Anthony–who’d been a foster child most of his life–had fit into the Cameron household like he’d been born into it. Kaden and Rhonda had asked if they could take over his fostering, and had been looking into an actual adoption–and the happy ever after that Anthony had cynically believed would never happen to him.

Jackson had no idea what would make the kid take off and leave. Except…

“Don’t report cards come out today?” he asked the kids.

“Yeah.” Diamond looked at his father. “I don’t get real grades yet,” he said ingratiatingly, “but if I did, I’m sure they would be A’s.” His smile–wide and white against the ebony of his skin–was extra sugary sweet.

Kaden rolled his eyes and looked at Jackson. “I so believe that,” he muttered.

“Yeah, that totally wasn’t a line.” Jackson tried to look sternly at his nephew, but Diamond’s smirk was just so transparent he couldn’t. “God, kid, you’d better get your act together for seventh grade.”

Diamond laughed outright. “Well, yeah. They use percentages and letter grades in seventh grade. I know bad things happen to people who can’t figure that out!”

The laughter relaxed the little family for just a moment, and then they sobered.

“Well,” Ellery’s mother said, a big bag of all sorts of treasures over her shoulder, “I’m sure you can completely explain to me why it’s okay to not do your best in school when you’re obviously smart enough to fool the system, but in the meantime, how about I take you children inside and we make some breakfast and let the adults try to find your foster brother.”

“Our brother,” River said fiercely. “He says ‘foster brother’ like he’s afraid he’s going to get moved to another home, and we keep trying to tell him we want him forever.” She pulled away from Jackson to look at him with pleading in her eyes. “Uncle Jackson, we’re the only home he’s ever had. I don’t even know where he thinks he’d go.”

Jackson nodded. “I would bet he’s not far away,” he said softly. In fact, he’d put actual money on it. “Go in with Lucy… uh, Mrs. Cramer, and see what she’s got for you.” He met Lucy Satan’s eyes and she nodded. “She came from a long ways away just to bring you good things.”

Lucy nodded and disappeared with the children inside, and Rhonda gave a sigh of relief.

“Oh good, they’re gone now, and I can tell you we are losing our fucking minds. Jesus, Jackson, where in the hell could that kid go?” Her eyes got bright again, like they had when they’d pulled up. “He was so happy until about a week ago, and he started slinking around like he was afraid we were going to drop the hammer on him at any moment. I caught him crying when I went to tuck him in, and he said he was just sad, but it’s got to be something.”

Jackson nodded. “I, uh…look. I’ve got an idea.” He pulled out his phone and punched some buttons. “And better yet, I’ve got a tracker on him.”

Kaden’s mouth fell open. “YOu’ve got a what?”

Jackson shrugged. “Remember? I bought him that phone when I brought him up here. He took it with him, right?”

They both nodded. “Doesn’t go anywhere without it,” Rhonda said. “Those games you let him buy are like his favorite things.”

Jackson smiled a little. “Does he have a charger?” he asked, and Kaden clapped his hand over his eyes.

“He’s got my charger! It disappeared last night!”

“I bet he packed a lunch too,” Jackson said.

Rhonda–who was Kaden’s smarter half–looked at Jackson compassionately. “What is this about?”

“You guys, grades are coming out. This kid hasn’t had you for parents very long–how good do you think his grades are going to be?”

Kaden groaned and pinned Jackson with a frustrated glare. “Oh Jesus–I should have known.”

“Kaden,” Rhonda said kindly, “it’s not your fault–how would you–“

“Oh, trust me,” Kaden muttered. “I’d know. Well, Jackson, where is he?”

“Let me go find him,” Jackson said. “I… you know. I’ve got a little experience with this.”

“Text us when you see him. I need to go have a heart attack.”

“Yeah–he’s somewhere in the backyard.”

“We’ve been back there–we spent the morning with the dogs going through the area. There’s nothing there but trees.”  Kaden looked at the dogs. “By the way, you two were a terrible disappointment in the search and rescue department. I thought you liked that kid.”

The dogs looked up at him, tongues lolling, and waited for more pets.

“Morons,” Kaden muttered.

“Anubis, Orion, door!” Rhonda commanded crisply, and the dogs ran to the front porch and turned around, ruffs bristling, eyes alert for any danger.

“Yeah, honey. They’re the dumb ones,” she said sweetly. Then, to Jackson, “You can find him?”

“I promise,” he said. “But maybe let me go alone.”

Ellery grabbed his hand. “Alone?”

Jackson winked at him. “Trust me. We’ll be fine.”

There wasn’t a hit on Anthony anymore, and the more people around Ellery’s mother the better.

Ellery kissed his cheek and let him go, and Jackson kept his eye on his phone and sauntered around to the backyard.

Kaden wasn’t kidding about it being a lot of fucking trees, but some trees are more memorable to an agile twelve-year-old than others, and Jackson spotted the appropriate tree immediately, then went to stand near the bottom.

“Anthony,” he called, looking up, “would you care to explain?”

He wanted to yell–he really did. The kid had dragged him and Ellery out of bed, had scared his entire family, had caused all sorts of trouble, and dammit, over a report card?

But Jackson looked into the kid’s tear ravaged face as he peered down from about twenty-feet, and couldn’t even be mad. He’d been that kid before. So surprised that anybody would even give a shit about his grades that he couldn’t figure out how to fix them before he let that person down.

“You can’t tell them,” he said, hiccuping. “You can’t.”

“Yeah, kid. Sure. Here–I’m coming up.”  It wasn’t a bad climb, really. Jackson was wearing a sweatshirt in deference to the coolness of the hills near Truckee and his jeans were relatively hole free. With a jump and a pull and some scrambling, he managed to make it as high as the kid was, and he stood, holding on to the trunk of the pine tree, wondering if he was going to have to cut his hair to get all the sap out.

Anthony had curly brown hair that framed his pale face, and a lot of that was matted together with pine tar. Poor kid was probably going to miss that hair when Rhonda had to shave it to his scalp.

“So,” Jackson said conversationally when he’d caught his breath, “what class are you flunking?”

Anthony looked at him with red-rimmed eyes and a wobbling lip. “All… all… all of them!” He burst into sobs, leaning up against the trunk of the tree by Jackson’s knees, and Jackson reached down and stroked his sap-sticky hair.

“Oh kid,” he said softly. “Why wouldn’t you tell them? Rhonda’s a teacher–“

“She’s a teacher,” Anthony wailed, “and I’m stupid! And how could they want me if I’m stupid–

Jackson sighed and scrambled down to a sitting position, on a limb about two feet lower than Anthony’s. “You’re not stupid,” he said softly. “You just had other things on your mind these last few years. Which home you were going to, whether you’d have clothes or food, whether your next set of parents would be dicks–man, you’ve had a full plate.”

“But everything’s perfect now,” Anthony hiccuped. “And I”m a loser who can’t pass math! Or English! Or history! Or science!”

“You passing PE?” Jackson asked, hoping for a win.

“I keep forgetting my shoes,” Anthony said glumly, and Jackson held back a smile.

“Well, yeah, some years are like that. Look. Anthony?”

Anthony stared at his tennis shoe as it dangled over the ground. “Yeah?”

“You had a raw deal. And you lost out on a lot of school. It’s March, and you didn’t start school until December, and your life was so damned up in the air. You missed out on stuff. That’s not your fault. But Kaden and Rhonda can’t help you if you don’t tell them what’s wrong. Bet you had progress reports, didn’t you?”

Anthony nodded. “They’re the old fashioned ones that come in the mail,” he muttered.

“And that’s why computer grades were invented. Believe me, nobody’s going to make that mistake again. And that’s fine.”

“But I”ll have to repeat eighth grade! River and I will have to graduate at the same time and that’s embarrassing!” he said. “I mean, she’s my sister and I don’t have anything to teach her. She knows everything and I’m so fucking stupid–“

“Okay, we’re done with that word,” Jackson said firmly. “Not stupid. You needed help. And of course you were afraid to ask for it–nobody’s ever stepped up to help you before. But man, I’ve got to tell you that those people I just met in front of the house weren’t worried about your grades, they were worried about you. River told Mrs. Cramer she couldn’t call you her foster brother–she had to call you her brother. Because they love you, kid. And loving someone means forgiving them when they screw up. Screwing up is what people do. But if you’re afraid to admit it to the people you love, you’ll never see how much they love you, you understand?”

Anthony nodded. “You think they love me?” he asked sadly.

“You love them, don’t you?” Jackson stroked his head again and wished heartily to get out of the damned tree.

“Yeah.” Anthony actually looked at him–and then wiped his nose on the sleeve of his T-shirt. “How did you know?”

“Because, kid–you couldn’t even run that far. You just climbed a tree where you could see the house. Did you even have a plan here?”

Anthony’s stomach grumbled. “I was going to sneak back in after dinner and come back out to the tree,” he confessed.

Jackson started to laugh. “That, son, is the shittiest plan in the world.”

After a moment, Anthony snorted, like he hadn’t been planning to laugh but it had just snuck out anyway. “It really is. See–I told you I was stu–“

“Shut up, kid. Not stupid. New. I was new once. Kaden’s mom taught me how to be loved. I’m not great at it, but she taught Kaden everything he knows. You’re smarter than I was at your age. I’m sure you’ll catch on faster than I did, okay?”

Anthony nodded. “Okay. Thanks, Jackson.”

Jackson’s pocket phone buzzed, and off in the distance, up in another tree, he saw the flash of what could have been a rifle scope. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and read the text.

Get out of the fucking tree, Rivers, you are giving my boss the heebie-jeebies just watching over you.

Jackson rolled his eyes. Fucking Burton.

I am talking the kid down here. Are there any hit men nearby?

No. Apparently hit men don’t know how to react to a fucking tank. They followed you until Roseville and buggered out. But we’re here, and you need to get out of the fucking tree.

Jackson snorted and put the phone back in his pocket. “Anthony?”


“Hows about we get out of the fucking tree?”

Anthony took a breath that was mostly snot. “Jackson?”


“I don’t know how.”

Jackson let out a cackle. “Okay. So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to lower myself down to the next branch, and you are going to follow my lead. Think we can do that?”

“Yeah. What about my backpack?”

“Put it on your back, kid. Let’s get down.”

It took them twenty minutes of breathless swearing and a bunch of scrapes on their hands and one on Jackson’s cheek, but they eventually got down. By the time they landed, they’d alerted the people in the house, and there was a crowd around the base of the tree, ready to help Anthony into the house and get him warmed up–and cleaned up–and to discuss a shitton of summer school. Jackson only guessed at that last part, but he figured Rhonda and Kaden would have a contingency plan for a kid who hadn’t taken the time to learn how to be a kid.

Jackson finally dropped to the ground and only Ellery was there, but he had a warm wash cloth for Jackson’s scrapes and the promise of coffee in the house.

“What was the problem?” he asked quietly as everybody went inside, the babble ensuring that Anthony would be king for the day.

“Was failing all his classes,” Jackson said. “Poor kid. I was him once.”

Ellery nodded. Jackson had told him how Jade and Kaden’s mother had made him make up a semester’s worth of work in a week so Jackson could graduate on to high school. “Did you tell him that story?” he asked curiously.

“No. I needed to listen to his story–I mean, we’re grownups. It feels like the same story to us, but to him, it was brand new.”

Ellery nodded quietly, and then, before they could get to the porch he stopped and pulled Jackson down for a kiss. It was tender and carnal at once, and it reminded Jackson at all the lessons he still had to learn about accepting love, as well as of the fact that he and Ellery hadn’t had time alone in their own house for three days.

But mostly it reminded Jackson that he was loved, and he was grateful for it.

“That was a good kiss, Counselor.”

“You’re a good man, Detective.”

They both felt Jackson’s pocket buzz, and Jackson grimaced.

“Who is it?” Ellery asked curiously.

Nice. Now get the fuck inside so I can get my boss out of his damned tree and give him a sedative. You people are driving him batshit.

“Burton says hi,” Jackson told him without inflection.

“Really? He followed us up here?”

“He’d really like us to go inside now and stop climbing trees,” Jackson added.

Ellery’s eyes grew big. “Anything else?”

“We owe Sonny and Ace big money for the tank.”

“Fantastic. Are you driving back?”

“Yes,” Jackson told him. Ellery didn’t even want to touch the tank. “Why?”

“Think Kaden and Rhonda have any alcohol?”

Jackson laughed as they hit the porch. “You don’t day drink!” he protested.

“Oh I am about to start.”

Jackson kept laughing. Yeah, sure, Ellery threatened a lot, but Jackson was pretty sure he wouldn’t have missed that morning for the world.

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