~ 16 ~
The next morning, Kevin awoke to the unexpected sight of Howie asleep on the floor and Nick all comfortable, snoring lightly on the bed. In his mind he knew exactly what had happened. At one point during the night, Nick must have pleaded with Howie to switch places with him, and D in his zombie like state probably just agreed.
It was no secret that when Howie was super tired you could get him to do or agree to just about anything. They had all used this to their advantage on more than one occasion, even Kevin. Ironically the most recent had to do with seating arrangements in a van on a very very long ride to a venue. Kevin had been placed right in between Nick and Brian while Howie and AJ were lucky enough to get the back all to themselves. During the first hour of the ride, Howie fell sound asleep and while he was out and they were stopped for gas, Kevin had asked him if he wouldn’t mind changing places. He had snorted, said something completely unintelligible but then just kind of agreed and moved. About ninety minutes later when he was woken up by Nick trying to throw a skittle into his mouth he had no idea how he ended up where he was, which caused everyone except Howie to erupt in fits of laughter.
Kevin carefully stood up so as not to accidentally step on his friend and made his way out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. He was excited to work with Nick on how to do simple things to defend himself. After the blond fell asleep, Kevin went over to the windows not only in the room they were sleeping in but also Howie’s room and made sure they were locked. He also went looking for Nick’s pager because he was almost certain that Don had said something to trigger Nick coming in and sleeping in the room with them. Not that it was an unusual thing, because he hated being by himself, but just the fear in his voice when he said it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to locate it but something was up and today was the day he was going to get to the bottom of it.
He only hoped that Nick would take to the idea of learning self-defense in stride and not get all defensive about it like Kevin had when his brother did the same thing shortly after he had been beaten up. Tim insisted that Kevin learn a few basics after his attack so one day in their back yard he decided to teach his younger brother how to throw a punch.
Kevin who didn’t like feeling weak to begin with just took such offense to the idea that he screamed at Tim and refused to listen to him. He knew what he was doing, he had insisted, he was attacked from behind. It could have happened to anybody, even you! He had shouted as he walked away and that was that. End of lesson.
It was his father that eventually took him aside and offered him advice on how to handle himself if a bad situation would occur. Up until that point, his dad had kept himself out of the whole situation. That was the thing with his dad; he never once made a big deal out of anything. His brothers were the ones who fussed and constantly tried to protect the youngest. Jerald senior felt his children would learn the best life lessons if they learned them through dealing on their own with only the smallest of nudges in the right direction. Tim went to his father shortly after Kevin refused his help and that sparked the patriarch’s involvement. His dad didn’t make Kevin feel like he was a loser for not knowing how to defend himself more like he was lucky that it had taken him this long before he had to worry about such things. He had explained that when he was a boy he was beaten up at the age of eight. Then he went on to say that both Jerald and Tim had their fair share of bullying instances as well, which had them out in this very back yard learning these very same things that Kevin was about to learn.
Instead of feeling belittled and embarrassed, Kevin walked away feeling empowered and most of all safe. This is what he would try to do for Nick today. He would try to channel his father’s wisdom and patience.
With that thought in his mind, he jumped in the shower and got a head start on his day.
When Kevin made his way back to the bedroom, Howie was sitting on the bed rubbing at his neck. When D looked up and saw his friend, he stopped rubbing and placed his hand up, “I know what you’re going to say so don’t even bother…”
Kevin laughed, “Good thing he’s a puppy, huh?”
“Yeah…seriously.” He answered looking over at Nick as he continued to sleep soundly. “What was he doing in here anyway?”
“Something spooked him…he asked if anyone would be able to sneak in the windows.”
Howie resumed rubbing the kink out of his neck with a look of confusion on his face, “Why?”
Kevin shrugged and moved to sit next to Howie, “My guess is he got another message. I think I’m going to teach him how to defend himself today, if that’s okay with you.”
“Fine by me, as long as I don’t have to get attacked in the process.”
Kevin nodded, “Sounds fair.”
Howie laid down not caring that Kevin was in the way as he did, “So I take it, the two of you squared things away last night then?”
“You could say that.”
“Shut up I’m trying to sleep over here…”
They both looked over at Nick whose head was just barely visible from under the covers. Howie answered his young friend by taking one of Kevin’s pillows and tossing it at his head.
~ * ~
When Kevin brought up the idea of showing Nick some fighting moves, Nick kind of shrugged it off as a whatever…if you want to show me some stuff…go ahead- type of thing. So, after some breakfast and bonding time with Howie’s parents, Kevin and Nick ventured into the back yard with a very sleepy Howie following behind.
“So, do I put up my dukes or what?”
Kevin laughed, “Put up your dukes? What are you in a 70’s cop show or something?”
“I don’t know…that’s what you always hear people say.”
Nick then showed Kevin what he was talking about by placing his two fisted hands up in the air as if he was just about to enter a boxing match. Howie was shaking his head as he sat there sipping his coffee on the back steps watching the action unfold.
“I’m not showing you boxing moves, Nick. Just basic self-defense moves.”
“Why me and not Howie?” He pointed over at D who was in mid yawn.
It occurred to Kevin at that point that Nick hadn’t clued into the fact that he was teaching him how to defend himself. He seemed pretty proud of that and wished Tim was there so he could say “See that’s how it’s done, brother!”
“I think all I’d have to do it tap Howie and he’d fall over.”
“It’s true man…”
Howie shook his head and gave Kevin the middle finger. To which brought about a big laugh from the teenager. “I learned how to kick ass from John when I was around Nicky’s age.”
“John knows how to fight?”
“Damn right I do!” All three boys turned to see John walk out the screened back door, forcing Howie to move from his spot on the stairs.
Nick walked over and embraced Johnny D in a hug. “Hey John!!”
“What are you doing here?” Howie asked his brother confused yet happy to see him.
“I wanted to make sure I came by to see these two and I guess you too.” He said smiling at his little brother. He then turned his attention back to Nick who still had him in a grasp, “So are we learning to fight today or something?” He directed the question to the blonde who finally pulled away from him.
“Kevin wanted to show me some of his moves.”
John looked at Kevin, “Did he now?” He asked with that same Dorough wink at the end. “And why is that?”
Nick shrugged, “No idea…guess he just wants to show off or something.”
John laughed, “Probably…” He tousled Nick’s hair “you know I had a lot of fun beating the crap out of Howie in this backyard.” He then glanced over at Howie who was once again sitting on the stairs and sipping his coffee. “Do you want to show him?”
Howie laughed, “Uh…no thanks.”
“Come on Howie! Let John beat the crap out of you for me…please!!”
John laughed as he looked at Nick from behind. Kevin was watching this scene with a mixture of delight but also jealousy. Even though he was very close to Tim and felt the same way about Jerald, they were never as outwardly close as Howie and his older brother were. Howie’s eyes lit up the second he saw John and you could feel the love just by the way they exchanged unspoken facial expressions. Then there was also the way that Nick was looking at John. It screamed I wish you were my older brother too!
Why Kevin was jealous of that look was beyond him, but he was. Even though he had just come to the realization that Nick did look up to him, he still felt like the kid would always fight him tooth and nail about everything. John meanwhile could do no wrong.
“Why don’t you demonstrate on Nicky?” Howie was quick to volunteer.
John grabbed Nick from behind and pulled him over his shoulder, doing the windmill as Nick screamed and laughed at the sudden motion. As this was happening, Kevin walked over to Howie as they both watched, “Maybe you guys should just adopt him. His parents probably wouldn’t even mind.”
Howie let out a little snort, “They would mind when the paychecks stopped, but don’t think my parents haven’t talked about it.”
Kevin seemed surprised, “Really?”
“The Carters fine parenting skills are a frequent source of conversation at this house. They love Nick and know he’s neglected.”
Neglected was a harsh but truly accurate word. Kevin felt stupid for being jealous of what Howie had right then and instead felt grateful for what he was given; two parents and two older brothers who loved him.
John lightly threw Nick to the ground and then helped him up. “He was rougher with me.” Howie decided to add as he gave his brother a fake growl.
“You couldn’t sue me if I accidently broke you!”
John nodded at his brother and then walked over and tousled his hair, “I love this guy!” he said as he bent down and gave Howie a kiss on the cheek. “I need to get going, just wanted to drop by and say hello.”
Howie stood up, “I’ll walk you out!”
John turned to Kevin and Nick and nodded their way, “Maybe I’ll try to drop by once more before you guys leave, if not have a safe flight!”
“Thanks!” Kevin said.
Nick looked disappointed that John wasn’t staying but he smiled through it, “See ya!” He said as the Dorough brothers walked back inside.
Nick turned to Kevin, “I really like him.” He said as he sat down on the grass.
Kevin nodded, "I do too." As he moved to sit down beside him.
"I sometimes wish that I..." Nick started before letting his thoughts drift off.
Suddenly there was a shift in the mood of the teenager as he let out a deep breath and looked straight ahead at nothing in particular. "He wants me to meet him." He blurted out unexpectedly. "He says I have no choice & I'm scared."
Nick slowly turned his head to look at Kevin who didn't know what to say.