"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh.
"That's right," said Pooh to Me.
"I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo!
Silly old dragons!"- and off they flew.
"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he,
"I'm never afraid with you."
From “Us Two” by A.A. Milne
~ 12 ~
Nick had tried so hard to be strong while he was talking to his friends, but by the time he had reached them, he was so tired he thought he might drop at their feet. He had only made it halfway down the hill carrying that bag when his exhaustion overcame him and he fell to the ground. When he opened his eyes, Tim had been hovering over him, “What happened?” he had asked and completely disoriented, Nick just shrugged in reply.
“Well let’s get going then.” He sounded annoyed as he helped Nick off the ground, “I’ll just leave this here and come back for it.” He said locking his arm through Nick’s as if they were about to skip down the hill the rest of the way. Maybe his little fainting spell was a godsend because that gave him time to talk to his friends without Tim present.
Asking Kevin, AJ and Brian to let him go was probably one of the hardest things he ever had to do because every fiber in his being was telling him to say the opposite. He wanted nothing more than for the guys to just jump up and protect him. Not let him go, rescue him and keep him safe. That has always been their role as the older brothers.
He pretended to hate it when he was a kid, but secretly, he loved the kind of attention he got as the baby of the group. Every time Kevin picked on him or Howie, AJ and especially Brian, he’d be all pouty on the outside but on the inside he just yearned for more. How cool was it to suddenly have four older brothers? He used it to his advantage often. Sometimes pretending to be in trouble or need rescuing just because he wanted to see how far they would actually go to protect him. It’s something he never confessed to any of them, even Brian, but they were frequently tested by the youngest member of the band and more often than not, they would pass with flying colors.
When Kevin pulled him in for a hug, in a moment of weakness he almost started crying, wanting to beg for help. “I’m scared and in danger. Please don’t let Tim take me, Kevin.” Those words almost came out of his mouth, which is why he pulled away as fast as he did and instead told them all about what was happening.
He was sure he sounded like a madman as he ranted on about being kidnapped but he also knew there wasn’t much time. Tim only had to go halfway up the hill to retrieve the bag left behind, that would only take five or ten minutes tops, probably less. He wasn’t able to tell them everything, not nearly enough to be helpful. He wished he had taken a minute to look at the license plate of the truck before descending down the hill. That would have helped a ton.
When he said his goodbyes, he wanted to just stand behind Kevin as he used to do so many times when he was a kid and felt the least bit unsafe. He often used his oldest band mate as a human shield which all the others found really funny and as Brian always joked, “Way too cute!”
Kevin would just shake his head when Nick would move slowly behind him trying to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but as much as he pretended it was the dumbest thing in the world, Kevin always let him do it, no matter what. Sometimes he would even initiate it, if a mob was a little too unruly or they were around not the best crowd of people. Kevin would be the one to grab at Nick and pull him behind. Not that Kevin was in any condition to do anything to save him now, but still. Kevin did whisper in his ear, “We will come find you little man; you have my word.” as his grip on the baby of their family tightened which was probably the sitting down, broken equivalent to pushing Nick behind him for safe keeping.
Once out of the van, the stress of the situation, coupled with the relief he felt knowing he had helped his brothers out, proved to be too much as he became dizzy, and fell to the ground. He had no idea that AJ and Brian were out there to witness the entire thing and it kind of embarrassed him. He didn’t want them to see how weak and vulnerable he actually was, not after trying so hard to prove otherwise only moments earlier. He also knew in this state, it would be harder to convince them to go away, but yet when Tim aimed that rifle at them, he found the strength to beg them to leave and admittedly, he was disappointed when they listened.
He was on his own again.
He was just about carried back up the hill and to the truck. Tim opened the door and led him inside. “Don’t move; I need to go back and get the rifle.” Nick was so woozy and out of it he missed another opportunity. He wasn’t bound or gagged and the truck’s door was left unlocked but he just sat there, barely able to move. He wasn’t sure if he could even feel his legs anymore let alone have the energy to try to run away.
Tim looked pleased when he saw Nick just sitting there, “Good boy!” He said as he started the car and drove just a tiny bit further down the road, before turning the truck around and shutting it off.
“Why did we stop?” Nick was so weak and breathy he sounded as if he was speaking in a whisper when he was actually trying to talk in his full voice.
“Now, we wait and see if your friends will listen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You asked them not to get help, right?” Nick nodded as Tim continued, “Well we’re just making sure they listened.”
“And what if they don’t?”
“Then I shoot them.” Tim nodded and smiled proudly as if this sounded like the best plan in the world.
Nick however, found himself growing anxious, knowing that they would be coming up that hill once they thought it was safe. He forced himself to sit up straight and gave Tim his best threatening look, the one that even scared the guys, when he was out of control angry about something. “You know I won’t let you hurt them.” He wished he sounded like a force to be reckoned with but by the smile he received in return, he quickly knew he was wrong.
“Nick, how do you plan on stopping me? You can barely stand.” He shook his head, “Why are these guys so important to you anyway? Are they your family or something? How do you all know each other?”
“They kind of raised me.”
“So, they are all older than you then?”
“Are your parents dead?” Nick shook his head, not exactly sure what to say but knowing for his own good, telling him the complete truth was not the way to go. “Then what do you mean? I don’t understand how they all raised you.”
“They’ve just always looked out for me; they are more like a family than my actual family.”
“Oh, I get it, so your parents were crappy then?”
Nick actually smiled at that, “You can say that I guess.”
“My mom was my best friend. I’m sure my dad loved me too, in his own way.” Tim said in a way kids who want nothing more than love from their parents might.
Nick nodded in understanding, closing his eyes and wincing at the pain in his stomach. He started to rub it gingerly.
“Your stomach hurts?” Nick nodded while still not opening his eyes. “I have some Tums if you need them.” He heard Tim going through a bag, “I just saw them a second ago…oh here they are.”
“No thanks, I don’t think it’s that kind of pain.”
“What do you mean?”
As much as he didn’t want to admit it to himself or anyone else, he knew he was in trouble and it had very little to do with being held captive by a psycho. “I think I’m really hurt, Tim. I’m pretty sure this is going to require more than Tums and a few aspirin.”
“Don’t be silly, Nick. I’m sure you’re fine.” He half laughed, “You’re trying to distract me from watching for your friends.” Nick opened his eyes to see Tim staring at his abdomen with a worried look on his face, ironically the same exact look that Kevin or Brian would give him when concerned about something but trying to act like they weren’t.
“Did you all go to the same school?” Nick could tell, Tim still didn’t understand how they were all connected, one of them maybe, but five guys bonding together all different ages, probably made no sense. So he tried to come up with an idea that would be believable.
“We all lived on the same block growing up.”
“Oh you were all neighbors then?”
“So these guys are your best buds then?”
“I’ve been friends with them for 20 years now.”
“That’s a long time. I guess I can see why they mean something to you. You probably mean a lot to them too. I really hope they listen to you and don’t come up here looking for help. The last thing I’d want to do is kill your friends while you watched.”
He seemed so sincere when he said that it blew Nick’s mind. He actually knew Tim was telling the truth about that but he also knew that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. He’d probably cry afterwards and look to his newfound baby brother to console him.
“You suddenly look very sad. Is it because of what I might have to do to your friends? You’ll still have me and Howie.”
If he had the strength to even raise his arm, he would have reached over and punched Tim in the face but instead he just said, “You will never be able to take their place, not even close.”
Tim let out a little hurt gasp, “That wasn’t a very nice thing to say. I know you’re not feeling well so I’ll ignore it, but that was hurtful.”
“They are my big brothers, I would do anything for them and they would do anything for me.”
“Except care enough to try to save you,” Tim snorted, “They haven’t come up here yet and I have a feeling they won’t be.”
The fact that he didn’t see them coming up that ridge and through the broken fence, did bother Nick a little but it also gave him a great sense of relief. Mixed emotions seemed to be the name of the game. Besides, Kevin told him that they would find him so he had to believe that was true.
Tim started his truck, “Well we’ve been here for a while now. I think it’s safe to say they took your advice and decided to stay put.”
“I have to say though, if I was your ‘big brother,’ I would have been up that hill and after this truck so fast…but that’s just me, I guess.” He gave Nick a sideways glance and winked at him.
As they slowly drove away, Nick looked back at the spot where his big brothers were and felt a small pang in his heart, a wanting to jump out of the truck, roll down the hill and be safe within the confines of the van. A few memories hit him just then. The time when Brian decided to let Nick drive his car at the age of 14 and then instantly regretted it when it took the younger one only minutes to accidently drive into a shopping cart and dent his bumper. Or the time when Howie brought Nick to his house for Thanksgiving because his own family were occupied with Aaron’s career. The time when AJ gave Nick his very first cigarette which made him so sick, he spent the rest of the morning throwing up in AJ’s grandmother’s bathroom with the older one begging him not to tell anyone what he had done, and of course Kevin, bailing him out of trouble more times than he could count.
It was them he thought about as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.