As Liam sat in the kitchen, Terri came through the door and immediately asked about Danny.
Liam explained and Terri said, "Good, I've been wanting to ask you something. Do you have any idea of a gift for Danny for his birthday? I can never get him to tell me about anything he wants. I know in the past he didn't want me to be sad because I couldn't give him what he would like to have, but it's different now."
"He told me about that, but I do have an idea or two. He would love to have a piano in the house. Da and I know people in that business if you're interested. The other is, he really enjoyed riding over here on the bikes the other day."
"Of course! A piano would be perfect. He plays quite well, especially for someone who is mostly self-taught. A couple of years ago he won a raffle; there was a choice of prizes and he zeroed in on the three months of piano lessons. His teacher was amazed at how quickly he picked it up."
"I can believe that, I gave him a little help on an old blues piece and he had it down the next time we met. He sells himself short though or he doesn't realize how good he is with the guitar. I think he's coming out of it a little."
"He has always been shy and a little hesitant to engage others, partly I suspect, from fear of being ridiculed for being poor. That's probably why he got on so well with the boys from the Philippines. They were in the same situation."
"He mentioned them, he said they were good people. He couldn't say the same about most of the Mexican families."
"Yes, he had quite a bit of trouble with some of the Mexican boys. That doesn't mean that all Mexicans are bad people, just those few interrelated families. Their families were prone to doing whatever would bring money through the door and the kids picked up the bad attitude from that. Not all of them, it was five or six interrelated families. They were heavy into welfare fraud. One woman was receiving six checks under six different names. I know because our letter carrier occasionally screwed up our mail. I got her good, she was the mother of the boy who picked a fight with Danny, and then complained when Danny got the best of the big toad. Next time I got her checks, I wrote not at this address on them and dropped them in a mailbox near work. She could only steal my magazines and junk mail. I kept a box for bills and mail I wanted to receive. I warned her to keep her brats away from Danny or she could kiss her welfare scam goodbye."
"You're a formidable woman, I think I should introduce you to Cheri properly, she's had a look out for Danny as long as he's been at McAuliffe."
"Yes, Danny has mentioned her, but we didn't meet until that Sunday you were attacked in the park. I'm glad he has good friends at school."
"Well, I'm pretty sure Cheri met with your approval and you with hers. She warned me not to hurt Danny, you know."
"I liked her right away; and I don't believe for a moment that you would hurt Danny."
"Not for the world Terri, I love him. I would never hurt him on purpose."
"I'm sure of that, Liam."
"Well she'll be at the party; you can talk to her a bit more then."
As if stirred by their conversation, Liam's phone chirped with a text from Cheri.
"Amber and I are in, so whenever you set up the meeting we'll be there."
Liam asked if they would need a ride but Cheri said it was covered.
"Well then, that's Amber and Cheri in to meet the lad from the park. You or me da can call and set it up. I suppose it will be at the Police Station, wouldn't you think?"
The week went by quietly and Dave kept his head down. Liam hadn't even seen him since Cheri pointed him out.
"Friday evening Cheri, Amber and Amber's mom arrived at the Police Station and met up with Liam and Danny in the lobby where they were waiting with Connor and Terri."
Detective Graves met them in the lobby. "Hi folks, Mr. Fischer and his son are already here, I'll take you on back.
Once everyone was seated in the conference room, Detective Graves spoke.
"Good evening, I'm Tim Graves and on my left is Mr. Jack Fischer and his son Lawrence who prefers Larry. On my right are Ms. Teresa Sullivan and her son Daniel; also Mr. Connor Dennehy and his son, Liam, as well as Cheri Larkin, Amber Peterson and her mother Elodie. It's nice to meet you all."
Everyone looked at each other; it was a very different situation from their last meeting in the park.
"Um, hi, my name's Larry and I wanted to meet you all and apologize for everything that happened from that day. I guess the detective told you I got the wrong meds. I take some stuff to fight a couple of conditions I have and the pharmacy got the dosage wrong. They gave me way too much of one and not enough of the other; the interaction made me do stuff I would never do on my own. I don't remember much of what happened. So, I am really sorry, and I want to thank you, Liam, for not really messing me up. I hope you'll believe me that it wasn't really me."
"Hi Daniel, I'm Larry's dad, I wanted to know if you healed up okay?"
"I'm fine sir, it was just a welt. It hurt at first but after they put a cold pack on it, the pain went away and I was fine. You can't even see the mark anymore."
"Is your leg okay, Larry, I hope it wasn't too badly hurt. I had to stop you doing that and then you had that knife. It was a bit scary for me, as well."
"Actually my leg is okay, it was just a little sore and I was just really freaked out after you knocked me down and I couldn't make myself get up again. I'm sorry about the knife, it wasn't intended to be used on anyone, the blade is rounded over and the tip is blunt so it’s useless. The shrink said I was probably trying to use it to calm myself, which is why I had it in the first place. It's like a fidget spinner, I'm autistic and the repetitive motion chills me out when I get panicky. But I'm really sorry I scared everyone.
"You sure scared me, Cheri said quietly. I understand what was happening, but I didn't at the time and one of the balls just missed Amber."
"I never saw it, but I think it's really brave of you to face us and apologize. I think the boys did the right thing in deciding not to push for prosecution," Amber said.
"I have to tell you Larry, I had a bad nightmare about that day, in the dream you hit Danny in the head and I went berserk and beat you bloody. That scared me more than anything."
"I'm really glad none of you were hurt badly and I'm really sorry I scared you," repeated Larry.
"Well maybe we'll meet up in the park again and you can join us in a little football, um, soccer actually, I guess."
"I like soccer, that would be fun."
"I want to thank all of you for your kindness and understanding. I know this could have been entirely different, but you folks are good reasonable people and that is pretty evident by the way these young people express themselves," said Mr. Fischer.
Everyone shook hands and filed out of the Police Station. Daniel, Cheri, Amber and Liam gathered by Amber's mom's car.
"That went pretty good, I was hoping there wouldn't be a lot of drama or tears," Cheri offered.
"Too right, I fancy it's done with and nobody has to avoid anyone," Liam added.
"I'm cool with it, it really didn't hurt that much, you know?" Danny supplied.
Amber smiled but said nothing.
"Are you cool with it, Babe?" Cheri asked Amber.
"Oh yeah, I think it turned out good, I was just thinking what a great bunch of friends I have."
She was immediately mobbed with hugs.
"She's right you know; this is a good bunch and I hope it stays that way," Liam said quietly.
Amber's mother joined them as the adults finished their conversation. “Well girls, we had better get a move on if you two are going to see Brain Drain tonight, there might be a lot of traffic at the fairgrounds.
Everyone said their goodbyes and the girls were carried away to their concert.
"Do yas think that band is any good?" Liam asked Danny
"Well they're not my kind of music but they seem pretty popular around here," Danny replied.
"So lads, did you decide where you were going to light this evening?"
"We agreed on your place Connor, there's more to do and Liam said he'd cook for me."
"Yer in for a treat there, Danny me lad. Liam is an excellent chef. He made a great chicken dish just before my trip; I can't wait for him to repeat that one."
"Where are you and Mom going tonight?"
"Vince's spaghetti out on Foothill in Rancho, it's the original restaurant," Connor confirmed.
"Are you taking a service, or driving?"
"We'll be takin' a service, we want to be able to enjoy ourselves and after we'll head to the Comedy Club."
"Okay, I'm glad you're being careful with my mom."
"Oh Daniel, you are such a worry wart, we'll be safe. Connor is a very cautious man about that sort of thing."
"Would it be okay if we invited a couple boys from school, maybe have them stay over?" Liam asked.
"Which boys?" Terri asked in turn.
"Darren and Todd, you’ve met them, Terri," Liam reminded.
"Yes Mom, they're nice guys and we sort of checked to see if they might be interested," Danny added.
"I'll defer to Connor on this since it's his home we're discussing, but I have no objection if you say they're good boys," Terri responded.
"As long as you vouch for them lads, I'm satisfied, but I want numbers for parents in case of emergency," Connor insisted.
"I'll call Todd now; he'll give me both numbers," Danny burbled excitedly.
A few minutes later Conner had both numbers in his phone.
No more than twenty minutes later, Todd and Darren were at Liam's front door.
"You guys nearly beat us here, we just got home. We had that meeting with the kid from the park so that's done," Danny offered.
"Was he cool, I mean did he seem really sorry and do you believe what they said about his meds?" Todd asked.
"I fancy he was tellin' the truth, he seemed genuine and a decent sort, Liam responded.
"Cool, I'm glad that's over with. The whole thing must have been weird for you guys," Darren added.
"Da, this is Todd and Darren, they've become pretty good mates in a short time. Guys, this is me da, Connor, and that's Danny's mam, Terri," Liam said cordially.
The boys greeted Connor and Terri and the adults returned the greeting.
"Come on up and we can stow your gear in my room," Liam invited.
The boys climbed the stairs and were then ushered into Liam's bedroom.
"Nice room, dude, it's big and it looks really nice," Darren exclaimed.
"It is nicely decorated, Liam. I like the colors and the woodwork, it’s really cool. Nice wood floors, too," Todd observed.
"Thanks guys, I did me own decoratin' and even chose the colors in the bathroom."
"That's a huge bed, will we all fit?" Darren queried.
"It's a California King, we can all sleep crosswise on it or you can have your own room," Liam explained.
"I'm for staying together," Todd voted.
"I'm in," agreed Darren.
"Right then, what would you like to do before it gets dark, Da and Terri are leavin' around six and I'll start dinner then, but we have some time if you want to look around or do something," Liam informed their guests.
"Oh yeah, we rode our bikes over, we should get them put away unless you guys want to go check out the bike path at the park," Todd suggested.
"That would be cool, we would just need to be back before our parents take off," Liam replied.
Danny passed the word to Terri and the boys left by the garage door. Todd and Darren's bikes were right where they had been parked with their helmets, vests and gloves still in place. Liam and Danny pulled their bikes around and put on their gear.
"These are spares, me regular bike is at Danny's but we just rode these a couple of days back."
As they rode to the park Darren asked, "Hey Danny, how's little TJ doing?"
"Great, he got over his cold and he's at full power again, his dads want us to babysit next month while they go to a wedding."
"Oh cool, I bet he wears your butt out!"
"I'll have Liam with me, I think we'll be able to handle him, he's really a great kid."
"He sure likes to hug, he got Toddy in the feels pretty hard."
"I never held a little guy like that before, it just over, um…" Todd searched for a word.
"Overwhelmed?” Liam supplied, "he's a sweet little guy and it just means yas have a good heart."
"Thanks Liam, yours is pretty good too, you both are nice guys. Darren and I talk about you a lot and not just the sexy stuff… although that was pretty cool."
Liam grinned broadly but said nothing.
"Oh cool," Darren called out, "they opened the new section."
The boys rode leisurely around the bike trail over gentle inclines and grades chatting and joking as they went. They arrived back at the Dennehy home well before six and stowed the bikes and gear indoors.
Just before six, a Lincoln Mk Z appeared in the drive and the boys alerted Connor and Terri.
They were both generous with their hugs and kisses, Todd, and Darren were not left out.
Liam closed the front door and set the security system, "If yas need outside, let me know. If yas open the door it will make all sorts of noise and the law and neighbors will be here straight away.
"Okay gotcha, we don't need to go out for anything, right Darren?
"Well, let's get going on dinner and you lot can help. Maybe we can teach you how to cook without poisoning anyone, Todd."
"That would help, I feel bad that Dad has to do all the cooking."
"Have yas not had Consumer Science yet?"
"I'll have it next semester, is it hard?"
"Well, me Shan taught me, just like she taught me da, it just stuck better with me. It's not difficult and you might enjoy it."
"Daddy says they used to call it Home Economics and it was mostly for girls. Now everybody has to take it."
"I enjoy cooking; let's start you out slicing carrots, Todd."
Liam showed Todd how to hold the paring knife and the carrot so that the blade never got close to his fingers.
"Liam gave me a wonderful idea for a gift for Danny, he wants a piano but he would never ask," Terri bubbled.
"I was going to mention that Terri, Liam had said something earlier. Danny would also love a bike of his own."
"What have you got cooked up for Liam, if you don't mind saying"
"I found a steam cabinet that's just right for him."
"You mean like a sauna? Isn't that just a little adult for a twelve year old?"
Connor chuckled, "No dear, it's a cabinet to steam wood so he can bend it to make guitars and such, he's really quite talented and has interesting ideas. He's been studying sound propagation and acoustics online. He seems to watch mostly music and dashcam vids. If he's into porn it doesn't show up in the server's history logs."
It was Terri's turn to laugh now, "They are at that age now. I did find Danny looking at nude men but instead of being embarrassed, he asked why he couldn't see pictures of boys his age. He was just looking for confirmation that he was developing properly. I was going to ask if you would mind telling him what he can expect, I presume you've had the conversation with Liam."
"I'll see if I can find an opportunity to discuss that with him. I don't think he's fully in the throes of puberty but they're both on the cusp. I know that Liam has had his first wet dream, even though we had talked about them he was still caught off guard. They're both such sweet little lads that it's hard to think of them in that context but I'm thankful he feels comfortable talking about it with me. Do you know he's been trying to be careful about his speaking lately? He thinks if he tucks it in a bit that I will as well, either way it will probably be good for the pair of us."
"I did notice your accent had lessened in intensity, is that because of the meeting you've got scheduled with Mr. M."
"A bit yes, but we should discuss that in private. You never know who might be listening in public settings, hired cars as well."
"You're right of course, I'm glad I didn't blurt out the name."
"That's something I had to really stress with Duane, he was always a bit chatty in a taxi or limo but he took it to heart and now he deals with most of our security concerns."
"Ah, I see we've just passed Campus, Vince's will be just past Grove on the right." Shortly after that, they were deposited at the restaurant's entrance; Connor told the driver he would give him a call before they were ready to meet him back at the door.
After Dinner the boys spent the early evening exploring new territory and learning a bit more about each other, eventually they cuddled up together and dropped off to sleep. When Connor checked on them, he had Terri take a look.
"They're like a litter of puppies," she whispered.
"That they are," Connor replied quietly and closed the door.