Secrets Revealed (PG-13)
They were competitive adversaries who dueled for attention, success, notoriety, popularity and coverage in their athletic endeavors. They were easily the best athletes of their generation and among the best ever to attend Hillsboro High.
Although they respected each other's talents, they were never friends and they spent most of their time sparring with verbal stabs and endless one-upmanship against the other. Even when they shared the same platform at some award ceremony or presentation, they never warmed up to the other or gave each other congratulatory props.
Abby Hartwell believed that Rick Mason got more coverage and attention because he was a guy and that many didn't take her accomplishments as seriously because she was a girl. Rick felt that Abby used her beauty and sex-appeal to garner brownie points instead of relying on her athletic talents, plus she was a conceited snot who rubbed Rick the wrong way.
Still, there was no denying the skills and accomplishments of both athletes. Abby played field hockey, basketball and softball and excelled in all three, although basketball was her sport of choice. She set the all time scoring record for women basketball players in Blue County and she won three championships during her time as a Hurricane.
Rick played football, basketball and baseball, with baseball being his preferred sport and the one he most excelled in. He set the all time Blue County mark with a .427 batting average his senior year and he was playing in the local amateur Serguci Baseball League when he was fifteen, a five tool superstar nicknamed "Wheels", the last player on the field as darkness fell in spring, the last one on the gridiron in autumn, and the last one on the basketball court shooting hoops and jump shots in the spring until he couldn't raise his arms any more.
Both athletes were disciplined, dedicated, proud and diligent in their efforts and they worked hard to maintain the level of excellence they were accustomed too. There were times when Wheels would be at one end of the basketball court shooting baskets while Abby was on the other end working her own game but neither talked to the other.
Of course, most assumed the two high school superstars were fixated on their sports obsessions because they wanted to the best. Nobody knew the inner thoughts of the two enough to know that these two elite young athletes with extraordinary thresholds for work and pain were carrying their own secrets that they shared with nobody, including themselves. They were sports stars praised by their coaches and admired by their fans but they were really using sports as an escape from something dark and ugly that had happened to them, almost as if they were punishing themselves.
Ironically, both athletics ended up at nearby Green College following high school, Wheels staying local so he could continue his career with the Serguci League, Abby happy to get a full scholarship and play in front of local fans. Both students were successful at Green and both continued to fill the sports pages with their accomplishments, although they avoided one another like the plague around campus.
Wheels turned down a minor league baseball offer and stayed in the area, playing for the Serguci League while landing the job as Director of Youth Programs at the Panther Gym in Hillsboro. Because he continued playing for the Hilltop Browns in the Serguci League, Wheels' name continued to appear in the Greenville News and Dispatch on a regular basis and he used his local celebrity to help promote the youth programs at the Panther Gym.
Abby's Green College basketball career was hobbled by a series of injuries that limited her playing time and abilities. A shoulder injury, bone spurs, several concussions, a broken right toe and a shattered collarbone were among her college medical report listings but she never gave up, climbing out of bed in the pre-dawn light for her daily five-mile run and endless stomach crunches even when she couldn't play.
By her senior year, Abby suffered from excruciating pain in her feet from several stress fractures. She broke her thumb in the waning days of the season and she begged the doctor to delay needed surgery until the season was over but her Coach told her she was done and that was the end of her collegiate athletic career.
Abby graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice but she never pursed her interest in law enforcement and she lost all interest in sports involvement. She lived in her mother's house and went through a series of jobs, none of which lasted very long. Her name appeared in the court log a few times for reckless and drunken driving and she was often seen at the local bars late on Friday and Saturday nights even after she lost her license for a DWI.
Wheels was aware of Abby's public misfortunes, drama and soap operas. Acquaintances who knew of their past rivalry asked what he thought every time a new episode unfolded involving Abby but Wheels really didn't have an opinion and he didn't want to think about Abby or her problems. He felt sorry for her on certain levels but she had been such a priss in high school that a part of him felt like she got what she deserved even though he knew that was a selfish and mean attitude to take.
And then a kid named Joey Hartwell walked into Panther's Gym and wanted to join some of the youth activities. He was fourteen years old, a 'opps' baby who came along when his sister Abby was fourteen herself. When he first met him, Wheels wasn't even sure Joe was a member of the same family. He was small in stature and mousy in personality, a complete opposite of his tall and boisterous sister. He was also missing the athletic genes his sister had been graced with and the other kids were quick to make fun of him for his lack of coordination and skills.
Wheels took pity on the poor kid who had the burden of following in his sister's large footsteps of the past combined with dealing with her current reputation of washed up sports star turned drunk. Joey Hartwell shouldn't have to carry that load and it wasn't his fault he didn't have the talents of his sister so Wheels, surprisingly enough, took Joey Hartwell under his wings and worked with the kid, trying to establish a trusting relationship while building his confidence ever so slowly.
Wheels actually liked Joey who had a self-effacing sense of humor, a willingness to listen, and was a good kid, ironic considering who his sister was! After several weeks getting familiar with Joey, Wheels became aware of some of the Hartwell family dirty laundry. In addition to Abby's woes, Mr. Hartwell left the family a few years earlier, leaving Mrs. Hartwell to raise Joey as a single mother while dealing with Abby's problems. Joe didn't talk much about his family situation but it was obvious that the kid was in desperate need of some attention and stability in his life and he seemed to find it at Panther's Gym.
Wheels wondered what he would say or do if Abby stopped by to pick up her kid brother but he never saw her. It was always Mrs. Hartwell who came for her son and she would nod to Wheels with recognition, fully aware of the past rivalry between him and her daughter. Oddly, it seemed to Wheels, Mrs. Hartwell never talked with him, even to say hello. She would appear in the door looking tired and worn and quietly wait for Joey until he was ready to leave.
Wheels noticed a slow but steady improvement in Joey's attitude, demeanor, confidence and outlook whenever he visited the gym and the other kids didn't pick on him as much (partly because of Wheel's intervention). Wheels made the kid his unofficial assistant and Joey was more than happy to keep track of the statistics, score, and other requirements. Joe had a very analytical mind and he became fascinated with how the sport of basketball was played instead of being interested in playing it himself. For this reason, Wheels answered all of Joey's questions about the nuances of the game, figuring the kid might make a good coach in the future.
Wheels couldn't believe that his new best friend was a fourteen year old uncoordinated shy kid who happened to be the kid brother of Wheel's arch-enemy. At twenty-eight, Wheels found himself gravitating toward the innocence and wonderment of the fourteen year old kid, missing all those attributes about himself now that he was in his late twenties and still trying to find himself.
The afternoon's activity at the youth center was gymnastics and Joey, who had become more outgoing and participatory in recent weeks, was willing to give the balance beam a try, something he balked at when he first started coming to the gym. The kid did pretty well until he lost his balance on his fourth turn and sprawled to the floor, landing awkwardly on his wrist which quickly began to swell. Wheels was impressed that the kid didn't cry or get upset, even agreeing that they should get the wrist checked out at the hospital ER just to be sure he hadn't fractured or broken it.
Wheels called Mrs. Hartwell to let her know what had happened and where he was taking Joey.
"I'm already at the hospital," Mrs. Hartwell replied, her voice drained. "I'll meet you in the ER."
Mrs. Hartwell was indeed waiting for them upon their arrival. Wheels stayed with her and Joey through the check in process and even when he was seen by the ER Doc. It was determined that the boy had only suffered a sprain and would be good to go in a few days. Both Joey and his mother were thankful for the diagnosis and were happy when they were able to leave.
"I've been here all day," Mrs. Hartwell sighed with resignation as she led Joey toward the doors.
"Somebody sick?" Wheels wondered as he walked out with them.
"Abby's a patient here," Mrs. Hartwell explained after a moment's hesitation.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Wheels replied. "Surgery for an old sports injury or something?"
"No, she's in the psych unit," Mrs. Hartwell disclosed with a tired voice.
Wheels stopped wheeling and he looked at Mrs. Hartwell with surprise. It was only then that he noticed how defeated and even old she looked (although she was actually only around fifty). He remembered her in high school as being bubbly and enthusiastic about Abby and her sports but now she seemed beaten down by life and she never smiled.
"Maybe you could visit her?" Joey piped up hopefully.
"That's not a good idea, son," Mrs. Hartwell was quick to say.
"Why not? Joey asked with surprise.
"Because Mr. Mason never got along with your sister," Mrs. Hartwell reported.
"That's not true!" Wheels protested even though he knew she spoke the truth.
"You didn't like my sister, Wheels?" Joey wanted to know as he peered at the youth director.
"We had a sort of friendly competitive rivalry going on," Wheels diplomatically answered. "We both wanted to be the best."
Mrs. Hartwell chose not to debate him on the subject. "Come on, Joseph," she said instead. "Let's go home."
Joey gave Wheels a long look. "She really could use a friend," he said softly before following his mother out the doors and into the parking lot.
Wheels stood in the doorway for a long moment considering his options. He hadn't been inside a psych until before and he wasn't keen on seeing one now, especially with Abby Hartwell of all people inside it. He had successfully avoided his nemesis since high school. Green College was big enough where their paths rarely crossed and even when they did they ignored each other.
It was fate that brought Joey Hartwell to Panther's Gym and now if Wheels went to work tomorrow and Joey asked if he saw his poor sister, how would Wheels respond?
"Sorry, kid, your sister is a bitch and she's been crazy all her life anyway"?
If he was truly going to be a positive influence and patterning mentor for young Joey, Wheels knew he had no choice but to go see Abby Hartwell, no matter how awkward, strange, hypocritical or pointless it may have felt.
He sighed as he turned and headed for the elevator, checking out the hospital map on the wall to discover that the Mental Health Unit was on the third floor. He remembered some of the jokes from high school, even from some of the teachers about sending misbehaving kids to the 'loony bin' at the hospital if they didn't get their act together. And now he was actually going to go into the loony bin.
### ### ###
Wheels Mason stepped off the elevator and turned left, walking down the hall to the locked door at the end with a "Mental Health Unit" sign above the door. He sucked in his breath before ringing the door bell for entrance. A moment passed before the door buzzed and popped open. Wheels stepped inside as the door closed behind him and he walked down the hall toward the nurse's station. The ward looked like any other hospital except that it was nondescript in its décor. Glancing into the rooms, Wheels noticed that the walls were bare and the rooms were skimpily furnished with just a bed and a dresser and nothing else.
"May I help you?" The nurse asked when Wheels reached the counter of the station.
"I was hoping to see Abby Hartwell," Wheels replied, trying to look calm although his heart was pounding in his chest.
"Are you family?" The nurse asked.
"Not exactly," he said.
"Please sign in," the nurse said, pointing to a clipboard. "Abby is in Room 312." The nurse gestured toward the end of the hall.
Wheels nodded as he signed his name, smiling politely before continuing down the hall to Room 312, its door open. He stuck his head inside and noticed a woman lying on the naked bed with no sheets or blankets on it. She was in a semi-fetal position and her hair was covering her face. For a moment, Wheels wasn't even sure it was Abby. He didn't want to stare or gawk too long so he lightly knocked on the door frame.
"Abby?" He said softly.
Her head moved slightly and he thought he saw an eye peeking out from under her long strands of hair. He heard a groan as Abby rolled onto her back and then slowly sat up, glaring at her unexpected visitor.
"What in the hell are you doing here?" She demanded.
"I was downstairs," he mumbled, stepping into the room with uncertainty.
"What, did a little birdy tell you I was up here?" She frowned, as she brushed the hair from her face.
"Your mother, actually," Wheels revealed.
"Thanks for the privacy, Ma," Abby muttered sarcastically.
"It was your kid brother who asked me to come see you," Wheels informed her.
"Ah, yes, I hear you're working magic on the kid," Abby said, giving him a long look.
Wheels shrugged but didn't say anything. He stepped to a chair against the wall at the foot of the bed and took a seat. Abby looked awful. She was pale and thin. Her blond hair was blotted and messy, faded and frizzed. There were dark circles under her eyes. She was barefooted, wearing light green hospital skivvies.
"So, did my mother tell you that I threatened to jump off the Blue County Bridge?" Abby asked bitterly.
Wheels shook his head no.
"Did she tell you I tried to drink myself into oblivion?"
He shook his head no again.
"Did she tell you I checked myself in?" She wanted to know. "The quacks here tell me I'm suffering from depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence, and PSTD."
"You can get post-traumatic stress disorder from basketball injuries?" Wheels foolishly asked.
She looked at him as if he was the crazy one. "What, you think I want to off myself because I got hurt playing basketball?" She burst out in laughter. "Jesus Christ, Mason, you're such a moron."
He couldn't help but feel insulted by the remark. "Well, what's going on then?" He wanted to know.
"Never mind," she mumbled. "You wouldn't understand."
"I understand how hard it was for both of us in high school," he offered.
"You don't know shit," she snapped. "Besides, it's none of your damn business."
He held his hands out in a 'no harm, no foul' gesture.
She peered at him again. "Don't you feel weird working at the Panther's gym?" She wanted to know.
"Not really, why?" He asked.
"Didn't that guy molest some kid or something?"
"I think it was having sex with a consenting underage student," Wheels clarified. "His daughter runs the place now anyway. He's dead, remember?"
"Don't you think that's wrong, though?" She wanted to know. "Having sex with underaged kids?"
"Of course," Wheels said angrily, looking away with embarrassment.
"What?" She asked, surprised by his reaction.
"Nothing," he mumbled.
She rubbed her chin suspiciously and slid down to the end of the bed closer to him. "God, Mason, do you have a secret too?" She whispered, studying him intently.
He quickly looked up at her and then away. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said unconvincingly.
"It wasn't Coach Davidson was it?" She asked.
He looked at her and frowned. "What does he have to do with anything?" He asked with surprise. Then he did a double take. "What are you saying?"
Abby gave Wheels a long look while deciding whether or not she could really trust him enough to confide in him.
"He raped me," Abby said softly.
Wheels jaw dropped and he might not have believed her if it wasn't for the look on her face and the tears in her eyes, not to mention his own experience. Suddenly, he no longer resented Abby Hartwell or saw her as his competitive nemesis or a stuck up prissy bitch. He saw her the same way he saw himself: as a victim.
"It wasn't like that for me," he said quietly, staring at the floor.
"What happened?" She wanted to know.
There was a long pause while Wheels considered bolting from the room instead of revealing his secret for the first time ever. Abby patiently waited for him to speak.
"When I was ten," he finally spoke, although his voice was barely audible. "My aunt and uncle went on a three month sabbatical that summer. My cousin Charlene stayed with us while they were gone."
"How old was she?" Abby asked.
"Fifteen," Wheels sighed. "My parents saw her as a live in babysitter since they worked so much."
"And you were just a little boy," Abby said with understanding.
"All I cared about was little league baseball and watching cartoons on Saturday mornings," Wheels admitted. "I didn't have a clue about any of the stuff she knew about."
"What happened?" Abby asked gently.
"She showed me things I shouldn't have seen," Wheels revealed. "Did things she shouldn't have done. I was so naïve and dumb."
"You were ten," Abby reminded him.
"She'd make me take my clothes off and she was always naked too," Wheels said painfully. "I was frightened, embarrassed and lost every time she…..did the things she did."
Goosebumps appeared on Wheel's skin and Abby saw sweat appear on his forehead.
"I never told anybody," Wheels revealed, glancing up at Abby with pain and shame on his face. "I felt so terrible and ashamed. So bad. So guilty. So humiliated. I knew it was evil and wrong. I was bad and evil too."
"It wasn't your fault," Abby assured him with compassion. "And how could you tell someone? She was your cousin. Your family. I know you were confused and frightened."
"It happened a lot of times that summer," he sighed, closing his eyes and resting the back of his head against the wall. "I still have nightmares. I'm always ten years old with the same fears."
"I'm sorry," Abby told him sincerely.
"That's why I never dated in high school," he sighed. "I couldn't let anybody close enough to spot the truth."
"I know that feeling," Abby sighed.
"And when the guys joked or bragged about sex I wanted to puke," Wheels said. "That's why I became such a dedicated jock. It was the only way I could forget. The only way I could cleanse myself of the shame. The only way I could feel good about myself. I wasn't going to be vulnerable wearing a uniform. I wasn't going to let anybody push me around. I wasn't going to let anybody take advantage of me again. So I strived to be the best."
"I always thought you were such an asshole," Abby admitted sheepishly. "Now I'm sorry for feeling that way."
"I didn't think I was an asshole," Wheels replied defensively.
"You were always so cocky and smug," Abby complained. "Like you were better than everybody else."
"I never felt that way," Wheels confessed. "I always felt…less than," he explained. "But I would have been dead meat if I let that show through so I became the best athlete I could so nobody would know."
"You were so pious about everything," Abby noted.
"It was just an act," Wheels replied.
"Where's your cousin now?" Abby wondered.
"Married with a couple of kids out in California," Wheels answered. "I haven't seen her in years."
"That's good," Abby decided. "I guess it's too late to throw her in jail now."
"I could never do that," Wheels said.
"Why not?" Abby asked sharply. "She deserves it. You were just a kid. That's sexual abuse and statutory rape."
"Oh, so it's my turn now?" Abby said sarcastically as she got off the bed and walked to the window along the far wall.
Wheels heard her breathing from across the room.
"I was twelve when he started grooming me," she sighed, staring out the window as if she was in a fog. "I was in seventh grade and he wanted me to start on the JV high school team because I was that good. I craved the attention and he made me feel extraordinary special from the start, like I was the chosen one for basketball glory."
"You were good," Wheels told her.
"It started with him massaging my back after practices to keep me loose," she said. "By eighth grade he was rubbing my thighs underneath the coach's desk. He'd tell me not to tell anybody about our 'secret' if I wanted to play." Her eyes became teary again. "How could I turn down the Coach I needed to please if I wanted to become the best there was on the basketball court?"
"The guy was a bastard," Wheels replied.
"He was a God as far as I was concerned, the great leader who was going to make me a star," Abby said. "He was in charge of my ascension, the guy with all the power. He was charismatic, respected, beloved and admired," she sighed. "My parents thought he was terrific. They let him drive me to practice and he'd feel my thighs in the car all the time. When I was fourteen, he leaned across the seat and grabbed my boobs. He'd tell me I was the best player Hillsboro ever saw and that he wanted to be the one who took me to the promised land, college and maybe even the WNBA. That's why I strove for perfection. I wanted to be the best and to make him happy. I had to prove myself to him. He was the great coach and I wanted him to be pleased with me as a player. I was determined not to let him down but I ended up letting myself down."
"Because you didn't tell on him," Wheels realized.
"It all became a nightmare," she sighed, still staring out the window and not making eye contact with Wheels. "I couldn't fathom what would happen to my career and my life if I said something. Would kids blame me? Would I be seen as a slut and a tease? I was the one with the big future but I was also the easiest prey, blackmailed by my own stupid dream that never happened anyways."
"Because of all the injuries," Wheels said. "Seems so ironically unfair after everything you went through."
"Even at thirteen, I was by far the best player out there," Abby said, as a matter of actual fact and not as a braggart. "He had to let me play with the JVs. I was better than even most of the girls that age."
"You were a relentless attacker, a terrific shooter, and a hurricane on the court," Wheels recalled. "I still remember that game against Greenville when you scored twelve points in the last three minutes to win it."
"He had already raped me by then," Abby said without any emotion in her voice. "It was open season on me as far as he was concerned. He knew I wasn't going to tell anybody. I spent all my time hiding the truth, lying and manipulating to make sure nobody got suspicious, fabricating who I thought I should be in order to protect the secret. I flirted with guys to throw everyone off the trail of me sleeping with my coach. I played the ditzy blonde so guys would think I was interested in them even when I already had somebody."
"That's what drove me crazy the most about you!" Wheels confessed. "You used your beauty and sex-appeal to be popular instead of letting your athletic skills speak for itself."
"That was my act," Abby sighed.
"I'm sorry I thought you were a conceited snot."
She finally turned and faced him, looking him straight in the eyes. "Isn't it ironic that we both worked so hard at keeping our secret?" She asked. "All those practices, workouts and games to keep us from the truth, sticking to the fantasy of heroic games and the promise of future success just so we didn't have to deal with the evil truth."
"We could have been allies instead of adversaries," Wheels said sadly. "Our shared secret would have changed everything between us."
"We never would have admitted to it back then," Abby told him. "We were too prideful to give into the shame. I just wanted everything to go away so I lived in a world of denial. Even if you had told me about your cousin, I never would have told you about the Coach."
"Why are you telling me now?" Wheels asked.
"It felt like it was time," she replied honestly. "Now maybe we can trust each other," she said hopefully. 'I can't spend the rest of my life inside a bottle, feeling guilty for being a victim. It's too much shame and rage to keep locked inside. I need to stop thinking of ways to kill myself."
"I've felt dead inside for a long time," Wheels confessed. "When I'm not playing Serguci League ball or helping the kids at the youth center, I don't feel anything and I wake in fear because of my secret."
"It's not a secret anymore," Abby pointed out.
"For you either?" He asked.
Abby sat on the window sill and looked down at the tiled floor. "Coach moved away when we were still in high school," she said quietly. "I thought my secret would go with him but it never did. And then when things got rough for me at Green I fell apart emotionally. I was confused and frustrated and I didn't know what to do. And then my parents split up and college was over and I couldn't play anymore to hide my secret and I became a mess. Drinking to forget."
"But you finally told somebody?"
"One of the last times I was committed," she said. "I told the social worker exactly what Coach did to me. I was on the verge of doing something extreme by then. My life long dream of basketball was over and I was convinced that taking my own life was the only way to ease the pain and stop the lie. I didn't trust anybody enough to tell the truth that I had sex with my coach for several years."
"Did it help when you finally told?" Wheels asked.
She nodded yes.
"But you're back here again," Wheels said with confusion.
"It doesn't become perfect overnight, Rick," she groaned. "It's a long road back with slips and falls and relapses and pains and nightmares and guilt and shame. But I'm in therapy and I'm making progress."
"God, am I just a time release capsule ready to explode?" Wheels worried. "Am I going to end up in here someday?"
"The long-term impact of childhood sex abuse is the leading cause of attempted suicide among females," Abby offered. "I don't know what it is for guys. But now that you've told the secret you're starting your own do over."
"Does your mother know what happened?" Wheels asked.
Abby nodded her head yes. "She was almost relieved to know the truth instead of wondering why I went off the deep end."
"What about Davidson?"
"He died," Abby revealed coldly. "Couple of years ago. At least now we don't have to go through the public horror of a trial."
"I guess he got what he deserved then," Wheels remarked.
"My therapist tells me that I have to open my heart, let down my guard, and release my feelings, but all that does is rip open my wounds when I just want to run away and forget everything," Abby confessed. "I'm afraid something terrible is going to happen if people know my secret and I'm scared of my panic attacks. That's why I took an overdose of sleeping pills the first time I landed in here."
"But you're getting better now," Wheels said hopefully.
"Do I look better to you, Rick?" Abby asked sarcastically as she sat on the window sill in her hospital skivvies.
"Well, I look fine but I feel worse than ever," he sighed.
"Did you know that one in ten men have molested a child but only 3% of them get caught according to FBI statistics?" Abby asked. "And the number of molestations committed by the average pedophile range from 88 to 264 and that 25% of convicted sex offenders were arrested again after their release? And that the odds are that in a family of five, one of them have been or will be sexually abused? And most of the abusers are immediate family members or very close to the family which means that the victims often protect the perpetrator?"
"That's pretty depressing," Wheels said.
"At least you know you're not alone," Abby commented.
"But I feel alone with all the guilt and shame," he admitted.
"After I couldn't play basketball anymore I had no way to funnel my rage so now I have to find ways to release my problems, ease my pain and give my brain a rest without drinking myself into a coma or jumping off the Blue County Bridge," Abby told him. "What happened, happened and I have to get over it. It doesn't have to define me. I still have a chance to live my life if I so choose. Sexual abuse happened to me but sexual abuse isn't who I am. I can stop feeling guilty and move on. It's up to me."
"I don't know if I can take that on," Wheels admitted with a shaky voice.
"Are you happy right now, Rick?" Abby wanted to know as she stepped away from the window and sat on the edge of the bed looking at him with penetrating eyes. "How's your romantic life going? How successful have your relationships been? Do you feel comfortable with who you are? Until you surrender, you're always going to be in denial."
"I can't just vent all my rage and be done with it," he said.
"Then you will always be the lost boy and innocent child turned victim," Abby warned.
Wheels burst into tears and buried his head in his hands.
Abby knelt next to him and patted his knee. "Don't worry," she told him gently. "It's going to be all right."
"How do you know?" he sobbed.
"I just do," she answered knowingly.
"I should have run away," he moaned. "I should have yelled and screamed. I should have told someone. Why didn't I?"
"You didn't know any better," Abby answered "You were too afraid. You were too ashamed. Don't beat yourself up. It's going to be okay."
He wiped the tears from his cheeks as he stared at her. "Who would have thought you'd be the one to save me?"
She laughed, amused by the ironic reality of their situation. "I'm here to lift the last layer of fog from your brainwashed child's mind," she said. "I have apathy to the wreckage brought on you and I hope you allow yourself to finally see just how deeply you were wronged and screwed over by what happened."
"I feel better just telling you the truth," he admitted.
"There's something liberating when we finally let go," she agreed. "But the damaged child will always be there no matter how many times we tell of our torment so that's why we both need therapy," she advised.
There was a knock on the door and a kitchen staff member brought in Abby's dinner on a tray.
"Do you happen to have an extra one for my friend?" Abby asked as she stood and went to her bed.
"I can get one if you'd like," the woman replied, giving Wheels an expectant look.
"Would you like to stay for dinner, Rick?" Abby asked hopefully.
"Sure," he said, trying to collect himself from his emotional melt down. "I'd like that."
A second tray arrived and Wheels ate dinner with Abby Hartwell, the one person in his life he thought he resented, despised and disliked. But now he realized that all of that emotion had been misdirected. It was his cousin that he hated more than anybody and it was Abby Hartwell that he now admired, respected, and liked more than any other person he had ever known.
They ate their dinner together in Abby's hospital room, recapping some of their favorite athletic moments and discussing Abby's brother Joey and the strides he had made since coming to Panther's Gym.
"You know, if Joe can overcome some of his fears and obstacles, maybe I can too," Wheels decided.
"Good for you," Abby replied with a smile.
### ### ###
Three weeks passed since Wheels visited Abby in the hospital. He had found a therapist and was working on his issues. Joey was thrilled to know that his mentor had become friends with his sister who seemed to be doing well, according to Joe.
Wheels looked up one afternoon to see Abby strolling into the gym in a long white summer dress with matching sandals, her hair fresh and clean, pulled back in a pony tail. Her face was tanned and she looked healthy, refreshed and happy.
"I'm here to pick up my brother," Abby said with a smile as Wheels walked across the gym to greet her, thrilled to see her again.
"You look great!" He said with excitement.
She laughed. "I feel good," she said. "Joey tells me you've got a Serguci League game tonight."
"Wanna come?" Wheels asked hopefully. "You'd better catch me while you can."
"What do you mean?" She asked with surprise.
"This is my last season," Wheels announced. "I've decided I don't need baseball anymore to feel good about myself."
"Good for you," Abby replied. "I'll definitely come watch you play tonight."
"Maybe we could go out for an ice cream after the game," Wheels suggested.
"I'd like that," Abby said.