I wrote this story a long time ago. Be gentle. I know there are mistakes but wanted to get the final chapter in this series up on this sight.
Disclaimer – I do not own or make any money for the Hardy Boys or the Phoenix Force, of whom I have 'borrowed' a couple of characters for reference sake…Hope you don't mind Mr. Wilson.
Warnings: this story contains animal death, non-graphic child molestation and non-graphic rape. If you are not comfortable reading about these kind of things, then you can email me and I can give you a plot summary without you having to read it!
This story takes place a month after "Forever Gone" and it is beneficial to read the prior series stories first as I don't spend a lot of time rehashing what has happened up 'til now. Hope you enjoy it ~ Phoenix
Let's go to my secret place… the voice whispered around him caressing him with icy cold fingers.
NOOO…he screamed at the little boy and tried to stop him. But he couldn't move…something was holding him down. Pinning him in place as a spectator…
Desperately he tried to push the weight off him…he had to stop the child…he had to too…
And then looking down he screamed…
17-year old Joe Hardy bolted out of his sleep and glanced around wildly for a few moments before he remembered where he was. He was in his own bedroom in the house he had grown up in on the corner of Elm and High streets.
Taking a deep breath he tried to calm down. It was just a dream…well not a dream really… another damned nightmare.
If Joe was sick and tired of anything it was having nightmares. It had almost been a year since the blond haired, blue eyed youngest son of internationally known private investigator, Fenton Hardy, had been 'killed' in a car accident. Only to be returned to his family over two months later after living an amnesic life as the youngest son of twisted heiress Andreya Plythe.
And things had been rather eventful since then.
The worst, as far as Joe was concerned as he lay back down in his bed and waited for morning to come was the death of Aldo Prito a month ago.
19-year-old Frank Hardy was shocked by his brother's appearance when Joe finally did come downstairs for breakfast. He looked like he was ready to drop. His normally vibrant blue eyes looked large in his pale face as they were rounded by dark black circles.
"Another nightmare?" He asked his voice laden with concern. It seemed hardly a night went by without a nightmare of some sort and he felt a bit guilty that he had a pretty good night himself.
Occasionally he was still called to his brother's room in the middle of the night by gut wrenching screams, but not as much as anymore. So he had been hoping that maybe Joe was finally starting to get past some of the atrocities that had been inflicted on him during the last twelve months.
Joe shrugged as he sat down, drank a large glass of ice cold water and picked at a piece of toast, "What else is new?"
His voice was dripping in sarcasm but he couldn't help. His life had become one big nightmare and it was only going to get worst. Today was the last day of school and tomorrow Vanessa Bender, Joe's girlfriend, would be moving to Canada.
"Thinking about Vanessa?" Frank asked as he saw the familiar scowl on his brother's handsome face.
Joe pushed the toast away in disgust and went into the fridge for another glass of water, "Is it that obvious?"
Frank laughed, "Only to me brother dear. You are as transparent as a pane of glass."
"Speaking of pains", Joe quipped, "We'd better get on our way or else we'll be late for the last day."
Frank watched his brother down his second glass, "Aren't you going to eat anything?" His brother had lost a lot of weight in the last year and while he was slowly starting to put it back on, Frank was always a bit concerned when he didn't eat.
Joe sighed wondering if for the rest of his life his dietary fickleness would be under scrutiny, "I'm fine Mother. I've just got last day jitters. Besides I have my life blood." And he held up the small water bottle he carried almost everywhere he went.
His older brother looked skeptical but he accepted it… for now.
The last day of school was a rather somber affair as the graduation night fire had cost them two students, Mr. Prito and a favorite hangout, Mr. Pizza.
Joe saw one of his best friends, Tony Prito, closing his locker door for the final time and walked over to him.
Laying a supportive hand on Tony's shoulder Joe asked him softly, "Hey how ya holding up?"
Tony gave his friend a half hearted smile before he sighed, "I'm holding… but that's about it."
Nodding in understanding, Joe walked with Tony towards the parking lot.
He knew how Tony felt, as he had too often held the hand of grief, losing people he cared about… Iola Morton… Pharaoh Plythe… Tony's dad… and that was without thinking of the two kids from his class who also perished in the fire… or Natalie… or…
It took Joe a moment to realize that he had stopped walking and that Tony was looking at him with a concerned look on his face, "Are you okay?"
Joe shook off his reverie and plastered a phony smile on his face, knowing his friend saw through it anyway, "Yeah, come on before Frank starts to worry!"
Tony laughed knowing how right Joe was. If anyone had the market boxed in on worrying it was Frank Hardy.
Frank glanced at his watched and grumped, "Where are they? They should have been here by now!"
"Relax they'll be here! He's riding with Tony, what could go wrong?" 18-year-old blond, beefy Biff Hooper tormented. He had been wondering how long Frank would go before he'd start clock watching.
The dark haired boy skewed him a nasty look as he said sarcastically, "Thanks Biff – give me some foundation for my worry!" He was referring to a very close call Joe and Tony had had as prisoners aboard the ill-fated Fleur d'hiver only a couple of months earlier.
"Yeah… but if it's one thing Joe knows - it's his way to the beach!" 19-year old sandy haired Phil Cohen quipped trying to take the dark look off his friend's face.
"I know… I know", Frank said sighing heavily, "it's just that he's had another nightmare last night and although he didn't wake up screaming this time, I know it was a bad one – some thing's you just know."
"No screaming?" Biff offered, "That's good though isn't it?"
Frank chewed his lip thoughtfully before he finally shook his head, "I don't know. It's kind of like getting hypothermia – shivering is actually a better sign then not shivering. At least when I hear him, I know how bad it is, but when I only see him in the morning… well I just don't know. Sometimes I think his worst nightmares are the ones he can't scream out of."
"That's deep… disturbing but deep," 18-year-old Tammy Connor smiled as she caught the tail end of the conversation.
Frank immediately turned and his eyes light up in surprise when he saw the pretty girl with light brown hair and large chocolate colored eyes, which were right now sparkling with delight as she saw the older Hardy brother.
'Tammy!" He said his voice ringing with shock, "What are you doing here?"
"That's a nice way to greet someone", the girl said pretending to pout but they both knew why he was being so anxious: Callie Shaw.
"It's not that-"
"I could use a little hand here guys!" Another girl's voice called out from behind Tammy and Biff laughed, "I don't know Van, you seem to have it covered!" But he ran anyways to help his best friend's girlfriend as she struggled with a large drink cooler and some grocery bags.
The Hardys and their friends were meeting at the beach for an end of school year bonfire and party. They had debated canceling it because of what happened Grad night but then Tony Prito himself insisted they go ahead.
"Dad would be furious if he knew we cancelled a celebration because of him!" and Tony was right. The Prito patriarch loved teenagers and celebrated life at every chance. So instead of canceling it, they decided to hold it – in Aldo's honor.
"Relax Frank", Vanessa Bender said as she saw the distressed look on his face when he saw Tammy, "she's here as my friend… not your date. And speaking of which… where's Joe?" She had scanned the small group of people who had already gathered on the beach, not finding her boy friend among them.
"Right behind you", and then she dropped everything as she felt his warm embrace and then gentle kiss, "hey angel you weren't getting worried about me now where you? Every party comes with a Joe!"
Frank smiled and let out a sigh of relief when he saw his brother and Tony walking down the beach towards them. Joe's newer friend, Sean Todd, must have caught up with them somewhere along the way because he was walking with them.
He felt a horrible sense of foreboding looming over him though as he saw Tammy smile sadly as she waited for Vanessa and Joe. Callie was going to be here shortly and he just knew this was going to be another Pep-to Bismo night.
Damn you Dad, he thought and then he amended, and damn me too!
If it weren't for his father's little impropriety with Callie, then Frank would be with Tammy right now instead of waiting for Callie. But he had no choice. He wasn't ready to let the tumor tear his family apart once and fore all – not when he had worked so hard to try and restore it…
Looking at his brother laughing and smiling at Vanessa, Frank felt lucky that Joe was back at home with them again, and there was no way he was going to risk that…
So he would smile at Callie; sit with Callie; choose Callie and hope she soon got tired of him.
Frank finally understood what Joe meant that day in the Morton Farmhouse after he had been released from the hospital but went to Chet's instead of home:
"I don't understand", Frank said finally, forcing himself to hold his brother's gaze, "It wasn't Dad…it was the tumor."
Joe swallowed dryly, "See that's the problem…the tumor? Dad? I have trouble telling them apart."
And now Frank was trapped because of the tumor… his father –
… damn it was awful hard to tell them apart.
Biff's voice drew him back from his brooding as he grumped, good-naturedly, hefting the heavy cooler towards the section of the beach the group had staked out as their own, "Oh yeah Joe gets the girl… I get the workout."
"And don't you forget it", Joe quipped slipping his arm around Vanessa's waist and following Biff.
Tonight was their last night together and Joe was determined he wasn't going to let anything spoil it. It was their time – and he was not going to let any of his demons ruin it.
Laura Hardy finished putting the DVD in the machine and then came back to settle down in her husband's strong embrace. But Fenton Hardy, astute investigator that he was, could tell that there was something on her mind.
"Okay honey, what's wrong?" He asked gently although he already suspected that he knew what it might at least be concerning.
"Nothing", she said but he raised an eyebrow questioningly at her and she relented, "Okay … maybe not nothing."
"Care to elaborate or shall I be forced to use my interrogation skills, mercilessly, "he teased and she batted him playfully on the arm.
"Fenton", she scolded and then sighed and leaned back against his muscular chest. Even after being married over 20 years, he was still the man she fell in love with all those years ago, "The boys."
Ah, he thought, I was right.
"Anything more specific?" he pressed, "because if not, then I'd have to sum it up by saying the boys are fine."
Laura sighed and closed her eyes, sucking in the smell of his masculinity, "More specific. It's just so many things Fenton. I keep thinking about Vanessa's leaving the country tomorrow – how's Joe going to handle it? I really don't want to see him become that person he was after Iola's death."
Fenton sighed softly knowing exactly what she meant. They had lost Joe for a little while when his girlfriend, Iola Morton had been murdered, and now more recently… well too many times since.
Their younger son was only now starting to come back to them and Fenton wasn't to keen to see anything upset the apple cart again either.
His wife continued, "And Frank is moving out of the house at the end of August. I don't know what I'm going to do without him around. This is such a big step… my baby is going to University!"
"Well he's not technically moving out of the house, "Fenton clarified with a chuckle, "he's just moving into the dorms. He'll still be home weekends, and unless I'm misreading my older son, I'd say fairly often throughout the week."
"I know but the boys are so close. You know that's how Joe's going to see it. He's losing his girlfriend and his brother all within two months!" Laura anguished and then said more softly, "And I don't know if I'm going to be enough."
"Enough?" Fenton was confused, not sure he was following his wife's thinking.
"Enough for Joe. No one knows him like Frank does… and Joe still has such a long ways to go. I don't know what to do for him," Laura admitted it miserably and felt like it was a personal attack on her abilities as a mother.
Fenton kissed her cheek gently, "Honey Joe is doing a lot better… and it's not just you here. I'll be here too and Frank is only a phone call away, and you know he'd be here in a heartbeat if we needed him to be… at least he's not going out of state."
Laura looked horrified for a moment but then relaxed, "I guess you're right. I'm just so terrified of messing this up and of losing Joe –"
"Shhh", he cut her off, "we're not going to lose Joe. And everything will be fine. Look honey, I know what I'm talking about. I hurt him… terribly. And I can't look at him without remembering what I did… or hear him breathing and know I'm responsible for that… but he is still here. And we are working it out… together. Now it's not perfect and we still have a long way to go, but Joe is not as fragile as we sometimes think. And heaven knows, he has the most indomitable spirit I've ever seen – so you'll be fine, he'll be fine, Frank'll be fine and I'll be fine. Trust me on this Laura. It will be fine."
"I do," and then she hesitated and he knew there was more.
"But then there's Callie…."
Laura never saw the pained look cross her husband's face as she continued, "Why is Frank back with her when it's so obvious that he doesn't love her. I just don't understand it. It's like she's got something over him and for the life of me I wish I knew what it was."
Fenton didn't say anything and his wife continued, "Frank is such a handsome, warm, caring, smart guy… it's not like he'd be hard pressed to find someone else as great as he is. I just don't like seeing my baby so obviously unhappy. It's not fair…!"
He chuckled trying to distract his wife, "Sounds like it's a good thing he's our son and you're not into younger guys, or else I think I'd have some serious competition." Fenton nuzzled her neck affectionately and felt her shiver in response.
"Hmmm maybe", she grinned as she turned around to look at him and he pulled her into a gentle kiss, "are you trying to distract me?"
He looked offended but then smiled charmingly at her, "Is it working?"
Smiling coyly she purred, "Maybe…."
And then they forgot all about the movie.
Callie Shaw saw Biff Hooper sitting next to Joe and Vanessa. And while Joe and Vanessa obviously only had eyes for each other, Biff was staring into the large fire, transfixed by the flames.
She glared at Vanessa for a few moments – her half-sister… but then dismissed her. She had no intention of ever recognizing her in that capacity and was counting down the days until her father's bastard child left Bayport for good. And now there was only a few hours left.
Frank had just gone back to the parking lot with Chet Morton to help him bring down the last of the party snacks but Callie wasn't stupid. She knew he was happy for the excuse to get away from her for a while.
And it did not escape her notice that Vanessa's friend, Tammy something-or-another, couldn't seem to keep her eyes off Frank – when she thought no one was looking. So Callie wasn't very surprised to see her watching Frank walk away with Chet.
The blond bombshell wasn't stupid – she knew that Tammy and Frank had just started seeing each other when Callie got back and that it was her that Callie had forced Frank to dump when she blackmailed him into a relationship again.
Hmmm, she thought, interesting.
And then she turned her attention back to Biff – he looked lonely.
"Hey Biff", Callie said dropping down on the towel beside him and asking, "Where's Jan tonight? I figured she'd be here for sure."
On the other side of Biff, Joe stiffened briefly at the sound of Jan's name as Biff paled and tried to change the subject quickly. He knew that his best friend still found Biff and Jan's relationship difficult to deal with, "She couldn't make it. So Callie what are your plans to keep busy over the summer?"
Callie sighed and said loud enough for Tammy to hear, "Well spending as much time with Frank as possible, of course. I'm even thinking of a nice romantic weekend in the country – a little one on one time, if you get my drift."
Joe whirled around quickly; a bit shocked by Callie's forwardness and knowing how Frank would feel if he heard her making such a comment. His brother's conservative side was legendary – and truth be known, Joe was about the only person he was either bit openly affectionate with and even than that was only more because of Joe, himself, and not because of Frank.
Glancing around and not seeing his brother, Joe asked, "Callie where's Frank?"
"Right here", the familiar baritone voice called out of the darkness a moment before Frank and Chet reappeared, "miss me already little brother? What are you going to do being away from me all summer?"
Callie looked at Joe, with an unreadable look on her face, "All summer? Where are you going?"
Biff answered, "Back to the island – lucky sod. Two months of roughing it in a mansion on his own beach… hell his own island practically!"
Joe blushed – he hated it whenever his friends teased him about the large inheritance he received from Pharaoh Plythe after a bizarre twist of events had him living as Pharaoh's brother, Remus, for over two months almost a year ago now.
Sean Todd looked at Joe waiting for him to refute the statement but when he didn't, the black teen watched his friend with a perplexed look on his face.
Joe was a rich kid?
What was he playing at, pretending to be a normal when all along he had his own mansion… his own beach?
Was Joe playing him for a fool?
Oblivious to his friend's growing scowl, Joe shrugged, "I asked you if you wanted to go."
Biff laughed, "Yeah and I'd love to if it wasn't for a little thing called work! But I'm working with Dad this summer. Some of us need to earn their extra money."
Frank was watching his brother – he knew how sensitive Joe was about the money and when he saw Joe start to fidget, he tried to change the topic, "Hey Tony I thought you said Sophia was coming?"
Sophia DiSilva was Tony's girlfriend, but the beautiful Italian girl seldom hung out with his friends, who were in all honesty the only thing that she didn't approve of about him. But she was supposed to be here tonight.
Since Aldo Prito's death, Sophia had made sure she was around more, including hanging out with his friends – on occasion.
"You know Sophia – punctuality is all in how you look at it", Tony said shrugging his shoulders. If Sophia said she would be here, she would be but the rest was up to speculation.
Joe laughed thinking of Tony's girlfriend – yeah that was her, in a nutshell.
Standing up, the blond boy brushed the sand off his jeans and then reached down to pull Vanessa to her feet as he smiled at his friends apologetically, "Well gang, this is where we cut out. Vanessa is leaving in the morning so I want to spend a bit of time alone with her."
Seeing the look on his brother's face, Joe laughed, "Don't worry big brother – we're only going to hang out at the Vanessa's house for one last time."
Vanessa chimed in, "Don't worry Frank – I'll have Cinderella home before midnight."
Frank tried his best to scowl, "Don't make promises you can't keep!"
The ash blond girl laughed, "Okay by 1 then."
"Fine", Frank said and the fixed Joe with his most 'Dad' look, "1 AM and not one minute longer. So help me god Cinderella, if I have to come looking for you –"
"Chill Dad, "Joe cut in, "I'll be home."
Vanessa smiled at Tammy, "I hope its okay but Biff said he'll give you a lift."
"No problem", Tammy smiled – Biff was a nice guy.
And with a final wave to their friends, Joe and Vanessa headed towards the dark parking lot.
Sophia DiSilva loved the beach – even in the dark. And that was the second biggest reason why she had agreed to join Tony and his friends for the bonfire – the first biggest reason was Tony himself.
So parking her BMW Roadster next to Vanessa's navy Ford Explorer, the long legged brunette got out of the car and grabbed her beach towel. She was scantily attired, wearing her bathing suit underneath a wrap – she figured one look at the bathing suit and Tony would agree to a midnight swim.
Beaches were a romantic place.
"Hey baby", a slurred voice called out to her from the darkness and Sophia groaned – she hated it when guys leered at her, "You are a fine young thing – what say we spend a little up close and personal time."
Three guys stepped out of the darkness and Sophia got a very uneasy feeling. She could see the bonfire on the beach and hear the loud party; no one would hear her if she screamed and one of the other guys grinned, "Well boys who feels like a little Italian tonight?"
The third guy smirked, "Or rather who wants to feel a little Italian tonight" and then he grabbed Sophia and put his hand over her mouth before she could scream.
Panicked she bit his hand and screamed, "HELP!" Although she knew it was useless.
The smallest of the three teens quickly backhanded her as the one holding her hissed in her ear, "Dead or alive – it's all the same to us."
Panicked, she tried to kick but it was no use, the guy holding her was too strong.
As they dragged her towards the woods on the other side of the parking lot, Sophia suddenly went limp.
"What the – " the guy holding her said as he felt her dead weight in his arms and then suddenly, with all the strength she could muster, Sophia tossed her head back and got him squarely in the face.
As he released his grip on her, the terrified girl raced towards the beach before she was tackled by the big guy, "Not so fast sweetie… the fun is only just beginning…"
Pulling her back to her feet, he dragged the dazed girl halfway across the parking lot when a voice from behind him made him turn, "Hey moron, I don't think she wants to play with you."
"Hardy this is none of your business", the big guy clipped recognizing Joe Hardy and his girlfriend when they stepped out of the darkness and into the lighting of the streetlamp above the parking lot.
Joe's gaze flickered towards Sophia, "Well that's kind of where you're wrong. See I don't generally like my friend's girlfriends getting messed around with. I know it's pathetic but I still got a rep to protect."
"Rep as what?" the second guy snarled, "a homo? I don't think I'd like to be protecting that one if I were you."
His other two companions found that very funny and Joe said quietly to Vanessa without taking his eyes off the three teens and Sophia, "Go get help."
Vanessa was torn – as much as she didn't want to leave Joe with these guys, she knew he needed backup.
"Okay… be careful", she whispered as she gave his arm a gentle squeeze.
"Aren't I always", Joe whispered back. He had no intention of taking on these guys by himself if he didn't have too – all he had to do was keep them occupied until help arrived.
But Joe didn't get that chance as a fourth guy came out from behind and as Joe ducked the swing, he cursed himself for not remembering two things:
Stephen Fell always traveled with this pack; and
Stephen liked baseball bats.
Frank had just settled back down on the beach towel when Vanessa came racing out of the darkness, "HELP" she screamed, "JOE NEEDS HELP!"
The older brother did not even bother with details as he started running towards the parking lot with his friends on his heels, and they were not prepared for the sight that met them when they burst into the parking lot.
I'm really not in any shape for his kind of crap, Joe thought as he hit the ground and then managed to roll out of the way as the bat struck inches from where he had been.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement a second before he felt a hard kick in the side. Groaning, he curled in to protect his sides even as the big guy grabbed him and pulled him to his feet.
As he struggled to pin Joe's arms behind his back, Stephen held the baseball bat menacingly in his hands and he approached him. Behind them, Sophia struggled helplessly against the third guy that still held her.
There was nothing she could do to help him.
"I've been wanting to do this for a long time now," Stephen sneered and then holding the bat like a major league hitter, he prepared to swing.
"Well then I really do hate to disappoint you", Frank Hardy said as he stepped out of the darkness with Biff and Tony flanking him. His eyes were cold and dangerous looking as he quickly took in the scene, "but I think my mom might be a bit upset with me if I let you pound the living daylights out of him. The family's gotten attached and all, you know."
Shocked, the guy holding Sophia let her go and she flew into Tony's arms sobbing. He comforted her and then gently moved her behind him so she'd be out of harms way.
The guy holding Joe's arms gripped them a bit tighter and he winced as he fought to take deep breaths. But his own panic was threatening to steal his very breath away as he kept thinking….
Breathe… breathe… breath….
Stephen looked at Frank but he made no move to back away from Joe. Instead he grinned sadistically, "Oh I don't know Frank… she might not mind a crushed skull" and as he swung at Joe, Sean who had been making his way around behind them, threw himself into Stephen and knocked him over before the bat could connect.
Joe took the moment to do his own rendition of Sophia's earlier move and head butted the guy holding him as Biff quickly crossed the distance and pulled him away from his best friend.
Frank grabbed Stephen and pulled him to his feet as Sean got up behind them, "You never learn… do you?" he asked as he swung his fist and got the other boy squarely on the jaw, "You don't mess with my brother!"
And then a car pulling into the parking lot distracted them and the four hoodlums used the moment's distraction to take off, pulling a dazed Stephen with him.
Immediately Frank turned around to check on Joe.
"You okay?" he asked, his dark brown eyes searching anxiously as Joe was doubled over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. He just nodded his head, unable to talk right now and his friends watched and waited, worriedly, until he got his breathing under control.
Then straightening up, he held his side tenderly and grinned at Frank as he gasped, "What are you… going to do for excitement… with me gone for the summer?"
Shaking his head, the older boy replied with a sigh of relief, "Dye these new gray hairs I just got." Reaching over he gave Joe a tight hug and whispered, "Do that to me again… and it won't be Stephen you have to worry about."
Joe laughed as he broke away and looked around for Vanessa. As she ran towards him, relieved that he was all right, he quipped as they walked towards her SUV, "Van who's going to protect me from Frank when you're gone?"
Shaking his head, Frank looked at their friends and raised his eyebrows, "See what I got to put up with?"
"Oh you love it", Chet teased as his girlfriend, Liz Webling and Tammy caught up to them. Callie was the only one who opted to stay back by the bonfire, rescuing Joe was not really high on her priority list of late.
Grinning, Frank turned to Sophia who was trembling in Tony's arms again now, that the trouble had been sorted out, and he became serious, "Are you okay?"
Sophia glared at him, "Yeah like you care."
Tony looked at her in shock as she continued heatedly, "I wanted to go somewhere civilized… but no… you guys make Tony drag me out to this god forsaken pit where I almost get raped by 4 guys!" She turned to a red faced Tony, "Take me home!"
Around her the parking lot had grown deathly silent as Frank answered, his voice low and warning, "Excuse me? My brother almost got the crap beat out of him… saving your ass. I think a bit of civil ness is not too much to expect. Now I'll cut you some slack because you just had a nasty scare but drop it Sophia… no one is in the mood."
Tony shook his head when Sophia turned to him, "I wanted this party for my Dad, tesoro, a bonfire to celebrate… not a stuffy restaurant somewhere. No one made me do anything… no one ever does." He finished gently and then gave her a tight hug, his dark brown eyes imploring her to understand and not make any more trouble.
Letting out a big sigh, she turned to him, "You owe me big time, amato."
'Thanks", he whispered and kissed her cheek before turning to his friends, "Well what's everyone waiting for – heaven forbid Callie eat all the s'mores!"
Laughing, the teens headed back towards the bonfire but Tammy hung back and waited for Frank who had turned and was watching as Vanessa's taillights disappeared in the darkness. He knew Joe was driving, without having actually seen who got behind the wheel – his brother always drove too fast.
It was a good thing the younger Hardy was a natural behind the wheel.
"They'll be fine", Tammy's soft voice broke his trance and Frank turned to her, a bit surprised to see her still her.
"Waiting for me?" He smiled although it ached that they couldn't return to the party together – Callie was there.
Tammy gave him a secret little smile as she started to walk away, "Frank Hardy – I'll always wait for you." And then she disappeared into the darkness and Frank stood there for a long time afterwards thinking about a lot of stuff.
Sometimes it just really sucks to be me, he finally decided as he trotted across the sand and back towards the party.
Vanessa's mom, Andrea, went to bed shortly after Vanessa and Joe got back to the house. She smiled warmly at the couple and gave Joe a hug goodbye. It had already been decided that once he left tonight, that would be it.
He wasn't going to be taking them to the airport at Vanessa's request.
She had begged him not to, insisting that it won't seem so final if he stayed at home. Reluctantly he agreed, a bit relieved because he didn't really want all of Bayport to see him break down and blubber like a whale after Vanessa left. He was working hard enough on getting his 'tough guy' rep back.
Vanessa turned down the lights and then put on some low music before she snuggled up next to him on the couch and handed him her truck keys, "Take good care of her for me… will you?" She asked trying to keep her voice from breaking.
Vanessa loved her Ford Explorer and wanted Joe to have it instead of selling it or driving it across country. It ended up working out great since Joe's graduation gift to Frank had been sole ownership of their GMC Envoy truck.
Frank needed a vehicle more then he did, Joe had reasoned, because Joe could always get a ride with Biff on the days that were too miserable for him to take his motorcycle.
Inwardly, Joe knew he was just being selfish. In all honesty he wanted to make sure Frank would always be able to come home whenever he needed to – without having to worry about a ride.
Smiling, Joe pocketed the keys and kissed her. She's so beautiful, Joe thought as he closed his eyes and held her close, what am I going to do without her?
Vanessa lay her head on his chest and listened to the steady thumping of his heart… god she was going to miss him.
"I love you Vanessa…whether you're here or in Canada – that's not going to change", Joe said softly, as he stroked her face tenderly and felt her shiver beneath his touch.
"How do I know that? How do I know you're not going to forget me…" she asked her eyes bright with tears as she lifted her head to face him.
"I never forget," he murmured as he kissed her lips gently before nibbling on her ear. She moaned, moving her hands beneath his t-shirt and along his muscular back as she hungered for him.
Joe's vibrant blue eyes burned with passion as he said huskily, "I love you Vanessa Bender."
He looked at her and she smiled, "I love you Joseph Hardy…forever".
"Forever is a long time… " He whispered nibbling her neck, intoxicated by her soft skin.
"Forever isn't long enough," she whispered back and felt goose bumps as his gentle hands slipped beneath her sweater.
She wanted him so badly it hurt…and for one brief moment she thought he would pull away from her like he always did…But not tonight oh please god… not tonight…
"Forever", he said and then engulfed the girl in his strong embrace as they melted together as one.
Lost in the embrace…lost in the moment…lost in each other…for the next couple of hours there would only two people in the world.
Joe Hardy and Vanessa Bender.
That is what Vanessa thought.
But then Joe was pulling away… and Vanessa cried.
As Joe drove home his own tears burned him in the same betrayal as his own body.
Why? He cried Why? Why do I always have to pull away for her? I love her. Why?
In the morning Vanessa Roberta Bender left Bayport.
And Joseph Paul Hardy was at the airport and watched her leave… but she never saw him.
Turning away, he put the sunglasses back on his face and really didn't care when people saw him cry.
ONE MONTH LATER:
Frank Hardy yawned as he flipped off the last of the switches in the small cockpit. It had been a long 18 hours and he was just glad to be home. He couldn't wait to just get into his own bed and get some well deserved sleep.
The last couple of weeks since the bonfire had been a flurry of activity. After Vanessa left, Joe took off to the island to help Winston with the dedication and official ceremony for the grand unveiling of the new name and Logo for Plythe industries, now PI Industries.
Frank started to work with Jack Wayne and had been busy flying all over Canada and the US while Jack handled most of the foreign charters – Frank was impressed by how busy he ended up being. Not that he minded it one bit because next to mysteries, he loved nothing more then flying.
And the mysteries part of his life had stalled. After Aldo had been killed Frank and Joe investigated but hadn't been able to find out anything about who was actually responsible for fire bombing the pizza joint on Grad night. Witnesses were scarce and everything had gotten too chaotic afterwards for them to find any solid leads.
Joe was insistent that Stephen Fell and his friends had something to do with it but even he had to agree, finally, that they couldn't find one iota of proof – so he'd begrudgingly dropped it… for now. But Frank was sure that his brother would chew on that one quietly until he finally did come up with something concrete.
While Frank trusted his brother's instincts, there just wasn't any proof.
Little Joey Thomas or JJ (Joe Jr), as they had started calling him to minimize the confusion between him and the older Joe, had come to spend the summer with the Hardys and even Fenton had taken some time off to make sure the little boy enjoyed himself. He was staying in Joe's room and Frank enjoyed having him around.
JJ idolized both older boys and over the last couple of weeks, he and Frank had gotten to know each other pretty well. It was fun having the 10-year-old around.
Frank and Phil had spend a couple days in L.A to attend a Chess tournament, which Phil actually won, and they had enjoyed their visit with Kyle and Melissa Hardy and their two kids… but Frank missed his brother terribly. And as he walked across the tarmac towards the parking lot, he wondered what Joe was doing right now.
"Hey what's a fella gotta do around here to get a ride?" That voice made Frank whirl around, all exhaustion forgotten, as a familiar blond haired figure was trotting towards him – it was Joe!
"Joe?" He said sure he must be seeing things. What was his brother doing back? He was supposed to be staying on the island until the end of the summer, just getting back in time of his 18th birthday.
"In the flesh", the younger boy grinned as he gave his brother a warm hug. Pulling away he looked Frank in the face, "You don't look very pleased to see me… I must admit I was expecting a bit of a warmer reception."
"You dog!", Frank said, his face breaking out in a wide grin as he realized it really was Joe and not some sort of tired pilot's optical illusion, and he gave him a tight hug back, "course I'm happy to see you! The house just isn't the same without you."
Putting his arm around his younger brother's shoulder, he walked him towards the black Envoy, "What are you doing back so early though? I wasn't expecting you for a couple of more weeks."
Joe shrugged and simply said, "I got homesick." The older boy wished his brother wasn't wearing sunglasses so he could see his eyes right now, as he wondered if there was more to the story then Joe was saying.
The blond-haired boy seemed to know what his brother was thinking and sighed, "No honestly Frank, I missed being here. The island is okay… but it does get lonely after a while."
Frank nodded in understanding. After the last year, Joe did not like to spend much time by himself.
"Well I'm glad", he then put in to take the little look of melancholy from Joe's face, "because I sure as heck missed you. Besides JJ is wearing me out – man I thought you were a handful!"
Joe laughed, "That's right – first thing I gotta do is evict the little blighter from my room!"
"Great", Frank muttered, "means he'll probably end up in mine!"
Patting his brother on the back, Joe gave him another quick hug, "It's great to be home big brother."
Two hours later though… when Joe opened the front door and saw the man standing on the front steps he suddenly wasn't so sure anymore.
Joe was snoozing on the couch in the living room when the doorbell rang. He hadn't intended on falling asleep but the news just wasn't exciting enough and he gave in to his body's need for sleep. The worst thing about coming home from the Mediterranean was the jetlag.
"Joe honey, can you get that please?" His mother called out from the basement where she was doing laundry. Frank was sleeping upstairs and JJ was next door at Mr. Fitzpatrick's house playing with Rufus, their neighbor's border collie.
The dog was supposed to be coming to stay with the Hardys, on a trial basis, before the older terminally ill man moved back to Jamaica to spend his last days with his family, but so far that hadn't happened.
"'kay Mom!" The teen called out as he pulled himself up off the couch and then tried to work out the kink in his neck as he headed towards the door. Opening it, he stared, open-mouthed, at the burly, blond haired man who was standing there.
The man was equally surprised and for a moment neither one spoke. Until finally the man broke the silence with a wide grin as he appraised the teen standing in front of him, "My… my… little Joey has certainly grown up into a striking young man."
As with every time he returned, Joe's normal good looks had been intensified by the time he had spent on the island. His skin had turned a dark bronze from the sun and his blond hair had an even more golden hue with white blond highlights.
Joe shivered underneath the man's gaze as he felt a knot of fear in his stomach he couldn't explain. He knew this man but he didn't understand his reaction to him.
It was Coach Damien Iago, Frank's former little league coach.
"C-Coach Iago?" He finally managed to stammer as he fought a strong urge to just slam the door and throw up. What the hell's wrong to me? He wondered, this is Frank's old little league coach…
"In the flesh", the coach said and Joe's crawled, "Is your brother around?"
Joe just continued to stare at him and the man frowned at him, "Joey… is there something wrong?"
Behind him, Frank, awoken by the doorbell, had come downstairs to see who was there. He heard his mother ask Joe to get it but ever since Ben Mitchell's appearance on their doorstep, the older boy was always a bit apprehensive about having Joe answer the door.
"D-don't call me J-Joey", Joe managed to stammer as his heart raced and he had to concentrate on his breathing.
"Joe? What's wrong?" Frank asked as he saw his brother just standing in the doorway but when he heard his brother's voice behind him, Joe turned around and took off up to his room without saying anything.
"Is he all right?" Joe heard the coach ask Frank as he took the stairs two at a time.
Racing into this room, the distraught teen locked both the door to the hallway and the door to the joint bathroom that he and Frank shared, before throwing himself down on his bed and pulling the covers up and over his head.
He was terrified…
Frank was immediately concerned about Joe's reaction – what was going on now?
And then glancing back at his coach, Frank gave a little gasp. Of course – there was a big physical similarity between Coach Iago and Gerry Moore!
No wonder Joe had acted like he'd seen a ghost!
He thought he did.
"Sorry", he apologized to the man, "Joe's been under a lot of stress lately."
"That's okay", the coach brushed it off, "we haven't seen each other in a long time either. I think I threw him for a loop."
Understatement of the year, Frank thought as the coach continued, "He's looking good though. I haven't seen your brother since he was what… nine, I guess."
Frank nodded – that sounded about right, "Yeah. Hey Coach, not to sound rude, but I don't think you came by to discuss my little brother's killer tan… did you?"
"No", the coach laughed and Frank thought it was odd, that the coach glanced past him momentarily, and looked towards the stairs, before giving the dark haired boy his full attention, "I just wanted to make sure you were coming to the game tomorrow. I have an appointment and might be a little late, if it runs long so I wanted to make sure someone would be there to start the game."
"No problem", Frank grinned, he had been acting as assistant coach for the last two weeks after he had run into his former coach by accident and the man asked him if he'd be interested. Thinking of JJ, Frank had immediately accepted his offer with the condition that the 10-year-old was allowed on the team. The coach didn't even hesitate, "I'll be there. As if JJ would let me miss a game!"
They both laughed and Frank added, "Jack's great about stuff like that and I don't have to work at all for the next couple of days so I'll be able to help out more at the next couple of practices."
"Perfect", Coach Iago said as he turned to go, "invite Joe along, we can reminiscence about the good old days."
"I'll ask him", Frank promised and then waved to man before he closed the door, locked it and then hurried upstairs to check on his brother.
…Come with me to my secret place…
Joe bolted up in the bed and looked around wildly. His heart was pounding and he gasped as he fought to take a breath.
"Joe? Unlock the door!"
"Joe! The door!"
The sound of his name and someone pounding on the door helped clear away the last of the nightmare and he realized he was in his own room and Frank was banging on the door.
"That's it little brother, I'm breaking it down!"
"No… wait-"Joe's words were cut off as the sound of wood splintering preceded his brother's unorthodox entry into his room.