Watching his friends come to the door, Danny shuttered. What could he possibly say to make them go away?
“Get the door, Danny,” his mom said after the second ring.
"I can't," he said.
Danny couldn’t move from the couch. It was as if his body was made of bricks.
“Aren’t you feeling well again today?” his mother, walking to the door.
“Not really,” replied Danny in an unusually flat tone.
Raising her eyebrows, she opened the door.
“Can Danny go with us to the park again today,” inquired his best friend, Monty?
Looking quizzically back at Danny, his mom replied, “I don’t think he’s feeling any better today. He must still have a bug. Maybe he will be ready for the park tomorrow.”
“Give him a call first, ok?” she added as the boys rode away.
Feeling his cheek for a fever and finding none, she walked away, shaking her head.
“I’m going to my room, mom. I have homework due on Friday,” Danny said as he lumbered off the couch; he dragged his feet as he went.
Closing the door quickly, he leaned hard against it. Sliding down to the floor, he let himself cry silently into his shirt, so his mom wouldn’t hear.
Two days later, his mom, growing increasingly worried with her son’s lethargy, mentioned taking him to Dr. Larry to have him checked out.
Not eating lasagna(his favorite food), his unseemly forgetfulness, and not poking fun with his brothers, Luke and Jake, troubled her. Not to mention, he’d lost his smile. Whatever was happening with him, just wasn’t normal.
Jerry, her husband, didn’t seem so concerned. “He’s just going through a phase, Becky. Give the boy a break. He is 11, you know. In a day or two he’ll snap out of it. Just wait and see.”
Kissing her cheek, he left for work; lunch and laptop in hand.
Becky wasn’t convinced though. What she was witnessing wasn’t like her middle child. No, not at all!
By the second week, Danny was running out of excuses, and hiding in his room was increasingly becoming a problem. His mom not only questioned his odd behavior, she wanted to take him to his doctor.
Stepping into the shower for the second time that day, Danny scrubbed and scrubbed, hoping to wash away his dirtiness. He never felt clean, even when he was done. But he had to keep trying anyway.
“Why don’t you ever want to ride with us or play ball in the park anymore? You always had fun there before. Why don’t you want to be with us,” pressed Monty one day during lunch?
“I want to be with you, but just not in the park. It’s boring there. How about you come and play my new video game at my house? Maybe I can get mom to make us some popcorn or something,” Danny answered with very little enthusiasm.
Monty looked around the table for favor to Danny’s idea; no one cheered.
His buddies finished their lunches and headed out to the playground.
Danny looked at his half eaten lunch. Scooping it up, he threw it away so his mom wouldn’t suspect he hadn’t finished it. He was hungry, but the thought of eating made him feel sick.
“I’m going to the park for a walk, Danny. It’s a beautiful day and I need some exercise. How about you come with me?”
It was more of a command than a question and Danny knew it.
“Nah, I am happy here playing my new game,” replied Danny, rallying a spark in his voice.
“I’d really like some company and you’ve not been out of the house in three weeks. You’re looking quite pale; some sun would do you good.
Panic gripped him. He fell to the floor in a ball.
Sherrie, a child’s advocate from DCS, helped confirmed Becky’s greatest fear.
As Danny revealed being cornered by a stranger in the park’s restroom, mom and dad silently wept.
When finished, Danny felt numb, but not so dirty. The black hole he’d been in didn’t seem so deep or so dark. For the first time in what seemed forever, he felt hopeful.
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