An Unlikely Protector
Chapter 1

I'm Jack Ryan, Jr. No, I'm not named after the Tom Clancy hero. My Dad was Jack Ryan long before Tom Clancy got his first book published.

I'm 17, the oldest kid in the family, but I'm kind of undersized for my Junior year of high school. People who see me for the first time often take me for a very bright 15 year old. I'm skinny, myopic, about 5' 7" and 140 pounds. My eyes won't tolerate contacts, just like my Dad, so I have always worn glasses. Naturally I've gotten picked on a lot over the years.

When I came home after one of my grade school beatings, my Dad went over to talk to the bully's dad and wound up beating the crap out of that man. But when he came home, he said "I can't fight all your battles."

He said, "Most of the fights you'll be in aren't formal fights; you're not going into a ring with gloves on and a referee, Most of the time it's a bigger, meaner bully picking on you to show how tough he is at your expense. You have to make those bastards pay for trying that. What they want is someone who won't or can't fight back."

So he signed me up for self-defense courses and started me on a weight-training regimen. While I may be skinny, I'm not weak any more. That helped. He also taught me a few things about down and dirty fighting that he'd picked up in the Navy. That was even better.

He said the day might come when I would have to seriously defend myself as well as those I loved.

I thought, right! What are the odds on that?

So, over the years I became a pretty decent fighter, in a fair fight or a nasty one. I stopped being picked on as much. I think I became known as a guy who you didn't take on without being ready to take some punishment. I didn't win that many fights, but I won my share against bigger guys. And it got to be known that I'd hurt you pretty bad while you were beating me up. And I fight dirty if my opponent is much bigger than me. I had them thinking: where's the fun in this?

Remember, I don't start these fights. Ever.

It kept me safer, but it didn't do a thing for my social life. I was still small, still pretty shy with girls, and couldn't get dates, much. There were a couple of female outcasts, like me, that I did date off and on through Freshman and Sophomore years of high school, but they were both virgins and terrified of sex. All I ever got was few kisses and a couple of squeezes of what felt like a very nice boob.

Now for the tricky part of my story: my sisters, Jen and Clare. They were twins; golden girls, blessed by whomever with charm and beauty and everything else it took to be high school queens. And cheerleaders, of course, at 16 years old. I was their older brother in years, but they were my tormentors-in-chief from the time they became teens. My mother and Dad doted on them, of course, as did everyone else in the free world.

Mom and Dad sort of knew how they treated me, but didn't do much to stop them. Of course they never did the really nasty stuff in front of the parents.

Mom said they didn't really mean to be mean. That was her refusing to see anything bad in her darlings. My Dad had an idea of what was going on, but said he wasn't able to do much with them, since their mother shielded them from any meaningful discipline. As long as they kept it down and away from home, they had impunity. The one time they did screw up and got caught embarrassing me in front of their friends, they were grounded for a month, and that wreaked hell with their busy social lives. It was the one thing they feared. So they stayed within limits. But those limits left a lot of room for them to make my life grim.

They couldn't deny that I was their older brother, but at school they made me seem to be a real dork, to emphasize how our kinship was some kind of cosmic screw-up. They badmouthed me in hundreds of ways that came back on me socially. They said I got good grades because I was such a social retard that I had nothing to do but be a greasy grind and study on date nights. They even hinted that I was a needle-dick.

So that was the picture of our lives as my Junior year limped toward the Summer.

It wasn't always like that. When we were younger, I was Jen and Clare's beloved most favorite big brother, and they tagged along with me. They imitated everything I did. It was kind of annoying always having them hanging around me. I got a lot of ribbing about it from my friends, but I was secretly flattered by their hero worship.

One April, when I had just turned 12 and they were still 10, I was in the house getting a drink. I heard screaming. I ran outside, still holding the heavy pewter pitcher, and saw the twins backed up against the fence. A Doberman that belonged to a man down the street had gotten out of its yard and had jumped our low fence. It was a pretty nasty beast, always rushing at its fence to lunge at us when we would walk by. I think it was crazy mean.

Well, it was stalking the girls. I yelled "MOM" at the top of my lungs and ran toward the dog. Our Mom was down in the basement doing laundry, but I hoped she could hear me. Dad was off somewhere, shopping.

I had no idea of what I was going to do, but I was not going to let it hurt my sisters; I knew that.

It reacted to me yelling and running toward it by turning to face me as a new threat. It growled and lowered its head. Its ears were flattened back along its skull and its jaws looked two feet across, filled with wicked teeth. When I got near it, I was thinking I would hit it with the pitcher. Then I thought about all the ice-cold lemonade inside it and swung it to throw the liquid at the beast. I got it right in the face, and it backed up snarling at the shock of the cold liquid. It was like dumping a bucket of ice water on it.

I got between the dog and the girls, who I could hear crying behind me. It shook itself to throw off the wet and came at me, jaws open. I hit it on the snout with the heavy pitcher, as hard as I could swing. That hurt it and it backed off. Then it came at me again, and I hit it again, but it managed to get a chomp on my left hand that was flailing free as I used the pitcher with my right.

Damn, that hurt. At least it didn't hang on. But I had deep teeth marks and was starting to bleed.

Then the dog yelped and jumped up in the air. I looked up and there was the next-door neighbor with a BB gun, taking aim and shooting another pellet at the beast. It yelped and ran and jumped our fence and went running back to its own yard. The man who owned the dog was just arriving when the dog ran past him, so he turned back and got it inside.

Then he came over to apologize and offer help.

Turned out it wasn't his dog; he was just keeping it for a few months for his brother.

He put the dog in a boarding kennel. He paid for my doctor treatments. And yes, I had to take the new rabies shots. They say they weren't as bad as the original ones, but they weren't any picnic, either. I hurt like hell for days after each one.

Back then, the twins were so grateful and proud of their big brother. They kept saying I had saved their lives. My Dad said he was proud of me. My Mom talked me up to all her friends. I said the neighbor had really driven the dog off with the air rifle.

Dad said, "Yes, from safely behind a high fence. You were the one who went into the yard and took on the Doberman all by yourself to help your sisters. I hope they never forget what a great big brother you are."

But it didn't work out like that.

After they got into their teens, they grew up fast and became really pretty popular young women, and became part of the Cool Crowd, and I was just their runty nerdy embarrassing older brother. They felt they had to put me down to be part of the crowd.

Then came the weekend that changed everything.

On that late April weekend, Mom and Dad had a chance to get away with some neighbors for a romantic river cruise. They had few qualms about leaving us alone. I was considered to be a solid responsible 17 year-old. My sisters knew that if they went too wild or broke common-sense rules they would get into serious trouble, and be grounded. They knew they could still get away with the verbal abuse, as long as they did not break my rules. Which were mostly about curfew and drinking and stuff, pretty much what Mom and Dad had already laid down.

They went out Friday night. I told them to be careful of where they went and who they were with. They laughed at me and said, "Are you going to sit up and wait for us? Or will you just sit home looking for some tweezers so you can find your little dick and jerk off?

"See you later, needle-dick!"

For them, that was close to affectionate discourse. They drove out in the car they shared.

They had no dates that I knew of. Neither did I, of course, but that was normal. I'd called Amy Hansen, but she told me she was dating steady now, so that was the end of that. She was the owner of the boob I'd gotten to squeeze. I guess someone else was getting to squeeze it now. And if they were steady, maybe getting more than a boob- squeeze. So much for her desire to keep her virginity, I supposed.

I finished up a written report I had due in a week, and watched some TV. Then I got tired and went to bed, masturbating myself to sleep, as usual. Hey, I was a horny teenager! And no, I didn't need tweezers. I was 5 and 15/16th inches. Approximately. Maybe slightly under average, but far from a needle-dick.

I faintly heard the noise of the twins coming because I heard the door slam shut and I looked at the clock. About a half-hour after curfew, but I was in no mood to be a hardass. But then I thought I should at least tell them I heard them. Maybe put a little scare into them.

I was about to open my door to call out, when I heard a crash as the freaking door was broken down! I heard the twins scream and ran out. I saw three big guys coming in. I ran to my bedside phone, but there was no dial tone, so I used my cell phone to call 911.

I said it was an emergency and gave my name and the address "Home invasion, assault on underage girls. Weapons!" I yelled, and put the phone down. I thought that might bring a quick response. I ran into my Mom and Dad's bedroom and looked for his shotgun in his closet, but he'd hidden the damned thing someplace "to be sure it was safe." So I grabbed Dad's prized Louisville slugger. He'd hit a winning homer in the Pleistocene state championship game with it. It wasn't one of those light little aluminum bat s they use now, it was solid ash.

I started down the stairs and almost ran unto a surprised man. Well, I think he was surprised to see me swinging that big old Hillerich & Bradsby at him. I got him beside the ear with all my strength, although he got an arm up to block it some. Anyway, he fell over and took the railing down with him. I ran downstairs. The two other guys had Jan and Clare pinned down on the couch and were trying to rip their dresses off. The closest guy had his big hard cock out, getting ready for action.

I gave him some action. I swung sideways at his cock but missed and hit him in the gut. I was swinging backhanded and had less aim and less force that way. He did go "OOOF" and doubled over. I went to wind up and hit him on the head as he doubled over, but the other guy came around him and jumped at me. I got one shot on him before he pushed me back against the wall. I dropped the bat then; it was useless if I couldn't get clear to swing it. I brought up my knee and got him good. Then I got a couple of shots to his throat, but he partially blocked them. His cock was also hanging out free and I drove my knee up to smash it, probably for the second time.

It hurt him like hell, but he was pretty tough, because he managed to swing and hit me in the ribs as he staggered back. I moved forward and hit him in both ears with my cupped hands and he screamed and fell away from me.

I figured he'd be out of it for a few seconds, so I headed for the other guy in the room. I couldn't see my bat so I ran at him and tried to bowl him over. He was too big and strong for that, but I did drive him back a little. I didn't see the girls, and thought, thank God, maybe they've gotten out. Then I felt sharp stabbing pains in my back, several times, all over, and I dropped to my knees. It was the guy from the stairs, and he had a knife.

I fought to not pass out. They crowded around me, all three, kicking and punching at me. I felt my nose break and some searing pain in my jaw. I got kicked between my eyes and fell to the floor.

I squirmed around, trying to avoid their kicks, and got one leg up and kicked one of them in the balls. He reeled away. That left two. I rolled over against one of them, grabbed his legs and tried to topple him. The guy behind me didn't do anything, no kicks or anything.

I swung up and tried to land a punch on the guy's balls. I missed them, but I hit something and I heard him scream.

I heard someone yelling "Police!"

He dropped with his knees on my ribcage. A hot pain ripped though my chest.

As I blacked out, I hoped that the girls hadn't gotten hurt.

I came to in the dark. It didn't feel like my bed and the room was full of low-pitched noises, chirps and beeps and gurgles. I croaked something and heard my Mom's voice say, "He's awake! Doctor! Then I heard a commotion and someone was poking around me. There were little touches on my arms and body, and one of them made me scream.

"Jan, he has broken ribs!" Clare hissed. "Oh I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Jacky, I'm so sorry!" Jan said.

The little touches were gone, and my body went back to an all-over body-sized pain. Why was everything so dark?

There was an unfamiliar voice. "I'm Doctor Standish, Jack. Tell me where it hurts."

I thought about that. "Almost everywhere," I said. "My feet don't hurt. I don't think my lower left leg hurts. That's about it. Why is it so dark?" Nobody would answer that.

"I'll give you something for the pain, now." He moved away, I could sense. I waited for something else to happen. There was a rustle of clothing near my head and a woman said, "That should kick in a few seconds."

I thanked her... a nurse I guessed.

"Doctor Standish, am I blind? I can't see anything." Before he answered, I heard sobbing. That got me even more scared. What were they crying about? Was I blind?

"No, Jack, you're not blind... You have some damage to your face around your orbit... that's your eye socket. We've bandaged you up there to make sure you didn't accidentally poke at it. Your vision should be fine.

"You have a possible fracture or fractures around the orbit. Your nose was broken, and we've reset that. Your jaw was dislocated, but we put that right while you were unconscious.

"You have a broken arm and badly broken ribs. We're worried that one of those might be in danger of puncturing your lung. We'll want to take a look at that very carefully.

"You also have multiple knife wounds on your back, buttocks, and thighs. None so deep as to be life threatening, but they caused you to lose a lot of blood."

"Mom? What about Jan and Clare. Are they ok? Did those bastards hurt them or..."

"No, they're not harmed... in any way. They're right here. Please watch your language," she added automatically

I heard them then, little worried cries, almost like little kitten mewings. I felt their small gentle hands on me through the coverings, very careful now, barely touching.

"Jacky?" It was Jan's voice. "Jacky, we're so sorry. It was all our fault, and we've told Mom and Dad that.

Clara said, "They would have raped and beaten us and then ransacked the house. They bragged about all that when they started tearing at our clothes."

There was a pause. Then, "You saved us, Jacky. You saved our virginity, our lives,... and you almost lost yours doing it. I don't know what to say. We're so ashamed, Jacky.

"I can't bear to think of the way we've always treated you. All the nasty things we've said about you to our friends. Trying to be cool and insult the nerdy uncool brother. And you did this for us.

'I don't understand why you risked your life for us, as mean as we've been to you. Why did you do that?"

The meds the nurse had put in finally began to hit me hard, and I started to fade away.

"Because,... because,... I told Mom and Dad I'd take care of you while they're away.

"And... because you're my baby sisters,... and because,..."

I was almost under, but had to finish. It was important to say this, something I hadn't said or even thought in a long time.

"Because I love you both, no matter what..."

The next day was a Monday. Apparently I was out for two days, and that first wake-up was Sunday night.

Another doctor was on duty, and when he came in he said he was going to remove the bandages and examine my orbits.

Of course it was a nurse who actually unwrapped me. And she was a very beautiful green-eyed woman about ten inches away from me, sitting on the bed. She smiled at me as my eyes moved around and finally wound up staring down at her cleavage, which was considerable, and closer than I'd ever seen really impressive cleavage.

Her hand was down on the bedclothes about an inch or so from the instantaneous hard-on that I sprouted.

"Well, I see that we are feeling much better his morning," she chirped. She didn't move her hand from the medium tent I was making. She could definitely feel it. I knew that.

The new doctor moved in from the other side of the bed and checked me out around the eye sockets and flicked the light into and out of my eyes. The nurse leaned back to give him room, but never moved her hand from the tent.

Oblivious, the doctor noted that the area was tender, but if there were any fractures, they were very small and would knit themselves back in a few weeks. Then he made some notes on the chart and asked me a few questions about how well I was seeing things. I said not very well, but pointed out that I needed my glasses. He told the nurse to get them for me and she did so. She put them on very carefully and gently, because there were tender spots that they would touch or rest on. Then the doctor moved off and the nurse sat down again and put her hand right back where it had been!

I thought it was a good thing that Mom and Dad weren't there, nor my sisters. The doctor had already moved on after quickly noting that I seemed to be seeing everything well with the glasses.

I don't know if he noticed how well I was seeing this beautiful nurse's cleavage.

Her nametag said she was Ms. Johansson.

"Jack, I don't think you know it but you're the ward celebrity," she said.

"Me? What for?"

"Oh don't get all modest on me. It isn't often that we get a genuine hero in here. Usually they're the big, brawny cops or firemen, but they get paid to be heroic. We all appreciate their heroics, but that's what anyone expects from guys like that.

"But you? You're not the average hero. A skinny, undersized seventeen year old who took on three big bruisers intent on violating his family and fought them to a stand-still? Get Out! Never Happen!

"But here you are,..." She looked down at where her hand was. "... all hale and hearty."

And with that she squeezed my erection! Which made me jerk upright. Which brought me a whole series of stabbing pains, mainly in my ribs, my jaw, my arm, my rear end, my, orbits, my... well you get the idea. Not to mention a new pain in my groin. No, in my cock!

"Oh, Geeze, Jack, I'm sorry. Please forgive me, ' she said. "I should have thought how you'd react. This is so unprofessional."

I settled back and let the pains subside. I nodded I was ok.

"I got a little carried away there, and I shouldn't have. Jack, you probably won't believe it but I'm a very happily married woman who doesn't play around.

"But I've never been so close to someone who's done what you did. It just made me... , Boy! You have no idea how impressed some women will be.

"You won't tell on me will you?"

"Oh no. I'll just take it as a compliment. Lips are sealed, I promise."

"My, my, and a gentleman to boot. I wish I were ten years younger and unattached," she said with a wonderful smile that said she was only half joking.

The she got busy with nursing things. They'd had a catheter in me, and my stiffy had gotten a bunch of pain from it when she had squeezed. My hard-on had gone down quickly as a reaction to this new variety of pain.

Ms. Johansson exposed me with no comment, and did something that released a little puff of air. Then she removed the catheter very carefully and also without comment, for which I was grateful. There was some residual ache, but the meds I was getting made that tolerable. I'd put it about fifth or sixth on the list of parts of me that hurt.

She wanted me to get up and walk around, and we did, with all my tubes and things hung on a rolling IV stand. I went to the John and passed a smidgeon of water, and had a bowel movement, which felt like I was crapping little pieces of granola. Nurse Johansson told me that was normal. I could only take liquid nourishment until my reset jaw got less painful, and there wasn't much of it that could get through to be crapped.

She gave me a bed bath, which produced another hardon. She pointedly ignored it, although with a sly smile. After the bath she called in another nurse and they removed all bandages, examined the wounds and discoloration, and then rebandaged and redressed the wounds. They annotated my chart.

They were both extremely careful when moving me around, but I felt every movement. Especially in the ribs and my jaw

Nurse Johansson explained that they had reset my jaw when I was sedated and had also used a little tube sliding inside me from my navel to view the place where my rib had been threatening to puncture my lung. They somehow nudged it away from harmful contact and were sure that the broken part of the rib would knit properly.

But Gawd, did my ribs hurt. They strapped me up with an inflatable kind of gigunda Ace bandage around my ribcage and inflated it. It pulled my chest kind of tight, to where I could only do very shallow breaths. They showed me how to breathe deeper using my diaphragm and leaving my ribs less involved. That was better, but I had to think about doing it, or the ribcage rising normal breathing thing would kick in and HURT LIKE HELL!

That evening the whole family came to see me and we exchanged some very gentle hugs. Jan and Clare got weepy on and off. I asked the about the case against the three guys. Dad said that the three invaders had a lawyer and were claiming that the twins had invited them to the house and that you had attacked them. They said the twins were scared and lying.

"They broke down the damned door," I said.

"Language," Mom said dutifully.

Dad said they claimed that the girls were making out with them on the porch and slipped inside and then put the chain on and started taunting them. "They said they were sorry they lost their heads and broke it down, but that Quote, those little cock-teasing bitches End Quote, had made them mad."

"John, language," Mom said in a shocked voice. Dad looked at her and told her that when this case goes to trial that kind of language was going to be said in open court!

"Shit," Mom said.

I couldn't believe what Dad had just said about their defense. I asked Dad to repeat it. He did.

When he got to the "cock-teasing bitches," that did it for me. I croaked out a growl and tried to swing my legs off the bed. I muttered that I was going to go look for those bastards to... I don't know, maybe go wheeling my IV med tower downtown to go looking for them and smack them with a bedpan or something.

Of course, tightening up my stomach and sitting up drove my ribs crazy with pain and I passed out with my legs halfway off the bed. I guess the nurse who was there with my folks helped them get me back in bed and summoned the duty doctor.

Then, I am told, she went to the nurses' station and told them what had been said and that I had tried to get up to go after those thugs again. Well, I guess she was right, that had been what I was thinking. But of course I wasn't really thinking about how stupid that was, considering my condition.

That was the whole point, was the consensus, I was told later. To them it was just like the night of the attack; come hell or high water, I was going to get those guys.

That was an addition to the Jack Ryan Legend, as Nurse Johansson called it when she told me all about it the next day. "Your status as the hero of Sixth Ward West continues to grow," she said. "By the way, my name is Betty," she said.

Tuesday morning, I was feeling much worse, and sore all over. That was a good sign, Nurse Betty said. They had reduced my intravenous pain meds and the fact that I was only in mild agony meant I was definitely healing. She laughed at the look on my face as I absorbed this.

I may not have had a chance at anything going with Nurse Betty, (As if!) but I still liked her a lot. She obviously liked dealing with me, but wouldn't let me get away with much self pity. We'd had some conversations when she could spare the time, and she knew pretty much all about me, the deal with my sisters before, even my virginal status. And how I was so isolated in school.

She didn't try to paint a rosy picture, but she did say that some things would surely change for the better. "Your sisters will treat you better. They've just gotten caught up in the In-Crowd culture. It hates nerdy guys like you, and they just have gone along to be popular, up to now. I have talked to them, Jack. They are changed. They were shocked by all this. That will affect others. They are popular.

"Trust me, the invaders will be despised."

"You don't know how it works at school, Betty," I said. "One of them was a football player. The team and the players are like Gods at school, and the cheerleaders are with them. Those are the people who'll determine my treatment. I've seen them band together to protect football players who were jerks.

"Hell, they'll probably jump me and beat me up first time they get me alone. Oh, I'm not looking forward to leaving here.

"But on the good side, if they beat me up bad enough, maybe I'll be back here, again, and I can see you."

I swear, she actually blushed!

She asked me if I was up for a walk. She unhooked my IVs and took me down the hall. As we walked past the Nurses' station, everyone there called out to me, like I was their best buddy. "Great to see you on your feet, Jack." Stuff like that.

There were two orderlies struggling with a balky gurney down near the elevator lobby. "Hey, way to go, Jack," they said. I'd never seen them before.

"What's all this, Betty?" I asked.

"I told you, you're the hero of the Sixth Ward West. Really, of the whole hospital. We're all proud of you, Jack, the way you stood up for your sisters. Like I said, we all like to see heroes."

She took me down to the third floor, saying there were some people there who wanted to meet me. But at the elevator lobby there, a big police officer broke away from talking to a couple of nurses as soon as he spotted me. He came over, holding his hand out. He damn near crushed my hand.

"Jack," he said, "I'm Officer Joe Hardy. I was the first man in the door at your house that night. I saw you on the floor wrestling with that gorilla before he knee-dropped you. I had the pleasure of taking him down with my baton.

"Jack, you did good, man. You did real good for your sisters. I heard you might be coming down to this floor and I just wanted to shake your hand."

There were two other cops there, and they wanted to shake my hand, too. What the hell is all this? I thought.

Finally, Betty got me away from them and the nurses at the station and walked me toward a children's ward. "These are all cancer patients, Jack. They're in here for a long time, we hope. When they stick around, it means that the treatments are working. When some of them leave, it's to die. They all want to meet you. We told them we had a genuine hero at the Hospital.

She led me in and introduced me as Jack Ryan, the giant killer.

"Aw, I thought he'd be a lot bigger," was one comment, but most of the kids were great. They wanted me to tell them all about it. I had to think back, and also remember that they were kids, after all, so I was trying to sanitize it about the sexual stuff. I got to the part about bopping the first guy, and how he broke down the rail. "Wow, just like in the movies," one kid said.

I was trying to think how to say what happened then without saying anything about the guy having his cock out and the girls dresses being ripped off, when someone behind picked up the story. It was Officer Hardy, and what he said was a slightly sanitized account of the statements my sisters made. Which I hadn't heard before.

It was pretty much what I had said. I hit one guy with my bat and doubled him over. The other guy jumped me and we fought until I punched him in the head and he yelled and went down.

Then I attacked the other guy and drove him back. The girls were clustered against the wall, and Jan saw my Dad's bat rolling free and picked it up. Just then the guy from the hallway came in and started stabbing me with a hunting knife in the back, then down lower, and in my legs. I went to my knees and then they were all around me punching and kicking at me. Jan saw me go down, but then I was kicking back and got one guy, who went down. Jan hit him with the bat and Clare smashed him in the face with a lamp...

I rolled into one of the remaining two and punched him. Jan hit the other guy in the back and he went down. Then the police came running in just as the guy I was fighting knee- dropped on me. Officer Hardy dropped him.

Officer Hardy said they'd already called for an ambulance, but had to call in more. Only one of the invaders was capable of walking, and he had a concussion, so they took us to the hospital, two to an ambulance.

They arrested the three invaders.

"So Jack here fought three guys," Hardy said. "Look at me, kids. I'm over six feet tall and weigh 205 pounds. They were all three about my size or bigger. Now take a look at Jack here. You think he'd be a match for any of them alone?"

The kids said "No way!"

"But he was," Hardy said. He went after them one after another and fought them to a standstill. He almost got killed, yet he held them off and protected his sisters. That's why he's a hero."

"No," one little girl said. "He's really a Superhero. If he fought one guy, he's a hero. He fought three big guys to protect his sisters."

They agreed on that.

They asked me where I got hurt. Betty listed my injuries and pointed to my eyes, my nose, my jaw, my arm, and my ribs. I turned around so she could point out the dressings over the knife wounds through my hospital robe. The dressings bulged out enough to confirm, I thought.

Then one boy said, "Three guys. That was brave. I don't know if I could ever do that to protect my sister."

I said, "Sure, you would. You'd do it because you love her."

I happened to look up and my whole family was sitting quietly in chairs along the wall. Mom was crying, and so were Jan and Clare again. Dad was a little bit red-eyed as well, but I ignored that. I wondered when they had come in and how much they'd heard. Well, I meant it and I wasn't ashamed to have anyone hear it.

I introduced them to the kids. Then I looked at my three women and asked, "What's with all the waterworks again?

Mom leaned close and carefully hugged me. She whispered, "Nothing much. Just nice to be reminded that you did it for love.

Jan leaned closer and took my hand. "I love you, big brother. Maybe I'll never be able to show you how much, the way you did, but I'll never forget it, like I did before."

Clare took my other hand and kissed it. She couldn't speak, I guess. I reached out, broken arm and all, and hugged them.

Geeze. I wished I could hold that moment. The only thing that could have made it better was a big family group hug, but no one wanted to hurt me to show they loved me. For which I was truly grateful. I was completely weaned off the hospital painkillers now and I really didn't want to feel any more pain than usual.

But the next day was Wednesday, and I was scheduled to be discharged. X-rays showed my ribs were healing well enough, and my lung was in no danger.

Everything else would heal. My jaw was well enough that I actually got to touch some food that needed a little bit of chewing. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, either.

I had a kind of ceremonial tour in the wheelchair, not forgetting to see my brave little buddies in the children's cancer ward. I couldn't think of myself as a hero when I thought of what they were going through.

Then it was home and home care by my women. As he drove us, Dad told me for the hundredth time how proud he was of me.

"I guess those self-defense lessons, paid off, Jack," he said.

I asked him about the three guys and their bullshit defense and he said he was going to go down and see the Assistant DA the next morning and try to set things straight. He said he had a little ace in the hole. I said I wanted to go with him.

He said he worried that I wasn't up for that kind of strain. I said I could take it. So he reluctantly agreed.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Violent /