The tyres thrummed on the road; the air whistled through the vents, Bernie looked across, "hell, damn Simon," he said.

"Well, I was in the hospital in Wichita for a long time. I was in a coma for three months and my leg was all busted up. Trouble is when I woke up, well, things weren't the same anymore. I was changed. See, I don't remember what I was like before, so the me now, is what I knows. But when I came home they said I was like a stranger. Me and Debbie we was always close, but now I didn't want to know her. I was angry all the time, I cried a load; I didn't sleep nights had awful dreams and terrible temper tantrums, and I laid into all of them fighting an' all. Well about this time my daddy gone and left us. I never knew why, and I've never seen him since."

Bernie raised his eyes, saying, "jeeze, that's real tough, son."

"Well, it weren't just me, there was Debbie, my younger brother Marty and two older twin sisters, Joany and Sue. See, my mom gotten to a stage when she couldn't cope with me no more, me being such a handful an' all. One day she tells me that I'm going to a special place where they're going to try and make me better, back like my old self. This man and lady comes and gets me in a car and off I go; took me to a free Baptist home for troubled kids, way down in Round Rock."

He paused for a bit. Bernie looked across but said nothing like he could sense that it wasn't easy for Simon to find the words.

"That was the last time I seen any of them. Years later I got to see a letter mom had written me soon after I'd been taken away. It said that the doctors had told her it would be better if they all didn't come and see me for a while. But a while became a year and then some. Soon enough I forgot about them all and stopped asking to see them. I got moved from place to place, well they weren't making me better, that was for sure. If anything I was getting worse. As I got bigger I got into deeper trouble; getting chucked out of school; getting in trouble with the law."

"Well just after I turned thirteen I ended up at a home for troubled teens in Little Rock. They were different there, seemed to care a little, so they got me off to see this psychiatrist. Well, I'm like sitting there all grouchy with my arms folded and a face like a slapped ass: hey I was so pissed by then; there weren't no one was my friend. Anyways, he chipped away at me and little-by-little I got to talk things through and then he told me what it was that was wrong with me. See they all thought I was brain damaged from the accident that made me into a mean, stupid sonofabitch but he says that was a load of bull seeing as I was only little and the brain is real good at mended over time. Sure he said that a little of my problems was caused by the physical damage, but the real problem was I had post-traumatic stress disorder and it was that that was causing me to act weird. Over time we talked things through and he worked on me some and I starts to feel better 'bout myself. So I starts back to school and you know what?"

Bernie looked across, Simon was smiling back at him, "what?" asked Bernie

"Well, sir, I found out that I ain't a mean, stupid sonofabitch after all."

They laughed a while.

Bernie reached into the centre bin and pulled out a bag of Jellybeans offering it to Simon, who took one glad to have something sweet to suck-on. Bernie asked, "So what's in Myrtle, Simon?"

"I left the institution when I was fifteen, cured. Well, as cured as I needed to be. I was doing well at school, an' all. Well they tried to find me a foster home, but no one wanted to take in a teenager with my record. I ended up in a care home in Little Rock. It weren't great, but I buckled down determined to catch up time. Even had me a girlfriend for a while, least till she moved on: we wrote for a time, but, you know, time and distance, it petered out. Well 'bout that time I got to thinking about my family for the first time in years, in particular about Debbie - she'll be twenty one now. Well, with some help, I did some digging and I found a number for mom. In the end I got too scared to call her, but then three weeks ago I turned eighteen and they said I couldn't stay in the home no more and it was time to leave. Well they found me a hostel to stay in but suddenly I was on my own. One night I picked up the courage and I just clear rang her, out of the blue."

"What'd you say?" asked Bernie.

"I said, 'Mom it's me, Simon.' Then there's this long silence, like. And I say, 'you still there mom?' And she says, 'Simon, where are you?' Well, I tell her what's happened to me an' all about the PTSD and how it made me crazy, an' all. I says to her, 'you were right, mom, they made me better, it just took a heck of a long time.' And I laugh and she laughs, kinda nervous like. I'm thinking I should be real pissed at her an' all, but I don't, I just feel real happy to hear her voice. Anyways, I asks about Debbie, Marty and the twins. I says that I really want to come see Debbie, but mom says she ain't with her no more, moved out more than two year back. Apparently she up and married this older guy. Mum gives me an address, and I ain't got anything better to do so I packs my few things checks out the hostel and well, here I am riding with you."

"So, Debbie's in Myrtle? Bet she's just tickled pink you're coming to see her."

"Aw, she don't know I'm coming." He reached into his small back pack and pulled out a new, bright red Alice band. "See I've got to give this to her, but it's a surprise, an' all."

Bernie looked across, Simon had tears rolling down his face, "hell, Simon, you are one of a kind, yes sir."

The two men chatted away the miles. Made a couple of stops and by the time they arrived in Myrtle it was early evening.

"Got the address, Simon?" asked Bernie.

Simon looked unsure. "Maybe it's too late to go today, perhaps it'll be best if I go to a motel for tonight and go over in the morning."

"Heck, Simon, well you just come and stay with Barbara and me tonight, we'd be pleased to have you."

"I ain't got much cash, on me, I mean to pay for the room an' all."

"Won't hear of it, you'll be our guest, even fix you up with breakfast and give you ride back to your sister's house in the morning. What do you say?"

The following morning Bernie drove Simon the few miles back into Myrtle. Simon was nervous, inside he was turning cartwheels. They drove along the beachfront toward an address on the North side of town. Yucca Avenue was in a leafy, well-kept suburban area. Bernie pulled up and killed the engine. The day was already warm, a low buzz of insects against the hot tick of the cooling engine.

"Wow, sure is pretty fancy here," remarked Simon.

"Not what you're used to, hey?" said Bernie. "Looks like your Debbie has done all right. You want me to stay awhile?"

Simon popped open the door and before climbing out , said, "naw, it's okay, I'm just gonna be brave, heck she's my sister, an' all." He got out, pushed the door shut and leaned in through the window just has he'd done the day before when Bernie picked him up.

"Can't thank you enough, Bernie. It's been real nice talking with you. See you around sometime, maybe?"

"You be sure you do now, Barbara took a shine to you. You know where we are, any time."

They shook hands and Bernie drove off, Simon stood, watching until the car turned off and disappeared. He soaked up the scene, looking all around. It sure was a nice area. A quiet back road, neighbourly, the kind of place where you'd be happy to let the kids play outside.

709 Yucca Avenue was set back a little from the road, with a tidy front yard mostly set to grass; the house painted a pretty sky blue with white detailing. There was a long drive leading back to a car port where some kind of Jeep was parked up in the shade. Simon walked up and rang the bell. A young woman answered. She was dressed casual: sandals, long slender legs topped with yellow shorts and a bright red top, her dark hair tied in a ponytail. Cradled in her right arm against her hip was a contented looking infant. She looked the picture of domestic bliss and Simon knew straight off that it was Debbie.

She frowned slightly, a puzzled expression, like she knew who he was but couldn't quite place him. "Help you?" she asked.

He said, "it's me, Simon, I've come to give you this, I never got the chance before." He paused a moment, holding out the bright red Alice band. She placed him and her blue eyes lit up. He said, "so sorry it's been so long."

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