“Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece-by thought, choice, courage and determination.”
– John Luther
It seemed harmless enough, the senseless babbling, reference after reference after reference of John Hughes movies. Gus had to give Abigail credit, she not only kept up with Shawn’s ramblings throughout the night, but handed them right back to him lightning fast – and then some. It made it so hard to tell the moment where the evening started to go off; just slightly south of center.
“Shawn?” Evidently Abigail noticed too, Gus thought with a healthy dose of relief. He’d been accused of being uptight more than once through the years, most of the time from the very person in the front seat who caused most of his uptight reactions. Still, a little reinforcement every now and then was good for the soul. Then again, if she was confirming his concerns then that only meant that there was something to be worried about.
There were so many clues, signs he should have picked up on much, much sooner.
“So, uh, Gus – you’re not heading out with the rest of the station right?”
“I hadn’t really thought that far ahead Shawn. Tracking down an evil serial killer pretty much cancelled my plans for the evening. Why?”
“If you’d like, I’m sure Abigail wouldn’t mind if you hung out here for a while. I mean, I don’t have my bike and she’s being brought over in a cruiser…”
“Shawn, you have reservations for two, I can’t-“
“No! No, I..uh..cancelled those reservations. I’m not taking her to the restaurant.”
“I don’t get it, Shawn. What? You’re going to stay here at the drive-in?!”
“Well, yeah! Think about it, buddy. Classic drive-in movie, big tub of popcorn, it’s on the house. It’s sexy, right?”
“Tagging along on your date is sexy?”
“C’mon, Gus. Whaddya say?”
Gus knew he was weak to the power of Shawn’s persuasion. He could as well man up and admit it. There was something different about the question earlier that he just couldn’t bring himself to say no. If he had to be honest with himself, he didn’t want to go home alone with nothing but America’s Next Top Model for company.
Mr. Yang was the kind of case that he had only ever read about in books or the occasional made for TV movie. To know that a force so twisted and evil was not only aware of his friend, but specifically called him out by name. It sickened him to the core. Though Shawn had yet to say anything about it, other than the creeped out observation that she’d been stalking him all along, how could it not seriously wig the guy out? And so without much more than the slightest twisting of his arm, he agreed to be the third wheel on what could only be the Shawn Spencer tricycle of love.
Gus, himself, had been a ball of tension all evening. He couldn’t really be much help with the clues; they were just too obscure, too twisted for his knowledge base to really absorb. His loves of coin collecting, safe cracking and pharmacology couldn’t help his friend on this one. Although, he never thought his childhood fascination with the iron horses of old would ever be pulled into use as it had today. His career daydreams of manning the helm of an antique coal burner and donning his grandfather’s tattered conductor hat were now forever tainted. But this wasn’t about him, it was about Shawn. The burden had been placed, no pressed, onto his shoulders. Gus could only stand to the side offering an awkward side show of comic relief. If Shawn needed this, how could he refuse in good conscience?
None of the thoughts that brought him here mattered anymore as he watched Shawn in the rear view mirror. Gus finally put a finger to what had been troubling him about his, for lack of a better word, offness. Shawn’s eyes were expressive. Always moving, always taking in his surroundings. If you wanted to know what Shawn was thinking, as the old cliché says, the eyes have it. Except, Shawn’s eyes didn’t have anything as they were currently transfixed on the steering column in front of him.
“Sha,” he coughed out a lungful of nervous tension before continuing, raising his voice a notch. “Shawn!” He reached out a hand, intending to place it on the shoulder in front of him, before he suddenly decided against the idea.
His words were in vain as it was now very plainly evident that Shawn was no longer aware of his audience, carrying on a conversation with himself.
Abigail turned around in her seat, eyebrows raised to the cloth covered roof, as if to ask him what to do. Like he knew?! This was new even for him.
“I’m calling for help,” was all he could say. She nodded vigorously and he found himself nodding in return just as enthusiastically, even as he dialed.
Gus ignored the slight trembling of his hands, thankful that he had Henry Spencer on speed dial, as it made usage of his phone a bit tricky. He breathed deeply through his nostrils trying to calm himself while waiting for the line to connect.
”This had better be good, Gus.”
“Mr. Spencer, it’s Shawn…,” but what about Shawn? How do you put words to this? And Gus suddenly wanted nothing more than to move to Idaho and assume a new identity for not having a prepared statement ready for one Henry Spencer. One now extremely agitated Henry Spencer.
“What about Shawn? Gus? GUS!”
“Guster, so help me if you don’t give me a straight answer right now…”
Blissfully, interruption came in the form of Maddie Spencer, clearly heard in the background.
“Gus?” And there she was. She must have ripped the phone right out of Henry’s hands. What he would have given to see that! “Gus, answer me!”
“Mrs. Spencer, I don’t know. He’s just not acting right. I don’t know what else to say.”
“Take it easy, Gus. I need to know what you mean. How is he acting?” Bless her patience and her ability to center him. He took another breath as he looked at his friend and relayed his odd actions to the best of his ability.
“I just…I would feel a lot better if you and Mr. Spencer were here. Shawn…well…”
“What is it, Gus?” No, Mrs. Spencer! Please! Please don’t tear up! As much as he couldn’t take man-crying…mom-crying ranked right up there. Actually, mom-crying disguised as mom-trying-not-to-cry was his greatest weakness. No doubt, she was wearing him down fast.
“You didn’t see Shawn today. I’ve never seen him like that before. And,” he paused, taking another moment to calm himself, “I don’t ever want to see him like that again. I think it’s finally starting to hit him now.”
*** **** ***
If time flies when one is having fun, Gus mused. Time crawls like a three-toed sloth when confronted with a best friend plummeting towards meltdown whilst contained in cramped quarters with said best friend’s date. Gus’ forehead wrinkled in confusion at his own circle of thoughts. If not for the dread he felt for the other man, the whole situation screamed classic Shawn; drive-in movie, best friend crashing the date, endless eighties references. Too bad Shawn wasn’t in a state to appreciate this.
Abigail continued to talk to Shawn, leaning slightly over in her seat and looking just past his friend, but not quite making eye contact. Gus couldn’t make out the words, but he didn’t really think the words mattered to Shawn yet. Her tone was as non-threatening as her body language; slow and soothing, guaranteed to put the most merciless of first graders down for an afternoon nap. He could easily be drawn into the lull if he wasn’t on hyper-lookout, waiting for the first sign of Shawn’s parents.
*** **** ***
Maddie was unashamedly nervous about what she would find upon arrival. Gus hadn’t been very helpful detailing what was wrong with Shawn, only able to give the barest of information. She was working solely on a layman’s JAR appraisal. Still, Gus knew her son on a level unprecedented by anyone – herself included. Oh, no question, she knew her son in other ways Gus never could. After all, she raised the young man and he was a reflection of her in many ways. But she would never be so presumptuous as to say that she knew Shawn better than Gus, just…different. Had it been anyone else’s JAR analysis and she might have brushed it off with a scoff. Time and time again, when faced with other’s opinions about her boy, bystanders had brushed him off as either completely charming, wholeheartedly irritating, or just plain odd.
So when Gus, her son’s friend and closest confidante said that something Just Ain’t Right, as a professional and as a mother, Maddie took that opinion very, very seriously; especially in light of this evening’s events.
Her fears weren’t alleviated as they pulled the truck alongside Gus’ car. Gus was already waiting outside the car pacing even before they had gotten close.
She didn’t wait for Henry to help her out of the truck. There was no time and right now her attention was focused solely on her son. Even from outside the car, she could see the absolute lack of color in his complexion.
While she waited for the young woman in the passenger seat as she carefully eased herself out, Maddie took the opportunity to take in more details now that she was closer. Sweat dampened his hair and ran in rivulets down his face and neck. His breathing was rapid, almost panicked, and combined with shivers that were starting to lean towards tremors it appeared that she was staring down an acute stress reaction. She didn’t want to risk touching him just yet to check his pulse, but she could bet that his heart was beating faster than what was considered healthy. That alarmed her more than anything considering his past history.
She’d made a career for herself counseling and debriefing law enforcement personnel, even consulting on cases internationally. She was good at her job. She’d sacrificed a great deal personally, right or wrong, to get where she was. It hurt; knowing all her education, all her experience and nothing would make this better. There was no magic pill, no technique to pull him out from this. Time. Simply time. It always hurt when working with other officers in the same situation, experiencing a stress reaction after a traumatic event. This though, this hurt on so many more levels.
This was her Shawn.
This was her son.
This was exactly what she didn’t want to happen.
Nevertheless, here they were. Yang was on her way to processing and off the street. No one died…this time. It could have been worse. It could have been so much worse.
That’s what she had to remind herself while she waited for Shawn to come back.
*** ***** ***
“She’s coming back,” he said weakly. He turned his gaze to her, ever so slightly, though his forehead remained pressed against the steering wheel.
“You don’t know that, Goose.” She was already shaking her head before the words even left her mouth.
“I do, Mom. She said so and she meant it.” He seemed to fight to hold onto the little bit of control he had worked so hard to obtain. She so wanted to take his hand and offer some physical comfort. Though, she felt he just wasn’t ready to accept it; not just yet.
Maddie watched sadly as he leaned back and brought the cuff of his sleeve up to his nose. It had been a nervous gesture she had observed more often with the young man. Now in the last half hour, it had become habitual; almost obsessive.
“What if she comes back?” Her heart nearly broke in two as he looked to her, appearing all of ten years old.
“Then we’ll deal with it if it happens; all of us. You’re not in this alone, Shawn.”
“I have to be alone,” he said so quietly it almost didn’t reach her ears.
Her side gaze held that of her ex-husband’s, just before he lowered his head. Oh, she knew this was completely out of his comfort zone and that he was more than willing to allow her to do the talking. But it hurt her to witness his pain as well; knowing what her abduction and the compounded stress it placed on their son was doing to him. After she got Shawn settled down, she had a feeling Henry would need his turn on the sharing seat. First things first…
“Enough of that talk, Shawn.” Her voice was sharper than she intended as she was caught in a moment of righteous anger against the psychotic woman who had declared war on her family. For a brief and fleeting moment, she wished she could take it back. However, the moment passed quickly when she saw that her son’s attention was fixed back on her. Good!
“You have friends and family who care about you –“
“No buts, Shawn. I won’t allow you to do what it is you’re thinking.”
“Mom, I…you don’t understand! That waitress almost died tonight for no other reason than she was unlucky enough to serve me lunch. Who’s next, the pizza guy? How about the old woman with the churro cart? You and Dad almost bought it. What if she comes after you guys again? Or Gus? Oh God…” He buried the heels of his palms into his eyes, rubbing them red.
“In some ways, no, I can’t understand what you went through. But, in many ways I do - very well. Pushing away your loved ones won’t protect them, Goose.” As he winced and looked away, again making the cuff to nose gesture, she knew she hit the nail on the head.
“Mom…,” he pled. Once again, he looked her in the eye. Feeling that maybe now he could accept the gesture, she slowly took his hand in hers. She was still alarmed at how cold he was to the touch, though his trembling had abated slightly.
“Shawn, you can’t manipulate people; even if you think it’s for their own good. You have to allow them the respect and dignity to make their own choices.” She looked over her shoulder, taking in the scene of her son’s best friend and date anxiously waiting, though trying to appear non-chalant. She leaned back in her seat to further open the view to him. “They’re grown adults and they’ve made their choice. They seem to think it’s worth the risk.”
He appeared to consider the thought for a while. She let him gather his thoughts as even now he struggled to control his trembling hands and rapid, shallow breathing.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that, mom.”
“I’m sorry I had to go through it too, Goose.” She smiled when he finally seemed to latch onto the joke. As his smile widened and he let out a small laugh through his nose, she felt degrees of tension leave her own body. Get the kid joking and the rest will follow.
“Will you let us take you home now?”
“Yeah, this is going to be weird to explain…,” his voice trailed off as he looked at his abandoned companions hovering outside.
“Oh, I think they understand,” she reassured him knowingly. “How about we go make our goodbyes?” She nodded to Henry in approval. She wasn’t sure how the man did it, sneaking around to the driver’s side so quietly. But there he was, opening the door and helping his son out.
“Easy there, pal. Let me help you.” Henry said as he eased Shawn from behind the wheel. No doubt the severe stress reaction would leave him drained and shaky for at least the remainder of the night. Maddie also noted the brief wince as they passed in front of the car headlights. No doubt he had the mother of all headaches, and probably would for the next few days. When they got Shawn back to Henry’s house, she would insist he eat something, knock down a few aspirin, drink some calming tea and go straight to bed. She would then make sure she and Henry did likewise. Whether or not anyone actually slept, however…
She remained a few steps back, allowing Henry to help; feeling that the other man needed to give support just as much as her son needed to receive it. She chuckled as Shawn baited the man currently holding him up. He weakly protested the support, even though he made no move away. In fact, the more Shawn protested, she noticed, the more he leaned into his father. Together, they shuffled their way a short distance as their entourage mercifully closed the remaining gap. Maddie watched as Shawn waved off the support of his father, no doubt trying to rescue some semblance of his precious reputation.
What followed next was hard to put a finger on; opposing and contradictory forces at work. Shawn appeared to be the very picture of teenaged embarrassment (and honestly, she was embarrassed for him) as he had explain to his date that his mommy and daddy were here to take him home. Yet, there was also a depth of character there that had been revealed (however unwillingly) in a new light. Oh, she knew it was always there. Regretfully, she could admit now, her own life choices meant she had missed so much of his post-adolescent growth. Now? Well now it was as if she had witnessed a lifetime of trials and tribulations thrust upon him. However shaken he may have been, he came through the fire victorious. And as proud as she was, as much as she wanted to stand on the rooftops and proclaim to the world ‘this is MY son!’, a larger part of her grieved for him tonight. Her lost boy had been forcibly removed from Neverland.
She shook herself from her inner musings and her desire to murder Mr. Yang in her holding cell to catch the snippet of conversation.
“So, uh Abby, thank you for allowing me a second chance tonight. And, well, I’m sorry I freaked out on you today. You know this is really, really weird, what with my dad half carrying me and all. Mom says we have to go home now. But, I guess I’m say-“
“Shawn,” Abby said.
“I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Flushed cheeks and an uncharacteristic stutter from her silver-tongued boy reminded her that Shawn was a resilient soul. Her lost boy would find his own unique way back home the way he had always done. He may not get there the conventional way. But then if he did, he wouldn’t be Shawn.
“Gus, would you mind taking Abby home?”
“No, of course not.”
“Gus…I…what you did today. I couldn’t have held it together without you. I just…thank you, buddy.”
She dabbed lightly at the inside corner of her eyes as Gus pulled him into a hug. Shawn had stiffened in response ever so slightly before returning it with sincerity. As much as her own emotions threatened to choke her, she found herself simultaneously amused and touched from Henry’s uncomfortable reaction as well. It helped ease the moment. Manly sniffing and mutual and repeated back slapping also eased the weight of heavy emotions as precious egos desperately tried to save face.
The three of them watched as Gus accompanied Abigail back to his car. She took a great deal of satisfaction at the worried glances amongst the three friends as the little blue car pulled slowly away; swerving slightly as she noticed Gus’ attention firmly fixed on the rear view mirror and not the direction he was currently heading. It was good for them all to worry about the other. She remembered all too well the fallout from the last Yang murders and how the cops who had crumbled so severely were those without any support system.
With the little car now out of view, she turned back to her family. Shawn, who had remained stock still before, no doubt still feeling the effects of the post-adrenaline washout, would be unlikely to instigate movement. He’d need a little encouragement.
“Henry, if you don’t mind, I think our son might want a little help just around the corner so he can throw up in the bushes.”
“Goose, you are glowing green! Don’t even try to tell me you aren’t feeling sick. There’s no one else but us and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“I can’t throw up now! You can’t just tell me to throw up and make it happen. It’s like telling someone who was just about ready to sneeze to sneeze. It cancels out the sneeze! Oh no-“
“I’ve got it, Maddie. Come on, Shawn.”
“Hey kid, I don’t care if you puke all over yourself. But if you want to ride in my truck and not in the back, you’ll do this my way.”
With that, Maddie slowly made her way back to wait in Henry’s truck. Neither man would appreciate the audience right now. She caught enough of the happenings to make her laugh. Only her ex-husband and son could argue as they did; the arguments now so very different from the ones she remembered when they were all under the same roof. They had gotten so much closer in the last three years. She knew that from Shawn’s phone calls, but seeing that relationship in person just confirmed it. Henry had indeed taken excellent care of her, as she had told Shawn. And now, Shawn was going to be the unwilling (though she had an inkling that the refusals were only for show) recipient of that special brand of caring in the coming days.
Of one thing, she was absolutely certain. Life was going to be very, very interesting.