Haley’s hand shook as she knelt and reached out to take her friend’s bloody hand that rested on the edge of the porch. Aaron’s head hung over his shoulder in the grass, and his chest rose and fell steadily as he slept. Sean sat up in a massive sweater and a tangled green blanket that was knotted behind Aaron’s back. The baby contentedly plucked grass while Haley looked on.
“I... I found him,” Haley called out over her shoulder. She saw spots of blood and grass stains on the knees of Aaron’s jeans. She had an idea of what he had been doing, but it seemed impossible.
When she woke up a bit ago and found him missing, she feared that his mother had come for him. She had woken her whole family to search for him while privately blaming herself for his recapture. She thought of a thousand different ways she could have protected Aaron and began thinking of how she would deal with Mrs. Hotchner. But now... all of that washed away.
Haley’s family rushed up behind her from the front door. She heard her sister gasp but didn’t look back.
Mr. Brooks knelt at Haley’s side and reached out to touch the baby’s head. “Sean...” he whispered. Haley stole a sideways glance and saw uncharacteristic tears fill his eyes. In that instant, he looked strangely ashamed and upset. To Haley’s surprise and confusion, her dad picked up Aaron’s little brother and gave him a tight squeeze. She thought she heard him whisper an apology but didn’t understand why.
Her dad’s strange actions weren’t her main concern now. Haley glanced again at her friend and saw how cold he looked in her father’s T-shirt. “Dad,” she said. “Can we get him inside?”
Mr. Brooks nodded and held out the baby. “Here, you take Sean in.”
The bundle of sweater and baby rested in Haley’s arms, but she didn’t tear her gaze away from Aaron. Her mom and dad got down on either side of him and checked him over. They started unknotting the blanket, and her mom muttered, “What in the world is this for?”
“Is he okay?” asked Haley.
“I think so,” said her mom. Her dad said nothing.
Mr. Brooks grabbed Aaron under the arms while his wife took the boy’s legs. Together, they lifted him from the grass and carried him across the porch into the house. Aaron didn’t even stir, and his head remained sagging to one side. Jessica stayed back and stared speechless at the spot where the brothers Hotchner were found.
The Brooks laid Aaron on the couch and stood back, amazed. Haley stood slightly behind her parents with Sean in her arms.
“I should have gone,” whispered Mr. Brooks. “He didn’t have to go back for his brother.”
“But he did,” said Mrs. Brooks, gently stroking her husband’s arm. “And he made it.”
They stood in silence for another minute, still baffled by Aaron’s apparent actions. Finally Mrs. Brooks broke herself free from her stupor and went about cleaning and bandaging Aaron’s hands. She then stretched a blanket over him and tucked him in like her own precious child. While she tended to him, Haley and Jessica prepared some milk for Sean. And Mr. Brooks simply stood in the doorway between the parlor and the kitchen with one hand on the wall and both eyes glued to the sleeping boy. He looked dazed.
Mrs. Brooks came up beside her husband and put a hand on his shoulder. Mr. Brooks sighed deeply.
“That boy,” he said softly, “has honor.”