From Writings On The Wall Fanfiction Awards Season 5
Best Howie - Honorable Mention

The robin hopped forward, cocking its head slightly as it gazed longingly at the piece of bread. It turned its head around, checking for any potential danger before hoping forward once more. A slight breeze moved along its back, ruffling a feather or two and it shrunk down a little, poising for flight. After a second or two it hopped forward quickly grabbing the bread and then flying off into a nearby tree, settling in the branches to consume its treat.

The old man released the chuckle he'd been holding in during this whole process, then flung another handful of bread down onto the grass. As always the pigeons and sparrows were the first down to grab the spoils. He didn't pay them much mind. It was the timid robin that fascinated him.

"There's a squirrel over on the other side I like too," a gravelly voice said behind him. He turned and looked at the old woman who coughed once, clearing her throat, and then continued. "He's a tiny little fella. Runt of the litter, I guess, but a smart little guy. We've become regular buddies, we have."

He nodded, looking back at the robin that was eyeing the leftover crumbs with renewed interest. "Had one a while back that would come onto the 'chair. Never took from my hand, mind. But I could put bread on the arm and he'd take it."

"What happened to him?"

He shrugged, ignoring the ache in his shoulders. "Didn't come back this year. Shame too, I'd finally got him to come up on my shoulder. Only for a second or two, mind. But damn if it wasn't a thrill when he did it."

She chuckled. "We have become old farts, haven't we? All the things we've been through in life and it all comes down to a bird on the shoulder."

He laughed too. "It's the simple joys. Takes you a long time to discover that."

"True," she replied. They sat in companionable silence watching the birds and squirrels in the park.

"You new here?" he asked after a while. His eyes were starting to strain as the small creatures moved further away now that their food source had dried up.

She nodded. "Was getting too lonely on my own. Could have gotten a cat," she chuckled, "but they don't talk much and always agree with the person with the can opener." He laughed. "'Sides," she continued, "Figured I'd find somewhere I wanted to be before they found somewhere for me."

He nodded. "This place is as good as any. It has its perks. Food's okay, and they let me have some of my favorite dishes every once in a while. This park is nice." He turned and gestured back to the building. "Most of the old farts in there are okay. Some of them are already dead inside, though. Just killing time."

"That what you're doing?"

He shrugged. "Lived a full life. If it ends tonight, that's okay."

"No regrets?"

He gave an explosive laugh, which ended in a short coughing fit. "Regrets? Got hundreds of 'em. None I can do anything about now. Everyone's got things they oughta have done or ought nota done. Even you I bet," he grinned at her with a mischievous twinkle.

"Ah, Howie, I only have one major regret," she sighed, leaning back in her chair.

His hand slid down to the controls and he turned his wheel chair around to face her. "Do I know you? I haven't had anyone call me that in a whole lot of years."

She smiled wistfully. "How soon we all forget, don't we? The Backstreet Boys were the hottest thing on the planet once and now only a few remember their name. And even fewer remember the names on the Boys themselves."

He shook his head slightly. "Those were ancient days. Been almost 60 years since those days. Heck, I even forget most days. All long gone now."

"Not all," she corrected. "You're still here. So's Nick. Not sure about AJ though."

Howie shook his head. "Alex's gone. Went about five years ago, quiet like. "Emphysema. They tried, but his body just couldn't take to the medicines." He snorted. "Guess the cure's sometimes worse than the disease, but then Alex never did much hold to getting over it. Said "Howard, it's my own damn fault I got it, so it's my own damn fault I'm gonna die of it." He was a good man, Alex. Miss him." He wiped the tears that had spilled out as he told the story, grimacing at his inability to control his emotions. That's what getting old did to you, he reminded himself. Still, it seemed to hurt more in a man who, long ago, had trained himself to not show how he was really feeling.

A hand reached over and grasped his, giving it a squeeze. He looked up into her lined face, noting the tears that fell down her round, rosy cheeks. He looked deeply this time, trying to figure out where he knew her from. Her thick silver hair was in a loose braid, which sparked a tingle of remembrance, but not enough. Even the wrinkles on her face were more ingrained laugh lines than anything. Her eyes were brown, a little cloudy with age, almost a dark chocolate color. There was something all together familiar about her, but it was like his memory refused to let him know who she was. "Who are you?" he asked gruffly. "Do I know you?"

She gave his hand another squeeze before letting go and wiping her wet cheeks. "A long time ago, in another lifetime, perhaps. I'm sorry to hear about Alex. He had a difficult life with many obstacles. Maybe he finally found some peace." She chuckled softly. "And if those pesky Buddhists are right he's going to come back better next time."

Howie shook his head. "He couldn't come back any better than he was. He was the best. Best of them all."

"Not Nicky?" she teased.

He barked with laughter, shaking off his melancholy. "Nicky was the fun-est. He could always make me laugh. "Stop being so damn sweet, Howie. Tell us how you really feel," he'd say. Then he's give me a noogie or something." A hand brushed his short gray hair. He was still proud of the fact that he had a full head of hair. Surprising considering all the torture he's put it through in his performing days. "Lord, how they'd tease me about my hair," he said, lost in his memories. "Nick was always trying to cut it. A snippet here, a snippet there. Between that and all the times he's muss it up I'm surprised I have any left."

"He's as bald as a melon," she said with a cheeky grin.

Howie let out a whoop. "Ha! See? What goes around, comes around." He was silent for a while. "When'd you see him?"

"Last year. My last trip down to the Keys. He's still hanging round the place, acting the part of the grizzled old fisherman."

"I bet he's happy."

"Happier than I'd ever seen him."

Howie sighed, "that's Nick for you. All those years, all those shows, all those records, all those awards. Give him a fish on the line and he's happy."

"That the way you were too?"

He sighed again. "I guess. Not about the fish; smelly things. But I felt like I was going through the motions for too long. Like I said - it's the simple things that make me happy. Took me a lot of years to figure that out."

"Should I leave you to your robin then?" she asked as she rose from her seat. A hand whipped out, lightning fast for an old man, and grabbed her wrist. He winced as he realized he'd squeezed a bit tight for a worn, brittle arm and relaxed his grip.

"Not till you tell me who you are. You're not just a fan. You're something more, but this damn fool brain of mine can't place it," he said gruffly, hating to have to make that admission.

"Name Miranda mean anything to you?" She could see that it did

"Miranda," he breathed softly. He continued to gaze at her, but from the slightly unfocused look in his eyes she knew he was lost in memory. Her eyes did the same things when she thought back so far.

"Miranda," he repeated, thinking back to a woman with long dark hair and full lips. She'd always had a smile on her face and her dark eyes used to dance. The one he'd loved with a passion he never knew he'd possessed. The one who made him feel whole. The one he'd let get away.

His eyes focused on her now, seeing her features as he remembered them. Then seeing how time had influenced them. Father Time'd been gentle on her. Gentler than he'd been on her. He winced inwardly, remembering all he'd said, all he'd done to drive her away. Love her though he did, she just wasn't good enough for a Backstreet Boy. Lord, what a fool he'd been.

She smiled, guessing his thoughts, "Like you said, Howie, it was a long time ago. A different lifetime." She gazed around, looking out at the park. "You were right at the time, and I've had a good life. I learnt that 'little joys' thing early. Made all the difference."

His hand dropped from her wrist. "And those regrets you mentioned?" he asked.

"Ah, those are my regrets. And I'm not sharing them," she rebuked gently. "Everyone has to have at least one. Life is bittersweet, isn't it? Well, that's my bitter, thanks." She smiled down at him. "Nice talking to you, Howie. I'm going to go see that squirrel of mine. See if I can con him into talking some nuts from my hands."

"That takes patience," he warned. "And time."

She shrugged. "Got all the time in the world now."

He watched her walk away, his mind half in this time and half in the past. Then with a firm nod of his head he pushed the control on his wheelchair, sending it forward. By God, he had enough bitter in his life; he wasn't about to add another regret at his age. He's let her get away once; he wasn't going to do it again.

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