Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saving Time 10

by Bosephus

Nathaniel Berringer, standing six-foot four inches tall, physique that would green the gaze of Hercules, thirty-three years old and well-established author, felt like he was fifteen again. Uncle Jim had that affect on most people, though, if Nate had taken the time to speak with his many patients. The man was a force to be reckoned with and fighting him was a senseless waste of energy.

Uncle Jim closed the door against the soft whimpers of Bear, no doubt the dog's keen sense alerting him to the dangers of confrontation. Nate admitted he was probably reeking with the scent of fear that only a dog and someone as feral as Uncle Jim could pick up.

The large man pulled a rubber band from the pocket of his jeans, the warm cable knit sweater emphasizing the muscular lines that pushed the weave out in all the impressive areas. Reaching up, he captured the wild, white locks and tucked the thick mass securely on his neck.

As he managed this feat, he walked purposely towards Nate who still stood dumbstruck by the desk. The blond haired man couldn't help but flinch as JC barreled towards him in long, purposeful strides.

However, Nate's mouth flew open as the larger man pulled him into a warm embrace. "My God, boy, it's good to see you. I've missed you."

Nate instinctively reached up with his own arms returning the embrace, tears stinging his eyes at the unexpected show of love. Where was the hard man who had brought a petulant brat around all those long summers ago? Evelyn still spoke churlishly of her hated brother-in-law, but every now and then even she showed respect since he accomplished what teachers, counselors and the local police seemed unable to do, that being bringing her only child out of the darkness and into the light.

JC held his only nephew tightly, feeling all the old love and protective instincts that he harbored for his only close relative. JC pulled tighter almost lifting Nate off his feet, then just as quickly he released him, but not before delivering a hard, resounding smack to his jean-clad bottom.

"OW!" Nate said more in surprise than actual pain.

"Just a refresher," JC said as he put his hands on both of Nate's shoulders and pushed him arm's length away. "More serious recollections up ahead if needed."

Nate turned a fiery red, humbled by the reminders of his teen years.

Pleased with his nephew's ability to recall events, he dropped his hands and picked up the framed photograph Nate had been looking at when he entered.

"I'm gay."

The younger Viking's mouth gaped open at the blunt clarification. He suspected, hell, Evelyn made enough comments as to her views of abnormal behavior. His own father, Daniel Berringer had made enough onerous remarks to quell any discussions as to the possibility of his one and only brother being a homosexual.

Evelyn had often said that JC didn't marry because he was too self-centered, too involved with his patients and their dysfunctional lives to give his full attention to a wife and family. Nate had bought it, hook, line and sinker and, since the large man came into his life so very little, save for that one summer, he never pursued the topic. Family was family and you just accepted things as they were told to you.

Plus the short visits with Uncle Jim and his army buddies were too filled with macho show of hands on activities to consider the possibilities of anything other than male tomfoolery. Now, Nate didn't know if he should be surprised or relieved that the inner suspicions were there all along and his basic instinct was right.

The older man watched his nephew's face for a few moments, a smile toying his lips, until he let out a loud guffaw throwing his head back and filling the room with laughter.

"Oh, come on, Natey, surely you had a clue?"


JC laughed all the harder. Placing the photograph back on his desk he sat down in the large, comfortable chair where he worked. Leaning back, he put his feet on the desk and placed his hands behind his head in a display of complete relaxation---a man enjoying himself immensely after a hard day's work.

Nate straightened himself, deciding he needed to shift gears, establish himself as an adult in this relationship, a protector and mentor to the boy upstairs.

"Maybe I did, but I figure that's your business."

"Oh, I see," JC said, as though he were being enlightened on scientific theories of the creation of the universe and he questioned none of it.

He nodded his head as he leaned it back into the cradle of his clasped hands and began staring up at the ceiling. Nate moved around the desk settling into one of the soft blue leather armchairs, their hobnailed arms and legs even dwarfing his large frame.

The psychologist still stared up, biting his lower lip in deep concentration. "Kind of like the army, right? Don't ask, don't tell."

"Well, what the hell was I supposed to do? You kept pretty much to yourself after that one summer, I thought...well, I just thought you had enough of family to last you a lifetime. Other than those trips with the Wild Bunch to the cabin, I rather figured you didn't want me in your life." Nate toyed nervously with the fine etched carvings at the end of the leather chair arms. He couldn't help but notice the nail marks in the wood, as though whoever sat before James Berringer were always in worried peril.

"That's bullshit, boy, and the even bigger bullshit since you know it's bullshit," Berringer said, still in a fine good humor.

This was not the man Nate was expecting, but he knew one thing about Uncle Jim, he could shift gears from humorous good cheer to formidable authoritarian in a flash. He just didn't know when to expect the reprimand and he wasn't quite sure which direction this meeting was going to go.

"I thought you wanted to talk about Cody?" Nate tried to take the reins.

"Cody is not your concern," JC said as he swung his large, jean-clad legs down from the desktop and righted his swivel chair. Bringing his large form around to face his desk and Nate, he clasped his hands in front of him on the desk and looked directly at his nephew.

Noting the wide-eyed glare that meant Nate was ready to fight, he down shifted and even the old hippie was surprised by the vehemence in his own voice. "He's mine now. Mine to save."

Nate caught the hot fury in the silver blue eyes, the soft lights glinting like steel as sun speckled the room from the back bay window.

Nate stood up, resting his hands on his hips. "I saved his life, three times, by my guess that makes him my responsibility."

"So, laddie, all this time I thought you were on book tours, researching your true-life crime novels, entertaining the talk-show hosts with your in-depth forays into the mind of criminals, and here you were, getting your doctorate in psychology. Shows how out of touch we really have been, don’t it?" JC finished his little speech and stood, matching his nephew inch for inch and topping him by another two. Out matching him in mood and sheer force of bulk, he came around the desk, almost dwarfing the large Viking.

"He matters to me," Nate almost whispered, realizing how ridiculous it all sounded.

"Aye," the older man said, heavily accented in a Scottish brogue, "but he matters more to me."

Nate looked up quickly, stunned by the passion and sadness in the statement.

"Not to mention," JC said softer now, almost affectionately, "I am qualified and I know the whole the," he tapped his finger against Nate's chest, "no little save what your heart says."

Nate closed his eyes, realizing the truth when it was finally spoken. He did know very little. Three attempts at his life and three times saved, and only because of Bear, not him. He remembered the frantic search in the woods with Ben, how they called and hollered and begged Cody to answer. Then, when all seemed lost, the howling that broke through the darkness like those of banshees on All Hallow's Eve. He and Ben had ran in the direction of the eerie cries as the dog seemed to mourn the passing of his own life. As soon as they had hit the beach they realized how futile all searching would have been for the boy and dog were both cut off from their view. But the loud wails pulled them towards the detritus of branches and they were both shocked to see the huge dog lying full weight upon the boy's left arm as though trying to stop the flow of blood. Cody, unconscious, slumped sideways against the logs, his right arm draped lovingly over the huge, black Newfoundland.

Ben's quick medical training spurred them into action. Nate pulling the reluctant dog off the boy, Ben making a tourniquet of his belt, dialing his cell phone and requesting assistance. Deputy Rawlins was coming down the service road just tipping the rise before they even had Cody off the beach. It was the large mutt that had saved Cody's life, even Doctor Marcus had admitted the dog's weight had cut the flow and the amount of time in which they had found him.

Seeing the downtrodden slump of his nephew's shoulders, JC pulled the boy towards him. "It's okay, Nathaniel, there is damage to the boy that you could do nothing about, he's in capable hands now, don't you think?"

Not getting any response, he pushed his nephew away, still confining him within his space with two strong hands on his shoulders. "Weeellll?" he asked frowning dramatically and raising an eyebrow in query.

"Yes, of course," Nate said, somewhat embarrassed by his timing, "but I can help him. I can give him understanding and a reason to live."

"No you can't," Uncle Jim said, giving his nephew a slight shake when he saw the slight shaking of the head in denial. "NOOOO YOUUUUU CAN'T."

"Just tell me what I need to know, tell me what you know about him." There was pleading in the blue eyes, a desperation that James Berringer worried about. He was beginning to realize that his nephew was in some personal conflict of his own and that he might be doing double-duty as counselor and guide.

"He's mine, now, Natey. Professionally speaking, the boy is a patient of mine. He would be in an asylum right about now if Baaa hadn't of had the paperwork ready. You see, I've been waiting for this moment, expecting it for years and sitting on the sidelines tracking events. I can't disclose personal things about Cody Colson Blade without violating patient-doctor privilege, but you," once again the finger poked threateningly at Nate's chest, "should have called me. Or let Ben take the boy for professional help after the first encounter. That stubborn independence has almost gotten that lad upstairs killed."

He paused dramatically. "Which leads us to the reason for this little get together."

Just then there was a loud rustling noise in the monitor, the bedclothes shifting softly as Cody changed positions in his sleep. JC waited, listening, then the soft snores filled the room again and JC sighed.

"I've shown you mine, now you show me yours," JC said walking away from Nate towards the credenza along the north wall. "How about a brandy? I know it's early, but the last twenty-four hours have taken a bit of the flint out of me."

"Fine," Nate said, still petulantly working out a strategy in his mind to gain more control over the boy.

Pouring two snifters of the golden fluid, JC handed it to Nate. Taking his nephew's arm he led him to one corner of the long, leather sofa. When Nate sat down, JC walked over to the other end and settled himself at an angle, placing his long legs up on the sofa, resting back against a corduroy throw pillow.

"Ah," he said dramatically sipping the smooth liquor, "this is much better."

Then watching his nephew staring into his drink, swirling the golden fire around and losing himself in the color, JC asked again, "Now show me yours."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Nate asked, suddenly even more defensive with the subject turning towards him.

"I believe I started this conversation with 'I'm gay.'"

Nate swallowed loudly and his Adam's apple bobbed up and down.

JC's heart broke for just one instant, so like the small, frightened, hostile desperado he had taken home to break all those years ago. Nathaniel Cameron Berringer still showed another face to the world and was still hiding behind that tough facade.

"Come on, Natey, isn't there something you want to tell me."

Nate put the snifter on the table next to him, leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. "Why is it so easy for you? Why is everything so fucking easy for you?"

"I just don't fight the truth," JC said, putting his own snifter down and rising. He walked over and sat next to his most prized possession, the one remaining family that he had. Pulling Nate back and into his chest, he waited while Nathaniel struggled, stiffened against the show of affection.

Then he felt the shoulders soften, ease into his solid form, he saw the tension and rigid lines of resistance leave the muscular back and Nathaniel Berringer slowly, softly began to cry.

JC held his nephew as the sun lost its golden glow and the late afternoon shadows eased into the room. He could offer little up when his nephew resisted the truth with so much pain and hurt and denial. It was not his place to make statements about another's life, only sit and listen and be there when the soul cracked and the heart broke.

The long moments passed as the hard heaves turned to soft murmurings and finally Nathaniel pushed up and off the rock solid foundation where he sought comfort.

"I'm sorry," he said, sincerely, wiping away at his eyes.

JC reached towards the end table around his nephew's huge frame and gave him the box of tissues, always unobtrusively placed around the room.

"Nothing to be sorry for, laddie. There are no quick answers and sometimes there are no easy truths, either. We just need to get comfortable again, perhaps."

"I'm here for the boy," Nate said, still denying there was a problem in his own life.

"Yes, I know you are," JC concurred, his eyes admitting he knew a lot more as well. "Let's you and I work out something, okay?"

The large man rose and walked towards the bay window in back. His hands clasped casually behind his back, giving his nephew a chance to pull himself back into emotional shape.

"Let's work together with the boy. Cody needs professional help and I'm here to give it to him, but he's also going to need constant surveillance, emotional monitoring and friends, above all else, that boy is going to need some friends to help him find himself and offer him support when he learns some home truths."

Then turning he saw his nephew, face still red, but eyes clear and bright at the suggestion…the terror of losing the boy seemingly gone for the time.

"I am his friend. He's a good kid." Nate turned and picked up the brandy. He took a long hard pull on it and relished in the warmth as it glided down his throat.

"Let me look into a few things, I have an idea, but I need to follow up on it first. You can stay here with me until we find an alternative arrangement. You can set your computer up and settle in my room temporarily. The boy can have the other room."

"I was planning on going back up to the cabin. I need to finish my book." Nate was still a bit unsure. Being around Uncle Jim made him feel like a kid again and he didn't want to be anything but strong and formidable for Cody.

"If you do, you go alone." Uncle Jim was adamant.

Nate thought it over. He wanted to be with the boy. He needed to be with the boy right now.

"Okay, I guess I can work here as well as there."

"Ground rules: the boy is my responsibility. He takes direction from me. Our sessions are off limits to you or anyone else. But afterwards, in the evenings, you and I, we try to give the boy a family for once in his life." James Berringer was telling it like it was going to be. No two ways about it.

"That's fine with me," Nate said, finishing off his drink. "I just want the boy to get better."

"He will. I will see to it."

Then JC walked back across the room and grabbed his nephew by the shoulders, giving him a slight shake his face hardened and there was anger and authority in his demeanor now.

"You and I will get acquainted for a time. Then I take you to task, boy. I'll grant you the time to think things through, to adjust to the home truths and face up to whatever it is that's eating you up, but I'm not that patient a man, Natey, as you well know. Then I'm going to come down on you, hard, like before. I think you need straightening out and I'm willing to do it all over again. We'll try this approach for now, seeing as how the boy needs you, but then we'll bring up the past and if need be, I'll apply the same methods of correction that worked then. Do I make myself clear?" James Berringer was in true form, rock hard and determined and Nathaniel could only nod and blush.

"Good, you remember. Memory is good." Then JC pulled Nate back into another huge bear hug. "I've missed you, laddie, I truly have."

That evening the three men had pizza delivered. Cody still could not keep his eyes open and he was sent to bed early. Nate, feeling very much out of sorts decided to take Bear for a long walk along the coast.

James Cameron Berringer closed himself off in his office. The large leather couch folded out into a comfortable bed, and he had oftentimes slept down there when a patient was in bad straits and a phone call meant the difference between life and death. Now, however, he felt a deep hurt at his nephew's attitude. The boy, Cody, was just a matter of time and he was ready for this day for some time. But Nathaniel, everything should have been going well for him now, and it wasn't. To think of all the years that they had wasted seemingly believing it was what the other wanted. How sad, JC thought. How many lonely Christmases with just a card passing between them? How many problems and questions that could all have been resolved if they had believed in their bond.

Sure, Evelyn would do everything in her power to keep Nate away from her hated brother-in-law. JC was even shocked to realize that she never told Nathaniel that his only uncle was a homosexual. Knowing her, she would have used every weapon available to punch holes in the image of Uncle Jim. Once he had served his purpose when she was at her wit's end, then she could go back to abusing him verbally and shunning all contact with him. Perhaps she felt she owed him that small favor at least.

He smiled wryly at the thought and poured himself a large snifter of the warm brandy. He lit a flame under the snifter and watched as the golden liquid warmed. Too much lately, he admitted to himself, too much comfort found in the bottle.

A soft meowing came out of the shadows that were creeping into the corners of the room. Dolores had found some secret way into the office. With the large double-doors securely locked, she had discovered some hidden route into her master's den. At first, JC had been upset and quite determined to find the entrance, but days after searching, he had finally given up simply accepting of the fact that the cat knew when and if he needed her.

Now she stretched luxuriously as she pranced like a dancer across the dark blue carpet softly talking to her master.

"Things change," he said to her knowing full well she was perturbed by the increased population in her domain, in particular with Bear.

She gave a sharp "nya," that JC often found to sound like a determined and decisive NO. He laughed. "Well, Princess, I'm afraid they do."

She jumped up casually onto his lap and settled down for a nap. He began a long stroking movement that relaxed him more than it did Dolores.

He sat for another two hours watching the sunset behind the sloping hills, wishing with all his heart that Connor Devane were not an ocean away.

The next day, JC gently glided Cody into his new life. Nothing to shock the young man, yet, he determined, but he wanted him to have a vague notion of how things were going to be. They started off with a simple get to know one another session in his office after breakfast. Nate was busy setting up his computer and rearranging furniture in the bedroom overhead, Bear eager to be by his side. The large dog had seemed to realize that Cody belonged to another now and he was of no mind, however capable, to challenge James Cameron Berringer.

A huge breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages, pancakes, and toast made for light conversation. The large Vikings attacked their breakfasts with relish and Cody, who wasn't very hungry last night, now joined them, at least with enthusiasm. Cody was excused to sit outside in the sun on the patio with Bear, while JC and Nate tackled the dishes, with a slight warning that tomorrow his real day began and he was not going to be waited on. Chores would be assigned and he would be expected to help out around the house. He glumly nodded and was eager to get outdoors with Bear, of course, with the hated baby monitor on.

When Cody settled himself in one of the huge blue leather chairs, JC closed the double doors and clasped his hands together enthusiastically in a loud display of eagerness and anticipation.

"Well, Cody, it's a pleasure to finally meet you," he said as he walked to his desk.

"I doubt that." The boy was churlish today, not the compliant soul so awash with drugs that he was quietly dragged through the day. He was getting his own steam back and with it a few hot spots.

"Your dad loved you very much," JC continued, eager to make concessions for the lost soul. "He had so much fun with you that one weekend at the cabin. Didn't stop talking about it for weeks. I had to finally threaten him. He..."

"Look," Cody said standing up just as JC sat behind his desk. "Let's just cut the bullshit, okay?"

"Okay," JC said, smiling cheerily. "You start."

Cody looked momentarily nonplussed, but he soon regained some stamina as he walked towards the back bay window overlooking the overcast morning, the shadows darkening the patio as the clouds came overhead.

"I'm here because you had some fancy lawyer pluck me from that Hicksville hospital. You think if we talk, I'll have this great epiphany on how wonderful my life is, how worthwhile it all is and how much I truly want to count myself among the living, right?" Cody turned now watching JC's face expectantly.

JC didn't answer, he only kept his silver-blue eyes trained on the boy, who acted now like he was in charge and JC were there for counseling.

"Well, you and I both know I'm right. Soooo, we can save I'm sure you have other patients in need of your fine talents, patients who hang on your every word and walk out those doors filled with a renewed eagerness for life...we can save you the time and effort. As grandfather said, 'some are born losers.'"

Still JC sat quietly watching. Then he merely pointed a sharp finger towards one of the blue leather chairs before his desk. He didn't say a word merely pointed and kept a watchful eye on Cody.

When Cody didn't move, stayed rooted to the spot in the middle of the large room, Berringer said one word that echoed through the space like a canon blast, "One."

The boy's eyes widened, but he didn't move, his gaze hooded with uncertainty.

The minutes passed before the next numeral shook the air, "Two."

Cody flinched this time, not only unsure of himself but expectant.

"Wellllll," JC said slowly as he rose from the chair, but before he could finalize the count, Cody rushed forward and slammed his butt into the blue chair eager to keep the large desk between him and the formidable man.

James Berringer sat back down never taking his eyes off of Cody. The boy finally looked down at the carpeting, embarrassed by his capitulation.

"You are lucky, Mr. Blade, lucky that this is an introductory, getting to know you session. Once our work begins, you will be held accountable for your attitude, your comments, and your compliance to my rules. Do I make myself clear?" The voice was still calm and matter-of-fact; no threat really gilded the edges, only a loving promise.

"Yes," Cody said, then catching the grimace, he amended, "Yes, sir."

"Good, we are making progress. Tomorrow our real work will begin. I have some friends I'd like you to meet, you and Nate. They live here in Ponder Cove and I've developed a tight and close bond with them as well as others in the town. Tonight we're meeting them for dinner at the Garden Villa, a fine Italian restaurant that I'm sure you'll like." JC was happy again, making plans and sounding like a social director on a cruise ship, insisting that all projects be met with eager anticipation and excitement.

"I'm not ready to meet people," Cody insisted.

"Yes, you are." JC counter moved.

"What gives you the right...," but Cody didn't finish he was cut off by JC's hands waving him into submission.

"A legal document. One stating that you were to be sent to Cranston Sanitarium per the instructions of your grandfather due to your unstable situation. Stealing a car, attempting suicide, and general unruly behavior beyond the family's control anymore. The other document, your saving grace, laddie, stating that you are to be turned over to me as your legal guardian until the age of twenty-one and that you are to become my patient. That one document laddie gives me right over all other reasons."

"How did you get that right?" Cody asked quietly.

"You father, things you know nothing about, yet. But in time you will, when you're able to accept the way things are," then seeing the distraught look creep across the boy's face, JC lightened the mood. "Hey, we've got plenty of time, a year. Let's just take it one day at a time at first. You'll be able to handle things in small increments a lot better at first than trying to work out the puzzle when half the pieces are missing to begin with."

JC watched the boy, seemingly struggling with some idea in his head.

"What's on your mind, Cody?" Berringer needed to gauge the boy's emotional health, see where he was going and coming from.

"Did you know my dad well? I mean, I know you were friends, all those guys at the cabin had been in the army together, but did you spend a lot of time with my father? Did you two go to Gulf Storm together?"

JC smiled, glad of the boy's interest, but still unsure of how far to proceed. "We were very, very close, Cody. I met your dad long before the Gulf War. The Wild Bunch came together in Germany, actually. I was in the Reserve doing counseling sessions with prisoners of war, men and their families relocated having troubles keeping their home life in tact in a foreign land. Your father came to me as a patient, regarding a personal matter." Berringer stopped here. He wasn't ready to tell the boy that his dad was a homosexual and that he and Wild Bill Blade had been life partners, married and very much in love. All things in time would be revealed.

Standing up, he walked in front of Cody and sat back insouciantly on the desk. "To make a long story short, we started going out at night to local bars, we became good friends. He introduced me to Ben Bracken, Gil Farver, and the lot and I liked them. They were easy going and had their heads on straight. When we all got reassigned back in the states, we talked about buying the cabin, talked about it for years. One day your dad just had the paperwork written up and said we do it..and we did." JC looked off towards the bay window out onto the sunny garden. Laughing he caught himself in a spiral of memories, "your dad was like that. He took action, liked making things happen. He loved life."

Pausing he saw the wistful look on Cody's face as though the boy were trying to remember his own image of his dad and failing horribly. "And he loved you. More than you will ever know."

"Did he?" Cody stood up now, fists clenched at his side. "Then why didn't he come to see me, take me with him, spend more time with me? Why? You don't ignore someone you love?"

"He couldn't. There were things keeping him from you."

"NO! Grandfather told me. Grandfather told me how dad never wanted me. How I was an accident. How he only married mother to save her good name. He never wanted me."

JC reached out and locked two large hands on Cody's shoulders. "Listen to me, boy, and listen well. Whatever Faber Colson told you, whatever things he said about your father, I can tell you right now, they were lies."

Cody shook his head, denying the truths he had come to believe. "No, grandfather kept me. He raised me. He had plans for me, but he hated..." Cody dropped off as though not really understanding where he was going.

"What did he hate, Cody?"

"He" Sitting back down, Cody paled. JC walked over to the credenza and poured a glass of ice water. In long strides he was back in front of Cody before the first tear fell. Kneeling down in front of the boy, he handed him the glass.

"Here, drink this and stop it right now." JC was firm again, the voice of authority that would not be brooked.

"We've miles to cover, Cody, but we'll be working together and you're going to hear another side to things, the truth for once."

The gold Navigator made yet another sweep of the small town. The night air was thickening as twilight set softly around them. They passed the Prince Albert Hotel, a luxurious resort that boasted a golf course, riding stables and access to the ocean front where boats and small sailboats could be rented. They rode up and down the one main street that intersected at Remembrance, the parallel hot spots of this very quiet, very secluded town.

“And that there is Angel Inn,” JC’s voice droned on as Cody tried to block out the distraction. His mind was ruminating on the events and discussion of the day, the truths that JC promised him he would be hearing. He was tired; not only from the drugs that were pumped into him the last two days, but also from the mental sparring he did with himself as well as this formidable Viking.

“They say it’s haunted by an old sea-faring captain and many a guest in one of the ten guest rooms has sworn they’ve seen the old gent in their rooms, late at night,” JC added with a sinister voice, trying to lighten the atmosphere in the confined space.

Nate sat in back; sulking was more the word to describe his attitude. JC had adamantly demanded that Bear be locked in his room while they were gone, claiming fear for Dolores’ life. Although he didn’t doubt that the wily, experienced survivor of frigid wilderness could handle the dog, he felt it in the best interests of his fine collection of art and sculptures that the dog be confined to chambers. Nate took umbrage, but JC had a feeling it was still a bristling over rights to Cody, and had nothing at all to do with the lovable and quite compliant mutt.

One street was completely lined with specialty shops of every nature. Flowers, furniture, clothes, fine leather goods, gifts and jewelry. The street was accommodating the traveler with baked goods, fine pastries, coffee nooks and restaurants to fit just about every palette. The Garden View was an all-glass enclosed restaurant that allowed travelers to see the diners as they sat amidst the white tablecloths and black leather and chromed chairs. Pink flowers adorned each table as the waiters made their way around the crowded room, tending inconspicuously to the needs of the diners.

JC parked in the back lot and the three striking men walked up along the side street to enter through the double-glass doors. The maitre de, immediately recognizing JC, guided them towards their table. “Your guests are here, already, Dr. Berringer.”

Cody dragged his feet behind the tall man and only moved when Nate placed a guiding hand on his back. Throwing a hostile look over his shoulder, he was met with a sour look. Cody couldn’t help but feel some disappointment in this man who so easily gave him up to the larger, more formidable Ancient.

Two men sat at the table set for six, Cody noted. One was the black-haired young man who had presented the paperwork at the clinic. All Cody could remember about him was that he was charming, a fast talker, and sputtered out legalese like he was born with the tongue.

The other man was tall and lanky about ten years older than the other. His hair was dark brown save for the graying at the temples and he had crow’s feet pulling at his brown eyes, stamping him as a man who spent a lot of time laughing.

“Jim!” the lanky one said as he rose from his chair and extended his hand towards JC. The large doctor took the hand and shook it, while grasping the wrist with his other hand, locking them in some hidden ritual of camaraderie.

“George, I owe you and Baa big time on this one.” JC seemed grateful by the mere pumping of the paws. Cody shifted nervously on his feet.

Noting the discomfort behind him, JC cleared his throat. “George, Baaa, I’d like you to meet Cody Colson Blade…finally.”

George smiled warmly and Baaa rose as well to shake hands. Cody went through the proper ceremony.

“And my nephew, Nathaniel Berringer,” JC said proudly.

Nate moved forward and shook the hands. “Baaa and I have already met,” he acknowledged. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your full names.”

JC shook his head once, expressing his discontent with his nephew’s attitude. “George Englewood and Bartholomew Logan. George is a graphic artist for one of the biggest gaming companies around, plus he does free lance graphics and web page design. Baaa is a lawyer, actually my lawyer now.”

Everyone took their seats at the secluded corner table. JC at the end, Cody to his right, Nate next to him, George to the left of JC and Baaa next to him. The other end remained empty, but a place setting held firm the promise of another guest.

The conversation edged around Cody. Like soft satin draped over a doll’s house, he watched phrases and comments settle quietly amid these men. Softly it encased them in their own diorama of friendship and good cheer. Men who had grown used to each other’s constant banter, they were impervious to their own rudeness. Grandfather would have balked, pointed out the ineptitude of such callousness. Cody found it comforting.

“Well, we’ll give him five more minutes,” Jim said, as he reached for another bread stick, casting a furtive look out the surround plate glass windows, seeking the missing link.

A snort came from Baa followed by a shriek as he grabbed his shin, “Damn, George, you know how he’s always late. I swear he likes to make the entrance.”

“Then accept it, and stop being the bell ringer for the man’s vices.”

“Enough,” Uncle Jim said, as he spotted the yellow Tracker. “Arrived…he has indeed.”

All heads in the restaurant turned as tires squealed and brakes caught. The small yellow Tracker u-turned in front of the restaurant and came to a dramatic screech under one of the five handicapped parking signs.

Cody strained to see. But all he could focus on were the faces of the cheerful diners. They were laughing, nodding to one another as though quite assured a dear and trusted friend had arrived.

A chapter written before the flame died….is it worth igniting once again? You tell me.

Saving Time 9

by Bosephus

The morning mist was just leaving the mountains. If you were in a helicopter looking down upon the winding roads as they descended the mountain heading towards Portland, you could have sworn the small caravan brought back reminders of a white Ford Bronco and the interest of a nation.

The gold Navigator took the curves smoothly, responding well to the light touch of the huge man behind the wheel. Positioned easily back against the butternut soft leather seats, he hummed contentedly to himself, checking the rearview mirror occasionally, making sure his family was in tact. Glancing sideways at the sleeping, golden-haired boy, securely strapped into the seat next to him, he sighed wearily, as though realizing the chore before him for the first time.

The red Cherokee followed a safe distance behind and one got the impression that the driver was doing more than respecting the rules of the road. The careful avoidance of the car in front indicated a reservation too easily credited with not pissing off the driver ahead.

Bear sat happily upright next to the huge Viking driver. Tongue hanging out, drool cascading down in long tendrils of wet saliva, the large pup was excitedly perturbed. His newfound friend was in the car ahead. This he knew since leaving the small Turtle Ridge Emergency clinic where he watched vigilantly as Cody Colson Blade was wheeled out the door. Eagerly rushing forward, straining the yellow nylon leash and taking Nate Berringer with him, he had jumped up excitedly onto the wheelchair... splattering loving kisses on the despondent boy. The only reaction triggered in the boy's drugged state was a weak right hand buried in his scruff.

"Nathaniel, do something with this mutt!" Came the ferocious bellow of the larger man. White hair loose and blowing wildly around his face, the Behemoth looked like a mad hermit taking vengeance on civilization.

"He likes the boy," Nate said, somewhat weakly, as he regained control over the pup.

"Well, maybe we should be starting a scrapbook of good intentions gone awry," the man said sarcastically, withering the younger man with steel blue eyes.

Even Cody, as detached from things as he was, raised soulful green eyes with trepidation, as the nurse assisted him into the gold Navigator. He looked back, frightened, seeking out Nate and Bear and the red Cherokee.

A large hand grabbed under his elbow and both lifted and toppled him gently into the passenger seat. "I'll take over from here, Nurse Edmund," the old hippie said in a no-nonsense voice.

"Yes, doctor," she replied, pulling the wheelchair away from the door and returning to the clinic, casting one more glance at the unbelievably handsome trio---not to mention the well-built young man carrying the briefcase, who spoke quickly with a sure knowledge of legalities and rights and privileges. This had been a strange two days, and though she regretted seeing the men leave, she had a feeling that all was not quite right with them. Especially the large, blond-haired giant, he definitely feared for his life, and if family resemblance spoke anything to her trained eye, she believed it was an avuncular discipline that was dreaded.

James Berringer saw the panic creasing the edges of Cody's eyes. The dazed state still bespoke a strong attachment to his nephew and the dog, and the psychologist smiled to himself. The window of hope was opening little by little and he knew what course to take.

"It's okay, Cody, Nate and Bear will be right behind us. They're not leaving you and neither am I." Closing the door firmly he caught the hopeful look the sad eyes turned on him through the glass. He nodded his head, smiling reassuringly.

Then turning to Nate who was piling Bear into the red Cherokee and including the well-built, black-haired young man behind him placing his briefcase into the trunk of the silver Jaguar, he yelled, "Let's go."

Nate mumbled to Bear, "Who made him wagon master?" Bear shifted his butt nervously, as though warning Nate not to challenge for control.

Getting into the driver's side, Nate patted the dog on his large head. "Don't worry, I know better than that."

All the drivers manned their vehicles and the procession began.

"I remember you."

JC Berringer turned sharply towards the young man who had been quietly sleeping for the past two hours. They had made the freeway about half an hour ago and the silver Jaguar had turned off towards the heart of Portland. The driver, Bartholomew Logan, waived a farewell to Jim as he accelerated past and cut quickly onto the off-ramp. JC waived back, grateful to have such loyal and good friends as well as neighbors.

He met the green eyes then quickly checked the rearview mirror to make sure his nephew still had him within his sights.

"I would imagine you would. You weren't that young last time I saw you, but you weren't that old either. At the impressionable age, I'd say."

"I was nine, going on fifty," Cody said as he turned sadly to look out the window. His left wrist, bandaged and wrapped securely in a sling, was cradled against his abdomen like a precious child.

"Happy Birthday," JC said, as he set the speed control once they cleared the business section and headed towards the coastline. "You turned twenty a few days ago. You've a long ways to go to fifty and I intend to see that you make it."

"Twenty’s plenty enough for me."

Jim didn't answer, didn't even turn his eyes towards Cody with the sad expression that was expected. He merely reached out a large hand and patted the boy's knee, smiling as though a pleasant thought was submitted for contemplation.

As they cleared the last remnants of city and wound around the shore drive, Cody slouched deeper and deeper into the soft leather upholstery. Several concerned glances from JC only urged him deeper within his cocoon.

So the large psychologist began the tour. "This town I live in, it's actually more of a village, a community. You should find it quite peaceful. People tend to mind their own business, yet at the same time, if you need your neighbor's help, they're there for you."

The blond boy merely raised his shoulders and shrugged dramatically, "Makes no mind to me...can't help me none."

JC was pleased, the boy was at least talking, better than the stiff silence most of the trip.

"Would you accept help?"

"Sure." Then he quickly caught his breath, "No!"

"Make up your mind. Anybody would tell you 'don't waste my time.'"

"Then what are you butting your nose in for anyway?"

The Behemoth let out a loud laugh, and Cody wondered how such a pleasant sound could come from a man who scared the bejesus out of him.

"I'm glad you find me funny. Thrill away, asshole."

The Navigator swerved so quickly off the road, Nathaniel Berringer had to grab Bear's collar with one hand and maneuver the Cherokee cautiously off the road ahead of the golden vehicle.

Glancing in his rearview mirror he saw the look on his Uncle Jim's face. Remembering that look before his own comeuppance, he took a deep breath. "Bear, boy, Cody just made mistake number one by my guess."

Then he sat there watching the small theatrical event transpire in the six by three-inch glass stage.

Cody grabbed the door with his right hand. One look at the large man beside him and he knew his life was coming to an end for sure now. Strange fact was---for someone trying to die, when faced with this man's hands around his neck, he'd rather run for his life. Grabbing for the doorknob he pulled, but the locks were engaged. Realizing he was still strapped in, he clawed at the mechanism holding him in place with his right hand, the left a useless appendage trapped within the shoulder sling.

A large hand grabbed his right wrist and he could do little except look up into the cold silver eyes of the largest man he had ever seen in his whole life. Angry now, the face slightly tinged with heat, the silver eyes shining with a quiet rage, the white hair still wildly framing the surprisingly young-looking face, Cody blanched.

The green eyes traveled down gauging the hold of entrapment, but instead of squeezing his fingers in a tight and vengeful vice, the large thumb began to gently stroke the back of Cody's hand. Cody shot his glance upward, a surprised look on his face.

"Have you ever heard of the velvet glove?" The voice was silky, no anger evident in the patient sound.

Cody just nodded his head.

"I can be patient, I can be determined. I intend to give you time, but you will not abuse me. I demand and will only accept absolute respect and I will treat you accordingly."

The green eyes refused to meet steel. Then he felt his hand being turned over, the thumb began tracing a pattern up Cody's wrist and then down into the palm. The sensation comforted the boy. The whole of his body seemed centered around that stroking sensation and he felt himself relax all fight and flight instinct leveling off and easing down. As though mesmerized, Cody's eyes locked onto Jim's and for a strange moment in time, they acknowledged a language of understanding. Cody began to nod his head slowly up and down, up and down.

"Say it."

"" Cody's voice trailed off as though he were falling asleep.

"For whom?" the voice was stern, as though the answer were totally unacceptable.

"You?" came the thin reply, no fear, just uncertainty.

"Just me?" as though talking to a child learning his alphabet for the first time.

Cody didn't answer this time, instead he nodded his head slowly as tears pushed along the rim of the green pools.

"Oh, Cody," James Cameron Berringer said, as he brought his left hand up to the pale face. Pulling it down gently along the side, catching a spilt tear as it escaped the shadowed seas, the large intimidating man sighed, "What has he done to you?"

Blinking away the remaining unshed tears, Cody turned to stare ahead out the windshield, resting his gaze on the red Cherokee and things he understood.

Jim placed his hands on Cody's upper arms and turned him gently back in the seat.

Cody shivered, unsure of what just happened. He was ready to meet rage, had braced himself for a slap or a shaking, but he felt relaxed, comforted, and cooperative. Remembering violent sessions with his grandfather, abusive words, emotional floggings, he was hard pressed to figure out what had just happened, but he doubted he would ever call James Cameron Berringer an asshole again.

As the Navigator pulled back out onto the deserted highway, Nathaniel Berringer watched it glide by. Cody stared at him as though dazed. Nate sat staring with his mouth open, wondering what had transpired leaving Cody so quietly composed. He would have remained there, wondering into space, ruminating over his own history with Uncle Jim, save for the braking red lights ahead and the sounding horn.

Shifting into drive, he checked his mirror and proceeded out onto the blacktop, slowly following the four-wheel drive towards their temporary new home.

The automatic garage door opened with only a soft purr. The Navigator slid into the left side. JC immediately got out and as though guiding an airplane in for landing, he motioned to Nate to pull the red Cherokee into the right stall.

Nate was out of the driver's side quickly. Bear, eager for action, stood standing on the seat softly whimpering, demanding attention.

"I didn't know you moved?" Nate said, somewhat embarrassed by the fact that he been avoiding his uncle and his mother for the past year.

"If you hadn't of been hiding out like a scared schoolboy, you'd have visited a time or two by now," JC said, ice chilling his voice. "Not to mention the calls I've been juggling with Evelyn. I thought we went over proper behavior, responsibilities and civility at one time."

Nate looked in the Navigator and caught Cody's glance, his face reddened by the knowledge that if there was any correction and guidance being dealt, that he, too, was deserving of instruction.

"I think we both have other problems to deal with right now," Nate said quietly as he brushed past Uncle Jim who stood between the two vehicles. Bear whimpered more loudly, shifting his huge body. Finally he barked repeatedly, a rapid succession of barks that demanded Nate's immediate attention.

"SIT!" Nate shouted, as he opened the back tailgate. However, the huge pup, totally oblivious to most commands, merely bounded over the back of the driver's seat, skipped the back passenger area and lunged towards Nate with drool splashing in all directions.

As upset as Nate was with Uncle Jim and circumstances in general, the huge pup could break his bear-like state in one sloppy kiss. Laughing, relieved to know that one person here still loved and understood him, he assisted the black Newfoundland down. Bear happily ran off into the bushes to relieve himself.

"Stay close, Bear," Nate said as he began lifting boxes and suitcases down from the cargo hold.

JC shook his head, totally displeased with his nephew's attitude. Walking towards the passenger side, he opened the door. "Come on, Cody, let's get you settled in."

Cody allowed the large man to release his safety harness and he slowly got down from the large vehicle.

"Nate, keep the dog out here until I can lock up Dolores. It's going to take some strict surveillance to see how those two get along," JC said as he headed for the door that led inside the house. Cody looked idly around. The garage was impeccable. There was a neatness and sense of order to everything. Remembering Faber Colson's insistence on order, he shivered, wondering what hell salvation had thrown him into.

Two hours, four broken knick-knacks, one plant toppled and almost uprooted, and several ripped drapes later, the house had settled down to a late, afternoon lunch. Nate stirred the soup, while Uncle Jim made sandwiches. Cody sat forlornly in the bright and sunny kitchen the white decor broken with multi-colored tiles that made it homey and inviting.

His arm was out of the sling, after a check by both Nate and JC Berringer. Though still tightly wrapped, he was allowed to use it sparingly. The pout that creased his lips was directly related to the small box that was clipped to his waistband. A baby monitor, he thought, angrily. A fucking baby monitor for a grown man.

A similar box was clipped to JC's belt. Though both boxes were turned off now in the same room, Cody was not allowed to go to the bathroom or be out of sight without both boxes turned on.

In similar sulks, Bear lay along the closed door leading out into the garage, as though firmly stating he did not like this place and was willing to leave with the first person to abandon the family get together. No doubt exhaustion had led him to seek a quiet corner. Dolores sat grooming herself in front of the large door wall that led out onto the patio, the bright sunlight warming her marble coating, the almost contented smile of a winner discernible on her face.

In the end, it was the loud bellow of James Cameron Berringer that had Nate, Dolores, and Bear stop their game of cat and mouse. "ENOUGH!" he hollered just as Nate was finally able to grab Bear's collar.

"What portion of the instructions didn't you understand, Nathaniel?" he asked his nephew, who was sheepishly trying to bring his lovable pup under control.

"I didn't know the door was open. He pushed it open before I could grab him. Besides, since when did you like cats?"

JC merely glowered at his nephew; the matching sets of blue eyes merely a tint aside. "Since the time I started explaining my actions to you," he said, prickling to the censure from his only nephew.

"You and I will have a nice session in my office soon enough. I'll bring you full ways up to date on family matters and concerns, laddie." The thick brogue buttered his speech with elegance, though threat, sharp and clear, was all that Nate heard.

The steaming soup bowls warmed the kitchen and Cody's stomach gave an involuntary growl as he realized just how hungry he was. His appetite in the clinic was weighted by the medication and other than some Jell-O and mashed potatoes, he had steered clear of most foods. Now, once again in a Berringer kitchen, he found his appetite returning. Strange how these hearty men seemed to pass their gargantuan appetites onto everyone around them.

A plate piled high with sandwiches was set in the middle of the table, along with a carafe of coffee, a pitcher of milk and a plate of crackers. Condiments were nestled in a crystal tray, each seeming to have an allotted place. Once again Cody's mind compared the organized neatness to his grandfather and his stomach muscles tightened in fear. This man was so unlike the flannel-clad, jean wearing man of so many years ago. As much as he had feared the big Behemoth, he had felt safe with him and the other men who shared the small cabin with his father.

This man, this white-haired mad hermit with his pristinely alabaster house, was freaking him out. Cut his hair neatly, put a Saville Row suit on him and he could pass for Faber Colson.

"Eat!" The command came from Nate who had already piled two sandwiches on his plate and was crumbling a handful of crackers into the thick, red tomato soup.

The two large men dug in with an appetite and gusto that made Cody open his mouth in shock. The silver eyes, missing very little, saw the curious gaze shift on either side, once to Nate then to him.

"We're growing boys," JC said, gently smiling. "Though I'm afraid the expansion is more lateral now than anywhere else."

"Speak for yourself," Nate said, joining in on the light dinner conversation.

"You're looking good, Nathaniel, even though you've lost some weight." The steely look was both assessing and critical. "I expected a call from you months ago."

Nate looked at Cody who was toying with his soupspoon, making small passes along the surface of the thick soup. Nate kicked him lightly under the table and gestured towards his mouth, indicating the boy had better start a path in that direction.

Cody lowered his head and began eating the soup; Nate put a turkey sandwich on the boy's plate.

"Don't ignore me, boy," JC said still pleasantly eating, but this was a dinner table and family discussed things at dinner.

"I'm not ignoring you," Nate said, a bit perturbed, "let's just say I needed time to sort some things out."

"Running away, avoiding calls from Evelyn, getting that large mutt, ignoring your responsibilities to your that how you sort things out?"

"Sometimes people need to be alone." It was the first time Cody had said anything without being asked a question.

JC smiled at Nate, pleased with the boy's contribution, but more encouraged by his defense of his nephew and his own self-realizations.

"Maybe…maybe… they just need to be with people who understand them, people they can talk with, people who can help them figure things out," JC said, reaching for his second sandwich.

There was surprisingly little tension in the air, and Cody was amazed. Any reprimands delivered at High Grounds by his grandfather were clearly marked with tension and enough electrical heat to fry brains. Nate and JC seemed to be able to discuss whatever crime Nate had committed with a gentle debate, although Cody had little doubts that the man Nate had told him about was still larger than life in the man sitting to his left.

Smelling food, determined not to be banished too long to the outer recesses of Nate or Cody's world, Bear quietly came to sit between Nate and Cody, clearly avoiding the large man who had yelled at him. Cody slowly dropped the hand with the sandwich down to his lap, his head still buried in his soup, passing the sandwich on to Bear. The sounds of the large dog gobbling up the offering, the huge body flopping down on the tiles to devour his treat, were a dead give away.

"I'll pretend I didn't see that, Cody, if the next sandwich," JC put another sandwich, this one cheese, on Cody's plate, "goes into your mouth...all of it."

"Yes, sir," Cody said and Nate's mouth dropped in surprise. The boy was showing respect and good manners, when most times his directives were met with attitude and rebellion.

He looked curiously up at JC who met his gaze. The question was obvious in his eyes, "What the hell happened back there on the road?" but no answers were forthcoming now.

The rest of the lunch continued with an ease and camaraderie that Cody remembered at the cabin with his dad and the guys. He liked it. He liked the cozy house, not palatial or affectatious like he expected. He liked the white clean kitchen, homey and bright and cheery. He was utterly surprised to learn there were only two bedrooms to this house. The first floor bedroom had been converted into an office and although he had not seen it yet, he had been pointed towards the door on his initial quick tour.

"Off limits," were two words directed at him. "When you're in there, you'll be working with me or you'll be regretting it one way or the other. It's where we will conduct our serious talks." Cody had wondered what "work" they were going to do together. He knew JC was a psychologist, but what work did they do but write up reports about your attitude and your mental health. Hello...I just want to die...bottom line, Cody thought to himself, there's really very little to talk about.

Cody finished off all of his soup and was able to tuck away a half of the cheese sandwich. Bear was the proud recipient of the other half and Cody only earned a sharp reproach from JC. "If you want the dog locked outside during meals, keep it up."

Too tired to take offense, Cody yawned loudly. Sheepishly looking at Nate he gave him charge over him by asking, "Can I go up and lie down for awhile. I'm mighty tired after the meal and trip and all?"

Nate's eyes left Cody's long enough to check with JC. Cody could hear and feel the giant rise behind him. "Let's go. I'll tuck you in, make sure you're safe and sound."

Nate nodded his head. Bear rose upon the giant's taking his place behind Cody's chair. The steel eyes looked down into the large black ones. The large hand lowered and he ruffled the big dog's head. Cody felt the hand then shift to his shoulder and he winced, not quite knowing what to expect.

"Come on."

Cody pushed his chair back and rose, but his heart was not in the act.

"Nate, clean up here, start the coffee and bring a pot into my office. Time you and I caught up on old times."

Cody followed the large man through the small dining room out into the hallway that bisected the house from front door to back. The high vaulted ceiling angled upward with a balcony overlooking the back half of the foyer.

They moved past the living room doors on the left towards the staircase against the right wall of the hall. At the foot of the stairs the double-doored office waited, promising a future for Cody, but for now they turned up the stairs. The upstairs had two large bedrooms, each with a full bath. Between them, overlooking the entrance hall was a large loft-like room with a white leather sofa, brightly colored Indian blankets and two large leather chairs. A cabinet at one end, no doubt housed a TV, VCR and sound system of some sort or another. Cody could not imagine this man being cut off from the outside world, as feral as he sometimes looked.

As they entered the bedroom, JC pulled the covers back from the large, queen-sized bed. "Sit," he said pointing to the down-turned bed. Cody sat unsure of what was expected. JC knelt before him and undid his shoes, taking each one off and placing it a few feet away from the bed.

"Come on, get in."

The tired boy just scootched up and lay down, too tired to worry about much. JC took the monitor from his waistband and set it on the nightstand. Reaching down to the box on his own belt he turned his set on. A loud crackling filled the air.

"If you turn this off," he said indicating the box on Cody's nightstand, "I hear this crackling and it's not a sound I like to hear. Irritates the hell out of me." Cody just looked up wide-eyed. JC turned the box on the nightstand on.....every movement was echoed back to them. Going into a closet, JC came out with a large box. He began laying out large sheets of plastic around the bed. Cody watched him skeptically, wondering what madness reigned in this house.

"It's noisy. If you try to sneak out of bed, I'll hear you, if you try to move it, I'll hear you...if you do anything but sleep, I will hear you." When the plastic corralled Cody nicely, JC walked over the landscape making as much noise as he could to prove his point. He tucked the blankets over Cody's small form. Reaching down his hand, he brushed the wild, spiked hair back off the forehead and smiled down at the boy. "You have your father's eyes." Then turning he left his prisoner with a strange sense of wellbeing.

Nate sat on the comfortable leather sofa. It was the same one in the office of his uncle’s high-rise apartment in Portland. All the furniture was the same, well-worn and well-used, but highly treasured and cared for. The polished surfaces gleamed dark walnut. This was the only dark room in the house. The paneling, wall sconces, large desk set back against the wall-to-wall was as much a library as an office and Nate loved it. It would have made a fine writer's room. The office took up the whole half of the house on this side of the staircase. There was even a bathroom off towards the back and the large bay window next to it overlooked the garden. Beyond the gardens the grassy knoll eased its way up towards the ocean. The front window was no doubt a bay as well, if Nate's memory served him on the ride in, but the heavy blue drapes were drawn tightly shut.

The couch sat along the wall beneath some bookshelves. The double-doors came next, leading out into the hallway. A long credenza sat beneath the bookshelves on the other side, and the tray of coffee sat ready along with several bottles of wine and liquor. An armchair and ottoman sat in the corner near the bay window in the back. The large walnut desk sat in front facing the doors with two, blue leather, hob-nailed armchairs facing its front. Nate wondered how many of his patients came to the house for therapy. A computer perched in the corner of the work area.

Tired of waiting, agitated by the changes in his uncle, he began to walk around, picking up knick-knacks here and there. The one door stood open and Bear, sensing this domain belonged to the Behemoth had lain down in front of the closed door, his huge paws still visibly blocking the open doorway.

Memory positions itself on levels in our minds, and Nate's memories of Uncle Jim were seeking a comfortable rise, thinning the air, making fragile and wistful things that seemed so real at one time. Was Uncle Jim, the hard-assed man who brought a young punk kid to his knees, the same man who now seemed so sensitive to the needs of this young man so intent on killing himself? Nate couldn’t associate the two and he was beginning to suspect that he never really knew his uncle to begin with.

There was only one picture frame on the desk and Nate walked up to it. Picking it up, he gazed at it for a long moment. The large man, hair only peppered with white streaks, had his arm casually across the back of a slightly smaller man of thinner build. Nate recognized Bill Blade. The smile wide and charming, a man who loved to laugh, Nate remembered Bill Blade as an easy-going man, whose responsibilities in the army were often-times demanding and toll-taking. Between them, a small blond boy, dressed in perfectly creased slacks, a blue cable sweater and loafers stood staring back at the camera, almost afraid to smile. He had his hands together and was worrying frantically at a hangnail. Both men had positioned one hand each on the boy’s shoulder. The photo was snapped just as JC Berringer had looked down at the boy, the glance almost worried, save for the bright light in his eyes. They looked so much the family.

"He was something else."

Nate almost dropped the picture, feeling very much the voyeur for some unknown reason.

"I'm sorry, I was just reacquainting myself with your likes and dislikes," Nate hated the way he felt, like a schoolboy called to the principal’s office for a reprimand.

JC bent low outside the double-doors and in a firm voice he said, "DOWN!" Nate stood shocked as the dog dropped down. It was hard enough to get him to obey him when they had obedience classes together. Taking commands from a stranger was not something Nate would have expected the large pup to do.

Patting the dog's head, he said, "Good, boy," and closed the door. Bear whimpered, Nate sighed, Cody snored into the monitor, and James Cameron Berringer took over.

Saving Time 8

by Bosephus

Sunlight warmed the cabin with dancing cones of light, the trees playing havoc with the shining rays. The table was clear of all items save a yellow legal notepad and a box of pens. Soft sobbing came from the corner where the small archway jutted out from the wall separating the small kitchen from the living room. The golden head pressed into the corner where the hands took turns coming up to wipe the running nose then gingerly touching the tender behind, rubbing out the sting.

Cody Colson Blade couldn't remember being more emotionally distraught, well, at least not in one day. There was no time out of this little foray, no trip into the land of the dead, no little escape routes where he could hide away in a deep and undisturbed sleep. The huge Viking inquisitor kept him on his toes for the past five hours and he was emotionally and physically exhausted.

Bear was exiled outside on a long nylon and steel cable. Given a shady little area with a huge bowl of water, an old blanket of Nate's that bore scent and his beloved red fire hydrant, he was pretty content and out of harm’s way.

It had started early with a sharp swat to his behind and a wakeup call similar to a drill instructor in the army. Cody was pushed, browbeaten and prodded along to a two-mile hike. Then after a breakfast he had no trouble devouring, he was told to help clear the table and take notes. Rules were going to be established and adhered to and failure meant quick and sure retribution.

Dazed most of the morning, he found himself pulled to reality by the scruff of his neck and he didn't like it one bit. Besides the simple procedures and parameters of his job as Nate's research assistant, rules for proper communal living were mapped out. Cody took umbrage to the lot and the first battle was a full frontal attack of pens thrown hard and fast at Nate's strict face.

Ten minutes across the Viking's knee and a half hour in the corner, Cody was eager to finish his dictation. However, when Nate mentioned the cuss words and colored phrases that escaped his young assistant's mouth periodically, mentioned that there were soaps that could clean up that act right proper, Cody had stood up, slamming his pen on the hard wood surface of the table.

"I'll fucking use whatever language I fucking well please."

Well, it earned him another ten minutes of "down" time, and thirty minutes in the corner with a bar of soap---nicely lathered---stuck in his mouth for the first ten. Cody moaned as he leaned further into the corner. He was miserable, utterly miserable.

Behind him he heard the giant preparing lunch. The aroma of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches reached him and he longed for the food. He was actually starving. This had to be the first time in the last six or seven months that he had actually longed to eat, needed to fill his empty belly instead of his empty soul.

"Come on, Cody, lunch is ready," Nate called as he placed the soup and sandwiches on the table.

When Cody only leaned further into the corner, Nate wiped his hands on the towel and walked up behind him. Placing a large hand on Cody's shoulder, he gently turned him around. Cody's breath hitched as he tried to quell the rising emotions; he wanted something, but he didn't know what. He felt a strange and strong need.

Sensing the moment for compassion, Nate pulled the boy hard against his chest. Cody eagerly wrapped his arms around the large man's waist, fresh tears spilling out like an overturned keg filled to the brim.

"It's okay, son, it's going to be okay. You just need to settle in, quit fighting the rules and restrictions and work with me. It's for your own good, know that much at least." Nate ran his hand up and down the quivering back and straightening, he pushed Cody away.

"Wash your face." Then seeing the boy hesitate he pushed him towards the kitchen sink, "Go on."

Cody trudged forward and splattered cold water on his red eyes and cheeks. Then he walked sullenly around Nate's chair and carefully lowered his throbbing backside onto the wooden seat.

"You know, Cody, if you had just written them down, we would have been through by now," Nate tried to reason with the boy hoping the afternoon would go smoothly.

"It's not fair," Cody said, picking up the cheese sandwich and biting off a quarter.

"I told you we write them down, then we discuss them, then we negotiate. I'm not a monster and I'm willing to listen to reason." Nate ate both the soup and his sandwich with equal gusto.

"Why do there have to be rules?" Cody demanded.

"Adjust the attitude, son," Nate warned, looking up with hooded brows. "I was out of hand once, showed more stubborn independence and contrariness than you could ever muster." Nate laughed at some memory that played itself out. "I thought I had all the answers, wanted to show the world how tough I was. I had a loner image of myself that would have made Brando look like a day care center volunteer." Nate shook his head at the remembered days.

Cody watched him with interest. "What happened?"

"My mom called my Uncle Jim. A man I hadn't seen very much in my life, hardly even knew. He and my dad had fallen out of touch over something or another. He was working in the Army Reserve, working in hostage situations and helping men cope with life away from their families. He took a leave for one year....must have been about '82, I was fifteen. Let's just say we butted heads in the beginning, but the butting became more one-sided and I chose to think before I spoke." Nate got up and poured himself more soup, lifting the pot towards Cody asking if he wanted more.

Cody shook his head, totally enthralled now by the story. "What did he do to you?"

"I'm afraid you're going to find out soon enough, Cody, but one thing I can assure you, it's going to be quite the experience." Then Nate thought a bit on the subject at hand. "You said you came up here with your dad, Wild Bill, chances are you've already met my Uncle Jim."

"Just once," Cody said sadly, looking down into his soup, "Just that one time. I don't remember their names, just that there were five of them. This one huge guy...I remember him," then Cody looked up and putting two and two together he came up with the answer, "No Shit!"

Nate shook his head in admonition, "Language, boy, language."

"The Behemoth." Cody was excited by this minor revelation. "He's the Behemoth."

Nathaniel Cameron Berringer burst out laughing. Throwing his head back he laughed so hard, tears welled in his eyes. "I never called him that, and trust me, I called him just about every name. But I love it, it fits him perfectly."

Cody, realizing that huge man of so many years ago, the one who seemed to be his dad's best friend, was related to this man now who sat across from him. He could see the similarities. Remembering the sternness of the giant, he saw the resemblance in more ways than physical. It was the Behemoth who had finally prodded his dad to take him over his knee and deliver the first and only spanking the young Blade had ever experienced until recently.

"I don't think he liked me very much," Cody said, staring off past Nate's shoulder into memories.

"He's not a man to misjudge people," Nate said, sobering to the seriousness on Cody's face. "He's rarely wrong about people, either, least ways from what I've seen. But I'll tell you one thing about him that might make it a little easier for you to deal with him; he's a very determined man. He won't give up on someone he believes worth saving."

"Is that what this is all about, some saving game to you? A notch on your gun? Do you pick up strays and drop them off at the nearest shelter, then brag about the good deed you've done?" Cody's voice rose in an anger that challenged Nate's good nature.

Nate brought both hands down in the air in a calming gesture, "Take it easy, calm down."

"Do you win a prize for bringing me round, then what? Ha?" Cody rose now from his chair, his face flushed with rage. "What do you do with me then, Nate? Or does the big guy take me hand…like he told my dad to do? Or do you all just send me packing on my way?" The green eyes showed hurt now, as though certain facts were becoming undeniable to the boy.

Nate rose to meet the challenge. He towered over the boy. Placing his hands on Cody's upper arms he gave him a slight shake, "I'm trying to help you," he said in desperation. "I'm trying to bring you out of that death zone you've been stumbling around in. Show you that you have all the reason in the world to live."

Cody seemed to settle down. The lost and confused look left his eyes and something distracted him at the front door. "You've got company," he said in a deadpan voice.

Dropping his hands, Nate turned around to see Ben Bracken peering at them through the open screen door.

Ben's visit was a welcome break for Cody. Whatever happened at lunch, whatever doubts were pulled up from the inner depths of his insecurities and memories, he felt himself being pulled back into the darkness so quickly his head spun and his stomach literally dropped with the fall. Now he listened half-heartedly as the two friends joshed and quibbled about the latest hockey scores and team ratings for the playoffs.

A case of beer had been Ben's contribution to the evening meal and a deep-dish cherry pie that he had picked up from Mrs. Pierson, his housekeeper. Nate had kindly put the list making aside for the day in deference to Ben's early arrival, and all three men had taken up chairs on the back deck, still warmed by the afternoon sun.

Nate and Ben popped the tops on their beers and propping their feet on the railing sat back to enjoy time spent in friendship's circle. Cody had collected Bear and now boy and dog shared the heavy-cushioned lounger, both snoring loud enough to bring laughter to the two older men.

The evidence of Cody's lack of interest gave Ben reason to pursue the topic most on his mind. Taking a deep pull on his beer, he tilted his head towards the golden-haired boy lying with his mouth open, basting in the afternoon sun.

"How's he doing? And don't give me that 'fine,' that you top all your problems off with, boy?"

Nate's face paled. When Ben delineated their age, punctuated the differences and took the age plateau alongside Uncle Jim that meant there was business at hand...serious business. In all the time he had spent with the Wild Bunch, Nate had enjoyed, for the most part, an equal level of one-on-one with all of them. Gil, the only small man amongst the tall men, stood shoulder to shoulder with the younger Nate and oftentimes they found themselves the butt of the other's jokes. But being a part of them, not an outsider, had kept the ribbing within the soft fabric of camaraderie.

Nate looked over and caught the censure in Ben's brown eyes. "He's coming along. Not fine, okay," he said almost belligerently to the raised eyebrows, "but we're setting boundaries. I'm reeling the kid in and keeping him on a tight leash."

"You're not qualified, Nate, but more so, there's a problem here that you know nothing about. There are agreements that go beyond what you pull the kid into."

"You keep saying this, Ben, if it's so surefire important why don't you just spit it out. Kind of old to be playing the mysterious stranger, don't you think?" Nate let his irritation show.

"Damnit, Nathaniel, mind your tongue."

"I'm not a child anymore. I don't need Uncle Jim like some lost little boy. Things are different now and I can help this kid. I've been there. Let me do this my way."

"Fine," Ben said, tipping his beer can towards the ravine as though saluting good intentions, "but I only hope you know what you're doing."

Cody slept most of the afternoon. After the long and emotionally arduous morning coming one on one with Nate, he welcomed the well-remembered route of escape. It was the firm hand on his shoulder that refused to allow him safety in those folds. "Come on, Cody. We're going to hike towards the falls. Barbecue the steaks at the old campsite up there. Let's go."

Reluctantly and with the leaden feet of the non-enthused, Cody helped pack up the necessary supplies. Charcoal, fluid, paper plates and silverware, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and several cans of baked beans and dog food were stuffed in duffel bags and backpacks. Each man was loaded down as they took off in the direction of the falls.

Bear, ever the excitable child for adventures, happily lunged along ahead of everyone, pulling tautly on his retractable leash. The evening air was warmly scented with lilacs and the last filaments of spring were stepping aside for the firmer substance of verdurous summer things.

After about an hour of hiking, Cody was wondering where the campsite was. The loud roar of the falls had engulfed them at least half an hour ago. Remembering his escape route towards the river, he realized this was beyond the rapids...this was the falls they were heading towards.

Nate began pulling off his backpack as soon as they walked off the trail into a large clearing. There were logs and rocks and barbecues set up haphazardly around the plateau. The flat surface ended in a cloud of mist and the falls loud rush could be heard below. The temperature dropped a good ten degrees as the sun was settling itself well beyond the mountain peeks. Cody was thankful that Nate had insisted he bring a jacket.

"Place is sort of the communal picnic area for the cabins around here," Nate explained seeing Cody's confusion. "You ever been camping before?" Nate inquired.

"No," Cody said softly, as though ashamed of the revelation.

"This area levels down towards a sandy beach on the other side of the cliff. There are also boat docks and more picnic grounds along the calmer side of the river. People don't do much camping or picnicking on the other side, too near the falls," Nate said cautiously watching Cody's eyes drift in the direction of the rushing sound of falls.

"You're not to go near there," Nate said firmly. "You hear me?"

Cody's green eyes came back, pulled towards the steely blue, he nodded his head, "I hear."

"Good," Nate said adding a smile to his lips to soften the edict. "Let's get a fire going, I don't know about you, but I'm mighty hungry."

Cody grinned, "Yeah, I could eat."

Ben was bending low over the grate filling it with charcoal. The barbecue pits that interspersed the area were nothing more than circular rocks piled high with a heavy metal grate on top. He raised his eyes and smiled at Nate, approving of the relationship.

"I told you I had things in hand," the Viking smiled smugly, satisfied with his small accomplishment.

Cody sat before the fire; Bear lay stretched out beside him. The large rocks encircling the campsite allowed them to lean back in relative comfort. Cody had never eaten so much in his life. The steaks, thick and juicy, the baked potatoes hot and soft, baked beans tantalizingly spicy had all been consumed with a relish he could not remember having ever before in life. Was it the country air or the hard pace Nate set for him that had his appetite so sharply piqued? He couldn't say, however, he felt a strange contentment here.

Ben and Nate included him warmly in the dinner conversation. Mainly memories of the Wild Bunch and their time spent at the cabin, concentrating a great deal on the time Cody came to visit his dad. Although Nate was not on that particular trip, they always revolved the conversation back and around that time, making sure that Cody had a hand in the evening.

Since they didn't have coffee, Nate allowed Cody one beer after the meal. The wind had picked up a bit, but it was a gentle breeze that only cooled the night air. Wrapped up in his jacket, Cody felt warm and content as he drank the beer and stroked Bear's flank. The huge pup had feasted on scraps of meat thrown into his bowl of dog food, and he was quite content now to sleep soundly. A loud snoring filled the conversation and Nate, Ben and Cody laughed as the huge paws paddled in some chase scene in slumber land.

"Bet you've done your share of traveling, Cody?" Nate asked.

"Not really," Cody said, "never left High Ground much at all."

"What do you mean you never left High Ground?" Nate asked, somewhat taken aback by the response.

Ben cleared his throat, loudly, insistently, but Nate ignored him. "I remember reading that Faber Colson had several homes, including one in Florida and a villa in Italy."

"No, never been to any of the houses but High Ground," Cody said, a bit petulantly.

You can't tell me you've never been to your grandfather's other homes."

"Nate!" Ben cautioned angrily.

"NO!" Cody shouted back, "I AM telling you, you ignorant son of a bitch....I AM TELLING YOU!" He jumped up in anger, startling Bear who rose up on his four paws, hackles raised at the unexpected disturbance.

Nate put his beer down and rose. He walked quickly to Cody whose face was red with a fury and pain that was almost tangible. Grabbing his shoulders he shook the blond boy, "Stop it, Cody."

Cody pushed him back, stepping well out of reach now. Bear inched nearer, unsure of whom to protect.

"Grandfather said I wasn't a true Colson. Only true, legally born and bred Colson's could enjoy all the homes. I was only allowed High Ground. Grandfather said if I could prove myself to him, prove that I did have Colson blood running primarily through my veins, then he would acknowledge me." Tears started down Cody's face, "But I didn't know how to prove that to him. Mom said he'd come round, she always said he'd come round to me, warm up to his grandson. I tried," Cody's voice cracked as he now looked down towards the ground, studying the dirt as though looking for something he lost. "I really tried hard."

"Shit!" Ben cursed.

"Oh, God, Cody, I'm sorry," Nate rushed forward eager to grab the boy before he backed away again. "What about your mother? How did she allow this to happen?"

"She said I was his favorite, deep down inside, I was the one he loved best. I guess it was all my fault, like Grandfather said. I fail people."

"No, boy, that's not true." Stepping forward, locking Cody in a tight embrace, he pushed the wild head of hair against his shoulder and looked over at Ben whose scowl was only deepening.

Nate shook his head attempting to convince Ben that he had no idea what can of worms he was slowly unsealing. Ben pointed his index finger towards Nate and mouthed the words, "I told you so."

"It's okay, boy," Nate said softly against the golden head. "It's okay now."

Finally feeling the boy relax, he pushed him away. "Sit, Bear," he commanded of the easily excitable dog. Seemingly unsure, the brown eyes moved from Nate to Cody, then the dog flopped down where he stood inches from Cody. Nate, still holding onto Cody's arm, sat down pulling the boy down in front of him, nestling him in between his outstretched legs in a secure shelter.

Cody didn't struggle. He needed someone to hold him now. Memories flooded back upon him in a confused jumble of promises, smiles, reprimands, discussions, deals and more negotiations. The game his grandfather played had its own set of rules and Cody was never sure what was expected. He only knew he wanted to be Faber Colson's grandson, loved and cherished, more than anything else in the world.'s the clincher, he knew in his heart the game had only one ending for Faber Colson and Cody Blade.

Cody turned in Nate's arms like a shy child, snuggling deep into the folds of Nate's fleece jacket. "I'm okay," he mumbled, sounding anything but okay to Nate's well-honed ears.

"He's behind you now, Cody, you can make a new life for yourself if you want to."

Nodding his head eagerly, as though he believed this with all his heart, the golden haired boy yawned dramatically.

"I know a lot of things, now," Cody said pushing off Nate's chest, forcing a bright smile. He looked over at Bear, already forgetting the emotionally disruptive event, dreaming in the quiet rhythm dogs seem to master so skillfully.

"Mind if I take Bear and head back to the cabin. I'm mighty tired."

"No, not without me and Ben," Nate said, steadying the boy as he rose.

"I'd best be heading back, too," Ben said already starting to repack the bags and shoveling the garbage into one large plastic bag.

"Then I'll just take him for a walk, if you don't mind," Cody persisted, picking up the retractable leash.

Bear rose instantly at the familiar click of the plastic casing, eager to partake in any adventures planned.

"Just stay within sight," Nate warned as he began helping Ben collect the pots and utensils, the beer cans and silverware, the steak knives....

"I'm looking forward to that cherry pie and a hot cup of coffee," Ben said as he stretched upwards towards the night sky, relieving his old back.

Nate looked around confused; momentarily forgetting what thought had seized him so tenaciously but a moment ago, he sought to grab hold once more.

Then something hit against Nate's chest with a hard thrust and he checked the campsite, one steak knife short. Nate had put his own immediately in the plastic bag after he was finished eating. Ben's was lying on his paper plate holding the empty plastic down against the gentle evening breeze.

"Cody?" Nate yelled as he turned. Gone. He swung about and checked the perimeter of campsite, no boy or dog in sight.

"Damn it!" he cursed as Ben came back from the huge garbage dumpster that was nestled off by the back service road to the camp ground.

"Nate," Ben started to chide, "I warned you. The boy needs professional help."

"Not now, damn it, we need to find him." Leaving all the items as is, Nate grabbed the flashlight out of the pack. "Let's go, there's a missing steak knife."

Ben turned professional law enforcement. Pulling a small flashlight from his own jacket, he motioned for Nate to take one path, while he headed down another where Cody and Bear were last seen.

"BEAR!" Nate yelled, knowing the boy would not answer, but praying that the eager pup would respond in a playful yap...but only the spring eve's night sounds came back to him and Nate could have sworn he heard it say "too late, too late."

Cody moved swiftly, pulling his eager companion along. Now it was a game, not only with Faber Colson, but with Nate. He had to show him that he couldn't be saved, that time and the ravages of rejection had marred his soul beyond repair, had crippled his spirit by breaking its back. He would show him, he would show them all and in the end he would win.

Heading down hill and away from the campground and the path that led back towards the cabin, Cody found himself on the soft sand in no time. The beach Nate had told him about. The tide lapped fretfully against the shoreline. The cool breezes picked up once out of the shelter of the tall trees and shrubs. Cody shivered, but the chill was to the bone. It was the chill of the truly lost and lonely and it brought with it a morbidity of hopelessness.

A dark shape rose up near the water, a large piece of driftwood that broke out in tendrils as wicked fingers warned of an evil night. Boy and dog raced towards it and as Cody dropped down onto the sand, his back pressed against the large log, he knew no one could see him upon entering the beach. Unhooking the cable, not wanting the dog stranded there with him, he dropped the lead into the sand.

"You're free to go, boy, but I'd like it if you'd stay," Cody wrapped his arms around the large dog who fell easily onto his lap, eager to be hugged and coddled. The large head lolled back as tongue sought the object of his affection. Cody couldn't help but laugh, the dog's eyes glistened brightly in the new moonlight that now turned the water and beach a soft blue.

Burying his face in the dog's scruffy neck, Cody started to cry, "I love you, you big pooch." Looking out onto the lonely lake, Cody’s eyes filled with tears. The old ache rose up inside him sewing closed all the joyous pockets he had fallen into since meeting Nate Berringer. How much he wanted to belong. How he prayed and hoped to be forgiven whatever crimes he had committed. It was hard wanting things you could not have, but harder still knowing you didn’t deserve them.

Then reaching into his jacket pocket he pulled out the sharp steak knife.

Without further thought, further pause for contemplation, Cody slashed it down hard and swiftly across his left wrist. Bear whined. Picking up his paws as he laid across Cody's lap, he adjusted the huge pads to lie forcefully upon Cody's left forearm. The blood began gushing out of the slashed wrist, but as Cody tried to maneuver the steak knife into his left hand to complete his work, the weight of the large dog was too much.

"Off," Cody, pushed the large pup trying to dislodge him from his arm. There was no moving the agitated dog. Soft whimpering noises came from him as he kept adjusting his body, pulling his back legs up and under, closer to Cody.

"No, Bear, get off me," Cody gave one more effort as the world started to tilt, blur and fade to gray. The last thing he saw was the huge face, tongue hanging out in drool, hot breath blowing directly into his face and Cody smiled. The world left him at that point, but his last thought was how wonderful it was to be loved.

Saving Time 7

by Bosephus

Eight Weeks Earlier

Tyler Kowalski compressed his five-foot-ten inch frame, hoping he could go by unrecognized. The classroom of the local high school was in night mode. Janitor's carts were periodically scattered throughout the corridors and night classes were getting underway. His reputation as Hockey's Bad Boy had made him a recognizable and much loved member of the sports world. Despite his being fifteen minutes late for the court ordered Anger Management Seminar, despite the serious crimp this was putting in his social life, he just didn't feel like dealing with people today...but then that's exactly why he was here, he mused to himself.

There were seven others in the room ahead of him, all looking nervous and like they'd rather be someplace else. Three were typical redneck types, and Tyler quickly moved to the opposite side of the room. Here sat two nicely dressed women and two business suits. One man sat talking on his cell phone, annoyed with whomever was on the other end. The two women chattered away, complaining about husbands, kids, and the "damn traffic" situation around the Salem area.

In the back, slumped down in the confines of the small, classroom chair, a large man spread his legs out in front of him. His hair was completely white, long and bushy and tied back in a tong. He wore a thick cable-knit sweater and a baseball cap, spouting the Pacific Pucks' logo that Kowalski was so familiar with. With the cap, pulled low over his face, it was obvious the man was sleeping. A truck driver, thought Tyler, as he took a seat two rows in front of Sleeping Beauty.

The three rednecks eyed him curiously and Tyler turned his gray eyes towards the corkboard with images of the seasons and essays pinned up for display. Cupping his chin in his hand, he tried for anonymity. However, the red hair, so thick and curly was a dead giveaway to these hockey fanatics.

"Hey," the big man up front said, "ain't you K-Wal."

This made every head in the room turn towards him as he slouched miserably lower in his chair. "Man, you are the best," one of the others said.

Even the women smiled at him and seemed to forget momentarily their troubles.

"Whatcha here for?" the larger man pushed.

K-Wal blushed a fiery red. Everyone in the room burst out laughing. "There, there it is," pointed one of the younger rednecks, "that famous K-Wal crimson." It only caused K-Wal to turn a deeper shade of red.

"Goes with that temper of yours," the business suit said, as he finally put his cell phone away.

"This is an anger management seminar, who else would you expect to be here if not Hockey's own bad boy," one of the women volunteered happily, pleased with having a celebrity to share her punishment.

True, Tyler thought to himself, if he hadn't of pushed that player in the last game, nearly knocking him into the goal post, he wouldn't have been directed by the team’s owners to come here. That incident combined with several serious warnings from the NHL, a driving altercation that had K-Wal taken away in handcuffs, and a temper tantrum in the Pucks' dressing room left him little choices. It was pass this seminar or be suspended for the next nine games. The judge agreed along with a hefty fine. So now Tyler Kowalski sat here with the other members of a raging society, trying to keep the only job he ever loved, the only thing he ever wanted to be---a hockey player.

"K-Wal! K-Wal!" the room started his chant.

"Okay, guys, enough," Tyler laughed, still uneasy among the adulation of his fans, but pleased no end to be appreciated. It had been a long and hard nine months since his dad had died. A long, hard guilty trip since the heart attack was brought on by Tyler's admission that he was gay.

"Where the hell is he/she whatever?" the larger redneck asked, checking his watch.

"He's late, fucking asshole is late. Maybe he should be attending a fucking punctuality class," the younger man threw in.

"I have a house to clean and cookies to bake for my son's school fair tomorrow," one of the women chided as she pulled out her personal date book and began scanning commitments.

The temperature in the room rose as every member had his turn berating the missing instructor.

When all heads turned to K-Wal, wondering where the fiery spirit had gone, Tyler cringed. He did not want this tonight. He just wanted to serve his sentence, learn to manage his anger, and play hockey. Funny how you fell into roles where expectations started to rule your life, pushing you to do things you really didn't want to do.

They smiled at him, encouraging a reaction. It was always the same, the crowds demanded a show, the price of admission. Even his teammates were poking fun at him, pushing him to the limit so that flares would decorate the ice with a K-Wal Crimson show of displeasure.

He shrugged his shoulders, "Traffic was bad," he mumbled by way of explanation.

"Bullshit," the large country bumpkin said, "just a bunch of bullshit. These guys get paid for this, you know, and he's clocking the hour when he ain't here."

"Hope you ain't getting soft on us, K-Wal," the other redneck said, speaking up for the first time.

"What do you say we ditch this pop stand, then?" Tyler said with insouciance. "I'm out of here." He rose and started for the door.

"SIT BACK DOWN THERE!" a loud voice, barritone clear, resonated off the walls of the small classroom. All heads turned, some even looking up to see if the sound wasn't coming from the PA system overhead.

The sleeping figure in the corner straightened in his seat. Tyler noted the pale blue eyes, large and cold, as they pinned him and him alone.

"What the fuck is it to you?" Tyler asked, disturbed by this man's arrogance.

The other men mumbled in agreement.

"You're here like everyone else," the large man said, "to learn to control your temper. Every one here gets treated the same, no exceptions."

A gold earring protruded from the giant's left ear.

"Who the hell are you?" Tyler asked, placing his hands on his hips, resenting this man's interference with him. Here he was Tyler Kowalski, Pacific Pucks' star player, and this old hippie was going to tell him what to do.

Then Tyler couldn't help himself, he had often raised the hackles on the opposing teammates by his snotty little comments along the sidelines. So used to speaking whatever popped into his head without cause for reflection, he knew how to prod wounds with a hot iron.

"You're just an old hippie. What are you here for? I thought you “love children” always spoke of peace." The whole room burst out into loud guffaws as Tyler was being K-Wal. The businessman started clapping his approval and the whole room soon joined in, "K-WAL! K-WAL!"

"ENOUGH!" The giant stood up and giant was the appropriate word. Tyler had never seen such an imposing figure in all his twenty-five years. The wild, white locks barely contained within the constraints of leather, the pale blue eyes iced with contempt, the sheer muscular girt of the man, sent shivers down his spine. The man looked utterly barbaric, uncivilized in a way that spoke of ripping men apart and scattering their pieces to the winds.

Several susurrant sounds penetrated the thick stillness, all totaling amazement, concern, and a touch of fear. Someone was going to have to back down, and this time it looked like Tyler Kowalski was at a disadvantage.

The younger of the three red necks stood up, ready to back his hockey idol. "We're not prisoners here, we can come and go as we like," he said, folding his hands across his chest with bravado.

The giant turned the steely gaze on the short-haired young man. "I beg to differ with you, my good man." The voice had changed to a soft lilting quality, a vague elegance to his speech as though he had roots in England or Scotland. K-Wal stood frozen somehow locked in time being held by the voice and eyes. The very posture of the giant froze Tyler in place, expectant, dreamy.

"Each and every one of you is here under court order, comply with the required six-week anger management or serve time behind bars." The giant now toured the facial guest list with his eyes, lingering long enough on each member of the classroom to pin them into position.

"If the instructor doesn't show, it's not our fault," one of the business suits interjected.

"Yeah," agreed his spitting image, Mr. Cellphone, "College rule was ten minutes. Prof didn't show, you attended class and you can leave."

"This isn't college, Mr. Barnes," the large Viking said silkily, "is it?"

Mr. Cellphone's eyes widened at the recognition. How did this man know his name? Then realization blanketed the group like a wet cloud as several "oh's" and "aw's" pitted the air.

"Now, Mr. Kowalski, I politely request that you take your seat. It seems we have our work cut out for us."

As the giant passed him by, K-Wal stepped back and slid into this seat, his mouth open as though dumbstruck by this revelation.

All attendees turned in their seats to face the front as the large man took his position in front of the blackboard and in a finely neat, large hand he wrote Dr. James Berringer on the dark surface.


"So I bid you all good bye and good luck," Dr. Berringer said, as he stood in front of his group. He smiled warmly at them, pleased with another accomplishment of molding, shaping, and realigning the lost souls who just couldn't quite fit into society's demanding little holes.

A loud applause filled the room as they stood, one at a time, murmuring their own well wishes to a man who had not only captured their minds, souls and hearts, but one who would long stay in their memories. It was quite an unusual experience being around Dr. James Cameron Berringer.

Shifting in his seat, Tyler remained seated as the group rose in praise and adulation. Fearful lest he give away some secret, he feigned indifference, when in truth he felt a deep ache at the loss the six-week course would now leave in its wake. Well, he admitted grudgingly, not so the course, not so the people around him cheering the man who stood before them, but maybe the man himself, Berringer.

It had been a rough six weeks, no cookie cutting contest by a long shot. As a matter of fact there were even a few physical tussles before Berringer made body contact, intimidated the shit out of all the blow hards and won their hard-earned respect with his wit and sincere desire to help them.

Just today, K-Wal reminisced, the tug of war had pushed him from rage to gut-wrenching laughter, as it had done much of the class. The man had a surprisingly quick route to people's fears and basic needs and desires. He pegged them all like he knew them intimately.

"Remember, people, the rage is like a fire. When it starts up it can be quelled, but if you feed it, if you thrive on it, it grows and soon it is out of control, even your control." Looking around the room he narrowed his gaze on Tyler who had been trying to slump low in his chair. It's not that Tyler didn't want to participate, didn't have fun in the other little games they had played throughout the six-week course, it was just that standing close to this man...well, he became very self-conscious and he didn't understand why.

"Mr. Kowalski, sir, please assist me in a little demonstration," Berringer said, crooking his index finger in an enticing gesture of "come hither."

Dragging his feet, showing the little required resistance of bad boys in general, Tyler walked to the front of the room to stand next to Dr. Berringer.

"Tyler and I are going to play tug of war," the large man said. Tonight he was dressed to the nines and his broad shoulders filled out the tuxedo like no other man could. Tyler had heard the women sigh when he had entered. There were even wise-ass comments about the man not needing to dress up for his class on the last day, but Berringer had simply explained a prior commitment afterwards, some charitable ball.

The pale blue eyes were almost silver in the yellowed classroom lighting. The gray eyes tried desperately to avoid contact, as Kowalski shifted nervously. He couldn't understand why this man affected him so. He was used to public appearances, being the center of attention, yet when he stood up front next to this man, he felt diminished, unworthy, and failing miserably.

The Viking smiled, almost knowingly, which made K-Wal go crimson. The room burst out in a gale of laughter.

"Relax, K-Wal, no penalty box to worry about," the large redneck, one of the most boisterous in the group, yelled out.

"Isn't he cute?" the cookie maker said, feeling very maternal towards this young man only a few years younger than herself.

"That he is," Dr. Berringer said, well aware of her comment.

The gray eyes looked up and were instantaneously pinned by the blue. The red face beneath the bright auburn locks ignited, but Tyler held the gaze none-the-less, embarrassment forgotten by a deeper question, a more urgent need.

"Take the rope, Mr. Kowalski," Berringer said softly, extending an imaginary rope end.

The hockey player blushed more, now more from confusion, there was nothing there. Was this man serious.

"Oh, I'm serious, Mr. Kowalski," as though he read minds, "but there is a rope here. You must believe that and so must I. We are going to tug with all our might. You don't want me to have it, and I surely do not want you to have it. Now take it."

Tyler laughed as he turned to his classmates and shrugged. "Okay, but let me tell you, Doc, you're NOT taking my rope."

The group laughed at the sincerity and conviction of the statement. Berringer nodded his approval. "Good."

Both men began pulling on the imaginary rope. Tyler pushed his butt back and dug in his heals, putting on a show of dramatic determination, scrunching up his features. "Son of a bitch can't take my rope from me," he said aloud, garnering more laughter from his audience.

Berringer got into the act, too, taking off his tuxedo jacket, spitting on his hands, he yanked hard on the rope and eased his own sturdy six-foot-six inch frame back to take a stand of his own.

The facial fracas had everyone in stitches at first, but as the minutes passed they, too, felt they could actually see this rope that both men were so determined to hold onto. The vision of two men unwilling to give in, so determined to hold this possession, soon had faces red in anger at the other's firm stance of opposition.

As the tension built, Dr. James Berringer made a grand gesture of dropping the rope and straightening up. The anger, once directed at taking this rope away from his opponent, now hung in the air as Tyler looked confused, helpless, not sure where he should go from here.

"What if I just give in?" Berringer asked, deciding to help the hapless young man along.

Everyone sat stunned by this turn of events. They had been pulled into the fray, taken along for the ride of anger, willpower and fortitude. Now they were as stranded and helpless, just as unsure of where to go from here as Tyler was.

Berringer threw up his hands and walked away, moving in circles in front of his audience and the bewildered young man who still clung to the rope, butt back and muscles taut.

"I give up."

"Not worth the hassle."

"I got no beef with you, bucko."

"It's all yours."

Berringer let out the sentences in various mocking voices of complacency.

Then crossing his one arm over his chest, placing his right elbow on the perch, he tapped his index finger against his cheek in a complex expression of pondering. "You know, in reality, you'd be sitting on your butt now."

The classroom broke out into loud gales of laughter realizing Tyler was pulling with all his might and had he been attached to a rope, he would have been forced backwards by the sudden release of tension.

The red-headed young man, scrunched his face in dejection, then with a twinkle in his eye he fell back on his bottom throwing his feet up in the air in a grand display of losing his balance. Raising the imaginary rope overhead as he sat up, he said, "I won!"

The laughter increased.

Berringer smiled shaking his head at the response, then added, raising his hands to bring the room under control, "Yes, you won the imaginary rope, Mr. Kowalski, but you also lost the battle since there was no battle left to win. We both walk away able to laugh at the situation."

The group began to aw and ah realizing the lesson taught and the fun in the learning. They shook their heads seeing how easy it could be to diffuse anger in a situation, if they could only diffuse their own first.

The white haired giant walked towards K-Wal and extending his hand down he offered to help him up. The gray eyes were bright with merriment and the dark red hair shone in the light, he was so angelic looking, feet splayed out before him like a seraphim fallen from the heavens. James Berringer met the look and he saw the interest being returned tenfold. Clearing his throat he said, "Let's finish up, it's an honor's class I'm passing tonight."

Tyler took the proffered hand and quickly returned to his seat, a sheepish look on his face. The group assumed it was the humor of the display and lesson, but both teacher and student knew it was much more than that.

Now as Tyler sat watching Dr. Berringer put his tuxedo jacket back on, he hurt inside. It was as though a door had been opened, a door to someplace he wanted to go the worst way, but now, time was running out and he could only stand by and watch it close before his eyes.

"Hey, K-Wal," Bruce, the large redneck called, "we're all going over to Larabee's for drinks and celebration, you coming?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Tyler called back, not really wanting to, but feeling a deep need now to be among people instead of returning to a lonely apartment.

Berringer was collecting his papers and putting them in his briefcase. He glanced up at the conversation to which he was feigning indifference. Sadly enough, he would have enjoyed going to the bar with the group, hating the lonely social affairs he was forced to attend lately as much as ever. Longingly he looked at Tyler and the others. Then shaking his head he waved a last farewell to the group and walked out the door.

The room diminished, sunk into itself, or so it seemed to Tyler as that one man left the premises. He wondered for the hundredth time how he could be so drawn to a man he hardly knew.

As J.C. left the party, he cursed his bad luck. Catherine Downing Simpson had spent the goodly portion of the blasted evening draping and fawning over him. The divorcee had him in her sights for some time and with all the psychological maneuverings he was used to, he was at a loss how to dissuade her attentions. Blunt comments were bouncing off of her like rubber bullets off a tank; the woman just would not take no for an answer. To top it all off, he couldn't just go home now and crash in his comfortable bed. No, he had left his date book on the desk in the classroom. He remembered taking it out of his briefcase to make room for his additional files, including the sign off sheets for his derelict band of hot-tempered hooligans. It was as Bruce Webster was asking Tyler to join them for drinks that he had been distracted. J.C. scowled at the remembered interest, the attraction of the red-headed young man. Military-trained, long accustomed to paying attention to details, he never forgot things, never even lost things. He was too well organized to allow life's little necessities to slide under or out of his sight.

Thinking on how his ex-students were probably laughing and bonding at Larabee's, Berringer started the quiet engine of his Navigator and headed back towards the school.

As the psychologist started the Navigator's engine, he tucked the missing date book into his briefcase. Lucky he had keys to the school, being one of the regular clinical psychologists hired to work with borderline barbarians, he knew his way around and the cleaning staff was long gone. He also worked part time for the police department evaluating the mental health of officers, helping out in hostage situations and assisting first time shooters past the realization that they had taken a life.

His own life suffered though from the burdens and responsibilities often placed on him. As he sat in the running car, he caught a movement in his side view mirror. Someone was walking, somewhat unsteadily towards the back of the school. Glancing at his watch, he noted the time was 3 a.m. Concerned and somewhat suspicious, he shifted the Lincoln Navigator into drive and slowly turned the large vehicle around. Keeping his headlights off, he eased on down the small alleyway that led to the back of the school.

The figure was hugging the wall now, carefully feeling his way down in the darkness. The man looked injured and when he stopped, bent over as though in pain, Berringer put the car in park, and rushed out to aid the victim.

Nearing the man, the Viking smelled the foul odor of vomit and the even stronger stench of alcohol. It was a drunk just making his way home. Shaking his head in disgust, he turned to leave, but the man straightened and started talking to himself. "'Snot my concern. Meant nothin, nothin to me. Not my type anyway."

There was something familiar about the voice, some softness that lingered in despair, a quality of forlornness that J.C. had heard often recently. Getting back into the Navigator he slowly followed, lights still out as the figure moved cautiously and carefully out of the alley and towards the one remaining car in the parking lot, a silver Corvette.

Berringer was amazed the car wasn't stripped to the rims in this neighborhood, but probably being out of sight of the main road, the car would go unscathed, as long as the owner didn't get behind the wheel.

Pulling up next to the hunched over figure, standing next to his car, searching with tautly pulled face for his car keys, Berringer rolled down the window. "Tyler, you feeling okay?" He knew better than to come out and tell the man he was in no shape to drive, let him make the decision and hope for the right one.

"Me?" Tyler looked up, shocked to see someone there. Then his face softened in recognition and a huge smile split his lips. "DOC!" pure delight pierced the silent night.

"I think you've done a lot of celebrating tonight, Mr. Kowalski," J.C. said nonchalantly.

"Naw, drowning...I've been drowning, Doc, sorrows, ills, memries..." then looking up into the sky, tears welled in his eyes, "regrets."

"Come on, Tyler, hop in. I'll take you home."

Tyler straightened and J.C. noticed the indignation most drunks had when their abilities were questioned. The psychologist didn't miss a beat as he got out of the car and moved towards the wobbly young man.

"I had been meaning to ask you for an autograph, but I didn't want to bother you, you being a celebrity and all...not in class," he grabbed Tyler by the elbow noting the smile that now graced the pale features. "Maybe I can get an autographed picture of you. I'm sure you have dozens at home."

Tyler nodded enthusiastically, pleased that this man wanted his picture. Even beneath the fog and thick paste of his intoxication, he felt pleased and hopeful. A self-satisfied grin made him look downright stupid as J.C. planted him securely in the passenger seat, buckled the seatbelt around him, and closed the door. Watching the large man fasten the restrictive harness, Tyler looked like an idiot.

Berringer patted the pale cheek lovingly, "All set," and he laughed heartily when Tyler nodded in agreement. The boyish face, the eager eyes, the goofy look of pleasure made him look like a child fastened into his protective seat, ready to roll.

J.C. checked the Vet to make sure it was secured and pulling out his cell phone he called the station.

"Burt, I have a favor."

The desk Sergeant was pleased to do anything for J.C. Berringer, the man who had saved his son from jumping off an office building three years ago, "anything, Doc, you know it, anything."

"There's a silver Corvette in back of Blake Middle School, license number," Berringer paused, then laughed aloud as he backed up to catch the hidden plate, "Vanity plate BADBOY."

"Hey, man, that's K-Wal..that's..."

"I know, I know, Sergeant, but let's you and me keep this one to ourselves, okay?"

"Sure, anything at all. What do you want done?"

J.C. explained the situation and asked that the car be towed to the police lot and secured for the evening. Then getting behind the wheel of his car, he heard the susurrant snores of a very drunken man.

J.C. thought about frisking the kid, finding his driver's license and address. Then he reached for his cell phone, ready to call in one more favor, but he hesitated. There was something about the round face, relaxed now in sleep that reminded him of another young man who was always laughing, always reaching for the stars, pulling a once sullen and moody J.C. along with him.

He didn't want to just drop off a package, the kid looked exhausted and he did have the guest bedroom. Settling his mind firmly on matters, he put the Navigator in gear and drove away.

One gray eye forced itself open, took a quick peek at the landscape and immediately shut itself off from the world. Tyler's head spun with the effort, vaguely aware of bright sunlight coming through some vertical blinds. He stretched out his compact body against the cool sheets and fought off a wave of nausea that launched with the slight turning of his head. "Oh, man," he said aloud, laying his forearm across his forehead pinning the unsteady object.

"Sleep well?" a voice came from the corner.

Tyler sat up, regretting the movement. His face turned green as he saw Dr. Berringer, dressed in a white shirt and tie, sipping coffee in a large armchair by the door.

His color deepened to a pasty gray and he moved quickly out of bed, only vaguely aware that he was completely naked.

"There," the large man said, placing his mug on the table and rising quickly as he pointed to the left. He walked quickly behind the hunched over young man, guiding him with a firm hand on his back.

Berringer quickly lifted the lid of the commode and grabbed a washcloth. Tyler dropped to his knees and attended to business. He felt a cool cloth dabbing at his forehead. He wrenched and wrenched until there was nothing left to offer up save the lining of his badly used stomach.

"Never...never again," Tyler took the morning after oath.

A loud, pleasant sound resounded in the small bathroom. It was a laugh so wonderfully lighthearted Tyler wanted to join in, even though he was dying.

"How many times have we all said that?" the large man asked pleasantly. "Unfortunately, saying it is always the easiest part."

"No...NO" Tyler hugged the bowl trying to shake his head for emphasis but failing miserably. Pointing firmly into the toilet bowl, he vowed, "This time I mean it."

"Come on," Tyler heard the water running in the shower.

"No, no, I'm not ready for that," but his words were useless as the much larger man guided him firmly beneath the cold spray.

"GOD!" Tyler screamed trying to vacate the confined premises, but the giant merely pushed him gently back in and slammed the glass shower doors on his shocked face.

"You'll feel better, trust me."

The cool spray was reviving him he had to admit. He adjusted the temperature to a more reasonable lukewarm and started lathering his hair and body with the musk-scented soup. He had just risen up one level from the land of the dead.

Wrapped in a huge, white, terry-cloth robe, Tyler sat at the white kitchen table. It was situated in a small bay area that opened unto a circular stone patio. The patio was walled in by a three-foot stone fence that overlooked a garden now barren from winter's rages, but tended to as though in preparation for the arrival of spring and its colorful bounty. There was a bird feeder, freshly filled, and sparrows, wrens and an assortment of colorful birds, fluttered and settled near the food.

The cozy kitchen was done in white with brightly colored tiles under the cabinets and red tiled flooring. French doors opened onto the patio and the room had an airy, light feel to it.

The large man, shirtsleeves rolled up, apron covering the massive chest, was happily whistling while he scrambled eggs in a pan. Popping up the toast, he brought a plate of several slices to the table. "Start on that," he said pointing to the top slice, "dry. It will help settle your stomach."

Tyler picked up a slice and tore off a small bit. Eyeing it suspiciously as though it might turn on him, he hesitated putting it in his mouth. "You live alone, here?" he asked, not realizing that he was holding his breath, awaiting the answer.

"It's just me and Dolores."

Tyler closed his eyes, fighting off a wave of inexplicable pain.

"Here you go." A large plate of golden, fluffy eggs garnished with a sprig of parsley decorated the multi-colored Mexican plate. For the sterling silver, white furniture and sterile look, there was an expressive array of colors throughout the whole house. Tyler hadn't seen it all, yet, but it was a small cottage. Not quite what he expected a man of Berringer's stature and status to own, but the place was homey and inviting.

"Where is this place? I mean, I don't think this is downtown Salem." Tyler picked up his fork and started shifting his eggs, allowing them a small tour of the plate.

"Ponder Cove," Berringer said as he lowered his huge frame onto the delicate-looking chair.

"Never heard of it," Tyler said, still keeping his eyes intently focused on the yellow eggs.

"You know, they're only getting cold and you're not leaving here until you finish them. They'll do you a world of good." The voice was gentle, but the threat was a given. Tyler raised his gray eyes and wondered how anyone could sound threatening when they were being so gentle, yet this man carried it off with aplomb.

"Why did you bring me here? Why not just let me go home?" Tyler put the first forkful in his mouth and waited for the eruption. He was pleasantly surprised when his stomach growled eagerly accepting the sustenance.

He took a bite of toast and a sip of coffee. Fortitude was returning with a vengeance. He almost felt feisty.

"Number one," J.C. now put his elbow on the table and pointed his fork at Tyler, "you never drive drunk. If you were in my charge, you'd be regretting the mere attempt right now. Secondly, I didn't have your address. Third, it was probably more convenient for me to just bring you home with me than driving you across town. I'm heading for the station today so I can drop you off. You can pick up that expensive bug you drive at the impound yard."

"Impound?" Tyler squeaked, just now remembering his beloved sports car.

"Take it easy, it was towed there for its own safety and yours."

"Oh," was all Tyler could say, realizing that he had just been firmly chastised. The phrase "in my charge" had someone snagged his mind and it played over and over in his head like a lullaby.

"I know the circumstances of your Anger Management Seminar, but have you always had trouble controlling your temper?" J.C. asked him, directing his usually piercing blue gaze out into the garden, allowing Tyler time to compose himself. No doubt from the hot cheeks, the young man was not used to being reprimanded.

"My dad was Polish, my mom's Irish. They always said I had my dad's eyes and my mom's temper. I guess it just goes with red hair."

"Rather stereotypical, don't you think? You like living up to stereotypes like your bad boy image, the vanity plates. You're rather feeding your own habit, aren't you?"

"Look, don't psycho analyze me here, I'm not in need of any bullshit..."

The giant rose swiftly, placing his hands on his hips he looked down at Tyler. He never said a word, just coldly stood there glaring at him.

Tyler shifted uneasily, color rose to his cheeks, he couldn't look up and meet the eyes. Finally he weakened, "I'm sorry, I know I should be grateful."

An intake of breath, a firm hand on Tyler's shoulder, and the large man sat down and resumed eating. "I expect civil answers to my questions," was all the man said, and K-Wal, bad boy of the Pacific Pucks, knew he was incapable of giving the man anything less.

Deciding on at least trying for pleasant conversation, he volunteered, "I've just had some emotional problems lately. Personal things that have been hard for me to deal with and all." He kept his gaze down studying the pattern on the colored plate.

"Anything you care to talk about?" The psychologist, having finished his own breakfast with a similar relish for food as his nephew, sat back with his coffee cup in hand studying the youthful features.

"NO!" Tyler shot back a little too eagerly. "I mean, no thanks, I can deal with it."

"You know, it's okay to need help. We all do at one time or another in our lives."

"Yeah, yeah, I know all about that stuff, Doc, I do. The teams been offering me pop psychologists, high salaried psychiatrists, the whole slamola, but I'm going through what other players go through and they survive. I don't need any special consultations."

Just then there was a quick movement to the left of Berringer's elbow and Tyler jumped. A small tabby cat perched on the table edge, meowing softly, checking the man's hand for treats.

Berringer's face lit up in a warm smile of love. Tyler gaped at the expressive features, the smooth skinned face that were so incongruous with the white hair, the perfect teeth. The man didn't look old enough to have white hair. "Dolores," he greeted her sweetly, as he pulled her gently into his arms.

Tyler felt air rush through his lungs, his heart warmed as though a door had opened and a flood of warm liquid filled every chamber of that vessel...this was Dolores.

The drive back to Salem took over an hour, but it gave Tyler a chance to see the surrounding village of Ponder Cove. Long before they hit the expressway in the Gold Navigator, they curved and dipped along the coastal road. Ponder Cove was an unbelievably quaint village of ranch homes, larger estates with widow’s walks and small English cottages with ivy creeping up the side. It nested low in a small valley off the coastal road, close to the ocean, yet nestled deep in the protective womb of the earth.

Berringer’s cottage was white, Cape Cod in style, and Tyler memorized it as they pulled away. He wanted to keep that simple image of home and all its concepts embedded deep within his soul. During the Anger Management Seminar, Dr. Berringer had instructed them to have a safe focus, some picture or place that had the ability to reassure them, bring them back from their angry zone and put them back into a controllable spirit. Tyler wanted Berringer’s white cottage to be that safe focus for him.

They conversed easily on the long drive and Tyler was falling more and more under J.C. Berringer’s spell. It was not only that the man had a way about him, a simple charm and unpretentious ability to make people feel important and at ease, but also the fact that he made K-Wal believe that he really liked him.

“It’s a beautiful place, Ponder Cove. You live there long?” Tyler started to peel the layers, looking for an opening, a sign.

“Just about a year. I needed a change, and one Sunday morning I drove out to the coast and fell upon her quite by accident. Snow Cottage was for sale and I called the agent the next day and placed a deposit sight unseen inside. I was that sure.” J.C. gripped the wheel with a determination that dared Tyler to doubt his instincts.

Then looking over at his passenger, he seemed to sense a need to open up. “What are your plans for the year?”

“Well, if we make the playoffs, which I don’t think we will. I’m sorry,” Tyler laughed as Berringer threw him an admonishing grin, “but the Blue Fins out-skate and out-defense us. We’ve lost to them two years in a row now.”

The large man nodded.

“You follow hockey?” Tyler wanted to make sure the man understood the game, but he also wanted to know if he would stay connected somehow to this impressive figure.

“I love hockey. Actually, it’s the only sport I do watch.”

Tyler smiled, pleased by this admission. “Well, we should be through in about four weeks the way I see it. I might take a cruise, South Pacific. I could use some sun time. Help me relax.”

“And then?” the psychologist pushed.

“Then maybe visit my mom.”

Berringer caught the soft doubt again that disturbed him. Throughout the sessions with the group, Tyler played insouciance up like a velvet cape, something to fling and flaunt about him with an air of bratty bravado. However, there were times, like now, when Berringer recognized fa├žade, smoke screens thrown up to distract. This young man was hurting and hurting badly and Berringer wondered when he would admit it to himself that he needed help.

As they pulled into the police garage, Berringer took a reserved spot. As both men got out, the giant came around the back of the vehicle and offered his hand to Tyler. “Go see Sergeant Canfield. He knows me. He’ll set you up with your car. Good luck, Tyler.”

Tyler shook the proffered hand and didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t want to see this man walk out of his life forever, but there was no way to turn back time, no way to snatch this ring as the merry-go-round spun out of control. Time does indeed wait for no man and Tyler could not get off the turning spindle.

“Thanks, Doc, for everything. And,” he blushed, the red coloring threatening to ignite his features.

“Yeeeesss?” Berringer strung out the word, easing the moment.

“I’m sorry about that “old hippie” comment.”

Throwing back his head, the white hair still captured in place at the nape of his neck, J.C. laughed, richly, warmly and lovingly. The blue eyes twinkled as he enjoyed the fireworks of doubt before him. The cute baby face hesitant and fearful.

Reaching out his hand, he patted the round, red cheeks, “Baby Boy, I AM an old hippie.”

With that, Dr. James Cameron Berringer walked towards the stairwell, opened the door, and disappeared out of Tyler Kowalski’s life.