Thursday, May 28, 2009

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.

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