Thursday, May 28, 2009

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.

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