It was dark in the small forest clearing, the moon a mere sliver of silver light.
I stood naked among the towering sequoias, my arms outstretched.
The soft beating of a drum echoed the beating of my heart.
A gentle breeze brought the smell of pungent pine.
I felt the first drops of rain like a blessing.
Turning slowly, I raised my face to the moon and asked her blessing.
My feet made no sound among the pine needles and moist earth.
The rain was warm against my bare skin and I breathed in the silence.
But I waited, for what I didn't know.
A soft sound brought my eyes down from the sky.
A giant grizzly stood on the other side of the clearing.
"Grandfather. Why am I here?"
The wise old eyes looked at me with so much love that I began to weep.
His outstretched arms brought me within his grasp.
Warm fur covered me from head to toe with love.
Safe. I'd never felt so safe before.
"Open your heart, little one." The deep rumble echoed in my mind.
I sat up in bed with a gasp. A snore from down the aisle told me that I was still at the station and not in some mystical forest. The elders of my tribe weren't here to interpret my dream nor was my totem animal, the bear. My hand shook as I pushed back the bangs from my forehead, feeling the tears on my cheeks.
Thank God, no one had been disturbed.
I could just hear the derision if any of the guys had been awakened by my dream. Swinging my feet over the side of the narrow bed, I got up to get a drink of water. Padding quietly down to the kitchen, I got some cold water from the fridge and went out on the back step to drink it.
The city lights dimmed the stars. I wished that I were far away from the crowded neighborhood. In the distance I could hear a siren and I prayed very hard that it wouldn't be followed by our call out. My nerves felt all jangled and I suddenly wanted to be out of here, deep in a forest where no one could find me and people didn't exist.
Well, maybe one person.
My mind policeman immediately jumped all over me. Don't go there, Gage. He's not for you. Keep on dating the ladies and keep your nose clean. Another twenty years and you can retire to the woods to be a hermit - if a burning building or a crazed sniper doesn't get you first.
I grinned derisively into the night. I knew better than to wish on a star or believe a dream. Wishes and dreams were just that, disappearing into the light of harsh reality. From the time I was a child, I'd had it beaten into me that life was hard and filled with what one should do.
Getting up tiredly, I made sure the back door was relocked before I rinsed out my glass and set it in the drainer. Maybe now I could sleep. Tiptoeing up the stairs and sliding back under the covers, I settled myself with a silent sigh. I never had the dream twice running but maybe it would be different tonight.
Closing my eyes, I remembered the warmth and safety of my bear. And smiling, I fell back to sleep.
The day was pretty routine - a near drowning, an idiot painting too near a power line that we had to shock back to life and a kid with his head stuck between the wrought iron uprights at the branch library near us. I kind of enjoyed the library visit. The librarian and I were old friends. All those nights that the guys thought I was out on a date, I mostly spent reading at the library.
I couldn't let that get out though. The guys would never let me live it down. Roy knew but he wouldn't tell anyone. Someday, maybe I'd meet someone who liked books as much as I did. Someone I could share thoughts with or discuss the ideas I found in the psychology books. Snorting to myself, I figured the odds of that happening and sighed. Jung might believe in meaningful coincidences but I didn't.
The last call took us in to Rampart General Hospital and I let Roy take the old guy into the exam room while I took the empty plastic box to get filled with supplies. Dixie was there and we kidded each other back and forth while I got what I needed. I like the svelte blonde and she seems to have a soft spot for me. When there's nobody else around, our teasing is gentle. That's kind of a nice change for me. I don't have to hide myself then.
Open your heart.
I shivered a moment and almost dropped the saline drips. The rumble from my dream snuck up on me. But I was alone in the room since Dixie had gone back to work. That hadn't happened in a long time. Usually my spirit-guide waited until I was meditating. I shivered again and decided to head for the hills as soon as I came off shift.
Turning, I saw Dr. Brackett at the end of the hall talking to one of the nurses. He looked tired and if he was on the same schedule he'd been on, he was at the end of an 18- hour shift. I was partially hidden by the storage room door and I could look my fill. The square jaw, dark hair, and broad shoulders under the white lab coat gave me the ache that seeing him always brings.
Just once, I'd like to hold him in my arms, let his head fall on my shoulder and run my fingers through his hair. Closing my eyes against the sudden onset of tears, I took a firm hold on my imagination and tucked that image away in my secret heart. Pasting on the smile that gets me through most anything, I left the storage room and started the walk back to the squad.
His dark eyes spotted me right away and the smile he gave me was so bright that I had to take a deep breath. We met near the nurse's station and I tried for a normal hello.
"Johnny, I heard you had a close encounter with a library."
And that hurt. He's the one person I'd like to share my reading with but it seems I'd done too good a job of making light of myself.
"That's one kid who won't ever try making a jail of the balcony railings again." I shook my head ruefully and would have passed on but he put out a hand to my arm that stopped me dead.
He radiates heat and the warmth traveled up my arm and straight into my heart. "I wondered if you were free this weekend, Johnny?"
Oh God, what I wanted to say but never could. "Need some help with something?"
"I got volunteered to help build a playground at that little park two blocks from my house. I told the Neighborhood Watch that I'd try to find some others who were handy with tools. Could I talk you into giving up a couple of hours for a good cause?" The hopeful look on his face erased any casual answer I might have made.
"Sure. Sounds like fun, Dr. Brackett. What time should I be there?"
"Really?" His eyes lit up and I absorbed that look for later. "Why don't you come to my place about 10:00 and we'll walk over to the park."
"Okay. I'll see you then." I nodded and caught sight of Roy signaling me. "Oops, looks like work. Bye."
"Thanks, Johnny." And he clasped my shoulder good naturedly before heading in the opposite direction.
So I had two touches, three smiles and a chance to work with him for a couple of hours. Whistling, I joined Roy and put the supplies away first before driving away.
It was a good day.
Saturday dawned bright and cloudless. I sat in the empty space that was my apartment balcony. Soaking up the sunrise was a ritual that I missed when I was on a 72-hour shift. With my legs in a lotus position, I sat with a straight back and my eyes closed. Meditation is like a waking dream and so necessary after one of my shifts.
After I helped Kelly with the playground, I was heading for the cabin that I watched for an old friend. My bag was already packed and in the car. Since I'd never been inside his house before, I was excited and nervous at the same time. Not even reminding myself a dozen times that it was just a favor to a friend had any effect on the warm place inside my heart.
Opening my eyes, I gave thanks to the skies above for the beautiful day and the chance to see Kelly in casual clothes. Could I wish for jeans? Grinning to myself, I got up and went in to get dressed. I didn't have to think about what to wear. Jeans and a red t-shirt would be casual enough for hard work but still make me easy to find in a crowd.
Like Kelly would want to find me.
That little voice inside my head could be pretty annoying sometimes but I ignored him for now and finished packing my supplies into the car. There were no grocery stores where I was going and that was fine with me. I had refilled three of the five gallon bottles of water that was all the liquid refreshment I'd need while I was there. By using them in rotation, none of the ten bottles was older than a month. For some reason, I drank a lot more water when I was out in the wilderness.
The shallow well behind the cabin would provide me with enough water to clean and use for washing. I placed my re-sharpened ax in the trunk so I could make sure that the underbrush near the cabin was cleaned out. We'd had a rain four days before so the threat of fire, that was always present, would be slim. Mike and I had fitted a catalytic converter to the smokestack of the energy efficient wood stove so no sparks would fly out.
I can't stand people who take a chance with fire.
Checking the time, I realized that once again I was early. So, I got in the car and went to the library for some reading material for the weekend. Mrs. Butler had saved a copy of Patricia Garfield's Creative Dreaming. I liked the research into dreams that she championed and Mrs. B and I had a nice chat before I checked it out and headed for Kelly's place.
Roy and I had been there once before for a barbecue with the rest of the station crew. And I'd driven past a couple of times in a little detour on my way out of town. The house had been built in the 1930's and Kelly had brought his wife there when they were first married. When she died, he stayed on even though there must have been painful memories.
Maybe the good times outweighed the bad.
Pulling into the side driveway, I took a deep breath and let it out real slow. I'd have to be on my guard with him or I'd let my secret out. And he was too good a friend to lose because of some inappropriate hormones. Locking the car, I crossed the lawn before mounting the wide stone steps to the front porch that stretched across the house. It was a good nine-foot deep and the swing that hung from the rafters looked well used.
I rang the doorbell and as if by magic, the door swung open before the chime had died away. "Hi, Johnny. I'm glad you're here. I've got the coffeepot on and there's too much for the thermos. I need you to drink some or it will go to waste."
He looked younger in his jeans and blue polo shirt. His hair was mussed and his eyes still looked tired but his smile was brighter than ever.
"Good. I forgot to make any this morning so yours will keep me from being cranky." I smiled back and let the old wooden screen door fall shut behind me. He laughed and walked ahead of me down the long hall with the gleaming oak floor. To the left I saw his living room with the comfortable looking sofa and leather chair. The curtains were sheer gauze that let the light in to splash across the wide oak planks.
I envied him the natural wood I could see everywhere. Thank goodness no paintbrushes had been allowed except on the walls. The kitchen was bright and cheerful with butcher-block counters and white wood cabinets. It had a clean look and the brightly colored cups contributed to the cheery look.
Kelly was handing me a canary yellow cup filled with coffee, straight black the way I like it. "Johnny, could you break down and call me Kelly today?"
"Sure." I took a hasty sip and almost burned my mouth. Today was going down in my memories as a red-letter day. "I'd be glad to. It doesn't seem right in the hospital."
"Maybe not but today we're just us. I couldn't get anyone else to volunteer so it will just be you and me."
I chuckled the way he wanted me to but inside I was wishing it really was just us. Maybe out in the woods, sitting on the porch to watch the sunset and talking about things that really mattered. I watched him talk about the park and memorized every movement he made. Each smile was caught by my mind-camera and stored in the photo album with his name on it.
"You ready?" He asked and I shook myself back to the kitchen.
"Sure. The sooner we start, the sooner those kids have something to swing on." I said cheerfully. I carried the thermos and cups while Kelly took up his toolbox. Heading out the front door, he didn't even bother to lock it. The neighborhood must be a really safe one. It was either that or he had one of those snoopy neighbors who watched every thing that went on.
We walked side by side down the sidewalk and he kept me smiling with a story from his day before. He made me laugh out loud when he gave me his imitation of the hospital administrator and the whacked out patient who thought he was her fiancé. It wasn't often that Mr. Snyder came off second best and I was willing to bet that Kelly had enjoyed watching the anal-retentive man get his comeuppance.
There were ten other adults standing around a pile of lumber and metal. But the kids outnumbered us and their energy levels raised all our own. Kelly took charge the way he always does and broke us up into teams. My team had five kids on it but I just grinned and put them to work An hour later we had the swing set up and the first kid was getting pushed higher and higher.
I helped out with the jungle gym and surreptitiously watched Kelly try not to get any of his team brained by falling poles. It seemed to be some kind of tree house on stilts with a slide, swing and climbing bars attached. Once the jungle gym bars were anchored solidly, I moved over in time to catch a falling timber. It hit Kelly's shoulder a glancing blow and I watched him grimace then reassure the older man who'd slipped.
I watched him try to work out the muscle strain but after a moment, I made him sit down to rest it while I finished up the tree house. The kids were already shrieking happily when I handed him the empty thermos and took up the toolbox for our walk back to his place. When we got there, I sat him down in the kitchen and helped him take off his shirt.
The bruise was already coming up and I searched his freezer for the freezer bag that most have us have on hand. He hissed when I wrapped it in a towel and pressed it to his shoulder. His neck muscles were tight and I began a light massage that would help relax the tense tendons. His skin felt so good beneath my fingers but I had to be careful that I didn't stray too far afield and give myself away.
"You've got magic hands, Johnny. That feels wonderful." Kelly had relaxed into my touch and that felt right.
"I learned it the hard way, Kel. My college roommate was a real klutz who was always pulling a muscle or running into a door and I got used to patching him up. It was one of the things that steered me towards emergency medicine." My fingers itched to touch that silky hair but I restrained my libido.
"Why not go further and become a doctor? I know you're intelligent enough to stick the course." His voice was so calm.
"No money. Two years was all I could afford and that was with scholarships and enough loans to take another two years to pay back. The EMT certification was as far as I could go. And I still get to help people so that's my reward." I didn't talk about the hours that I spent fighting that decision and the tears that no one saw me cry.
Just my Bear.
I finished his massage and sat down across the table from him so I wouldn't be further tempted. He sighed and gave me the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. "Thanks, Johnny. I'm glad you said yes when I asked you. You're good with kids."
"My fellow firefighters would tell you that I'm just a big kid myself." I shrugged and gave him my usual grin.
"No, you respect them and they can tell that. You're not childish at all." He told me seriously and I didn't know what to say.
I had a feeling that I was blushing. "Um, thank you."
"Why don't you like compliments, Johnny?"
The simple question floored me. "Not used to them, I guess. Too many years of people telling me that I was a screw-up. Did a lot of silly things when I was younger."
"We all did. But you're good at your job and you have to know that you've saved lives. I'm glad that you're based in Station 51. You and Roy make my job that much easier."
"Thanks." I was sure that I was bright red and I didn't know what to do with my hands. "I better get going. I'm headed out of town for the weekend."
"I appreciate your help, Johnny. Are you going somewhere nice?" His voice was so wistful.
"Out to a cabin that I watch for a friend. Be a quiet time for me." I had to tell him the truth even if it wasn't what he expected.
"That sounds like heaven. We're short at the hospital and today was my only day off. I'm going to kick back and relax for the rest of the afternoon." He stood up to walk me out, balancing the ice bag on his shoulder.
"Maybe another time." I joked and was surprised to see him nod.
"I'll take a rain check for now. Thanks again." He gave me a one armed hug and I about hyperventilated while he walked me out to the porch.
"Sure. See you next week. Keep ice on that shoulder." I went down the front steps and out to my car. Strapped in, I waved goodbye to Kelly who had stayed on the porch to see me off. Carefully, I backed out and headed towards the highway.
But I watched him in the rear view mirror until I turned the corner. Putting him at the back of my mind, I said a mental goodbye to Kelly and put him back into the Dr. Brackett part of my mind. My little fantasy had run its course. But while it lasted, I'd stored up some great memories.
Even though I was lonely, I was a lucky man.
In Dreams You Come
It was a good weekend. There was a lot of brush to clear and that kept me so busy that I didn't have much time to think. But when the sun went down and I sponged myself off, that's when I got caught. Those old feelings that slept so deep inside of me came to life and slid into my thoughts.
There's a reason that the Devil is portrayed as a snake. Need coiled inside of me like a rattler and he rarely gave even a little hiss before he slithered into my mind. Need, want, desire -- they were all things that I should have been able to control. I couldn't do anything about the rest of the human race but I should damn well be able to control myself.
Maybe that was the problem.
Control was important to me and falling in love meant losing control ... putting myself into someone else's hands. And I feared that more than almost anything else in the world. Childhood fears are the hardest to overcome. They're rooted deep and their tentacles spread to every feeling I had.
Snakes in Eden ... even in this old growth forest there was a serpent. And he was inside of me. It's why I always fall in love with someone I can't have. It's safer that way. But lonely ... so very lonely. I sat in the old rocker that I dragged out onto the porch every time I visited. Rocking makes me feel safe. I always wondered if it was an early memory of my mother before she died.
When my father died, I found her letters to him. He didn't talk about her and his parents wouldn't allow me to ask questions about her. Funny how my totem animal became Grandfather Bear. He'd given me more love and affection than either of them did in the sixteen years I lived with them. I thought Father had been indifferent to her but her letters were well worn and obviously handled many times.
Maybe he reacted the way I do. Shut the pain away and show the world a happy face must have been our family motto. I kind of regret not being able to talk to him about her. It would be nice to have even a second hand memory. I was only a year old when she died. She talks about me in the letters. He was traveling during her pregnancy and she wrote him every detail. I kicked her at four months and she told him that I was going to be a football player.
There was so much love in those letters. I must have had some part in that before she died. If I could only remember it. Blinking away tears, I got up and went inside. My watch on the table told me it was after midnight. Since I hadn't bothered with a lamp or a fire, all I had to do was take off my clothes and crawl into the sleeping bag.
I was tired enough that I fell asleep almost instantly.
There was a small light that made the dark not so bad.
Little whimpers sounded loud.
"There, there, little one, can't you sleep?"
The soft one picked me up and cradled me against her shoulder.
Her long black hair smelled like rain.
"Hush now, little one. What's wrong? You're dry so it can't be that."
Strong arms held me close while a hand patted my back.
Delighted laughter. "You just wanted your mama, didn't you?"
My little hand grabbed the silky hair and brought it to my mouth.
"That's not very edible, little one, how about we sit and rock for awhile?"
The room moved around us then we were in the chair that moved.
"Here we are. If you let go of mama's hair then I can feed you."
Warm skin under my cheek and then I was sucking on a nipple.
"That's right, little one. Drink and grow big and strong for me."
The milk was sweet and my hand patted her breast while I fed.
"Mama's little angel, that's what you are. Mama's little angel."
I yawned and lost the nipple but went right back to work when I got it back.
But my eyelids were heavy and it was so safe here, the rocker creaking and mama singing little lullabies to me.
"All done? That's my little angel. Back to bed with you. Papa will be home tomorrow and he'll be so pleased at how big you are growing."
The bed was familiar and the blanket soft over my full tummy.
"Sleep now, little one. I love you more than anyone else in the world. Sleep and grow strong for mama. Love you, angel." And her humming lulled me to sleep.
I woke up with tears on my cheeks again.
Be careful what you wish for -- it hurts when you get it.
I never called my father anything but the formal 'Father'. I guess he didn't want to be a papa or a daddy when he was on one of his rare trips back to his parents where he'd parked me after she died. I miss her even though I never knew her. Maybe that's why I like the old rocker so much. It's my 'back to the womb' therapy. Cheaper than a shrink and more fun besides.
Getting up to greet the dawn, I went outside without getting dressed. Just my old leather slippers so I didn't cut my feet. Early mist rose eerily from the ground to trail upwards towards the wide spread tree limbs of the sequoias. Jogging through the trees, I found the clearing that I'd dreamed of a few days before. The sun would soon peek through the feathery foliage.
The golden glow spread out to touch everything. Closing my eyes, I spread my arms wide and raised my face to the sun. Softly, I hummed the lullaby from my dream and gave thanks to the Spirits for a chance to feel my mother again. Warmth encircled me like a hug and I felt tears begin to fall.
Cleansing tears heal, or so I've been told. I wasn't allowed to cry as a little boy so I guess I was making up now for lost time. Smiling, I opened my eyes in time to see an eagle soar upwards on a thermal wind. He looked strong and free. I would lock him inside my heart and bring him out when I needed him.
Like the picture of Kelly concentrating on the placement of a screw. Or the sound of his comforting murmur when he was putting a Band-Aid on a skinned knee. Maybe the gleam of sweat on his face or the feel of his skin beneath my hands while I massaged him, yeah, those were memories that I could savor when I went back.
After greeting the sun, I went back to the cabin and fixed a few things that needed it. Breakfast and lunch were combined into one meal. I spent the afternoon hiking through the woods and filling my lungs with cool fresh air. One day I wanted to spend a couple of weeks here. I'd have to have Mrs. Butler lay in a good stock of reading material for me. Grinning, I tidied the place and settled in for an early night. Bringing in the rocker, I fed the fire in the fireplace some more wood and lit the hurricane lamp so I could dig into the dream book.
A cup of tea, a good book and a fire to warm you, you just can't ask for anything better. At least I couldn't. The book was fascinating and I read until my eyes grew tired. I headed for the side door and the small bathroom there. Mike had installed a composting toilet so everything we brought into the woods, stayed there. After cleaning up, I went to bed and spent a dreamless night.
Two days later, I was back at Rampart General with a woman who just couldn't wait to have her baby. He was a little fighter who crested while we were still on our way in and slid into my hands like a pro. That little miracle never failed to move me. New life is so precious.
I said a little prayer when I laid him in his mother's arms. The look of awe on her face when she saw her son for the first time reassured me. This little boy was wanted and loved. I could relax now. Dixie was the first nurse I saw and she grinned at me before shooing me off to the staff bathroom. Giving birth is a messy business and I'd been on the receiving end this time.
Roy followed and handed me the clean uniform that I kept in the unit before following our patient with the info that we had. I stripped quickly and stuffed the uniform in a plastic bag before heading into the showers. They had liquid soap dispensers on the walls and I washed all over speedily. Communal showers aren't my thing.
Turning off the water, I grabbed a towel from the stack the hospital kept ready in the staff bathrooms. Carrying it and my uniform, I moved to the last aisle of lockers to dress out of the way. When I heard the door swing open and a loud voice, I was glad I had. I can dress fast when I have to but I still hadn't dried off. And if there's one thing I hate, it's pulling those polyester pants on over damp skin.
I was toweling quickly while the voice kept on ranting. Trying not to listen, I froze when I heard the tones I will always hear.
"Damn't, Kelly, what would it hurt? I know you swing both ways."
"That's not the point, Simon. That was a long time ago. We were in residency and drunk on our asses. Not to mention, I wasn't married yet."
I could hear the pain in Kelly's voice and I kept on dressing so I could tiptoe out when they went into the showers.
"Yeah, like that would stop you."
I was really starting to dislike whoever this Simon was.
"I was faithful to my wife until the day she died." Kelly's tones were patient.
"Well, then you're overdo to score and here I am."
I was finished now and just waiting for the chance to dash out of the locker room.
"Ah, c'mon, Kelly, just a quickie for old times sake."
The sound of a scuffle broke out and I tensed, wanting to go to Kelly's rescue but knowing that he could handle himself.
"Ouch! Damn it, Kelly, that hurt."
"Simon, what is wrong with you? Are you this hard up?" Kelly sounded exasperated.
"Nah, I'm feeling fine, Kelly. Just fin-n-ne."
"What did you take, Simon? Are you back on uppers again?"
"Just a couple, you know how it is."
I shook my head silently and thought what an idiot this man was. Drugs are so stupid and a doctor should know better than anybody should.
"Simon, you need help. Let me get you to Joe Early. He can get you the treatment you need."
"I just need you, Kelly."
This time the scuffle was louder and when a locker got banged, I had to see if I could help. Quickly, I dashed out of the aisle in time to see Kelly duck one blow then get nailed by a wild swing. Simon was a good six inches taller and broader than my friend was but a good hammerlock subdues the largest man. And I had learned in a hard school how to kidney punch someone down to his knees, especially after they hit their head on your fist.
"Dr. Brackett, are you all right? You might want to call security."
He sat up rubbing his jaw and nodded. There was a phone in the locker room and he called for help while I sat on Simon with both of his arms twisted up to his shoulders. Kelly came back over and sat on the bench with a defeated look.
"I'm sorry you had to come to my rescue, Johnny. I thought I could handle him."
"You probably could have but it's hard to hit someone you consider a friend."
"Yeah, we were friends a long time ago." He shook his head. "Drugs really can make a fool of you."
"Yes, they can." That's all I had time to say before Security came bursting through the door.
Simon was coming to by the time they had him handcuffed and I left with my plastic bag of uniform. Kelly said thanks one more time before following Security out with his friend. Finding Roy, I had one last look at the baby I'd caught and even got a kiss on the cheek from his mother.
All in all, it had been an interesting day.
Three days later I was off duty and sacked out on the couch with another good book when a knock came at my front door. I hadn't been expecting anyone but Roy had said something about dropping by so I got up. But instead, it was Kelly standing outside my door.
"Kel- I mean, Dr. Brackett." I didn't know what to say.
"I know I should have called but I didn't want to give you a chance to say no." He smiled ruefully. "May I come in?"
"Sure." I felt like I'd fallen through the rabbit hole. "Please come in."
"Thanks and it's Kelly, Johnny." He came in and stood by the sofa.
"Sit down, Kelly. I could make some coffee." I hovered near the couch; not sure what to do while part of me was jumping up and down yelling 'yahoo'!
"It looks like you're drinking tea and if it's free of caffeine, I'd love a cup." His eyes were tired and I wished I could take that strain away.
"Let me get you some. It's a blend of chamomile and hibiscus." I said over my shoulder while I grabbed a clean cup from the cupboard. The teapot was still half full but I poured more water into the hot pot. He might want more than one.
Bringing out the pot and his cup, I found him reading the flyleaf of the book I'd been reading. It was one of Jung's that the Bollingen Press had put out on synchronicity and I'd been reading it for a couple of weeks. You can't read Jung flat out like you might a novel. You have to take small bites and let his ideas digest over time. That's just one of the reasons I like reading him.
Kelly looked up with a smile. "I read this about a hundred years ago during the residency that I shared with Simon. It looks like I need to re-read it."
I poured the tea and handed him his cup. "He's an author that I hope to have read all the way through by the time I die." I dithered over where to sit. It was pretty obvious that I'd been on the sofa reading so moving to the chair would be noticeable. So I took a deep breath and sat down by him but one cushion over.
"My late wife, Rosa liked one of Jung's disciples, Jean Shinoda Bolen. I've still got her copies of Goddesses in Every woman and the Tao of Psychology. I expect you'd like the second one since it's on synchronicity." He took a sip of the tea and laid the book back down. "I need to apologize again for that scene in the locker room." He held up a hand at my protest. "I know you don't think I have to but ... I want to."
"Old friends don't have to be apologized for, we've all got them." I said anyway.
"Yeah, we do. But Simon touched on something that I'm afraid might have shocked you."
"What?" I could feel my spine go rigid. "That was none of my business and I wouldn't say anything about it to anyone else."
He touched my arm fleetingly. "I know you wouldn't, Johnny. I know you don't gossip and I've always found your 'live and let live' philosophy very refreshing. I guess maybe I needed to talk about it and you're the only one who might understand. You seemed to accept it so casually."
I was still on the alert but at least I'd been able to relax a little. "Not casually, Kelly, I did my own experimenting when I was in college. It happens but you moved on and had a great marriage with someone you loved."
He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back cushion; his legs stretched out and relaxed. "Yes, I did. Maybe that's why I was so pissed off at Simon. Quickies were never my favorites and they seem so tawdry now that I know what it can be like when you love the person you're with."
Biting my tongue kept the words from spilling out. What did that feel like, Kel? Making love to someone who loves you back? I took a deep breath and let it out. "You're lucky, Kelly. I've never found that."
He opened his eyes and shifted his head so he could see me. "It will happen for you, Johnny. You're intelligent and empathetic. And you've got a sixth sense that I rather envy. Does that come from the Indian side of your family?"
I didn't flinch because I'd had a lot of practice hiding my lack of family from everyone. And I hadn't known I even had an Indian side until my father died and I read his papers before his parents could ... sanitize the record. And for one scary moment, I felt like telling Kelly about that time in my life.
But I was afraid of his reaction so I nodded. "My mother had that sense so I guess I inherited it from her."
He smiled at me and I felt my heart melt a little, the way it always does around him. "If someone had to overhear my past catch up with me, I'm glad it was you. Thank you for understanding and letting me talk about it."
"You're welcome. Would you like some more tea?" I was afraid of any more revelations that might tempt me but during the half-hour that he stayed, we talked about books and finished the pot of tea.
When he left, I felt like I'd run miles and couldn't catch my breath. It was the most time I'd ever spent with him. I felt at ease with him when I walked him down to his car. Watching him drive away, I waved once before heading back upstairs. Putting on my running clothes, I prepared to do some heavy thinking on the run.
I locked the door behind me and contemplated my route while I stretched my legs and lower back. Just maybe I could have part of what I wanted. Maybe Kelly would become a friend like Roy was. Maybe half a loaf wasn't so bad after all.
Date: 25 September 2000
In Dreams You Come
It was hot and smoky in this little corner of hell that had been a luxury resort hotel. Station 51 had been called out after the first two stations couldn't contain the fire. The first victims had some smoke inhalation and minor burns but the ones coming out now were seriously injured. The LA Medivac helicopter was busy ferrying the worst victims to hospitals and we had a steady stream of ambulances coming and going. But we hadn't yet gotten to some of the interior rooms and we all knew what we'd begin to find there.
Roy clicked his position to me and I followed him into what had once been a conference room but was now just a fire-seared mess of charred tables and chairs. The first two bodies weren't too crispy but dead anyway. He waved his arm and I knew he'd found one still alive. I was checking the other side and when I found the door to the bathroom partially open, I pushed it further ajar to see if someone had had the sense to wet down.
"Johnny, I've got one to take out. How about you?" His tinny voice came over the static.
"There's one here and I think he's still breathing. He wrapped his head with a wet towel after he started burning. Coming out now." I hoisted him over my shoulder in the classic fireman's carry before joining Roy for the trip back out. Two dead, two alive -- not a bad ratio for a fire this bad.
The route out was finally getting wetted so we made good time. For the moment, we were missing an ambulance so Roy and I took our victims over to the unit to check vitals. My man had a pulse even though he was badly burned. I left the damp towel around his head instead of taking a chance that it might pull off burnt flesh. His airways seemed clear and I gingerly hooked up oxygen to help oxygenate his lungs. But it was anybody's guess what condition those lungs were in.
He was shivering continuously and I grabbed one of our blankets to tuck around him. Occasionally he'd moan a little and I sent up a quick prayer that he wouldn't come to before we could get him into the hospital. His clothes were mostly burned into his arms and legs and I hated to think what it would feel like when they were removed.
I may not have done him any favors. Both our rescues looked pretty charred. Just then, an ambulance pulled up and we were able to turn them over to those guys while we went back inside. Clearing my mind of those we'd found, I led Roy back in to see if we could save anyone else.
It was close to four o'clock when the hotel was declared off limits. We'd been too busy working to find out the casualty rate but for the last two hours we'd found nothing but corpses. The fire exits hadn't opened on several floors and the sprinklers had ceased working right after the original fireball had flashed through the third floor. The news crews were thick and the cops were busy keeping them back while Roy and I worked on a couple of the men from Station 47 who'd had a wall fall on them.
Matthews had a concussion and Riley was complaining of double vision so we loaded them up and headed out of the war zone. Roy is pretty easy going but by the time we got two blocks away, he was swearing out loud. The cops were doing their best but it looked like half of Los Angeles was lined up, craning their necks to see the disaster.
But finally we got out and on our way to a hospital. Roy called back that we were headed to Rampart and I nodded while trying to make sure that Matthews stayed alert. Riley and I kept talking to him and finally we got there. It was only slightly less chaotic then the hotel scene but Dixie found us a room and promised us a doctor as soon as one got free.
Roy and I tossed for the job of stocking up the unit and I won. Heading back outside, I took a quick inventory and stacked three bins on top of each other before moving down the crowded corridors to the supply room. One of the candy stripers had been given the duty and I gently led her through the procedures. All the nurses were being run off their feet with victims from the hotel fire.
The perky blond was a little scared of me at first and only then did I realize how bad I probably looked. I was sweaty, grimy and probably stank to high heaven. I was a little too real a reminder of the dangers of my profession. But she managed to keep her head and found all the items we needed. I was finishing when one of the crew from Station 47 showed up with empty bins.
We swapped stories while he filled up and the candy striper listened wide-eyed. I told him where he could find Matthews and Riley before heading out to the unit to put everything away. Locking up, I went in to see if I could help Roy. But before I could get there, one of the family members waiting to hear about a patient appeared to have a heart attack. So for the next five minutes, I practiced my CPR until they could get the crash cart there.
Finally, I was relieved and I headed to the end of the corridor only to be halted again. But this time it was a welcome stop. Kelly came out of the room beside the one where Roy was waiting. He was frowning and I wished I could take away whatever bad news he'd gotten.
"Johnny, you look like hell." He raised a hand to touch a bruise on my cheek. "But you're just the person I needed to see."
"Your bedside manner could use a little work, Dr. Brackett." I joked while trying to not lean into that hand. "Those we sent in are in a lot worse shape."
"You're right, Johnny. We lost two of them already and I'm afraid this one won't last out the night. He must have inhaled some of the super heated air because his lungs are charred." He shook his head. "The odd thing is his last name is the same as yours. His business card case was the only thing that didn't burn on him. I hope you don't have any relatives visiting."
My heart seemed to stop for a moment. "Gage is a pretty common name."
"Alfred N. Gage sound familiar?"
The world went black and I actually felt lightheaded. "Gage Industries?"
"Yes." His voice seemed to come from far away then his hands were on my shoulders and he was steering me into the room. "Sit down, Johnny."
I felt his hand on the back of my neck and realized that my head was between my knees. The smell of burned flesh seemed to fill the room and I held onto my control with every ounce of strength I had. "Kelly?"
"I'm right here, Johnny. Who is Mr. Gage?" His voice was so gentle.
"My grandfather. My father's father." How strange after all these years to say those words again.
"Then I'm glad you're here. Although, I wish I didn't have to tell you that with his lungs cooked, there's very little chance he'll survive." Those warm fingers stroked my neck and I wished that I could just stay here like this forever.
"We aren't close. I haven't seen him in twelve years." I swallowed a couple of times before sitting up, my eyes going to the figure in the bed. He was covered with one of my blankets and with a feeling of resignation, I realized that he was the man I'd carried from the bathroom. "It's ironic."
"What is?" Kelly stood close when I stood up, to catch me if I started to fall.
"They disowned me when I was seventeen." My voice sounded disinterested even to me. "Kicked me out when I told them that I wanted to visit my mother's people. I never went back."
"Then I'm doubly sorry that I had to tell you about him. Maybe you've been given another chance to forgive him." Kelly's hand on my shoulder was the only anchor I had.
"I don't know if I can." I whispered my eyes on the chest that labored to breathe.
"Don't let their actions dictate to you now, Johnny. You made a full life for yourself in which you save lives. You have good friends and people who love you for who you are." Kelly's voice was calm and I could feel myself begin to calm as well. "Tell him what you've accomplished. Tell him who you are now."
I nodded, not trusting my voice right then.
"I'll tell Roy what's happening and get you cleared to stay for now." His warmth began to move away. "And I'll be back in a little while to check on him."
Then I was alone ... with my grandfather.
The trembling started in my hands then spread to my arms and down to my legs. Turning away from the bed, I grabbed the back of the chair and picked it up to move it nearer to him. Sitting within touching distance, I stared down at my hands. They were dirty and I remembered how I'd been inspected before each meal when I was young. It's one of the reasons that I still keep them so clean.
"I'd like to thank you, Grandfather, for your insistence on clean hands. I still use the nail brush the way you taught me." I took a deep breath and let it out. "After I left your house, I worked for two years to earn enough money to go to school. I got a scholarship to the University of California and even ran for the track team while I was there. I'm a paramedic for the LA Fire Department. I've got the best partner in the whole department. His name is Roy DeSoto and we're good friends."
His hand seemed to twitch a little and I watched the monitor to see if I needed to press the button. But his heart kept beating and the little rasp of breath came and went.
"I've got an apartment near the Station. An old friend, Mike Sawyer lives near me, do you remember him? He has a cabin in the national forest and I go up there pretty often. That's where I relax and think about things. I read a lot and it's a good place to think about what I read. It's quiet there with only birds and small animals for company."
It was a definite twitch beneath the blanket. I moved it gently aside and saw the half-burned hand tremble. Very gently, I slid my hand under his then replaced the blanket.
"I was pretty angry for awhile. But a wise man told me that anger hurts and hate hurts the hater more. So, I gave up being angry and tried to give up the hurt of being rejected by you and grandmother. Mostly I try to forget my childhood except for a few good memories. Do you remember when I ran in the eighth grade race and won? When I told you about it, you said 'well done, John'. It's the only time you praised me. I guess that's why I remembered it."
The claw that was left of his hand moved over mine. Like a pat, maybe.
"Dr. Brackett is your doctor, Grandfather. He's the best. He and I helped build some play equipment for the kids in a park near his house. I had fun that day and I bet the kids are still swinging. It's a beautiful day outside, clear and sunny with hardly any smog. That's one thing I dislike about LA, the smog. One of these days, I'm going to leave the city completely and move out where the air is clean. I'll probably become a hermit and only come into town for supplies."
The pressure firmed and the head, still wrapped in the towel moved an inch towards me.
"I don't even know if you realize who I am. I need to tell you something but I don't know if I can. I thought you hated me like you hated my mother. But since I left, I realize that it wasn't so much hate as distaste. You thought mother's blood tainted the blood of your son and I was the result. I think you tried to love me but I looked too much like the woman who stole your son from you. I'm sorry that I wasn't the grandson you wanted." I was crying and I didn't even try to stop. "And I ... forgive you for not being the grandfather I needed."
The heart monitor let out a banshee shriek and I set aside my feelings to do what I could for the patient in the bed. Dixie showed up almost immediately and Kelly wasn't far behind her. The crash cart arrived and I ended up against the far wall watching my grandfather die.
Had he known it was me? Did he hear me and understand?
The long beep told me that I'd never know.
He was dead.
I slipped out of there and headed for the locker room. I couldn't tell if I was still crying because everything was numb. Once inside, I threw my coat on the bench and turned on the hot water. I kept soaping and rinsing until my skin turned red. Wouldn't it be funny if I got burned?
"Johnny, I'm sorry." Kelly's voice came from over my shoulder. "I think your hands are clean enough."
I shook my head. "No, you have to use a nail brush to really clean your nails."
Strong arms came around me. Kelly's hands slid over mine, bringing them out of the water and up to my chest. I couldn't seem to stop shaking and he pulled me back against his chest, turning me so my head could fall on his shoulder. His arms held me and his hands rubbed small circles onto my back. He murmured things I couldn't quite hear but the tone was soothing.
I must have still been crying because it was getting hard to breathe. Hiccuping a little, I tried to get my emotions under control. But part of me wanted to stay right where I was and never leave. "I tried, Kel."
"I know you did, Johnny. The textbooks tell us that hearing is the last sense to go. If it was physically possible, I'm sure he heard you." He just kept rubbing my back and it was all I could do to stay upright. I wanted to lay my head down and sleep my way out of this nightmare.
"Dr. Brackett. Dr. Brackett." The warm arms stilled at the all-call over the PA speakers.
"Sit down here, Johnny. I'll be right back."
I sat and shivered. Picking up my jacket, I huddled in it finally realizing that I was in shock. But I couldn't seem to remember what to do about that. Then Kelly's warmth was back and only a lifetime of control kept me from flinging myself back into his arms. He crouched in front of me and waited until I met his eyes.
"We need to tell Mrs. Gage, your grandmother. Unless there's someone else that we can tell. We also need a formal ID. I know that you didn't look under the towel but we've got it partially pulled away now and his left profile is pretty clear. Can you do that for me? Identify him and give me a name and number."
I nodded, all my vocal chords refusing to work. He smiled at me and stood up, pulling me up with him. He steadied me and helped get my jacket on properly. It hadn't even occurred to me that it might not be Grandfather. We walked back to the room and I gathered my control to look at him. The left profile was indeed intact and I gazed at the familiar aquiline nose and thin lips.
"It's Alfred Gage. His son's name is Geoffrey Gage and he's in Berkley. The Gage Industries number on the business card will reach Geoffrey. The news will come better from the hospital than from me." I turned away and left part of my past behind. So much I wanted to tell him and now I never could.
I found myself walking down the long corridor to the Emergency Room entrance without any knowledge of leaving the little room. I walked out the sliding doors and sat on the back step out of the way of any personnel that might need it. The sky was red and orange but still clear and bright. The sun was setting and I thought about how ironic that was. The day was ending and so was one more relationship. Tightening my jaw, I kept the tears back. I needed to get away from here.
"Johnny, I'm going to drive you home." Kelly's voice came from beside me and I looked to see him standing in front of me but dressed in civilian clothes. "Please?"
I didn't trust my voice so I just nodded and let him pull me up to my feet. He kept one hand on my shoulder the whole way out to his car. He had a light blue Chevy Nova and I sat in the passenger seat totally numb while he backed us out. My mind was totally blank and I didn't even notice until we pulled into his driveway.
Turning to look at him, I surprised a slight frown on his face. Had I done something wrong or said something to make him grimace like that?
"Johnny, you're still in shock and I want to keep an eye on you. It's why I brought you home with me. Are you going to be okay with that?"
Maybe it wasn't something bad but just concern on his part. I nodded because I still couldn't speak. He smiled in relief and got out of the car, coming around to open mine too. Twilight had fallen, softening all the hard edges and masking the pain I knew I was showing. I could trust Kelly, I knew that. But part of me wanted to hide away, crawl into a hole somewhere and bury the pain.
He led me upstairs and into the back bedroom before starting to strip my clothes off. I tried to help him but my hands had gone numb like the rest of me. When I was down to my boxers, he steered me through the other open door into a large bathroom. When he snapped on the light it blinded me and I shut my eyes against the glare.
I heard the shower door open and then the sound of water while I stood there like a statue. Then Kelly's voice broke through the haze that was my mind. "Johnny, you need to shower. Can you do it by yourself?"
I thought about that for a moment before nodding. He came close and then my boxers were tugged down over my hips and off. That was part of one of my fantasies and I opened my eyes to glance down at the dark head so close to where I wanted him to be. Then he stood up briskly and propelled me under the stinging spray.
He handed me the soap and shut the door with himself on the other side. And I smiled sadly while I automatically began to clean my body. It seemed to be my day for having doors closed in my face. The water stung my eyes and I blinked rapidly while searching for the shampoo that should be within easy reach if Kelly was like the guys at the station.
It sat on a shower ledge and I concentrated on soaping and rinsing. I did it twice before I stopped smelling smoke. Blanking my mind completely, I soaped all over then stood under the hot water until it ran out. Only then did I turn off the water and open the shower door with the last of my energy. Kelly was sitting on the john with a pair of towels on his lap, waiting for me. With a smile, he threw a towel over my head before using the other one to dry my body. They smelled of fabric softener and I raised arms with lead in them to try and at least towel dry my hair.
Kelly was putting my arms into something soft and warm. Then he pulled me over to the john and set me down, taking over the towel on my head. When he let it drop, I'd almost fallen asleep and it was all I could do to whisper 'thanks' to him. He brushed the hair out of my face and it almost felt like a caress but I was still aware enough to know I shouldn't lean into that warm hand.
"Bed, Johnny. It won't seem quite so bad tomorrow." Kelly pulled me up and with one arm around my shoulders, he led me to the room across the hall from his bedroom. There was a small lamp on the oak dresser and that was the only light. The sheets were pulled back on the double sized bed and they looked soft and warm. He helped me out of the robe and into bed, tucking me in with one hand while the other brushed through my hair again.
"I hope this is all right. I put flannel sheets on the bed and there's a glass of water here for you on the table. I'm going to leave the light on in case you wake up and forget where you are." He sat down on the side of the bed and looked down at me with such a caring gaze that I felt like crying again. "Go to sleep, Johnny. I'll be here to chase away any bad dreams."
Nodding, afraid to trust my voice again, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
Date: 30 September 2000
In Dreams You Come
Waking up, I didn't know where I was. But it wasn't a frightening feeling, more like an anticipation of something good. The sun flooded the window to pool on the light oak floor and splash up onto the white wicker dresser. I watched it for a long moment and finally my memories caught up to me. They hurt but I still felt kind of numb and it was too much trouble to worry about what would happen now.
"Good, you're awake." The cheerful voice from the doorway brought my eyes to him. "Did you sleep well?"
My voice felt rusty. "I ... I think so. I don't remember any dreams."
"Excellent. Up to some breakfast?"
I checked my stomach and it announced its displeasure with an audible growl.
"I'll take that as a yes." Kelly chuckled and disappeared, only to return a moment later with a wicker tray filled with dishes. "I wasn't sure what you might like so I made an assortment."
"I'm not picky." I struggled to sit up, only then remembering that I'd been put to bed naked.
"Hold on. I'll stuff some more pillows behind you. I'll have you know that only my closest friends get breakfast in bed." Kelly grinned at me and put the tray on my lap before opening a drawer in the dresser and pulling out another pillow. He smelled of clean soap and water when he put it behind me, his hand warm on my shoulder.
"Thanks. It looks good." And it did. There was toast, a bagel, scrambled eggs, three strips of bacon and sliced cantaloupe. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble."
"You're a friend, Johnny. And this is what I do for friends." He sat on the edge of the bed and watched me start to eat. There were two cups of something hot and he took one of them and started to sip. "I think you'll like this tea. I checked at the health food store and they swore that this blend would reduce stress and promote mental calm.
"Does it prevent hair loss too?" I felt good enough to try a little teasing.
"They didn't say but it couldn't hurt." He grinned at me and I smiled back while I speared a slice of melon and began to chew.
Breakfast was one of those times that I knew I'd remember forever. Kelly spoke of plans for his garden, some more equipment that the Neighborhood Association wanted to build for the park, his last shopping trip to replace some jeans, in short - the kind of conversation that friends have. And for the first time, I felt like we could be friends, not just friendly acquaintances.
And that felt good. Better than good ... that felt great.
In the trying days to come, I would hug this memory close and let it warm me. I couldn't just ignore Grandfather's death, as much as I wanted to run away and stay away until they forgot about me again. They would eventually but for now they would expect me to conform to their expectations. I wouldn't be free much longer and I needed to soak up all the friendship vibes I could.
"Roy brought some clothes over for you. He said to tell you that Captain Stanley said you're on bereavement leave and to take the time you need. The guys from the station send their best wishes and Dixie told me that she's got a hug with your name on it. Your . . . uncle sent a representative for the body."
I chuckled and swallowed the lump in my throat. It was good to remember that I had several good friends here. And some of those friendly acquaintances that I'd just thought about. "I'll probably need Dixie's hug after they get done with me."
"Your family isn't close?" He spoke hesitantly.
"I haven't been part of the ... family since I was seventeen." I debated with myself over whether to say more but his eyes drew the truth out of me. "My father left me with his parents when my mother died. They were blue bloods who must have hated my mother with all the passion they were capable of. I wasn't allowed to speak of her or ask questions about her."
I took another drink of tea to give myself a moment. "Not very healthy, right? When Father died, I found her letters to him. None of his but all of hers were there for me. He had put them in plastic sleeves when they started to fall apart. He must have loved her so much. I always wondered why he hated me."
"He hated you?" Kelly's eyes widened. "How could he when you were all that was left of her?"
Shrugging, I dropped my eyes to the last of the eggs, stirring them with my fork in aimless patterns. "I never knew because he continued the ban on her name. It was in the letters that she spoke of her people. They must have met in college and married quickly. If he'd brought her home, his parents would have stopped them. But after he graduated and joined the family business, she got pregnant and they lived apart from his folks. Her letters were so ... happy while her pregnancy progressed. My grandfather sent him all over the globe to try and wean him away from her but they stuck together."
"She must have been a beautiful person inside and out." Kelly stilled my hand with his. "All I have to do is look at her son to see that."
I blushed. Compliments still startle me. "I was a year old when there was a car accident and she was killed. I was in the back in my travel seat and never got a scratch. Sometimes I dream about her and when I wake up, I know that I was loved. Just because I was me ... her son and a part of her."
"You're very lucky to have such good memories of her." Kelly was holding my hand, his thumb rubbing comforting circles on the back of my wrist. "What about your grandparents?"
I still shiver when I think of them. "They hired a nanny to take care of me, then a tutor to drill me in my studies. My father came home twice a year and left as soon as he could. When I was twelve, they sent me to the Academy to toughen me up. I've never hated a place as much as I hated it there. My cousin Wendell was a year older than me and pretty much made my life hell while I was there. I should be grateful, I guess. It did toughen me up. Paramedic training was a snap compared to the hazing I got for the next five years."
"I dislike them intensely and I haven't even met them." Kelly's jaw was tight but I knew he wasn't mad at me. "But you said you found your mother's letters when your father died?"
I nodded. "I was lucky I got to his luggage before the staff could. They were in a three ringed binder and as soon as I saw her handwriting, I knew that they belonged to me. So, I took them and hid them. After the funeral, when they'd sent me off to my room, I climbed out of my bedroom window and climbed up to a branch to read them with my flashlight."
"That must have been hard."
"Yeah, it was. I read the love and joy in every word with almost disbelief. The man she was writing to didn't resemble anyone I'd ever known. And when she talked about her people the Apache, it was like looking into another world. I read those letters all night long until I memorized them. The next morning I mentioned the letters and asked my grandparents if I could go and visit her family." I swallowed and gripped his hand a little tighter.
"They never yelled at me, they were too well behaved for that. While Grandfather was telling me that my request was in poor taste so soon after the funeral and impossible for many good reasons, Grandmother went upstairs and found the binder." I spoke around the lump that always came when I thought about that morning. "She brought it down and burned it in the fireplace while my Uncle Geoffrey held me back from trying to save it. I packed up and left that night."
Kelly slid the tray off my lap and to the other side so he could gather me into his arms. I hadn't even realized that I was shaking until he stilled the shivers with his warmth. "Johnny, there are no words to tell you how brave I think you are. What you survived would have wrecked a weaker man."
I rested my head on his shoulder and inhaled him like the air I needed to breathe. "There wasn't much left of her family and I was a reminder of the white man's world so the reservation wasn't home either. But at least there, they were willing to teach me some of their ways. I grew stronger and when I left, I knew what I wanted to do with my life."
"That's why you couldn't afford enough college to become a doctor." His hand stroked my neck slowly.
"Un-uh, I was lucky." Unburdening my soul was making me sleepy. "I had a great college roommate and the chance to work at the County morgue. So, I made out okay."
"You made your own luck, Johnny. I'm glad you survived intact. But for the moment, I want you to sleep some more." He laid me back and smiled down at me while removing the extra pillows. "When you wake up again, we'll talk about what you want to do about the funeral."
He didn't understand and I was glad he couldn't know what They were capable of. "They'll expect me to go."
"Do you want to go? I won't let them take away your choices." He was still holding my hand and I never wanted to let go.
I thought about it while part of my brain savored his determination to protect me. All of my life I'd been lucky in keeping good friends. And suddenly I realized that that was a shield against the weapons my family were sure to be sharpening for me. Maybe I could go there and return without endangering this life I'd worked so hard for.
"I need to go, I think. Lay some old ghosts and make a clean cut with the past. There are some old feelings that need to be purged out of my dreams."
"Sleep on it for now. Whatever you decide, you won't be alone. I can promise you that." He smiled and tugged up the sheet, tucking me in. Then his hand was back, brushing my hair back slowly. The rhythm was hypnotic and I felt a little purr start deep inside that I couldn't allow to reach the surface.
And closing my eyes, I went to sleep without dreams.
End parts 1-4