Sunlight warmed the cabin with dancing cones of light, the trees playing havoc with the shining rays. The table was clear of all items save a yellow legal notepad and a box of pens. Soft sobbing came from the corner where the small archway jutted out from the wall separating the small kitchen from the living room. The golden head pressed into the corner where the hands took turns coming up to wipe the running nose then gingerly touching the tender behind, rubbing out the sting.
Cody Colson Blade couldn't remember being more emotionally distraught, well, at least not in one day. There was no time out of this little foray, no trip into the land of the dead, no little escape routes where he could hide away in a deep and undisturbed sleep. The huge Viking inquisitor kept him on his toes for the past five hours and he was emotionally and physically exhausted.
Bear was exiled outside on a long nylon and steel cable. Given a shady little area with a huge bowl of water, an old blanket of Nate's that bore scent and his beloved red fire hydrant, he was pretty content and out of harmís way.
It had started early with a sharp swat to his behind and a wakeup call similar to a drill instructor in the army. Cody was pushed, browbeaten and prodded along to a two-mile hike. Then after a breakfast he had no trouble devouring, he was told to help clear the table and take notes. Rules were going to be established and adhered to and failure meant quick and sure retribution.
Dazed most of the morning, he found himself pulled to reality by the scruff of his neck and he didn't like it one bit. Besides the simple procedures and parameters of his job as Nate's research assistant, rules for proper communal living were mapped out. Cody took umbrage to the lot and the first battle was a full frontal attack of pens thrown hard and fast at Nate's strict face.
Ten minutes across the Viking's knee and a half hour in the corner, Cody was eager to finish his dictation. However, when Nate mentioned the cuss words and colored phrases that escaped his young assistant's mouth periodically, mentioned that there were soaps that could clean up that act right proper, Cody had stood up, slamming his pen on the hard wood surface of the table.
"I'll fucking use whatever language I fucking well please."
Well, it earned him another ten minutes of "down" time, and thirty minutes in the corner with a bar of soap---nicely lathered---stuck in his mouth for the first ten. Cody moaned as he leaned further into the corner. He was miserable, utterly miserable.
Behind him he heard the giant preparing lunch. The aroma of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches reached him and he longed for the food. He was actually starving. This had to be the first time in the last six or seven months that he had actually longed to eat, needed to fill his empty belly instead of his empty soul.
"Come on, Cody, lunch is ready," Nate called as he placed the soup and sandwiches on the table.
When Cody only leaned further into the corner, Nate wiped his hands on the towel and walked up behind him. Placing a large hand on Cody's shoulder, he gently turned him around. Cody's breath hitched as he tried to quell the rising emotions; he wanted something, but he didn't know what. He felt a strange and strong need.
Sensing the moment for compassion, Nate pulled the boy hard against his chest. Cody eagerly wrapped his arms around the large man's waist, fresh tears spilling out like an overturned keg filled to the brim.
"It's okay, son, it's going to be okay. You just need to settle in, quit fighting the rules and restrictions and work with me. It's for your own good, know that much at least." Nate ran his hand up and down the quivering back and straightening, he pushed Cody away.
"Wash your face." Then seeing the boy hesitate he pushed him towards the kitchen sink, "Go on."
Cody trudged forward and splattered cold water on his red eyes and cheeks. Then he walked sullenly around Nate's chair and carefully lowered his throbbing backside onto the wooden seat.
"You know, Cody, if you had just written them down, we would have been through by now," Nate tried to reason with the boy hoping the afternoon would go smoothly.
"It's not fair," Cody said, picking up the cheese sandwich and biting off a quarter.
"I told you we write them down, then we discuss them, then we negotiate. I'm not a monster and I'm willing to listen to reason." Nate ate both the soup and his sandwich with equal gusto.
"Why do there have to be rules?" Cody demanded.
"Adjust the attitude, son," Nate warned, looking up with hooded brows. "I was out of hand once, showed more stubborn independence and contrariness than you could ever muster." Nate laughed at some memory that played itself out. "I thought I had all the answers, wanted to show the world how tough I was. I had a loner image of myself that would have made Brando look like a day care center volunteer." Nate shook his head at the remembered days.
Cody watched him with interest. "What happened?"
"My mom called my Uncle Jim. A man I hadn't seen very much in my life, hardly even knew. He and my dad had fallen out of touch over something or another. He was working in the Army Reserve, working in hostage situations and helping men cope with life away from their families. He took a leave for one year....must have been about '82, I was fifteen. Let's just say we butted heads in the beginning, but the butting became more one-sided and I chose to think before I spoke." Nate got up and poured himself more soup, lifting the pot towards Cody asking if he wanted more.
Cody shook his head, totally enthralled now by the story. "What did he do to you?"
"I'm afraid you're going to find out soon enough, Cody, but one thing I can assure you, it's going to be quite the experience." Then Nate thought a bit on the subject at hand. "You said you came up here with your dad, Wild Bill, chances are you've already met my Uncle Jim."
"Just once," Cody said sadly, looking down into his soup, "Just that one time. I don't remember their names, just that there were five of them. This one huge guy...I remember him," then Cody looked up and putting two and two together he came up with the answer, "No Shit!"
Nate shook his head in admonition, "Language, boy, language."
"The Behemoth." Cody was excited by this minor revelation. "He's the Behemoth."
Nathaniel Cameron Berringer burst out laughing. Throwing his head back he laughed so hard, tears welled in his eyes. "I never called him that, and trust me, I called him just about every name. But I love it, it fits him perfectly."
Cody, realizing that huge man of so many years ago, the one who seemed to be his dad's best friend, was related to this man now who sat across from him. He could see the similarities. Remembering the sternness of the giant, he saw the resemblance in more ways than physical. It was the Behemoth who had finally prodded his dad to take him over his knee and deliver the first and only spanking the young Blade had ever experienced until recently.
"I don't think he liked me very much," Cody said, staring off past Nate's shoulder into memories.
"He's not a man to misjudge people," Nate said, sobering to the seriousness on Cody's face. "He's rarely wrong about people, either, least ways from what I've seen. But I'll tell you one thing about him that might make it a little easier for you to deal with him; he's a very determined man. He won't give up on someone he believes worth saving."
"Is that what this is all about, some saving game to you? A notch on your gun? Do you pick up strays and drop them off at the nearest shelter, then brag about the good deed you've done?" Cody's voice rose in an anger that challenged Nate's good nature.
Nate brought both hands down in the air in a calming gesture, "Take it easy, calm down."
"Do you win a prize for bringing me round, then what? Ha?" Cody rose now from his chair, his face flushed with rage. "What do you do with me then, Nate? Or does the big guy take me handÖlike he told my dad to do? Or do you all just send me packing on my way?" The green eyes showed hurt now, as though certain facts were becoming undeniable to the boy.
Nate rose to meet the challenge. He towered over the boy. Placing his hands on Cody's upper arms he gave him a slight shake, "I'm trying to help you," he said in desperation. "I'm trying to bring you out of that death zone you've been stumbling around in. Show you that you have all the reason in the world to live."
Cody seemed to settle down. The lost and confused look left his eyes and something distracted him at the front door. "You've got company," he said in a deadpan voice.
Dropping his hands, Nate turned around to see Ben Bracken peering at
them through the open screen door.
Ben's visit was a welcome break for Cody. Whatever happened at lunch, whatever doubts were pulled up from the inner depths of his insecurities and memories, he felt himself being pulled back into the darkness so quickly his head spun and his stomach literally dropped with the fall. Now he listened half-heartedly as the two friends joshed and quibbled about the latest hockey scores and team ratings for the playoffs.
A case of beer had been Ben's contribution to the evening meal and a deep-dish cherry pie that he had picked up from Mrs. Pierson, his housekeeper. Nate had kindly put the list making aside for the day in deference to Ben's early arrival, and all three men had taken up chairs on the back deck, still warmed by the afternoon sun.
Nate and Ben popped the tops on their beers and propping their feet on the railing sat back to enjoy time spent in friendship's circle. Cody had collected Bear and now boy and dog shared the heavy-cushioned lounger, both snoring loud enough to bring laughter to the two older men.
The evidence of Cody's lack of interest gave Ben reason to pursue the topic most on his mind. Taking a deep pull on his beer, he tilted his head towards the golden-haired boy lying with his mouth open, basting in the afternoon sun.
"How's he doing? And don't give me that 'fine,' that you top all your problems off with, boy?"
Nate's face paled. When Ben delineated their age, punctuated the differences and took the age plateau alongside Uncle Jim that meant there was business at hand...serious business. In all the time he had spent with the Wild Bunch, Nate had enjoyed, for the most part, an equal level of one-on-one with all of them. Gil, the only small man amongst the tall men, stood shoulder to shoulder with the younger Nate and oftentimes they found themselves the butt of the other's jokes. But being a part of them, not an outsider, had kept the ribbing within the soft fabric of camaraderie.
Nate looked over and caught the censure in Ben's brown eyes. "He's coming along. Not fine, okay," he said almost belligerently to the raised eyebrows, "but we're setting boundaries. I'm reeling the kid in and keeping him on a tight leash."
"You're not qualified, Nate, but more so, there's a problem here that you know nothing about. There are agreements that go beyond what you pull the kid into."
"You keep saying this, Ben, if it's so surefire important why don't you just spit it out. Kind of old to be playing the mysterious stranger, don't you think?" Nate let his irritation show.
"Damnit, Nathaniel, mind your tongue."
"I'm not a child anymore. I don't need Uncle Jim like some lost little boy. Things are different now and I can help this kid. I've been there. Let me do this my way."
"Fine," Ben said, tipping his beer can towards the ravine as though
saluting good intentions, "but I only hope you know what you're doing."
Cody slept most of the afternoon. After the long and emotionally arduous morning coming one on one with Nate, he welcomed the well-remembered route of escape. It was the firm hand on his shoulder that refused to allow him safety in those folds. "Come on, Cody. We're going to hike towards the falls. Barbecue the steaks at the old campsite up there. Let's go."
Reluctantly and with the leaden feet of the non-enthused, Cody helped pack up the necessary supplies. Charcoal, fluid, paper plates and silverware, baked potatoes wrapped in foil, and several cans of baked beans and dog food were stuffed in duffel bags and backpacks. Each man was loaded down as they took off in the direction of the falls.
Bear, ever the excitable child for adventures, happily lunged along ahead of everyone, pulling tautly on his retractable leash. The evening air was warmly scented with lilacs and the last filaments of spring were stepping aside for the firmer substance of verdurous summer things.
After about an hour of hiking, Cody was wondering where the campsite was. The loud roar of the falls had engulfed them at least half an hour ago. Remembering his escape route towards the river, he realized this was beyond the rapids...this was the falls they were heading towards.
Nate began pulling off his backpack as soon as they walked off the trail into a large clearing. There were logs and rocks and barbecues set up haphazardly around the plateau. The flat surface ended in a cloud of mist and the falls loud rush could be heard below. The temperature dropped a good ten degrees as the sun was settling itself well beyond the mountain peeks. Cody was thankful that Nate had insisted he bring a jacket.
"Place is sort of the communal picnic area for the cabins around here," Nate explained seeing Cody's confusion. "You ever been camping before?" Nate inquired.
"No," Cody said softly, as though ashamed of the revelation.
"This area levels down towards a sandy beach on the other side of the cliff. There are also boat docks and more picnic grounds along the calmer side of the river. People don't do much camping or picnicking on the other side, too near the falls," Nate said cautiously watching Cody's eyes drift in the direction of the rushing sound of falls.
"You're not to go near there," Nate said firmly. "You hear me?"
Cody's green eyes came back, pulled towards the steely blue, he nodded his head, "I hear."
"Good," Nate said adding a smile to his lips to soften the edict. "Let's get a fire going, I don't know about you, but I'm mighty hungry."
Cody grinned, "Yeah, I could eat."
Ben was bending low over the grate filling it with charcoal. The barbecue pits that interspersed the area were nothing more than circular rocks piled high with a heavy metal grate on top. He raised his eyes and smiled at Nate, approving of the relationship.
"I told you I had things in hand," the Viking smiled smugly, satisfied
with his small accomplishment.
Cody sat before the fire; Bear lay stretched out beside him. The large rocks encircling the campsite allowed them to lean back in relative comfort. Cody had never eaten so much in his life. The steaks, thick and juicy, the baked potatoes hot and soft, baked beans tantalizingly spicy had all been consumed with a relish he could not remember having ever before in life. Was it the country air or the hard pace Nate set for him that had his appetite so sharply piqued? He couldn't say, however, he felt a strange contentment here.
Ben and Nate included him warmly in the dinner conversation. Mainly memories of the Wild Bunch and their time spent at the cabin, concentrating a great deal on the time Cody came to visit his dad. Although Nate was not on that particular trip, they always revolved the conversation back and around that time, making sure that Cody had a hand in the evening.
Since they didn't have coffee, Nate allowed Cody one beer after the meal. The wind had picked up a bit, but it was a gentle breeze that only cooled the night air. Wrapped up in his jacket, Cody felt warm and content as he drank the beer and stroked Bear's flank. The huge pup had feasted on scraps of meat thrown into his bowl of dog food, and he was quite content now to sleep soundly. A loud snoring filled the conversation and Nate, Ben and Cody laughed as the huge paws paddled in some chase scene in slumber land.
"Bet you've done your share of traveling, Cody?" Nate asked.
"Not really," Cody said, "never left High Ground much at all."
"What do you mean you never left High Ground?" Nate asked, somewhat taken aback by the response.
Ben cleared his throat, loudly, insistently, but Nate ignored him. "I remember reading that Faber Colson had several homes, including one in Florida and a villa in Italy."
"No, never been to any of the houses but High Ground," Cody said, a bit petulantly.
You can't tell me you've never been to your grandfather's other homes."
"Nate!" Ben cautioned angrily.
"NO!" Cody shouted back, "I AM telling you, you ignorant son of a bitch....I AM TELLING YOU!" He jumped up in anger, startling Bear who rose up on his four paws, hackles raised at the unexpected disturbance.
Nate put his beer down and rose. He walked quickly to Cody whose face was red with a fury and pain that was almost tangible. Grabbing his shoulders he shook the blond boy, "Stop it, Cody."
Cody pushed him back, stepping well out of reach now. Bear inched nearer, unsure of whom to protect.
"Grandfather said I wasn't a true Colson. Only true, legally born and bred Colson's could enjoy all the homes. I was only allowed High Ground. Grandfather said if I could prove myself to him, prove that I did have Colson blood running primarily through my veins, then he would acknowledge me." Tears started down Cody's face, "But I didn't know how to prove that to him. Mom said he'd come round, she always said he'd come round to me, warm up to his grandson. I tried," Cody's voice cracked as he now looked down towards the ground, studying the dirt as though looking for something he lost. "I really tried hard."
"Shit!" Ben cursed.
"Oh, God, Cody, I'm sorry," Nate rushed forward eager to grab the boy before he backed away again. "What about your mother? How did she allow this to happen?"
"She said I was his favorite, deep down inside, I was the one he loved best. I guess it was all my fault, like Grandfather said. I fail people."
"No, boy, that's not true." Stepping forward, locking Cody in a tight embrace, he pushed the wild head of hair against his shoulder and looked over at Ben whose scowl was only deepening.
Nate shook his head attempting to convince Ben that he had no idea what can of worms he was slowly unsealing. Ben pointed his index finger towards Nate and mouthed the words, "I told you so."
"It's okay, boy," Nate said softly against the golden head. "It's okay now."
Finally feeling the boy relax, he pushed him away. "Sit, Bear," he commanded of the easily excitable dog. Seemingly unsure, the brown eyes moved from Nate to Cody, then the dog flopped down where he stood inches from Cody. Nate, still holding onto Cody's arm, sat down pulling the boy down in front of him, nestling him in between his outstretched legs in a secure shelter.
Cody didn't struggle. He needed someone to hold him now. Memories flooded back upon him in a confused jumble of promises, smiles, reprimands, discussions, deals and more negotiations. The game his grandfather played had its own set of rules and Cody was never sure what was expected. He only knew he wanted to be Faber Colson's grandson, loved and cherished, more than anything else in the world.
Yet...here's the clincher, he knew in his heart the game had only one ending for Faber Colson and Cody Blade.
Cody turned in Nate's arms like a shy child, snuggling deep into the folds of Nate's fleece jacket. "I'm okay," he mumbled, sounding anything but okay to Nate's well-honed ears.
"He's behind you now, Cody, you can make a new life for yourself if you want to."
Nodding his head eagerly, as though he believed this with all his heart, the golden haired boy yawned dramatically.
"I know a lot of things, now," Cody said pushing off Nate's chest, forcing a bright smile. He looked over at Bear, already forgetting the emotionally disruptive event, dreaming in the quiet rhythm dogs seem to master so skillfully.
"Mind if I take Bear and head back to the cabin. I'm mighty tired."
"No, not without me and Ben," Nate said, steadying the boy as he rose.
"I'd best be heading back, too," Ben said already starting to repack the bags and shoveling the garbage into one large plastic bag.
"Then I'll just take him for a walk, if you don't mind," Cody persisted, picking up the retractable leash.
Bear rose instantly at the familiar click of the plastic casing, eager to partake in any adventures planned.
"Just stay within sight," Nate warned as he began helping Ben collect the pots and utensils, the beer cans and silverware, the steak knives....
"I'm looking forward to that cherry pie and a hot cup of coffee," Ben said as he stretched upwards towards the night sky, relieving his old back.
Nate looked around confused; momentarily forgetting what thought had seized him so tenaciously but a moment ago, he sought to grab hold once more.
Then something hit against Nate's chest with a hard thrust and he checked the campsite, one steak knife short. Nate had put his own immediately in the plastic bag after he was finished eating. Ben's was lying on his paper plate holding the empty plastic down against the gentle evening breeze.
"Cody?" Nate yelled as he turned. Gone. He swung about and checked the perimeter of campsite, no boy or dog in sight.
"Damn it!" he cursed as Ben came back from the huge garbage dumpster that was nestled off by the back service road to the camp ground.
"Nate," Ben started to chide, "I warned you. The boy needs professional help."
"Not now, damn it, we need to find him." Leaving all the items as is, Nate grabbed the flashlight out of the pack. "Let's go, there's a missing steak knife."
Ben turned professional law enforcement. Pulling a small flashlight from his own jacket, he motioned for Nate to take one path, while he headed down another where Cody and Bear were last seen.
"BEAR!" Nate yelled, knowing the boy would not answer, but praying that
the eager pup would respond in a playful yap...but only the spring eve's
night sounds came back to him and Nate could have sworn he heard it say
"too late, too late."
Cody moved swiftly, pulling his eager companion along. Now it was a game, not only with Faber Colson, but with Nate. He had to show him that he couldn't be saved, that time and the ravages of rejection had marred his soul beyond repair, had crippled his spirit by breaking its back. He would show him, he would show them all and in the end he would win.
Heading down hill and away from the campground and the path that led back towards the cabin, Cody found himself on the soft sand in no time. The beach Nate had told him about. The tide lapped fretfully against the shoreline. The cool breezes picked up once out of the shelter of the tall trees and shrubs. Cody shivered, but the chill was to the bone. It was the chill of the truly lost and lonely and it brought with it a morbidity of hopelessness.
A dark shape rose up near the water, a large piece of driftwood that broke out in tendrils as wicked fingers warned of an evil night. Boy and dog raced towards it and as Cody dropped down onto the sand, his back pressed against the large log, he knew no one could see him upon entering the beach. Unhooking the cable, not wanting the dog stranded there with him, he dropped the lead into the sand.
"You're free to go, boy, but I'd like it if you'd stay," Cody wrapped his arms around the large dog who fell easily onto his lap, eager to be hugged and coddled. The large head lolled back as tongue sought the object of his affection. Cody couldn't help but laugh, the dog's eyes glistened brightly in the new moonlight that now turned the water and beach a soft blue.
Burying his face in the dog's scruffy neck, Cody started to cry, "I love you, you big pooch." Looking out onto the lonely lake, Codyís eyes filled with tears. The old ache rose up inside him sewing closed all the joyous pockets he had fallen into since meeting Nate Berringer. How much he wanted to belong. How he prayed and hoped to be forgiven whatever crimes he had committed. It was hard wanting things you could not have, but harder still knowing you didnít deserve them.
Then reaching into his jacket pocket he pulled out the sharp steak knife.
Without further thought, further pause for contemplation, Cody slashed it down hard and swiftly across his left wrist. Bear whined. Picking up his paws as he laid across Cody's lap, he adjusted the huge pads to lie forcefully upon Cody's left forearm. The blood began gushing out of the slashed wrist, but as Cody tried to maneuver the steak knife into his left hand to complete his work, the weight of the large dog was too much.
"Off," Cody, pushed the large pup trying to dislodge him from his arm. There was no moving the agitated dog. Soft whimpering noises came from him as he kept adjusting his body, pulling his back legs up and under, closer to Cody.
"No, Bear, get off me," Cody gave one more effort as the world started to tilt, blur and fade to gray. The last thing he saw was the huge face, tongue hanging out in drool, hot breath blowing directly into his face and Cody smiled. The world left him at that point, but his last thought was how wonderful it was to be loved.
As usual, I need to know if I remember it right. . Keep me on my toes,
write me at Jorjimine@yahoo.com
Itís a lonely stroll down an old road
And Iím alone again itís true
Been through the pond and done it all
And Iím always feeling blue.
But a new chore has come my way
And Iíve put my heart and soul
Into another being alone like me
And Iím damned if I wonít pull
His tired heart just needs the help
That tried and true doth show
And who better than a veteran
Of wars that come and go.
So I extend my hand and I help him out
And I treat him like my own
And before I know whereto Iíve gone
I, too, dread to be alone.
And itís love that keeps the silent watch
And itís love that moves me on
Itís need and greed and I concede
That my heart does indeed grow fond.
To all my loyal readers, my friends, this is my plan for getting
back my golden side, my black side: (With warm thanks to BC who pulled
"So this is what I will do. I will gather together my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back, my golden side, my black side."
Ying-Ying St. Clair
(Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club)
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