I would like to thank N for her wonderful editing skills and for time spent helping to catch all the little errors. I would also like to dedicate this to those who write about Knights, yet still are unable to defeat the most important one. Rest assured that he will be defeated one day. And, as always and most importantly, this is dedicated to B. (Dixon)
Sometimes when we are lost and hurt, even our friends don't understand. They see us as weak and selfish and self-serving. We go out into the world and we lose ourselves in crowds, pretending we are like the others, going about our business. I've lost myself in the Persuaders and thinking I was losing myself among strangers, I was pleasantly surprised to realize....I was finding myself among friends. This one's for you guys...The Persuaders. (Mason)
He boxed you in and drew straight lines to you.
He cut you down a bit and made you fit.
Poked some holes in you and gave goals to you.
Chalked you up and talked you up.
He folded you in place and you were his grace.
He stapled you to his side and you were his pride.
Emptied you of bitterness and cleaned up your mess.
Pulled you apart and put back your heart.
He wasn’t your author, so why should he bother.
He saw something in you along his sight line.
Love is a gaze in a fine, misty haze---that knows only ways to help make you shine.
(from the Lines of Demarcation)
Vincent Cade stared out the window to the street below him, actually at the small group of protestors who had been chanting for the last four hours. It was eleven a.m. and the chanting was starting to grate on his nerves. He absently wondered how the people on the lower floors, closer to them, were handling it. Anxious to return to the peace of the countryside, he gathered his papers and materials, hoping to finish his business today. He smiled to himself; when he had first purchased the rambling estate just outside the village of Salisbury, he had been desperate to return to the hustle and activity of London. That had been six months ago. Now, he found the traffic and the crush of people chafing his nerves after a few days and longed to get back to the quiet of the estate.
Several years before he retired from the military, he had fallen in love with a rundown country house and property. It had been dumb luck really, or fate as he liked to imagine when he was feeling more generous to the gods, that he had found the house. He was already planning his retirement, scouting out areas to live in all over the world. Already deciding he wanted to be someplace where English was the primary language, his choices were limited. There were several areas of the United States that were in the running, but nothing that spoke to his soul. He was in London for a brief vacation visiting an old friend when on a lark had decided to drive to Bath on the coast. He had rented a car and armed with a map and a general idea of where he was going, set off.
He remembered his first glimpse of the house clearly. It was raining and cold. Some tour bus heading to Stonehenge or Salisbury or Bath was up ahead going slowly. Bored, he glanced to his right and caught site of the house, it spoke to him in a loud clear voice that said ‘home.’ It had taken him twenty minutes to find the right road and then the house. It was set on ten acres of land, most of which were wild plains. It was a large house, really too large for a man alone, the logical part of his brain said, but it pulled him in. Getting out in the drizzle, he walked around. The house was boarded up, the grounds in disrepair, but the structure seemed sound and well built. It was a stone house, painted---at least one time---white with dark wood trim. At that moment, Vin knew he had found his house.
Now, the restoration and renovation were almost complete on the house. The grounds were still in terrible condition, but he was looking forward to working on that himself. His mother had been an avid gardener and he had grown up loving the feel of dirt on his hands and the sense of growing things. It was an activity he had little time for in the army.
An especially loud cry from the protestors jerked him back to reality and he renewed his conviction that he was heading home tomorrow. At least, he thought to himself, the next time I'm in London, I won't be staying at a hotel. The same firm that handled the purchasing of the house was also handling the purchase of a small townhouse in Kensington for him. His contract work with several private security companies required that he come to London at least once a month and he had grown tired of hotels. There were miles of red tape and reams of paperwork involved with a non-citizen purchasing property, but by listing the firm and himself as co-owners, most of those had been solved.
Stepping into the elevator, he smiled at the operator, "Garage, please," he said.
"Yes, sir," the lift man said, pushing the appropriate button, then added, "The protestors are out in force by the main entrance, you might do better going out the Hyde Street entrance."
As the elevator reached the garage, Cade nodded, "Thanks for the advice," and stepped off. Reaching his car quickly, he unlocked it and placed his briefcase on the floor of the passenger seat. Taking a minute to mentally prepare himself for driving on the ‘wrong' side of the road, he smiled to himself. It still felt funny to him and he was always slightly worried that he would forget and cause an accident. Starting the car, he slowly pulled out and headed toward Hyde Street and hopefully less protestors.
Damien St. Claire sighed and buried his hands deeper into his pockets. He was cold, nauseous and all around feeling like shit. He had not been able to shake the cold that had seemed to settle into his chest. Shivering slightly, he wished he had been able to stay at the hotel and in bed. When he had slightly voiced that opinion, citing the fact that he was sick, Jason Grabowski, the group's leader, had not seemed too supportive. So, at the crack of dawn, along with the forty other young people, he had dressed as warmly as possible and now stood outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel voicing his disapproval.
CEOs from large Natural Resource companies headquartered all over North America and Europe were meeting this week to discuss the development of a new standard for the treatment of natural resources. Earth First's followers were staging a small, but vocal, protest over the new standards all week. Yesterday two of their members had managed to get on the roof of the hotel and hang a sign proclaiming "Earth Rapist" with an arrow pointing to the meeting room below. They had been quickly arrested and were now in custody awaiting deportation.
None of that really mattered to Damien. He supported the group, believed in what they were doing, but at that moment was more concerned about breathing and quieting his stomach than some abstract standards some rich old guys were writing.
"You know, St. Claire," a voice dripping with barely contained sarcasm said behind him, "if you aren't going to participate, maybe you should go home---all the way back to the U.S. We really don’t need you around here."
"Jason, I'm sorry," Damien said turning around, "I told you I was sick. I feel horrible and I really think I'm running a fever," he finished weakly, desperately trying not to whine.
"Well, what those guys are doing up there is much sicker than you are. You better get with it or you're out. I don't care what's your excuse." With that final announcement, the determined leader stalked off to rally his followers into a greater frenzy of chanting and sign waving.
Wondering for the hundredth time what he was doing here, another coughing fit hit him, bringing him almost to his knees. When it subsided several minutes later, he was queasy and feeling in desperate need of a bathroom. Looking around, there was no place besides the hotel that looked promising, the street was lined with small quiet shops that did not look like they welcomed protestors off the street. Judging by the extra security around the front entrance, he knew he would have little if any hope of getting in there. He remembered a secondary entrance and exit around the side and hoped that it would be easier going there. Just as he was turning in that direction, a hand shot out grabbing his arm.
“Where you going, St. Claire?” the name coming out like a curse.
Damien stared into the angry eyes of Grabowski again. Thinking quickly, he said, “I was heading over to the side entrance. I bet some of the guys try to slip out the back way and get past us and the press,” nodding to the small cluster of reporters that had gathered, hoping for some sort of confrontation.
The protest leader nodded slowly, seeing the wisdom of what the other man was saying, but somewhat leery as to whether he was being told the truth. “Good idea, man, but,” he paused, “take Rita with you and she can help.” He motioned for a slim, black-haired girl to join them.
She handed her sign to someone and bounded over, pleased to be singled out by a man she worshipped. “Yes, Jason? How can I help you?” she asked, her voice rough and hoarse from days of constant chanting.
Inwardly, Damien groaned. The girl was weird, he had decided after a few days with the group. Her eyes shined with that fevered look that cult members always seemed to have---cult members that killed to prove how faithful they were. He had tried to stay as far away from her as possible. Outwardly, he smiled.
“Why don’t you head over to the back entrance with St. Claire here and make sure none of these weasels try to go slink out the back,” Jason explained.
“Sure! Great idea! We want to make them face the public and answer to us for their crimes against Mother Earth!” she agreed, her eyes shining with loyalty to the cause.
As his stomach did another slow somersault, Damien grabbed her hand, pulling her toward the back entrance.
“Come on,” he urged, “don’t want to give them a chance to escape.”
Once safe from the watchful eyes of Grabowski, he felt sure he could offer some plausible excuse for visiting the inside of the hotel---more specifically, their bathrooms.
“This is such a wonderful idea, Damie,” Rita gushed as they hurried down the street.
“Umm yeah, glad you think so,” he mumbled, trying not to cringe at the nickname.
As they hurried down the street---one driven by the call to protect nature, the other driven by the call of nature---they attracted the attention of two of the more bored news reporters.
Seeing two protestors hurrying down the street, their curiosity was piqued and they followed.
As Damien and Rita reached the entrance, they slowed and peered through the security fence into the garage. Damien had let out a soft painful groan when he saw the barrier between him and his goal.
Mistaking his anguish for the evident failure, Rita patted his arm, ‘It’s okay, Damie. We’ll get ‘em when they start to come out of the gate.”
Ignoring her, he rested his throbbing head against the cool bars and prayed for death. He didn’t even turn around when the two reporters joined them and began to question Rita on what they were doing. Tuning out her voice, he lazily watched a sleek, navy-blue Mercedes slowly wind it’s way around the parking aisle, heading in the general direction of their gate.
Rita was more alert. At the sound of the car, she stopped the memorized propaganda she was reciting to the reporters and hurried over. Grabbing his arm and shaking him excitedly, she squealed in his ear, “Here they come! Get ready!”
“Get off!” Damien growled at her, his temper which rarely showed itself rearing up as his head and stomach protested the movement.
Seemingly not to hear him, she dragged him closer to the opening as the car rounded the last turn and paused at the security gate, punching a button to open the gate.
Damien’s only thought as he watched the gate slowly open was slipping inside and finding a bathroom. Rita had other ideas.
Inside the car, Vince Cade saw the two young people standing by the gate looking at him. They seemed to be part of the protestor group in front and were probably handing out literature or wanting donations he decided. Determined not to be delayed or even look their way, he accelerated, aiming for the clear street ahead of him. The opening of the garage emptied onto it’s own private street and Vin knew he would not even have to slow down for traffic before he hit the road.
The girl saw the car accelerating toward the opening, determined not to let the evil man inside get away, she took action. Damien was slowly making his way toward the opening, intending to slip inside before the gates closed behind the car. As the car quickly approached the opening, she leapt into action. Pushing Damien in front of the car, she screamed, “Get him, Damie! Don’t let him get away! Jump on him!”
Damien felt himself falling into the street, directly in the path of the car. He heard the tires begin to screech as the driver slammed on the breaks. His instincts took over, his brain only understanding the need to get out of the way NOW! He leaped. He might have made it, might have actually landed on the hood of the car, he reasoned later. He had played sports and was agile and fit. If only he weren’t dizzy and sick from his cold, if only the front bumper of the car had not plowed into his legs as he was going up, knocking him off balance, if only he had a second’s warning before that psycho girl pushed him.
He hit the hood hard with his shoulder and rolled. The car slammed into a side pole of the exit, knocking him into the windshield and then off onto the pavement in a tangled heap of arms and legs.
Rita was frozen in place, then seeing potential newsworthy material, bolted off to find Grabowski. The two reporters were stunned but quickly regained their composure and snapped pictures of the wrecked car and Damien. Only the driver seemed concerned about the body lying on the ground.
Vin hesitated in the car for the briefest of moments, but it was long enough for his mind to start chanting, "Oh my God, I've killed a child."
After struggling with his seatbelt and the inflated airbag, he flung open the car's door and stepped out. The boy had rolled near the driver's front bumper and was moaning softly.
Thrilled that he was not dead, Vin crouched down, "Shhh," he murmured, "Lie still for me and don't move. You may be hurt badly." Glancing up at the two reporters, he snapped, "Call an ambulance. NOW!" His eyes warned them that this man’s patience was spent.
The quicker of the two fled, leaving his companion to deal with the angry man.
Turning back to the boy, he was more than a little angry to see him sitting up and attempting to stand.
"What are you doing? SIT BACK DOWN THIS INSTANT, YOUNG MAN!!" he roared loudly and with more force than he had intended. Years of dealing with foolhardy young men who knew in their heart of hearts that they were invincible had left him with little patience for such stupid measures.
A flash of defiance that the other man would grow to know so well flashed across the younger man's face. It was quickly replaced with a more puzzled look mixed with pain.
Stepping closer, Vin put a supporting arm under Damien's saying gently, "Come here, son, let's get you back down before you fall down."
Damien looked up at the older man, opened his mouth as if to speak and promptly threw up on his shoes. His stomach deciding it had had enough rough treatment. "Oh my God, I am so sorry," the boy said before swaying backwards and passing out.
Vin caught him and gently lowered him to the ground. Taking off his suit jacket, he placed it over the prone figure, seemingly unconcerned about his ruined shoes or his suit. Smoothing back the messed up hair, he said softly, “That's okay, son, don’t worry about it. Not your fault."
Within five minutes, the police had shown up followed by an ambulance a short time later. As they loaded Damien in, still unconscious, Vin asked where they were taking him.
"St. Michael’s just down the street," one of the attendants answered.
"Is that a public or private hospital?" Vin asked.
"Public, I doubt this boy's got insurance and he's not a citizen,” the other attendant answered, his voice trailing off as if that explained everything.
"No, I'll pay for him, but I want him to get the best care,” Vin said shaking his head.
The two attendants exchanged looks that, at least to Vin, seemed to imply that they thought his interest with the boy was more than with his health.
“I am his uncle for God’s sake,” he barked at them, unsure of why he felt the need to lie to two complete strangers over another stranger. Reaching into his wallet, he pulled out a business card giving his Salisbury address and the name of his representatives in London. “Here, give this to the hospital and tell them his bills will be taken care of. I’ll follow you as soon as I’m finished here,” he explained, indicating the waiting police officer.
“Yes, sir,” one of the attendants said, taking the card and putting it in the boy’s newly started medical file.
“Go down three blocks, turn left and you will see St. Michaels Hospital about 2 miles down on your right. Old brick buildings, you can’t miss it.”
After standing by assuring himself that there was nothing more he could do for his injured patient, watching the unconscious young man secured with IV’s and monitors, Vin turned his attention to the police.
Forty minutes later, after a long explanation from him on how the accident occurred, interrupted often by Rita, he was allowed to go. Giving the police his room number at the hotel and his new London address, he assured them he would stay in town until they gave him the okay to leave.
“I can’t imagine, sir, that it should take any longer then a day or so, but just to be safe,” the officer had explained.
Waving off any explanation or apology, Vin said simply, “Don’t worry, it’s fine. I want to make sure the boy is all right, anyway.”
One hour after the accident, Vin found himself pulling in front of the hospital. He had called his solicitor to reschedule his appointment and inform him of the accident and that he had volunteered to pay the boy’s medical bills.
Damien St. Claire pulled the covers up to his ears as he turned on his side. His bruised body protested the effort, but the drugs were kicking in. He felt at peace, contented, and warm. They had even given him a shot to help settle his turbulent stomach. The elderly doctor was kindly in his ministrations, but very paternal in his attitude. Several times he looked into the hazel eyes, grabbing their attention, then proceeding to chastise the foolish young man.
“I hear you threw yourself in front of a car, laddie. Not a smart move. I’m afraid your ribs are bruised and you’ve earned yourself a badly sprained wrist. There’s a pretty deep gash in your thigh from the bumper, but I’ve stitched you up nicely. You shouldn’t have much scarring.”
“Thanks, Doc, I guess I owe you.” Damien always promised remembrance, but as most people merely said it in passing, few realized that Damien St. Claire meant it. Gestures of consideration were far and few between in his world, and any offerings of good will were well noted and documented.
“You don’t owe me. I’d say you owe the poor sod who hit you. Bet he’s due a few sleepless nights. You also owe that uncle of yours. Private rooms are not given to most anarchists,” the old face wrinkled at the image.
“I don’t have an uncle,” Damien said, stifling a yawn. Wishing the chart was filled in and the doctor would just leave him alone. He wanted to sleep right now that’s about all he was able to think about.
“You’ll survive your injuries, me boy, but it’s the cold you’ve been ignoring that has my dander up. How long have you had the congestion in your chest?” The elderly doctor stood by his bed waiting for an answer.
“It comes and goes in the last week. I’ve been to the doctor. I’m just tired, that’s all.” Damien snuggled deeper into the pillow, surely the educated man could take a hint.
“I’ll be prescribing antibiotics for you to make sure your leg doesn’t get infected, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll finish them---to the very last one, laddie. Do you hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear,” Damien heard, ignored and decided to sleep, the usual modus operandi of Damien St. Claire.
Vincent Cade entered the hospital with the usual direct approach of a man used to being attended to. Demanding the location of the emergency room, he was quickly shown to the busy area.
Seeing an elderly doctor writing on a chart at the nurse’s station, he beelined it to the man in charge.
“Excuse me, but there was a young accident victim brought in here about an hour ago. Do you happen to know where he is and his condition?” Standing tall, elegantly dressed, he was quite impressive, but the stench of vomit made the doctor and the nurse at the station look him over from top to bottom, slightly wrinkling their noses.
“Yes, I would assume you are speaking of the young man with the queasy stomach. He expressed his feelings for hospitals the moment they brought him in here.” The old eyes still checked him out. “And who might you be?”
“I’m Vincent Cade. I’m listed as his next of kin,” Vincent told the half-truth with certainty, the best way to pass off lies. “I should be on his chart. His uncle.”
“Odd,” the doctor, smiled, perusing the chart, “I see your name listed here as his uncle, but the lad says he has no uncle. From the smell of you, I’d say you’ve had a run-in with the lad.” The doctor and nurse both chuckled now apparently pleased with the play on words.
“Harrod,” the man extended his hand.
Vincent shook it, smiling. “You’ve got me, I’m the driver who hit him.”
“Lad’s right lucky, by my guess. Not too many men would see it your way, seeing how he threw himself in front of your car, according to the ambulance drivers.”
Vin’s face paled. If the boy was lucky, he must surely be bad off.
“How bad is he, Doc?” Vin asked almost in a whisper, not wanting to hear the news.
The doctor laughed, “No, my boy, he’s fine. The bruises and cuts he sustained are not all that serious. Badly shaken up, a few lacerations, a major gash on his thigh, a badly sprained wrist, but all in all he’s a damn sight lucky lad. I mean the congestion. He’s apparently not one to follow orders. He has a bad virus that’s been going around and by not getting enough rest, staying warm instead of harassing businessmen, and no doubt ignoring his medication, he’s more at risk from that than his injuries.”
“May I see him?” Vin asked, a bit nervously. Still wanting visual confirmation that he had not killed the boy.
“Sure, come with me.” The doctor smiled at the nurse as he handed her the chart. “I want to keep him overnight but he should be released tomorrow. We’re busy and he doesn’t warrant hospital care except to watch for head injuries. I’d strongly recommend that this boy be taken home to bed and kept there for at a least a week.”
“Well, uncle,” the doctor chuckled as they reached the closed door, “I’ll leave you with your nephew.”
As he entered the room, the late afternoon sun fell upon the sleeping form. All that could be detected from the doorway was the soft blond hair, disarrayed. Crossing the room, Vin came around the bed to face the sleeping form cuddled deep within the folds of the pillow, hugging the warm blanket to his chin as though protecting himself from intrusion. Vincent Cade caught his breath as something pulled along his heart. He chalked it off to relief, the realization that the day could have ended differently, horrendously, had he not stopped the car soon enough.
Stirred out of his musings, he realized the hazel eyes were watching him. Fine golden lashes fluttered in a desperate attempt to stay awake.
“Hi, how are you feeling?” Vin asked gently.
“Tired. Just tired.” Not remembering in his drugged state where he had seen this man before, Day thought him a constable or doctor.
“When can I go home?”
“Not yet. You just need to rest a bit. What’s your name?”
“Demon San lair,” the words came out through uncooperative lips.
“Demon?” Vin asked, saying the first thing he thought he heard.
“DAY ME ON Saint Claire.” The name was said harshly, almost in disgust.
“Damien.” He let the name settle on his tongue like chocolate, melting into remembrance.
“When can I go?” The litany brought back memories of army hospitals and the constant chant, the desired dream of all wounded, to go home.
“Not until tomorrow. I’m going to make a few phone calls. I think you need looking after.”
Damien huddled deeper, not sure what he had just heard, but somehow content that all was being taken care of and he was somehow in trusting hands.
The road was dark and mostly deserted. Vincent Cade handled the car with the deft ease of a man long accustomed to night maneuvers. The radio was tuned to a classical music station, more for some sounds to fill the night air than for any great passion. The night was softly fashioned in gray patterns along the way, the cooperative moon bending low with a warm and clear glow.
Looking to his passenger, the seat of the Mercedes adjusted almost flat, blankets tucked up around him, the boy looked young and vulnerable. Cade sighed, released the tight grip he held on the wheel and allowed himself to relax back against the leather interior. It was touch and go, but with the help of his solicitor, Samuel Walther, his friend, Quentin Lyman, who also happened to be Chief Constable of Kensington, and Dr. Harrod’s own interest in the lad, and they were all able to pull off the threats and ultimatums.
The boy’s eyes had widened unbelievably upon hearing the sentence of deportation for his little stunt, plus Mr. Walther’s threats of a heavy-duty lawsuit claiming damages to the Mercedes front bumper had Damien near tears this morning. In his weakened condition, miserably uncomfortable, he was a soft touch for any threats made. No spirit remained in him, very little cocksure attitude. True, he had put up a good front in the beginning, but Vincent’s connections proved more than the boy could handle.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Damien had raged when the negotiations for leniency were brought up, Mr. Walther and Lyman standing by quietly gauging the strength of both opponents.
“I’ll bloody well take deportation with Evers and Busch than work off any damages. I have funds to pay for the damn car,” Damien mimicked the Brits who stood around him, showing his contempt for their laws.
“Look, boy, I’m offering you a place to rest and get better first. I’m not going to work you in your present condition. I’ve done some checking. You’ve been sharing a loft with those protestors, moving about looking for trouble. You had no business being out in the damp spring air with the virus you’ve contracted.” Vincent tried to show the young man reason before he used the strong-arm approach.
“Mr. Cade is right, Mr. St. Claire,” Chief Constable Quentin Lyman said. “We’ve had a nice long chat, me and your Mr. Grabowski. He’s putting the whole thing off on you as it is. Said you were the mind behind the whole protest. Said you were bragging about risking your life if called for.”
“Mr. Cade is offering you a very fair deal, here, my boy,” Mr. Walther added, “and I might add against my better counsel. Mr. Cade feels it’s a fair deal for you to mend at his estate and seeing how it is in disrepair, he can use some strong, young hands around to help get things in order. If Mr. Cade presses charges, you might find yourself in jail serving your sentence before deportation, as well as a hefty settlement due when you get out. You don’t seem to have many people willing to testify on your behalf right now, and if your living arrangements are any indication of your finances, you wouldn't be able to pay the fine anyway.”
Vincent watched as the hazel eyes moved from face to face. The pale skin, the haggard lines drawing downward, the flushed cheeks still fevered, the boy barely could add two and two in his present condition, let alone make choices. Vin felt a moment of guilt over the less then honest deal he was making, but his conscience would not allow him not to see that the boy was okay; but he also needed to get back to Salisbury. This was the only way he could do both, or so he reasoned with himself.
“Two weeks to mend or so, then one month of labor and we’ll call us even. Come on, Damien, I don’t really see you have much choice,” Vincent pressed, watching the eyes tire and flutter.
“Okay, damn you. Damn you all,” Damien said, surrendering just to get them off his back.
Mr. Walther walked forward quickly placing a document on a legal pad near Damien’s hand. “You’ll need to sign this agreement. Chief Constable Lyman will take it to the courts and once Mr. Cade signs off in one or two month’s time, the deportation papers will be negated. It will all be as if nothing happened.”
Damien let out a disbelieving grunt and signed quickly, feeling his stomach rise up on him again. Turning quickly away from Mr. Walther he found the silver tray pushed under his chin. Vomiting into it, he turned up red and grateful eyes to meet the brown ones of Vincent Cade.
Now as they traveled along, Day, exhausted from the last two days and the shot that Dr. Harrod had given him, slept soundly. A bag of medicine - antibiotics, Tylenol and cold medicine – was in the back, along with the boy’s suitcase. Grabowski had dropped the case off at the hospital that morning. The virus was a nasty one, according to the good doctor, and Day could very well be in for a long recovery. The foolish young man had let it go too long. Vincent’s own doctor in Salisbury made house calls and he made a mental note to have the young man re-examined in the morning.
As Vincent pulled the sleek car around the porte-cochere along the front entrance, the sleeping form next to him was softly snoring. The full lips parted, making puffing noises as though caught in some soft whispering game. The velvet lashes locked securely the hazel eyes; no admittance into the slumbering soul, the secrets of the dreamer. Vin sat for several moments watching the smooth features in almost quiet repose. Whatever fevered demons walked the halls of this mind, they were steadfast and familiar. He was surely a runner from his fears, for they had yet to catch up with him. Vin hoped he always could stay one step ahead. A man all too familiar with walking hand in hand with his nightmares, Vincent wished better luck for his companion.
Coming around the passenger side, he opened the door and bent over the figure, touching his shoulder. “Damien, come on. We’ll have you in a nice warm bed before you know it.”
The golden head jerked up. The eyes fluttered open, seeking the familiar. Catching and locking full force with the brown eyes bent low, recognition calmed his fears. Then seeing the warm light beyond the door, Damien realized they had arrived at their destination.
Phoning ahead, Mrs. Coltrane had prepared the front bedroom for his guest. Knowing that she had 4 sons of her own, her maternal instincts would, no doubt, be in full force. Vin hoped that some home cooked meals were awaiting him in the freezer and refrigerator. He sometimes hated the intrusion upon his privacy, but she was also a godsend by any single man’s standards. Most times she was there when he needed her, but quietly slipping away when her presence was obtrusive. Finding any woman in creation with such subtle instinct was amazing in Vincent Cade’s book. He did not look up this particular gift horse’s mouth.
Damien stood up shivering slightly against the small breeze that skipped along stonewalls of the porte-cochere. Vincent pulled the blankets from the car and wrapped them around the small, trembling figure.
“Isn’t there a cemetery you can just take me to,” Damien asked, half-jokingly. “I feel like I’m the living dead, might as well pick me out a spot.”
“You’re not dying, yet, young man. You have a debt to pay and I’ll be damned if I don’t see you pay it off,” Vin said, angered by the flippancy and attitude towards his health.
“Oh, yes, mustn’t forget my debt. You rich men are all alike. You’d pay for a man’s heart transplant only to work the poor guy to death in your fields,” Damien said with contempt as he leaned against the door jam, waiting for Vin to unlock it.
“I’m a man who believes in justice. I didn’t come looking for you. It was you and your daffy girlfriend who were playing in the street, little boy, so don’t get on any high horses with me.”
“She wasn’t my girlfriend. And we weren’t playing---we were protesting,” his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I don’t care really who she was and what you were supposedly doing. Your actions got you into this and around here, there are consequences to be paid for foolish actions, especially with me.”
Pushing the door in angrily, Vin passed an impatient hand inward, indicating for Damien to enter. But when the young man tilted suddenly forward, Vin reached out a strong arm and braced the figure. Vin watched the pathetic effort to right himself and proceed forward, only to veer once again into the doorjamb.
Grunting with complete displeasure, Vin bent slightly lifting the bundle in his arms.
“Put me down. I can walk on my own two feet,” Day yelled, frustrated by his own lack of strength.
“You can shut up and do as I say, I’m tired from a particularly unpleasant few days. I’d advise you to just keep your mouth shut and let me put you to bed,” and with that, Vin bumped the door wide, entered, and using his heel slammed it shut. Day flinched at the resounding sound of the slamming door in the huge house. It sounded too much like a jail cell on a particularly long sentence.
The large man walked briskly towards the main hall all too familiar with the layout. The wall sconces elegantly lit the hallway and staircase. Day relaxed his head against the strong shoulder and yielded for the night at least. There was always tomorrow according to Scarlet O’Hara, and Damien St. Claire was willing to fight a great many more battles.
The sunlight streamed through the windows in golden rods of dancing particles. Day watched in contented bliss. Grabowski had had them on a pretty tight schedule and the luxury of sleeping in, in a warm, clean bed, was one he wanted to savor as long as possible.
Stretching his aching limbs, he grimaced at the pain that hit every nook and cranny, every joint and muscle. He felt like an old house, badly in need of repair. The gash on his thigh was throbbing fiercely; his ribs shot dull fire with every breath he took. Trying to push himself up, the bandaged wrist hindered any pressure upon the sprained appendage. The only safe movement was a quick roll to his side, facing the door. The footfalls in the hall were approaching and Damien braced himself for Day One: Battle of Wills.
Watching the door slowly open, Day was caught for a moment wondering if he should feign sleep, but somehow his short experience with the man last night made it perfectly clear to him that games were not an agenda appreciated by his host. He opted for the simple, direct approach.
The large man entered, carrying a tray loaded with plates, dishes, and a juice carafe. Damien’s stomach flipped once at the smells of breakfast. He just couldn’t bear the thought of food.
“Good morning,” his host said. He was dressed in finely pressed gray slacks and a dark blue pullover.
“I trust you slept well. I checked on you during the night and you were dead to the world.”
He put the tray on a small table next to the bed and pulled up a chair that was off along the wall. Walking to the bed, he helped the younger man sit up, putting pillows behind his back against the headboard.
“I slept well. Thanks,” Day finally remembered his manners, “but I’m not hungry if that’s for me.”
“Well, the doc said you have to start eating and drinking. You’ll dehydrate in no time. Besides, it isn’t much. Just oatmeal, toast and orange juice.” Vin reached over and started uncovering the various dishes, collecting the silver servers by stacking them on the floor.
“I said, NO!” Day said, petulantly. “I feel like I’m going to throw up just at the smell.”
Vin rose quickly and went into the adjoining bathroom. Coming back moments later with a small plastic basket, he said, “Here, use this if you can’t make it to the bathroom. The doctor said you might have trouble keeping food down for the next couple of days, at least until that virus has run its course. You have some medicine to help settle your stomach.”
Vin put the plate of toast and juice glass on the table by the bed. Standing up he walked into the bathroom. Returning a moment later with several pill bottles and a glass of water. Sitting back down on the edge of the bed, he shook out the pills and offered them to Day. “Here, take your medication. Three times a day and you’ll be feeling better no doubt by tomorrow this time.”
Day started shaking his head, “No, I don’t want pills. I don’t believe in pills.”
“Well, I don’t believe in babysitting anarchists, but I’m doing it. So I think you can modify your moral convictions and meet me half way. Besides, you don’t really have any choice in the matter. Just remember, the longer it takes you to get well, the more time you’re here.” Then Vin stared at him with the cold, brown eyes that sometimes looked hollow and barren. They were now trained orbs, refusing to see too much anymore, a man with a past who kept rigid control over his heart.
Watching the icy conviction in the man’s eyes, Day wanted to shiver outwardly. He held himself in check. Battles could be fought for winning when the time was right, but digging a trench was just as good for now. He reached his good hand up and allowed the pills to be dropped into it. Plopping them into his mouth, he threw a belligerent look at his jailer. Rearranging the objects in his mouth subtly, he took the glass of water offered him. Throwing his head back, he downed the water and flopped back on the pillow dramatically.
“That’s a good lad. Hopefully, you’ll be up to lunch. Mrs. Coletrane left us some very nice chicken soup. Why don’t you try to get some more sleep. You’ll need to build your strength up.”
The man stood and tucked the covers up under Damien’s chin. The blond young man watched his host pick up the tray and leave. The door was quietly closed behind him. Damien reached into his mouth, pulled out the offending pills, and pushed them far up into his pillowcase. “Battle One is mine, old man,” Damien whispered to the quiet room and all he could wonder at was why he felt so sad.
Vin spent a good portion of the morning checking the house. He had been gone for almost a week, and he always liked to return home and spend time with the old Tudor. There were times he found it hard to believe it was truly his. He had saved enough money from his years in the service, and combining the consulting fees and the nice pension helped keep him comfortable.
The final stop was the old servant’s quarters. Overlooking the back garden when the doors were open, the huge room was filled with art supplies, easels, canvases, and paintbrushes. The tables were littered with palettes and cleaning supplies. Vin drew in a deep breath luxuriating in the smells of oil and turpentine. He loved painting. However, his landscapes didn’t seem to garner any interest among the art dealers he showed them to, so they remained a much-loved hobby.
Returning to the kitchen, he smiled to himself. The clean, sterling silver fixtures and expensive appliances welcomed him. He loved to cook and though not a particularly fussy eater, he did like experimenting, trying new dishes. It relaxed him when he needed a break from his painting. The state of the art appliances were also a wonderful incentive for Mrs. Coletrane to cook for him.
Taking a large container of chicken soup out of the refrigerator, he placed a stockpot on the stove and pouring the contents into the pot, he put it on a low flame. Filling a glass of orange juice he placed it on a tray on the counter. Setting a soup bowl on a plate, he lined crackers neatly around it, trying to make the tray as appealing as possible.
Stirring the soup, he looked out over the back lawn and across the rolling wild plains. Lost in thought, his mind turned towards the bright golden sunlight and he saw it in his mind’s eye reflecting off golden hair and hazel eyes. A strange ache filled his chest, as he turned back towards the soup and continued the stirring.
Damien heard his name from a distance; he had been running from Thaddeus Williams again. The recurring dream from his childhood days of taunting and abuse had haunted him for years. Now he heard a familiar voice in the distance calling to him. It was a strong, sure voice that offered him something, but he wasn’t sure what. He only knew he wanted to go towards it, find the promised safety that the deep intonations guaranteed.
“Damien, come on, boy. It’s lunch time.”
Day opened one eye and peeked at his nursemaid. “Not hungry,” he mumbled as his stomach once again lurched at the aroma of food.
“Nope, won’t buy it this time, Damien. I want to see some of this soup going into you or I’ll feed you myself.” Vin rose from the bed and gently grasped Day’s arm, pulling him up into a sitting position.
“NO! I’m tired. Just want to sleep,” Day mumbled trying to lie down again, adding a few miserable groans to warrant some sympathy.
None was forthcoming and a firm hand kept him upright as pillows were propped behind him. “Just a few spoonfuls, and some crackers to help settle the stomach. I’ve called Doctor Bailey, but he’s over in the next town and won’t be home until late this evening. He’ll come here tomorrow morning to have a look at you.”
"I don't want to see another doctor, I just want to be left alone,” he said quietly.
Ignoring the comment, Vin put the bed tray over his patient’s legs and rearranged the utensils and dishes for easy access. Day sat there slowly shaking his head, negating the futile attempts.
“I told you, I can’t hold anything down. I’ll just throw up if I put something into my mouth.”
“You keep talking like that, you will. Don’t think about it. Just concentrate on getting one mouthful down at a time,” Vin insisted, idly moving the spoon around in the bowl before slowly lifting it as an offering to his obstinate patient.
Vin shook his head as he watched the petulant lips open to receive the soup. The young man swallowed. Vin nodded his head approvingly and offered up a small saltine. Day reluctantly took it from Vin’s hand, took a small bite and chewed distastefully. It took almost half and hour before he consumed half the bowl of soup and two crackers, but finally, the young man turned his head to signal he had had enough.
Satisfied with the small accomplishment, Vin took the tray to the bureau. Taking the orange juice he handed to Day the brightly colored pills once again, waiting for the argument. There was none as Day took the pills, placed them in his mouth and took several sips from the glass.
Vin took the glass back to the tray, and Day quickly spit the pills into his hand this time tucking them under the mattress on the far side.
“Come on, I’ll help you to the bathroom.” Taking his patient slowly to the bathroom he was not pleased with the pallor of the skin, nor its clammy feeling. The boy was surely running a higher fever than this morning. The hospital doctor had told him to watch for signs of fever, which might indicate an infection starting in his leg or the virus getting worse.
Helping Day back into bed, tucking the covers up under his chin, he went into the bathroom and took the thermometer from the cabinet.
Shaking it down, he sat on the edge of the bed. “Here, put this under your tongue for a few minutes. I think you’re running a fever.”
“Go away,” the younger man muttered, sliding down in the bed, “leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry, but I want to check your temperature. Now, open your mouth and stop fussing.”
Giving Vin a dirty look, Day’s resolve not to fight crumbled as he snapped back, “I said, leave me. I’m sick and I feel like shit and you won’t get out of here!” With that order, he rolled on his side and burrowed his head underneath the pillow and blanket, trying to shut out the world.
Vin took a deep breath and said with deadly calm, "I know you are sick and I am going to ignore that outburst. But," he said, pausing, "if I hear that sort of language from you again, there will be consequences. Now, I am going to take your temperature. You have two choices; I can either use the thermometer right here or I can go get some Vaseline and use the generic 'family' one the hospital sent home with you."
When the form in the bed did not move, Vin said, "One." Pausing again, he continued, "Two." The form shifted deeper into the bed. Allowing him a double pause, Vin sighed softly, "Three."
Vin stood up and began walking toward the door.
Damien bolted up in bed and cried, "NO! Wait! I'm sorry, please."
Vin looked at him. "Damien, remember yesterday when I told you that around here there are consequences for your actions?"
Day nodded mutely.
"Well, you obviously didn't believe me. Now, I guess I am going to have to show you."
"No, you don't have to show me. I believe you, I promise. Please, give me one more chance."
Vin looked at the young man for a long time. "Okay, one more chance. You disobey me again, you give me a hard time about checking your temperature, taking your pills, resting or even eating and I will take the control completely out of your hands. You could take your medicine by suppository, have your temperature taken rectally, I'll even feed you. Do I make myself clear, young man? I’m not going to play games with you about your health," he said, leaving no room for argument or disobedience.
Day swallowed, thinking of the hidden pills and nodded.
Vin worked away the afternoon in his office. If he budgeted carefully, he might be able to go ahead and get a bid on the new heating system. Though everything worked properly for now, the building engineer had warned him that with winter approaching, the subject of a new furnace and ductwork should be addressed. Now only summer awaited him, but he wasn’t too sure he’d be able to handle more than one renovation this year. He’d best get the heating taken care of first.
Hearing a noise out in the hall, he paused to listen. There was nothing, only the usual afternoon sounds of chirping birds, rustling branches outside his window, and the settling sounds of all houses. Interrupted by the thought, his eyes raised to the ceiling as he contemplated his guest. Damien's temperature had been almost 102 and the boy was in a fitful sleep last time Vin had checked on him. What the hell was I thinking bringing the boy here? I should have just paid his damn hospital bill and been done with him. The insurance would have covered the damages and I doubt the boy would have been foolish enough to sue me for carelessness, not when I paid his medical bills.
The answers that moved along in his head were not adequate; and deep down inside, he knew they were not truthful. There was something about the hazel eyes, the golden hair, and the petulantly pouting mouth that affected him more than he wanted to admit. He didn’t even know anything about the boy, besides his name. Truth be known, he hated the cocky, self-righteous attitude of most young people today. He saw enough young lives lost in war due to acts of foolish bravado, but these young, college-educated brats merely allowed pretense and unenlightened, sophomoric doctrine to lead them towards their causes.
A loud crash, Vin rose swiftly as he braced to meet an intruder. Looking first at the windows as he hurried into the large living room, he expected to see one of them broken. Instead, standing next to the fireplace, sadly looking down at a smashed figurine stood his patient. Wrapped in a blanket, he hugged it around himself. Seeing Vin, the hard look he wore for battle, Day took an involuntary step backwards.
“I’m sorry, I was bored. I just wanted to see the house.” Then looking down at the broken crystal cat that at one time looked out with green eyes he cleared his throat. He felt like he was about to cry over a damn knick-knack.
Vin swore under his breath, hating the lost look, the flushed cheeks, the pathetically small figure wrapped in a blanket, bandaged and wounded and so unsure of himself---crying over a damn, crystal cat.
Thinking the anger was directed at him, Damien saw the large man move purposefully towards him. Stepping back, eager to get out of the way of the twister heading his way, he walked into a large, leather, winged-back chair. Falling hard on his backside, he jarred his thigh, expelling a curse of his own.
Sitting there he watched in bewilderment as the master of the house stooped and collected the small crystal fragments in his hand. “You’ll cut your feet. Just sit there. I told you to stay in bed. This house is still too drafty to be walking around barefoot.”
The man was sending him mixed signals here. He was angry, yet at the same time concerned only for Day’s well being. Who are you? Damien thought, And what have you done with Mr. Tight Ass?
Vin left the room. Day sat there looking about the large room. The fireplace was lit and most of the late afternoon chill was diminished considerably. The English countryside was still cold and bitterly chilly when it rained despite the early presence of spring. The room was tastefully appointed with large, leather-winged back chairs in hunter green. A large rug covered this half of the room in front of the fireplace, manly colors of black, red, tan and brown. The paintings were all landscapes, incredibly soft textured, as though the artist were stroking each leaf, branch and sloping hill. The guy surely had money, big bucks, by Day’s guess.
A leather couch faced the fireplace and a similar chair was stationed at the other end of the long mantel. The opposite side of the room held small clusters of chairs in groupings apparently welcoming friends for games around the small tables, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit. Nah, Day thought, probably war games, strategy games for conquering worlds and taking no prisoners. This guy doesn’t look like the kind who does parlor games.
Remembering his own youth, playing games with his parents, brought a soft ache to his heart. He brushed it away with a hard and cold thought, Don’t go getting soft here, Dayboy, that’s all you need to do around here, drop your guard and this guy will eat you for breakfast. Yet, the brown eyes, the hard chest, the strength of the man, he couldn’t help feel something that at this moment he was hard pressed to admit to himself.
Vin returned with a tray. Two steaming cups of hot cocoa, with whipped cream, sat beside a small plate of cookies. “British have tea time, but I hate tea. I remember in my army days when I would wake up early sometimes, the cook would make me a hot cup of cocoa in those thick white mugs that you rarely see anymore. Used to take it out on the range and watch the sunrise, warming my hands around the heat.” Vin set the tray down on the coffee table before the hearth.
Reaching over, he handed a mug to Day. At first he hesitated, thinking of refusing, but the cocoa looked welcoming and even his queasy stomach seemed to need something right now. Letting the blanket fall from his grasp he took the mug gratefully and immediately took a sip. It tasted divine. His stomach clenched once, but seemed to find the treat acceptable. Slumping his shoulders back against the comfortable, butternut leather, he nursed the mug between both hands and watched his host.
“How are you holding up?” Vin asked holding his own cup, sipping and watching, careful of the moment.
“So far so good. I guess the walk did me a world of good.” Day just had to add a touch of sarcasm, grabbing the bronze ring he felt he earned.
“Well, don't expect another one today. I know I will have your cooperation here. The doctor said you were to get plenty of bed rest and I intend to see that you do. After you’re done, it’s back to bed and I’ll expect you to stay there this time.” Vin looked at him, the unspoken promise made earlier hanging in the air.
“I got lonely and bored and tired of being cooped up. I don’t do sick well. Besides, I’ve got a cold, not a terminal illness.”
“You’ve a virus that’s been far too long in your system. Plus a battered body that’s putting added stress on your whole system. You’ll get bed rest the first week, take your medication and then when you’re well enough we’ll discuss your chores around this place.”
Vin watched as the hazel eyes lowered to the dark liquid, the golden hair falling down on his brow, making him look about ten years old. A quick sip of the cocoa, the pink tongue snatched outward the remaining sweetness, savoring it, pulling it back in between the full, pouting lips. Shaking himself to reality, Vin was shocked by his thoughts. What the hell is wrong with me? Damn boy’s distracting, that’s all.
“I’m sorry about the cat,” Day broke the veil, pulling him back behind the curtain of reality. “I just like cats. I had one once, a small tabby, named Perkins. I loved that cat.” Clouds of memory can be soft and unexpected, they can be charming in their shapes and lightness, but the sadness that overcast the hazel eyes held little sweetness in the memories. There was pain and regret and a lost love.
Vin wanted to banish the pain, take the young man up into his arms and return some joy to him. The thought, the hunger and desire to ease this man’s pain scared him. Rising quickly he plopped his mug down on the tray. Placing both hands on his hips, he spoke harshly, “All right, you've been up long enough now. Back to bed with you. Come on, I’ll help you.”
Day looked surprised by the change in temperature and for a quick moment he even glanced at the fire to see if it had perhaps gone out. Whatever winds blew this man about, Day did not want to be caught in the storm. He gave up his mug and allowed himself to be walked back to his room and tucked into bed.
By evening, Day’s fever was spiking. The sheets were damp with sweat and the boy had vomited several times into the plastic receptacle. Vin found himself worn out from running up and down the stairs. Not trusting his patient too long alone by himself, he kept a constant vigil at his bedside.
By midnight the fever had broken, at least temporarily. Vin headed to his room and came back with a big, white, fluffy robe. Sitting Damien up, he peeled off the white T-shirt and boxers. Pulling the small figure up, he wrapped the robe around him, putting his arms carefully through the sleeves. Securing the belt around his waist, he helped the weak figure walk across the room to the chair sitting in front of the fireplace.
Tucking blankets around the exhausted man, he turned his attention to the bed. Getting out a clean set of sheets from the hall closet, he stripped the bed hurriedly. In doing so, he thought he heard something fall on the hardwood floors. Shaking the pillowcase loose, several small objects rolled out onto the mattress cover. Vin’s face hardened into a tight mask as realization hit him.
Checking the floor he picked up all the small capsules and colored pills. Everything he had given the young man since bringing him home was accounted for. Not one pill had been consumed. Vin started a slow count, concentrating on finishing the task at hand.
The object of his fury curled up in a nest of blankets and pillows. The hazel eyes closed, unaware that his ruse was up. He awoke slowly as Vin gently shook him and helped him back to his bed. His eyes widened at the new sheets, the possibility of discovery clear in his mind.
After sitting him down on the bed, but not tucking him under the blankets, Vin sat down next to him. “I guess you’re pretty clever. At least you must think so. Isn’t that right?” Vin asked in a particularly soft and gentle voice.
“I told you I didn’t want any pills. Besides, I can’t keep anything down anyway,” Day said knowing immediately what the man was referring to, “you would have had more mess to clean up.”
“Oh, is that right? You did it all with me in mind. I wish I were as thoughtful,” Vin said.
“But I’m not and I don’t like being tricked.” Rising quickly, he hauled the smaller man up by his shoulders, almost completely out of the bed. Sitting back down he pulled the robed figure face down across his knees, sitting far enough back to have the upper torso comfortably supported on the bed, the legs partially hanging out, already kicking in protest. Vin wrapped his legs around Day’s being careful of the injured leg, securing both appendages in place.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Day screamed, infuriated, despite his weakened condition.
“I’m ill. You’re hurting me.” Day began, trying every plea his tired brain could come up with to no avail.
“Not,” Vin said, gritting his teeth, “but I am going to spank you and it will hurt.” He placed a large hand on the boy's back, holding him securely over his lap and onto the bed.
Lifting the robe high he exposed the small, perfectly shaped mounds. Checking himself mentally, remembering that the boy was sick, he cautioned the strong arm that came down hard. A resounding swat echoed in the large bedroom, followed by an equally loud wail.
“When I give you pills to take, when the doctor prescribes medication, you damn well will take it. I’ll not allow such foolish games with your health under my roof.” Three strikes were delivered in a steady and forceful rhythm to the center of the boy's exposed bottom. Evening out the attention Vin delivered two more swats to the boy's upper thighs. Crying, Day could only kick his legs in disapproval. Even those protests soon weakened, as all his effort was consumed in huge tears and sobs.
Wanting to simply impress upon him what disobedience would result in, the spanking was very short. Vin lifted him onto his knee and positioned the robe around him. Day winced and groaned as his bottom touched the hard thighs. Embarrassed, confused, hurt and still miserably ill, Day buried his head against the wide chest, sobbing. He was seeking comfort in the only place offered him.
"You hurt me," he sobbed out.
"Yes, but your actions and lack of caring about your health hurt me," Vin said calmly.
Vin wrapped his strong arms around the sobbing boy. “How old are you?” he asked gently, stroking the golden head.
“Twenty-two,” Day mumbled against his shoulder.
“A mere babe, like I suspected,” Vin said. The only answer was the sharper shaking of the head against his sweater.
“Yes, a babe. You’ve a lot to learn about life, little boy. I just hope you don’t put it off too long.” This statement merely brought fresh tears and as Vin slowly rocked the small figure, he felt him relax against him. Rising slowly, Vin pulled the covers back and helped arrange the semi-conscious boy on the crisp clean sheets.
He filled another glass of water and brought out some more pills. Handing them to Day, he merely had to make eye contact for the young man to eagerly grab the pills, place them on his tongue and wash them down.
“Let me get you out of that robe, you’ll be more comfortable.” Damien cooperated as best he could, his face reddened, his eyes swollen, barely open from the strain of crying. Vin walked over to the bureau and pulling out pajama tops he helped the blond young man put it on. Day scooted beneath the covers, wincing as his sore bottom made contact with the mattress. Before Vin could turn around and hang up the fluffy, white robe, Day was sound asleep.
Shaking his head, he walked down the hall into his own bedroom. Standing in the shower, eyes closed as hot water pounded against him, washing the sweat and weariness from his body, his mind drifted down the hall to the young man. Damien's lack of concern about his own health bothered him. That coupled with the fact that he had not asked to call any friends or family and let them know where he was staying was puzzling. Promising himself to find out more about his houseguest in the morning, Vin stepped out of the shower and back into his bedroom.
Wearing only boxers and a robe, used to the chill night air, he quietly went back to the guestroom to check on the younger man one last time. He had left the door open to hear any signs of distress, and thus was able to slip in and not disturb the sleeping figure. Damien was curled up on his side, his back to the door. He had kicked the blankets off and they were pooled on the floor. Walking in, Vin went over and picked up the fallen blankets. Sighing, he spread them back over the sleeping form. Day stirred as the weight settled on him.
Opening red eyes, he mumbled, "Thanks."
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Vin couldn't help but brush the hair off of the sweaty forehead, "You're still running a fever."
"I'm sorry….not worth the trouble, never have been.”
"No, don't be sorry. It's not your fault you got sick. It is your fault that you are still sick, but I'll take care of that. As far as trouble goes, I’ve had my share and I can deal with it, but you’d do well not to judge yourself so harshly. I’ve a low tolerance for that. Now," Vin said, stroking the head again, "close your eyes and go to sleep."
"I can't. My stomach is upset and my head hurts."
Sighing softly, the older man said, "Here, roll over and I'll rub your back for you. That'll help you relax. Just lie still and close your eyes."
The boy did and was soon asleep under the gentle hands of his caretaker.
When Vin awoke, he stretched himself out to his full six-feet-four inch form. He couldn’t remember sleeping so soundly, so contentedly in ages. Well-rested, he greeted the dawn in harmony. When there were no struggles with the night, one did not rage against the dawn; one melted into it with the rising credence of a good day to come.
The dawning awareness of where he was came upon him slowly as he felt a presence beside him. The boy had awakened both times when Vin had tried to leave last night before he had simply given up and lain down next to him. Looking down a form snuggled beneath his outstretched arm. Golden hair tickled his chest as the figure pulled into him, knees raised, locking himself into a tight ball. Slowly easing himself from the restricted position, he covered the boy up. Watching the figure move slightly into the remaining warmth his body had moments ago left. A sigh escaped the parted lips, and contentment creased the ridges of the boy’s brow as he gave himself up further to the remnants of night. Vin touched the boy’s forehead, pleased to see that it felt only slightly warm.
Vin showered and shaved. Dressing quickly, he checked his patient one more time before heading downstairs, satisfied that the fever was down for right now.
Whistling to himself, he prepared a light, easy-on-the-stomach breakfast. Scrambled eggs, toasted English muffins, orange marmalade. He felt good this morning, unbelievably good as he sat down with the morning paper and ate his breakfast.
Taking another tray upstairs, he caught himself singing on the landing. Vincent Cade, what has gotten into you? he admonished himself.
Vin set the tray on a small round table near the window overlooking the front drive. Pulling two chairs in he walked over to the bed.
“Damien!” he called. The figure slowly stretched himself out, yawning wide. Vin laughed. “Come on, let’s rise and shine.”
A low moan came from beneath the covers, as Day pulled the blanket over his head. Vin reached down and pulling the covers off completely he urged the young man into the morning. “None of that. Come on, let’s get you to the bathroom.”
This time the figure cooperated, lost in the folds of the over-sized pajama tops, Day looked fragile and small. Assisted by Vin’s strong arms, he was able to relieve himself and wash up. Vin directed the proceedings from the sidelines and was there the moment he swayed, wrapping his arms around him.
When he was situated back in bed, Day wrinkled his nose as Vin took the covers off the tray full of food on the nightstand.
“I don’t expect you to eat it all, but at least an effort, that’s all I’m asking,” Vin said, placing the tray table across Damien’s legs.
Surprisingly, Day attacked the eggs with some relish and took a few bites of a plain English muffin. The food seemed to bring some color back into the pale features.
“How did you get mixed up with a gang of protestors?” Vin asked as he splattered a thick layer of the orange preserve on one of the muffins for himself.
“What do you mean ‘get mixed up with?’ I believe in what they’re fighting for,” Day said, not liking the implications of being a mere tag along.
“Sorry, but I somehow got the feeling that the girl pushed you in front of my car. Some things I’ve been remembering. You just didn’t seem all that passionate and involved when I spotted you the first time.” Vin took a big bite of his muffin and slowly chewed. Leaning back in his chair, he eyed his breakfast companion.
“Am I right?”
“NO!” Day said angrily. “Of course you’re not.”
“Okay, then I’m not right,” Vin easily accepted his ignorance and moved on. “Where are your folks? They know you’re running around the world causing trouble?”
Day paused for a split second before saying, "Yes, and they fully support me and this cause. They believe in standing up for what's important."
"Do you have any brothers and sisters?" Vin asked, probing ever so slighting into this younger man's make up.
"I have a brother, and we are extremely close. He's an accountant. No aunts or cousins and definitely NO uncles," he finished, stressing that last part.
"No, I guess you don't," Vin said with a smile, conceding the point to him with good humor.
"But I’ve got a rich man with connections who apparently knows a good, easy deal at getting himself cheap labor. And I’ve got a jailer for the next month or so,” Day said, putting down his fork, finished with his breakfast and the morning chitchat.
Vin sighed, regretting the passing of camaraderie and ‘getting to know you routine.’
“And I’ve got a dented bumper, cracked windshield, loads of laundry and a truculent house guest. Seems we’re about even.”
After breakfast, Damien returned to bed and was tucked in with a book. Once again wearied by the efforts of communication, he was soon asleep.
Vin had just reached the house after walking down the front drive to retrieve his mail from the box that had built up since his absence. Flipping through the junk mail and sorting out the things that needed attention paid to them, he was suddenly aware of a car pulling into the drive behind him. Turning around, he saw Peter Bailey, his doctor slowing down next to him.
"Morning, Peter,” Vin called out as the car shut off and the driver's door opened.
"Good morning, Mr. Cade. Doctor Peter M. Bailey at your service," the young man said in a joking manner, bowing slightly.
"Oh, I’m sorry, there must be some mistake. I thought I was calling Doctor Peter E. Bailey. I don't want some second rate doctor around here," Vin teased, laughing at his old friend.
"Bastard." Bailey went along with the joke.
"So," he began as he followed Vin into the house, "Aggie tells me that you've picked up some street urchin who threw himself in front of your car?"
"Well, not exactly. Here, come into the living room and we'll talk."
Sitting down in the two chairs near the fireplace, Vin told the short story of how Damien had come to stay with him.
"Last night, his fever must have been extremely high, he was burning up. I was changing the bed because his sheets were wet with sweat and I found the pills I had been giving him all day. He is supposed to get some antibiotics every four hours, Tylenol every four to six and then he has something else to calm his stomach so he doesn't throw up."
Peter nodded again, "Well, if he skipped his medication that would certainly account for why he was so sick last night. He might be getting an infection in his leg; I'll check it out carefully. How has he been this morning?"
"He ate some eggs and kept them down, as far as I know."
"What was his temperature this morning?"
Vin glanced down, and then back at his friend. "I don't know, I didn't take it. It didn't seem to be high."
"Why didn't you check it? That's something you need to do every four hours or so, you need to keep an eye on it," the other man chided gently.
"I know, I know.
I just didn't want to get into a fight with him or go back on my word. I've sort of boxed myself into a
Peter looked at him
puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I told him yesterday afternoon that if he didn't take his pills and let me check his temperature, I would not give him a choice in the matter. I would have you prescribe suppository form medicine and take his temperature with a rectal thermometer if necessary," Vin finished, slightly embarrassed.
Peter smiled, "Well, unfortunately, you are probably right. The boy needs his medication and if you can't trust him to take it or if he might not keep it down, then that’s really the best route to go. It’s either that or through injections and I don't think you want to be dealing with shots. Plus, if his stomach is as unstable as you say, then oral meds are not ideal anyway. As for taking his temp orally, you are not supposed to eat or drink anything for an hour beforehand and if he is not eating or drinking…?" Peter trailed off, looking for confirmation.
"Then he needs to be encouraged to eat and drink all the time and not worry about having to check his temperature in 15 minutes after he drinks a glass of cold juice."
I just didn't want to get into a fight with him. We've sort of reached some sort of truce right now and I didn't want him upset."
"Well, " Peter said standing up, "I'll break it to him and this way it will seem like it came from me and you don't have any choice. Might make it a little easier on the both of you. Now, let's go see your patient."
The two men walked up the main stairs and then down the hall to the guest bedroom. Knocking softly one time, Vin opened the door slowly.
Damien lay on his stomach, arm hanging off the bed. The room smelled of vomit and there were small traces of dried remains around the boy's mouth.
"Damn, he seemed to be doing better this morning," Vin said stepping into the room.
Going over to the bed and sitting down, Vin gently shook the sleeping figure as Peter picked up the waste container and carried it into the bathroom. He came back a few minutes later with the cleaned container and a wet washcloth.
Damien was awake and sitting up, supported by Vin. His face was flushed and his eyes were bright.
Sitting on the other side, Peter turned the face toward him and cleaned it off. Holding out a glass of water for the boy to rinse his mouth in and then the container to spit in, he said in his no-nonsense, official voice, "See what happens, young man, when you don't take your medicine like you are supposed to?"
Damien blinked at the tone of the voice and leaned closer to Vin.
"Damien, this is Dr. Bailey. He's a good friend of mine and is going to check you over."
"No," said a slightly hoarse voice, "I'm fine. I just want to be left alone."
Vin's voice hardened slightly, "Little boy, that's not going to happen. I can stay in here with you while he examines you or I can leave, your choice, but you are sick," he said, emphasizing the word, "and I refuse to allow you to continue to get worse."
When Damien didn't say anything else, Peter got up and walked to the small table by the window and placed his bag on it. "Okay, Damien, why don't we get started and get this over with as soon as possible so you can get some more sleep."
Vin looked at the younger man, "Day, do you want me to stay with you?" he asked gently.
Across the room Peter had to smile at the tenderness and concern his friend was showing towards this boy. Mark was going to get a kick out of this---Vincent Cade falling in love. He heard a small voice say "stay" quietly and he knew the feelings were shared, at least to some degree. Getting his stethoscope out of his bag and warming it in his hand as he brought it over to the bed, he sat down. Vin was sitting against the headboard and Day was leaning against him.
Peter was quick, but efficient and gentle as he checked Damien’s breathing and throat for signs of infection.
“All right, Damien, I want you to scoot down and lie on your good side. I want to check your leg for infection and I want to take your temperature."
Damien, who had been half asleep up until then opened his eyes, "Why do I have to lay down for you to take my temperature?" He looked suspiciously back and forth between Peter and Vin.
"Because, young man," the doctor said calmly, reaching into his bag and taking out a thermometer and lubricant, "you are half asleep now which makes taking your temperature orally not advisable. You have also been throwing up which alters the temperature in your mouth and none of these conditions look to be changing in the next couple of days and until they do it is better to take your temperature rectally. Now, be good and roll over on your side. It won't hurt and it will be over in a few minutes."
Damien shook his head, "No!" His face was set in a mask of determination.
Vin sighed and looked down at the younger man, "Damien,” he said, his voice quiet but leaving little doubt that his patience was non-existent.
Tears pooled in the hazel eyes as they looked at both men. Inching his way down the bed, Damien rolled over and burrowed his head in one of the pillows.
Vin reached over and began to gently stroke his hair.
Quickly, Peter sat on the bed, lowered the young man's boxers and inserted the thermometer.
Feeling the tensing of muscle, Vin began to stroke the exposed arm as he murmured softly words of reassurance.
Removing the thermometer a few minutes later, Peter frowned.
"What's his temperature?” Vin asked.
"Almost 104. I think he definitely has an infection starting."
After washing his hands, he returned to the bedroom. "Okay, Damien, I'm just going to check your leg.”
Vin smiled down at the form curled up next to him. "He’s asleep."
A quick and careful examination indicated the cut was indeed showing signs of infection. A hot, red ring was weeping near the stitches. Peter cleaned the area with antiseptic and wrapped a light gauze bandage around the wound.
After packing his things back into his bag, Peter motioned for Vin to follow him out into the hall.
"Well, the boy is getting an infection in his leg,” Bailey said once they were settled back in the living room. "I am prescribing some stronger antibiotics, Tylenol and Tigan which will settle his stomach. Since he has had a problem in the past with taking pills, I'm going to give you three days worth of the antibiotics and the Tylenol in suppository form. The Tigan is best in that form anyway, so I am going to give you a week’s worth. Give him the Tigan for two straight days and then see how his stomach is. The dosages and other instructions will be on the bottle. If he is still not up to taking oral medicine in three days, let me know and I'll extend the prescription. I want him on the antibiotics for the full two weeks. Got that? I don't care if he seems all better…"
His lecture was cut short by a wave from Vincent, "Yes, Doctor, I know."
"Good, old man, just making sure."
"I know and I appreciate your concern, and thanks for stopping by on a Saturday. I’ll bet Mark is none-too-happy about you working on a weekend."
The young doctor smiled. "He’s not too thrilled, but since it's you and I swore that I would not be making it a habit, he’s okay with it. But,” he paused looking at his watch, “I will be in trouble with him if I don’t get home soon. I’ve been a good boy these last couple of weeks and am not looking for trouble.” He winked at Vin and laughed.
"Keep it that way. I will have to have the two of you over for dinner as soon as my houseguest is feeling better, maybe in a week."
"That would be great." Getting up to leave, Peter said, 'I'll give you a call on Monday, check on everything and then stop back by on Wednesday. The boy should be feeling much better by then."
As the two men walked back outside to the car, Vin shook his friend's hand, "Thanks again for your help." Glancing at the closed window of the guest room, one story above them, he said, 'I don't know, the poor kid just seems so lost sometimes and I admit I’m concerned about him." A small smile graced his lips, as he thought of the sleeping form upstairs.
"Not a problem. Take care." With a final wave, Peter got in his car and drove off, thinking to himself, "Oh yes, definitely in love."
Later that afternoon, Vin knocked softly as he opened the door to the guestroom.
Damien was lying on his stomach, asleep. The sheet pooled around his waist, the blanket kicked off.
Frowning, Vin walked over, shaking his head. It was cool outside and even with the heat in the house going, there was a chill in the air. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, he hesitated. Walking back to the bed, he sat down. The boy was lying in the middle, sprawled out, oblivious to what was going on around him. The flushed face indicated the boy’s fever was up again. He gently shook the sleeping figure. "Damien… wake up a minute for me."
A deep intake of breath and then a yawn as the droopy lids opened, revealing shadows pooling beneath the hazel eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing’s wrong, it's time to take your temperature and give you your medicine. How do you feel?" he asked briskly, the gentleness and concern replaced by the veil of sternness, ready to take on any objections.
"Horrible," the voice said, still heavy with sleep. "I am achy and my stomach is bothering me; feels sort of queasy."
"Well, it's a good thing then that you're not taking your medicine by mouth, isn't it?"
Damien didn't answer. He groaned and closed his eyes, willing his stomach, head, and whole body to stop hurting.
"All right, let's get this over with. We have some medicine if you need it for your stomach; you have to eat in a few hours."
"I'm not hungry."
Deciding it was not worth a fight right now, Vin vowed to himself to broach the subject again at dinnertime. Opening the nightstand drawer, he removed a small jar of Vaseline, a thermometer and a box of tissues. Quickly lubing up the tip of the thermometer, he laid it across the jar's lid. Turning to the prone figure, Vin tugged his boxers down to his knees.
Damien wiggled slightly in the cool air, but didn't react otherwise. His eyes were closed and he seemed to be falling back asleep.
Picking up the thermometer with one hand, while the other parted the younger man's cheeks, Vin slowly slid the thermometer several inches into his rectum. Allowing the cheeks to come back together, he patted the bare butt, saying softly to Damien, "Good boy, now just relax and stay still for a few minutes." He looked at the clock. As he waited for the necessary 4 minutes to pass, he lubed the tips of the two suppositories and straightened the nightstand of the clutter of books and magazines that had accumulated.
Taking out the thermometer, he read the temperature and frowned in concern, 103.2. The boy was still spiking high temperatures and it was beginning to concern him. Deciding to check it again more often, if it was still high tomorrow, he would call Peter to come back out.
"Do I have a fever?" a voice asked.
"I thought you were asleep."
"I’m miserable. Do you understand miserable? I feel like someone wrung my stomach out and left it all twisty." The observation came out as a pitiful whine, the voice taut with weariness and discomfort.
"Well, I'm sure the Tylenol and antibiotics will help,” Vin said, refusing to be swayed by the confusing emotions going through him. Parting the cheeks again, he quickly and efficiently slid the two suppositories far inside of the young man.
Day groaned and tried to tense his muscles against the unwelcome intrusion of the objects and finger buried deep inside of him.
Withdrawing quickly, Vin wiped his finger on the tissue and pulled the boy’s boxer’s back up. "Stay still and I'll be right back.” Gathering the thermometer, he went into the connecting bathroom and washed his hands and the instrument with warm, soapy water. Adding a final wipe down with alcohol, he put the thermometer back in its case, ready to be used again in a few hours. Walking back into the bedroom, he paused.
Damien was lying there, head buried in the pillow, and Vin could tell he was crying softly, trying to hide it.
Steeling himself, he walked over. Giving Day’s back a quick pat, he said gruffly, "Get some sleep. I'll be back in a few hours to check your temperature again and give you some dinner. If your stomach is still bothering you, let me know and I'll give you some medicine to calm it down. You have to eat something." Picking up the blankets, he straightened the sheet and drew the blankets over the still form with no more outward emotion than if he were making a bed.
As he walked out of the room and closed the door, he heard the boy let loose with a half sob before catching himself again.
Leaning against the hall wall, just outside the closed bedroom door, he was assaulted with memories of another crying boy. Closing his eyes, he let the emotions and the memories of that day fill him.
1972 - Vietnam:
Captain Vincent Cade looked again at Private Mitchell Stepsen. The boy's silent stillness was bothering him. Sighing, he rubbed a dirty hand across his face and looked again at the treetops as they skimmed by underneath their helicopter. He was tired, down right exhausted, yet his mind would not stop replaying the last three, terrible days, the gunshots, the screams of his men, the smell of flesh burning. He willed himself not to look back in the hold at the two body bags, nor contemplate the four missing men from his unit. Offering a prayer to a God he found himself having a difficult time believing in more and more, he forced himself not to think of his men---his responsibility---lying out there in the jungle, unburied, unclaimed, dishonored---forgotten and abandoned.
Tearing his thoughts away from those he had failed, knowing there would be time later to come to terms with that, he forced himself to pay attention to this one remaining man, his responsibility---vowing not to fail again.
Unbuckling his seatbelt, he drew a concerned look from the medic riding in the back. Suicides sometimes happened among men returning from a failed mission. Nodding his head towards Stepsen, he cautiously walked across the small distance, balancing himself with years of experience. Positioning himself close to his one remaining responsibility, he buckled up, allowing his presence alone to give comfort.
The MASH camp was the first stop on a series of junkets back to their home base. As Cade left to give an initial report to his commander, Stepsen was taken off in a daze towards the hospital tent. He looked lost when the orderlies supporting him moved away from Cade. Placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder, Cade gave him strength, "I'll be there in a few to check on you. Behave and let the docs check you over and I'll buy you a beer when we get out of here."
The boy gave him a small smile, apparently more reassured by the simple promise of a life he remembered beyond the shellfire and napalm.
His debriefing took over an hour and he was relieved to be released. Walking quickly out of the office, he hurried to the small hospital to find his man. Glancing around at the mostly empty ward, he did not see the boy anywhere.
"Captain Cade?" a voice behind him asked.
Turning he locked eyes with a young doctor. "Yes, I'm Cade. One of my men, a Private Stepsen, came in with me on the bird about an hour ago. Where is he, Lieutenant?"
"I checked him out, cleaned him up a bit and put him in a private tent. He seems to be in shock some, so I've got a nurse sitting with him, but he would not relax in the ward. Too open I think. Plus, I think some privacy would be good for him."
Cade nodded, "If you'll just point me in the right direction, I'm sure I can find him. It’s been a rough couple of days and I want to make sure he's all right."
"Sure, as soon as I check you out. Your man had numerous cuts and abrasions and I'm sure you do, too. As you know, in this God-forsaken country, the smallest cut can lead to infection quickly. They've got some nasty bugs running around these jungles."
"Let me check him out and I'll be back soon, you have my word."
"Nope, sorry. I've got my orders, and," the doctor paused, his tone turning serious, "you know when it comes to medical decisions, rank has nothing to do with who's in charge."
Knowing he had no choice, Cade allowed himself to be led back into an examination room. Quickly stripping down to his shorts, he lay down on the table and allowed the doctor to check him out.
A careful examination and Cade’s cuts and scratches were attended to. Bed rest was prescribed with no argument allowed. A shot was administered, some oral medication doled out, and a nurse assisted Cade out of the unit.
"I'm going to put you in the same tent as Stepsen and I'll come by and check on you both every hour, take your vitals and make sure you're okay. The doctor wants you both confined to the tent until your next check up,” the nurse explained as she wheeled him toward a small isolation tent at the back of the hospital area.
“I hope you rest as you have been ordered, Captain,” the nurse said, eyeing him skeptically. “I won’t hesitate to report you to the doctor if I don’t think you are obeying his orders.”
"No, this is fine. Stepsen is my responsibility and I need to watch out for him. I won’t rest if I’m anywhere else," Cade said in a voice tinged with weariness and sadness.
Stepping into the tent, he noticed Stepsen was sleeping soundly on his side, facing the wall, blocking out the outside world in a huddled position of defense. Stripping quickly out of the robe, he put on the hospital pajamas that were on the bed. Climbing beneath the clean sheets, he nodded to the nurse that he was fine. She smiled down at him, and as if sensing his fragile hold on self-control for this one remaining man, said, “He’s fine, Captain. A little shook up, but he’ll be fine.” He smiled at her, comforted by her words. Finally, after hours of guarding and watching, he succumbed to exhaustion and eased himself into oblivion.
Several times in the foggy haze of sleep, he heard the nurse enter, felt his pulse taken, a cool thermometer slid into him; a shot administered; his own physical weariness making the assault seem unimportant, unreal.
It was the quiet sobs that brought him fully awake, the desperation of the cries, stifled and hushed. Rising he saw Stepsen curled into a tight ball, his arms covering his head burrowed into a pillow, desperate to stay quiet.
Getting out of bed, surprised at how tired and shaky he was, Cade slowly made his way to the other bed. Sitting down, he ran a comforting hand down the younger man's back.
"Mitch," he said gently, using the man's first name in friendship and comfort. "It's okay. Let it out, don't be ashamed."
The sobs were choked off and the young man turned to face his commanding officer. "I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't help it. I didn't mean to wake you." Tears flowed from his eyes and his body shook with terrors Cade understood.
"Nonsense, boy, I'm not angry. We've been through a lot. What you are feeling is completely normal. I would be more concerned if you weren't upset."
The private nodded eagerly, wanting the reassurance, "I was so afraid and they’re gone---they're all gone except me and I barely have a scratch on me and they're gone! Dead!" His voice rose in anguish. Cade knew about guilt, but it was not for these shoulders, not for his charge. The guilt was his and his alone.
Sitting back against one of the support bars of the tent, Cade pulled the younger man against his chest. The sobs started again, this time freely and unhindered, a cleansing of his soul. Vincent Cade, the strong father figure to young, scared boys not that much younger than himself, now concentrated all his efforts on this one young soul. Strength ebbed from him as he thought of the guilt and failings that this mission would long implant upon his memory. For now, though, he needed a steel resolve to see this one remaining private back from this mission.
Cade was not sure how long they sat there. At times, Stepsen spoke of how afraid he was during battle, how he was sure he was going to die and never see his parents or younger brother again, how happy he was when the helicopter picked them up and how ashamed he was that he could be happy while six of his teammates lay dead on the jungle floor below. Other times, the younger man was silent, lost in his memories, replaying the battle, the ordeal he had been through, trying to make sense of it, somehow. The nurse came to check on them twice, both times leaving them in peace, never speaking or entering the tent.
Eventually, the younger man fell asleep. He had unburdened his soul and had taken the first few important steps to recovery.
Sliding gently from underneath the sleeping man, Cade made his way wearily back to his own bed. Head throbbing, throat tight with unshed tears and emotions, he had absorbed all of the guilt that Stepsen had felt. Like any good officer, he had taken on the pain and the fear, leaving his man---his one remaining responsibility---feeling more at peace. He knew it would be several weeks until he could rid himself of these feelings, but he, too, had someone to turn to and he looked forward to it. Picking up a pad of paper and a pen from the nightstand, he began to pour out his own feelings to a man who was always there for him. The one man Vincent Cade could turn to, trust with his soul, and unburden his guilt. The circle of descent patterned in the age-old bonding of men in war.
Three days later, both men were sitting on another helicopter heading back to their own unit. Before they had boarded, while they were still in the tent, Stepsen had thanked Cade for helping him. "Sir, I don't know what I would have done if you had not reached out to me. I was feeling so alone, so angry, so hurt, so lost; I couldn't imagine living any more. All I wanted to do was die. I think if I still had my gun, I think I might have done it, sir. Thank you for being there." The two men embraced.
While still holding the younger man, Cade said, simply, "That's my job, that's why I'm here."
Now, standing in the hallway of his home in Salisbury, Vin remembered how important it was to reach out to a suffering, young man.
Returning to the bedroom, he heard the sobbing stop.
Sitting on the bed he sighed, "Damien, come here, son."
The younger man sat up, eyes red from crying, his face flushed with fever.
"I don't know. I feel so bad and you hate me and I'm alone and I'm just scared."
"Of what?" Vin asked softly. "Of me?"
Damien nodded, "Yeah, sort of. You have all these rules and don't seem to like me much and…" his voice trailed off.
Rising, pulling his patient off the bed, he held on to him while wrapping the blanket around his shoulders. Bending down, he scooped the whole bundle into his arms and walked over to the loveseat in front of the fire. Settling down with the younger man’s head resting on his shoulder, Vin wrapped warm comforting arms around him. "Shhh, enough of this nonsense," he said gently, "close your eyes and try to sleep. I like you and I'm not going to hurt you."
"You like me? Really?" Day raised his head in a comical look of shock.
"Yes, I do. You need discipline and direction, but there’s hope for you,” Vin laughed, “You’re smart and interesting. Now, " he said, tucking the head back down on his chest, "go to sleep. You're sick and need your rest."
"Okay, Vin. Thank you.” Day yawned, having worn himself out in tears.
Within minutes, Vin felt the smaller body relax into his arms and fall asleep.
Now Cade, old man, he thought to himself, what are you going to do with this brat who seems to have gotten under your skin? No answers came from Halcyon Heights, only the peace and contentment the walls gave him that here it was home and all things could and would fit into place.
Two mornings later, Vin was in the kitchen preparing breakfast for himself and hopefully his guest. The last few days had been a battle of wills and thinking back, he decided it had ended in a draw. Damien had eaten the best last night - almost a full bowl of soup and a half of a liquid drink that Peter had recommended. Then, pushing the entire tray away in disgust, he had refused to eat another bite, but Vin had been satisfied with his improvement and planned a small reward.
Carrying the same tray, now with two plates of biscuits, fruit, juice and the morning paper, Vin entered the sunny guestroom.
“Good morning,” he called out cheerfully to the form curled up under the blankets. Damien had awoken just minutes before since Vin had heard the toilet flush as he was preparing the tray in the kitchen.
The figure stretched and yawned and then in a pouty voice said, “I was sleeping. You woke me up. Go away.” With that order, he rolled over, pulled the blankets over his head and tried to shut out the world.
Trying to hold back a laugh at the pure brattiness of that action, Vin put the tray down on the table and walked over to the bed. Without warning, he grabbed the edge of the blankets and yanked it down and off the younger man. “Come on, let’s get up and eat some breakfast.”
“Go to hell.”
Vin raised an eyebrow, determined not to allow his houseguest too much freedom and wanting to enforce the rules of the house. “We don’t use language like that here.” Then, making his voice cheerful again, he said, “Now, sit up, let’s get your robe on and we will eat breakfast. Then, later this morning – we are going to go sit outside on the terrace, the sunshine will be good for you.”
Damien looked at him, not sure if he was being teased or not. “You’ll let me go outside?”
The afternoon had started out pleasantly enough. The sun was shining brightly and Vincent had arranged the garden cushions on the lounge chair and brought out enough blankets to keep any spring chill away from his patient. Carefully helping the eager young man across the stone terrace, he listed the requirements for this short escape outdoors.
“I’ll expect you to sit there and read or sleep. If I catch you trying to get up by yourself, I’ll carry you inside and you’ll be lucky to feel the sun on your face in another week’s time. Here's a bell,” he said, pointing to a small brass object on the table near the chair. “I’ll turn the intercom on by the barbecue pit. You need me, ring it. Do I make myself clear?”
Damien smiled happily as he positioned himself on the cushions and watched Vin wrap the blankets tightly around his legs. He nodded in total acquiescence, pleased with the feel of breeze on his cheek.
“I’ll be inside working on the books. I’ll be out to collect you in an hour.” Vin left, but returned shortly with books, magazines and a glass of orange juice for his patient. He stood by and watched as the young blond head eagerly sifted through the literature and smiled contentedly as he pulled the latest Koontz novel upon his lap.
Confident that his edicts were going to be followed, Vin returned to his study.
Damien became instantly engrossed in “The Dark Half.” Every so often he would look up upon the lawns. The place was pretty much unkempt and there was landscaping underway on the south side of the house. Garden tools, bricks, boards, a ladder, stepstool and other carpentry items were cluttered around that end of the terrace. The back lawns curved down towards a river in the distance; several trees dotted the area and a huge Gazebo in disrepair settled in the center of the grounds.
A small object in the lawns caught his eye. At first he saw movement in the green, dew-crested grass, but focusing his eyes there was no further sign of activity. Turning his eyes back to the page, he was once again pulled up and away from the words, again focusing on the spot beneath the distant Oak. Something definitely moved in the grass, it was flipping and flopping about.
Quickly looking back towards the house, he assured himself that he was not under surveillance. Pushing the blankets away he eased himself towards the end of the lounger and pushing his feet into the slippers, he pulled the sweatshirt down over his sweatpants and moved towards the lawns.
Several times, the world tilted; still not completely recovered, he cautioned himself with each step. Wouldn’t do to pass out and have my keeper find me face down in the grass, he mused, not in the least bit thrilled with even the thought of that happening. Vince Cade, though gentle and understanding last night, had proven himself to be a man of granite. The face of this particular cliff was steep and un-scalable and Damien had a feeling more than one man and many women had failed to even get a foothold.
The slow progression towards the tree gave no clues as to what was still moving occasionally in the tall grass. Damien walked carefully around the base of the tree, not sure of what it was, foe or friend, that now occupied the thick green carpet. Bracing his hand on the tree for support, he leaned forward, fighting off a wave of dizziness. There, in the blades a small, baby bird flapped its wings in a useless attempt at flight.
Damien listened. He had been dragged on enough camping trips for school to know that the mother bird must surely be nearby. Sure enough, the eager chatter of a concerned parent soon caught his ear.
“Take it easy, little one,” Damien cooed softly. Looking up he saw a nest directly up above. It wasn’t high into the Oak, only eleven or so feet off the ground. A ladder would more than allow him access to the nest.
Remembering the tools on the far south side of the terrace where the landscaping was temporarily on hold, he moved as swiftly as he could. It was several minutes before he returned to the base of the tree, positioned the ladder securely against its trunk and looked up to gauge the most direct route for his cause.
He tried to stoop, but the stitches in his leg pulled and he grimaced biting off a cry of pain. His left wrist had been unwrapped and though it still pained him to use, he could surely hold a small bird in his palm. Bending over slowly, gasping for breath as the world pulled him forward, he managed to push the nausea and dizziness away. He slowly cupped the small creature and placed it gently in his left palm, securing it within a harbor of strong, slender fingers.
“It’s okay, little guy, I’ll have you safely snug back home in no time.”
Carefully holding the small creature close to his chest, he used his right hand to guide himself up the ladder, bracing himself against the tree trunk. His injured ribs didn’t allow him enough movement to stretch up and deposit the small creature in the nest, so he climbed nearly to the top rung. Raising himself on tiptoes, he released his hold on the trunk and picked the small bird up with his right hand. Reaching up quickly, lest a wave of dizziness overcome him, he put the baby bird in the nest. However, before he could recapture his hold on the trunk of the tree with his good right hand, he brought his heels down and the world spun as he began to descend.
Vincent Cade leaned back in the leather swivel desk chair. Turning out toward the driveway, he clasped his hands behind his head, stretching taut muscles and flexing his cramped shoulders.
A peace had settled over him these last few days and he was hard pressed for the cause. Halcyon Heights still required major renovations, funds were depleting fast and the young protestor was a constant demand on his attentions…. yet, and Cade wondered why, he felt like Halcyon had become a home.
It was not like it never was before. There was always a deep connection between him and the house from the first day he laid eyes upon on her. But now---now it was settling into him---like houses settle into the grounds upon which they are built. The stone and brick and mortar were somehow warming finally. The detachment of structure and concept were melting into one fine picture in his mind of home.
Vincent had always driven home to Halcyon with a constant question upon his first sighting: How the hell did I manage such a monstrous structure…far too large for one man alone. Now Halcyon seemed to have shrunk before his very eyes, not diminished, not caved in upon itself like prison cells, but adjusted itself to just the right size. Yeah, Vincent thought, feeling very much like Papa Bear, I’d best check on Baby Bear right now.
The sunlight struck him immediately as he exited out onto the terrace. Shielding his eyes, he squinted towards the chaise lounge. However, it was movement off in the distance, beneath the shaded grove and one particular Oak tree that made him spring into action.
Cade was military trained, as comfortable in command as tired feet in old shoes. His mind kicked in with instinctual action and he was not even registering the events. He only knew he was quietly dashing across the stone verandah and down the stairs---silent lest his prey be spooked---out onto the dewy lawns. It was fate that brought him up close and personal as Damien St. Claire fell backwards. Cade dashed ahead, flying for a short span, enough to catch the figure sailing through the air and pulling most of the weight down on top of him as he fell to the earth.
Damien sat at the kitchen table, the yellow legal pad and a fresh box of pens the only items on the clean surface. Vincent Cade pulled pots from the cupboard and set about making dinner, cooking the chicken potpies that Mrs. Coletrane had left.
“What the hell do you take me for? Do you think I’m some kind of child to be treated this way?” Damien had been ranting for the past five minutes, ever since his savior had carried him inside.
After righting himself, Vin had checked out his burden before pulling the young man up and bringing the sorry young bird sitter inside. Pushing him down onto a chair at the kitchen table, a short command of “Don’t you dare move,” as he left the room. He returned a moment later with a pad and several pens.
“Two hundred times: I will not take foolish chances with my life or disobey orders when I know I am ill and have been instructed to stay put.”
Vincent steeled himself to every blasphemy and cuss word. It was a learning experience. While the young man had been seriously ill, he had lost his spunk and natural feistiness. Vincent was willing to be lenient, at least to see how far the attitude would take him. He needed to know just who this houseguest really was and there was no better time than now.
“You’re shit, do you know that? I know men like you. I’ve known men like you all my life…hard asses. You think because you have size and muscle on your side you can push other people around.”
“I’d start on those lines if I were you. You’re not leaving that table until I see two hundred,” Vincent said gently, his back turned to the tirade, and focusing on the green beans being prepared to go with dinner.
The first pen struck him between the shoulder blades. Tensing, he willed himself to count to ten. The second missile flipped off the stovetop hood and pinged itself backwards into the stainless steel sink. Turning, ready to put a stop to the assault, he faced Damien. The color of Vin’s face, the bold, dark hood that now narrowed his eyes, were enough to send a chill through some of the toughest men the army ever enlisted. But the hazel eyes that met his were iced with their own fury.
Damien, seeing the trouble he was now in, decided a full frontal attack might work best. He grabbed the pad of paper and threw it with as much force as he could muster against the large figure moving insidiously towards him. Rising from his seat, ready to confront his caretaker, but his leg, the injured wrist, the bruised ribs and jarring he just took made him slow and cumbersome.
Vincent grabbed a large wooden spoon off the counter as he neared his target. His full intent to paddle the impudent brat’s backside until sitting would be far less comfortable than this demon could ever imagine. But, the look in those hazel eyes brought him up short.
Those eyes had widened with a look of dread, focusing in on the wooden spoon with a look of terror that dropped the small pouting lips in wonder, causing them to quiver ever so slightly.
“No! Please don't!” The fear in that edict caught the larger man off guard, unhinging him.
The brown eyes returned from their murky depths and singled in on the hazel orbs before him. Shattered by the look, his feelings tumbled around him, leaving him stunned and with little resolve.
“Do as you damn well please,” he ground out and he angrily pushed past Damien. Moments later the office door resoundingly slammed with the force of his anger.
Slowly, like the aged, he collected the pens from across the kitchen floor. Turning off the beans, he wrote a short note on the pad. Not hungry. Please leave me alone. I’m tired and I think I’ll just turn in early tonight. Then with an exhaustion of heart as well as spirit, Damien headed up to his room.
Damien sat by the window, his bags packed and hidden in the closet. He looked out at the moon, brightly hanging overhead. The house had been quiet for the past two hours. It was just after eleven when he had heard footsteps outside his door. Jumping into bed, pulling up the covers, he waited, ready for battle, but they quickly walked down the hall towards the master bedroom.
Now nearly one a.m. and he was sure the master of Halcyon Heights was down for the count. He would take the main road and walk towards the thoroughfare. By morning’s first light he would thumb a ride with one of the many commuters heading towards London. Grabowski would take him back; he owed him that much for the time and money he had given the group.
Now he just needed Jason’s help in putting him up for a few days, enough time for him to make some plans. Returning to the states seemed like a good plan right about now. There was little family to worry about him, some distant cousins and great aunts he didn’t particularly get along with, but America looked pretty good right about now. He wanted to be as far away as possible from the tyrannical man who burned holes into his soul with smoldering dark eyes. Even if Ryan St. Claire still wanted a showdown with him, he could make himself pretty unavailable if he chose.
The night was chilly, far colder than he had anticipated. Not able to carry all the possessions that Grabowski had brought from the hotel, Day only took the things he truly valued. Ever since graduating college several weeks ago, he had eagerly followed Grabowski, leaving most of his possessions in storage in Connecticut. He owned very little upon graduation from college. His parents both perished in a fire at their home in Connecticut in February. Life threw Day a curve ball and, not really prepared to handle his grief, he ran to England joining the first group that caught his eye.
He had never really been close to his parents; they loved him and he loved them, but they had their own lives that they had no intention of putting on hold just because they accidentally had a child. When he confided in them that he was gay, his mother chose to ignore it, still setting him up with one friend’s daughter or another. His father had at first been enraged, blaming an easy lifestyle for his son’s experimentation, but later he chose to believe that Day was just being difficult and would soon get tired of this phase of his life. It was then that he started focusing all his interests on his forgotten Ryan.
Robert St. Claire had been a happily married man with a ten-year-old son when he met Elizabeth Michaels, Day's mother. He had been completely enamored of her and within one year, he had divorced his wife of fifteen years and wed the young debutante. Ryan St. Claire had been shoved aside, a mere financial obligation, while Robert focused his money and time on Elizabeth and their first and only child, Damien. However, Damien, too, soon learned that time for children was the one thing the St. Claires were always short on.
Following the curve of the back road out of the estate, he decided to cut across the plains and make better time, lest the lord of the manor find his prisoner missing and set the dogs upon him. He could well imagine Vincent Cade in Medieval times, passing judgment on his serfs, chopping heads for tithe.
The night’s chill began to pierce through his thick cable sweater. He was beginning to wish he were curled up in the soft bed, the fire blazing in the hearth, experiencing the sense of peace he had known the last week under the care of Cade and Doctor Bailey.
However, his own stirrings this afternoon were reason enough to leave. He didn’t want to fall in love. People leaving him had hurt him enough. Jeffrey was the first love of his life in college, it was the reason he had finally told his parents he was gay, but Jeffrey left him one week after he had taken him home for Christmas to introduce him to his parents. He had quit school and even taken the stray cat that Day had come to think of as his own…so much for true love.
He would not allow himself to be open to that kind of hurt again. Too many people left within the last two years, too many losses chalked up to the realities of life. He could not take one more loss, not now.
Crossing the field, the moon was assaulted by the dark and heavy clouds. A soft, cold drizzle began to penetrate the woolen sweater. Day shivered, hitched his duffel bag higher on his shoulder and half limped/half ran towards the nearest structure he could see along the dark skyline.
Approaching the small fenced-in yard, Day listened for a dog. Surely a dog would have picked up his scent by now. Quietly opening the hasp on the wooden gate, he stealthily moved towards the small garage in back. The house itself was tastefully and carefully maintained. A small English cottage with ivy growing around it, the two-story structure looked quaint and could have graced any postcard sent home by an American tourist. He just needed shelter from the rain, he reasoned. He would be long gone before the inhabitants even awoke in the morning.
The door to the garage squeaked when he opened it, but watching the house for lights or signs of having been heard, he was soon assured his movements were undetected. The garage was cluttered with old furniture, tables, chairs, a bureau, and thankfully, an old sofa. A bicycle with a small, straw basket leaned against one wall. A table and potting wares were along one another; no doubt a gardener lived here.
Day eagerly moved towards the old sofa, covered with a sheet, placed his duffel bag on one end and was fast asleep as soon as his head hit the canvas.
The sun rose upon Halcyon Heights with little cheer. Doors slammed into the morning quiet, loud voices echoed through her halls, and all evidence showed Vincent Cade was not a happy man.
Peter Bailey and his lover, Mark Coletrane, followed their irate friend from office to living room and back again.
“He’s sick, he has no business being about on foot in the cold. He’ll catch his death out there,” Vin reasoned, not sitting still long enough to listen to the reason his friends were there to provide.
“He’s not stupid, Vin, I’m sure he took shelter when the rain started. Or perhaps he made it to the throughway and he’s riding safely beside some London businessman right now,” Peter Bailey surmised.
“Look at it this way, Vin, at least he didn’t steal your car. I’ve no idea what got into you bringing that troublemaker here. You don’t even know this kid,” Mark Coletrane put in his skeptical view of strangers.
Peter threw his partner a warning glance. He had told Mark his suspicions that Cade might be falling in love; yet, Mark had chosen to ignore his observations.
“He’s no thief,” Cade threw back at him, a cold look added to the rebuke, “a fool, snotty little brat who doesn’t know much about life in general, but no thief.”
“Why don’t we just call the constable, have him picked up,” Mark suggested.
“No!” Cade roared. Then foolishly realizing he had his own secrets to hide, he blushed, “It's not like I have any legal backing to have the kid here.” Seeing the confused look in both men’s eyes he continued, “We agreed that I wouldn't press charges or make him pay for repairs to the car if he worked it off. But, it's not like that is truly enforceable under the law.” Noting the shocked looks on his friend’s faces he added, “I have my damn reasons,” and once again stalked off into the office, no doubt to call his many friends to action.
Day was cold, shivering; he was running away again from Thaddeus Williams. Persecuted, taunted, jeered at, always the object of his peers rejection. Damien wanted to be accepted. He always had to prove himself by being the best, by winning, proving them all wrong that he was worth something.
The bright light shone squarely into his eyes. Brushing away the beam in aggravation, he mumbled his displeasure. “Go way.”
“I’ll do no such thing, young man, seeing how this is my garage you’ve decided to spend the night in.”
Damien shot up so fast his head spun. For a brief moment he thought he would surely topple over, but he managed to brace himself against his duffel bag.
“Please, lady, just kill the damn light. It’s a hell of a way to wake up.”
“Watch your language, laddie. I’ll have none of that talk in my presence.” However, the mystery woman did lower the flashlight towards the floor. Day could make out a rather stout, elderly woman, probably in her late fifties or early sixties. She wore her hair up in a soft bun and she was bundled up in a chenille robe that just topped her toes. She was no doubt at one time a very beautiful woman. Now she carried herself elegantly and had chosen to age with grace and good cheer. Day liked her.
A chill sent an involuntary shiver through him. His clothes were still damp from the drenching he had taken.
“Boy, you’ve no doubt been out in that rain during the night.” Now tsk tsking like a busy hen, she grabbed his arm. “Come, come on. Let’s get you into a nice hot shower and into some warm, dry clothes. I think a nice hot English breakfast will have you feeling warm and snug in no time.”
Damien allowed himself to be guided towards the house, his duffel bag left on the old sofa, his rescuer’s head, as she wrapped a supporting arm around his waste, barely reached his chin. He didn’t feel, however, that size mattered in any battles this woman engaged in, and he was not about to even try.
Vince Cade thundered from behind closed doors. It was like a storm in the distance, aching to break out and let the heavens open up with a fury to be remembered. The first call was placed to Samuel Walther demanding legal action, anything to assure him that the blond young man did not leave England.
“Vince, I’ve done everything I can. We’re not exactly within our rights to keep the boy against his will and without a proper trial. I’ve overstepped my bounds with you, as is, old chum, I think you’re on your own now.”
Cade slammed the receiver down, all indication to Peter and Mark who paced the long hallway that their friend was indeed involved with the troublesome young man in more ways than he was willing to admit.
The next call was placed to Quentin Lyman. “I’m not asking for him to be incarcerated, I’m asking that you use your authority to find him for me…just find him, keep him in your sights and contact me. That’s all, is that asking too much?”
“Vincent Cade, I can only promise you that I will keep an eye out for the boy, if he’s arrested or returns to that group and starts trouble, but I will not put a missing person out on him. You’d best settle matters with the lad quietly yourself."
Again the phone returned with a vengeance into the cradle. Peter pulled Mark aside just in time. The office door opened and Cade stormed out barely giving a glance towards his two friends.
“We split up. Let’s hit the back roads. I just don’t think he’d make the main thoroughfare, not in his condition, not with the rain.” Cade continued giving his perspective on the matter as he grabbed a light jacket from the hall closet and the three men left the house.
Damien sat in the small cozy kitchen. It was brick and wood and it smelled like home would smell if his mom and dad had been ordinary people.
“Where did you come from, boy?” the elderly woman asked him as she busied herself in the kitchen. Now dressed in a silver gray shirtdress, a white apron shielding the garment as she scrambled eggs, cooked sausages and toasted English muffins, she looked almost elegant. Her silver hair brushed and twisted in a knot behind her head, secured with silver pins. Damien had stood beneath the steaming hot shower for what seemed like hours, but no doubt was only a few minutes. Warming himself in the divine spray he had reluctantly turned the knob. His rescuer had laid out sweat pants and shirt and warm socks. They were oversized, no doubt her husbands, but they were well worn and smelled of fabric softener. It was good to be warm again.
Now as he hugged a steaming cup of coffee in front of him, nestled snuggly in the oversized sweat clothes, his feet toasty warm in clean, dry socks, he didn’t want to think about where he came from or where he was going. It was too nice here, too easy to fall into a sense of complacency. Women like this did not live in his world. The maids were too busy for lonely little boys and the boarding schools prided themselves on making men out of mama’s boys.
“I was on my way to Bath with a tour group. I got separated. Lost my wallet and I thought I’d hitch a ride back to London.” The lies came out easily enough, but the blue eyes that turned towards him glinted with a wary intelligence. He felt as though she could see through the charade and it bothered him, not that he was found out, but that he liked her and he didn’t like lying to her.
“Heavens, I know what young men are like. I’ve raised four boys, all men now on their own, but I know a young man’s fancy to see the world, to travel. Isn’t there someone you can call? Someone in the states who can wire you money?” She busied herself with the sausages and Damien’s stomach started to growl. Skipping dinner last night had not been a smart move.
“Lord, my boys were of a wanderlust spirit. I remember Samuel, my late husband. God rest his soul,” she added to the heavens, “I remember many a time Samuel taking off on a rescue mission. Adam had taken a fancy to London. Got himself one of those classy studio apartments like you have on American television shows. Lost his job and was thrown out. Took him two days to get up enough nerve to call us. Samuel, always an understanding father, took off and collected him.”
Piling his plate high with small pancakes and several sausages, she placed it in front of him. He eagerly smeared marmalade on an English muffin and buried himself in his breakfast. Listening to her drone on about her sons, he found her voice soothing, lulling him into a sense that he had somehow come home.
Sitting across from him, she wrapped her hands around a cup of tea and contentedly watched him eat.
“Adam got quite a talking to from what I heard later during the drive back, but a week at home with Father and I fluffing his wings, he was soon out again on his own. Now he’s a successful store manager on Saville Row. Doing quite well for himself.” The pride in her blue eyes made Day pause a moment, losing himself in the blue pools. If only that look had come into this parent’s eyes, he would have drowned himself in it.
“Of course it wasn’t all coddling and fluffing. No, my boy, their father had to paddle their backsides on more than one occasion,” she smiled, holding her own tea cup almost to her lips, savoring the memory, “yes, my boys turned out all right.”
“Do you live alone here?” Day asked, not really out of curiosity but feeling he owed her some interest, some sign that he was indeed listening.
“Yes, but my son, Mark, lives nearby with a roommate. I’ve become quite fond of Peter as well and they are both merely a phone call away.” Watching him with clear blue eyes, she smiled, “I can assure you, I am more than capable of taking care of myself and any helpless birds that happen to fall in my back yard.”
Damien nodded his head in agreement too consumed by the delicious breakfast, but a part of his subconscious was tugging violently upon his conscience that he’d best be careful---a worthy opponent sat across from him. However, he chose to push it aside and there in lay his biggest problem. He didn’t realize that he had already lost.
As the three men headed for their vehicles, Vince’s cell phone rang. Flicking it open, he pressed the talk button and paused dead in his tracks looking at Mark with a sly smile on his face.
“What?” the well-built gardener asked, unable to hide the hint of guilt in his voice. Whenever Cade looked at anyone with those cold, dark eyes, they just assumed they were guilty of something. Spirits broke easily under the strain of that look and some just felt it wiser to confess if he just so much as assumed them guilty.
Vincent flipped the phone off. “Let’s take my car, boys, I know just where the brat went. Seems your mom attracts more than injured animals and four-legged strays to her door.”
Mark’s mouth dropped in wonder, but Peter, who was well aware of Mrs. Coletrane’s fondness for animals and abilities to tame the wildest of creatures with her gentle hand, only burst out laughing.
“Mum has a talent, I’ll say that much for her,” he said, patting Mark on the back and ushering him towards the impatient Cade’s car.
Ever since the two had joined in a loving commitment a year before, the very proper Mrs. Agnes Coletrane had welcomed Peter Bailey into her heart as she would have any daughter-in-law her gay son had chosen to wed. Peter was instantaneously enamored of the woman, who had taught him a thing or two about bedside manners. He often said that doctors should train a month under Agnes before getting their medical license.
“She’s a talent for attracting the most troublesome of the lot, if you ask me,” Mark said holding the door while Peter slid into the back seat.
“You haven’t even met the boy, Tarzan,” Peter said jokingly, well used to the straight-laced attitude of his lover.
“I don’t know why you brought him out to Halcyon, Vin,” Mark Coletrane said as he settled himself into the passenger seat. “Spoilt Yankee brats like him just looking for trouble, traveling on their parent’s easy money and wreaking havoc anywhere but home. You should have let them ship him back to the States and saved England the hassle.”
“Enough, Mark,” Cade said it in the tone both men had grown accustomed to. It was a final edict, gently said, but edged with the fine gilt of his short temper.
Mark turned to look out the window, mumbling under his breath, “It’s not your Mum he’s hiding out with.”
Peter reached a hand towards the front seat and batted his significant other sharply across the back of the head, earning a loud “Ow!” Silence eased itself into the interior of the car as Cade started the engine and the motor purred them out of the long driveway.
Day munched happily on the remains of his breakfast. His easy complacency in this warm, cozy kitchen, his trust in this sturdy woman of gentle heart and kind soul, had him totally relaxed. She could have run for President of the USA at this moment and Day would not only have voted for her, but have run her campaign as well.
“Your son is a lucky man, ma’am,” Day said, sincerely wishing he were that man.
“Agnes, my boy, just Agnes Coletrane,” she set her teacup down sharply and looked out towards her backyard. Then as though realizing something, her face shadowed for a moment, covering the bright features in a veil, “I like you, boy, just remember that, okay?”
Before Damien could place much value on the words, the door burst open and a large, muscular young man entered the kitchen. He was in his twenties and he looked like he would take great pleasure in ripping Day apart, piece-by-piece.
“Mark!” Agnes cautioned in a no-nonsense voice.
“Mum, are you all right?”
“What do you think, sweetheart, that your mum can’t take care of herself, that every little helpless creature is a threat to my person?”
Before he could answer, two more figures entered the small kitchen. Doctor Peter Bailey and Vincent Cade both dwarfed the room. Now the cozy kitchen seemed small and smothering.
Realizing that he had been found, Day opened his mouth, “How…” but a quick look at the guilty red cheeks of Agnes and he knew instantly that she had called them.
The blue eyes caught the hazel ones, but instead of melting under the accusation, Agnes straightened all the more, steeling herself with her own self-righteousness. “I recognized a runaway, laddie, and Vincent had told me about his new guest…didn’t take much to put it together. Sorry, but you need looking after and I’d just do it all over again, if need be.” With that, she nodded her head sharply, convincing Day as well as herself that it was the right way.
Vin pushed past the two, muscular men and came to stand directly beside Damien. Folding his arms across his chest, he bit his lower lip as though analyzing a conundrum he just couldn’t figure out. Raising a quizzical eyebrow, he said, almost cheerfully, “Care to explain.”
Damien felt a miserable rage inside of him. He was a free entity, he was on his own now taking on the world and all it had to offer him, and he resented this brute, this Lord of the Manor pushing him around.
Without any thought to his well being and physical strength, he rose from his chair, grabbed the coffee cup that was still half-full with the cooled, brown liquid and flung it full force into Cade’s insolent face.
Peter moved forward stretching a tentative hand towards Vin’s arm, thinking his friend would surely do bodily harm to the impudent scamp. Mark Coletrane moved forward himself, protecting his mom’s cozy kitchen, deciding to throttle the brat himself if he damaged one fine piece of her china. Poor Damien was now cornered in the breakfast nook, and for one brief moment the fire left his eyes and he looked like he would cry.
Agnes moved in with a clean dishtowel, “Here you go, Mr. Cade, seems the lad has explained himself quite well. He doesn’t like you.”
“Mum,” Mark said reproachfully, “stay out of it.”
“Don’t you go telling me what to stay in and out of, young man, not under my roof.”
Mark looked sheepishly at Peter and shrugged his shoulders. Both men knew there was little reasoning with Agnes Coletrane when she took a fancy to someone. They waited silently. Surely Vincent Cade would take the stance of employer and employee, walls meant nothing to a man like Cade. He held control no matter whose roof he was under.
Cade dragged the towel over his face, wiping away all traces of the cool coffee. Damien stood his ground, halfway balanced between the kitchen chair and table, slightly leaning in towards the table for support. The oversized sweat suit made him look all the more gaunt, accentuating the hollows around his eyes and the sunken cheeks.
“Mrs. Coletrane, would you like to stay at Halcyon for a few weeks? It seems my patient’s health has taken a turn for the worse and it might prove terminal if he doesn’t improve soon.”
“I’ll have none of it,” Mark spoke harshly, puffing his chest a bit and stepping forward, obviously trying to intimidate everyone.
“Mr. Cade, I would be honored. I’ll have Mark drive me over this evening. Won’t take me long to pack the things I’ll be needing.” Agnes pulled Mark away from the table and with a quick swat to his bottom she ordered him out.
“Out with you,” she said as she turned him towards Peter. “Take my son outside, Doctor Bailey. He seems to be having trouble controlling that temper of his.”
Mark’s face colored as he gave one final, warning look towards Day. However, the blond, young man was still gazing into the threatening, brown eyes of Cade. He still stood his ground, but anyone could tell there was doubt in his eyes now, doubt and fear.
Having cleared her son and his lover out, Mrs. Coletrane came up beside Cade. She stood next to him, placing a small hand on his back, “Why don’t you wait for him outside, Mr. Cade. I’ll wrap him up nice and snug in Samuel’s old overcoat. He’ll be chilled to the bone in this weather.”
Cade hesitated, drilling deeper into the hazel eyes with a personal promise of his own, then he backed off. “I’ll be outside…waiting.” The last was added with a small hint of impatience.
With Cade’s departure the cozy kitchen actually seemed to sigh in relief, Day could have sworn the floorboards creaked, the coffee pot steamed and small sounds seemed to acknowledge there was more room to breathe. Agnes Coletrane came up close to him. “Well, young man, it seems Mr. Cade gets himself pretty worked up when you run off.”
“I’m his hired help for the next month, he wants his due from me,” Day said, sinking back into the chair and burrowing his head in his arms, "but he hates me and I'm scared of him."
The first days with Agnes taking care of him were busy and pretty much routine. Damien’s attitude, though cold and detached, was compliant. He stayed in his room, took his medication, and avoided the Lord of the House at all cost. It was not hard, as Cade himself stated he had business to attend to and locked himself in his office most of the day and his room at night. Spending a great deal of time on the phone, he gave Mrs. Coletrane Carte Blanche and in her easy, eager stride she had the place humming in a mild routine by mid-week.
Day was torn in two. Sitting in his room as Agnes brought him his evening tray, plopped his pills in the palm of his hand, and cheerfully instructed him on his responsibilities, he wanted to hate her for her betrayal, for calling the one man he wanted to get as far away from as possible. Throughout the past three days he had often answered her in curt, sharp comments that dug a little deeply into the side of trust and honor. “Guess I’d best, or you’ll turn me in for bounty,” upon taking his pills; “Do you get a bonus if I eat all my vegetables?” when she happily informed him that the green beans were especially prepared for him, her secret recipe. Several times he was equally content to see a short pain crease her face before the cheery demeanor came back into place and an equally sharp pang of guilt at his own cruelty, but he just could not stop himself. He wanted to prod and push her until she broke down, cried and abandoned him, admitting defeat like everyone always admitted when it came to dealing with Damien St. Claire.
On Thursday, Doc Bailey had made a short visit early in the morning. Marking down some statistics on his chart, he smiled at his moody patient. “You seem to be thriving under Agnes’ ministrations. Doesn’t surprise me, the woman has a way about her; a real caregiver she is.”
“She’s a saint, all right,” Day grumbled, showing as much attitude as he could. The return of his appetite and health were turning him bitter and he couldn’t understand why. He wanted nothing more than to get well, pay his debt and be gone from this hellhole, yet, he hated even thinking about it.
“I’ve a mind to let Mark know about that attitude,” Peter said, angrily folding his stethoscope and placing it in his bag, “he’d no doubt heat you in places that would make sitting damned uncomfortable.”
“You know, I’m damn tired of being looked at as the villain in this little drama,” Damien raged, slamming his fists down on the bed covers as he sat back against the headboard. “Vincent Cade hit me with his car. I should be suing him. But I’m willing to pay off the damages to his car and keep from being deported, but I don’t have to like it one damn bit. As for that woman, she had no right to call Cade. I was seeking shelter with her from the rain…she had no right.”
“You’ve no right to judge Aggie, my friend, no right at all. She did what she needed to do, and you know it.” Peter said firmly, as he repacked his bag and left the room.
Opening the door to leave, Agnes Coletrane stood outside the door, ringing her hands with worry, as though the raised voices meant violence pending.
Peter placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and smiled, turning slightly back to give Day a cold look, “It’s all right, Aggie, he’s fine. He’s thrived, in fact, under your good cooking. His colors back and I’ve taken some blood samples. I’ll have a work up done; his temperature is normal and his cut is almost healed. I think he can start on some light activities around the house this week. Just make sure he rests when he feels tired and he will be back to normal by next week.”
Agnes sighed against the wall, happy to hear that the young man was making such a wonderful recovery. She knew Day would be overjoyed at being allowed up and about. She had kept him quiet, making him either stay in bed or sit on the chairs in his bedroom. The restrictions were per Vin’s orders, but to him it was only another resentment to hold against her, another reason to push her away and reject all her efforts to connect with him. She hoped with more freedom, the loving and kind personality that she saw in brief snatches would make itself known increasingly.
Day looked back out the window, deciding to just ignore the two people who were bearing the brunt of his anger, humiliation and frustration. He heard the door close quietly. Hurrying out of bed, he tiptoed to the door and listened. The pair had moved down the hall towards the staircase, but Day cracked the door a bit.
“How are you doing, Aggie? He's not too much for you is he?” Peter sounded concerned.
“Don’t you go worrying yourself about me, Peter Bailey. I've been a mother long enough to recognize when a lad's hurting and just striking out at whatever he can. If Mark sees those creases on your forehead and gets suspicious, I’ll be having words with you. Now how’s about a cup of tea and there are other patients awaiting you, I know, who need you far more than I do or that poor, lonely boy up there.”
That evening, Mrs. Coletrane knocked on his door.
“Come in,” Day said, sitting up reading by the fireplace.
“Come on, my boy, you’ve a clean enough bill of health to start taking your meals downstairs in the kitchen and dining room. I think it’s time we had a fine dinner, just the three of us.” Agnes stood at the door, not making any effort to move.
“I think I’ll just take a sandwich up here,” Day insisted, putting his head back into the book.
Agnes walked over quickly a dishtowel swung over her arm. She snatched the book out of his hand, shut it and placed it firmly on the table.
“You, Damien St. Claire, will come down to dinner right now. This is not a hotel; I am not your maid. I came here to look after you, cook meals for you and help you get better. A change of scenery might lighten that sour puss of yours. Part of that effort must come from you and you will meet me halfway. Do I make myself clear? Or would you rather Mr. Cade come in here and persuade you to my way of thinking?”
Day opened his mouth to argue, but when she half turned to call Cade, he quickly scurried from the chair and walked like a truant schoolboy down the hall ahead of her.
The dining room table was nicely set, lace tablecloth, fine china, silverware and napkins. A large soup tureen sat in the middle of the table, fresh baked rolls were stored in a covered serving dish, and the lights glowed warmly in the room, competing with the fireplace and its roaring blaze. Cade was already seated at the head of the table. Mrs. Coletrane took the seat to Vin’s right and the only other place setting was to his left.
Damien walked in slowly, almost pathetically, not wishing to look too able-bodied just yet; still striving for whatever sympathy he could garner from these two. Since Aggie failed to give him his due, he thought Vin might still be in the dark as to the degree of his recovery. The brown eyes met his briefly.
“Good to see you up and about, Day,” Vincent said politely, as though to any houseguest.
“I’m keeping food down, that’s about the only change,” he said to downplay his recovery.
Sitting down and placing his napkin in his lap, he missed the rolled eyes Agnes threw at Cade and the returning wink of understanding.
The meal started well enough, Vincent passed the dinner rolls and mashed potatoes while Agnes filled everyone’s plate with a large helping of meatloaf. At first Damien tried to show indifference towards the food, lest his healthy appetite whetted by the savory aroma give away his return to full health. That would mean working around the estate, and he was not quite ready to give Vincent Cade his servitude just yet.
“What are you good at?” Vincent asked him, out of the blue, taking him by surprise.
Damien looked up from buttering his roll, the knife poised in one hand, the roll carefully held waiting his ministrations. Then, as though realizing the reasoning behind the question, he put the roll on his plate and slammed the knife down hard on the china. “I’m good at many things, most of which you’ll never know, but whatever you set about for me to do, I’ll do it and get the hell out of here as soon as I can.”
Cade’s face hardened, he was ready to retort to the angry response, but Mrs. Coletrane jumped in, “Heavens, young men are all pretty versatile. If he’s not up to gardening, Mr. Cade, perhaps he can clean out the attic, help set up the studio for your paintings. Lord knows you’ve been talking to me about turning the old servant’s quarters into a proper art studio for the longest time.”
The hazel eyes would not leave the brown ones and some silent war was going on behind the scenes of pleasant dinner conversation, as though a parallel universe were simultaneously running. What looked to any distant observer like a pleasant dinner was becoming to someone on the set a war of wills.
The brown, muddy pools never once retreated; the hazel flames were igniting with defiance; then the blue eyes, the wise eyes, sparkled and an idea came to mind. “I’ve got it, Mr. Cade, he can start by helping Mark with the terrace and south gardens. Mark’s a strong lad and can do the heavy lifting. Mr. St. Claire will surely love working out of doors, getting some sunlight, learning a thing or two about landscaping. When he’s got the hang of things, you can set him about his own, separate chore. What say you to that, Day?”
Damien finally relented and met Agnes’ gaze across the table, but not before he narrowed his eyes at Cade in a signal of non-compliance. “Sounds fine with me, I might be able to teach Mark a thing or two about the great outdoors.”
Agnes smiled, not amused, but in the patronizing way a mother will smile at a child who insists on being contrary, when in her heart she knows he is only confused and frightened.
“See, Mr. Cade, Damien has talents, he’s just holding off to surprise us all.”
After that, the veil broken by the hard facts of Day’s place in the scheme of things, the meal commenced with certain camaraderie. Day seemed willing, if not eager, to go along with the pleasantries if not for Cade’s dinner companionship then for Agnes’ efforts at trying to make a fine meal and a nice evening for all.
It would have held up fine, save for Mark Coletrane.
The three diners were well into their chocolate cake and coffee. The conversation had drifted to movies and the differences in American and British screen. Damien was actually laughing at Mrs. Coletrane’s perfect imitation of Angela Lansbury, and though he thought her familiar looking before, he never realized how strong a resemblance she did in fact have to the screen star.
“Mum?” the shout came from the hallway beyond the kitchen, towards the southeast side of the house.
“Mark!” Cade called, “In the dining room.”
The well-built young man bore little resemblance to his mother. The strong jaw line and sharp features were probably gifts from his father, only the ice of the blue eyes hinted at the relationship between mother and son.
“Hello, Vin,” Mark said cheerily, long accustomed to being treated like a family member in the house of his employer. He came in and planted a quick peck upon his mom’s cheek. Totally ignoring the young man who sat across from his mother, he asked, “Can I have some of that cake, Mum?”
Reaching over her head, he grabbed for the cake platter, “Ow!” Her hand came from out of the blue and swatted him soundly on his outstretched hand.
“Where are your manners, Mark Coletrane?” Agnes scolded.
Vin sat back and laughed, watching the familiar scene of maternal discipline.
“Sorry, Mum,” he came around and pulled a chair next to his mother and said politely, “Please, may I have some cake and coffee?”
“That’s one,” Agnes said sternly, “but I was more concerned about your manners towards Mr. St. Claire.”
Day looked up sharply, well used to being ignored or treated with mild contempt for his longish hair and youthful good looks, he was surprised by Agnes’ concerns.
“Who?” Mark said with disgust, “the kid? I thought he was here to pay off a debt, not the royal guest.”
The hand came down sharply again, but this time on the strong knuckles that were still making their effort at obtaining the desired chocolate cake. “Ow! Geesh, Mum, enough already.”
“Then mind your manners.”
“Good evening, Damien,” Mark said grudgingly, “good to see you up and about.”
Agnes watched closely, making sure her son meant the greeting. Convinced he was truly putting forth an effort, she reached over, placed a large slice of cake on a plate and put it before him. Mark smiled at her, pleased with the prize, then he reached for the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup, he turned his attentions to Cade.
“The south wall is coming along nicely. The workers are good, but the spring rains have put the work behind a bit. I’ll start on the gardens and lawns this week. I’d like to plant flowers in all the urns. They’re old and well-worn, but of fine craftsmanship. You’ve a good place here, Vin. It will take all summer to get the lawns in shape, but you’ll have one of the best gardens in the area in no time.”
Cade sat back sipping his coffee, looking at the young man he had come to call friend long before he had employed him on the grounds. Mark was a stoic sort and by-the-book Englishman. Cade had met him briefly during official military business in England. When he had bought Halcyon, he was surprised to find the young man a neighbor; they soon resumed their relationship and had taken it a step further towards friendship.
“How would you like some help?” he watched Mark take a huge forkful of cake, washing it down with coffee, then his eyes widened dawning with the light of understanding.
Pointing his fork, still chewing, he almost coughed, “You, you mean him?”
“He’s here to work, pay for the damages on the Mercedes. I’m not quite sure what he’s good at, but I thought starting him off under your watchful eye might help direct his talents and interests towards seeing I get full remuneration.”
“I’d get you full remuneration. I’d put the brat to work on hard, physical labor, preferably smashing the bad stones into gravel for the driveway.”
Agnes glared threateningly, but Mark chose to ignore her this time.
Damien didn’t like the turn of events. He resented being talked about while he sat there like a naughty child.
“Excuse me,” he stood up and all eyes turned towards him. “I am here, and I have ears. If you two want to talk about me, I would appreciate being included in the conversation,” Day said, sarcasm dripping with each word. “Otherwise, you can all shut the fuck up and stop talking about me.” With that statement, he threw his napkin down and started to rise from the table.
Before he could take one step away from the table, he was hauled unceremoniously back. His chair toppled backwards as he groped for some leverage, but the steel bands that had encircled his waist were determined and unrelenting. He found himself held tightly against the rock, solid chest of Cade, with one across his midriff anchoring him in place. His eyes widened in fear and recognition of that one point of no return. He had gone too far with this man.
“I won’t have such language used at my dinner table. I would judge by this display that you are healthy enough to start some light chores tomorrow. I am putting you under Mark’s auspices and YOU WILL obey him. Do I make myself clear?” Cade’s mouth was near his right ear and he could feel the warm breath tickling his lobe. He was afraid, yet he was also excited by the closeness of the man. Feeling the strong muscles that rippled across his gaunt stomach, the hard pecs that grazed his upper arm, he felt himself rising with feelings he didn’t want, couldn’t give way to. He wiggled as much as the position allowed, trying to break free, but it was impossible.
Cade saw the wide eyes seeking him out along the side, the mouth dropped in surprise, wet and inviting as it quivered in anger. The boy was scared, good; a scared and pliant boy would make this easier on everyone. Lowering his guard, thinking he had won, Cade smiled.
“Is he from your stable?”
The turn of the whole conversation threw Cade off balance.
“What?” What are you talking about?”
“Him,” Day said, moving his head towards Mark, who sat cautiously with one arm across the back of his chair.
“You collect young men? Keep them working on your estate for your own personal amusement?”
Suddenly Day was pushed away and he would have fallen except for the table a few feet in front of him.
Vincent Cade’s face was awash in disgust and anger as the meaning of the boy’s words sunk in.
Mark Coletrane opened his mouth in surprise. Agnes watched, a quizzical look in her own blue eyes. Damien wore a self-satisfied smile, glad that he had finally hit a sore spot.
“I’m out for a drive, Mrs. Coletrane. Thank you for the meal,” and with that, Vincent Cade stormed out of the dining room. Several minutes later, the roaring engine broke the stillness of the night, as he gunned the engine of the car down the long driveway.
“Was that necessary, lad?” Mrs. Coletrane asked in a sad voice. Then with no further time for reflection, she rose to clear the table. “I’ll have you two helping me. Mark, bring the plates, please. Damien, the coffee pot and tureen, please.” Turning, not waiting for an answer, she disappeared through the doors of the kitchen.
“Smart ass, brat,” Mark couldn’t help making the comment as he gathered the plates. “What was that all about? Does Vincent Cade really strike you as someone who collects men? Do I strike you as someone like that? Does my mother seem like the kind of woman who would give her respect and time to someone like that?” Mark asked, his voice rising in anger with each question.
“Yes, you do, Mark,” Day said simply and calmly.
Seeing red, Mark slammed the plates down and started to race around the table, just as Agnes returned through the swinging door from the kitchen. “Take the plates into the kitchen, Mark, and then I think you’d best be getting yourself back to Peter. You’re on him often enough about the hours he keeps, just mind you set him a good example.” When she saw him standing there, offering a challenge to Damien with his eyes, she said firmly, “Off with you, I said.”
Mark took the stack of dishes once more in his massive hands and exited the dining room. A few moments later, the side entrance to the servant’s quarters could be heard slamming shut with a vengeance, temper and mood shocking the still night.
“Did you enjoy that, lad?” Agnes asked as she busied herself stacking bread and cake dishes, collecting loose silverware.
Damien remembered displays of his temper as a child. How his father would depart to his den, his mother would excuse herself with a raging headache, and the servants would stand by as he wrecked the dining room, patiently awaiting their opportunity to set things right.
Agnes didn’t run. She seemed almost used to this kind of dinner activity.
“I don’t know what you mean, I didn’t start this. That son of yours did.” Damien needed to justify his actions, he needed cause other than the man whose memory and feel still did things to places on his body.
“Mark’s a problem at times, I’ll agree with you there, but you were baiting Mr. Cade from the moment you sat down.” She stopped briefly in her ministrations to look at him across the table.
Slowly he lowered his eyes, “I don’t want to be here.”
Deliberately misunderstanding him, Agnes laughed, “Well, then, let’s get us in the kitchen and start washing these dishes.”
It didn’t take Agnes Coletrane long to have Damien’s life story told in simple chapter and verse. She had that way with her, that eager interest in the lives and emotions of people in her circle. The dishes long put away, the dining room quietly closed shut, and they sat at the kitchen table over a last cup of coffee.
“Mother had no time. I’m sure she loved me, but there was just never enough time with the social activities she just HAD to attend. Father had high hopes for me until I brought Jeffrey home at Christmas, then he was willing to push me off, just like he did Ryan. You know, Mrs. Coletrane, although I never got to spend a lot of time with him, I liked Ryan, I felt sorry for him. I understood him. I think he envied me, thought I had the father and home life that was denied him, but he was wrong…he never realized how wrong.”
Agnes reached a well-worn hand out to him, placing hers gently on his; she squeezed reassurance and understanding in the gesture. “We’ve all made mistakes, laddie, every parent messes up sometime or another. You can hold it against your mum and dad for the rest of your life, and the bitterness will soon erode any warm memories you do have. Or, and it’s a hard choice, but one that can be achieved, you can forgive them, accept them for who and what they were and move on, landscaping your life with the best they did give you.”
Damien laughed, feeling good about himself for the first time in a long time. “You sound like a writer, Mrs. C, ‘landscaping my life.” Another laugh escaped him, “but I like it.”
“Oh, don’t mind me,” she blushed, batting a hand away to indicate her discomfiture, “but it’s true, because like Mark always tells me, landscaping is a living art, trees and bushes grow and are nourished, you place them in the best location for light and shade and water; you show them off to their best glory. It’s a matter of sight lines. A pansy, small and limpid, can reign queen of the garden if properly placed. I’ve always had a fondness for purple pansies and goldenrods, quite the pair those two make.”
“I didn’t see any flowers in your garden?”
“Oh, I don’t garden myself anymore. Samuel was the gardener. No doubt passed his love of the land onto Mark. But when Samuel was alive, it was indeed purple pansies and goldenrods in my backyard.” Feeling embarrassed by the memories, she hurriedly wiped her hands on the towel and glanced at the clock.
“Damien, way past your bedtime. Mr. Cade comes home, he’ll be a bear thinking you not getting a good night’s rest. Off with you now,” she said as she rose. Damien scooted out of the kitchen, a smile on his face, it was a rough night and he was not happy about the commencement tomorrow of his servitude. But all in all, he couldn’t remember feeling so good in quite some time.
Mark Coletrane and Damien St. Claire were of opposite makeup. Damien was oil, easily ignited by the slightest spark, warmed and slick in his demeanor, he could change to meet the situation and ooze with charm if the need were called for. Mark was water, pure, basic, clean, and simple. He believed in hard work, the determined grind of a day’s labor, and the enjoyment of friends, good sport, and a night at a pub.
The combination of oil and water meant they would never be friends. Damien met Mark outside on the terrace right after breakfast. His appetite curbed by the thought of hard labor, he managed to eat one of the pastries Mrs. C had fixed, but couldn’t bear the thought of the pancakes and sausages.
“Why have you lost your appetite, lad?” she asked, all solicitude. Placing a warm hand on his forehead she clucked, “No temperature, but maybe I should check…”
“NO!” Damien yelled. Then realizing the rudeness of his outburst, he amended, “I’m sorry, I mean, it’s just nerves. I’m not sure what’s expected of me and I want to carry my weight.”
“Don’t you go worrying, Mark’s a fair man. He won’t put you to any tasks you can’t handle.”
“Where’s Vin?” Day finally asked. He had made it down to breakfast a bit late, putting off the day for as long as he could, but a part of him dreaded facing the Lord of the Manor. Part of it was the embarrassment of the previous night’s incident, but the other part was the horror of finally paying his dues, Vincent there to gloat at his penance.
“He had business with a client, an urgent phone call this morning. Said he’d try to make it back for lunch, but don’t count on it.”
Day relaxed, maybe today wouldn’t be such a bad day after all.
Indeed, the warm spring sun lit up the landscape and the southeast side of the house glowed with activity. The bricklayers were busily laying the new terrace wall and each nodded a curt, but friendly greeting to Day as he cautiously sought out his taskmaster.
Mark had already removed his shirt and the muscles rippled along his back as he struggled with a huge urn, dragging it across the stone terrace towards its proper location. Finally situating it into position near the completed wall, he stood up to wipe his brow noticing Day for the first time.
“I’ll set you to planting the spring flowers in these urns. There are flats along the side portico. Let’s see what talents you have for color and decorating. I’ll leave you to it, but I warn you, if it’s not to my liking, I’ll have them all replanted properly.”
The blond head nodded curtly, but as he turned towards the east portico he mumbled his displeasure, “Ass, I’d plant your head but I choose not to treat the earth so rudely.”
With that train of thought amusing him, Day started towards the portico. He was amazed at the number of flowers, lying in their small pots waiting his pleasure. All the colors of the world were gathered in those blooms, vibrant and warm, cool and quiet, blending blooms in shades of purple, fuchsia, pink, red, carnelian, white, yellow, golden, bluebells, lilies, carnations…the whole range of floral pleasure.
Damien set about his task with a renewed fervor. He had a passion for beauty and an eye for design. He would show the smug gardener what patterns and light and color could do to a quiet, Grecian urn.
Lunchtime took him indoors. He had seven potted urns completed and Mark had merely passed him occasionally grumbling his approval. At first, Damien was angered by the lack of praise and surprise for his talents, but he soon realized that the grumble was the best he would get from a stoic man like Mark. It was Mr. Cade who would have final say and Cade was the one he wanted to beat in this little game.
After a warm lunch of hot beef sandwiches ladled with gravy and mashed potatoes, he and Mark resumed their work on the east terrace. It was towards the latter part of the afternoon when things got a bit testy.
Mark had chosen a small metal ladder to reach the eaves overhead. There were leaves piled high in the gutters and he decided to clear them away, lest the rainfall not flow smoothly out the pipes towards the yard. This was the corner end of the terrace where the patio narrowed towards the stairs down into the east portico.
“I wouldn’t lean her that way,” Day offered as he knelt before the urn several feet away from the corner where Mark decided to start. A small statue stood under the eave, a cupid-like angel holding her arrow upward towards the heavens, poised to shoot the stars.
“How much landscaping have you done, Mr. St. Claire? Or is this the voice of radical experience, setting charges on rooftops and sabotaging hotels.” Mark said sarcastically as he started to ascend the seemingly sturdy ladder.
Damien had enough, the temper flared within him and he rose, “Fucking bastard, I’ve been around enough of the great gardens of the world to know what looks good and what doesn't. I think I can manage to put some plants in some containers. I do have a college education, you know."
Mark turned to look down at the obnoxious young man, who stood below him, hands placed on his hips glaring up at him. Reaching into the gutter, hoping to extract the wet and putrid compost he thought pleasantly about heaving what he found on the head of his helper.
The shifting of his weight upset the precariously placed ladder. Mark’s balance was thrown fully towards the right as the ladder shifted and began to lean, towards Damien, but also directly down onto the arrow pointing heavenward.
Vincent exited the car and came around the southeast portico to check on the progress of the renovations and to see how Day was behaving himself. The array of brightly colored flowers touched the artist in him and he took a deep breath, calming himself with the pleasure of their scent. He turned the corner of the house just in time to see Damien push the ladder with all his might away from the house sending Mark Coletrane flying backwards, over the newly erected wall, onto the green and muddy lawns beyond.
“Mark!” Vincent yelled as he ran forward. Enraged, he turned to the fair-haired young man who had just pushed the ladder. Vincent grabbed the young militant and shook him. "What the HELL do you think you are doing, Damien!" Vin yelled at him, shaking him again. Day opened him mouth to say something, but Vin wasn’t up to hearing excuses just then.
Releasing the younger
man so quickly, he stumbled back a step, Vin held up
"NO!" he ordered. "I
don't want to hear any excuses. I don't
care how he provoked you, I don't want to hear it right now, Damien," Vin
said, his voice tightly chorded with anger. "I think it would be best if you just go upstairs to your
Day started again, "Vin..."
"Damien!" Vin all but shouted, "I don't care right now. Go upstairs and wait for me," his tone clearly leaving no room for argument.
Looking out at the prone figure of Mark while biting his lower lip, Day spun around and bolted through the door.
Dismissing the brat from his mind briefly, Vin turned his attentions to Mark who was starting to sit up.
Agnes raced across the terrace from the kitchen at the sound of Mark's yell. Wiping her hands on her apron, she asked worriedly, "Mark? Vin? Day? What's going on?"
“Aggie, we are down here. Mark took a bit of a tumble," Vincent called out, as he knelt beside the stunned gardener, the ladder lay several feet away. "He looks fine, just got the wind knocked out of him. No damage."
Mark gave Vin a shaky smile before calling out, "Mum, I'm fine."
Vin shook his head at the other man, "Mark, you must have hit your head if you think those three little words are going to make a difference to her right now."
Damien St. Claire entered his bedroom in a daze. He felt very little as he systematically stuffed his belongings into his backpack and duffel bag. It was always the same. The lack of trust placed on his motives, the feelings of being an outsider looking in.
Realizing how foolish
it would be to run again, knowing that this was Cade country and his merry men
were everywhere it seemed futile to even try to hit the
roads. Not knowing what else to do,
Damien walked out of his room and down the stairs.
going out the back would not be a good idea, he headed through the
front door and out onto the drive. The late afternoon sun was slowly setting
and the temperature was dropping but Day did not seem to
Still dressed in the
sweat pants and shirt from his labors, he
slowly walked away from the house . When he felt he was safe from anyone who
might be looking for him, he turned again and headed down the side of the
property toward the river.
Peter Bailey sat on one of the sofas in the living
room, his lover was stretched out with his head resting in his lap. "Mark,
you have to be more careful ."
he said quietly as he slowly petted
"I know Peter,
it was stupid.
I was in a hurry
and not paying attention. Day and I were fighting about something stupid and
I was paying more attention to what quick comeback I was going to say to him,
then what I was doing." Mark said, struggling to sit up.
Peter moved the hand
he was using to pet his lover and delivered a swat to his hip. "L
still for a little while longer love.
I want you to rest some more. Plus," he
said, bending down and delivering a soft kiss on his lover's temple, "I
want to just Getting that call from Vin scared me be quiet with you for a little while longer." Peter resumed his petting and then quietly added, "You scared me with
by not thinking. Don't do
forward and kissed the only part of his lover that was available to him, his
pants covered kneed the only body part easily reached from his position. S, he
felt remorse. "I'm sorryat
again Peter. I’ll be more careful from now on. You have
my word, Peter."
“He’s lucky I didn’t
kill him, Mrs. Coletrane. I swear, I rounded the corner of the house and
I saw Damien push the ladder. Saw it with my own eyes, no doubt his
intentions. He’ll be up and out, packed to go back to London before the day is
through, I promise you that .”
Vin said, pacing around the kitchen where he and Aggie had retreated to after
seeing Mark settled in the living room.
“Oh dear, Mr. Cade, I
think that’s a little farfetched? Do
you honestly think that the Damien we know would deliberately hurt someone
. We haven’t heard the full story yet, and we
- regardless of what you think you saw ."
using logic to get through to the upset man.
"There are several things that could have happened. Maybe he tried to hold it,
keep it from slipping and you misjudged. Or he accidentally bumped into it and
was struggling with it when it slipped. You don't know and you
won't know until you talk to him”
“I do not misjudge, Agnes, I see clearly. I’m a trained military man. I’ve been trained in assessing situations quickly and with an astute eye.” Vince sounded smug even to his own ears, but he couldn’t help it. He was amazingly good at his job...always had been.
very unladylike ,
"Oh, don't give me that Vincent Cade. For someone so bent on finding out the truth, I notice that you
have failed to interview the two people who were actually there and can tell
you exactly what happened. I suggest
you do that before you start packing Day's bags for him and branding him a
criminal." With that, she turned
her back and began to rummage through the refrigerator, effectively ending the
Vin looked at her
for another few moments before turning sharply and walking out of the kitchen. Looking up the stairs and then down the hall
to the living room, Vin decided
to talk to the witness who would be the most likely, in his mind, to tell him
the truth about what happened on the terrace.
on edge of the open door to the living room, he said softly, "Peter? I'm sorry to bother you two, can
I come in?"
Peter had rested
his head sideways on the back of the couch and he and Mark were talking
quietly. He looked up and smiled ,
"Of course Vin, come on in, Mark and I were just talking."
called out from his still prone position, "Hi Vin, I'd
get up but my overly protective partner here would have a fit."
Vin laughed as he
came in, "
We don't want that now do we."
sat down on the coffee table so he was facing the two men on the couch. "Mark, what happened on the
ladder? When I came around the house, I
swear, I saw Day push the ladder, causing it to go over. Is
that what happened?"
Mark looked at him
Vin misunderstood his
stunned expression and hurried on, "I know, I could barely believe it
myself. But, that's what I saw. Were you two fighting? That doesn’t excuse what he did
. And I can assure you ...."
Mark interrupted the
rush of words, “Vin
are totally wrong about this. I can't
believe you thought that or I would have said something much sooner. Damien
didn’t push me,” Mark said,
reaching for Vin’s hand, desperate to anchor the man and gain his full
I was going to fall on it. I'm sure I would have impaled myself on
it and be hurt a lot worse, if not dead, if he hadn't acted so
Vin groaned and bowed
his head, "Shit" he said, "I have totally messed
this whole situation."
Peter looked at him,
"Vin, tell me
please, tell me you didn't honestly think that Day would try to hurt Mark. I know they don't get along sometimes, but
to actually hurt him? I thought you had
a pretty good opinion of the kid?" he asked, his eyes full of
reproach. "You should have known
Vin just shook
his head, "I know. I ... just was so sure of what I'd seen. I mean , I
saw him push the ladder."
immediately to a conclusion without really thinking
"Well, old man,
I suggest you go and apologize right now to that boy. You owe it to him and you better hope he understands and accepts
Vin said softly, "I hope he does
Damien walked along
the raging river as it banked and narrowed, widened and flowed, settled itself
in areas and rumbled in rage in others. He liked the sound of her, the constant
murmuring of her flow. He hadn’t walked far, just up towards the plains nearby
the old site of Salisbury. No one was
late in the day. He shivered against the early evening chill, but it was an
involuntary response from his body, he really didn’t feel the cold. He was
still too numb.
In all his life, Damien had learned to leave himself in hours of distress. It didn’t pay to stay around and suffer. You just shut yourself down. He was shut down now. Oblivious to the consequences of leaving the manor house, unaware of the cold evening faced with no place to go, unsure of himself, but not caring what happened. He allowed himself to luxuriate in the sound of the river and purposeless route he followed.
It was always like this. Friends, family, relationships, they all ended in harsh words of rejection. Simple gestures mashed and pulverized in the daily hassles of life, taking on nefarious meanings simply because no one took the time to get to know you, understand the man behind the facade. So be it. He was tired of leaving himself open to rejection.
He would be lucky if
he could return to the manor house, pack his bags and be allowed to leave
without having an attempted murder charge placed on his head. Damn fool,
showing off on the ladder, it’s a wonder he lived this long, Day thought to
himself. Remembering the shock on Mark’s face as he looked down on the angel,
the deadly stone arrow waiting to impale him
It was the look on Mark’s face that registered the danger to Damien. Doing the only thing he could think of in
the brief second he had to assess the situation, he pushed the ladder and it's
occupant out of the way of certain death and angled him towards a severe
Things would have been explained and understood if that damn asshole Vincent Cade hadn’t chosen that moment to return home. He was making a point of staying out of my way, doing all sorts of business, Day thought sarcastically, just to avoid seeing me. Had to choose that moment to come home and see things the only way he wanted to see them. Hates me, the asshole hates me and I don’t know why he didn’t just let them ship me back to the states.
Suddenly Damien felt tired. He didn’t think he could move one step further along the riverbank. Finding a soft, grassy spot under a tree, mere feet from the river’s edge, he sat slowly down while bracing his back against the hard wood of the tree. He would just rest awhile here and if he fell asleep and froze to death things would be better for the world. The world didn’t seem to care too much one way or the other.
Vincent Cade walked
up the stairs, and knocked softly on the closed bedroom
door. When there was no answer, he
open the door ,
"Damien, please, I need to talk to you ."
he said gently. Looking into the room,
it was clear in seconds that it was empty.
Walking quickly into the connecting bathroom, Vin confirmed his fear
that the boy was gone.
Hurrying down the back stairs, he opened the door into the kitchen quickly. "Aggie, have you seen Day? He's not upstairs."
startled at the sudden appearance of the man, but quickly recovered. "No, I haven't." Putting down the bottle of juice she was
pouring for Mark, she said simply, "He's run off. You made him feel so unwelcome in this
house, Mr. Cade, that he's gone."
Her voice was not accusing, simply stating a fact that they
both were well aware of.
Vin nodded ,
"I know. We have to find him. Where do you think he'd go?"
Aggie sighed, "I don't know, last time he tried to walk to the road, hoping to catch a ride back into town. He might be trying that again." Then, thinking for a moment, she added, "He liked to walk down by the river. He might be down that way.-traveled"
absently, Vin said, "Aggie, please - get in your car and drive the
road to Salisbury and see if you can 't
find him. I'm going to go ask Peter to
drive the opposite way and I'll take the river."
Wiping her hands on a towel, she quickly snatched her keys and purse and hurried out the door.
Vin walked quickly
into the living room. "Day has run
he announced without preamble.
"Agnes is going to drive toward Salisbury hoping to see
him. Peter, I was hoping you could drive the other way
and see if you can't find him. I'm going to go walk down by the river and
see if he's done
Mark sat up and
standing up said, "I'll help you down there, this way we can
both take a direction and cover more ground."
stood too and placed a restraining hand on
Mark's arm. "I know you want to help, but I
want you to drive and I'll walk down by the river and help Vin."
Seeing the logic and
not wishing to take time to argue, Mark nodded his head, "Ok, that
makes sense." Turning to Vin, he
said, "Don't worry, he couldn't
have gotten far. We'll find him."
later, Peter and Vin walked out the back door, armed with flashlights,
headed down the path to the river. In
the still of the evening, they both heard Mark pull away from the house, all
agreeing to be back at the house in 90 minutes to reassess the situation.
Damien awoke with a start. The chill air was seeping into his bones and the night sounds of crickets, frogs and nocturnal things filled the air. The ratty sweatshirt he had worn to work the urns was little protection against the dampness. His butt felt frozen to the earth and he shifted his weight to alleviate the dampness that had settled into his fleshy buttocks.
The sound came again,
a sharp snapping of twigs and branches as though something large were wending
it’s way along the bank straight towards him. This time, accompanied by
bouncing light and a loud voice calling "Damien!"
. Knowing exactly who that
to and not wishing to meet him , he rose
quickly, too quickly for the moist ground. He lost his footing and slide toward
the river, splashing slightly into it with his feet before he was able to stop
large hands were grasping his upper arms , he
heard a curse, a soft utterance for damnation and young fools and he was pulled
hitting hard against a massive chest. He wanted to fight off the hard frame
that was holding him tightly pulling him forward upon firmer ground, but it was
warm here and safe. The arms were the kind you could find shelter in.
As Vin pulled
him up, he muttered, “Damn brat, be careful.”
He was roughly
hauled up and Vin ran large hands over him, checking for
injuries. Then much to Day's surprise, he was pulled
into a hard hug. "Thank god
you are all right."
Cade loomed over him in the darkness, the soft moon glow accentuating his teeth and the whites of his eyes.
I want to be alone,”
and he shivered at the pathetically childish sound
this statement made.
“You’re coming back
to the house with me
Cade said harshly. Then, highhanded he said in a gentle voice. "I'm sorry Day.
I was wrong this afternoon. I
should never have jumped to the conclusion that you had pushed Mark that you
would deliberately try to hurt him or anyone for that matter. I came around the corner of the house and
saw...." Vin's voice trailed off and he re grouped,
knowing that there would be time later to explain to Day, now he simply needed
to know that Vin knew he was wrong. "I saw something that I
didn't understand and jumped to the wrong conclusions ,
conclusions that I never should have even thought. I was wrong, and should have known better, I do know you better." Vin paused for a moment, giving the stunned
man time to process what was being said to him. "I'm sorry and I hope you accept my apology and forgive
stunned at what was being admitted to him.
Rarely did people apologize to him and he didn't remember anyone ever
admitting they were wrong. "You
have no idea how much you thinking I would do that hurt
Vin. I know we haven't always gotten
along, but for you to think that of me...." his voice trailed off as he
shook his head, "That hurt , that really hurts."
Vin pulled him
into another hug, "I know Day, and I am sorry for that. I wish I could go back and restart the whole
afternoon. But, I can't. I can promise
though, I will not jump to conclusions anymore. I will listen
to your side before I accuse you of something. You have my
word on that
Damien . And that is not something I
long minutes passed before Day pulled away, nodding his head, "O K. I understand. We all make mistakes." He looked up and
locked eyes with Vin, "Just don't do it again, I won't be so quick to
forgive you next time."
Vin smiled and gave a smart salute. "Yes, sir."
Day laughed, "Can we start back now? I'm hungry."
Vin smiled and couldn't resist the urge to ruffle the blond head in front of him. "Sure. We aren't very far from the house."
As they started back
along the river, Vin holding the flashlight to guide their way, he draped an
arm around Day's shoulder and pulled him close, not saying anything
Damien sat at the table. Dressed in clean sweats and wrapped in a huge terry cloth robe that no doubt belonged to the master of the house, he was freshly showered and warm and snug. Like a runaway child with his two parents sitting across from him, he ate the hot soup with a relish he failed to disguise. Mark and Peter had arrived back at the house, both relieved that the runaway had been found safe and sound. Soon afterwards, they made their good-byes and headed home, turning down Aggie's offer for dinner. Mark was stiffing up from his fall and was looking forward to the promised backrub from Peter.
Aggie and Vin ate
their own soup, each lost in their own thoughts of how the day could have
turned out differently. The only exchange was to pass the large homemade bread
which went perfectly with the soup. Neither spoke to Damien. Aggie just kept
grabbing his bowl as it emptied and refilling it without asking the diner if he
wanted more. Day was hungry and tired.
He was still processing the conversation he and Vin had down at the
river. He was still a little in awe
that the other man had apologized
He wasn't sure what was going to happen next, but his tired brain was
not up to the complex problem tonight and thus the silence was a welcome re treat ..
No sooner had Aggie removed the bowls and silverware from the kitchen table, when Vincent stood up.
“Damien, come with me
we can talk.” was all he said as he left the din ning
room toward his office.
Day shot a frightened look at Aggie who watched the scene from the kitchen sink. She nodded her head encouragingly and smiled.
Clutching the robe tightly around him, Day trudged off after the taller man.
Vin’s office was not
small, but it was not huge and pretentious either. It was a cozy room with
bookshelves along one wall. A leather couch
the wall next to the door. Across from the couch Cade’s rich mahogany desk was
neatly organized, a leather swivel chair behind it that could easily be turned
around to view the front driveway out the window. Along the right wall was a
small bar with crystal decanters and glasses. Day liked the room; it wasn’t
anything like his father’s study at home. The huge room was all show for guests,
every piece of furniture opulent---a room of affectations. This room was a cozy
den for a man who had no desire to impress people with showiness.
Cade walked behind
the desk, but did not sit down. Instead, he looked out the window upon the
lawns in front of the huge home
. His hands
clasped behind his back , the
lord of the domain in contemplation, Damien thought and almost burst out
laughing...the thought striking him funny and he couldn’t even reason why.
Cade turned and looked at him with an unreadable expression. Day suddenly feared he had spoken aloud without realizing it.
“Sit down please Damien
Moving quickly towards the sofa, Day sat on the edge.
“Why didn’t you tell me what happened?” Cade walked towards the door and closed it. Now the room seemed even smaller to Day. The huge man standing there blocking any escape.
“Tell you what?” he
not quite sure what this ape of a man was talking
“That you were trying
to save his life…keep him from falling on the statue?” Vincent said, sitting
down in one of the chairs. "I know
I didn't really give you a chance on the
but why run away? I was going to talk
to you, why didn't you wait for me?"
“Oh yeah!” Damien yelled as he rose from the leather sofa. "Like you would have believed me!" Walking angrily towards the window he folded his own arms across his chest, enraged by this man’s open dialogue attempts NOW! It was too late, always too late. He was always earmarked as a troublemaker without proof or reason. Who gave a fuck now…now it just didn’t matter any more.
A low throaty groan came from behind him and Day shivered at the sound. He was no doubt used to people fearing him, moving out of his way, giving him little resistance. Well, Day thought, maybe a little resistance was good to give the wolf before the rabbit died. Why simply offer yourself up as a meal.
“Damien, I'm sorry that you think you could never ha
explained to me what happened, even after I calmed down. I am sorry if I've given you that impression
of me . ,”
Vincent said. He was standing directly behind the young
blond now and Day didn’t even remember hearing him cross the room. "I want to get some things cleared up
between us, and I can see that's one of them.
I understand that I am going to have to prove to you that you can tell
me anything, but you are also going to have to trust me. I know that might be difficult, especially
now - after this afternoon
- but we have to both try.&quoot;
Gently reaching out a hand and laying it on the boy's shoulder, Vin
continued, "Don't you agree Day?
Don't you think it would make your time here more enjoyable and
Nodding his head in
agreement, he turned slowly from the window, fighting a desire to hide and find
comfort in the strong arms that had held him earlier. Damien St. Claire looked up at the taller man merely inches away
and felt a desire for something more then just comfort from him. The hard set of his lips pulled
attention , like a magnet demanding its due. Day
ran a wet tongue over his lips, it
paused briefly on its route and stood poised at the upper left corner of his
mouth. He had no idea how tantalizing he looked.
Vincent stood mesmerized by the slow movement of that tongue. What a sensuous trip it took along the tender petals of that mouth. He wanted to clamp down on those lips, seize that pink opening like territory to claim and invade with all the passion and hot desire he now felt.
Damien lost himself
in the dark pools. He felt himself falling as though into a dark, muddy po
and his only salvation now was to break the pull. Feeling the strength of his own reaction, Day panic. Reaching a hand along the small
credenza behind him, under the window, he picked up the first thing within
reach and threw it with full force against the opposite wall. The small, glass
paperweight did not shatter, but it left a huge chip in the wood paneling.
Vincent didn’t move.
He barely flinched at the sound. Instead
whatever heat and passion he felt was returned in the hazel depths. "Day, that was uncalled for, don't you
A loud pounding on the door was the only prelude to Mrs. Coletrane rushing into the room. “Lordy, sir, what happened?” She quickly assessed the situation, making sure that murder was not the outcome of the noise.
“It’s nothing, Mrs. Coletrane. It seems I’ve been clumsy again and I’ve dropped my paperweight.”
Agnes looked at the large chip in the paneling across the room from where the paperweight was always placed, across the room from where Vincent Cade and the young blond man now stood inches away from each other. No falling objects flew across rooms unless they were thrown.
“Mr. Cade, sir, a word please.” Agnes did not make a request it was a command. Vincent gave one last look at the other man and said “We’re not through yet and we will be discussing that little incident,” before he turned to follow the small, gray-haired woman out into the hallway.
“Vincent Cade, I’m sorry, but I am going to speak my mind,” Aggie said, placing her hands on her hips.
The tall man threw back his head and laughed, “Like that's unusual for you, Agnes Coletrane?”
Indignant by the
laughter, not by the statement that was all too true, Aggie straightened to her
now allow him to run amok now because
you are afraid of making another mistake with him. He is itching for someone to
take him in hand and you know it. I
and typically, I would agree with you giving him more time to adjust to your
rules and talking about them before
Vin sighed, "I
know what you are saying Aggie, and I agree with you. Do you think that's what the boy needs right now? Even with all that
happened this afternoon? I hurt him, I
need him to understand that I'm sorry and it won
Aggie cut him off
with a wave of her hand, "Vin, you
screwed up. You said you were sorry, it won't happen
again, now get past it. Don't allow
that to alter how you would deal with him for another second. The more you dwell on it, the big of a issue it
will be. How long would you walk on
glass around him, letting him do what he wants because of 5
minutes of stupidity? A day?
A week? It won't change
anything, only make it worse. Go in
there, lay down the law and pull him back in line and establish the rules. It will make him happier in the long
run." With that, she gave him a
warm smile, patted his arm, turned, and walked down the hall.
Vince shook his head; still not sure this was the way to go. Opening the door he found the impudent brat sitting behind his desk, leisurely pushed back in the soft leather chair, his stocking feet on the desk looking to all the world like the owner of the house. Vincent’s cheeks reddened in anger, but he didn’t say anything. He closed the door and walked to the window. Again clasping his hands behind his back, he looked formidable in the thick, beige, cable-knit sweater and gray tweed slacks…debonair, but formidable.
“We’ll add the cost of repair to that wall to your list of repayments. You keep up the attitude, my boy, and you’ll be working here until you’re in your seventies.”
“Why don’t you and I cut the bullshit,” Day said, sarcastically. “You don’t like me and I don’t like you. I have an estate to be settled back home. I’m due an inheritance that will more than cover the damages to your damn car and any I could possibly do to this dilapidated, old, relic you choose to call home.”
Vin bristled at the change of structure. He didn’t like being lectured from his own desk like a truant schoolboy.
“I’m not the poor wayward youth you’ve considered me from day one. I have lawyers and family back home that would have a lawsuit against you in no time if I place one phone call. You are nothing here, Mr. Vincent Cade. My father is a banker back in New England, he loves me and he’d have a cadre of legal eagles here…”
“ENOUGH!” Vincent said in a strong, sure voice as he turned from the window.
“Damien, I'm afraid you have underestimated me. I know a lot more about you than you know of me. I had my people do some checking on you, your family and situation before you were even out of the hospital. You’re an orphan pretty much now,” he got no satisfaction when he saw Day’s face pale, the eyes lose their cocksure attitude of defiance. “You’ve an estate in the courts right now with Ryan St. Claire your legal guardian and executor until you reach the age of thirty or prove yourself capable of handling such large sums of money. You ran to England to escape the court battle and the pressure to prove yourself a worthy recipient. And, judging by the way you were living, you need to fear your whereabouts being reported to Ryan St. Claire and the investigators he’s had searching for you.”
Day pushed his feet off the desk and jumped up. “You son of a bitch, checking up on me, you fucking, shithead, you…”
Day didn’t get a chance to finish. Vincent grabbed the large sleeved robe and pulled the stunned occupant of its folds towards the sofa. He was not going to enjoy this and this was not how he envisioned spending the evening, but Aggie was right---something had to be done. He was determined to be fair about his intent to teach the boy respect, proper language, attitude and responsibility; and if that lesson need to be taught with the boy over his knees being spanked, he would do just that.
Reaching down he pulled the belt knot open. Holding the robe by the collar he tugged it free and let it fall to the floor. Next Damien was pulled down hard across the huge thighs as Vin sat on the sofa. He gasped at the horrendous position he found himself in. “No!” was his only response.
“Yes! It’s what you deserve and need, my boy. You have been rude and disrespectful, not to mention the damage and the tantrum when you threw that paperweight. Whatever you were feeling, there are better ways to deal with those emotions instead of throwing things.”
Vincent pulled the sweatpants down. Then the boxers were sent to join them in their lonely exile around Damien’s ankles.
He kicked, he squirmed, he pleaded, he whined about life and age and his dignity, but Vincent Cade was determined.
“I’m a grown man. I’m no child. Let me up. We can talk. I can be respectful.”
”Ha!” was Cade’s only response. “You have only shown me you can't.”
Cade raised his hand and brought it down sharply on the soft rounded mounds that looked up at him enticingly. They were perfect, like Vin remembered them from taking his temperature. They were white and softly shaped with the impudence and firmness of youth. Soon they were red mounds, angrily hot and bitter in the retribution Vincent sent their way. Flesh slapping filled the hollows of the small room and Day cringed as much from the sound as he did from the hot, stinging contact upon his soon-sore bottom.
“Please, no more. Please, Vin, please….I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.”
It was the plaintive cry of a lost soul. It was the remorse and self-serving sorrow that anyone feels when he realizes he is getting what he deserves that brought Vin to a stop.
Releasing the smaller man who lay limp and lifeless across his knees, Vin rubbed his back, looking down at the reddened flesh as it glowed in the lambent glow of the desk lamp.
Damien struggled to right himself. He stood to pull up his boxers and his pants, sniffling as he tried to hide his embarrassment. Turning to walk away, he felt his hand grasped and he was pulled back onto the sofa. A soft gasp escaped his lips as his tortured flesh met the soft leather of the sofa. “Sit here,” and he sat, squirming in discomfort.
“Talk. I want answers about this afternoon's disappearing act and this evening's tantrum. No attitude. No commentary. Answers.” Vincent’s voice was coldly detached.
“I pushed him away from the statue. It was the only alternative. I never meant him any harm,” Damien blurted out, eager now to escape the inquisition.
“Why didn’t you tell me then? Surely you realized how it seemed to me. Why didn't you give me some time to calm down.”
“You are a man who makes judgment calls on seems,” Day threw back at him.
“You are a young man about to face the floor again.” Vincent parried back.
Damien bit his lower lip. “You saw what you wanted to see.” A tear teased the corner of the hazel eyes, then another pushed from the outer corner of the other orb, the lips quivered and Day was fighting hard to stay firm, to keep himself together.
However, Cade saw them and realized that Day needed comforting more than an interrogation at that moment. He reached out two strong hands and grasped the shoulders of the fragile figure beside him. Pulling the compliant youth forward, Vin laid him face down on the couch so that his head rested on a small pillow in his lap. The blond stiffened not knowing what was going to happen, but a large hand rested on his back and began making small loops and circles in a quieting gesture. Day found himself breaking up in small increments until the sobs erupted and he pulled himself up into a slight ball and cried.
Vincent Cade simply sat there, making comforting sounds while he rubbed his back, allowing the free flow of emotions to do their cleansing.
A peace had pulled itself upon Halcyon Heights at last. The name for once rang true to the scene of contentment that carried the three inhabitants about their business. Agnes Coletrane pulled the boy in; like a soft sand dune, he slid helplessly into her maternal graces and was lost in pleasing her. Damien grew respectful of Vincent, still somewhat cautious around him, but not fearful. He received a firm lecture on what was expected of him in the weeks to come and what the price would be to his tender backside if he chose to show contention.
As much as Day was loath to admit it, he found himself liking the routines of the day and simple cause and effect layout of his life now. Follow the rules, enjoy the peaceful country life while at Halcyon, or pay the price of any insurrection. He discovered, to his surprise, he actually liked decorating the urns in magnificent patterns of color and bloom. Several times he saw Vincent standing off to the side as he and Mark worked, and the older man would smile before turning away and returning to his own activities. Those rare and private smiles seemed to be for him alone, leaving Day puzzled by them and his own reactions to so simple a gesture.
However no relationship flows smoothly all the time, save those in fantasies. It was shortly after dinner when Aggie announced a night out with Peter and Mark. Wishing her well, Day took off to the large living room, eager to return to his book, happy to have an evening of relaxation.
Deciding to join him, Vincent picked up two large mugs from a shelf and poured two cups of steaming coffee. Walking into the living room, he put one cup down on the coffee table in front of Day earning himself a smile from the younger man. Secretly pleased with the gesture, he walked to the window to peer out onto the back yard. The terrace he saw was coming along nicely with the new wall, the urns adding color and balance to the wide verandah.
Shaking his head in patient amusement, Vin saw the garden tools still left beside the urn off to the right of the great hall window.
"Day, what is this?" he asked.
"Huh?" the figure said, not raising his head from the book, barely listening.
Vin turned to look at the relaxed young man engrossed in his book. "Damien, look at me."
"WHAT? I'm reading,” came the irritated response.
Glaring at the blond man, he held his temper in check. "Put your book down and come here, please,” he said, trying for patience and polite reasoning.
disgustedly, Damien made a big production and show of placing his book on the
coffee table and standing up. Trudging over to Vin, he snapped, "Yes?
Vin put his cup down on a side table and placing both hands on Day’s shoulders, he directed him closer to the window. Pointing towards the forgotten tools, he said, "What is this?"
Vin, if I had to guess, I'd say it's the patio," he answered, looking at
Vin with a smug expression. "What do I win?"
SWAT! The large hand awakened his partially numbed bottom. "Don't be smart. What is ON the patio?"
"Garden tools.... it's a garden, there are garden tools out there. What did you think I plant the flowers in the damn urns with? My hands?"
"Watch your language,” he warned in a soft voice. Turning the young man around he looked into the hazel eyes. Patiently as though talking to a small child, he asked, "Why are they on the patio instead of put away like Mark told you to do when you were finished?"
Mark is just as anal and tight-assed as you. I'm going to work on the urns
tomorrow, why put the tools away only to take them out again. You see I'm
saving you man-hours. The time it would take me to put them away and take them
out, you have actual labor from me." Grinning a self-satisfied smile, he
was proud he was one up on the old man.
Vin, however, did not see it that way. "You need to put them away because I am telling you to. Your man hours belong to me for this month and if I want them spent hauling tools from the tool shed to the patio and back again, that is what you need to be doing, young man."
Glancing at the clock, he made a quick judgment call. "Now, put them away and head off to bed, you're cranky tonight, perhaps because you didn’t get enough sleep last night. You can go to bed early tonight and hopefully be in a more cooperative and reasonable mood tomorrow."
away, Day started heading back towards his place on the sofa. “Like hell I
A large hand hooked out and detained him. "Excuse me?"
"You're just looking for an excuse to jump all over me. Those garden tools aren't in anyone's way, they're not hurting your precious lawns or your elegant home, so why are you being such a prick over this?" Pulling back a bit, Day tried to remove himself from the situation, but the grip on his arm only tightened.
"Damien, it is not about whether or not the garden tools are in anyone's way, it's not about if they are hurting anything, it is about the fact that you were told, twice now, to put them away."
Vincent held his temper in check, trying to be patient and reasonable and just get the garden tools put away and this rebellious young man into doing what he was told. "So, make this a lot easier on yourself, go and pick up the tools. It won't hurt you and it's not worth the battle, little boy,” he said in an appeasing manner.
"Vin," Day mimicked the silky and patient tone mockingly, "it is not about whether there are tools on the patio or not, it's not about them hurting anything, it's about the fact that you're the Lord of the Manor and a control freak. Give me a break, man, I've worked all day out there, let me have a little time to myself. Just once think about me, think about how I feel, instead of your precious tools and rules."
The soft approach was not working, so Cade, military man used to being obeyed shifted gears quickly. "I am thinking about you, little boy." Marching him over to the corner, "You are going to stand here and think about this battle you are starting. Think about if you really want to do this and if it's worth it." Pushing him toward the corner, Vin delivered a couple of hard swats to his sweatpants. "There are rules and the sooner you learn to live by them, the happier you will be."
"NO!" dragging his feet as the duet marched into the corner; Day was fast becoming unhinged.
"Damien! Stop it!"
"NO....please, not for discussing this with you. You can't punish me for discussion. I'm entitled to plead my case. Every man gets his day in court." No sooner was his nose pressed to the corner, his arm released, than he turned ready to bolt.
"I'm not punishing you for discussing this, I am giving you a place to quietly reflect on what you are starting and to give you a chance to calm down."
Taking his arm again, Vin turned him towards the corner and silently urged him forward into its silent space, hoping he would comply and not force his hand. "Turn around, Damien, and think about your actions and the consequences of them---and decide if it's worth it."
"VIN!" Day wailed his anxiety loud and clear. Stomping his foot several times in anger, but still facing the corner, he tried again, "Please, Vin." Casting a woeful glance over his shoulder, he looked for a pardon.
"TURN around, Damien,” Vin said forcefully. "Stop whining and be quiet and think about what you are doing…how much more trouble you can buy yourself.”
"It's not fair...I can't stand here if I don’t' deserve it and I DON'T deserve it. I'll go...let me go put them away," he said, taking a small step out of the corner toward the door. "See, I'm going right now."
STOP IT!" Vin said, placing a
restraining hand on the other man's arm.
Placing him back into the corner, Vin began to rub Day's back slightly,
trying to calm the excited young man down, help him to avoid further trouble.
"It's too late for that right now.
I want you to stand here and think back over this conversation and think
about how else you could have handled it." Still gently rubbing,
"We'll talk about it in a few minutes. Now hush and think."
"Vin, I just want to go put the damn tools away and go back to reading my book...okay?" Day said, trying to be reasonable, desperate to change the course of events. SWAT! A loud smack echoed in the large room. “Ow!”
"I told you no and I mean no," Vin said, remaining calm and controlled as his companion became more unhinged.
"Why are you so rigid, man? Why can't you take an apology when it's offered and forgive and forget?
"Because, little boy, your apology is hollow, you are only sorry because you are now in trouble. I told you there are consequences to your actions and this is one of those consequences. Now, turn around, face the corner and don't open your mouth again until I tell you to."
“Standing in the corner---I suppose you see that as somehow productive, but I don't.
I'm willing to collect the goddam tools and put them away, but you have to have your due, don't you, man?" Wetting his lips, Day looked directly into the brown eyes. "I could think of other ways of spending time, making amends." Day pulled himself closer to Vin. Curling his fingers into the man's shirtfront, he began to tease the hard chest beneath with small circular motions.
"Excuse me, little boy?" Vin said, taking a half step back, struggling with his emotions, "I think you need to stand here by yourself and give your actions a lot of thought." Taking Day by the arm, he delivered a very hard swat, and turned him back into the corner. "Stand there and don't turn around again or I use my belt on you."
Vincent backed away taken aback by the obvious seduction, wondering if he was only reading things his own desire wanted there. Perplexed by the change in Damien from rebellious brat to seductive imp, he realized that there were layers to this young man he had yet to see.
Day stood there for several moments thinking, but soon became infuriated with the lack of control he had over the situation. Long used to pulling strings, tucking corners, calming waters with hazel eyes and wet lips, taking the edges off of other's sharp intents, he was perplexed by how easily he had lost this battle.
Spinning around, he began to rage at the man standing several feet behind him, "DAMN YOU! YOU JUST HAVE TO PUNISH ME, DON"T YOU? It's all about hurting me, isn't it? You're not happy with the tools being picked up, or me making you feel good, you just have to hurt someone."
Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes briefly, Vin centered himself, trying to ease himself into being calm. "No, that's not true. Now, what did I say I would do if you
turned around again?"
Day's eyes widened at the threat, the warm blood of remembrance heating his face with embarrassment and dread. He gulped and his lips quivered. After a quick glance towards the door, calculating his chances of escape, his eyes returned to Vin's. There was only pleading there now, a quiet prayer for mercy.
Calmly again, enunciating each word, "Damien, what did I say would happen if you turned around again?"
Not quite sure he could form the words on his trembling lips, Day closed his eyes.
'Think', he told himself, 'there has to be a way to backtrack, a reset button, a try again, an escape'. But for him, this was a new game and the gamekeeper was a pro. Slowly raising his eyes, he sighed, "You'd whip me until I bled." The exaggeration pronounced, not in sarcasm, but in his only avenue of defense.
Calmly, Vin pushed onward, "Damien, is that what I said? Yes or No."
Again, the tentative tongue passed quickly over the dryness of his mouth. The lips compressed as he bit into his lower lip. "No, sir. Please Vin, I'm sorry and I won't allow myself to get that far out of control again if you would give me a second chance. I'm sorry," Day said politely, truly repentant.
Sorry that the situation had taken this route, despite his efforts to veer it elsewhere, he frowned. "I'm sorry, too, Damien, but, you had more than your fair share of second chances and you chose to push me and force my hand." Taking hold of Day's upper arm again, he walked him over to the couch.
Damien tried to pry the strong fingers from his arm, his concentration so intent on pulling the curling talons off, that he negated all struggle and actually walked dumbly along.
"Little boy, your actions have brought you from a few minutes of corner time, to a whipping," Vin said gently, regrettably. "I had no intention of going this far, but your actions have consequences and this is the path you chose. Now, lower your pants and bend over."
Day's mouth dropped, his eyes like saucers, "What? Why? No....no way...please ..you can't be serious. Please don't, I'm sorry."
Vin looked at him for a moment and then gently pushed him over the arm of the sofa. Damien seemingly incapable of offering anything but vocal resistance let out a soft moan. Vin quickly unbuckled his belt and pulled it free from his pants.
Day seemed unaware that he was not being restrained. He simply laid over the couch, eyes squeezed tightly shut.
Laying the folded soft leather on the arm of the couch by Day, he pulled down the boy’s sweatpants. Picking up the belt again, "Damien, I told you this would happen if you turned around again and I always keep my word. Five strokes."
Tensing his body, Day's spirit had left him as quickly as his sharp wit and valor; he had no more magic to offer up to ward off the evil that had befallen him. The only sign that Day had heard him was the tight clenching of his buttocks in dreaded anticipation of the whipping. Images of flogged men aboard ships in childhood books flashed across his mind, the terrible running welts of the lash burning in his mind's eye, and he felt his stomach rage against him. He gulped to hold back its contents and waited.
Taking a deep breath, Vin placed a firm hand on the boy's lower back, raised his belt and brought it down sharply against Day's bottom. Raising it again quickly, he delivered the remaining strokes, not striking the same place twice and not putting his full arm into the swings. It was over in less than thirty seconds.
Day cried out at each stroke, more in response to his fear of pain than the actual pain itself. Even though Vin did not strike hard, he brought the belt down forcefully enough to impress the point home quite clearly that his sarcasm and tricks wouldn’t be tolerated.
"Come on, little one," Vin said when he was done, rubbing the shaking back gently, "corner time." Pulling up Day's pants and helping him stand up, he led him to the corner. "I want you to stand there and think about how this got started and what happened to lead you here."
There was no more fire, only dying embers of regret, in Damien St. Claire. Leaning into the juncture with a forlorn desperation, he sought comfort in the lonely realm. All the loneliness and feelings of abandonment he had known most of his life surfaced like boiling water. Sobbing loudly, great heaving gasps escaping through some opened portal of his soul; he slumped forward, conquered and pathetic.
Vin stepped from the corner and sat in one of the small hard chairs against the wall, his eyes darting between the wall clock and the figure in the corner. Torn between a great need to pull the boy into his arms and comfort him and the need to see the punishment through, he focused on the clock above the mantel.
Five minutes later, he stood up, "Come on, little boy, enough." Leading him to one of the leather chairs, he sat down, pulling Damien down on top of him. Putting his feet up on the ottoman, Damien fit comfortably sideways on his lap. Picking up a lap rug from where it had fallen on the floor, Vin draped it around the boy's shoulders, whispering comforting, nonsense words.
Damien could only think of the warmth and security those arms now offered, the same arms that fought him into submission and subjugation moments ago now harbored him. He could think of no place he would rather be. There was no sexual tension here, no feelings or concerns that the holding would soon turn passionate. Damien let himself drift into the person he used to be, the little boy who only wanted to be loved and comforted and accepted. Crying out the last of his misery, he buried his face in the broad shoulder. "I'm sorry," he mumbled against the fabric. "I'm not nice and I'm sorry I'm not. I just thought you expected..." his small voice trailed off, unsure of where he was even going.
"You thought I expected what, little one?" Vin asked, tightening his hold, rocking slightly, "what was going through your head a few minutes ago. All you had to do was turn around and keep your mouth shut."
Damien nuzzled more deeply into the shoulder, groaning in self-hatred.
Vin tapped him gently on the shoulder, “Tell me what that little flirtation was all about.”
The question seemed to increase the steady flow of tears for several more minutes before slacking off. Taking the offered tissue and blowing his running nose, Day said miserably, “I was trying to get you to think of something else to do with me other than punish me.”
“Little boy, if that day ever comes between us, it’s going to be pure and sweet and good. Not a weapon, not a ruse, and not in place of punishment.”
“But I can be things. I can be anything you want me to be. Just tell me.” Pulling Vin’s shirtfront tightly in clenched fingers, he tucked his head further down. “I’ve been in relationships. I’ve lots of experience…doing things.”
Vincent suppressed a smile, taking a deep breath before he answered, “I’m sure you are very, very experienced and no doubt you could teach me a thing or two about life in the fast lane, little boy. But I have been around the block a few times myself and I don’t think you could do or say anything that would shock me.”
“I’ve been in bondage relationships, S&M. I just wanted to be loved, and I never know what anyone wants from me and so I screw up and I ruin everything.” Day pulled his hand up to his mouth and Vin saw him bite down hard on his knuckles, hoping to stop some emotional break.
Vin pulled the hand out of his mouth, much like a teething baby and rested his cheek on the other man's head. Softly, he said, "All I wanted from you, little boy, was for you to pick up the tools you left out."
“I can’t be owned so completely by someone. That’s why I think I failed with Jeffrey. I tried really hard to be submissive and obedient, but Jeffrey would lose patience with me. He wanted me whipped and humiliated and totally submissive to him. That's what he thought I wanted, too, I wanted so much to be with someone that I wasn't honest. He figured it out quickly though and let me go.”
Vin sighed, "Demon, I have no desire to own you, I have no desire to inflict pain on you or to humiliate you. I do have a desire to see you happy, to see you make something out of your life and to stop fighting against---whatever it is that seems to be eating at you. The best way I know to do that is to give you firm boundaries, to guide you, to give you something to hold onto while you figure out what is going on inside of you. I think you need to talk to someone to help you figure that out, I'll be here to help support you, to not let you fail or fall apart, to give you some solid foundation to rely upon. I might be harsh, I might hurt you, but I will never do it without a clear reason and cause on your part and it will always be done with the love and respect that you deserve. I promise you that, Damien.”
The golden head was lying in a sweet abandon now, slumber touching the borders of Day's mind. Half listening to the words being spoken above him, he burrowed deeply into the warmth of the shirt. Murmuring his responses to a conversation only he was hearing, he barely let the words out before exhaustion overcame him, "It feels safe here," he mumbled. Then he was lost to the other place, where weary souls find escape, and little boys find peace.
Vin could feel the heaviness of the young man increase as he relaxed into sleep.
Making sure the blanket was secure, he leaned his head back into the juncture of the chair and its winged side and closed his own eyes. His mind racing with what should be done with the problem currently nestled on his lap, he prayed for guidance.
The night was quiet. Mrs. Coletrane was still out with her son and Peter for a late night dinner and movie. Damien had been in bed several hours since his admissions of the day; he was emotionally exhausted and Vin admitted he was a bit concerned about the young man.
Wearily checking the doors, making sure the hall light and side portico lights were on for Mrs. Coletrane’s return, he wearily trudged up the stairs. Revelations in others can at times be just as trying to the receiver of information as to the soul-barer, Vincent mused.
Quickly peaking in on Day one last time, he quietly shut the door and continued down the hall to his bedroom.
Eager for the cool sheets, he stripped quickly and pulled the covers back. He was fast asleep before he had time to ruminate over the day’s revelations.
“NO! Not like that! No!”
Vincent was awake and out of bed in a flash, his boxers hanging on his slim hips, his hand poised near the bedside drawer where the small gun he owned was safely tucked far back in a secret compartment he had specially built. Being ex-military, Vincent had a terror of children or the curiously untrained harming themselves with weapons. Both guns in the house were tucked away in secret places of which only the owner knew.
Moving towards the door, the gun forgotten, the realization settled upon him like a slight chill. It was his houseguest being tormented in his sleep.
As Vincent entered Day’s room, enough moonlight seeped into the room through the sheer curtains to ascertain that all was basically well. Damien tossed and turned and flipped and flopped as Vincent watched him, a soft murmuring of denial, hands pushing away some intruder.
Putting the gun on the dresser by the door, Vin walked over to the sleeper. Sitting down on the side of the bed, he gently nudged the traveler of the night. “Day! Damien! You’re having a bad dream.”
Suddenly the lids flew open, the hazel eyes stared in wonder at the form sitting beside him, his mouth opened poised to holler out, then recognition cooled the fires and he blinked sleepily.
“I’m sorry. I must have been talking in my sleep.”
“Yelling’s more like it.” Vin reached up a hand and brushed the golden locks off the sweaty forehead. “Are you okay?” Concern now obvious in his voice as he looked closely at the younger man.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Vin tilted his head at the uncertainty of the statement. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Damien said a little too quickly with the force and conviction that was a clear indication of everything under the sun being wrong.
Vin cocked his head, hoping the glare he was throwing at the young man made its way through the dark folds and shadows of the moonlight.
Apparently it did, for Damien turned over abruptly giving Vincent his back and cold, uncovered shoulder.
“Okay, if you want to talk or you just want to be around someone, you know where I'm at,” Vin said, showing tolerance for the gesture. Lifting the blanket he covered the boy up to the golden crown and headed back for his own bed.
Several hours later, Vincent felt an unease pull him from the layers of sleep that had pleasantly engulfed him. Opening his eyes slowly he sensed another presence in the room, could almost feel the heat from the body that stood in the room, to which his back was now turned. Again his hand moved slowly under the covers for the side drawer, the instinctive move having little to do with reasoning, habits of military training surfacing in the face of possible danger.
“Vin?” came the soft whisper. His hand ceased the movement, still poised, lest the boy wasn’t alone.
“Vin? Are you awake? I can’t sleep. I’ve been tossing and turning and I don’t want to be alone. You said I could come if I wanted to…well, I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Vincent sighed heavily, dropping the hand now on the bed, raising his eyes to heaven even though no one could see the gesture.
“What is it, little boy? And don’t you think it’s best to find out if I am awake before you go telling me your troubles.”
He rolled over onto his back and allowed the hand that had trailed towards the drawer to now hit the light switch at the base of the lamp on the nightstand. The room ignited with a warm glow as shadows popped up around the room, night terrors for children, but reassuring patterns for adults.
Damien looked like a waif from some battle-ravaged land. His pajama top was half unbuttoned. One sleeve of the long pajama tops had come unsnapped and draped downward towards his knee hiding the appendage that no doubt nestled therein. The other was almost rolled up to his elbow, the collar turned inside the garment, and the general disarray bespoke some bed wrestling in an attempt to find sleep.
Vincent, moving over to the far side of the bed, lifted the covers and gesturing with his eyes, he added verbal reassurance, “Come on, you can lie down with me and I'm sure I can get you to sleep quickly enough.”
Damien trudged forward mumbling to himself. “I don’t see how you can help me sleep. I just can’t stop my mind from imagining things...things you’re thinking of me.” The last was said in an even softer whisper.
Vincent did not pursue it as the small figure settled himself alongside him, pulling himself towards the end of the bed as far away from Vincent as he could and still be on the mattress.
A hard hand hit the switch, the expensive bed barely moved as Vincent turned sharply easing himself into the middle of the queen-size bed. Raising himself up a bit on his elbow, he hooked a strong arm around the smaller figure and without so much as a sign of effort he pulled the form close into him, spooning the figure as he eased back down.
Damien began to struggle, trying to pull away, “No, I don’t want…not this.”
“Shhh! Hush! I told you, I can help you sleep and I don’t mean THAT way. I don't want anything from you, Damien, except for you and me to both get some sleep tonight.”
When the young man nodded and stopped his struggles, Vincent reached a lazy arm behind him and pulled one of the extra large, extra soft pillows from the head of the bed. Handing it to Day, he offered a suggestion. “Take the pillow, hug it to you. Focus on it…the softness, the warmth, imagine your thoughts being smothered there in the thick mass.”
“Please….” The frightened, unsure voice broke the darkness.
“Listen to me,” Vin whispered softly into the lobe mere inches from his lips. “Relax against the pillow, lie still, and imagine your mind black like some hole. You have no thoughts, there is a void, deep and dark and empty. Imagine it, Day, just let yourself imagine it.”
Damien had no idea what this man was talking about, but reached his arms out and pulled the fluffy mass against his chest, resting his chin on top of the rectangular pillow. He pulled his knees up to snuggle around the marshmallow softness, and tried to do as Vin had asked.
“Focus on the blackness…the nothingness,” Vin cooed into his ear, almost like a lover talking dirty.
Damien started to drift and began to relax. Held firmly in place, he had little choice but to remain immobile, no thrashing and turning would be tolerated here. Instead he hugged the pillow desperately, using it as a shield against restless imaginings and soon he was consumed by the blackness.
Vincent Cade smiled as the soft sounds of sleep reached back to him. Easing his hold on the now sleeping figure, Cade ventured into his own blackness and pushed back the night as he drifted towards the dawn.
The next morning, Damien sullenly trudged into the breakfast nook. Looking up at the table he saw one place setting removed. Sighing in relief, he realized that the master of the house had already eaten. He wouldn’t have to face him and worry about the revelations he made last night, nor the foolish need to seek comfort to find sleep.
Mrs. Coletrane noted the lack of enthusiasm with which this particular young man met the day and decided to withhold the instructions she was told to impart. Let him eat in peace, she thought to herself. Poor boy has had enough revelations sprung on him this week about the realities of life.
Turning with a plate full of golden eggs, scrambled to perfection, two juicy sausages, and finely shredded potatoes steaming hot, she cheerily brought the plate to her favorite houseguest.
“Good morning to you, Day," she practically sung as though he had just walked into the room instead of moping at the table for several minutes. “Best have a hearty meal. I always told my boys, ‘a good meal is the ticket to ride the day on steam.’” She chuckled at the pathetic axiom, but her spirits seemed indefatigable this morning.
Damien threw her a cautious look, wary of all this sunshine pouring down on his drowsy head.
Noting the glance, she pulled back wiping her hands on her apron, placing her right hand on her heart, she laughed, “Lordy, boy, I guess you can tell I had a wonderful time last night. Mark and Peter were such sweet company and we saw the most amazing movie. Anthony Hopkins has always been my favorite actor, him being British and all, but when he smiled behind those bars, he made my skin crawl.”
She poured Damien a huge mug of coffee and one for herself. Sitting down next to him she wrapped her hands around the mug and smiled at him. “Did you have a pleasant evening?”
His eyes darted up quickly from their sober reflection of golden eggs. “Why?” he asked moodily.
“No reason, just a general interest in the state of affairs,” she said pleasantly.
“The general state of affairs around here are pretty bleak from where I sit,” Damien grumbled.
Then noting the sad look that flashed across her face, he hated himself for bringing her down. She was a hardworking woman who cared about him and Vincent and most everyone else in the world, she deserved a night out and a morning of blissful remembrance.
“Sorry,” he said with genuine regret, “I just had a bad night. Maybe it was the fact that I knew my best and only friend around here wasn’t nearby.”
Aggie laughed at his comment, "Oh, little boy, you are such a charmer to an old woman."
Damien approached Vin's office a bit tentatively. It was slightly ajar and he didn't need to knock, but he did anyway.
Vin looked up from the book he was reading, took a deep breath to steady himself
and said, “Come in."
"Mrs. Coletrane said you wanted to see me. What did I do now?" He couldn't help but add the final question with a slight sarcasm tingeing his attitude. The memory of last night’s altercation still fresh in his mind, he didn't dare show outright defiance, but he was trying to regain some ground after all he felt he lost with his show of weakness last night.
Vin glared at him, "Sit down, Damien, and don't be smart. I've given you a lot of thought this morning and I've come to some conclusions."
"I can't wait," he couldn't help feeling a bit hostile today towards this man. Vincent Cade had seen him at his most vulnerable last night and the humiliation of throwing himself at the man to escape punishment, made him feel weak and cheap right now. To smooth over the insubordination, he sat, at least doing something that he was told.
"Damien, I thought about what happened last night," Vin said again, deciding not to rise to the bait. It seemed the young man wanted a fight this morning. "Last week, I told you about your behavior and I told you that I expected you to behave. I realize now that I should have been more specific."
Vin picked up a pad of paper and a pen and brought it to Day. "Here, you are going to write down your rules and if you have any questions we will discuss them now. After this afternoon, I expect you to follow them."
"Rules? You've already told me what's expected of me and I've got enough rules to follow with Kommandant Coletrane out there. This isn't the army and I don't remember enlisting anyway." Throwing the pad down on the sofa, he plopped the pen on top with a distinctive sound, then started to rise.
Vin placed a restraining hand on Day's arm and looked him in the eye, "Little boy, pick up the pad, pick up your pen and sit down. Don't test me on this.... I’ve had a lot more combat experience and I will win."
Day's eyes widened and it was deja vu of last night as he felt his courage seep out
of his soul. Sitting down, he slowly picked up the pen and tablet and placed it on his knee, looking like a secretary ready for dictation. The large, hazel eyes were wide and expectant...the kid was afraid of what was coming.
Vin smiled, "Good choice, little boy." Then sitting down in a chair near the couch,
he said, "Number 1 - No swearing. We will tally up your swear words at the end of each day after dinner and for each swear word, you will write it 100 times."
"Hell, that's not fair. I can't go an hour without swearing and cussing at least twenty
times. It's unnatural for me. It's part of my character. You know there's no way I can
follow that rule." Day's hand remained poised over the pad, not even bothering to write the numeric one, so sure this rule would be discarded now when Vin saw reason.
"Are you going to write that down, little boy?"
Damien glared into the brown eyes, but the muddy pools didn't waver in the least. They only seemed to harden as though all warmth were slowly leaving them and dark pieces of coal now took their place. He wavered, glancing down at the pad, then with a casual shrug, as though he didn't really care who won this battle or not, he started to write.
"Another good choice," Vin said, "and as to whether or not you can follow
that rule, it is up to you...you know the consequences.”
“Number 2 - you will be in bed Sunday through Thursday at 9:30, lights out at 10. Friday and Saturday bed at 10:30, lights out at 11. You will get up each morning at 6:30 and be ready to work at 8. If you don't, your bedtime for the next week will be adjusted for the time you missed."
"I don't believe you, man," Day said, slouching back against the soft leather sofa, stretching his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankles. The position was to show Vin that he was giving up on this project already. It was impossible and his body language only emphasized the lack of discipline he was accustomed to.
"I'm not a child. I'm used to all-nighters when I'm feeling fine. I was sick, man, but there's no way I can sleep that early when I'm feeling fine."
"Are you going to write the rule down or not?" Vin asked calmly. "Damien, these rules are non-negotiable and you will find that if you follow them, you will be happy."
"You're cutting my life down, here, whittling away every little freedom I've obtained since becoming an adult and you want me to do a jig here and buy into some bullshit forecast that I'm going to be happy. Happy? Weren't you ever young or did you just hatch full-dress military and tight-assed boring?" Now Day folded his arms across his chest, sealing out his cooperation completely.
Vin looked at him for a long moment, then taking a deep breath, he said, "Damien, I want you to stop right now. Think about what happened last night and why. Now, pick up the pen and write."
Damien remained sealed in his snug shell of unyielding form, arms still securely crossed to all reason. Tightening his lips in a pressed line of attitude he glared at the man who was putting more restrictions on him as each day passed in his presence. Then seeing the stone cold determination that exuded from Cade's eyes, he picked up the pen and harshly scribbled out the rule placing the period so hard on the paper he dropped the pen.
Vin smiled, encouragingly. This is going better then I thought it would, he said to himself, but aloud, "Good decision, young man, I see that you did learn something last night."
Damien muttered softly under his breath, "Bastard."
"Number 3, " Vin said, "You will eat three nutritious meals a day and eat what I tell you to. You have lost weight and need to put it back on, but not with sweets and junk food."
The pen remained on the floor at his feet where it had fallen. Once again, he stared
into the brown eyes for round three.
Vin sighed, "Damien, yes or no? Are we going to go through this with every rule?"
When Day took too long to answer, Vin barked out again, "YES or NO?"
Day jumped at the harsh force of those words. “No.” Then he picked up the pen and wrote out the rule, a look of total disgust covering his features.
Vin nodded again. "Number 4 - you will be respectful and polite, no back talking, and you will obey Mrs. Coletrane. You will also be respectful and polite and obey Mark and address him as Mr. Coletrane. Anything they tell you, you should consider coming from me and something that you want to obey."
"Why MISTER Coletrane, he's my age? I won't do it. I don't like him and I won't call
"It's a sign of respect and right now he is your supervisor when you are working in the gardens. He is also several years older than you and you can learn a lot from him," Vin explained patiently.
"He doesn't know half what I know. He's a gardener. He has no college education and I refuse to show him respect. Let him earn it."
Vin closed his eyes briefly, he had known this was going to happen, but still had hoped that it could be avoided. Walking over to the couch, he calmly took the paper and pen away from the other man. Lifting him up by the arm, he sat down quickly pulling a stunned Day down and across his lap. Pulling down his pants and boxers in one swift motion, Vin landed five quick, hard swats on his captive’s bottom.
Putting the pad and the pen down on the couch, directly in front of Day, Vin said, "Mark is extremely smart, little boy, he has my respect and deserves yours. Write it down and if I find out that you are disobeying that rule and being rude to him, I will treat it the same as if you were being rude to me."
Tears pooled in the mossy eyes; he pulled the pad in front of him and bent his head low, like a little schoolboy trying desperately to learn his letters. He swiped at his eyes occasionally and his breath hitched several times as he tried to hold off the hurt and frustration he felt. He had never felt so humiliated or disliked in all his life.
With Day, still lying across his knees, Vin rubbed his back, "Good boy, this will
go a lot easier on you if you just do as you are told. Only two more rules."
Day looked back over his shoulder, still sniffling, "Can I sit up now?"
"No. I think this position will let us get through your next two rules a lot more easily."
Day turned back around and groaned, "Then let's get this over with. Mrs. Coletrane could walk in." There was a slight pleading in his voice.
Vin smiled knowingly, "Day, the door is shut and she wouldn't come in without knocking and waiting for my answer," he began, "I don't want to embarrass you in front of her either. How quickly we finish this up is dependent on your cooperation. Number 5 - you will not leave the property without permission."
"That goes without saying, nothing but a prisoner here anyway," Damien mumbled as
he scribbled fast and furiously.
Ignoring the comment, verbally, Vin landed a sharp swat in the center of Day's bottom.
"Last one, Number 6 - You will call your half-brother tonight and let him know that you are okay. Then, you will call him every three days to say hello and let him know how you are doing. He is your only family, and family is too important to throw away. That is, unless you can convince me that he does not have your best interest at heart and is dangerous to you."
"No! I refuse!" Now Day started struggling to rise from his prone position, raising his bottom slightly in the air in his attempts to escape.
Delivering three hard swats on the center of the upturned bottom, Vin said sternly,
"Damien, this is not a request. Write it down or argue and deal with the consequences of arguing with me."
Not being able to move with Vin's steel band pressing across his back, he wrote as fresh tears rolled down his cheeks. "I used to admire him, followed him around when I was little kid, but he hated me. He thought I had Dad's love, but I didn't either...I was a bigger disappointment to him than Ryan." Finishing the sentence, he collapsed down on his arms fighting against a flood of tears, struggling to suppress the waves of emotions this man seemed to stir up.
Sensing the frustration and fragile emotions, Vin pulled back up the pants, and helped Day stand up, settling him back down curled up against his chest.
"Damien, I can't imagine you being a disappointment to anyone. From what I gathered, your brother cares about you deeply and only wants the best for you."
"How would you know? He only wants me back to settle the estate, keep my inheritance in the trust and run my life for me." Day clutched at Vin's shirt and buried his face against his shoulder, ashamed of his emotions and weaknesses coming to light so readily lately. "No one cares about me...not really."
Vin tightened his hold on the boy, "Day, you are very special. You are smart and quick. Ryan cares about you. Mrs. Coletrane cares about you. I care about you. IF Ryan wants to run your life, maybe it's because he wants to see you settle down and make something of yourself instead of flitting around the world with no direction."
"I had direction, HAD IT," Day hiccuped the last of it out, "but you drove your car into me and threw me off course." Pulling away from Vin's shoulder he looked up to see if Vin got the pun and the quivering lips now hungered for a smile.
Vin gave him a hard hug, then pushing him slightly back so he could look down into his eyes, he said, "Let's see if we can't get you up and back on course then."
Damien nodded his head, eager to have it all done with, but some ways feeling content now to know that the burdens of choice and flight and avoidance were all taken from him. He was in someone else's hands and he hated to admit it, but it felt good.
Standing him up, Vin got the show on the road, "Let's call your brother, it's about 6 o'clock now in New York and then why don't we run into town so I can show you around Salisbury a little. I think a nice lunch out might do us both some good and give Mrs. Coletrane a break."
Damien nodded his head and tentatively walked to the phone. Looking up with soulful eyes that almost cried out with "do I have to?" he answered his own question and dialed the phone. In some ways, it felt right to him, like some healing had finally begun.
Damien paid the pretty salesperson and picked up his bag giving her a cheerful smile. It was good to be out on his own again. Aggie was beside herself this morning, all hustle and bustle in her preparations for dinner. She wouldn’t be specific about any special guests, only that Vincent had gone off to London with Mark and Peter on business and that he specifically asked for a special dinner that evening upon his return.
Mrs. Coletrane had settled on her famous Beef Wellington and when she realized she had forgotten to pick up the pate, she had enlisted his help and sent him to the store with a list of supplies.
"Damie!," Damien heard a squealing voice coming up behind him as he inserted the
key in the lock of Aggie’s small car.
Damien turned around and his stomach sank to his knees, "Rita! What are you doing here?" He asked, glancing around nervously.
"How lucky for us to have run into you! We've all been so worried. Jason and I were on our way to Bath to protest the exportation of the mineral water. Most of the group is down there already!" Rita said excitedly.
"That's nice. Well, it was nice seeing you again. Have a good time," Day said, unlocking the door and putting the groceries in the backseat. She was never someone whose company he enjoyed.
"Damie? You still aren't mad about that little accident back in London are you?" Her bottom lip trembled as if the thought that Day was mad was too much for her to bear. She laid a hand on his shoulder, and leaned in slightly, "Tell me you've forgiven me."
Day jerked his shoulder away and flashed a very weak smile, "Yeah, sure. I forgive you, not a big deal. Don't worry about it." Then opening the front door of the car, he said, "Good seeing you again. Maybe we can have a drink on your way back from Bath if you
come by this way. Give my best to Jason and the gang.”
Rita pulled back as
Damien slammed the door and started the engine, smiling
”Maybe we can have that drink this evening?" she called out.
Day pulled away, pretending not to hear her.
Day quickly drove back to Halcyon, glancing in his rearview mirror several times nervously. He pulled around to the side of the house, gathered his bags and trudged up the stairs.
"Mrs. Coletrane! I'm BACK!" Day yelled as he entered the kitchen.
"Damien!" Aggie said sharply as she came out of the living room to greet him in the hall. "Mr. Cade would have a heart attack with screeching like that." Then remembering his
mission, she smiled brightly, "Did you get everything I asked for Damien? Did you remember to get the goose pate, not the duck, like I told you," she asked, digging through the bags on the counter.
“Goose?” Day said, all serious and sorrowful, “I'm sorry - I thought you said moose.”
Seeing the twinkle in his eyes, she forced a grudging smile to her lips with the tight lines of disgust at being teased by the young man.
Day smiled at her, quick stepping out of her intended swat with her dusting rag.
“Yes ma'am,” he said slowly as though being asked to recite something by rote for the thousandth time. “I got the pate.. and the eggs...and the butter...and the milk...and the lettuce…and the ham..." he said with a laugh.
As he put things away, he looked out the window several times, feeling uneasy.
Aggie caught the look and frowned, "Something troubling you, boy?" Then a thought hit her, "Lordy, if you're worried about breaking your rule and going into town, I'll smooth things over with Mr. Cade. He loves my Beef Wellington and he'll be butter in my hands." She trotted past him eager to check her wares and resume her meal preparations.
Following her into the kitchen, he reassured her, "No, it's---it's okay. He can't be mad at me---not that that's stopped him in the past, you told me I could go, right?" He asked defensively. "I'm fine, really."
Leaning against the counter to watch her cook, he began to nervously play with a spice jar on the counter, bouncing it back and forth between his hands.
"Mr. Cade's a good man, Damien. He might seem harsh at times. I think all men,
especially military men can be hard and all, but he's a good man. Been really nice to my Mark. They knew each other in London," she chattered away happily, wiping her hands on her towel, tossing it over her shoulder as she set the oven temperature. "My Mark talked for days about this American Colonel he met. Really made an impression on my boy and I think my son needed a man he could look up to, someone to be there for him after Samuel died.”
Turning around from her ministrations, Aggie was just in time to see Damien juggling her personal crystal shakers. Taking the towel off her shoulder, she laid a well-placed swat to his hip, "Get off with you, boy, I'll not have you dropping my mother's shakers. I always bring them with me, makes me feel more at home in someone else’s kitchen."
Taking them from him, she placed them carefully on the counter. "Why don't you go and get the wine, two bottles of Burgundy from the cellar, set the table with the lace tablecloth in the sideboard and the best silver. Mr. Cade will be home before we both know it and I'll get my work done much faster without you underfoot."
Twenty minutes later, he stepped back from the freshly set table and smiled. It looked good if he did say so himself.
Agnes entered the dining room, carrying the serving silverware on a tray, setting it
down on the sideboard she pressed one hand to smooth her apron and smiled. "You've done a fine job, Day."
Day seemed pleased with her appreciation. Just then the doorbell rang. "Would you mind seeing who that is? I ordered some slippers from London and I had them sent here. Perhaps that's them."
Day nodded and walked out of the dining room and into the hall. Glancing out the window on the door, he found himself face to face with Jason Grabowski and the excitable Rita.
"Hey, Damien!" Grabowski yelled through the glass when he saw him, "Open up. No way to treat your old planet playmates, now is it?"
Agnes called from the dining room, perplexed, "Day, who is it? Why don't you open
Day yelled back, "It's just some old friends of mine from the states. I met one of them in
town and they must have asked around and found out where I live." Turning back to the door, he opened it, "Hi guys. What are you doing here?"
"That's more like it, old man," Grabowski said, grinning widely. Taking over, he placed an arm around Day and maneuvered himself into the hall, Rita following closely behind.
"Jason, Rita, what a surprise to see you here. How'd you find the house?"
"No trouble t'all, your Mr. Cade is quite the celebrity in these parts." Looking a bit concerned, Jason draped a lazy arm around Rita's shoulders. "When Rita mentioned that she saw you in town, we were beside ourselves. Truly, man. We've been a might worried about you, Damien, seeing as we were the cause of your problems and all." Jason tried to look sympathetic and benevolent, but his hard gray eyes were hard to place in the realms of compassion. "Mind if we talk a bit? I mean we shared space, man, for the past several months, we owe each other the common courtesy, don't you think?"
Day glanced back over his shoulder, hesitating for a minute. "I guess it will be all right, for a minute," he said, gesturing them even further into the house. "Why don't I get us all something to drink and we can sit out on the patio and talk. You can catch me up on all that's been going on since I left," Day said with a smile, relaxing. He had to admit that it was a surprise to see Jason again, but having a friend---or at least an acquaintance around was nice.
Just then Aggie came into the great hall, her towel over her shoulder, straightening her apron and settling her hair back in its bun. "Who have we here, Damien? Friends
of yours?" She eyed the unusual duet with a critical eye, not quite used to unexpected visitors.
Day looked at her, "Yes ma'am. This is Jason Grabowski and Rita Cook, they are friends of mine from London. They are just on their way to Bath and decided to look me up. We were just going to go outside,” he paused, and then added, "if that's okay with you?"
"Of course, friends are good," and she paused long enough to reassess the visitors, assuring them that she was keeping an eye on the situation. Then her usual lack of affectation softened her features and she smiled, "My dear, I'm forgetting my manners. You young people go make yourselves comfortable on the terrace; I'll get the drinks, Damien. I hope lemonade sounds good to everyone." Then not waiting for a reply she hustled off into the kitchen.
Day watched her disappear around the corner. "Okay, then, why don't we go out to the patio and sit down and catch up on old times."
They settled themselves easily under the umbrellas that were recently put out. Rita pulled her chair close to Jason, practically hanging on his arm as well as every word he spoke.
"Damien," he said softly, looking around and guaranteeing their privacy, "I've felt badly about what happened. I'm glad Rita ran into you in town. I want you to know, we never meant for this to happen. I fear Rita might have gotten a bit overcome with emotion.
We're serious. We were quite upset, the whole lot of us, and we want you to know, you're welcome back with us. If you need money to help pay off whatever else you owe this jerk, maybe we can help."
Day's breath caught in his throat for a minute. This was not what he had expected to
hear at all. "Jason, it was an accident, there's no reason to feel bad about what happened. I believe in what you all were doing, and if a few scratches brought more attention to our cause, then it was for the best. What's going on now with the
group?" he asked.
"We're on our way to Bath, old man. There's a rally there to stop the drilling of the waters. We could use a good man to join us."
Aggie came bustling out the door with a small pushcart; on it were several pitchers of lemonade, ice tea, and ice water, along with a few scones and clotted cream. "Here we are, a nice respite for everyone. Damien, you play the host, please, I have my dinner preparations."
With that, she was off to her ministrations, but as she passed the small intercom that was built into the barbecue grill, a flighty hand turned it on. Better safe than sorry I’ve learned, she thought to herself as she went back into the house to keep an ear on things from the kitchen.
Vincent had left Mark and Peter back in his townhouse to rush to his meeting with his solicitor and friend, Samuel Walther.
After he was shown into Sam’s inner office, he found he could not sit down. Anxious about the upcoming meeting, he paced back and forth in the elegantly furnished room. As he looked out the window over the streets of London, the door opened, allowing the office owner to come in.
“Vin, he’s here. Gail put him in the conference room.” Then watching his old friend and favorite client take a deep and unsure breath, he put his arm around his shoulders.
“Buck up, old man, he doesn’t have fangs and he looks like a hard working, business suit who barely has a moment to have any fun. You might find that you both have more things in common than not.”
Vin glared at his friend as they walked out of the office, down the hall toward the Conference Room. Through Walther, Vin had employed a private investigating firm to track down information on Damien’s past. It was through Mr. Walther’s negotiations that Ryan had finally agreed to fly out to England and retrieve Damien himself, but only after allowing Vincent Cade a chance to discuss matters with him.
Now as he felt himself being led into the conference room, Vincent felt oddly disjointed. He felt fear grip the pit of his stomach and he could place no rational reason on it.
“Mr. St. Claire, I’d like you to meet the man who pretty much saved your half-brother some nasty legal problems...Mr. Vincent Cade.”
Ryan stood up, all six foot two inches of his lithe frame, brushing an irritated hand across his forehead and pushing away a stray clump of unruly hair, he extended the same hand to shake Vincent’s.
“Hello, Mr. Cade, I’m glad to finally meet you. Ryan St. Claire, Damien’s half-brother.”
Both men shook hands warily. Mr. Walther excused himself. “I think I’ll leave you gentlemen alone. There is coffee, and scones on the sideboard, and if there is something else you would like, just buzz Gail and she would be more than happy to help you.”
“Mr. Cade,” Ryan said, “thank you for helping my brother. Mr. Walther tells me that you were the one who was responsible for Day calling me.”
Vin smiled slightly, “Yes, I think that family’s important, and Damien needs to have a connection to his. He’s a good boy, basically, just a bit confused, and maybe a little lost, right now.” Vincent took a seat opposite Ryan and motioned for the other man to sit also.
Ryan laughed as he sat down, “I think you have a better impression of my half brother than I do. The little boy who was a brat and used to torment me I think grew up to be a man who is a brat and is still getting great pleasure out of tormenting me.” Ryan shook his head, “Do you know he just up and left one morning a few days after he graduated? No note, no call, I was worried sick, thinking something had happened to him. To him it was nothing more then a lark, he wanted to travel, so he left.”
he just lost his parents a few months before graduation, too. I can imagine
that was hard for him. I doubt he even gave himself time to grieve, if I’m piecing the timeline properly.” Vin studied the man across from him, deciding that he was armed with good intentions and didn’t want to alienate him... for Day’s sake and for information he could glean himself to help the young man out. “I don’t doubt, though, having lived with him for the past month and a half, that he can take the brat routine to New York stage and walk away with a Tony,” Vin laughed. Then sobering, he added, “Losing his father and mother liked that, maybe he didn’t know how to handle it.”
my father, too, and even though my mother had few good words for him or about
him, he always will be my father. Other than Mom, Day is all the family I have
left.” Ryan’s voice betrayed his emotions. “When he died, I was expected to
make sure that Damien graduated and made something of himself. My father would have wanted that and I owe
it to him to not let him just waste away his life.” Ryan glanced out the window
over Vin’s shoulder, “I’m sorry,” he said a moment later, “it’s been hard not
knowing where he is and if he’s okay. I just want what’s best for him and the
only way I know how to do that is to keep him with me and keep an eye on him.”
Vin nodded, “I called you and told you Damien’s whereabouts because it was the only right thing to do. However, in all honesty, I am concerned with Damien returning with you to the States. I’ve settled him down some, made him face up to his irresponsible behavior, and quite frankly, Mr. St. Claire, I’ve gotten him to accept a disciplinary relationship for the past several weeks. I think he’s learned from it, and I think there is more I can teach him with guidance and a firm hand. Have you thought about maybe allowing him to stay in England with me for a year? It might serve his interests better.” Vin saw the eyes harden and raised his hand in defense. “Just give me a chance, that’s all I’m asking. Come to the house and see for yourself. After a few days, maybe we can reassess the avenues best suited to Day’s future.”
Ryan looked at Vin for a long moment and then stood up and poured himself a cup of coffee. Taking it to the window, he seemed lost in thought. Several minutes passed before he turned around and sat back at the table. “Please, call me Ryan, I think we are going to be spending too much time together to be so formal.” Ryan flashed a small smile at the man sitting across from him, before straightening in his chair and hardening his face again.
“Okay, Ryan, and likewise, I am Vin.”
exactly is a disciplinary relationship? I don’t care what sort of kinky stuff
you are into, but I won’t allow my brother to go down that path again. My
father bailed him out enough from some rather questionable involvements with
some rather questionable people. I know that’s not what he wanted Day involved
in and I owe it to his memory to keep him from that sort of thing.”
Vincent stiffened, his jaw line hardened, but seeing the genuine concern in Ryan’s green eyes, he took a deep breath and calmed himself. “I’m not going to take umbrage with that remark, Ryan, because you know next to nothing about me, my values or my lifestyle. But, let me assure you, you are way off base. Like I said, give me the benefit of the doubt, come to the house, see how Day’s treated, how he relates to me and Aggie, how much happier he can be when he’s limited by boundaries and restrictions. I can assure you that there is nothing kinky or sexual in this relationship. It’s purely instructional and beneficial to this young man’s self-image.”
glanced out the window, gathering his thoughts, then he turned back to
Ryan, “Trust me, Ryan, I would not have
contacted you if I had personal, selfish, and sexually debasing plans for
Damien. Would I?” He looked directly into the man’s eyes and dared him to
“I would hope not. Who is Aggie?”
Vincent laughed. “Agnes Coletrane is my own overseer. Damien is as safe as a babe in his mother’s womb with that woman keeping watch. She’s my housekeeper. She usually comes by a few times a week, but with Damien, she’s been living in for the past month. I could not have handled him by myself, I’m afraid.” Vincent scratched his chin, smiling at his own memories, “Let’s just say, Day might have ended up in a hospital if I had continued tending to his wounds.”
Ryan laughed, “Thank you for taking care of him, Vin, I know it would have been easier for you to just have him arrested and tossed in jail for that stunt he pulled. Your lawyer was explaining it to me and I do want you to know that whatever I decide, you do have my thanks for caring for him. I will of course pay for any expenses he has run up and anything left from the damages on your car.”
”He’s paid in full already...Damien St. Claire has paid his dues...I think he’s rather proud of that fact, though if you ask him about it, he’ll bitch and moan like a wounded cat, but I’m proud of him.” Standing up, Vincent moved his chair back under the table. “Come on, Ryan, I could sit here for days giving you a report on his progress, but I think you need to meet him, talk with him, and then make whatever decisions you feel necessary. You owe him that much.”
nodded and stood up. Gathering his small bag, he motioned with his arm, “Lead
the way, Vin, and show me what sort of well-mannered young man you have turned
half brother into.”
As they left the conference room Vincent Cade’s low laugh could be heard throughout the quiet halls, “I said he’s changed, but I can assure you, there is enough of him left for you to recognize.”
Damien cheerfully came down the stairs. He’d heard the car pull in under the front portico and he was feeling good about himself, good about his refusal to just up and leave Halcyon. For the first time in his life, he felt wanted, needed, and changed by circumstances. No longer a mere background image while events happened for and around other people, things were happening to and for him.
Eager suddenly to see Vincent, to maybe casually mention the opportunity to run from responsibility and his strict adherence to the allotted time for remuneration, he almost tripped in his anticipation as he touched the marble tiles.
The front door swung open and several voices greeted him. He smiled past Mark and Peter and sought Vincent’s weathered face. Instead he locked eyes with blue orbs and the smile faded from his face.
The object of his excitement towered over the other men and Vincent pulled the huge door shut behind the quartet. Talking to Ryan about weather in the south of England, when he turned and saw Damien caught like a deer in headlights, he stopped in mid-sentence.
Seeing the consternation on the young face, the confusion, he quickly pushed past the small group and took Damien’s arm, perhaps fearful his young charge would bolt.
“Damien, Ryan’s come all this way to see how you’re doing.”
Ryan took the hint. Moving forward he extended his hand to Damien, “I worried about you.” However, when Day tried to take the offered hand, Ryan pulled him into a huge hug instead.
“Don’t ever scare me like that again, Damien, I’m getting too old for the games we played as children.”
Vincent watched the young face melt from anger and shock into tightly squinted eyes and trembling lips. He was right, Damien loved his older half-brother, more than he would ever want anyone to know or suspect. Part of him felt a certain pride and pleasure in having done the right thing by bringing these two back together, but another part of him, one he simply chose not to contemplate, ached with some unknown dread.
“Lordy, what have we here?” Aggie’s voice came out cheerfully. “No wonder we’re dining like royalty tonight, we’ve a special guest, I see.”
After introductions were extended to include Agnes Coletrane, Mark and Peter showed Ryan to his room. Everyone was alerted to the dinner hour fast approaching by Mrs. Coletrane. There was camaraderie in the warm scents that filled the house and the busy bustle of getting settled in.
Damien waited and watched until his brother was up the huge staircase. "Why? Why did you bring him here?"
Catching his upper arm, Vincent pulled him into the office down the hall. Closing the door he pointed to the couch gesturing the command to "sit."
Damien sat more so from being too stunned by the whole proceedings, than any eagerness for complete obedience.
"Family. It's important, Damien, and gauging by your reaction and Ryan's, I'd say you two have something pretty special despite the obstacles placed between you during your childhood. I won't apologize for it."
"I used to think he walked on water. I used to look up to him when I was a kid, my big brother, but I realized he hated me, blamed me for taking Dad's love away from him."
"That's not the way I've read the man since I met him. I see someone who looks upon you as his responsibility, someone who loves and cares for you and what your future holds. I want your word, Damien, that you will meet him halfway while he's here. This might be the most important few days in your whole life. Promise me, you'll give him a chance to set things right with you."
When Damien didn't answer, only biting down hard on his lower lip, warring with himself, Vincent pushed, "Deeeemooon," warningly.
"Yes, sir. I'll try." The quiet acquiescence convinced Vincent all the more that he had made all the right moves, so far. He only prayed the next few days worked out in all their best interests in the end.
The dinner proceeded fairly well, Vin would later reflect. Mark and Peter balanced conversation back and forth like a fine tennis game, making sure that Ryan and Vincent got the ball enough times. Agnes, never one to need encouragement when she had something to say, brightened the table with small commentary on the various platters and dishes set out.
Day had been quiet at the start, but soon, with the urging of his brother, had started telling a story about his protest days. That's when the trouble started.
"So, we, Jack, Alphie, and me, climbed up on the roof and were heading toward the skylight over the meeting room .....," Day said his face animated as he entertained everyone at the table, or at least almost everyone.
"To no doubt cause some sort of destruction against people just doing a job," Mark chimed in.
Day ignored him and continued, "but Alphie weighed like three hundred pounds, I swear," he laughed at his own memories.
"Another spoiled fat brat, no doubt," Mark was itching to knock Damien down, for some unknown reason.
"Mark! That was rude and uncalled for," Aggie said, glaring at her son. "Day is just telling a story about what he and his friends used to do."
Mark snorted, "Humph!" He was suddenly cut off as a roll hit him squarely on his chin.
"Fuck you, Mark Coletrane!" Day yelled, standing up so quickly he knocked his chair back, "I don't care what you think about me or my actions---now or then! You are nothing but a stupid gardener! You can go to hell!" his voice rising in anger and frustration.
Then remembering Ryan across the table from him, he seemed diminished suddenly as though all his enthusiasm were nothing more than an air-filled balloon now punctured by a pin.
Hating himself for breaking down and allowing Mark to bait him, he now decided to war with the world. "You all must think that about me since you were just sitting there letting him say that about me! I'm out of here, I don't need you, any of you!" He stormed out of the room, ignoring Aggie's cries for him to come back and Vin's booming voice ordering him back.
Vin glared at Mark before rushing out after Day.
Aggie rose in a dignified manner and jerking her thumb towards the kitchen, Mark Coletrane, red-faced and embarrassed, followed her.
Peter Bailey picked up the pot of coffee and began pouring himself another cup. “Would you care for some, old man? Vincent has this stuff shipped from New York. I think it’s the one thing he can’t do without that’s American.”
Ryan watched in amazement as the young-looking doctor chattered away, as though totally oblivious to the muffled sobs and pleading coming from the other side of the house, or harsh words coming from the kitchen. Starting to rise, he was checked in mid-flight.
“I wouldn’t if I were you. The situation is more than in good hands. You’ll see, just trust me.”
Several moments later, Agnes returned to her chair followed by a sheepish-looking Mark. Peter gave his lover a scathing look, and then turned to Aggie. “Splendid meal, mum, you’ve outdone yourself.”
Agnes seemed to relax with the compliment, casting a worried glance at Ryan. “Oh, dear, what you must think of us.”
“Nonsense, Mrs. Coletrane, I’m afraid I’ve grown up around Damien. He was well-known for his dinner tantrums.”
The dining room door opened and Damien St. Claire, red-eyed and shamefaced entered. Walking over to his overturned chair, he righted it. Standing by it, he turned to Aggie, “I’m sorry, Aggie, for ruining your dinner,” his voice trembled. Then wetting his unsure lips he glanced out the dining room door as though taking his cue from some unseen prompter.
He looked at Ryan, “I’m sorry, Ryan. I apologize. I’m so sorry for behaving so badly.”
He wasn’t done, yet, not as he worriedly looked towards the open doorway, “Mark, I’m sorry for throwing food at you.”
Mark looked up quickly as a hard toe met his shin, he grimaced at his mother, and then smiled, “I’m the one who’s ashamed, Day, I should learn to keep my mouth shut.”
“That’s for su….” <Cough> At the sound of the cough, Damien fidgeted and looked out into the hall. “No, I should learn to control my temper. I’m sorry, Peter. Now, I think I’d better get to bed, I’m not fit for civil company tonight.”
As Day turned dejectedly to leave, Ryan rose from his chair and intercepted him. Wrapping his arms around his smaller brother, he whispered in his ear, “I’m proud of you.”
Damien pulled away, seemingly amazed by the response, and ran the back of his hand across his nose.
Ryan reached a finger and thumb out and playfully twisted the red nose, “Use your handkerchief, brat, didn’t I always tell you,” and Ryan pulled one from his pants pocket and handed it to Day. Damien smiled and nodded his head enthusiastically.
<Cough> Remembering his instructions, Damien’s face fell. “I’d best be off to bed, good night, all, and once again, I’m truly sorry.” With that final adieu he was out the door. Whispering could be heard and moments later, Vincent Cade reentered the dining room as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Ryan sat back down, too stunned to say anything. The Crème Brule finished off the meal and Vincent noticed the way Aggie stole away the last remaining cup before anyone could ask for seconds. He also noted how Mark sat sullenly through the pleasant conversation, totally ignored now by both Aggie and Mark. No doubt in Vincent's mind that Mark would receive a further tongue-lashing from his lover on the ride home.
Mark and Peter helped Aggie clean up as Vincent suggested Ryan join him in the living room. A promise from Aggie that she would make a fresh pot of coffee sent them off to discuss the one subject on both men's minds, Damien St. Claire.
After they were seated in both winged back chairs in front of the roaring fire, Ryan seemed to relax a bit more.
"I have to hand it to you, Vin, I've never seen Damien handled so adeptly. I mean, if you could have seen some of the dinners we had at Dad's place. I remember one time when I was sixteen and Day was only nine, he got pissed because I wasn't spending enough time with him. It was the summer Dad wanted me to choose a college and somehow the dinner conversation tilted that way. By time dessert was served, Day looked liked he could spit fire. I think Dad saw it coming, Lord knows they were used to his tantrums. Elizabeth already feigned a headache and left, but Dad thought maybe with just the three of us 'men' Day would hold off."
"You mean he threw these dinner tantrums regularly?" Vincent asked, both amazed at the lack of discipline in the St. Claire household and saddened to know the small child was given so little true attention.
"Unfortunately, yes. Damien only saw Elizabeth and Dad at dinnertime, from what I could tell on my short and sporadic visits. Well, he started throwing food all over the place. Dad yelled, but it never stopped Day before. He finally steamed off to his office and asked me to join him. I told him I'd be there in a bit. As soon as he left, I tried to calm him down, but nothing I said could get through to him. I finally just joined Dad.”
"Why did you desert him then?"
Ryan looked up sharply at the censure. "You have no idea how it was with Dad. He pitted us against each other in all competitions. I mean, you can't play a game with Damien that he doesn't HAVE to win. With him it's become life and death and we've Dad to thank for that. The competitive fight he instilled in me only hardened me to those kinds of people. I believe in working hard and giving my all, but I know you can't win them all and there's nothing wrong with that. Damien still believes what Dad ingrained in him."
"Here we are, Mr. Cade, Mr. St. Claire, a nice freshly brewed pot of New York's finest, " Aggie said as she entered the great living room and put the tray with a silver coffee pot, fine china cups and saucers and a small tray of chocolate covered wafers on the table in front of the fireplace.
"Would you like me to serve, Mr. Cade?" she asked, all British propriety for the benefit of their American guest.
"No, Aggie, thanks and good night," Vin said to her, "great dinner."
"Indeed, Aggie, better than I get in some of New York's finest restaurants," Ryan added.
Agnes beamed, but as she turned to leave, she paused.
"Excuse me, sir, it might not be my place, but I think there's something you should know about this afternoon and I think Mr. St. Claire might find it of interest, too."
"What's that?" Vin urged her on.
"Well, some of Damien's friends came by for a visit," seeing the hardening face, she raised her hand, "No, No, let me finish. I was worried about the lad myself, so after I served them lemonade and refreshments on the patio..." she hesitated, biting her lower lip.
"Yes, Agnes?" Vin said, gently.
"Well, sir, I sort of accidentally flipped on the intercom by the barbecue grill. I was a bit worried about him; afraid he might get it in his mind to take off with his buddies, you know how young men are, like the wind. Well, sir, I was plumb pleased and quite amazed when our Damien refused, saying he owed it to you to serve his full time and pay back the debt." She smiled happily wiping her hands on her apron.
"Can you believe it? All the trouble he was giving us at first running off with nowhere to go and he gets offered a place and a ride and friends to see him through and he refuses. I think we've done good, Mr. Cade, I think we've done the boy quite decently."
Ryan noted the "our Damien" and although his concentration and attention were directed toward the housekeeper, he subtly watched the pride and pleasure on Cade's face.
"Thank you, Agnes," Vincent said. "Thanks for the cautionary measures, too. I know those on and off switches can be quite fickle and the slightest touch can flip them on." He laid his head back, let out a hardy laugh, and was soon joined by both Agnes and Ryan.
"Good night, then, sirs. Pleasant dreams," and she was off like a happy angel who had just saved a life.
"I've never seen so many people put Day's well-being before everything else." Ryan said, as Vin poured them both hot, steaming cups of coffee.
"He grows on you," Vin said, half-jokingly, like fungus. He let out a deep vibration. "How'd he do in school? In college?"
"Oh, he slid through Business which was his minor. He has a head for the stuff. Aced his major, too, Art, not painting and such, just the appreciation crap and history of it." Ryan took the offered cup and saucer, "Thanks."
"So he did well, then?" Vincent wanted some clarification.
"Actually, he graduated by a prayer, not so much from the grades, but the stunts he pulled...skipping classes, arguing with his professors, not doing assignments. I think he only graduated because Dad finally talked to the dean. I'm sure a sizable donation showed up in their coffers, eventually."
"I guess you're losing me, here, Ryan. Seems like Damien is competitive and does well for himself, he's not dumb and has a sharp mind. If you father was so hard on him and you, why didn't he make him buckle down, take him in hand, so to speak?"
The blue eyes avoided the brown ones and, instead, turned towards the blazing fire, dancing in tune to the wind down the flue. "Let's just say there are some things best left forgotten, Vin. It's not my right or place to say and I'm hoping it's long buried in Day's mind. I loved my father, but he made mistakes."
Vincent decided not to force the issue, there were things he could garner himself from closer observation on how the brothers related to one another and from things that Damien let slip from time to time.
A peaceful silence came down around them, both men lost in thoughts, one plans for the future, the other regrets from the past. The evening melted quietly around them in blazing warmth and they found a common ground in their concerns for one seemingly lost young man.
The remaining days with Ryan were interesting to say the least. Daily outings to Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, and the old Sarum village made for pleasant conversation. Damien showed eagerness around Ryan, not only to please him, but to show how much he'd changed. There were no disruptions; save for the night they went to the pub.
Damien had challenged Ryan to a pool game, after explaining to Vincent how they played when they were children, Ryan teaching Day how to shoot after he pestered him for days on end.
Vincent sat at a table nearby and kept the pints coming, laughing at the occasional banter between Day and Ryan. The game was close and it wasn't until Damien's final shot that the walls of communication came crumbling down.
Day stood poised, the Q-ball waiting patiently for his agile fingers to ease the stick into play. Ryan started whispering to Vincent, telling him to watch how long Day took to make the shot. Finally hitting the ball, he watched with a smile as it gently tapped the eight ball sending it into the called pocket. But seconds later, an eager waitress gently bumped against the table causing the still moving cue ball to fall into one of the pockets, scratching the game.
"Damn you!" Day let out without a thought to the poor girl, red-faced and embarrassed.
Ryan came up behind him putting a gentle hand on his shoulder, "Easy, Day, it was an accident. We'll forget this game."
"Dammit, I won. It's her fault, but I made the shot. I won." Damien seemed oblivious to all the eyes upon him.
As Ryan made to pull him back to their table, Damien jerked his arm away. "I won. I tell you, I won."
"Okay, Day, you won," Ryan didn't care about the game and he just wanted Day to sit down and calm himself for now.
Hot tears welled in the hazel eyes, threatening to spill over. "I won." This time he said it quietly, with a regret born of years of never pleasing someone.
Strong hands rested on Day's shoulders from behind. A soft breath touched his ear as he was guided back to the table. "Let's sit down," was all Vincent said.
Vincent would have handled it differently if Ryan had not been there. However, since matters were not fully concluded regarding the arrangements for Damien, he didn't feel it was his place now to discipline or meet out punishment.
"I think you need to calm yourself, Day. That poor girl deserves an apology before we leave. I think you owe her that much."
"NO!" Day blurted out, with no thought to the eyes once again turned towards him.
Raising his third finger in a gesture of complete contempt, he mouthed an obscene expression to the crowded room and then dropped his head on his arms on the table in complete despair.
Vincent looked to Ryan, watching closely now how the older brother would intercede, check this continued defiance against all civility. Ryan just raised his hands, as though not quite sure where to proceed from here. Vincent sat there, not interfering, waiting for some sign that Ryan would and could handle him.
Both older men sat up straighter as the young waitress came up to the table carrying three large, chilled pints of ale. "Sirs, I'm really sorry about ruining your game. Management said these are on the establishment with their and my apologies." The girl could barely get the words out, so distraught and unnerved by the whole proceedings.
Damien jerked his head up violently, ready to continue with a declaration of his feelings on the subject, but Vincent had lost all patience.
"ENOUGH!" he said it firmly and loudly enough for the other two men to hear and a few heads turned from nearby tables, but not enough to draw the attention of the entire room.
"Thank you, miss," he said to the frightened girl. "That's kind of the establishment. We'll be right back." Then stepping around the young girl, ignoring Ryan's silent protest, he pulled Damien up by the arm.
A soft yelp escaped him, but a few words from Vincent, and he quieted, "Not one word."
Vincent led the frightened young man along the back corridor of the pub and out the back door. Ryan watched as several men nodded approvingly. Disgusted with his own ineptness at handling the brat, he pulled the last of his pint and grabbed the full one the waitress had just put down. "Why, Damien, why?" was all he could ask himself.
When they returned fifteen minutes later, Damien's eyes were slightly red and his facial muscles taut. He walked gingerly towards his chair and only sat when Vincent placed a hard hand on his shoulder and pushed him into his seat. Ryan noticed the wince as he made contact with the hard seat.
"It seems Damien has something he'd like to say to you," Vincent said in a tight voice. Ryan noticed the way he began to down his own pint of ale.
"I want to go back to the States with you, Ryan. Can I?" Damien raced the words out as though some timekeeper would cut him off mid-sentence.
Ryan looked questioningly at Vincent, who merely shrugged his shoulders as though he didn't care one way or the other.
"I thought you didn't want to go back just yet. I thought you liked it here," Ryan queried.
"No, I hate it."
"I think we'd best take this discussion to your office, Vincent, if you don't mind." Vin shrugged again as though whatever they wanted to do was fine with him. Damien took another long pull on his ale and was the first to rise. "Yeah, let's go."
Agnes heard the slamming of doors, the loud voices as the three men entered the great hall. It wasn't hard to piece things together; there was something very, very wrong. She bustled down the hall after them, grabbing the door to the office just as Vincent was ready to close it on the trio.
"Sir, did you need anything? Coffee, tea, hot cocoa?" She asked as she peered into the small office and tried to detect and gauge whether the Bobbies would be needed here tonight.
"No, Agnes, thank you. We're fine. Go on to bed." Then Vincent Cade closed the office door and Agnes stood there with her mouth hanging open. She had never, in all her years, seen a man as sad as Vincent Cade.
"You were fine with things this past week, Damien?" Ryan asked, making sure he understood what was going on. "Why this sudden change?"
"I don't like being told what to do. I don't like the rules, the restrictions, the punishments. I'm not a child. Besides, what's to say he won't grow weary of keeping me to the rules. What's to say he won't just push me out down the road? What do I do then? What do you do when you begin to depend on someone so much for your strength and they pull that strength right out from under you. What the hell do you do then?" Damien paced back and forth as the enormity of this one decision was so heavy upon his shoulders he just couldn't hold it quietly in place.
"There are never guarantees in life, Damien," Vincent said quietly. "Besides, it's about tonight, isn't it? You just couldn't accept the fact that you were wrong. You wouldn't apologize and accept responsibility for your actions."
"I won't be punished and forced to do what I don't believe in," Damien yelled. “The waitress bumped the table. I had the game in my pocket and she ruined it.”
"Keep your voice down, young man. You are still under my roof and however precarious our relationship is right now, however near termination, you will lower your voice, watch your language and show respect." Vincent sat down behind his desk, determined now to accept the chain of events with aplomb.
Ryan sat on the sofa merely observing both men. Realizing for the first time the effort this man must have put into his brother to change his attitude as much as he had within the last few months. Seeing the time and demands his kid brother would place on him now, the damaged soul still needing repair, the bruised ego always needing to be assuaged and rubbed, the hungry thirst for attention and love and commitment. A small tremor shook his body as he finally joined the conversation.
"Damien, if this is just because tonight your ego was shook a bit, I think you might be making..."
"What? I thought you wanted me back. You sent people looking for me." Damien was unnerved, totally fragmented.
"Of course I want you to come with me to the States,” Ryan said, rising to meet Day on his rounds of the room, “but I want it to be because you want to and you've decided to behave and get your life in order. If you're not ready for that, then we're back to where we were three months ago."
Damien walked in front of Vin's desk waiting until the brown eyes met his, then with all the certainty of a young man at war, he said slowly and distinctly, "I want to go home with you, Ryan."
"Well, then we'll leave in the morning," Ryan said.
Damien tried to take a deep breath, but it hitched in his throat and it almost sounded like a sob. Then with a cold, distant voice he said, "Thank you, Mr. Cade, for all you've done for me," then he turned and left the room.
Agnes fritted about the downstairs, pretending to be busy in the living room. She saw Damien race up the stairs, tears bursting out of him as soon as he was assured he was out of hearing distance. What is going on in there, she wondered, and resumed her vigil in the hall.
Vin sank wearily into his chair at the desk, shaking his head slightly. He reached over and pulled out a crystal decanter of whiskey and poured himself a glass. “Have a seat if you want, Ryan” Vin said, holding out the decanter in a silent question.
"Yeah, thanks, I
could use one right about now?" Ryan said, sinking into the chair in front
of the desk. Taking the offered drink he leaned back and tried to gauge his
host's demeanor. "Do you mind telling me what the hell happened out back
of the pub?" he asked a moment later.
"When I got him outside and told him that the was out of line and he needed to apologize to the waitress and to you, he blew up. Told me he wants to go home with you, is tired of my rules, of my restrictions and me in general," Vin said, tossing back the drink, shuddering as the liquid burned down his throat. "He has made his decision and made it very clear."
"Did you strike him?" Ryan asked as he took a swallow of the drink, not quite sure if he was ready for the answer.
"I have never struck him," Vin said.
"Well, he looked 'tender' when he came back to the table. Kind of careful about sitting down."
"Ryan," Vin began, "there is a big difference between spanking someone for discipline and hitting them. I have never hit Day and I can't imagine ever hitting him." Vin looked a Ryan for a moment as if judging his reaction, “I did take him into the privacy of the car though and he was spanked briefly before I tried to talk to him. Is that a problem?” Vin asked, his tone clearly saying he didn’t care one way or the other.
"I'm not criticizing or condoning your methods, Vin,” Ryan said, holding up a hand as if to stop any further comments. “I think you’ve obviously been good for him. I've seen the change for the better these past few days and I tip my hat to you. But I'm also lost as to why he suddenly seems hell bent to return to the states with me." Ryan put his glass down on the desk and rubbed a tired hand across his brow. "I'm just not sure he's going with me for all the right reasons."
"Of course he's not going with you for the right reasons. He is mad at me, mad because he was punished tonight and was going to have to do something he didn't want to do," Vin snapped back. Then, taking a deep breath, he continued calmer than before, "but, Ryan, it doesn't matter why, Day said he wants to go back with you. The only thing you should be concerned about is handling him once you get him back home."
"Handling him? I want to spend more time with him, sure. I've promised myself that. He and I need to find some common ground again and enjoy what we once had, what we could of had if Dad had been more willing. I’m looking forward to spending more time with him. But I can't baby-sit him twenty-four hours a day. No way...I have a business, a new financial group I'm just getting established. He'll have to just act his age and put his childish behavior behind him." Ryan nodded his head, as though he was trying to convince himself it was very simple and straightforward.
Vin looked at blond-haired man for a several minutes and then said very simply, "Do you honestly think that's what's going to happen? He doesn't need a babysitter; he doesn't need you to be with him 24 hours a day. But, he does need you to help set clear expectations for him and help and support him in reaching those expectations. His age has nothing to do with it, Ryan, that is just who Day is and what he needs."
"Well, Day had the same advantages that I had. He was dealt the same hand I was, if not a better one. I made something of myself through hard work, determination and self-discipline. He needs to do the same. I won't give him 24/7 and I won't discipline him. But I expect him to come home at reasonable hours, get a job, and share some of the responsibilities of living with me, at least until he proves to me that he can be trusted on his own. I don't have the time you have Mr. Cade to be holding his hand constantly."
Ryan noticed the
aggravation and defensiveness that had crept into his voice. He had the good
grace to blush slightly and lower his eyes. "I'm sorry if I sound
defensive about this. I never really
thought he’d come home with me. It’s
taken me by surprise and I don’t honestly know if it’s going to be better or
just a repeat of the battles last time, ending with him running off
again.” Ryan looked down into his
glass, swirling the little whiskey that remained, “I thought he was gone for
good, I imagined getting a call from some police officer from God knows where
telling me they’d found his body in a couple of years.” He drained his glass and put it heavily on
the desk before standing up. “But, he’s
made his choice and I think you and I just have to live with it and hope it’s
the right one.” With that, Ryan headed
for the door. "Good night, Vin. We’ll be off early in the morning. Do you
think Mark could drive us into London?"
"I'm sure, if not I'll drive you there myself. Good night Ryan, I'll see you in the morning." Vin said, his voice taut with pain.
“Thanks,” he said and slowly made his way out of the office.
Agnes served the hot breakfast in the dining room to Ryan and Damien. Mark joined them as he accepted the responsibility of driving them into London. He seemed overly cheerful, in light of everyone else's dour mood, but Agnes didn't pay him much mind and Day, having little appetite, merely toyed with his food. Ryan St. Claire was the only one who dug into his meal with the relish of a man not used to many home-cooked meals.
"Well, thank you very much, Agnes, for the fine breakfast and meals and, also, for taking such good care of Damien. Vin told me about how you nursed him back to health." Ryan got up, ready to make his departure.
"Oh, it was my pleasure, Ryan. Damien's a joy to have around," she said, sincerely.
Damien went up to her and hugged her tightly. "I'll miss you. Thank you for everything."
Mark eagerly rose and headed out, "I'll bring the car up front. See you in five minutes."
"Where is Vin?" Ryan asked.
"Mr. Cade is in his office," Aggie offered, watching Day.
"I'll go say my good-byes." Ryan headed down hall. Noticing that he was alone, he turned back to his brother, "Coming, Damien?"
"I've said my good-byes." Then the young man turned and bolted up the stairs, taking them two at a time yelling, “I’ll get my bags.”
Agnes shook her head at Day, indicating her confusion at his actions. Grim-faced, Ryan shrugged his shoulders, indicating his own uncertainty in the situation and headed for the office down the hall.
Damien came down the stairs with his bags just in time to meet Ryan heading out the front door, picking up his own bags that were neatly stacked nearby.
Agnes came out of the kitchen, "I'll miss you, laddie, you stay out of trouble, you hear me." She swatted his backside with her towel. Then looking down the hall, she grabbed his arm, "Go and talk to him, Day."
"NO! He made his opinion of me perfectly clear and I’m tired of it. I don’t have anything else to say," Day said. Picking up his bags he hastily followed Ryan out to the driveway.
Mark took the bags and stacked them in the boot of the Mercedes. Ryan and Day both piled into the back seat.
Vincent Cade sat alone in his office. From the window overlooking the front drive, he watched the navy blue sedan being packed, the two golden heads in the back seat.
Closing his eyes, he spun the swivel chair away from the window and tightened every nerve ending in his body as he heard the car quietly shift gears and pull away. As the sound of the engine diminished, he gave himself a slight shake, and bent his head again to his work.
Ten minutes later, he realized he couldn’t concentrate on the security proposal from a new client and didn’t remember what he had just read. He rose from his chair and wondered through the living room into the hall. He passed Agnes who pointedly ignored him. Deciding that he didn’t wish to confront her right now, he continued his walk out the front door and into the spring-like morning.
As the sleek sedan neared the main road, a stiff silence had fallen on the interior of the car. Damien stared out the side window his head turned in deep and lonely thought. Ryan stared at Mark's head catching his eyes periodically in the rearview mirror. Mark merely feigned indifference, no patience when dealing with this particular young man.
As they turned right on the outer road, a small sob pulsed through the air. Ryan turned his head sharply; grabbing Day by the arm he pulled him around, forcing him to look him in the eyes. "What, Day, WHAT do you want?" he asked harshly.
“I don’t know!” Day yelled back. “I don’t want to be with you, I don’t want to go back to the States. I’m sorry, Ryan, I wish it was different, but I don’t want to go with you. He's the only one who ever made time for me. I ….. I just ….. I don’t know!” Day said, kicking the seat in front of him, his frustration strongly evident.
Ryan looked at him for a minute and then nodded his head, “It’s okay, little brother, I understand. Mark, stop the car please." Mark braked and pulled along the side of the road. “Turn around please and let’s head back to the house.”
Mark nodded and
turned the car around slowly, not saying a word.
Ryan pulled his brother firmly in a bear hug and memorized the moment. Pushing him away, he grabbed his chin roughly and said, "I think this is the right call, Day. It’s not that I don’t want you to come home with me, but I think that man can help you become the person you should be. I love you, kiddo, but you can be so much more. But, I don’t think I’m the person to help you."
Day saw the house and the gates approaching quickly. “Mark, do me a favor and just let me out here. I can walk the rest of the way; it’s not far at all. You need to get going, don’t want to miss your flight.” Ryan gave him a questioning look and Day smiled, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to run or anything. I just need to get my little speech prepared to convince Vin to take me back.”
As the car slowed to a stop and Mark got out to get the bags, Ryan hugged his brother again, “I don’t think it will take much convincing at all.”
Day exited the car and smiled, “I hope not.” Then taking his bags from Mark, he said to the older man quietly, “Bet you’re happy to see me NOT go, huh Mark?”
The other man did not respond and just glared at him.
As the car pulled away, Ryan stuck his head out of the window, “I’ll call as soon as I get home.”
Day waved until the car was out of sight. Then, taking a deep breath, he picked up his bags and slowly made his way to the open, front gates.
Vin had just walked out of the front door, when he looked up. He could have sworn he heard a car door slam in the silent morning air. A moment later, he decided that his mind was playing tricks on him and he continued his walk up the driveway toward the road. He didn’t have a destination in mind, just felt the need to clear his head and put the last month into perspective. Maybe he would call Day and Ryan tomorrow to make sure they got home okay. He needed to make sure that Ryan knew he could turn to him if he had questions or problems with the young man.
As he walked, he noticed a movement along the high hedge that blocked the road, a small, golden bobbing ball. Stopping, he focused his attention through the green, thick foliage as the barren spots indicated a shape heading towards the gate. Then the lithe figure turned up the driveway, bags clutched tightly in his hands. The easy stride of a confident young man turned into the slow, shuffling gate of an unsure child facing a stern parent as he saw Vin.
“I was wrong,” was all he said.
Vincent stopped, frozen on some plateau of space and time, lost in his own disbelief in this change of fortune. He didn’t say anything for a moment, and then in his clear, commanding voice, he said, “Come on, Damien, you’ve upset Mrs. Coletrane enough with this nonsense. Let’s go into the house and calm her down so we at least have some hope of getting lunch today.”
The hazel eyes looked up sharply, surprise and relief at
the easy acceptance of his return. The brown met those orbs across the distance
and neither backed down…neither ever would.
Vin walked closer, and took the bags from the younger man, “Come on, Damien, hurry it up,” he said, turning and walking toward the house briskly.
Day jogged a couple of steps to keep up, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”
“We still have the little matter about the other night in the pub up for discussion, young man.”
“I know, I know,” Day said, “why am I not surprised you wouldn’t let that go?” There was no anger, no resentment, no dread in the statement.
The soft voice of Damien St. Claire resonated with joy and an eager acceptance of his place next to Vincent Cade. He had finally found something that was right for him, someone who would always firmly place him in the best light, take the time to adjust him to show off his better side. He had found someone who cared enough to clip his wings---yet teach him how to fly.
We hope that you have been entertained.