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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1900559
by Joy
Rated: 18+ · Novel · Friendship · #1900559
2012 NaNo novel, first draft finished. Literary fiction
Cover for 2012 NaNo


"Any man may easily do harm, but not every man can do good to another."
Plato



CHAPTER 1


"Up the beetling cliff she was seen at night,
Like a ghost go glide away;
And she came again with the morning light,
From the forest wild and gray."

Sarah Bishop (1823), by Samuel Griswold

She appeared from where the hallway turned left. She didn't walk; she glided in bare feet, like a ghostly mirage. The morning sunshine entering from the window behind into her long white nightgown outlined the perfect figure inside it. The halo of light around her wildly curled auburn hair caught Roger's eyes next, as he held his breath and leaned against the door of his room, after shutting it behind his back without thinking. Had he conjured her up into existence?

She stopped short in front of him, her enormous dark green eyes blinking a rapid fire of questions. Her mouth stretched into something between a smile and a grimace. "Who are you?"

Roger fixed his attention on her freckles in order not to let his eyes peek into the nightgown. "Roger," he murmured, "Roger Faas. I am Sid's..."

"Yes, of course. Doug told me about you. You're Sid's new tutor, teacher...nanny, sort of." She said with amusement in her lips, then she laughed with flourish, showing her large white teeth.

"I guess all three." She had such a genuine feel about her that the word nanny didn't bother Roger, so he laughed too, with sudden lightness. Where the light feeling had come from, he had no idea.

"I'm Kay. Short for Katherine Margaret O'Keefe. Nice to meet you." She stretched her hand. Roger took it. Her hand, silken and very light, grasped Roger's firmly with an utter lack of unease. "Do you find it more difficult to deal with a six-year old than an entire high school?"

"Not at all," Roger said. "But who knows? We're still adjusting to each other. We'll see how it goes."

Kay pulled her hand back and pointed behind her where the hallway turned left, to Doug's quarters. "I'm with Doug," she said. "I come here when I can get away from work."

"Nice," Roger mumbled, not knowing what to say. He looked down to avoid her eyes, but then he saw, more clearly, her bare feet. Pedicured toes painted in creamy pink, her second toe bent at the end, her pinkie toenails too long but no cuticles visible, high arches made higher with the way she stood on tiptoe. How soft and warm they might feel to the touch. He wondered about the toe ring, an emerald toe ring on her right big toe. How did she get that foot into any shoe? Suddenly being aware that he was staring at her feet, he lifted his head to meet her gaze. No one had told him about her, although...

"Kay bought them. I don't like Kay." He recalled the pout and the resentment in Sid's large blue child eyes. Sid, his little student-friend. Was this woman the Kay Sid had referred to, the one who had given him his books? She had to be.

"Sid told me you brought him books," he said.

Kay raised her eyebrows, amazed. "Well, who'd know! Sid mentioned me, ha? I thought the kid didn't like me. Doug thinks most of those books are over Sid's head, but I like pushing the lever a bit higher. Doug spoils the kid too much. That's why the child is so warped." As she uttered those words, she took his hand abruptly and pulled him to the other direction of the hallway. "I love the view of the trees from this window," she said. "Did you notice it from up here?"

"No, not yet," he said, baffled at being yanked about by a young woman in a see-through nightgown. A young woman connected to Douglas Shelby, Sid's father. A young woman Roger had never met before. "To look out this window...it didn't occur to me."

"What an oasis of beauty!" Kay said leaning on the windowsill, "Doug's great grandfather put down all those trees. Granted, it is much smaller than the Bayard Cutting Arboretum, but such a delight. I always run to this window as soon as I open my eyes in the morning when I'm here." She quoted: "Orpheus with his lute made trees, / And the mountain tops that freeze..."

Roger quoted with her the next two lines, "Bow themselves, when he did sing." He realized she was still holding his hand. He gently pulled it from her grip. She was, very possibly, Douglas Shelby's girlfriend. He had to be careful.

"You do know the bard!" She clapped her hands like a child who had just found a toy. "I know this section by memory because Queen Katharine, my namesake, says it."

"Henri the Eighth," Roger said, taking a step back. "I recall it's a madrigal, too." It surprised him to feel so comfortable with her, amazed and comfortable, more so than with any other woman, even Dawn, his latest but now about-to-become ex-girlfriend, because Dawn had just chosen to move to the West Coast.

He grasped one thing, however. Kay was taboo. Even if he unwittingly imagined the taste of her lips, his being there with her, the image of the two of them if noticed by someone else in the mansion, made him nervous.

He forced himself to smile casually as he backed away from the window. "Sid must be up and awake." Then he motioned to the stairs. "He is probably waiting for me at breakfast. I'm trying to stay on his good side."

Kay's hand shot up as a friendly gesture. "Good luck with that! That's tough. He doesn't easily take to people. Well, go ahead then. I'll be down in a few minutes."

She turned around toward Douglas Shelby's quarters, the silky nightgown clinging to her figure. Roger drank in her image from the back, holding on to the banister before venturing downstairs.


He found Sid standing in between the kitchen and the breakfast nook with pancake syrup dripping from his elbows. He had a bewildered look in his eyes. Jenna, the maid, kept mopping the floor in the breakfast nook, while Henri, the cook, wiped off the disaster from the top of the table.

Sid mumbled, "Roger," and looked at him as if asking for rescue, as if Roger's appearance had a sedative quality. Assessing the situation from the annoyed and faintly panicked expressions of the maid and the cook, Roger reached for several paper towels. He placed several sheets under Sid's elbows and led him to the sink.

"Henri," he called to the cook. "We'll have to use your sink."

The cook grumbled. "It won't be the first time. Each time Miss Kay's here, Sid invents a disaster."

Wondering why the help was turning a simple spill to a biblical drama, Roger washed the boy's hands and arms as thoroughly as he could, then led him upstairs for a change of clothes.

"I'm sorry," Sid whispered while taking his tee shirt off. "It wasn't on purpose."

"I know that, Sid. Nothing to be sorry about," Roger answered in a soft voice. "Accidents happen. I spill things, too."

The boy looked at him in disbelief. "Really?"

Roger raised his hand as if taking an oath, "On a Yankee fan's honor! Once in the stadium, I spilled my bee..., I mean my soda, on the woman sitting in front of me. It couldn't be helped. I was cheering for the team."

Sid laughed, his eyes sparkling.

When they went downstairs again, they found Doug and Kay sitting in the breakfast nook, waiting to be served, while Henri was saying something heatedly and gesturing with his hands.

"Roger," Doug turned to him, after shushing the cook. "Thanks, but taking care of Sid's physical needs is not in your job description."

"It's all right. Sid and I are okay with it," Roger said.

Doug creased his forehead. "Bernie told Jenna that Sid screamed again last night. Nightmares, as usual. When Bernie went to him across the hallway, he saw you trying to calm him down. You don't have to lose sleep over that. Bernie is used to Sid's..." He paused a few seconds to find a proper word. "Situation."

"No problem for me. Bernie doesn't have to get up," Roger said. "My room's closer to Sid's, and I can fall asleep very easily afterwards."

"Thank you, Roger. I guess Bernie will be happy about that," Doug said, eyeing the cook who had retreated to the kitchen, and was making more pancakes by the stove. "Where's Consuelo? Why isn't she helping Jenna?"

"She went to the fish market with Bernie." Jenna said, setting the service for all four of them. "She says she knows fish better than us."

"Hmmf," harrumphed the cook, his grumbling echoing loud and clear from the kitchen.

Doug looked at Roger and smiled. "Kay tells me you met upstairs." He lifted his hand and stroked Kay's hair.

How out of this world Doug's touch on Kay's soft, clean curls had to have been! Roger imagined Doug's sensation from that touch. He must have felt a sudden current flow through his fingers. As if to prove Roger's thought, a ripple ran through Doug's face.

"Yes, we met. She showed me the view from the hallway window," Roger replied, becoming aware of his heart beating like a caged bird trying to get out.

Seeing Kay here with Doug had disturbed him somewhat.

What a stupid feeling! Am I an idiot or what!

He tried to think of something else, but couldn't succeed, Instead, his eyes searched the floor as he recalled Kay's bare feet with the too long toenails polished in creamy pink, and the emerald toe ring. She had to be wearing sandals or shoes now. Maybe slippers? He restrained himself from bending down to check her feet under the table.

"Kay works for a publisher, Rois and Moss, in downtown Manhattan. I'm sure you heard of them, Roger."

"Yes, I understand they publish a variety of hard covers including text books," Roger said.

"We do paperbacks and e-books, too, as of last year," Kay said. "I started at the worst place, the entry-level copy editor. Can you imagine? It is harrowing work. Luckily, I got a promotion two years ago. The work didn't get any easier, but at least, it's more interesting."

"What do you do now?" Roger asked with a voice he wished would remain steady.

"I am an assistant editor. I work with the senior editors and some of the authors, better ones, luckily. Like I said the work still kills me, but I love it."

"She loves what kills her...women!" Doug snickered.

Kay jabbed at Doug's side playfully. "You have listening dyslexia. You're lost in space...in the cosmos of nuance, Amor."

"Another show of mental gymnastics!" Doug sighed, jokingly.

Sid interrupted their banter. "Dad, Roger says he spills, too." The boy's voice was loud, his eyes wide open.

Doug and Kay laughed together.

Roger knew Sid was watching him, so he only grinned slightly, glancing at the boy.

"So you found a partner in crime. Aren't you lucky!" Kay reached to touch Sid's shoulder, still giggling.

"I'm not a criminal," Sid said curtly, with gravity, and whipped his body away from her, edging toward Roger.

"Obviously, Roger isn't Mrs. Quinn," Doug muttered. Then he looked at Roger. "It seems you achieved a great deal in only two weeks, Roger," he said. "Mrs. Quinn was Sid's tutor before you, but she had to leave us within a month."

Two weeks? Had it been that long? Roger had taken this job for the money. He had planned to work hard and save, so he could eventually take time off to write his book. Even though money had been his priority, he was resolute to do this job to the best of his ability. Besides, Sid had started to grow on him. He recalled the day, two weeks ago, when he entered this house, the Shelby mansion in Bedford, Westchester.

CHAPTER 2

Two weeks ago...

Roger squared his shoulders and reached up to ring the doorbell, but at the last second, he stopped. What was he getting himself into?

A new job, for sure, but unlike a job he had imagined when he earned his masters in English and Pedagogy concurrently, a year and a half ago. Roger's dream job was to be an editor in a respectable magazine, but those magazines didn't hire young editors who hadn't paid their dues. The reason he had obtained a teaching license was to have something to fall back on. Otherwise, he had no love or ambition for teaching, even though he liked children.

He could have accepted a job in a cubicle in a publishing house inside a high rise in the frenetic business district of the city, but with the way the publishing industry was going down the drain, the only job he could find, at the time, was in the dilapidated classrooms of the neglected building of PS 460...until a few months ago, until the last mugging.

He still had the scar on his left side. Had the knife gone any deeper he'd have lost his spleen.

His second job, this one, was far away from there. Luckily now, he was standing in Bedford, Westchester county, inside the lavish grounds of a mansion with a botanical garden and a tree-lined drive-way much longer than the Florida street on which he had spent most of his childhood. At worst, he wouldn't be mugged here.

With clammy palms, he brushed the shoulders of his best and only passable outfit, a size too big and fit more for the city than the suburbs, and a bit on the heavy side for this very warm day in late May. Then he thought maybe he should have prayed for everything to go right. That was if he believed in prayers, but he didn't. He hadn't, ever since...

Anyway, he was here because the salary this job offered was far above his expectations, a job quite weird for the twenty-first century, but he had already accepted it. He had said yes to Alan, Shelby's assistant. The mental image of the five twenties in his wallet, and not much remaining in his checking account, made his hand reach toward the doorbell again.

Seconds went by and nothing. Roger turned around to catch a glimpse of his car, a second-hand, faded red hatchback Acura who had outlived his life of fifteen years. It looked like it would be a better fit for a junkyard than here on the side of the classily paved driveway and meticulously kept grounds. Even the gardener had to have owned better-looking wheels. He recalled the disdain on the gatekeeper's face, just a few minutes ago, and the howling of the guard dogs secured in their pen for the day. He tried to fight the fear and desperation rising within him. Maybe he should just leave. He didn't belong here.

Just then, he heard the door click open. He turned around to face a tall, stocky, middle-aged man dressed in black from head to toe. "I am Roger Faas, here to see Mr. Shelby," he said.

The man's eyes opened wide with surprise and his lips moved, but with no sound. Why did the man look so bewildered when he saw Roger?

"Weren't you waiting for me? I thought I had an appointment today."

The man straightened his shoulders and nodded with a polite smile, opening the door wider. "This way, Mr. Faas. Mr. Shelby is waiting for you."

Books lined one wall of Douglas L. Shelby's study from floor to ceiling. The other walls were covered with paintings, originals Roger supposed, and a plush amber-colored rug with large square motifs covered the middle of the polished oak floor.

When Roger entered the room, Douglas Shelby rose, leaning on the top of his mahogany desk. He was a tall, lean man somewhere on the down side of forty, his strong pectorals stretching the shoulders of the blue knit Polo shirt. He carried something of an air of power with his slightly receding hairline, light skin, and chiseled features.

"Mr. Faas, Sir." The man in black announced Roger and stepped back, closing the door behind him.

Douglas Shelby's head snapped up as he examined Roger from head to toe, then his piercing blue eyes clouded for a few seconds. He gulped. "Roger Faas?" Roger thought he had startled Shelby, too, but why?

"Hello, Mr. Shelby," Roger said, feeling awkward for being under scrutiny.

Shelby stood upright and stretched his hand and Roger took it. "Welcome, Mr. Faas. I am Douglas. Call me Doug, and may I call you Roger?'

"Please do, and thank you for the warm welcome." Why am I getting the impression that he is shocked to see me? It must be me. My mind's reading into the man's actions.

As Roger sank down into the fully padded armchair across from Shelby, his eyes caught sight of a set of classics with matched bindings on a shelf, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Socrates, Dickens... Did this guy really read those? He didn't look the type at all.

"Roger, thank you for accepting my son, Sidney, as your student. I'll introduce you to him in a short while." He averted his eyes from Roger's face. "I didn't schedule an interview. I don't quite believe in those and didn't see the need for it in your case. I trust the agency and Alan, my assistant. I believe you met him last week."

Roger nodded. "Yes, actually we met several times. I appreciate the effort to be thorough where a child is concerned."

Douglas Shelby looked down at the papers in front of him. "I understand you have family in Florida. Your parents, Fiona and James Faas, and two older sisters, Megan and Nellie."

"Yes, that's correct," Roger said.

Douglas Shelby continued. "You have some great references, and I can't help admiring your success as a teacher and your grade average earlier when you were in college. Nothing like what mine was." He chuckled for a second or two, then said, "You'll meet your student, in a short while, Roger. I'm glad you accepted to teach him. He has some problems relating to people, which they were exacerbated after a disturbing incident while he was in school. Thus my decision to homeschool him." He looked down at the papers in front of him for a moment or two, then continued. "Oh, I told the school district about my intentions. They sent a copy of section 100.10 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. It seems he'll need to be tested every now and then."

He opened a drawer and handed out a large envelope to Roger.

"Yes, I know. I'll see to it that he's up to par or better," Roger said reaching to take the envelope. Then he asked, "What was the problem in school? He didn't like the environment, the teacher, or..."

"No, none of that. He seemed to be taking the school in stride...but...but, how to put it? Well, I guess I should tell you."

"I'm listening."

"He was kidnapped from the school for a day and half. It was a private school, a Montessori. Only nursery, kindergarten, and first grade. It was his third year there. He was doing quite well, but last October, someone took him from the schoolyard. The teachers didn't see or they thought the man was family, I'll never know." He crooked his mouth as if he were wondering about the school.

"Awful!"

"It was awful. Fortunately, he was unharmed physically, or so the doctor said. I had no idea he was taken. I received a call during a board meeting from someone asking for ransom. I accepted right on the spot, but called the police anyway. A man, who was apprehended later, left him at the front entrance of the Marriott Marquis. The police found him from the images in the hotel's cameras, but he was only a hired man."

"Do they know who's behind this?"

"Not yet. They thought it had something to do with my business, but I have my own suspicions. Sid isn't talking about it at all."

Roger leaned forward. "And you think..."

Doug hesitated. "Not important really what I think. They're only suspicions at this juncture. What's important is he's safe here. If you have noticed when you drove in, our security is tight around the place." He paused for moment, then he said, "You understand, of course, you'll be his companion as well as his teacher."

"Yes, I understand. I'll do what I can for Sidney."

"As to the nitty gritty of things, I'd rather you live with us, Roger. If you wish, your traveling daily from your place to here could be arranged, but it'd be one hell of a commute for you. It'll be easier if you stayed here." He paused a few seconds, then continued. "Here, all your needs will be met, and I hope, this will help the bonding between you and Sid."

"If you say so," Roger nodded, keeping his mind on the questions he had prepared to ask. "I understand Sidney's mother is deceased. Children can be traumatized by a parent's..."

"That was a very long time ago," Douglas interrupted. "He was two and a half, almost three, at the time. I imagine he has forgotten all about Corinne's passing."

"Doesn't he ask?"

Curious...Douglas had pronounced his deceased wife's name as if it were venom and he was spitting it out.

Douglas Shelby turned his gaze somewhere over Roger toward the ceiling. "No, he doesn't. If he brings it up, that is if or when he trusts you, you tell him you don't know." Then he twisted his mouth as he played with the mouse of the computer.

"I'll do that. I'll do my best...to help him." Roger said.

The reality of being here with little knowledge of this family, if there was a family, struck Roger's nerves. He needed to have more information to be able to help this child. "Is there anything else I should know? I mean about the other family members, the extended family, or people Sidney may feel close to."

"No, Sid is not a warm child, as I pointed out earlier, and most of the family members live far away. My sister, Lee Anne and her husband show up once in a blue moon, but that's it." He moved the mouse of the computer without looking at the screen, as if trying to make up his mind on something, then he continued. "My parents both died in a plane crash, a couple of months before Sid was born."

"I'm sorry."

"Bernie, the man who showed you in, has been with us for a very long time, ever since I can remember. He will introduce you to the staff and will see to your needs. If you haven't brought your things with you, you can bring them tonight or over the weekend sometime."

With that, Douglas Shelby rose and pushed a button on the telephone/intercom combination on his desk. "Bernie, please bring Sid here."

A six-year old boy in dark blue shorts and tee shirt entered the room or rather was pushed through the door by Bernie, the same man in black who had showed Roger in. Bernie nodded politely while closing the door and left.

Roger rose to his feet and walked slowly to Sid and held out his hand. "Hello, Sid. How are you? I'm Roger."

Sid rubbed his lips together and backed up, leaning on the wall.

"Shake hands with Roger," Douglas said, in a commanding tone.

Sid stretched his hand to touch Roger's fingertips. Roger smiled and grasped the boy's hand gently as he rose to his feet, and without letting go, he pulled him to the chair he had occupied a few minutes earlier.

"I'm sure you and I will make great friends," Roger said as he sat down, still holding on to the boy's hand and looking into his eyes. The boy didn't meet his gaze but looked at the patterned rug, as if examining its square and circular shapes for the first time.

"Sid, look at me," Douglas ordered. The boy's head jerked suddenly toward his father as he pulled his hand from Rogers. "You will do as Mr.Faas says. I don't want to hear any objections from you or complaints about you from him, understood?"

Sid nodded.

A younger version of Douglas Shelby, Sidney Shelby had blond bouncy hair, clear blue eyes, and porcelain-like glowing white skin that would make any beauty-conscious woman envious. His cast-down face, however, contrasted the cherubic features.

Douglas stood up and faced Roger. "Leave him with Bernie if you are going to get your things now. Oh, before you go, one more thing. You'll conduct your classes anywhere you like, except my quarters. You can use this room, too, if I'm not in it. You're welcome to use any of the books here for your own reading pleasure or for teaching Sid. And I'm glad to meet you, Roger. I'm happy that you'll be Sid's friend, here."

"Thank you, Mr. Shelby...Doug," Roger said, as he gently touched the boy's shoulder to indicate that they were exiting the room.

Marcus Aurelius for a six-year-old boy? No, he couldn't have meant it that way, but if so, what was Douglas Shelby thinking?

As soon as Roger and Sidney exited Douglas's study, Bernie appeared to lead them into Sidney's room. "I'll take you to Sidney's room first," he said. "Yours is next to it, to make things easy for you. Afterwards I can show you the rest of the place, Mr. Faas."

"Call me Roger, please," Roger said. "And what may I call you?"

Bernie's cheeks colored and his dark eyes brightened as held up his hand. "Bernie will be fine, Sir. We have to go up the stairs. This way, please. Your rooms are on the second floor." He gently guided Sid to walk in front of him and led the way. Then he continued. "The three rooms, after the hallway turns left, belong to Mr. Shelby. We don't go in there unless absolutely necessary."

"I'll keep that in mind, thank you Bernie," Roger said as he walked after him up the stairway.

Sidney's room was spacious with a play corner of toys and a tall wall unit with books. "I see you have quite a collection of books, Sid," Roger said.

"I don't like books," Sid said. "They're gross and obnoxious."

"Obnoxious? What a big word? You must have quite a vocabulary."

Sidney shrugged and walked away toward the window. Roger examined the books on the shelves. The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Mr. Popper's penguins, the entire Judy Blume collection, Roald Dahl's Matilda, and many other picture books with short captions under each page.

"You have some very good books, Sid. Your dad has good taste."

"No, he doesn't," He kept looking out the window as he talked. "Kay brought them. I don't like Kay." He turned around and stared at Roger. Good news, Roger thought. Strange kid, but at least, he looks directly into my eyes.

"I don't know who Kay is." Roger said as he took gentle steps toward the boy. "But you have some very nice view here, Sid. The garden has quite a few wonderful plants."

"Kay comes here for Dad," Sid said, not answering Roger's comment about the garden. Then he looked up into Roger's eyes again. "Are you going to make me memorize stuff like Mrs. Quinn did?"

"Memorize? Heck no. I can't memorize things myself. Let's explore things together...like the reason stars come at night and what numbers mean...And we don't have to do even that, all the time. We can work with whatever you wish to do...talk, play..."

Sid's face softened. "I am not going to school again, right? I don't want to."

"Someday you may change your mind. You probably had an unpleasant experience."

Sid nodded.

At least, he's talking to me, Roger thought. "Communicating even..."

"Do you know your letters and numbers?"

"I know how to read," Sid said, stressing on the word read. "Watch me." He dashed to the bookshelf and pulled out a picture book.

He read, enunciating with care, almost perfectly, but he could have memorized that book. Roger picked The Cricket in Times Square, a book that had to be over Sid's reading level. He pointed to a random word. "What does this word say?"

"Sta-tion," Sid said slowly. Then he continued to read. "The bustle of the day had long since sub...sub..."

"Subsided," Roger helped. "You know, you're very good at this. I bet many boys your age are not able to read half as well as you do." He closed the book and put it on the shelf. "No wonder, they bought you so many difficult books."

Sid looked down at his shoes.

"Sid, I need to put my things in my room. Will you wait for me here?"

Although the boy nodded in agreement, he followed Roger to his car.

"This is your car? Neat!"

Was the kid being polite? "It's old, but enough for me," Roger said, opening the hatch to take his bags out.

"It's a hatchback" Sid whistled. "Don't get it painted or anything. I like cars not too shiny."

Strange kid! Roger thought, again.

Bernie appeared with another man in denims and a cap. "We'll take your things to your room. You needn't bother, sir. This is Marty, the gardener."

"Roger, here. How are you, Marty? Please call me Roger both of you. None of that sir stuff. And I think I can handle this. I didn't bring much anyway."

"We could send for your things, if you wish."

"No need for that. I'll be fine." Still, Bernie and Marty took three boxes of books as Roger carried his bags.

Truth was, Roger didn't have much in the first place especially because he had been staying in a furnished place in downtown Manhattan with Gustavo, an old schoolmate and friend. Roger knew Gustavo from the time when they were in their teens, way back when Roger was in Junior High in Florida. Too bad, he couldn't ask Gustavo over to his new quarters, but work was work, and he had to go along with what his boss wanted, especially when he was being paid this well.

"You like books, how come?" Sid asked, peering into the boxes on the floor. Roger knelt down beside him.

"Did you ever hear anyone say, books are your best friends?"

Sid shook his head.

"Well," Roger continued. "They are my best friends. There are times I think I can find no better friend than a book."

"I like stories, but on TV or in my DVD player."

"You know what? Some of those stories come from books."

Sid's eyes opened up in wonder. "The stories on TV? Really?"

"Yup!" Roger made a mental note to order the DVD of a classic children's movie together with its original book.

For their classroom, Roger chose the small living room with a TV and sitting arrangement off Sid's room and asked for a table with two chairs to be brought in and set against a wall.

His room was next to Sid's. Studio-sized and comfortable, it had a seating section with a loveseat and armchair, a comfortable single bed, and a desk. A door opposite the bed opened to a private bathroom. Everything in the room was decorated in earth-tones and soft materials, a lot fancier than Roger could ever afford with his previous salary.

Maybe his muse would poke him here, and he would continue with that elusive book that he tried to write since his college days. He had published a few short pieces here and there, but he considered short stories and articles as only his stepping stones.

After graduation, he had started to earn his living in a high school in the slums, but the work overload was too much, and the pay could not be called pay, not when he was planning to save enough money so he could give his full attention to his magnum opus. Spending so much time in a day job with a bleak future, which also crept into covering his after-hours totally, did not fit in with his long-term goals.

Maybe, here in this house, an acceptable first draft derived from his intensive research would come to him. He didn't know how working with Sid would inspire him to write this specific book, but he imagined the subject matter he had chosen would have excited Jason.

Jason would think this work was worth sweating over. Roger recalled Jason devouring history books even when he was nine or ten...more than a decade ago, before his demise.

Jason...Poor Jason!

They were both fourteen then, back home in Florida. He squeezed his eyes shut with the memory.

At the end of Howard's River, they were untying the dinghy to go fishing. They were not to go at it alone. The river was dangerous. Jason's parents had made them promise. They could go on the water together, but only after getting permission from an adult.

That day, they were by the river without telling anyone, as Jason was sure they wouldn't get permission. A slight misunderstanding between them about untying the knots that bound the dinghy to the dock led to cruel words.

"You think you know about knots. You don't. And you don't own the boat, do you? Dirt poor that you people are. So shut up and watch me. This isn't your boat, it's ours." How Jason's words had cut through Roger. Stomping his feet through the water, then on the ground, Roger had fled, holding on to his hurt feelings. Jason had yelled after him. "Some friend you are! Go, leave me alone. I don't give a fuck."

If only Roger hadn't left...

And Douglas Shelby had hired him thinking he was so reliable. If only he knew how unreliable he had been...once.

Roger shook his head in an attempt to make that memory go away.

Maybe Douglas sensed something about Roger. His surprised face when he first met him, kept coming back to haunt Roger. Not only Doug but Bernie, too, had looked at him in a weird way that very first day. Sometimes he thought it was because of his clothes, but both had been acting amiably toward him...so far. Whatever it was, it probably didn't involve Roger. He still had a job, didn't he? That he had taken another part of the job, Sid's nightmares, on his shoulders didn't bother him, but that the child was traumatized did bother him. In none of the interviews, Alan, Doug's assistant, had mentioned the nightmares.

Roger had first witnessed the problem during his second night at Bedford, when in the middle of a deep sleep, high-pitched yowls sawed into his consciousness. When he opened the door, he saw Bernie coming out of Sid's room. "Go back to sleep, please. Sid has nightmares often," the old man whispered. Roger felt bad for him, seeing his disheveled state and the way he dragged himself across the hall.

The next night, with the first wail, Roger rushed to Sid's room to find the boy sitting in his bed, his mouth open, emitting horrific cries as if he were being mauled by a ferocious beast. Roger clapped his hands in front of him and the boy stopped screaming. "It's okay, Sid. You're safe with me," he said, holding the child's arms. Sid blinked his eyes at Roger with hazy looks, then settled back inside the sheets, his head nuzzling the pillow before growing still.

This happened every night, once or twice, not more than that, and the child acted as if he had no memory of the nightmares or having seen Roger.

If only I can get inside Sid's mind, or rather, his heart...

Four days later, both in DVD and book form, Pinocchio, Babar the Elephant, and Hans Brinker: the Silver Skates arrived in the mail, together with Roger's other online purchases that consisted mostly of clothing. He could do little about the condition of his car, but at least now, he'd look like he belonged with this household in his new shirts and slacks.

Roger opened the box from Amazon and fished out the books and the DVDs. "We'll watch the movies first," he said to Sid, "If you like them, we'll read the books afterwards. How's that?"

"Neat!" Sid was excited. Then he paused a bit and asked, "Are any of these about a girl? I don't like stories about girls."

"Nope, they are all about boys. There may be a girl here and there somewhere, but the important people are the boys."

Sid grinned and did a little whirligig twist around his left foot. "Can we start now?"

"Right now?" The boy was opening up to him, faster than Roger had predicted.

"Yes, yes, please."

"You know what, Sid? I'm just as eager as you are to start. Now you get to pick the first DVD and the matching book."

Sid pointed to Pinocchio. "Perfect pick," Roger said, tearing out the cellophane wrap around the DVD.

The child stared at him with his large blue eyes. "You and I, we are so alike," he said.

"Hmm, probably you're right. I'm curious though. What makes you think that?"

"I just think it."

Roger hugged Sid. Was the little boy saying something that had escaped Roger somehow?

Or possibly, did his subconscious register Roger's soothing in the middle of each night?

CHAPTER 3

"Let's read, now. Then, we can do the gym stuff," Sid suggested.

It had been about two months since Roger had entered the Shelby household. Roger had not left the place, even in his off days, in order to bond with the child, and especially because Doug had been absent, having to go on several business trips.

During one of Doug's trips, his sister Lee Anne and her husband John came for a visit, unaware of Doug's absence, and they spent a good part of the day with Sid and Roger.

Lee Anne, a lawyer, who had a childlike choirgirl allure, was talkative and amiable, but she looked nothing like Doug. Tossing her brown hair away from her face, she said to Roger, "I agree with you that the child needs to be around other children. Doug is overprotective of Sid. Far too much. I wish he would come around and see that keeping him locked up here will have serious effects, but I'm at least glad that Sid has you, a young enough adult to relate to."

"In the long run, I doubt I'll be enough for him," Roger answered in earnest. "If only a school secure enough can be found for Sid. I'm sure one exists somewhere that we don't know about."

"There is one, close to where I live. It is for gifted children, but it starts at third grade. No matter what I said, Doug won't consider it. We're hoping he will later."

"Could be. For later, like you said. I believe Sid is gifted, at least in some ways," Roger answered. He was glad to have met Lee Anne and her husband. They shared his concerns for Sid, but they regretted that they couldn't be of any help with their busy practice and with the distance they had to travel to visit.

On the plus side, Roger's efforts were now bearing fruit. Sid's conduct toward him was unchallenging and pleasant. The boy chirped freely, incessantly, unlike the way he talked to others, with the exception of Consuelo.

"Consuelo's nice," Sid said, after she had picked up the rooms one day. "She never yells."

"I didn't hear anyone yelling at you, Sid. Why do you say that?"

"You have to listen closely, Roger. They yell with their eyes."

That Sid! Sensitive child, no less. The residues of some awful memories ran amok under the veil of the boy's daytime consciousness, and erasing them was impossible. The only thing left for Roger to do was to make him face and come to terms with them. But how? As gracious as Doug was treating Roger, he didn't like talking about the past. As if talking about things would make them go away.

Doug had been away, too often, on a business trips. Some nights he brought his work home and kept busy. And he ate supper with Sid and Roger, but only now and then. Roger wondered if Doug stayed away on purpose.

According to Bernie, Doug spent most nights in his apartment in the city for business reasons. Kay hadn't shown up again after the day Roger met him, but why would she if Doug on a trip or in the city...staying with her. If her image in bare feet still fleeted through Roger's mind once in a while, he chased the thought away immediately.


"Long time no see.... How is your new pad? I bet cushy," Gustavo joked on the phone. "Or did the boy stuck a shish through you and planted you in the garden."

"No such thing, man. True, I'm getting a good paycheck without spilling blood, although it's like I'm a faded model T in a world of Ferraris. But I've been busy. Been working on the book and my student. Sid's great. Misunderstood and troubled somewhat, but coming along."

He planned on going to Manhattan for a few hours at least, though more for Dawn than for Gustavo. Dawn had been his girlfriend for quite a while, but for some time now, she was acting as if they had nothing between them and were just friends. Roger guessed she met someone she liked better. Now she was zooming out to the west coast with her new employment in a movie studio as a script editor.

"Aren't you ever coming to the city? We could hit a bar or something," Gustavo said.

"That'd be great. Maybe next weekend for a few hours. Dawn wants to see me before she takes off, but I don't want to leave Sid alone with the help."

"Like he were your own kid. Humph! What were they doing before you?"

"There was another teacher, but Sid didn't take to her." Roger said.

"Hombre, these moneyed people! Who'd have paid any attention to us whether we took to a teacher or not?"

"Rich or poor, people have problems, Gustavo. Sid is a good kid. I like the little fella. He needs kids his age around but can't have them here. Weird hah?"

"Sure is. Like I said, those moneyed people..."

"He was in a private school, but that didn't pan out. Doug says there was some problem with security and stuff."

"Doug? Who's Doug?"

Gustavo's wheels had to be spinning. "Sid's father," Roger said.

"Your boss? You call your boss, Doug?"

"Yeah. He's okay. Informal. Friendly. Hard-working. Clever, too. Does things without throwing a punch or pulling a trigger. Good guy really. Just too busy for the kid."

"A good guy...but doesn't let friends come and visit you? Isn't that nice!"

"I told you. It's the security thing. Once a crappy incident happened. He's afraid of kidnappers, maybe enemies, rivals, things like that."

"Like I'd know his goddamn enemies or I'd kidnap his kid. Eehh, what can you do! At least, try to come here once in a while. I'm thinking of getting another roommate, y'know. But you got the key. Keep it. The place is yours when you come to the city."

"Thanks, Gustavo. But get that roommate. It'd help with the rent and whatever."

"Even if I did, there'd be room for you. Mi casa es tu casa."

"Thanks, pal. Like I said, next weekend. I'll stop by Dawn's first. Then we can hit the town, you and I."

"What's with these women, hombre? Dawn going to the West Coast, Alyssa wanting to find herself, like I snatched her self and locked it up in a safe."

"Dawn and I were...that thing was probably busted at the start. It was a college thing. But you guys, that was a different ball game. You guys were married. Must hurt."

"Alla ellas! Let'em go and get theirs. By the way, I signed the papers. Alyssa has her divorce. Valgame Dios, I didn't smash her face or something."

"Gustavo, what a thing to say! Nah! You wouldn't hit a girl. You aren't a brute."

"I can't believe she dumped me like that. Believe me Roger, there were times I could clobber her on account of this finding herself thing."

Roger felt Sid tugging at his arm, then noticed him pointing to the door.

"Gustavo," he talked into the phone, "Gotta go. Sid and I are going to kick a ball around."


That afternoon when Roger was about to go for a jog around the compound, Bernie told him that Doug was home. Sid was taking an afternoon nap, tired after their short game of soccer.

When Roger turned the corner of the house, he saw Doug sitting on a bench under a cluster of elm trees at the side of the house facing the botanical garden. Doug greeted him with a friendly salute and invited Roger to sit next to him.

"Bernie says you didn't hop away on your off days, Roger. Don't you go to watch baseball in the city? You said you rooted for the Yankees."

"Sid and I watch them on TV. He knows the game now, positions and all. When the basketball season starts, I may go see a few games."

"The new forward they have never runs out of gas, they say. But not just the games. Don't you have friends in the city? You lived there a couple of years, you said. A girlfriend or something?"

"Ahh...She is leaving for LA next week. For good. I'll go see her, this weekend. Between us, there's nothing serious."

"Better not to rush into these things."

Probably Doug just wanted to make small talk, for he was like that. He was friendly with Roger and Bernie, and joked around with the help in the house, but he still acted the boss when it mattered.

"Right." Roger nodded. "We met at school in Miami, on our second year in FSU. It was okay, but like an ice-pack to a bleeding nose. Not wanting to be alone thing. That was it."

"Women!" Doug shook his head from side to side. "But with Kay, no ice-pack there."

Why was Doug mentioning his girlfriend to him? Was he asking him to influence Sid in some way so the boy could accept a stepmother?

Roger chose to remain silent. Then, after a short, uncomfortable pause, Doug talked again. "You lived in the city almost two years. Surely you have some acquaintances."

"As you said, acquaintances, people I worked with, except for Gustavo, my roommate in the city. He's a municipal engineer, but you know that. He was one of the references in my résumé. We went to the same high school back home. He was three or four years ahead of me."

"Nice to be in touch with someone you knew earlier. New York City can be a lonely place without a real friend." Doug sighed.

Doesn't he have any good friends? Roger wondered. Then he said, "Actually, I plan to see Gustavo, too, when I go this weekend."

"Good, I don't want to imprison you here with a bratty six year-old."

"Not at all. No, not bratty. Sid is a good kid. We get along," Roger said.

"So I see and hear. You have succeeded what others have failed to do, Roger. I respect you for that."

"Thank you, Doug. But eventually, Sid will need to be among children his age."

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there, Roger. Right now, I'm okay with the way things are."

Doug was obviously disturbed by this exchange. Frowning, he looked away, his face taking on a mask-like appearance. Roger backed away, thinking of finishing this part of the conversation.

"Okay, Doug. It is a good idea to keep the thought in mind." Then he changed the subject. "By the way, this is an interesting bench we are sitting on. It's familiar somehow, but I can't remember where I have seen one like it." He stroked the high back of the ornately carved hard wood with a strong luster, almost like a marine finish but with dark walnut tone.

Doug chuckled. "This is an old church pew of hard oak. It's my father's find. When the old church he used to attend came down and a new one was build, he took this pew here and had it primed and finished for the exterior. Bernie makes sure it's always in good condition, for the memory. He and Dad were close."

"He's a good man...Bernie," Roger said.

"That he is. He's been here since I was born. He raised us, almost." His face took on that faraway look again.

"I like how well the trees are cared for, " Roger said. "I don't think Marty's doing all the work. The other day an entire crew of people were pruning."

"We use a tree company, twice a year, but Marty is the one who's on top of things. He's the grounds CEO, so to speak."

He must think, with his Wall-Street way of labeling, I'm the kid-manager, Roger thought. Luckily, not a nanny as Kay put it.

Yet, as unbecoming as the title could be, the way Kay spilled it out, this felt like the best part of his life so far. For the first time, With Sid, he felt he was gaining ground as a teacher instead of working Sisyphus-like with a roomful of teens who took every chance to cross and humiliate him as well as every other teacher in the school. But because of being the youngest teacher, Roger had been the butt of their pranks.

Astonishing, how the way his life had quieted down! And Sid had taken to him quickly enough. According to what he was told by the staff, the boy had been extremely negativistic. True, he had tried hard to gain Sid's friendship, but he had succeeded it. Now, that was something.

The job paid well, very well indeed, and people were friendly. Better yet, he would be able to save enough money to take time off for finishing his project. A historical novel with the working title of The Know-Nothings. He was still not sure of the title, hesitating to change it to Fillmore's Follies, but this didn't matter because he had barely started writing the story. Even the research wasn't halfway done! Probably he could stop by the library again, after his farewell to Dawn and before meeting with Gustavo.

"Roger, did you have a chance to walk through the entire garden? There's a gazebo in the middle of the trees. It is quite peaceful." Doug's face had lost its gravity, regaining his friendly smile now.

Roger took an easy breath. He had not intended to address Doug's susceptible side in the first place. "Not really," he answered. "For some reason, Sid never wants to go in there. So we usually play ball in the open area at the other side of the house."

"Come, let's walk there." Doug rose, gesturing with his hand for Roger to follow him. "The botanical garden is my grandfather's creation. He worked very hard to put that together."

"Cool! It's peaceful here."

They had left the paved section and were tramping along a path of bark chips. Doug stopped and pointed, his forefinger drawing an imaginary arc. "Only seven acres for the trees, but we have over fifty species of trees, mostly oaks. Whites, reds, pins, burs, chestnuts, buttercups. These here are live oaks. Look at their branches. Every which way they stretch and punch each other."

"Your grandfather had to have an interest in horticulture. He must have put the gazebo in the middle over there."

"The gazebo was my idea. I had that brought in from Maine, last year. It is covered partly with glass and screens. For Kay. Kay likes it there. I'm surprised you never walked this way, Roger."

"It didn't occur to me. When out here, I'm with Sid, and we do what he wants, so inside I can have the edge."

Doug grinned. "I see. Handling him takes a bit of doing, you say."

"All children are like that, but Sid is very bright, Doug. I'm sure you know. Working with him has been no problem at all."

"He was very difficult. Tantrums, pouting spells, nightmares, the works. You have no idea. The people both in the school he went to and the two tutors before you, practically everyone complained."

"Really? I haven't seen it. Sometimes he's unusually quiet, though. And he's still having nightmares, occasionally." Then he looked ahead and squinted. "Someone's there in the gazebo. Inside."

A sylphlike form with wildly curled auburn hair stepped into the open area of the gazebo and waved. Doug waved back, "Hey! When did you arrive?"

Kay! Roger stopped electrified. Then a sensation like falling grabbed him, Yet he remained standing. It was as if his mind made him forget where he was, who he was. He suddenly felt he was a man and only that.

CHAPTER 4

"Bernie said you were out by the pool area. I didn't see you there, so I came here." She halted for a moment and looked at Roger. "Hi, Roger!" she said simply.

"Hello, how are you?" Roger forced the words out of himself.

Maybe I don't go to the city, during the weekend.

The thought surprised him more than his sudden reaction to Kay's presence. But he had to go. After all, he had told Doug minutes ago that he would.

Kay was wearing black, from her short boots to her tight jeans and turtleneck. A red shawl loosely thrown over her shoulders matched her hair, contrasting the outfit.

She knows how to stun people, even with her outfits. Too bad, those boots covering her feet.

The image of her feet, the first day he saw her, rose up in his mind as it had been doing ever since. Pedicured toes painted in creamy pink, the second toe bent at the end, high arches...

Doug ran up the gazebo's stairs in twos, to embrace her. Roger took a step back not knowing how to act. It would be impolite to turn around and leave. Yet, lumbering after Doug into the gazebo could be just as awkward.

"You're glad to see me?" Kay's voice was high and Roger could hear the sarcasm in it. "And you didn't come to my party."

"Don't do this, Kay. We talked about it on the phone."

"Maybe you don't care enough..."

"Don't twist things, love. Let's enjoy the moment." He caressed her shoulders.

Roger, still not knowing what to do, took a step away from the gazebo but without turning his back. Suddenly Kay laughed, pushing Doug away from her, and called out.

"Roger, why do you stand there? Come on up."

"I was showing him the trees and the gazebo," Doug said, then turned to Roger. "Come up here and see what we got in this little place, Roger."

"Ummm, maybe I'll take a quick look and head on home. Sid will be up soon," Roger said. Then as if an engine that changed gear abruptly, he moved up the steps, quick and agile.

He glimpsed the closed part of the gazebo without stepping in. Everything was of wood, Pine Roger guessed. A simple kitchenette with a faucet, microwave, and a table top stove and a tiny fridge near the table and chairs at the other end. A long bench, its seat covered with a red cushion, stood near the door.

"You have been here a while and you haven't come this way, Roger?" Kay chirped. "I can't believe it."

"I didn't have time," Roger said, "And Sid doesn't like to come this way."

"Yes, I know. Sid doesn't like this part because..."

"Kay," Doug interrupted with a warning voice, "Sid is a kid, just figuring out what he likes or what he doesn't."

"You don't mean what. It's who."

Doug sent a cautionary look toward Kay.

"The gazebo is really beautiful. You did a great job, Doug," Roger said.

"Don't talk as if he constructed whole thing by himself," Kay laughed again.

"There's no pleasing you, ever." Doug shook his head at Kay.

Roger didn't want to be there anymore. "Well, I'd better be going now. As I said, Sid is probably up now. Thanks for showing me this, Doug." Then he quickly turned around and hurried down the stairs.

"See you at dinner!" Kay yelled after him.

Roger waved without looking back.

Sid turned a sour face as soon as he heard Kay was in Bedford. It worried Roger that the child would act up again, something everyone kept fearing of, although Roger hadn't seen the negative side of the boy...yet. When dinnertime came and Bernie called them on the intercom, he hesitated for a while, but then thought facing what bothered the child could become a step forward in his improvement.

After Bernie's call, Roger led the boy downstairs without any comment. Entering the family's dining room, he averted his eyes from long oak table draped with a damask tablecloth and settings of fine china and silver, and he grasped Sid's hand, afraid that the boy would suddenly dart out of the room.

"I'm not hungry," Sid repeated, staring at Kay.

"You don't have to eat. You'll sit with Kay and me and Roger until we finish dinner. That's that," Doug said with a stern tone.

Why didn't I ask Bernie to prepare something separately for Sid and me beforehand? It would have been better for both of us, Roger scolded himself. Now it was too late to change course. If he did, he would be undoing Doug's authority. Not good. Not good at all.

"Why don't we sit down, Sid?" He asked the boy gently. "I bet you'll change your mind, once the food comes."

Doug pointed to the chair next to him and ordered, "Sit down, Sidney!"

"Oh, oh, here it comes. Another tantrum!" Kay muttered. Sid darted another spiteful glance at her direction.

Roger pushed the boy toward the chair. "I'll be right next to you," he said. "See if you can remember what we discussed yesterday. About the right foods?"

Sid nodded and looked up at Roger. Roger helped him sit and perched right next to him. Too bad! He felt a kinship with Sid's discomfort at this arrangement, although he rejoiced inwardly. He'd be able to watch Kay right across the table. The idea made his cheeks burn.

"Surprise, surprise!" Kay said. "No one's having a fit. Roger, your expertise is not only with Shakespeare, I see."

"Shakespeare? Who's that?" Doug joked. "You should see Roger's résumé, Kay. In school, he outdid even you."

"I can guess," Kay said.

"Schoolwork doesn't necessarily equal success in life," Roger said.

"I'm good at it, too, like Roger," Sid murmured, looking down.

"You sure are. I bet you'll do even better, much better," Roger said, leaning aside to let Bernie ladle the soup.

"Will that be possible?" Doug chuckled.

"Roger, you must have impressed Doug." Kay reached for the soupspoon. "Now I'm curious to see that résumé."

Doug took a small sip of his soup. Kay and Roger followed suit. Sid looked at Roger. Then he, too, took his spoon and started eating.

"We are lucky to have Roger here," Doug said. "I think we are witnessing a miracle, too. Good for you Sid, I like this very much."

"I think Sid likes eating with us better than he's given credit for. Right, Sid?" Kay said.

"Uh, uh, no!" Sid shook his head. "I'm eating with you only," he said, looking up at Roger.

"He won't even talk to me..." Kay smacked her spoon down.

"What happened with the new window fancy-shmancy stuff you were doing in your place?" Doug asked Kay, probably to change the subject.

"Next week," Kay said. "I changed the color scheme. A tad lighter. Are we going riding tomorrow? Let's take Roger along."

"Roger has other plans for the weekend," Doug said.

"Thank you, but I know next to nothing about horses," Roger said. "I was planning to see a couple of old friends in the city. That is if you or Bernie or Consuelo can stay with Sid."

"Of course," Doug said. "We'll think of something, Roger. It isn't fair that you have to stay here weekends too. You didn't take your Sundays off, at all."

"You spent all this time with Sid? I can't believe it," Kay said.

"And I had a very good time, too," Roger said, smiling at Sid. Sid looked at Roger and grinned. "But I have to see a couple of friends. One of them is leaving for L.A. Sid told me it's okay with him."

Sid nodded, looking at Doug.

"So this is the way to get under Sid's skin..." Kay said. "I must try that. I think I'll superglue myself to Sid." She winked at Roger from across the table. Roger blushed, feeling self-conscious and realizing that he had been ogling Kay on and off.

"Noooo, never," Sid grimaced. "Only Roger."

"In this house, I'm not letting in any superglues." Doug chuckled. "Things will have to happen on their own accord."

After dinner, Roger took Sid upstairs, hoping Kay hadn't caught him ogling her when she winked at him through her usual frisky manner. Anyhow what was done was done. He had to be more careful around those two from now on.

At the top of the stairs, Roger's cell rang. "Give me a minute, Sid," Roger said, flipping the phone. "It's my mother."

"Mom, hi! How are you?" he said into the phone.

"How am I? How am I?" squealed Fiona Faas at the other end. "Now he asks. You don't call, you don't care, and now you ask."

"Mom, calm down. I called three days ago. You were going to your bridge game and you said everything was fine, remember?"

"Too much can happen in three days, you know. You think I have ten hands for everything?"

"Mom, what happened? Is everyone all right?"

"James got lost. Your father. I was going out of my mind."

"Lost? Dad? How come? Is he missing?"

"No, no! He's here now. They found him. He was walking around the mall. Couldn't find the door. I was trying on slacks. I told him, 'Sit here, wait for me,' But would he? Nooo. He wandered off. My blood pressure is shot to high heavens now." She sounded flustered as if the incident was happening right there and then.

"Mom, why didn't you leave him with Megan? You know she told you to..."

"Leave him with Megan? I didn't want to see that dentist, that's why." Sandy Faas hated the dentist Megan worked for, since he was married with children and Meg, well... she was his girlfriend on the sly.

"Oh, yeah, the dentist...figures."

"If you were here, it would be different." She started talking without letting him speak, as usual. "Jim listens to you. He always did. The school year's ended here. Is it any different over there? It must be the summer school then. Do you have to? Certainly you can take off a little while."

"I'm here now, Mom. I'm working. I can't be there for good, you know."

"They can't find teachers here where you belong, and you work at that rundown school at the cold end of the country. Heavens! Gotta go now. Jim is into something. Take care, will ya?"

Roger hit the side of his head with his palm. His mother still thought he was working at the high school. Unknowingly, or was it knowingly, he had omitted telling her about the new job.

"Roger, Kay and I were coming up. We couldn't help but hear your side of the conversation on the phone." Roger turned to face Doug and Kay at the landing of the stairs. They were holding hands. "If you have an emergency, feel free to tend to it."

"No, thanks, Doug. It's all taken care of now." Roger said, creasing his brow.

"What's the problem, Roger? Anything we can help with?" Kay asked.

"Thank you. It's my father," Roger said. "He has the beginnings of Alzheimer's. He got lost in the mall, scaring my mother, but they found him. Everything's fine now. Just that my mother gets emotional too quickly."

"Oh, my God, I can see why." Kay said. "You must be worried. Does your mother have anyone helping her?"

"She is not all that alone. My sister Megan is just a block away, and my other sister Nellie lives in the next town."

"Your sister's a dentist? Did I catch it right?" Kay asked again.

"Megan, my sister, works for a dentist. She's a dental hygienist."

"Enough, Kay," Doug intercepted. "Let Roger rest a little."

"That's okay, Doug," Roger said. "Thank you both for caring."

"Let him rest? With Sid around? Phht!" Kay made a flipping gesture with her hand.

"Okay, let's go! Goodnight, Sid, Roger!" Doug held Kay's hand and pulled her toward his quarters.

"Is your father sick?" Sid asked while opening the door to his room.

"A little."

"What's wrong?"

"He's losing his brain cells," Roger said, staring at the spot where the corridor made a turn to Doug's quarters, the place where Doug had taken Kay.

CHAPTER 5

"So you like the golden cage," Gustavo said, gulping down his Heineken's at Gentle Jim's.

"Not a cage, at least, not for me," Roger said, "And not golden."

"Cushy though, right? Fuckin' rich brats! Man, you're giving up on your pension, but that's your biz. I'm just sayin'."

"By the time I get to be sixty-five, the pension this city will pay won't feed a cockroach," Roger said. "Besides, Doug pays my Social Security among other things."

"Yeah, and that solves everything." Gustavo rolled his eyes. "Never mind, when's Dawn leaving?"

"Tuesday. She's all excited. It was good seeing her."

"Too bad, it didn't work for you guys."

"It was okay until she decided to go to LA. Anyway, things cooled toward the end, and she's turned into more of a friend."

"Oh well, shit happens. How's the book coming along?"

"I've written a bit, at nights after Sid sleeps. Still doing the research. I was at the library, earlier today. Lotsa stuff on the Know-Nothing Party and the eighteen hundreds."

Gustavo threw back his head with a hearty laugh. "Love that name. It must have sired today's goofball parties."

Roger grinned. "It was no laughing matter then. The party had a strong following, the whole bunch of them against immigrants."

"That's weird," Gustavo said. "Everybody's an immigrant when you go back a few hundred years." Just then Gustavo's cell phone buzzed and Roger welcomed the intrusion into the talk about his writing. He felt nobody took him seriously, not even Gustavo.

While Gustavo took the call from somebody he called Mercedes, Roger heard a jaunty laugh. He turned, and after a fleeting glimpse of a woman with smooth, uncovered limbs and animated gestures, his sight became glued to the sandals that, through their straps, the black polish of toes glowed like the eyes of a multi-headed beast. Nothing like Kay's pedicured toes polished in creamy pink.

"Hey, Rog, watch out!" Gustavo's alarmed whisper brought him to attention. "You're ogling, and the guy sitting with her is not happy about it."

"Sorry," Roger turned around and shook his head as if waking up. "I wasn't really looking at her."

Gustavo flipped his cell phone shut. "What's with you, hombre? Three beers and you're already conking out on me. You were able to drink me under the table anytime. You've been too long a monk in that danged gold cage."

"I wasn't ogling anyone. I was just thinking about..."

"About what?"

"About her feet. Not her feet. Another person's?"

"Huh? What feet? You really lost me now."

"My boss's girlfriend has these really fancy toes, made up and all that..."

Gustavo rolled his eyes. "The boss's girlfriend? Oh, no!"

"It isn't like that, Gus. They're friendly, both of them. Anyway, she shows up only rarely if he's around, and he isn't around often in the first place."

"What does this guy do?"

"Something to do with the entertainment biz, to my knowledge. Producing music, he said. His father was the big boss, he says. His uncle's took over after his father died. The uncle sends Doug all over the place."

"That must be why he hired you. For the kid. Why isn't the kid in a boarding school?"

"Sid is young and he didn't take to school well. Also, Doug is afraid of a kidnapping."

"So you'd said earlier. Sounds like a weird bunch....I bet with secrets that would make gossip columns twist with glee."

"True. There are things people are secretive about. Like there's a high wooden fence surrounding a half-burned out cottage on a far corner the property. I saw through the slats while jogging."

"So they had a fire."

"The butler, Bernie, said it used to be a guest cottage before the accident, and he warned me not to talk about it to Doug since it would upset him. He said Sid's mother burned to death in there."

"Poor kid! Such horror!"

"Sid was a baby then. He doesn't have a memory of it."

"All the better. But why didn't your boss get married again? The kid needs a mother."

"He once implied that Kay, his girlfriend, was dragging her feet. That's none of my business, but I think the boy should at least be around friends his age. I understand Doug, too. Less than a year ago, Sid was taken from school and held by some people overnight. Then they brought him to the city and dumped him at the Marriott Marquis."

"Was it money, ransom? Did they hurt the kid?"

"There was a ransom demand, but before Doug paid it, they let go of the kid. No one knows for sure if Sid was hurt. The boy didn't remember and wouldn't talk to anyone about it. The police brought in a child psychologist, but she couldn't get him to speak."

"Definitely, I see your boss's point. Still, it isn't fair to the child to keep him under lock and key. He should have some kind of a life as a kid."

"I tried to mention the possibility, but Doug won't hear of it. He gets antsy, so I'm keeping mum."


Roger didn't return to Bedford that evening. When he woke up the next morning at Gustavo's, his head was throbbing as if reassembled with screws and metal pins. A night of indulgence had put significant strain on his legs. After he stood up, he steadied himself against the side of the bed in his old room, but there was silence, a strange sort of peace in the apartment, despite the sound of the city traffic seeping through the window.

He wobbled about, washing up and getting dressed. Gustavo wasn't around. Must be at church, he thought. He never misses a Sunday.

By the time, Gustavo walked in carrying a paper bag, Roger had made the coffee.

"Are you still in the la-la land?"

"I know. Am I?" Roger chuckled. "I guess I'm losing my touch."

"Man, were you wasted! You kept talking about Jason. I don't think you knew what you were saying."

"Oh," Roger said. "I didn't mean to." He shrugged awkwardly.

Gustavo placed the bag on the counter of the kitchenette. "I brought us breakfast, fresh banana muffins, cinnamon rolls, and apples, from the Korean deli two doors down." He tilted his head toward Roger. "Let's eat first...then." He didn't finish. He pulled out two plates and silverware and set them on the table. Roger poured the coffees.

"That thing with Jason still bothers you, eh?" Gustavo said, a statement rather than a question, as he sipped the last drop of his coffee.

Roger darted a glance at him, then looked down at the crumbs on his plate, saying nothing.

"All this time, you lived here, I didn't have any idea. You go to live in Bedford, and wham, the lock opens."

"Forget about it," Roger said. "I don't even remember what I blurted out last night."

"Whatever, but I gotta say something." Gustavo hesitated for a moment or two, then continued. "The day of the accident, I was watching from the window. Remember, we lived three houses down."

"You saw..." Roger's voice dwindled away.

Gustavo nodded. "I didn't see how it happened. I saw you there, then you walked away." His eyes met Roger's as he spoke. "You guys had to be saying things to each other. Mean things. Probably more by him than you. Jason had a vicious mouth. He was nasty, you know. He must have said something nasty to you as he always did to me. Bigoted and stuck up that he was. After you left, he kept on fiddling with the ropes, still standing in the water. Then I went to another room. Never saw the gator or anything."

"You didn't say anything...all this time."

"What for? I'd have done the same thing. Walked away, I mean. He must have insulted you."

"Even so. I should have admitted to leaving him alone. I shouldn't have let people think Jason went in the river by himself."

"What good would it do? It was over and done with. I thought you had worked through that, but after last night, I wanted to bring it up. It was bugging you. I thought talking about it would help."

"Yes, this thing eats at me. The shame of it...having laid the total blame on Jason. Having had to lie...to everybody."

"You didn't lie, not exactly. I don't think. You just didn't offer the truth."

"I chickened out. My parents were going to the mall and then to old Mr. Ryan's. Remember? This was the time when Mr. Ryan broke his leg. I told them I'd stay home and study. After they left, Jason called, insisting...When my parents returned, they found me in my room studying. To them, I never left the house. I didn't say anything. I didn't even know then that the gator..."

"Where were your sisters that day?"

"Not at home. Meg was working. Nellie was babysitting. I shouldn't left Jason, no matter what. At least, I should have told..."

"If you hadn't left, the gators would get you both. Remember the trappers got two six-footers, not just one. And suppose you had told the whole thing? What good would it do? What good would it do if they blamed you till kingdom come? It wouldn't bring Jason back. It wouldn't fix anything."

"Gustavo, people had seen a gator sunning a few days ago. We knew it was, they were, there. I let a friend down. What kinda friend did that make me? Then to lie on top of it...to lie to his parents, to mine, to the whole town. Remember his funeral?"

The funeral! He recalled stumbling as they were leaving the service. He recalled his father's arms around him, and Father Prescott's pitying eyes on him, and his words to him.

"Roger, think of your friend's passing as a sorrowful mystery. Because this is a mystery to us, let the Lord draw you closer and make you love Him more. Be full of consolation and joy for Jason for he is in the arms of the most High." Such baseless, useless words. Obscene, they felt. Why was he consoling me? And I had already stopped believing.

"You were a kid, man," Gustavo was saying. "What, you had to be fourteen or so. Who didn't do stuff at that age? And you were scared. Don't let it bother you. Past history. Finito."

"Anyway, for what it is worth, thanks for backing me up then, and now."

"I wasn't going to mention it, but the things you spilled out last night...I thought talking would help...I mean talking about stuff helps me. Remember how I dumped on you when Alyssa left me for Gwen. Not even a man. God, I still can't get over it. She saying she wants other things..."

"But you have nothing to blame yourself for. It was her choice whatever she did."

"Don't you blame yourself either. It is finished. He insulted you. You left. Anyone would have left him. He shouldn't have stayed there in the water alone."

"Still, Gustavo..."

Gustavo stood up to pour more coffee. "Eat that last muffin, will you? I don't like leftovers."

Clearly, this conversation, rather the bitter memory it brought up, had bothered Gustavo just as much as it did Roger. Except Roger felt he could never forget his part in Jason's death.

When Roger returned to Bedford on Sunday afternoon, he found Sid kicking the soccer ball with all his might, and Doug, red faced and panting, trying to return it.

"Roger, come save me from this monster," Doug yelled.

"Roger!" Sid ran to him, pulling him by the hand..

"I'll join you two, but I won't save you, Doug." Roger said, fluffing Sid's hair.

"You taught some mean tricks to him. I'm impressed," Doug said. "And I found out how old I became."

"You're not old, Dad!" Sid said indignantly.

"You just need to do more of this with Sid," Roger said, punting the ball that had come to rest on the ground. Then the three of them spread around, kicking the soccer ball around.

"You know, Roger," Doug said when they finally stopped the game, "You remind me of my brother. It's an amazing resemblance. You look exactly like him."

The images of Bernie's face at the front door and Doug's reaction in the study when they first met, resurfaced in Roger's mind.

No wonder both Bernie and Doug reacted so weirdly when they first saw me!

Doug kept on talking. "Had Brian lived, he'd be your age. He cared a lot about other people, too."

Caring? Me? If only you knew, Doug, If only you knew about Jason.


CHAPTER 6

Doug's younger brother had died of leukemia when he was seventeen. It had been a long illness and the whole family was devastated, Doug said.

"He was brilliant, top of the class, and skipping grades. So unlike me. At fourteen, he had enough credits to finish high school and go into college. My dad hoped he'd be the one to head the company." His voice trailed off as he added, "Instead, my uncle and I took over."

Doug's such a decent guy, Roger thought, as he said, "You had your share of hard knocks."

"You can say that again, Roger."

"But look, you must be doing fine. Academic achievement doesn't necessarily translate to success in life."

Doug's friendlier than usual, opening up more.

"Still it is good to have the smarts for it," Doug said. "It hurt to see the disappointment in my father's face when I brought home my report cards."

"But you graduated anyway. Maybe the bar was set too high."

"Maybe," said Doug, with a friendly slap on Roger's back. "Sid's nicer nowadays, happier even. I think I know to whom the praise goes."

"It could be that he's maturing, becoming a big boy. Right, Sid?"

Sid nodded, then whipped his head to the side to make his hair fall back in place.

"Anyhow, thanks Roger." Doug pulled up his sleeve and checked his watch. "Let's go in," he said. "Bernie will think we'll never make it to the dinner table."

Roger walked through the door with his hand on Sid's shoulder, thinking, Doug wants to be friends with me. Or am I mistaken?


Kay wasn't at the dinner table. Roger wondered where she was, but did not ask. Asking about her could be awkward. He hadn't noticed her blue Fiat 850 sport coupe anywhere around the garage when he left his old car there. So much the better. He wouldn't have to deal with the fear of reflecting his trespassing thoughts on his face. The fear of being found out.

Maybe there was nothing there. Maybe this was all an illusion. He had been too long without a woman. He wasn't drowsy or too tired to let go of his wandering mind wander into a territory forbidden to him. He had no business to be aroused by the images of a woman like Kay. Images that kept popping up in his head at any moment. Kay was a woman who belonged in Doug's world. He, Roger the tutor, should not be desiring her. An ache formed low in his belly. He grimaced.

"How is your father doing?" Doug asked as he sliced into his steak, startling Roger out of his thoughts.

"My mother says he is getting worse. Agitated and angry at everything recently." Roger said in a low voice. "His doctor told her to be careful because the illness is advancing very rapidly. He might need special care very soon."

"Sorry, Roger, anything I can do?" Doug put his fork down and stared at him.

"Thank you, but little can be done. The medication isn't helping."

"If you'd like to go see him, there won't be a problem here. You and Sid can make up the work later."

"Thank you, but no, I wouldn't go at this time, and this isn't about Sid's work. He is already reading way above grade level. His math skills are catching up, too."

"I know the multiplication table," Sid interrupted excitedly. "Roger taught me."

"Yes, you do." Roger smiled at Sid. "That's at least third grade level."

Doug turned to Sid, opening his eyes wide. "Tell me, big mouth, what's nine times nine?"

"Eighty-one," Sid said. "That's your age soon." He laughed, doubling up at his own joke.

Doug chuckled. "Roger must be teaching you to talk like a stand-up comedian."

Then, facing Roger, he said, "He's improved so much in every way the last two or three months, Roger. And I'm not referring to his abc's. You deserve a gold medal. Thank you."

"Easy. Sid's doing all the work," Roger said. "It took little effort on my part to uncover a treasure."

But he felt grateful inside. Grateful to be recognized. Grateful to be working with Sid. And happier than when he tried to write, even. Maybe teaching gave him more satisfaction than writing, but hadn't he left PS 460 because teaching, he thought, had not proved to be his thing? On the other hand, how could any teacher be happy teaching in an environment where he feared for his own life with every step he took, not to mention the constant worrying for all those children lost in the dark corridors of PS 460?

Later, he felt even better when it was Doug who tucked Sid in bed. Father and son were getting closer.

Roger retired to his room and started tapping on the keys of his laptop. The book would be the story of a young politician caught in the hullabaloo of his day, opposed though he was to the prejudices of his Know-Nothing Party. The setting and the time would give his character enough internal conflict due to the lies whirling about him to sustain private vice and public evil.

He was so engrossed in the work that he barely heard the sound of indecipherable conversation outside of his room until someone knocked on his door.

"Come in," he said, thinking it would be either Bernie or Consuelo, bringing something or other to the room.

"You weren't sleeping, were you, Roger?" Doug said.

"No," Roger said, surprised. "Just fooling around on the..." He couldn't finish, seeing Kay's figure appearing behind Doug's. "Com..computer..." he stuttered.

"Hi, Roger," Kay said. "I'm back."

"Kay came back a few minutes ago." Doug said. "She has the DVD for a new Broadway play. It hasn't opened yet. She has to return it to her boss tomorrow. We were wondering if you'd like to watch."

"Sure," Roger said, turning around to put the laptop to sleep. "I'll be right there."

Before he could hit the sleep button, he felt Kay's breath behind his ear. "Let me see what you're doing." Her breath smelled like the earth after a rain shower.

"Oh, Roger!" She exclaimed.

"Kay! Don't!" Doug yelled.

"Roger, you're writing. What are you writing? Oh, this is so exciting! I never thought you..."

"Kay!" Doug boomed. Then he lowered his tone. "Sorry, Roger."

Without minding Doug, Kay kept reading the open word file, nodding, her eyes darting ahead.

Roger turned around to Doug's crimson face. "That's all right, Doug. Don't worry about it. Kay's welcome to it." He tried to lighten the situation. "At her own risk... It is nothing really. Not a secret, anyway. I just started it."

He rose stiffly from the other side of the chair where Kay wasn't standing. "Why don't you sit down, Kay?" He showed her the seat.

Doug was rolling his eyes and shaking his head. Roger couldn't tell if he was angry or embarrassed. Kay sat down and started poking around the folder in which the Word file was.

"You researched this, didn't you! And you researched it well. I wish they'd all do that..."

"Kay, didn't you want us watch the DVD?" Doug asked, his voice peaking to a rough tone.

"Yes, yes, of course." She stood up. "You're backing up everything aren't you, Roger? This is very good work, so far."

"Thank you," Roger felt himself blush. "I have an external hard drive, but it is really nothing. Like I said, I'm just fooling around."

"We must talk about this. I insist."

"Kay, let's watch the DVD." Doug grabbed her arm impatiently.

"Doug, it's good work." Shaking off Doug's grip, she pushed her hair behind her ears,

The vein on Doug's forehead bulged. "Roger, Kay, let's go downstairs," he said, trying to control himself. "So we can watch the goddamn DVD on the big screen."

"You don't have to watch, if you don't want to, Doug," Kay said, her brow creasing and sounding annoyed. "I can watch it with Roger."

"We'll watch together, all three of us," Doug said.

"I had the impression they invited the critics to the opening day for the reviews," Roger said to ease the air.

"They do, but they want other opinions beforehand, so they can do last minute improvements," she said. Then she added, "If they agree, of course. A simple video on DVD, amateurish though it may be, is easier to produce than badgering people to come to the rehearsals or even the opening night."

The DVD, Old Dances, was shot in the last rehearsal of an off-Broadway play, and the producer, a friend of the owners of Rois and Moss, had handed the copies of the video to the editors in the company, asking for their opinions.

"They are hoping one of us will write a positive review as soon as the play opens, in case the New York Times thrashes it in the Arts Beat section," Kay explained, as she and Doug sprawled on the sofa across from the screen. There were a few empty wine glasses and a bottle of red wine and on the coffee table with the cork resting alongside it, the wine apparently opened by Bernie beforehand. A few small plates of nuts and other munchies were on the table as well.

Roger shuffled to the armchair near Doug and sat in it tentatively as if he were sitting on a rock. He'd rather be working on his book, but he didn't want to turn down Doug's invitation and neither did he want them think his writing was more important than his job with Sid, even if that had been true at an earlier time.

Without doubt, he felt uncomfortable sitting with these two. For one thing, he had to force his eyes not to wander to Kay; therefore, he fixed his gaze on the screen and remained still.

Doug and Kay blurted out remarks as the play progressed, but Roger kept his quiet, occasionally taking very small sips from his glass.

"Roger, say something," Kay said. "I need your opinion."

Roger hesitated for a few seconds, then spoke. "I'm not an expert but I think the play will succeed, because there is some hidden humor in it." Kay and Doug nodded together in agreement. Encouraged, Roger continued. "Although they could have taken out the scene of the girl singing Karaoke totally. I'm not sure of her way of using the mike as a prop, and I didn't see how that scene related to the rest of the play."

"Exactly," Kay said. "That's one scene too many."

"I thought she was funny," Doug said. "Maybe they put her there because the producer likes her."

"Nah, he doesn't. He's gay, silly! Anyway Doug, does your company make music CDs of a singer because you personally like her?" Kay chuckled as she said that.

"What kind of a question is that?" Doug stared at her, frowning.

"A hypothetical one." She reached and held his arm. "I'm pulling your leg." She threw her head backwards and laughed.

"You're so childish," Doug said, annoyed.

"Not childish. Happy! I discovered Roger." She turned to Roger. "I'm not letting you off the hook."

"I have nothing to be hooked for." Roger looked down into his half-empty glass.

"Yes, you do. I don't do historical anything, but I know just the person who does. I'll talk to her about you."

Roger objected. "But I have nothing ready. And I have a job here."

"We'll see," Kay said.

Doug did not comment on the subject at all, but poured some more wine for himself.

Roger said, "Doug, I wanted to ask you if you would approve of a pet for Sid. A small puppy or a kitten would help."

"That's a good idea, Roger," Doug answered. "Corinne was allergic to pets, so we never had any in the house. Of course, we have the guard dogs by the gate."

"Would it be a problem for the guard dogs?"

"Not if Sid doesn't let it loose. He's old enough to learn caring for a pet. I'll see what I can do."

Eyeing Doug, Kay added, "You changed the subject, Roger. We were talking about your book."

"I had to talk about this to Doug without Sid being around, Kay. Sorry."

"Okay, but about your writing, it isn't like you're a bound here to Sid, Roger. I would guess you would want to do what fits you the best."

Before Doug or Roger could answer her, they heard the sound of little feet coming down the stairs. His pajamas twisting about his body, Sid dashed to Roger and clutched his legs.

"Ro-geeer!"

"He never runs out of gas, does he?" Kay raised her eyebrows.

Sid snapped. "I don't have gas."

Roger instinctively held the boy in an embrace. "What's the matter, Sid? You couldn't sleep?"

Sid climbed up on to Roger's lap, then squinted, throwing an angry look at Kay.

"Go back to bed, Sid," Doug said calmly. "It's too late for you to be up."

Roger stood up, letting the boy slide on his own two feet, then he took the boy's hand in his. "I think I'll say good night, too. It's getting late. Sid and I have plans in the morning. Let's go Sid, say good night to your dad and Kay."

"Good night, Dad," said Sid in a small voice. Roger made believe he didn't notice Sid's leaving Kay out.

"Did you have a bad dream again?" Roger asked Sid on their way up the stairs.

"Yes, because she's here. She'll take you, too."


CHAPTER 7


Something had to have happened to Sid or between Sid and Kay, for the child to feel such animosity toward the girl. More than anyone, Kay must resent this situation, Roger thought.

The image of the let-down look in her eyes just a while ago came alive in front of his eyes. The image of her when Sid didn't say goodnight to her as she sat on the sofa with her feet tucked under her, watching Roger lead Sid away. How she had suddenly changed position and drawn her knees up to her chest and pressed her face against them as if going to cry... Some of her acidic retorts to the child had to be her answer to Sid's resentment, a reaction to her being there with Doug.

"Sid, why don't you like Kay?" Roger asked, as he tucked the sheets around the boy.

"Ask her," Sid said, closing his eyes. Then he opened his eyes and squinted. "My aunt Lee Anne doesn't like her either," he said.

I'll ask Kay. I might do that.

If Doug was reluctant to talk of anything that happened to the child earlier and Lee Anne was visiting every few months, maybe he would ask Kay, although it was virtually impossible to catch her without Doug around. There was something about Sid, something so vulnerable that seeped into Roger to make him want to help the child, to do more for the boy than what he was hired for.

Kay had left early Monday morning. "She has to return the DVD and she has a meeting with one of her authors," Doug said, handing Roger the pastry plate. "Try the Brioche," he said "It's Henri's magnum opus."

"They're all delicious," Roger said. "I'll need to go to another belt size."

"I'll work from home today," Doug said, spreading the jam on his toast. "Maybe we three can kick a ball around, if you don't have a schedule."

"Yay! Dad!" Sid jumped up in his seat and shrieked. "Let's!"

Roger chuckled. "After we finish breakfast, okay?" Then he turned to Doug. "We can always adjust the schedule. Sid loves playing with you, Doug."

"I like to play with you both, Roger and Dad," Sid said with a wide grin, then settled down and exaggeratedly took a bite and chewed.

Afterwards, they played soccer in the backyard. The game started with Doug receiving the first throw from Sid. He kicked it to Roger hard. Roger bounced it off his chest and letting it land on the ground. Then he kicked it to Sid. "Show-offs!" Sid yelled at them but kicked at the ball hard.

The game continued close to half an hour with Roger posing with a fake pout when Sid kept the ball away from him and passed it to Doug.

"I'm popular, today," Doug said under his breath to Roger while Sid dashed after a wayward ball away from them.

"He needs this," Roger said. "He needs you more than me, more than anyone."

Just then the sprinklers came on as timed and sprayed them, making Sid laugh hysterically holding his sides. The boy suddenly jumped up on Doug and they both went tumbling down on the grass.

When they'd done laughing, Roger held his hand to Doug to help him up. "I'm tougher than you and not that old, Roger," Doug simpered, but he grasped Roger's hand anyway.

In the afternoon, Doug landed on the sofa next to Sid and Roger as they were watching Hans Brinker for the umpteenth time.

"I remember this story," Doug said. "The movie I used to watch was in black and white."

"This is the latest Disney version," Roger said.

Sid boasted. "I have the book of it, too. Roger and I read it three times."

"You know, there's a Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam," Doug said. "They love him there."

"Can we go there?" Sid asked.

"Someday," Doug answered, looking away.

"Someday means no..." Sid sulked, but then laughed. "I joked!" he yelled.

A few minutes before the movie ended, Bernie knocked, then entered the room, his unsmiling face seeming a bit more serious.

"Joe at the gate called. Someone, I mean Ethan Tammaro, wants to see you. Should we let him in?"

Doug scowled. "Ask who is with him."

"Joe says there's a young boy with him, about thirteen or so, he says."

"Let them in. I'll meet them downstairs." Doug rose to his feet. "You stay here until I call you," he said solemnly. "That is, after I find out what he wants."

Just when Doug was about to spend some more time with Sid...Who was this Ethan Tammaro? The last name sounded familiar to Roger, but he couldn't pin it down exactly. Whoever it was, the mention of his name had made Doug jolt in his seat.

About half an hour later, Bernie came in to say Doug wanted Roger and Sid downstairs.

Ethan Tammaro, a dark haired man of medium-height in his thirties motioned with his head to greet them. His clothing was sporty, in navy blue. He smiled as he fixed his eyes on Sid. The frail boy in his teens next to him in denims was also looking quizzically at Sid.

"Ethan is Sid's uncle, Corinne's younger brother," Doug said. Then he nodded toward the teen. "And this is Wayne."

"Oh, family then," Roger said.

Doug turned to Ethan. "I didn't explain much to Roger, but I think it's time he should be in on a few things."

"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to," Roger said to Doug.

"But I do," Doug said. Then, he called to Bernie who was standing by the door. "Bernie, take Sid and Wayne outside to the side porch and have Jenna bring them juice and cookies."

Ethan looked at Roger as Bernie led Sid and teen out of the living area. "Doug says you work with Sid a lot. It shows. Did you come here from Manhattan?"

"Yes, my last job was in PS 460, but I grew up in Florida."

"Roger," Doug said. "Ethan's father and Corinne's, too, is Samuele Tammaro. I have my suspicions about him...about him kidnapping Sid. Ethan, here, is not like Sam. He was never like his father, so he will be allowed to visit with Sid when he wants."

Ethan interjected. "Let's say a bit more, Doug, since you told me that Roger is so important in Sid's life." He turned to Roger. "My father is a tough guy," he said. "An old tough guy with clout. To be frank, he has mob connections. Papa wanted to take me in with him to Tammaro Partners Inc. He makes B movies and porn. But I didn't give in. I had studied business and was working in Lehman Brothers until it went bankrupt."

"I remember that. 2008, was it?"

"Right. I was one of those carrying his stuff out of the place in a box, the way it was on TV, if you watched it. Finding another job was impossible, thanks to Papa. I suspect he scared businesses out of hiring me. So I went upstate to the town where my mom had grown up and where I had inherited some land from her. I opened a department store. Papa found me there, too, but he let me be. I think he's waiting me out just the way he did with the Lehman Bros. job."

"Because he wants you in his business, right?"

"Exactly. He's the kind who wants sons around him, but he doesn't know about Wayne."

"What about Wayne?"

"Wayne is my half-brother. My father's son. I ran into him and his mother while building a dock on the side of the lake on my property, the property I had inherited from my mother. Wayne's mother and my mother had been childhood friends. His mother recognized me immediately."

Doug took over. "Sam had many women. He used them then left them. After Ethan's mother passed away, he took up with Wayne's mother, but Wayne's mother left him without letting him know about Wayne's existence. Ethan here is keeping Wayne's identity secret from Sam. In other words, both Ethan and Sam are Sid's uncles."

Ethan talked again. "Four years ago, I met Wayne and his mother, Whitney, in upstate at the same town where my mother had grown up. Whitney had cancer. It was terminal. She was wondering what to do about Wayne after her. When we found each other, she told me she didn't want Papa to get hold of Wayne. Whitney passed away last year. Wayne has been living with me ever since."

"All three of them," Doug interrupted." I mean Corinne, Ethan, and Wayne had different mothers. Sam had a way of taking children from their mothers."

"Of the three of us," Ethan said, "Corinne was born to his only legitimate wife, and she was the apple of his eye. Corinne, too, never crossed him. That's why Papa's mad at Doug. So much crap there."

"So he didn't approve..."

"Not at the beginning," Doug said. "He wanted us together because his idea was to incorporate Shelby Records into Tammaro Inc. He made friends with my father first. Dad thought the world of Sam in the beginning. Sam is likable and charismatic. He easily pulls the wool over people's eyes. My Dad and Sam, they pushed Corinne and me together. I was young and very stupid."

"When Corinne died in the fire," Ethan said, "Papa blamed Doug for her death, but of course, Doug had nothing to do with it. He wasn't even here."

At this moment, Roger saw Doug lean back and draw in a long breath. Then he closed his lips tight as if holding inside his mouth something important.

After a moment's silence, Doug said, "I wanted you in on this, Roger, because you had once mentioned having relatives around would help Sid, and Ethan wants Wayne to know Sid, too. They will be coming often to see him."

"That's good to know. I'm sure Sid will benefit from seeing his uncles."

"At this point, don't tell Sid about Wayne's family relation to the Tammaros or to me, please," Ethan said. "It is better if everyone thinks that Wayne works for me, which is the truth. After school each day, he comes to the store and works. His mother made me promise to keep who he is from Papa."

"I understand," Roger said, then fell silent. So much to take in. Inside him, he felt for Doug. Despite all his friendly. outgoing ways, he recalled Doug plunging into a sadness and unexplainable silence with a somber look on his face every now and then. No wonder!

"Are you still with Kay?" Ethan suddenly asked Doug.

"Yes, why? We're quite serious. You think that will be a problem for you, Ethan?"

"No, of course not." Ethan took a deep breath as if suppressing a strong urge to cough.

Kay? How is Kay involved in all this? Like bait, the question dangled in front of Roger.

CHAPTER 8

Kay didn't show up that night. Doug said she called and gave the excuse of an early morning meeting with one of her authors.

The next morning at breakfast Sid asked Doug if they could play soccer again. Doug grinned. "Don't you have work to do?'

"No. School's out," Sid said.

Roger and Doug looked at each other befuddled. "Says who?" Roger asked.

"Wayne. He said it was out, way back in May. It's August 9, right? The school opens August 15. " He snickered. "Helloooo, Dad and Roger...Duh!"

"Oh oh, we're developing a mouth," Doug murmured. Then he said, "Yes, the school's out for people who attend it. But we're a bit different, aren't we?"

"Yeah, but I wish we weren't that different."

"Do you miss school?" Roger asked. The minute the words left his mouth, he was sorry. Doug's face had contorted as if it were about to explode.

"No! And I'll tell you why. But in our study room, not here." The child slid off his chair and ran upstairs.

As soon as he was out of reach of the sound of conversation, Doug snarled. "Roger, I'd appreciate if you didn't put the idea of school in his mind." His voice came out unnaturally harsh and loud as though its wiring turned faulty somewhere.

"Sorry, Doug," Roger said. "I was only following up on his remark. I thought he was trying to tell us something."

Doug paused and took a breath in. He had to be trying to calm his nerves. "That may be," he said, his voice an octave softer, "but his safety comes first, at least until after they find out exactly who it was that..."

He didn't finish. He arose, pushed his chair toward the table, and started walking away.

"Sure, I understand." Roger said.

Just before exiting the breakfast nook, Doug said, "I'm going up to my study. I have a few phone calls to make. You guys enjoy the morning. And Roger, sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you."

"No problem."


Sid was sitting on the floor, drawing with crayons on one of the large poster boards Roger had ordered for their art classes.

"I'm going to make a movie," he said. "I'm going to make a movie about kidnappers. They kidnapped a kid, and super duper Techman the great will save her."

"Kidnappers ha! That is really interesting. Sid. What are you drawing now?"

"This is set design. Do you want me to tell you the story of the kidnapped kid?"

"Yes, tell me." He crouched on the floor next to the child, then sat with his legs stretched on the other side of him. "Which place does this set design show?"

"Oh, that!" Sid drew a long line down the middle of the poster board. "This is the first set," he said, pointing to the right side. "This is the kid in schoolyard."

Roger thought keeping Sid's attention on the game would make him feel at ease. "What is the kid doing?" he asked.

"Playing dinosaur tag with Caitlin, Jose, and Kim. Oh, Bobby, too. Here, this is Bobby, the fat kid."

"The kid is having fun."

Sid shook his head. "No, because Caitlin called him a dummy when he couldn't tag her."

"That must have made him mad."

Sid nodded. "So the kid leaves the game and goes to the wall near the gate."

"So where's the gate?"

"Here," He bent forward more to draw the gate.

"Nice that there's a gate. Is it closed?"

"It's never closed because cars come in through there."

"Then what happens? Does the kid stay mad?"

"A man comes and kneels down in front of him. He asks the kid who his father is."

"Who's his father?"

Sid continued as if he didn't hear Roger's question. "The kid tells him. He says, "Douglas Shelby." The man says, 'There's a guy out there by that name. He asked me to pick you up.' The kid goes outside with the man."

"Does he see his father?"

"Nooo. The man walks with him to a car."

"What kind of a car?"

"A big one with tails. All black and shiny. I don't like shiny cars." Sid drew the picture of a car.

"It looks like a classic car. Is it a limo?"

"Nope. I know what limos look like."

"Is this kid's father in the car? Is he driving it?"

"Nooo. The woman is there. The guy shoves the kid inside the car. The kid says he has to get his backpack. The woman says his dad went in to get it. Then the woman takes a cloth flower from her bag and puts it to the kid's nose. She says, 'Smell it.' The flower is soft. It smells icky. "

"So the kid doesn't like the smell, ha!"

"No, it smells like the window cleaner. Jenna uses it on the mirrors."

"So the kid doesn't like the smell." Roger echoed Sid's words and thoughts as to validate his feelings, but his heart had started beating.

"No, he doesn't." Then he pulled the second half of the poster board in front of him. "This is the second set." He drew an upright rectangle with a big circle on it. "This is the door with a big lock."

"What happened to the kid in the car?" To hold his nervousness in, Roger bit his lower lip.

"He slept. Now, he's woken up in the bed."

"And he didn't see his father or anyone he knows?"

"Nooo." Sid looked down. "He got tricked. He was stupid," he said in a lower tone.

"I don't think so. Anyone could be tricked if they told him his father came for him."

Sid shrugged, then continued. "The kid screams because the room is kinda dark."

"No windows?"

"There's a tiny one. High up. He sees feet from it. Someone comes in the room. She brings him milk."

"In a glass?"

"In a small box. She tells him to drink it and put the carton on the table. She calls the milk in the box, carton."

"There's a table?"

"Yes." Sid drew a rectangle and drew four small lines under it.

"Are there any other things in the room? Chairs maybe?"

"Boxes. There are lotsa wood boxes." Sid drew several squares and rectangles. "When the man comes, he sits on the one in the corner."

"The same man who lied to him?"

"Yes, him and the woman."

"Are there any other people coming and going in the room?"

"No, but the kid sees lotsa feet walking by when he looks at the window."

"Does the kid try to escape?"

"He can't. There's a lock on the door and the window's too high. So he screams and cries."

"That was smart."

"The man tells him to shut up or he'll smack him. The woman says, 'If you scream, we will hurt your dad in the next room.' So the kid stops screaming, but he tries to steal the woman's cell phone. He gets caught. The woman yells at him."

"At least, the man didn't smack him."

"He did. Does. Later."

"Really? How awful!"

"But the woman stops him and makes him zip up."

All the cylinders inside Roger's head went on full alert. "Zip up what?"

"His pants. The man unzips his pants and comes near the kid. The kid doesn't know what to do. The woman scolds the man. She walks between the kid and the man. She says he'll get a death sentence for what he's done. They argue. The kid doesn't understand when they talk because they whisper. It is hard to hear whispers."

Roger felt tears coming to his eyes, but he restrained himself and tried to look unaffected. "You look tired, Sid. Do you want to take a break?"

"No. I want to finish my movie."

"Okay, it is good to finish things."

Sid looked up at him. "Do you know where the kid went to the bathroom?"

"Where?"

"In the closet in the corner, in a bottle and in a box with papers in it." Sid snickered. "Here, I'll draw the closet."

"Do those people, I mean the man, do something bad to the kid?"

"The man gets mad at the woman. He says, 'It doesn't matter. The old man paid up.' Then he smacks her and the kid."

"And?"

"He goes out the door."

"Then the woman gets a phone call. She has a cell phone, remember? The kid tried to get it earlier, but the woman saw him."

Roger nodded. "Smart kid," he said. "He does all he can even if he's scared. Let's see. You drew the man here and the woman there. What are they wearing I wonder...and what they look like."

"They're always wearing the same stuff, like the kid because the kid doesn't have any other clothes with him."

"What I mean is what does the woman wear, a skirt or pants."

"Everyone's wearing pants. Like Marty, and you, and dad. Denims. Except the kid. The kid has beige pants on."

"What color is their hair?"

"Yellow. The kid's is yellow." He pointed to his head. "Like this. The woman's is white. She's old. The man's...hmmm...I don't know. It is sort of like Bernie's. All messed up on top of him. Not bald like Bernie though. Like the hair in the back of his head."
"Black or brown, then."

"I guess. You know what happens then? The woman says, 'We'll take you to your dad, if you're very nice and quiet.' The kid agrees. So they open the door and take him up the stairs to the street. And the kid goes in the car with another man. The woman sits in the back seat with the kid."

"What's the man like?"

"He's just the driver. Nobody special. He wears a Knicks cap."

"Does the kid see anything important on the street?"

"It is just a street. Red buildings, tall, with ladders on the side. There are others like boxes with wood nailed in. People have drawn pictures on the wood. Weird ones. Oh, wait. Here's a stop sign." Then he drew another thin line from top to bottom on the right side of the page. "This is the street," he said. "It is the third set design."

The shapes Sid drew on what he called the street, Roger couldn't make anything of. "I bet the kid knows how to read. Does he see any signs, like store signs?"

"There is a store with bottles in the front. It doesn't have a sign. It is close to the bridge."

"There is a bridge?"

"Yup. All metal. Iron I think. Cars go on it."

"Does the car the kid is in go on that bridge?"

"No, it goes on the road. Many roads and traffic, but the kid behaves himself because the woman told him that. Remember?"

"Yes, because he thinks he is going home to his dad, right?"

"Yes, but they don't go to his home. They go to the city. The car stops in a place in between two roads. The woman stays in the car, but tells him to obey the driver. The driver takes the kid inside a building with big turnstiles on its corners, and he tells him to stand in front of a red wall and wait. So he can get his father."

"Does he bring his father?"

"No. There's a man at a desk. He's the kid's hero, the Techman. He leaves the desk and comes to talk to the kid. Asks him if he's lost because he is the Techman, smarter than a lightning bolt. The kid says he's waiting for his father. Techman asks his name. Then the Techman calls on the phone. A woman brings the kid a chocolate chip cookie and a soda. Then many people come. Some of them are policemen. Then the kid's father shows up."

"Finally!"

"His dad hugs him and cries. That's all."

"That's one great movie, Sid. Thank you for telling me your movie's story."

"It is a real story."

"Is it the one that happened to you?"

Sid nodded. "I told you at breakfast I'd tell you why. Why I don't like school. Actually, I liked it before..."

"I'd be scared to go to school, too, if some strangers took me away from there."

"I'll grow as big as a giant. Then, I'll go to school."

Roger couldn't help himself but embrace the boy. Sid needed protection in more ways than one, and Roger would see to it that he'd get it somehow.

"You aren't going to cry like Dad, are you?" Sid looked up at him, with a worried look on his face.

"No, not all," Roger said. "You're here safe. Look how many people are here to protect you. And I think you acted very wisely. I don't think I could be that smart."

"But you are smart, Roger. Daddy says so."

It was time to change gears. Roger shifted the conversation. "What do you say we go outside and take a walk or something?"

Sid shook his head. "You read to me. Instead of me reading to you, always and always."

"All right. Me this time. What do you want me to read?"

"Read one of those books. One we didn't read." As he said that, Sid settled on the sofa, leaning to one side, and pulled his knees under him.

Roger picked a book and sat near him.

"This book used to be my favorite when I was about your age," he said. "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Is this okay with you?"

"Yes. I looked at it before, but I didn't read it. You know...Kay..."

"I understand. Still Kay has a good taste with books, wouldn't you say?"

"Who cares! Just read, Roger."

Roger began reading. "I won Dribble at Jimmy Fargo's birthday party. All the other guys got to take home goldfish in little plastic bags. I won him because...

"I knew what they were thinking." At the end of the first page, Roger took a peek at Sid. The boy had nodded off.

Roger closed the book and stood up, watching him. No wonder! Going through all that crap had to have tired him out. Heck, he felt worn out himself, worse than when he recalled Jason. Gently, he placed one of the softer pillows under the boy's head.

Hearing footsteps outside, he opened the door. Consuelo's large skirt swished by him. She was just about to pull out the vacuum hose from the wall. Roger put his finger to his mouth. "Shhh. Sid's sleeping."

"Isn't he cute!" She smiled, stretching her full mouth wide. "No problem. I'll do it later. Here. I'll give you a sheet to cover him." She pulled out a small sheet from the linen closet in the hallway.

"Is Doug still in his study?" Roger asked her as he walked back into the room.

"Yes, and he told me to go away." She giggled, tossing back her overgrown hair that hung below her shoulders. "He's Oscar the Grouch today."

Roger hesitated, then spoke. "Consuelo, may I ask a favor of you? Can you stick around this area and watch Sid while I go have a word with Doug?"

She flashed a mischievous smile. "Sure, I can dust without making noise. But be careful with Mr. Doug. He's sour as a lemon peel. You want me to go in that room?"

"You don't have to. Just stay around here. If you hear him walking about, go in there and chat with him until I am finished talking to Doug. I'll be back just as soon as I'm done."

"I'll be here." She pulled a dust cloth from her supply carrier and started dusting the small tables in the hallway.

CHAPTER 9


Doug was just coming out of his study when Roger approached. "Roger?" He bent his neck, puzzled.

"Doug, I need to talk to you. About something important you should know."

"Did Sid do something?" He opened the door to his study again and gestured him in.

"No, not at all," Roger said, walking past him. "He fell asleep while we were reading. But before that..."

"Roger, what did Sid do?"

"Doug, nothing to worry. Really. But I thought you needed to know. He talked about the kidnapping."

For a few seconds, Doug stood frozen in the middle of the room. Then he shook his head as if wanting to bring himself to life and then went back to the door to shut it.

Roger waited for him to sit before speaking again. Doug went to the desk and sat hard on the chair, grimacing. "What did he tell you?"

"Just about everything he could remember, or rather, decided to tell me. Up to the time, you found him. He drew a picture of things, the way they happened."

"He wouldn't say a word to me or to the police."

"He didn't because he was afraid you'd cry. I think he was scared when you cried the afternoon they found him."

Doug hit his head with his fist. "I should have been more..."

Roger gave him a sympathetic look. "You did what every worried father would do. This wasn't easy for him to tell me all this either. He told it in third person, as if it happened to another kid and drew pictures. Then at the end, he admitted he was telling his own true story. You can come to the room where we study and see his drawings later."

"I'm afraid to ask. What did he say? What happened to him?" Doug placed his arms on the desk and leaned forward.

"Let me start from the beginning." Roger reached over and touched his shoulder.

"Did they hurt him?" Doug asked, his voice wavering.

"I don't think so." Roger hesitated, thinking what the boy said about the man unzipping his pants. Then seeing Doug's face, he decided to omit that part...for the time being.

"It seems he was playing some kind of a tag game with other children. One child made him angry and he went to stand by the wall near an open gate where cars drive in an out. A man came inside, and..."

And Roger told Doug everything he heard from Sid, except the man's unzipping his pants part. That he would tell to the police, if need be.

When he finished, Doug's hands were holding the sides of his head. His eyes were red and his face wet with tears.

"Did you pay the ransom, Doug?" Roger asked.

"No, we found him before I could. The school called me, almost immediately, to say he was missing from the playground and that some kids had seen him talking to a man. Right away I thought it was his grandfather who took him. I called Sam and yelled at him for taking the kid without telling me. He yelled back and said he knew nothing about it. Then I called the police. The ransom call came in the evening. I told the caller I would pay. The man said he'd call back as to where and how. He never did. Then the next day, the police called to say that Sid was waiting for me to pick him up at the Marriott Marquis."

"Doug, Sid says he heard the man tell the woman, 'His old man paid up.' Could that have been his grandfather who paid?"

"Could be. The police cleared Sam. And I blamed him. I blamed him because he put so much pressure on Ethan much earlier. He has this thing for his offspring. He wants to raise them in his footsteps. I blamed him just the way he blamed me for Corinne's death."

"You were desperate, and blaming can become contagious."

Nothing grouchy about Doug. Just sadness.

"Sid's disappearance was heavy, like I was blown to pieces with a left hook. I never saw or expected it." He sighed. "How did you get him to talk, Roger? Even the child psychologist couldn't get him to say a word on the subject. With play therapy and everything."

"He needed to talk about it eventually, I guess. He must have kept it inside to make the memory go away, but instead of going away, it must have festered and grown bigger. Thus the nightmares he has often."

"And he trusted you. Don't forget that. Thank you, Roger." He reached over and squeezed Roger's hand.

"Will you call the police? Whoever did this can do it again."

"Yes, but I need to think about it. I don't want Sid pestered by the police."

"Of course. He was so tired after he told me that, he fell asleep on the sofa. If you call the police, I'll talk to them instead of Sid." Roger stood up. "Whatever you decide is fine with me, Doug. If you have the time, I can show you Sid's drawing. He says it is the movie he'll make."

Consuelo was wiping a floor-length mirror in the hallway. She stepped around her supplies to let them pass. Her eyes reflected the surprise of a person who had entered mistakenly into a private club.

The boy was still sleeping when Doug and Roger closed the door behind them. Roger pointed to the table where Sid's drawing was.

As soon as Doug picked the picture up, Sid opened his eyes. "Daddy!" He leapt down from the sofa and ran to him. Doug let the picture drop back on the table and picked the child up. They hung on squeezing each other tight for a couple of minutes while Roger watched, thinking of his own father.

Though not a demonstrative man with his emotions, James Faas had put Roger above his sisters, possibly because he was the only son. He remembered the few times they held each other in an embrace, once after Roger had hit a homerun in a little league game. Now the same man, his father, was losing his mind.

"Did you come to see my picture?" Sid asked Doug. Doug let him slip down and hold his hand, leading him to the sofa. Roger pulled one of the chairs in front of the table and sat down, watching them silently.

"You did some good work there, Sid," Doug said.

"Roger was reading to me. Do you want to hear Roger read? He puts me to sleep."

Roger laughed out loud.

"Sure, if that's what you want us do," Doug said.

"No. Some other time. I don't want all of us falling asleep here." He giggled looking at Roger. Roger winked at him and laughed again.

"Daddy, can we go out and play? I want to play ball with you and Roger."

"Well, why not," Doug said. Then he looked at Roger. "Shall we go?"

"You two go ahead and get a head start," Roger said, as Sid ran to the get the ball from the closet. "Excuse me for a few minutes. I'll make a quick phone call."

For a short while, he watched from the window Doug and Sid passing the ball to each other. Then he dialed.

"Mom, how's Dad?"

CHAPTER 10

When Roger came down, he saw Bernie standing on the porch steps watching Doug and Sid play ball. The old man smiled at Roger, then pointing to the father and son with his chin, he put his arm around Roger's shoulder. "Thank you, Roger," he said. "For what you did with them."

"You're welcome, but no, it wasn't me."

"It was. Is. Sid was a very difficult child, and Doug was too busy for him. I raised them both. I should know."

"Roger," Sid yelled, noticing him there. "Aren't you coming? Bernie too, Dad, please. Bernie, too."

"I have a bad leg, Lad," Bernie said. "I'll just watch."

"Did you call home, Roger?" Doug asked as he kicked the soccer ball gently to Sid. "That's if I may ask."

"You can ask me anything, Doug. Yeah, I called home. Mom is watching Dad. One of the neighbors, a retired man, told her to call him if he takes off or gets out of hand. I don't know how long she can do this. I'm going to talk to my sisters to see what we can do."

But what they could do was little or nothing.

Megan wanted to put James Faas in a long-term-care facility immediately. Nellie opposed the idea. She said it would cost too much. None of them had that kind of money, and the government facilities were lousy to say the least. She and Megan could take turns after work to care their father and Roger could contribute financially by employing a maid service to help with the household chores. Roger went along with Nellie's idea, though he knew this arrangement would last a short while with the fast progress of the illness.


It was about a week later.

Doug had carried his laptop to the table at the poolside while Roger was teaching Sid the butterfly stroke in the pool.

"Daddy! Look at me! You should try this!" Sid called out.

"That's too tempting. But not now. I'm watching you while I work." From the corner of his eye, Roger saw Doug wave at him. For some reason this made him feel happy.

Lately, Doug brought most of his work home. "Summer's tougher in the city," he said, but it was obvious he wanted to be near Sid more, since it was September now.

It wasn't only Sid though, Doug was friendlier toward Roger, and it wasn't just the boss being friendly with the worker he employed. It seemed as if Doug chose Roger as a personal friend. Come to think of it, Roger thought, Doug has no friends. Business acquaintances, but no friends, as friendly as he acted toward me and the household staff. But the important thing is, he is acting the good father that he already was and didn't know about it.

"Oh, look at me, I'm a flippy little dolphin, let me flip for you!" Sid sang, giggling as he flipped from the end of the pool and back again with Roger swimming next to him.

"Whose song is that? Nemo's?" Doug asked

Sid stopped swimming and gripped the side of the pool. "Yup, it is from Nemo, but it isn't Nemo. It's the Grey Seal."

"Hmmm. It sounded flippant," Doug said.

"Flippant...flippy...flip...elephant...Hahahaha!" Sid laughed so hard that Roger grabbed him, fearing he'd lose his grip.

"We're in the pool, Sid," He said, to gently warn him, but then he laughed with the boy, sharing his joy of playing with words.

Just then Roger's cell rang.

"Roger, your cell!" Doug said. "Do you guys want to come out or would you like me to take it?"

"Please, Doug," Roger said. "Just see who it is. I'll call back later."

Doug picked the phone and said, "Hello," then he said. "I think it's your mother, Roger." He talked into the phone again. "No, Ma'am. I'm not him. Roger will call you back." Then he looked at Roger, putting the phone down. "Your mother thought I was someone else. She sounded upset. You'd better call her back."

After another lap, they came out of the pool. "I'll help Sid," Doug said. "You get dressed and call your mother."



"Why are you letting strange people answer your phone, Roger?" Sandy Faas scolded him, even before saying hello.

"He's Doug, Mom," Roger said. "My boss."

"What boss? There are no bosses in schools. I bet you're gallivanting all over New York instead of coming here and taking care of your father."

Oh God! Meg didn't tell her! Because his mother was always the one complaining and screaming at him, he hadn't gotten around to telling her where he was working. But he had told Megan, thinking she's tell her. And she probably didn't.

"Mom didn't Meg tell you? I am a private tutor for a six-year-old. I live with them."

"Can Meg think of anything else except fool around with that dentist! Well, you don't need that job. You are a high school teacher for heavens' sakes. Leave the kid to his mother and come here. You belong here."

His sight caught Doug helping Sid with his shirt. They were close enough to hear if he said the child doesn't have a mother, and he didn't want to explain homeschooling to her at the spot. So he said, "Mom, I can't do that. Tell me what's wrong."

"You father slapped me. 40 years of marriage and he slaps me. I can't take this anymore. You children are no help, either."

"I though Nellie and Meg were coming every day."

"And to do what? Can they make him any better? And the cleaning service you send, I have to clean after them."

"Did Dad hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine. Just mad at him. And not just for the slap. Nellie hid all the knives and scissors in the house, so Jim wouldn't hurt himself. Now I can do nothing. I have no life."

Her words fell on Roger's psyche like a mountain of granite. "I know it's very difficult, Mom. I'll see what I can do. Would you agree to it if we found a home for Dad?"

"With which money? Do you know how much they cost? They won't even want him the way he is."

"We can search for one that we can afford. I'm sure something exists. I'll ask Nellie and Meg to visit a few and ask the prices. We'll see."

He took in a gasp of air before he closed the phone. Sandy Faas was like a no-frills prizefighter who turned Roger into a klutz in action.

When Roger turned around, he saw Doug looking at him, his face clenched, serious, but he smiled when his eyes met Roger's. "You guys got out of the pool just in time," he said. "I think I heard a distant thunder."

"Dad," Sid said, "Are you coming with us to the sunroom? Henri made a pear cake for after swimming."

"You start without me. I'll try to catch up with you guys later. I have to talk to Alan and few other people up in my study. You know, business..."

Sid pouted. "Ugh, business!"


"Hello, hello, can I have some of that cake?"

Kay's voice so alive it made Roger jump up and spun around, his eyes glazed. He gulped at the electricity of her, at her red hair tumbling in to her shoulders in curls, at the full lips and the rounded chin, at the open-necked ecru blouse and black tight skirt, at her pedicured toes sticking out from low-heeled white sandals, at her sense of elegance, at her softness, at her moving closer to him.

"Sorry Roger, I startled you."

"Oh, no," Sid muttered.

"Hi, Kay," Roger said, staring up at her. Then he jumped up and pulled another chair for her. "Please, sit down."

She said again, "Sorry for startling you," as she sat down.

Roger didn't deny it. "It's okay," he said, reaching for a clean plate and knife.

"She couldn't startle me in a million years," Sid said.

Roger said, "Sid and I were too involved with Henri's cake. Me being a not so subtle a glutton, and feeding upon the fair."

"You stole that from Emily Dickinson. Naughty Roger!" She threw her head back and laughed. Then she said, "Hope is a subtle glutton—He feeds upon the Fair—And yet, inspected closely—What abstinence is there."

"You talk funny," Sid said.

"It's poetry, Kid," Kay said. "You'll love it when you can understand it."

Sid rolled his eyes and grimaced.

Roger cut a slice of cake, praying Kay wouldn't notice the tremor in his hands, and placed the plate gently in front of her. She picked up a paper napkin from the napkin holder. "Never mind the knife and fork. It's dry cake anyway." She held the cake with the napkin and bit into it.

Roger reached for the tea.

"Oh. sit down, Roger. I don't drink tea. It makes me more hyper than I already am."

"She drinks grass juice." Sid laughed.

"Herb tea, sweet one." Kay watched Sid with a smile. "He's come a long way. He's talking even to me."

"Sure he'll talk to you, Kay," Roger said. "Sid is a big man, now. A gentleman, I would say."

"Yes, he is a big man," Kay said mockingly. Then turned sideways to fix her relentless stare on Roger. Roger felt even more nervous. He knew his face was turning hot, then red.

"Roger, I need to talk to you," she said.


CHAPTER 11

Roger's laid down his fork because his stomach was flip flopping when Doug entered the breakfast nook. Swallowing his next breath, Roger said, "Sorry Kay, I can't do it. Although I do appreciate the effort you put into it. Thank you."

It was hell of a thing to realize that what he wanted most in life hung invitingly in front of him and he didn't want to reach for it. What a lunatic I am, he thought, but he couldn't let Sid down, not just when the child was making some headway. Or was the risk of neglecting the boy just an excuse? Did he worry about getting too close to Kay?

"What is it that you won't do, Roger?" Doug asked, turning around the table with a brisk pace toward Kay. He sounded carefree and confident.

"Meet with St. Theresa," Kay said. Then seeing Roger's confused face, she chuckled. "We call her that. She's no saint, believe me. Her name's Theresa. Doug, please do something. Do make him at least meet her. I'm going to look like a fool after I made such a strong pitch."

"I assume this is about the book Roger wants to write."

Kay nodded.

"You're writing a book Roger? Neato! Are we getting the DVD?" Sid was so excited he made his chair scrape on the floor. Roger reached and held the back of the chair to steady it.

"Not so fast, Sid," he said with a bewildered look in his eyes. "I haven't written anything. At least, not yet."

Doug smiled bending down to kiss Kay. Then he walked over to Sid and tousled his hair.

Roger sat frozen. Wasn't this what he always wanted? What wouldn't he give to receive an offer like this a year ago? But not now, no. Not through Kay, anyway. A strange game of fate was underway. That was for sure.

Doug served himself a slice of cake and poured some tea. As he sat down, he said, "Roger, why not? Kay says your work is great."

"I haven't written it. There's little to show. I'm not even sure how it'll turn out."

Kay implored. "It'll be great. Roger, don't get cold feet now. Please, please. Theresa says she'll be in her office next week Wednesday just for you. You have about ten days to fix or add to what you have"

Doug said, "Why don't you give it a try, Roger? At least talk to her. See what Kay's saint says. If you don't like it, you don't take it. Do it as an experience."

That made sense. He could turn it down. "All right," Roger said. "Since Kay went to so much trouble for it. It is an iffy supposition anyway. That editor may not even want to deal with me in the long run."

Kay bent her head to the side, raised her eyebrows, and grinned wide in victory. "I'll come here Tuesday afternoon. We can go together the next day, so you won't have to drive all the way and you won't have to go out of your mind trying to find the place."

"Can I come, too?" Sid begged. "Roger will protect me, and I never met a saint."

"This one you wouldn't want to meet, Sid, believe me." Kay laughed.

"You can't leave me here alone," Doug told Sid. "I'm home that Wednesday."

"You'll be home? Yay, who cares about her saint!" He stressed on the word her. "Dad, can we play ball and swim?" Sid jumped up again.

"Sure if the weather is nice. I'd like that," Doug said. Then he turned to Roger. "Since you'll be in the city, why don't you take that day off, too? You can return the next day by train. Bernie will pick you up from the station."

Kay shook her head and uttered a tsk, tsk. "Why? I can't believe you want to let him loose in the city."

"He has friends there. He should have his fun," Doug said.

They are talking about me as if I'm not here. What gives?

Doug kept talking. "When I was Roger's age, I was a wild one, unlike him now."

"I can tell you were a wild one." Kay smiled mischievously. Then she bumped her elbow into him. "You still are," she murmured in a husky voice. When Doug frowned at her for her public coquetry, she laughed again. "Roger is mature. More mature than me."

"Anyone is more mature than you," Doug chuckled. "God, Roger's even more mature than me."

"My mother wouldn't say that," Roger said in order to have said something. But he felt secretly pleased. Nobody had ever paid such attention to him.

An hour or so before dinner that day, Roger was watching Sid draw pictures. Sid suddenly said, "Isn't it hard to write a book, Roger?"

He flinched as if the child's question had triggered an alarm inside him. "Yes, very hard, if you want to do a good job," he said.

"But you're doing it."

"Not really. I just have the idea of doing it. Wanting to do something and actually doing it isn't the same, is it?"

"Nope." Sid paused for a few seconds as their eyes met. Then changing the subject, he said solemnly, "She caught you with what you wanted. That's her way."

Roger couldn't meet Sid's stare for long. He lowered his head. Under the typical surface of the boy's statement lay a something frightening.

"Well, well," Roger said, faking misapprehension, "Who's she? And why do you think I'm a fish to be caught?"

Sid giggled. "Fish Roger!" After pausing to color a section of the paper, he raised his eyes at him, again. "You know who I'm talking about. She's doing it to you, too. Same as Dad." He sighed.

Roger put his hand on Sid's shoulder. Regardless of how deeply he could see through the boy, and through himself, his best hope for the success of this conversation was to show strength. "You know, Sid," he said, "You're a bigger fish because thoughts bait you. You mustn't pay all that much attention to everything that comes to your mind. Thoughts and ideas come to all of us, but we must be careful what we do with them. Wouldn't you say?"

"My thoughts are true ones." Sid said firmly. "She always makes Dad stay in the city. I hate the city."

Smoothing Sid's hair in an attempt to smooth his resentment, Roger said, "Your dad stays in the city when he has an early meeting. It's a long way to travel to the city every morning. Your father has to take care of his business. He has a lot of responsibilities."

"Is Kay a responsibility?"

"He likes her. When you like someone you feel responsible for them."

"Liking someone is a job!" Sid said. Then he turned his head to him, the intense blue of his eyes ripping into Roger. "Will you leave me if you really write that book?"

"Oh, Sid!" Roger hugged him. "I'm not writing anything. Even if I did, I could write a book and stay with you at the same time, as long as you and your dad want me to. Anyway, your dad is with you often, isn't he? He never left."

Sid shrugged. "You made him, Roger," he said simply.

Roger said, "No, Sid. Your dad never left you. You're more important to him than anyone in the world. Believe me in this."

"You guys are talking behind my back!"

Roger and Sid turned around at the same time. Doug was at the doorway, leaning on the doorjamb. Consuelo had to have left the door open after emptying the wastebasket.

After another lap, they came out of the pool. "I'll help Sid," Doug said. "You get dressed and call your mother."


"Why are you letting strange people answer your phone, Roger?" Sandy Faas scolded him, even before saying hello.

"He's Doug, Mom," Roger said. "My boss."

"What boss? There are no bosses in schools. I bet you're gallivanting all over New York instead of coming here and taking care of your father."

Oh God! Meg didn't tell her! Because his mother was always the one complaining and screaming at him, he hadn't gotten around to telling her where he was working. But he had told Megan, thinking she's tell her. And she probably didn't.

"Mom didn't Meg tell you? I am a private tutor for a six-year-old. I live with them."

"Can Meg think of anything else except fool around with that dentist! Well, you don't need that job. You are a high school teacher for heavens' sakes. Leave the kid to his mother and come here. You belong here."

His sight caught Doug helping Sid with his shirt. They were close enough to hear if he said the child doesn't have a mother, and he didn't want to explain homeschooling to her at the spot. So he said, "Mom, I can't do that. Tell me what's wrong."

"You father slapped me. 40 years of marriage and he slaps me. I can't take this anymore. You children are no help, either."

"I though Nellie and Meg were coming every day."

"And to do what? Can they make him any better? And the cleaning service you send, I have to clean after them."

"Did Dad hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine. Just mad at him. And not just for the slap. Nellie hid all the knives and scissors in the house, so Jim wouldn't hurt himself. Now I can do nothing. I have no life."

Her words fell on Roger's psyche like a mountain of granite. "I know it's very difficult, Mom. I'll see what I can do. Would you agree to it if we found a home for Dad?"

"With which money? Do you know how much they cost? They won't even want him the way he is."

"We can search for one that we can afford. I'm sure something exists. I'll ask Nellie and Meg to visit a few and ask the prices. We'll see."

He took in a gasp of air before he closed the phone. Sandy Faas was like a no-frills prizefighter who turned Roger into a klutz in action.

When Roger turned around, he saw Doug looking at him, his face clenched, serious, but he smiled when his eyes met Roger's. "You guys got out of the pool just in time," he said. "I think I heard a distant thunder."

"Dad," Sid said, "Are you coming with us to the breakfast nook? Henri made a pear cake for after swimming."

"You start without me. I'll try to catch up with you guys later. I have to talk to Alan and few other people up in my study. You know, business..."

Sid pouted. "Ugh, business!"


"Hello, hello, can I have some of that cake?"

Kay's voice so alive it made Roger jump up and spun around, his eyes glazed. He gulped at the electricity of her, at her red hair tumbling in to her shoulders in curls, at the full lips and the rounded chin, at the open-necked ecru blouse and black tight skirt, at her pedicured toes sticking out from low-heeled white sandals, at her sense of elegance, at her softness, at her moving closer to him.

"Sorry Roger, I startled you."

"Oh, no," Sid muttered.

"Hi, Kay," Roger said, staring up at her. Then he jumped up and pulled another chair for her. "Please, sit down."

She said again, "Sorry for startling you," as she sat down.

Roger didn't deny it. "It's okay," he said, reaching for a clean plate and knife.

"She couldn't startle me in a million years," Sid said.

Roger said, "Sid and I were too involved with Henri's cake. Me being a not so subtle a glutton, and feeding upon the fair."

"You stole that from Emily Dickinson. Naughty Roger!" She threw her head back and laughed. Then she said, "Hope is a subtle glutton—He feeds upon the Fair—And yet, inspected closely—What abstinence is there."

"You talk funny," Sid said.

"It's poetry, Kid," Kay said. "You'll love it when you can understand it."

Sid rolled his eyes and grimaced.

Roger cut a slice of cake, praying Kay wouldn't notice the tremor in his hands, and placed the plate gently in front of her. She picked up a paper napkin from the napkin holder. "Never mind the knife and fork. It's dry cake anyway." She held the cake with the napkin and bit into it.

Roger reached for the tea.

"Oh. sit down, Roger. I don't drink tea. It makes me more hyper than I already am."

"She drinks grass juice." Sid laughed.

"Herb tea, sweet one." Kay watched Sid with a smile. "He's come a long way. He's talking even to me."

"Sure he'll talk to you, Kay," Roger said. "Sid is a big man, now. A gentleman, I would say."

"Yes, he is a big man," Kay said mockingly. Then turned sideways to fix her relentless stare on Roger. Roger felt even more nervous. He knew his face was turning hot, then red.

"Roger, I need to talk to you," she said.

CHAPTER 11

Roger laid down his fork because his stomach flip flopped when Doug entered the breakfast nook. Swallowing his next breath, Roger said, "Sorry Kay, I can't do it. Although I do appreciate the effort you put into it. Thank you."

It was hell of a thing to realize that what he wanted most in life hung invitingly in front of him and he didn't want to reach for it. What a lunatic I am, he thought, but he couldn't let Sid down, not just when the child was making some headway. Or was the risk of neglecting the boy just an excuse? Did he worry about getting too close to Kay?

"What is it that you won't do, Roger?" Doug asked, turning around the table with a brisk pace toward Kay. He sounded carefree and confident.

"Meet with St. Theresa," Kay said. Then seeing Roger's confused face, she chuckled. "We call her that. She's no saint, believe me. Her name's Theresa. Doug, please do something. Do make him at least meet her. I'm going to look like a fool after I made such a strong pitch."

"I assume this is about the book Roger wants to write."

Kay nodded.

"You're writing a book Roger? Neato! Are we getting the DVD?" Sid was so excited he made his chair scrape on the floor. Roger reached and held the back of the chair to steady it.

"Not so fast, Sid," he said with a bewildered look in his eyes. "I haven't written anything. At least, not yet."

Doug smiled bending down to kiss Kay. Then he walked over to Sid and tousled his hair.

Roger sat frozen. Wasn't this what he always wanted? What wouldn't he give to receive an offer like this a year ago? But not now, no. Not through Kay, anyway. A strange game of fate was underway. That was for sure.

Doug served himself a slice of cake and poured some tea. As he sat down, he said, "Roger, why not? Kay says your work is great."

"I haven't written it. There's little to show. I'm not even sure how it'll turn out."

Kay implored. "It'll be great. Roger, don't get cold feet now. Please, please. Theresa says she'll be in her office next week Wednesday just for you. You have about ten days to fix or add to what you have"

Doug said, "Why don't you give it a try, Roger? At least talk to her. See what Kay's saint says. If you don't like it, you don't take it. Do it as an experience."

That made sense. He could turn it down. "All right," Roger said. "Since Kay went to so much trouble for it. It is an iffy supposition anyway. That editor may not even want to deal with me in the long run."

Kay bent her head to the side, raised her eyebrows, and grinned wide in victory. "I'll come here Tuesday afternoon. We can go together the next day, so you won't have to drive all the way and you won't have to go out of your mind trying to find the place."

"Can I come, too?" Sid begged. "Roger will protect me, and I never met a saint."

"This one you wouldn't want to meet, Sid, believe me." Kay laughed.

"You can't leave me here alone," Doug told Sid. "I'm home that Wednesday."

"You'll be home? Yay, who cares about her saint!" He stressed on the word her. "Dad, can we play ball and swim?" Sid jumped up again.

"Sure if the weather is nice. I'd like that," Doug said. Then he turned to Roger. "Since you'll be in the city, why don't you take that day off, too? You can return the next day by train. Bernie will pick you up from the station."

Kay shook her head and uttered a tsk, tsk. "Why? I can't believe you want to let him loose in the city."

"He has friends there. He should have his fun," Doug said.

They are talking about me as if I'm not here. What gives?

Doug kept talking. "When I was Roger's age, I was a wild one, unlike him now."

"I can tell you were a wild one." Kay smiled mischievously. Then she bumped her elbow into him. "You still are," she murmured in a husky voice. When Doug frowned at her for her public coquetry, she laughed again. "Roger is mature. More mature than me."

"Anyone is more mature than you," Doug chuckled. "God, Roger's even more mature than me."

"My mother wouldn't say that," Roger said in order to have said something. But he felt secretly pleased. Nobody had ever paid such attention to him.

An hour or so before dinner that day, Roger was watching Sid draw pictures. Sid suddenly said, "Isn't it hard to write a book, Roger?"

He flinched as if the child's question had triggered an alarm inside him. "Yes, very hard, if you want to do a good job," he said.

"But you're doing it."

"Not really. I just have the idea of doing it. Wanting to do something and actually doing it isn't the same, is it?"

"Nope." Sid paused for a few seconds as their eyes met. Then changing the subject, he said solemnly, "She caught you with what you wanted. That's her way."

Roger couldn't meet Sid's stare for long. He lowered his head. Under the typical surface of the boy's statement lay a something frightening.

"Well, well," Roger said, faking misapprehension, "Who's she? And why do you think I'm a fish to be caught?"

Sid giggled. "Fish Roger!" After pausing to color a section of the paper, he raised his eyes at him, again. "You know who I'm talking about. She's doing it to you, too. Same as Dad." He sighed.

Roger put his hand on Sid's shoulder. Regardless of how deeply he could see through the boy, and through himself, his best hope for the success of this conversation was to show strength. "You know, Sid," he said, "You're a bigger fish because thoughts bait you. You mustn't pay all that much attention to everything that comes to your mind. Thoughts and ideas come to all of us, but we must be careful what we do with them. Wouldn't you say?"

"My thoughts are true ones." Sid said firmly. "She always makes Dad stay in the city. I hate the city."

Smoothing Sid's hair in an attempt to smooth his resentment, Roger said, "Your dad stays in the city when he has an early meeting. It's a long way to travel to the city every morning. Your father has to take care of his business. He has a lot of responsibilities."

"Is Kay a responsibility?"

"He likes her. When you like someone you feel responsible for them."

"Liking someone is a job!" Sid said. Then he turned his head to him, the intense blue of his eyes ripping into Roger. "Will you leave me if you really write that book?"

"Oh, Sid!" Roger hugged him. "I'm not writing anything. Even if I did, I could write a book and stay with you at the same time, as long as you and your dad want me to. Anyway, your dad is with you often, isn't he? He never left."

Sid shrugged. "You made him, Roger," he said simply.

Roger said, "No, Sid. Your dad never left you. You're more important to him than anyone in the world. Believe me in this."

"You guys are talking behind my back!"

Roger and Sid turned around at the same time. Doug was at the doorway, leaning on the doorjamb. Consuelo had to have left the door open after emptying the wastebasket.

"I heard you when I was passing by. I'm looking for Kay."

"Dad, come see my picture," Sid said, lifting the paper in front of him.

Sure that Sid was facing the other way, Roger signaled with his head to Doug. Doug walked inside, still talking to Roger. "She brought work with her. She's probably in the gazebo. She says it's quiet there."

"Look at what Sid did, Doug." Roger rose and pointed to his chair for Doug to sit.

"See my house, Dad? This window is your room's. This is a tree..."


At dinner that night, Kay complained. "Two of our copy editors went on vacation. Guess who has to fill in?" She rolled her eyes.

"Can't they hire outside help?" Doug asked.

"No, they won't, and I couldn't say no. They wanted my help because of my past experience, but this is too much work for one person." Then she turned her head and looked at Roger as if she spotted him for the first time. "Roger, help me. Please. I know you can help me. There's a deadline, tomorrow, for one of the scripts. Just for this time. Pretty please."

Sid put his fork down and stared at her, squinting with anger. Surprised, Roger couldn't say a word for a few seconds. Then he said, "Sure, why not, but I may need monitoring myself."

"Didn't you correct English papers? This isn't too far from it. I'll show you. I'll give a quick look through them after you're done, I promise. Pretty please."

Sid whined. "Roger was going to play chess with me after supper."

"How about I play with you this time?" Doug said. "And Roger can help Kay."

"Oookay!" Sid breathed out. He looked at Kay again. "Just for this time," he said. Kay smiled at him.

"Use my study upstairs. There's an extra chair by the door. You can slide it to the desk," Doug said.

"Won't you be needing your computer?" Kay asked Doug.

"No problem. I'll use the laptop in my room after Sid sleeps," Doug said. "I have a few charts and things to work on. And Roger, thank you. This is beyond your work here. You're a true gentleman."

"And I'm a damsel in distress," Kay chuckled.

"No problem, Doug. I just hope Kay won't be disappointed with what I can do," Roger said.

"I know I won't," Kay said in a singsong voice.


CHAPTER 12



"Are you acquainted with the marks? I mean the proofreading," Kay asked as they entered the study.

Roger said, "Yes, but I haven't used them since college."

"That's good. Some schools only use computerized stuff, which is not adequate, but to each his own."

"Shall I have Jenna bring you some tea, coffee, anything?" Doug asked from the door, then walked in and handed Kay her backpack

"Just cold water. Thanks, Love, for everything," Kay said.

Doug exited, as she sent him an imaginary kiss. Roger averted his eyes and pulled the chair for her.

"Oh my, chivalry isn't dead after all." She smiled wide at him as she sat down.

Roger brought another chair and placed it across from her. This wasn't going to be easy.

"Roger, please sit next to me. Seeing what you do upside down will be too distracting." Then she moved her chair to the side to open up the space for the second chair.

Now it will be distracting for me to sit so close to you, Roger thought, but gripped the chair and moved it next to her seat. He told himself to calm down as this was only work, and Kay was just a girl. A girl. Right, but not any ordinary girl, she was a woman. A woman any man could lose his head over. His heart raced faster, but he sat down resisting the urge to bolt.

Finally, relief spread over him after she opened her backpack and fished out the manuscript. This was going to be straight business. It had to be.

"Start with that and let me see. Don't worry about making mistakes. I have an extra copy of this page," she said, picking up and sliding a red ballpoint pen and a sheet of paper from the top of the manuscript in front of him. "If you need it, I have a sheet in here somewhere that shows the basic copy-editing marks." She reached for the backpack again.

"I think I remember them, but it's up to you," Roger said, trying to keep his voice even.

She pulled her hand from the backpack. "Well then, I won't search. My bag's in a jumble worse than a white elephant sale."

After editing, Roger handed her the page.

"This is great, Roger!" She pushed her hair behind her ears. "You could be a copy editor anytime." The corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. "You're marked though, once you have worked as a copy editor. One helluva tough job it is. I should know. Even if you can get out of it, they'll catch you when in a bind, like they're doing to me now."

"Thanks for the heads up. I'll keep that in mind," Roger said.

She thumbed through the manuscript's pages and divided them into two stacks. She handed Roger the first half. "Really, thank you for this, Roger," she said. "Otherwise, I'd have to stay up the whole night. And I have to be at work early tomorrow. Usually, I stay in the city when the going gets tough. I came today because Doug said I should show up more often for Sid to get used to seeing me around."

And to make me accept an interview with your Saint Theresa, Roger thought. In a way, he felt like a football player before the first whistle of his first game. But then, the opportunity felt terribly ill-timed from any which angle he looked at it.

"You're so quiet, Roger. Are you a workhorse or what! And I thought I was one. Let me see."

She reached over him to the pile he had edited, as her hair smelling of lavender spread over his chest.

His heart hammered. Concerned she'd hear it, he leaned back. When she straightened up again, the scent lingered not only on his shirt but cloaked his senses like a fog.

"Sorry, Roger," she said.

He said nothing for a moment. Then he forced himself to speak. "No problem."

No problem? It was a big problem. Goddamn! He huddled over the next few pages or acted as if he did, and somehow, he managed to steady himself.

"Take a break if you're tired," Kay said, a few minutes later.

"I'm not tired. Don't worry." He didn't look at her. He wouldn't.

"You're so young. I don't know how you learned so much so soon."

"I don't know everything."

"You know poetry. You worked a miracle with Sid. You can really write. You're even helping me with this. I'm so impressed." She touched his shoulder in a friendly gesture.

Oh. no! He swallowed his next breath. "Thank you, Kay" he muttered. God! Please don't let her touch me again.

She pulled her hand and stood up. "Do you want some water? I'm getting a glass."

"No, thanks."

He raised his head to watch her back as she walked to the side table where the pitcher of water and glasses were. He watched her skirt clinging to her round hips cozily, cinching at the waistline, the delicate white silk of her shirt hugging her upper torso, making the thin lines of her bra perceptible. When she lifted her head to drink, the red curls hung lower, making him wish his fingers could dig into them. How could he feel so excited yet so miserable at the same time! He hated himself for this. He hated himself for watching her.

Before she put the glass down and turned around, he lowered his eyes to the page in front of him.

"Roger, I can't believe you are so conscientious. I can't believe anyone can focus like you can."

He felt his face getting hot.

What a joke!

He didn't say anything. He didn't look up.

"Me and my big mouth. Sorry if I'm making you uncomfortable," she said as she pulled her chair and settled down.

"Not so," Roger finally answered, his eyes still on the work in front of him. "It's just that I don't deserve all that."

She snickered at him, then quoted: "If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

Roger said, "The bard again, huh?"

"Right! See how you caught it? This is what I mean. You're really special." Then she glanced at the pile of sheets in front of her. "Oh, never mind. Look at that! We still have a long way to go. Let's get to it."

They worked for some time. After a while, he didn't feel her move. Neither did he hear the swish swish of her pen. She was quiet, too quiet, except for her steady breathing. He turned his face to her. Her head resting against the back of the chair, she had dozed off. He smiled at her as she slept, her eyelashes against her cheeks, her lips parting slightly. She sleeps as if she floats on a moonbeam... And I inhale each breath she takes,/ Wishing to become her lashes resting on her cheeks...

The poem came to him while watching her, even as she slept. She was poetry. She inspired him, and he felt charmed by the whimsy of it. He wouldn't wake her up. He didn't want to. But he could do her work for her.

He could do only that.

He was already finishing his part of the manuscript. He edited the last two pages and noiselessly seized the pile in front of her. He worked quietly, like a cat tiptoeing on cushions.

While Roger was editing the last page, the door creaked open, ajar. Doug's head popped in, scanning the situation, and his face gained an amused expression. He guffawed, seeing Kay in deep sleep on the chair and Roger working. Roger put his finger to his lips and signaled him to be quiet.

Grinning, Doug walked to the front of the desk and whispered. "It's three o'clock!"

Roger whispered back. "Almost done."

"She's such a sleepyhead."

Roger pointed to the sheet in front of him. "The last page."

Doug stood waiting for him to finish. Roger put the pages he edited on a separate stack. "All finished," he said.

Doug took a couple of steps around the desk and sat on its corner. He bent forward and gazed at Kay's face for a second or two. Then he stroked her cheek lightly and smoothed her hair.

She opened her eyes. "Oh!" She grasped Doug's hand as she turned to Roger. "Oh, Oh! I'm so sorry. What'll I do?" She bent forward to look at the manuscript's pages. Then she saw the stacks and turned to Roger, wide-eyed and with a questioning expression.

Doug laughed out loud, later turning his laughter into a grin.

"All done," Roger said. "You'll need to check them though."

She cocked her head to the side and tightened her mouth to a full, firm circle. "Oh!" After an awkward pause for a few seconds, she said softly, "Thank you, Roger."

"Time for bed, everyone," Doug said. "And thank you, Roger. You don't have to get up early tomorrow. Bernie will take care of Sid. Thanks again." He stood up and reached for Kay's arm.

She rose to her feet, using Doug as a tripod, and put her head on his shoulder.

"Good night," Roger said, looking away and walking to the door. An odd weariness was pressing inside his chest as he entered his room.

He had a nightmare that night, another one of those with the alligator. Except, this time it was Kay sleeping on the side of the river, her face just the way he had watched her. Then, he was made to choose whom to save--Sid, Doug, or Kay—from the alligator. He woke up wet with perspiration and changed his pajamas but couldn't sleep after that.

He lay awake on his side with his arm draped over a pillow and watched the dawn break through the open curtains. Time has stuck! As if time was a mechanical contraption and could be controlled. If he could control it, he would go back to the time when Jason was still alive. Then he would fix it so that what happened wouldn't have happened.

He rose, shaking off the sheet covering him. Exhausted, he sat at the edge of the bed and stretched arching his back. In an hour or so, he could go down, have breakfast, and start day with Sid, but he didn't want to face either Doug or Kay. He felt a certain kind of shame about last night, although on the surface, nothing had happened.

But he was responsible for what came to his mind, what his imagination kept conjuring up, and he felt shame.

"Damn!" He cursed out loud.

Stand firm. Face them!

He told this to himself now. "Face them" was what he had said to a student who had felt safe enough to complain to him about the bullies in PS 460, when the school principal did nothing. Now Roger was the one who had to stand firm...against himself.

Nothing had happened. He could do this. He could deal with it, and he would. He would face his own internal shame head on, even if he had to face Kay and Doug again at the breakfast table.

The decision made him relax right away. He stretched on the bed and fell asleep. When he finally woke up, his head felt fine, and he pinned his confusion and the newly concocted nightmare on the unaccustomed late-night work.


CHAPTER 13


After all, he didn't have to face Doug and Kay. They had left two hours before he went down for breakfast. Sid was at the breakfast nook with a coloring book and crayons.

"He didn't want to do anything with me," Bernie said. "He has been waiting for you to come down all this time."

"Sorry Sid," Roger said. "I overslept."

"Dad said you went to bed real late," Sid said. "He said you did all of Kay's homework."

"She needed help, Sid. I'm glad I could do it."

"Why didn't Daddy help?"

"He could have, maybe, but I guess I knew more about this particular kind of work."

"Yeah, sure!" Sid's voice sounded sarcastic.

"Why, Sid? Don't you believe me?"

"I believe you. I believe you. But I don't believe her."

"Why? I think now we need to talk about this, don't you think?"

"You didn't see what I saw!" Furrowing his eyebrows and jutting out his chin, he fixed his large blue eyes on Roger, apparently forgetting the coloring book and the crayon in his hand.

"What did you see, Sid?"

"I'm not supposed to talk about it. Never ever. Dad said so."

Probably, the boy had been in the wrong place in the wrong time. Roger said, "Then don't. But you would talk to me about it, won't you, if your dad said it would be okay? Right?"

The child nodded. Then he said, "She doesn't really, really like me."

"Why Sid? She seems nice. When she talks to you, she smiles."

The child looked up at him. His forehead was creased, and his chin wavered. "Don't you see, Roger? Only her mouth smiles."

"Only her mouth? Not her heart?"

Sid shook his head, but didn't say anything.

Sid's such a sensitive child. He may see what most can't. What is it that he noticed? That is, if he noticed it right. The thought made him swallow his next bite. He gulped and reached for the orange juice. After a couple of seconds, he felt the food moving down slowly in his esophagus. He turned and watched the top of the boy's head, the corn-silk hair moving, as he reached for a different crayon.

"So you think you know her heart. What do you think about my heart?"

Sid leaned over and put his hand on Roger's chest. "It ticks," he said. "It is a good heart." He grinned.

Roger put his arm around him and changed the subject. "I think you had your breakfast, but why don't you try a scone?"


During the weekend, Ethan and Wayne visited again. The evening before, Kay had asked Doug to take her to a clambake at Bay Shore, a rare excursion for Doug, which he grumbled about after talking to Kay on the phone.

Sid jumped up and down when he saw Wayne, and later wanted to show him the new goalie post and the soccer field. .

"Dad says it's smaller than the real ones, but big enough for me." He pulled Wayne by the hand out of the door.

Ethan and Roger followed behind them, as they talked about this and that, like the Yankees and recent elections.

He is quite a likable guy. Right after Roger thought that, Ethan changed the subject.

"I could have told Doug something if he were here," Ethan said. "I saw my father a few days ago."

"You can call him on the phone," Roger said, holding out his cell to him.

"Thanks, Roger, but no. It's something better said face to face."

"They went to a clambake in Bay Shore. I don't know when they'll be back or if they'll be back. Sometimes, they go straight to the city."

"Bay Shore? I know just whose house," Ethan said. "Kay loves those people."

Roger didn't say anything. Ethan glanced at the boys at the distance for a few seconds, then continued lowering his voice. "I don't think you know. Kay and I used to go together. She left me when I lost my job at Lehman's."

Roger looked at him, puzzled.

"Long story," Ethan sighed. "We were serious. We were engaged, even. After Lehman's, when I couldn't find a decent job, that is decent enough for her, she wanted me to work with Papa. She didn't care what the job was or if I wanted to do it. She was insisting; Papa was pushing. I couldn't take it. I left for upstate. Or rather, she left me first."

"Surprising," Roger said.

"She said she didn't want to be around a country store owner, someone with no ambition. She is used to her creature comforts. Her parents are upper class Texans. Her father's a magnate."

"She doesn't seem to need anybody. She has her own job."

"True, but you don't know her. Her father still pays for most of her needs. An only child, she's spoiled rotten. If you'd seen her apartment, you'd know what I mean."

"Why? It must be nice."

"It is. And very expensive and modern. Her father set it up for her, but she wants more, a lot more. And what Kay wants she has to get it right there and then."

"Really? To me, she seems down to earth."

"Seems is the catch word. For her, everything's a negotiation. After we split, it didn't take long to shove me away. She hooked Roger within the next month. I suspect it was even earlier and I didn't know."

"You sound hurt."

"More than that. She used me. I feel sorry for Doug."

Does Doug have something to worry about? Or is it sour grapes on Ethan's part?

Roger decided Ethan hadn't gotten over Kay. Thus his indictment of her. But then who could get over her?

Kay is an independent woman, educated, smart. She isn't like that.

Roger didn't say anything else on the matter.

On their return to the main house, they saw Doug's car enter through the gate.

"Daddy!" Sid dashed toward the car, but Roger caught him just in time from running in front of the vehicle. "Sid, remember the safety rules," Roger said. "Do we need to go over them again?

"But it's Daddy!" He wriggled out of Roger's hold.

"He scared me out of my wits," Kay said, opening the passenger door from the inside and stepped out. She seemed nervous. She had to have seen Ethan earlier when they entered through the gate. She frowned and laced her fingers against the front of her short skirt. She stepped forward and extended her hand first but quickly gave up the idea of handshake, all the while staring at Ethan.

"Hi Ethan!" As soon as she greeted him, she broke their eye-contact abruptly and turned to Roger.

"Good catch, Roger," She pointed to Sid, hesitated for a few seconds, then pressing her lips together, she raked her hair back.

After the greetings and a bit of small talk, "Look what we have for you, Sid," Doug said, opening the back passenger door. He pulled out a metal carrier crate with a sandy-haired puppy inside. He unlatched the crate's door and handed the puppy to Sid. "He's all yours," he said, "But keep him on the leash and don't let him loose. Let's not excite the guard dogs at the gate."

Sid gasped with delight then gave out a short shriek, as the puppy crawled up his shirt and licked his face.

"He's kissing you," Roger said.

"My face's all wet," Sid said, but held on to the puppy and smiled at him.

"They do that all the time. We have two dogs, Ethan and I," Wayne said, stroking the puppy's head. The puppy wagged its tail.

Doug handed a large bag to Roger. "I took your advice, Roger, and here are a few things for the puppy. His papers are in there, too. He isn't trained, but I think you know how. Now, let's all go in."

Wayne took the dog carrier from Roger's hand and followed him inside.

"Bernie, set up a place for the puppy in the last bathroom downstairs, but give him some water first," Alan said.

"Noooo," Sid cried. "Not downstairs. In my room."

"But it will be..." Bernie couldn't finish, because Sid started to wail, pleading "Roger, do something," and the puppy, frightened, began yelping, too.

"Yes, Roger, now what do we do?" Doug raised his hands up in the air, helpless.

"Would it be okay if we put him in the room Sid and I study? It has a small balcony. We can put the training box with the shredded papers there, temporarily. He will be trained within a month or so, I'm sure."

"Bernie," Doug said to the old man who stood there frowning. "Go handle this with Roger. There's a larger crate in the car's trunk. Ethan, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Can we talk in another room, please? It's private," Ethan said.

Kay turned on her heels and squinted at him, annoyed.

Ethan made a facial gesture, raising one side of his mouth. "Not everything is about you," he said. Kay shrugged, grimacing.

Doug raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes. "Kay, please go with Roger. You can show him the puppy's papers. You know this puppy business better than I do. You found him. Ethan, please come with me."

I hope what's in Ethan's mind isn't about Kay. She must think so, to act like this. Should I tell her it isn't about her but Ethan's father. Although he had been listening to Ethan a while ago, Roger didn't believe Ethan's version of why the relationship with Kay didn't work.

They took the puppy to the room adjacent to Sid's where Roger and Sid spent most of their time.. Consuelo and Jenna, all excited, dashed up the stairs to see the puppy, even though Bernie scolded them for leaving the work downstairs.

"No, you don't need to bring cushions," Kay told Bernie. "Puppy's bed is in the trunk together with the large crate. It'll need to be put together. We forgot it with all the commotion."

Commotion being Ethan Roger finished her words inside his mind.

After the bed was brought, the puppy fed and cleaned, Wayne and Sid sat on the floor near the puppy's bed. Roger showed Kay the couch.

She sat at one end, and tossing off her shoes, then settled folding her feet under her. The color of her toes were a bit unusual, a dark vermillion this time, making the white of the skin on the toes and the top of her feet seem more prominent. For a split second, Roger imagined her dancing on her toes, but chased the image away, immediately. Averting his eyes, he sat at the other end and reached for the TV's remote.

"Roger, don't, please," she said gently. "I'm in no mood for extra noise."

"You look tired," Roger said, returning the remote to its place on the coffee table. "Do you need to lie down?"

"No, this is fine." She sighed. "The puppy, we got him from Bay Shore. The Fergusons, people we went to visit, know this wonderful breeder with a great pet store. They bought their dogs from them some time ago. When I mentioned the puppy for Sid, what you said to Doug, they took us there."

"Thank you. I think the puppy will help Sid, since he doesn't have friends."

"He has you. He's lucky," she said. Her voice was soft, but it filled the short distance between the two of them on the couch.

"Thank you, Kay."

"No, I mean it. I sometimes wish I had someone like you." She turned her head away from him. "I mean some adult like you when I was growing up."

She approves of me. Even likes me. But I mustn't...

She was looking at him, waiting for his reaction, a mischievous smile twisting her lips this way and that.

Looking away from her, he changed the subject. "You should see how happy Sid was when he saw Wayne, and Wayne's more than twice his age. Although it won't eradicate the friend problem, the puppy idea will work out well, I think."

"I'm curious what Sid will name the puppy," Kay said. "He's from a respectable breed, an Australian Terrier, with papers and all. Good with children and won't grow too big."

"Perfect! Thank you, again. Sid should know you helped his father with the dog."

"No, don't tell him. What if he doesn't...I mean what if he rejects the puppy, too?"

"He won't. Just look at him."

Sid and Wayne were sitting on the floor. The puppy was standing on his bed. Sid was yelping at the puppy and the puppy was yelping back. Wayne was laughing hard bending forward, holding his sides. Kay and Roger laughed, too.

"The puppy better learn a few tricks before Sid loses his language," Roger said, still grinning.

"Maybe we should all bark," said Doug, entering the room with Ethan in tow. Roger stood, showing Ethan one of the armchairs.

"Thanks but we better go, Roger," Ethan said. Then he gestured to Wayne. "Let's go, Wayne, before it gets dark," he said.

Kay didn't get up, nor did she acknowledge Ethan's leaving. She waved at Wayne, as they were exiting the room.

Roger went downstairs with Doug to see them off. As Bernie closed the door behind them, Doug said, "Whatever Ethan or anyone says, I am not going to change my mind about Sam."

Not knowing what to do, Roger didn't answer but gave him a friendly smile.

"What did he want?" Kay asked as soon as they were upstairs.

"He talked about his father," Doug said, frowning. "Kay, don't ask too much. I don't want to get into it."

The expression on Kay's face was one of relief.


CHAPTER 14


Sid named the puppy Pino, short for Pinocchio. Pino, though a lively animal, took to training well. He learned to prance on two legs when Sid clapped his hands, then he dropped on the floor crawling to the boy with an odd nasal sound, and turned on his back to be played with. The housebreaking issue seemed to be a cinch. Roger guessed the dog had to have been paper trained earlier. Every morning during six or seven days, Consuelo brought a new batch of shredded paper to the balcony.

"I'll need an extra bag of shredded paper, Consuelo, for the outside," Roger said on a Monday morning in October. "He's just about ready to try going out. You won't have to bother with this very long."

"It's no bother. I don't mind doing this at all. Because of Sid. He has changed so much," said. "He's so cheerful now. Dog and boy go together, don't you think?" She pointed to Sid sitting at the desk, working on his handwriting while the puppy curled on the floor beside his chair.

Roger nodded, thinking how he had tried to tell Sid that Kay had a big part in getting him the dog. But the boy had refused the idea. "No, no, no," he insisted. "You heard it wrong, Roger. Pino is a boy. Kay would choose a girl, don't you see?"

Roger didn't push it much, thinking time might ease things, although he had been hoping to make progress in bringing Sid and Kay closer to each other. He still didn't know what the child saw or if what he saw, he interpreted wrongly.


Kay would be in Bedford Hills the next day, Tuesday, as she had told him. Roger felt a certain uneasiness inside. Or was it the doubt? The doubt of his own behavior.

She wants to take me to that effing appointment with that editor Wednesday morning. That's all.

Logically, he didn't feel ready and wanted to get out of it. But his heart gave a leap as he imagined himself sitting next to her in her car. He tried to block out the swirl of images that raided his thinking as he thought of her, but the magic of her succeeded to leave him in defeat.

I'm a mess!

After he finally yanked his thoughts away from her, his mother's daily calling on the phone and her complaints-- how she can't handle his father's illness and how the help her children had hired was a useless woman--invaded his mind. "Never mind Mom," Megan had told him. "You wouldn't be able to do much, even if you were here. Things are not as bad, and whatever will be, will be." But he wasn't the kind to leave things to "Whatever will be, will be." All the money he had saved was barely enough to house his father in a proper environment for a few days or a week, tops.

And yes, Consuelo was right. The dog had helped. It had helped Sid and the people in the house, so they wouldn't notice Roger's internal chaos. At least, he thought so.


At breakfast the next morning, Doug said, "Sid's happy, but you look worn out, Roger. Is it the puppy?"

"No, not at all. I am fine, Doug. No need for worry." He paused, then said, "You know what the dog whisperer says. Someone has to be serious and act the Alpha Male. I guess the act is carrying over."

"That's not it. Not an act," Doug said. "It's your father, isn't it?"

"He's been on my mind, true, but we're doing what we can." He didn't want to talk about his personal problems to Doug. He didn't want his offer of money or his help of any kind.

"You know, there's a solution..."

But Doug couldn't finish because Sid bounced into the breakfast nook with Pino at his heels. Roger rose from his seat to take the puppy into his crate. No one, with the exception of Sid, wanted the dog around in the dining areas.

"Pino should stay," Sid said, grimacing at Roger. "Because he is me."

"Who says?" Doug asked.

"It's quantum physics, Dad. We're all the same in the elemental level. Roger said so when we were doing some serious science work."

Doug chuckled. "Serious work, ha! That's impressive, but in the dining areas, Pino is a dog and we're people. He's got to go."

"I'll take him up," Roger said, reaching down to hold Pino.

"Roger, sit down. Bernie will take him," Doug said, but Bernie was elsewhere in the complex. So Roger took Pino to his crate anyway, a new crate, much larger than the small carrier the puppy had come in. The puppy complained when Roger deposited him there.

Roger patted the puppy's head. "You know, Pino, I'm in a much tighter place than you are," he murmured, as he placed his toys in front of him.

When Roger came downstairs again, Sid was devouring his waffles, and at the same time, telling Doug a story he was making up as he went along. They were both enjoying themselves and the earlier chain of conversation remained forgotten.

Kay arrived late in the evening, just when Roger became hopeful that the next day's appointment had slipped her mind. But it hadn't. Kay made Roger send a copy of what little he had written to Theresa over the internet. She even wrote a memo to her, noting, in detail, the extensive research Roger had done so far.

Roger hardly slept that night. One reason was Pino whining in his crate, needing company. The other was the duality of feelings that assaulted his mind. He wanted to be in the same car alone with Kay and was excited for it. On the other hand, he hated himself as if this constituted a betrayal. Maybe it wasn't a betrayal in the open, but a hidden betrayal, a betrayal of mind and heart.

Still, the next day, he dressed with care. Only not to embarrass Kay, he told himself. Not after she had gone out of her way to help him. He hadn't asked for her help, but he appreciated her intention. That she liked what he was working on had given him encouragement to work harder.

She entered the breakfast nook a little later than him. "Doug is still sleeping," she said. "He said he'd laze around a bit, and if called, he'll manage things from home."

Roger let his gaze travel all over her. In her white summer dress and short-sleeved navy jacket over it, she looked smashing. He lowered his eyes to her shoes. She had high-heeled sling-back shoes with open toes. Oh, those feet!

"I hope he isn't doing this only for me," he said, turning his head away and finishing off the last sip from his coffee.

"Not at all." She gulped down an entire glass of orange juice, then continued. "He wants to be with Sid more, now that Sid is a lot more agreeable. Believe me, Roger, the kid is much, much better. You haven't seen Sid earlier. "

"It isn't easy. He went through a lot with that kidnapping."

"Even before that. But let's leave alone the unpleasant stuff and start on our way. Theresa comes in early."

"You haven't eaten anything yet."

"Never mind, I'm not hungry. We'll have a big lunch later. Let's go." She rose and reached for her handbag, hanging from its straps at the back of her chair. Then she picked up the phone and called Bernie on the intercom for the car.

What? Lunch too? Alone with her? No, he couldn't do that. But at the same time, what a prize!

He looked at her again while Bernie brought the car to the driveway. She met his eyes with a wide grin.

Having been caught ogling, he said awkwardly, "Nice outfit and you look beautiful."

What a wrong thing to say. She'll think I'm coming on to her.

"Thank you, Roger.' She giggled. "You look hot yourself."

He felt his face getting warmer and lowered his eyes. "I'm not much when it comes to dressing up," he said.

"What you have on is just right. Not that Theresa will notice. You should see her the way....What am I saying! You'll see her today, anyway." She chuckled.

I can't believe I'm talking girl talk.

Bernie rushed out and opened the passenger door of the car for Roger, the Fiat 850 sport coupe that Roger had admired from afar. He settled in the bucket seat enjoying the feel of its embrace, as he noticed Bernie rush back and hold the driver's door for Kay.

Before she turned the key in the ignition, Kay reached out and held Roger's hand. "Nothing to worry. Everything will be fine."

He nodded, but her touch had startled him. A shudder went through his legs, but he stayed still until she pulled her hand back. He felt guilty for feeling this way, but he blamed his mind for it. He was in this mess because of his mind's making.

"This will be a great trip for me," Kay said as she waved at the guard on their way out of the gate. "I'm always driving to work from here alone. I play music for having no one to talk to. Doug usually takes his own car."

"It's some distance," Roger said, to have said something.

"Yes, but I love coming to Bedford Hills. I love the trees and the gazebo. So peaceful, yet exciting at the same time."

"Yes, it is."

"For a person who can write like you do, you are not a man of many words, are you, Roger?"

"I guess that's why I write."

"But I write, too, and I'm a chatterbox." She laughed. "One day I'll show you what I write, but you'll have to come to my place. Not today, though. I have an appointment with an author's agent after lunch, and then another one, and I'm sure you want to see your friends. Doug says you don't go out much."

"Only because I was concentrating on Sid. Now that he's closer to his father, I can leave him... them...with each other. It would be good for both."

"Exactly. You have a life to live and you're so young. Yet, being so young, I can't believe who you have made yourself into."

"Who?" He was curious about what she thought.

"A perfect person. I think. Well, almost. Look at all you can accomplish. Doug thinks the world of you. It's tough to get into his good graces, you know." She waved another driver in the next lane to pass in front of her.

He answered earnestly. "No, I'm not perfect, Kay, not at all. Not even close. You have no idea how imperfect I am."

If only she knew...

"Humble, too. A bit on the shy side, but time will take care of that, I bet." She slowed down the car a bit, to pat his shoulder in a playful way.

I wish she wouldn't touch me at all.

"I find you fascinating," Kay said. "In a good way. Last week once, I watched you from the window, playing ball with Sid. Is there anything you can't do?"

"Let me count the ways, brain surgery to start with."

"There you go again. You even think in poetry. I never met a man who...oh, never mind. Truth is you are so different from..."

"Different from?"

"Anyone I know. When I first saw you, I thought you looked like Ethan."

"But we don't look alike at all."

"Not physically. You're much more handsome." She stopped talking for a second or two then continued. "But at first, I sensed the same aura...sort of. Not that I can see auras. You are very different from him. Ethan, I mean. Doug, too." She sighed heavily before she continued. "I saw them both, Ethan and Doug at the same time. Ethan and I were together when Corinne married Doug. Then Doug and I clicked somehow. I couldn't break off with Ethan. We were afraid of Sam, Corinne's father. I'm sure Doug told you."

"No, Doug didn't tell me any such thing."

Why is she telling me all this?

"I had the impression you knew."

She thought I already knew.

Not knowing what to say, he coughed to buy time.

She insisted. "Who told you, then?"

No need to hide it.

"Ethan did."

"How crass! When? He doesn't even know you." Her face contorted as if she'd bitten into something sour and putrid.

"He does now."

Didn't Doug tell her Ethan has been coming to Bedford Hills? What's going on here?

"Ethan is a schmuck. I don't know what I saw in him. Did anyone ever made you feel bad about yourself? Well, Ethan is a master at that."

"Sorry, it didn't work out." He leaned to see her feet but the bucket seats and the large console in between formed a barricade to his sight.

Just as well. No need to get excited for nothing.

But he did imagine them just the way he'd watched them--her toenails in vermilion stuck out of the straps and the arching soles on high heels--as they waited while Bernie was bringing the car around.

"I'm not. " Kay frowned. "I mean I'm not sorry. It was for the better." Probably to erase the frown, she glimpsed his way and smiled. He smiled back.

"I can't believe you're so young and so old at the same time," she said, her eyes ahead, back to concentrating on driving.

He didn't say anything but answered inside himself. Someone's death you feel guilty about does that to you.

Her phone rang. She pushed a button on the steering wheel.

"Miss Simmons!" A woman's voice echoed inside the car.

"Yes, Carla."

"Your 1:30 canceled. 3 P.M. is still on."

"Good. Thanks, Carla." She looked at Roger sideways. "Great, it'll give us time for a leisurely lunch. I don't like cancellations, but this one's A-okay."

They had entered Manhattan now. She managed the car deftly around the taxis, buses, and the fearless pedestrians. He studied the faces of people walking fast, coming through the automatic glass doors, some still talking on their phones, others texting.

"I love it here," she said. "But it gets too sticky in Manhattan in summer. Thank God, the summer's gone."

"This was my first summer in New York," Roger said. "I went home during the summers, the few years I was here."

"Oh, Florida in summer. I can't even imagine!"

"Actually, it's the best kept secret. The outside is bad, true, but everywhere you go, it's cool. Thanks to AC."

"Yes, the good old AC. I couldn't live without it...anywhere."

Roger grinned, recalling Gustavo.

"These moneyed people." Gustavo's right. I could tell her about me and Jason playing baseball and soccer with neighborhood teams, outside in the heat of every Florida summer.

Jason! He felt the stab of his name in his midriff again. But she was talking, and he forced himself to listen to her words.

"Theresa is a fine editor. She's very fair. You'll see. You have nothing to worry about."

"I'm not worried," he said. "I have nothing finished or even halfway done for her to consider in the first place."

"We'll see," she said. "You'd be surprised how many authors we hire with just a proposal and how many fully finished and perfect manuscripts we reject."

They were in downtown, way past the theater district.

"We've just about made it," she said. "Not exactly the Tin Pan Alley, but a few publishing houses are still here."

They left the car in the garage. While she showed her permit to the man in the glass enclosed cubicle at the entrance, she picked up her phone and pushed a button.

"Carla, see if Theresa Muir is at her desk. Tell her I'm on my way to see her, together with Mr. Faas." Then she turned to Roger. "Let's go to my room first. So I can put a comb through my hair."

A woman approached rapidly, pulling a wheeled carry-on bag. Roger stepped aside to get out of her way. "I don't know why everyone wheels everything nowadays," Kay said. "It's like no one's got arms to carry a bag."

"I wouldn't know," Roger said. "I rarely have anything too heavy to carry."

She nodded with a friendly smile, then started to walk in front of him with a swagger. He followed her, enjoying her every motion as she walked until they reached the elevators.

Her room was small but efficient. The neatness of her desk surprised Roger. No photos, no loose papers, no paperweights, no frivolous objects cluttering its surface. His eyes searched for something of Doug, Sid, or her parents, but in vain. The room gave no clues of her private life.

She showed him a chair. Then she took off her jacket, brushed it with her hand, and hung it over the back of her swivel chair.

"Just give me a sec," she said as she walked to the door, then turned around. "The men's room is right down the corridor, this way," she said. He nodded but remained sitting. He'd rather stay and drink in her atmosphere, as dispassionate and uncluttered as it was.


Theresa Muir sneered when she saw them. "That's him? He's a child, well, just about."

Roger took a step back as if he encountered a growling mutt ready to take a piece of his butt.

No brass bands to greet me, ha. Never mind, she's just an old woman, he reminded himself. He smiled and said, "Hello." Theresa gave a quick wave at Kay, but Roger's hello was not acknowledged.

Theresa pointed at the two armchairs on the two sides of her desk. "Sit," she said. Then she put her arms on the desk, and like a huge engine lurching forward, she faced Roger. "What's the title of your book?"

"No title yet. I'm trying to decide. Maybe "The Know-Nothing Party" or "Know-Nothings."

"Neither will do. Both taken already. Stick to a title. It will be changed anyway."

"I understand," Roger said.

"A question. Why did you choose your subject? I mean what prompted you to choose this subject?"

"I had a friend who, in his teens, loved history. All he talked about was the past, this war or that war. I wanted to write something for him, for Jason. Jason was his name."

"Original answer, I must say. How far along are you in your book?"

"Theresa," Kay intervened. "Didn't you read my e-mails? I sent you a copy of what he has and the research."

"Who has the time? Well, I'll look at it now." Then she pushed a button on her phone. "Maria, tell Ben to bring in three coffees, black and add a couple of sugar packets, in case the boy likes sweets." Her voice was unnaturally loud, as if its wiring was faulty somewhere in her throat.

"No need," Roger said, almost laughing. "I take it black."

But Kay frowned, with her jaw jutted out and emerald eyes glaring at Theresa Muir. She can throw more punches with her eyes, than with fists. However, the thought that she was protective of him made him feel warmer. He looked at her and smiled. Easing her face, she smiled back.

Theresa's eyes darted back and forth on her computer screen as Roger sipped the coffee. Kay had taken a sip and left it on the side table. No wonder. Roger recalled Sid's words. "She drinks grass juice."

Suddenly, Theresa tossed back her head and squinted at Roger. Then the skin on her arms flapped back and forth when she moved back in the chair. That was when Roger noticed that her pink blouse was sleeveless. "You did all that? Why didn't you tell me you taught English?" The roll of skin under her chin vibrated as she spoke. "That's half the trek. You have no idea how many authors mock the language."

Roger didn't answer. Theresa turned to Kay. "Not much of a talker, is he!"

"He's a good listener," Kay said, the lines on her face softening.

"Well, Mr. Faas, here's the deal. What you have here shocked me, and I am not easy to shock."

Oh, oh! She thinks I'm a klutz in action.

"But in a good way." She threw her head back and laughed. "I scared you, didn't I! Anyway, so far this is barely a couple of chapters, but very good. Tight writing. That's what we're after. Now, the proposal. You are going to write two books. Not just one. First, put together all this research and write a short non-fiction about that time and the short-lived though perverted ideals of the Know-Nothing Party. Don't go too extensive. Make it just about pamphlet size. It'll be a seller, especially in this political environment with some members of a certain modern-day party pushing forth similar bigoted arguments. I believe you can do that. What do you think, Kay?"

"Sounds fine to me," Kay said. "I'm not into history much."

Theresa grimaced, and then faced Roger. "You turn in the non-fiction first. Then you write the story. The story of someone likable in this group. Make it a real human story. We'll give you a year to write both. Call me when the Non-fiction's finished."

"I can't promise," said Roger. "I'm working."

"Leave your job. The budget's tight around here, but we'll forward you an advance, enough to live on."

"I can't." Roger said. "A little boy. I believe he needs me, at least for a while more. I'm his tutor."

"Two years, then. I'll give you two years. We'll sign a contract, and let them find another tutor."

"Take it," Kay urged.

I would have jumped at this opportunity last year. But now? He recalled Sid's eyes, Sid's face as he said, "She's here. She'll take you, too." Sid was afraid of losing Roger to Kay, just like he felt he lost Doug to Kay. This wasn't Kay's fault. It was what Sid felt about her. The boy had improved in other ways, true, but he still had a long way to go.

Roger swallowed something nonexistent in his mouth and he took a deep breath. When he spoke, his voice came out like a moan. "I'm sorry. If I left my job now, I couldn't live with myself, as juvenile as this may sound to you. For the same reason, I can't sign a contract, because it is doubtful I can meet its conditions, as things now stand."

"But you'll have enough to get along on, for two years." Theresa placed her elbows on the desk, knitted her fingers together and rested her chin on them. She squinted at him with piercing eyes.

"It isn't the money," Roger said. "It is the child. Writing this book is what I truly want. What I always wanted. Especially after such a great offer. And I thank you." He looked down at his hands, moving each finger separately as if typing on a keyboard. Then he fixed his gaze on Theresa. "But this child's welfare feels more urgent than the book, any book. Especially because this child has a number of problems...And he has had a traumatic experience. He responds to my way of handling his shortcomings. He and I have bonded well."

"Roger!" Kay sighed, her gaze scrutinizing him as if he were an exotic specimen. "Bridge over troubled waters... is just a song, Roger." Then she sank into her chair and uttered, almost in a whisper, "Sorry, Theresa."

"Nothing to be sorry about," Theresa said. "I think he means it. A rare one, in my experience. But the offer stands, Mr. Faas. Bring over your manuscript when it's done, be it in the next century. First the non-fiction. The earlier the better. While we have the political atmosphere for it. Then the story. No contract. No advance. And if you change your mind about your job, come again, and we can still negotiate on an advance. You will think about it, won't you?" She stood up to signal their meeting was over. She stretched her hand to Roger.

"Yes, thank you very much," Roger said, standing up and shaking her hand.

CHAPTER 15

Kay pressed her fingers into Roger's arm. "Roger, I can't believe you turned Theresa down. And for what? Are you aware that Doug's one word could end your job?" They were standing in the hallway in front of Kay's room in the building of Rois and Moss Publishers.

"Of course," Roger said. "I'm well aware of that, but I'll take my chances." He put his hand over Kay's, still digging into his arm. "And Kay, I'm sorry. You were in between. I didn't mean to do this to you."

"Hey, you did nothing to me. And it turned out well enough at the end. Not what I hoped for, but well enough." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Who'd say you'd be the one to tame our old Saint Theresa?" She chuckled. "She never gives in to anyone. Wait till I tell this to the other editors here." Then she pulled her hand to open the door to her room. "Come in for a few minutes, while I check what crises have popped up since yesterday. Then we can go have lunch to celebrate."

"Celebrate?"

"Yeah, celebrate. Why not! Company treat. There was somewhat of an agreement, and you're Theresa's writer. Let's say, I'm standing in for her. And this isn't the first time, believe me."


The Siren was only a block away from Rois and Moss, a nice place for downtown lunch, the kind Gustavo would say, "For the cheeky la-dee-da." Good separation between the tables, dimmed lights, and uppity atmosphere with waiters in black outfits and white linen napkins folded over their arms.

"Miss Simmons, welcome! On the company?" Obviously, the maitre d' knew Kay by sight, but then who wouldn't recognize someone so striking?

"Yes, Piet," Kay said. "Company biz. I bet you can find a quiet corner for us."

"Definitely, Miss Simmons. Follow me, please."

He took them all the way inside to a separate room with velvety interior and marble Roman columns.

I'm glad I'm wearing a jacket and tie. A few diners were without ties, but almost everyone had a jacket on despite the warm day outside. He walked behind Kay, taking in the view of the back of her legs over high heels, her feet moving inside the straps of her summer shoes. At any other time, he would feel self-conscious in such a décor, but today, he was happy to be here. He rejoiced the fact that he was with her, alone, even if this could be the last and the only time.

Examining the wine list, he guessed it would be hard to top in most restaurants downtown, but when Kay asked him what he would like, he left the choice to her, saying truthfully, "I only know two kinds of wine, white and red."

When the waiter left, Kay said, "I may look calm but I'm still in shock. I can't believe how you tranquilized Theresa."

"Unfortunately, I have no such effect on my mother," Roger said.

"Forget about mothers. I gave up on mine long time ago. Talking about mothers, what was your childhood like, Roger?"

"Ordinary. Mother, father, two older sisters, everyone-present-at-the-dinner-table kind of childhood. Not much money, but I'm not complaining."

"Me neither, except I'd have liked to have a sister, a brother, or both. At my age, my parents expect me to call them every single day, although I don't. Only child syndrome, reversed...on the parents." She stretched her hand across the table and put it over Roger's hand. "You, too, were the only one. The only son. My father would kill for a son, but he had me instead." She sighed.

The warmth of her hand was seeping through his skin, jabbing at his poise. She kept her hand over his, rocking it gently. "Not only that..." she paused, studying him for a moment. Then she continued. "I don't blame your mother wanting you near. You are such a unique person."

He wanted to turn his palm over and grasp her hand in his, but he didn't dare. He kept his hand motionless under hers. "Thank you, Kay," he said, controlling his voice. "I am flattered that you overlook how run-of-the-mill kind of a person I am."

"Roger, I'm not flattering nor overlooking anything. I mean what I say." She pulled her hand back to let the waiter pour the wine. She swirled the glass, smelled, tasted, and gave a nod of approval. "It is a good burgundy. Will go well with boeuf a la catalane. You'll have that, right?"

"I'll have what you'll have," Roger said.

After lunch, he walked with her to the entrance of Rois and Moss. She raised her hand, made a V with her fingers and waved before went in.

Just how does a person help falling in love? The thought shook his innards.

He crossed the street and walked without aim for a while. When he finally stopped, he looked around. He was standing at the corner on Wall Street. He felt a buzz, some kind of a pressure, in his ears as if decompressing after a deep ocean dive. This is like coming out of a dream.

He checked his watch. 3:30 P.M. He unclipped the cell phone from his belt and called Gustavo. "I'm in the city," he said. "Can we meet?"

"Roger! Where have you been? I thought you got lost in the jungle or something. Go to the apartment and wait for me. I'll try to escape early. You still have the key, right?"

Later on, when Roger told Gustavo his meeting with Theresa, Gustavo said, "Hombre, I can't figure you out. You're such a freak, pardon my English. Weren't you the one ready to jump off a roof for an opportunity like this?"

"Yes, but the situation's changed."

"Changed, my foot. Now, you're going to call that Theresa woman tomorrow and take the offer. You're going to quit bending at the waist to a six-year old and his stuffy papa. Let them get another tutor."

"No, Gustavo, I can't do that."

"But you can eye the boss's girlfriend at lunch. You're so amazingly twisted, Man!"

"It was a business lunch. She paid for it, or rather, made her company pay for it."

Gustavo shook his head, snickering. "Nice lady! Is she playing with you or what?"

"I don't know. I can't tell. It can very well be her usual conduct, but the way she talks with me...."

"She makes you feel good, right?"

"That, yes. And I admit, she's fascinating, a first-rate looker."

"Knock-out sexy, you mean."

"Not in a cheap way, though."

Gustavo winked. "She's more the reason you should take the offer."

"Heck, no. I don't want to get that close to her. She works in the same publishing house. Remember?"

"If you quit the job, you can have your little fun with her and no tangles." Gustavo moved his eyebrows up and down, grinning.

Roger shook his head and chuckled. "You! Devil!"

"But I'm a devil who avoids getting in trouble with the lady of my stifling boss."

They were sitting in the living room, where Gustavo's new roommate, Frank, had placed an aquarium. Inside it, a black tetra and a hatchet fish were in a chase, swimming around each other. Gustavo pointed to them. "See, this is what happens when you put two different species together. And worse can happen, too. When Frank first moved in, he had another fish, a rare exotic tropical one, that some idiotic pet shop worker talked Frank into buying it. After that tropical monster killed three other tetras, he took it back."

"Thanks for the heads up, Gus." Roger laughed. "I'll watch out for killer tropical fish."

"Yow, Momma! Let's go, get something to eat. Then we can scope the bars. Who knows, we may get lucky. Dr. Gustavo's diagnosis: Roger needs a good lay."

"I won't object to browsing," Roger said, "At point blank range."

Gustavo smiled wide, showing all his white teeth. "That'a boy! You're staying tonight, here. No objections. I'll put you up on the couch. No problemo!"

They couldn't hear each other talk while eating supper at a corner deli-restaurant. The waitress, a woman with the name-tag Haley attached crookedly to her bright pink uniform, had a face caked in enough makeup to paint the entire town. Her hair was shellacked on her two sides like dog's ears. She took their order glancing around her, indifferent to the particulars of their order. What she brought back wasn't what Roger had asked, but he didn't refuse it either. Obviously, she hadn't heard them well.

Half an hour later, the noise had died down somewhat while their coffees with the steam rising sat on the Formica table. It had taken too long for the coffee to show up, but they wanted it anyway, knowing the night would be a long one.

"What were you saying earlier, Gustavo?" Roger asked. "I missed it. Something about a car?"

"Not the car, dammit, she's a girl. Mercedes. We've been hitting it off. I was saying if you meet her, don't tell her whatever happens tonight."

"I never met her, and if I do, I won't tell. You know that. "

"Wouldn't matter much if you did, anyway. After Alyssa, I don't give a damn when I give a good kick at their butts."

"You're bitter. Watch it!" Obviously, Gustavo's pain was constant, although the wound had scarred.

Gustavo dumped the rest of his coffee down his throat and winced. "Yeah," he said. "Tell me I have no right."

"I'm not saying that."

"Tell me I sucked pretty bad."

"I'm not saying that, either."

Gustavo suddenly laughed, resting his arm along the back of his chair. "What's this I'm-not-sayin' crap? I'm fine, hombre. Good riddance to whatever happened. Hell, I'm gonna live it up, and I'm not letting any broad treat me like a moron."

"Good for you," Roger said.

Haley was passing by, carrying dishes loaded one on top of another. Gustavo abruptly reached and pulled her skirt.

"Hey, Haley, bring the check and refill my buddy's coffee, will ya?"

Haley threw a livid glance at him. "Let go of my skirt, or I'll dump these dishes on you," she whispered. Then looking toward the front of the deli, she said in a loud voice, "I'll refill your coffees immediately, sir."

Roger and Gustavo doubled in laughter in unison, as the proud and defiant Haley trotted away. When they had calmed down, Roger said, "You're saving my soul, Man! I didn't laugh so hard in a long time."

Their first stop after supper was a topless bar, a neon sign flashing, and music oozing out the open door. A thickset guy in a tight black clothes leaned against the door of a faded brick building, smoking. Obviously he was the bouncer. He asked for Roger's id, and when Roger handed it to him, he commented that it could be a counterfeit one.

Once inside, Roger said, "I think I'll let my beard grow and dye it white."

"Oh, the innocent babe, you!" Gustavo laughed.

They didn't stay there long, agreeing this was fake entertainment, just titillation, but hey, the sights were not too bad.

At the next bar, they met two girls, Melanie and Savannah. Melanie, the bobbed blonde, introduced herself. "I'm Melanie. I play the guitar and work as a cashier in an off-Broadway theater, and this is Savannah."

"And I'm a Hollywood actress, here for a stint."

Both the names and the vocations were made up, but who cared! After a few drinks, Savannah, the sexy looking, thin brunette moved over and sat near Roger. She was in her twenties. She dressed and acted provocatively in a tight magenta shirt and black skirt with pleats. Her full lips glowed with the dark pink glossy lipstick, and her long brown hair hung straight behind her back. At times, she played with the ends of her hair and let the strands fall on her open décolleté, her huge breasts pushing out of the tight shirt.

Good trick to lead the eye to the implants. But the thought didn't bother Roger. He liked the girl so far. Savannah had seen a few plays and knew a bit about theater, but it was plain she was no Hollywood star. She had to have a life beyond this bar, although its details were hard to imagine.

"I think I am going to ask Roger to take me home," Savannah announced abruptly.

Roger smiled in acceptance. Fearful as he was, though he didn't show it, he hadn't had a problem or an offer like this in a very long time. But that didn't matter. After the booze, he was lit up. He didn't care. He didn't care if Savannah had implants or if her eyes were a little wild.

Gustavo winked at Roger in approval. "In that case, Melanie and I will go somewhere else, probably to my place. What do you say, Melanie?"

Roger couldn't see or hear Melanie's answer, because Savannah leaned over and kissed him. Her kiss was sweet, trancelike and articulate. He stood up and led her out of the bar, although he had wanted another drink. It was the luxury of her kiss that held him to her, and to his pointless, greedy delight.

They kissed more in the cab, while Roger pushed his hand under her skirt. They giggled and acted as if they didn't hear the cabbie's cough and the sound of him clearing his throat often.

Her place was a room in Soho. They kissed more going up the stairs and at the entrance to the room. Sex afterwards was too actual, with much enthusiastic bouncing and writhing, despite the fact that he felt little emotion, if anything, just a bodily release resembling the feeling after a run. He was late to come, maybe the drink slowing him down, but Savannah loved it, taking it as a caring gesture on his part. She thought all that was for her. Because of this, she was surprised how quickly he stood up and wanted to leave. She gave him her cell number and asked him to call her next time he was in town. He gave her his, changing a couple of digits.

When he was out on the street, his mind went blank for a few seconds. He didn't know where he was. His watch showed 3:00 A.M, and he thought he was lost. He lurched through the dark streets until he hit Sixth Avenue, from where he hailed a cab driven by a bearded man from Bangladesh to Gustavo's place.

Inside the cab, he rested his head on the back of the seat. All the time he was with Savannah, Kay's image had floated in front of his eyes. He felt in some unexplainable way he had betrayed her. He let this adultery linger in his bones, with some hint of pleasure. The thought of adultery made him laugh out loud. An incredulous laugh for sure. Kay didn't belong to him, and he had just made love to a woman he felt nothing for, although Savannah was probably used to strangers who loved her for half an hour at a time or less.

He used his key to enter the apartment, hoping he wouldn't wake Frank. From Gustavo's room, a light was coming from under the door. Probably Melanie was in there with him. Roger walked to the sofa in the living area.

As he sat down and took his shoes up, he realized he had never lived alone. Even in college, he had roommates. Living alone had to have its problems, but the joy of being able to walk freely about his own place without worrying about making noise had to have huge advantages. After Bedford Hills, he thought, he could live alone somewhere and write.

But would there be anything else after Bedford Hills?


CHAPTER 16


He woke up drenched to the noise of the front door closing. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, not recognizing where he was, right away. Gustavo's place. Someone, probably Gustavo, had thrown a sheet over him, and he had slept in his street clothes. Gross!

Gustavo stood by the door. "Good afternoon, lover boy. Melanie's gone and Frank's left for work. I will, too, in about fifteen minutes."

Roger raked his hair with his hands. "I have to get back to Bedford Hills," he said. "But I'll take a shower first."

"You know where anything is. Help yourself to my stuff for a change of clothes. By the way, it seems like last night went very well for you."

"It was okay."

"Savannah called Melanie in the middle of the night. She was worried if you got back okay. Hombre! You make women worry about you. I gotta learn that from you." His laugh was jovial.

Roger stood up and folded the sheet that had covered him. "Thanks, Gustavo, for everything. It was a good night."

"You should come by more often. You're putrefying over there with the kid and all."

"The kid's okay," Roger said, but a sudden worry of Sid entered his mind.

On the other hand, hadn't Doug told him he'd be home Wednesday and Thursday, both? Roger wouldn't hurry back today. Good, Sid and Doug will get closer. They both need that. "Doug is staying home frequently now. He'll mind the boy," he said to Gustavo. "I'll come to the city more often, if I can hack it."

"Hack it, chop it, blow it to pieces, whatever you do, man, get away from that cage as much as you can."

He arrived at Bedford Hills on Metro North, late in the afternoon. He got out of the taxi in front of the mansion and walked up that too long driveway to the house.

"One of us would pick you up from the station if you had called us from the train," Bernie said, meeting him at the door.

"No need to bother, Bernie. I am enjoying the nice weather." Roger touched the old man's arm and smiled. "Let me change my clothes. then I'll look for Sid."

"Sid is in his room, taking a nap. Doug's in the study on the phone."

Consuelo walked by with a mop and a pail. "Welcome back," she said to Roger. "Mr. Doug has bought companies in Florida. Isn't it nice? I heard him on the phone."

"Consuelo!" Bernie's voice was harsh. "We do not repeat what we hear in this house."

Roger turned his back to go up the stairs, chuckling. Consuelo loved to volunteer the news, any news, and to put it more correctly, gossip. With her and gossip, it was you-can-run-but-you-can't-hide. She didn't mean any harm by it. It was her normal fashion of being.

When he entered his room, he froze, flabbergasted for a few minutes. Sid was sleeping in his bed, with Pino near him, wagging his tail at Roger.

He took out a few pieces of clothing from the closet and went into the bathroom to change. When he returned, Sid was sitting up with the puppy on his lap.

"I was worried," the boy said. "I thought she wouldn't let you come back."

"I went to see my friends, Sid. I was with Kay for a tiny bit of time, for some business. Don't blame Kay for everything. I believe she likes you, and she doesn't want to take anyone away from you."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Why don't you wash your face so we can go out in the yard while the sun's still up. It is a bit cooler outside now."

"Don't tell Dad I slept in your bed."

"I told you I don't like to keep secrets, especially from your Dad."

"It is not a secret. I just don't want Dad to know."

His dad followed them as they went down the stairs. "Glad to see you, Roger," Doug said. "Hope you had a good time." By the time they got to the landing downstairs, he sneezed a couple of times. He was coughing, too. "I sent Sid to his room. I didn't want him to catch this thing," he said. "Probably a twenty-four hour bug. It's been going around at the office."

"Ugh! A summer cold. Take it easy, Doug," Roger said. "You're probably overworked, too." When he turned around to face him, he saw an expression on Doug's face he couldn't read.

"Kay called last night. She told me how the interview with Theresa went." The lines around Doug's eyes deepened as he squinted at Roger. "Why did you turn her down, Roger?"

"I didn't exactly," Roger said. "I just didn't want to agree to something I couldn't follow through. But there's still an agreement of sorts."

Doug sneezed again. Then, sniffling, he said, "I appreciate what you're doing. I thought you would...." He didn't continue. Instead, he blew his nose into a tissue that he had in his hand. He hesitated for a minute. "So unlike my business. We take what we can, even what we can't." Then he added, "I'll ask Jenna for a hot cup of tea," and he moved forward toward the kitchen area, his footsteps like a hollow tapping.

"Feel better, Dad!" Sid yelled after him. Roger wanted to touch the boy's cheek and say how happy he felt for his good mood, for how far he had come along, and that he, Roger, would give up anything to make him whole again. But he didn't. Any talk like that would only emphasize the problems.

"Oh, we forgot the ball in the closet," Roger said, coming to a standstill after a few steps outside.

"Let's not play ball," Sid said. "Let's go that way." He pointed to the area that led to the botanical garden.

"The garden," Roger muttered, more with relief than surprise. Was the boy opening up more?

He smiled thinking of Gustavo's reaction when he had told him about the garden. "It's pretense, man, an aristocratic fetish," Gustavo had said with disdain.

It was no fetish though, and Doug had nothing to do with it. Plus, the trees were truly breathtaking with their side arms locking into each other, providing shade to what's under them. Yet, more than that. Kay loved them.

And right now, Sid was holding his hand and pushing him toward the trees. Sid, who hated even to risk a glimpse that way, let alone venture on that path.

They walked all the way to the gazebo.

"There!" Sid pointed to it. "It was there." The boy's lips were quivering as if he were to break into a surge of tears.

Roger said, bit by bit, "It's...the gazebo." He didn't want to upset the boy any further but also feared to put an end to the flow of Sid's story,

"Yes." The child was definitely fighting back his tears.

"Was there something else there, in its place, earlier?"

"No, not that. I saw them. There." He pointed with his forefinger.

The lines of worry on Sid's otherwise cherubic face worried Roger. Whatever the boy saw had affected him, but how could Roger figure out what it had been, and the degree of the damage it had caused the child?

Although he was afraid to ask, he did. "What did you see, Sid?"

"Kay has a whip. She beats Dad. Without clothes." Teardrops now fell on the boy's cheeks.

"Sid, look at me!" Roger knelt in front of the child, and with his hand, wiped away the tears on Sid's face. "At times, grownups play games, too." He enunciated his words slowly to avoid any misunderstanding. He didn't want the boy to think he was being fooled, tricked, or deceived. "Their games can be very different from what you and I play. It is okay to play games sometimes, don't you think?"

Sid looked at him as if he had lost his mind, which perhaps he had.

"Do you play games like that?"

"No, Sid. I don't, but it doesn't mean I don't understand people who do."

Why is this so difficult to explain?

The boy answered vehemently. "I don't like her. I don't like her game. I don't want to get whipped. I don't like Dad getting whipped."

Roger struggled not to chuckle. "Neither do I. And nobody's going to whip you, Sid. You know why? Because it is a private game between two people. Two grown-up people. They both want that game. It was a secret game that you saw...by accident. It doesn't involve you."

"Then Dad yelled at me. He said, go away, don't come here again." His eyes clouded again. He blinked furiously to clear his vision.

"Only because the game they were playing was their secret game, and they wanted nobody to see it. Your dad didn't want you to see their game. It was private, and this has nothing to do with you."

Poor Sid! Not an image a child should have in his mind for his only parent. To top this, whatever happened during the kidnapping...

"Sid, do you understand me? It was a game. It was make believe. Your Dad loves you. And Kay is not taking him away. Kay did not hurt him either."

As soon as the words left Roger's lips, they heard Doug's sneeze behind them. Roger turned his head. The skin on Doug's face was redder than ever, even in the shade, as he stood clumsily behind them. He averted his eyes from Roger's. "He told you!"

"It's okay, Doug." Roger tried to keep his voice even. "Sid now understands some grownup games are private. You understand this, don't you, Sid?"

The boy nodded, shaking his head up and down vigorously.

"Thank you, Roger." Doug looked at them with a wry smile, turned around, and walked away.

Roger felt like chasing him, to try to put him at ease. Except, how? It was clear Doug was terribly embarrassed, but going after him was not Roger's business. His business had to do with Sid.

On their way back to the house, Roger's phone rang. It was Fiona Faas.


CHAPTER 17


He had never been one to sense trouble, although when trouble came, he didn't panic--on the outside. He moved forward with a calm that looked like everything was working out. But on the inside, he tore himself apart, as he was doing now.

It was his fault Jason died.

Now, his father was hit by a car and was in the hospital. It was his fault again for not being there.

"At least come and see him for a few days," his mother told him on the phone. "I had a premonition about this. I told you he wasn't doing well. But who listens! He must have slipped out at night. Then I kept calling you and you didn't answer."

"My phone's battery went dead. I was in the city with Gustavo yesterday."

"I can't watch Jim every hour on the hour. You children are irresponsible. All of you. You think sending me someone to help with the house can cure everything. Well, it didn't!."

It was his fault. At some level, he had to have known things would go really bad. And now, he had no choice but be strong. His strength always stayed on the outside, and it even reinforced itself each time he turned to a pulp underneath.

"Roger?" Doug raised his brows when Roger entered his study.

I bet he thinks I'm going to talk about what Sid saw.

Roger quickly came to the point. "Doug, my mom just called. My father was hit by a car. He's in the hospital. I'll take a few days off."

Doug's breathing grew shallow. "How did it happen? How is he now?"

"I don't know how he is. Mom says he slipped out, late at night, and he was hit by a car. He was in his pajamas with no I.D. on him, so the police didn't know whom to call. Mom called the police when she couldn't find him this morning."

"So sorry, Roger. Sure, take as long as you need. Anyhow, this way, you'll miss the storm the weather people say will come this way."

"Not the storm, Doug, I'm used to hurricane stories. I worry about my dad and also Sid. I think Sid responds better to Consuelo. So maybe she can take care of him while I'm away."

"Okay. I'll see to it. Just let me know if I can be of help. Go get ready, and..." He couldn't finish because his phone rang.

"Thank you, Doug," Roger said and walked out of the room.

He pulled out the overnight bag from the top shelf of the closet and began packing.


"Roger, are you going away? Are you going because...because..." Sid started wailing. Pino, the puppy, began jumping and yelping around him.

Roger threw the pack of clothes in his hand on the bed and ran to the child who stood at the threshold of the open door and kept howling.

"Sid, Sid, I have to go, but I'll come back." He knelt in front of him and held his arms. "Sid, look at me. This has nothing to do with you. My dad had an accident. He's in the hospital. Sid, do you understand what I say?"

"Don't go!" The boy screamed, stomping his feet, as if he didn't hear a word Roger was saying.

"What's happening?" Bernie, Consuelo, Jenna all came rushing in. Doug followed after them.

"He's going...Roger's going!" Sid sobbed.

"Only a few days. Sid, Sid! Please, don't cry. When I go, don't I always come back?" He turned to them. "My dad had an accident. I'll be away a few days."

"You're taking your bag. You're going for good." Tears ran in buckets over the child's face. Roger wiped them with one hand, then pointed to the bag on the floor.

"Look, Sid. It's only a small bag. I'm leaving my books, my other things. Don't you see?"

"Don't go!" The child bawled, stomping his feet.

Doug moved past Bernie and the women, shaking his head, and stood near Sid and Roger.

"Look Sid, I have a solution," he said. "We'll go with Roger. The three of us will take a trip to Florida. This way Sandy the storm will miss us."

Did he lose his head? What happened to not letting Sid out of Bedford Hills? He must be saying this to quiet the child.

Roger looked at Doug in shock. The child's sobs lessened; possibly he was surprised, too. Behind Doug, Bernie stood in disbelief with his mouth open, staring at them. Consuelo had her hand over her mouth, and Jenna was shaking her head from side to side.

Doug turned to them. "Bernie," he said. "You and Jenna pack a bag for me and another one for Sid. Sporty stuff. Nothing too heavy. It's hot there. And after we leave, make sure all the shutters are closed and the generators are okay, so you guys will be fine. Make sure there are enough provisions and bottled water to last for a couple of weeks or more." He paused, taking a deep breath. "Okay, don't stand there, go to it. Consuelo, take Sid and wash his face. Then go pack. You're coming with us. You know the routine. Roger, you come with me."

"Doug, you don't have to..."

"I have to," Doug said, pulling him by the arm. "Our Corporation bought a chain in Florida. I meant to go and inspect that part of the business for some time. In the meantime, we can take Sid to Disneyworld. I'm sure I can make time for everything. Consuelo will mind Sid when you and I attend to what needs to be done." He pushed Roger into his study.

"Doug, the airlines...I called."

"Never mind. Cancel it. We're taking the company plane." He closed the door behind them.

"You don't feel well, Doug. You have a cold."

He made a waving motion with his hand. "It'll go away. This isn't the first time I worked with a cold."

"But Sid...Didn't you say...he mustn't leave here?"

"That's changing. There's something Ethan told me that you should know. At first, I didn't believe him, but later what he said made sense. I meant to tell you, but couldn't get around to it."

No doubt, Doug felt bad for him. Roger resented it. He resented anyone feeling bad for him. On the other hand, what could Doug's news be? He said it had to do with Ethan's visit a couple of weeks ago. The last time Ethan came, didn't he say he wanted to talk to Doug about Samuele, Corinne and Ethan's father?

"Sit down, Roger. I'll call Wilson, for the plane."

He dialed, gave some instructions, and hung up the receiver. "Wilson only answers our landline," he explained to Roger, taking his cell phone from his belt and pushing a few buttons. He gave a few more orders to several people and clicked off.

"Roger, I'll explain. It seems it's safe enough for Sid now, although I'll never be sure. What I mean is I had suspected Corinne's father, Sam, because of the animosity between us, but Ethan insisted that it wasn't their father who kidnapped Sid. If anything, Sam's people found the people who did it and punished them." He raised his eyebrows, looking at Roger. "Punished them real bad. If you know what I mean."

"Who were they?"

"His rival mob. Some people fighting with Sam's people. It's still connected to Sam. That's for sure. But they wanted to hurt him, not me or Sid. Sam paid the ransom, then found out who the specific people were through the man who dropped Sid off at the Marquis. That's the way things get done in Sam's circles."

"Are you sure about this, Doug?"

"Ethan brought some newspaper clips and a couple of police reports. I'll show them to you after we come back. They aren't here in the house. I locked them inside the safe at the office. Ethan also said Sam and the guys at the head of the other group, his rivals, came to an understanding about not touching family members." He winced then relaxed his face muscles. "Things look calm for now. Of course, I wouldn't take their word for it one hundred per cent, either."

"That is smart, not taking their word for it."

"With a grandfather like Sam, Sid will never be perfectly safe, but we can at least take him to places, with caution. And, since Sam was the one to get my son released, I'm thinking of letting him visit with Sid once in a while. Sam told Ethan to ask me that. I was going to talk to you about this. What do you say?"

"I don't see why not, in a secure place. He's his grandfather."

"Yes, that might help. It would also mean keeping Sam in check. At least, let's hope so."

"Whatever you say, Doug."

Maybe Sid could attend school, for half a day. It'll be good for him. And I can leave then. The thought depressed Roger. He had become attached to the child.

"We'll talk more on the plane," Doug said. "Now go, finish your packing, Roger, and I'll call Florida to settle a few things."

Roger called his mother before going to bed. "I'm coming tomorrow, Mom," he said. "Which hospital is Dad in? I'll go there direct."

"About time you did. Finally it hit you, didn't it?" There was no pleasing her, but he stayed on the phone long enough to learn that his father had a cracked rib and a few bruises, luckily nothing life threatening. They would be keeping him in the hospital for two days for observation.

At least, his injuries aren't too bad.


Early next morning, inside the limo, Sid was all excitement. Roger and Doug could barely hold him down to put the seatbelt on him. His eyes, very playful under the broad peak of his cap, switched from the window to Roger, to Doug, to Consuelo, and back to the window again.

"We're out of Bedford Hills," he screamed as if he were experiencing a rare wonder. Roger chuckled watching him. Like a baby bird flying off, for the first time, from a gilded cage... But another grim thought followed. He could have been worse off.


CHAPTER 18

Inside of the plane was something else. Something Roger had never seen. At the tail end of the plane was a long upholstered sofa along the right side, and across from it at the left side, a square, thick, smoked-glass table with four chairs around it. At the front end were the cockpit and a seating for five more people. Except for the tables, and the long brown and beige upholstered sofa, all seats were of white leather. The floor had bone-white carpeting. Fresh flowers were in vases secured on the side tables. Everything was spic and span, enough to gain the approval of Bernie who always bugged Jenna and Consuelo for not cleaning thoroughly.

A young host and hostess, Ed and Sarah, and Nick, the captain, welcomed them. Beneath their charming exteriors, it was easy to sense the angst and jitters of flying fussy patrons.

"Que bonito, no?" Consuelo said looking at Roger, immediately taking her seat behind the cockpit. As usual, she reverted to Spanish when excited.

"Wow! Look at that," Roger said, once they seated around the table in the back.

"Challenger 850," Doug said. "They make sensible planes. This one can seat up to 14 passengers."

"Sensible? I never even imagined a spread like this," Roger said. "I'm used to passenger planes and coach."

"Yes, it is comfortable inside, but not the best of its kind. The company bought it second-hand. Only 18 million. The new ones go for 35."

"Can you fly one, Doug?"

"If I have to. Dad made sure I learned, but I hate planes."

They took off and were soon flying over the clouds.

Doug said, "I don't like air travel much, but for business, I have to... Not after my parents..." He looked out the window without finishing the end of the sentence.

Roger nodded. "Same with me, except it's the alligators." He felt his shoulders jerk back as if he'd just stuck a finger in a light socket. The words had slipped out of him, like being under a spell. A spell that had just sucked his brains out.

"Alligators! Neato!" Sid jumped in. "Can we see them?"

"They're extremely dangerous," Doug said, eyeing Roger curiously. "Roger, is everything all right?"

"Yes, Doug. It's just...Never mind."

"Maybe we talk about it later." He turned to his son. "See if you can count the fluffy clouds, Sid."

"I don't know that many numbers. They are all over."

By the time, Ed brought them drinks, Sid had dozed off. Doug put him on the sofa and Sarah covered him with a blanket, and pulled a seat belt that linked to a hook underneath the sofa. "In case there's turbulence," she said. "They say a hurricane is churning on the ocean around the Carolinas."

"The excitement wore him off," Doug said, looking at his son who was in a deep sleep.

"He likes short naps," Roger said. "They're good for him. You can't make some kids close their eyes during the day. Then they get cranky in the evening."

"He was cranky all the time, before you," Doug said, sitting down across from Roger at the table.

"Except for yesterday's tantrum, I didn't see any of it," Roger said.

Ed brought small sandwiches as midmorning snacks. Roger wondered at how efficient Ed and Sarah were. Neither of them stood around for small talk. They either retired to the kitchen area at the back to take care of things or they sat in the seats behind the cockpit and talked to Consuelo, waiting to be called.

"My father was a full-fledged pilot," Doug said abruptly, putting down his sandwich. "He owned a six-seater Cessna when we were young. He took us in it, my mom, sis, Brian and me. Later on, he exchanged it for a smaller one, a four-seater but with a more powerful engine. We had a summer place in Connecticut. It's Lee Anne's now. My parents went there to live a few months after I married Sid's mother." He looked down at his hands, closed his eyes as if trying to think, then opened them again.

He continued. "Sis called me when it happened. They had gone to visit their friends in Block Island, on an impulse. They hadn't been back. There was a thick fog. We searched. The Coast Guard did, too. Eight days later, they found the plane's one wing tangled in a trawler's net. They found the rest of it near Fisher's Island. They guessed Dad tried to land at Elizabeth Airport in Fisher's Island, but missed it in the fog. For a while, my uncle and I suspected Sam, but it was an accident. All the investigation pointed to it. That's why I hate planes."

"I'm so sorry, Doug. It must have been a devastating time."

"It was. And I still miss my mom and dad. I miss Brian, too, my younger brother. He died too early. He was seventeen." He pivoted toward the plane's window, his eyes searching the clouds. "Goddamn leukemia! The ordeal was very hard on all of us." He paused, then turned to stare at Roger. "Brian looked like you. I mean it. Really. When I first saw you, I was kinda shocked. You weren't like the photo Alan had sent me. You were the replica of my brother."

"People can look like each other."

Is this why he's so good to me?

"Truth is you spooked me for a while. It was one of the reasons I stayed away a bit, at first, but I found I was warming up to you. I don't easily warm up to people."

"Thank you, Doug. I am grateful for everything you do for me. Not just me, but for other people, too, the people in the house at Bedford Hills and the town."

"You brought my son back to life, Roger. I am the grateful one." He drew a deep breath and looked at Roger with piercing eyes. "Now, your turn. What's this deal with the alligators?"

Roger hesitated. "It isn't pretty. You wouldn't want to know."

"Try me. I want to know."

"All right, I might as well."

Once he knows, he'll change his opinion of me. But better that way. At least, I won't feel like I'm showing him a fake me.

Roger looked out of the window into the sky, the darkening clouds underneath the plane. A flash of lightning jumped from one cloud to another. The plane's flying on top of lightning. Just like me. But he continued after a short pause, feeling Doug's eyes on him but not daring to look at him.

"Where we lived, where my parents still live, a river goes through the town and opens to the Atlantic. I had a few friends during my teenage years. Only a few. One of those friends, Jason, lived on the river. His family had a small boat, a dinghy. We were both fourteen and crazy about that crappy boat. Jason's parents made him promise to never get in the shallow water alone to untie the boat. It was understood we'd always go in there together. During the week of the incident, two large alligators were spotted in our area of the river. Jason's mother prohibited us to go in the boat until the gators were caught."

"But you did anyway."

"Yes. My parents were out. I was doing homework. Jason came over. He said, let's take the boat out. He said, he'd asked his mother and had permission. I left with him. We were both in the water, trying to untie the boat. His father had made this fancy, complicated knot. We got into a fight over that knot. He said a few nasty things to me. I felt insulted and left him there alone. I went home. When my parents returned, I was in my room as if I had never left. Only later, I learned that a gator had grabbed Jason from the back and dragged him under water. By the time help arrived, it was too late."

"It was an accident, Roger."

"There's more to it. Everyone assumed Jason went in the river by himself, and without permission. No one knew I had been there and then left him alone. I never told anyone the truth. It still bothers me. The not telling part, but mostly, leaving Jason alone in that dangerous river part."

"Phew! You feel responsible for his death."

"I am. It was my fault. I shouldn't have left."

"And you carried this guilt with you, all this time."

"It'll be with me forever."

"Roger, you were a child. True, maybe you shouldn't lie. Maybe you shouldn't leave him. But you didn't have the courage to face a thing like that then, and these things happen to kids. You're beating on yourself for nothing."

"It wasn't nothing. A boy died."

"Still....Look at the person you are now. That experience probably helped you shape up and become who you are."

Roger shook his head in disbelief. "I thought you'd hate me, same as you do the planes."

"I don't hate that easily. Did you tell anyone else about this? It might help."

"I didn't. Gustavo, my friend in Manhattan whom I told you about, lived three houses down from Jason's. He was, is, a few years older than me. He had seen me in the river with Jason, but he went to the front of his house later in the day and didn't catch the bad part of it. He didn't tell anyone though, not even to me, until last month, on one of those weekends when I stayed with him. We were wasted and it all came out."

"Remorse is a tough thing to shake off," Doug said. "Your family doesn't know?"

"No. They thought I never left the house that day."

"And it was too late after that."

Roger nodded.

Doug reached over the table and touched his hand. "Roger, I am glad you told me. I guess talking to your parents is not feasible at this time, while they are experiencing problems."

"I can't ever tell them."

"It is okay. Don't then, but there's something else. Something unrelated." He pulled his hand back. "Talking about your parents, I want to tell you something. But I'm afraid you'll take me wrong."

Roger looked at Doug, questioningly. Doug continued. "I know you're shaken up now, after talking about the accident with the alligator, but this is something I need to tell you before we land."

Ed came pushing a cart with lunch on it. Wine, fresh salad, cold cuts, and cake. Some airplane food! It looked better than the Korean deli around Gustavo's place.

After Ed served them, Doug motioned him to leave them alone.

"I told you about the chain our company bought, right?"

"Yes, but I wouldn't know much about your business," Roger said.

"It is mostly music business, but the company has been buying smaller companies over the years. So it has turned into a rather large corporation with many unrelated companies. The chain in Florida deals with retirement residences and nursing homes."

Roger's back stiffened. "What are you getting at, Doug?"

"I mean, one of them is in Jacksonville. Quite nice. Doctor and nurses on board. They deal with Alzheimers, and it's close to your town. I thought about your father."

"We can't afford that. We can barely afford the present situation."

"Roger, my company owns the place. It is free for you. Please, don't resist."

"Doug, I can't. This is too much. You're doing too much for me."

"Compared to what you've done for me, this is a tiny pinhead. Roger, please don't deny me this. I will be hurt. And don't look at me like that. You're my friend. My brother, well, almost."

"I bought long term care for my father, last year, but they'll pay only so much."

"It doesn't matter. Please, say you'll accept and you'll make your family accept."

"My sisters won't like it, Doug. I don't want to hurt your feelings but..."

"But you are."

He bought this chain for me. Does anyone ever do such a thing? What a guy! Yet, this will solve a lot of problems.

"Thank you, Doug. You helped me greatly. I can't thank you enough."

"So you accept?"

He would be crazy not to. Roger nodded, as a bottomless relief gripped him and his head swam with it.

"Cheers then!" Doug lifted his wine glass. The color of the wine in his glass sparkled in the light coming from behind it.

Roger, too, raised his glass.



"Cheers to me, too," Sid said, now awake and trying to get out of the tricky seat belt.

"Come to lunch, Sleepyhead!" Doug smiled.

Roger slid out of his seat, unbuckled Sid, and led him to the table.

As soon as they sat down, the plane rattled and shook, and a couple of plates slid off the table.

"Valgame Dios!" Consuelo started praying at the other end of the plane.

An air pocket?

"Turbulence." The captain announced. "Sorry, Mr. Shelby. I can't help this. It's the monster hurricane down below, Hurricane Sandy, going northward. Although we are flying over land, we can't avoid its outer bands. Please secure your seatbelts."

The plane suddenly dipped and rose again.

CHAPTER 19

It turned into a very bumpy flight after that. By the time they landed in Orlando, Sid was hanging on to Roger's arm with fright, and Doug had gotten sick a few times.

"I'll never get used to flying," Doug said wiping his face. "But I don't know of any quicker way to get to a destination."

"You weren't feeling well, to start with," Roger said.

"That's not it. I'm always like this. The cold is almost gone, anyway."

By the time they left the terminal, he seemed to have recovered some.

"I can take the shuttle or a bus to Jacksonville," Roger said.

"Can I come?" Sid gripped Roger's hand strongly

"No need," Doug said. "We're first going to Disneyworld, to the Art of Animation. A surprise for Sid."

"Doug, I could just stay with my mother."

"It's a large suite with room for all three of us, except for the Bee Gees in the next suite and Consuelo across the hall. We'll drive to Jacksonville in a few hours. No problem. It's better we stay together. You can visit your family during the day anytime."

"Who are Bee Gees?" Consuelo asked. "The singers? My abuela liked them."

Doug laughed. "Bodyguards," he whispered. "Bee Gees for short. I call them that. Not to emphasize the negative."

A limousine took them to Disneyworld. As soon as he saw the hotel from the outside, Sid gasped. It was a job holding him down. He ran around wild with excitement from the minute they entered the building, trying to touch everything. Roger grabbed his hand and ran with him, so he wouldn't get lost. The suite in the Art of Animation was anything but a hotel room Roger had ever seen. It was an apartment with two rooms and a living area, and with marine décor and Finding Nemo scenes. There was a small fridge in the living area stacked with drinks and finger foods.

"I'll never leave here," Sid said. "This is my home."

"Oh, oh! What have I done!" Doug chuckled.

"Where's my bed?"

"You can sleep by yourself on the big bed or on the sofa," Doug said.

"Roger?"

"Roger will sleep on the table." Doug winked at Roger.

Sid opened his eyes wide. "Noooo!"

"Sid, see that big panel on the wall? That opens to a bed, too. So we have three beds really. Any one of them will do for me. Except, the big bed should go to your dad, right Sid?"

Sid nodded. "Yes, just because he throws up."

"I'll never live this down," Doug laughed, while dialing the hotel phone. "Consuelo, how is your room? You like it? Good. As soon as you're settled, come over here and stay with Sid. If he wants to look around the building, tell the Bee Gees to walk with you. Roger and I have some business to attend."

"Can I come with you, Dad?"

"They don't take kids into hospitals," Doug said. "We'll be back for supper. You stay here with Consuelo and explore the place."

"Doug, why don't you stay and rest some? It'll take a good two hours from here. I'll rent a car and go see Dad. Tomorrow you can inspect the place."

"No, Roger, I'm fine. Really. This happens to me in all flights. Mostly nerves, I guess. Besides I want to meet your family. We'll leave as soon as Consuelo comes. The driver is waiting outside."

There was a knock on the door. Doug pointed toward it, as he reached for his jacket. "Here she is."

True to his word, Doug's cold was gone and he seemed all right otherwise. The car, this time, was a regular one, a Lincoln Continental with a chauffeur. Roger took an easy breath. He wasn't looking forward to explaining a limo to his mother.

They didn't talk much on the way, except for Doug commenting on something or other on the road and Roger answering him. The traffic was light, and they arrived at Jacksonville Memorial a little under two hours.

Nellie and Meg were outside the room talking to a nurse. When they saw Roger, they let out a small shriek in unison and ran to embrace him. Then they stepped back and looked at Doug and to Roger questioningly. Roger introduced them.

"I don't know which one is more out of the loop today," Meg said, "Mom or Dad."

"Dad's better." Nellie said. "He knew us all today after he woke up. Sometimes he forgets who's who."

"Let's go in," Meg said, leading the way.

"Roger?" His dad recognized him as soon as he saw him enter.

"Finally you bother to show up," his mother said with an acrid tone. "They're letting him out tomorrow, and I don't know how I'll handle it. The doctor says he shouldn't move much on account of the cracked rib. Who's this?"

"Mom, this is Douglas Shelby, my boss."

Fiona Faas nodded politely as greeting.

"The principal! Roger brought the principal with him," his father said to Meg.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Faas?" Doug asked Jim Faas.

"Lousy, because of these women yapping," He pointed to his wife. "Roger, don't ever get married!"

"No problem there, Dad. But you look much better than I expected."

"Is his doctor around somewhere?" Doug asked Megan. "Maybe we'll talk to him."

Megan raked her blonde silky hair with her left hand. "He was. A few minutes ago. If he still didn't leave. Let me ask the nurse." She exited through the door. Doug followed her, turning to Roger at the last minute before closing the door. "You stay with your parents, Roger. I'll let you know later."

As soon as Doug and Megan left, Fiona Faas called Roger and Nellie to the back of the room, with her index finger curved and motioning toward herself. "Are you in any trouble, Roger?" She whispered. "Why did he come with you? Did you leave the boy with his mother? Who are these people? You aren't telling me anything."

Roger answered in a low voice. "Mom, Doug wants to help. And please don't talk about the child's mother. She's dead. Doug's company owns a nursing home. We came to arrange something for Dad. Okay?"

"We can't pay for it. Are you out of your mind?"

"Mom, you're doing it again," Nellie said. "Let Roger explain it."

"You don't have to pay anything. Doug will write it off." Then he corrected himself, thinking he'd never persuade her. "I'll handle the payment part with Doug." There, he had lied again.

"We don't want handouts. And I think there's more to this. Roger, tell me the truth. What did you get yourself into?"

"I'm in no trouble, Mom, and don't you say anything rude to Doug. He's more than my boss. He's my friend." As soon as the words left his lips, he realized he meant what he said. That Doug was his friend. His friend. But was he, Roger, a friend to Doug? What Roger did for Doug, he did because he was Doug's employee. He had never considered him his friend. Not consciously. But then, if he weren't, why would he tell him the thing he told nobody? Except Gustavo. Even with Gustavo, he had blurted it out while he wasn't in his senses.

Doug is my friend. No question about it. Then I must be his.

"You're lucky, Roger. He's a nice guy," Nellie said.

"That he is," Roger said.

"If the child doesn't have a mother, who is he staying with?" Fiona Faas popped another question.

"He's with us in Orlando, and he has Consuelo with him. She's the girl who helps around the house."

"Couldn't you have come to Jacksonville instead of Orlando. It's a long way off."

"Doug wanted to take Sid to Disneyworld."

"That place is so expensive. Is he rich?"

"Mother!" Nellie was losing her patience. "The man owns a company. Surely he has some money. And please stop giving Roger the third degree."

"Okay, okay." Fiona Faas turned to Roger. "Son, do what you can. I can use all the help I can get. That Shelby guy, nice one, not bad looking either. Unmarried now, huh?" She threw a glance at Nellie with the corner of her eye.

Roger chuckled, sensing the idea behind the question. "He's engaged to a very nice girl, Mom."

"No wonder, a good catch." She sighed, looking at Nellie. Nellie rolled her eyes. "I guess they won't be needing you once he gets married. Then you can move back to Florida."

Nellie and Roger looked at each other and burst in a giggle.

"Now what did I say? Is it too much to ask to have one's children around? And what happened with Dawn? She was such a nice girl. You let her get away, after introducing her to us."

"Mom, I didn't introduce her with a special purpose. We were in college together. Remember? I came to pick up a few books from home. She came with me."

"Yeah, yeah. I heard that song and dance too many times."

"Who's dancing, who's singing?" Meg said, entering through the door with Doug following her.

"Never mind. It's Mom," Nellie said, rolling her eyes again. "She's picking on Roger over Dawn." Fiona Faas pressed her lips together and shook her head, staring at Doug, with a what-am-I-going-to-do-with-these-kids expression.

Doug smiled. Then his mouth tightened, etching a serious expression on his face. "Mrs. Faas, I hate to do this to you, but I'll have to steal Roger for tonight. We have some business to take care of, and then we'll go to Orlando."

"Roger helps in your business?"

"Yes, very much so. I need him to be there while I inspect a business."

"He can come back afterwards, can't he?"

"We'll go to Orlando direct, after that. My little boy will be disappointed if he doesn't see Roger with me tonight. Tomorrow though, if all things go as planned, I'll send Roger back to you. I promise."

"Mr. Shelby, won't we see you again? Please, come to dinner if you can." Fiona Faas was all sugar and spice now.

"Call me Doug, please. Everyone calls me Doug. I don't know if I can make it this time, Mrs. Faas, although I'd love to. Maybe on another occasion."

Doug and Roger moved toward Jim Faas's bed to say their good-byes. The old man was staring blankly at the opposite wall. His eyes caught sight of them as they neared his bed.

"So many doctors," he complained. "Who called you? Dr. Crampton's my doctor."

"Jim, Crampton was the kids' pediatrician. Dr. Tilly is ours, remember?" Fiona Faas said.

"Then why did you call these two doctors?" He looked at Roger. "Didn't I see you before somewhere?"

"Dad, it's me, Roger." He almost choked as he said that. "This is Doug, my friend. Okay?"

Jim Faas squinted. "Roger? You've grown up so fast. What did they do to you?"

Roger felt Doug's hand on his shoulder. "Let's go, Roger."

Roger kissed his father. When he turned around, he noticed the dampness in Doug's eyes.

"This was his good day," Meg said, outside, as they were leaving. "At least for a while there, he was back."

"Meg," Doug turned to her. "Roger and I are in a hurry. Tell your mother and sister what we talked with the doctor. So they're ready for it tomorrow. I'll tell Roger on the way."

"Say hello to your fiancée, Doug," Fiona Faas called after them.

"My fiancée? How did your mother come to that conclusion?" Doug asked Roger as they walked away.

"I told her you were engaged, to save you."

Doug laughed. "Thanks." Then he creased his forehead and his chin wavered. "It is a one-way engagement. I'm the one engaged. Kay isn't."

Roger raised his eyebrows, opened his mouth, but closed it again without saying anything. Once, while he was still in school, he had written a short story about scrabble tiles spelling out eerie messages on their own. For some reason, he recalled that. Was that the eerie message Doug was giving? Eerie messages...how weird!

Doug continued. "She keeps telling me she isn't ready. I don't understand what that means. I can't decipher the subtext, and I'm not getting any younger." He turned his head to the window and followed a speeding motorcycle with his eyes. Then he looked at Roger. "Anyway, forget that. Before we get there, let me fill you in. Jacksonville Memorial has a patient transfer service. They'll be sending your father to the nursing home as soon as he's discharged tomorrow. They have all kinds of medical care there, so there's no need to worry. Right now, I'm going to see someone from the management, me acting as an inspector-slash-owner who's taking care of his investment. But I really want to see what kind of a room they have readied for your father. Let's make sure everything is adequate."

"Thank you, Doug. Thank you for what you are doing and for your friendship."

"Stop saying that. This is easy for me. What is hard is what you have already accomplished with Sid. Now, tomorrow, I don't need to come. The driver will take you."

"What about you? You'll need the car."

"Don't worry about that. I'll take Sid around the rides and what have you, together with the Bee Gees and Consuelo, of course."

"Excellent idea! Sid needs this. Needs you. It'll be perfect."

"I thought so. Tomorrow, if something goes wrong, you call me. I have my cell on all the time. Oh here, take this number." He showed Roger his phone, pointing to a number from his contacts. "Leo, the stocky Bee Gee. Just in case." Roger copied the number into his phone.

After a few seconds, Doug said. "This will be good for me. Not just Sid. I was feeling weighed down. I need a little magic."

"You're under a lot of pressure, Doug. With everything."

"You know, you have a great family, Roger. You and your sisters dislike your mother's ways and your father being sick, but look how you gathered around your dad. I'd take all the negatives if only my parents were around. I'd take every sickness, every nasty word. Damn! But everything went haywire after they died."

"It must have been very difficult."

"I wish for calm now. Years ago, I visited a sacred sanctuary in the Himalayas. The place was open to ferocious winds and raging storms that went on and on. Still, it was the most peaceful spot on earth. The monks said, this was because they were a family, although not biologically. And they accepted everyone who visited them like a family member. That trip was something out of this world."

"Maybe you can take Sid there, once everything quiets down, when he's a few years older. It would be good for him."

"Yes, great idea, Roger. This is why one needs a brother."

He called me brother again. Can I live up to being a brother to Doug after I have failed being a friend to Jason?

It turned into a very bumpy flight after that. By the time they landed in Orlando, Sid was hanging on to Roger's arm with fright, and Doug had gotten sick a few times.

"I'll never get used to flying," Doug said wiping his face. "But I don't know of any quicker way to get to a destination."

"You weren't feeling well, to start with," Roger said.

"That's not it. I'm always like this. The cold is almost gone, anyway."

By the time they left the terminal, he seemed to have recovered some.

"I can take the shuttle or a bus to Jacksonville," Roger said.

"Can I come?" Sid gripped Roger's hand strongly

"No need," Doug said. "We're first going to Disneyworld, to the Art of Animation. A surprise for Sid."

"Doug, I could just stay with my mother."

"It's a large suite with room for all three of us, except for the Bee Gees in the next suite and Consuelo across the hall. We'll drive to Jacksonville in a few hours. No problem. It's better we stay together. You can visit your family during the day anytime."

"Who are Bee Gees?" Consuelo asked. "The singers? My abuela liked them."

Doug laughed. "Bodyguards," he whispered. "Bee Gees for short. I call them that. Not to emphasize the negative."

A limousine took them to Disneyworld. As soon as he saw the hotel from the outside, Sid gasped. It was a job holding him down. He ran around wild with excitement from the minute they entered the building, trying to touch everything. Roger grabbed his hand and ran with him, so he wouldn't get lost. The suite in the Art of Animation was anything but a hotel room Roger had ever seen. It was an apartment with two rooms and a living area, and with marine décor and Finding Nemo scenes. There was a small fridge in the living area stacked with drinks and finger foods.

"I'll never leave here," Sid said. "This is my home."

"Oh, oh! What have I done!" Doug chuckled.

"Where's my bed?"

"You can sleep by yourself on the big bed or on the sofa," Doug said.

"Roger?"

"Roger will sleep on the table." Doug winked at Roger.

Sid opened his eyes wide. "Noooo!"

"Sid, see that big panel on the wall? That opens to a bed, too. So we have three beds really. Any one of them will do for me. Except, the big bed should go to your dad, right Sid?"

Sid nodded. "Yes, just because he throws up."

"I'll never live this down," Doug laughed, while dialing the hotel phone. "Consuelo, how is your room? You like it? Good. As soon as you're settled, come over here and stay with Sid. If he wants to look around the building, tell the Bee Gees to walk with you. Roger and I have some business to attend."

"Can I come with you, Dad?"

"They don't take kids into hospitals," Doug said. "We'll be back for supper. You stay here with Consuelo and explore the place."

"Doug, why don't you stay and rest some? It'll take a good two hours from here. I'll rent a car and go see Dad. Tomorrow you can inspect the place."

"No, Roger, I'm fine. Really. This happens to me in all flights. Mostly nerves, I guess. Besides I want to meet your family. We'll leave as soon as Consuelo comes. The driver is waiting outside."

There was a knock on the door. Doug pointed toward it, as he reached for his jacket. "Here she is."

True to his word, Doug's cold was gone and he seemed all right otherwise. The car, this time, was a regular one, a Lincoln Continental with a chauffeur. Roger took an easy breath. He wasn't looking forward to explaining a limo to his mother.

They didn't talk much on the way, except for Doug commenting on something or other on the road and Roger answering him. The traffic was light, and they arrived at Jacksonville Memorial a little under two hours.

Nellie and Meg were outside the room talking to a nurse. When they saw Roger, they let out a small shriek in unison and ran to embrace him. Then they stepped back and looked at Doug and to Roger questioningly. Roger introduced them.

"I don't know which one is more out of the loop today," Meg said, "Mom or Dad."

"Dad's better." Nellie said. "He knew us all today after he woke up. Sometimes he forgets who's who."

"Let's go in," Meg said, leading the way.

"Roger?" His dad recognized him as soon as he saw him enter.

"Finally you bother to show up," his mother said with an acrid tone. "They're letting him out tomorrow, and I don't know how I'll handle it. The doctor says he shouldn't move much on account of the cracked rib. Who's this?"

"Mom, this is Douglas Shelby, my boss."

Fiona Faas nodded politely as greeting.

"The principal! Roger brought the principal with him," his father said to Meg.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Faas?" Doug asked Jim Faas.

"Lousy, because of these women yapping," He pointed to his wife. "Roger, don't ever get married!"

"No problem there, Dad. But you look much better than I expected."

"Is his doctor around somewhere?" Doug asked Megan. "Maybe we'll talk to him."

Megan raked her blonde silky hair with her left hand. "He was. A few minutes ago. If he still didn't leave. Let me ask the nurse." She exited through the door. Doug followed her, turning to Roger at the last minute before closing the door. "You stay with your parents, Roger. I'll let you know later."

As soon as Doug and Megan left, Fiona Faas called Roger and Nellie to the back of the room, with her index finger curved and motioning toward herself. "Are you in any trouble, Roger?" She whispered. "Why did he come with you? Did you leave the boy with his mother? Who are these people? You aren't telling me anything."

Roger answered in a low voice. "Mom, Doug wants to help. And please don't talk about the child's mother. She's dead. Doug's company owns a nursing home. We came to arrange something for Dad. Okay?"

"We can't pay for it. Are you out of your mind?"

"Mom, you're doing it again," Nellie said. "Let Roger explain it."

"You don't have to pay anything. Doug will write it off." Then he corrected himself, thinking he'd never persuade her. "I'll handle the payment part with Doug." There, he had lied again.

"We don't want handouts. And I think there's more to this. Roger, tell me the truth. What did you get yourself into?"

"I'm in no trouble, Mom, and don't you say anything rude to Doug. He's more than my boss. He's my friend." As soon as the words left his lips, he realized he meant what he said. That Doug was his friend. His friend. But was he, Roger, a friend to Doug? What Roger did for Doug, he did because he was Doug's employee. He had never considered him his friend. Not consciously. But then, if he weren't, why would he tell him the thing he told nobody? Except Gustavo. Even with Gustavo, he had blurted it out while he wasn't in his senses.

Doug is my friend. No question about it. Then I must be his.

"You're lucky, Roger. He's a nice guy," Nellie said.

"That he is," Roger said.

"If the child doesn't have a mother, who is he staying with?" Fiona Faas popped another question.

"He's with us in Orlando, and he has Consuelo with him. She's the girl who helps around the house."

"Couldn't you have come to Jacksonville instead of Orlando. It's a long way off."

"Doug wanted to take Sid to Disneyworld."

"That place is so expensive. Is he rich?"

"Mother!" Nellie was losing her patience. "The man owns a company. Surely he has some money. And please stop giving Roger the third degree."

"Okay, okay." Fiona Faas turned to Roger. "Son, do what you can. I can use all the help I can get. That Shelby guy, nice one, not bad looking either. Unmarried now, huh?" She threw a glance at Nellie with the corner of her eye.

Roger chuckled, sensing the idea behind the question. "He's engaged to a very nice girl, Mom."

"No wonder, a good catch." She sighed, looking at Nellie. Nellie rolled her eyes. "I guess they won't be needing you once he gets married. Then you can move back to Florida."

Nellie and Roger looked at each other and burst in a giggle.

"Now what did I say? Is it too much to ask to have one's children around? And what happened with Dawn? She was such a nice girl. You let her get away, after introducing her to us."

"Mom, I didn't introduce her with a special purpose. We were in college together. Remember? I came to pick up a few books from home. She came with me."

"Yeah, yeah. I heard that song and dance too many times."

"Who's dancing, who's singing?" Meg said, entering through the door with Doug following her.

"Never mind. It's Mom," Nellie said, rolling her eyes again. "She's picking on Roger over Dawn." Fiona Faas pressed her lips together and shook her head, staring at Doug, with a what-am-I-going-to-do-with-these-kids expression.

Doug smiled. Then his mouth tightened, etching a serious expression on his face. "Mrs. Faas, I hate to do this to you, but I'll have to steal Roger for tonight. We have some business to take care of, and then we'll go to Orlando."

"Roger helps in your business?"

"Yes, very much so. I need him to be there while I inspect a business."

"He can come back afterwards, can't he?"

"We'll go to Orlando direct, after that. My little boy will be disappointed if he doesn't see Roger with me tonight. Tomorrow though, if all things go as planned, I'll send Roger back to you. I promise."

"Mr. Shelby, won't we see you again? Please, come to dinner if you can." Fiona Faas was all sugar and spice now.

"Call me Doug, please. Everyone calls me Doug. I don't know if I can make it this time, Mrs. Faas, although I'd love to. Maybe on another occasion."

Doug and Roger moved toward Jim Faas's bed to say their good-byes. The old man was staring blankly at the opposite wall. His eyes caught sight of them as they neared his bed.

"So many doctors," he complained. "Who called you? Dr. Crampton's my doctor."

"Jim, Crampton was the kids' pediatrician. Dr. Tilly is ours, remember?" Fiona Faas said.

"Then why did you call these two doctors?" He looked at Roger. "Didn't I see you before somewhere?"

"Dad, it's me, Roger." He almost choked as he said that. "This is Doug, my friend. Okay?"

Jim Faas squinted. "Roger? You've grown up so fast. What did they do to you?"

Roger felt Doug's hand on his shoulder. "Let's go, Roger."

Roger kissed his father. When he turned around, he noticed the dampness in Doug's eyes.

"This was his good day," Meg said, outside, as they were leaving. "At least for a while there, he was back."

"Meg," Doug turned to her. "Roger and I are in a hurry. Tell your mother and sister what we talked with the doctor. So they're ready for it tomorrow. I'll tell Roger on the way."

"Say hello to your fiancée, Doug," Fiona Faas called after them.

"My fiancée? How did your mother come to that conclusion?" Doug asked Roger as they walked away.

"I told her you were engaged, to save you."

Doug laughed. "Thanks." Then he creased his forehead and his chin wavered. "It is a one-way engagement. I'm the one engaged. Kay isn't."

Roger raised his eyebrows, opened his mouth, but closed it again without saying anything. Once, while he was still in school, he had written a short story about scrabble tiles spelling out eerie messages on their own. For some reason, he recalled that. Was that the eerie message Doug was giving? Eerie messages...how weird!

Doug continued. "She keeps telling me she isn't ready. I don't understand what that means. I can't decipher the subtext, and I'm not getting any younger." He turned his head to the window and followed a speeding motorcycle with his eyes. Then he looked at Roger. "Anyway, forget that. Before we get there, let me fill you in. Jacksonville Memorial has a patient transfer service. They'll be sending your father to the nursing home as soon as he's discharged tomorrow. They have all kinds of medical care there, so there's no need to worry. Right now, I'm going to see someone from the management, me acting as an inspector-slash-owner who's taking care of his investment. But I really want to see what kind of a room they have readied for your father. Let's make sure everything is adequate."

"Thank you, Doug. Thank you for what you are doing and for your friendship."

"Stop saying that. This is easy for me. What is hard is what you have already accomplished with Sid. Now, tomorrow, I don't need to come. The driver will take you."

"What about you? You'll need the car."

"Don't worry about that. I'll take Sid around the rides and what have you, together with the Bee Gees and Consuelo, of course."

"Excellent idea! Sid needs this. Needs you. It'll be perfect."

"I thought so. Tomorrow, if something goes wrong, you call me. I have my cell on all the time. Oh here, take this number." He showed Roger his phone, pointing to a number from his contacts. "Leo, the stocky Bee Gee. Just in case." Roger copied the number into his phone.

After a few seconds, Doug said. "This will be good for me. Not just Sid. I was feeling weighed down. I need a little magic."

"You're under a lot of pressure, Doug. With everything."

"You know, you have a great family, Roger. You and your sisters dislike your mother's ways and your father being sick, but look how you gathered around your dad. I'd take all the negatives if only my parents were around. I'd take every sickness, every nasty word. Damn! But everything went haywire after they died."

"It must have been very difficult."

"I wish for calm now. Years ago, I visited a sacred sanctuary in the Himalayas. The place was open to ferocious winds and raging storms that went on and on. Still, it was the most peaceful spot on earth. The monks said, this was because they were a family, although not biologically. And they accepted everyone who visited them like a family member. That trip was something out of this world."

"Maybe you can take Sid there, once everything quiets down, when he's a few years older. It would be good for him."

"Yes, great idea, Roger. This is why one needs a brother."

He called me brother again. Can I live up to being a brother to Doug after I have failed being a friend to Jason?


CHAPTER 20


The nursing home was a complex. It had apartments and cottages for the elderly who didn't need too much attention. The main building and the large one adjacent to it were reserved for the infirm.

The manager, Isabelle Newton, middle aged, tall and thin, whose glasses kept falling to the tip of her nose, led the way explaining the different sections and their procedures. Looking at her bony yet wrinkle-free face, Roger figured Botox injections, and she was certainly playing up to Doug. Doug seemed to take it in stride and listened and asked questions as if he knew everything about the patient care business.

In the building next to the administration, Isabelle introduced them to two male nurses who had just arrived for the night shift. "This is the section where most of our dementia and Alzheimer patients reside. I'll show you the room we have ready for your patient, Mr. Shelby," she said. "They are on the third and fourth floor. First floor is out of the question. We don't want them to walk away. We have a good variety of indoor and outdoor activities, and we monitor them on the close circuit constantly. Plus, the staff is highly trained. Here, let's take the elevator."

The large room reserved for James Faas was at the corner of the building with wide, barred windows on its two walls. Around the large bed stood a LaZy Boy and two wooden chairs. A small refrigerator, a microwave and a TV lined one of the inside walls. Adjacent to the other wall were a large closet and two dressers. In between the dressers, a door opened to a private bathroom.

"Is the patient a family member, Mr. Shelby?" Isabelle asked.

"Yes, he is," Doug answered with a straight face. "A close family member. Please, do attend to him well, and allow his wife and daughters visit anytime, regardless of the visiting hours."

"If you say so. Although it will be difficult to explain it to the other patient families."

"I'm sure you'll find a way," Doug said in a commanding tone. Roger couldn't believe how powerful and authoritative Doug sounded, so different from the mild, compassionate man he had come to know.

"What do you think about the room, Roger?" He turned to him abruptly.

"Why, it is perfect," Roger answered, surprised.

Lifting his chin and straightening his back, Doug addressed Isabelle. "Let's say, it will do." He paused, then spoke again. "Miss Newton, we'll be inspecting the institutes at Tampa, Miami and West Palm, too."

"Tomorrow?" The woman asked. "I'll call and let them know..."

"No, not at this time. There will be surprise visits."

Isabelle Newton must be breathing easy, now that we've left! Roger thought as they entered the car.

Once the car pulled out, Doug chuckled. "Roger, the expression on your face was precious. You must have thought the UFOs took control of me. I could hardly keep from doubling over."

"I thought I saw a side of you I didn't recognize. I didn't think you were putting it on."

"I wasn't. It's business. The rule is don't let them relax. I have to be firm, even intimidating at times."

"You were never like that with me."

"You think yourself an employee? Now, now, Roger!" He shook his head. "We live under the same roof. We're family."

"Thank you, Doug. You're right. If we weren't, why would I tell you stuff I told nobody?"

"And I told you, too." He threw his head back and laughed. "You're catching on!"

It was getting dark outside on I 95. A short silence took over.

"How the trees shorten the more south we go," Doug said as if thinking to himself. "I remember from earlier trips. Way down, closer to Miami, the tall ones are very rare."

"Subtropics," said Roger.

"I wonder what Sid is doing now. I don't remember him this happy, ever."

"It's the Nemo theme. We watched that movie several times together."

"That's why I chose the Nemo room, Roger. Once I saw the two of you watching it. He looked so animated. Before that, he mentioned it once, and I thought he was referring to Jules Verne's Captain Nemo. But what you were watching that day was a cartoon about a fish. Go figure. That shows how out of touch I am."

"It isn't just about a fish, Doug. There are points in the movie that Sid probably likens to his life."

"I remember the time that movie arrived in the mail. Instead of you, Bernie brought it to me by mistake." Doug sighed. "Tell me the story of the movie, Roger. So I can understand Sid's language."

"In a nutshell, Nemo is a clown fish and Marlin is his father. The live in the Great Barrier Reef. They are the only family to each other after a predator attack on the rest of their family. Marlin is overprotective of Nemo. Still, on his way to school, Nemo is abducted by a scuba diver and taken to a dentist in Australia to live together with other fish in a fish tank. Another odd, coincidental thing's with the name: the dentist's office overlooks Sydney Harbor."

"You don't say! That's strange. And then what?" He tilted sideways toward Roger, waiting for his words.

"To find his son, Marlin sets on an epic journey, and at the end of it, a pelican named Nigel rescues Nemo from the dentist's tank and brings him to his father. This much should be enough, Doug, because there are quite a few characters and it's a job to recall all those names. Sid knows all of them and can mimic their voices."

"I can see why, now. Why you told me several times that Sid needs me. You saw through him even before you watched the movie."

"If I couldn't see that, I shouldn't be a teacher. By the way, Doug, I didn't know the story in this movie, before I sent for it. Dawn, my ex girl-friend, took her niece to the movies to see it when it first came out. She told me it had a great plot. That was a few years ago. If I knew of the coincidences, I'd think twice before ordering it. The consequences could have been negative."

"Look, it proved to be the right thing. I've never seen him this excited, ever."

Roger rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It turned out okay, this time, but I'll be more careful in the future."

"I'll watch that movie with him when we get home. Remind me."

"Yes, he'll like that!"

Roger's phone vibrated a few wordless minutes later. He flipped it open. A text message. Furrowing his eyebrows, Roger touched the screen and used his thumb to scroll. Then he ran his hand through his hair.

"Good news, bad news?" Doug asked.

"Neither," Roger said. "Text from Dawn. She's complaining of the new job. She says she wants to return." The message had made him uncomfortable. He shifted in his seat.

"Funny, you had mentioned her a few minutes ago. She's still texting you?"

"We're friends. We were friends at the start, too." He felt Doug was watching him, but he couldn't make out his facial expressions inside the car's semi-darkness.

"Amazing," Doug said, "How you handle people."

"Not really. Not everyone."

Roger peered out of window. They were getting closer to Orlando.


"We went all around inside the building, to the food court, and walked around the pools. Sid wanted to jump in, but I don't swim. I told him he should wait for you and Roger," Consuelo told Doug, trying to get a hold of Sid who was jumping around and chanting, "They're back, they're back."

"With his Dad, definitely," Roger said, holding Sid down by his shoulders. "In the big pool, the one with the Finding Nemo theme, if you swim underwater, you can hear Nemo talk."

Sid's eyes grew big and screamed. "Let's go. Let's go, now. Please, please, please..."

"Sid, look out the window. It's dark outside. No swimming at night. Okay? You know more about this place than your dad. Tomorrow, you can take your dad and show him the works," Roger said.

Sid calmed down. "You too, Roger, right?"

"Sid, let's you and I make tomorrow the day we spend with our dads. You go with your dad, and I'll go to my dad. Then we can compare notes and gossip behind their back. How's that?"

"Oookay, but you'll come back, promise?" Sid's big blue eyes moistened.

Roger stroked the boy's cheek. "I'll be back. Just have a great time, okay?"

Sid nodded, relenting.

"We went everywhere, but he wouldn't go near any place with the statue of the little mermaid," Consuelo looked at Doug.

Sid grimaced. "She has red hair, Yuck!"

He means Kay.

From this thought, a physical sensation resembling an itch from the ticklish legs of an insect coursed down the back of Roger's neck, prickling inside his head, body, and limbs. He looked at Doug, noticing the frown and his pained ashen face. Their eyes met. Doug had caught the connection. Doug could be much older than Roger, but right now, he needed just as much protection as Sid.

"I bet Nemo would love to have red hair." Roger turned to Sid.

"Nooo!" Sid yelled but doubled up laughing. "A red-haired fish! Funny Roger!"

"I think I saw a coloring book in this drawer," Roger said, walking over and opening the drawer in the blue desk with sea-themes painted in different shades of blue.

"Yes, we bought a few things from the gift shop. They're all in the desk," Consuelo said.

"Good thinking, Consuelo," Roger said, picking out a red crayon, and a coloring book. On a Nemo picture, he drew hairs coming out of the fish's fins. He handed the book and the crayon box to Sid. "Now you color in the rest of it," he said.

Giggling, the boy settled at the table and began coloring.

When Roger looked up, he saw Doug's back as he was now standing in front of the window, looking out, motionless.

"Is it okay if I go to my room now?" Consuelo asked, walking to the door.

"Sure, if you wish," Roger said.

"Consuelo," Doug said without turning around. "You and Sid had supper, right?" His voice sounded even but deeper.

"Yes, we ate earlier, nearby at the food court with Leo and Stan," Consuelo said.

"You can go now, but I'll call you back in a few minutes to stay with Sid when Roger and I will go for something to eat."

After Consuelo left, Roger went into the bathroom to wash his hands. When he came out, he saw Doug talking on the hotel phone to someone he gathered was the concierge. Doug looked up at him. "What kind of food do you want, Roger?"

"It doesn't matter. You choose."

"Continental American okay?"

"Sure."

Doug's like a child. Why is he asking me everything?

Doug talked into the phone. "Hollywood you said? Oooh, great! Hollywood Brown Derby. All right, we'll take the bus. Is a reservation needed? Make a reservation for two. In about half an hour or so. Thank you."

Even on the phone, he changes his voice to the authoritative, demanding one. Like a child, playing games. Human soul, terra incognito...

Doug looked at Roger. "We'll take the Disney bus. To the MGM. It is on the loop she said. I don't know what she meant by that, but let's find out, after I wash up a bit."


The restaurant's décor depicted thirties to fifties Hollywood with dark wood interior, circular archways, and walls covered with the caricatures of the stars of TV and movies.

The very serious host, who looked like a weasel with a perfect poker face, waved his hand at a waiter dressed in a white and black outfit to seat them

"My dad took me to the one in L.A.," Doug said, after he ordered Bourbon on the rocks for both. "During the seventies. These buildings are all derby shaped on the outside. I still have the derby hat he bought me there. I was a little older than Sid." He blinked as though he was talking about another planet and had to get back into this world. "If I can dig it up, I'll give it to Sid."

"Your dad must have been a very special man."

"Like yours."

Before Roger could answer, the waiter showed up with the cocktails.

"Good, let's drink, tonight," Doug said. "You can drink, can't you?"

"To a degree."

Roger thought of the times, when in high school, a bunch of them bought liquor and coke in cans. They emptied the coke and filled the cans with whatever booze was available and drank it while hanging out at the baseball park. He recalled how, even if for a short while, he did forget Jason then.

Once, when he was so wasted, his father had come for him. Roger still had no idea how James Faas found out where they were. After dragging him to a fast-food place, his father had bought coffee, and in the middle of the night walked with him, until he was sober enough to go home. His father somehow kept his mother unaware of this incident, after making Roger promise to drink responsibly, if he were to drink. And Roger had kept his promise...until he began falling for Kay...until that night, in drunken stupor, he had blurted out to Gustavo the thing with Jason.

"Roger, hello," Doug said. "You got lost after one sip."

"I remembered stuff. Nothing important," Roger said. Although it is important... He changed the subject. "If you take Sid swimming tomorrow, which I am sure he'll insist, don't worry about the deep pool. He is pretty good, even under water."

"I'll still be with him anyway. Stan was a life- guard. And Leo will be with us, too. I'm not worried, if you are not." He reached for his belt, unhooking his cell. "I'll call Kay now." He pushed a button "I didn't want to call her near Sid."

"Sure, go ahead," Roger said, rising from his seat to give him privacy.

Doug reached and tapped him with his free hand. "Sit down, will you! I'm just touching base with her. Not a federal secret."

Roger sat but turned his face to force his attention to the drawings on the wall at the opposite side.

"She says hello to you."

"Hello back," Roger said.

After Doug clicked off, they talked about the caricatures on the walls. The waiter who had come back explained that the ones with the black frames were copies of the originals and the ones in the gold frames were drawn recently. By that time, they had downed their third Bourbon. Roger felt only a tiny buzz, but no real effect to be concerned about.

"What are you having, Roger?" Doug asked, moving his finger on the menu.

"I don't know. Whatever you're having."

"Let's try the bison here. But first the Cobb salad. It's their specialty. We can share it.They make a huge one." He looked at the waiter. "One Cobb salad, two bison. We'll order dessert later."

"Excellent choice. May I suggest a Cabernet with dinner, Sir?" the waiter asked, taking the menus.

"Yes, bring the bottle," Doug said.

I mustn't get drunk. I mustn't talk or even say a word about Kay.


CHAPTER 21

They said a drunk blacks out the events during a drinking binge, but that wasn't true. Roger recalled every single thing, later. Every single thing he blurted out. Every single thing Doug told him.

By the time they were halfway through the entrée, the bottle of wine was lowered to its dregs. Doug ordered another one, and then another one. He was telling Roger incidents from his childhood, his teen years, his brother, his sister, his first girlfriend, other girlfriends, his crazy travels and conquests during the time he was supposed to attend college. He had finally graduated four years after his classmates.

"It's like my days were tattooed with women. All from outer space with supernatural manners, as women are. Who wouldn't want them!" He was starting to slur his words. The last wine bottle was one quarter down, and Doug filled their glasses again. "Who was your first girl, Roger?" he asked, tamping down the cork into the bottle's neck, but not doing too good a job of it. The waiter rushed to help, but Doug waved him off.

Roger's mind suddenly pressured him like a huge locomotive lurching backwards.

"Roger, aren't you going to tell me? What was your first girl like?"

"Gloria," Roger said. "Her name was Gloria. Brunette, I think. Can't recall everything about her."

"How old?"

"Thirteen. She was thirteen. I was fifteen. It was after Jason. I was in hell inside. She was a comfort to me. Though I didn't tell her about Jason. I needed her. Her softness. The sweet way she looked at me. At first, we were only experimenting with sex. Then it turned serious, too serious."

"What happened? You drifted apart?"

"They moved away. I was a jackass. She was sweet and smart. She had an abortion. She was fifteen when it happened. Her mother made her get the abortion, and they moved away. It was for the better. But I wanted that baby. I told her I'd get a job, quit school." Roger stopped, bewildered from the effect of his words on both of them.

"Tough! You used no protection?"

"I was such a dumb clod! I thought, we both thought, pulling out did the trick. I was seventeen by then. Her mother threatened me...and my parents. She said, if I insisted on keeping the baby or if I told anyone about Gloria's pregnancy, she'd bring charges."

"But she didn't."

Roger nodded. "She didn't," he said. "Only because she wanted to keep it hush-hush."

"Still bothers you, huh?"

"No, no more. I rarely think about it," Roger said. "Past history. I wanted the baby, though. It still hurts me, but only when I think about it. I had no say in it. I had no choice. It was an awful time."

A feeling sat heavily on his chest, making him hate himself. He sensed his face distorting, puffing off as if after a bee sting. He felt his face with both hands. Good, no swelling. They had to stop this drinking thing. Or he could say more.

I mustn't talk anymore. What if...

"I'm not talking anymore," he said out loud. "I'm going to the men's room."

In the men's room, Roger stumbled woozily to the stall and held the wall as he retched. He felt a little lighter afterwards. He stood at the sink, cupping cold water in his palms and soaking his face in it.

So what if I tell him, I love his girl!

Nooo! The sound arose inside him somewhere, and he breathed it out. Despite all the drunkenness, he felt his instincts were still intact.

By the time he returned to the table, Doug had drained the last bottle.

"Want dessert and a capper?"

Roger shook his head in negation. "No, no more."

Doug motioned to the waiter and ordered coffee.

Even after a full pot of coffee, the walls spun around them when they arose. They hobbled to the men's room holding on to each other while some unseen force of velocity pushed them about.

"Do you need help, Sir?" Two waiters came to assist.

"No, we have each other," Doug said, trying to lean on the side of the wall, like nail to a magnet.

Roger splashed his face and neck with cold water again. Probably the coffee, too, was showing its effect.

"Now, we can say we peed together," Doug said. They burst into a loud joshing laughter that scared the three other people in the men's room.

They walked a few blocks outside, watching the flashing lights of the Magic Kingdom from afar.

"Let's not do this again, Doug," Roger said. "Drink too much, I mean."

It occurred to him that they might both die. The child. Sid. Who'd take care of him? What a pitiful, paranoid anxiety! He didn't know what to do with this. "Because of Sid," he added.

"Chicken!" Doug laughed. "For a dude of marvel, you have no fighter face. You're twenty-five. You're immortal! No one told you that?"

"I never said, never," Roger said. "Just let's hold the horses a bit."

"Horses? Where are they? I don't see any horses." They laughed jovially. He pointed toward the Magic Kingdom. "Let's go there."

"They're closed now. Anyway, we can't. Magic Kingdom is a no-liquor zone."

"Magic Kingdom has no magic. How'd you like that! Anyway, we don't have liquor on us."

"It's in us." They cackled again.

A guard on a bicycle appeared. "You gentlemen need help?"

"We need to go to the Art Resort. What was its name, Roger?" He looked at the guard. "It has buildings in colors and shapes. Captain Nemo, no wait, fish Nemo, that lion thing, and the red-head mermaid inside."

"You mean the Art of Animation Resort. Right?"

"Yes, that's it," Roger said.

"You could walk, but seeing that...well, let me get you transportation." He pushed a button on his cell. "Your names, sir?"

"Faas," said Doug.

"Shelby," said Roger. They laughed again at their crisscrossing the names.

Judging from the way Doug slurred his speech, Roger took it upon himself to do the talking. "It's the other way around," he said. "He is Douglas Shelby. I'm Roger Faas."

"Do you have your Resort Ids on you?"

Roger pulled out his. Doug was having a difficult time handling the cards in his wallet. Roger picked it for him. The guard repeated their names into the phone, then looked at them carefully. "Concierge says you had a reservation earlier in the Derby. It is way off, over there."

"We walked a bit," Roger said, feeling he was the more sober one although it felt like his brain bounced around inside his head.

"The resort is sending you the shuttle. I'll wait with you so you don't miss it."

Doug had drunk a lot more than Roger. Possibly twice as much. After arriving the hotel, he was shush-shushing Roger, then laughing out loud himself, but he got quieter once they stepped out of the elevator.

Roger hoped Sid was in a deep sleep and he wouldn't see them. The door to Stan and Leo's room was open. Roger waved at Leo who appeared at the door, hearing their footsteps. Leo grinned, showing his teeth, possibly grasping the situation, and he closed the door.


"Sid didn't want the sofa. He wanted to sleep in the big bed," Consuelo whispered, eyeing Doug strangely.

"It's big enough for us both," Doug said, curling near his son in street clothes, shoes, and all. Consuelo hesitated, her eyes searching Roger.

"Consuelo, thanks. Go to sleep now. I'll take care of him."

"You need caring yourself!" she chuckled.

"Not as much as Doug."

After her, Roger took Doug's shoes off and undressed him the best he could. He dressed for bed, and brushed his teeth. In the mirror, he saw his ashen face and tousled hair. Yes, his eyes were the same blue as Doug's. It would have been great if they had been really brothers.

He lowered the thermostat before opening up the sofa. Then, he went and pulled the sheets over Doug and his son.

As he started to walk back, "Roger," Doug mumbled, half-asleep. "You know what kills me? Kay doesn't love me."


CHAPTER 22


On their return to Bedford Hills a week later, Bernie met them with the good news. No harm had come to the mansion from Sandy, the hurricane, except for a few downed trees, which the tree people had already taken care of, and Pino, the puppy, was totally house broken.

"I missed him so much!" Sid hugged and kissed the pup. Then for Pino's sake, he began re-enacting the dialogue between Nemo and Dory that he'd listened to many times over in Disneyworld's pool.

"He turned into a prune for being in the water so long." Consuelo related their escapades to Bernie and Henri in the kitchen. "But we were so worried about you here, with the storm. Roger kept checking on his friend in the city and Mr. Shelby called everyone he knew."

"Consuelo," said Bernie. "Don't let him catch you call him Mr. Shelby. You'll annoy him."

Roger thought his time perception was whacked. Why it had only been less than eight months since he was employed by Douglas Shelby, but so much had happened by then. His boss was such an admirable man, Roger acknowledged. He smiled when he thought of the way Doug had kept calling people, after the hurricane and sending assistance, and the kind way he had helped Roger so subtly.

Doug had treated him like a friend, and even more than that, as his brother. Roger wouldn't be surprised if one day he would call him Brian.

Fiona Faas was quite happy with the way things turned out. For her, Jim's room was "fit for a king." Meg said it would only be a matter of time before her mother's complaints would begin. Even if she did, her misery wouldn't pull Roger down anymore. His father was in good hands. Sid was coming along. Doug was an extraordinary friend, but Roger wanted to pay him back some day, in some way.

The following Saturday, despite the wavering weather after the Nor'easter, now turned cold, he the took the day off and went to the city.

Gustavo said, "Hombre, I can't believe how you got under that dude's skin. He even called me and asked how I fared after the storm with the electricity and all, if my place was okay, if I needed something. He asked if they worked us too much because of that damn Sandy and the Nor'easter. I can't believe it, can you?"

"Yeah, I can. He's nice. I told you. He's a decent man."

"I hadn't even talked to the guy before. But mostly, I'm glad he helped you guys, your family I mean. How's the girlie, by the way?"

They had met in the evening, in the Bubble Lounge to have a few drinks, because Roger wanted to leave Sid with his father alone as long as he could, so to boost the warmth and the closeness those two had attained over the last few months and in Disneyworld.

"Which girlie?" Roger had understood exactly who Gustavo meant but didn't like Kay to be called a girlie.

"You know. What's her name, your boss's girl."

"You mean Kay. I saw her once, for a little while, when she came to Bedford Hills, but I was out in the backyard with Sid. Then Doug took her out in the evening. She had to return to work the next day. To my knowledge, they spent the night at her apartment in the city. I didn't see her after that."

"Good. She belongs with your nice-guy boss. Stay away from her."

"I am. Trying." Gustavo's on to me.

"You know, someone pasted this on Facebook. It said something like this. That tingly feeling when you like someone is common sense leaving your body."

Roger raised his eyebrows and chuckled. "Men don't have tingly feelings."

"Right. We have fireworks, explosions." Gustavo threw his head backwards, laughing. Then he rubbed the front of his shirt and looked directly at Roger. "I've been going out with Melanie now and then, like I said on the phone."

"Good. What happened to Mercedes?"

"Nothing. I'm fishing in two waters. Those two are my M and Ms." He laughed again. "Should they run into each other, I'm spitfire roasted."

"You should be." Roger laughed, too.

"What I meant to say was I asked her to come tonight. Here."

"No wonder you insisted I meet you in this place..."

"But she isn't coming alone, Rog. She's bringing a friend...for you. Guess who?"

"No, you didn't! You did? Oh, well, what have I got to lose!"

"And a lot to enjoy! She's got some knockers."

"They're fake."

"All women are fake." Gustavo bent his head to one side, lifting his eyebrows. "Just enjoy what's under your hands. After that, forget it. That's what they do to us, don't they!" His battle wounds from Alyssa were open again and blistering.

That night, Roger stayed with Savannah until daybreak. When he opened his eyes, he saw her sitting in front of her dresser yanking a brush through her snarled hair. "Good Morning!" he said, but she snapped her head as she rose, glaring at him. Then, stiffening her back and throwing her hands on her hips, she yelled. "What the fuck's your problem?"

He sat in bed, speechless. Was this PMS or what!

"When you're with a girl, you're with that girl, period. Get that through your thick skull."

"What are you talking about, Savannah?"

She took a step or two in his direction, trying to calm her voice. "Right you're, this time. Yes, my name is Savannah. Do you have a memory problem? You kept calling me some slut's name, Kay or whoever. You idiot!"

He stared at her, speechless for some time.

She took his silence as another insult, and stewing again, she said, "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?"

This had to be some ironic, ill-timed inside joke, rising from his subconscious. He said, "I must have been drunk. I'm sorry. There's nobody named Kay."


He returned to Bedford Hills early in the morning. His cell bleeped while in the train.

Gustavo!

"Roger, where are you running to? It's Sunday. Are you turning into a church rat or something? The plan was we'd do something fun, and you flew below the radar."

"So I'm a flying rat. You're the church boy, remember? Seriously, I'm in the train. On the way to Bedford Hills. And you didn't tell me of any plan."

"Did the knocker-lady let me? She dragged you before we finished saying hi. Aren't you the popular one!"

"Quite the contrary. Take my word for it, and don't exaggerate."

No need to say more. He'll hear about it from Melanie anyhow.

"Yeah, sure!" Gustavo snickered.

"I had to get back today, anyway," Roger changed the direction of the conversation. "Doug is going on a business trip tomorrow. He asked me to return early in case Sid's grandfather shows up, now that the referee has blown his whistle."

"You mean his son? The Lehman's reject?"

"Ethan, yes. But Ethan's a good guy."

"Good guy, sure." Gustavo snickered. "With such good guys around, you should be wearing a Kevlar vest. Gosh!"


Kevlar vest or not, Roger met Samuele Tammaro that day. He came in the afternoon wearing a heavy coat for the still lingering cold of the Nor'easter, in a bulletproof car. Its being bullet-proof was what Consuelo later told Roger; otherwise, he had no way of knowing. It was just a car with very dark windows and three large men with bulging things on their belts under their jackets.

Not to be outdone, Doug had several more people around, some Roger had never seen. "Act like these guys are always here," Doug had advised him earlier. "I'm taking no chances with Sam."

Sam came with gifts, lots of them. He handed out Louis Vuitton bags to Consuelo, Jenna, and Marie. Marie was with the guarding detail and was acting as if she were one of the maids. He gave Gucci ties to the men. He handed a new laptop, a gold Mac Book Pro, to Roger, plus the tie, saying, "Ethan told me you write or something."

Surprised, Roger looked at Doug who gave him a small nod. Roger took the gifts and thanked him. The three men who were carrying the gifts back and forth went out for the last time and didn't come back in again. Hearing some metallic sounds, Roger peeked out of the window. They were putting together some kind of a large toy.

Sam noticed Roger's looking at the men outside. "Nosy fellow, this one. Doesn't miss a thing," he said to Doug. "Handsome. Young, too. Good physique. I could use him in a movie."

"Thank you, sir, but I'm a teacher," Roger replied immediately, his side glance catching Doug whose mouth was twitching at the sides, possibly trying to suppress a smirk. He seemed to be entertained greatly by Sam's offer and Roger's reply.

Me in a porn movie! Gustavo will have a ball with this.

"More money. A lot more," Sam said.

Roger said nothing but held his face taut, pasting the polite smile he'd mastered when a teen. He wouldn't get on this guy's bad side.

He had expected in Sam a wheeling, dealing, stripper-loving, movie-studio-owning mob man, a pot-bellied schmuck wearing ill-fitting shirts with sweat stains under the arms. But quite the contrary. Sam, tall and lean, looked distinguished with finely styled white hair, a sallow face, thin lips, dark eyes. One could easily take him for a respectable prime minister or some gentleman in high office. He carried himself with dignity, despite showing weakness in the knees while coming up the stairs at the entrance.

"Roger's work with Sid is indispensable, Sam," Doug said, leaning against the doorjamb.

Sam nodded. "Sure, the bambino first." And he hugged Sid who sat near him like a statue. "How's he doing with his studies?" He directed the question at Roger.

"He tests at third or fourth grade level, at the very least," Roger said. "He's a very good student. Very bright."

"Of course, he would be. Whose grandson is he!" Sam pulled Sid by the arm and made him sit at his lap.

Roger glimpsed at Doug who was still standing by the door with a frown, his eyes settled on Sid. When Sam took Sid on his lap, he took a sudden forward step but got a hold of himself and stopped. Then his eyes met Roger's and his face relaxed. With his chin, Roger pointed to one of the empty armchairs across from Sam. Doug gave a quick nod and sat on the chair. His pose after that was serene and self-assured.

Roger sat down, too, a little farther from them but his sight taking in everyone.

"Do you remember your mother at all?" Sam asked Sid.

Sid shook his head. "She died."

"She died right over there. Behind that wooden fence outside," Sam said.

Doug straightened up on the chair, his face whitening.

"I don't go there," Sid said. "Guard dogs are there."

"Do you know why your name is Sidney?" Sam asked.

"Because I was born with it."

"Nobody is born with a name," Sam said. "Your grandmother, my wife, your mother's mother, was from Sydney, Australia. Your grandmother's name was Adeline. She was a beauty, too, just like her daughter." He stared ahead as if seeing those two women in front of him, then continued. "So your mother gave you the name Sidney for Adeline's birth place."

Sid stared at Sam, his eyes opening wide. "Like the dentist's office."

"What dentist?" Sam looked at Roger. "What is he talking about?"

"He mixed it up with a children's movie. Part of its story takes place in Australia," Roger said.

"Don't you know your mother's name?" Sam asked.

Sid shook her head, gazing at his speechless father.

"Corinne," Sam said. "Your mother's name is Corinne. She was my oldest child. Do you have any photos of her?"

"Dad put a photo album in my closet."

"That's good. So you know what she looked like."

"I don't look in it." Sid shrugged. "The album is on the top shelf."

"Well, ask Roger to pull it down for you, so you can see her. She was a very beautiful woman, your mother."

Doug's eyes were darting between Sid and Sam Tammaro, his fingers running over the arms of the chair. What was it about Corinne that bothered Doug so?

The rest of the visit went smoothly, even affably. Before he left, Sam Tammaro faced Doug. "I will come again very soon. I will call first, of course."

Doug nodded. "You're welcome," he said, the words coming out of his mouth laboriously.

Sam continued. "Only because I don't have much time left."

He turned around and walked stiffly to the car to take his seat between the two guards. Before the car moved away, he leaned toward the window, pointed to the small toy car and a bicycle on the side, and called to Sid.

"Enjoy your vehicles, son!"

"Thank you," said Sid, but stayed standing between Doug and Roger without throwing a glance at his grandfather's gifts.

Inside, in the hallway near the kitchen, Jenna and Consuelo were inspecting each other's new bags. "Louis Vuitton, wow! I never had anything from Paris," Jenna said.

Doug winked at Roger and whispered as they went up the stairs to the second floor. "A Louis Vuitton from Guangju rather than Paris."

"You mean fake?"

"Fake is good for luring starlets to bed," Doug said. "And side-street sales. I wouldn't put it past him if he had anything to do with their manufacture."

Sid was walking in front of them. He stopped and stared at Roger. "Is starlet a little star?"

"Yes, exactly," Roger said, holding back a giggle. "Your father was making a joke. Don't give it a second thought."

Doug rolled his eyes, moving away from them toward his study. "We'll talk later, Roger," he said. "I want to tell you about something you asked when we first met."

Sid's mother. He wants to tell me about Corinne.


CHAPTER 24


When Roger and Sid walked into the study-room for Sid, Sid said, "Dad doesn't like my grandfather, does he?"

"You got that impression?"

"You didn't? I was worried." He angled his head to look at Roger as if asking for solace.

"Don't be worried," Roger comforted him. "It must be an adult thing they haven't forgotten. Adults have a more difficult time forgetting things."

"What is it they didn't forget?" He pivoted toward Roger.

Roger pulled one of the chairs and pointed to it for Sid to sit down. "I don't know. I wasn't here very long."

"Do you think Dad will be upset if I looked into that photo album?" Sid asked in a meek voice, hoisting himself up as he sat on the chair.

"No, why should he? Would you like to look at it now? Do you want me to take it down for you?"

"Not now. I'll tell you when. Can we look at the National Geographic for kids on the computer, now?"

Roger nodded. Science was growing on Sid.

As he clicked on the link on favorites, Roger recalled the baby he and Gloria couldn't keep. Had that baby lived, would he be smart as Sid? Roger had wanted that baby. He had mourned for that baby. Gloria and her mother had killed that baby. His baby. But now, there was Sid.


A little later, as suppertime drew close, Roger and Sid walked downstairs to hear Doug talking to Kay in the living room .

Unusual, Roger hadn't heard Kay come in, due to the commotion in the house during this day because of Sam Tammaro's visit, Bernie dragging the clunky Kid car and the bike into the garage, and people coming and going. Roger had heard Doug's footsteps outside in the hallway, but he thought Doug was going downstairs to talk to the staff and new guard detail before they left.

In the living area downstairs, Doug and Kay stopped talking, after they heard Sid and Roger's voices, Roger surmised. It had to be something private between them. Roger held Sid's hand and pointed to another area they could go.

"Sid, Roger, turn back. Come sit with us," Doug said, hanging from the arched doorway. "Dinner will be a bit late for us. Bernie is feeding those people in the dining room."

Sid and Roger turned around.

"You paid them. They could eat somewhere else," Kay said, annoyed. But she gave a friendly wave to Roger.

"I won't treat people like dirt," Doug said. "And you shouldn't be talking, since you refuse to be a part of this household."

Kay's face turned red, her eyebrows furrowing. She narrowed her eyes and threw dagger-like looks at Doug. It was obvious she was too furious to say anything. But even when angry, she made Roger's heart quicken. Was this what love felt like or was it lust? No, it couldn't be lust. Savannah was lust. Kay was something else. She was someone out of this world.

Roger took a step back. "Maybe we go back up. Bernie can call us on the intercom, when dinner's ready."

"Roger, sit down. I want to see Sid for a while, before I leave tomorrow," Doug said.

"Good riddance," Kay mumbled.

Doug's forehead creased. His chin wavered. Was he sad or angry, or maybe both, Roger couldn't say. Whatever it was, things had to be going downhill between them. Roger felt a sudden, powerful compassion for Doug. Certainly Doug deserved the best for everything he was doing for everyone. Whatever was going wrong between him and Kay needed to be fixed.

Kay suddenly rose. "I'm going home," she said. "I shouldn't have come today, in the first place."

"Kay, stay!" Doug's voice had a pleading tone to it, as he held her by the arm.

"Let me go!" Kay yanked her arm away from his stronghold, reached for her purse, and walked out the door.

Roger could feel Sid's body closer to him, the small hand clutching his leg. He put his arm around the frightened boy's shoulders and held him.

Doug stood in the middle of the room, staring after her as if wishing a form, her form, would reappear. He had to be imagining she'd change her mind, as she might have. Probably she had done this so many times. Roger didn't move.

When Doug slowly turned to look at them, the shadow of pain on his face made Roger wince. Doug made a motion with his eyebrows Roger couldn't decipher. "Roger, Sid. Sit down," he said, plopping on the sofa himself.

No one said anything until they heard the sound of Kay's car whizzing down the driveway.

"Sid, come sit next to me," Doug said.

Sid jumped to hug his father. Doug tried to smile. "Everything's okay, son. But there's something I want to tell you." His breathing was shaky. Obviously, he was trying to minimize or hide the anguish he felt, and the distress of Kay's leaving with the way she did it. He winced before he continued. "Since your grandfather brought the issue up, if you want to see your mother's pictures, you may look at them. We don't have them around the house because it was a very sad time for me. And, if you wish, Bernie can show you other stuff, her stuff. They are in boxes in the storage room."

"I don't want to see them," Sid said. "Not now." He looked at Roger as if asking for help, then turned his glance to Doug. "Dad, why did Kay go? What happened?"

"I don't know what happened either. It is tough for us men to figure out women. The way they think is complicated. Ask Roger."

"Beats me!" Roger said, opening his palms to the air.

Just then, Bernie announced dinner.

When they entered the dining room, they saw Jenna clearing the place setting for Kay on Bernie's tactful orders. Nobody talked about her during dinner, although Roger couldn't help glancing at her empty seat and imagining her there, every now and then. During the main course, when he and Sid were engaged in a conversation about the ending of the baseball's World Series with the Giants' win, he caught Doug also staring at her empty seat with a sad look on his face, his lips clamped tight in a line. Just then, Doug turned his head and saw Roger looking at him. Some kind of a I-know-you-understand smile fleeted across his face, and Roger smiled, too, and turned his face to Sid, even though a stab of pain for Doug went through inside him, somewhere in his chest.

Since Doug wanted to tuck Sid in bed after dinner, Roger left them to each other and went to his room. He tried to work on the book, but he couldn't. He closed his laptop and stood by the window, watching moonlight on the distant trees with the phosphorescent lights dancing in the frills of their top leaves in the botanical garden. The garden Doug's grandfather created, the garden Kay loved. The garden that now lay in the dark with eyes glowing like a malevolent otherworldly entity, mirroring Roger's own bizarre mood.

He recalled how bare and white her slender arms had looked the first day they met while she pointed to those trees for him. He sighed without knowing why.

He turned around to the knock on the door. "Come in," he croaked.

"Hey," Doug stuck his head in the door. "Have a minute?"

Doug's presence brought a feeling of warmth, a most welcome lightness and warmth. "Sure, take a year even. Or two or more...Come, sit down."

"That's what I like about you," Doug said, as he entered and plopped down on the love seat. "You accommodate everyone."

"Same's true about you." Roger sat across from him in the armchair.

"Everyone except..." He didn't finish. He looked around the room as if searching for his lost words.

"Want to talk about it?"

First Doug shook his head in negation. Then he leaned to one side, reaching into his pants pocket. "This is the culprit," he said, handing him a small jewelry box.

Roger opened its clip carefully. In the middle of the red velvet interior of the box, was a ring with a large diamond in a setting of blue stones. "Why? What's the matter with this ring? I don't know much about rings, but it looks nice."

"It is an engagement ring, Roger. Six carats, a perfect white diamond with blue sapphires." Doug's voice signaled an unmistakable progression in a rapidly deteriorating bitter mood.

"She didn't want it?"

"She accused me of trapping her." He squinted, his eyes turning into sharp slits. "Some trapper I am, trying to trap wild women. And not quite hacking it. With her, shit blows up at my face all the time."

"It is a beautiful ring." Roger handed the box back to Doug.

"It isn't the ring, Roger. It's me she doesn't want." His voice came out in a dry shuffle, as if treading on dead leaves.

"Did she say that? I can't believe it."

"Not in so many words. Oh, she likes the fun part, sex part. Because I do everything she wants. She just doesn't want the forever part."

"And you'd like to settle down."

"Yes, we've been together, going more than four years now. All that time, and look what she does now." He paused, rolled his eyes, then continued. "You know what she told me? She told me she saw how other men could be like. I don't know in what way, since I do everything she asks me to do...with everything. She says she wants a manly man, yet sensitive. Whatever that means." He looked confused for a couple of seconds, then turned frightfully serious.

"Maybe she'll think things over." Roger's voice was soft. "I wish I knew what to tell you."

"This started happening a while ago. I suspect about the time Ethan came here. What if she...wants him back. And he..."

"That can't be. I don't think so. I really don't. Ethan talked to me about her the day you weren't here. He wasn't very, let's say, appreciative of her."

"He did? How did you answer him?"

"Nothing. I said nothing. I haven't been here even a year. How would I know what to say?"

"Huh, women! Women keep pissing me off. Sometimes I think I'm in a Bella Lugosi movie. Anyway, as repulsive as it is, I wanted to tell you about Corinne, since Sam showed up and Sid may ask questions."

As unpleasant as it may be, this'll get his mind off his argument with Kay.

"Yeah, it's a good idea to be prepared," Roger said.

"I married Corinne because I was an idiot. I still am as you've witnessed tonight."

"Don't say that. You aren't fair to yourself."

"Never mind. Let me continue. When our company was just a fledgling, Sam asked Dad to provide music for his movies. They became friends. That's how I met Corinne. She was a beauty, for sure, but chances are, if I'd met her elsewhere, I wouldn't pick her. Gullible me, it seemed to be the sane thing to do, at the time."

"I can see how that could have happened."

"Yeah, parents encouraged it, too. Within few years of not-too-great a marriage, we had Sid. After Sid was born, maybe he was a year old or it could be earlier, she started doing yoga to regain her shape.

"One day she asked me to help her instructor who had lost his lease. I told her he could stay in the guest house, until he could find a new place." He tapped on the seat cushion of the love-seat with the jewelry box. "Me, the moron! I didn't catch on to the fact that he was fucking her. On a day when my uncle was sending me on a sudden trip, I came home unexpectedly to pack up. That was when I caught her in the guest house with him. I stormed out. I said things like, I'll kill you both. Then I grabbed my bags and left. A couple of people, who used to work for us at the time, heard the fight, which helped fire up many rumors later."

A feeling of uneasiness crept inside Roger. "There is little so far I can tell Sid. All this would upset him."

"If you heard the whole thing, you'd know what to say, much better than if I were to tell him the story."

"I'm listening."

"While I was away, a fire broke in the guest house, and they both died, burning crisp. Lee Anne says Satan got'em." A bitter smile appeared on his lips. Then he frowned. The eerie luminosity passing through his eyes made it clear he was reliving the incident . "Sam tried very hard to connect me to her death, but I was away, and I had the trip documents to prove it. Sam blamed me just the sames...like the way my uncle and I blamed Sam when my parents died in the plane crash."

"You blamed Sam for the crash? Why?"

"We thought Sam wanted to take over the company after Dad. Since I was his idiotic son-in-law, he had to have figured he could pull the wool over my eyes. But my father had seen to it that the company stayed strictly in the family. That is, my uncle, my sister, and me, excluding Corinne. What we have here is the East Coast branch. The company headquarters is in LA, where my uncle is. Sometimes I fly there, sometimes to Europe, and as you may guess, getting sick at each trip." He stopped and took a deep breath in. "But you should see the lengths Sam, the asshole, went to. With threats, detectives, you name it. In a blink, he turned me into a piss-time attraction."

"You had it tough for sure."

"It's still tough. Business is tough. My kid is tough. My life is tough. The only one who gave me pleasure, who I thought would be with me the rest of my time, was Kay." Roger heard an extreme sorrow balanced with deliberate calm in Doug's voice, while Doug played with the ring's box, rolling it inside his palm. "Anyway, Roger, I'll be gone a week. Don't stay home because I'm away. You're too young to be locked up inside this miserable place with a kid." His eyes scanned Roger's face.

Roger shook his head. "Doug, you're saying this, only because you're feeling down. This is not a miserable place, and I really like Sid."

"But I do insist. Look, Consuelo takes off Wednesdays, Jenna Thursdays. Consuelo likes to mind Sid any day. With or without them, Bernie will take care of Sid. He always has. At least, take a day off each week. That was the agreement, wasn't it?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It does. Promise me you'll at least take a day off. If you don't want to go to Manhattan, go somewhere else. I'll tell Bernie to see to it that you do."

Considering the misery Doug was going through, Roger did not argue. "All right, Doug. I'll take a day off. As long as Metro North keeps working after the darn Hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter."

"If it doesn't, ask Bernie to arrange someone to drive you," Doug said. "Or take one of the cars in the garage yourself, if your car isn't doing good." He arose, stretching his hand with the box containing the ring to Roger. "Take this goddamn ring. Give it to a girl or something."

Roger stood up too, pushing his hands to his back. "No, please don't. Doug, don't do this. I can't take it. I don't want it. Besides, she may change her mind. You can give it to her later."

"Dang it! I don't think so. I'll chuck it inside the desk for now. Anyhow, it is yours if you want it. I'm leaving very early in the morning. So have a good week." He stepped toward the door.

"Have a safe flight, Doug," Roger said after him.

Yes, I'll take a day off, but only for you. And with the thought, something resembling panic spit like a machine gun loud and fast in his chest.


CHAPTER 25


During the next few days, the multitude of things to do with Sid didn't take Roger's mind off Doug's distress. But he was decided. This time he would not turn his back. This time he would help a friend. He was without a plan, but at least, he would try.

He took off for the city on a Friday. On the road, he frightened himself of causing an accident several times, as his mind wandered among several alternatives.

How to approach Kay...how to make her understand the pain she was causing to Doug....and in the meantime, how to get her out of his own system. What an iffy thought that was, and what if the whole thing backfired? What if Kay or Doug or both would be insulted by Roger's poking his nose into their affairs? Even so, if there were the slightest chance Roger could get Kay to reconsider, it would be worth the effort.

He had Kay's phone number but he didn't know where she lived. He didn't want to hang around the building of Rois and Moss, for fear of running into Theresa and for whatever conjectures people who worked with Kay could make. If he called her, she'd ask the reason of his call, and when she'd find out, she'd plain refuse to see him. If only he knew her schedule for the day...

He left the car in a garage downtown close to Rois and Moss. He took out his cell. On second thought, he clipped it back on his belt and looked for a public phone. He called Rois and Moss and asked if Miss Kay Simmons could be reached. Someone connected her to Carla, Kay's secretary.

"May I ask who is calling?" Carla asked.

"A friend of her father's," Roger said, and made up a name. "Ray Hannon. Her cell is closed. I was wondering if she is at work or at her apartment."

"She just took a client out to lunch, Mr. Hannon. Let me take a message."

"Thank you, but there's no need," Roger said. "I'll try her cell again, a little later."

Oh, well, it will be an expensive lunch, but what the heck? It's worth it.

He entered the restaurant Kay had taken her the day of the interview with Theresa. Didn't she say that was where she took clients?

Since he was dining alone, the maitre'd showed him a small table close to the entrance. He ordered a soda, salad, and some dish with beef in it, and asked the waiter where the men's room was. While searching for the men's room, he saw her. She was sitting at a table, her back turned to him. She was with a woman client.

He went back to his table and took his time with the food.

"I thought I saw you earlier." The light tone of her voice enfolded him in warmth.

"Hi, Kay," he rose, wiping his mouth with the napkin. "I took off today."

"Any plans for the day?" Her eyes flashed a mischievous twinkle.

"Not until the evening."

Their gazes locked. For an instant, for only one instant, the surroundings fell away and it was just him and Kay in the entire world. Flustered, he didn't know what to say next. He felt a hot flush down his neck, spreading upward to his face.

She lowered her gaze and touched her hand to his chest. "Stay where you are, Roger." She turned to her companion. "Lisa, I met a friend, a writer like you." She introduced them.

The woman said, "I think I'll leave you to your friend, Kay. We finished talking just about everything. I'll send you the revised version, soon. I hope in a couple of weeks."


Kay sank into the seat across from Roger, draping her coat she had just picked up from the cloakroom behind the chair.

"Would you like some dessert, a glass of wine?' Roger asked.

She shook her head. "Finish your food, Roger. Since you have no plans, let's go to my place. Remember, I told you I wanted your opinion on a piece I'm working on."

He looked at her stunned, then glanced at her firm lips, shimmering in reflected light. She had to have put a new coat of lip-gloss after lunch. He was alarmed that he wanted to kiss her at that very moment and wanted to do more, so much more. More fervently than anything.

But he succeeded to gather himself together and motioned to the waiter for the check. "If you say so. I have a few hours," he said. "But don't you have to go back to work?"

"I manage my own hours," she said. "I'm glad you can spare an hour or two."

What's with that mischievous smirk on her lips...again?

They took a taxi to her place on Central Park West. It was a small apartment, one bedroom, one bath, with the state of art technology built in.

"It's small but I feel secure here," she said, showing him a seat on the sofa. She took an ottoman across from him. "It was a bitch to be approved by the association, but Daddy pulled a few strings and got me accepted. Consider it lucky in this city or else I'd be boarding somewhere below 32nd Street. I hear some areas still don't have the electricity back."

"That's the area exactly where I had been staying before I began teaching Sid," said Roger, suddenly becoming aware of the polarization between their two statements. "My friend's place got the electricity within a week or so, though."

"Roger, why did you want to see me today?" Her question as well the mocking tone in her voice startled him. He didn't know how to respond, so he remained silent, aware that she was studying him. "Carla called me in the restaurant, saying she had told a family friend whose name she didn't recognize where I was having lunch. I didn't recognize the name either. I told her I'd solve the puzzle if any person I knew showed up in the restaurant."

"So I was that obvious. I'm sorry!" Roger blushed.

"Nothing to be sorry about, Roger. You could have called me direct. I would have met you willingly."

"I didn't think you would."

"Oh, I would. Believe me I would. I even wanted to call you several times myself. But we're here now, aren't we? Would you like a drink? I have some 2004 Barolo Riserva. It's an Italian wine."

"No, thank you. I'd better keep my wits about me."

"Then, I'll have a glass. But first, let's have some music. How about some liquid grace? I mean Rush."

Roger nodded. She pushed a button on the button on the wall. A flat black panel slid out of the console on the side. She clicked on another button.

Smiling as the initial guitar solo filled the room, she glided toward the small open kitchen that was actually a part of the large living area.

"Panacea," Roger murmured. "From The Fountain of Lamneth."

She somehow heard him.

"Yes," she said from the kitchen, "Panacea. I knew you'd recognize it, Roger, because you're so like me." She sang together with the vocals, her voice clear, sweet, and low.

"The whiteness of confusion
Is unfolding from my mind..."

There was something different about her today, something beyond her physical exquisiteness. What was it? Confidence, a sense of determination? Or was it the quick decided way she tucked behind her hear a few curled strands of hair while she made him face his disgrace of reaching to her with a fake name?

When she came back, instead of taking the ottoman again, she sat next to him. Too close. Watching her face, he mouthed the last lines together with her singing.

"Yet I know I must be gone
Before the light of dawn

Panacea, passion pure
I can't resist your gentle lure
My heart will lie beside you
And my wandering body grieves"

The music stopped. "You are rather young to know this song, Roger, but somehow, I knew you would," Kay said.

"Rush was my older sister's favorite group. I listened to them probably from the day I was born."

She nodded, "Your sister must be around my age." Then she stretched her hand holding the glass. "Take a sip from mine. It's really good."

"No, thank you," Roger said. "But I'd better tell you what I meant to tell you in the first place."

She bent her head to the side after taking a sip and gazed into his eyes.

He held up his hands. "Listen, it is not my place to butt into your business, but Doug has helped me greatly with my difficulties. I consider him a friend, a very good friend."

She grimaced. "Did he send you?"

"No, not at all. He's on a business trip. Won't be back until next Wednesday. He mustn't know about this. About me contacting you."

Her face relaxed. "He can't," she said. "I'll never see him again."

"That's just it. Please do. He's crushed. He truly loves you, Kay."

"Roger, why can't you see this? Why can't you see who it is that I love? I don't love Doug."

"You were with him for a long time, though. He told me that."

"That doesn't mean anything now. Doug and I never saw eye to eye on anything, except for coming from similar backgrounds. Look, let's say I met someone else. Someone I can click with. Someone who enjoys the same things as I do. And that made me think..."

"There's nothing I can say, in that case. If you like someone else..." Roger rose to his feet.

"Roger, sit down!" Her voice was so full of command that he obeyed. She continued. "For an intelligent writer you can be such a dunce."

She put the glass on the cocktail table. Then she leaned into him, putting her hand over his, rubbing her fingers over his fingers. She spoke, uttering her words slowly, "That someone I met is you. And I'm certain of it, no, I can feel it strongly inside me that you like me, that you want me, that you love the same things I love." Her voice faded as she leaned more toward him.

He gulped, his breath caught in his throat. He tried to process what she was saying. He backed slightly, looking into her eyes, at the most incredible darkest shade of green. She looped an arm around him, caught his chin with the other hand, and pressed on his jaw to part his teeth. Then she angled her head and brought her lips to his, her tongue moving gently at first, then plunging into the recesses of his mouth. She moaned, her sound thrumming through him. He sighed, whispering, "Wow!"

Her hand moved to his crotch. "Perfect," she said in approval, feeling the hardness. Then she crossed one leg over him and sat on his lap.

He had to stop her, but was it already too late? "No, Kay," he said, his voice turning hoarse as an involuntary shudder passed through him.

"Why no? Imagine being with me, Roger." She kissed him again. This time even prolonging the kiss.

I must not do this...I must control me...

" This thing between us, can't you see?" Kay said, standing up abruptly, She held his two hands urging him to also rise to his feet. He did.

"Come," she pulled him by the hand to her bedroom. When he didn't move, couldn't move, she draped her arms around him and kissed him again. He stood motionless, dying to hold her, but fearing her closeness.

"I'm willing to see where this goes, but you're fighting me like a prizefighter." She mumbled something more and pulled him again. His eyes took in the short distance to her bedroom, but this time Doug's sorrowful voice echoed inside his mind. "It's me she doesn't want..." Doug, his friend. Was he going to do to Doug what he did to Jason?

"Jason," he muttered, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, Kay had taken a step back, and was staring at him, bewildered.

"You called me Jason. What are you? Are you gay or are you a bi?"

He struggled to pull himself together. "Does it matter either way?" He coughed, borrowing time. Then he said, "Think what you will, Kay, but I can't do this. I just can't."

"What do you mean? You are confusing me...about who you are. I finished with Doug because of you. Answer me, are you bi or gay?"

He forced himself to regain his poise. "I said, think what you will. I'm not going to hurt another man."

She stared at him in terror, her eyes wide open. "Roger, you are gay, aren't you?"

"What if I were?" He had his self-control now. He continued. "I don't like to steal. I don't steal. One thing about stolen love...it is important to know who it is one steals from. I consider Doug my friend. I can't...I won't...do this." He took a deep breath, then added. "And you shouldn't have finished with Doug."

"What do you want me to do? Shall I go to him and say I made a mistake, say that the man I love is gay or bi?"

"Say what you want, say you changed your mind, say anything, but take him back." He held her arms, pushing her away. "Kay, you're the nicest, the most incredible woman I have ever met. But you and I don't belong together. We may like the same poems, same songs, and we may have studied the same things and read the same books, but that is where the similarity ends. We belong in different worlds, but you and Doug..."

"I and Doug had a good thing going until you showed up, true. But the connection I felt to you..." She blinked to clear the sudden moisture in her eyes, then touched a button on his jacket and traced her finger around its circle.

"You two still have a good thing going. You just don't know how good." He stepped aside, away from her. The air felt as if it were draining out of the room. He had to cut this short or he wouldn't be able to walk out on her. "If my being in Bedford Hills confuses you, I won't stay there for long. I promise you that."

On his way out, he turned around to look at her for the last time.

This is the hardest thing I have ever done.

He hesitated a second or two, wanting to reverse all he said, wanting to tell her he really loved her, needed her, and he was neither gay nor bi, but he didn't.

"I wish we could..." His tone was full of regret. "I wish things were different, Kay. But this is not possible."


CHAPTER 26

The weather had turned frigid. He lifted the collar of his coat and crossed the street toward Central Park. He stopped under an elm tree. His eyes watering, he raised his head and scanned the apartment building he had just left. That building's height towered over the many older buildings of the last century. It boasted of modern architecture, shiny windows, and many floors. He paused, with the sad recall of what happened in that building several minutes ago.

She said she loved me!

When he retrieved his car and saw his face in the rearview window, he couldn't tell if it was the cold fall day after the Nor'easter or the tears he wasn't aware he had shed. A purplish red color had invaded his nose and around his eyes. He set out on the road while darkness covered the sky with an accelerating pace and a cold wind blew surly insults, rattling the windows of the car as he drove. By the time he reached Bedford Hills, the guard dogs were out and the night had set in.

"I didn't think you were going to be back tonight, Roger," Bernie said at the door. "You look cold."

"I must look terrible," he said, thinking his voice didn't sound like his own. "I must be coming down with a cold or something. Did Sid go to bed?"

"Not yet. Consuelo is with him trying to coax him to go to sleep."

"I'll peek in and see if I can convince him. I don't want to go near him too much, if I have a cold."

"Come down afterwards, for dinner. Henri made a great onion soup today. It will do you good."

"I will."

He didn't want dinner. He didn't want to talk to anyone, not even to Consuelo or Bernie, but he had to act as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had made him tear his own heart out and shred it to bits.

At dinner, Consuelo had some news. She said Ethan stopped by. His father was in the hospital, living his last days, but having learned from Ethan that he had another grandson in Wayne, he was ready for his last farewell in a positive mood.

Only because I don't have much time left. Roger recalled Sam Tammaro's last words as he had entered the car with his bodyguards at his sides, when he had come to visit Sid. Maybe Sam wasn't such a terrible person as Doug feared. Who knew what made a person good or bad? Didn't social structures determine evil? Wasn't evil a learned consequence of circumstances?

Roger felt sad for Sam Tammaro, a man of mistakes, but not necessarily an evil man. After all, Sam was a Catholic, raised just like Roger, and he had to have felt remorse; he had to have suffered with guilt for whichever sins he committed, real or imagined.


The next day, Roger thought of searching for some opportunity to teach overseas or at least out of the country, away from everyone, away from Bedford Hills, away from Kay, but the school year had already begun and he couldn't find much on any teaching jobs on the customary websites. In the middle of his search, he stopped all of a sudden.

How can I leave Sid? I love that little boy.

Then an idea, a far-out one, hit him. The school that Lee Anne, Doug's sister, had mentioned several months ago.

He called for information. Yes, it was a boarding school for gifted children from third grade to ninth, and they had a large property of 450 acres, 150 of which had a stonewall around. The security was very tight. Visitors came in by appointment only. He asked if they needed any teachers, especially English teachers. "Funny you should ask," the woman on the phone said. "One of the two of our English teachers is leaving to have a baby. It is unlikely that she will return."

"When is she leaving?"

"Before Christmas. I thought you were asking to send us a student. Is this for the job, instead?"

"I am really asking for a job, but also for a student whom I'm tutoring. He's very young, six years old, but at least at third or fourth grade level. He's been tested. I have the proper documents for him from New York State."

"We can, probably, negotiate for the student, if the board approves him. About the job, are you interested?"

"Yes, very much so. I'll e-mail you my résumé."

"Let me tell you up front that we can pay only very little, but your room and board will be at the school."

This could work. Roger wouldn't have to leave Sid. He had grown so attached to him. And he'd be away from Bedford Hills. And he'd be teaching. Probably writing, too.

Teaching had become his first priority now. He made a wry face at himself. How much he had changed!

He thought of the rush he got when Sid learned a new concept, and the rush he would get when other children learned from him, too. With Sid, he had been successful. This success had given him new wings. Wings he didn't know he had when he worked at PS 460. Had he been too green or too quick to leave PS 460? Probably. But if he had stayed there, he'd never have known Sid or Doug...or Kay.

Doug returned three days later. For some reason, he looked better than the day he had left.

That evening, after they put Sid to bed together and sat downstairs in front of the TV for the late show, Doug said, "You were right, Roger. Kay called me." He was talking with a newly found energy, as if he had inhaled pure oxygen on a mountaintop.

"I'm glad to hear that," Roger said. "I was hoping she would." But inside, he felt oddly distant. Oddly sad, oddly gloomy.

"I didn't want to mention it near Sid, but she says she refused me because she was worried about Sid, about not being accepted by my son." Doug looked absorbed in his own words. "As I am, too. The two of them together are like fire and gasoline." He stared at Roger, and abruptly, his posture lifted up. He became animated, his eyes glowing. "And guess what, Roger, she said she wants the ring after all."

"I told you. It is a beautiful ring." Roger smiled although he was feeling totally miserable.

"I'll have to wait until she and Sid can patch up." Doug said, sounding anxious to salvage his situation with Kay.

Roger nodded. Or there may exist another solution. But he wouldn't yet talk of the other solution. There would be time for that. There had to be a way in which all pieces could come together and interlock.

"Kay and I have been calling each other now every day, several times, and talking about everything, even about you." He sounded happy like a child on his first roller-coaster ride.

"Oh?"

"You must have told her about that boy Jason who died. She mentioned that you once referred to a friend named Jason. She thinks Jason's still around. I didn't say anything, because I was, at that moment, trying to persuade her to come to Bedford Hills."

"That subject came up about the book I meant to write. Actually, I mentioned it to Theresa that a childhood friend Jason had gotten me interested in history. Kay must have picked up on that. I didn't talk about the incident of his death at all. You know how touchy a subject that is with me."

He knew he wasn't being totally honest with Doug, but did any man want complete honesty if the truth was going to rip open his heart?

Doug said, "For a while, Kay wants me to see her in New York, to put in some distance between her and Sid. Maybe in time..."

"I bet you are eager to be with her every day from now on." Roger was focused now. With his decision secured, he talked smoothly.

"Yeah, but what can I do? I used to think pushing them together would solve the problem, but I see her point, too. Better to wait than lose her altogether. I promised her I wouldn't push things again. Anyway, she's going to wear the ring." Contented, he rubbed his hands together. "That's something. That'll mean she is engaged to me."


When Roger's acceptance to the post of a teacher in the gifted children's school came in an e-mail, he didn't answer them right away. He wanted this job because of Sid, because Sid was important to him. Sid had taught him to love teaching. Roger wanted the job, yes, but only if he could take Sid with him.

On Sunday when Doug was home in his study, Roger knocked on the door.

"Roger, come in. You didn't have to knock," Doug said.

Roger came right to the point. "Doug, remember the school Lee Anne keeps talking about? The one for the gifted?"

"Yeah, what are you getting at?"

"I mean Sid doesn't seem to be in any danger, not anymore. Plus, no one needs to know where he is. He can attend that school. I do feel he needs to be with his peers. He is even following Wayne around whenever Ethan brings him here."

"He's too young, Roger. That school starts at third grade."

"That's just it, Doug. Sid is at least at third grade level, if not fifth or sixth in some subjects."

Doug frowned. "Roger, am I reading you right? Do you want Sid in a school because you want to leave us?"

"No, Doug, that isn't it. Hear me out." He felt hope gathering in him. He talked strongly and directly. "I called the school to get more information. They need an English teacher. I sent them my résumé. They accepted me for the job."

Doug leaned back, almost in panic. "Roger, no! I don't want you go."

"I didn't take the job. Not yet. Not without talking to you. I won't accept it if you don't agree." He was playing up to Doug, even taking chances, but he had to gain his trust on this. He spoke again. "If I'm there and Sid attends that school, too, I promise I'll take good care of him. And Lee Anne is close by, which will help. You can still take him home on vacations and over the weekends where he'll have some contact with Kay, though not too much that he'll be overwhelmed." Having mentioned her name, a tiny pang disturbed his insides, but he continued. "This is one way Kay may agree to be with you here, all the time. I'm quite sure she'll be okay with this arrangement."

"What if you accept the job and they don't accept Sid?"

"They will, if I make it a clause in my contract. They're short-handed as one of the two English teachers is leaving before Christmas."

"That soon?"

Roger nodded but didn't say anything for a while. Doug was looking down, examining his fingers on the desk.

He is weighing the situation.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, Doug lifted his head and stared at Roger. He wasn't smiling.

"Roger, are you doing this because you feel indebted to me for your father's arrangement?"

"No, Doug, not at all. I swear not for that. I do appreciate your help greatly, but not for that."

"It wasn't something difficult for me, if it ever crossed your mind," Doug said. "If there is a debt at all, I am the one who owes you big time."

"You owe me nothing. I'm only trying to find a solution within reason to make you and Sid happy. If this isn't acceptable, just drop it Doug. We'll consider this conversation as if it never happened."

I mustn't make it seem this is of utmost importance to me or he'll ask why. I'm bluffing but with a good reason.

"Actually, it's a good idea." Doug said, examining Roger's face. "It seems doable, and thank you. It is just that you took me by surprise, Roger. What bothers me though, it will be strange not to see you or Sid here. I'll miss our talks, soccer games, putting Sid to bed. Those things."

"It is not forever. Like I said, you can visit Sid anytime at school, and me too, whenever you want. Sid will be coming here on his off days anyway."

"And you? Will you come here, too?"

The question, a powerful magnet that could pull or push against his resistance, startled Roger, but to ease Doug's mind, "I'll come," he said. As few times as possible, but when Kay isn't here, he added inside himself. Then he smiled, looking at his friend. "Doug, this may work for everyone."

Doug nodded. "Let's give it a try, then. Although something in me rebels against this...but it might just be because I'm turning into an emotional old fart."

"Why don't we, you and Sid and I, pay the school a visit and see it first? I can arrange the visit."

CHAPTER 27

Despite this new ache, the ache of having to turn Kay down and having to stay away from a friend like Doug, a strange thing was happening to Roger. His old pain, his feeling of guilt for Jason's death, wasn't bothering him as much.

Was this because the new pain clouded the old one or was it because he had, in some way, found a pardon for himself inside himself? He didn't know the answer to that. All he knew was that Doug would be happy with Kay, and that mattered. No matter what Roger's feelings were, no matter what made Kay turn to Roger, Roger never really had a chance with Kay. Not in the long run.

Doug and Kay belonged together, and that was that.

With these thoughts in mind, Roger set up an interview with the headmistress of the school in Connecticut together with Sid and Doug. As Lee Anne was already an acquaintance of the headmistress, Thelma Caldwell, she visited the school with them. Being a locally recognized lawyer, the value of her input proved to be immeasurable, but the person who impressed Miss Caldwell the most was Sid.

"What a remarkable little boy," she commented. "He is very bright, indeed. He will be a fine addition to our student body." Then she turned to Roger. "Sid said he was worried about leaving his dog behind. We don't allow students to have pets, but the teachers living on the grounds can keep a pet."

"No problem," Roger said. "Pino can board with me."

"Great!" Miss Caldwell smiled. "Considering Sid's age, we don't want to frustrate him much." The she looked at Doug. "I'm sure, as a parent, you will be pleased with us, Mr. Shelby."

"That I believe will be, Miss Caldwell," Doug said, polite and businesslike, a father with authority and calm and steady bearing.

Miss Caldwell's eyes scanned Doug and then Roger. She had to have felt a pinch of hesitation in Doug's closely controlled tone. "Anyhow, Mr. Shelby," she added, "Mr. Faas, your tutor and our new English teacher here, will fill you in with the details as we go along."

"I'm very sure of that, Miss Caldwell. One thing, however. Mr. Faas is more than a tutor and teacher," Doug said. "He is my best friend. Even more than that. I consider him my brother."

"Thank you, Doug," Roger mumbled. Such an unexpected disclosure by Doug to a headmistress he had just met!

"He even looks like Brian," Lee Anne said, her eyes misting. Then she explained. "We had a brother Brian who passed away. Roger is the spitting image of Brian."

Thelma Caldwell shuffled the papers in front of her. "Since Mr. Faas worked for you less than a year, Mr. Shelby, my impression was you didn't know him earlier. I must be mistaken. He must be a family friend, then."

"He is family," Doug said, his voice exuding confidence.


On the way back to Bedford Hills, while they were still in the limo, Roger got a call from Dawn. She was wondering if they could meet. She was back in Manhattan and had moved in with her roommate in midtown. She said she was finished with the job in LA, and wouldn't take another one, although it was offered to her. "Phony people," she said. "I couldn't stand it there. I applied to several places in New York. I'm willing to take a job, any job, even sweep the streets, but I know I can't work in LA, no matter what. Another reason is, of course, you guys are in New York."

"Certainly we'll get together, Dawn. Maybe this coming weekend. I'd like that very much. Especially because I won't be in New York for too long," Roger said. "I'm moving to Connecticut on a new assignment."

"Roger?" Disappointment was in her voice. "Part of my reason for coming back was you."

"Connecticut is not far from New York, Dawn. We can arrange something. We'll meet often. I'll get back to you. Right now, I'm in a car with two very nice guys."

When Dawn and Roger had separated, they had agreed to stay as friends, and who knew what could happen with friendships in time? He might at least give it a try.

He flipped the phone shut and clipped it to his belt.

"Did I hear it right? Your girlfriend has come back." Doug twitched his lips and grinned.

"Yes, she's back. And it seems we're back at where we started."

Roger felt a certain relief, if not an outright satisfaction. Dawn's presence would keep Kay's intentions at bay, and didn't he and Dawn, way back when, have some good times together?

On the other hand, knowing Kay had ruined any other woman for him. Oh, the thought of Kay! He twisted his hands together, conscious of his shaking knees.

"From what I read on your face, I think you're in love, Roger," Doug laughed, slapping Roger's back.

Roger smiled, however sadly. "Yes, I guess I am." But you'd never guess with whom?


During the following week. Sam Tammaro passed away, leaving most of his wealth to his several grandchildren. Doug put Sid's share in a bank to be given to charities over time. "I'm not sure this isn't blood money," Doug said. "Sid doesn't need it and I don't want it."

During Thanksgiving, Roger went to visit his family for a couple of days. His father was doing better, responding to a new medicine positively, and Fiona Faas was ecstatic with the belief that Roger was back with Dawn. She didn't want to hear or grasp Roger's words when he said, "I'm not really back with her, Mom! We're taking things calmly."

It didn't matter what his mother believed. Dawn already knew, almost instinctively, that Roger had feelings for someone else. He didn't tell her who the person was, only said, "Yes, I loved someone else. It happened when you were away, but it's finished for good. Not meant to be."

Nodding, Dawn welcomed Roger's explanation. "It doesn't matter. Let's give us another try, anyway," she insisted.

The following days before Christmas were spent with getting what Sid would need in his new environment. He wanted to take everything he owned. He even asked for Consuelo and Bernie to go to school with him.

"Aren't I enough for you?" Roger asked, teasing.

"I want to see everyone, every day."

"Not me? You don't want to see me every day?" Doug made believe he was hurt.

Sid jumped at his lap and looped his arms around his neck. "I know you'll come to see me anyway, Dad, because you're the magic man."


On Christmas Eve, after tucking Sid in bed, Doug and Roger came downstairs to watch TV. As soon as they eased themselves into their seats, Doug said, "Roger, I have a confession to make." Then, looking down at his hands, he added, "Kay had the wrong impression of you. I had to set her straight."

"The wrong impression?"God! Even the mention of her name does things to me.

"She believed you were gay or something, and your boyfriend's name was Jason. So I told her what happened to you with Jason. I know you don't like to talk about this, but I couldn't see why she should have a mistaken opinion."

Oh, oh!

"That's okay." Roger's voice was a whisper. "You did the right thing, Doug. I don't mind her thinking I'm gay. There's nothing wrong with being gay, but she might question my tutoring Sid."

"No, never. She wouldn't think that way. She's open-minded. But I just couldn't hold it in when I saw she had the wrong impression."

"Don't worry about it. That she knows the truth is fine with me." Talking about her even in the third person, bothered him like an ache in his chest. He needed to steer the conversation away from her. "Anyway, I've decided to tell the real story about Jason to my mother and sisters, when I see them again. The earlier I get rid of this burden, the better."

"Good move!" Doug said, reaching for the remote.

Two days later, while doing some math work with Sid, Roger received a text message from Kay. It said – It's not too late. We can do this. I love you.—

His hand shaking, Roger texted back. –You're mistaken, Kay. I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you, but I don't love you.— A whopper of a lie, but this is the only way. He kept on texting -- I have a girlfriend, since college. Her name is Dawn. Ask Doug. He knows. –

A mushroom-like sorrow spread from his fingers that texted the message through his entire being and he felt far older than his twenty-five years as if his life fell littered over his phone, this room, the Shelby mansion, and all over the world.

Sid crept nearby and studied Roger's face as he turned off his phone. "Why are you crying, Roger?"

"I said goodbye to someone I love," Roger said, wiping the wetness on his cheeks.

"Did he die?"

"Something like that. It's she. She went far away. Too far away." His own words shook him. He felt altered in some indescribable way. He stared ahead at the opposite wall without focus.

Sid hugged Roger. "I'll never go away. I'll never leave you, Roger."

Pulling himself together with what seemed like an extraordinary effort, he tousled the boy's hair. "Good, I like having you around, buddy."

"You know why, Roger? Because you and I are so alike."

"I remember you mentioning this before, Sid. How do you think we're alike?"

"We're alike because we don't tell people everything."


Next June, on a bright sunny day, Roger with Dawn at his arm walked into the wedding tent decorated in gold and cream tones in the garden of the Shelby estate. This was a very elegant occasion where a small gathering of people, a group of guests, had huddled together to celebrate Doug and Kay's union. Flaunting their fancy outfits, they nodded with approval, snickered with glee, or gossiped in whispers as they took in the decorations and each other's attire. None of them noted Roger's intent gaze at the floor or rather at Kay's feet, except for Dawn. And Dawn probably shrugged it off, giving it to Roger's weird form of shyness.

The ceremony didn't last very long. Kay and Doug stood in front with their backs turned to the guests. Doug's best man, his uncle, had flown in from the West Coast, after Roger, with Bernie's support, had politely declined Doug's offer of being his best man. "You need someone from the family," he had insisted. "Someone much older than me."

Before she answered the pastor, Kay turned her head to Sid, then to Roger, who sat in the front row, holding Dawn's hand. For a fleeting second there, Roger imagined the clouding of the emerald green eyes. Or was the clouding inside his own eyes?

Kay pivoted around and faced the pastor. She said, in a strong voice, "I do."

Roger's heart, which had been bursting for days, now slowed down, making him fear he'd black out. He felt like a figure out of himself, cut out of a carton, and he released his breath in a long sigh.

Dawn tugged at his arm, smiling at him, obvious that she was interpreting his reaction incorrectly. She'd look to their future together with hopeful eyes, but she'd never know how unfathomable Roger was.


The End

PANACEA

         Rush Song (1991 By Neil Peart from the Fountain of Lamneth


The whiteness of confusion
Is unfolding from my mind
I stare around in wonder
Have I left my life behind?

I catch the scent of ambergris
And turn my head, surprised
My gaze is caught and held and I
Am helpless, mesmerized

Panacea, liquid grace
Oh let me touch your fragile face
Enchantment falls around me
And I know I cannot leave
Here's a meaning for my life

A shelter from the storm
Pacify my troubles with
Her body, soft and warm
Naked in our unity
A smile for every tear

Gentle hands that promise me
Comfort through the years
Yet I know I must be gone
Before the light of dawn

Panacea, passion pure
I can't resist your gentle lure
My heart will lie beside you
And my wandering body grieves.




© Copyright 2012 Joy (joycag at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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