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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 37 (mild adult)

Calvin and Malcolm sat in the cafeteria, again, eating another meal, routinely.  Malcolm wasn't saying much, which suited Calvin just fine.  In their recent talks, since the mysterious "something" had majorly angered Calvin, and Miguel had been put in the psych ward, nothing positive had come of their chats.  Both ate in silence.  The cafeteria was particularly full.  It was dinner hour, a very popular time.  A great deal of visitors and patients alike chose that meal, for some reason, most often.

Calvin finally broke the silence.  "You aren't talking today."


"Why bother?  We usually have some kind of argument or something.  Or else you just act gutted."


"Eh, that was then, this is now."


He was surprised by the comment.  "Since when?"


"Since now.  Things are looking up, Mister."


"Really."


"Yep."


"How so?"


"For me to know and you to butt out."


Malcolm rolled his eyes, "Same old thing, same old man."


Calvin actually smiled.  It was a weak and somehow dead one, but it happened.


Just then, Malcolm looked up to see Miguel standing by their table.  "Is there room for me, old padres?"


Malcolm smiled broadly, and said, "Of course.  When did you get out of psych?"


"Oh, great," Calvin said under his breath.


"Good to see you too, Old Man," Miguel said.  Then he turned to Malcolm, "Por la gracia de dios."


"Good.  I am glad to have you back.  This one," he motioned toward Calvin with his spoon, "was about to drive me crazy.  Bringing me into the doldrums every day."


Miguel placed his tray down, and said, "I'm glad to be back."


"You have a year anniversary in here, don't you?  Coming up soon?"  Malcolm asked the younger man.


"Yes, I do."


"Well, that's nothing compared to the time we've been here.  I've been here like, what, two years now?"  Malcolm thought aloud.


Calvin shrugged.


"You're a fine one to talk.  Or not to.  You've been here the longest, on and off, for a long time.  Right?" Malcolm said.


"Yep."  Calvin agreed.  "But, I'm cured."


"You keep saying that.  So, when do you leave, if you're cured?"


"Soon enough."  Calvin deflected.


"He never says anything," Malcolm said.


"Things don't change," Miguel said, smiling and digging in to his breakfast.  "Calvin must have a woman stashed away somewhere, else, some money.  Maybe back in the states?"


Calvin didn't respond.  Malcolm said, "It's not that.  It's a revenge plot of some kind."


"Revenge plot.  Hmm."  Miguel said.


"You can chew with your mouth closed," Calvin criticized.


"Manners?  You're talking to me about that?  You're the Grinch that Stole Everything, Padre."  Miguel said.


Malcolm laughed aloud.  Calvin just sat, staring at them both.  He said, "Are you both done?"


Malcolm said, "Normally, you would have gotten up and left by now.  You know we're just teasing."


"I have nothing to get angry about, not anymore," Calvin said.  "You can make your lame jokes.  I'll be out of here soon."


Miguel got serious, almost wistful.  "Yeah?  That's great, Man, if you can do it, then go.  I want to be out of here.  I want to go home.  Miss the U.S. of A."  He took another bite, "Just grateful that my doctor got through to me again."


"You," Calvin said, putting his napkin down, "are another story."  He made circles with his index finger around his temple.


Malcolm said, "And a revenge plot is not crazy?"


"No.  Not when it's a long time coming."  Calvin said.


"So what is this plot, Old Man?  Anything in it for us?  You know, we've had our days here together, our little endeavors, and then some."  Miguel asked.


"That's for me to know," he said, finishing his iced tea.


Miguel shot a glance to Malcolm, and the Englishman said, "Hope it's not dangerous."


Calvin paused quite a long time, as if in thought, and said, "For who?" and got up with his tray.



***


"Well, he's asleep.  All of them are.  Mixie's foot is bandaged, I set up the tent, the boys are down there happy."  Todd said.


"You're a good dad," Blair said, kissing his cheek.


"I'm trying.  Heck, I'm not trying.  I'm just being with them, and doing . . . what I think is right."


"Well, it's working."


It was quiet, the baby was sleeping in the nursery, Blair's doing, and the fire was casting an amber glow over the two of them.  He said, "It's been so long, Blair."


"I know," she said.  "I've missed you, so much.  Come here."


"Careful, you're still recovering from being a baby maker."


"I'm fine.  The doctor checked us both out."


"I don't remember the doctor checking me?"


"Oh, come on.  You know what I meant.  Your daughter and I.  We're both perfectly healthy."


"Like, really, really healthy?"


She nodded.


He leaned toward her and touched her nose with his, before kissing her with open mouth and closed eyes.  She moved his hands to her breasts, but he cautiously just held them gently, and he sighed.  He moved closer to her, bending so that she would be lying supine on the bed.  He said, "Are you sure?  I don't want to hurt you."


"Positive.  I want you, so much."


That was all he had to hear.


***


"Pappy, it's barely the crack of dawn, and y'ar here."  Aiden said, pushing up on his elbows.


"I know, I just seem to be drawn here.  Must be the wonderful food."


"Ha!  Can't be that, Old Man!"  Aiden laughed.  His smile was still as contagious as ever.  "Y'ar not laughing with me, does that mean y'ar laughing at me?"


"No.  It means I'm not laughing, Son."


"What's the problem?  Something in the states, with Todd?"


"No.  Nothing like that.  Y'ar brotha has moved forward, with his family.  He's left his pains behind.   I dare say I want the same for ya."


"Ah, well, no worries there.  It will happen, and soon."


"I hope.  I wanted to talk to ya about something.  I knew if I got here early enough, I could catch ya alone."


"Surely.  What is it, Dad?"


"Y'ar friends, those two men, maybe three.  Are ya sure, Son, that they are on the up and up?"


"That's a strange question, Pappy.  Of course."


"I realize ya trust them, and that ya've spent a great deal of time with them, since ya came."


"Yes.  They're a kind of relief.  The way they interact reminds me of an old television show."


"Well, that I can relate to.  Such an odd trio.  But Son, have ya thought that maybe . . ."


"Yes.  All right, I've thought about it.  But I've since decided against it.  Too much wasted time on their parts, if so.  It's been a long while.  If they were meant to execute me, it had been done by now, it would."


"Tina is worried as well, and me."


"Nothing to worry for, Father."


"How do we know they're not out to take ya out?"


"Ya've been hanging around y'ar other son too much, Pappy.  Take me out?  For what purpose?"  He was laughing.


Timothy was not.  "How do ya know they aren't in the Men of 21's remnants, and out to finish the job?"


Malcolm, who had been standing outside the door a few moments, stepped in and said, "Because they took my life away, that's why."


***


It wasn't long before Todd had released inside her and held her close to him, feeling her clinging to him with both arms and legs.  She had softly called out to him when she'd come, and he had whispered in encouragement to her with his touches and kisses.  He said, "I love you."


"I love you."


"Thanks.  For everything."


"You're welcome.  Thanks for loving us."


"Easy."


"I should get the baby," she said.  "I just feel so tired all the time."


"Let me go.  You stay here."


He got up, and his body was highlighted in the firelight.  She gasped slightly looking at him, and some how, it never got old with her.  He was always beautiful, and she was always attracted to him.  And it was stronger than that, somehow, and she had still not been able to put her finger on it; it just was.


He came back a short while later with Jewel, in her basket, and she was awake and looking at him, and he smiled into her face, and said, "Mommy and Daddy have had their quality time.  It's your turn pretty soon."  He placed the basket by the bed and climbed back in. 


Blair was already sleeping.


***


"What?" Aiden said, looking at Malcolm who was standing in the doorway.  Neither Miguel nor Calvin was with him.


"I lost my wife to a terrorist group just three years back.  After researching, I found they may have been connected to The Men of 21 from Ireland.  Isn't that what you are referring to?"


"I am," Timothy said.  "They took my family, some thirty plus years back.  Eric, here, was presumed dead, at the age of six.  My wife was shot in front of both of us."


"I'm . . ." he stopped, clearing his throat.  "I'm very sorry.  I lost everything.  So you see, I can't imagine how you've pegged me for a terrorist."


"Terrorists are expert liars," Tina said from the doorway.  "Hello, Malcolm." She entered the room.  "Good morning, Timothy."  She leaned over and kissed Aiden, who caught her head in his hand to hold her there longer.


He looked up into her eyes as she finally pulled back.  "Good morning, Aiden."


"Tina.  Y'ar a sight for me tired eyes."


"How are you feeling?"


"I'm better. But I believe ya and my pappy are wrong about my friend.  Malcolm is a good pal."


Malcolm was standing, sheepishly, in the place he had been since he walked in the room.  Timothy watched his facial expressions throughout the exchange with Tina and Aiden, seeking a small sign that he was right.  He got nothing but a wistful sort of longing.


"So why don't ya tell us what happened to ya, then?"  Timothy started.


"It's a very long story, and not enjoyable to tell.  I lost everything.  What more can a person say?"


Aiden's face was slightly pink with embarrassment at the overt probing of his father.  Mixed in was the clear face of pity.  "Ya can tell us, or ya don't have to."


"I realize.  Let's say that I am not really in the mood to confide with those who doubt me.  For all it's worth, what would I gain from fooling anyone into believing I am not who I really am?"


"We've been through a lot," Timothy began, "and we can't be too careful."


"I think it's ridiculous," Malcolm said, "to think this of a friend.  But, at the same time, I can relate to what you must have experienced because I have as well.  You don't know me, not well.  Not really.  So it stands to figure that you might suspect my motives.  Problem is, I'm lonely.  Without purpose.  Without a place to be or call my own."


Aiden said, "The story of my life."


"Maybe so, but mine has just gone that way recently.  Yours was that way for many years, and I feel for you."


"Well, I appreciate that.  Pappy, ya could be wrong, couldn't ya?"


For a moment, Timothy was not certain, but then, realizing the idea originally came from Tina, and that he had no proof whatsoever, he said, "I suppose I can."


Malcolm made no move to respond, or to leave.  He just continued to stand in the very spot he was.  


Tina said, "I hope you understand, we just want to protect him."


"I can see that," he said.


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Friday, November 28, 2014

The Mysterious Samuel Toddman: Chapter 13

"You idiot! You know Ms. Perkins wants us to leave Samuel alone. I can't stick around here and make sure you don't shoot off your mouth, so you're just going to have to come and help at the barrier." said Pete.


"But Pete, I promise I won't say anymore and Ms. Perkins said I was to stay here with Todd. I know I was wrong." pleaded Tom.



"Todd Schmodd, you're coming with me. I don't trust you, you're too weak and trusting.  Samuel doesn't need us at the moment and neither does Todd. Look he's actually sleeping quietly right now. We need you at the barrier and you're going, so shut up!" that said Pete grabbed Tom and headed into the darkness.



Over on the bed Todd began to stir. He turned over and opened his eyes. Todd laid there for a moment staring up and not seeing anything. He started to sit up, but was hit by overwhelming dizziness. "Whoa, what the heck? I can hardly move and my head, I must have had too much to drink. Why is it so dark in here? Where the heck is the light?" Even as he lay there, the darkness was lifting . He looked around at his surroundings, but there wasn't much to see. He tried once again to sit up and this time he managed it. He saw a table and some chairs in the distance. "What is this place? This is weird." He slowly got to his feet, but everything started spinning again. He forced himself to stay upright and took steps toward the table and chairs. Making it there, he quickly sat down. "Boy, why do I feel so weak? Where the hell am I?"



As he looked around he suddenly noticed the window in front of him. It was huge. He looked out and felt his heart skip a beat. He saw himself looking back at him, but not the self he remembered. This Todd was older, with long hair. The most disturbing thing Todd saw was not one, but two scars intersecting his cheek. Todd reached for his cheek and got another surprise. There was nothing there. He didn't have any scars. But he was looking at them. Suddenly the view changed and he found himself looking at a room full of paintings, paintings of Tea, Vicki and Blair. "What the...?" Todd was hit by a realization. He took another quick look around. He knew where he was now, he was trapped in his own head. He wasn't looking out a window, he was looking out his own eyes and he wasn't in charge. Which one of his idiot alters was in charge right now and who had painted all the pictures? There was something else bothering him. Why had he looked so much older? Where had the second scar come from? He sat there and tried to remember what had happened, but he got nothing. He was beginning to feel stronger, but he didn't remember how he got there. "Okay Todd, you know something pretty bad had to happen to bring out an alter. God I hope Pete's not in charge." Strangely as he watched the scene unfold in front of him, he didn't think it was Pete.



Todd sat there remembering when he had first realized he wasn't alone in his head anymore. When he had been little, he could remember going some place safe when his father had started hurting him. It wasn't until he hit his teens that he realized while he was being safe, someone else was running his body. After finding out about all the lost time, he decided he needed to know who was running things when he wasn't. After a lot of conversations with different people, Todd had figured out that there was a 'gentle Todd' that would come out.



He had thought at first maybe he was going crazy, but then had decided it wasn't hurting anyone, especially him, to let 'gentle Todd' out. Then that fateful birthday happened. As his father had held him down, Todd remembered starting to let himself go to the safe place but he realized he couldn't let 'gentle Todd' face Peter Manning's wrath either. He remembered actually encountering 'gentle Todd' as he was retreating into his mind and suddenly grabbing him and holding him. Todd hadn't wanted either of them to have to face what he knew Peter was getting ready to do. As he and 'gentle Todd' struggled both afraid of what was happening Todd heard this cry of rage and suddenly 'Pete' had torn past both he and 'gentle Todd'. Together they had watched as 'Pete' attempted to kill Peter Manning. 'Pete' almost succeeded that night, except Sam Rappaport got there and pulled 'Pete' off his father. While thing were slowly calming down, Todd had stopped struggling with 'gentle Todd' and they had taken a long hard look at each other. 'Gentle Todd' had smiled and held out his hand and said "Thanks, my name is Tom." It had been weird to be standing there talking to himself but not himself.



That night when 'Pete' was starting to fall asleep , Todd had felt himself being drawn to the bed. Right before his head touched the pillow he and 'Pete' met, they stared at each other for a moment, "Don't worry I'll protect us all. The name's Pete." he said and walked away; leaving Todd back in charge.



Todd remembered meeting 'Rodd' after his brief first encounter with Marty. She had so confused him that night that 'Rodd' made a quick appearance to him but Todd quickly took back over because he wasn't ready for a committed relationship. Unfortunately, when Marty stomped all over him and humiliated him the night of the Spring Fling, Todd snapped and 'Pete' came out and raped her. It had taken everything in Todd to face what 'Pete' had done. Of course, he still had the scar as a constant reminder.



Todd flinched as he remembered just what that rape had cost him. His head was pounding again. Then he realized he was hearing pounding going on somewhere else. He got to his feet slowly and started moving toward the sound.



Todd kept going toward the sound. The pounding was getting louder and suddenly he saw them, all of his alters, even Ms. Perkins trying to get through some sort of translucent wall. He noticed images that seemed to be floating around behind the wall, but he couldn't make out what the images were. Then he realized that all of his alters were standing in front of him. Hell, who was running his body if everybody was here. His head was pounding even more and he was starting to get dizzy. He didn't want to blackout, he had a feeling he had been out for a long time already and he needed some answers. He also needed help. "Hey, Ms. Perkins, Tom, anybody. Help!"



Ms. Perkins turned immediately and saw Todd standing there about to topple over. She grabbed Rodd and they quickly went to Todd.



"You're awake, take it easy we've got you." As if by magic, the bed appeared close at hand. Rodd and Ms. Perkins guided Todd to the bed and made him comfortable. "You shouldn't have gotten up so soon. You've been in a dream state for a very long time."



"What the heck is that." Todd said.



"When you first came here as a young boy you came in a dream state and Tom came into being. While Tom was out, you slept. When you would awake, Tom would come home. But you ceased to sleep when you would escape here once you met Tom and Pete. I can see you're bewildered, you don't remember that do you." said Ms. Perkins.



"You're saying I was awake every time after I met Tom, Rodd and

Pete. If that's the case then why did you say I've been in a dream state for a long time and just how long are we talking about?" asked Todd.

"You need to understand that in the first six months you were so badly hurt all of us were incapacitated. But when your body came to and we awoke, you were with us and totally lost to us in a dream state. I realized that another Alter had appeared. His name is Samuel Toddman and he is that part of you that wanted to be the most like Sam and has your artistic talents. He has been living for you all this time. Now I know your next question. How much time? Todd, you've been gone for over seven years." Ms. Perkins kept a hand on Todd, keeping him from rising. "Relax, it's a shock but you have to come to terms with it, if we're to finish setting everything right."



"Shock! Lady you just told me I've missed out on seven years of my life. Hell yes it's a shock! I'm awake now, how come I'm still here?" Todd made a move to stand up, but his legs would no longer support him. "What is going on?"



"Todd, what is the last thing you remember?" asked Ms.Perkins.



Todd looked at her. What was the last thing he remembered? He tried to think back to his last waking moment, but all he got was a blank slate.  The harder he tried to see what should have been right in front of him the more obscure it got. Why couldn't he draw on his memories. The last thing he remembered clearly was Peter Manning dying. Even the memory of what he had done to Marty wasn't sharp. It had always been so clear something he had never forgotten but now he couldn't quite grasp it. "I don't know. The last thing I remember clearly is Peter Manning dying and my encounters with all of you. Why can't I remember my life after that? No. Wait! I remember Blair, Vicki, and Tea. I remember their faces, but that's it." Todd looked at Ms. Perkins and Rodd. "Why can't I remember?"



"We've been trying to figure that out for a long time. A recent turn of events has led us to believe that something was done to you during the six months that we all were out. That room and wall you saw us trying to get through is where all your memories are stored. We've only managed to make small dents in it until now. The pieces of memories that escape have been the basis for Samuel's artwork. You see, Samuel has no past memories either. The only memory Samuel had when he woke up, concerned his name and a safe deposit box. I believe that you chose the name Samuel Toddman as an alias and deposited funds at the bank where your trust fund had been kept. For some reason, the walls you put around us all those years ago to hide what Peter did to you, is the reason we're here now. Your natural walls kept us hidden from whoever put that barrier around the rest of your memories. Samuel saw Blair recently and that triggered a crack in the wall around your memories and we've been working to break down that wall. More and more cracks are appearing. If we can release your memories, we can discover what caused Samuel to appear. Then and only then will you be able to take back your life." Ms. Perkins gently pushed Todd down on the bed. "Don't worry. I truly believe you'll be getting out of here soon."



Todd laid down and tried to take in everything Ms. Perkins had just told him. Had he really missed seven years of his life? Just who had hurt him and why were his memories locked behind that translucent wall? No! He couldn't just lay here any more. He had been doing that for far too long. It was imperative that he get those memories back and soon. "I've got to get out, this is worse than prison. I need my life back whatever that is. I'll go crazy here. Someone trapped me here but why?" He looked over at Rodd and Ms. Perkins. "Well don't just stand there. Get that stupid wall down. I don't have all day. You guys are here to help me, get with it. Yeah, Yeah, Ms, Perkins, I'll stay put for now, but you know I don't have much patience you’ve got to get me out of here."



Ms. Perkins and Rodd left him and he settled down, turning so he could see what Samuel was up to. "I guess you and I need to meet soon Samuel. You're there because I obviously needed you, but I'm back now and it's time for you to come home."



Samuel was still thinking of the voices in his head as he headed into the sitting room. He looked at the girls surrounding him. Suddenly, as he looked at them, he saw three names. Vicki, Tea and Blair popped into his head. Those names,yes, he knew them, he felt himself drawn to his Muses. He looked at his sister's portrait and realized he was looking at Vicki. He turned to face Dee, but even as he did, he realized he was looking at Tea. But that still wasn't quite right, not to him. It was Tea,but he called her....he called her Dee for a reason, it was because...yes! He remembered! He called her Delgado. His precious Dee was Delgado. Did that mean? Of course, there was only one other name and it had to belong to his other beauty. The one who gave him so many moments to paint. Blair was his third Muse. Samuel had to sit down. His Muses finally had their names. Each name fitting its portrait. "How come I forgot all of you and why has it taken this long to remember. Better yet, what has happened recently to bring your names back to me?" Samuel tried to think back when everything really started to occur and he found himself going back to the morning he decided to pop in at the gallery.


Yes, that sudden headache when he saw that woman about to enter Tomas's Gallery. He looked at the girls and then everything became clear. "My God! That was Blair! Blair is here and she knows Tomas. I've got to find her." He started to get up but was suddenly hit with another jolt of pain. "Ahhh!" He leaned back into the couch clutching his head and praying for the pain to lessen. He was starting to black out when he heard a voice "You sap, don't you dare give in, too much is at stake. Come on .. you've been hurt worse...breathe through it...That's it.. Come on ...there you go... You got work to do... I need you Samuel." and as he listened the pain started easing up. Samuel's vision cleared. "Okay, That voice had some authority to it, whoever he was, he was good in a crisis." Samuel thought. Hmm maybe now wasn't quite the time to go looking for Blair. He still had to find out what Alex and the person behind her were up to. He had planned to wait to get back in touch with her, but something was driving him to get on with it. The delaying was over, it was now time for action.  Samuel reached for the phone. He put through the call to the Ritz. "Suite 240 please." Samuel waited as the phone rang.


"Hello," Alex had picked up the phone rather cautiously. The only one she could think of who would be calling was Carlo. After last night she still hadn't figured out how she was going to find Samuel and she was afraid Carlo might have realized that what she had told him last night wasn't true.


"Dear Alex, This is Samuel. It's lovely to here your voice today. I'm sorry last evening got cut so short just when we were beginning to get to know each other. I realized that my schedule for the rest of today was light and decided that I would indeed like to show you Paris. Please tell me you haven't already made plans for the day." Samuel said.


"My Goodness, Samuel I was just thinking of last night. I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear from you. I was afraid last night that you would not be able to see me any more and I felt truly sorry. I too felt like we were hitting it off last night . I would be delighted to spend the day with you. I have no plans. I'm all yours." Alex replied. She couldn't believe it. She was going to have another shot at Samuel.


"Excellent, I'm looking forward to spending more time with you also. Shall I pick you up in an hour?" asked Samuel. "The attire for today should be casual chic, my dear."


"Yes, That will give me plenty of time to pick out something I'm sure will please you. In an hour, then." Alex hung up quite pleased with the turn of events. Obviously she hadn't lost her charm. Today should prove to be interesting.


Samuel smiled as he hung up the phone. She had taken the bait. He looked at his girls.  "Ladies, it's time to find out what's been going down all these years. Something tells me that Alex is the one who's going to help me blow this whole situation wide open. I'm not who I was three days ago. I'm stronger, and whoever has been behind all of my troubles is about to find out that they can no longer control me. It's my life and I'm taking it back."



*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
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Monday, November 24, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 36

"Jewel, he's alive.  He's okay, Baby."  She kissed her daughter's head, but the baby was still distressed and crying.  "I'm sorry, Baby, no more tears, come on, Sweetie.  Oh, Todd," she said, and his arms went out as she walked at high speed toward him.  

"Let me take her," Shaun said, getting to Blair first, and she handed the baby to him, leaving her open to run into Todd arms, sobbing.  


"Oh my God, I thought. . . I was so . . . Todd, oh God," she cried.


"I'm all right.  Don't cry, Blair, you know I can't stand to see you cry.  Come on, the kids,  Especially Sam."


Behind them, Sam had opened the glass doors and had Ray's hand.  The two of them walked toward their parents, and Ray said, "Daddy?  Is Teddy gone home?"


"Yes, Ray," Todd said, his arms still around Blair, and Sam ran into their legs and hugged them.  He was still crying, and Todd, seeing his son's despair, picked him up and put him over his shoulder, while Jack picked up Ray and brought him into his father's line of sight. 


Todd reached out and touched his youngest son's hair and kissed his cheek.


Sam, who couldn't stop crying, was lying over Todd's shoulder, still making mewling noises as he cried.  "I don't want you to die, Dad.  Ever."


"Sam, Buddy, I don't want you to, either.  I won't leave you, Pal.  I won't leave you."


Blair, still crying, looked at Jack, who was holding Ray.  He said to her, "He totally saved us.  The mother bear noticed us after Ray called out to her.  Dad put us behind him and told us to run, and he called her the other way and ran.  She chased him, that was the last thing I saw.  That's when I came up here to get Shaun."  Jack was still out of breath, and Ray, now realizing everyone was upset, and seeing his mothers and brothers crying, put his head on Jack's shoulder, and his bottom lip came out past the top one.  He started to cry, silently.


Shaun said, "Sorry to interrupt all this, but my God, this little angel is the sweetest baby."  She had calmed down and cried herself into a nap.  Her hand was on her cheek, open-fingered.


"Mixie died," Sam said, crying harder.


Blair looked at Todd, and he had an expression that confirmed it for her.  He patted his son's back, and said, "Sam, Mixie saved your Old Dad, you know."


He perked up off Todd's shoulder and said, "Really?  Did he?"


"Yes.  He did.  I was in the tree, because the mommy bear was afraid I would hurt her babies.  So I tried to tell her, Mommy, don't worry, I won't hurt your babies, I didn't want you to hurt mine either.  Well, she doesn't speak human, so she got upset.  She was kind of coming up my tree to get me, when . . ."


"You were in a tree?"  Jack said.


"Uh, yeah, duh, don't you know you have to climb trees to get away from bears?"


Sam said, "No, not black bears.  They climb, too."


Todd looked at Blair, and he said, "Well, what do you want?  I grew up in Chicago."


"What happened next?"  Sam said, wiping his nose on his sleeve, almost forgetting his fears and sadness.


"I growled at the bear, because I figured maybe I could show her who's boss."


"Todd?"  Blair said, now losing patience.


"Yeah, well, that's what I did.  Anyway, it didn't work, and she got more pissed.  That's when Mixie went to the other tree, and barked at her babies, and the mom bear went off after him into the woods.  So he distracted her from getting up close and personal with me."


"Does that mean he died?"  Sam asked, cautiously.


"It might, Sam, I'm sorry."  Todd said, and the little boy put his head back down and sobbed more.


Blair took Ray and hugged him.  "You okay, Little Man?"


He shook his head, and said, "Teddy go home."


"Yes, the Teddy went home.  Everything's okay," she said, stroking his hair.  It was the same color as Todd's and almost the same length and texture.  She realized how beautiful her little boy was, and how much he resembled his father.  And for a moment, she flashed on Todd being that same age, being brutalized, and she again felt a wave of nausea.  She stopped, catching herself and leaning slightly forward with Ray in her arms, as Jack stepped in and took him back.  


Blair bent at the waist and pulled herself together.  She got the nausea waves under control and swallowed back bile.  Todd put a hand on her back, and said, "Babe, you all right?"


"Yeah, I'm okay.  Let's go in the house, all right?  If you want lunch it's there, but I think I need to rest.  I just feel . . ." and she went down.


"Shit!" Jack said, looking back, and Todd handed off Sam to Perzno and went to the ground beside her.


"Hey, Mommy, come on," he said, gently patting her cheek.


She opened her eyes.  "I just think I stood up too fast," she said.


"And old bear can't get me
."

"I thought we were losing you, Todd," she said, still shaking.


He helped her up to her feet, and when she still struggled, he picked her up like a bride and carried her to the house.


Sam was inconsolable, as Jack and Todd ate lunch.  Shaun had joined them.  Blair couldn't eat; her stomach was still in knots from the events of the day.  Sam pushed his food around on his plate, and was still breathing in small catches from his crying.  He said, "Dad?"


"Yeah, Buddy?"


"Are you going to find Mixie?  So we can bury him?"


Everyone fell silent.  Todd wasn't sure how to answer him, and Blair's eyes were filled with tears.  She stood up, and took Jewel.  "I'm going to nurse, I'll be back," she said, climbing the stairs.


Todd said, "I'll go look for Mixie when we're done eating, okay?"


"Yeah," Sam said.  "Dad, can I go up to my room, I don't feel so good?"


"I'll take you," Jack said, "I don't feel so good either, and we can feel crappy together, Runty."


"Okay," Sam said, and got up.  His motions were slow, and Jack grabbed him under the arms, and put him up onto his shoulders.


Sam said, "Jack, can I get down?"


"Sure, Puny, but you like that."


"No, I don't like that today.  Can we just walk up?"


Jack looked at his little brother, and said, "Sure, Squirt."


They vanished into the foyer, and Todd and Shaun could hear their feet on the staircase.


Shaun said, "That little fellow is really sensitive."


"He's had a rough day," Todd said, taking his plate, and offering to take Shaun's.  Shaun handed his to Todd after getting the last morsel off it.


"Should we go look for the dog?"


"I guess we should, but bring that damn gun, will you?"  Todd said.  "I guess there are no more treks into those woods for us."


"I'd say.  What made you go in that far, anyway?"


"Don't ask me, I don't know what I was thinking.  I guess I wasn't.  What a father, huh?  Bringing my kids into that kind of danger?"


"You grew up in Chicago, isn't that what I heard?  With a total bastard for a father, and you're questioning this?  You guys have been hiking every day this week, and even before.  And what about facing that bear alone and sending your kids to safety?  Give it a rest, will you?"


"I don't feel so great right now.  Just saying.  Blair's a mess, it's because of me.  Sam's destroyed."


"What mess would she be if those kids were mauled by that bear?  You saved them, and let's move on."  He got up.  


Todd followed, Shaun had the gun ready, and they went into the yard.  They searched for over an hour, calling to the dog, and did not get a return.  Finally, when they approached the clearing where the black pines were, that Sam had spotted for his pine cone collection, Todd stopped and looked right.  "There's my tree," he said, half smiling.  There were bear claw marks half way up the trunk.  


Shaun said, "Geesh, she was pretty close to getting to you."


"Well, maybe, but this is the place.  Mixie was at the base of that tree, right there."  He pointed.  


They walked toward the tree and forward, still calling for the dog.  After a while, Shaun said, "Look."


There were some branches and forest floor spotted with blood.  Todd said, "God.  I guess we got our answer."


"Maybe," Shaun said, continuing on.


After following the blood trail, they lost track because it seemed to cease and vanish.  There was a large area where the underbrush was tousled and disheveled, and they stopped.  "What do I tell my son?"  Todd asked.


"I don't know, but let's turn back.  Dogs have excellent hearing, he would have heard you calling him by now and come running.  You'll think of a way to explain this to Sam.  I just don't want us to get ourselves into anything else out here.  Not the greatest place to be, especially for you.  I hate to mention it, but you look kind of wrecked."


"Well, it wasn't a piece of cake with Yogi at the heels of my feet," he said.


"Yogi's a boy," Shaun reminded.


"Right," he said, and they turned back toward home.



When they had almost reached the house, Todd turned to Shaun and said, "Thanks, a lot, for everything you did for me and my family today," and he extended his hand.

The bigger man took it and shook it with a firm grip.  "Your kids were like my kids at one point.  I respect you, and what you've been through, and that's enough for me.  Besides, I didn't really do much.  I just did what I do, you know."


"Well, I appreciate what you do," he said, walking off toward the house.  


Shaun watched him go, and then called after him.  "Hey, Todd?"


"Yeah," he called back, not turning around.


"You got guts.  You saved those kids, put them first."


"Yeah, but there's a good reason for that," he said.  "I can't live without 'em."


Shaun stood in the yard for a while, watching Todd trudge his way to the door, and realized just then that his fine silk shirt was torn open in places, and in one spot, showed several faded scars on his back.  He saw him go to the glass doors, and watched Ray waiting for him.  Todd bent to pick the child up, and the small boy went into his father's arms immediately.  Todd put him over his shoulder, and comforted him.  "He probably never got that in his life," he heard himself say.  "You amaze me, Todd Manning, you really do."


***



"I can't forget Sam's face when I came back without Mixie," Todd said.  He was in his flannel pajama pants and matching henley t-shirt.  The top was a faint green that brought out the green in his eyes.  Blair watched him puttering around the room, readying their suite for bed.  

He was poking in the fire, and then came to Blair and sat, facing her.  She had Jewel in her arms, and was just wiping her little mouth from a recent spit-up incident.  "She overate, I think."


"Well, she's growing nice and strong.  Doctors say everything's good.  Mommy's good.  Life's good."


"Well, I'm glad.  I'm particularly glad that you can climb trees."


"Me too," he said, gently kissing her.


He swung his feet over and put his hands behind his head.  "I can't shake this feeling that Sam's so devastated.  He made himself sick crying."


"I know.  He does that, when he's really upset."


"He puked a while.  He can't hold down any food.  The poor little guy."


"Jack promised to bunk with him," she said.


"That might help a little," he said.  "Should I set the tent back up?"


"Maybe later.  Ask them if they want it."


"I just might."


"Okay, that sounds good."


Things were quiet for a few minutes, and she was resting her head back on the pillow.  "I can't wait to get back to normal.  Maybe as soon as Jewel is a little bigger and her feeding levels off."


"You will, maybe you'll even be able to come back to work.  After all, we have a nursery at The Sun.  Why not use it?"


"That's true," she agreed.  She closed her eyes.


She was startled when he jumped up.  "I just can't," he said, putting his coat back on.  "It's night, maybe he'll hear me and come home now."


"Todd, it's dark.  I don't want you in the woods."


"Blair, I don't want me in the woods.  I just want to try, from the yard, call him and see if he will come."


"Promise you won't go back into the woods, then?"

"I promise," he said, kissing her head, and leaning over and kissing Jewel's as well.  He scurried down the stairs and jumped to the landing, and then went to the doors that lead out to the yard.  He snapped on the stadium lighting, which caught Blair's attention and that of the boys. Within minutes, Jack and Sam, with Ray in tow, were in the master bedroom, looking out the glass wall and watching their father.


Jack said, "What is he doing?"


"He wanted to try for Mixie one more time." Blair said.


"I think Mixie died, Mom."  Sam said.  "Dad said he probably did.  I'm glad he saved Dad, but I miss him," he said, looking down.


"Now, wait, Runty.  Don't start blubbering again, okay?"  Jack said, with a kind tone.


"I won't," Sam said, choking back tears.  


They watched, and Jack said, "Can we open the door a little, Mom?"


"Sure, it's not that cold out," she said, and Jack opened the door so they could hear the echo of Todd's voice carrying.  


"He's calling Mixie," Sam said.


"Mitty!  Mitty!"  Ray copied after his father.


They saw Todd looking around and walking back and forth in the yard, and then watched as he came to a complete and sudden stop.  Jack said, "What the heck?"


Todd made his way toward the house, under the balcony, until he was standing near the snow pile that Sam had once jumped into.  He stood there, listening in the dark, and called Mixie's name again.  Blair said, "Let's go out on the balcony and see what he's doing, go get your coats."


The boys complied, and she carted Ray to his room to grab his jacket.  


All bundled up, everyone but Jewel stepped out on the balcony and watched.  Todd looked up and said, "Shhh.  Seriously."


They all got quiet, and he walked closer to the house.  Finally, he said, "Oh boy, guess who found a hiding place in the snow pile?"


"Mixie!" Sam called out and ran down the stairs.  Jack followed, and Blair took Ray back inside.  Ray was chanting, "Mitty, Mitty, Mitty!  Mitty home!"


Sure enough, the boys ran to the kitchen sliders in time to see Todd, carrying a whining Mixie toward the house.


"Oh, he's hurt!"  Sam said.


"At least he's not dead, Squirt."  Jack added.



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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Todd's Saga 30: Making Progress

        Todd and Sam were in the midst of strategizing when Dorian stormed into the living room.

“That man is insufferable.”

Todd looked up puzzled. “What man?”

“Your brother.  Who else would I be talking about?” Dorrian glared at Todd.  “He had the temerity to suggest I was a fool.  I will not tolerate him and his high and mighty attitude.”

Realizing the implications of Dorian’s comment, Todd jumped up. “Do you mean he’s awake?  Why the hell didn’t you call me?”

        Dorian gave Todd a withering glance.  “Since when am I your servant.  If I remember correctly, I’m here doing you a favor.”

        “Don’t tell me you left him alone up there because he bruised your ego.   Damn it, Dorian, maybe he’s right.  He could be trying to escape while we’re standing here talking.”  Not waiting for a reply from her,Todd took off for the stairs and took them three at a time hoping to catch Victor before he could get out of the house.

        Dorian gulped and sputtered in fury as Todd left her standing in the living room.  His insult reverberated in her head.  She fought the urge to yell after him.  She composed herself after noting that Sam Vance was staring at her and shaking her head.  “For your information, Ms. Vance.   I left one of your men watching Victor.  Of course, Todd will always assume the worse.  The man is just as unyielding and judgemental as his father.  I’ll never understand what Blair sees in him.”  She moved to the  coffee sitting on the bar and poured herself a cup.  Seeing all the papers lying around, her curiosity got the better of her.  “What have you two been plotting while I’ve been nursing his brother.  Does any of this have to do with Carl Peterson?”

        “Actually, Todd’s been trying to figure out why the organization has been so determined to get him and Victor, and why they kidnapped Clint Buchanan.  We found a number of powerful men that are acquainted with Carl that were also acquainted with Victor Lord Sr. and Asa Buchanan.  He said there were a couple you should see.”  Sam shuffled through a few of the files and found the ones Todd had mentioned.  She pick them up and offered them to Dorian.

        Dorian took the files and looked down at two very familiar names.  Her mouth pursed as she sat down and began reading the information they contained.  

        Sam watched.  She knew how volatile Dorian Lord could be and she sat back and waited for the explosion. 

        Dorian slammed the files down on the table in front of her and erupted in french. “Ces salauds pourris sales!   First they hung me out to dry, and now I see they were working with him.”  She got up, unable to sit still after what she had just read. She turned back to Sam waving her arm dramatically in the air at no one in particular.  “Bastards, all of them!  Carl was so charming, but I’m just a pawn to him.  He wined and dined me and all the time he was just using me as a front to stabilize his place in town.”  Dorian suddenly calmed down and carefully tugged the bottom of her suit jacket back into place.  “Tell me what I can do to help you.  I especially want to stick it to him where it hurts.” 

****

Todd ran into Victor’s room convinced the man was trying to get out by a window and instead found him lying on the bed, quietly talking to Viki. He came to an abrupt halt and then felt a flush go through him as he watched Victor break into his all knowing smirk.  It was the same look he had given when Todd had come forth the night of the Premiere.

“What’s the matter,Todd?  Not quite what you were expecting, huh.” Victor couldn’t help feeling a little gleeful. The moment Todd had burst into the room, Victor had realized Todd thought he had tried to escape.  It tickled him to know he had put one over on his twin.

Todd regained his composure quickly.  “What can I say?  The last time you were awake you tried to kill me.  I figured once you woke up and had the opportunity, you’d leave without saying goodbye.  Sue me for wanting to make sure I got my two cents in before you left.” 

Viki had been watching the exchange between her brothers.  The atmosphere in the room was charged with the enmity the two men had for each other.  She knew that Todd had saved Victor’s life but she also knew there was no love involved.  He had done it for her, Tea, and the kids, not for his brother.  She stood up, looked down at Victor for a minute and then walked to Todd.  “Stop.  You two need to find a way to talk without killing each other.  Whether you like it or not you’re brothers.  I know you never had a chance to get to know each other, but surprisingly you’re both more alike than you realize.  Don’t give me that face, Todd.  He’s not the enemy.  Our real enemy is Carl and his sister.  We need to work together if we’re going to bring them to justice.”  She met Todd’s eyes, waiting for him to respond. 

Todd knew Viki was right but he couldn’t help the bad taste in his mouth when he thought about being civil with his brother. He reluctantly nodded in agreement and saw relief flash across her face. “Fine, we’ll talk.  Why don’t you go see if you can calm Dorian down?  Victor appears to have ruffled her feathers.”  He watched her leave and turned back to his brother.  “Alright, tell me the truth.  Why didn’t you try and escape?”

“Hey, look at me.  I’m wounded, remember?”

“Oh please!  I never took you for a wimp.  I read you survived an execution.  I figured a couple of little bullet wounds wouldn’t hold you back.  After all your protestations about wanting to go back to Alison and her brother, I thought you’d take the first chance you got to sneak away.  I’ve got to admit I’m disappointed, or perhaps you’ve had a change a heart.”  Todd looked at his brother trying to read him.  The anger that had been there from the moment he had been captured seemed to be gone.  “What’s going on Victor?”

“Why did you do it?” asked Victor.  He looked at Todd warily.  He had asked Viki and she had merely said they didn’t want him to die.  He understood her, but Todd was another matter.

“Why did I do what?” 

“Why did you save my life.  I know you can’t stand me and the feeling is mutual.  So why did you do it?”

Todd shrugged. “I made a promise and I thought I’d try and keep it.  Besides, Clint’s in no shape to go to prison.”

Victor stared at Todd, then looked over at Viki’s cell phone that she had left on the side table.  “You made that promise to Tea, didn’t you?”  He looked back at Todd.  “You weren’t lying about her.  I know that now.”

“Good to hear.  So where does that leave us?”  Todd waited.  He needed to know if Victor was going to stop fighting them and help.

Victor struggled to sit up a little higher in bed. He gritted his teeth against the pain as his wounds protested the movement.  He leaned his head back against the pillow for a moment then looked at Todd. “I guess it means, I’m willing to listen to what you have to say, but not promising anything.”

“Fair enough.  This is what I know.  When you arrived in Llanview you had a tattoo on your arm and you were fleeing someone.  You still blamed me for shooting you and taking a year from you with Tea and Dani.  Then you went missing and I got a note from that same Tattoo organization saying they had you and I needed to finish what I started. I was also told to leave Llanview or everyone I loved would be in danger.   Everyone, Victor, including Tea and Dani.  So I left.”  

        Todd walked over and took the seat Viki had vacated.  “I searched for you at the address they gave me but it was a wild goose chase that finally led here and to a trap.  A trap I  narrowly escaped. They hadn’t just wanted you, they wanted me too.  I found out they had taken over Irene’s compound but I had no real proof you were there .  When things got too dicey I made it look like I had died and reinvented myself.  Since then I’ve been trying to find out more about the compound and who was running everything.”

       Victor looked around the room.  “Who did you reinvent yourself as, Rhett Butler?  I never would have figured you for a romantic, Todd, and this place is not really your style.”

       Todd glanced around the room, stalling for a moment.  It was uncanny how close Victor’s guess was. Maybe it was true what they said about twins and the way they think alike. His eyes met Victor’s and he answered him. “Yeah, you’re right there, but it’s one of the best places in town and as you say, not my style.  I figured no one would look for me in a place like this.  I’ve managed to start some new very profitable enterprises.  But for the time being, let’s just say who I am right now isn’t your concern.”  

      “Whatever."  Victor didn’t really care who Todd was calling himself these days.  But his finding out about the man behind Alison was big.  “So you looked into the compound and found out about Alison.  How did you find out about Carl?” 

       “I had some inside help for that.  He told me that Alison had a brother and from there it was a matter of finding out just who that brother was.  I  put my investigator on it and she finally got me a name.  You should be glad she brought me that information yesterday.  She was still in town and helped me stop you from bleeding to death.” Todd paused. Shocked he watched as Victor clutched his head and then he lost focus.

       Victor was lost in his own thoughts and was trying to wrap his head around the first thing Todd had said when words began pounding through his head.“The Organization must be protected at all cost. Repeat! The Organization must be protected at all cost.” He shuddered and said softly. “The Organization must be protected at all cost.  The Organization must be protected at all cost.” Victor was trapped in his head as he continued to repeat the statement.

       Todd got to his feet immediately as soon as the first words left Victor’s mouth.  “Damn it, Manning, now what do you do?”  Victor was obviously reacting to the intense programming Alison and Baker had put him through.  Something he had just said must have triggered it. He sat down on the bed next to his brother. There had to be some way to break the trance that Victor seemed to be in.  Okay Manning think.  You and Victor are twins.  Maybe just maybe you can change the phrase.  Irene had him programmed to listen to you.  What the hell, maybe you can get through to him.  “Victor, can you hear me?  I need you to listen to me.  The Organization is bad.  Do you hear that?  The Organization is bad. Repeat after me. The Organization is bad.”

       Victor suddenly changed his words. He began repeating Todd. “The Organization is bad.” 

       Todd couldn’t believe what was happening.  It was working.  He cringed inwardly knowing Irene was the one who had done this to his brother.  She had made him susceptible to all sorts of  evil and he had been her puppet.  In that moment, he felt sorry for Victor.   Victor’s  whole life, except for the last couple of years with Tea, had been years spent doing Irene’s work and then the Organization had gotten their hands on him.  Todd reached and laid a hand on his brother’s good shoulder. “Victor, stop.  It’s alright. It’s time to wake up. Listen to me. It’s your brother talking. Come back to me.”

       Victor heard Todd’s voice speaking to him and then the words registered.  Something inside broke free and or the first time in his life, he felt whole. He no longer felt compelled to say anything and his head had stopped hurting.  He blinked as Todd’s face came into focus and he felt his hand on his shoulder.  He wasn’t sure what to say at that moment.

      Todd was watching as Victor came out of the trance.  He felt a little awkward.  He wasn’t sure what had made him say what he did to Victor but it had felt right.  Victor was just staring at him and he let go of his brother’s shoulder.  “Um, good, you’re back.’  Todd stood up and put some space between them.  For one brief moment he had felt what it was like to care for his brother and he wasn’t sure what to do with those feelings yet.  He hated when he felt vulnerable and Victor was the last person he wanted to know that about him.  Thinking to put a stop to the strange new tension he said.  “You zoned out on me. Do you want me to get Dorian to check you out.”

       Victor shook his head no.  He had seen Todd’s face and the concern that had been on it before Todd had stood up.  He understood all too well what Todd was feeling at the moment because the same feelings were engulfing him.  For over two years he had hated the man standing  a few steps away and now suddenly all he wanted was to really get to know him.  There was so much more to Todd then his mother had drilled into him and he was now beginning to see it.  It was clear Todd wasn’t ready to talk about what had just happened, but Victor knew eventually they would have the time.  Right now it was important to do one thing.  He had been trapped and Todd had just saved him from that.  He owed him.  “Todd, Thanks.”

     Todd looked at him in surprise.  He hadn’t expected that. “Yeah sure. That’s what brothers do.  It was nothing.”  Damn, there was that word again.  You’re getting soft Manning.

     Victor smiled. “I guess.”  He saw Todd’s discomfort.  He teased. “We need to make sure Viki doesn’t hear about it.  She’ll be on us, trying to get us to join her family gatherings even more now.”

      Todd laughed suddenly. Victor was right. Viki was always big on family gatherings. She would say they were making progress.  The tension in the room eased and Todd sat back down.  “Well if you don’t want me to get Dorian, then I guess I’ll  catch you up on the rest of my story.  I’m sorry by the way, I should have realized I needed to be careful talking about Alison and Carl.  Both you and Clint are still too close to the situation right now.”

       Victor got pensive, he knew Todd was right.  After what had just happened, it was becoming clearer that Alison and her goons had indeed messed with his head.  One man in particular came to mind.  “Todd, your inside man wasn’t by chance Baker?”

      “Unfortunately he was.  I had no idea he went to work for Alison doing what he had done for Irene.  I swear to God, I would have pulled him out of there if I had known.  I knew what he was capable of but I figured he wouldn’t take the chance on losing my money.  I was wrong.  As soon as I realized he had been duping me, I broke in to find you and Clint.  Unfortunately he had already gotten you under their control.  I found Clint and was getting him out when you found us, the rest is history.” Todd shifted in the chair.  He had sent that madman back into the compound and the guy had tortured Victor and Clint.  It had been a mistake on his part to underestimate Baker’s greed and sadistic nature.  “I know it doesn’t help but I’m sorry.”

       Victor was a little taken aback.  “Well that’s a first. You just admitted you were wrong and you said I’m sorry.  Hell must have frozen over.” he said sarcastically.  “Still if you hadn’t taken me out of there by force, I’d still be under their influence.  So I’ll let you off the hook.”

       Todd knew Victor was taking their new relationship slowly. It worked for him. “Um , I hate to point it out to you but you’re still not totally free of their influence.  But we’ll get you and Clint some reliable help, I promise.  Just as soon as I bring Peterson’s whole Organization tumbling down around his ears.  No one threatens my family and gets away with it!”


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Failings of the Fathers: 35

Spring was on its way, the temperatures were warming, and some snow had melted away.  Of course, being on the mountain, the yard of Unforgettable still had various patches and piles of snow, especially the largest and tallest one in which Sam had jumped earlier that winter.  It was still towering over all the other snow piles, and there was a small hole at the base where Mixie had dug next to Todd.  

The change in the weather was bringing the itchiness into the kids that it always does for children.  Todd wasn't immune.  He began taking walks in the nearby woods with the boys, and Mixie, Ray at his perch on his father's shoulders, little chubby fists using Todd's hair for a harness, with Jack and Sam along, picking up interesting rocks or branches, and sometimes, mushrooms.  "Can we eat these, Dad?"  Sam might say.


"No, you can't eat any of them until I get a specialist in to check them.  But you can collect them, if you want to, and we can find out."


"Okay."  They would see the start of several beds of small, brown straw mushrooms with very long stems and put them into a bushel to bring home to the house.


It was still winter, by the calendar rules, but a thaw was around the corner and coming fast.  Weeks had passed, Jewel was on a more regular nursing schedule, and her appetite had picked up.  She weighed in at five and one-half pounds, and was alert and happy.  She still fit in Todd's palm, but more of her was hanging off the edges.  Bitsy was still at Mountainview, and still inside herself, and Todd and Blair and their family had moved forward into Manning Monotony with a certain excitement that other couples would never experience.  The duller, the better, for both, and the children flourished as well.  Jack was now on the honor roll, Sam continued to be, and Ray was getting faster, as well as more talkative.


In addition to these things that were at the heart of Todd's life, The Sun had become a bigger focus for him.  He was spending time at the office, a few days a week.  Blair was dealing with both Ray and Jewel pretty well on her own, with Todd's help.  


At times, Blair would come onto the patio with Jewel, the baby bundled up, and put the basket into the sun. They would enjoy the fresh air and watch the men go out to hike, or play touch football.  Ray was rarely off his father's shoulders, or not in his arms, or being chased by him.  Blair could see that her husband was working through everything he missed through every sacred moment with the boys.  And, she knew the idea of these times being sacred was inside Todd, not herself.  Each of his sons was at a different period that matched major upheavals in his life: Ray, just about three years old, with his active little body and long curls; Sam, pushing the age Todd had been when Bitsy left; and Jack in his later teens, which reflected the most volatile time of Todd's life.  Whether it was a matter of loss or gain, she knew it was what he wanted and what needed to happen.  She felt peace.


This would move into other parts of their lives.  She knew now, as time progressed, that he was different in so many ways.  He wasn't a straight arrow, by any means, and still would resort to any manner of making his business a success, with her along for the ride.  But, she recognized that he was more settled, and seemed to think things through more, mostly because he had his family life at the forefront and was desperately afraid to lose it.  It had been weeks, possibly months since he had woken from a nightmare, or experienced a flashback.  


He was happy.  


She knew it, even if he couldn't verbalize it; he was right where he had always wanted to be, and that meant that THEY were.  The family they had dreamed of, almost twenty years earlier, was there, and theirs.


On a sunny, brisk day in early March, Todd took the boys out again for another walk.  They trekked through the woods, and Sam was collecting acorns and pine cones.  Ray was singing a little song from atop of Todd, and both their hair was the same length; Little Ray's was touching down on his shoulders and so was Todd's.  He'd decided he didn't care about cutting it much, and had just let it go.  Jack's was also getting on the longer side, covering his ears, and falling into his face, as well as flipping out a bit at the neck.  Blair called to them, "Guys, I think it's time for lunch."


Usually, they could hear her, even a ways into the woodline.  Her voice carried enough to get their attention.  But this time, they had traversed into the woods deeper, in search of the "best pine cones."  Sam saw a small grove of black pines, and wanted to get more pine cones for his collection.  Dad can we go in more?"


"Yeah, but not much more.  Mom will have lunch ready soon."


"How much further can we go, Dad?"  Sam asked, as they walked forward.


Before he had a chance to answer, Sam stopped and said, "Dad?  What's that?"  Sam said, knowing what it was but asking, so he could deny it to himself.


Todd looked forward into the trees and saw a small, black bear, nuzzling into a hollow in a tree.  Immediately, he scanned the area around them looking for the mother.  There was another small black bear off in the distance, which must have been the second cub, and behind it, about 100 feet away, was the mother.  Todd immediately put his finger to his lips toward Sam, who nodded, and took Ray off his shoulders, handing him off to Jack, who was behind him.


Jack softly said, "Dad?" with evident fear in his voice.   


Todd was barely talking above a whisper.  "Back up, slow.  Don't go fast."  He pushed Sam behind him and with his other arm, he brought Jack behind him as well.  You're too freaking far in.  It will take at least 30 minutes to back the hell out of here.  Maybe they won't notice.  What do they say?  Black bears rather retreat?  Mixie was very still, looking in the direction of the bear family.   He was up ahead of them, and was not backing off.


Without warning, Ray called out, "Teddy, Teddy bears!"


The mother reared her head, and looked toward them.  Jack said, again, "Dad?"


He said softly, "Run, Jack.  Take Sam's hand and run!"


"Dad, no . . ."


"Now," he said louder, as the mother bear charged toward them.  Todd began making loud noises and running off to the left, and Mixie, following him, barked enough to distract the bear into following them, instead of the kids.  He ran, as fast as he could, with branches scratching at him and poking into his skin.  The dog, right by his side, was frantically barking and growling as they moved.


He saw a tall tree, ahead and scrambled to the base of it, starting to climb.  He made it up to the first level of branches and went higher, looking back.  The mother bear was there, nudging her babies up a nearby oak, and then coming to the base of the tree he clung to.


Jack, panting and near shock, ran toward the house with Ray, and Sam was slightly ahead.  Blair, who was just setting up lunch, looked out the glass doors and saw her sons, running frantically toward her.  She dropped the dish she was holding, and it shattered, scaring Jewel into small cries.  She threw the glass door open, just in time for Jack, without an explanation, handing off Ray to her, and taking off toward Shaun's cottage.  


Ray said, "Mommy?  Teddy in the woods!"


She gasped so loudly that it caught in her throat.  Jewel was still crying from the scare of the shattering plate, and Sam, who was pale and glistening with sweat, just looked at his mother.  She, putting Ray down, knelt in front of him.  "Sam?  What is it?"


"Mom, bears.  Two little ones and a Mother.  Dad, he told us to run, Mom.  He told us to run."  Her middle son could barely get the words out.


Blair, frantic, looked out the doors and saw Shaun, with a gun, and Jack, running back toward the woods.  Her breakfast somehow made its way back up into her throat, and she fought not to vomit.  She jerked Ray off the floor and put him into his pack and play, and said, "Sam, listen to me.  Stay here, stay here with Ray for a few minutes.  Please, baby."


He did as she asked, but started crying and pacing outside the baby's play area.  Perzno was now on his way out of his place, pulling the waistband of his pants together.  Blair had the baby, now in her arms against her chest, and began running down the yard, calling Todd's name.  Perzno got to her, and restrained her from going further.  He said, "Stay here.  I mean it, Mrs. Manning," and ran after Shaun and Jack.


Mrs. Manning.  That flashed through her mind and echoed.  She saw herself in front her:  On the phone, in the penthouse, hearing Todd was missing;  At the bar, remembering Todd when he was stranded on an island in the South Pacific.  Saying a last goodbye to Todd in the foyer of La Boulaie before he "died' in Mitch's plan at the tomb with Victor's body.  Watching Leona "work" on her catatonic husband.  Lying on the bed, next to him, as he let go of life in Ireland, before being revived.  She held the baby to her chest, and in her panic, she realized she was hyperventilating, and couldn't control her breathing.


"In there," Jack said, "around near a grouping of black pines," he said.


"Get back to the house and help your mother and your brothers."  Shaun ordered.


"Fuck no!  It's my father, Shaun!"  he shouted.


"Jack, they need you.  Your mother's got two small children . . ."


"Try and make me leave, because I'm not."  He led the way further into the woods.


In the tree, Todd looked back down to the large bear and saw that she was beginning to climb.  He knew, then, that she identified him as a threat to her babies, as he had seen her.  Realizing she was on her way up, he knew jumping down would injure him and make him easy prey.  The trees on either side were too far apart to move to, and his options were running out.  He decided to face her, from above and growl and yell loudly.  She backed off, for a moment, going to all fours on the ground, and as she moved her front paws back to the tree, Mixie began wildly barking at the base of the tree where the baby bears had found safety.  Todd watched, as the dog lead the mother bear deeper into the woods, giving him time to climb down and make a run for it.  He did, trying not to succumb to his exhaustion.


Using all of his remaining strength, he ran toward the woodline, and almost directly into Shaun, who upon seeing Todd's stricken face and sweaty appearance, took the gun and shot into the air.  Jack, who was not far behind the bigger man, saw his father and ran directly into his arms.  "Dad!" he said, crying onto Todd's shoulder.


"Hey, hey, I'm okay.  I'm okay."


"Dad, God," the teen said, and Todd held him close.


"I heard the dog," Shaun said.  Perzno finally arrived on the scene.


Todd looked up from his son, and said, "He lead them away.  The mother was coming up the tree for me."  Then, he shook his head "no."


"Let's go back.  Blair's probably a mess."  Shaun said.


Perzno said, "She was frantic.  Out of control."


Todd didn't like the sound of that, and wanted her to know he was okay.  He took his cellphone out of his pocket and texted her.


Babe.  Old Winnie the Pooh can't get me.  I'm Todd Manning.

Blair felt her cell in her pocket go off as she stood, in the middle of the yard, right where Perzno had made her stop, holding Jewel.  Both of them were crying.  Sam and Ray were both at the glass doors, their faces and hands pressed against the windows, watching their mother.  Ray was quiet, now, as Sam had told him to be, by using Bitsy's technique.  Sam was sobbing, without sound, and his face was red and wet.


She took her cell phone out, still holding Jewel close to her and opened it.  Reading the last message, she fell to her knees, gripping the baby carefully in her hands, and sobbed.  "Todd," she cried, and within a moment, she could see him coming out of the woods with Shaun, Perzno and Jack.  The latter was practically hanging off him as they made their way up toward the house.


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