Jamie followed Jason away from the deck at the front of the house and down the cobblestone path going to the left. They went down along the edge of the garden and then out towards the tall trees at the edge of the grass. Walking along Jamie once again looked around and marveled at the surroundings. Other than their footsteps it was totally quiet, so quiet in fact that Jamie almost imagined that he could hear his own heart beating. Jamie had never experienced such peaceful surroundings as these and he wondered to himself how long his stay here was going to last.
"Where are we going, Jason?" asked Jamie.
"I want you to meet Tails," replied Jason. "And by the way call me Jay."
"Tails? Who's Tails?" said Jamie.
"You'll see. You'll like Tails," answered Jason with a big smile.
The paving stones that the pathway was made from ended where the grass of Graham's garden area met the trees and a thin bare trail took them straight into the middle of the forest. Fallen tree branches crunched under their feet as they walked along and Jamie looked about with interest as they went. The forest floor was strewn with large bright green ferns everywhere Jamie looked and moss hung from the lower branches of the trees in addition to growing on the fallen limbs laying scattered about on the ground nearby.
Here and there Jamie could hear birds occasionally calling out in various tones from the branches overhead. It was a completely different world from the city. Jamie thought he knew what a forest was like from walking in the parks back in the city but this was quite different from the small managed bits of forest he had encountered before. Of course the reason for going into the forest was different this time as well. Today Jamie was going on an adventure and not searching for a place to sleep. The change in purpose gave the walk through the tall trees a whole new feeling and Jamie was enjoying the sensation immensely.
After they had been walking steadily for a couple of minutes Jason stopped next to a large fallen tree and sat down on it. Then much to Jamie's surprise, Jason began to look around and started making strange almost kissing-like noises with his lips.
"What are you doing, Jay?" asked Jamie.
"Shhh. Watch and you'll see," said a smiling Jason.
Then as Jamie watched with amazement a large brown squirrel came down a nearby tree and ran up onto the log that Jason was sitting on. Jason continued to make the sounds and the squirrel stopped about two feet away from him, sat up on its hind legs, and began to twitch its bushy tail.
"Oh wow," whispered Jamie.
"This is Tails," said Jason with a grin. "I named him that because of the way he twitches his tail all the time."
Jamie watched open-mouthed as Jason reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some peanuts and began to feed them to Tails. When Jason offered each peanut in turn Tails took it in his front paws and carefully ate it while sitting up.
Jason moved slowly and shifted himself to sit on the log cross-legged and put a peanut on the top of one of his knees. Tails promptly came over, reached up, and took the peanut and ate it. Then Jason put another peanut a bit further up his leg. Tails then climbed up on top of Jason's leg, took the peanut, and sat there while eating it.
Jason grinned at Jamie who was absolutely amazed by what he was seeing. Jamie had never managed to get this close to a squirrel before and the idea of having one climb up on him to eat astounded him. He watched closely as Jason continued to feed peanuts to Tails who promptly ate each one as he took it from Jason's hand.
"Want to try feeding him?" asked Jason while holding out some peanuts to Jamie.
"Can I? Really?" said an excited Jamie.
"Sure. Just hold one out to him and don't make any sudden moves or you'll frighten him," replied Jason.
Jamie took the peanuts from Jason's outstretched hand and held one out to Tails. The squirrel moved over on Jason's leg a bit and plucked the peanut right out of Jamie's hand and began to eat it. As soon as Tails finished it Jamie held out another and the squirrel took that as well. When Jamie finally ran out of peanuts the squirrel sat up and sniffed in Jamie's direction looking at him expectantly. Then Tails jumped down off Jason's leg and ran over to where Jamie was standing. The squirrel moved up and stood on Jamie's foot, placed his front paws on Jamie's pant leg, and looked up at him hopefully.
"Here's a couple more," said Jason handing Jamie the few remaining peanuts from his pocket.
"Thanks," said Jamie.
Jamie took the peanuts and kneeling down began to feed them once again to Tails. While the squirrel waited for each peanut he rested his front paws on Jamie's pants and then reached up to take the next peanut from Jamie's hand.
After the last few peanuts were exhausted Tails sniffed around Jamie's hands to check if there were any more. Realizing that was the end of the treats Tails ran over to the tree he had come down and then went back up it.
"What do you think of Tails?" asked Jason with a grin.
"That's the most amazing thing I ever saw," said Jamie with delight. "They always ran away from me whenever I'd see them in the parks back in the city."
"They do here too mostly," said Jason. "Tails is used to me though. I've been feeding him peanuts for a long time so he knows me and feels safe around me. Let's go this way and I'll show you the stream where I go fishing sometimes."
Jamie followed Jason on a small detour away from the trail they had been following and soon they were standing on a dilapidated footbridge going over a small stream that flowed along gently through the forest. Here and there along the edges of the stream were eddy pools that trout could be seen swimming in. While they watched the head of a fish briefly popped up out of one of the eddy pools to catch a bug that had landed on the surface of the water.
"Sometimes I like to come here to fish, the trout here are really great," said Jason. "Other times though I also like to come just to watch the fish in the water and to just listen to the wind in the trees."
"Wow look at them all," said Jamie. "It's beautiful out here. So different from what I'm used to seeing every day."
"Come on, let's get going over to my place and I'll show you my computer," said Jason.
The two boys walked back towards the trail that they had been following. After another couple of minutes of walking through the forest, they came to a cleared and grassy area with a small house situated in the middle of it. There were a few small empty flower beds and there were a number of currently bare fruit trees scattered about as well.
"This is my house," announced Jason.
"Does everyone live like this here?" asked Jamie. "I've never seen places like this in the city. You have so much room."
"No, there's one part of the island near the bay where the houses are all close together like in a city. But most people live here because they like having a little more space so they don't feel all squished together," replied Jason. "I've gone over to the city sometimes but I don't like it there and I'm always glad to get back to the island."
"I sure wish I could live in a place like this instead of ..." and Jamie's voice trailed off.
Suddenly Jamie spotted something and pointed and said excitedly, "Look over there, I don't believe it!"
Jason looked where Jamie was pointing and smiled, "Oh, that's Kushe-suksi."
"What does that mean?" asked Jamie.
"It's an Indian name. It means Great Deer," replied Jason. "He comes here to eat the grass and in the summer sometimes the flowers too. Dad chases after him and tries to stop him from eating the flowers but he just keeps coming back anyway. Be completely quiet, don't move suddenly, and follow me slowly."
The large white-tailed deer was busy nibbling away at the grass as Jason slowly led Jamie towards him. Walking very carefully Jamie followed Jason as he moved closer. The deer looked up and watched Jason intently but did not run away as they approached.
"Watch this," said Jason softly as he slowly reached out and ran his hand gently over the deer's flank. While Jason stroked his hand gently over the deer's side it lowered its head and resumed nibbling at the grass clearly unconcerned about Jason being close or touching him.
"That's incredible. How do you get him to not run away?" asked Jamie quietly so as not to frighten the deer.
"Animals have a strong sense of who is dangerous and who isn't," answered Jamie. "They know I would never hurt them and they're used to seeing me around. That's why they aren't afraid of me. A wise Indian man I know taught me how to talk to the animals and if you do it right then they aren't scared of you."
"Talk to the animals?" said Jamie incredulously. "That's crazy. No one can talk to animals."
"Sure they can if you know how," continued Jason. "Haven't you said something to Cindy and didn't she understand you?"
"Yes, but that's different," said Jamie.
"Not at all, it's all in how you do it," explained Jason. "My friend Pony Twofeathers is an old medicine man and he taught me how people don't pay attention to nature anymore. How if you listen to the sounds of the forest and what the animals are saying to each other you can tell what kind of weather is coming, who else is in the forest, and all kinds of things."
"But it's quiet out here. You can't hear anything," said Jamie.
Jason replied, "You're still using your city ears. You need to unlearn those ways and then you can begin to hear the sounds in nature. Nature is never quiet if you know how to watch and how to listen. Once you open yourself to it you can hear it inside you and communicate with it."
While Jason explained Jamie looked on and was profoundly impressed with the wisdom of a boy who was no older than himself. Jamie wondered if he might be around long enough to learn some of the things that Jason was describing to him. Although it initially sounded far-fetched, after giving it some thought Jamie realized that what Jason was telling him did make sense. Surviving on the streets Jamie had learnt to read the signs, to hear the sounds, or notice things in people that made the difference between surviving and becoming a victim. The language and signals here were going to be very different but the basic concept was the same. Jamie then realized that it would be a matter of being taught, getting to know the environment, and not being oblivious as most people usually were to their surroundings.
Leaving the deer behind Jamie followed Jason up towards the house and they went through a door in the back. After taking off their coats and hanging them on hooks in a tiled area just inside the door, Jason led Jamie down a hallway and into the kitchen where his mother was busy stirring something in a large mixing bowl.
"Hi Mom," said Jason. "This is Jamie. He's a friend of Mr. M's."
"Nice to meet you, Jamie," said Jason's mother as she added some chocolate chips into the bowl while looking up from the cookie dough that she was mixing with a smile.
"Hello, ma'am," replied Jamie quietly while looking slightly downwards and avoiding direct eye contact.
"You don't have to call me ma'am," said Jason's mother in a friendly tone. "If you're a friend of Graham's that means you're now a friend of ours. So just call me Kathy."
"Um, yes ma'am ... Mrs. ... Kathy," stammered Jamie feeling very uncomfortable and still avoiding looking directly at Jason's mother.
"I'm going to show Jamie my computer," announced Jason as he took Jamie by the hand and went out of the kitchen.
Walking up the stairs to his bedroom Jason said, "You're going to love this game I've got, it's really great."
"Are you sure your Mom won't mind me being here?" asked Jamie hesitantly.
"No way, she'll think it's great I've got a new friend," replied Jason happily.
Jamie smiled as he heard Jason refer to him as a friend. It was hard to have or keep friends while living on the streets and the few he did manage to make tended to disappear without a trace after a period of time. Jamie often wondered what had become of the boys that had vanished but he tried not to think too much along those lines. The answers he knew all too well were not particularly pleasant.
"You've got a TV in your room!" exclaimed Jamie as they entered into Jason's room.
"It's an old one but it's mine," replied Jason. "That way if Mom and Dad are looking at a movie I can watch something else if I don't like it."
"Wow," said Jamie taking in the other things in Jason's room, then adding slowly, "But ... don't you have to do stuff to get all these things?"
"I've got chores to do sometimes," said Jason not understanding Jamie's question.
"Just chores?" asked Jamie dubiously. "Nothing else?"
"What else would I have to do?" asked Jason not following Jamie's line of questioning.
"Oh nothing," replied Jamie quickly covering up and not completely believing the answer that Jason had given him.
"Look at this," said Jason as he turned on the display screen for his computer and then started the machine up. "It's the latest model. Mr. M. talked to a sales guy at a computer company he did some work for that owed him a favour and helped my dad get it at a discount for me."
After the machine was running Jason started up the game program and grabbed the hand controls that had been sitting on the side of the desk and gave one to Jamie. Jamie sat next to him on Jason's bed and watched closely as Jason showed him how to play the game.
Watching Jason closely Jamie quickly picked up on how to play the game and after a couple of solo demonstration runs Jason then switched the game into dual-player mode so they could play against each other. At first Jason was beating Jamie handily but in short order Jamie was catching on to the subtle tricks needed and began to give Jason serious competition.
Totally absorbed in the game neither boy noticed right away when Jason's mother entered the bedroom. However, within a few seconds, the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies collected their attention away from the game.
"Here you go, boys. I thought you could use a little treat," said Kathy as she passed over the plate of cookies she had balancing on top of two glasses of juice.
"Thanks a lot, Mom," said Jason taking the plate of cookies from his mother.
"Thank you, ma'am ... I mean Kathy," replied Jamie quietly still avoiding Kathy's eyes. "You didn't need to do this."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all. I know you boys need lots of brain food when you're hard at work," Kathy chuckled as she left the bedroom to go back down to the kitchen.
The game continued and as it did the cookies on the plate gradually disappeared along with the juice. Eventually, Jamie completely caught up to Jason and was just about to overtake him when out of the corner of Jamie's eye he saw a large shadow appear at the door at the bedroom door.
"Hi, there boys. Who's winning?" boomed a deep voice from a tall muscular broad-shouldered man standing in the entrance to Jason's bedroom.
"Hey Dad, you're home from work!" said Jason happily. "This is my new friend Jamie. He's staying over at Mr. M's place."
Looking up and suddenly seeing the big man standing in the doorway Jamie's face blanched. In a flash, he had dropped the game controller he was holding and was moving fast. He leapt from the bed as if struck by lightning and now was standing with his back against the wall and was facing the man with his eyes locked onto him.
"Hello Jamie, I'm Frank Tomlinson," said Jason's father pleasantly while walking fully into the room and extending a large hand towards Jamie.
The abject terror in Jamie's face was plain to see but nevertheless, the petrified boy slowly put his hand out and let Frank shake it. The moment that Frank let go of Jamie's hand the frightened boy snatched it back while remaining glued against the wall. Jason saw that Jamie's eyes remained trained on his father watching his every move. Jason had seen this kind of look before but only in a wild animal that was cornered and knew it was about to be attacked or killed. It was the same reaction Cindy had when Graham had first introduced her to Jason after he had rescued her from her previous owners.
"Is everything OK Jamie?" asked Frank with concern.
"Yes sir. I'm OK," stammered Jamie his body visibly trembling. "I didn't do anything, honest I didn't. I was just sitting quietly and not touching anything."
Jason and his father exchanged a glance with each other and were not quite sure how to respond to Jamie's panic-stricken reaction. Frank backed away a couple of steps from Jamie and knelt down so he did not appear as large from Jamie's point of view. Despite this however Jamie remained plastered against the wall and watched Frank's slightest movements like a hawk.
"Everything is OK Jamie. I just wanted to say hello to Jason's new friend," said Frank gently.
"Yes sir," replied Jamie formally like a soldier facing a firing squad. The blood had drained from Jamie's face and its whiteness clearly attested to his continuing deep fear. Frank could also tell Jamie did not believe his good intentions for a split-second.
Realizing that the best course of action, for now, was a retreat Frank stood up and backed out of Jason's bedroom and as he did a visibly relieved Jamie let out his breath. Jason looked over to Jamie with concern and patted the bed next to him to indicate to Jamie that he should come back and sit down next to him.
"It was really bad at home wasn't it," said Jason gently after Jamie hesitantly sat down again next to him.
"Bad enough I finally had to run away in the spring," replied Jamie still shaking from fear.
"It was your dad that hurt you," said Jason as a statement and not a question.
Seeing Jamie nod silently Jason added, "I guess that means you're kind of scared of Mr. M. too aren't you?"
"Yes, but I have to do what I have to do if I want to eat," answered Jamie.
Not quite understanding Jamie's answer Jason asked a final question, "Where have you been living since you left home?"
"The corner of Knight Avenue and Wharf Street," whispered Jamie with his head lowered.
Jason's eyes opened wide as a full understanding of Jamie's life finally came to him. Hearing the well-known pickup spot being provided as a home address was not quite what Jason had been expecting. Jason realized when he first saw Jamie that things in the boy's life were not what they should be, but he had not been expecting this. It explained a lot but opened up an equal number of new questions.
Seeing the look of shock on Jason's face Jamie started to get up and said quietly, "I'd better go now. You don't want me around anymore now that you know what I am."
"No, no. Don't go," said Jason putting his arms around Jamie. "You're my friend and I don't care about any of that stuff."
"But what about your parents? They're going to get mad when you tell them," said Jamie.
"No they won't. Besides I'm allowed to have whoever I want for a friend. And I want you," said Jason with finality. Getting up off the bed Jason picked up the dropped game controller and handed it back to Jamie and said, "Here you play a game yourself for a minute, I'm going to go and get us some more cookies."
"I can't believe what just happened up there," said Frank to his wife. "That boy was absolutely terrified of me, Kathy. I walked into Jason's bedroom and you wouldn't believe how he reacted. You'd have thought I was about to murder him or something. He couldn't have been any more scared of me than if I'd walked in carrying a knife dripping blood. It was unbelievable, like he'd just seen the devil himself walk in."
"You are a bit of a devil sometimes you know," Kathy said elbowing Frank.
"This is no joking matter," continued an exasperated Frank. "That poor boy was frightened out of his mind."
"I know," said Kathy softly. "He wasn't exactly thrilled to see me either when Jason brought him over. Something isn't right at home with his parents I can tell you that much without even asking any questions."
Just then Jason slipped quietly into the kitchen and said, "Mom, Dad, I need to talk to you for a second."
Frank and Kathy looked on with pain as Jason told them what he knew of Jamie while leaving out Jamie's mention of what he had been doing in order to survive. Frank looked at Kathy and both could tell that Jason had not told them everything he had learnt but they trusted their son and did not prod Jason to reveal everything.
"Mr. M. said that he found Jamie asking people for change to get food to eat. He was also wondering if maybe he could borrow some of my old clothes for Jamie," added Jason after briefly outlining the fact that Jamie had run away from home and had been living on the streets.
"Oh, of course, he can," said Kathy. "Oh my goodness the poor little dear. It's no wonder he acted the way he did. Whatever it was that happened at home it must have been terrible for him to have to run away. He seemed awfully shy with me but given how he reacted to your father it's a safe bet that his own father must have been at the heart of whatever it was."
"I don't know what it was he did to that boy but I think I want to meet this father," said Frank darkly. "If Jamie's reaction to me is any indication of what the guy is like it's going to be a very short conversation."
"Jamie's had to do some things to be able to eat and I don't want him to have to do that anymore," said Jason sadly.
"Do you mean ...," asked a horrified Frank.
"I really want to help him if I can," said Jason avoiding answering the question.
Frank and Kathy exchanged a shocked look and both understood what Jason was telling them while nevertheless avoiding a direct answer. Frank swallowed heavily as his mind started down the path that Jason had indicated and the obvious conclusions that followed where not happy ones.
"Make sure that Jamie knows that we'll do anything we can to help him," said Frank. "And let Graham know too."
"I have to get back now. I don't want Jamie to start worrying," said Jason quickly grabbing a couple of extra cookies to take back with him.
Jason walked back into the bedroom and sat down next to Jamie on the bed. Jamie was engrossed in the game on the computer and Jason could see that Jamie had learnt fast and was quickly racking up the points.
"Sorry I took so long," said Jason as he handed Jamie one of the cookies he had brought from the kitchen. "Mom wanted me to help her with something in the kitchen."
"That's OK," said Jamie putting down the game controller and taking the cookie Jason was offering him.
"You catch on fast," said Jason in between bites of his cookie. "It took me a month to get that good."
"Sometimes playing video games is all there is to do," said Jamie. "That is if I have any money. The arcade is also a good place to maybe find someone that'll ..."
"You won't have to do that anymore now that you're over here on the island with Mr. M.," said Jason as he picked up one of the game controllers and started a new game so they could play together.
"It'd sure be nice," said Jamie wistfully.
"Things are going to different for you now," said Jason. "I just know they will be."
Jamie and Jason played a few more rounds and after ending up virtually tied Jamie was once again smiling and happy. Jason looked out the window and saw that it was beginning to get dark. With the coming of winter the sun went down much earlier than in the summer and it would not be long before the stars would be visible in the cold and cloudless night sky.
"I should probably show you the way back to Mr. M's place," said Jason. "You're new here and you might get lost in the forest trying to get back at night."
"Oh right, I hope Graham won't be mad at me. He didn't say how long I could stay away," said a worried Jamie.
"Oh don't worry about Mr. M.," said Jason with a laugh. "He's the world's biggest pussycat."
Jamie looked at Jason with a doubtful look even though everything that Jamie had seen of Graham to this point supported Jason's assertion. Nevertheless, Jamie's past experiences with men were hard to ignore and the fact that Graham had not become mad thus far did not prove anything. Jamie knew what men were like and he knew that they could change character in an instant.
Getting up off the bed and turning off the computer the two boys went back downstairs. Soon they were standing in the tiled area next to the back door putting on their coats and shoes getting ready for the walk back to Graham's house.
Jamie heard the sound of feet and looked up to see Kathy standing in the hallway holding a large package wrapped in brown paper. She smiled at Jamie and said, "Could you take this over to Graham for me, Jamie?"
Jamie walked over slowly and still avoiding direct eye contact took the package from Kathy saying, "Yes ma'am ... Kathy. And thank you for the cookies they were really good."
"I'm glad you liked them," replied Kathy. Then taking a second small package from Frank who was standing behind her she added with a smile, "And here's a little something just for you."
Jamie looked puzzled but then he smiled as he detected the aroma of more freshly baked chocolate chip cookies coming from the slightly warm package.
"Oh thank you. This is wonderful," said Jamie with an enthusiastic smile looking up at Kathy directly for the first time.
"I hope you'll come over and visit Jason and us again soon," said Frank cheerfully while standing back behind Kathy.
"Yes sir," said Jamie quietly while backing up towards the door to the house, the smile on his face vanishing as quickly as it had come.
With Jason's parents watching on with concern Jason led Jamie out the door and back towards the forest for the return walk to Graham's house.
"I think you should call Graham," said Kathy after the door closed behind the boys.
"Yes, I think you're right. I'm not sure what we can do but that boy needs help," replied Frank.