Jamie and Jason walked back along the trail between Jason's and Graham's house. With the sun now almost gone the forest was rapidly cloaking itself in dark shadows and seemed very different than it had earlier in the day. The sounds of the animals and the air moving through the tree branches earlier in the day had seemed so inviting but now seemed a bit intimidating to Jamie.
"Don't you get scared walking around out here when it gets dark at night?" asked Jamie.
"No, there's nothing to be scared of out here," replied Jason simply.
"But what about wild animals?" asked a somewhat nervous Jamie.
"What kind of wild animals? You mean like a bear or something?" asked Jason.
"I guess you think I'm being silly don't you?" said Jamie feeling a little embarrassed.
"Not at all," said Jason. "There's nothing on the island like that though. No dangerous animals at all. Well except the one kind ... but you already know all about that sort I think."
"I sure do," sighed Jamie.
"Jamie, you don't ever have to tell me anything, not ever, but ... you really got scared when my dad came into my bedroom," Jason said carefully. "Did your father hurt you a lot?"
Jamie stopped walking and looked off into the darkness for a minute and then said quietly, "He used to ... do stuff to me and when I'd try to stop him he would beat me until I gave in. He's kind of big like your dad is and I just ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean your dad is like bad or something. It's just that whenever mine would show up I knew it was bad news for me."
"Didn't your mom try to stop him?" asked Jason.
"She was too busy holding the camera," whispered Jamie with his head lowered.
Jason's heart ached as he listened to Jamie's words and he sat down on a nearby log and motioned for Jamie to sit beside him.
Putting his hand on Jamie's knee Jason looked at him said, "Don't ever feel ashamed about it, not ever. It wasn't you. You were forced into it. They're the ones that should be ashamed. I just want you to know that my dad and my mom won't ever do anything like that to you. The same goes for Mr. M. My dad looks big and tough on the outside but he's really just a big fuzzy teddy bear on the inside. I guess you've not seen many nice guys though have you?"
"You don't living the way I have to," said Jamie quietly.
"Now you know two of them. Mr. M. and my Dad," said Jason. "They're both great, just in different ways."
"I guess. It's just so hard to trust anyone," said Jamie not completely convinced. "Even the ones that seem nice at the beginning always turn out mean eventually and then I have to run again."
"I'm your friend now and you'll always be able to trust me," replied Jason with a big smile. "I won't ever let you down. If you ever think that you need to run again please tell me and I'll help you. I want you to be happy here for a long time."
"I've never been able to stay anywhere for very long," said Jamie.
"I think this time will be different," said Jason. "I'm sure that we're going to be friends for a long time."
They got up and walked along in silence for a few minutes and then noticing how Jason always seemed to know which way to turn Jamie said, "Don't you ever get lost out here?"
"No, I know my way around the woods. After a while, you recognize the different trees and things just like in a city you recognize the brown house or the yellow house when you're walking along a street. And even if you do get lost nature tells you where you are and how to find your way around," said Jason while pointing up towards the stars that were just starting to peek through the treetops in the rapidly darkening sky.
"You don't see many stars in the city," said Jamie.
"That's because there are too many street lights and because the air is dirty. You'll like it here better. The sky has so many stars it almost looks like it's on fire when it's totally dark," said Jason. "Have you ever seen the Northern Lights?"
"What's that?" asked Jamie.
"It takes your breath away the first time you get to see it," answered Jason. "I saw it when I was visiting my cousins down east during the Easter holidays. There are these big ribbons of colour that hang from the night sky. They can be blue, green, yellow, red, or gold. It's from the sun's rays hitting the magnetism of the earth but that makes it sound boring. Pony says it's the 'fire from heaven that soothes the mortal soul'. I think that's a lot nicer way to describe it."
"It sounds really neat but I don't think I'll ever be able to go there to see it. I don't even know how long I'll be allowed to stay here," said Jamie quietly.
"Don't give up hope Jamie," said Jason taking Jamie's hand in his. "We'll figure out something I know we will."
"He did what?" said Graham into the telephone.
"I'm telling you Jamie was absolutely petrified when I popped into Jason's room to say hello when I got home from work," came Frank's voice over the telephone. "His face was as white as a sheet and he was literally trembling. All I did was walk in for just a minute to shake his hand."
"I'll bet it's because of his father," said Graham. "Jamie has told me some of what happened to him and between what he's said and what he hasn't said it's obvious that he was badly abused at home. He ran away and I found him begging for quarters on the sidewalk yesterday next to the office. He was dirty, hungry, and you should have seen the old torn clothes he had on."
"If his reaction to me is any indication it must have been pretty bad," said Frank.
"I think you can safely assume that," said Graham. "After he finished washing up at my place in town I could see scars on his back."
"Scars?" said an astounded Frank. "What kind of scars?"
"The kind you used to see on the slaves in old movies," said Graham slowly. "The kind you get from being whipped."
"Whipped?" said an astounded Frank. "That would explain it then. His father must have been doing it. No wonder he was terrified of me. He must have thought I was going to tear into him."
"That's my best guess," said Graham. "Probably the father is a big guy like you are and the vague resemblance was all it took to set Jamie into panic mode."
"Kathy said he wouldn't even look up at her so I'll take a guess the mother was part of it too," said Frank. "You know we have to do something about this."
"Oh I'm going to," said Graham. "I just thought I'd let Jamie have a few days of peace and quiet first. He doesn't know me at all and I want to let him get to know I'm not a threat to him before I stir the pot and get him upset by poking my nose into his life."
"When the time comes you let me know when you're going back to town and I'll come with you," said Frank.
"I've been mulling it over in my head about what I can do," said Graham. "Somehow I have to get the authorities involved but from what Jamie's told me they're on automatic pilot and when he's been picked up before all they've done is just hand him back to his parents for more of the same treatment. They didn't listen to anything he tried to tell them. There's got to be a way though to get them to wake up and pay attention."
"Let me have a talk with Kathy tonight," said Frank. "Maybe we can come up with some ideas that might help. We can't let him get sent back for any more of that."
"That's what's been stewing in my mind," said Graham. "Trying to figure out an angle so he won't get hurt anymore. That and so he won't have to live the way he has been."
"Jason hinted that Jamie mentioned something about that," said Frank. "Is it on the level?"
"From the way, he looked when I first saw him and the little he's told me, unfortunately, begging for quarters wasn't the only thing he's had to do in order to eat," said Graham sadly.
"Oh no," said Frank slowly. "I'm glad you brought him home with you if that's what he's had to do. No one should ever be forced into a life like that just to survive and especially not a youngster."
"When I first saw him sitting on the sidewalk I was only thinking about getting something for him to eat but the more I saw and the more I learnt I realized that I couldn't just stop there," said Graham. "I have no idea where this is all going. All I know is that I have to do something."
"You know you can count on us all the way," said Frank.
"Thanks. That means a lot to me," said Graham. "I haven't a clue what I'm getting myself into yet but I'm not going to let him go back to that life if I can possibly help it."
"We'll figure it out together don't you worry," said Frank. "I'd better let you go now. They'll be getting back to your place in a few minutes. I just wanted to let you know something was up in case you didn't already know."
"Thanks for calling," said Graham. "It's another piece of the puzzle and it fits in with what I already knew. Once I figure out what I'm going to do I'll let you know."
"You bet," said Frank. "Take care and good luck."
"Give Kathy my regards," said Graham. "Talk to you later."
Graham hung up the telephone and tried to digest what Jason's father had just told him. Putting the pieces together, Graham knew for certain now that Jamie's parents were the focal point of Jamie's troubles. The mother was part of it but the father was the key. Graham made up his mind in that moment that one way or another that the scars on Jamie's back were going to be redeemed in full someday.
Suddenly Cindy who had been laying on the floor next to Graham while he talked on the telephone sat up, barked once, and looked towards the sliding door off to the side of the kitchen. Graham looked out the kitchen window and as he did he could see Jamie and Jason walking up towards the house. Graham went into the anteroom next to the kitchen and opened the outer door and Cindy ran out to greet Jamie and Jason like they were long-lost friends. Jamie knelt down and hugged the dog and Graham smiled seeing that Jamie's earlier concerns about Cindy were fading. They were starting to become good friends and that pleased Graham. Jamie and Cindy had both had a lot in common and Graham knew that they would understand each other better than anyone else.
"Hi Mr. M.," called out Jason as the two boys entered the house and Graham closed the door behind them.
"Hi Jamie. Hello Jason," Graham replied. "Did you guys have a good time today?"
Jamie looked Graham's face over carefully before replying but seeing nothing but a smile relaxed, "We did lots of things."
"Did you like going to visit at Jason's house?" asked Graham.
"Oh yes," said Jamie gradually becoming more animated. "There's this squirrel that Jay knows who sits on him, and we fed him peanuts, and there was this deer at Jay's place and he petted him, and Jay's got this fantastic computer, and his mom makes these incredible cookies! Look, she even gave me some to bring back with me. It was great!"
Graham smiled and said, "It sounds like you both had a wonderful time then. Would you like to stay with us for dinner tonight Jason?"
"No, I'd better get back. I want to finish up my homework tonight so I don't have any to do on the weekend," said Jason.
Jason turned to go and Jamie stopped him and said, "Thanks for letting me visit your house, Jay. I liked it a lot."
"It was great you came to visit," replied Jason. "How about I come over tomorrow and maybe we can do something else?"
"I ... I don't know if I can," said Jamie looking hopefully towards Graham.
"Of course you can," said Graham encouragingly. "Why don't you come over about ten o'clock Jason. We should be done with breakfast by then, unless of course, Jamie decides to sleep in."
Jamie giggled and said, "I won't sleep in."
Jason smiled and said, "OK, so I'll see you around ten then," and he went out the side door after giving Cindy another hug.
After Jason left Jamie turned to Graham and handed him the large parcel he was carrying and said, "Jay's mom said I should bring this to you."
"Oh thanks a lot," said Graham who upon feeling the parcel knew what was in it. "While I'm putting this away why don't you go into the kitchen and check out what's bubbling in the pots on the stove and see what's in the oven."
Running quickly upstairs Graham tore open the package and inside found T-shirts, socks, underwear, a couple of pairs of blue jeans, and some pyjamas. The 'Instant Adoption Kit - just add boy' Graham chuckled to himself as he quietly slipped the contents into the dresser in Jamie's room while also a bit surprised at himself for thinking of Jamie in those terms. Looking at Jamie's old shirt and pants so forlornly laid out in one of the drawers of the dresser hurt Graham profoundly. For a youngster to have nothing beyond the clothes on his back strengthened and reaffirmed Graham's resolve to try and do something even if he was still not sure what exactly that something should be. At least for now however Jamie would have a bit of variety in clothes to wear and Graham smiled at the thought that Jamie would get a nice surprise the next time he checked the dresser.
Graham came back down the stairs and walked into the living room while folding up the brown paper that the clothes had been wrapped in. Opening the tempered glass door on the firebox of the wood stove Graham pushed the wrapping paper in and closed it again.
Coming back into the kitchen Graham said, "Do you think you're going to like what's for dinner?"
"It smells great but I don't know what everything is," said Jamie.
Graham moved over to the stove, began to lift pot lids, and turned on the light in the oven while saying, "In this pot, we've got Brussels sprouts and this one is cauliflower in cheese sauce. Then in the oven, we've got baked potatoes on the top rack."
"What's that big thing wrapped up in foil on the bottom rack?" asked Jamie.
"Oh, that's the main course. It's a surprise," said Graham with a grin.
"It sure smells good whatever it is," said Jamie. "At home, a fancy dinner was Hamburger Insta-Meal that was dried-out and usually burnt."
Graham shuddered and replied, "You won't find anything like that here. I'm not a gourmet chef but I think you'll like what's in the oven. For real gourmet food, we'll have to talk Frank into firing up his smoker and barbecue. You've not had meat until you've had it done by Frank. It's to die for."
"I've never had anything like that before," said Jamie simply.
"Don't you worry we'll fix that real soon," said Graham. "There'll be lots of it at the Christmas Barbecue next week and you can go crazy."
"What's the Christmas Barbecue?" asked Jamie.
"That's something Frank organizes each year for all of their friends," explained Graham. "Everyone that comes brings something different like vegetables, potatoes, or desserts. Frank usually provides several different types of meat and cooks it all up outdoors on his deck. He starts early in the day and by the time its late afternoon everything is ready and it all just melts in your mouth. It's a really nice way for everyone to get together for the holiday. Jason will be there of course too and you'll have a lot of fun."
Graham took out some dinner plates and laid them down on the countertop. Using a pair of oven mitts Graham pulled the potatoes out of the oven and placed one each plate. He slit both potatoes open, pushed a chunk of butter into each, and then after waiting a few seconds for it to melt used a knife and cut the flesh of the potato in a diagonal pattern to allow the butter to soak in. Then Graham finished the potatoes off by adding a large dollop of sour cream from a container he took out of the fridge.
Next Graham put the oven mitts back on and opened the oven again to pull out the aluminum foil-wrapped main course and placed it onto a serving platter. Picking up a fork Graham then started to coax open the folded seam on the aluminum foil while taking care not to burn himself. Steam started to emerge and momentarily obscured Graham's fingers as he continued to unwrap the foil, while Jamie's nose was on overdrive trying to figure out what it was that was smelling so good.
"Et maintenant, la pièce de résistance," said Graham using an atrociously exaggerated French accent which caused Jamie to giggle as he pulled back the aluminum foil revealing the main course - stuffed baked salmon.
"Oh wow!" said Jamie as he now saw the large fish clearly laid out before him on the platter. "I've never seen a fish that big before, it's huge! It smells wonderful too."
"Just wait until you taste it," said Graham reaching for a dinner plate and a knife.
Graham ran the knife along the back of the fish and then using a fork lifted off a large piece of meat from the bones and moved it onto the plate that he was holding. Then Graham added a large spoonful of the cauliflower and some of the Brussels sprouts onto the plate from the pots that had been simmering on the stove.
"Would you like some of the stuffing?" asked Graham looking towards Jamie.
Seeing Jamie's rapidly nodding head Graham realized that an answer was unnecessary. He spooned out a generous amount of the fragrant stuffing onto the plate before finally handing it to Jamie who stood next to him watching carefully.
"Think you can handle all of that?" asked Graham.
"Absolutely," said a beaming Jamie as he walked over to the table carrying the heavily laden plate.
Graham began serving himself and then noticing that Jamie was waiting for him said, "You go ahead and eat it'll get cold."
A few moments later Graham also sat down at the table with his own plate, although not piled quite as high as Jamie's. After a couple of minutes where silence reigned supreme Graham paused and asked, "So what do you think of dinner?"
In between mouthfuls, Jamie replied, "This is amazing! You're a super cook. You always eat like this?"
"Maybe not quite this fancy but today is a special day and I wanted to do something extra impressive for you," said Graham.
"You're the nicest guy I ever met," said Jamie with total sincerity.
Graham blushed and covered his embarrassment by busying himself with offering Jamie some more of the salmon in addition to more of the cauliflower and sprouts. Jamie did not slow down eating and it did not take long before his plate was looking bare again. Graham grinned and nodded when Jamie began to look longingly towards the half-eaten salmon sitting on the counter. Graham had heard about the appetites that boys possessed from Frank and Kathy but hearing about it and seeing it firsthand were clearly two different things. At this rate, mused Graham with a smile, he might have to get a bigger freezer.
Eventually, Jamie reached his limit and Graham was no longer able to entice him into having any more. Graham then got up and showed Jamie how to put Cindy's dinner together. After the dog biscuits were in the bowl and a few chunks of fish had been added onto the top as a treat Graham gave the bowl to Jamie who put it down onto the floor for Cindy who had been waiting patiently. A couple of minutes later Jamie could see that Cindy was making short work of her dinner so when he turned to help pick up the dirty dishes off of the kitchen table Jamie reached over to the remains of the fish and snuck a couple of extra pieces from the serving platter. Lowering his hand down with the fish pieces hidden inside it, Cindy who had been watching Jamie closely, quickly made them disappear and then rubbed her head against Jamie's leg appreciatively.
Once the dishes were in the dishwasher and everything cleaned up everyone moved into the living room. Graham built up a good fire in the woodstove that stuck out from the fireplace and very quickly they were enjoying the warmth that spread throughout the room.
While he had been putting the fire together Graham noticed that Cindy who normally liked to lie close to the woodstove was instead laying at Jamie's feet as he sat on the sofa. Any time that Jamie would shift position she would look up at him carefully and then settle back down again up against his feet. Periodically Jamie ran a sock-clad foot over Cindy's back and Graham smiled at the bond that was clearly forming between them. Graham knew that there was always something special about boys and dogs but the usual friendship was forming very quickly in the case of these two. Graham sensed that two kindred spirits were beginning to realize things about each other without words even being spoken.
"Is it true that Jay knows an Indian medicine man?" asked Jamie. "I thought that was just in movies."
"Oh no," Graham replied. "Medicine men still exist. They're a respected elder of the tribe and people seek out their advice on a lot of things. Jason's told me lots of stories about his friend and Frank has told me some too. Jason is becoming very attuned to nature and he's taught me a lot of things about how to relax and hear the sounds of the outdoors."
Jamie sighed and said, "I wish I could live on an island like this. Far away from the city, away from them, ... far away from everything."
Graham felt the pain in Jamie's statement and wanted to say something but he knew he could not, at least not yet. A plan was half-forming in his mind but he needed to find out if it would work first and until he did he did not want to get Jamie's hopes up by speaking too soon. At this point, false hope would simply be cruel and Graham did not want Jamie to feel betrayed if something were to go wrong. In any case, Graham wanted to let Jamie have some quiet time before he stirred things up by taking action. This was not the time to be giving Jamie anything new to worry about.
Noticing Jamie yawning Graham asked, "Would you like to go on up to bed? I don't mind if you're tired. I usually have a cup of tea before I do."
Jamie looked at Graham suspiciously but seeing nothing laying behind the suggestion said, "Is it OK?"
"Sure," Graham replied. "Today has been an exciting one for both of us and you probably could do with a good rest. Besides, don't forget that Jason is coming back over tomorrow and you'll be able to do more things with him."
"That's going to be great," said Jamie getting up off the sofa. "I like him a lot."
"Why don't you run upstairs then and change for bed," said Graham.
"I don't have anything to put on," said Jamie matter-of-factly. "But I can just take this off and sleep in my underwear."
"That sounds good. Just make sure that you put your clothes away in the dresser before you climb into bed," said Graham knowing that his suggestion would cause Jamie to discover the clothes that he had unknowingly brought back when he returned from Jason's house.
"Don't worry I will," said Jamie as he got up to walk upstairs to the bedroom with Cindy following along right at his side.
A few minutes later Jamie came racing downstairs and gave a rather embarrassed Graham an almost rib-crushing hug. Graham blushed furiously but was pleased nevertheless that Jamie had found the surprise clothes waiting for him in the dresser.
"Thanks for the extra clothes," Jamie said with a big smile while showing off the pyjamas he was now wearing.
"I thought you might need some extra things to wear," said Graham. "I guess I should've gotten you some more stuff when we were in town but I wasn't thinking far enough ahead."
"These are great," said Jamie with enthusiasm. "When did you buy them? I never saw you go out anywhere. Did you get them today when I was over at Jay's?"
"They aren't brand new," said Graham. "I talked with Jason and we arranged it between us."
"They're Jay's?" asked Jamie with concern. "He's not going to like it that I've got his stuff."
"Yes they're his but you don't need to worry because he wants to help and doesn't mind at all," said Graham. "Jason and his family want to help you just like I do."
"You guys are so nice to me all the time," said Jamie a bit sadly.
"What's with the sad face?" inquired Graham.
"When Jay's dad showed up today I got pretty scared and ...," Jamie trailed off.
"Oh don't worry about that," said Graham with gentleness. "I know he understands. The first time I saw him I was a bit intimidated too. He's a big guy but you will find that he's also very friendly and kind once you get to know him better."
"I guess," said Jamie. "It's just that he surprised me and I started to remember what used to happen at home and got scared."
"You'll see. Everything will be fine," said Graham. "You go on back upstairs and finish getting ready for bed and I'll check in on you in a few minutes."
Graham eventually heard Jamie finish washing up and after waiting a couple of minutes more to give him a chance to get into bed Graham walked up the stairs and peeked into Jamie's bedroom. Jamie had climbed into bed and pulled the covers up so his head was barely visible. Jamie's backpack was sitting on the floor next to the head of the bed where he could easily reach it, and Cindy was laying on a mat near the bed blocking access from the doorway in an almost protective fashion. She looked up but did not move as Graham stood in the doorway.
"I see you guys are all settled in now," said Graham with a smile.
"All finished," replied Jamie with his voice slightly muffled by the bedclothes.
"It looks like Cindy is going to sleep here tonight," chuckled Graham.
"Is that OK?" asked a concerned Jamie.
"Absolutely. I think it's great that you two are getting to know each other better," said Graham.
"I'm starting to like her a lot," said Jamie feeling slightly embarrassed.
"It's great that you are. She'll always take good care of you," replied Graham. "Goodnight to both of you then. Sleep tight and pleasant dreams."
"Good night Graham and thanks for the wonderful day," said Jamie.
"You're very welcome Jamie. I'm glad that you enjoyed everything," replied Graham as he left the room and turned off the light.
Graham came back downstairs after saying goodnight to Jamie and went into the kitchen to make himself a cup of herb tea. Graham often liked to enjoy a cup of tea before he went to bed and with all the excitement of the day, the Chamomile was going to help him sleep soundly tonight. Adding some honey into the cup after removing the tea bag Graham gently stirred it with a spoon and then walked back into the living room to relax on the sofa while he drank it.
Cindy had remained in the bedroom with Jamie and it felt strange to Graham to be sitting on his own in the evening without her for the first time in a long while but he did not mind. He recognized the growing bond between Jamie and Cindy and hoped that maybe it could help both of them to deal with their past. Graham contemplated the rapid series of events that had taken place over the last two days as he luxuriated in the warmth from the woodstove while sipping at his tea.
Cindy suddenly came racing down the stairs and was very agitated. She whined and pawed at Graham indicating that something was seriously wrong.
"What's the matter girl?" said Graham trying to understand what the problem was.
Cindy began to bite at Graham's pant legs, tugging at them, and Graham got up off the sofa. Cindy immediately ran back up the stairs and Graham followed along behind her. Going up the stairs Graham started to become worried and even before getting to the top of them Graham realized that Cindy had been trying to tell him that something was wrong with Jamie.
Graham stood at the entrance to Jamie's bedroom and from the light, in the hallway, he could see that the bedclothes had been thrown aside and that Jamie was thrashing about violently in the bed. In the full grip of a nightmare, jumbled words came out of Jamie's mouth despite his still being completely asleep. Graham entered the room, approached the side of the bed, and reached out to comfort Jamie.
"No, I don't want to," Jamie cried out still locked in the nightmare and his eyes tightly shut. "I won't do it. You can't make me!"
Graham bent down and touched Jamie gently on the arm while softly saying, "Jamie. Jamie, it's OK. You're safe here."
"No! Please! You can't! I won't let you! Get away from me!" yelled Jamie as he fought against the unseen menace.
"Jamie," said Graham speaking a bit louder and taking a firm hold of Jamie's shoulder and shaking it. "Jamie, no one is going to hurt you."
"No!! I hate you!!" screamed Jamie as his fist shot out and connected against the side of Graham's head sending him flying across the room.