I have this opinion that 'magic is that magic does'. And in that motto what acts like magic, will be magic.
On the other hand there is that old saying.
As Above So Below?
Which do leave me, more or less, confused?
It was near Christmas, and cold.
Drew was standing outside the tube station trying to decide how he was going to spend the night, riding the train or to look for somewhere else. He had just enough money to get some food, or for the tube, but not both. It was in times like this he wished that he knew how to beg.
It had started to snow, and as the first snowflakes started to fall he finally made up his mind. There had to be a homeless shelter somewhere that could give him a place for the night, not that he ever had been there but he had read about it in a newspaper he found earlier.
It was near Christmas and according to the paper the time of year when there was a surplus of volunteers feeling that Christmas charity wanting to draw their straw to the stack. Not that Drew wanted any of that, but he did need some food and a bed.
You couldn't really call him a cynic, he didn't care enough about anything to become one, no, Drew just wanted to be left alone. As he looked in the paper he studied the address again, 34 Lexington Street.
'Well, can't say that I'm overwhelmed with options here.' He contemplated as he looked up at the cloudy overhang, hiding the sky as a big plug inserted above, shaded in a dark and sinister grey. After considering his options some more he found his mind already made up, his legs already starting to take those first treacherous steps.
As he walked Drew wondered why he even bothered, after all, there were ways to get out of this more or less self inflicted misery. It might have to do with his upbringing, not that he was religious in any way but he had at a short period of his life been placed with a woman, Viola, and her man. They had both been involved with the Salvation Army, and it was some of the best memories he had from his childhood.
He had only been there for a year, maybe two, he wasn't really sure, those memories he had from his childhood was at best vague, but he had missed her terrible when she at last died from her cancer. They hadn't let him see her as she waited on her deathbed, and that he hated them for. After that he had other homes but nothing that could compare with her.
When it came to charity and the organizations involved in it he didn't care that much, he knew all to well how the world worked, and how the people involved made it a business, some even expecting it to make them rich. Well, after all money had no conscience, only humans were expected to have that.
He had found it a shame and a disappointment though, reading how some of the financially responsible had embezzled money from the Salvation Army. Viola's faith had been of a simple and wholehearted kind, making the world a little lighter just by her being there.
As he at last came up to the right door he hesitated. He wasn't that religious really, and being of little faith he almost felt as if he was trespassing as he opened the door. Inside the long hall he found streamers hanging in the roof proclaiming 'A very merry Christmas.' And he could hear Christmas music coming from some of the rooms adjoining it.
'It's very posh' he thought as he looked around, the wallpaper engraved with gold, of a rich green shade. He thought that he had seen some hotels less posh than this 'homeless centre'. As he walked into the room from where the loudest music came he found it empty, just having a lot of folded tables, still standing against the walls, waiting to be packed up.
"Hey you, come over here." A voice called him.
As he looked he saw it belonged to a man in his mid fifties, perhaps a little older, dangerously balancing on the ladder he was standing on, as he in vain tried to put a star on the top of the Christmas tree standing in a corner.
"Can you hold the ladder for me? Before I fall and die, preferably?"
As he went over to hold it the man started to talk with him.
"Are you one of the movers? We sure need some help. Strange, we even had to refuse some wanting the work and then come this flu. Now we're so short of people that we had to rent you guys in instead. Well, that's life I guess, what's your name? "
"Hi Drew, I'm Gerald. Do you think you could start to get the tables up? We want them to become one big long table formed as a 'U' with enough space in between that people can move freely. Do you think you could fix that for me?"
Drew nodded, he felt a strong reluctance telling him that he had come only looking for charity.
It felt better having to work for his food than just getting it for free. He would let Gerald keep his illusions for now, perhaps he even could hide away here later? To get some sleep inside for a change. As he looked at the paper he had in his hand he realized that he was much too early, and looking some more at the room and the polished marble floor, he also realized that this hardly could be a 'homeless centre'.
More probably it was some rich society's, the Lions club perhaps? Someone's posh property anyway, getting readied for a Christmas feast. If it was for the homeless or not he couldn't care less, as long as he could sleep here for a night. And as he studied the address again he saw that he had got the address totally screwed up. What he had thought to be Lexington street should have been Lexton street, and 34 wasn't right either, 43 was more like it.
'What the heck, if I'm lucky enough there might even be some free food' he thought as he started to unfold the tables, trying to place them as Gerald wanted, and boy, was he ever hungry. After finishing with the tables, he started all over again with the chairs, now finding the hunger pangs coming harder.
As he looked at the clock hanging over the door he realized that the time had flown away, it was getting late. If he wanted to buy some food he needed to leave to buy something now, before the shops closed down. As he looked after Gerald he realized that he had disappeared. Instead he saw a young girl standing, looking at him through the door opening. Smiling at her he called.
"Miss, would you know where Gerald is?"
"Dad, someone wants to speak with you." She called out the door. As Gerald came back, looking quite stressed, Drew told him that he needed to leave for a while.
"Why. Look Drew, somehow you're the only mover that came. Nadine said there would be three of you? Couldn't you stay a little longer, we need all help we can get here?"
"I just need to get something to eat Sir."
"Eat? Lena, get him to the kitchen, pronto girl, and fix him a meal will you. You're too valuable to let go of now Drew, you stay right here, we will have work up to our ears before we get this arranged."
As Lena led him through a long passageway to the kitchen Drew started to feel as if things, for once in his life, were going the same way as him. As she sat him down to wait for his meal, placing him at an old massive sort of kitchen table, he took the chance to look around. It was a really big, old fashioned, type of kitchen with wood stoves, and from where he sat, at least, two electrical ones too.
There was a flurry of activity in it, everywhere women running around, fixing and doing, and to that you could add the heavenly smell of newly baked bread, hanging over it all as an odorous cloud, with all kinds of food being prepared on the stoves. It was also warm, very warm, and as Drew sat there he could feel himself nodding of. The night before he had just walked, the whole night through, trying to keep his warmth as he waited for the dawn, and just being able to bask inside, in the warmth, made it a wonder for his tired muscles and joints.
As Lena came back with the food she tried to wake him, but by then he was long gone with Morpheus, enjoying the wondrous sights as they happily chatted away, she looked amazingly like some girl he seemed to know too? All in all it made a heck of a better dream than the nightmares he had became used to. After shaking his shoulder and calling his name softly a couple of times Lena decided to leave him to his sleep. She looked at the food, it would be a shame letting it go to waste she decided sitting down opposite him, starting to eat. After all, she was hungry too.
Taking her time with it she watched as Drew slept, he wasn't bad looking she thought, a little thin perhaps but still nice, and the way he snored made her smile. She idly wondered what had happened to the other movers as she watched his hair lift from his nose, just to fall down again, keeping a steady rhythm with his snoring. As she looked at him she suddenly realized that he was lucky to fall asleep before her getting him his food, thinking that he could just as well have felt asleep in the soup instead.
As she looked up she saw Nadine hurrying past. "Nadine, Dad wondered where the other movers you had hired were?"
"Didn't I tell him? They cancelled it, the flu they said."
"No you didn't, but I'll tell him."
"God girl, gotta rush Lena, a thousand things to do."
As Nadine smiled at her, she also witnessed Drew snoring away.
"Who's he Lena? And whatever did you do to him? To make him that tired?"
"It's Drew, Dad thought he was one of the movers so he enforced him into helping us."
"Oh God, that poor man. Your Dad's a slavedriver Lena, tell him that from me, bye now girl."
Lena studied Drew, intrigued anew. Why didn't he just tell Dad that he wasn't? Not that it was any business of hers, but she decided to keep a watch on him anyway, not that there was anything valuable lying around, but still? If she could have seen Drew walking with Morpheus, holding hands, she might have changed her opinion though, but she would more probably just have blushed.
As Drew woke up he was alone at the table, and the kitchen seemed to have calmed down some, with only a few ladies still working. Trying to remember his dreams he could only find a lingering feeling of fulfillment, as if it had been a good one for once. As he sat up in his chair yawning, he saw Lena coming back smiling at him. She waved at him as she went over to the stove first, fixing him a bowl of stew and bread. Coming back to him with it, and a large glass of milk she sat down opposite him, thoughtfully studying his newly wakened countenance.
"Was I out for long?" he asked apologetically, feeling vaguely apprehensive under her imperial gaze.
"Three hours? But, what about your Dad?"
"Don't worry, eat first, then you can make up for it."
As Drew smelled the food he knew that he had no choice, wild horses couldn't have dragged him away from that sweet smelling food, and as he started to eat he forgot all about her. As Lena watched she realized that it had to be quite some time since Drew had his last meal.
"You did look funny." She said reminiscently
Drew stopped his chewing for a second.
"When you slept, there was this lock of hair falling, awh, nevermind."
She realized that she sounded silly. And he was much to old for her anyway, she was only seventeen, well almost seventeen, and he had to be over twenty, closer to thirty she guessed as she looked at him again.
Drew just shrugged as he continued to eat, not that he minded looking at Lena, but food was his first priority here, finishing the stew he used the bread to get the last drops out of the bowl. As he at last relaxed he smiled at her trying to make a bow, almost dipping his hair in the bowl.
"Thank you Lena. This was very good. There wouldn't be any coffee to it, would it?"
Lena went over to a big thermos bottle and came back with a cup for them each.
"You want milk too?"
He shook his head, for the moment he wanted it black and bitter to wake him up. As he looked at her again, lifting his cup of coffee, he for the first time found the time to appreciate her. She seemed to be the same height as him, around five feet seven, reddish brown hair and warm with friendly brown eyes flecked in green.
She was much too young for him, but that needn't stop him from admiring her, did it? 'What could she be?' Fifteen perhaps he thought, suddenly realizing that she was blushing he looked away. He remembered his cup and took a deep draught, trying to act as if nothing had happened.
"Good coffee Lena. Should we look up your Pa and see what help he will need?"
Lena was glad that he had stopped looking at her. She felt both flattered and saddened by the look in his eyes. There had been such a strong longing in them, but also that infinite sadness as if he was looking at something so precious that he didn't dare dreaming of it. She suddenly felt shy and as they finished their coffee she asked.
"You know, you never told me what moving company you worked for?" waiting for his reaction.
Now it was Drew's time to feel embarrassed. He tried to avoid straight out lies if he could, but now it felt as if she was pressing him. Did she know?
"I didn't, did I?"
"No, but I'm sure Dad would like to know."
'Shit' thought Drew. 'She's right, there will be questions'. Well, there went his hope for getting that nights sleep, he would just have to start night walking again. No way that they would accept him, telling them that he just had had glided in on a banana peel, finding himself at the wrong address. And as for letting her know that he was homeless? Forget it, wasn't it enough with him having to deal with it?
"Well," he said a little uncomfortably. "I'm sure I'll have a visit card somewhere, but let us fix this place up first." And that was only a half lie at worst. He did have a visit card, to a pizzeria, but never the less, a visit card.
As they worked together he became impressed with her all over again. She had this blend of strength combined with gracility, creating a fluid motion to all her movements making him think of dancing. As she was lifting up a carton she stumbled though, almost falling into his arms.
As he caught her, stopping her fall, he froze momentarily looking down at her, forgetting what he was doing. Lena couldn't help notice how he stood there, lost in her eyes once more. She smiled at him as he carefully helped her regain her balance, as if she was made of the thinnest porcelain. And there had been that look of bereavement in his eyes again, seeing it she was pretty sure he wasn't a thief, not holding that sadness in his eyes.
"You okay?" she asked bewildered.
He shook his head ruefully. "That should be me asking, shouldn't it?"
She smiled at him. "You can let me go now." she said quietly.
Realizing that he still held her he quickly released her. "Sorry."
"It's okay Drew. I'm irresistible, at least if you would trust my Dad."
"Oh, I trust him okay." Answered Drew before realizing what he said.
Shit, she might think that he was trying to flirt with her.
"Sorry. Didn't mean that." He said.
"So, you don't trust him then?" she said, a little mischievously.
"I do, but I meant. ." she made him go all red as she stood there with her eyes laughing.
Suddenly aware over the power she held over Drew, Lena started to fell a little ashamed over herself. It was almost as if she was coming on to him, and she definitely wasn't doing that. He was much too old and she was still in school. She tried to put him at ease again.
"Thanks Drew, for catching me." She smiled at him.
As she turned to lift the carton he froze again, lost in her movements. She reminded him of all that had been good in his life, of Viola and those dreams he once had nurtured, that inner hope of goodness most of us carry around.
Mentally prying himself loose from his indecisiveness he realized that he needed to get away, before he made an even bigger nuisance of himself. Looking around he saw that they were almost finished anyway so, as she turned back to him, he said.
"Lena, it's late. I need to think of getting home."
She saw that there was something he was hiding, guessing she said.
"You don't have a car, do you? And the subway doesn't work this late. Look Drew, my Dad will drive you home, stay here."
She left him staring helplessly after her, on one hand just wanting to run off like her. On the other there was this feeling, as if he was approaching some kind of turning point in his life. As if there was a junction waiting for him, and with it, choices to be made. Maybe you know what I'm talking about here. I believe that we all face those situations at times, mostly only recognizing them when it's too late to do anything about them though.
Drew was very lucky in realizing that it was one. Leaving would only lead to him walking in the cold of the night, waiting for that new dawn to come. But staying might demolish that little card house of half lies and truths keeping him there, and maybe compromise him irrevocably in Lena's eyes. Not that he understood why that was so important to him, but it was? He didn't want her to see, in fact he didn't want anyone to see what and how he was. Maybe it was time to end this sham, once for all he thought, but his gun had disappeared with his backpack, and somehow he was grateful for that. He was still standing there, lost in time, staring unseeingly into space as Gerald came up to him.
When Gerald saw him, remembering what Lena had told him, he at last realized who Drew had to be. That guy wasn't a mover, he was at the very most a vagrant, and if judging by the forlorn look, also a lost one. But at least he hadn't lied to him, just not answering, and he had proved to be a good worker. Looking into his eyes, waiting for him to recognize him Gerald got a bad shock though. The last time Gerald had seen a guy with eyes like that, the man had died in less than a fortnight. In Drew's unblinking stare he slowly recognized something that he had hoped for never to see again.
They used to call it the 'thousand year stare' in Nam. Like if you had seen it all, from hells worst to the even worse and just waited for it to be over at last, not even there anymore. Suddenly he felt as if no matter how good a worker this guy was, he just didn't want anything to do with him, there could be all kind of terrible experiences warping this guys mind. But as Gerald looked down at his daughter he recognized her trust in him, her smile lightening up the whole room. And there was also that affinity she seemed to have developed for Drew, and knowing that he couldn't disappoint her he, while laying a friendly hand of Drew's arm shaking it, firmly told him.
"Drew, wake up man. I have a suggestion for you. We are going to need help tomorrow too. And Lena said you had no car"
Drew at last seemed to wake up from his trance.
"What? Oh sorry, I was thinking."
"I said that we will need you tomorrow, and we need to start early if we're going to finish this. I was thinking, we have a guestroom, you see? And then you could go with us in the morning getting here in time?"
As Drew listened he was both grateful and terrified. Grateful that Gerald didn't ask him about his firm, terrified that he would have to spend more time with the family if he agreed, and maybe even have to lie. He knew he wasn't that good at lies, and he didn't like them either. But it would keep him out of the cold, and near Lena of course.
Not that it was that that swayed him in the end, at least he thought so? No, it was the need they had of him, it was a long time since anyone had told him that they needed him and he too had his honor. They had given him food, warmth and companionship and he wouldn't refuse their need.
"Thank you Gerald. It would simplify things for me. If you don't mind that is?"
"No he won't." Said Lena just as firmly, lightly touching his hand. "You come with us now, it's in the countryside, you'll love it."
She was surprised but pleased about her father's idea. She had had this strange feeling, as if something terrible was about to happen, but as he thanked her father the feeling slowly seemed to dissipate leaving her with a unexplainable feeling of happiness instead. And she found it brilliant thinking, taking him home to them. Her mother had died three years ago so it was only her and her Dad now and, yes. Somehow it felt like it suddenly was going to be a tremendously good Christmas.
As they drove home in Gerald's old station wagon she surreptitiously tried to study Drew in her rearview mirror, wondering who he was and if he had a girlfriend. He definitely needed a haircut she decided, and his clothes looked as if he had been sleeping in them.
'Typical boy's behavior' she thought contended as she planed how to get him out of them, not that she had any other plans than to wash them though, and him of course. Well, he would have to take care of that on his own, she regretfully had to admit, her Dad would go ballistic otherwise. And as she saw where her thoughts had taken her she had to look away from him, blushing again.
Gerald on the other hand knew that he would need to talk with Drew at some time, but as he studied the withdrawn, almost forbidding, look on Drew's face he decided that what the guy needed most, for now, was some human decency and warmth. And on those qualities he utterly trusted his daughter's instincts, she had always had an uncanny understanding with wild things, and he wouldn't call Drew tame.
"I better warn you." He said complacently as he drove up on the little byroad leading up to their house. "My daughter might be a tad bossy. But if you find it too much, just do as I use too."
Drew woke up again, he had dozed of in the warmth coming from the car.
"Just do as she ask, it will be easier on us all in the long run."
"DaaD! Stop teasing me."
"Okay Lena. Whatever you say, dear." Winking his eye conspiratorially at Drew.
Drew had to smile listening to them jabbering, it was very clear that they liked each other, a lot, and had good fun arguing. He once more wished that he still had his backpack with him and some clean clothes. It had been stolen from him a week before, as he had fallen asleep while riding the subway. The thief had been real good, cutting of the almost invisible strand he had bound to his wrist. 'Maybe even Special Forces material' he thought jokingly. More probably it was him slowly losing his edge.
It hadn't meant that much to him when he was working, the job had been a dirty one and people would just see it as his working clothes. But carrying them inside someone's home? He felt distinctly uncomfortable thinking of it. But he felt as if it was out of his hands now. As he started to nod of again he idly wondered whose hands it was in then, if it wasn't in his?
It only took him an hour to learn whose hands his destiny was in. As he stood there in an old bathrobe leant by Gerald, watching the washing machine.
"It's very nice of you Lena, but I can do it myself."
"No, I'll do it, you go to the bathroom. You look like you could use a good washing yourself. And don't you dare come back before you're finished."
She had an impressive voice he thought, reminding him not a little of that sergeant he had had in his basic training, 'Popeye' as they used to call him, mostly behind his back. Those few that forgot to do so only forgot it once. "I'm no damned sailor, do you see a sea here? Let's wash your mouth and see."
As he walked to where she had directed him, he found that it was her own bathroom. It was filled with sweet smelling bottles of various kinds, and a lot of lingerie and other unmentionables hanging around. As he waited for the bathtub filling up he couldn't help himself leaning over to inhale the aroma from a slip, but as he realized what he was doing he reddened, suddenly feeling like a peeping tom.
"What's wrong with me?" he muttered. "She's clearly underage, hell, I would be surprised if she was more than thirteen." Why he thought it to be so he didn't know, perhaps he just wanted to create that firm solid barrier between his wishes and reality. Without dreams no one can hurt you, right. Whatever the reason, it seemed to work.
As he washed himself, cleaning up on all that dirt he had accumulated, he hadn't the slightest notion of sniffing any more of her clothes. But he couldn't stop himself from touching them as he moved around, feeling their softness and lightness against his skin.
"I wonder?" He muttered, wondering how it would feel to be able to change identity, not only identity but to be someone entirely different, like a body snatcher in some cheap horror movie. Then there might have been something good coming out of him meeting her, but as it was, he was who he was. As he thought it over again he started to smile. He could see himself stiffly walking out in some fifteen year old body, like some miniature Frankenstein. "Hallo, I come with peace." Arms outstretched.
He had felt maladapted his whole life, as if he was a badly built toy. And he had early on learnt the cost of being different. His journey into the service had been in equal parts his need to make something different out of himself, as well as a way of escape from the physical abuse his last foster parents had put him through. He had thought it would help him to choose. But life in the service hadn't been as straightforward as he once had expected. They were all humans there, with all of the foibles and prejudices existing outside the service.
That was one of the main reasons he had excelled over and above his limitations, searching for that situation where we all would be proved, once and for all. Those situations where your logic and manipulations just wouldn't have the time to act, and where you were forced to find out about yourself. Life and death situations where you had to go on your basest, most down to earth, instincts, beliefs and ideals, and where everyone around you would see your choices too. And what he had met there, as well as the guys with him, at last seemed to give him an answer.
It wasn't as much how good you were at killing, even if that to was important. To him it was more how good you were on caring, and how prepared you were to put your life on the line for those that trusted you, as you them. But there was little of that whining attitude he had meet in the civilian life, where people seemed unable to make their own decisions, more often than not blaming their failures in life on others.
As he saw it failure wasn't the biggest issue, everyone fails at times. That's why we have those superheroes, role models for the unattainable. It was how you treated your failures that mattered. And there he had his own views.
You had to be able to take care of yourself out there, not that the guys were any saints. So in a way he had found an answer, but it didn't help him when he fused out. And by then most of his original friends in the service were either dead, imprisoned or otherwise hospitalized. Some of them even taking what the ignoramus ever so flippantly called the 'easy way out' as they found themselves back into civilian life.
There was a line for all, some could trespass it for a time, not even knowing or recognizing it, but the toll was horrendous when the time came to pay your dues. And even if you had tried to train for it you never could guarantee where that limit waited, not until you failed. And if you hadn't been there you couldn't imagine the debased ways of some of those wars, it was like a disease, you too would get infected no matter how careful you were, and some memories.
There were the adrenalin junkies too of course, guys that loved it, warped into some strange ideals of their own, feeling invulnerable inside their skulls but most of the guys were just like you, normal. Maybe a little more competitive, needing to prove themselves a little more, but not that different. As he dried himself he tried to shake of the morbid reminiscences, walking out the bathroom door, just to hear her calling from the kitchen for him. As he got there he found her waiting looking at him, holding out a big mug of hot milk.
"Drink this." She ordered, sounding maternal, making him smile at the incongruity of it. "It will make you sleep better, my mom always made a cup for me."
He stared at her, yep, underage and, slightly mad too?
Why would warm milk make him sleep better? Shaking his head at the folly of it he did as she wished anyway. After he had finished it she showed him up to the guest room, looking as if she wanted to bed him down too. Her father had gone to into his room as soon as they came home, leaving them to their own. She looked lovely as she stood there in her jeans and top, and he once more found himself wishing that he was someone else, younger and straighter, more fitting to the ideals that society seemed to nourish.
"Good night." He said at last, waiting for her to depart, wishing that she would stay.
She stood there looking at him and then she suddenly smiled, a wide happy smile.
"You too Drew, a good night. See you tomorrow."
He was very surprised as he woke up. The time was well after nine and as he went to the bathroom he could hear Lena chirping away with her father, laughing and sounding generally very happy. He found his clothes neatly laid out on the top of the cabinet, with his boxers and socks upmost, very proper looking.
As he dressed he wondered if it was just a dream, maybe he had a fever? He pinched himself finding that it hurt just as good, or bad, as he had hoped. Deciding that whatever it was he was going to enjoy every minute of the ride he walked down to the kitchen.
"Hi." He said as he came out in the door.
"Ah Cinderella is it, good morning." Said Lena. "Slept well?"
Drew felt slightly stupid. "Yeah, that milk you gave me made wonders." He muttered as he sat down.
"What did you put in it. Nembutal?"
Gerald who just was drinking some coffee sputtered as he started to laugh helplessly, and Lena blushed furiously.
"Sorry Lena, just joking. I slept as a baby in fact. Don't we have to hurry?"
"No, we got some help since yesterday, Nadine called us and said that we could take the day off if we liked. If you excuse me, we did work our asses of yesterday." Said Gerald
Suddenly Drew felt useless, he had counted on being able to pay of his debt in work, but now there seemed to be nothing to do?
"So? Ah, what do you want me to do then?"
"Well son, as we we're planning on working, but now it seems that we have time for some Christmas shopping. I would like you to take the car, and Lena too, to help her out. She don't want me to take her, it is my presents she will be buying amongst others, and she doesn't have her driving permit yet. Would you do that for us?"
'Was he joking?' As Drew tried to assimilate the sudden change he clandestinely watched Lena move around in the kitchen, fixing his coffee, she was so breathtakingly beautiful that he forgot all about her father, lost in his admiration. Watching him almost drooling over her Gerald once more wondered if this was such a good idea, but his daughter had insisted on it as soon as Nadine had called.
"Dad, I trust him, he won't do anything stupid. Trust me."
Watching the way Grew had felt let down by the news that there was no work to be done, while well knowing that he wouldn't have earned a dime by it, Gerald reluctantly had to agree to her making some sense. The young man struck him as a basically decent one, and it would be nice to have some time on his own. But there was that stare too, it worried him. He remembered it all to well. With a stare like that came a lot of mental baggage. Lena was too young for knowing about such, but Gerald had served in Vietnam, enrolling only seventeen years old. And he still felt as if he remembered too much.
"Tell me Drew, where did you serve?"
Drew abruptly woke up from his dreaming, with a feeling of getting dipped in cold water.
"Well sir, Army first, then the navy."
"Been in action too, right son?"
"Some." Drew didn't want to talk about it, hell, sometimes he wished he never had gone in the first place. "Can we talk about something else?"
"You're right. War is not a happy thing."
Looking at his last beloved daughter from his second marriage he couldn't help worry. It seemed to go in the family. Laura had been just the same when she fell for him, and him being twenty years her senior too. But theirs had been a happy marriage with lots of love, and at last, her delivering him them their precious, precocious daughter too.
His two kids from his first marriage were going to come over for the Christmas weekend and they both had taken every opportunity they could get to dote on Lena, spoiling her terribly in the process. But he had to trust her instincts, she was the one first seeing that something was wrong with Drew, and she also seemed to be the one knowing what to do about it.
"Drew, I'm counting on you here. Keep my daughter safe and happy, you hear." He told him as the young couple got in the station wagon.
"Don't worry Sir, Gerald I mean. I'll take care of her as if she was my own sister." Drew promised.
Lena just looked at him consternated. 'Sister? Whatever is he thinking of now?' But as they drove away she smiled, everything seemed to be working out as she had hoped.
Drew was happy too, for the first time in months he had slept without being awakened by his nightmares. It was the same almost all the time now.
That infinite stretch of sand, a hot dry sun blazing down at him as he trudged up and down the sand dunes. Watching them slowly coloring into a dark, almost black, substance from within. Body parts thrown around like minute whiplike threads of white sticking up from the sand, like broken dolls parts spread out wherever he turned, And not a sound anywhere, as if he was deaf, just him watching that dark viscous substance seeping up, slowly covering the sand into a darkly red sea.
He didn't know what it meant, and he had other dreams too, but that one scared him the most, whenever he dreamed it. It felt so real, it was as if he really was there, stuck inside that dream forever and ever. He didn't want to end up at some sanatorium, forgotten by all. He looked at Lena wonderingly, she had to have a lot of clout with her old man to make him allowing her go out like this, with a guy she barely knew.
But never the less she was right, he would rather cut of his own arm than disappoint her. To him she beckoned brightly, his own and only bridge, promising him a lead to what sanity there could be in this insane reality. As they arrived she directed him to a mall and after parking he found them embarking on a shopping spree of seldom seen, truly epic proportions.
As the day went on he found himself in awe of her stamina. It was like an obstacle course at fort Bragg, whenever he thought they were finished there was something else she 'absolutely' needed to do. Not even in the special forces had he found himself so overloaded with things and bags as when walking around, shopping with her. He blessed his luck, and her father's forethought, in having a station wagon to load it in, as he doubted that any smaller car would have made it.
"Makes one think." He muttered to himself as he was waiting out side a store. She had given him a very strict order to stay outside and not to try to peep. "Those Swedes, they sure know shopping, and women too I guess? Why else would they build their cars like tanks?" And as they finally came back to the Volvo he was tired, tired but happy.
And Lena was ecstatic, she had found Drew to be of great help when carrying. Also he had so intelligent comments, like when she modeled those new clothes for him, why, he had agreed with them all, telling her that she looked stunning. He did have good taste, she thought, highly satisfied with the effect some of them had had on him. And she had a present for him too. She was already stringing together a plan for how she could get him into her school, following her around carrying her stuff. 'As a bodyguard perhaps, or would that be too snotty?' she sighed dreamingly.
As they came back to the house Drew helped her to unload her stuff, it took him quite some time, and as he did it he could see the Volvo rising, at least ten inches, but when finished he started to worry again. He thought that he sort of had paid back his debt here, the problem being that it was a debt he would be glad to pay off every day for the rest of his life. Now only the worst part remained, saying goodbye to Gerald, and to Lena. And considering her age he realized that he didn't even dare to ask for her cellphone number. Hell, it would be too much like robbing the cradle.
As he came in with the last packets he sat down in the kitchen with her father using the opportunity to talk privately while Lena were away, hiding her presents.
"You can forget all about peeking you dirty old man. And you!" imperially pointing her finger at Drew. "You keep it zipped, you hear."
"Yes Ma'am." It was only with the greatest difficulty he succeeded not standing to attention and saluting. She sure had that same voice. Eerie that one, he thought.
"You're sure she's your daughter? And not an officer." He asked Gerald as she had left.
"Well son, she does have a lot of qualities. Just look at her logistics."
"Yeah, if that mall had been a fortress, she would have had them capitulating before sundown."
"Well, better you than me son." Reminding him of his new duties, as her closest in command, carrying and stuff.
"Does that make me one too?"
"Not a chance, not with that haircut."
"Well, it worked in the service."
Gerald seemed a little thoughtful as he heard that. He knew that it was only the 'real operators' like Delta forces personnel and similar that had their hair like they wanted. Just so that they would have it easier to 'blend in' as the saying went, but as everyone knew, it was just them being too big for their breeches. But even there he would have guessed Drew's hair length to be unusual? Then, on the other hand, it might have been shorter than it was now? At least it was clean even if not cut.
As Drew sat there he realized that it was time to take goodbye, thinking that it would be easier without Lena being there too. He had become real attached to her in the short time they had had spent together, and he feared that he might not be able to hide it as successfully if she was there.
"Well Sir, it's been a pleasure serving under your daughter, ah, don't get me wrong there Gerald. Is there any busses going from here to town?" He sincerely hoped he could afford the ticket. He didn't look forward too have to hitchhike, or even worse, have to walk the distance. It had taken most of an hour to drive to the mall.
"Well, you don't really have any need of me, do you Sir? Not that I'm not thankful for all you've done for me, but the firm might want me back." That was his first straight out lie, but at least it felt as a white one, just dark enough to make things move a little smoother.
"Son, don't you lie to me. You're not with any movers, and I don't think you have a room waiting for you either. Why don't you come clean with me instead. I like you, my daughter likes you. Why run away from that?"
Put like that it would have made a lot of sense to Drew if he had heard it, but he lost all the words coming after 'don't you lie to me.'
"Sorry Sir, you're absolutely right. I shouldn't have lied, I don't enjoy lying either. So I'll just take my leave, if I may Sir. Please tell you daughter that I had a lot of fun shopping, and a merry Christmas to you and yours, Sir." He almost saluted again, before getting himself under move.
Turning smartly around he walked out leaving Gerald to sit there, trying to work out what sort of bomb it was that just had exploded, right in his face
As Lena came down the stairs she found Gerald still sitting, looking thoughtful, but now with a single malt resting in his hand as he battled with what just had happened.
"Where's Drew Dad?"
"He left. He asked me to tell you that he had a lot of fun shopping with you."
"Gone? When Dad?"
"Ten minutes Lena, if you hurry you can catch him, use the bike."
"Oh Dad. What did you do?"
She rushed out to the bike shed to grab her bike, and started to pedal for all she was worth. Not knowing which way he might have chosen she chanced on the one she had shown him when they came back. It was a sort of shortcut but without any buses, she thought that he didn't have any money, at least he hadn't bought a thing the whole day they were shopping. So she guessed he was going to leg it.
She had talked with her Dad in the morning, and he had explained what he thought about Drew. Putting it all together she guessed that he had thought himself to be something of a bother, and a liability to them. But the truth was that both her and Dad needed someone like him, young and able to take care of the house, and her Dad, 'and me too' she almost screamed in her thoughts, accelerating her bike again. Finally realizing that she was in love, and with a old geezer too? 'Gawd, what will my friends say?"
But as she thought it through she realized that they probably just would be envious, she was sure they too would find him gorgeous, and after all the only real friend she had was Anna, and she and her mother had moved two years ago. Anyway, she didn't really care, also there wasn't that many girls in her age still here. The distances were too vast it seemed, and people too comfortable. But she loved it, the fields and valleys, trees and wildlife. What was the use of living in a stone desert when you could live like this?
Drew had indeed chosen the more direct route, he needed to be careful with what little he had. And he already regretted leaving without saying goodbye to Lena. But he didn't trust himself there. He couldn't allow himself to admit how much he would miss her, if he did, where would his defenses be then.
What he had was himself, against it all, and if something went wrong, well, he only had himself to blame. He knew all to well the consequences of caring for others, and taking on their burdens. And he wasn't prepared to do that again. In his head one nightmare scenario after another had been painted, with him acting like some soft brained moron in them all, promising her the world.
Well, he had thought he had the world before, just to find it slip through his fingers. Friends becoming strangers, blaming him for their choices, love becoming lies. No way, better to stand alone. The best friends he had had were all dead now, leaving him one way or another, mostly to the wars. It seemed as wars took those first, the best and bravest, sometimes he wondered if that was why the world looked like it did. It left only the riffraff and those to cowardly to stand up for their views, and the backstabbers of course.
"Awh Shit, who am I fooling." He said stopping. "I have to go back. I can't treat her like this?"
As Lena pedaled she saw him coming around the bend, forgetting about her bike she called at him "Drew. We need to talk." Then everything seemed to stop.
Looking at him she had driven the bike straight down into the ditch bordering the byway, and as the bike came to a sudden stop she felt herself lifted up from it, making a somersault in the air, luckily landing in what to Drew almost looked most like some sort of judo fall, and with her head up from the ground.
For Lena the journey seemed to take no time at all, until she hit the ground that was, where she in awe watched her arm coming down, as if in slow motion, but with an enormous momentum to it as it at last hit the ground. She felt that if there would have been a stone laying under it she easily would have cleaved it in two. After that, time seemed to jump into track again.
Drew who had started to run as he saw what was happening arrived at her side as she tried to stand again. Seeing her still dizzy, almost falling, he swept her up in his arms.
"I'm so sorry Lena, I was coming back to talk to you. Are you hurt?"
Hearing himself he shook his head. "Forget it, of course you're hurt. Here, try to stand." He let her down as gently as he could to see if she could stand on her own. To his relief she could, even if on slightly wobbly legs.
"I want you to come back Drew, we need you." She said, forgetting all about herself as she looked at him.
"Do you?" he answered. "Do you really need me Lena?" Not caring an iota for the age difference this time as he searched her eyes, once more losing himself in them. She nodded and as he saw it a smile started to grow on his face, holding a great and happy laughter in it, bubbling all the way from his stomach. He seemed to breathe out a slow breath of relief as he held her, caressing her cheek.
"Look, don't try to walk. I'll carry you." He said as he gently lifted her again.
Studying the remains of the bike he saw that the front wheel was all twisted up, looking more like some pretzel than a wheel. He didn't expect any one to want that that old bike, so he just left it where it was. And if anyone did, he thought, then a bloody merry Christmas to them, and good riddance to the damned bike. And as Lena and Drew slowly fused together into one, she never found any reason for doubting the rightness of the choices made that fateful day.
One slightly used, old bike. For one slightly used, old Drew.
And a merry Christmas to all.