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When Shadows Pass

by Sean English

Chapter 1

A Winding Journey

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking…"

The monotonous voice droned on, in its ever-present repetitive dullness, as Jason continued to stare out the airplane's window, observing the massive wing stretching toward the horizon. It was late in the evening, and although they were moving through an area that had not yet succumbed to the darkness that lay ahead, gazing eastward he could see a vast sea of blackness rapidly approaching. It had been a long flight for the first-time flyer, exhilarating in some ways but filled with a lot of apprehension in others. For some time, the plane had been on a steady descent, and as he watched, it seemed they were floating just above the bed of white, cotton-shaped masses that were suspended around them. Every so often the clouds separated and allowed them to peek through to the surface below. What was once a shimmering flat stretch of water, extending far off into the distance, was now no longer featureless. Instead, although the twilight hour was upon them, the world beneath now offered various objects and multi-colored lights in places that he hadn't been able to see before. As they drew closer, he could make out shapes of tiny boats and ships scurrying about just off the shoreline of a large landmass. He knew then they were getting closer, and before long his real journey would be just beginning.

The journey from the States was, in its own way, exciting for Jason. The flight was a first, something that he had never dreamed of doing, especially not doing alone and certainly not at his age. The sensations, the sights and smells, all were an eye-opening experience to his young mind. He had never really been afraid of flying before, but he had to admit his ego had a momentary setback when they first left Atlanta. Soon, however, his apprehension eased, and as they climbed thousands of feet into the air he began to smile a little. For a little while, he could forget all of the curves his life had been rounding and just relax, and take in the sensations he uncharacteristically reveled in. He had closed his eyes after a bit and surprisingly dozed off before other events interrupted his period of bliss.

For a boy who'd only recently turned fourteen, Jason met the definition of a typical American teenager. With short black hair, blue eyes and an angular, pleasant face, he suffered only being slightly small for his age. Perhaps because of that, he was considered a quiet youth, in general, and one not prone to put himself into any situation where he did not belong. More times than not, his life had been spent in the background avoiding trouble when it arose, but that did not mean he couldn't, or wouldn't, stand up for himself. There had been a few times he had risen to the occasion, especially when facing the school bully. Win or lose, his peers had come to learn that trying him on would not be easy, so for the most part he was left alone. He had made a few friends, and those who did take up with him always seemed to like their newfound friendship.

Unsure of what had awakened him, Jason stretched – or at least tried to – in the close quarters of his seat. He was traveling alone within his row, and although he had lucked out with having no one sit beside him, both people in front of him insisted on fully reclining their seats and invading what little space he had in the process. As he contemplated the cramped situation, thinking about whether to get up and perhaps use the bathroom, it dawned on him why the social worker had commented about not liking to fly. She was a large, heavyset woman, and she would have been hard-pressed to fit her bulk in one of the seats, and even harder pressed to make it through the grueling 10 plus hours of flying time.

In the end, he grunted at himself as his bladder made yet another urgent plea, so he slowly released the seat belt and made his way forward to the lavatory.

Returning some minutes later, he looked out the window to see they were still descending. As he continued to watch the countryside slide beneath them, his thoughts traveled back to the events of recent weeks. His face adopted a woeful expression as he thought about his dad, and what life had been like before his passing. In a timespan of only a few short days, he had gone from being the only child of a single-parent household to an orphan, or so they had all thought. Losing his father had stunned him, although in the back of his mind he had already began realizing just how volatile their relationship could become before it ever happened. When the tragedy did occur, the impact came as a blow that shook him to his core. Arriving home from school one afternoon, he found the man resting silently on the front porch, his eyes closed peacefully, oblivious to the world. Jason thought nothing of it at first, until repeated calls went not only unanswered, but evoked no response at all.

What happened afterwards was a blur. He had called 911, and the ambulance had arrived quickly, followed by the deputy sheriff and another official of some sort. When all was said and done, all Jason could do was sit in stunned silence as he watched them take his father away. The aftermath caused more officials to both arrive and leave until finally a woman, seemingly devoid of any emotion, appeared and sat beside him. Her demeanor was not unkindly, but it was indifferent, although it was her patience and perseverance with Jason that got him to finally open up and explain what little he knew. Eventually, she whisked him away downtown to a shelter and left him, promising to return the next day. He sat in the room for hours, pulling his knees to his chest, letting it finally sink in – before he finally opened up and let it out. He ended up crying hard into his pillow, all alone in his back room, thinking about the man who had always been there for him, had always waited for him after school, and who laughed and shared his adventures of both day and night.

His father was a man who had shown him kindness like no other and supported him seemingly no matter what. Only now did Jason come to realize how little he had really known the man over the years. His mother had died of cancer while Jason was very young, so it had been just the two of them for a very long time. Although the man was limited in his means, having survived an accident of some sort years before, his disability had not hindered him from seeing after his only son. They had moved a few times over the years until the man could no longer physically work, when at last they arrived in a small town in Tennessee that he, finally, effectively "retired". In all that time, however, not once did the man ever broach the subject of family, and what few inquiries Jason had made seemed to have been casually swatted away. Insofar as he knew, they had no one outside of the two of them, and now with his father gone, he was alone – truly alone.

Jason might have come to grips with his situation quicker had it not been for the ineptitude and indifference of the social works department that followed. Immediately following his father's funeral, Jason was whisked away to the outskirts of the town and placed into the home of an elderly couple. Of his belongings, his social worker had brought only an old, battered suitcase from his house filled with an odd assortment of clothes – nothing more. No pictures, no items of a personal nature, nothing – something which at that time Jason only assumed would follow at some point later. His only instructions were to do as he was told and stay out of trouble – strange words as it was, but knowing nothing better, they were accepted in silence, as he was always accustomed to doing.

From the very moment he arrived, however, he was set upon a path by both of the adults in an odd way. Given little in greeting or welcome, the old man showed the boy to a small, windowless room in the rear of their house, a room barely large enough to hold the old wrought iron, twin-sized bed and mattress that was present. Short of the bed, no other furniture existed in the room, and even if it had, Jason couldn't imagine how it could have fit. When he looked about and found the room also had no closet, he looked up at the man curiously, only to be met with a piercing glare. "Set your bag down on the bed and come with me," was his only response, to which Jason willingly obeyed. From there, the man rejoined his wife in the kitchen before turning and pointing to a paper lying on the kitchen table. Jason slowly picked it up and stared at the contents, reading what appeared to be a long list of odd jobs and tasks to be done.

"That is your list of chores that we expect you to do while living here," the woman explained at his inquiring glance. Her husband grunted and moved around the table until he stood in front of the boy. He glared down at the youth.

"As long as you're living here, you will work to earn your right to stay. Keep to that list, and we'll have no trouble; stray from it, and there will be consequences – and I guarantee, you will not like them." His tone delivered his message such that it was imbedded deeply into Jason's soul, and he recalled just how much fear he must have shown in his reaction. Upon seeing it, the man suddenly laughed at having, he presumed, achieved his desired effect. "Get to it, now!" he barked, and both he and his wife disappeared from the room.

In the days and weeks that followed, Jason had little time for worrying about his situation. The list of jobs never ended, as the elderly couple were constantly updating and changing its content. There were days the list could be quite long, spanning multiple pages, and others where, while the quantity wasn't great, the job to be done was hard and lengthy. They had been adamant: get the work done, and he would be fed and there would be no problems. Fail, and he would suffer. Each list was expected to be completed by the end of the day, and some days it took him into the late evening hours before he could retire to his "room" and, hopefully, find a cup of cold soup and a sandwich waiting for him. Most of the work he did was outdoors, with tasks such as mowing or clearing the yard, trimming shrubbery, weeding or tending to flower and vegetable gardens around the property. Other days would find him inside washing clothes, sweeping and cleaning dishes, beating rugs, wiping down walls or cleaning out the cellar. In all, the work was grueling for anyone, yet for a boy his size, it was exhausting. At night he was often so tired that all he could do was eat his scanty meal and fall into his bed, only to be awakened the next morning by a pounding on the door, and thus his day would start anew.

He suffered the routine daily throughout the summer until one day it occurred to him that school would soon be starting and, hopefully, a change of pace would ensue. However, he found that once school started, there was little change in the attitude or mannerisms of his caretakers. Each day he arrived 'home' – for lack of a better word – to find the ever-present list waiting on the table, with the expectation that it be fulfilled and finished that evening. The couple often disappeared, or lay about watching television while he worked, and were oblivious to his presence, or so it seemed. There was one time early on he had paused in the doorway to view something on the TV screen, only to be sharply reprimanded to get back to work. Since that time, he knew the boundaries they had placed on him, and it began to diminish his feeling of self-worth. Not once did he hear from, or see, the social worker again. For all he knew, the world had forgotten about him and left him alone to stay out of the way.

It all changed, however, when the work began to seriously degrade his grades in school. Usually an A and B student, his work suffered drastic changes that caught the attention of his teachers. They wrote it off at first to the effect of losing his father, but after some time they began applying pressure on him to perform better. The old couple, however, could care less; they ignored the boy's pleas and the notes he delivered from school. They often re-iterated that each night he was expected to complete his chores without complaint, in their entirety. In other words, each night he was expected to do as he was told, by them, and nothing else mattered.

At first, he tried studying into the early hours of the morning, but that caused him to be unable to stay awake in class. The combination of lack of sleep, and the grueling chores he had to perform nightly, fogged his mind until one Friday he was pulled aside by one of his teachers. Unceremoniously, he was informed if he did not do well on the test coming up on Monday, she was going to have to fail him for the current grading period. Alarmed, he redoubled his resolve to study that weekend and try to catch up. He had never performed below a 'C' in a class in his whole school life, and certainly had never failed. However, arriving home that evening, he found the list in this particular instance to be exceptionally long, much longer than usual, with several tasks even more complicated than usual.

He sighed, knowing it was useless to argue with the old man, so he worked on each item throughout the next two days, until Sunday evening arrived and he had finished the list. It was with a quiet pride and confidence he put his supplies away and, after looking at the clock, knew he could at least make a dent into some of the homework problems he had fallen behind on. Going to his room, he closed the door and sat down in the floor with his back leaning against the foot of the bed. He had opened his book then, beginning what he hoped would be enough to get him through the next day. Just as he started to get into the material, there came a sharp, loud pounding at the door.

Without a word or wait for an acknowledgement of any kind, the hinges creaked as the unpainted wooden slab swung inward and revealed the old man standing there, his finger extended and indicating for the boy to follow him. With a sigh, Jason set his books on the floor beside him and followed as instructed. They arrived in the old bathroom at the end of the hall. Once there, the man pointed to the porcelain enameled, cast iron tub. "Get the rust off those faucets," was the curt statement.

Jason looked up at the man and glared incredulously. There was a part of him that began to boil inside, and before he even realized doing it, he replied in a quiet, defiant voice. "No."

The old man glared at him in a rage as he stood there, taken aback. Jason tried to explain, as calmly as he could, why he needed the time now to study, of the degrading of his school work, but only got started before he was cut off. "You think I give a damn fuck about you and your school, boy?" the man shouted at him. He hauled himself up to his full height and continued. "I don't give a rats' ass about your schooling! I figure if you can't make better grades, then it must be because you're flipping lazy, stupid or something even worse, which wouldn't surprise me in the least. Now, you'll do as I say, and you'll be thankful I don't throw your scrawny little pimping ass back out onto the streets! You'll pull your weight for living here or else – got it? Or I'll have them fucking balls of yours wound and tied up so tight you'll wish you had been born with a pussy!" Seeing the hatred that peered back in the teen's eyes, he snarled and added, "Don't you give me those eyeballs either, mister - I'm not screwing around here – you understand me? Now I told you to polish and get this shitty rust off those faucets, so git your ass to it!"

The rage Jason saw in the old man's eyes evoked a streak of deeper defiance within the boy - the first that had welled up in a long time. "No," he repeated.

The next instant Jason found himself hurling across the short space between him and the tub. A stinging blow across his cheek had sent him reeling with a ringing in his ears that did not subside immediately. Half delirious, the youth looked up at the old man, and tried to refocus on the pair of eyes that smirked at him. Although tears stung his eyes from the pain he felt, he addressed the man with as much contempt as he could muster, his voice just as quietly intoned as he had before. "Go to hell."

"Are you okay, sweetie?"

Jason shuddered as those events haunted his memory. He looked up at the voice that interrupted his thoughts. It came from the pretty stewardess he had befriended when he'd come onboard and, as he found out later, was the one who had been assigned to watch over him on the flight. Taking a quick breath, he smiled weakly. "Uh, yeah, sure…"

She wasn't buying it, however. Sitting down next to him, she observed his facial features for quite some time before she spoke again. "Don't try and fool me, I can usually tell when someone has a lot on their mind." She smiled when he didn't respond. "Don't worry, I'm not going to try and drag any dark adolescent secrets out of you." She reached out a hand and placed it on his arm while leaning in close and whispering. "Just know I'm here if you might, you know, like a stranger to talk to, that's all."

Jason smiled warmly at her and for a second considered it, before slowly shaking his head. "It's nothing really, but thanks, though." Looking into her eyes, he added, "For someone who was told she had to watch over me and stuff, you're still a really nice lady."

The stewardess laughed. "Still? Well, that's one I haven't heard before!" She lowered her voice. "You're a lot nicer than some of the kids who come through here. Most would be whining and complaining by now, you know, 'are we there yet?' or 'how much longer?' or 'why can't I have ice cream?'"

Jason grinned and whispered, "I can whine if you really want me to!" – to which the girl drew back and playfully slapped his leg, then reached in and gave him a light hug with her one free arm.

"No, that won't be necessary, I assure you," she whispered back, her voice carrying only a slight trace of an English accent. "Still, if you need anything, let me know, okay? We'll be landing soon, so you better buckle up." He nodded as she arose and left, feeling good about the exchange and deciding he liked the girl. He then buckled his seatbelt as instructed.

True to her word, the plane did touch down shortly thereafter, sending both a feeling of exhilaration and relief through him. Jason watched as the airfield rolled by and noted that he could see a surprising abundance of detail outside, even in the low light of the early evening hours. London's Gatwick airport was busy for a Thursday evening – not that he knew how busy it was any other evening. As they taxied, however, he saw it was a busy airport, given the number of planes he saw both lined up on the aprons and runways, ready to take off he assumed, and the large number parked at the terminal gates.

"Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of your flight crew and myself, I'd like to welcome you to London's Gatwick International, where the local time is now 6:22 PM. It looks like we'll have to sit for just a few moments here on the taxiway before we can dock, so if you would, please sit back for just a little bit longer until we can get you safely setup into the terminal."

At those words a resounding groan ensued throughout the cabin, making Jason look about at the disappointment showing on most people's faces. He returned to looking out the window, however, to watch the busy network of activity outside the plane, while he waited along with the rest of the passengers. As the minutes passed, the wait only set up an apprehension inside him, because unlike most of the plane's occupants, he was unsure what his future would hold. Looking around again, he imagined most of these people were either tourists or people returning home from being abroad, or perhaps even a few were here making a business trip of some sort. His outlook was different: he was starting another chapter in his life, and it held a very uncertain future.

Having survived one abusive ordeal, Jason thought back on the events that led up to his crossing over the Atlantic. Since he was powerless to deal with his own future, he could only hope that somebody in the Heavens was watching out for him. Enough so that he wasn't getting into another situation like that which he came from. Although he was not so much of a religious person as some, he did believe there was an afterlife, and he hoped even then that maybe his father was there, watching out for him. There was a great uncertainty, however, to what lie ahead. Living a life believing he had no other family, it came as a complete surprise to find out his father actually did have a brother, and through some miraculous means social services had tracked him down here in England. It gave him a momentary feeling of elation when he found out – because up to that point in time, he thought he was truly alone in the world.

But now, at the precipice he was about to cross, he wasn't so sure anymore. He recalled there was some delay as words went back and forth between the social services people and his newfound "family", but eventually word came down, with a purchased ticket in his name, and Jason found himself on the plane crossing the Atlantic. He literally knew nothing of these people, short of the fact that there were four of them in the family – two adults and two teenage sons. Beyond that, he had no idea what he would be walking into.

For that matter, he had no idea what English life would be like to him either. Most of the adults around him had been upbeat about it all, telling him repeatedly how he would love it over here and the like for a new adventure, but the change still left him apprehensive. He was already struggling with some of the language he heard here and there, people with thick English accents crossing and choosing words differently. It had taken a few days to get him a passport, although one was granted in short order given his "special" circumstances. Just then the plane finally began moving again, and as it pulled up to park at the terminal, he unconsciously reached inside his jacket to make sure the little booklet was still there.

A great roar of relief swept the cabin as the plane halted at the gate, and people began standing and filling the aisles, struggling to stretch and/or collect their belongings from the overhead bins. Jason saw the crowd scampering for what room they could get and decided he would not fight for his own space, opting instead to wait out their exit. Within minutes, however, the plane slowly began emptying as people filed away toward the forward doors. Jason caught sight of his "guardian" stewardess, who just smiled at him and patiently waited herself, giving parting wishes to those who passed by. When he finally did rise and move forward, she met him at the doorway.

"Well, ready for the show?"

Jason looked at her sheepishly. "Um, I guess. What happens now?"

The young woman collected her own bags from a storage bin and then turned to him. "Well, for right now you get to stay with me. I'm going to take you through a special customs area so you won't have to wait through all of the immigration lines, and they will get you cleared for the terminal. Then someone will hopefully meet us and take over so you can go get your bags. Sound alright with you?"

Jason nodded. "Sure."

The young lady smiled back and leaned down slightly to him. "You know, all this way and I don't think I ever introduced myself to you. I'm Cindy, by the way."

Jason grinned at her. "Hi Cindy, I'm Jason." They shook hands and then began chatting as they exited the plane and made their way up the ramp. Once they reached the terminal, Jason was surprised it seemed so empty compared to the rest of the airport. Noticing his look, Cindy quickly reasoned his reaction. "Most of the people are at the immigration stations. Non-European international flights are not as active as the other flights in and out of here."

"Oh," was Jason's only reply as they went through a set of doors marked 'Authorized Personnel Only'. Looking up at his guide, she only smiled and nodded that it was alright, so he followed her through until they reached a long hallway with an individual sitting at a booth-like desk on one side. Inside was an elderly black man who looked out and smiled at them as they approached.

"Evening madam. Do I take it you're here with our special passenger, a-" He paused to look at his notes briefly before continuing. "Uh, a Mr. Mathews it looks like? Jason Mathews?"

"Yes sir," Jason answered with a voice firmer than he actually felt.

The man looked down and smiled at him. "Well, how do you do, young sir? Welcome to London!" Looking up at Cindy, the man inquired, "Has he filled out his declaration card?"

Cindy shook her head. "No, but I did start one for him." She handed the document to him and continued. "He is basically here on a one-way, open-ended visit, to be collected by relatives down in the tarmac terminal, I believe."

Once again, the man reviewed the card and his documentation. "Well that shouldn't be too hard. Tell me Mr. Mathews, did they give you a passport?"

"Yes sir," Jason replied a second time, this time removing the booklet from his jacket pocket and presenting it to the man. He watched curiously as the gentlemen proceeded to fill in some lines on the declaration card, copying the information from the supplied passport, then turned and applied a stamp in the front of the little booklet.

Handing the booklet back to the youngster, he grinned. "There you go, all done now. If I were you, I'd keep that booklet in a safe place somewhere, okay? As long as you're in England, it will keep you safe insofar as citizenship. Lose it, though, and you could end up having some trouble trying to get back to the States, should you ever desire to return." Looking up one last time, he asked the stewardess, "Will you be going into London or staying at the reserve tonight?"

Cindy shook her head. "Not London, I have a 4:45 back to the States."

The old man nodded. "Then we're finished, as long as you don't leave the tarmac I don't need to handle your passport. Mr. Mathews, I hope your stay in Her Majesty's country is enjoyable." With that, Jason and Cindy continued onward to the end of the corridor and went through another set of doors, only to find another elderly guide awaiting them, this time a white-haired lady.

"Mr. Jason Mathews, I presume?" she said pleasantly. When Jason nodded, he recognized this would be their parting point. He turned to Cindy.

"Thank you for everything," he offered the lady, almost sad to see her go. He was surprised, however, that she set her luggage upright and then embraced him warmly. He returned the hug, awkward as it was, and was about to let go when he felt her place something in his jacket pocket. Hesitating, he felt her near his ear. "This is my number, you ever need someone to chat with, this is how you can find me, okay?"

Grinning but grateful, the two separated and exchanged a meaningful glance that both understood well, before Jason turned to the lady. She regarded him kindly and after taking her leave from Cindy, they began moving again. Walking along another long corridor, she regarded his ticket as she addressed him pleasantly. "I understand you don't have any luggage, is that correct?"

"Uh, yes ma'am." He looked down at the backpack he was carrying. "This is really all I have with me."

The woman nodded as they continued. "It's quite alright. Let's see if we can get you down to the terminal area and if we're lucky, someone will be along shortly to collect you."


The woman laughed softly. "I say lucky because there was a terrible wreck down the motorway a couple of hours ago, and traffic has been moving along rather sluggish ever since." Seeing his expression, she smiled at him. "Do not worry, someone will be along to collect you, I'm sure, and I will not leave your side until they do. You need not fear being left alone in here." As they continued to walk along, they chatted idly about how the trip had been, and upon discovering it was his first time aboard a plane, the woman beamed and told some of her own first adventures in flights. Jason could not help but be interested, as the experiences she related were both similar but also contrasted differently to his own, although he suspected it was being that her flights were from many years before.

At some point however, both fell silent and eventually Jason looked up at the kindly woman. "Um, do we have to go very much farther?" he asked. Seeing her curious expression, he sheepishly added, "I mean, can I like, stop at a bathroom for a minute?"

The older woman chuckled merrily, and her expression set him at ease. "Of course, you can!" she answered. "Silly me, I should have realized that, especially once you got off that long flight!" She pointed to a nearby entry just ahead of them. "Off you go, there, shoo!" Inwardly Jason grinned at the use of her vocabulary as he was ushered away.

Sometime later the two wound their way through the crowd and ended up near more security checkpoints. Jason saw the long lines, not unlike those he had encountered in America, of people waiting to be "processed" before entering. He wondered if he would have to submit to another ordeal in order to get out. Before he had the chance to ask his guide, however, the woman took a gentle hold of his elbow and guided him off to the side, into a well-lit but pale-colored room. Entering the small area, he found it was empty but for a row of chairs that stretched along one side. "You wait here young man, and I'll be right back, okay?" the older lady whispered before disappearing. He walked to the chairs and then seated himself, a knowing feeling returning to his stomach. He once again waited for the inevitable.

As the seconds stretched into minutes, Jason's nervousness began to take over. His mouth was dry, his breathing coming in shorter rasps. There were pangs of suspense churning deep within his stomach, and his palms began to sweat. He tried to close his eyes and silently count backwards from thirty, making fists with both hands and slowly relieving the pressure, as he had learned from somewhere in his lifetime. His attempts were only partially successful, however, and he found his breathing continued to escalate. The room became uncomfortable, somewhat warm compared to the other areas in the facility they had just walked through. He closed his eyes and repeated the performance, willing himself to calm down. It was during this second attempt he heard a sharp sound, and opening his eyes he saw a door open at the far side of the room. Seconds later, in walked his chaperone, but this time she was followed by a tall, slender man who looked to be in his upper-30's or so, with light skin but hair that was almost as black as his own.

If first impressions could be favored, Jason decided the man who walked over and stood before him appeared – interesting. Aside from the hair, it was surprising how much their appearances favored one another, and even more so, he thought he could see trace elements that were identical to even his father. If not for the black-rimmed glasses the man wore, Jason would almost believe he was looking at some future version of himself. Both had angular features that met the other's bright blue eyes, and as they stood staring at one another momentarily, they each tried to size the other up. Perhaps even more interesting was that they were both wearing jeans and, surprisingly, a stripped pullover.

The man suddenly cleared his throat and smiled, looking genuine and pleasant enough. Somewhat sheepishly though, he knelt to the floor on one knee in front of the youth, and although as tall of an individual he was, he elevated himself slightly so he could look into the young man's eyes directly on the same level. "Ah, hallo Jason, my name is Simon – Simon Flavell."

At first Jason did not respond as he scrutinized the man's face, searching for any hint of discontent or, heaven forbid, a hidden agenda that might reside there in his features. Finding none, he tried to muster as much warmth as he could in his reply. "Uh, hey..." He immediately chastised himself inwardly at his awkwardness. Unsure what he should say or do, he finally reached out clumsily and offered the man his hand.

Simon smiled and took it, giving the teen a firm handshake, but with a complete lack of roughness. Jason noted Simon's hands were firm, but not calloused or hard like some he had encountered. "I'm so happy to meet you, Mr. Jason. Did you have a decent flight over?" He spoke softly, inflecting as much friendliness into the greeting as he could. His voice was not that hard to understand, Jason noted, not so heavily accented as he was afraid he might find.

Simon studied the youth, sizing him up. As far as his own impressions go, he saw before him a young man with definite uncertainty in his eyes, and perhaps a wariness that put the youth on his guard. When Jason responded, Simon felt he was not far from the truth in his guess. "Um, yeah, it was okay, thanks. A little long, but..." Standing there, Jason again felt foolish at his inability to offer anything other than simple utterances, and it didn't help when the older man suddenly laughed.

"Spoken like a true teenager," he replied, standing up and addressing the attendant. "Is there anything I need to sign or do for you before we collect ourselves?" he asked.

"No sir, your proof of identity is well established. He is free to go. I should remind you, however, that although he will gain residence here, he must keep and maintain his passport in order to remain for any extended length of time."

Simon nodded. "I understand, this was explained to me by Mrs. Norris. We'll see to it all is taken care of." After shaking the lady's hand, Simon looked down at the teenager and once again observed both uncertainty and embarrassment still lingering. "Ready?" he offered silently. What followed that simple request was met with silence until they both had the other's attention, Jason looking up.

Before Jason could respond however, Simon took a deep breath and in a very soft but measured voice, spoke again with much warmth and sincerity as was his nature. "I suspect you hear this quite often as of late, but it really is going to be okay. I know those are easy words for one to speak, but believe it or not, I do sort of imagine how you might be feeling at the moment. First, let me offer you my condolences on the loss of your father – my brother. I know it is rather late in the game, but please believe that they are offered with the utmost sincerity." Jason nodded slowly as he deciphered and understood what the man was saying, the young blue eyes still piercing inwardly as the older man continued. "I must say, I suspect it was as much a surprise to you as it was for us, to learn about each other, given what I've understood is correct." Simon took advantage of the moment and moved over to the empty seats, inviting the youth to join him and sit. They both turned and faced each other while the lady stood quietly in the background, watching it all unfold, giving them their moment of need.

For a full minute silence seemed to be golden between them, Jason being unsure what to say, not knowing what was even expected of him. So many things had happened to him in so many different ways, that now when the moment had arrived, their confrontation had rendered him helpless. Simon first crossed his arms as he contemplated the boy, but eventually the man reached out and clasped the teenager's shoulder. "I can also imagine you probably have a million thoughts going through that head of yours, as well as a good count of questions. Don't fret though, it will all be answered in good time. I assure you that we – we, being Natalie and myself – will try to tell you anything and everything we know. You have nothing to fear from us – although I know it will take some time before you really, truly believe you can trust us – any of us, for that matter. There is one thing, however, I can tell you now – one thing I can get out in the open so that you know it up front, and then maybe we can build a relationship on that, hmm?"

Seeing he had the youth's sharp attention, made Simon pause as he leaned in a little closer. "You may not know it right now, but we – and I mean our whole family – are very happy to have you here. They could not be with me here this evening because of prior commitments, but they wanted to come with me I assure you. I'll have you know, I had a time with Elliot, trying to get him to understand he had other priorities that needed to be addressed first! Be that as it may though, you'll get to meet them all in just a little while, later on tonight." Glancing to the ceiling, he chose his next words carefully. "It can be unsettling, given what these last few months must have been like for you, to just be uprooted and come across the pond into a stranger's land with an even stranger people. I've been told some things about how you were, shall we say, appropriated after your father passed away, and that somehow you lived on the streets for a short period at one point. I do not know many of the details, but I got the gist you've had it fairly difficult for some time. I'll grant you – there are some rough people in the world we live in, but I hope you'll not find any of that while you're staying here in England - not with us anyway. It will be different, and I won't say it will be an easy adjustment for you, but I think if you give it some time you'll find it quite an improvement. I intend to try and make it as much so as I can. But Jason, more important than any of that hear me now when I tell you this: we may be a strange people in a strange land, but each of us is very happy that you're here, that you've come and found us, and that you've given us a chance."

Jason felt awed at the moment, wondering how it was this man could see inside his soul and steal the very fears he was afraid to voice aloud, and yet dispel them as easily as he did. When he finally spoke, it was almost in a whisper. "I don't think you're a strange people, sir. Honest. Thanks, I mean… thank you for letting me come."

Simon smiled yet again as he nodded. "You're very welcome. I think the days ahead will be interesting for the both of us." He leaned in one last time and lowered his voice, almost conspiratorially. "We'll see if you still think we're not so strange after you've lived with us a little while, hmmm?" He laughed, and was satisfied to see the younger teenager grin back at him. "Now, how about we get started, hmm? We can start by getting your things collected," Simon announced as they stood. The older man nodded to the lady in departure, and then they walked through the doorway that opened into the more non-secure areas of the airport.

"Uh, sir, I d-don't have any bags or a-anything, there really isn't anything to get," Jason replied sheepishly.

Simon looked surprised as he stopped to look down at the boy. "Oh, so someone is shipping your stuff over, I see."

Jason slowly shook his head. "Um, no, I mean, this is really all I have sir, it's just me and this pack I guess."

The older man stood confused. "You mean you don't have any clothes or belongings? What about the things you and your Dad had, you know, your belongings from home?"

Jason shrugged and then shyly looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry sir, t-there just isn't any. I always thought there would be some things, but nothing was ever brought or given to me, so there just, like, isn't anything to get." An awkward silence fell as Jason halted, unsure of what else to say. It wasn't until he felt a hand around his shoulder that he looked up again into the smiling face of the older man.

"Don't be so glum, it really doesn't matter. I must say, I was only surprised." Simon studied the boy for a second, and made a mental note that he was going to have to follow up on that at some point. "Tell me, did you and your Dad have much? You know, furniture, pictures, albums – you know, normal things? Not so much things of value, just items for living day in and day out?"

Jason shrugged his shoulders. "We never had a lot of stuff sir, but it wasn't like we had nothing. Clothes, TV, Dad had an old truck. He didn't drive it very much though. We had dishes and stuff to cook with in the kitchen and everything. And yeah, we had pictures of my mom and of me when I was little, and I guess all of us as a family and stuff, yeah."

"But you're telling me that since your father passed away, you've not seen any, or heard anything about, any of these belongings you and you Dad had, right?"

Jason looked deeply at the man, considering as if it were the first time the thought had struck him. Nonchalantly he shrugged his shoulders. "No sir, I mean, yes sir, I mean – no, nobody has given me anything that I know of." An eerie silence fell between the two once again, until Jason spotted a soda machine nearby and realized how dry his throat had become in the last few minutes. "Um, do you think we could get a Coca Cola, sir? I mean, they ran out of diet drinks on the plane and, well, I, I mean…"

Simon smiled as he began fishing in his pocket. "I think we could do that, yes, I wouldn't mind having one myself." They walked over to the machine and procured to drinks, before they began walking towards the front of the terminal. Simon cleared his throat. "It really doesn't matter Jason, about your belongings I mean; it's not that we have any interest in them for ourselves. However, it does seem odd to me that they were withheld from you, or not put into storage or something. Maybe they were and you just were not told of it, or something. I mean, you're old enough they could have conveyed something to you on the matter, but oh well. If nothing else, you should have at least gotten your clothes, some basic mementoes – things like that, you know? I would think, depending of course on the laws of the State, and in how it handles the estates of minors, something was done. You do understand, right?" Seeing Jason nod, he continued. "In the next few weeks, I'll make an inquiry on your behalf, if you like, and we'll find out what we can, hmm?"

They rounded a corner to which Simon directed them toward a waiting shuttle, which they boarded and took a seat near the back. Simon looked down at the soda the teen had chosen. "You drink diet sodas, I take it? Are you diabetic or anything?"

"Oh, no sir, it's just a habit more or less, I kind of like them better than the regular stuff, and Dad always said that they were supposed to be healthier and everything, you know, not so much sugar."

Simon laughed. "Well, I don't know about the healthier idea, but I dare say they do discard the sugar content considerably, so I guess it is better in that sense." They rode along in silence for a short while before Simon indicated an upcoming stop. "Here we go," he said simply, getting up and leaving when the shuttle reached its destination, Jason tagging along beside him. They walked a short distance until they reach an odd sort of vehicle, which Simon opened the trunk and allowed Jason to put his pack inside.

It was a strange make of vehicle, one which Jason had never seen or heard of before, but thought it looked very much like an American compact. In fact, as he looked around he noticed most all of the vehicles in the lot were similar. Other than for a large decal that crossed the back, detailing the license number he guessed, they still looked very much like any other American vehicle in general. After the lid was shut, without thinking he followed Simon up the right-hand side to the door. When it opened, however, he quickly realized the sides were reversed – in comparison to American cars, with the steering wheel on the right.

Simon laughed upon seeing the boy's confusion and surprise. "How is it you boys say it? 'You're not in Kansas anymore?'" Seeing the red blush appear, he quickly continued. "Mind you not, there have been a good many people to make the same mistake as you, both young and old! I would bet there will be other things here you will have to adjust to."

Jason finally smiled sheepishly as he turned and went around to the other side of the vehicle, getting in and sitting down in the passenger seat. "Sorry, sir."

Simon glanced at the teen, watching the boy who now buckled himself in. "There is nothing to be sorry for, and while we're at it, just so you know - you don't need to call me sir, Jason. Just Simon is okay if you want." He smiled reassuringly. "Jason, I am not your father, nor could I ever replace him – and I won't try to do that, I assure you. Technically I'm your uncle, but even that is somewhat strange in this situation, seeing as we have never been around one another before now. However, my point is simple: address me in any way that is comfortable for you, but do not feel you have to be so formal with me, that's all. I really don't want to feel like I'm some old codger every time you call me 'sir' – if you get my drift."

Jason giggled. "Okay, yeah, I understand si-" He stopped himself in time, then looked embarrassingly up at the older man before grinning. "Uh, I'll work on it."

Simon laughed and then started the vehicle, working their way out of the lot and onto the highway. He was amused as he watched the teen observe the other drivers on the road, and even laughed again when they made a turn onto another section of highway. "What's wrong?"

"You guys do, like, drive on the wrong side of the road… right?" The boy had finally started to relax, and Simon noted he was speaking a little more freely. Thinking about the reply, he chuckled in amusement.

"Wrong side? What makes you think we're the ones driving wrong here? To us, you American chaps might be the ones to drive on the wrong side, you know!" He watched the comprehension settle in, followed by another round of shy embarrassment again. Amused, he cleared his throat and decided to change the subject. "So, tell me Jason, what do you know about me and my family, hmm?"

"Not very much. My, uh, case worker, told me a little is all, mostly that you lived here in England and had two sons. He also said you live somewhere near the ocean I think, and you work for some kind of a fire alarm company or something."

Simon nodded. "That's all correct, but it is not just me and my two sons. You could say I have a wife, but technically we are not married. Her name is Natalie, and we have been living together for almost 15 years now." Seeing the question on the youth's face, he cleared his throat again. "It's rather difficult to explain that one I'm afraid, but it basically boils down to the fact I was once married to a woman who bore my first son, my oldest son, but our marriage did not go in a way favorable to the both of us. We divorced, but since she now lives in France, there are certain, ah, advantages if I don't re-enter another counsel, if you know what I mean. Don't misunderstand, I am not in hiding or anything, and neither is she - we both just have a mutual agreement regarding our state and status. Now, Natalie on the other hand, fully understands this as well, and although we may not be wedded by an official state union, we both believe we are wedded in spirit - and that is what counts. Does that make sense to you?"

Although Jason did not understand all of it, he gazed out at the darkness and the roadway ahead and nodded slowly. Simon saw the confusion, however, and smiled. "I admit, it is not a straightforward business, and we know that. Be aware though, we are a very complete family, and you are going to be warmly welcomed, I assure you."

Nothing more was said for some time as they wound their way through the various motorways and roads, basically heading south. After a while, Simon looked over at the teen riding in the silence. "So, what's going on in that little head of yours?"

Startled, Jason glanced back and then sheepishly looked away. "Uh, nothing..."

Simon grunted. "Now you sound like my own children." He laughed and then spoke, this time using a gentler tone. "Seriously Jason, that might work for most teenagers, but I cannot begin to believe you would come all this way from the States and not have a head full of questions, or worries or wonders or at least something. If nothing else, then at least perhaps excitement - but I'm afraid I don't really get that from observing you."

Jason hesitated, but then shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know sir, it's just - just a lot to take in I guess."

Simon studied the teen for a moment as he navigated through the countryside, before finally nodding. "Trust me, if nothing else, THAT I can understand."

They drove on in silence for a while, before Jason turned, his curiosity piqued. "Um, can I ask like, how DID you guys learn about, you know, me?"

Simon smiled at the teen as he navigated another turn. "To be totally truthful, I don't know if I can completely answer that one or not. I can tell you what I know, and I can tell you what I think happened beyond that, but some of the details are a little sketchy at best." Seeing the teen's interest, he took a deep breath. "I guess I should start at the beginning. If you don't mind my asking first, how much do you know about your father and myself?"

Jason shrugged his shoulders and shook his head slightly. "Nothing really; until about a week ago, I never knew you even existed, even over here in England of all places." He quickly looked up. "I didn't mean that in a bad way sir, just –"

Simon laughed and nodded. "No offense taken. I'm not really that surprised either, I suppose. Your father and I are brothers, rather step brothers to be assured, but we both had the same father so there is at least a partial line of blood kinship. You see, our father was married twice, and his first wife fell with a harrowing illness a few years after their marriage. She didn't make it, and the two of them - meaning your father and your grandfather - lived together for some years by themselves. Mind you I know little to nothing about that particular stretch of time, only that at some point our father met another lady eventually, and that this lady was to eventually become his bride. That lady also, incidentally, became my mother."

"How old was my Dad when that happened, sir?"

Simon grimaced. "I'm not totally sure of that either to be honest, but I know that there existed about 11 years difference in age between your father and myself. So, it would be safe to say at least that much time passed I think. In any event, I'm afraid my brother didn't take very kindly to the new addition in the family - and even more so when that new addition ended up doubling the numbers. I am referring, as you might deem, to me when I came along and joined the brood."

"Why do you say that?" Jason asked, drawn into the story.

"Well," Simon paused, trying to find the right words. "When we were young, or rather when I was young, your father had very little to do with my being around. In fact, I think he went out of his way at times just to avoid and ignore me. For a long while, I was just something or someone out of place in his life, a rather thorn of sorts. Now, I don't mean that as a criticism really, because I know how brothers can get on with each other's nerves at times. Nor do I mean to put your father in a bad light, please, but we - how do I say, we were always at odds, and that's just how it was for the most part of our life together. Being older now and looking back, I guess, you could say more or less it was just my impressions. I mean, I was very young and didn't know or understand anything better than that just being the way we grew up. Your father had a group of other ruffians he hung out with considerably, and that added to my being more estranged than usual. I missed his companionship fearfully as a brother, because he and his friends were always gone, sometimes days at a time."

Pausing only long enough to navigate a change in their route, Simon took a deep breath. "It was one of the things our father had such a basic dislike for. Again, I don't say these things to paint this grim picture for you," Simon repeated, glancing at the youth briefly before returning his eyes to the roadway. "I know he was your father and probably had a very different attitude towards you and your lives than what I describe. But try to remember we're talking about a time when he was like most teenagers of our era - rebellious, righteous, self-dependent. Even I went through that same period to some extent. As I grew older though, it was different for me. Your father, unfortunate as it seemed, carried a lot of his resentment internally with us as a family – enough so he was considerably rude, and discourteous, with both me and my mother. From what little I can remember, I know she made several attempts to work on building a better relationship with him, and she exerted a good deal of patience and provided what support she could that he would allow. It was all for naught, however, because in the end he remained distant and aloof; his attitude just didn't mix well with our parents at the time, and as he grew older it became harder to deal with."

Jason chewed on the revelations for a moment before he spoke. "Dad never told me anything about my grandparents, as far as I can remember. I remember asking him a few times, but he just always smiled and said there wasn't much to tell, and then he would change the subject or something." He mulled these facts over before looking back to the older man. "What happened next?"

Simon's voice softened as he continued. "It boiled down to a terrible fate finally, I think. What I remember, more or less, was that your father and grandfather had a rather bad row one evening. I was perhaps 4, maybe 5 at the time. He had just turned 16 I think, and was speaking overtly about entering into the Queens service one evening. That part was not surprising, as it was something he had wanted to do from as early as I could remember. Father however, had other plans, telling him that he wasn't ready, that entering the service would be rather too hard on him at the time, I think. I'm not sure, but I think your grandfather insisted that your Dad wait until he was at least 17, but-"

Jason noted the hesitation. "But what, sir?"

Simon sighed and looked thoughtful. "My memory is sketchy there Jason. What I recall is only fleeting glimpses of the moment I'm afraid. It's not overly horrible I guess, nor is it anything stranger than you would find elsewhere in some family-based drama today. It only seems disheartening because of how it felt to us as a family. You see, as I said, our fathers had a fairly harsh argument, one which came to some rather wicked words. In the end, your Dad made several remarks deemed too hurtful I'm afraid, and for a moment there was an exchange – blows, a slap or something of the sort, but I cannot recall who did what to whom. What I do recall, however, is that the end of it came all at once when it happened. Your father left the room and out the front door - never to return again. When I say never, I mean that conclusively – he left his clothes, his belongings – everything that could seemingly tie him to our existence – all behind. Your grandpa was devastated in the end. I remember after that night he tried desperately to locate your Dad at times, searching anywhere he could think of across the country, sometimes gone until way up in the hours of the morning. No one ever heard from him again though. I remember the sadness, and the face that was left behind. My brother had covered his tracks well, he disappeared - at least, until a few years later. I'm thinking, I was maybe 10 around the time, I'm not sure, but little fragments started coming to us. It seemed that Charles did succeed in joining the Royal Navy, and at the time was off overseas somewhere. After a while, to my knowledge, that was the last that ever was heard of him before Dad - our father - passed away. That has been some years ago now."

Jason looked down at his feet. "Oh. I'm, I'm sorry..."

Simon glanced over at the boy. "Don't be. I take it you really know very little about your extended family then?" When Jason nodded, he spoke again. "I understand it isn't all glorious or anything to hear about, and even more so to have to hear it this way for the first time right now. It is as I said, though; I have few memories myself, of a day and age long since passed. My parents loved each other, and both treated me quite well in the years I lived at home. It wasn't long after your Dad left that we even had a new addition to the family still, so our family grew even more. In other words, I have a sister who lives nearby in Hampshire - Havant to be exact. We each have the other, and there is plenty of support I dare say between us."

"So, I have an aunt then, sort of." The whispered words escaped Jason before he returned his gaze to Simon. "You said your Dad died, right? What about your mom?"

Simon shook his head. "I'm sorry to say, my mother succumbed to cancer almost 2 years ago." Simon watched as the young teenager took the news, staring out the window at the countryside flying by. "I know how it seems, believe me. It is strange in contrast to have so many people pass from the family from such a strange yet terrible disease. Yet your grandfather died of a heart attack, and my mother – a woman you would have loved to meet I think – who was as sweet as they come, succumbed to the disease in the same fate as others. It is life Jason, like it or not, it is a part of the bigger circle. We live and deal with what fate brings us along the road, one curve at a time."

Jason nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I know. It is funny though, sometimes." He looked up at the bigger man again. "My mother also died of cancer, some kind of tumor. That's basically all I know about it though." The revelation brought them both back to silence, each to their thoughts while Simon continued to drive. Soon Jason spoke up. "How long until we, like, get there?"

Simon studied for a moment before answering. "Probably about another forty minutes or so. Have you ever lived in the big city?"

Jason nodded. "Yeah, me and Dad lived right outside of Nashville for about a year I think."

Simon's eyebrow rose. "Music City USA? I know that place. Never been there yet, but I hope to someday pay it a visit." Seeing the look of curiosity, he continued. "I've been to the states several times, traveling for my company, so I know several areas dotted about here and there."

"What do you do, if I can ask?"

Simon smiled before replying. "Hmm, I guess you could say I'm a technical sales manager of sorts, but I also am responsible for traveling onsite and resolving problems with peoples' design issues and the like. All of course for fire detectors, alarms, pull stations, that sort of thing."

"Oh," was the simple reply. Jason wasn't sure he understood, but he let the matter drop.

Simon studied for a moment. "Did you like the city?"

"It was okay, just different was all." Looking up again at the older man, he asked, "What about the rest? I mean, how did you guys find out about me?"

"That's right, I didn't really finish that, did I? Sorry for that oversight," he replied as he shifted in his seat. "Well, you see, we never heard anything really on your father again insofar as I knew, but it just so turns out that my sister is fairly entertained with tracking and keeping up with family history. Some of what I'm about to tell you is based on fact, but some I have to sort of fill in the pieces a little at a time with what I believe is the case, if you understand my meaning. You see, her husband's family is from the States, and she has thus visited several areas thereabouts from time to time. One of them appears to have been close to your hometown in Tennessee, what was it - Crossville?" Jason nodded in acknowledgement, so Simon continued. "So here is the thing, quite uncanny as it may seem: somehow or another, my sister met up with others there who were also heavily invested into the family tree thing, and before long, they all started becoming quite friendly. One day one of her friends was telling her about a certain young woman who passed away some years back, who was actually a close cousin of their family, and when she looked into it a little closer, she discovered that her husband had come over from England. That wasn't so much anything to ponder about, until certain details were discovered when your father died, and the ladies somehow found similarities that described the step-brother my sister knew she had, but had never met."

"Eventually she brought me the information she had collected and we started making inquiries through some of your state agencies over there to see if we could get more details. At first, they resisted, I think because we were here on foreign soil, but my sisters' friends there in Tennessee gave us a hand and, sure enough, we confirmed it: your father was indeed our long-lost brother."

Simon shifted in his seat again as they pulled through another round-about and continued. "Now, the information we researched was on your father, you understand? We had no idea of his family history there - mostly because your mother, and you as well, kept her surname."

"Oh, so, okay, you uh ... huh?" Jason was confused.

Simon laughed. "I don't blame you, it seems a little stretched for assurances if that, and even I was confused for a while after we put it together. You see, my sister didn't have any idea my brother had a family, so naturally we didn't follow up on that for a while. In fact, it was by pure dumb luck, I think, we did learn about you."

"How so?"

"My sister decided to call the States and thank her friends there for the help they gave us, and while they chatted for a bit, the lady there asked about what happened, in her words, 'to the boy?' Of course, my sister was like, 'What boy?' That is when we learned about you. Now, here is where I'm a little fuzzy, but somehow word got to the services people there that we were here, and somehow word got to my sister that you were there, and that you were considered to be an orphan. Next thing I knew, my sister is calling me at work, and right afterwards we're both getting calls from your services commission - I think. The rest, well, you know probably as much as I do from that point."

Jason was confused. "So, you kind of just, found out, by accident then?" When Simon nodded, Jason tried to absorb it, turning and staring out the window at the darkness. After a long while he sighed and then stretched, pressing his back into the seat. Simon noted a look of sadness.

"I don't suppose you want to tell me what you're thinking now, would you? Hmm?"

"I don't know, it's just - hard to take I guess. I mean, I believe you and everything, I just - I just wish it had happened sooner, that's all."

As Jason sat silently staring out into the dark void, Simon reached out and placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. "It was only by luck we found you as we did, but I have to believe there was also some level of divine intervention in some small way. I'm sorry, I wish, too, that we had learned all of this sooner than we did, not just for the last few weeks or months, but for years. It would be beyond my humble ability to convey what feelings would have surfaced if I could have just located my brother again."

Jason thought long and hard about all of it, and suddenly a thought hit him that. Although it sounded ridiculous, he couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the couple, the family, might be taking him in for another reason – one that he was unsure he liked. Turning to the older man he scrutinized his face intently. "So, I guess that's it, then? I mean, you and, Natalie, was that her name? You and Natalie are just going to let some strange kid come and live with you now, someone you don't even know or... or..."

"Okay, hold up right there," Simon responded, rather firmer than he intended. Before the teen had even finished, he had already surmised what the boy was thinking. 'He does have a little spunk though' he thought to himself, and was actually glad to see the young man was not as fragile as he had begun to contemplate. "You are, and I mean this completely, so be sure you listen carefully: You are NOT a pity case, nor are you OUR pity case. Yes, her name is Natalie, and she and I talked long and hard about this for a few nights, before we BOTH agreed to bring you here. You heard that, right? We talked about it LONG and HARD, and we talked it over with both of our boys as well. I explained to them exactly what I just explained to you a little while ago. Jason - listen carefully - in the end we ALL agreed we wanted you to come live with us for a while. At the threat of repeating myself endlessly, but I'll do it if I need to until you believe me, we all WANTED you to come live with us. There is no denying fate handed all of us a little curve in the road, but that is just life son – things happen, and when it does, we have to take the curves as they come. I'll say it again: you're here though, because we all wanted you to come here. As I said before, there will be things we'll all have to work out and adjust to, I'm sure, but in the end, if you feel comfortable enough to stay with us, then that's the way we will make it happen."

Slowly a wave of relief crossed Jason's features, his eyes becoming moist. He chided himself at being so suspicious. This man was going out of his way, and that effort alone should have convinced him it that these people would be nothing like what he already had had to endure. He could not hide his emotion from the man, nor did he have any wish to. A tear escaped down one side of his cheeks, and he quickly wiped it away before he finally smiled. Sitting back and relaxing he nodded, replying in a hushed whisper, "Th-thanks."

Perhaps, just maybe – this man and this place he was going to – would be all right after all.

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