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Can You Spare a Quarter

by Tigerpaw

Chapter 7

A Visit to Paradise

After they were a few minutes outbound from the coast Jamie looked back and he could see a brown haze hanging over the city. He knew that the air back in the city could be dirty sometimes from all the vehicles on the roads but as they flew further and further out it looked more and more like a brown blanket was suffocating the buildings. Looking downwards Jamie could see the tidal line between the outgoing silt laden river water and the much darker ocean water while seagulls circled lazily beneath him over the calm sea. A couple of minutes later they passed by a warning marker on a rocky outcropping and Dave dipped the plane and banked it sharply so Jamie could see the couple of seals that were laying on the rocks below sunning themselves as they flew over. To the right Jamie could see a ferry plying its route between the mainland and the outlying islands, its white wake trailing along behind it. Still further off in the distance there were barges heavily laden with freight being towed by tugs and moving slowly up the strait. Compared to the life he had been leading and what Jamie normally saw daily in the city the view from the plane as it headed out away from the coast seemed almost magical if not surreal.

Dave gradually decreased the altitude of the plane down from five hundred feet and it flew low over the sea as it approached Valdez Island. Faint whitecaps could be seen now on the crests of the waves as they rolled gently through the strait between the mainland and the rapidly approaching island. As the floatplane approached the small island the shoreline which was covered in old-growth trees became clearly visible. Except for the occasional house here and there poking out through the trees the island appeared totally undeveloped and pristine. Reaching and then crossing over the shoreline Dave pulled back on the controls and directed the floatplane up and through a small gap and into the entrance to Salish Bay. Jamie looked down as Dave banked the plane and he could see that the small bay was filled with sailboats of various sizes, most at anchor but a few of which were in motion.

"You're going to land in the middle of all those boats?" asked Jamie excitedly.

"This isn't so bad," said Dave. "You should see it in the summer when there's a lot more of them moving about. It can be a real tight fit sometimes."

"See the wharf sticking out from the pub over there on the shore?" said Dave while pointing with his hand as he banked the plane. "That's where we're headed. We'll touch down in the middle of the bay and then taxi our way over to it."

Dave circled once to get a good look at where the various boats were located and picked his spot. Then he banked the plane sharply to the right and pointed down to where he was going to land for Jamie's benefit. Finally he aligned the plane with the open spot in the water that he had selected and swooped in for a landing.

The regular passengers for whom the trip had become somewhat routine despite the world-class scenery found themselves enjoying the trip much more than usual and were smiling at each other. Like Graham they were discovering the infectious excitement that a youngster can bring to life.

The floatplane skimmed across the surface of the water and then there was a brief light shudder as the plane's pontoons touched down. Pulling back on the throttle and adjusting the propeller pitch Dave slowed the floatplane quickly and then began to guide it towards the wharf that he had pointed out to Jamie as they were coming in. About ten feet away from the wharf Dave cut the engine completely and let the floatplane drift up silently to the wharf and then jumped out. Grabbing a tie rope attached to the front of the floatplane's pontoons he looped it around one of the dock cleats positioned along the edge of the wharf and then did the same again with the tie rope at the rear of the pontoons. After checking that the plane was safely secured Dave then opened the passenger door.

"OK everyone. You can unbuckle now," Dave called into the open door.

Jamie waited until Dave had helped the other passengers to climb down out of the plane and then grabbed his backpack, squeezed out of the co- pilot's seat, and climbed out too. Dave then opened the cargo door at the rear of the plane and began removing the suitcases that had been stowed there for the passengers. Once the passengers had all of their bags he began lifting out the boxes of cargo that he had brought over and stacked them up in the middle of the wharf. When Dave had finished unloading the plane he noticed Jamie standing patiently off to one side and watching.

Seeing that Dave had finished taking out the cargo Jamie came up to him and said with enthusiasm, "Thanks a lot sir. I'd never been on a plane before. It was great being able to sit up front and see everything."

Dave smiled and put out his hand and shook Jamie's while saying, "You can pilot with me anytime, Captain."

Jamie smiled back at Dave and then walked over to the edge of the wharf to look down into the clean clear water at some tiny fish that were circling next to a wooden piling that was covered in barnacles. Meanwhile Graham came over to retrieve his suitcase. Picking up the bag he said quietly to Dave, "That's a big one I owe you."

"Hey that's the most fun I've had on the run in ages," replied Dave. "Just one thing, you haven't seen your sister in years have you?"

Graham looked at Dave and hesitated briefly before saying, "It's a long story."

Dave smiled at Graham and said, "I saw the bruises Graham and the new clothes. I just hope you know what you're getting into. If I can do anything at all to help just let me know."

"I'm not sure if I know what I'm getting into either," said Graham, "but I couldn't just ignore him."

"You always were a soft touch weren't you," replied Dave with a gentle smile.

Carrying the suitcase Graham began to walk towards Jamie when suddenly a large white dog began to run down the ramp leading to the wharf while barking loudly. The other passengers who were walking up the ramp quickly moved to one side as the dog barrelled past them. At the sound of barking Jamie looked up and watched horrified as the dog reached the bottom of the ramp, leapt into the air, and landed almost on top of Graham.

Jamie tried to shout at Graham to warn him but it all happened too quickly. Jamie was about to run over and help but then realized that the dog was not attacking Graham but instead was licking his face and that Graham had his arms around the dog and was petting and hugging her.

"Cindy! I've missed you girl," Graham said to the overly excited large white Labrador Retriever as she continued to kiss and jump on Graham.

Finally Graham managed to calm Cindy down a bit and she stood in front of Graham as he knelt and continued to hug and pet her. Dave walked up beside Jamie as he watched and said to him quietly, "When Graham first came over to the island here a year ago Cindy belonged to the people that owned the place that he was thinking of buying. While looking the place over, he found out that they had been abusing her. So he told them that either they let him have her along with the place or he would call the police and SPCA on them. So they let Graham have Cindy and she's been his faithful friend ever since he nursed her back to health. She walks all the way from his place down to the bay here every Friday to meet him."

"He really did that?" asked Jamie looking up at Dave.

"Yes he did. Graham's a very kind and gentle man," replied Dave. "It took a lot of hard work on Graham's part to help Cindy stop being afraid of people but as you can see she's doing fine now."

"How does she know when it's Friday?" asked Jamie.

"I have no idea," replied Dave. "But she always knows. The only reason she wasn't sitting waiting for him here on the wharf today is that you came over a bit earlier than usual."

Dave walked down the wharf and then went up the ramp that connected it to the land to organize the pickup of the cargo that he had brought over. Jamie looked on thoughtfully at Graham while Cindy was still excitedly bouncing around next to him.

"Jamie," called Graham. "I want to introduce you to a very special friend of mine. This is Cindy. She looks after my place when I'm away in the city during the week."

Jamie walked towards Graham and the large white dog rather hesitantly. He had seen how the dog had almost knocked Graham over in her enthusiasm and Jamie was nervous about getting too close. Jamie had not known any dogs closely and there had been a few unfortunate experiences being chased by guard dogs on occasion while trying to find a place to sleep for the night. Consequently he tended to think of them as being aggressive and dangerous. However as Jamie slowly approached Cindy sat down next to Graham and held up one paw as if to shake hands.

"Cindy, this is Jamie. Jamie, this is Cindy," said Graham doing the formal introductions.

Cindy barked loudly once to give her own greeting and then got up and sniffed around Jamie a little. She then proceeded to rub against his leg with her head and shoulder.

"I think she likes you," said Graham.

"Maybe," said Jamie as he gingerly began to pat Cindy on her head.

Graham picked up the suitcase he had dropped during all of the excitement and then he, Jamie, and Cindy went over to the ramp and began walking up it. When they got to the top of the ramp Cindy led the way towards a blue jeep parked next to a tree much to Jamie's surprise. The jeep was a total contrast in style to the car that Graham had been driving back in the city. Graham pulled the door open on the driver's side and Cindy immediately jumped up inside and moved over to sit on the passenger seat.

Seeing Cindy sitting in the front Graham said to her gently, "Come on now we have a visitor today. You go and sit in the back."

Cindy obediently moved into the rear jump seat making room for Jamie who then opened the passenger door and climbed in.

"This is yours?" asked Jamie.

"Do you like it better than the little roller skate back in the city?" said Graham.

"This is way better," said an impressed Jamie as he sat down and put his backpack on his lap.

"You need something like this on the island especially in the winter. If it snows out here there aren't any snowplows to clear the roads like in the city," said Graham.

Graham turned the key that Jamie noticed had been left in the ignition and started the engine. After checking for people nearby Graham stepped on the gas and they drove up the hill away from the bay and onto the main road that circled the island.

"Why were the keys were already in the jeep?" asked Jamie.

"Oh I left them in when I went over to the city last Sunday," replied Graham.

"Aren't you afraid someone will steal it?" asked Jamie hardly believing his ears.

"No not at all. You'll find things are quite different here than back in the city," said Graham. "People don't lock their houses, there's not even a policeman here. Although I think there's one that comes over about once a month or so just to shake a few hands. Besides if anyone did steal it don't forget this is an island. You can't get off it without using the ferry and if someone tried that the ferry workers would start wondering why I wasn't doing the driving."

Jamie looked around as they drove and saw that Valdez Island was almost completely forested. Periodically there were side roads leading off to the left or right but Jamie did not see a single traffic light anywhere or even a stop sign. By looking through the gaps in the trees when they occasionally passed a gravel access road Jamie could see that they led to houses and cabins that were nestled in amongst the trees. Some of the places were very small and somewhat rundown while others were large and clearly belonged to people that were very well off. Still others could not be seen at all and were completely hidden by the tall trees and underbrush. The forest was thick and unkempt and Jamie realized that this was not remotely the same as the park he had walked through back in the city. This was the forest primeval in all its dense lush green glory.

The road the jeep was following was full of curves, twists, and hills as it wound its way through the trees that covered the island. They had not encountered a single car since leaving the parking lot at the bay and to Jamie it looked so peaceful and tranquil compared to the city that they had left behind. Overhead in the clear blue winter sky Jamie could even see an eagle circling. While they drove along Cindy was licking at Jamie's ear and he moved around in the seat trying to get away.

"I was right. You've got a new friend," said Graham as he noticed Jamie squirming in his seat.

"It tickles," giggled Jamie as Cindy continued to nuzzle and lick at him.

Passing a cluster of mailboxes set in a clearing next to the road Graham turned to the left onto a side road then a few hundred feet further along he turned off into a barely visible gravel path that headed directly into the centre of a tall stand of fir and cedar trees. Jamie looked around but could not see anything through the dense underbrush but then as the jeep continued slowly through the trees they came out into a cleared area and onto a gravel driveway with rose bushes growing alongside it.

The driveway led to a carport that was attached to the side of a small split-level house. The outside of the house was clad in thin layered wooden shakes that were stained a medium brown, and the frames around the windows on the back of the house were painted in white making an attractive contrast with the brown exterior. Graham guided the jeep into the carport and as he did Jamie could see what appeared to be a large grass area with a garden in the middle of it out the other side of the carport.

Graham turned off the engine, climbed out of the jeep, and said, "Welcome to my little piece of paradise."

"This is your house?" asked Jamie anxiously. "Can I get out and look?"

"Why don't you and Cindy walk around see everything together? When you're done just come inside and bring your things with you," said Graham as he walked over to the door at the side of the house and opened it without the aid of a key once again surprising Jamie with the casual atmosphere of the island.

"Let's go and see everything, Cindy," said Jamie eagerly and Cindy followed Jamie out to the front side of the house.

The rear of the house was fairly basic in appearance but the front side of the house was where the builder had put the main effort. Large picture windows on both the main and second floors covered almost the entire front of the house providing a panoramic view of the large garden area and the fruit trees that were laid out in a large U-shaped area which was surrounded at the back by tall fir and cedar trees several hundred feet away at the edge of the maintained area of the property.

A covered deck extended out from the front of the house and there was a sliding glass door that connected the deck to the kitchen inside the house. The flower beds that were currently dormant due to the winter weather sloped gently downwards and a pair of small cobblestone paths led across the grass away to the trees in both the left and right directions. Cindy barked once and Jamie followed her as she walked down the path going to the right and discovered that halfway along there was a small fishpond. Cindy lowered her head and took a drink out of the pond while Jamie watched goldfish swimming to and fro in the water as a tiny waterwheel circled off to the side and spilled recirculated water back into the pond.

The combination of the relatively modest house and the wide expanse of property that it was situated on were breathtaking to Jamie. He had spent all of his short life in the city and had never seen anything like it. The wooden house, while obviously a work of man, blended smoothly into the natural surroundings. Its green-coloured roof seemed like an extension of the green of the trees around the perimeter.

Looking back up at the house Jamie could see Graham moving around inside the kitchen through the glass door on the deck and went back up the path with Cindy following alongside him. They both went back into the carport and then entered the house through the side door. Jamie took off his coat and shoes in the small anteroom that was just inside the house and then followed Cindy through the connecting door into the kitchen carrying his backpack over his shoulder.

"So what do you think?" asked Graham with a grin.

"It's fantastic," said Jamie. "All this is yours?"

"The property line is actually a hundred feet or so into the trees but leaving all that wild keeps everything nice and private," said Graham. "Of course the place didn't look this nice when I first arrived. A lot of work has been done on it since I bought the place."

"You did all the work yourself?" asked Jamie.

"Oh no, it's not all my doing," said Graham. "The house was here when I bought the place but it was badly rundown and needed a lot of fixing up. I hired some people here on the island to do that for me. The people who live in the next place over introduced me to a native friend of theirs and he connected me with a group of men in his village that were interested in helping me renovate the place. They worked really hard on it and did a wonderful job. The kitchen was completely redone, all the walls were painted, new carpets were put in the bedrooms, the siding on the house had to be all redone and then stained. It was a really big job. The garden I worked on some myself and the people next door's son helped me a lot too. He still helps me out by looking after the place when I'm away in the city and takes care of Cindy when I'm not here. When the weather gets warmer this year I want to make some changes to the flower garden and see if I can learn how to do some woodworking, maybe put up a greenhouse or something like that."

"You're lucky," continued Jamie. "I've never seen a place like this before. You have so much space and a fish pond even."

"The pond was Jason's idea," said Graham. "I didn't know how to do it but he told me what I needed to get and then he did most of the work during the summer. I think he did a really good job."

"Who is Jason?" asked Jamie.

"He's the boy that lives in the next place over that I was telling you about," replied Graham. "He's helped me a lot with fixing up the landscaping around the house. He's around your age so I'll have to introduce you. I think you'd like him. You might like to have a friend your age to do things with."

"Maybe later," said Jamie tentatively.

"Let me show you around inside now so you'll know where everything is," said Graham giving Jamie a tour around the main floor. "This is the kitchen of course, that room over there is my office when I'm at home, there's a bathroom over here, and through this way is the living room."

Entering into the main living room Jamie could see out the large picture window to the garden area outside. The nearest wall was covered by a couple of large bookcases full of books and the wall on the opposite side had a large stone fireplace set against it with a black woodstove that was connected to it sitting directly in front of the fireplace. At the back of the living room was a wooden staircase that led up to the floor above.

"When it's cold at night the woodstove makes the whole house toasty warm," said Graham. "I'll fire it up after dinner and you'll see what I mean."

With Cindy leading the way up the stairs and Jamie following close behind Graham continued the tour, "Then upstairs there's a big bathroom and of course the bedrooms."

Hearing Graham speak of bedrooms put Jamie partially on alert but it did not completely quash his amazement with the house. The partial open- plan design meant that Jamie could look down from the upstairs and see all of the living room area laid out below in addition to being able to look out the large picture window to the garden outside. The house while small was open and airy and so completely different from anything that Jamie had seen before.

"This can be your room," announced Graham as they stood next to one of the bedrooms.

Jamie looked around the bedroom while Graham opened up the suitcase he had been carrying and laid Jamie's things out on the bed.

"There's a dresser over there that you can use and of course the clothes closet over here," said Graham. "I'll let you get settled and go down and see about fixing us some lunch. Inside the bathroom you'll find a cupboard that has towels and face cloths, just take anything you need."

After Graham left the room Jamie looked out the large bedroom window at the garden and trees below and felt like he had entered a strange new world. It was so unlike anything he had experienced before. It was quiet here on the island, it was peaceful, and despite his constant wariness Jamie felt calm.

Opening one of the drawers in the dresser Jamie took his new clothes that Graham had put on the bed and carefully placed them inside. Opening a lower drawer he took his old clothes out of his backpack and laid them out. His old clothes looked so inadequate in these surroundings and the large dresser seemed to swallow them up whole. Then Jamie took the box containing his old worn out running shoes and placed it on the floor inside the clothes closet. Lastly Jamie took his backpack and slid it under the bed where it could not be seen. The entire operation of organizing all of his worldly belongings had taken less than a minute.

After putting his things away Jamie once again stopped at the window and looked out of it. He wondered to himself what it would be like to live in a place like this, away from the city, away from the things that he had to deal with on a daily basis. Green trees everywhere, fresh air, no traffic noise, and no police. Jamie still could not get over the last of those - no police, people not locking doors, and leaving keys in their cars. Jamie turned and looked down at Cindy who was sitting next to him and watching him closely. He wondered what it would be like having a dog to play with. Graham had mentioned a boy that lived nearby and Jamie wondered what it would be like to have a friend. What would it be like to be able to go to sleep in a proper bed and not have to worry about who would show up and what would happen in the middle of the night?

Jamie shook his head to clear his mind from his reverie. He knew it was foolish to dream like that, it could only lead to disappointment like it always did. Jamie knew that this place was all too good to be true. He decided to just live for the moment because he knew it would all end soon enough. There was no telling how long it was going to last before Graham revealed his true nature and he would have to run again.

"I hope we can be friends for a little while," Jamie said to Cindy. "At least until I have to leave. I wonder how long Graham will keep me and put up with me?"

Cindy whimpered and rubbed her head against Jamie who knelt and hugged her close. Cindy settled into Jamie's arms and they understood each other in that moment and what had happened to them both in their pasts.

While Jamie was familiarizing himself with his bedroom upstairs Graham was working on preparing lunch. When Jamie came downstairs and into the kitchen Graham looked up from the pot he was stirring.

"Thanks a lot for letting me come over here with you Graham," said Jamie. "This is a beautiful place."

"Now you can see why I live in such a tiny little cave in the city," replied Graham with a smile.

"I'd never want to leave if this was my place," said Jamie wistfully.

Graham explained, "I saved my money for years and years so I could have a little place to retire in. I got this a year ago and I've been fixing it up and trying to decide when would be the right time to pull the plug and just stay here permanently. Things are pretty much ready now though. I've just not been able to make up my mind when to do it."

Jamie nodded with understanding and added, "I guess it's hard to make a decision like that. Wondering if you'll have enough money to live on or not."

"Are you hungry?" asked Graham. "I don't know about you but I could definitely use something to eat."

"Yes I'm hungry," said Jamie with enthusiasm but then suddenly added in a worried tone, "I'm hungry a lot I guess aren't I?"

"It's all part of growing up. You're supposed to get hungry," said Graham cheerfully.

"I used to get in trouble when I got hungry," Jamie said very quietly.

"That will never happen here," said Graham kindly. "You open that fridge or the cupboards any time of the day or night and take anything you want. Food, juice, pop, anything at all. No one ever goes hungry in this house."

Graham opened up one of the varnished wood cupboards over the counter and pulled out plates and bowls and handed them to Jamie who then took them and put them on the small table off to the side of the kitchen. Graham put some glasses and spoons onto the counter and a few moments later Jamie had them laid out on the table as well.

"I'll do up something special for us for dinner but how does soup and sandwiches sound for now?" asked Graham.

"That sounds great," replied Jamie. "I like soup. What kind did you open?"

"Oh this isn't out of a can," said Graham. "I'm making this from scratch."

"You make your own soup?" asked an astonished Jamie.

"It's actually pretty easy," replied Graham. "Once you have the soup stock made the rest is just a matter of having the right things in the fridge and cupboards. Today it's going to be chicken vegetable."

Jamie watched closely while Graham finely diced up some celery and carrots and added them to the pot that was simmering on the stove. Tasting the soup stock Graham then reached into an overhead cupboard and added some additional salt and pepper to the pot. Lastly he opened a cupboard underneath the counter and pulled out a package of tiny pasta shells and added a handful into the soup pot before giving it a good stir.

After putting the lid back onto the pot and lowering the temperature so the soup could simmer Graham moved on to making sandwiches. Taking a big loaf of pumpernickel from the refrigerator he cut thick several slices from it and began to butter them. With periodic interruptions to stir the soup and check the seasoning the sandwiches gradually took form. Cured smoked ham, hand cut slices of aged white cheddar cheese, tomato, and green leaf lettuce began to take their place upon the large slices of bread.

"I never saw anyone make soup without a can before," said Jamie. "And I've never seen sandwiches that looked like that."

"I hope you'll like it," said Graham. "I made the chicken stock last weekend just before I left to go back to town. Do you want mustard or mayonnaise on your sandwich?"

"Mustard please," said Jamie as he continued breathing in the aroma coming from the pot on the stove.

After cutting the large sandwiches in two with a bread knife and putting them onto plates he handed them to Jamie to take over to the table. Turning back to the soup and tasting it Graham decided that it was ready and transferred it into two large bowls. Jamie watched as Graham pulled a small brick of beige-coloured cheese from the refrigerator and grated fresh Parmesan over the tops of the steaming bowls of soup. Graham handed the bowls one at a time to Jamie who placed them onto the table. Finally Graham took out some milk and filled the glasses on the table.

"Oh dear I forgot the crackers," said Graham as he quickly took the crackers out of a cupboard and then sat down next to Jamie. "We can't have soup without crackers."

Graham crushed a few crackers in his hand and added them to the soup before saying, "Let's see how this tastes."

Jamie picked up his sandwich and took a big bite and grinned. Graham smiled back and took a bite of his own sandwich.

"Mmmm," Jamie said between swallows. "You're a good cook."

"Oh this isn't cooking. Wait until tonight then you'll really see something," said Graham with a wink.

When they finished lunch Graham picked up the plates and bowls and took them into the kitchen and put them in the sink. Jamie helped out by picking up the glasses and silverware and put them on the counter next to where Graham was standing.

"That was wonderful. Thank you very much," said Jamie.

"You're very welcome," replied Graham.

"Milk tastes a lot better this way than when you have to steal it," added Jamie.

Graham's eyebrows rose at Jamie's sad commentary on his life but he only nodded as he rinsed off the dishes and placed them into the dishwasher.

While Graham was getting the dishes ready to wash the sliding glass door in the kitchen that led out onto the deck suddenly began to open and Cindy who had been laying quietly on a mat during lunch looked up and barked once. Jamie startled by the noise and the door opening quickly jumped next to Graham and then hid behind him keeping a close watch on the door as it slid open.

"Hi Mr. M., how's it going? Everything OK here?" called out a young voice as a boy Jamie's age came in through the sliding door and into the kitchen.

"It's OK Jamie. That's Jason, the boy I was telling you about that helped me with the garden," said Graham reassuring him.

Jamie looked on as a short slim dark-haired boy with a tanned complexion and soft grey eyes came into the kitchen. Cindy went up to Jason and nuzzled him like an old friend and the boy rubbed her along the top of her head. After greeting her Jason then stood and leaned back against the kitchen counter.

"Hi, Jason, everything is perfect as always. Thanks a lot for looking after the place, taking care of Cindy, and putting fresh groceries in the refrigerator for me," said Graham as he wiped off his hands on a towel. "I'd also like to introduce you to a new friend of mine. This is Jamie."

"Hi Jamie," said Jason with a big friendly smile and a wave.

"Hi," said Jamie rather timidly, looking the smiling boy over with suspicion.

"Jamie's family had to go away for a few days so he's going to spend the weekend with me," Graham said to Jason.

"Great. Do you like video games? I've got this really neat skateboarding game that runs on my computer. Maybe you'd like to try it," suggested Jason.

"Um, maybe. I don't know," stammered Jamie, unsure of himself. He looked up at Graham while continuing to stand partially hidden behind him.

"I'll be back in a second. I'm going to get Cindy a dog biscuit," said Jason picking up on a subtle nod sideways from Graham.

After Jason left the kitchen Jamie looked at Graham with a conflicted look on his face and said, "Why do you want me when you have him already?"

Graham did not fully comprehend Jamie's meaning for a moment but then suddenly realized what he meant and replied, "Oh no, it's nothing like that. It's like I was telling you, Jason lives in the next place over with his family and he helped me out with the garden during the summer. When I'm away in the city working he also takes care of Cindy for me and just before I come back on weekends he makes sure that I have fresh food waiting in the refrigerator for me. He helps me out and I pay him for the work. Just like if he was the paperboy for example and delivered the newspaper at night."

"You mean he's not your boy?" asked Jamie with a meaningful stress on the latter part of the question.

"No Jamie he's not. It's nothing like that at all. He's just a friend who helps me and nothing else," replied Graham carefully.

"So you and he aren't ..." Jamie hinted.

"No we aren't. Never have and never will," replied Graham evenly.

Jamie breathed an obvious sigh of relief. He had thought that he was going to have to compete with Jason over Graham but that fear was now allayed. While Jamie accepted Graham's assurances he also dismissed Graham's denials of any involvement with Jason as simply being pro forma for the sake of appearances. Unfortunately due to past experience it was going to take time before Jamie could accept that a man would not automatically take advantage of a boy. While Jamie was thinking everything over Jason came back into the room and sat down on the floor next to Cindy and fed her a dog biscuit.

"Why don't you let Jason show you around a bit while I clean up things here," suggested Graham.

"OK," said Jamie still feeling rather uncertain about Jason.

"You can use the bathroom upstairs to get tidied up and there are spare toothbrushes in one of the drawers that you can use," suggested Graham.

After Jamie went upstairs to get ready Jason turned to Graham with a questioning look and Graham said to Jason quietly, "Remember Cindy?"

Jason's face went pale and he nodded, "That's why he's so scared. What are you going to do?"

"I don't know yet. You should have seen him. He was sitting there on the sidewalk just outside where I work asking people for change so he could get something to eat. He was hungry and cold and the weather was freezing. I couldn't just walk on past him," said Graham sadly.

"Does he need clothes or anything else?" asked Jason in a serious tone.

"You noticed the new clothes," said Graham with a smile. "I only got him a few things. I probably should have gotten more but I didn't think of it then. If you had a few things you could spare that would really help a lot if you wouldn't mind. I wasn't thinking too far ahead right then I guess. Actually I haven't had much of a chance to think ahead at all yet. I'm going to have to sit down and try to figure out what to do and start making some decisions."

"We'll disappear for a bit and give you some time," said Jason.

"Thanks. Thanks a lot Jason," replied Graham quietly as Jamie returned.

"We'll go now Mr. M.," said Jason cheerfully.

"You guys have fun," replied Graham.

Walking up to Jamie, Graham looked at him and said, "You'll have a good time I promise. And by the time you get back I'll have something special for dinner cooking. Sound OK?"

"I guess so," said Jamie sounding only partially convinced. "Thanks again for the great lunch."

Jamie went into the anteroom just off the kitchen and picked up his running shoes and his coat and then came back into the kitchen. Graham noticed that Jamie had not put his shoes on yet however. Whatever else Jamie might be Graham thought to himself, thoughtful and considerate were definitely on the list. Graham watched as Jamie followed Jason over to the sliding glass door and then went out, waiting until he was outside before putting on his shoes. Graham wondered silently why a boy like Jamie should ever have ended up with parents like those he had. While he watched Jamie and Jason walk out across the grass Cindy came up and rubbed her side against Graham's leg.

"What have I gotten myself into girl?" Graham asked Cindy as he ran his hand over her head and then finally knelt down beside her putting his arms around her. "You already can feel what happened to him can't you? He's going to be needing your help a lot I think."

Cindy snuggled close into Graham's embrace and licked at the single tear that began to run down Graham's face.

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead