The Guest

by Joanne Grier



The howling wind and whirling snow made it impossible to see further than a few feet.  Positive she had seen a steady light in the distance, determinately she dogged ahead, stumbling as she fought the wind that pushed her backwards.  She had been walking for more than an hour since abandoning the car.  Her body temperature was dropping, she was certain.  Her thoughts were becoming scrambled, and she knew she must find shelter from the raging storm.  Snow covered mittens pushed more snow against her freezing skin as she sought to brush away the snow that clung to her lashes.


There it was again.  The light seemed closer now, if only her strength didn’t fail.  Steadily she pushed her exhausted body forward toward the sanctuary of the light.  If only she could reach it before her body succumbed to the freezing temperatures.  Time lost all it’s meaning; she didn’t know if minutes or hours passed.  Again, she brushed the snow from her face.  Ahead, between the whirling gusts of snow, she saw a small structure and a faint light against snow laden windows.  She lifted her arm, pounding against the door.  Lifting her fisted hand once more, she struck the door again and then slid unconscious to the cold, hard porch.




“Damn it!  Come on, breathe!  Don’t you dare die on me!  I said breathe, now breathe!”  Rough work-worn hands chaffed the bluish skin.  Drawing a breath, the man regretfully shook his head, brought his hand back and slapped the woman.  Her eyes briefly opened, then closed again just as quickly. 


“Oh, no you don’t.  I said breathe, wake up and breathe!”  Again he slapped, and again the eyes opened before rolling back.


Turning aside, his hand wrapped around the mug that was placed on the table only moments before.  Sliding his free arm behind the girl’s head, he lifted and brought the mug to her lips.  He pressed it gently against her mouth.


“Open your mouth and drink.  It’s hot, it will warm you.”  Moments passed and finally the mouth opened as he tilted the cup forward, allowing the hot liquid to flow.  Expecting a fit of coughing as the liquid slid down her throat, Devin was surprised when nothing happened.  He grinned as her hand came up - a tentative hold on the cup - and greedily she sipped.  The liberal dose of bandy that Charles had been instructed to pour into the cup combined with the hot tea seemed to be working.  Her skin wasn’t as bluish grey and now held a faint tint of pink.  She continued to sip as her eyes slowly closed, and her breathing became shallow as she slipped into sleep.


Standing, Devin smoothed the blankets higher and then dialed down the setting on the electric blanket.  He checked the hot water bottle he had placed against her feet, assuring himself that it in the correct position.  He stood silently looking down at their unexpected guest, turned and motioned to Charles, and together they left the bedroom.




Twelve hours later the woman stirred and slowly came awake.  She lay quietly cocooned in warmth, and then finally stretched.  Slowly she pushed back the blankets, drew her legs over the edge of the mattress and sat looking around the sanctuary of her dreams.  A small lamp on the far table cast the room in a soft light.  It was plainly furnished; no frills marked it, but it was pleasing to her eyes. The door was slightly ajar and light from the outer room filled in some of the dark spaces.  Against the opposite wall another door was open and inside a small night light burned, clearly indicating it was a bathroom.  Legs wobbled as she slowly made her way toward the bathroom door.  By holding onto the nearby furniture, she again gained the sanctity of the bed as a dark shadow filled the door frame.


“You’re awake.  How are you feeling?”  Devin smiled as he walked closer.  “You gave us, uh, me quite a scare.  For a while I thought you were gonna die your temperature was so low.”


“How long have I been here?  And just where am I?  I walked for hours after the car stalled and I lost all sense of direction.”


“You’re in Maine, roughly forty miles north of Bangor in the center of a forest preserve.  I rent this cabin from the preserve in exchange for being a fire lookout.  Where were you headed?  We don’t get many visitors and even fewer travelers this time of year.


“To answer your other questions, you’ve been sleeping since yesterday and today’s Thursday.  Do you have family we need to contact?  I have a citizens band radio so I should be able to raise the preserve and get a message to your family.”


“No, there’s no family you need contact.  I only have a distant aunt in California.”


“What were you doing out in this storm?  Why didn’t you seek shelter instead of driving into the heart of this blizzard?  Certainly not good planning on your part!”


“I had reservations at the Bennington and the guy at the gas station said I could save twenty miles by taking a short cut he showed me on my map.  There were two roads and with the wind almost blinding me, I guess I took the wrong road.  I must’ve gone about ten miles when I spun into a ditch of some sort, and couldn’t restart the car.  I stayed with the car for about two hours but then decided walking was my only hope as I hadn’t seen any cars on the road.”


“It’s probably a good thing you abandoned the car as the only traffic on this road is my truck going in and out.”


“I saw a light blinking off in the distance so I started walking toward it.  After a while I thought I had imagined it but then I saw it again and just kept walking.”


“It’s the tower signal light that’s on a hill some five miles beyond the cabin.  Are you hungry?  I could make you some breakfast.”


Yawning, she quickly covered her mouth.  “No, I’m not hungry just very sleepy.”


“Well, snuggle back down and go to sleep.  The storm is still raging and it’s gonna be a couple of days, at best, before we can arrange to get your car pulled out.”




“What if she comes out and sees me?”  The fear and anxiety in Charles’s voice was evident.  “I should hide in the wood shed until she leaves,” he murmured, rising from the chair.


Devin’s arm shot forward, restraining him, and once again Charles uneasily settled into the chair.  “There will be no hiding or running away.  This is your home and you belong here.”


“But Dev…”


“No, you aren’t going anywhere.  I’ll speak to her.  She can just stay in my room while she is here.  It’s your home and if it’s going to be restricted, then it’s the girl who is going to be restricted not you.  Is that clear?”  He smiled warmly as he attempted to reassure Charles.  “I know this is difficult for you, but you have to know I won’t let anything happen.”


Nervous and worried, Charles played with the spoon on the table.  His eyes darted around the room, swiftly swinging back to Devin’s bedroom door.  Again he tried to rise and once again Devin’s hand reached out, touching the larger hand, soothing and reassuring him. 


“Why don’t you try to get some sleep?  You’ve been awake since our guest arrived.  Surely you must be tired.  Come on, let’s get you settled and I’ll read awhile.”  Together the two men rose, walked to the opposite side of the cabin and entered the bedroom.  After pulling off his boots Charles slid beneath the warm quilt and settled onto his side looking expectantly at Devin.  Picking up the book, Devin found the correct page and began to read.  After an hour he softly closed the book, slipped from the chair and left the room.




Regularly through-out the long evening and into the night, Devin checked on his two charges.  Between his rounds he dozed off in the recliner beside the roaring fire.  If not for the unexpected guest, he would have enjoyed the night spent with the raging storm; its fury pounded against the snug cabin and his memories.


His thoughts drifted to Vincent as they often did on snowy winter nights.  He remembered their trips into the park, Vincent’s awe at Mother Nature’s masterpiece as they looked at their transformed playground.  He smiled into the dimness hoping that Vincent and Catherine were tucked into the lee of the drainage pipe sharing the magic of this night.  The radio alerted him New York had also been hit by the same storm and he was certain Vincent was Above, viewing the splendor.


Rousing himself, Devin moved silently through the still cabin, first checking on Charles and then moving to check on his guest.  The soft breathing indicated she slept naturally and he quietly reclosed the door.  Grimacing at the bitter dregs in his cup, he gulped it down and settled back into his chair.   It would be a minimum of two, possibly three days before any help from the forest service arrived to sweep the road clear and get her car towed.  He pondered how he was going to keep the girl from discovering Charles.  Protecting him was paramount.


Charles was still extremely shy with the village doctor and forest preserve ranger, but he was no longer fearful of them.  Over time both men simply accepted Charles, and spoke kindly to him when they came to the cabin.  The village doctor was retired, but he had willingly accepted Charles as a patient and he came to check on Charles’s health regularly.


Devin felt they were indeed fortunate as both the ranger and doctor were quiet, self-contained men and apparently had never mentioned Charles and his disease to others.  Protecting Charles was as important to Devin as protecting Vincent; they were the brothers of his heart and soul.




Striding quickly across the floor after hearing the girl stirring within the confines of the bedroom, Devin knocked on the door.  “May I come in?” he queried softly.  He opened the door after she bid him enter and quietly closed it.


“Are you feeling better this morning?  Are there any repercussions from your exposure to the freezing temperatures?”


“No, I feel surprisingly well.  I should, I certainly slept long enough.”  She flashed a brief smile as she glanced at the rumpled bed.


“Would you sit down? I need to discuss something with you, before I offer you food.  I don’t live alone…”  He stopped realizing he was pacing as Vincent often did while trying to collect his thoughts.  “I share the cabin with a very gentle man.  He is quite large and can be frightening to strangers.  He is deformed both in his body and face.  Charles was of great help to me when we found you on the porch, helping to carry you inside, and assisting me as we brought your body temperature back to normal.


“He is fearful of your seeing him and wished to go outside to hide in the wood shed until you left rather than submitting to his fears of frightening you.  Of course, I can’t allow that!  So therefore, I must request that you stay confined to this room and only this room until the forestry service plows the lane.  I need your assurance that you won’t come into the rest of the cabin as Charles must be allowed to have the freedom of his home.”


The silence of the room seemed to stretch onward and then after several long minutes the girl spoke.  “I…my gratitude for your saving my life wouldn’t allow me to knowingly cause fear to another soul.  I’m employed in a burn center and I’ve certainly seen the ravages done to the human body by fire.  Even the most loving family members are frightened, fearful the first time they see the results of fire damage to a loved one.  Please reassure your friend…Charles, wasn’t it?  I won’t invade his space and he should feel at ease to move about freely.”


Devin stared in silent awe at the women before him.  “Charles isn’t fire damaged but his disease has caused body deformities that many react to with fear and horror at his appearance.  He is very intelligent and completely aware of how his outer visual shell affects most people.


“I have to admit, uh, …just what is your name?”


“My name is Briana, Bree Wellington.”


“I’m Devin Wells.  It’s nice to meet you Bree.  As I was saying, your attitude is beyond anything I expected.  I had visions of having to lock the door as a way of keeping you restricted to this room.”  His voice disappeared in a shattering sigh as relief washed through his body.  “Charles is one of the gentlest souls.  He deserves a care-free life after all that he has experienced in the so-called civilized world of humanity.”


“Would you bring Charles to the bedroom door so that I might speak to him and reassure him I won’t violate his sanctuary?  You could leave the door open a tiny crack, just enough so that he could hear my voice.  I assure you I would say nothing that would distress him.”


Amazed at the woman’s open display, her caring wish to reassure Charles, Devin was buffeted with a wide array of emotions.  The warm friendly smile on Bree’s face wasn’t what he expected after his revelation concerning Charles.  “Thank you, Bree.  It might take me several minutes to assure Charles that you won’t look at him and that you simply wish to speak to him.”  Rising from the chair Devin walked over to the door, exiting the silent room.


Closer to an hour passed before Devin was able to convince Charles that his presence at the door of the bedroom had been requested.  And he had to continually assure Charles that he would, himself, control the opening width of the door.


“She won’t see me, Dev, and start screaming?”


“No, I don’t believe she would react that way.  With your hand on the knob, you alone will control how far the door is open.  You need only crack the door half an inch or so; just enough so that you can hear Bree speak from behind the door.”


Trembling and shaking Charles put his larger hand into Devin’s smaller one and together they moved together to stand before the door.  “Bree?” he spoke loudly.  “Bree, would you stand behind the door?  Charles will control how far the door is opened.”


They heard the light foot steps moving across the room and then a gentle voice.  “OK.  I’m behind the door now.”


The door moved, the jam barely clearing the frame by a fraction of an inch so that not even the light from within was visible.  “I’m here Charles.  My name is Bree.  I want to thank you.  Devin told me you helped to save my life.  I won’t intrude nor violate the freedom of space you have within your home.  If you have a book, I can happily read while you move about your home doing those things which make you happy.”  One lone finger appeared at the small crack of the door which shielded Charles from view.  “If you would open the door just a little wider, Charles, I will give you my hand in promise that you are still safe within your home.”


Minutes passed and slowly Charles allowed the door to open another scant half inch.  A small hand snaked through the opening, palm upward and waiting.  Moments passed and then the larger hand haltingly accepted the smaller more delicate one within his grasp.  Hidden behind the door tears gathered in chestnut eyes and a smiled caused her lips to rise.  “Thank you, Charles, thank you.”




While Devin worked in the kitchen to prepare lunch, he heard the steady swish of books being pulled and then returned to the book shelves.  Smiling to himself, he knew that Bree had won the heart of Charles by her simple request for a book.  He finished building the sandwiches, plated them, and then gathered bowls for the soup.  Turning at the sound of the heavy boots striking the kitchen stone floor, he looked into the smiling face of Charles.


“I got three good ones, Dev.  Two you read and one Vincent gave me.  I can’t decide which one Bree would like.”  A gentle smile brightened his face as he sought Devin’s advice.


“Why don’t you allow Bree to decide?  We can put them on her luncheon tray and then she can make a choice.”  Together they rearranged the tray to accommodate the books.  “Would you fill the soup bowls while I take this to Bree?”  Seeing the answering nod Devin departed the kitchen walking toward the closed bedroom door.  Several minutes later he returned and took his seat across from Charles.


“Which one did she pick?”


“She was still looking at the titles when I left the room.  I’ll ask when I return to pick up the tray.”


“Should I select more?  What if she doesn’t like our books?”  The prospect of Bree not liking their selection of books seemed to weigh heavily upon Charles as he fidgeted with his food.


“I’m certain your selections were excellent, and she will select one of your choices.  It’s obvious she likes to read from how quickly she asked for a book.”


After several more minutes, Charles finally settled to consuming his lunch and then helped to clear and wash the dishes.  At Devin’s suggestion, Charles collected his dirty laundry.  While the laundry was washing they returned to the living room where Charles settled to work on the model ship he was building.  The weak sunlight faded as night settled over the cabin.  The silence was broken by the occasional laughter that could be heard from behind the closed door.  Long after the evening dishes had been collected from behind the closer door, a strong voice called out “Goodnight Charles, Goodnight Devin.”




Two days later at mid-day the blizzard had vanished, leaving behind a pristine world wrapped in white crystals.  The artistry of Mother Nature had painted a fairyland of such brightness as to cause the eyes to ache.  Devin sat staring at the wonderland, remembering other winters here at the cabin and his long-held wish to share this magic with Vincent.  He vowed that someday soon he would bring Vincent to spend part of the winter with him and Charles.  He could picture Vincent enjoying the immaculate world outside the window.  Vincent’s startling blue eyes filled his mind and he could literally see Vincent seated across the room, laughing as he did at the antics of the squirrels.


Perhaps, he thought, we could go home for a brief visit before spring and fire watching becomes a full-time job.  Thoughts of Pops and Mary filled his mind and he longed to revisit the city of his youth.  They would travel by night, taking their established route, and could be home within two days.  An ache of homesickness filled his heart and he longed for what he had so easily abandoned in his youth.


He sent Charles to the living room after he rejected his offer of help to clean the kitchen, knowing how eager Charles was to return to model building.  Earlier he had retrieved his laundry from his bathroom, and he started the washer before washing the dishes.  He was preparing vegetables when he thought he heard laughter.  Dismissing the sound as his imagination, Devin continued organizing the evening meal.  Several minutes passed and again he heard what he was positive was Charles laughing.  Curious he ventured to the door, peering into the living room.


Against the wall to the right of the barely opened bedroom door Charles sat, a smile stretched across his unique face.  Silently moving into the room Devin heard Bree reading Tom Sawyer to her enthralled audience.  He blinked rapidly as he felt moisture gathering behind his closed eyelids.  A wild rush of chaotic thoughts filled his mind as he wondered how this had happened.


“Hi Dev,” Charles shyly whispered across the expanse of space.  “I heard Bree laughing, and then I came over to listen as it sounded…sounded nice.  It made me feel good, like when Mouse laughs.  I cracked the door to ask her why she was laughing.”


“It’s my fault, Devin.  After I told Charles what I was reading, it seemed natural to just continue reading out loud so that he, too, could enjoy the story.  It’s been years since I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and I had forgotten how truly funny it is.


“When I was little my mom read to me all the time.  Then after I learned to read, I read to some of the younger children in my neighborhood.  Reading to Charles is like re-living my childhood memories.  I apologize if I broke the rules by speaking with Charles.”


Eyes sweeping between Charles’s face and the door, Devin continued to stare in disbelief as he listened to Bree speaking.  Nothing in his history prepared him for the extraordinary woman who sat behind the door.  She was not upset about being confined to a relatively small space, nor did being left alone except for his brief visits distress her.  She had accepted with grace and great simplicity her enforced restrictions.  The jaded con artist he had been for years failed to fully comprehend the complexity that had caused the serenity he was witnessing within Bree.


“Can she read more, Dev?  I like this story.  Remember when Vincent read this last time we were home?”


“If Bree wishes to read more and you want to listen, then its fine.  I need to get back to the kitchen.”  Turning on his heel he moved swiftly toward the kitchen.  Assaulted by his wildly swinging emotions he tried to calm his racing thoughts.  Except for his tunnel family and Catherine, he had never known anyone who was as calm and serenely accepting of the uniqueness that were his brothers.  He was mystified by how readily Bree had accepted his explanation of Charles - his resolve that Charles must be allowed his freedom while she was present in their home.




The chimes of the grandfather clock roused Devin.  Several moments later he heard Bree calling his name.  He righted himself, gaining his balance, and moved toward the door.  It was cracked a scant inch and Bree waited behind the door.  “Is something wrong?”


“I don’t know.  I awoke and then heard you mumbling, calling someone…Vincent, I think you said.  Your voice sounded urgent and I decided I had to find out if you were OK.  I’m sorry about opening the door, but I was worried.”


From the dim interior light Devin was totally aware of her huge eyes staring at him and the concern registered within their depth.  “I’m okay.  I tend to have a vivid dream that’s all.  Sorry I woke you.”  His eyes swept downward aware of how his pajamas swallowed up her body.  “Are you warm enough?  I’m sorry I don’t have any warmer pajamas to offer you; I’m just too warm blooded for flannel.”


“Oh, no, don’t worry about me, I’m fine and the room is warm.  I did rummage in your drawer for a pair of socks.  I washed my things in the basin and they aren’t dry.  I hope you don’t mind my borrowing your socks.”


“No, I’m glad you found them.  Come summer I’m gonna add more insulation under the floor in this area.  This was an addition to the cabin and they failed to adequately insulate the floor.  We should be able to make short work of the project as Charles, too, enjoys working with his hands.”  Realizing he was rambling Devin abruptly stopped.  “Sorry.  I get wound up talking about our home improvement projects, and could go on for hours if someone doesn’t shut me up!”


She smiled in response to Devin’s sheepish grin.  “My brother used to enjoy working with his hands.”


“I thought you said you didn’t have any family.”


“I don’t.  My brother died when he was 25 years old in the same crash that killed his family and our parents.”  She blinked rapidly trying to dispel the tears that stung her eyes and wet her lashes.


“I’m so very sorry, Bree, for your loss.  It surely was a dreadful loss for you, losing your whole family.  I can’t imagine how you survived.”


“The years after it happened are blank.  I was destroyed by the accident, remembering nothing of the next three years.  I was lost within my grief.  I lived, breathed, and survived but I was dead inside.  Into my fourth year of grief I went to work at the burn center.  It was what I learned there that brought me back to life.  When I looked at the patients, all they suffered and would continue to suffer for many years, I finally learned that I had no right to continue, buried within my grief.  My parents taught us to live life with joy and I was dishonoring their memory by not living up to their teachings.”


At the loss for words Devin eased the door open a few inches and grasped her hand, squeezing it gently.  “I’m so very sorry.”  His words sounded hollow and empty but he could think of nothing more to say.




The bright sun was blinding as it glinted off the pristine snow.  In the distance Devin could hear the distinct sound of a snow ski.  Gathering his outerwear he quickly bundled up and stepped onto the porch, just as the ski chugged to a stop.


As the goggles were raised the face hidden behind the mask became clear along with a wide grin.  “Hi ya, Devin.  You and Charles making out OK?  Sure was a big blow, wasn’t it?  There’s a car in the ditch about three miles back but no one inside.  Does the driver happen to be here?  I wanted to check with you before I called in search and rescue.”


“Yes, the driver’s here and has been here since Wednesday night.  Can I get you some coffee?”


“Naw.  I got a couple more cabins to check.  The plow should get to you sometime tomorrow or the next day.  Our guys are joining forces with the state highway gang to clear out this mess.”  Slipping the goggles back into place, the driver waved and moved off.


Grabbing the shovel that leaned against the wall, Devin began to clear off the latest accumulation of snow.  He had gone out to shovel the snow every three hours in a continuing attempt to keep the weight of the snow on the porch to a minimum.  A new porch was also on his home improvement projects list for the summer.


Back inside Devin wiped down his boots, putting them and his coat in the closet beside the fireplace knowing the warmth inside would soon dry out his coat and hat.  Proper care of their outerwear garments was something he learned from the village doctor during their first winter in the cabin.


Charles was napping, so he knocked on the door to share the news of the plow with Bree.  He stood chatting with her as she sat in his battered old recliner across from the bed.  “Looks like a couple of more days and you should be back on the road.  Ed will alert the garage that your car is in the ditch and as soon as they are able, they’ll bring in a wrecker.  Knowing Bob – he’s Ed’s brother - he will tow you to the preserve garage, as all the local shops will be covered up with towed cars.  Bob’s a good mechanic and hopefully he can get you up and running quickly.  You can just write a check to the forest preserve for the work since you’re on preserve property.”




Charles had been asleep for a couple of hours but sleep escaped Devin.  Light snow continued to fall from the overcast sky and even with the late hour, Devin knew he needed to clear the porch.  Donning his scarf and coat, he tugged on his gloves and headed for the door.  He began to shovel and it was only then he realized he had stepped out still wearing his running shoes.  Shrugging his shoulder in disgust, he continued shoveling the heavy wet snow.  He worked steadily, glad he was outside as he knew the snow would be twice as heavy by morning.  Stepping backward, he heard a loud crack rent the night; arms flaying wildly he tried to regain his balance.  His shout echoed in the night as he fell, hitting the porch with a force that stole his breath.  His body screamed in pain and momentarily he blacked out.


There was an inch of snow on the back of his gloves when he regained consciousness.  His right leg up to his mid-thigh was buried in a hole beneath the wooden porch and his left leg had buckled under him and was pinned with his body resting on top of it.  Using his arms, he tried to lever himself upward.  Pain ripped through his body as he struggled, trying to free himself.  After ten minutes he was soaked in sweat and knew he couldn’t free his legs.  The temperature was still below freezing and he was getting light headed from loss of blood.  Beneath the porch he could feel the blood coursing down his leg, soaking his sock.


Repeatedly he loudly yelled Charles’s name.  He continued yelling, trying to grab the shovel that had fallen inches away.  His numb fingers grasped the shovel and he began beating it against the porch.  Suddenly the door was yanked open and Bree was outlined against the interior light.  Oblivious to the cold and snow, she stepped barefoot onto the porch as she rushed forward.  Repeatedly she tried to pull him free but she wasn’t strong enough to gain leverage.  Without a word, she rushed inside and Devin could hear her pounding on Charles’s bedroom door.


Minutes later Charles was beside him, using his strength to lift his battered body from its wooden prison.  The split and broken board ripped against his leg renewing his agony as Charles dragged him upward gathering Devin into his arms.  Bree was already inside, throwing another log on the fire and grabbing a blanket from the sofa.  “Put him on the sofa while I find some bandages.”  Her movements were quick but her voice remained calm.  The face of the giant man was terrified as he saw Bree look at him.


“It’s all right, Charles.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m not.  Let’s just try to make Devin comfortable, shall we?  Can you tell me where I would find a first-aid kit?”


Fear robbed him of speech and Charles could only point at Devin’s bedroom door.  Swiftly she moved into the bedroom, disappearing into bathroom.  From the living room she could hear Devin’s soft, reassuring voice as he tried to comfort Charles.  Reaching the living room again she asked Charles to get a pan and some hot water.  Trembling, blinded by fear, he obeyed Devin’s voice to do as Bree asked.


When Charles returned Bree had removed the bloody shoe and sock, depositing them beneath the sofa skirt out of sight.  Taking the pan from the shaking unique hand, Bree smiled her thanks.  “Would you stand to my left so you hand me the things I need from the first-aid kit?  I’d be grateful for your assistance.”


Luckily she had spied scissors in the bathroom and had brought them along.  Quickly she began to cut Devin’s pant leg to above his knee cap.  The blood flow had slowed but she applied firm pressure at the bleeding point.  Seeing the look of despair softly she murmured, “Charles, could you press down firmly on this bandage while I clean the rest of his leg?”  Dropping to his knees Charles pressed down on the bandage while tears coursed down his face.


Silently with an easy and an accomplished manner Bree continued to cleanse the wound.  Her confident movements eased the palpable fear emanating from Charles.  Devin spoke in a gentle manner assuring Charles he would be fine and that he shouldn’t worry.


Using the tweezers Bree removed several of the visible splinters from the torn skin.  “Do you have spirits?  The alcohol is all gone and I’d feel better if we had something to disinfect the leg.”


“Charles, would you get the brandy from the liquor cabinet?  You remember which bottle it is, don’t you?”  Responding to Devin’s gentle voice, Charles crossed the room to retrieve the brandy.


Only the trembling beneath her fingers gave evidence to Devin’s pain.  His features remained smooth and his voice calm when he spoke.  A look passed between them as she silently acknowledged his determination not to allow Charles to see his pain.


Knowing the brandy would burn the red, torn flesh she gritted her teeth and poured.  Devin yelled as the caustic liquid ripped through his mangled flesh.  Mouth open, he panted, trying to regain his breath.  The sound of his labored breathing filled the room, raw and ugly, as he struggled to gain control.


Not daring to look at Charles, Bree continued working to cleanse the leg, assess the damage and what, if anything, she could do to repair his leg.  The splintered wood had ripped gashes into his flesh, leaving jagged edges of bloody torn skin.


“Devin, I think you’re gonna need a doctor – a hospital to repair this.  Didn’t you say you had a citizens band radio?  I think we should try to get help.  Can you talk me through how to use the radio?”  She turned facing Devin and looked squarely into the fear clouded eyes of Charles.  Without thought she instinctively reached out to the frightened man, gently touching his trembling hand.


Fighting through his pain Devin was able to talk Bree through the operation of the radio, and several minutes later he heard her voice speaking into the microphone.  Returning to the sofa she continued to speak softly.  “All the ambulances are out, but they are sending the snow ski.  Seems your friend Ed isn’t too many miles away.


“Charles, can you empty this water and bring back more hot water so we have it handy when help arrives?”


Devin patted Charles’s shoulder and urged him to do as Bree asked.  “He’s badly upset.  He’s never seen me hurt or in pain and he doesn’t know what to do or how to handle his emotions.  He is, in some ways, still a small, emotionally wounded child.”


“His love and devotion are remarkable.  I can see how frightened and scared he is.  I hope that by keeping my voice calm, it will somehow soothe him.” Returning, Charles put the pan on the floor, immediately assuming his place on his knees beside Devin, crowding closely to the sofa.  Instinctively Bree reached for the hand near her, grasping it gently with a light pressure.  “Help is on the way and soon we’ll get him fixed up.  Do you mind if I hold your hand?  I’m scared, too, and it’s nice to touch another person when you are scared.”


Devin saw the slight delicate change in Charles’s features as Bree’s words penetrated.  The cloud of tension that surrounded Charles eased and the stiffness softened in the rigidly held posture of his shoulders.  In the distance they heard the whirling chugging sound of a snow ski.  Minutes later Ed walked in; the open door brought a whirl of snow in with him.  Closing the door he began to shuck off his protective snow suit, sitting on the floor to pull off his boots, and then slid the pant legs down and off.  He moved with authority, purposefully heading for the bathroom.  Moments later he was back, his hands still busy with the towel he held.  “Let’s get a look at you and see what we got.”


Bree moved to allow Ed complete access to Devin’s leg.  His face remained impassive as he examined the mangled area.  “I’m gonna bandage this then put my inflatable cast on it.  Then I’m getting you into your snow gear and put you on the back of the snow ski and we’re gonna head for the hospital.  There’s a ton of wood splinters I can see and your flesh is chewed up pretty badly.  It’s gonna require stitches to close up these wounds.


“Charles, I’m gonna need your help in getting Devin into his snow gear.  Do you think you can help?  It would be much easier with your assistance.”  Standing to his full height Charles immediately moved to the fireplace closet and began pulling out Devin’s snowsuit, helmet and goggles.


Leg bandaged and the inflatable cast in place the two men began the difficult task of fitting Devin into the unyielding snowsuit.  The inflatable made it impossible to close the lower leg zipper, so they had to leave it open.  Devin rapidly talked to Charles as Ed pulled on his own snow gear.  “You stay inside the cabin with Bree.  Promise me you won’t leave, you’ll stay inside.  It’s too dangerous with the wind chill for you to be outside.  Don’t be afraid, I’ll be back before you know it.  If you want her to, Bree will go back into the bedroom and you will have the house to yourself.  Or if you ask, perhaps Bree will read to you.”  He glanced shifted to Bree his eyes pleading with her to agree.


“I’d be delighted if you would let me read to you.  We could sit here on the sofa by the fire where it’s warm.  Maybe you’d tell me stories of what it’s like to live surrounded by all these trees.  I’d like that very much.”  Her words were simple and spoken directly from her heart.


Ed walked to the closet, removed a large coat and carried it to Charles.  “I’m gonna start the ski, clear off the wind screen and then I’ll come back.  Together we can carry Devin.  You’ll need to hold him while I get on the ski and then you can get him settled on behind me.”  Quickly Ed disappeared into the still whirling snow and they heard the ski roar to life.  Together they maneuvered Devin out the door and down the steps.  Charles held him as Ed straddled the ski, then gently settled Devin behind him.


Ed raised his voice to carry over the wind. “I’ll either bring Devin back or come back myself to report on his condition.  You guys get back inside out of this wind.  I’ll be back as soon as possible.”  With a wave of his hand, Ed dropped the snow ski into gear, vanishing into the whirling snow.  The two lonely figures slowly climbed the steps and closed the door.


Silently Charles removed his coat, hanging it in the warm closet to dry.  He pulled off his damp boots, wiped them as Devin had taught him and added them to the closet.  Walking into his bedroom he closed the door.  Minutes later Bree heard water running in the bathroom.


She quickly removed the bloody sock and shoe from beneath the sofa, crossed to the kitchen and began the process of removing all traces of blood.  When she finished only dull traces of blood remained along the edges where the shoe joined the sole.  She left the slightly pink sock soaking.  Stopping in the bedroom to retrieve socks and warm slippers for herself, she returned to the living room.  Seated on the sofa she was unsure what she should do – stay or return to the bedroom and close the door.  She must speak to Charles to reassure that his appearance didn’t frighten, nor was she afraid of him.  It was paramount to her that Charles be at ease.  Instinctively she knew that if she left him alone, he would assume she feared him.


Just as she was about to rise, Charles opened the door to his bedroom and hesitantly walked toward her.  “Will you read?  Devin always reads when I’m scared.  His voice is soft and he makes the scary feelings go away.”


“Of course, I’ll read to you.  May I say something first?”  Seeing the simple nod Charles gave, she patted the sofa next to her, bidding him to sit.  “I understand how frightened you are about Devin’s injury.  I’m also concerned.  But I want you to understand that I’m not frightened by your appearance nor am I afraid to be here alone with you.  I hope you aren’t fearful of being alone with me.”


Quietly, in the simplest terms, she told Charles about her job at the burn center.  Her voice was gentle as she explained how she worked to help people who were deformed because of their fire damaged skin.  “They might be outwardly changed, but their hearts and souls are as beautiful and perfect as they were before their accidents.  Yes, I accept that you are different from most people.  But from all I have seen, you are completely beautiful inside where it counts.  I would like it if, over time, you could allow yourself to become comfort with me.”


Rising she walked to the bookcase.  “What book shall we read?”




They sat together on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn between them, and allowed the magic of the book to weave its spell.  The reading stopped only long enough for them to prepare the evening meal.


As he prepared the fruit, Charles looked at her.  “Dev says you gotta eat fruit three times a day.  He will be upset when he gets home if we don’t.”


His simple logic wasn’t lost on Bree and she dutifully spooned equal amounts of fruit into the waiting bowls.  Haltingly over the meal Charles spoke, telling her how the woods looked in the spring.  Attentively she listened, slightly amazed at the vast knowledge Charles had of the forest.  After doing the dishes they returned to their book.


Charles dozed and Bree heard the clock chime four a.m.  Perhaps she should have insisted that Charles go to bed but he did appear peaceful as he lightly snored tucked into the sofa corner.  She stretched her cramped muscles hoping her movements didn’t disturb his slumber.  In the distance she could hear the faint roar of a snow ski and gently she eased from the sofa moving toward the door.


She watched as the ski pulled into the circle of the porch light, seeing two men aboard the vehicle.  Ed hopped off and then with slow deliberate movements he helped Devin to dismount.  Two crutches were unstrapped from the ski and then with Ed’s assistance Devin began the cumbersome, awkward walk toward the porch.  The snow made him ungainly as he tried to maneuver in the deep snow.  Ed hooked an arm around his waist, offering his strength and support.  Together they gained the porch and came inside.


Their noise awakened Charles and he was immediately beside Devin.  “It’d be a big help if you could begin getting him out of his suit.  I’ll go back and get the meds and bandages the doctor’s sent home.”  Noting that his instructions were being followed, Ed returned to the bitter cold. 


Charles took charge of Devin, quickly moving him to a chair, and then bent to tug off his boots.  There was a long rent in the right leg of his suit where a zipper had been.  “They had a cut the suit to get my leg out and it was new, too!  Don’t they know these things don’t just grow on trees?”  Bree glanced at Devin, seeing his deliberate attempt at humor to ease Charles past his fears. 


Raising Devin to stand, Charles began the unwieldy process of pulling multiple zippers and easing the body-hugging suit from Devin’s frame.  More than once Devin made a grab for Charles as he lost his balance trying to wiggle his shoulders free.  Finally back on the chair with his pants resting low against his knees they began to ease his legs free.


Ed returned as they eased Devin down onto the sofa.  Making use of the vacated chair he began the process of shedding his snow gear.  “You should unpack the meds as a couple of them require refrigeration.”


Scooping up the package thrust at her, Bree headed toward the kitchen.  She returned bearing a tray with several cups of coffee.  Charles was seated on the floor beside Devin, his hand wrapped securely around Devin’s.  “Tell us what the doctor’s said.”


Accepting the proffered coffee, Ed sipped and sighed appreciatively as the hot liquid hit his stomach.  Seeing Devin’s eyes were closed, he began to speak.  “It took more than three hours to remove all the splinters and then flush the area with antiseptics before they could begin the stitching.  They wanted to keep him but he refused to be admitted.  He put up quite a fight.  The biggest piece of wood dug out a huge chunk of skin and required 30+ stitches to close.  They shot him full of antibiotics and pain drugs.  It was hard keeping him upright on the ski coming back.  You’ll need to take his temperature every two hours and in six hours remove the bandages, clean the whole leg, paint it with antiseptic salve and re-bandage it.  Keep his leg elevated, too.  If he develops a fever then call and I’ll come drag his butt back to the hospital.  It looks far worse than it is, but it’s gonna be a bear while it heals.  He ripped up a lot of skin, but he’s lucky as apparently there is no nerve or muscle damage.  His calf muscles are badly bruised.  Give me a minute to finish this,” he gestured to his coffee, “then Charles and I will get him into bed.”




She carried a breakfast tray into Charles who hadn’t left Devin’s side for two days.  Devin’s drug induced sleep made it easier for Bree to care for his leg.  It was raw and weepy and she feared her ministrations caused him further pain.  Her initial look at the leg, with all the zigzag stitches scattered in abundance over his leg, had unnerved her, but she gritted her teeth as she cleansed and dressed the leg.


Charles was immediately beside her, taking the towels and pan of water.  He sat them on the floor and then gently eased the blankets up and over Devin’s leg.  He scooped up the towels and pan, carried them to the bathroom and immediately returned to assume his seat.


“Eat your breakfast before it gets cold.”  Reluctantly he picked up the plate and ate.  He wasn’t hungry but he didn’t want Dev to be upset with him for not eating.


Hearing the knock Bree went to answer the door.  “Thought you might need some groceries and I brought you a present.”  Ed pointed outside to where her car now sat in a newly shoveled space in the driveway.  “You needed a new carburetor.  The bill’s on the front seat; you can stop by the preserve office to pay before you leave the area.  Tony’s gonna finish digging out Devin’s truck.”  Ed’s head jerked to indicate the snowsuit clad figure working in the driveway.


“Thank you so much.  How are the roads?”


“Lots of the smaller county roads are still impassable, but the major roads are free of snow though some are only a lane and half wide.  The plows are still working, but the guys are used to dealing with this stuff and they’ll have it cleared out soon.  “How’s Devin doing?  And what about Charles, how’s he?”


“Between the antibiotics and the pain killers, Devin has slept more than he has been awake.  Charles refuses to leave Devin’s room and just sits in the chair, guarding him.”


“Put away the groceries then go relax for a while and let me talk with Charles.  Maybe I can get him to leave the room.”  Ed strolled toward the bedroom and closed the door.


Forty minutes later both men appeared, Ed’s arm draped over the larger man’s shoulder.  They left the door open.  “I’m going to nap but you call if Dev needs me.”  Charles paused as he walked, turning frequently to look back toward Devin’s room.  Before he closed his bedroom door, his panic filled eyes swept the room trying to somehow reassure himself that they would care for Dev.


“Rest assured I’ll call if Devin needs you.  Just stretch out on your bed and try to rest for a while.  You need to keep up your strength for his sake.”  Bree smiled hopefully, conveying her wish to reassure Charles.




Thankful for the return of her car, Bree drudged out retrieving her suitcase, glad that she would finally have a change of clothes.  She smiled as she passed a small square of plywood Ed had placed over the knee size hole in the porch.


Glancing at her watch she realized that Charles had been asleep for several hours.  She didn’t think he had actually slept since Devin came home.  He had been fully awake each time she had changed the bandages or gave Devin his medication.  Crossing to the open door she peeked in on her patient and was surprised when he spoke her name.


“How’s Charles?  He’s not in the recliner, where is he?”


“Ed convinced him that he needed to sleep.  He’s been in his bed for almost four hours.  I’ll get him if you like.”


“No, no, let him sleep.”


“How are you feeling?  Are you in much pain?  My own leg has sympathy pains each time I’ve cleansed and re-bandaged your leg.”


“Look’s that bad, huh?  To be honest, it hurts like holy hell!  Do you think I could have some cold water?  I’m awfully thirsty.”  After finishing the water, Devin simply closed his eyes and went to sleep.


Hearing Charles stir Bree went to the kitchen to prepare food, assuming he would be hungry.  Immediately Charles went to Devin’s room.  Roughly thirty minutes later he took his seat in the kitchen.  “Dev said I should eat with you so you won’t be lonely.  It’s bad to make nice people be lonely.  I’m sorry.”


Without any forethought Bree crossed to Charles, placing her hand tenderly on his shoulder.  “There’s no reason to be sorry.  You’ve been very concerned about Devin.  It’s natural that you wish to be near him.”  Turning back to the stove she finished plating the food and set the meal before Charles.  Together they ate without further conversation.




Relieved that she was on vacation and didn’t have to be concerned with phoning the burn center, Bree puttered around the cabin between caring for Devin.  Never having been inclined toward idleness, she cared for the cabin as if it were her own; she swept, dusted, and tidied.  The time with Charles was an odd mix; sometimes he spoke freely and other times he was wrapped in his own silent world. 


Ed checked in via the radio and on the fourth day he appeared with a passenger.  After introductions Dr. Edmonds went to see Devin.  Charles, as expected, stayed beside his devoted friend; the thought of leaving never occurred to him.


Sipping his coffee, Dr. Edmonds chatted.  “What was he doing outside wearing only running shoes?  His boots would have protected his whole leg and the damage would have been minor when his leg went through the porch flooring.  I’ve never known him to be careless.  This was an accident but the damages could have been so much less with proper footwear.


“Don’t mind me,” his hand brushed through his hair.  “I’m always frustrated by accidents that are the result of carelessness.  Depending upon how quickly he heals, he may or may not need plastic surgery on the scars, depending upon how inward drawing the scars become.  The deeper scars will take weeks to completely heal, so he’ll continue to be in pain and possibly limp.”


“What kind of care is he gonna need, doc?  Will Charles be able to care for him here alone?”  The worry in Ed’s voice was clear.


“If we can get through the next week without any infection, which is my worst fear, then Charles should be able to provide care.  What about you, Miss, how much longer are you going to be here?”


“I don’t honestly know.  I’m on vacation.  You are aware, I hope, that I don’t really know Devin.  He saved my life when I walked here from my stalled car at the height of the blizzard.  I only met Charles the day Devin fell through the porch.”  She explained how Devin had restricted her movement so as to protect Charles.


“Well, that does put a different spin on the situation.  I wrongly assumed that you were a family friend.  Aside from Ed and me no one in the area is aware of Charles.  We,” he pointed toward Ed, “have never felt the need to share Charles’ uniqueness with others.


“If you need to leave, I’d appreciate your giving me a call.  I’m a widower so I could simply pack up, come out and care for Devin until he gets on his feet.  It’s the best solution, I think, for all concerned.”


“Does Devin have family who could be of assistance?  I could call when I get back to the city, if you think that would help.”


“Devin has mentioned his father and a brother but I gather their circumstances are financially limited and that it is difficult for his brother to travel.”




Charles remained seated beside Devin reading.  Devin’s eyes were closed but it mattered not if he was awake or asleep.  Charles simply continuously read, soothing his own frayed nerves and hoping to ease Devin’s discomfort.  Several days after Dr. Edmonds discussion regarding Devin’s hygiene, Charles undertook giving him a bath, shaving him, and helping him brush his teeth.


Bree laughed when she entered the bathroom an hour after Charles’s first attempt at putting Devin in the tub, with his injured leg hanging outside the tub.  She had heard the shared laughter, Devin’s swearing that Charles was drowning him and the continued splash of water as Charles attempted to give his first bath to another soul.


She mopped the floor free of water, gathered the considerable number of wet towels and carried them out to the washer.  Returning to the bathroom she put out fresh towels and cleaned the water spots from the mirror, wondering as she wiped how the water had gotten all over the mirror.  As she walked out she noticed for the first time that Devin was propped against his pillows, sitting up.  Her laughter spilled forth and she quickly covered her mouth.


Devin’s pajama top was completely mis-buttoned, his hair stood in pikes around his head, and tiny spots of toilet paper clung to his face.  Trying to control herself she grabbed her stomach and stood looking as she shook with repressed laughter.


“Not quite ready for the cover of GQ, huh?” came the quizzical voice.


“I’d say it would be an inspired cover and surely a collector’s issue.”


“He’s never given anyone a bath.  I’m sorry about the mess we made.  He was more exhausted from the experience than I was!”


“When he came out, he looked totally wiped!  I felt sorry for him.”


“His last comment was ‘do we have to do this again tomorrow?’  How’s my leg looking?  Most of the time I’ve been asleep when you’ve changed the dressings so I haven’t seen it since it got stitched.”


“It’s not as weepy.  Dr. Edmonds has been here and said that perhaps in another week, he could remove the stitches.  He also said you’d be in pain and possibly limp a little until the deeper wounds completely heal.  The boards and shards of wood dug some deep furrows.  Your calf muscles are badly bruised, that’s why you hurt so much.”


“Did he say anything about when I can get up and start walking?”


“He’s due tomorrow.  Are you hungry?  I made some soup; it tastes pretty good.  May I get you a bowl?”


Returning with a tray Bree accepted Devin’s request that she stay to talk.  He asked about her car and she explained it was now in his driveway.  “Are the roads passable enough so you can get out?  Wait a minute, that didn’t come out right!  I’m not trying to get rid of you, but I know it can’t have been fun being here the past days since I tried to corkscrew myself into the porch floor!


“Your being here has been a blessing, not only for me but certainly for Charles.  He’s told me how nice and accepting of him you’ve been.  Eddie, his biological brother, called him ‘Freak’ continually, leaving him with a multitude of psychological as well as emotional scars.  He’s so aware that most people see him is a freak.  I brought him here so that he could live the remainder of his life without fear.  His disease is progressive and I want whatever time he has left to be happy!”  His voice ended in an explosive sigh.


“You’ve done that – made him happy.  He’s had periods of quietness but that is, I think, because he’s concerned about you.  Otherwise he has chatted with me and I’ve been impressed with his knowledge of the forest.  He seems very intelligent discussing a variety of subjects with relative ease.”




The day following Dr. Edmonds latest visit Devin had Charles help him dress in soft knit pants and a wool sweater.  Charles provided his strong, steady arm as Devin began the slow process of testing the strength in his damaged leg.  Two brief trips around the bed left him puffing and swearing as he tried to control the leg which refused to cooperate with its owner.  Sinking to the edge of the mattress he huffed and puffed, struggling to control his pain racked body.  Ten minutes of rest was all he allowed before physically forcing his body upward to cling on quaking limbs to Charles’ strong arm.  Aware of his own strength Charles supported his friend gently, always guarding against the possibility of accidentally hurting Devin as he struggled to regain his mobility.


Beads of sweat peppered Devin’s face, his breathing was strained but he refused to give in to his pain.  He was determined to regain his mobility no matter how great the discomfort.  After watching the two men for nearly ninety minutes Bree stepped into the room.  “I think that’s more than enough.  You’re sweating like a pig.  Dr. Edmonds said you could try to walk, he didn’t say you should do it all in one day!”  Her voice was soft but her features had become hard, flashing a look at Devin that spoke volumes in the silent message it conveyed.


“Charles, take him into the bathroom, get him cleaned up, then into fresh pajamas and put him back in bed.  There will be no more exercising today.  Is that clearly understood?”


Before he could utter a word of protest Devin found himself swept into Charles’ arms heading toward the bathroom.  Closing the door Charles caught the look on Bree’s face as she spun on her heel and exited the room.




Ed was faithful in keeping in touch via the radio or making visits as his forestry schedule permitted.  Devin and Charles continued their regiment to strengthen his leg; their walking had progressed to making one slow circuit to the living room.  He no longer gasped for breath on their journey, nor were his features contorted in pain.


Sitting on the sofa after their latest circuit Devin breathed and sighed, hating the exhausted feelings that continued to plague him.  Telling Charles he needed to rest before the return trip to the bedroom, he watched as Charles joyfully returned to his model building kit and saw him quickly become lost within the model plan book.  He smiled in remembered delight of the first kit he had given Charles - his complete fascination, and happiness when the model was finished.  Silently as he watched, he began to flex and stretch his leg as Dr. Edmonds had instructed.


“Devin, may I speak with you for a moment?”  Bree extended the cup of coffee she held and then sat.  She noticed the way Devin’s eyebrows knit together at the sound of her voice.


“You’re going to leave, aren’t you?”


“Yes.  I have to leave in two days as my vacation will be up in three days.  I need a day for travel before I report to the burn center.


“I’ve made you several casseroles, divided them into serving sizes and stashed them in the freezer.  I also made a big pot of soup doing the same with it as the casseroles.  While here I haven’t seen Charles do anything with food except make toast or fix a sandwich.  I gather that he is restricted as far as cooking is concerned.”


“Yes, I simply prefer that he not attempt cooking…matches, gas, etc., well, I just feel better if he didn’t undertake those things.  He’s fearful of being burned.  Once he told me of a nightmare - at least I think it was a nightmare and not a memory - where people were throwing lighted matches at him.  It took hours to calm him after he told me of his dream.”


Bree’s face registered her horror and moisture quickly gathered in her revealing eyes.  “How can anyone be that cruel, to attempt to harm anyone as sweet as Charles?  It’s just unthinkable!”  Her shoulder shook as if she was trying to physically push these thoughts from her mind.


Moments passed before she spoke.  “I wanted to tell you about my leaving now so that if there are things you wished me to do, I could get them accomplished.  Dr. Edmonds said he could stay with you when I leave if you can’t handle things alone.  And Ed said he would check in as often as his schedule permitted.”


“Your preparing food for our meals in advance is certainly going to help.  I don’t know if I can stand long enough to cook.  The leg is better but I won’t lie and say it isn’t painful.  It feels like those boards ripped off fifty layers of skin with a lawn mower!   I never knew bruises could be this painful.  At night I wake up feeling like a gazillion worms are crawling up and down using my leg for food!”


“There are people counting on me at the center so there is no way I could extend my vacation.  We have more patients requiring one-on-one intense care.  One less staff member can mean the difference between a good therapy session and a rushed one.  It’s a hard drive back into New York City so I’ll need a full night’s sleep before reporting for duty.”


“Hey, I didn’t know you were from New York.  So are we.  Small world, isn’t it?”


“How long have you and Charles been here?”


Wiggling around on the sofa Devin turned so his fully faced Bree as he replied.  “It’s been five, no, six years.  Charles was in bad shape when I found him and persuaded his brother to let him live with me.  He didn’t sleep a full night through the first six months, he was so traumatized.  We’d talk far into the night.  Reading was the only thing that calmed him.  Slowly the tranquility of the forest worked its magic.  I felt such boundless joy the first time he slept through the night!”


“The first chance I have, I’ll pick up some special tea and send you a packet.  It’s very soothing and causes one to have such a peaceful sleep.  It might be just what Charles needs to pacify him into sleep while you are healing.  It would surely help you, too.  Personally, I’ve found it helpful when I have dealt with particularly difficult cases at the center.  You do like tea, don’t you?”


“Sure.  I grew up drinking tea.  Pops is very British in his thinking that every situation can be resolved with a good cup of tea.  I swear he mixed weak tea into our baby bottles he’s so addicted to the stuff!  My brother and I learned to like it cuz we knew like it or not, we were gonna have to drink it.  Pops also doesn’t believe in wasting either food or drink.


“May I phone your family and give them a message from you?”


“Thanks, but no.  I appreciate your offer, but I’ll be in touch with them.”  Devin took her hand, holding it gently as he spoke. “I don’t believe I have words to adequately express my gratitude.  It was a difficult situation and yet, you were always cheerful and thoughtful regarding Charles and my wish to protect him.  Had you reacted with anything but grace and love, he would have been further traumatized.  I can’t thank you enough.”  Devin continued to softly stroke her hand as he gazed into her unique eyes.


“My grandfather was deaf and I saw how people reacted to him, treating him as if he was deformed because of a hearing loss.  He read lips and that ability often caused him pain.  He couldn’t hear the words but he knew the names they called him.


“I learned to sign almost at the same time I learned to speak in complete sentences.  My dad said we were a multi-lingual family as we spoke sign language, English, and French as my mother was raised in France.  My brother and I got into many fights at school and in our neighborhood when the kids made fun of Grandpa.  We both came home with bloody hands.  After a while the kids learned not to say nasty things and slowly over time, some of them became friends with Grandpa.  He lived with us, you see.”


“I’d never have guessed you were a scrappy neighborhood fighter.  You look so, well, refined and composed.”  Devin stared intently and then smiled broadly.  “I’ll bet you gave as good as you got, huh?”


“I was proud of every bruise I got and gave much to my parent’s chagrin.  Mama was convent reared and she felt she had failed all the nuns’ training in having a daughter who fought with boys.”


They continued to talk of their childhood adventures, finding they shared similar memories.  “I always loved it when Grandpa took us to the park, letting us run and play wildly for hours.  He, too, loved Central Park, the great expanse of green and all the trees.”


Devin’s eyes brightened at the mention of “their” park as he and all the other tunnel children claimed ownership, preferring to believe that Father merely allowed other non-tunnel children to play there.  He remembered how he felt - sort of like the loss of Santa Claus - when he learned that Pops did not actually own the park.


Sighing Devin smiled, “It is one of the most beautiful parts of the city.  I have many happy memories of it.”




Bree rechecked the bedroom area one last time, then walked back to the living area.  She checked around the sofa making certain she had left nothing and then closed her suitcase.  She was unbelievably sad to be leaving; she hadn’t expected to become so attached to Charles in their brief time together.  He was exceptional and she knew she would never forget his gentle persona.  Saying goodbye was going to be difficult.


Dr. Edmonds had praised her care of Devin and was ecstatic that there had been no trace of infection, which had been his fear.  When he left last night he again expressed his appreciation for her nursing skills.


“All set?”


“Yes, I looked all around to be certain I didn’t leave anything.  I left my address and phone number on your desk in the event anything got left behind.  I hope you don’t mind.”


“If you hadn’t left it, I was gonna ask for it.”  He glanced over his shoulder at the door seeing that Charles was just closing the trunk of her car.  “Don’t be surprised, but I think Charles is planning to write you a thank you letter.  Pops is big on expressing appreciation and Charles, well, Charles tries to emulate Pops.”


“I’d love to hear from Charles and you, too.  I owe you both a debt for saving my life, one I don’t think I can ever repay.”


“No, Bree, we owe you.  It would have been a nightmare if Charles had been here alone when I fell through the porch.  He has asked many questions about what he should do if something were to happen again.  He has repeatedly stated he would ‘call his Bree’.


“I think I have to do more emergency preparedness planning with him.  Hopefully the remainder of the winter won’t be as bad and there will be many hours for discussing those plans.  With Charles I have learned patience, something I previously lacked, as it takes many repeated conversations to allay his fears of new situations.”


Bree’s smile warmed at Devin’s words.  Impulsively she stepped forward and kissed his cheek.  “Charles is blessed in having you.”


Together they crossed to the door as Charles opened it.  He moved to the closet, removed Devin’s coat and helped him slip it on.  Next he took Bree’s tote and all three of them moved through the door.  They stood on the porch chatting, each trying to avoid the final goodbye.  After several minutes Bree turned to hug Devin as she again thanked him for his hospitality.


She stood before Charles as he stared down at his boots.  “Charles, I will always consider myself fortunate, as the pleasure of knowing you is a blessing.  I thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life and world.”  Extending her arms she hugged him and as she did she heard a sigh and felt his arm gently return her hug.  Leaning away, she stood on tip toe placing a soft kiss against his face.


Turning she scampered down the steps, slipped into the driver’s seat and started the car.  She turned for one last wave seeing Charles standing with his hand covering the spot where she had kissed his cheek.  Smiling broadly she waved again and drove off.




Tucked in his bed and with Devin in his customary chair, book in hand, Charles’ hand returned continuously to his face and he smiled.  “Dev, can you see it?  Catherine said when an angel kisses you, they leave a special mark on your face.”


Leaning forward Devin lifted Charles’ finger, stared for a brief second and then smiled.  “Yes, I can see it.”




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