Disclaimer: The Characters of Due South belong to Alliance Communications. No copyright infringement is intended.
I had about four to six pages of this written, when my disk blew up and I lost it. I hope I can get the same feeling the other version had. Grrr. I hope it answers some of the questions I've had about RayK. I started season 3 with mixed emotions, glad that it was back, sorry to lose DM. But, as they say, life goes on. I have changed my entire life a couple of times, myself; and, although it is hard, it also brings new things and people, change can be good. I find myself really liking RayK. He is a much simpler soul than RayV, kinder in many ways. Certainly suffering from a low self esteem far greater than RayV's. I see RayV, upon tackling Bruce in ICBaD, asking him if he was stupid, rather than deaf. Just MHO. Make your own decisions. Here we go:
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A shadow crossed the desk of the man posing as Ray Vecchio, causing him to look up from the file he was perusing. He smiled upon recognizing the man who stood before his desk. "Hey, Fraser, how's it goin'?" he asked, leaning back in his chair and giving his full attention to his visitor
"Good afternoon, Ray," the mountie replied.
Ray thought his friend seemed a little nervous, "What's up?"
"Ah, I was wondering," he shifted, "I was wondering if you could assist me in a, rather, uh, personal matter."
Definitely nervous. "Sure. Whaddaya need?" curious.
"I need, well I would like you to be a reference for me, for an apartment I found. They require three references..."
"Hey, no problem. Where do I sign?" Fraser handed him a form to fill out. Ray took the form and started writing, "Do you want I should get the lieutenant to sign for you, too?"
Fraser noticed that Ray seemed to be having a bit of difficulty with the form, "No, thank you, that won't be necessary. The inspector and H were also willing to vouch for me." Ray returned the filled out form to him. He noticed that Ray's spelling was atrocious, but made no comment.
Ray returned his attention to the file he had been reading, the statement of a victim. He looked puzzled. "Fraser, what's a e..." he gave up trying to pronounce the word, and, instead, pointed at the word, turning the folder for Fraser to see.
"Egregious." Fraser pronounced for him, "It means 'conspicuously bad'. As in 'the politician's egregious behavior.'" Noting Ray's puzzled frown, "Ray, do you have trouble reading?" he asked gently, so as not to appear threatening.
"I read OK." Defensive. "I just don't know a lot of big words."
Fraser nodded. "Understood." He looked Ray in the eye.
Ray blushed. Looking around, to see if anyone might be paying them any attention, "Let's take this outside, OK?" Ray asked, standing.
By unspoken agreement, both men remained silent, walking to the small park located down the street from the District House. When they had settled on an out-of-the-way bench, they continued their conversation.
"You do have trouble reading, don't you, Ray?" It was really more of a statement than a question. "I've noticed your difficulty with words, before." How could he not? Even his comprehension of colloquialisms oft times seemed deficient, the fact that Ray hadn't known what posturing was, came immediately to mind.
"I do OK." Ray replied. "Like I said, I just don't know a lot of big words." Obviously uncomfortable.
"Ray, it's no disgrace to not be able to read well. There are things you can do to help yourself. Do you have a dictionary?" He was careful to keep any tone of disapproval from his voice.
"Yeah. Why?" cautious, unsure.
"You might consider just opening it at random, once in a while, and read a page, or two. It's an excellent way to increase your vocabulary and spelling."
Ray just hung his head, ashamed. "I..."
The pain in his eyes touched Fraser's heart, "Ray, have you been tested for dyslexia?"
Ray shook his head. "Nah, I see the letters OK, they just don't always make any sense."
"Do you ever read for pleasure, Ray?" kindly.
Ray shuddered. "Reading is never a pleasure." Defeated.
Fraser thought for several minutes, while Ray sat staring at the ground, despondent.
"Ray, how did you do in school?" he needed more information.
"I hated school. I barely graduated." Straight D- average.
Fraser was puzzled. He knew from what he had seen and learned about this man, that he wasn't stupid. You didn't become a Detective First Grade by being stupid. For that matter, you didn't become a police officer, or stay one, by being stupid. "Where did you stand in your class at the academy?"
Puzzled frown, "I dunno, somewhere in the middle. Why?"
"What did you get on your detective's exam?" pressing.
He didn't even have to think on that one, "93, why?"
Surprised. "You got a 93 on the detective promotion exam." Statement. "The first time you took it?" Ray nodded. "As I recall, anything over an 81 is going to get a promotion, correct?"
"How would you know that? You're not even American, let alone a Chicago cop." Confused.
"When I realized that I would be stationed here for the foreseeable future, I did some reading up on the area, and as I found myself more and more caught up with Ray," this Ray's eyes hit the ground, "I read up on the workings of the Chicago PD, determining that it could be useful in my dealings, here."
Ray nodded, refusing to look at him.
Fraser managed to hold back his aggravation at Ray's low self esteem. That was obviously part of the problem. "Ray, what I'm saying is that you could not have done so well at the academy nor on your detective exam if you were stupid."
Ray finally looked up at him. "Huh?" totally confused.
"Ray," Fraser sighed, exasperated, "I've never thought you were stupid. You would never have become a detective, nor been asked to take on your current assignment, if you were stupid." The look he received was almost hopeful. "Ray, I have an acquaintance who, I believe, may be able to help you."
Ray shook his head, "I've tried. I took some classes? They didn't do any good. I came out just as dumb as when I went in."
"I wasn't thinking of you attending a class. I was thinking of you teaching a class."
Ray burst out laughing. "You gotta be kidding. I can barely get through my reports, and you want me to teach someone else to read? Talk about the blind leading the blind."
"I'm perfectly serious, Ray. I volunteer with a group that teaches adults to read. They are always looking for people to help. I've discovered that when I teach someone a skill I learn more about it, understand it better myself, by doing so." At Ray's expression of disbelief, he added, "It couldn't hurt; and it might just help. What do you have to lose?"
Ray thought about it. This was the first conversation he'd ever had with anyone about his lack of reading skills where he didn't feel like a complete idiot. Fraser was right. He had nothing to lose, and possibly everything to gain.
"I'm going to be going to the learning centre tomorrow evening. I could call my acquaintance, tell her you were coming...?" encouraging.
"Well...." Nothing to lose, "OK. It couldn't hurt, right?"
Fraser smiled. "Pick me up at the consulate at 5:30, tomorrow?"
"Sure, no problem." He couldn't believe he was letting himself in for another failure, like this, "I gotta get back. Finish that report." he continued, standing.
"Understood." Rising, as well, "I'll see you tomorrow."
The two men nodded their good-byes and each went his separate way.
He couldn't believe he had let the Canadian talk him into this, he was thinking to himself as he parked his car in front of the learning centre. He was breaking out in a nervous sweat, just thinking about it. The building was imposing, frightening. Bringing back memories of being screamed at by unfeeling teachers. Being told he was stupid, and believing it.
"It will be all right, Ray. You'll like Cheryl, she's a very nice lady." Fraser said in encouragement.
"We'll see." he shuddered in anticipation.
The building was eerily silent, when they entered. Fraser led the way up the stairs, down the hall and into a classroom. There were twenty or so students, most of whom appeared to be immigrants, who ignored them, and a lady up front who looked up at them with a smile of greeting.
"Class, I have some business to attend to, so I want you to write in your journals until I get back, then we'll resume your reading them to the class."
The class got out their journals and started writing in them. Only a few cast curious looks at the visitors.
She led them to her office at the end of the hall. "Hi, my name is Cheryl. Ben told me he was bringing me a new volunteer." Ben had told her all**about Ray, with the promise that she not let on about her knowledge. She offered her hand.
"Uh, yeah. Hi. My name's Ray...Vecchio." Taking her hand.
Her handshake was firm and dry. His was firm and damp. Nerves, she decided. She smiled disarmingly. "So, Ben, here tells me you're a cop?" Get him talking.
"Uh, yeah. I'm a detective with the 27th District." He was glancing surreptitiously around the office. It didn't seem to be all that scary. There were nice pictures on the walls, and the desk looked even more cluttered than his own. "What exactly did you have in mind, for me to do?"
"Well, I was thinking that I'd have you sit in with Ben for a couple of weeks so you can see what we do, and how we do it. Then I'd give you a class of your own. We are always in need of more volunteers. A few of our students have stayed on to teach, but mostly we're always in need of help." There are always more needing help than there are to help. Ray's eyes showed his fear.
"Uh, how big are the classes?" There were more than twenty people in her classroom. He'd never be able to handle that many. How did he get himself into this? There was no way he could possibly do them any good. He started to look around him, panic setting in. This was a school. Any minute now and she would realize what a dummy he was and...
"Ray?" She reached out and touched his arm. He jumped, "It's all right, Ray. The idea of teaching is frightening to a lot of people. We'll make it easy for you. I'm just glad you were willing to come in. We try to keep the volunteer's classes down to four or five to start. That way we don't overwhelm them, and each student gets lots of personal attention." The terror was easing in his eyes. She wondered what insensitive lout had destroyed his confidence so badly. This guy was a detective? He certainly didn't fit any picture she had of a cop. That's what you get for trying to pigeonhole people. No. Ben said he was a good man, a good cop. He just needed help. Time to draw him out some more. Try to get him to relax a little. From the look of him, that would take some doing.
"A lot of the people we get in here are recent immigrants. They vary from totally non-English speaking to very fluent. The fluent mostly need help with the colloquialisms. At his puzzled look, she added "The slang. It's amazing how difficult it is to learn slang in a foreign country."
Ray grinned slightly, looked at Fraser and said, "Tell me about it. I'm good at slang. I speak street lingo pretty good. I don't know about people who don't speak any English. It's all I know." Since he was posing as an Italian-American, it wouldn't make any sense for him to say he spoke Polish, learned from his grandmother. Now she'd call him stupid, and send him on his way. He never should have given in to Fraser's suggestion.
She could feel his tension. From his confidence level (none), and his speech mannerisms, she rated his reading level at sixth to seventh, perhaps eighth grade. An age when many students, especially boys, got lost in the system. Many had attention deficit disorders, many just got bored, got behind, and never caught up. She hated the public school system that processed students like feedlot cattle, push them through, no matter what. If many were left unable to cope, who cared? Their jobs were secure. The money the Federal Government gave them was based on how many bodies were pushed through the system. No one seemed to care that lives were ruined by not helping the students learn; just give them a D and pass them on to the next teacher, and get on with the new batch. Here was a prime example. He might have a learning disability, from what Ben had said, it seemed mild, but it would take a lot of tests to determine what and how severe. Ray had done well at the police academy, and had an excellent score on his detective promotional exams. Yet, he could barely read or write. Perhaps he had been one of the bored ones, unchallenged, fallen behind and gotten lost. Have to wait and see.
The silence was making Ray fidget. He'd never been sent to the office but that silence meant bad things. And Fraser just sitting there like a lump didn't help, either. He was on his own here, and he was getting ready to panic, just like when he was in school.
"Why don't you go with Ben and see how we work? Ben's class is an intermediate group who all speak English. He's teaching them sentence structure...I'll let him show you."
"You said a couple of weeks sitting in. How many days a week is that? I sometimes end up stayin' late at work, on a case? What are we talkin' about, here?" I got one forty plus hour a week job, I don't need another one.
"I volunteer two days a week, Ray. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, two hours per night." Fraser finally joined in.
"Oh. That's not too bad. I can maybe do that." If I can do it at all.
"We'll work something out. I don't want to scare off any prospective volunteers. We couldn't continue without them." She smiled. "Go along with Ben, now. We'll meet again after class, see what you think, OK?" she stood, the men stood as well. She led the way out. She turned right, to go back to her class, they turned left to go to Fraser's.
It wasn't nearly as bad as Ray had feared. Fraser was working on homonyms. One of his students was getting frustrated, "I do not understand. Why would a language have so many spellings and meanings for one word? It makes no sense!"
"That's one that's got a lot of people wondering. They even got stuff to help you remember which one is which. Here, I'll show you." Ray had gotten caught up in the discussion. He sat beside the puzzled man. "Look," he said as he took a sheet of paper and a pen, writing out his examples, "'They're taking their dog over there.' They are taking their, that's got an I in it to remind you that it means 'belongs to' I, mine, got it?" the man nodded, uncertainly. "Then there's there, that means place, it's got the word here in it, see?" Suddenly the man understood.
"Ah! I see! Now it makes sense. Thank you." He said excitedly, then turned to his wife, who had been having the same problem, and explained it to her as Ray had explained it to him, the explanation snowballing, as each person passed on the information. Soon all eight people in Fraser's class understood the usage and spelling.
Fraser was pleasantly surprised at Ray's means of remembering which was which, very promising. "Ray, do you have one of those for the two, to, and too?" He had been taught at home, and hadn't had to learn tricks to remember which was which.
"Sure, uh, let's see..." The class was utterly silent, as he moved up to the blackboard, to write the sentence. "Oh yeah" He wrote: 'I took two friends to the movies, too.' I took, the number two, friends to, direction, the movies, also. That's what the extra o is for, to remind you it means that. The direction to, is like do, it goes with a verb. Went to, go to, come to, get to, stuff like that.
Cheryl was standing in the doorway, and heard his explanation. "How about peek, peak, and pique? Do you have one for them?"
Ray jumped, then blushed, he hadn't seen her come in. "Uh, I only know two of 'em, 'if you peek through the window and you are seen, the person may shout "eek"', that's how you remember the spelling; and the peak of a mountain, that has an 'A' in it, the point of the capital A reminds you of the point of the mountain. That's how I remember which one is which." Cheryl nodded her agreement.
Fraser joined in "The third one, p-i-q-u-e, has two meanings, one is, uh, to become annoyed, a 'fit of pique'; the other means to arouse, as in 'pique your interest'. There is another word, spelled the same, but pronounced 'pe-kay' which is a type of fabric."
Ray shook his head "I've heard of a 'fit of pique', I just didn't know how to spell it." He suddenly smiled. "I learned a new word." Maybe this wasn't hopeless, after all.
Fraser noted the time. "Oh, sorry, class. We've exceeded our time for this evening. See you all on Tuesday? Try to find more homonyms, and we'll discuss them next time. Perhaps Ray has more examples of how to tell them apart." He looked hopefully at his friend. Ray shrugged, uncertain. Cheryl smiled, pleased. Ray might have problems, but his remembering the sayings to tell which word was which and their spelling, was very promising.
The two men followed her back to her office. When they were seated, she looked at Ray. "So, how was your first class."
"Not as bad as I thought it was gonna be." He smiled, somewhat surprised.
She nodded. "So, are you interested in joining our little crew? I can really use the help."
Ray thought about it, unaware that the other two were holding their breaths, waiting. Then, "Yeah. I think I can do this. If tonight was any example of how it works." He smiled shyly at them. "It was kinda fun." He didn't notice the two relieved exhales by his companions.
Cheryl smiled, relieved, "Great. Are you busy on Saturday? Could we perhaps get together, fill out the paperwork, discuss how this all works? Just a couple of hours is all we need."
Ray frowned. "I work Saturday. I don't get off until four-thirty. Is that too late?"
"No problem. Tell you what. Why don't you come over to my place at about six, six-thirty, I can fix dinner, and we can get the forms filled out and answer any questions you may have." And I can evaluate what you need.
"OK. I can do that." It never occurred to him that this could be construed as a date.
Fraser was a bit non-plussed. He had been volunteering for several months, now, and had barely gotten her to go with him for coffee after class, on occasion. He recognized the unfamiliar feeling as jealousy and firmly tamped it down. This was about helping Ray, his friend.
Cheryl wrote down her address and phone number, in case something came up. As she handed him the note, she realized what she had just let herself in for. She had just invited a man she had just met, home for dinner. To her messy apartment. She had to work all day tomorrow at her regular job teaching hearing impaired children; fortunately she had no classes tomorrow night, which would give her tomorrow evening and most of Saturday to clean, shop, and fix dinner. What was she thinking?! "OK. See you then." She said, brightly, showing no sign of her inner turmoil.
The men rose, made their good-byes, and left her to her after class work. When they had gone, she buried her head in her hands. "Oh, no. What have I done?" she moaned .
Ray drove Fraser back to the consulate in silence. When he pulled the car up in front of the building, to let his friend out, he asked. "So, what do you hear on the apartment?" Fraser sighed. "I'm still waiting. I turned in the paperwork yesterday, after I saw you, and am expecting a call, hopefully tomorrow." He looked at his friend. "What did you think about tonight?"
"It wasn't as bad as I thought. They actually understood what I said. That was cool." He seemed surprised and, somehow, encouraged. "Maybe I can help them. But how's that gonna help me?" he asked, looking at Fraser.
"Ray, when was the last time you thought about those words you used, tonight? You remembered your trick for telling them apart, and it worked beautifully. I've been working on homonyms for two weeks with that class and hadn't gotten anywhere. You really were a big help." He paused, how to proceed? "You know a great deal more than you are aware of, Ray. Perhaps, by teaching others, you will remember things you already know, but are not aware that you know." He knew he was babbling, but he felt he needed to impress Ray with the fact that he wasn't stupid; that he didn't 'suck', as he so often described himself.
Ray shrugged. "I dunno, maybe." Then he smiled at his friend, "I know that I'm learning a lot just hangin' out with you." Then a troubled expression came across his face, "You don't mind me askin' you what words mean, do you?" worried,
"Not at all, Ray. It indicates a desire to learn. I would never want to squelch that, in anyone." He gave Ray one of his shy smiles, "And you are definitely learning. It was you**who explained to the leftenant what 'elucidate' meant, after all." He sighed as he got out of the car. "I'll see you soon, Ray?"
Ray nodded. "I got a stake out tomorrow, I'll be working late. How about Sunday?"
Fraser smiled, relieved. "That would be nice, Ray. Perhaps we could go somewhere, a hockey game, perhaps?" hopeful.
"I know where we can go play**hockey. There's this bunch of guys I know; there's always a pick-up game on the weekends." At Fraser's joyous smile, the one that lit his eyes like beacons, "I'll pick you up at ten, OK? Then we can go, play, have lunch, play...?"
She paced her small apartment, checking and rechecking. Nervous as her cat. She was forgetting something important. What could it be? "Shower!" The apartment was ready, she had to get her**ready. She quickly finished mopping her floors, and rushed to get herself presentable. She still couldn't believe she had invited him over. Sure, he was cute. But Ben, Oh, Ben. He was simply drop dead gorgeous. And she had hardly even given him the time of day. She had only gone for coffee with him a couple of times. He was sweet, polite (of course, he's Canadian), fantastic blue eyes, nice smile. Nice man. Shy. Well, so was she. That was why she was going nuts trying to figure out what she could have been thinking of to invite Ray over for dinner. It wasn't as though she was even that great a cook. If she didn't have a recipe she was helpless.
She scrambled to get dressed, he was due in twenty minutes. She hoped he was the on-time**type, rather than the horribly early, or perennially late sort. She brushed her shoulder length, straight, dark chestnut hair, smoothing it down. Oh, good, no fly-away frizzies today. She checked her watch, ten minutes, looked one last time in the mirror, OK, she was ready. There was a knock at the front door. PANIC.
He had thought about calling and canceling, he couldn't believe he'd agreed to come here. But, after today, he could use some company. It had started out, all right, just a continuation of the stake-out of the previous night. But one of the guys had been spotted, and the subject had panicked and opened fire. In the ensuing fire fight, two officers had been shot, and three civilians. He'd been there, on the firing line. He saw the kids, and had tried to reach them in time. He was too late. He had managed to pull the three kids to cover and tried to stop the bleeding. They were alive when they got to the hospital, but he hadn't heard a word, since. That had been three hours ago. He had typed his report, placed it on the lieutenant's desk, gone home, showered (he could still feel and smell the blood of those kids), changed, and here he was. He knew he was still running on adrenaline and would eventually crash. He didn't want to be out when it happened. He also didn't want to be alone. He needed to get this meeting over with as soon as possible, so as to not embarrass himself nor frighten the pretty teacher. He gathered his courage and knocked at her door.
This is business. I can do this. She opened the door. He looked tired. There was a sad slump to his shoulders and a haunted look in his eyes. "Hi. Come on in." She took his jacket and hung it on a rack by the door, then led him into the living room. "Have a seat." She told him, indicating the couch. He slumped down. Leaned back and rubbed his eyes, tiredly.
"OK. What do we need to do?" he asked, his exhaustion apparent.
"Are you all right, Ray? You look exhausted."
"Sorry. Bad day at work." I should have called. Canceled. This sucks. Seeing her curiosity, he figured he owed her an explanation. "You didn't see it on the news?"
"I don't know, I haven't had the TV on." She resisted the urge to turn it on.
He nodded. "Yeah, well, I guess it's all over the news. My phone at work wouldn't stop ringing. We'd been watching this guy, drug dealer? For the last couple days. He spotted one of our guys this afternoon and started shooting." He paused, taking a deep shuddering breath. "The guy started shooting and our guys dove for cover. There were these three kids caught in the cross-fire..." he trailed off, his eyes closed, reliving the whole thing again. No matter how many times he ran the scenario, he couldn't figure any other way he could have played it. He wondered about the kids. Two of them had non-life threatening injuries, but the third, he had a severe chest wound. He'd been able to slow the bleeding, but not stop it. He glanced at her TV, wondering if it would be on the news. He realized that she had grasped his arm.
"What did you do?" worried.
"I started to duck, just like everybody else, when I saw the kids. I ran out to try to get them out of the way...I just wasn't fast enough." He needed to get out of here. He was going to lose it, and he didn't want this stranger to see him. "I'm sorry. I got to go." He stood.
She saw the pain he was trying to hide. She rose with him, reaching out to stop him. "It's OK. I understand. Are you sure you want to be alone? I would think you'd want to talk about it. I'm here, I'll listen."
He stopped. Looked at her. His pain palpable. He allowed her to draw him back down onto the couch. "I grabbed them, and dragged them to cover. I put my gun down, and tried to stop the bleeding. One kid had a bullet in his thigh. Missed the bone, I think, I made him a pressure bandage with my belt. The second kid took a hit in the shoulder. I got the first kid to put pressure on it." He paused, taking a deep, shuddering breath, she moved closer, her arm going around him, holding him. "The third kid had a chest wound. There was so much blood. I tried to stop it, but all I could do was slow it down. He was unconscious. I heard he made it to the hospital. That was over three hours ago. I haven't heard anything since." He could feel it coming; the aftereffects of the whole episode. He couldn't stop the shakes when they hit. He shut his eyes, tightly. He trembled like an aspen in a gale. Fighting to keep the tears at bay. Losing.
She pulled the sobbing man into a close embrace. Holding him, comforting, caring. He clung to her, unable to control his reaction. She held him, rocking, soothing, "Shh, it's OK. You did your best. Shh. Shhh."
They lost track of the time. Finally, he cried himself out. She continued to hold and rock him, until he was ready to break contact. Eventually, he pulled away.
"I'm sorry." He muttered hoarsely, wiping his still streaming eyes. She offered him a box of tissues, he took a couple, and wiped his face, then blew his nose. "I shoulda called you from the station and canceled. I'm sorry." She gripped his shoulder, making him look at her.
"You would have done this alone? Or, is there someone..." embarrassed.
"Nah, I'm divorced. And, Yeah. I do this alone. It's less embarrassing." He hung his head in shame, "I'm sorry. I better go."
She held him down. He looked up at her. "You are not going anywhere. We have some forms to fill out, and then we're going to have dinner, and..." she looked at the clock, "I'll be right back." She jumped up and ran to the kitchen. Her wail of disbelief brought him running.
"Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! How can you do such a stupid thing, Cheryl? Aaugggh!" She looked up at Ray as he barreled into the kitchen, and blushed furiously. At his questioning look, she explained, "I forgot to turn on the oven." In a tiny, embarrassed voice.
She looked so helpless. He'd just cried all over her, and she was upset because she forgot to turn on the oven. The situation was priceless. He started laughing. At her hurt look, he tried to control himself, to no avail. When he finally could talk, "I'll trade you my day for yours." And she saw the humour. Then she started to laugh, as well.
"This takes three hours to cook. You can wait, or we can order out." She offered.
"How long does the paperwork take?" he queried.
"Fifteen, twenty minutes, tops." She replied.
He managed a grin. "Tell you what, why don't I order us a pizza? It can be here by the time we're through with the paperwork."
She nodded. "I'll just put this in the refrigerator, and maybe cook it tomorrow." Suiting action to words "If I can remember how to operate an oven by then." She added, ruefully. When she turned back to him, he wrapped her in a hug, kissing her cheek.
"Thank you. For earlier. I..." he didn't know how to finish.
She returned the hug. "That's all right. I'm glad I could help." This man was so much more complex than he at first appeared. He acted like a typical, tough-as-nails, cop, but, once you got past the barriers, he had the soul of a child, or a poet, she decided, noticing his almost lyrical movements, as he wandered around her living room, looking at pictures, smiling at her at odd moments, that shy, boyish smile. The paperwork was quickly taken care of; the explanations of how the classes were run, what he would be teaching (She decided to start him from the beginning, with the alphabet), and all the myriad details of their volunteer efforts.
When their pizza arrived, they sat in the living room, to eat. Ray kept glancing sadly at the TV in the corner. She gave in, and turned on the news. The two officers had already been released, two of the boys were going to be fine, and the word on the third boy was that he was still in surgery and critical. At least he was still alive. Ray sighed in relief. Then the reporter was talking about the officer who had risked his own life to try to save the boys and managed to rescue them. Ray's photo appeared on the screen, the one from his ID. They were calling him a hero again. He blushed, glad he hadn't been around for interviews. The lieutenant appeared on screen, giving facts, and background on the hero du Jour.
"Wow. I've never eaten pizza with a real hero, before." She batted her eyelashes at him, teasing.
He turned a bright crimson. Nearly choking on his soda. "Oh, yeah. Right." He shook his head. "I'm no hero. Believe me." She just smiled, and touched his arm.
"And I'm a gourmet chef." She teased, eyes twinkling, pleased that he had recovered from his funk so easily. She was finding him fascinating; and sweet. Not at all what she had expected. She turned off the TV. "So, Mr. Hero, what would you like to do?" she blushed, realizing how her words could be taken.
He smiled, brightly, "Do you dance?" hopeful, wistful.
She was surprised, that was definitely not**what she had expected. "A little. I'm pretty much out of practice."
"You got music?" he stood, looking at her stereo.
"Sure," she rose and showed him her CD collection. He went through them, finally finding something suitable. It was one of what she thought of as her 'romantic' albums, one featuring Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. He put it on the player, adjusted the tone and volume, then turned to her, holding out his hand.
She hadn't danced a waltz since her senior prom. He was wonderful, light on his feet, confident, masterful. She had never considered herself a dancer, but he made her feel...good. His hands were warm where they touched her and she found herself swept up in the movement. They didn't stop until the CD ended nearly an hour later. She was exhausted. So was he. They collapsed together on the couch.
"Wow. I guess I've had my exercise for the week, now. That was incredible." She snuggled against him. She could hear his heart pounding from the exertion, not nearly as fast as her own, she was sure. His arm felt nice where it lay across her shoulders.
She was no Stella. For one thing, she was a lot shorter. But she had a natural grace. She had fit well against him as they danced. And she felt wonderful, snuggled up against him, sitting on the couch. He knew his attraction had a lot to do with the events of the day. But he didn't want it to end. He noticed the clock on her mantle. "Oh, man. It's after midnight. I gotta get going." He gently disengaged from Cheryl. "I'm sorry. I..." he was at a loss for the right words. He would like to stay, but knew it would be a mistake.
So did she. She stood with him. "I had a wonderful time." She smiled bravely, wanting him to stay, knowing he shouldn't. "I didn't know I still remembered those dances." She was feeling awkward.
So was he. "I...I'd like to see you again, maybe take you out dancing? The Crystal Ball Room, maybe?" Hopeful.
She gave him a tentative smile. "I'd like that. Call me?" She walked him to the door.
Turning to her on the threshold, "Thank you, for this evening." He hesitated, then reached out and engulfed her in a bear hug. He whispered in her ear "Thanks, especially for the cuddle, for making me stay, for being there." He tilted her chin up and kissed her.
Then he left. She stood in the doorway, watching him leave. He still looked tired; but somehow, it wasn't the same tiredness he had arrived with. He would**call her. Just the thought made her feel all warm and fuzzy, inside. That night she dreamed she was dancing.
Instead of going home, he went by the hospital to check on the kids. He found in the waiting room, the parents of the critically injured boy. They recognized him from his picture on the news. The man stood and approached him. Ray was uncomfortable, not knowing how he would be received.
"You're the police officer who saved our son." Statement. Fact.
Ray nodded. "I don't know if I saved him, but I did drag them out of the line of fire. I'm sorry. I just wasn't fast enough. I saw what was happening, and I just couldn't get there in time." He shook his head, sadly.
The woman stood and joined them, her tear stained face smiling. "If you hadn't done what you did, Tommy would be dead now, instead of still in surgery." She reached out and touched Ray's arm. "Thank you. No matter what the outcome. You did your best and we thank you."
Just then, a doctor in surgical scrubs entered. "Mr. and Mrs. Taylor?" The couple nodded. "Tommy is in recovery. It has taken us sixteen hours, but I think we got all the repairs made." He smiled tiredly. "It was funny, he mumbled a few times while under the anesthesia, something about angels? That he would be good and keep breathing, please don't send him to hell, he was doing his best. Do you have any idea why he would say such things?"
The Taylors looked confused. Mr. Taylor said, "Well, we are church goers, but I have no idea where he would get an idea like that." He looked at his wife, who just shook her head.
Ray blushed. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't think he could hear me." At the puzzled looks of the others, he tried to explain, "He was bleeding real bad, you know? He was kinda gasping for breath, and I started yelling at him to keep breathing, don't you dare stop breathing, damnit. Stuff like that. I..." he took a deep breath, "I wasn't really talking to**him, just yelling to keep me going..." he trailed off, lost and confused and deeply embarrassed.
The doctor laughed. "Well it worked. When he was muttering was when his heart started fibrillating. We thought we were going to lose him, a couple of times. Then he'd talk about his angel, and everything would steady. It was amazing. I'll bet he'd like to meet his angel**when he's feeling better." He turned back to the Taylors, "He's going to be in recovery for a couple of hours, then In ICU, until we know for certain. It looks promising. If he gets through the next twenty-four hours, I'd say he should make a complete recovery." He smiled, patted Ray on the shoulder and escorted the Taylors out.
His dreams started out with a waltz. But then the events of the day crept in. He was running, trying to reach the kids, and the blood.... He awoke abruptly. Sitting straight up in bed in a cold sweat, breathing hard, in a panic. As the room came into focus around him, he drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, burying his face on his knees. He trembled from the aftereffects of his nightmare. By the time he was back in control, his alarm rang. Time to get up and prepare for the day. It was eight a.m.
"Take it!" Ray yelled as he passed the puck to Fraser, who caught it, faked right, then left, then sent the puck down the middle of the ice and in for a goal. The action had been fast and furious, with enough men to actually form two full teams with even a couple of extra guys for relief. They had been playing for nearly three hours, with occasional breaks for much needed rest. It was time for one such break following Fraser's goal.
"I was unaware that there were so many hockey players available, Ray." Fraser was breathing hard from exertion, but not totally out of breath.
"That's because you live and work in the 27th District. This is the 24th, where I used to work. I haven't been back since I left. Of course, it also wasn't cold enough until now." He grinned. "I figured, you being Canadian and all, you might like to play."
Fraser gave an answering smile. "Thank you. I've missed playing. This is quite a talented group. I'm really enjoying the workout." It reminded him of home. More players, perhaps, but the enthusiasm and skill was similar. All in all, a most enjoyable day.
The break ended and they headed back onto the ice. There were a few more skaters arriving, patiently waiting their turns at the game. Fraser was slightly ahead of Ray when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned just in time to see a stranger attack Ray with a hockey stick, raising the weapon over his head and striking Ray with it. Ray saw the blow coming and turned, raising his stick to block it, when another man struck him from the other side, laying open a gash just above the hairline, knocking him cold. Both men raised their sticks to continue beating the fallen man.
With an inarticulate cry, Fraser rushed to his friend's defense. Two other men rushed to assist him. They managed to subdue the attackers and, while the other players held them, Fraser knelt to check on his friend.
"Ray?" He gently turned his unconscious friend over onto his back. He took out his handkerchief, and used it to apply pressure to the profusely bleeding gash in Ray's scalp. He could see bone through the blood. The cut extended from just above the hairline about three inches to just above his temple. A couple of inches lower, and he could have been killed by the blow crushing in the temple. "Ray? Can you hear me? Wake up, Ray." Fraser sat down on the ice and pulled Ray's head into his lap, maintaining the pressure on the wound. Ray showed no sign of regaining consciousness.
One of the two men who had rushed to assist pulled out a cell phone and dialed 911. The other man took off his coat and draped it over the unconscious man. The rest of the group continued to hold the assailants.
Ray moaned, shaking his head, as he showed signs of regaining consciousness. He could hear a familiar voice, but couldn't make out what was being said. Then he heard sirens, and struggled to sit up, training and instinct taking over.
"Easy, Ray. Don't try to get up. You're hurt, stay still." Fraser's voice tried to soothe the injured man as two patrol cars and an ambulance arrived., followed closely by an unmarked police car. Ray sagged back, again unconscious.
Everyone started talking at once, trying to explain how the two men had attacked, without provocation, the guy they had just been having a friendly game of hockey with. The two were quickly handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car, as the group of players was separated for the taking of statements. A large, heavy set man approached the small group actually around the injured man. The paramedics were examining Ray, who was showing signs of returning cognizance and was trying to push everyone away.
Fraser refused to relinquish his hold on his friend. "It's all right Ray. They're here to help you." He glanced up as the detective approached, noticing the man bore an uncanny resemblance to Lieutenant Welsh, at least in manner and presence. He was ignored by the detective who had eyes only for the two men who had assisted in Ray's defense.
"What are you doing here, Hobson?" the detective growled. The man so addressed, gave a little shrug.
"You know me, Sergeant Crum, we just managed to be in the right place at the right time. Again. As usual." He knew he shouldn't goad the man, but get real. He didn't need to account for his every move with the police. The sergeant grunted acknowledgment as he turned his attention to the injured man. He recognized him with a start.
"What happened?" He asked, looking at Fraser, who was still trying to calm the semi-coherent Ray as the paramedics examined him.
"We were playing a friendly game of hockey and had just taken a break after the last goal; when we returned to the ice to continue the game, those two men attacked Ray. I was too far away to prevent them, but with the assistance of these two gentlemen," he indicated the man the officer had addressed as Hobson and his friend, "we managed to stop them from continuing to beat Ray with their sticks." He shook his head in confusion, "I have no idea why they chose to attack him. They weren't in the game and had just arrived while we took our break, as did Mr. Hobson and his friend." He looked up at the stranger who had been in just the right place at the right time.
The sergeant scowled. "Hobson's got a knack for being in the right place at the right time, it seems. He also seems to know what's going to happen before it happens. Running a little late, this time?" The last directed to the man in question.
"I told you. We just came out to skate a while. When those guys snuck up behind this guy, we came and helped." Indicating his friend.
"Yeah. Why are you grilling us, anyway? We didn't clobber the guy." The friend added.
The paramedics were transferring their patient to a gurney for transport "He's going to need stitches, obviously. There's also a concussion. Is there anyone we need to contact?"
Fraser stood, handing Hobson back his coat. "I'll make the call." He reached into Ray's jacket pocket and took his keys, "I'll drive his car to the hospital for him and meet you there." He looked concerned, since his friend had still not fully regained consciousness, it had been nearly twenty minutes since the attack.
The paramedics agreed and transported their patient. The others followed him as he skated back to his and Ray's gear, having picked up Ray's stick on his way. He sat on a bench to change from his skates to his boots, barely noticing that the others had followed him. They watched in silence as he prepared to follow his friend to the hospital.
Finally, the sergeant spoke, "I need your name for the report." He could see that this guy was upset over the unprovoked attack.
"Certainly. My name is Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP." He informed them.
"Aren't you a little far south?" asked the still unidentified friend of Hobson.
"I originally came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killer. Due to circumstances which don't need exploring at this juncture, I have remained as Deputy Liaison Officer with the Canadian Consulate." He finished packing the gear bag, "I made friends with Detective Vecchio during the course of the investigation. He invited me to join him for some hockey, and we came here." He looked up at the three men, a plaintive, confused expression on his face "We were just having a friendly game. I have no idea why they would want to attack Ray," he shook his head sadly. "It makes no sense. They weren't even in the game." He stood. "If there are no more questions?" he asked.
The sergeant was a little uncomfortable, he knew Ray from his previous life in his district, "I can get hold of you at the consulate?" Fraser nodded assent. "You think it might have to do with yesterday?" he was surprised by Fraser's confused expression, and annoyed by Hobson's guilty one. Turning to the young man, he snarled, "OK. What do you know about this? I know you know something. You're never near without knowing what's going on. Give."
Hobson blushed; at Fraser's sad expression, he caved in "I think you'll find that one of the guys is related to the kid who was hurt the worst."
"What child? What are you talking about? Ray would never intentionally hurt a child; and if he did hurt one accidentally, he would be devastated." He would have said something, wouldn't he?
The sergeant looked at the Canadian in surprise, "Didn't you see the news last night, or read the paper?" Fraser shook his head, no. Amazing. "The 27th was tailing some drug dealer and he spotted them and opened fire. There were three kids in the way, he hit all three of them. Ray dove after them to get them out of the way, he was too late to save them, but he dragged them to cover and kept them from bleeding to death." He frowned, angrily "Unfortunately, there are some cops who are mad at him for saving three kids, instead of shooting at the bad guy. I heard that from his position he had the best shot at the guy. I**think he did the right thing." He emphasized the last as two of the uniformed officers joined them; they had the grace to blush.
"We got all the statements. They all agree, those two attacked the guy for no reason. Just came up on him and tried to bash his brains in. These three, " indicating Fraser, Hobson, and friend, "intervened and subdued the attackers. They just held them until we got here."
The man, Hobson, took out a newspaper and looked at an inside page, apparently reading an article. He smiled. When he looked up, he met Fraser's direct gaze. He fumbled with his paper, folding and stuffing it in his hip pocket. "I think you're friend is going to be just fine." He informed them.
"Thank you." Fraser replied. Then, turning to the policemen, "Do you need anything else from me?" The sergeant shook his head, no. "Then may I leave to go to the hospital?"
"Yeah, sure. Go ahead. I know where to find you if I need you." The sergeant dismissed him. He glared at Hobson and friend. "You two can go, too. I also know where to find you**if I need you."
Fraser walked slowly to Ray's car, unlocked the trunk and stowed the gear away. He then unlocked the driver's side door, settled into the seat, fastened his seat belt, started the car and drove to the hospital. Worry eating at him every mile.
When Ray awoke, he had a blinding headache, so he kept his eyes closed. He could hear the noises and smell the odors of a hospital. OK. How did he get here? The last thing he remembered was passing the puck to Fraser and Fraser scoring a goal. Did he fall?, what happened? He could feel that someone was nearby. He forced his eyes open in a squint, and saw a slightly bedraggled Fraser sitting in one of those ugly hospital chairs, next to his bed. "Wha' happ'nd?" he croaked, noticing just how dry his throat was.
Fraser looked up, pleased to finally see his friend awake. He poured a glass of water, inserted a straw, and handed it to him. "You were struck by a man with a hockey stick. How are you feeling? What do you remember?" He stopped at Ray's pained expression, took the empty glass back and set on the stand by the bed. Then in a gentler voice, "You have thirty-seven stitches, a concussion, but no skull fracture. The cut is about three inches long, and laid your skull bare. The scar will be hidden by your hair, when it grows back." He touched Ray's hand, where it lay atop the blanket. "Your assailants were angry about a child who was injured yesterday?" Ray paled. Fraser was amazed. He thought Ray had been pale before, was he going to faint? "Ray?" worried.
"'S OK. I'm..." he shook head and immediately wished he hadn't.
"Why didn't you tell me about yesterday, Ray?" Friends tell each other things, don't they?
"You didn't know? I thought you were just being polite." He sighed. "I shoulda figured you didn't see the news, or read the paper. Sorry." He closed his eyes again. "How long have I been out?" He was so tired.
"Three and a half hours."
Ray's eyes snapped open, in surprise, "What?!"
Fraser nodded. "I'm afraid so. You've been semi-conscious several times, but have only just now become coherent."
"Oh, man. The lieutenant's gonna kill me." Ray groaned.
"Ray, it was not your fault that you were attacked. You are the victim here, not the aggressor." He waited for it to sink in. "So, how was your meeting with Cheryl last night?" Change the subject. Did he really want to know?
Ray smiled, "It was OK." He blushed "I, uh," he looked up at Fraser, embarrassed. Should he tell him?
Just how good a friend is he, really? Could he trust him? Wait a minute. This was Benton Fraser, RCMP. The man who convinced him to seek help for his reading difficulties, without making him feel like an idiot. "It was just a few hours after the shoot out. I still hadn't heard about Tommy, he was still in surgery. That's the kid that was hurt worst." Fraser nodded his understanding, "I..." this was so embarrassing, he took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, "I was still running on adrenaline. I....I lost it at her place." Fraser patted his hand, gently.
"I'm glad you weren't alone when you crashed, Ray. It's very difficult to try and deal with such strong emotional upheavals alone." Ray turned his hand and caught Fraser's, and squeezed.
"That's what she said." Releasing his friend's hand. "I came unglued on her. I was really embarrassed." He sighed. "I think I'm gonna go back to sleep, now, Fraser. Thanks for everything." And he was instantly asleep.
The doctor came in, "How's he doing?" he asked.
"He woke up. He has no memory of the actual attack, only up to the last goal. We took a ten minute break, and he was attacked as we were going back onto the ice to continue playing."
The doctor nodded. "Was he coherent? Able to form complete sentences?"
Fraser nodded. "Yes. He had no difficulty remembering incidents from earlier today, nor yesterday and last night. He warned me he was going back to sleep, and then did."
"Good. No slurred speech, inability to focus?"
"When he first regained consciousness, his speech was a bit slurred, but it cleared up right away. The light seemed to hurt his eyes, but he did make eye contact with me several times."
The doctor nodded again, pleased. "We'll keep him overnight, at least. He was out a long time. His CAT-scan came out clean, however. We'll keep a close eye on him tonight. Is there anyone to watch him if we decide to send him home tomorrow? He's going to need supervision for a few days."
Fraser frowned, "I'm not certain. I'll talk to Ray in the morning. I'm sure we can work something out."
He had two days off, Sunday and Monday, and he spent half of one and all of the second in the hospital. This really sucked. They wouldn't even let him sleep. Every thirty minutes, some nurse came in and woke him up. He was exhausted. And now they weren't going to let him go home because there wasn't anyone there to take care of him. He didn't need a keeper, damnit. The door opened.
"Sorry I'm so late, Ray. There were some unexpected visitors at the consulate I needed to translate for," Fraser apologized upon entering. "Are they going to release you?"
"No. They won't let me go unless I have a baby-sitter. This really sucks." He was tired. His head hurt. It was making him cranky. He wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed. For a week. He recognized the start of a pity party, and tried to shake loose from it. "The lieutenant came by. I got two weeks sick leave on this, they're calling it an on the job injury. 'Cause it was directly related to a case. Real nice of them, don'tcha think?" Even in his debilitated state, he recognized that he was rambling.
"I would offer to let you stay with me, but I'm still staying at the consulate." He paused, "Isn't there anyone you can stay with? What about Mrs. Vecchio?"
"You know she isn't talking to me. She doesn't want any part of this whole thing." He couldn't blame her, after all, it wasn't like they were really**related. "Anyway, they're talking about keeping me here for up to a week. If they keep waking me up ever thirty minutes for a week, I'm gonna be nuts." All it was, was a headache. He could function with that. Even if it did hurt like a SOB. He wanted up, moving around. Music. His own bed. He looked at Fraser, "I got a pretty comfortable sofa-bed," he wheedled, "You want to stay at my place for a few days?" Please. Please. Please. Please.
"You would have to go to the consulate with me, to fulfill the edicts set out by the doctors." Fraser reminded him.
"What's a 'edict'?"
Sigh. "OK. What's 'an**edict'?"
"In this instance it means 'command, or decree'. The doctor's demand that you follow certain rules in order to be released. That's an 'edict'." He could see Ray filing the word away. He really had a good memory, just not well trained.
"They won't let me drive, until I check clear next week." Hint, hint.
"I drove your car here, Ray. I would be happy to chauffeur you around. At least you have an automatic." No need to go into his difficulty with standard transmissions. Besides, Ray was always driving him places, the least he could do was return the favour. Decision made, "Let me go and talk to the doctor. I think I can convince him to let you out."
It was a good thing that Ray's apartment was only on the second floor. By the time he made it up the flight of stairs, Fraser had to keep a hand on him to keep him up. His head was spinning, and the throbbing pain from the injury made him want to cry.
Fraser sent him directly to bed, and even came in to tuck him in. "There's sheets an' blankets an' stuff in the cupboard by the bathroom." He murmured, just before he dozed off.
Fraser looked around the apartment; checked the kitchen, surprised to find it well stocked. Apparently, Ray liked to cook. Nothing exotic, but quite healthy. Ray's tastes seemed to tend toward the basics. The freezer was stocked with a variety of meat, poultry, fish, and frozen vegetables. There were salad makings in the refrigerator, and a variety of boxed pasta and rice dishes in the cupboard. He found both coffee and tea. Making himself at home, he made a pot of tea, then settled on the couch and turned on the television, keeping the sound turned down.
It was evening before Ray awoke. His head still hurt, but it was more from the injury, than the headache he'd had before. He stretched, luxuriating in the comfort of being in his own bed. He could faintly hear the TV in the other room, and knew that Fraser was still there. He crawled out of bed, careful not to move too quickly and aggravate his injury. He went to the bathroom and, upon exiting, finally greeted his guest.
"How's it goin, Fraser?" he asked, sitting down across from his friend. Glancing at the TV, noticing that the evening news was on. "How long was I out?" He couldn't remember what time they had gotten home.
Fraser checked the time, "Only four and a half hours, Ray. How are you feeling?" concerned, making sure he followed all**the doctor's instructions. It was acceptable to allow Ray to sleep, just make sure he was functioning within the parameters set by the doctor. If he started having trouble remembering recent events, dizzy spells, fainting, etc. he was to return Ray to the hospital. Minor lapses, however, were acceptable. "Would you like something to eat? I made some soup." Keep the meals light for a day or two, had been his instructions, If Ray wanted heavier meals, he would have to ask for them.
"Yeah. Sounds good." Fraser stood, moving to the kitchen to reheat the soup and prepare a tray. Ray stretched again. "Mostly, the headache is gone. Just hurts on the outside, instead of the inside." He focused on the television. "Oh, shit." He said, leaning forward to turn up the sound.
"What is it, Ray?" Fraser asked, coming up behind him with a tray, setting it down on the table next to the chair.
"I'm on the news, again, damn it. Someone told them about yesterday." He said, disgustedly. "The only good thing is we managed to miss the reporters." He picked up the tray and settled it across his lap. "This is good. You make it from scratch?" he asked, looking up at the hovering mountie. Receiving a shy smile in return.
"Thank you. Yes. You had all the needed ingredients, chicken, frozen vegetables, rice. Quite simple, really." I know I'm not a great cook, but I can make soup. He moved back to the couch, focusing on the TV.
They made a quiet evening of it. Watching TV, and talking. They discussed music, police work, sports. It was a pleasant way to spend the time. A little after nine p.m., Ray started yawning.
"Let me get your medication, Ray. You look ready for some more sleep." Fraser rose to get the pills and a glass of water.
Ray was unused to being waited upon. He felt a little guilty. "I'm not helpless, you know. I can do that." But it was so comfortable to just sit here, so nice to have someone to take care of him. Fraser took better care of him than his own mother had. He looked up when Fraser returned to hand him his pills and the water. "Thank you." Taking the proffered items. Fraser hovered, taking the empty glass and returning it to the kitchen. Ray stood, with another yawn.
"I think you're right. I'm for bed." He wasn't used to having guests. "Just use whatever you want." He then showed Fraser how to open the couch out into a bed. Then, as he headed for his own room, "Good night... Ben." The man was in his home. The least he could do was stop being so formal with him.
Fraser was surprised, and pleased. "Good night, Ray. Sleep well." He would give Ray a few minutes to get settled before he checked on him. When he did, Ray was already sound asleep. He again tucked Ray in. There was just something about the action that seemed appropriate.
"Ray?" Fraser called softly, trying to awaken his friend without startling him. Ray shifted under the covers, snuggling deeper into his pillow.
"Ray? It's time to wake up. I have to be at the consulate in an hour." Fraser spoke a bit louder, coming into the room carrying a steaming cup of coffee. He hoped he'd gotten it right. Light with sugar. He was fairly certain that was how Ray took his coffee.
Ray sat up, groggily. "Coffee?" plaintive. Fraser placed the cup in the extended hand. Ray still had his eyes closed. He inhaled deeply the aroma of the coffee. "Mmmm. Smells good. Thanks." He sipped. He opened his eyes. "OK. I'm awake, almost." He looked at his friend. "You don't have guard duty, today?" he asked, noting the brown uniform.
"No. I have office duties today. Turnbull has guard duty. I thought it would be less boring if we could at least talk while I work." He wouldn't ask Ray to help. Besides not knowing the procedures, he didn't want to stress his friend's concussion.
"Today's Tuesday, right?" Ray asked, just checking.
"We got that school thing tonight, don't we?" just making sure he was still functional. Blinking himself further awake, taking a long drink of coffee. The milk had cooled it just enough.
"Yes. If you feel up to it. We'd be back by ten, at the latest. Why don't we see how you hold up today, all right?" If they had been thinking of keeping him in the hospital for a week, he wanted to be certain that Ray didn't overdo anything.
Ray nodded, finishing his coffee. "OK. I'm up. Let me get a shower and dressed. I'll be ready in half an hour." He handed the cup to Fraser and climbed out of bed.
Fraser had a second cup of coffee waiting for him when he came out of the shower. He drank it as he got dressed. Since he was going to be under the eye of the Ice Queen all day, he didn't want to embarrass Fraser, so he chose dress slacks and a soft cotton turtleneck; and immediately questioned his choice when he pulled it on over his bandaged head. He stifled a curse, the way Fraser was hovering, he didn't want to give him any ammunition to use against him. He even wore a coordinating sport coat. When he exited the bedroom dressed and ready, empty coffee cup in hand, Fraser noticed.
"You look very nice, Ray."
Ray blushed. "I figured you'd have enough trouble explaining me to the Ice Queen, without her making comments on how I look." He smiled, disarmingly.
Fraser returned the smile. "Do you want another cup of coffee?"
Ray shook his head. "Nah. Two's enough. Thanks. You make good coffee. Better than me. What did you do?" rinsing his cup in the sink.
"I just followed the directions on the can." Puzzled.
Ray shook his head. "That's too easy." and chuckled.
He was bored. Fraser may have thought his office cozy, but it was just plain cramped with the two of them and the wolf in it. There was nothing to do. Fraser was diligently working away while Ray sat and stared at the walls. He finally couldn't stand it any longer.
"Ben?" keep it in the same tone as last night.
"Yes, Ray?" He had wondered how long it would take for Ray to get bored. Two and a half hours was quite remarkable, considering.
"There's got to be something**I can do. I'm goin' nuts here."
"Ray, You can't help me, I'm afraid. Why don't you stretch out on the cot, take a nap?"
Ray sighed, exasperated. "I'm not tired. I can see just fine. My hearing is fine. I feel fine. Not even a headache."
Ben looked up, opened his mouth to speak, when the door opened. The door banged into Ray, who yelped as he pushed the door away from him. The place was simply too small.
"Oh, I'm sorry." The inspector peered around the door at Fraser's visitor. Her brow furrowed into a frown. Then she remembered the call from Fraser the evening before, explaining the details of Ray's injury and his own part in the care and tending of the American. Turning her attention back to the constable, "The Inuit couple is back. Could you please come and help again?"
Fraser stood, "Certainly, sir." Turning to Ray, "If you'll excuse me?" Ray nodded, moving out of the way.
When the door had closed behind them, he looked at Dief. "So, what do you do all day?" Dief yawned, then stood up and stretched, then stood at the door, giving him an expectant look. "What? You gotta go outside?" Dief growled, hopefully. "Why not? I got nothin' better to do." He started to open the door, then remembered to leave a note. No need to get in trouble. He scribbled a quick note to let Fraser know he had taken Dief for a walk. Then he opened the door and followed the anxious wolf out. "Just remember, don't go so fast I can't keep up with you. I'm stuck here for at least a week, so if you lose me today you can just go begging the next time." Dief whined his answer.
They wandered down the street, Dief taking in the sights, sniffing all the interesting smells, making sure that he didn't lose the human. It was a rare day indeed, when he got to go out during the day. He wasn't about to ruin a week's worth of possibilities on the very first day. This human still seemed a bit afraid of him. He cast a glance over his shoulder, checking on his companion's progress. Keeping up nicely. If he kept it slow and easy, they might get quite a bit of territory covered. He grinned at the human. He liked this man. He was different from the other one. Still not in the league with his pack mate, but certainly showed possibilities.
It was nearly one p.m. when they returned. Ray had stopped off at a deli to pick up lunch for them. He had even called the consulate, surprised when the Ice Queen herself answered the phone. He had offered and been accepted on his offer to bring lunch back for all of them.
He was surprised when he entered the consulate to discover that they were all going to eat together. Even Turnbull. He felt a little self-conscious, knowing he didn't really belong. Fraser tried to put him at ease.
"Thank you kindly, Ray. You didn't have to pick up lunch for all of us, you know." He frowned when he saw the huge pile of scraps Ray unwrapped for Dief, but at least it wasn't covered in sugar and dough.
"Yes. Thank you kindly, Detective Vecchio." Turnbull added. "It was most gracious of you to offer."
Ray smiled. "Hey, I figured that if you had to put up with me for a few days, the least I could do was get lunch. After all, it's not like I was real busy, or anything. I was out walking Dief so long that I got hungry, and I figured you guys would be, too. A quick call and voila!" He passed out the sandwiches, chips, salads, and soft drinks. He'd even managed to get the orders right.
Even Inspector Thatcher joined them. "How are you feeling, detective?" she asked politely, noticing the bandage and missing hair. Almost managing to sound concerned.
"Pretty good. It doesn't hurt as much, and the stitches are starting to itch, so I guess that's a good sign." He snuck a couple of potato chips to Dief, under the table. "Dief and me..."
"I," Fraser corrected.
"Huh?" Ray asked, confused.
"The correct sentence structure is 'Dief and I' you wouldn't say 'me went out', so when you are adding a second person to the sentence, you still use the singular self indicator." Fraser explained.
Ray thought about it. "OK. That makes sense. Does it work the other way? Like 'the letter came addressed to...him...and me'?"
Turnbull and the Inspector exchanged puzzled glances. Turnbull looked about to say something, she kicked him under the table and gave him a warning glare. Turnbull closed his mouth and said nothing.
"OK." Assimilating. "Dief and I**had a great walk. We must have covered five miles. We were on our way back, when he stopped in front of this deli, he wouldn't leave. Kept giving me these pitiful eyes and whines. What a ham." He chuckled, slipping another chip into the waiting maw. "The smell got to me, and I realized I was hungry. So I called." He took a swallow of his soda. "So, is it OK?" unconsciously seeking approval.
Everyone made appreciative sounds. They continued their meal in silence. Ray was a little worried. He didn't know any group of co-workers who ate together without talking. Then he thought of how unfriendly toward each other these people were, and calmed down. He found himself feeling sorry for the three Canadians. Here they were, hundreds of miles from home, and they couldn't even loosen up long enough for a simple meal together.
"Where are you from, Inspector?" He ignored the startled looks from the two constables.
"I'm from Ottawa, why?" polite. Why are you asking?
"That's the capitol, right?" They all nodded, "So, that's like, a big city? Is it bigger than Chicago?" curious.
At his interest, she talked about her city. The people, what it had been like growing up there. She even surprised herself at how talkative she became. All three men seemed fascinated by her tales. Even Fraser and Turnbull asked questions, drawing her out. By the time they had finished eating, they were all quite congenial. She was amazed that her subordinates would be interested in her background. They had even shared a few of their own amusing stories of growing up, comparing Fraser's wilderness background with her and Ray's city upbringing, and Turnbull's rural background. She was surprised to discover just how much in common they all had, especially her and Ray. She looked at him in a new light. He was suddenly no longer the annoying thorn who, along with Fraser seemed to be there just to torment her. He actually seemed to be quite personable.
"Well, this has been enlightening. Thank you, Detective, for lunch. It is, however, time for the rest of us to return to our duties. If you'll excuse me?" She rose and, gathering her wrappings, deposited same in the trash and left.
The two constables looked at one another bemusedly. Ray looked from one to the other. "What's wrong?" Both men turned and looked at him. "What? What'd I do?"
"Inspector Thatcher has been in charge here for approximately two years. On the rare occasions we have eaten together, we have consumed our food in absolute silence." Fraser tried to explain, he shook his head in wonder. "Who would have expected such a pleasant repast, especially under the circumstances?" He looked at Turnbull. "Are you as surprised as I was?"
Turnbull nodded. "That was most extraordinary. I would never have thought to begin such a conversation." He looked at Ray, "Thank you, Detective. You have provided an excellent example of how to spend a very pleasant lunch hour." He looked hopefully at Fraser, "Perhaps we might try this again, some time?"
"I think that would be an excellent idea. Although, I wouldn't suggest making it a regular habit. There is such a thing as proper decorum, when interacting with superiors, as you know." Fraser replied.
Turnbull nodded. "You're quite right."
The men cleaned up their wrappings, and returned to work; Turnbull to guard duty, Fraser to his office. Ray followed along behind him.
"I'm sorry, if I caused a problem. I never ate with a group of people who don't talk to each other, before." He looked worriedly at his friend. "Are you sure this isn't going to cause trouble?"
Fraser shook his head. "It's hard to tell. The Inspector was certainly the most congenial I've ever seen her, here. I don't think it will be a problem. If anything, it may bring us closer together as a working unit." He smiled. "I must admit, you showed remarkable insight in drawing the Inspector out. Thank you."
Ray returned the smile. "No problem." He stretched and yawned. "If that cot's still available, I'll think I'll take advantage of it. That way I won't fall asleep in your class, tonight." He moved to Fraser's cot, set up in the back of the cramped office. He was asleep within five minutes. Fraser marveled at Ray's ability to fall asleep so quickly, unless it was due to the concussion?
At five o'clock, Fraser gently touched Ray's shoulder. "Ray? It's time to wake up."
Ray rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes. "How long have I been asleep?" He asked, yawning and stretching, then sitting up, swinging his legs over the side of the cot.
"Two and a half hours. You did get quite a bit of exercise this morning. Perhaps more than you should have, at this juncture." Just a bit worried.
"Nah. I feel pretty good. I haven't had to take any pain pills, and really, I feel pretty good." He stood, demonstrating his well-being. "Dinner, then school?" Who would have thought, even a week ago, that he would be looking forward to a classroom. He remembered that they were working on homonyms. Maybe he could come up with a few more tricks to tell them apart.
Fraser shook his head in wonder at the recuperative powers of his friend. He was interested in seeing Cheryl and his students again. He wondered what Ray's reaction would be if they had seen him on TV.
The class had been busy thinking up words that caused them problems; perhaps the most difficult was "Past and Passed." Ray thought furiously, "OK. I think I've got it, Past, with a 't' means time, passed with a 'ed' means moved; like, he passed the football, passed the exam, like that. You just have to know what you mean if you are saying 'time past' meaning...ago?" looked to Fraser for confirmation, who nodded, encouragingly. "or 'time passed' meaning the act of passing. I guess you're just going to have to practice which one is which, based on what you're trying to say."
Fraser smiled, watching his students scribble the explanation down in their notes. He was amazed how well they learned from Ray. He'd been struggling to make explanations that made sense to his students, but Ray seemed able to connect with them. Perhaps because of his own problems in reading? Have to discuss it with Cheryl. Whatever it was, it was working. His students were learning and his friend was gaining confidence in his abilities.
"How about s-i-t-e and s-i-g-h-t?" someone asked.
"Uh, the first one is a place, like 'the site of the explosion,' and the other one means to see, 'the sight of the sunset left them in awe.'
"Don't forget c-i-t-e, that means to quote, as in to 'cite regulations'. Fraser added
"Is that where citation comes from?" Ray asked, curious.
"Yes. A citation is the quoting of the law that has been violated." Ben answered, pleased with Ray's astuteness.
"What about 'through' and 'threw'?" another student questioned.
"That's an easy one, threw with a 'w' is the past tense of 'throw'. They both end in 'w'. The other one is...well, like when you pass 'through' a crowd, uh..." he cast a helpless look at Fraser.
"Through is to go in one side and out the other. Through the mountains, through the waves. To go amidst," At their blank looks he again turned to Ray, he'd lost them again.
"Yeah, OK. Amidst means 'in the middle of' like the crowd. I passed" a quick grin and wink at Fraser, "'e-d' through the flock of sheep. That means I went into the middle of a bunch of animals, from one side to the other. That's a lot longer sentence than the other one, don'tcha think?" The class returned his smile and nodded their understanding.
Fraser took back control. "You see, when you come across two words that sound the same, and you know that the meaning and spelling are different, you really need to go to a dictionary and look up both words, so you can tell what each one means, and be able to figure out the usage." It was almost time to end the session. "For Thursday, I want you each to find five homonym pairs, and write down the definitions and usage." He looked sternly at his pupils, "Do not**use any of the triplets like there and two. Try to find new ones, to add to the list you already have." He looked at Ray, "Also, I'd like to publicly thank Ray for joining us again and helping us out in our class." The class applauded, politely. "You are dismissed. See you Thursday." He turned to Ray, smiling.
The class gathered their belongings and stood. They gathered in a group, not leaving, talking quietly, together; glancing surreptitiously at Ray. Finally one was singled out to approach the teacher and his friend.
"Excuse me, please?" The elderly Oriental gentleman asked. Fraser and Ray turned to him.
"What is it, Mr. Ng?" Fraser asked politely (of course).
"We were wondering." He turned to Ray "You are the man on the television, yes?"
Ray blushed. "Uh, yeah. That was me." Embarrassed. The other students gathered around, closing in on him. Their proximity made him nervous.
"You are very brave." Mrs. Ng told him, touching his arm. Soon the entire class was asking him questions, touching him, telling him how brave he was. Scaring him to death.
Fraser noticed his companion's encroaching panic. He gently insinuated himself between the detective and the class. "I'm sorry, class, but we have an appointment and need to get going." His arms gently pushed and gathered his students, steering them away from Ray, herding them toward the door. Cheryl entered, just as the students reached the door. She backed up and held the door for the exiting students. When they were gone, she came back in the room. She saw Ray standing at the front of the room, obviously in distress.
"What's wrong?" She asked Fraser as they approached the nearly hyperventilating Ray.
Ray stood there, breathing like a race horse, eyes closed, hand on the black board to hold him up, doubled up as if in pain. Classic signs of a panic attack.
Fraser placed a hand on Ray's shoulder, "Ray?" softly, soothingly. Ray started trembling. Fraser exchanged concerned looks with Cheryl, who put her arms around the distressed man.
"Ray?" She started to rub his back, as she had that night at her apartment. "It's OK, Ray. They're gone. You're safe. Shhh." Fraser hovered, worried. Should he take Ray back to the hospital?
"Ray?" He gripped his friend's shoulder harder. "Ray, say something. Do you need a doctor? Ray?" Ray had glommed onto Cheryl, struggling to control his breathing. "Take deep, slow breaths, Ray." Ray tried, "That's it. Slow and easy."
Between Cheryl's hug and soothing voice, and Ben's hand on his shoulder and helpful advice, Ray managed to get back in control. He took several deep, calming breaths, and straightened up. The others let go their hold on him, still hovering close by, in case he still needed their support.
"I'm OK." He glanced at them. "I'm sorry. I...I just..." he shook his head, at a loss for words.
"It's all right, Ray. You've just had too full a day. Remember, they wanted you to stay in the hospital. This was my fault. I should have just taken you home, after work, instead of letting you come here." He could have kicked himself for allowing this to happen. He knew Ray had been tired, even after the nap at the consulate. He'd barely picked at his food during dinner, claiming he was still full from lunch, knowing he was still tired.
Cheryl was examining the bandage on Ray's head. "What happened?" she asked softly, stroking Ray's cheek. Ray wouldn't meet her worried eyes. She turned to Fraser for an answer. "Ben?"
Ben sighed, guiding Ray to the chair at his desk, encouraging him to sit, sitting on the edge of the desk himself, maintaining contact by leaving his hand on Ray's shoulder. "We were out playing hockey Sunday. We were just coming back from a break when two men attacked Ray." He looked at Cheryl, an expression of hurt and guilt on his handsome features. "I was in front of him, I noticed the movement out of the corner of my eye. I was too far away to prevent the attack. If it hadn't been for the other two men who arrived at that moment," he shook his head. "It was close. If Mr. Hobson and his friend hadn't helped us, I believe they would have killed Ray."
Cheryl patted Ben's arm. "But they didn't." She looked at Ray, who was showing the signs of exhaustion. "I was going to ask you guys out for coffee and talk about the classes, but I think it will have to wait until Ray's feeling better." She reached out again for Ray's face, stroking her palm down his cheek, cupping his jaw and tilting his face up to look at her. The expression in his eyes, fear, pain, embarrassment, made her want to hug him. Instead, she gave him a shy smile. "Time to go home, Hero." He blinked in surprise.
He had expected her to hate him after first losing control at her place, and now again in the classroom. But...she...hadn't. He straightened up, taking back full control. He didn't need a keeper. He glanced at Ben; well,...No. Not a keeper, a friend. Someone who cared about him. That he cared about. It had been a long time since he had had friends like these. These. Friends. He felt a warm, something, growing and spreading within him. These were his friends. They didn't care if he was smart, if he could read well, whether he was brave, if he was successful, rich, handsome... They liked him for him and were concerned about him, without wanting anything in return. The warm feeling reached his eyes. He stood up and wrapped his arms around them, hugging them both.
"I'm OK. You're right. I am**tired." He stepped back from them, able to stand on his own once more. "Yeah, I overdid it." He looked at Fraser, "It was not**your fault, Ben. I...I just lost it when they started to swarm around me." He shuddered. At their concerned looks, "I'm fine. Really!" at their doubtful expressions. "I just need to get home to bed and I'll be fine in the morning."
"Only if you eat something, first." Ben scolded, "You barely touched your dinner. You need to eat, or you'll be back in the hospital." gently chiding.
"Tell you what," Cheryl put in, "Let's go to the coffee shop down on the corner, they serve regular food, too." at their hesitant looks, "I'll even buy." Figuring that no one would resist a free meal,
"You don't have to do that." both men chorused in unison. They exchanged looks, and burst out laughing.
Cheryl just shook her head and joined in the laughter.
Ray managed to actually eat, this time. Cheryl kept up a running monologue of humorous anecdotes about teaching that had both men nearly hysterical with laughter. She was enjoying the company of both men. Ben, so reserved and polite; Ray, shy, but with a wicked sense of humour. It was after ten, when they finally left the cafe. They insisted on escorting Cheryl to her car and waited until she was safely ensconced and on her way before they went to Ray's car and Fraser drove them back to Ray's apartment.
Upon arrival, Ray willingly took his medication and headed for bed. Ben again checked on him and tucked him in before pulling out the sofa-bed and preparing for sleep himself.
It was still dark when Ray awoke. He stretched, luxuriating in the feeling of the comfort of being in his own bed. He listened to the silence of his apartment, wondering why he had awakened so early. Then he heard an odd sound. He slid from beneath the covers and stepped softly through the bedroom door. Fraser was apparently having a dream. He couldn't tell if it was a nightmare or not. He wondered if he should wake his friend. He decided to start a pot of coffee, as it was not that long until they had to be up anyway. He set the coffee maker up and turned it on. Fraser was still moaning in his sleep. When the coffee was ready, he fixed two cups and approached the sleeping mountie.
"No...... Please............ Dad?" Whatever the dream was about, it was obviously distressing the sleeping man.
"Ben?" Ray set the cups down on the coffee table. He sat on the edge of the sofa-bed, and gently reached out to wake his sleeping friend. "Ben? It's OK. It's just a dream." He spoke softly, then touched Ben's shoulder. "Ben? I got coffee. Ben?"
It was one of those dreams he occasionally had about growing up. He had been a lonely little boy, who had just been uprooted yet again to move to a new home with his grandparents. His father had told him to grow up and be a man. He was only ten at the time. Even so many years later, the memories saddened him, made him wonder what he had done that was so terrible that his family didn't love him. He heard his name called and turned toward the voice. It wasn't his father or grandparents, it was....."Ray?" he mumbled "What are you doing up?" he sniffed. "Is that coffee?" still groggy with sleep, he sat up, rubbing his eyes and taking a deep breath to yawn as he finished waking up.
"I woke up. It's almost five." He handed one of the cups to the newly awakened man. "I figured I'd make the coffee. I was awake, anyway." He didn't ask about his friend's dream. If he wanted to tell him about it, he would.
He and Dief covered another five or six miles again that day, and again brought back lunch for the Canadians, followed by another nap on the cot behind Fraser's desk.
As the week passed, the walks got longer and the naps shorter. The lunches also became more friendly, as the participants learned more about one another. By Friday, he was feeling well enough to make a request. He hadn't had pain medication since Wednesday.
"Ben, can we stop by the hospital and see about getting me cleared today, instead of next week?"
Ben smiled. "I changed your appointment to this afternoon at five-thirty." At Ray's surprised look, he added "I figured that you were feeling so good that you would want to get your life back to normal as soon as possible." He didn't explain that he had been having the childhood dreams every night and wanted to end their close proximity before he did something to destroy their friendship. He didn't know why he felt this way, only that he needed to give Ray back his privacy before anything bad happened to end their relationship.
"Great. Not that I haven't enjoyed being here..." how to say it, "But there's a lot of bad guys out there waiting for me to bust their sorry asses, and I need to get back to work before they rent out my desk to somebody else." He smiled. "Besides," he continued softly, "I don't want to wear out my welcome."
Ben smiled back. "Understood." Perfectly. He felt the same way about staying with Ray. It was very pleasant, Ray was wonderful company and it was nice to have someone human to talk to, to care for, to be cared for by, but that wasn't the normal situation for either man, and he was afraid that prolonged, forced contact would damage their relationship.
The doctor was surprised to be removing the stitches less than a week after putting them in. "You heal very fast, Mr. Vecchio." He commented. The cat scan and other tests came back clean and they had no choice but to clear him for duty. "You might still want to take the roughhousing and contact sports easy, for a while. You don't want to re-injure yourself at this point."
He gave Ray a list of 'shoulds and shouldn'ts' to follow, just to reinforce the severity of his healed injury. Ray took the list and actually read it. He handed it to Fraser.
"The stuff they say to avoid, some I can and some I can't. If I get in a fight with a bad guy, I can't control whether or not I'm gonna get hit. The rest of it, no problem."
Fraser concurred. Back in his usual spot on the passenger seat, he asked "Ray, you can drop me off at the consulate, if you wish. I can get my things later from your apartment."
Ray looked at him, concerned. "What? You don't like the sofa-bed?"
In surprise, Fraser answered "Oh, no. The sofa-bed is quite comfortable. I just thought you would like your privacy back." Oh, dear.
Ray shook his head. "You have any idea how I spend my evenings at home, Fraser?" He pulled to a stop at a red light, they locked gazes, "I practice dancing." Fraser's brow furrowed. "That's it. Sometimes I watch TV. Mostly I dance or sleep." He returned his attention to the red light. Then, softly, he added, "I liked having you over, Ben. It...I..." He searched for the right word, "It's not as lonely when someone's there to talk to, you know?" He really did like his privacy, but somehow, Fraser fit in. It had given him a warm feeling to know that here was someone who actually gave a damn about his well-being. "Thanks for staying with me. I'd have been nuts, havin' to spend a week in the hospital."
Fraser smiled. He couldn't have put it better, himself. It was**nice to have another person around to talk to, share things with. But his dreams were going to be a problem, they already were. He'd been waking up from them for the past two days, managing to wake himself up before he made a fool of himself by yelling out his fear. He sighed. "It has been very pleasant, Ray. However," how to put this in a way that wouldn't alienate his friend. "I don't want to overstay my welcome. By the way, I was accepted for that apartment you gave me a reference for, and I need to start packing up my belongings from the consulate preparatory to moving." Nothing like a change of subject. Not that he had much to move. He had as many of his things here as he had at the consulate. He felt another stab of pain at the loss of his meager possessions. What hurt most was the loss of his father's journals. He missed reading them at night, and whenever he needed fresh insight to a problem.
Ray understood. "OK. The consulate it is." He turned at the next signal to take his friend back to work.
By the time Ray was ready for his own class, he had been given several books to read for himself. Fraser gave him an unabridged dictionary, eliciting a comment about the book being big enough to cause permanent damage to his body. He had actually finished one of the books Cheryl gave him, a children's edition of Conan Doyle's stories. He had enjoyed them so much that he had gone out on his own and purchased copies of all of the author's works. Even the science fiction. He was struggling with some of the words, but hearing the usage from Fraser, and looking up the words in the dictionary helped.
He walked into the classroom. There were four very nervous teenagers waiting for him. He was startled to recognize them. "Fancy meeting you guys, here." All four young people, three boys and one girl, jumped nearly out of their skins. The boys glared at him warily. The girl looked ready to cry.
"I thought we was gonna get some help here. Not busted." One of the boys stated, drawing himself to attention, trying to intimidate Ray.
Ray laughed. "You got a choice. You can wait until another volunteer shows up, or you can let me try to teach you to read. It's up to you. I'm not gonna hold your hand. I'm not gonna do the work for you. You want to learn to read? I'll try to help you. You want to jerk around? Go somewhere else. I got no time for you. I catch you on the street doin' what I've caught you doin' before? You go to jail. You work hard, try, I can help you help yourselves. The choice is yours." He didn't glare at them, as he would have down at the station. His job here was to help them. In the three short weeks he'd been here, he had discovered that he had a talent for teaching. He wasn't the dummy his teachers had called him. He was gaining confidence and had lost his fear of words; there were still many he didn't understand; a great deal of grammar he had still to learn. But he had two wonderful friends who cared about him, who wouldn't put him down for not knowing something, who would encourage him in any way they could. "I can do this. I choose to."
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