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Dodger was still a little bit dazed when Rafe led him into a very nice hair salon.
"Rafe, darling. It's so good to see you!" An elegant looking lady said with delight as she raced up to him and pulled him into a quick hug.
"Hello, Lily." Rafe said warmly, then pulled away slightly and said, "I'd like for you to meet Dodger."
"Hello Dodger. It's very nice to meet you." Lily said with a joyful smile.
"It's nice to meet you, too, Lily." Dodger said carefully.
"What can I do for you this evening, Rafe?" Lily asked pleasantly.
"I'd like to take Dodger out to the club tonight and I was wondering if you could help me out." Rafe asked hopefully.
"I think we can do that." Lily said happily.
Rafe moved a little closer to Lily, and Dodger barely heard him whisper, "And I left a little mess in the alley."
Lily nodded, then smiled at Dodger and said, "If you'll take a seat in the chair over there, I'll be right with you."
Dodger nodded, then watched as Lily dashed into the back room.
"Do you trust me, Dodger?" Rafe asked quietly.
Dodger was taken aback by the question and responded with a quick nod.
"Good, then go ahead and sit down." Rafe said gently and gestured to the empty styling chair.
Dodger slowly walked to the chair and took a seat.
"Are you okay?" Rafe asked with concern.
"I'm not sure." Dodger said honestly. "I mean, after that..."
Rafe nodded that he understood, then said, "It's over, now. Just don't worry about it."
Dodger nervously nodded, then did his best to relax back in the chair.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry that took so long." Lily said as she walked back into the room, drying her hands on a towel. "Did you already have something in mind?"
"Dodger already said that he trusts me, so I'm going to leave it in your capable hands. Just get him ready for the club." Rafe said with a smile.
"Can I assume that you've just been to visit George?" Lily asked curiously.
"That's right." Rafe said with a smile.
"Then I think I know just what Dodger needs." Lily said happily as she moved behind his chair.
"Just relax, Dodger. Lily will take good care of you." Rafe said assuringly.
Dodger looked into Rafe's eyes, then broke into a smile.
"Good." Rafe said gently.
* * * * *
"How do you feel?" Rafe asked as they walked out of the salon.
"I can't believe how much difference a haircut can make. I feel wonderful." Dodger said happily, then remembered where they were and looked cautiously toward the alley.
"He's gone. Don't worry about it." Rafe said quietly.
Dodger nodded, and almost missed it when Rafe took off running across the street.
After a moment of hesitation, Dodger quickly followed.
* * * * *
When they walked into the tailor's shop, the bell ringing alerted George to their presence.
"I'm nearly finished. If you'll come back, we can get started." George said from the doorway to the back room.
Rafe guided Dodger to walk through the little shop and into the back room.
"You can start with these while I finish this hem." George said as he handed Dodger a neatly folded pile of clothing which appeared to be all the undergarments that he would need.
Dodger looked at the clothes, then at Rafe with question.
"Go behind that curtain and change into these things. George will hand you things as he finishes with them." Rafe explained carefully.
Dodger nodded, then walked behind the curtain.
* * * * *
As Dodger started to undress, his mind was racing over and over the events of the past two days.
It felt like he had pieces of a puzzle, and no matter how many times and how many different ways he tried to put them together, nothing fit.
"Give him these." he heard George say from beyond the curtain.
A moment later, Rafe's hand appeared through the curtain, holding out the pair of charcoal gray pants that George had been working on.
"Thanks." Dodger said as he accepted the pants.
As soon as he had them, the hand withdrew.
Dodger paused for a moment and smiled to himself. A lot of things were wrong and weird and out of place, but the one thing that he could trust, that he could absolutely depend on, was that Rafe cared for him. In the light of that caring, all the rest was incidental.
* * * * *
"Is this right?" Dodger asked as he stepped out from behind the curtain.
"It looks good, so far." Rafe said as he looked at the fit of the pants from the front and behind.
"Here, put this on while I look." George said as he handed a starched and pressed white button down shirt to Dodger.
As Dodger slipped on the shirt, he noticed that George was moving around his legs, adjusting and tugging to see that everything fit correctly.
"Yes, yes." George finally said with approval, then stood again.
He looked at Dodger, then at Rafe and asked, "Do you think he could manage the zebra stripes?"
"We could try it." Rafe said noncommittally.
"Here." George said as he handed Rafe a black vest, then rushed out to the front of the shop.
Dodger was buttoning up the vest as George returned.
"Here you go, Dodger. Try this on." George said as he handed him a zebra striped necktie.
"Um, I don't know how to tie one of these." Dodger admitted reluctantly.
"Let me." Rafe said and held out his hand for the tie.
"Remind me later, and I'll show you how to do it for yourself." Rafe said as he draped the tie around his neck and tied it in a few quick moves.
"Um, yeah." Dodger said with astonishment at how easy he made it look.
"Here you go." Rafe said as he pulled the tied necktie off over his head and handed it to Dodger.
"Thanks." Dodger said, then slipped it on over his own head.
After a few seconds of working the tie under the starched collar of the shirt, he finally got it in the proper place and pulled on the knot to tighten it.
"He's going to need cuff links and a tie clip." George said before revving up his sewing machine to work on the suit jacket.
"Yes. I thought of that. I brought some from home." Rafe said, as he reached into the pocket of his overcoat.
"I've never used cuff links before." Dodger said cautiously.
"They take some getting used to, but they really do look nice." Rafe said as he opened a small jewelry box.
"Give me your arm and I'll put this on you."
Dodger offered his arm, then watched as Rafe attached the shiny cuff link.
When Rafe was finished, Dodger offered his other arm as he held up the first to examine the cuff link.
He smiled at the sight of the tiny golden elephant.
"All done. If you'll hold still, I'll put the tie clip in place." Rafe said gently.
Dodger made a conscious effort to keep still as he looked at the other cuff link.
To his surprise, it wasn't another elephant. This one was a tiny golden tiger.
"Here, I think this should do you." George said as he stood and held out a suit jacket to Rafe.
"Thanks, George." Rafe said gratefully, then handed the jacket to Dodger.
"Thanks." Dodger whispered, then slipped it on.
"Lift your foot." George said seriously.
Dodger looked down to see George on the floor with a device that looked like the second cousin of a slide rule.
"Just relax. I'm measuring your foot to make sure you get the right size of shoes." George said as he concentrated on the reading on the device.
"Oh, um. Thanks." Dodger said, starting to feel overwhelmed again.
"Would you button your jacket?" Rafe asked gently.
"Yeah." Dodger responded, then buttoned it up.
Rafe took a step back and looked at Dodger appraisingly for a moment, then shook his head.
"The zebra stripes aren't right." Rafe said regretfully.
George walked to Rafe's side and looked for a moment, then said, "I have just the thing."
"How are you doing, Dodger?" Rafe asked gently.
"Honestly? I don't know. I feel like I'm going three directions at once." Dodger said helplessly.
"Well, the good news is that the hard part is almost over. Once we're done here, all you have to do is enjoy the night." Rafe said gently.
Dodger didn't look convinced, but nodded his head in agreement.
"Here we are. If you'll take care of the tie, I'll take care of the shoes." George said as he knelt on the floor again.
"Take off that tie while I tie this one." Rafe said gently.
It took a few seconds for Dodger to figure out how to undo the tie clip, but after that, getting the tie off took no time at all.
"Lift your foot." George said from below him as Rafe handed him the blue tie.
Dodger started to giggle at the absurdity of his position.
Rafe smiled at him warmly, and waited for him to get the tie into place.
"I think we're almost there." Rafe said as he stood back again.
Dodger fastened the tie clip at the same time as he lifted his other foot for George to put his second shoe on.
"Are you sure about the color of the jacket, George?" Rafe asked slowly.
George suddenly stopped everything he was doing, then slowly turned to look at Rafe.
"I'm just kidding, George. It looks great." Rafe said as he tried to restrain his chuckles.
"Dodger, walk around for me and see if those shoes feel comfortable." George said as he got to his feet.
After a grin at Rafe for the joke he had made, Dodger walked around the back room of the tailor's shop and was surprised at how comfortable the shoes were.
"These feel great. They're better than my regular shoes." Dodger said honestly.
"Good, comfort is important." George said with satisfaction.
"Is that everything?" Rafe asked as he looked Dodger over one more time.
"Not quite." George said, then presented Dodger with an overcoat that matched the suit perfectly.
"Very nice, George. You're the best." Rafe said in an impressed voice.
"This..." George said with a gesture toward Dodger, "...is my reward."
"Mine too, George." Rafe said with a smile at Dodger.
"Well, Dodger, are you ready to see the result of all our hard work?" George asked curiously.
Dodger quickly nodded.
"Right this way." George said and ushered Dodger to the front of the shop where there was a full length mirror.
* * * * *
"Oh. Wow." Dodger gasped when he saw his reflection.
His dark hair with it's new style seemed to be a perfect match with the color and style of the suit..
The midnight blue tie brought out the dark hue of blue in his eyes, drawing attention to them.
"I think that says it all." Rafe said with a smile.
"Yes. It's as fine a compliment as any I've received." George said with satisfaction.
"Well, Dodger, are you ready to go?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Um, yeah. But don't you need to pay for this?" Dodger asked hesitantly.
"George will bill me." Rafe said casually, then turned to George and said, "Thanks for your hard work, George. You're a miracle worker."
"It was my pleasure." George said graciously.
* * * * *
"This worked out perfectly. We're going to arrive at the club right on time." Rafe said happily as he led the way down the sidewalk.
"So where are we going next?" Dodger asked curiously as he held the bundle of his regular clothes in his arms.
"To the car so I can drive us to the club." Rafe said casually.
"The car is that way." Dodger said as he pointed.
Rafe looked where Dodger was pointing, then asked, "Are you sure?"
Dodger nodded seriously.
"Alright then. Lead the way." Rafe said without concern.
* * * * *
When Rafe parked the car, Dodger was somewhat disappointed by what he saw.
The place that they were in front of could be described, at best, as a seedy dive.
"Over here." Rafe said and guided Dodger to walk away from the entrance.
Dodger looked at him with question, but followed along willingly.
When they got to the side of the building, Rafe started leading them down a flight of concrete stairs to the basement.
Dodger moved a little closer to Rafe's side, not feeling at all sure about what they were doing.
"Here we are." Rafe said happily as he took a key out of his pocket.
Dodger watched as Rafe unlocked the heavy iron door.
* * * * *
Once inside, Rafe made sure that the door was securely closed.
"Give me your coat." Rafe said as he took off his own overcoat.
Dodger took off his coat and handed it to Rafe.
As they walked around the corner, Dodger was surprised to see a woman standing there, smiling at them.
"Rafe, it's great to see you." She said happily.
"Hello, Imelda. This is Dodger." Rafe said warmly.
"It's very nice to meet you Dodger." She said with a warm, genuine smile.
"It's nice to meet you too, Imelda." Dodger said cautiously.
"We're not too late are we?" Rafe asked as he handed their coats to Imelda.
"No. I think they'll be ready to start in about fifteen minutes." Imelda said cheerfully, then retreated through a doorway.
She returned a moment later and handed Rafe a red token as she said, "Have a wonderful evening."
"You too." Rafe said, then gestured for Dodger to follow him.
* * * * *
"Monsieur Killian, so good to see you." An immaculately dressed man said as they approached a large, open room.
"Thank you, Rene." Rafe said with a smile. "This is Dodger, do you think you could find a table for us?"
"Oui, but of course." Rene said quickly, "Right this way."
Rafe immediately followed, but Dodger hesitated.
"Monsieur Dodger?" Rene asked gently.
"Um, yeah." Dodger said quickly, then followed.
* * * * *
They were seated at a table perhaps ten feet from what looked like a stage.
"Your usual, Monsieur Killian?" Rene asked quietly.
Rafe nodded gratefully.
"And what would you like to drink, Monsieur Dodger?" Rene asked professionally.
Dodger looked at Rafe helplessly, not even knowing what his options were.
"Would you like a Coke?" Rafe asked casually.
"Yeah. That'd be great." Dodger answered immediately.
As Rene hurried away, Dodger looked at Rafe and said, "I don't have any idea of how to act or what to do."
"Just relax and be yourself." Rafe said gently. "If you want something, ask for it. If you don't understand something, just tell me and I'll explain it. The whole point of this place is that it's safe."
Dodger hesitantly looked around and noticed that everyone seemed to be comfortable and just having a good time.
His gaze stopped on a table where there was a beautiful, elegantly dressed woman sitting with two men who appeared to be identical twins, one sitting on each side of her. Both of the men were fawning over her and all three seemed to be having a wonderful time.
After a moment, Rafe followed his gaze, then said, "That's Manna and her husbands, Ernie and Blake."
"Husbands?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Yes. You don't find many examples of polyandry around here, but a good share of the members have non-standard relationships. I suppose it has something to do with the most interesting people being unwilling to conform to society's puritanical standards of behavior."
Before Dodger could think of which of many questions he wanted to ask, another waiter arrived to place their drinks on the table.
Dodger immediately noticed that Rafe had received a tall crystal glass of orange juice.
"Would you like some menus or would you like to hear the specials?" The waiter asked pleasantly.
"The specials, I think." Rafe said, then cast a questioning glance at Dodger.
A nod was Dodger's answer.
"Tonight, the chef has prepared a rack of lamb with a traditional neeps and tatties. As a counterpoint, we are also offering a porterhouse steak with a medley of late autumn vegetables. Of course, the regular menu is available if you're in the mood for something different." the waiter said professionally.
"I like the sound of the lamb, what about you Dodger?" Rafe asked casually.
"The steak sounds good to me." Dodger said timidly.
"Well, that was easy enough." Rafe said happily as he looked at the waiter.
"I hope you enjoy your evening." The waiter said, then withdrew from the table.
"I hope that was okay. I mean, since it was the special, hopefully it won't be too expensive." Dodger said nervously.
Rafe smiled at the statement, then said, "It's called a special because the chef is especially proud of the meal that he's prepared. No one here is worried about the price, they just want to enjoy the experience of a good meal in a relaxing atmosphere."
Dodger thought about it for a moment, then whispered, "That means it's REALLY expensive, doesn't it?"
"Actually, no." Rafe said honestly. "The steak you ordered is a perfect example. A porterhouse isn't the most elegant cut of meat for a restaurant to serve, mainly because it has the bone in it. But the bone, even though it's not pretty, adds flavor to the meat. So, of course we're not getting served the scraps off the butcher's floor, but at the same time, we're not automatically getting the most expensive cut of meat, just because it's the most expensive."
Dodger slowly nodded that he understood, then thought to say, "The waiter didn't ask me how I wanted my steak cooked."
"Oh, I should have thought to tell you about that." Rafe said with a chuckle, "The chef prepares everything in the way that he feels it is best. If you have a preference, you can tell the waiter, otherwise you'll get your steak cooked in the best possible way for that cut of meat."
"Your salads." The waiter quietly said as he placed salads on the table.
"I didn't order salad." Dodger said hesitantly.
"It comes with the meal. Just enjoy it." Rafe said casually.
Dodger took a bite of the salad and his eyes went wide at the flavor of the dressing. "Hey, this is really good. What kind of dressing is this?"
"I'm sure it's something the chef made especially to go with this meal." Rafe said with a smile, then looked past Dodger as someone approached.
"Leila! Come over here. There's someone I'd like for you to meet." Rafe said as he stood.
Dodger turned and was shocked by the sight of the stunning young woman approaching their table.
He couldn't pin down her nationality from her appearance, but she might possibly be a native Hawaiian. Regardless, she was exotic and absolutely lovely. He stood, as Rafe had done, assuming that it was the polite thing to do in this circumstance.
"Dodger, I would like for you to meet Leila, an old friend of mine. Leila, I'd like for you to meet Dodger, a new friend of mine." Rafe said playfully.
"It's great to meet you Dodger." Leila said with delight twinkling in her eyes.
"It's nice to meet you too," Dodger said quietly, in awe of the beautiful woman.
She looked to Rafe and said, "I'm so glad you could come."
"I wouldn't have missed it." Rafe said gently.
"I need to get back stage, it's almost time. Just, when I saw you out here, I had to come and say hello." Leila said quickly.
"We'll be right here. Go on." Rafe said with a smile.
"Thanks." She said, then ran to his side and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before rushing away.
Rafe chuckled at the action as he returned to his seat.�
Dodger slowly sat, then looked at Rafe with question.
"We have a long history." Rafe said with a distant smile.
At Dodger's continuing questioning look, Rafe added, "Our parents arranged for us to be married."
Dodger's eyes went wide, then he looked back toward the stage.
"Everyone seemed to be perfectly happy with the arrangement and agreed with it, except for Leila and me." Rafe said frankly. "Neither of us wanted to be married, but it turns out that the families were right about one thing. Since the first day we met, we've always been the best of friends."
"So you haven't been married?" Dodger asked Rafe carefully.
"No. Leila was the closest I ever came to that." Rafe said uncomfortably. "I've never met anyone that I felt that way about."
Dodger nodded that he understood, then took another bite of his salad.
* * * * *
The lights in the dining room dimmed as the lights on the stage went up slightly.
Leila walked onto the stage, followed by three other people. It turned out that the men following her were musicians.
After a moment for everyone to find their place, the pianist started off the music.
Soon after, the cellist and the saxophone player joined the melody.
As Leila started singing, Dodger was enthralled by the experience.
Her voice seemed to transport him. He could feel every nuance of meaning that she put into the song. It was almost as if he were there, witness to the love and pain she was describing as the song unfolded. It wasn't until the last note had faded to silence, that Dodger came back to himself. He had the feeling that he had held his breath through the entire song.
"How are you doing, Dodger?" Rafe asked quietly.
"She was amazing." Dodger said in wonder.
"I thought she would be. This is why I wanted you to come tonight." Rafe said with a smile of accomplishment.
"Thank you, Rafe. I wouldn't have wanted to miss this for anything." Dodger said honestly.
Before Rafe could respond, the music started again and Leila began to sing.
* * * * *
The applause was sincere and heartfelt from everyone in the room.
Dodger added his own clapping, hoping to convey some measure of how much he admired Leila's performance.
"She was really good." Rafe said in a voice of admiration.
"Yeah." Dodger said, not knowing what else he could say that he hadn't already said.
Rafe looked away from the table and Dodger followed his gaze.
"The chef wanted to reserve the main course until after the performance, as a courtesy to Miss Leila. I hope this hasn't caused you any inconvenience." The waiter said as he placed their food on the table.
"Please thank the chef for his courtesy. I'm sure Leila is as appreciative as we are that there were no unnecessary distractions while she was on stage." Rafe said gently.
The waiter bowed once, then withdrew from the table.
"This looks great." Dodger said as he looked at his steak.
"Yes. It does." Rafe agreed. "Dig in."
Dodger chuckled as he picked up his silverware.
"What's so funny?" Rafe asked curiously.
"We're dressed up with tie clips and cuff links and you say 'dig in'. I don't know, I just find that funny." Dodger said happily.
Rafe smiled, then said, "We dress this way because this place demands a certain level of sophistication, but no matter how I'm dressed, I'm still me. At work, I'm Dr. Killian. I am expected to behave a certain way and anything less is unacceptable. When I hang up my stethoscope for the day, I'm allowed to be a person again."
"I'm sorry, Rafe. I didn't realize that you were under so much pressure to conform. I just thought what you said was funny considering the way we're dressed." Dodger said apologetically.
"I know Dodger, and you didn't say anything wrong. I guess I've still got a few raw nerves from my job. I feel like I haven't had a break from it in years." Rafe said quietly.
"How long has it been since you've had a vacation?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"It's only been..." Rafe said as he trailed off into thought. "What year is it?"
"1971." Dodger said with a smile.
"That would make it six... no, seven years." Rafe said thoughtfully.
"Then you're past due." Dodger said firmly.
"There's no way I could take a vacation at the beginning of the winter. It's our busiest time of year." Rafe said immediately.
"Then use this time to plan." Dodger said simply. "Sometimes making the plans and getting your hopes up is almost as exciting as actually going and doing it."
"And how do you know that, oh wise one of many years?" Rafe asked playfully.
"I read." Dodger said simply.
"You got me on that one." Rafe said with a laugh.
Dodger smiled, then took a bite of his food.
"How is your steak?" Rafe asked curiously.
Dodger swallowed, then said, "Absolutely the best that I've ever tasted."
"I'm glad." Rafe said happily.
"Everything tonight has been the best. It's really like a dream." Dodger said frankly.
"I think I know what you mean." Rafe said distantly. "I'm used to all of this, but sharing it with you is kind of like seeing it for the first time all over again."
"I'm glad I could help." Dodger said with a grin.
"So am I."
Editor's Notes: Still another wonderful chapter from MM.� Rafe and Dodger are getting to know each other better and better. Dodger is experiencing many new and wonderful things, and through him, Rafe is seeing things with new eyes.
A lot of things have changed since 1971, but one thing that has pretty much stayed the same, and that is that there are good people who help other people, and there are still people who need help.
I am ready for another chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher