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Dodger opened his eyes and felt more peace and contentment than ever before in his life.
He lay for a moment, just appreciating the beauty of his surroundings.
The room was elegant, decorated in a mix of dark hardwood furniture and light airy fabrics.
Sunlight flooding into the room through the two large windows made it seem almost other-worldly. Like the perfect life that was eventually found in fairy tales by those deserving few who weathered their nightmarish trials.
The bed that he had slept in was the most comfortable that he had ever experienced. And the blankets that were covering him were as warm as his mother's hugs, but as soft as a flower petal.
He could even detect a pleasant faint scent that might possibly be flowers.
Dodger puzzled over that for a moment, because there weren't any flowers in the room. But when he noticed his clothes, neatly folded and stacked on the dresser, he realized that it was probably the scent of the laundry soap.
There was a part of Dodger that wanted to stay and enjoy the decadent luxury of spending the entire morning in bed, but there was a larger part of him that wanted to get up and explore the house to find out what other treasures it held.
He reluctantly got out of the huge, comfortable, wonderful, warm bed.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, Dodger selected some of his better clothes and got dressed.
He took a few minutes to put the rest of the clothes away in the closet and dresser, then spread up the bed, so that the room would continue to be the beautiful, magical place that he had awakened to.
* * * * *
Dodger walked down the stairs and was surprised at how dark it was. A glance confirmed that all the windows were fully covered by heavy drapes.
After a moment to consider, Dodger decided that even though the living room was dark, it wasn't the least bit unwelcoming.
He supposed that the living room had it's own sort of magical quality and that it was nice because it wasn't something nearly so transitory. A little thing like the time of day wouldn't change it in the slightest.
* * * * *
Dodger walked into the kitchen and puzzled over what he should do for breakfast.
From a very young age, his mother had shown him how to cook, depending on his help in the kitchen while his brothers and sisters were out doing the heavier labor on the farm.
But since this wasn't his family home, he felt funny about poking through cabinets and cooking, possibly making a mess in Rafe's kitchen.
Finally his stomach cast the deciding vote and Dodger made himself some eggs and toast.
After taking a few bites of his breakfast, he took a drink of orange juice and nearly choked.
His first thought was that the orange juice had spoiled, but after a moment he realized that the taste wasn't of something gone bad.
He hesitantly took another sip of the juice and tried to identify what he was tasting.
The juice had a metallic, sort of coppery twang. It was slightly sweet and had a certain thickness to it that Dodger was sure he didn't like.
All of a sudden the memory came back to him. Just after he arrived, Rafe had told him that he would probably want to avoid the juice in the glass pitcher.
Dodger poured the rest of his juice down the sink, glad that he had only gotten a small glass of it.
He went to the refrigerator to get something else to drink and spotted the bottles of Coke that Rafe had purchased for him the night before.
As he popped off the top, he could almost hear his mother's voice chiding him that sodas were no good for him and a waste of hard earned money.
But one drink of the ice cold Coke was enough to set aside any nutritional concerns.
Dodger took another long drink, then went back to the kitchen table to finish his breakfast.
* * * * *
After washing the breakfast dishes, Dodger decided that it was time to do some exploring.
Yes, a small voice, strangely like his mother's, was telling him that he was in someone else's house and it wasn't proper for him to go snooping around.
But Rafe had said something the previous night about him exploring. So he sort of had permission.
He decided that the easiest way to explore would be to go from door to door, looking in all the rooms to see if he could identify what they were.
His first stop revealed a huge room beside the kitchen that was a very formal looking dining room. The table looked big enough to comfortably seat at least twenty people.
There were hutches and cabinets around the edges of the room that housed a seemingly endless supply of silver, crystal and fine china.
Dodger was shaking his head in wonder as he walked out of the dining room and on to the next room.
* * * * *
Hundreds, no thousands. Possibly tens of thousands. Shelf after shelf, each one completely filled with books. And each shelf was so tall that a ladder was needed to reach the upper half of it.
Dodger walked deeper into the room, drawn by the sirens call of all that knowledge just waiting for him to discover it.
He had the sensation of walking through a forest of tall trees. He was so dwarfed by the phenomenal shelves that he felt insignificant.
But even so, he continued on until he could verify that there eventually was an end to the enormous room.
If he ever had the urge to do some reading, it looked as if there would be no shortage of reading material. However, he might need to remember to pack a lunch if he were going to set off in search of one particular book.
* * * * *
The next room was surprising in it's absolute normalcy.
It was an office, a study.
Dodger walked in and looked around curiously, careful not to touch anything.
There was a large desk which dominated one side of the room. On the other side there were two chairs and a small sofa grouped around a coffee table.
As he was about to leave, something caught Dodger's eye.
He walked behind the desk and looked carefully at the diploma that was hanging on the wall.
Two things stood out to him, obscuring all else.
The first thing was that the Diploma was awarded by The Harvard School of Medicine, and the second was the name.
'...presented to Raphael Montgomery Killian.'
Dodger smiled to himself as he walked out of the study. He didn't know why, but knowing Rafe's full name made him happy.
* * * * *
"Dr. Raphael Killian." Dodger said to himself as he walked past the huge double doors that opened to the outside.
He continued on and noticed a small door under the curved staircase. He had expected it to be a coat closet or possibly a place to store cleaning supplies. But what he found was a staircase that led down to the basement.
Dodger felt around for a moment and finally found a light switch.
The staircase was narrow and the steps seemed to be a little bit steeper than usual.
Dodger unsteadily made his way down the steps and froze in place when he reached the bottom of the stairs.
The basement was huge.
That was to be expected, with the size of the house above.
But what he hadn't expected was that the entire, huge basement was empty except for a crude heavy wooden chair in the middle of the room.
The walls and the concrete floor were all painted white, though they seemed to be an eerie off-white in the florescent lighting.
His own breathing and the faint hum of the lights were the only sounds in the huge, cavernous space.
Dodger looked around and finally spotted a door, so plain and nondescript that he almost missed it.
He walked to the door and the sounds of his footsteps slightly echoed and came back to him as a 'plinky' sound.
When he finally reached the door, he opened it slowly, not knowing what he expected to find.
It turned out to be nothing more interesting than the furnace and hot water heater.
But looking back at the huge empty basement gave Dodger a creepy feeling that crawled up his spine on icy little legs.
The creepy feeling propelled him back across the room and up the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him.
Dodger wasn't sure if he had even taken a single breath until the basement door was closed firmly behind him.
The discovery of the basement had effectively brought his exploration to an end. Dodger hurried upstairs to the relative safety and security of his bedroom, which had offered him so much comfort the night before.
* * * * *
Dodger woke and looked around with confusion.
He sat up on the bed and looked around the room, still feeling half asleep.
From the light outside the window, he estimated that it must be after noon, meaning that he must have slept for hours.
He remembered lying down on the bed to think about all the new developments in his life and must have dropped off to sleep immediately.
A sound from downstairs drew his attention and he cautiously got off the bed and quietly left the room to investigate.
* * * * *
"You must be Dodger." An elderly woman said with delight as soon as he walked into the kitchen.
"Yes Ma'am." Dodger said shyly.
"I'm Mrs. Lewellyn. Dr. Killian called me last night to let me know that he had a guest staying with him, so I thought I'd stop by and drop off a few things to get you by until I do the regular shopping on Tuesday." She said pleasantly.
"Oh, um. Thanks." Dodger said uncertainly, still feeling somewhat sleep fogged.
"It looks like I woke you. Why don't you sit down at the table. I brought sticky buns for you. I know that Dr. Killian isn't particularly fond of sweets, but I thought you might enjoy them." Mrs. Lewellyn said cheerfully.
Before Dodger could take the three steps to the table, Mrs. Lewellyn already had two sticky buns on a small plate and sitting on the table waiting for him.
"Would you like some milk to go with that?" Mrs. Lewellyn asked pleasantly.
"Um, yes. Thank you." Dodger said as he slowly took his seat.
"I think it's wonderful that Dr. Killian has someone visiting. I worry about him being up here all alone." Mrs. Lewellyn said as she placed a small glass of milk on the table.
"Do you like pot roast?" Mrs. Lewellyn asked as she went back to work taking things from shopping bags and putting them away in the cupboards.
"Yeah. sure." Dodger said before taking a cautious bite of one of the sticky buns.
The pastry was sticky and sweet and nearly melted in his mouth.
"Good. When I do the cleaning on Tuesday, I generally make a meal and leave it for Dr. Killian to enjoy when he gets home from work." Mrs. Lewellyn said pleasantly.
After Dodger swallowed, he said, "This is really good. Did you make it?"�
"Oh no, I just stopped by the bakery on the way up here and when I saw them I couldn't resist." She said fondly. "Do you like fruit punch?"
"Um, yeah." Dodger said before taking another bite of the outrageously good sweet roll.
"Good. I got you a few cans of Hi-C. I think it's much healthier than those sodas you young folk are so fond of." She said absently as she carefully folded a brown paper bag.
"Thank you for doing all of this for me. I really appreciate it." Dodger said sincerely.
"Think nothing of it. I suppose that since my husband retired, I'm looking for any excuse to get out of the house for a few minutes. Besides, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy my weekend knowing that Dr. Killian had a guest and might not have enough food in store to be a proper host." Mrs. Lewellyn said absently, then turned to Dodger and said, "You know, I worry about that boy."
"I can see that you take very good care of him." Dodger said gently, appreciating the warmth and caring she obviously felt for Rafe.
"I'd better be getting home soon. My husband worries about me making this long drive." Mrs. Lewellyn said as she gathered the empty shopping bags. "But I bought a few sticky buns for him too. So I doubt that he'll have any complaints about me making an extra trip this week."
"Thank you again for the sticky buns. They're really good." Dodger said as he stood.
"It just warms my heart to see you enjoying them." Mrs. Lewellyn said as she started walking toward the laundry room.
* * * * *
Dodger followed her on out to the garage, and watched as she got into her car.
Suddenly, the garage door started to open all by itself, and Dodger looked around in wonder.
The sound led him to finally find the garage door opener.
No one he knew, or had ever met, could even afford to have a garage, much less a garage door opener.
He looked up just in time to see Mrs. Lewellyn waving at him as she backed the car out of the garage.
Dodger smiled at the friendly gesture and returned the wave. Then he noticed her pointing a small device above him and pressing a button with her thumb.
The garage door began to close again, all on it's own.
Dodger stood and watched until the garage door had finally come to rest.
As he was about to go back into the house, he noticed that there was another side door near the front of the garage.
He walked over and unlocked it, then opened it to find that it led outside.
Dodger walked out into the chilly afternoon sunlight and looked around at his surroundings.
There was nothing but trees and low, rolling hills as far as the eye could see in every direction.
He looked at the driveway that led away from the house, but it was obscured by trees and bushes not more than fifty feet away.
There was no sign of any roads or other buildings.
When Rafe had said that he lived outside of town, Dodger naturally assumed that he meant that he lived in one of the small communities that had formed outside Columbus.��
Dodger began to smile. Even though this didn't look like his family's home back in West Virginia, it was still beautiful and natural and... well, not the city.
The chilly autumn air finally convinced him that it was time to go back inside.
* * * * *
"Dodger?" Rafe called as he walked into the kitchen.
"I'm in the living room."
Rafe walked into the living room and smiled at the sight of Dodger sitting in one of the wing backed chairs, reading a book. "How was your day?"
"I slept through most of it. But it was good." Dodger said as he placed a felt bookmark into the book and sat it aside.
"I was worried that you'd be bored out of your mind." Rafe said with a chuckle.
"With the library that you have? Not likely." Dodger said as he stood.
"Well, if you're ready to go, we could go do that clothes shopping now, so you'll have something to wear to the club." Rafe said cautiously.
"Sure. Let me go up and get my coat and shoes, then I'll be ready." Dodger said with a smile.
Before he could reach the staircase, he turned to Rafe and said, "I'm glad you're home. I missed you."
"I missed you, too." Rafe said with a smile of contentment.
* * * * *
Since it was so late in the autumn, the afternoon daylight had nearly given way to evening by the time they left the house.
Once they were out on the road, Rafe said, "So you found the library, did you have a chance to look around the rest of the house?"
"Yeah. At least most of the downstairs. The basement was kind of creepy, so I gave up after that." Dodger said shyly.
Rafe glanced at him with surprise at the statement, then said, "I used to have a lab down there. But I haven't been down there in years. What about it bothered you?"
"I don't know. It was just creepy, that's all." Dodger said uncomfortably.
"Well, if you can think of another use for it, we could do something with it." Rafe said slowly, "It seems like a waste to let all that space go unused."
"Yeah." Dodger said, relieved that Rafe wasn't upset that he had been snooping. "I'll let you know if I think of anything."
"Have you thought about what else you'd like to do this weekend?" Rafe asked casually.
"No. I meant to, but when I sat down on my bed to think for a few minutes, I fell asleep." Dodger said shyly.
Rafe chuckled, then said, "You must have needed the sleep."
Dodger slowly nodded.
"Have you thought about calling your family and letting them know that you're safe?" Rafe asked hesitantly.
"No." Dodger said immediately, then added, "They don't have a phone. But even if they did, I wouldn't call them."
Rafe slowly nodded, then quietly said, "Please think about getting in touch with them, even if it's just a postcard. As you get older, you'll come to realize how important family can be and you might regret holding on to the hurt for so long."
"I'll think about it." Dodger reluctantly agreed.
Rafe smiled at him, then turned his attention back to the road.
"What about you? Do you have a family?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Yes. But I don't speak to them very often. The last time I heard from my parents, they were somewhere in central Europe." Rafe said quietly.
"Any brothers or sisters?" Dodger asked as he turned more in his seat to face Rafe.
"No. I'm an only child." Rafe said, sounding regretful.
"That sounds nice." Dodger said frankly.
"I suppose it would, to someone coming from a large family." Rafe said with a grin.
"I guess it's true that the grass is always greener on the other side." Dodger said as he directed his attention to the meandering road as it wound its way through a seemingly endless sea of trees.
"Yes. But I think dwelling on 'what might have been' can become it's own obsession. It's better to focus on the here and now." Rafe said distantly.
"Well, from my point of view, the here and now is pretty incredible. So I don't mind paying it my full attention." Dodger said with a grin.
Rafe smiled at Dodger's comment and the contentment could clearly be seen in his eyes.
"Oh, I met Mrs. Lewellyn today." Dodger said suddenly.
"You did? She usually comes on Tuesdays." Rafe said with surprise.
"Yeah. She said that she was worried that with two of us, there wouldn't be enough food for us to make it until Tuesday."
Rafe chuckled, then said, "We could probably get by for a month on all the food she has stocked in that kitchen. But she does a fine job of keeping everything I could possibly want on hand."
"She seemed really nice." Dodger said quietly, "She's been worried about you."
"She has?" Rafe asked as he glanced at Dodger.
"Yes. From what she said, I think she's noticed how lonely you are." Dodger said honestly.
"I don't know how that could be. I haven't spoken to her in person for... it must be close to two years now." Rafe said reflectively.
"It's probably because when she goes to clean the house, she can see that it's just you there." Dodger said thoughtfully, then added, "Anyway, I'm here now, so she's happy."
Rafe slowed the car, then turned on to a cross street.
"It's going to be a little while before we go to dinner. Do you think you can hold out for a few hours, or would you like to get a quick snack when we get into town?" Rafe asked casually.
After considering for a moment, Dodger finally said, "I had lunch kind of late, so I think I'll be fine."
"Well, just let me know if you get hungry. In fact, I have a ham sandwich in my briefcase if you're hungry now." Rafe said casually.
"No thanks. I'm fine." Dodger said with a warm smile.
Rafe nodded that he had heard as he concentrated on the road before him.
"Do you always carry an extra sandwich with you?" Dodger asked curiously.
"'Yes." Rafe said simply.
Dodger waited for a moment, but when no explanation was forthcoming, he finally gave in and asked, "Why?"
"Because sometimes I have to work late and don't have time to go out and get something to eat. I make myself two sandwiches in the morning, one for lunch and one for dinner." Rafe said casually.
"Does that happen often? I mean, do you have to work late a lot?" Dodger asked with concern.
"Not so much, right now, but I expect to be busier in the coming months, so it'll probably start to happen more often," Rafe said thoughtfully.
"What kind of a doctor are you?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Well, I'm an MD, but I specialize in infectious diseases." Rafe said casually.
"Oh, and since it's getting cold, there's going to be more colds and flus going around." Dodger speculated.
"That's right. But the majority of those cases will be the garden variety of whatever flu variant is going around this year. I'll be called in when it's something out of the ordinary." Rafe said seriously.
"Wow. That sounds really important." Dodger said in wonder.
"Well, yes. I suppose it is." Rafe said with a glance and a smile at Dodger.
"It must be great to be able to help people like that. I mean, to know, to really know, that you're helping people has to be the best kind of job that you could ever have." Dodger said distantly.
"Are you interested in becoming a doctor, someday?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Are you kidding? I never even finished school. There's no way I could ever do something like that." Dodger said seriously.
"Why not? I think you're smart enough. You left school, you can go back." Rafe said simply.
"I didn't exactly leave. My Pa pulled me out of school two years ago, because he said that he needed me to work on the farm." Dodger said bitterly.
"Does that mean you didn't want to leave?" Rafe asked curiously.
"No. But I wasn't going to go against Pa." Dodger said frankly, then quietly added, "Neither was the school."
Rafe's expression of concern prompted Dodger to explain, "Pa used to say that once you learned to read and write and cypher that you were wasting time sitting on your ass when you should be working if you tried to learn anything more."
"Well, if you're interested, I can look into what alternatives are available to you to receive an education," Rafe said seriously.
"But wouldn't I be older than all the other kids?" Dodger asked quietly.
"Don't worry about it, now, Dodger. Let me do some checking, and when I have some options for you, we can sit down and discuss it." Rafe said gently.
"Okay. Thanks Rafe." Dodger said past the lump in his throat.
He was overwhelmed by the possibility of getting back something he thought had been taken away forever; His future.
Dodger suddenly realized that, with Rafe's help and encouragement, anything WAS possible. He could be anything, do anything.
"Are you alright?" Rafe asked with concern.
"Yeah. Great." Dodger said as he tried to discretely wipe away his tears.
At Rafe's incredulous expression, Dodger chuckled and said, "I never thought there would be a way that I could finish high school, much less go to college. I've just been accepting that that's the way things are for me and that nothing could ever change it. But then I meet you and... it's like you blow through the problems like they were never there."
"It's not just me. You're going to have to do your part, too." Rafe said seriously.
"Just tell me what I have to do, and I'll do it." Dodger said immediately.
"Well, while I'm investigating the possibilities that are available to you, it would be a great help if you could dream about what you want to do with your new found opportunities." Rafe finished with a smile.
"You want me to dream?" Dodger asked with a grin.
Rafe's look became a little more serious as he said, "From the look of it, you've given up on some of your dreams, because you thought they weren't possible. Now that things have changed, your job is going to be to revive those dreams and decide which one you really want to pursue."
"I could just try to do them all." Dodger said playfully. "I think I'd make a pretty good 'astronaut-fireman-brain surgeon-rock and roll singer'."
Rafe chuckled and said, "I'm sure you'll be the best 'astronaut-fireman-brain surgeon-rock and roll singer' in all of Ohio, if that's what you decide you want to do."
* * * * *
The night air was getting cold and Dodger clutched his thin jacket tightly around him as they walked from the side street where they had parked, to a small strip of shops.
Dodger had expected Rafe to take him to a big store for his new clothes, but instead, he found himself being led into a little shop that didn't seem to be much bigger than a newsstand.
"Dr. Killian, it's good to see you again." the store clerk said happily.
"Hello, George. This is Dodger. I'd like to take him to the club with me tonight. Can you help him?" Rafe asked hopefully.
George looked at Dodger appraisingly for a moment, then slowly said, "Yes. I should be able to have something suitable for him in time."
Rafe smiled and looked a little bit relieved at the announcement, then he asked, "Do you think you'll be able to outfit him with everything else he'll need?"
"Yes. I think so. Just let me get some measurements, then you might consider a stop at the salon." George said hesitantly.
Rafe turned to look at Dodger, then quietly asked, "What would you think about getting a haircut while George works on your suit?"
"Yeah, sure." Dodger said without concern.
Rafe smiled at his easy acceptance, then nodded at George to begin.
"Just hold still while George measures you so that the clothes will fit properly." Rafe said quietly.
"Yeah. No problem." Dodger said casually, then jumped a little when George measured his inseam. "Whoa. Hello, George."
"I'm sorry, did I startle you?" George asked as he quickly wrote down the measurements.
"A little, but I just didn't know you were going to measure, um, that." Dodger said shyly.
"Would you like to see the different styles that are available?" George asked courteously.
Rafe chuckled and said, "No, George. I trust your sense of style a lot more than my own."
George smiled warmly at the compliment, then said, "I'll have it ready as soon as possible. Stop by after the salon and I'll be able to give you an estimate of when it will be finished."
"We'll do that. Thanks for taking care of us, George," Rafe said happily, then gestured toward the door, indicating that he was ready to leave.
* * * * *
"Is George the one who makes your suits?" Dodger asked as they walked out into the chilly night air.
"Yes. I was being honest about his sense of style. George has never steered me wrong." Rafe said sincerely.
"Well, I like the way your suits look, so I'm sure that mine will look good too." Dodger said happily.
"There's a hair salon across the street, on the corner. Come on." Rafe said quickly, then, seeing a break in the light traffic, he darted across the street.
Dodger broke into a run to keep up with Rafe.
He started to laugh once he was safely on the sidewalk on the other side.
Rafe smiled at Dodger's happiness and didn't notice the figure who was watching from the shadows in the alley ahead.
* * * * *
As Rafe and Dodger walked, a burley man stepped out of the alley and directly into their path.
"Give me your money." He said as he held a knife inches from Rafe's chest.
"No." Rafe said simply.
"You won't miss a few bucks." the man said as he moved closer. "It'd be a shame for that pretty face of yours to get cut."
Dodger noticed the expression on Rafe's face. It appeared that he wasn't the least bit afraid.
The man brought his arm up, apparently ready to slash at Rafe's face with the knife, but he never got the chance.
In a move that was too fast for Dodger to follow, Rafe grabbed the man by the face with one hand, then swung him around, until the back of his head hit the brick wall with a 'smack'.
Dodger's eyes went wide. He couldn't believe that Rafe was strong enough to throw his attacker around like a rag doll. He turned his attention to Rafe and looked at him with question.
"Come on, let's go get your hair cut." Rafe said, then started walking away from the alley.
"But what about him?" Dodger asked, looking at the burley man laying crumpled on the ground against the wall.
"He can get his own haircut. Come on." Rafe said playfully.
Dodger blinked, then blinked again.
Finally he said, "Um, yeah. Let's go."
Editor's Notes: It looks as if Rafe can quite easily take care of himself. Again, another exciting chapter and we learn more about both Rafe and Dodger. We also met a very sweet lady who is concerned about both of them.
I am, as always, ready for more.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher