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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Death of a friend, part 3

“Hi, daddy!” she said brightly.

Mac turned his head and grinned. “My jewel...gimme sugar,” he said holding out a shaky hand.

She ignored the hand and took his face into her small hands. She bent over and kissed every inch of his face until he laughed with sheer joy. “I got loads of  stories to tell you, Daddy. Wanna hear them?”she said lifting his boney hand to her cheek and pressing it there.

“Okay, but first...” he glanced up at Payton who shook his head to indicate he had not said a thing. “I gotta tell you something, Honey. You’re gonna be staying with Uncle Payton from now on. He...”

She turned to Payton and smiled. “Oh, that will be wonderful! I’ll take good care of him, Daddy. You’ll see.  I can cook and clean for him, do the laundry and we’ll work together at the shop caring for the animals....and I can tell him stories just like I do for you.”

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Death of a Friend, part 2

Payton headed straight for the nurses’ station and waited until one of them deemed to look at him. “Ma’am, I was hoping you could tell me how Mac St. George is doing?” Payton asked politely.

The nurse looked at him as if finding him quite tedious and stupid. “As well as can be expected,” she replied in a snippy voice. “He’s in the last stage of cancer so what do you think?”

“But is he worse than yesterday?” Payton persisted, dreading the answer.

“Yes, considerably. You might want to say what you need to say as soon as you can.”  There was a slightly gentle note in her voice now that said all too clearly, “Because he might not be here for much longer.”

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Death of a Friend, part 1

The moonlight coming in through the slight part in the curtained windows illuminated little in the spacious, elaborately decorated room, but enough. Jameel’s exotic features, her almond shaped eyes, the thick fringe of lashes brushing silky soft cheeks, that adorable nose that so often crinkled with laughter, those deliciously dainty, ruby lips with its perpetual Mona Lisa smile even in slumber and her shiny black braid intertwined with colorful ribbons curling over her delicate shoulder to lay across her chest like a hibernating serpent  were all clearly visible to him.

But that could have been because Payton knew her so well... too well perhaps. He stared at her with a melancholy smile on his face. Even relaxed in sleep she held him in a tortured prison. Jameel was a beauty beyond compare and as precious to him as her Arabic name implied but that didn’t mean anything. It didn’t excuse him nor his changing feelings toward her. They were wrong, very wrong and he knew not what to do about it.

“Mac, how I wish you were still here. Then I wouldn't be in this mess,” he whispered into the dark, his eyes burning with unshed tears.

As if she had heard him, she moved closer to him snuggling into the crook of his arm as she clutched at his shirt and flung her long slim leg over his jean clad ones imprisoning him further. He could feel his shirt where her head lay still damp from her tears. She sighed contentedly and mumbled his name before settling into sleep again.

Did she have any idea what she was doing to him?

Of course she didn’t. She didn’t know how she effected him. She didn’t know he had slowly but surely fallen completely in love with her, despite his best efforts not to. She was a naive, trusting child....but then she was no longer a child, was she?  They had celebrated her twenty third birthday a few months back right after her graduation from Cornell.

There lay the problem.

Jameel still saw him as her guardian, her Uncle Payton, as she should. Although, in truth, she hadn’t called him that for many years now. Naturally, she felt no shyness with him, no desire to alter her affectionate and carefree ways, and she surely had no compunction for making him crazy. She didn’t know she was doing it. She felt entirely safe and secure within his arms as she had since she was twelve years old. That was the dreadful year her father had died leaving his precious jewel in the care of his best friend.

 Ten years had passed with their routine not altering one bit. That was why he lay on her bed at that very moment waiting for her to be in the deepest doze so he could slip away without her noticing as he’d always done before. This was the way they celebrated the life and commemorated Mac’s death. They had a festive dinner, complete with Mac’s favorite Red Velvet cake, marking his death but more so his life with one single candle. They held hands, closed their watery eyes and each wished Mac could see them now before they blew out the candle together.

After dinner they watched old home movies reminiscing, laughing and crying in equal measure. When it was time for bed, well passed midnight this time around, Jameel grabbed Payton’s hand and pulled him to her room sending them back in space and  time to a thousand and one Arabian nights. Her room looked the part perfectly with the chiffon draped canopied bed full of intricately embroidered satin cushions and silky soft sheets. There was even a sentry watching over them. A comical stuffed camel named “Spitty” which Payton had won for her at the county fair, stood almost as tall as the ceiling with his tongue sticking out at them. 

But the night wasn’t over, not yet. She sat up in bed crossing her legs in the lotus position and told him to lay down, relax and listen to her latest story. She always had a story to tell. She  looked just like Scheherazade entertaining the Sultan. Payton certainly felt like royalty in her presence, but that was until they had exhausted their memories, she trying in vain to stifle a yawn.

 He insisted she sleep now, but she grabbed his hand, and with her eyes aglow made it quite apparent to him that she still hated being alone on this saddest night of the year. With that, he smiled, laid down again upon all those inviting cushions and she cuddled up to him as she always did.

“I miss him, Payton,” she said, a tiny quiver in her voice.

“I know, Honey. So do I,” he returned in a husky whisper giving her a gentle squeeze and kissing the top of her fragrant jasmine-scented hair. “We always will, you know.”

“I’m so glad I have you, Payton. I love you so much,” she whispered, clutching his shirt as if afraid of losing him as well.

“Me too, Jameel,” he gently replied. “Try to sleep now, okay?”

She cuddled closer but he could tell she wasn’t going to drop off soon, at least not soon enough for his liking. He could feel warm tears seeping into his shirt. She needed to cry so he would let her and comfort her as best as he could. She missed Mac so very much. He knew the feeling.

Pure torture it was being this close to her, albeit an exquisite type. He’d trade it for nothing. He started singing an old song he heard on the radio that day, a Diamond Rio song. It rather fit the situation.

♫…  What a beautiful mess I’m in...spending all my time with you... nothing else I’d rather do.... what a sweet addiction I’m caught up in...I can’t get enough...what a beautiful mess I’m in..   

He sang several other songs before he felt her grip slacken. He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes while tenderly pressing his lips to her forehead. “Love you so much,” he whispered, his own tears slipping down his face now. “Always will.”

He knew their time together was coming to a close. She was all grown up. She would get some job now that she was done with school, possibly in the city and then she’d get new friends and maybe– this thought tore at his heart-- a boyfriend. Jameel would get on with her life without Payton. He would be no more than a passing acquaintance, not even Uncle Payton anymore. He would miss her terribly. He couldn’t imagine his life without her. His life, after all, was Jameel. It had been since Mac’s death but he regretted none of it.

He hadn’t done much more than spend all his available time with Jameel all these years. He hadn’t gone out with buddies after work anymore nor even dated. It was just him and Jameel and neither of them seemed to care that it was a bit odd. At least to other people it was. But he had promised Mac to do all he could to make life as good as possible for Jameel and Payton would, God willing. He did. He had. He had kept his promise to Mac and he would not let him down.

“I tried my best, Mac. Hope you think I did okay,” he mumbled in the dark.

 It was then that he felt it. Mac’s presence seemed to suddenly fill the room, fill him, fill everything, but Payton wasn’t alarmed. Instead he smiled. He  was quite used to this. It happened every time, as if Mac came to grant them their wish. He was watching over them, making sure they were fine just as he promised.

But what would Mac say if he knew what Payton was thinking of his precious Jameel, that he loved her in a very different way than he had ten years ago?

He let his mind take him back in time, back to that horrible day, the day Mac died. Mac had called him up at work. An unusual thing for him to do being Payton always went to see him in the evening to tell him how things went that day in the shop and to check on the progress of his ill friend. But Mac had finally succumbed to the retched disease and was now in the hospice. Payton’s heart gave a jolt when he heard this. It boded ill. He had always assumed Mac would want to die at home.

He didn’t want to be alone with Jameel, Mac told him. So, he sent her off to stay with his sister. He thought it best, that it would frighten her to see him so ill and to have him die in their home was unthinkable. He was afraid his spirit or more likely the remembrance of his death would haunt her and he didn’t want that. He wanted Jameel to always love the only home she’d ever known.

Payton felt a fist clench around his heart as he listened to this. If Mac was in the hospice it meant he had not much time left and  he needed more help than could be had at home. Or perhaps Mac simply wanted some pretty girls to look at. Yeah, that was it, Payton told himself, hope flaring up in him again. He grinned, a bit shaky, yes, but a grin nonetheless. That was Mac for you! He just wanted a few cute nurses tending to him. He could almost hear him flirting with them.

“Hey, Sweet thing, how about a magic carpet ride?” Payton heard Mac say innumerable times over the years. But that wasn’t what he heard over the phone that day.

“Can ya... come by... today? Got something... important to over.... with ya,” Mac said his voice, usually so robust, sounded husky and labored. Scared but determined to think only the best, Payton assured him he would come by  as soon as he closed up the shop, Mac’s shop.

Hunter’s Heaven was Mac’s baby, a supply shop for every kind of game hunting and fishing imaginable from shotguns and rifles, fiercely strong fishing gear capable of bringing in a five hundred pound Marlin or simple enough for a little kid’s first catfish to top-of-the-line bows and arrows powerful enough to knock over a moose, an elk or a black bear. Mac loved the friends he had made there. Boy, did he have friends, by the hundreds.

There were the guys who relished talking about “the one that got away” and there were those who came to show off their trophies, many times actually bringing it in for displaying. There was a wall devoted to these pictures, the bragging post as Mac called it, and animal heads circled the perimeter of the shop. There were the ladies who came in just to flirt with what they called “real men”, especially Mac. He dated several of them when his wife had died, but no one could come close to replacing Amal, Jameel’s mother and an Arabian beauty herself.

Mac especially liked the little kids that came in to stare in awe at the animals of all types standing in the perpetual pose for flight from long gone assailants. Local elementary schools made Mac’s place their first annual field trip. He thrived on the little talks he gave about the red fox, snapping turtle, jackrabbit, coyote, black bear and Tom turkeys. Their bodies perfectly preserved attracted more kids, parents and teachers to the shop than actual hunters.

Ironically, Mac did no hunting at all and had convinced several would-be hunters to just go out into the woods and observe nature as he did. Mac was the unofficial animal doctor in their small town which suited him fine. He loved working with animals. He had live animals out back in large pens. Hawks, falcons, vultures and even an American bald eagle were some of the animals cared for by Mac’s gentle hand. Some had been hurt by cars or poachers and others, like the twin fawns that were now in pens mothered by Jameel, had been orphaned when the mother was killed illegally. Mac had wanted to give the man responsible a severe beating to go along with the hefty fine, but he didn’t get the opportunity.

The injured were released back into the wild once they recovered. Some would always be there, however, as they were too injured to fend for themselves. These were Jameel’s pets of a sort and why she was to be a veterinarian. Hunter’s Heaven was a combination  museum, wildlife refuge and vet clinic and Mac loved it.  Payton did too and so did Jameel.

Payton was his partner, but now with Mac so ill, he had taken over. Doing things exactly how he had seen Mac do them, the place ran as smooth as glass. Payton wondered a few hours later as he rode the elevator up to Mac’s room, was he now thinking of signing the whole shop over to him? Was he feeling the frigid hand of death coming for him already? God, no! Not yet, please not yet, Payton pleaded to anybody who would listen. As much as Payton loved the shop it wouldn’t be the same without his buddy.

Payton felt oddly separated from everyone, because he knew Mac would never set foot at the shop again. But Mac was his anchor. Payton hadn’t even realized it until Mac fell ill. He certainly  didn’t relish obtaining the shop this way, through the death of his best friend. He had wished in vain to coax God into giving Mac a reprieve from death by offering up himself. It would pay back Mac for all the times he had saved Payton’s neck. Besides, Mac deserved life far more than Payton. Mac had a kid to raise. Payton had nothing and nobody. It just didn’t seem fair.

“Why does it have to be this way?” he angrily muttered to himself, as he stared blindly at the numbers lighting up over the sliding doors as he rose up within the building. Perhaps he hoped God would answer this time. No such luck. Payton had no pull with the Guy upstairs. If he had, it would be himself in this sterile place and not Mac. Mac would be visiting him possibly bringing Jameel to say a tearful goodbye.

When the doors opened his senses were assailed by the sights, sounds, smells and even the feeling of lives hanging in the balance. He struggled to look, if not exactly feel, composed. The last thing he wanted was to let Mac down, to let him see how this was killing him almost as much as it was killing Mac.

He could practically hear Mac shout out in his usual gruff yet jubilant voice, “What’s with that face? You’re in the Marines now, Kid! Suck it up!” 

Those had been the first words he said to Payton more than twenty years ago when he had been barely eighteen and went right into the service, half scared to death of dying on foreign land and the other half excited to be leaving boring old Trenton, New Jersey.

The entire platoon feared Mac at first sight. He was a huge, imposing bear of a man especially when in a temper. As it turned out, that rarely happened. More often they loved him and his joyful attitude, especially when explosions were going off feet from them and he was cracking jokes as if they were merely sitting in a bar talking smack. He kept them safe and their morale up when they were scared silly. Who wouldn’t love a guy like that?

Payton knew Mac had personally saved almost all their buddies’ lives at least once each and his own five times. Many called Mac alternately their guardian angel and the devil himself. They were all in awe of him, but Payton worshiped him. Even if Mac was just eight years older he considered Mac more like a father.

Having never had a real father, Payton craved one terribly and there was Mac ready to be that guy. He didn’t seem to mind either. Mac would tease him though.

“You got a crush on me, Kid?” he’d say with a devilish smirk.

“No, sir,” Payton replied looking grave and serious as ever.

Mac would let out a raucous laugh and slap him on the back sending him into his evening meal. “I’m jokin’, Buddy. Just yankin’ yer chain.”

Payton remembered it all so well, as if it had happened two weeks ago. But those days were gone and so was the Mac he had loved then. The illness had Mac wasting away so he was barely recognizable. 

Part 2 next week...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rules Rule the World

Cats rule, get used to it!

“I am going to kill you!” Jason screamed at the top of his voice. He was so frustrated he started pulling tufts of hair out of his head as he stomped around the room.

“Didn’t we expressly forbid you from doing any of that?” Matt shouted, also pacing the room.

“What in the world is wrong with you?” Jimmy bellowed seemingly in agony, his head in his hands.

Sean sat in stony silence, his arm gripping the armrest, as his friends ranted and raved. “I was under the impression this is my life or have I been misinformed?” he snapped.