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Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Back on the road again, Jax sighed when Link turned the pickup down the long driveway to his home. He loved where Link lived. Close to town but in the country. His log home was only found after winding a mile from the main road up through the trees and Manzanita. The view from the house was beautiful. He’d spend too many evenings to count watching the lights of the two adjoining towns sparkled below while his dad and Link talked in the house. On a clear day, the marsh could be seen with it's fingers reaching from the bay in the distance. He and his Dad had explored the marsh many times over the years Jax had lived with him.

It wasn't a large house, just big enough for Link and now Wes. The first floor held the kitchen with eating area, living room, and guest bedroom as well as a full bathroom. A large stone fireplace formed a rustic wall between the kitchen and living room. The master bedroom and bathroom were upstairs along with Link's office. French doors led to the balcony above the front door. A smaller stone fireplace divided the bedroom from that bathroom, heating both rooms. The covered porch wrapped the whole first floor. He wondered if Link still used the old barn as a critter holding area. The old loft with double doors that had once allowed hay to be stored in the barn.  Jax remembered the fun times he had playing in the loft.

James looked at the home appreciatively. "This is really nice, reminds me a bit of the outer reaches of the resort, peaceful and not invaded by a lot of noise."

"It's like our own little world up here, James," Wes said.  "It's hard to believe that I get to share it with Link."

The doctor knew exactly what Wes meant. While their own house was on the property at the resort, it was quiet and still for the most part, and a peaceful place when there wasn't some emergency going on. He was grateful to the two men for allowing them to stay with them.

Once inside Heath walked Jaxon over to look out of the windows, admiring the beauty that surrounded them. It was rather like the outlying cabins in a way, but up on the hill the view, even during the day, was spectacular. He drew James over and put his arm around his lover's waist as they gazed outside.

James relaxed with Heath's arm around him gazing out at the beauty of the land.

"So, Link," Heath asked, "is there anything we can do to help out around here during our stay?"

"Let's get Jax settled in the bedroom.  Then you two can rest or not, it's for you to decide," the big ranger answered.  "Wes and I are at your disposal.  We want this to be a very restful vacation."

James walked Jax into the guest room then helped him remove his shoes so he could cuddle up on king size the bed.  Within a few minutes, he was sound asleep. Heath gently placed a blanket over their partner.  Then with a gesture, he motioned his lover back into the living room.

James headed out to the truck to retrieve their luggage.

Heath put out a hand, stopping James from going any further. "No, you stay put. Sit and relax. Wes and I've got them."

James was a bit startled at Heath's stopping him. "But it's not a problem," he protested.

"Vacation. For you. Sit. Relax," Heath said with a look at his partner. "Now.”

James gave Heath a look, then swatted him. "I don't appreciate being talked to that way Heathcliff, I'm not a brat," he said sternly.

Heath was surprised at the swat but recovered quickly.  "Alright then, JW," he said with a grin, "just don't overdo it, ok?"

The older man nodded. "Don't worry, I won't."

Wes laughed.  "I better show Jax all my hiding holes with 3 tops in the house."

James grinned at Wes. "We'll sniff them out...we Tops are good at that," he teased the young man.

“And what makes you think I don’t know those places already, little boy? Link grinned.

After staying as quiet as possible while they put the luggage in the room with their sleeping young man they made their way into the kitchen and settled down at the table with the other men and fresh cups of coffee.


After spending two quite days on Link’s mountain, the five friends spent the third day just driving around the delta.  They visited the local Animal Control building where Link and Nick, Jax’s dad had shared an office.  James and Heath made sure their lover was close at hand at all times so they could comfort him if needed. 

In the early morning of the fourth day of their vacation, Jax woke up surrounded by his men.  His inner clock was still on east coast time, but the younger man had been unsettled since visiting the building where his dad had work and where he had played as a boy.  The memories of the accident over shadowed the great memories he had made with his dad and Link, too.

Jax carefully climbed out from between his men, mumbling “pee” when Heath tried to pull him back.  Heading to the bathroom, he looked back to see his younger lover settle back down.  After relieving his self, he left the bedroom then walked into the kitchen. 

He could hear someone moving around upstairs.  ‘Probably Wes,’ he thought.  Both men rose before the sun to do chores.  Link wasn’t in the kitchen so Jax knew he was already out in the barn.  Their coffee maker’s green light called to him.  So, with mug in hand, he quietly opened the front door and slipped through the opening. 

The California sun was just starting to lighten the sky as Jax walked around to the back of the cabin.  He balanced the mug on one of the porch rail posts then leaned he hands on the porch rail.  Looking up toward the ridge he let his mind remember the night that changed his life forever.


There were times when the wind blew in gale force gusts up on the ridge above Link’s cabin.  It was doing just that the afternoon a child was reported missing by one on the families living closer to the ridge.  Nick met Link at the cabin and the two drove together along the winding incline to meet up with the other searchers.  Having no idea which way the four-year-old had gone, the searchers split up to cover more ground.  The two rangers shouldered their packs and headed out on foot just as the rain started.  Moving slowly so they could work out any tracks the little girl might have left before the rain washed them away.

Close to an hour later, Nick whistled to Link then signaled by cupping his ear then pointing that he heard a whimper below him. Straining to see through the wind whipped trees they could make out a yellow patch just down the slope at the base of an outcropping of rock where a Blue Oak grew.  The tree offered the little girl some protection from the elements but they would have to traverse the slippery ground to reach her.  Used to working together, the two men decided Nick, being smaller, would rope off and ease down the slope.

Link double checked Nick’s harness after he had pulled it on then clipped the locking carabiner to the belay loop.  Nick began his slow descent toward the child.   She was huddled under the rock ledge.  As the older ranger finally reached the little girl the air rumbled followed closely by a brilliant flash. Link stood helplessly as the lightning struck the Blue Oak.  He saw his best friend cover the young child with his body to protect her from falling rocks as the ledge crumbled.

Jax shook his head, he didn’t want to remember the look in Link’s eyes when he had to tell him that his dad was gone…that he had died saving the little girl.  Jax wiped at his eyes, glad that no one was around to see his tears. 


A few minutes later, Wes came through the kitchen door carrying a small pail of potato skins and vegetable scraps from their dinner the night before.  “Hey, bro, wanta help me feed Nugget?” he asked.

“Sure,” Jax laughed and wiped his face again.

Wes grinned, glad that he could get his new friend’s mind off his dad and the pain his sudden death had caused him.  And Link too.  Both men were reliving the tragedy but were also helping each other by remembering the great times too.

Link was just coming out of the barn as the young men approached.  “You’re up early, Jax,” he said.  “I figured you’d still be cuddling with your guys.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” Jax explained. “I’m hoping the fresh air will help.”

“I can understand that and you can always rest later if you need too.”

“I was thinking about walking down to the pond, Link,” Jax said.  “Will you let my guys know if they wake up before I get back?”

“Sure will,” the big ranger agreed as he dropped his hand on Jax’s shoulder, “but only if you take Wes with you and be back by nine for breakfast.”

The young man looked up at his friend about to refuse but seeing Link’s eyebrow arch Jax blushed then agreed. 

“Great,” Wes said. “Let me get a couple of bottles of water and my day pack,” he added, jogging in to the barn. 

“Why do we need his day pack?”

“It’s always better to be prepared, little boy,” Link answered.  “I know you haven’t forgotten that rule.”

Jax blushed again.  “No, I haven’t, Link, but at the resort I never have to worry about it cuz someone is always close by.”

“I’m happy you have so many friends to help you, Jax.”

“Thanks,” Jax said.  “They are a great bunch of guys.  I hope you and Wes can come visit us sometime.”

“OK, all set,” Wes said slinging the pack over his shoulder.  He stretched up and kissed his man before turning to his young friend.  “Come on, Jax, maybe Lucky will be playing in the water.”

Link went back into the barn, picking up the pail Wes had left on the work bench as he headed for Nugget’s pen.  The hen was squawking for her breakfast.


Lucky, Wes’s raccoon mascot, was turning rocks over looking for food when the boys reached the pond. He stood up on his hind legs and chattered at the disruption.  Apparently deciding that the boys were friendly, Lucky dropped back down on all fours and resumed his search.

“He’s cute,” Jax whispered, not wanting to scare the critter.

“Yeah, he was a kit when I first saw him,” Wes explained.  “He’s about four now, I guess.  Raccoons were the reason Link and I met so it’s been cool that he stays close.  Link brings minnows and crawdads up here from the slough so Lucky, his mate and the kits will always have something to eat.”

Wes sat quietly on one of the log benches he and Link had placed around the pond.  He could tell Jax had something on his mind.  The younger man kneeled down to the edge of the pond, picked up a flat stone and skipped it across the surface away from Lucky.  Finally, shaking his head, he stood and came back to Wes.

“Would you take me up on the ridge to where my dad died?”

“Um,” Wes hesitated, “wouldn’t it be better if Link took you?” But he could see in the younger man’s eyes that he needed to do this without Link’s protection.  “OK, I’ll do it but we have to hurry it we are going to be back by nine.”

It would have taken a couple of hours if they hiked on the road, but would only take a quarter of the time to hike through to woods.  After thirty minutes of hard climbing the two young men crested a small rock outcropping only to look across a swallow gully to see the lightning struck Blue Oak.  Below the Oak someone had built a rock wall surrounding the tree.

Jax squatted down and leaned a shoulder against the tree beside him.  He didn’t move, just stared across the gully. 

Wes could see a tear splash on the leaves under his friend, but he didn’t do anything more than shift his foot so Jax would know he wasn’t alone. 

A few minutes later Jax stood, looked at Wes then jumped across the gully and climbed up the other side, finally stopping at the rock wall.  Wes didn’t follow him knowing the Jax needed to do this alone.  Jax stepped over the wall and sat down on it.  Images of his dad danced before him.  Good times. Fun times.  He closed his eyes feeling his dad’s presence.  He felt a soft tickle on his cheek and heard the breeze voice, “I love you Son.”

“I love you too, Dad,” he whispered.  “I miss you so much.” 

Wes could hear Jax’s soft voice but couldn’t make out the words.  He snapped a picture on his cell phone of Jax sitting on the wall then walked back down the trail a bit to give his friend more privacy, but he always kept him in sight. 

A squirrel scampered along the top of the rock wall, stopping just short of the man blocking it’s path.  Jax opened his eyes when the squirrel squeaked at him.  He smiled down at the critter then followed it with his eyes as it jumped down and scampered across the ground stopping at the base of the tree. Looking closer, Jax saw light flicker where the squirrel dug in the leaves.  Jax slowly walked to the tree and knelt down to pick up a small piece of metal.  Turning it over in his hand tear flowed again.  “Thanks, Dad.”

Wes, walked back up the trail when he saw Jax step back over the wall.  From the way the younger man was holding his hand, Wes knew he had found something.  Jax handed Wes one of the bottles of water when he was close.  “You OK, Bro?” he asked.

Jax took his time opening the bottle, then slowly savored the cool water.  After wiping his face again, he said, “Yeah…yeah I am.  Look what I found.”

Jax’s hand opened to reveal a small slender piece of metal with the words, ‘A father and son’s love is forever’.

“I gave this to Dad on his last birthday.  It was part of a bracelet,” Jax explained.  “The leather is gone but this was under the tree.  It must have come off his wrist that night.”

Wes’s eyes glistened as tears started to leak out.  He didn’t know what to say so he just reached out and hugged his friend.

“Thanks for coming up here with me, Wes.”

“No problem, Jax,” the young carpenter assured the other man.  “That’s what friends do.  And besides, if I didn’t come with you, I’m sure I would have to answer to our three tops.”

“Yeah, I’m sure James and Heath aren’t going to be too happy that I came up here without them.”

“Link probably won’t be too happy either,” Wes commented.

“Well, let’s not tell them then,” Jax said.  “At least, not right away.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

“I guess we should get back before we’re late,” Jax said.

“Yeah, but it will be faster going back than it was climbing up here.”

Wes led the way back down the trail, kicking up dust every time they stepped out into the sun.  It wasn’t long before they were back at the pond again.  Lucky was still turning stones at the edge of the water when they broke out of the trees.  Not liking to be surprised, he raised a ruckus again.  Wes laughed then tossed Jax another bottle of water.

“Pull up a log,” Wes said.  “Let’s rest a bit to get our breathing back to normal before we head back to the cabin.

After a few minutes, the young men started a slow walk back to the cabin and their guys.


James, sitting in the living room looking out over the vista from the window and seeing how Jax was not around at the moment said to Heath, who was also relaxing, "Heath, I want to make a memorial for Nick for Jax's sake, what do you think?"

Heath thought for a few moments and finally replied, "That sounds like a great idea. What did you have in mind?"

James looked thoughtful. "Something to commemorate Nick, perhaps planting a tree where he fell...or perhaps a stone and plaque, something that will last forever," James told his partner.

"I like the idea of the stone and plaque. It would not only serve as a memorial for him, but would also be a warning to other of the dangers hiking that ridge. But would we need to get a special permit to bring a truck and winch up to the site? Well," he sighed, "we'll have to find out about that from Link and the park department I suppose. I don't see why they'd object to it. It will be standing there as a memorial to one of their own, after all."
James said, "I don't see any reason for there to be any obstacles and as far as the how, Link, I'm sure would have information and for sure I'm not going to worry about that, whatever it takes it will get done."

Heath smiled wryly, "I don't doubt that if you want it done it'll get done, and in record time," he said admiringly.  He looked at his lover worriedly and asked, "Do you think this will be too much on Jax though? You don't think it would be like losing his father twice?"

The resort owner shook his head. "I don't think so. Ever since we landed at the airport it feels like there wasn't quite the closure you'd think he should have had. I'm sensing that he's been uneasy and that there's more here that needs to be done. I'm not sure he's truly grieved the loss properly and this will give him an opportunity to do that."

Heath nodded as he thought about that.  "Yes," he agreed, "I think you're right. He was shuttled out of here rather quickly after Nick passed. And I think he'd be proud to know that everyone who hikes up that trail will know about his father's heroism and sacrifice."

James nodded. "Yes, it seems that way to me too and I can't relax until I'm sure Jax is all right and able to enjoy himself as well, not be stressed out."

Heath leaned over, put his arms around his lover, pulling him close and kissing him deeply.  When he pulled back he had an expression which was a mixture of love and admiration. "Leave it to you to forget that you're here for rest and relaxation and focus on our boy's happiness instead. You're an amazing man, James Harrington. I love you."

The older man was a bit surprised, but returned the kiss in kind and said softly, "And I love you Heathcliff Forsyth and our boy very much." His smoky blue eyes darkened with passion and emotion.

The kitchen door opened then closed as Link came into the cabin carrying a basket of fresh eggs.

James stood up as the other man walked in. "Can I help you Link?" he asked reaching for the egg basket.

"Good morning, Link," Heath greeted cheerfully. "And that's double for me. If I can lend a hand just holler."

“Sure, James," the big ranger answered, "there's bacon in the fridge. And good morning to both of you."

James smiled and got the bacon out.

"While you are here you'll have to get Wes to tell you the story of how Nugget, our hen came to live with us."

Heath laughed as the meaning of the name sank in.

The older man chuckled. "It sounds like a real story.

"Link... James and I were just talking..." Heath began hesitantly.

The resort owner nodded as his partner started the conversation. "We couldn't help but recognize Jax is having some grief issues still...we'd like to do something for Nick and Jax."

"We were just discussing ideas and needed your input," Heath added.

"I noticed he’s having a rough time," Link agreed. "What did you have in mind?"

James said, "We were thinking of planting a tree with a plaque or a stone engraved or something like that. Something permanent and that would last forever," he said quietly.

Link leaned back against the counter.  "I think Nick would like that."

"And Jax would finally get the closure he needs so desperately," Heath said softly.

"He was pulled away so fast he never really got to say goodbye."

"And he would be able to grieve properly too. I'm not sure he'd done that." James said softly.

Link sighed, "I lost two friends that day."

Heath gently patted the larger man on the shoulder. He wished he had the right words to console his new friend, but to him, words of condolence had always sounded trite and hollow.  All he could do was be nearby if the man needed to talk.

James said gently, "I'm certain it was very hard on everyone involved from what I've seen here so far."

"Yes, it was,' Link shared.  "And that step father of his would never let me talk to Jax when I called.  The first I heard was when Heath called me."

James’s smoky blue eyes darkened significantly. "Too bad you didn't know just what a piece of dirt that man was." He refrained from using the swear words that came to the forefront from his military days.

"I tried to keep him here but the law was on his mother's side," Link whispered.

"Well once he showed up at the resort we took good care of him and before we left to come here there was an incident. I can guarantee you that man won't see the light of day for a very long time," James told Link with a coldness that could have caused frostbite.

"But if Jax never went back to his mother," Heath added, "we would have never found him."

"I guess it's true that everything happens for a reason then," Link said. “The boy deserves the happiness he’s found.”

"It was definitely our gain," Heath said. "I just wish the circumstances had been different."

"Me too, Heath, me too."

Link looked out the kitchen window.  "The boys should be back soon.  Jax wanted to go down to the pond," Link explained.  "I asked Wes to go with him."

James nodded at the comments and smiled at Link. "Thank you for sending Wes with him. It's good for him to connect with others brats and I don’t think he should be alone.”

Heath needed to get the subject back to Nick and honoring him. "As far as a plaque goes, we'll have to order it.  Is there anywhere nearby that makes them?" Heath asked, "and how long do you suppose we'll have to wait for it to be done? Of course," he smiled at James, "if someone I know has his way, one will be made before we have to leave."

James smiled and nodded. "Oh yes, there's no doubt about that. It will be ready and commemorated before we ever leave here."

"I'm sure we can have one of the local artists create something in a few days," Link agreed. “I’m sure my dad can help with the tree and Wes is a fine wood smith.”

“Do you think wood would hold up?” James asked.

“Wes will know better than me but I’m sure he will know what to do,” Link answered The older man said, "Don't worry about cost either. Whatever it is will be covered...generously."

"We were thinking of placing it up on the ridge, Link.  What do you think about it?" Heath asked.

After Jax left, I built a rock wall around the place where Nick died but I think it would be better in town.  Maybe close to the Animal Control Building," the ranger answered.  "There's an area with benches and a few trees that would be perfect.  After Jax left, I built a rock wall around the place where Nick died.”

"That sounds really great," Heath agreed. "It'll be a reminder to the community as well, and a fitting tribute to Nick."

"I think Jax will be very proud to see it there."

James agreed, "We'll go with whatever you think is best Link. You know the man and the community best and what might make Jax happy.  His happiness is our first priority." He gave Heath a small smile.

“Yeah, Nick was a big part on the community and he died trying to save that little girl.  He did save her."

James said, "He sounds like a fine man and his son is a tribute to him.  He's a fine young man."

"I'd especially like to do it when Jax isn't around. I know we'd all like it to be a surprise for him."
, proud of the craftsman his lover was.

James said, "Yes, we'd like to make this very special."

Link smiled and turned when he here a foot fall on the back steps.  "Looks like the boys are back."

Heath straightened up and smiled at the men who came in, laughing and joking. "How is it out today, guys?" he asked conversationally.  “You’re just in time for breakfast.”

Link looked at the boys, noticing the dust covering the jeans and boots.  “How about you two go back out and knock some of that dust off.”  He knew there wasn’t any dusty patches between the pond and the cabin.


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