Sunday, May 21, 2017
TLR CHAPTER 120
The next couple of days were spent quietly on the mountain. James had done a thorough job on Jax’s backside and their young man was still reminded of his misdeed every time he sat down. As for Jax, he didn’t stray too far from either of his men. He seemed to need the reassurance from them that everything was truly OK between himself and his guys. And after the scare their boy had given them, James and Heath were only too happy to keep him close.
On Saturday, it was beautiful on the mountain, the perfect day for a barbecue. The gentle breeze that blew across the clearing behind the log house brought with it faint scents from the bay far below. Link's parents Jason and Betty along with Conrad and Liz Cooper, Wes’s parents, had driven up the mountain just before noon to share the day with Jax and his partners.
By the time lunch of grilled steak, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, salad and French bread was over Jax was happily sharing stories about the great times he and his dad had living together here in this town that had offered so much for the boy and his father. Each memory seemed to bring forth another memory and when Jax tapered off Link or one of his parents would jump in to share more.
Remembering the great times was therapeutic for Nick’s son and his friends. Wes and his parents along with James and Heath loved hearing the tales the others were sharing.
At one point, Wes excused himself with the pretense of retrieving another pitcher of iced tea. When he returned, he was carrying two wrapped packages as well as the pitcher. His mom reached for the tea and began filling empty glasses. When all the glasses were full Wes handed one of the packages to Jaxon.
“I thought you might like to have this to remember our mountain,” he half whispered to his new friend.
Jax rubbed his hand over the wrapping but didn’t move to open the gift, looking instead at the young man across from him, eyes wide.
“Go ahead,” Heath encouraged, nudging his lover, “open it.”
Carefully pulling the paper off, Jax opened the box to reveal what looked to be a hand carved plaque. “You made this?” he asked. “For me?”
“Yeah, well, I started it some time ago, but with what happened up on the ridge, I finished it up with you and Nick in mind.”
“It’s beautiful,” Liz praised her son.
Jax pulled the plaque out of the box. Wes had taken a carefully chosen cross-cut slab of an oak burl, left the raw edge around the outside and carved through the center leaving an oak tree with a rock mound at the foot of the tree.
“It’s beautiful,” Jax said, his voice hitching as the words came out.
“I hope it will remind you of the connection you and your dad found on the ridge not the other…” Wes trailed off.
Link dropped his long strong arm over his boy’s shoulder and firmly pulled him to him so he could place a kiss on his wheat colored hair. His eyes darted between Jax and his men, hoping they would accept the gift as given.
“I love it, Wes,” Jax finally said. “You… um… I can’t believe you made this… for me,” he stammered. “The only thing I had of Dad’s was the chess set he made for me… but now because we came here I have the bracelet and this… this… I will remember him helping me… thank you.”
“If you want too, little one, we can hang it in the living room,” James said.
“We can?” the young man questioned. “I’d love that.”
“Of course we can, Hon,” Heath added.
Jax turned the plaque over and noticed that Wes had simply carved the date Jax had found the piece of his dad’s bracelet. He showed the inscription to his guys and smiled at Wes.
“The carving is for remembering happy times, not…”
Link, who had been quiet, said, “Wes never told me he made that for you but I know there is a lot of love in that carving, Jax.”
“Yeah, and there’s even more in this one,” Wes said handing the second package to his lover.
Shocked, Link took the package, opened it and pulled out another carving similar to Jax’s but different. He smiled at Jax then grinned at Wes. “Thank you, sweetheart. I know just where to hang this.”
Before the Walkers and Coopers left, they made Jax and his men promised to come down the mountain the next day for brunch at Jason and Betty’s home. The men would be leaving for home on Monday morning and Betty wanted to make sure she got more time with her “adopted” grandson before he left.
While Link and Wes cleared up the leftover food and cleaned up the dishes the other three men, who had been forbidden to help, relaxed outside. James smiled at Heath as they sat on the porch swing together. He said, "You know, it might be a great idea to go up to where our boy's father died to see the spot and perhaps let him know how we feel about Jax. Tell him how much we love his son and care for him...what do you think? It could help him find closure before we have the dedication of Nick's monument."
"It would be a place close to his heart," Heath replied thoughtfully. "It makes sense, but... do you think Jax will be able to handle it? There are a lot of emotions connected to that place in particular."
James looked thoughtful for a few moments, then said, "I think so, with all of us there to support him and it's not like he hasn't already been there before. He's visited twice now without us."
"That's true, but he had time to be alone and process the events. You don't think he'd feel as though we're trespassing, or forcing our way into a very personal part of his life? Don't get me wrong, JW, I think it's a great idea, I'm more worried about how Jax will feel."
The older man said, "We can ask him. See what he thinks."
Heath smiled wanly, "I think that's the best way to go about it. I think... I think that we should ask Wes and Link to come with us as well. I realize that we have the memorial set up, but... I have a feeling that not only would Jax appreciate their presence, but Nick would as well."
James smiled as he got up. "Let's go find our boy."
They found Jax half asleep in the hammock, a can of soda looking as though it was about to spill on him. With a fond smile, Heath took the can out of the boy's relaxed hands and kissed him on the forehead. "Prince Charming, time to wake up."
The oldest partner smiled as he watched their young lover wake, sit up and smile at them.
"Come on into the barn with us, Hon. Link and Wes should be done cleaning the kitchen soon and we have an idea we'd like to run past you before we talk to them. In the meantime, we can get you a fresh, bug free soda."
James said as he took the can from Heath and looking inside, saw a bug floating in it and poured it out into the sink that was used to clean food and water bowls whenever small animals were being housed there.
He got drinks from the fridge Link kept there so the he and Wes wouldn’t have to run into the cabin when they were dirty and hot while doing their chores. It was also a great place to keep food for the critters. The three partners settled down on the stairs leading up to the loft. James sat on the lower step with Jax on the next step up, between Heath’s long legs. They talked to the young man about their idea.
Jax considered it for what seemed to be a long time, but eventually nodded in agreement. “I would love for you to come up to the ridge with me. I know Dad isn’t really there, but finding the bracelet and then hearing…or…feeling like I heard him… well…” the young man said quietly, “well, I want him to meet my partners.”
The oldest partner asked Jax quietly if he would like Link and Wes to come too.
“Yeah, I would,” he said grinning. “Link and Dad were like brothers. I think he would like to be there.”
About then the big ranger and his partner came into the barn. “So, this is where you’re hiding,” Wes laughed.
“Well you exiled us to the great outdoors,” Heath chuckled.
“Link, my guys want to go up to the ridge and… um… meet Dad,” Jax shyly explained. “Would you and Wes like to come with us?”
“I think that’s a great idea, little boy. And I know Nick would love to see the men who have stolen your heart.”
“Can we go now?” Jax asked.
“Sure, we have time to get there and back before the sun goes down,” the big ranger agreed.
“I’ll get our day-packs, T-man,” Wes offered. “And flashlights, just in case.”
After the men dressed appropriately for the hike, they talked about the route they would take up to the ridge. Link led the way and Jax’s partners kept close to him the entire time. They were all fit men and so it wasn't very arduous to make the climb.
Once there, James and Heath bowed their heads in silence, one on each side of their boy. Link and Wes stood back a little way to give the three men some privacy.
“Dad, I don’t know if you're here or not, but I brought my partners up here for you to meet,” Jax’s voice hitched unable to say anything more.
James, the oldest of the trio looked up at the tree and placed his hand on the wall. "Nick, I want to thank you for allowing us to take good care of your son. He's a fine young man and we love him very much. You did a good job with raising him for the time you had him."
Heath felt an odd sort of peace and smiled. "He's the best thing that could have happened to us, Nick. Thank you for such a precious gift."
They stood quietly for a while, each lost in their own thoughts before Link, in a quiet tone, suggested that it was time to head back to the cabin.
The oldest member of the trio reached out and touched the trunk of the tree, continuing to have an arm around Jax with Heath on the other side. He indicated the doctor too should place a hand on the tree as they stood silently in the peaceful place together, the tree giving them its life force.
With one more silent thank you, Heath hugged Jax to him then watched as James did the same then the five men turned to head back toward home.
The next day the group got into Link’s truck and headed to his parents for brunch. Wes’s parents joined them. Once they had all eaten their fill, Betty suggested a walk along the harbor to work off the meal.
James smiled as they walked along the harbor. "I really like to watch the ships and boats here. It reminds me of Maine a bit. I've always liked being near the ocean. My uncle loved the lake we have on the resort, but we'd also go to the ocean when I was a boy. Living in Colorado I mostly went with my dad to the lakes, rivers and streams to fish, but the ocean always fascinated me," he told the others.
"I'm with you there, JW," Heath replied, a soft smile on his face. "The sound of the ocean, the gulls above, the sun on our faces and a cool breeze coming off the water. I really love it here. We'll have to make plans to come back soon." For a real vacation for you, he thought, looking at his lover.
"It's very peaceful here," Betty agreed quietly with a smile. "I love to come here and just think, or not think as the case may be."
Jason put his arm around his wife and pulled her in for a hug.
Conrad and Liz Cooper, Wes's parents, smiled and kissed each other gently. Liz put her head on her husband's shoulder and they continued their walk.
"I don't suppose there's any way to get you all to stay a while longer?" Liz asked. "We really haven't gotten to see much of you."
Conrad grinned and looked at James, "If I understand correctly you do own the resort. What's one more week?"
James smiled down at Jax as he put an arm around the younger man's shoulders. He hadn't minded doing all he had for his young lover. He'd do anything for either of his guys. He'd not known such contentment before and was glad of the circumstances that occurred in the universe to bring them together.
James looked over at Conrad with a grateful smile. "We really need to return. There are a lot of things that need to be done, even if I am the owner. I really don't like leaving the resort for any length of time," he told Conrad. "My best friend and co-owner is taking care of things now, but I hate to leave it all on him."
Betty sighed, "Well," she continued, "I'd love it if you would all come back again soon, and please stay with us and let us be your hosts so we can have more time with Jaxon."
The resort owner smiled and said, "Thank you, we'd like that very much."
As they meandered along, talking about everything and nothing, they somehow found themselves by the animal sanctuary. "What do you say we stop in for a few minutes?" Heath asked in an offhand manner. "I'd love to see the animals."
James nodded. "Yes, I believe that would be a nice end to the day." He squeezed Jax's shoulders.
James and Heath, each putting an arm around their young lover's shoulders, followed Link and Wes toward the rustic building. Between the building and the water’s edge was a lush lawn area with trees. Jax thought nothing of it when the small group were guided onto the lawn as the animal cages were around back.
The group stopped in front of a roped off, covered item. "We have one last surprise for you before we head home, Jax," Heath said with a smile, holding their boy more closely.
Confused Jax looked up at his guys then at Link. Before he could ask what the surprise was he saw Tiny and his staff from the restaurant walk up from the side.
“What are you guys doing here, Tiny,” Jax laughed. “Who's running the diner?”
"Well," Tiny grinned as he hugged the boy, "we had to come, since it's your last day here. I wasn't sure if you were going to make it back to the diner before you left, so we came to you."
James chuckled as he saw the very large man engulf his boy in a huge hug.
Link looked at Heath and James and winked. "Everything's ready," he mouthed.
The older men turned Jax back to the tarp covered item. He looked, still confused at his lovers and friends. Just then, seemingly out of nowhere, came more people, all smiling and greeting Jax. People whom the boy hadn't seen in years but remembered fondly. Amidst hugs and tears they welcomed him back.
Once everyone was gathered and all the greetings exchanged, James clapped his hands to gain everyone's attention. "Thank you all for coming here today for a very special tribute to a Park Ranger who gave his own life so that another might live.” When it became so quiet that all that was heard was the screech of the gulls in the background James said, "First, I'd like to read something."
Life Must Go On - A Navaho Prayer
Grieve for me, for I would grieve for you.
Then brush away the sorrow and the tears
Life is not over, but begins anew,
With courage, you must greet the coming years.
To live forever in the past is wrong;
It can only cause you misery and pain.
Dwell not on memories overlong,
With others, you must share and care again.
Reach out and comfort those who comfort you;
Recall the years, but only for a while.
Nurse not your loneliness; but live again.
Forget not. Remember with a smile.
James ended and looked at his partners.
Jax was leaning into Heath, tears threatening to fall at the words. Once Jax had pulled himself together James handed him the end of the rope and said, "You should be the one to unveil this "
Taking the rope from his lover, Jax hesitated looking to first Heath then James. His hand trembled as he finally pulled the rope loose so the tarp would fall revealing a stone bench. Taking a step closer, he rubbed his hand over the words carved into the backrest.
It took him a couple of tries but finally he could read the inscription to the crowd, his voice shaking;
Dedicated to the memory of
Ranger Nicholas “Nick” Wilder
He gave his life to save another.
October 5, 1970 – April 23, 2012
Heath immediately pulled his men toward himself, Jax sandwiched in between where they knew he'd feel most comfortable and secure.
Everyone in attendance pulled out handkerchiefs or tissues, moved not only by the memorial but by the boy's tears as well. Betty went to her 'grandson' and held him close, whispering something in his ear before giving him a kiss on the cheek and relinquishing him back to his partners.
Conrad pulled Liz into his arms and Link pulled Wes close.
James put his arms around both his men and hugged tight, blinking back tears. Then he gently brought Jax over to the bench and with both hands on his shoulders had him sit. "You should be the first one to sit here."
Jax sat quietly, tears streaming down his face as he looked out at all of his and his dad’s friends that had come to share this very special surprise his guys had made happen. Now his dad would never be forgotten. He turned sideways so he could see the engraving again. Rubbing his finger over his dad’s name he felt a soft tap on his shoulder. Jax turned to see a young girl, maybe nine or ten years old.
She was holding a stuffed bear in her hands. “I’m sorry your daddy died,” she whispered handing the bear to Jaxon. “Mommy said he was very brave when he saved me.”
Jax wiped his hand across his eyes. “Yeah, he was and he would be very happy that you're OK,” the young man whispered back. “Thank you for the bear,” he said as he knelt down to embrace the child.
“You’re welcome,” she said then ran back to her parents. The girl's mother, with tears in her eyes, smiled and blew Jax a kiss. Her father nodded solemnly and spoke volumes with only a look as he hugged his little girl to his side.
Link had been standing just behind Jax and when the girl left he pulled his young friend up into a hug. “You’re doing great, little boy. I know Nick is proud of you.”
“Thanks, Link,” Jax half grinned, “but I’m a mess.”
Just then Tiny, fighting down tears and forcing a jovial smile, announced, "Everyone here is welcome to come to the diner for a dinner in Nick's honor. We'll meet you all there."
The people began to disperse after each saying something to or just hugging Jax as they left for the diner.
James and Heath stood with their lover supporting him through everything before they too, along with Link and Wes went to the diner for the celebratory reception.
The diner was filled with friends, laughing and joking, sharing memories and anecdotes about Nick, and even about Jax as a child to which the boy smiled and blushed.
Before people started leaving, Jax stood. Tapping his fork against his glass, he waited until he had everyone’s attention then said in a loud clear voice, “I want to thank everyone for making this a very special day. Not just for me, but for Link too. You’ve shown us how much Nick Wilder, my dad, Link’s best friend, means to all of you.” Nick’s son paused then said, “I’ll never forget this day or the memories I made living here.”
Link smiled at Jax, his arm over Wes’s shoulder.
Soon, only Link, Wes, Jason, Betty, James, Heath and Jax were left at the diner. Jax had become quiet, leaning against Heath. “I think it’s time we headed back up the mountain,” Link said nodding toward the boy. “Or better yet, Dad asked me to stop by the house so why don’t you guys take the SUV and we’ll meet you back at the cabin in a couple of hours.”
“Yeah, and the tub or shower upstairs will fit all three of you.” Wes chuckled then added when he saw all three tops raise their eyebrows, “Well, you know, if you want to use it.”
Jason pulled the keys out and handed them to Heath. “Here Heath, I heard your partner has a bit of a lead foot.”
Both Jax and Heath laughed at the look on James’s face. Standing up the young doctor snagged the keys.
“We're leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow so we'll say our good-byes now,” James said to Link’s parents. “I can’t tell you how much this vacation has meant to all of us. Thank you for making it special for Jax.”
Betty, trying to keep her composure, said, “It was our pleasure to have Jaxon back with us, even if the time was too short.” She reached over her husband and cupped the young man’s cheek. “Keep in touch with us, Jax.”
“I will, Betty. I’m not going to lose any of you again.” The young man stood and let the woman hug him. Then he extended his hand to Jason, who shook his head and pulled the boy into a hug.
Link handed James his key to the cabin. “Take your boy home and make yourselves comfortable. We’ll see you in the morning.”
James and Heath were pleased to see Jeff waiting for them by the luggage pick up with a welcoming smile. He studied James, trying hard not to be conspicuous about it, attempting to assess the man's physical and mental well-being. While he did look somewhat rested, and tanned, Jeff noticed the lines of fatigue around his friend's eyes. "Come on guys. Looks like you could use a vacation from your vacation," he joked as he helped pick up bags.
James gave his friend a hearty slap on his shoulder and said, "We had a great time and we took care of some important business while we were there. You should have seen the Redwood forest it was something to see."
"Maybe I'll have to take a trip out there with Mutt one of these days," Jeff admitted. "It's been a while since we had a vacation. So, you'll have to tell me all about it on the ride back. That is, if you don't all fall asleep on the way." He smiled.
The resort owner grinned. "We slept most of the way on the plane, I doubt I'll sleep anymore before bed tonight, besides, I'm sure there're things at the resort that will require my attention once we get there."
"Well," Jeff admitted, "Brody and I did all right, but I have to say I did miss you. I never realized how much of the resort business you actually dealt with on a daily basis. You'll be pleased to hear that it's still standing and full to capacity right now."
The older man's smoky blue eyes twinkled. "I'm glad it's still standing and that my work is appreciated," he said as he grinned.
"Promise me one thing, James," Heath said with a smile, "give yourself a day at least to settle in before you go back to work, alright? The resort will still be there in a day or two."
The older partner frowned slightly, but said, "All right," and turned to Jeff. "Is there anything that requires my immediate attention today?"
"Actually, all's well on the Eastern front, at least for now," Jeff grinned. "I promise to call you if anything pressing arises. In the meantime, take your doctor's orders and settle in, ok?"
James shook his head with fond exasperation. "Okay I'll be good."
The oldest of the trio kept an arm around Jax as they loaded up and got ready to return to the resort, smiling down at him. His boy looked happy and that meant a lot to James.
"It's good to have you all back. And remember JW, you promised to behave and we're going to keep you at your word." Jeff leaned in so that only James could hear him and whispered, "Unless you want me to call your father."
The other man uncharacteristically blushed at his friend's words in his ear. "Yeah...I know," he returned. "The only one who can top a Top," he whispered back with a grin.
"Come on my friend, get in and let's go home," Jeff replied, clapping James on the shoulder as he opened the front door for his friend.
The man got into the van along with Heath and Jax and he leaned back as his friend drove them toward the resort and home.
The pictures of the Carved Plaque is from a collection crafted by Gary Burns at Tree Wiz Wood Carvings;