The Kid

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Chapter Six

One warm, sultry evening in late June, Jason Stiller walked slowly down a Boston sidewalk, watching grey clouds scuff across the horizon. The air smelled like rain, and he enjoyed it...even as he wondered if it were possible to count just how many ways life could become difficult.

At his side, achingly quiet for the past half-hour, strode the beautiful woman that he was finding himself more and more deeply in love with every time the sun rose. He loved the green of her eyes, her chestnut hair and the ponytail it was then pulled back into. He loved the simple gingham dress she wore and even the bobby sox that peeked out underneath that.

Jason Stiller loved everything he could think of about Raven Germane--and as far as he knew anything, which he would have admitted probably wasn’t all that far...she was there walking next to him, smelling the same oncoming rain, for a similar reason. Not out of duty or obligation or just friendship. Not just friendship. Something more.

He loved everything he could think of about her, except her silence.

Because he didn’t know what to do now.

However he was not one to let things just sit forever. Gathering strength, he took a deep breath and said, “So...”

The word hung in the still air without reply, until Jason wondered if he had actually said it or just thought it very hard in his own mind.

Until she replied. “So...”

His eyes met hers, and joy of joys, she was smiling. That being enough of an invitation to continue, Jason mustered all of the courage he had and quietly whispered, “So what happens now?”

Her eyes shifted away, and he didn’t know what the look in them meant, or what was going through her mind.

But somewhere along the way Jason had learned when to be quiet, when to leave a woman alone with her thoughts.

Whatever they might be...as much as the possibilities made him anxious.

* * *

When she realized he was going to let her come to her own conclusion without prodding, Raven was grateful.

Because she was also more than a little anxious. As she took stock of her insides, of the thoughts and feelings she had for the handsome, good-humored young man walking next to her, Raven knew that she wanted to be around him. She wanted to listen to his jokes, even just his voice, and feel his arms about her and let him whisper in her ear.

Which was the thing that scared her. She found more and fiercer desire for him than she would have thought possible in such a short time, but she had learned not to trust in the things she wanted...life had a way of ripping everything she really cared for away from her, and what would happen if...?

Could she dare to love him?

She still hadn’t told Jason about what her father had done the last time he had caught her in a boy’s arms. A baseball players’s arms, at that. A player who was no longer a member of the Braves, a player whose baseball career was finished.

She hadn’t told him about that. She knew she should.

But if he knew, he might run, and she might not survive without him, if he stopped loving her and nobody ever again decided to...

Raven deliberately made her thoughts quiet down. She knew she could go back and forth over if and if and if until her eyes crossed, and things would still happen the way they would happen.

Without his noticing Raven studied her companion for a long moment, and her heart pined within her to be closer to him. To be near him.

And in the end...well, it had been a very long time since her heart had wanted anything. In the end she followed that, and put more than a little trust in it, whether it was wise to or not.

* * *

Jason’s breath caught for a moment when he felt her hand capture his, as her warm fingers twined about his own. He looked down and saw gooseflesh along his arm, and then he laughed suddenly to see the same on hers.

He stopped walking, and she stopped as well, facing him...

* * *

...and as she had once before Raven let the mask she always wore slide away, let the gate protecting her heart swing open. It was the bravest and most frightening thing she had ever done, even though she felt she could trust this man a very long way. His own open gaze met hers, as young man and young woman looked into each other’s soul.

She was surprised when she saw the tears well up in his eyes. “I thought you didn’t know how to cry.”

His voice was soft. “I didn’t.” Life went by for a few moments, and then he whispered, “You’re so beautiful.”

Not that she minded hearing that, but she seemed to recall... “You promised not to say that ever again.” She gave him a little smile so he knew she was kidding.

“I lied.”

She looked as deeply into him as she dared, and wondered at what she saw there.

* * *

For his own part, Jason had as much wonder in his own self to see her, really see her, for the first time, far beyond the color of her eyes or the softness of her smile. The wonder finally prompted him to speak. “You’ve taken the mask off.”

Her voice was also soft, so that he just barely caught what she said. “For now.”

It was enough. He didn’t need to push for how long or how far. The mask had come down for a time, and that time would be enough.

For now.

Best to be formal about things, however. Best to make sure everything was said that needed to be. Jason cleared his suddenly dry throat.

“May I...court you, Miss Germane?”

* * *

She was already holding his hand, and neither was a child anymore, and the question was what came next, as naturally as day followed night, but when Raven heard the words she immediately thought ahead to...to everything, to long-term and intimate and wedding plans and the future that she was only now even beginning to think existed, and it was too much, too much!

* * *

He read that in her eyes, he felt it in the slackening of her grip on his hand. “Raven.” When she looked at him again, he squeezed her hand just a bit for just a moment. “Forget that question. Forget I asked. May I...” and he cast around for what he could say, needing something to define the relationship they were finding together, “May I continue to hold your hand?”

It wasn’t much but it was something. Very silly, perhaps, but still something.

She blushed, and swallowed something that looked very much like a lump of anxiety, but when she met his eyes again she was still there. The gate was still open. “For now.”

He couldn’t help but smile, having received the answer he was hoping for.

Raven and Jason walked back where they had come, back to the Muldowney home, before it rained.

He held her hand all the way back, and it was enough.

* * *

Raven Germane sat on the Muldowney’s porch swing with Jason Stiller, her legs curled up under her while he kept the swing moving a little with his foot. The young lady found herself immersed in happiness and peace--for just a short while she didn’t need to be anyone or anything she wasn’t. She could be herself. Whoever that was.

And she could lay her arm along the swing back, and her head on her arm, and just feel the gentle motion, back and forth...back and forth...back and forth...listening to the crickets chirping off in the distance somewhere, and the creaking of far off screen doors.

There was nothing but peace...and she reveled in it.

* * *

Jason watched the expression on her face soften into something he hadn’t seen before...and the peace he saw there was so achingly beautiful that it almost deserved another tear or two.

Her left arm was supporting her head, but her right was draped across her lap, the fingers of her right hand dangling invitingly between them...and when he stretched out his own right hand to gently take hold of hers again, she didn’t pull away or open her eyes.

And to his endless joy the already happy expression on her face softened into a more contented smile, and a quiet sigh.

Jason thought that he could quite easily stay there, on that swing, just holding her hand and looking at her face--forever. Although, forever being the long time that it was, he might want to get in a ballgame or two as well...

The screen door squeaked as D.G. came out to pay his respects to the twilight. Jason looked up, but the older man quickly motioned that he should keep sitting where he was.

* * *

Rather Raven’s godfather leaned against the porch railing, drinking in a long look at the town before turning to his star hitter and the owner’s daughter. He spoke softly. “She asleep?”

She said, “No,” just as softly without opening her eyes.

Jason dropped his head, grinning.

D.G. waited until he looked up again. Old and occasionally senile though he was, Dennis could still see past the end of his nose. “So the two of you are kinda sweet on each other now?”

Raven’s smile deepened just a bit, though she was apparently going to let the guy holding her hand answer the question. D.G. was pleasantly surprised when his confident baseball celebrity actually blushed a little crimson. “I guess...sort of, yeah.”

Deeg tried not to laugh and almost managed. “I remember my ‘sort of’ days. You’re all right, Kid.” Turning back to look at the town, in the corner of his eye he could still see the two of them just sitting, and D.G. thought to himself that as far as he was concerned, it was very good.

But it was also suppertime, and despite the wishes of budding love, nothing lasts forever, not even back then. The comfortable porch swing was left to creak alone, while Muldowney, Germane and Stiller went inside.

* * *

There was a reason why the flowering love between the two had to find its root at the Muldowney house. That reason was fear--Raven well remembering what her father really thought of baseball players. Jason had agreed that they didn’t want to get the boss mad, and so they had resorted to cloak and dagger...and all Robert Germane knew was that his only daughter was spending the evening with the Muldowneys, and Raven imagined that he was probably happy to be alone. Counting his money, she figured. Whether or not Mr. Germane realized or remembered that Jason Stiller was also living with the Muldowneys, he hadn’t seemed to put it together. They were both very glad of that.

They had talked about her father more than once, especially in the beginning when Raven had feared that the young man she had begun to love would be pushed away...driven off by the strong-willed, immensely stubborn head of the Germane household, but even the overhanging threat against his baseball playing hadn’t slowed Jason down, though it had made them both very, very careful.

After all, he had a lot riding on the good graces of Robert Germane, and Raven could understand if he wanted to both have his cake and eat it...be a famous, celebrated Brave but also be her man.

That was why she had told him what he had already surmised, that she wasn’t supposed to have any special interest in baseball players at large.

Raven had not, however, trusted the strength of their relationship enough to tell him what had happened before.

She had learned from her new love’s example how it was possible to push things away, and push she did, hoping some things might go far enough to never come back.

They did come back, though. At the strangest times.

Even as Jason finished pushing in her chair and moved to his own seat at the Muldowney supper table, the fears came up again from nowhere, shattering the peace she had felt just a moment before. But with a fast, concentrated effort she pushed them all away once again. She loved him, she needed him maybe, and he loved her in return.

Everything would be okay.

* * *

Gertrude Muldowney was in the middle of setting supper on the table when she noticed the look in her goddaughter’s eyes, saw fear and anger suddenly replace peace and joy, and just as suddenly vanish again.

She noticed, but said nothing.

* * *

Grace was said by the head of the household, and since Raven did not know the person being spoken to, she didn’t bother to close her eyes.

And there was a difference, a separation among the bowed heads around her...while her man beside her and the head of the household saying the prayer both had neutral, same-old-same-old expressions on their faces, Gertrude’s countenance was full of strength and peace while the prayer was being said--if Raven had known it, there was a distinct similarity to the look she herself had expressed earlier, in the peaceful twilight, on a porch swing.

It was the look of someone in close relationship, someone in love. Raven knew, somehow, that even though Gertrude’s eyes were closed, they were still sparkling.

The young lady quickly looked down before she could be caught staring, as D.G.’s ritual prayer came to its usual close.

* * *

As supper was served, it took Gertrude several minutes to finally draw Raven into a conversation; the girl seemed distracted about something but didn’t say what.

Yet the boys had gone into baseball again, which while understandable and not surprising, didn’t leave much for her to enjoy unless there were another woman present. And Gertrude told Raven as much, hoping quietly that they could find something to talk about.

They did, and Gertrude reflected later that perhaps the topic was as unsurprising as the boys launching right into baseball--after all, when something was right in the front of one’s mind...

“How did you know that you were in love? When did you realize he--” and Raven cast an unnecessary glance towards D.G., “--was the one for you?”

“Oh, well.” Mrs. Muldowney considered the question, and then giggled, answering the girl with the same gently southern accent that she had hung onto despite all the years living in Boston, “You’ll have to let me develop that answer a bit slowly, dear, our courtin’ days are gettin’ on to about thirty years ago.”

Raven was quick to back down. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, I didn’t mean--”

“Aw, sweetheart,” Gertrude looked over her glasses at Raven in an exasperatedly kind way, “If you don’t want to know, you shouldn’t ask, but you did, so there, hmm?

“I’m just warning you that it might take a bit of ploddin’, I have to wade through more than a few old memories. But if you’ll give me a moment...”

She took that moment to think about it, kindly not paying attention to her goddaughter who was blushing furiously at even such a gentle rebuke. Gertie also ignored the current menfolk talk--which could be batting averages or old statistics or even just about the ball itself...“Yessir, it’s all round and white, real purty, you know?“...but whatever, it could go on without her help for the time being.

She did look at her husband, though, finding pleasantly that she could still see the man who had been about Jason’s age, way back then...he had changed in many ways but the man she had loved and did love was still there, gruffing at his player about something or other. “Now that I give it some thought, sugar, the first time I saw Mr. Muldowney was in Germany.”

“Were you on a vacation?”

Gertrude ducked her head, trying not to laugh at Raven but unable to hide the sudden smile. “No, sugar, it wasn’t any sort of vacation. It was the first World War.”

“Oh.” Raven looked like she was about to be embarrassed again so Gertrude continued. “This was...goodness, 1918? Well, and it really was about thirty years ago. I had gone through nurses training just in time to be sent off to care for our boys overseas. I had done so for several years, and it wasn’t a great deal of fun, sugar, I saw a lot of things I’ve been very happy not to see again.

“And I suppose that’s why, when the brash, cocky Private Muldowney came under my care, full of stories about fighting Germans and serving under General Pershing and pretty much acting like he took on the Germans and the Russians all by himself...I found myself interested in him, wanting to hear the sound of his voice, see the twinkle in his eyes, even after he got well.

“Even after the war was over.”

Raven was curious. “What did he need treatment for?”

“Didn’t I say?” Gertrude wondered. “I guess I don’t remember the particulars by this time, but he had managed to catch some shrapnel in his right arm--you can still see the scars, make sure you get him to explain what happened someday--and darlin’, was he ever a baby when he came in, blubbering about how he thought he was going to lose his arm, and how was he ever going to play baseball now?”

Raven smiled along with her godmother at the story, and then smiled again a bit more wryly. “It always gets back to baseball, doesn’t it?”

“Usually, honey, usually.” Her eyes twinkled behind her glasses. “But that was the important thing in Dennis George’s life--just like it seems fairly important to your beau over there.”

Now Raven rolled her eyes, and in a quiet place inside, Gertrude was thrilled to see the girl showing such emotion. It had been a long time. “But you have to give men their dreams, sweetheart, have to give them to everybody, really.” She wanted suddenly to ask Raven about her dreams, but thought better of it. Not the right time. “But like I said, even after he didn’t need my nursing services anymore, I still wanted to be around him, exceptin’ that one morning he weren’t there, his company had gone off to do some cleaning up in another part of Germany.

“He was just gone.”

“What did you do?”

“Cried a bit, felt lost, all those things you do when you think somebody’s gone forever.” A shared look confirmed that both women understood what was being said. “But that Dennis, he had really made an impression on me.”

Gertrude was quiet for a moment, just watching her husband as he talked with his star hitter--a young man he continually claimed to be exasperated with, but, she had noticed, a young man he talked and bragged about quite often. “So I stopped crying, decided that sooner or later both of us would be back in the U.S., and I was just gonna see if I couldn’t look him up.”

“You found him through the military?”

Gertrude laughed again. “Oh, sugar, those government folks were as unhelpful as could be...which I’ve never blamed them for. After all, there were more important things going on than just helping a poor lovestruck army nurse find one of her charges. They were dealing with treaties and disarmaments and all those really worthwhile things.”

“Hmm.” Raven looked like she was putting herself in that situation, wondering what she would do. “Well, you obviously found him.”

“Obviously.”

“How?”

“Raven, do you believe in God?”

* * *

The question caught Raven right between the eyes, and for a moment she just sat and stared, and wondered why Gertrude had changed the subject on her. “Uh, well...no. Not really.”

She thought her friend might get upset, but Gertrude just nodded. “Well, then you might not understand this. But I think God let me know where Dennis was.

“He did a little miracle for me.”

“What happened?” She wasn’t sure she believed...but she still wanted to know.

“I’d gone back to Miss’ippi soon as my tour was over, once the war had gotten settled and I wasn’t needed. I didn’t really know anything about Dennis. Although I did remember how he was always talking about those baseball dreams.

“So I kept an ear out for baseball news--it was a very long shot, seeing as how there were several dozen American teams to listen for, in two separate leagues--good thing the Federal league was gone by then or would’ve been three!--with twenty, thirty players each...and I had no idea whether or not my Dennis would actually make it onto a team anyway.

“But out of the blue, one summer afternoon, I think it was 1920...yes it was, I remember, I was walking through the bus terminal, on my way home from working at the flower shop, when I saw a discarded newspaper.

“I had developed a habit, Raven, of picking up any paper I hadn’t seen and scanning the baseball section. Just looking for that familiar name. The few people who knew about it thought I was crazy, and I probably was.

“But I’ll tell you this--that paper was from Boston, to this day I don’t know how it got to Mississippi, but the name I had kept looking for was right there. Lucky for me it was a list of the entire team, those handsome Boston Braves, because my Dennis wasn’t one of the first string players. But he was there, grinning with the rest.” There were tears in her eyes but a smile on her face.

“What did you do?”

“The moment I got home I called the switchboard and got hooked up with the Information service in Boston, and from there managed to reach somebody loosely connected with the Braves, and after a lot of cajoling he told me how to reach Edgar Saunders, who was the manager at the time.”

“What did he say?” Raven found she was deeply into the story.

“It took another miracle, I think, sweetheart. Because he really didn’t have time for young Southern belles, and was going to hang up on me, can you believe it? Until I told him that the man I was looking for had been my charge in Germany...

“...and it just so happened that his own daughter had been an army nurse, and Raven--from there it was like we were old friends. Within minutes I was hearing that gruff, scratchy, wonderful voice over the phone lines.” As the younger woman watched, Mrs. Muldowney’s sparkling eyes caught Mr. Muldowney’s, and though the man of the house didn’t know what was going on, he smiled back and winked at his wife before looking back at Raven’s own man--and the younger girl wondered suddenly if Jason could ever love her like that.

Gertrude continued, “And wonder of wonders, he remembered me, and had missed me too, a bit--though at first I don’t think he was as taken with me. I had to work on him.”

“Did you go to Boston?”

“Eventually, though for a year or two we just wrote letters...and those letters kept getting more and more romantic, we kept getting closer and closer even though the miles between us were still there--until the day I took a train up to Boston and married him.”

“Gosh. That’s beautiful.” Raven sighed just a bit as she pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Happily ever after, huh?”

Gertrude’s quick laugh was surprising. “Oh, sugar, life isn’t like that. Marriage takes a lot of work, if nobody’s told you. A lot of work.

“But it’s worth it, though.” And the same look was back in her eyes, and Raven found herself a little envious.

* * *

Jason saw the look in the eyes of the girl he loved and was wondering what had happened when D.G. grunted and smacked him on the shoulder. “Kid, it’s good to talk baseball with a man who understands. I swear, the reception America’s favorite pastime gets in this house mostly, I just don’t know what the world is coming to.” Jason saw D.G. make like he was glowering at his wife, and receive impishly raised eyebrows in return.

“It’s not like I don’t acknowledge your sport, my one true love,” Her accent now dripped honey, “--but I don’t have to eat and sleep and breathe it, do I?” Raven was smiling, and Jason forgot about the look she had worn before.

D.G. cackled. “Well you just go on and don’t pay no never mind to baseball, I’ll just hang on to my new friend Mr. Stiller, here, a man who understands what I’m talking about.”

Jason watched as his manager swung to face him. “We gonna win the pennant this year?”

“You bet, Mr. Muldowney.”

A mocking finger shook in his face, as far removed, fearwise, from certain threatening pitchers named Tripplehorne as could be. “Now young man, you listen here, if’n you don’t call me D.G. like the rest of the world, I may just toss you out on your keester! We gonna win the pennant this year?”

No stranger to being ornery himself, Jason grinned. “Yep.”

“Close enough. How about the Series, we gonna win that?”

“Yessir!”

“Are you the greatest ballplayer ever, or ain’t my name Dennis George?”

“Uh...” Jason knew what answer he wanted to give, but found that his tongue was stuck, that he couldn’t just shout out the “Yes!!” that he so desperately wanted to believe in. “I, uh--

“I’m hoping so. Sir.”

That quickly the mood in the room evaporated, and the smiles disappeared.

* * *

“I’m sorry ’bout that, Jason.” Raven watched as her godfather punched his star hitter gently on the closest shoulder. “Didn’t think that question would be so difficult. You can say yes anytime, Kid, I’d swear to the truth of it.”

She saw a small resolve slip into place of the naked fear and anxiety that had written itself across his face just a moment before. “Yessir.”

“You’re really the best, Jason, I’ve been watching and I’m sure it can be said.”

Gertrude had gotten up while the men had been talking, gone out into the kitchen for dessert, but she didn’t miss the next words. “You’ve still got those dreams to hang onto, Jason, dreams of the next home run and the upcoming World Series, dreams I used to understand better myself.

“And if you don’t have dreams, what the heck is life worth, anyway?”

“I know an inventor who would disagree with you.”

Raven heard Mrs. Muldowney’s quiet comment and took a moment to think about it--and still didn’t know what she was talking about. Jason met her eye and looked confused as well.

The man of the house, though, laughed. “Gertie, you keep bringing up that story and I keep telling you, there doesn’t seem to be a single way in which that guy, whoever he was, and myself have anything in common. It’s just a nice story.”

“Whatever you say, Dennis.” Her expression was fairly unreadable, but Raven caught just a tiny hint of sadness and frustration.

Which is probably what prompted the girl’s next question, logical though it was. “What story?”

“Oh, child--” Gertrude talked as she continued passing out plates of strawberry shortcake, “It’s just an old story that a friend told me a long time ago.”

“Go on, Gertie, maybe your goddaughter and her beau,” he winked at them both, “will find the hidden meaning you’ve always been trying to bash into my head. Besides,” D.G. continued, pushing away from the table, “I think I want to look over my starting lineup for tomorrow’s game. Don’t be on your way without my knowing it, kids.”

Jason stood to help his manager clear the supper dishes while Raven began sampling her dessert. She had time enough to pronounce it delicious before her ‘beau’ was back in the room.

Without his realizing it she had studied him when he entered...and found yet again that she liked what she saw.

It was hard to believe, sometimes, that he had chosen her.

* * *

As he sat down and dug into his own dessert, Jason wondered quietly if there had been any special reason for Raven’s stare. He found himself wondering for the first time in a long while whether or not he was good-looking, attractive.

Smiling into his shortcake, Jason Stiller considered this amazing girl who could shake even his self-confidence. He was still musing when Gertrude started her story.

“This was told to me just a short while ago by a man whose name I never caught. I was walking through Bergen Park, one autumn that’s years past by now, and I saw a man sitting on a bench throwing bread crumbs to the ducks in the lake; and for no real reason I sat down beside him and watched for awhile.

“We finally said hello, and I believe I told him my name though, like I’ve said, I never learned his. But I did understand that he was in Boston on holiday and would soon be going back to Florida where he lived. I had some family in Florida and that got us talking, and after a while he asked me if I’d like to hear a story.

“Now, that wasn’t the strangest request I had ever heard, though it was right up there--but by the time he asked, I felt like I’d known the stranger for a long time, and it seemed very natural to ask him to tell whatever story he had.”

* * *

Gertrude thought maybe she was losing her audience and wondered how one was supposed to keep the attention of kids anymore...but it was her story and she was the hostess so they’d just have to suffer through it, she decided. “He said that a long time before, while it was still the eighteenth century, he had known a man who was an inventor.

“Now if you go out and look at the street out there you’ll see plenty of cars and trucks rattling about, but sixty years ago the automobile didn’t even exist...but it was about to, you see.

“Somebody smart had figured out everything the horseless carriage would need, except for the most difficult and important part, which would be the engine. There was a big hue and cry in inventor’s circles about who could be the first to come up with the infernal whatsit engine--”

“Internal combustion,” Jason put in.

Gertrude kept rolling despite his interruption. “Thank you son, the engine that would be necessary before any cars would go anywhere.

“So I’m listening to this man in the park as he tells me about his friend, a man who had a line on how to create that engine. It would take most of his time and all of his money, but by Golly he knew he could do it, and the reward was well worth the expense.

“Because everybody knew, everybody who was an inventor anyway, knew that the man who invented the engine and got automobiles up and running might easily become the richest, most successful man on earth.

“Kinda like you and your baseball dreams, young man,” she looked over her glasses at Jason, “and I’m sure you can relate to wanting to be the best and brightest, right?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

She smiled at him while Raven blushed at the cheek of it. “Good boy. Well sir, as I keep finding myself saying, this inventor had what it took, had his dream firmly in place, and was running after it with all his might. Until...and there’s always an until, isn’t there? Until his wife became very deathly ill.”

The room was quiet. Dessert had been consumed by now and there was no tinkling of fork and plate. Just attentive eyes and listening ears.

“He loved his wife very much, this inventor, and it struck him as hard as her when she caught a very nasty disease. I’m afraid I don’t know what it was, which is a pity me being a nurse and all, but the technical name’s not so important. The thing abut the disease was that it not only sapped his wife’s strength, it also ate away at her mind, so that before long she was an invalid who could barely even recognize him.”

* * *

“In time she didn’t know who he was at all.”

Raven thought she had almost never heard anything so terrible. “She forgot him?”

“She forgot him.”

“What happened? What did he do?”

“Well then.” Gertrude leaned back in her chair, thinking about her own story. “When his wife began to get sick, the inventor started spending his infernal combustion engine money on doctors, on medicine, on ways to make his wife happier and more comfortable. He kept working on ways that she might get well again, and she kept getting sicker, and all the while this competition to get that auto engine worked out was slipping away from his grasp.

“Eventually he came to a fork in the road, the big decision: he could turn to his inventing, start up the chase for his dreams once more, or he could turn instead to his wife, who was beyond saving, who was soon to pass on from this world, and who no longer remembered who he was or acknowledged his life in any way.”

The weight of such a decision bore down upon three minds, and the room was quiet.

Jason broke the silence. “And?”

“The man in the park, the stranger telling me this story, said that the inventor needed not even a minute’s thought to come to his decision.

“He did what was right, like it or no.”

“What?” Raven’s voice was soft.

“What do you mean?” Jason was also listening.

“He let go of any chance of being rich, of being famous, of being any of the things he had wanted to be, except one. Upstanding. Or noble, if you prefer.

“He had promised--and I’m telling you this the way it was told to me, mind--he had promised his wife that he would love and honor and cherish her until death parted them, and that is what he did.

“She no longer remembered him, he was as a stranger to her, yet he spent the rest of his money lavishing comfort and affection on her until the day she died. Someone else perfected the automobile engine, someone else got fame and glory and riches. The inventor came out penniless and alone.”

Again, a silence reigned until again, Jason Stiller spoke. “Does the story end there?”

“It might, the only reason I say it doesn’t is just this gut feeling I have...the man in the park who told me that story mentioned in passing that his wife had died long before that day. And when you looked in his eyes as he told that story, you could see emotion there that couldn’t be explained unless he had known the people in it personally somehow.

“If I’m right, if the man in the park was the inventor himself, if the story was true...I think he was still happy with his decision.”

* * *

“That’s an interesting story.” Jason nodded. “He was a good man, I guess.”

“I guess.” Gertrude looked over her glasses at the young man but said nothing more.

From the archway that led into the kitchen, D.G. laughed. “Don’t know how it applies to you though, do ya?”

Jason laughed and shook his head. “Not really. I just play baseball, Mr. Muldowney.”

At that, the manager of the Braves went into another tirade as to what Jason was supposed to call him, and while he did so the seriousness of the story fled away...

...but not before Raven tucked it deep inside, to ponder in her heart later.

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