When we reached the den, I picked up the phone as Jason helped me into my robe. "This better be important," I said, then spoke into the phone. "Hello," I said, admittedly sounding peeved at having had to get out of bed and at being taken from the arms of my lover.
"Is this Douglas McElrath?" I heard a very weak male voice ask. I don't know where he was calling from, but I could hear his teeth chattering. The temperature had dropped rapidly all day and I was sure it was close to a single digit now.
"Yes, who is this? Where are you calling from? What's wrong?"
"Give the poor guy a chance to answer, Doug," Jason whispered in my ear.
"Douglas, it's Wesley."
"Wesley? Wesley who?" I asked, thinking that I didn't know anyone named Wesley. Well there was my snobbish cousin Wesley Wilson, but he would never call me.
"Wesley, Wesley Wilson," the voice answered.
"Wesley Wilson?" I asked again, puzzled. I heard what I assumed was a positive answer and asked, thunderstruck, "Where are you? What's going on?"
"Douglas, I'm freezing. I am calling from a public phone. I'm not sure where I am, except the phone is outside a feed and seed store. It's across from Coldsprings High School. Isn't that where you go to school?"
"Yes it is. But what's going on? Why are you there? Why are you freezing?" I asked.
"It's a long story, Douglas, but I need help. Can you help me? I don't know what to do. I don't know anyone else to turn to." I could hear Wesley choking up, starting to cry.
"Listen Wesley, it's going to be a few minutes before we can get to you. How warmly dressed are you?"
"I just have on jeans, T-shirt and a windbreaker. I really am about to freeze."
"Listen. Go to the seed and feed store. The front door is recessed so you can get out of the wind if not the cold. I will call a friend who lives nearby and she will pick you up. Her name is Beth. We'll pick you up at her place as soon as we can."
"Ok, thanks, Douglas. Thanks a million. You are a lifesaver."
"Hang in there, Wesley, we'll get you shortly." I hung up the phone and dialed Beth's number. While I was talking with her, Jason got dressed and was holding my clothes. As soon as I explained what I could to Beth, I started getting dressed and Jason said he would tell the grandparents what was up.
When I got downstairs, Jason was holding our parkas. He handed me mine and, as the two of us struggled into them, Granddad said, "If the poor boy has been out long he must be half-frozen," as he got his parka from the coat hook beside the back door and handed it to Jason, "Get him in this and you probably need to take him to the emergency room to make sure he doesn't have frostbite. You sure you two don't need me to go along?"
"Thanks for the offer, Granddad, but I think we can handle it and we need you and Grandmom here in case WE need to be rescued as well. Given the weather, that would make me feel a lot safer," I said."
Grandmom came into the kitchen and handed Jason a quilt, with instructions to get the poor fellow covered and to the emergency room.
"Take this," Granddad said, handing me the cell phone. "Give us a call as soon as you can."
Jason and I were finally ready to go and I said, "We'll be back when we get back," as Jason and I headed out the door.
As we stepped outside, the wind hit us and we both pulled our parkas' hoods close around our faces. The wind made the cold brutal. "I can't imagine why anyone would be out in this unless there was some serious emergency," I said. "And I really can't imagine what kind of emergency Wesley might have to bring him here on a pleasant summer's day, even less in the dead of winter."
As we stepped out from the protection of the house, the wind whipped snow in our faces. The flakes were falling fast and the ground was covered, all of which had happened since we left Clarksville a few hours earlier. Our conversation stopped as the wind made speaking impossible.
When we reached the Jeep and climbed in, Jason said, "Damn! I can't think of an emergency which would have me standing outside the feed and seed store tonight. I'd sleep with the Devil first."
"I knew it! I just knew it," I said in a pouty voice. "Unfaithful. You would be unfaithful to me."
Jason leaned over and kissed my cheek. "I said IF I had to be out in this weather. But you know something, Douglas? If I were still living with Grandma, it would be almost like being outside. I was thinking as we were driving home this afternoon just how lucky I am to have people like Grandmom and Granddad caring about me."
The snow had completely covered the road except where the wind had blown it off. In a few places cleared by the wind I had seen icy patches. No doubt about it, the weather was brutal.
Jason's hand was resting on my thigh and I covered his hand with mine and was about to tell him how lucky I was to have him when the Jeep hit an icy spot and started skidding. Before I finally got it stopped, we had spun around completely--twice--and ended up headed in our original direction. We were on a bridge and I just knew we would end up smashing against the guard rail or, worse yet, spinning off the bridge and down the embankment into the creek. We were lucky!
When I had control of the Jeep again, I pulled off the highway and stopped while I got control of myself. "Think I better keep both hands on the wheel," I said as I pulled back onto the highway.
"Sounds like a good idea," Jason agreed.
We drove the rest of the way to Beth's in silence. I was very focused on my driving and Jason didn't want to distract me. We parked as close to Beth's house as possible, got out and raced to the door. Beth opened it before the bell stopped ringing and said, "Get inside before you freeze."
"How's Wesley doing?" I asked as soon as we were inside.
"Dad thinks he's ok, but I don't see how. He was standing in the doorway of the feed and seed as you said dressed in jeans, T-shirt and windbreaker. He says he had managed to catch rides and wasn't in the cold long at a time. He waited a pretty long time inside at the Waffle House outside Clarksville. He bought a coffee and kept asking if anyone was coming this way. A farmer from Bell's Ridge said he'd bring him to the intersection, but couldn't bring him into Coldsprings. So he walked that quarter mile before he called you. Mom is filling him full of hot chocolate. Come on back."
Beth's mom had Wesley sitting at the table, wrapped in a quilt, drinking hot chocolate. "Wesley, this is Jason, my brother," I said.
Jason stuck out his hand and took Wesley's. "Not a very nice time you have picked for a visit, Wesley," Jason said, "but pleased to meet you anyway." Wesley nodded, but said nothing.
"I guess we need to be going. Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon," I said. "Beth, I suspect I'll see you tomorrow at the swim meet."
"I'll be there," she answered, "with bells on."
"Just bells?" Jason leered. Beth gave him a swat on his arm and stuck her tongue out at him.
"Wesley, get into this coat," Jason said, and helped him into Granddad's parka. "Mrs. Gordon, here's your quilt," he continued as he handed Wesley the quilt Grandmom has sent.
When Wesley stood up, he almost fell. "I guess my legs have gone to sleep," he said, the first words he had spoken. Jason caught him and was holding him up. "Thanks for coming to my rescue," he said and extended his hand to Mr. and Mrs. Gordon. When he started to walk, he stumbled again and Jason just picked him up and carried him. I knew, of course, that Jason had no trouble carrying me, but Wesley had always been taller and heavier than I was. He surely didn't weigh that much now, from the ease with which Jason picked him up.
As soon as we reached the Jeep, Jason put Wesley in the back seat and made sure he was covered by the quilt. Having gotten Wesley settled, Jason got in the front seat. As we pulled out of the Gordons' driveway, Jason turned to Wesley and said, "We're taking you to the emergency room to get checked out. I don't know how long you were out in this weather, but it wouldn't take long to have frostbitten ears, fingers and toes."
"I'm ok. I don't need to go to the hospital," Wesley said.
"Maybe not, but we want to make sure. It will only take half an hour or so to go to the hospital and get you checked out," Jason responded. "We're kinda special people at the hospital so we'll be finished in no time at all unless, of course, you have frostbite and need to stay."
Suddenly Wesley just exploded, reaching across the seat and grabbing me as he shouted, "Let me out. Let me out. I'm not going to a hospital. Let me out! Damnit! Let me out!"
I was having a hard time maintaining control of the Jeep, for not only was Wesley like a madman, but also he had grabbed me around the throat and was choking me. Jason quickly unbuckled his seat belt, turned around in his seat and got some control of Wesley. I was finally able to pull over to the side of the road and get the Jeep stopped.
When I did, Wesley tried to get across the seat and out the door, but Jason had a good grip on him. Wesley was practically immobilized. I don't know how Jason managed it, but he had crawled over the front seat into the back. Wesley had calmed down some but was crying, great tears running down his face. Jason put his arms around him, holding him in a tight hug. The hug seemed to calm the distraught young man, but I knew it was not exactly a loving embrace and that if Wesley tried anything, he would find himself in Jason's vise grip.
I had turned around so I could see Wesley and talk to him as soon as I had gotten the Jeep stopped. "Wesley, what's the matter? If you have frostbite you need to be treated now to keep from losing fingers, toes, ears or something. All we want to do is make sure you are ok."
"I'm ok, I know I am. I can't go back to the hospital. I won't go back. Please don't make me." Wesley sounded like a three-year-old.
I could see Wesley was becoming upset again. "Wesley, we're not going to make you go back anywhere you don't want to go. I promise. But you weren't at Clarksville Memorial were you?"
"No, but it's still a hospital and I don't want to go. They may send me back."
Wesley sagged in Jason's arms and started sobbing softly. He was being completely irrational, but at the same time it was clear he had been in a hospital somewhere and something pretty terrible had happened to him.
"Wesley, I'll make a deal with you. You go with us to the emergency room and get checked out and even if they want to keep you, we'll take you home with us," Jason said. "Ok?" Wesley nodded.
When we reached the hospital, I got out and went inside. The first person I saw was a nurse I knew from when Jonathan was in the hospital. She saw me and called out, "Douglas, how you doing? How's our boy Jonathan?"
"Doing fine, so's Jonathan," I responded, "but I've got another problem outside. I have a cousin who has been out in this weather and I'm afraid may have frostbite. We had the devil of a time getting him here and there is no way he'll stay. I don't know what's been going on with him, but he's terrified of hospitals. Think someone could look him over?"
"Sure. Bring him in. If he needs to stay, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. He can walk?"
I went outside and Jason and I got on either side of Wesley and walked him into the hospital. As soon as we were inside, the nurse said, "Jason, good to see you. Douglas tells me Jonathan is doing ok. And you're Douglas's cousin Wesley?" she asked. Wesley just nodded. "Well, hop up on this table and let me get you ready for the doctor to check you out. This weather can do real damage real quick." She helped Wesley out of granddad's parka and had him remove his shoes and socks. She then looked at his ears, hands, face and feet. "Looks ok to me, but I'll get the doctor to check to be sure."
It was clear that Wesley was getting more and more nervous while the nurse was looking him over. He really started getting antsy when she left. "She said I'm ok, let's go," he said, reaching for his shoes and socks. He couldn't reach them without getting off the table and just as he started sliding off when the nurse came back with a very attractive young woman I recognized as Dr. Alexander.
"Jason, Douglas, Ms. Mabley tells me you have another young man you have more or less pulled out of the snow. You're Wesley, I understand," she said as she took his hand. "I'm Dr. Alexander. Just lie back and let me have a look at you."
Wesley obviously relaxed as soon as Dr. Alexander walked into the emergency room. Strange. He offered no resistance to her looking him over. After she had a good look at hands, feet, ears and face, she said, "Don't think there is any permanent damage, Wesley. Ms. Mabley tells me you are dead set against spending any time in the hospital." Wesley nodded vigorously. "In that case, I think you'll do fine. I'll give you some lotion for your hands, feet, face and ears which will help and I think that's all you'll need. I'll let you go provided you promise you'll see me or another doctor if there are any problems."
"I promise," Wesley said.
"Then you can get dressed," she smiled. "Douglas, Jason, you two hold him to his promise and give Jonathan a hug from me."
As soon as we were in the Jeep, Wesley said, "Douglas, thank you very much for coming to my rescue. If I had been treated the way my family--and I--have treated you I'm not sure I would have done as much for you. I really appreciate it, man."
Jason surprised me when he said, "We wouldn't let even a son of a bitch freeze to death."
I guess Wesley was as surprised as I was by Jason's forthright statement. I started to say something, but Jason had his hand on my thigh and, as I started to speak, he gave me a light squeeze.
Wesley said nothing for a few minutes and then said, "I'll have to admit I deserve that, but I'm really glad you wouldn't let me freeze. If you hadn't been willing to help me there is no doubt in my mind that I would have been dead by morning. I was so desperate and the only possibility of help I could think of was you, Douglas. And, to be honest, if you hadn't come to my rescue, I think I would rather be dead, especially if I couldn't escape my prison."
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"It's a long story. Can it wait until later?"
"Sure," I answered, "but I can't imagine a situation where being out in this weather would be a better choice." I suddenly had a thought which scared me some. "You're not in trouble with the law, are you?"
"No, no you don't have to worry about that."
"What are you going to tell the grandparents?" Jason asked.
"I don't know. I haven't thought about that. I just thought about getting to where Douglas was. I knew he would help me. I knew it."
"Well, whether or not I help you beyond getting you out of the cold tonight will depend on the situation. I'll help so long as helping you doesn't put Jason, our grandparents or me in danger or mess up our future," I said.
Wesley was silent for what seemed like a very long time, then said quietly, "I guess you'll have to decide about the future." As he spoke, I turned into the drive.
I started to park close to the house, but Jason said, "Better go ahead and park in the shed, given the weather. It's not that far from the house."
As soon as we were parked, we got out of the Jeep. The wind was horrendous! Jason and I grabbed Wesley's hands and started racing toward the house. Wesley had obviously recovered to a large extent, as he could keep up with us. When we burst through the kitchen door, the grandparents were seated at the kitchen table having coffee. Jason quickly shut the door behind us, but not quickly enough to prevent a few snowflakes from blowing in.
"Grandmom, Granddad, this is Wesley, Wesley Wilson, my cousin," I said as I pulled off my parka. Jason took mine, his and the one Wesley was wearing, and hung them up beside the kitchen door.
Granddad shook hands with Wesley as he said, "Have a seat, Wesley. You want coffee? It's sure good on a night like this."
"Thank you, Sir, I would surely like some."
Grandmom poured three mugs of coffee and, as she handed Wesley his, asked, "Cream or sugar, Wesley?"
"Just black," he answered.
"Wesley, I don't know where my manners are. Have you eaten?" Grandmom asked.
"Not since breakfast yesterday," he answered with a weak smile.
"Not only were you half-frozen," Grandmom said, "but you must be half-starved." She quickly started busying herself around the kitchen and soon had a plate piled high in front of Wesley.
Wesley plowed into what Grandmom set in front of him and polished it off in a hurry. It was obvious that he was famished. I mean, of course, he was half-starved as any teenage guy would be having been without food for a day and a half.
"When he was finished, he pushed his chair back and said, "Mr. and Mrs. McElrath, I don't know how to say this but I need a place to stay, at least for a few days. I've got some real problems and simply had no place to turn, then I remembered Douglas. We all know how Douglas and his family were treated by the Wilsons--myself included. I am sorry for that, but that doesn't change the past. I would like to have an opportunity to prove myself to you all. I'd really like to stay here for a while if I can. I know I'm imposing on you by just asking and without any explanation. If you could just take me on faith for a time... I just can't tell you what's been going on with me right now...."
As always my grandparents came through. "We don't interfere with the lives of our grandsons," Granddad said. "If you aren't in trouble with the law and if you haven't got yourself in too deep with someone or someones outside the law, you can stay here until we get things straightened out. We are here when the boys need us and we expect them to help keep the household running smoothly. We'll expect the same out of you. We won't pry. You can tell us what you want us to know when you are ready."
"I understand, Mr. McElrath. You don't have to worry about the law or anyone else so far as that is concerned. And you needn't worry about my family. I do hope you'll not feel obligated to call and let my family know where I am, and I can assure you they will never think to call here. I'm positive we'll all sit down and have a long talk soon, but right now I don't think I am up to it."
"Any time you are ready to talk, we are ready to listen," Granddad responded.
Wesley had long since polished off the food Grandmom had set before him and we had all finished our coffee when Granddad got up from the table and said, "I think we were all headed to bed a while ago. Douglas, you have a swim meet tomorrow so you better get some rest. You and Jason can get Wesley settled in."
"Thank you very much for taking me in tonight," Wesley said. Jason and I gave our grandparents a goodnight hug and the three of us went upstairs.
"Wesley, you can sleep in my bed tonight," Jason said. "I'll share Douglas's. Come with me and I'll get you something to sleep in." Jason walked down the hall to his room and was gone for a short time before he came back carrying some PJs. "As cold as it is, I think we'll need more than boxers tonight in spite of my druthers," he smiled as he kissed me.
"I like the smooth way you kinda forgot the bed in the den sofa," I smiled at him. I got into my PJs and as we slipped into bed I said, "I think having your hot body next to mine will keep me toasty warm," and kissed the love of my life. "But that's it for tonight. I've got to get some rest for the meet." I kissed Jason again and we wrapped ourselves in each other's arms and legs.
Just before I drifted off to sleep, Jason said, "I can't imagine what is going on with Wesley. It has to be something pretty strange for him to hunt you down after the way he has treated you all these years."
"Yeah, I know. I haven't the foggiest clue as to what could cause that turn around, but we'll find out tomorrow. He's not staying around here unless he comes clean."
I was afraid I'd lie awake all night thinking about this new situation and the swim meet, but I didn't. Snuggled up to Jason's back, and my arm over him, I kissed the back of his neck and was asleep in minutes.
Sometime in the night, I was dreaming Jason and I were walking across a frozen lake, trying to reach Wesley who had fallen through the ice. I was so cold I couldn't move. Jason kept calling me to move faster, but I couldn't. Finally I yelled at Jason. He stopped and came to me, grabbed me and started shaking me. "Doug, wake up. Wake up, Doug." Jason was calling me and when I awoke, I was lying on my bed, uncovered, cold and shivering.
"Jason, I need some cover!" I said, reaching across the bed and pulling the covers over me. Jason had rolled up in them, leaving me uncovered and cold.
"Sorry, Doug," Jason said as he pulled my shivering body to his warm one. Again wrapped in his arms, I was warm in no time and, once again, slipped into sleep.
We had forgotten to set the alarm clock so Granddad came part-way up the stairs and called us at 8:00, Jason and I answered and got up, tossed on robes and headed for the bathroom. Both of us had morning wood and were ready to burst if we didn't piss soon. As we ran to the bathroom, Jason called down the hall, "Wesley, haul it out of bed!"
Wesley came into the bathroom as we started brushing our teeth. "Morning Wesley," I said. "I have a swim meet this morning so I'll have to shower there. If you want a shower, hop in. Jason and I can manage clean
underwear, socks and shirt for you, I think, but our pants will be high water for you. How are your jeans?"
Wesley said, "They'll do fine."
"Get a move on because breakfast is about ready," I said.
"Thanks. I really appreciate what you are doing for me," Wesley said, "I really do."
I started to say, "Nothing more than you would have done for me," but I knew that was a lie and Wesley would know it was a lie. "We'll leave clothes for you on the bed," I said as I left the bathroom. Jason was right behind me and closed the bathroom door behind himself. He grabbed me for a hot good morning kiss and then said, "I'll get some clothes for old Wes," and disappeared into his room.
As soon as I was dressed, I went on downstairs to set the table for breakfast. Granddad, who was reading the paper, looked up and said, "Guess you found out what is going on with Wesley."
"As a matter of fact we didn't. We sent him to Jason's room by himself because I knew if he started talking we'd probably be up all night and, frankly, winning the swim meet was more important than finding out what's going on with him. I figured that could wait."
"And you sent Jason to the den couch?" Grandmom asked.
I swallowed hard and said, "No, I guess we didn't think about that so he slept with me. And you know what that rotten brother of mine did? He rolled up in the cover and let me freeze. I even had a nightmare because I was so cold."
"I guess it did get a bit chilly upstairs last night," Granddad said. "Was the electric heater in the bathroom adequate? "
"It was fine, but I didn't take a shower. It might have been a bit chilly for that. I don't know."
While we were talking, Jason came down. "Good morning, Jason," Granddad said. "Hear you tried to freeze your brother last night."
"Just trying to toughen him up. Morning, Grandmom," Jason said and kissed her on the cheek. "Think we found enough clothes to keep Wesley decent for today, but that kid only has the clothes he had on his back: jeans, T-shirt and windbreaker. It really is a wonder that he didn't have frostbite, but he wasn't out in the cold very long at a time, I guess. Think we're going to have to make having clothes a requirement before we take someone in," he laughed.
"Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. McElrath," Wesley said as he walked into the kitchen. "Thanks again for taking me in."
"From the looks of you, you are ready for breakfast. Sit down," Grandmom said as she placed a huge plate of hot biscuits on the table and took her place. Granddad said grace and then said, "Dive in. Douglas, I guess you'll need to take it easy since you'll be swimming this morning."
"Not until after 10:00 and that's an hour an a half away," I answered, but I did restrain myself.
Conversation was generally slow around the breakfast table since not everyone was a morning person and we all liked eating. However, when I had just about finished--only because I was swimming--I paused and asked, "So Wesley, what brought you to Coldsprings?"
"It's kinda a long story, but for now just say I ran away from home. I had to run away, and coming here seemed the best option--well, my only option. I know no-one in the family would think of my being here and, to be honest, as I thought about your family--strange as it may seem--I was sure you all wouldn't throw me out. If we can leave it at that, I'll tell you the whole, rotten, miserable mess when we have more time."
"When you're ready, Wesley," Granddad said, "but right now we need to get our fish into the water." Since the swim meet was a tournament, the whole family was going to watch. "Wesley, you can go with me and Granny here. Jason will go with Douglas and Hank."
"Who's Hank?" Wesley asked.
"A neighbor, our best friend and, oh yeah, Beth's boyfriend," Jason answered.
When we got to the Jeep, Jason took the driver's seat. When Hank came out he crawled in the backseat and asked, "How's it hangin'?"
"It's hangin' pretty well," Jason said. "I got to sleep with my babe last night."
"I have my own version of that! I'm not sure there's anything to hang," I laughed. "Jason doesn't like it, I guess, because he tried to freeze it off." I then told Hank about Jason pulling the covers off of me."
"And just why, pray tell, were you two sleeping together again?"
"Jason's bed was occupied, my cousin Wesley..."
"Yeah, Beth called after y'all rescued him. So why was he not in the den?"
"Because I saw a chance to sleep with the babe," Jason answered.
"Just what gives with this Wesley character? He's from the asshole side of the family, right?"
"On target, Hank," I answered. Jason and I then told Hank what we knew about Wesley showing up, which was damn little.