Josh asked the cab driver to take them to the nearest shoe store and to wait for them. When they walked in, the woman who greeted them kept looking at Alex's feet, not paying attention to anything Josh was saying, just nodding. Josh was fed up and decided to teach the woman a lesson about business. "We want white low-cut athletic shoes for this lady. She just had a baby and is leaving it in the hospital, but they didn't want her to leave until her psychiatrist got there because she tried to strangle the baby and also leave without paying her bill. Please, don't tell anyone. We got the pants and shirt from a doctor, but his shoes won't fit, so please hurry or the police will catch us." The woman had not stopped nodding. "White, low-cut athletic shoes?" Josh asked again.
Apparently the woman heard that as she kinda shook herself and said, "All our models are on display. Select the style you want and and I will find your size, but if you will excuse me for a moment." Josh and Alex laughed and walked to the sneakers on display. Alex couldn't believe some of the things that passed for athletic shoes or the colors on those that otherwise made sense. Josh kept an eye on the woman who was now on the phone and kept glancing at them strangely.
Suddenly the street was filled with sirens and blue lights as police officers came in the front and back, one shouting, "Police! Everyone on the floor." Josh and Alex looked around and an officer yelled again, "Everyone on the floor, hands behind your head!"
Alex and Josh fell to the floor, Alex shaking and trembling. Four police approached them, sidearms pointed at them. Two cuffed them and pulled them to their feet roughly. "Which of you just left the hospital?" Alex was trembling, head hung, tears streaming down his face.
"It should be pretty fucking obvious if you'd open your eyes since Alex is wearing hospital booties. Now what the fuck is going on?" Josh was livid.
"Shut your filthy mouth," one of the officers, whose hat brim was covered with scrambled eggs, said, "I'll be doing the questioning. Take out your ID."
"And just how am I going to do that, my hands cuffed behind my back, Dumbass."
The swaggering officer pulled his hand back to slap Josh, who said, "I don't think you want to do that." Meanwhile, one of the officers kept saying, "Sir, sir, sir."
Finally scrambled eggs and scrambled brains said, "Just what is your problem, Officer Hayden?"
"Sir, I don't think either of these gentlemen has had a baby and I am pretty sure you don't want to be messing with Josh Taylor."
"So, who is Mr. Big Shot Josh Taylor?" The words were barely out of his mouth before he turned white. He actually saluted Josh, started fumbling to get the restraints off and apologizing. Josh thought he had pissed himself as well. "Sorry, Mr. Taylor, very sorry."
"You know, you are an incompetent idiot. You came in here with an army after being told a new mother had left her baby at the hospital, right?" Mr. Sorry Sorry, nodded. "You were told she was skipping out on her bill and when you arrived, what did you see? Two men looking at shoes. You had them cuffed. You were not only unprofessional, rude and arrogant, but you were also so self-important that you couldn't see the person who was supposed to have recently had a baby was male, very obviously male. You never took time to think of anything except how important you would appear to your underlings. I hope you have a job after this, but I'll not do anything about it because I am leaving this godforsaken state as soon as I can and taking time to do something about you will delay me. You know, I wouldn't be in your shoes for anything. They'll probably not do it to your face, but not only these officers, who witnessed you make a fool of yourself, but also the whole force who will have heard this story—elaborated, of course, before sundown—will all be making fun of you, laughing their heads off. That's what we do with clowns and you are one fool clown."
"Sir, I do apologize," the salesperson was wringing her hands, "Pick a pair of shoes, please, on the store."
"Forget that, we aren't in too big a rush to go elsewhere. Who's the manager of this place."
"I am, sir."
"Who owns the franchise?"
"Well, unless you start paying attention, you won't own it long. Meanwhile, we will go somewhere where we can get waited on properly."
Josh was angry, but mostly at himself. He had caused Alex anguish and humiliation when he had already had enough for several lifetimes. He picked Alex up, carried him to the cab and asked to be driven to aviation services. To hell with worrying about shoes. As they neared aviation services, he called and asked that someone meet him at the gate so he could have the cab drive to his plane. He then asked the cabbie if he would help him get his bags aboard while he got Alex settled. He carried Alex, who had fallen asleep, aboard. Inside, the cabbie reclined a seat until it was nearly horizontal and he lay Alex down. "Have children?" he asked the cabbie.
The man smiled, "Three. Two sons and a daughter."
"What's the other shoe store in the Town Center?" The cabbie told him. "Here's the fare and a hundred tip for helping me here." He then wrote two checks, one for three hundred dollars and one for nine hundred dollars, to the shoe store. He then scribbled a note to the store manager that the bearer was to spend the three hundred on his three children and the nine hundred was for nine children social services would be asked to send over. Any extra was to be given to social services as gift certificates for other children needing shoes. He asked the store owner to take a low markup as well. "Take this note, your three children and the checks to the shoe store and get your kids shoes. That's a hundred dollars for each of them and thanks. By the way, if you know any police ask about an officer who arrested a man who had just given birth today."
Josh was in a quandary, should he leave Alex sleeping or buckle him in while he did preflight? He realized there was no real need for him to be buckled in yet and he sure didn't want him to wake up in restraints. There were some things in life that Josh didn't take seriously; there were some things he might decide to skip through; preflight was not one of them. He was never in a hurry and was methodical to the point of laughing at himself occasionally, but he didn't think falling through several thousand feet of thin air was worth the risk of doing a sloppy job.
Josh had called from the hospital about a co-pilot. Legally he didn't require one, but his insurance did. While flying in connection with New Beginnings, he had one on standby and had called him, but he was out of town. After his bad start, he had a bit of luck, a pilot looking for a way to Denver said he'd co-pilot for a car to Denver from Boulder. Josh had phoned him when he headed for the airport and he showed up just as Josh was finishing the preflight. They introduced themselves and climbed aboard. "You start 'er up while I check on Alex," Josh said. Alex was still asleep, but still tense it seemed to Josh. He hoped he would sleep through take-off, at least, since Josh did that and landing himself unless Walt was with him. "I need a couple clones of Walt," he said to himself as he headed forward.
He strapped himself in, got tower clearance and was soon airborne and at cruising altitude. "If you'll take her, I'll check on Alex." When he reached Alex, he was lying, eyes closed, tears running from under the closed lids. Josh unbuckled him and kissed his eyes and rocked him in his arms as he said softly, "It's ok. Alex. It's ok. I had to strap you in for takeoff. You're ok." Alex opened his eyes, looking bewildered. Josh smiled at him, "It's ok, Babe, we are on our way to Boulder. We've got mountains to cross and you need to be buckled in and I need to be up front. Can you handle that?" Alex nodded slowly. "Good. It won't be long before you are in Boulder at Vic House."
"Will Princess be there?"
Josh realized Alex was fourteen again and mentally kicked his ass for starting this at the shoe store. "Not yet, but she and Prince will be as soon as they can come from Wellsburg."
"Josh, I'm not going back to Wellsburg!" Alex was a defiant fourteen-year-old.
"Neither am I, Alex. We don't have to!"
"Right. We are big boys now."
"Right, but get your seat belt on 'cause this plane can become a buckin' bronco flying over mountains." Alex did. "Laters, Alex, I gotta help drive this thing." Alex nodded and Josh could see his eyes getting heavy. He was asleep before Josh was strapped into his seat.
As he strapped himself in, Al, the co-pilot said, "I kept thinking I knew you, then it hit me. You are Josh Taylor."
Josh grinned, "Yeah, like I introduced myself."
"I mean the Josh Taylor. You were in on that raid in southern Utah."
"Yeah, and Alex was one of those held prisoner. When I was back there, he was fourteen years old again. We did the summer program at UC-Boulder when we were fourteen and his grandmother lives there. It was a happy time. While he was a prisoner he imagined himself in Boulder when he was fourteen. He still does when he's frightened. I put him aboard asleep from an earlier incident and he was restrained when he woke up and was terrified. He was back in that place and when I appeared, he assumed we were fourteen again."
"That place must have been terrible."
"You can't imagine. I suspect Alex will always have problems from it. Had he been there much longer, the doctor said, he might have become fourteen until he died."
"How'd he get there?"
"His mother put him there, but it appears we need to pay attention to flying." The next several minutes flying was a full-time and a half job. When they had smoother flying, Al started asking questions again and Josh became suspicious. "Al, you are a full son-of-a-bitch. Who do you really work for? You may be the certified pilot you claim you are, but that's not why you are here. Who are you working for?"
"Myself. You, of all people, should understand free enterprise."
"I do, indeed. That's the reason you better be thinking of a way to make some money because you'll not fly another private plane unless you own it. I think I can assure you of that. I can think of several charges you face, and I'm no lawyer, but I have some of the best working for me. I also can have some of the best making sure your taxes are checked, you just don't know the headaches you face." Josh disabled the co-pilot's controls and said, "You better hope I don't need your help."
Just before they landed in Boulder, Josh said, "If I see one word I think came from you in the news or some tabloid, you'll need to get your affairs in order. Even though you are scum of the earth, I'll see you get to Denver as promised, but I'll not be responsible for a car you rent. Put one on your card and I'll give you the cash. Now get out of my sight!"
"How will I get my money?"
"Ok, a deal's a deal. I'll leave the cash at the car rental counter. You can pick it up in half an hour." He called for a shuttle, got his bag and climbed aboard the shuttle, his arm around Alex, half supporting him, and headed for the lounge. Josh was still more than a little upset as he went inside and led Alex to a comfortable armchair.
Josh went to the counter to make arrangements for the plane and call Gertrude. The woman at the counter said, "I hope that jerk who just caught the shuttle wasn't with you."
"He's a jerk all right but, yeah, I needed a co-pilot and he needed a ride from Provo, or that was his tale. Found out he was a liar."
"He do any flying?"
"Yeah, some, after we reached cruising altitude. Why?"
"I guess you were safe enough. He was a commercial pilot until he decided a drink or two before a flight was ok. Lost his certification a year or so ago."
"He showed me his certificate and it was up-to-date."
"What name was on it?"
"Al Dobbins was his roommate. He died in a crash three months ago. His name is Tracy Cramner." She picked up the phone and said, "Security, hold Tracy Cramner. He's flying on Al Dobbins's certificate." She covered the mouthpiece and asked, "Know where he was headed?"
"Supposedly the car rental place."
"He may be headed for the car rental counter."
"That really adds a nice touch to my day," Josh said. He called Gertrude, made arrangements for the plane and to send cash to the car rental place for Tracy Cramner, money which was never picked up.
Dr. Avery had a conference call with Alex's Boulder treatment team and they had decided he could go directly to Vic House without time in the local hospital. In fact, they agreed he could pretty much do what he felt like doing so long as he ate well, got exercise and followed the treatment program which would be designed for him.
"Josh, Alex, welcome home," Gertrude said as she and Mavis walked through the door. A more welcome voice Josh could not imagine!
Alex grabbed her around the neck and just held on. She hugged him to herself and crooned softly, "It's ok, baby, it's ok. Gertrude's got you."
As they rode to Vic House, Josh was in a quandary. Alex was already the fourteen-year-old version of himself and the two of them in their old room might confirm that and he needed to be back to his twenty-four-year-old self. Josh dialed the psychiatrist Gertrude had found and asked his receptionist to have him call him as soon as possible. When they arrived at Vic House, Gertrude had lunch ready for them so the question of the room didn't come up. The psychiatrist called in the middle of lunch and Josh excused himself and went into the hall to talk with him. Josh told him about what had triggered the regression today and the psychiatrist suggested that refusing to allow him to go to the old room would probably be more traumatic than his doing so. "My best opinion without having seen the young man is let him go."
They finished lunch and Josh said, "Ok, Barefoot Boy with Cheek, it's nap time," as he swept Alex in his arms and carried him upstairs to their room. He undressed Alex, leaving on his boxer briefs, and lay down beside him after telling him he would only stay until he was asleep because he needed to make some calls. Alex was asleep almost by the time his head hit the pillow. He was exhausted.
Josh needed to make a pile of phone calls, but thought all could wait until tomorrow. Alex had a series of appointments with members of the treatment team put together after Gertrude had contacted a clinic about him, so Josh would have time then. For now, he did want to make a single call. "Sally's and Josh's Mustangs and Ponies. This is Sally. Josh is not here."
"That's good to know, Sally, otherwise I'd be worried. This is Josh."
"Hey, our hero! You're the talk of the town, some of it good."
"Wellsburg giving you a hard time?"
"Few attempts to try, but what I couldn't handle, Mark Jenkins can. People have pretty much learned to respect us. Besides, Brenda and I have found a few other lost souls and we are having a ball. Whassup?
"I need a big favor. I am in Boulder with Alex…"
"How's he doing?"
"Pretty well. Physically he's on the mend. He has a long way to go, but the outlook is good. Emotionally and mentally, it's rough. Most of the time he's ok, but if something triggers his defense mechanism he becomes the fourteen-year-old he was when we were in Boulder. Ordinary things can trigger it by making him feel he's back in New Beginnings Clinic. On the flight here, I carried him aboard asleep and buckled him in for take-off and when he awoke, he panicked and became fourteen."
"Wow," Sally said. "So what's the favor?"
"Do you have a two-horse trailer available?"
"You own a two and a six. Well, we do. Whatcha need?"
"I sure could use Prince and Princess down here."
"Time Brenda and I got away anyway. We'll leave in the morning."
"It's an eight-, nine-hour drive at best. There's a place you can overnight the horses in Rawlins and it's about midway."
"See you around noon day after tomorrow," she said. They then talked about how things were going and Josh told her she'd be losing part of her herd soon as the 'horse station' in North Carolina was ready and that he would breed and raise Mustangs and Mangalarga Marchadors. "I haven't purchased any Mangalarga Marchadors yet, but they are beautiful animals. Take you to see some when you are here."
"Till the day after tomorrow."
After he had talked to Sally, Josh talked to Gertrude about Alex's treatment team and learned they worked on a program which moved as fast as their patient did. Alex's condition was all that counted, not some time period. "They are pretty sensible people," Gertrude said, "and have done a lot of work with mental trauma, much involving sexual abuse of one kind or another and, to their minds, the aversion therapy programs are sexual abuse."
Alex had been asleep for two hours when Josh went up to check on him and found him sleeping peacefully. He suddenly realized leaving him alone in his condition had been a poor move and vowed to be more careful. As he watched the man who owned him mind, body, heart and soul, Alex stirred and opened his eyes and smiled. "I like being back in our room, Josh." He was still fourteen.
Josh said, "Ok, Barefoot Boy with Cheek, it's shoe time."
"I have some here in our room," Alex said and climbed out of bed.
"Here we go," Josh thought. Josh didn't think there were any shoes of his in the room, but Alex reached into the very back of the closet, which was almost impossible to reach and pulled out a pair! What was even more amazing was that it was clear they were from their first summer in Boulder when they were thirteen! Alex sat on the bed, pulled off the booties which he was still wearing, and started to put on a shoe. The boy had grown—a lot!—since he was thirteen and that included his feet. No way he was going to get the shoe on. Josh waited.
Alex looked at the shoe and his foot and started laughing. "Josh, why didn't you tell me I thought I was thirteen or fourteen again. I was thirteen when I put the shoes there and how the hell did I remember where I put a pair of shoes that long ago? Man, I am certifiably nuts." Josh heaved a sigh of relief. "But I think I have a reason to be. We're back in our room after seven long years, so kiss me." Josh leaned over and kissed him. Alex wrapped his arms around Josh, pulled him on top of himself and kissed him, a short, tender, loving kiss and said, "Josh, one of these days I will be well and we will make love in this room again."
"Count on it," Josh replied and kissed him again. "Now it's time to change this barefoot boy into a shoe-wearing man."
"Half the job is done," Alex smiled. "You gotta promise, no police this time."
"Promise. Truth is, Barefoot Boy with Cheek, we need to do some serious clothes shopping."
Editors: Jesse and Scott.
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