I had not intended to give any more of this (or I would not have stopped it where I did), but Minion and I received a request to see what comes next, so here is the last page of Chapter 1 and some of Chapter 2.
Nathan sighed and then quickly scowled at the game in his hands, so when the young lady watching him for Barnaby glanced over from her book to check on him, she got the wrong impression and kept her peace. With no more flights or passengers due, she sat near enough to reassure without crowding.
Before Nathan could turn his mind from the recent past to what his near future might hold, Barnaby bustled up to them, smiling and obviously well pleased with himself. “Are you ready to get out of here, Nathan? I have talked to your Grandmother, your Aunt, and the Airlines. Between us, we have arranged a hotel room for you near mine, where I can keep an eye on you until your Aunt arrives. How does that sound?” Barnaby asked, kneeling down so that he could talk to Nathan more on the boy’s own level.
“I heard people saying that the runways might not be open until the day after tomorrow. Don’t you have other things you would rather do?’ Nathan asked without looking up from his game, surprise making him a bit more blunt than he might otherwise be.
“I had other plans, but someone has to keep an eye on you. I promised your Grandmother I would see you safely into your Aunt’s care, and I intend to keep my word. Besides, it could be fun. I have a brother not much older than you are. The hotel has a pool and a game room, what do you think?’ Barnaby asked like it really mattered what Nathan thought.
Nathan could see Barnaby’s friend’s face in his peripheral vision. He saw her disappointment when she heard the proposal and the amusement when Barnaby admitted to other plans, so the boy had a good, if cynical, idea what those plans might have been. After Barnaby explained his reasoning she seemed to approve the idea, and it was not like any better offer was likely to come Nathan’s way any time soon.
“That is very kind of you. I will be sure to let Gramma know how you honor your word,” Nathan said, trying to speak like his Grandad did in the stories.
“Lovely, I have already rescued your suitcase and stowed it in my car. Having to fetch it back out again might have proved a bit embarrassing.” Barnaby bounced to his feet and offered Nathan a hand up.
Nathan fumbled about a bit unplugging his tablet from the pillar and stowing the bits in his bag to give Barnaby a bit more time to have a quiet word with his friend. Then it was time to start off on the next leg of Nathan’s Great American Adventure.
None of the humans noticed the small pair of bright eyes watching them out of the darkened alcove of the small store across the concourse. A moment later, the eyes were gone.
Chapter Two – An Unexpected Companion
Barnaby drove down the rain-beaten streets with confidence and the care due to the conditions, talking easily about his young brother Charles, requiring little response from Nathan. Between the clouds and wind whipped water, little could be seen of their surroundings. The dark and a six hour time difference left Nathan at a complete loss as to the time of day. It would be the work of only a moment to find out, but Nathan rather enjoyed the timeless and fantastic effect that turned the inside of Barnaby’s rental car into their only bit of reality drifting through an uncertain world. Even that pocket of stability had its foreign elements, with the driver’s seat and controls on the wrong side, and the strange, pervasive, but not entirely unpleasant smell. In Nathan’s mind, the rain outside busily washed away the familiar world he knew, reshaping it into who knew what. The combined effect of several days of short and unsettled sleep in the aftermath of Gramma’s accident, the long flight, the soothing patter of water vainly attempting to invade their safe haven, and Barnaby’s voice slipped Nathan into dream lands, without knowing he had closed his eyes.
Nathan came back to the moment with a thump in the sudden, well lit, silence of an enclosed parking garage when Barnaby stilled the car’s engine.
“Can you manage your pack and your suitcase, or should we come back after taking the first load to our rooms,” Barnaby asked after a good stretch in his seat. An easy smile and gentle glance held no hint of criticism or irritation if a second trip proved necessary.
“I should be able to manage them both,” Nathan responded, pulling his pack from the floor board into his lap. He knew he would be living out of the two bags and would have to shift them often when he packed them. Many of Gramma’s stories emphasised the need for an adventurer to pack light, and he helped every year when his parents fought the mounds of what Dad wanted to take into what they could carry. The suitcase had wheels and was only three quarters full to leave room for new acquisitions along the way.
Barnaby took Nathan at his word, not even offering to help the boy wrestle the big case out of the trunk when Nathan reached for it. In perfect understanding the two young men made for the elevator, and the hotel lobby. The lady behind the big desk with the night dark skin and warm brown eyes recognised Barnaby on sight and seemed to be expecting them.
“Hello sugar,” she said, addressing Nathan. “Barnaby tells me that this nasty storm has been making things difficult for you after travelling such a long way to get here. Don’t you worry none. You are in good hands until your Aunt can find her way here. If you will give me your passport for a minute, I will get keys for you both.” She held out a strong, broad hand, with the nails painted the same dark blue as her blazer. Nathan rather enjoyed her rich, deep voice, and the accent that shifted her vowels and seemed to thicken and bind the words together like warm honey. He smiled, and pulled the small, dark red folder with all the gold writing out of an inner pocket in his knapsack. The passport was not as new as it looked, but between his parents’ summer work schedule and school, Nathan had no opportunity to use it before that day.
“I’ll have your key in a bit,” the lady said turning to her computer screen. The dark gold colored name tag she wore spelled out, “Sheila” Nathan had just enough time to wonder, “Isn’t that what they call a girl in Australia?” when she turned her snow white smile back his way.
“There you go, hun. Here is your passport back and your room key,” Sheila said handing him first the passport and then a little paper folder with the plastic card that would serve as his room key tucked inside. “You have a full sized bed in room four-seventeen, just a few doors down from Barnaby in room four-twenty-three,” She paused to hand Barnaby his key. ‘The wifi password is in with your key. There is a good sized tv in the cabinet in your room. The pool is down the stairs over there.” Sheila leaned out to point to her left across the wide, high ceilinged lobby to where they could see the tops of a glass walled room just beyond a short flight of steps.
“I know how international travel can be on your stomach and sleep schedule. If you get hungry there is a menu for room service in your room. The things on the back are available anytime and your tab is covered, but if you are out and about between five thirty and eleven, we are very proud of our breakfast buffet, served in the party room of the restaurant over there,” she pointed at the other corner of the wide lobby at the indoor patio seating inside a low rail in front of the brick shop face proudly entitled the Iron Grill on the wrought iron sign over the doorway.
“Just show them your key and ask for the buffet when the wait staff comes to seat you. There is an arcade and game room around the corner this way. Sheila made a broad wave towards the hallway to the right of the wide reception desk. “If you need anything or have any questions, just dial zero on the phone in your room to get the front desk. There will always be someone here.”
Sheila glanced at Barnaby and asked, “Have I left anything out?”
“If we think of anything, we won’t hesitate to ask. Will we, Nathan?” Barnaby said with a smile. “I do not know about you, but I am ready for some hot water and clean sheets.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Nathan said. He pocketed his key and returned his passport to its designated position. Barnaby led the way back to the elevator, and the fourth floor. Nathan glanced at the young man as the mirrored car rose with a soft hum of machinery. Barnaby still smiled faintly, but he leaned his head back against the wall during the short trip, and his posture sagged subtly with fatigue, so Nathan kept his peace. They turned right out of the elevator and passed the door marked four-one-seven just far enough for Barnaby to show Nathan where the young man would be, and shove Barnaby’s small suitcase inside four-two-three. Barnaby stood patiently while Nathan got the hang of the card key. He reached past Nathan to flick on the lights, and followed the boy in, checking the bathroom for towels, toiletries, and toilet paper. Barnaby checked that the phone worked and made sure the room service menu and small packet of information about the hotel were on the desk in the far corner by the window. Then Barnaby seemed to just run out of energy in the middle of the room with his fists on his hips, staring at the heavy curtains covering the windows as if they might tell him what to do next at any moment.
Nathan carefully dropped his grandfather’s knapsack on the foot of the bed, startling Barnaby back into motion. He turned to look at Nathan, “Is there anything else you need?”
“I will be fine. Go ahead and get some kip. I will be fine on my own for a few hours,” Nathan said. “Thank you very much for agreeing to look after me.”
“My pleasure, you know where I will be if you need anything,” Barnaby said. At the door he turned back for a last glance before closing the door behind him.
Nathan stood at the foot of the bed and looked around for a long moment at his new domain. With a subdued whoop of enthusiasm Nathan ran into the bathroom, back out, around the foot of the bed, over to the window and back again, before setting out to methodically explore every drawer and cabinet, and under every piece of furniture. He put some effort into doing it all quietly, being well familiar with downstairs neighbors, but he just could not contain his excitement. It was not a big space, but for that time it was all his with the only adult supervision several doors down the hall.
With his inspection finished, turning up nothing more exciting than a bible in the night stand, a hair dryer in the closet, an extra blanket in the bureau, and a lost sock wedged between the bedframe and the wall, Nathan hefted his suitcase onto the bed. After most of twenty four hours spent in the same clothes, Barnaby’s idea of hot water or at least fresh clothes had a definite appeal. Gramps always said, “I have always been just as ready as the next chap to forgo regular baths and clean collars every day when the situation calls for it, but after ten days in the field with mud, sweat and sleeping in your clothes, nothing says comfort like a hot bath and a clean, dry pair of pants.” At which point Gramma would scold him for crudeness. He always laughed at her scoulding and hinted at other stories that he could tell, if she wanted him to be crude.
Before Nathan could unzip and flip open the big, blue suitcase, he noticed something he had somehow missed during his exploration of the room. A good-sized stuffed moose with shiny brown fur, and narrow, wide-spread antlers with an almost orange tint to their tan sat at the head of the bed, propped up between the pillows wearing a forest camouflage military uniform and cap, complete with a pack on his back.