| Chapter Ten
Brick opened one eye, glanced at the bedside alarm clock and groaned. It
was 7:30 a.m. and he had overslept, although he had not done a great deal
of sleeping that night. Thanks to another visit from the nightmare, he had
spent most of the night awake, reading and thinking. He reckoned he had finally
dropped off around four a.m.
He dragged himself reluctantly out of bed and down the landing to the bathroom
where he ran the shower hard and cold, needing the shock of the water on
his bare skin to clear his fuzzy mind and bring him fully back from the land
It was nearly 8:15 when he entered the kitchen. Leigh was there with Harry
and Rose, but there was no sign of the Levine party.
"Morning, Leigh. Where's everyone?"
"Bill and Jack took off early - they were going to visit an old school friend,
I think. Cass stayed over at Jennifer's and I haven't seen Grant's party
yet. I was about to send Walter to fetch them for breakfast."
"Probably sleeping off another hard night's clubbing."
"In Bend? They should be so lucky!" Leigh glanced around and looked him up
and down, frowning. "Brick, are you sick? You don't look so good."
"I'm fine." He knew he looked like hell but had no inclination to get into
a discussion about why. Leigh would only worry.
She shot him a penetrating look, he returned it with his best 'everything's
okay' grin and after a moment, she smiled back.
Walter's head appeared around the door.
"Wish you'd told me last night you weren't going climbing after all, Brick.
Wouldn't have spent hours getting all the gear ready."
Brick frowned. "We are going climbing. What are you talking about?"
It was Walter's turn to frown. "I saw those kids drive off about fifteen
minutes ago. They said there'd been a change of plans."
Leigh shot Brick a concerned glance. "You don't think..."
Brick shook his head. "They don't know how to get there."
"Grant was in the den after dinner last night, looking through some of the
walking books. Maybe he was looking up the route." Leigh walked quickly to
the bookcase where they kept all the maps and guidebooks and emerged a few
moments later with a map in her hand.
"It was open on the coffee table."
Brick studied the map and his heart sank. Someone has circled the Witch's
Cauldron in red. An arrow line plotted the route there from the ranch.
"Damn Levine. He's even more stupid than I thought. They've gone to the
Leigh paled. "You think they're going to dive it?"
Brick nodded grimly. "Grant will - he's been planning it all along. Listen,
they haven't been gone long. If I floor it, I should get there in time to
"Brick - you can't go to the Cauldron on your own." Leigh's voice held a
note of panic now, and he knew her concern was for him, not the guests.
"I have to, Leigh. No one else can get there in time."
"Should I call search and rescue?"
Brick shook his head. "We can't call them out unless we know for sure there's
"At least let me call Dale."
"All right. Tell him to meet me there, just in case - I'll call in as soon
as I can."
"Brick, be careful. Don't take any risks."
"I'll be fine, Leigh. I'll probably catch up with them before they get anywhere
near the water."
He shot her a reassuring smile as he left, but inside his stomach was turning
circles at the thought of what he was about to do.
Brick was relieved that there were no patrol cars on the road as he floored
the gas pedal on the drive to the small parking area beside an unmarked side
road a few miles off Highway 97. As he had suspected, Grant's SUV was there,
parked in the shade of a pine tree. Ironically, for such a dangerous natural
landmark, the Witch's Cauldron was easily accessible from the road via an
old bridle path and less than twenty minutes fast walking uphill brought
him within sight of a stand of ancient pines. He knew that just beyond the
trees the path rounded a bend and ended on the hillside above the Witch's
He paused for a moment, steeling himself to carry on. This was the closest
he had come to the Cauldron since the accident all those years ago. His mouth
was dry and his heart was beginning to pound, but he could not allow himself
the time to stop or to think. He walked on resolutely past the pines, and
within minutes was looking down on deceptively tranquil-looking, cerulean
Predictably, his mind flashed back to that fateful day when he was thirteen
Even then, the Cauldron had been out of bounds and despite his natural
inclination to take on every challenge that came his way, he had always heeded
the strict warnings. On this day, however, he was in a particularly reckless
mood and allowed three older boys to persuade him to play hooky from school.
He remembered his younger self standing in this self same place, looking
down on the lake below, listening absently to the others boasting about the
distance they each planned to jump. They walked on down the hill, ignoring
the prominent sign warning of the dangers of diving and swimming, and climbed
up to the high rock that formed a natural diving platform. Brick recalled
every emotion that had coursed through him as he peered down into the inviting
depths of the water: excitement and bravado quelling the nagging fear and
doubts; exhilaration at the prospect of the dangerous dive and a kind of
perverse satisfaction at doing something he knew his father had expressly
forbidden him to do.
He was the last to dive. He knew now that his age and size had probably saved
him; younger and weaker than the others, his dive landed him closer to shore
in shallower water where the current was not so strong. Even so, the moment
he hit the water and began to kick back up towards the surface, he knew he
was in trouble. Fluid tendrils curled around his legs, dragging him down,
and he fought frantically against the powerful pull, kicking with all his
strength until his head broke the surface. Gasping for breath, he began to
swim for shore. Then he heard the terrified screams. Looking over his shoulder,
he saw Jordan Wicks and Terry Roswell near the center of the lake, arms flailing
as they were drawn inexorably down by the powerful and deadly current. Without
thinking, he turned to swim back towards them, heard someone screaming his
name and then the current reclaimed its hold and dragged him back beneath
The next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital. Buddy Jennins,
the third of the trio of fifteen-year-olds, had pulled him out of the water.
They told him he had stopped breathing and that Buddy had performed CPR and
saved his life. Wicks and Roswell's bodies were found later, claimed by the
unseen monster beneath the lake.
If, in the back of his mind, Brick went to the Cauldron to get his father's
attention, he certainly achieved his aim. Once he was certain that his son
was not badly hurt, Jack had torn into him in a way he had never done before
and grounded him for a month. The punishment was intended to demonstrate
the stupidity of the venture, but it wasn't needed. Brick knew that he had
made a big mistake; he knew better and should have tried to talk the older
boys out of it rather than joining them in the tragic escapade. One part
of him knew that they would not have listened, but that had not lessened
the guilt he felt about his part in it, guilt that he still felt today.
Brick shook himself mentally and the images faded, even as the familiar symptoms
of a panic attack began to manifest. His chest tightened, sweat broke out
on his brow and his breathing quickened. No! He couldn't let this happen;
if he lost control now more lives could be lost. He concentrated on ridding
his mind of thought, focusing only on his breathing - slow it down,
deep breaths - blocking out all extraneous sounds except that of his heartbeat.
In a few moments the symptoms began to subside and he found himself breathing
Looking down, he could see three people standing on the pebble beach at the
western shore of the lake. His eyes scanned for the fourth until he spotted
movement on the diving platform. The sun reflected the blond highlights in
the figure's hair; Grant Levine.
Brick began to run down the hill, shouting a warning. He saw Grant glance
in his direction and raise a hand in mock-salute before he dived gracefully
into the water.
Brick swore under his breath as he skidded to a halt beside the rest of the
"Are you all totally stupid? I told you it was dangerous to come here!"
Christian frowned. "Grant's friend said it isn't as bad as it's made out
to be - that the warnings are just there to cover the authorities if someone
did get hurt."
"Well, he's wrong. You think I'd lie to you?"
Brick anxiously scanned the lake. Grant was treading water and seemed unaware
that the current was slowly drawing him slowly closer towards the center
of the lake where the wicked underwater currents were waiting to drag
"Grant, start swimming to your left, get to the bank," Brick shouted urgently,
fear welling up inside as he saw history begin to repeat itself.
Grant could obviously feel the pull of the current now and tried to swim
against it as Brick had instructed. Brick heard the note of panic in his
voice as he shouted back, "The current's dragging me back!"
Brick could see that Grant was not going to get out of this on his own. Refusing
to think beyond the practicalities of what had to be done, he pulled a rope
out of his backpack and scanned the shore for a suitable sturdy tree to tie
it to. He picked one out near the edge - a graceful yet sturdy aspen. Quickly
he tied the rope around the trunk of the tree, and then stripped down to
boxers and T-shirt. The T-shirt would give him some protection against burns
from the rope. He looped the rope securely around his waist, leaving a long
end loose so that he could tie it around Grant as well, if he needed to.
He turned to Christian and the girls. "You're going to have to pull us back
in - the current out there's too strong for us to swim back. Be ready when
I tell you."
Without another word, he waded into the lake and began to swim in Grant's
direction. The young man was in real trouble now, trying frantically to keep
himself afloat as the current swirled around his body. Brick could feel its
tendrils trying to take a hold as he swam, but he fought against them, kicking
hard to keep himself above the water. It was in his favor that the surface
current was moving him in Grant's direction; if he could just get a hold
on the man, the others could pull them both in.
He reached Grant just as the other began to lose strength and sink beneath
the water. Brick grabbed for him, hit solid flesh and maneuvered into a
lifesavers lift. Grant began to struggle, kicking out. Brick grunted as a
foot landed painfully on his thigh.
"Grant, keep still. I've got you. Just keep still and we'll get out of this
in one piece."
To his credit, Grant seemed to understand and stopped moving to let Brick
get a better hold on him.
"Start pulling!" Brick shouted over his shoulder as he began to kick for
shore. He could feel the drag of the deeper currents and fought to keep both
their heads above water. Even with Christian and the girls pulling together
on the rope, he knew they were too far to the west, too close to an outcrop
of rocks. A moment later, his body slammed against the first of the rocks.
Pain shot through his upper back and shoulder, but he held on grimly to Grant.
Again, the current smashed him against the rock and this time his head snapped
back, connecting painfully with solid stone.
"Pull harder!" he screamed.
The next few minutes were a blur, but finally he felt the current weaken.
Soon, hands were grabbing him and pulling him to shore. Brick collapsed on
the bank, exhaustion taking control of his limbs. Beside him, he was vaguely
aware of Grant breathing heavily. Brick closed his eyes and lay there panting
for long minutes. When he opened his eyes again, Cindy was bending over him
"Brick, thank God! Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." That was a slight overstatement. His shoulder was throbbing and
his head pounding, but he was alive and so was Grant and that was all that
He sat up slowly and saw that Grant too was sitting up, leaning back against
a rock, Lori hovering anxiously beside him. The other man was pale, but looked
unhurt. As he saw Brick's eyes on him, he got unsteadily to his feet.
Brick stood up slowly, biting back a groan as his back and shoulder protested
the movement. He looked at Grant. "You all right?"
Grant nodded shortly. "You really didn't need to make a spectacle of yourself
- I could have made it, you know."
Brick shot him an incredulous look, and he wasn't the only one.
"For heaven's sake, Grant, for once in your life admit that you got something
wrong." Cindy was pale; it was clear that she, like Christian, knew how close
they had come to losing her brother.
"She's right, Grant. You'd have drowned if Brick hadn't gone in after you,"
"Grant was doing just fine," Lori said aggressively, putting a protective
arm around her boyfriend and glaring at Christian and Cindy. "Personally,
I think Brick was just showing off, trying to prove he was right."
"Oh, yes, Hick's quite the little hero, isn't he." Grant's words were dripping
Something inside Brick snapped. Since Grant's arrival, he had kept a rein
on his temper and checked his inclination to deck this supercilious, mean-mouthed
rich kid. Now, as the realization of how close they had come to death
hit him with sickening force, he could no longer hold back three days of
With a snarl of anger, he closed the distance between himself and Grant in
a run. Grant wasn't prepared for the left hook that slammed him back against
the trunk of the aspen. Brick closed in, landing another quick punch before
Grant got his wits about him and began to fight back. A lucky punch caught
Brick in the mouth and he lost his balance, falling with Grant on top of
him. Vaguely he felt hands grabbing his arms from behind, pulling him away
from Grant and he struggled against them. Through the red fog that filled
his vision, he could hear someone shouting his name.
Slowly he became aware that Christian was holding him back while Cindy and
Lori were between them restraining Grant. Suddenly sapped of energy, Brick
allowed his body to relax.
"Let me go, Christian, I've finished with him; he's not worth the time and
Grant, too, looked like he had had enough. He impatiently dragged out of
his sister's grip and sat down heavily.
With a pang of guilt, Brick realized he had not yet radioed base. Leigh would
be worried. He grabbed his pack and pulled the radio out.
"Mobile one to base."
The radio was answered immediately.
"This is base." Leigh's voice was sharp and Brick could almost feel her
underlying panic. Brick, are you all right?"
"I'm fine. We're all fine, Leigh. Everything's under control."
"I'll tell you later. We're still at the lake, but we'll be back soon. Can
you radio Dale and call him off?"
"He was never coming. The whole sheriff's department was caught up in a break-in.
I was just getting ready to call search and rescue."
"No need; no one's hurt. We'll be back in an hour."
Brick turned the radio off. Rummaging in his pack he found a spare pare of
boxers and a T-shirt. Silently he picked up his discarded jeans and
went behind a nearby rock to change. Even though he was out of sight of the
others, he knew he had to hold on to the icy control that had settled over
him. He needed to get the party back to the ranch safely before he could
allow himself to think about what had just happened.
Brick carefully removed his wet T-shirt, biting back an exclamation as his
left shoulder protested when he raised his arm too high. He gingerly ran
his right hand over the injured shoulder and back, hissing at the pain his
probing fingers provoked. He was sure there were no bones broken; his back
was just badly bruised. He wiped blood from his lip, dressed again carefully,
drew a big breath and went back to join the others.
Grant was dressed and sitting on a boulder. He glanced up with an unreadable
expression as Brick approached, but kept his silence.
Cindy looked up from her own perch nearby and stood up. "Brick, are you all
right? You look a bit pale."
"I'm okay." Admitting he was hurt was only going to complicate matters. "Grant,
are you up to the hike back to the parking area? I suggest we get back as
soon as possible. I think it would be a good plan to get a doctor to check
you out, just in case."
"He's up to it if you are!" Lori said immediately and Brick was surprised
when Grant shot her a silencing look.
"I'm ready to go," Grant said.
"Come on then, Grant." Lori swung her pack onto her back and took his arm.
"We'll meet the others at the car."
She marched off, dragging a compliant Grant with her.
Brick turned to Cindy and Christian. "Are you ready?"
Christian nodded and Cindy reached out and touched Brick's arm. "Brick, I'm
so sorry about Grant's behavior. He can be such a jerk sometimes."
"A lot of the time, actually," Christian added.
"But you still hang out with him?"
Christian grinned sheepishly. "Grant and I are both studying law at Seattle
University. I met Cindy when she came to visit him one weekend and we hit
it off right away. So I kind of got to know Grant through her."
"He's not always like this," Cindy went on. "He can be quite sweet sometimes."
"I'll take your word on that," Brick said dryly.
"It's when he's with a crowd... seems to feel he has to prove himself," Christian
went on. "And Lori doesn't help."
"He doesn't have to prove anything to me," Brick said.
Cindy shrugged. "Grant learned from our father that you can't be somebody
unless you have a privileged upbringing and a lot of money. Meeting someone
like you shakes his confidence in his beliefs."
Brick discerned the compliment and was grateful for it, but he was too tired
to pursue the conversation. "We'd better get after them," he said and,
without thinking, went to pick up his backpack, bending
his left arm back to pull the strap on. Pain tore through his back and he
dropped the pack with an exclamation.
"Brick? You are hurt, aren't you?" Cindy's eyes were full of concern.
"I'm all right," Brick answered through gritted teeth. "Just bruised my back
a bit. It's nothing."
Christian raised a disbelieving eyebrow and silenced Brick's protests with
a frown as he picked up the heavy pack. "You have one thing in common with
Grant, though - a stubborn streak a mile wide."
As he followed Christian along the track, Brick had to admit that the redhead
was right on that count.
They caught up with Grant and Lori and completed the remainder of the short
hike back to the parking area in silence. When they arrived, Brick refused
Christian's offer to drive and followed the others back to the ranch.
As he drew to a halt he saw Jack standing outside, holding something in his
hand, a look of thunder on his face.
He turned off the engine, closed his eyes and simply sat for a moment. Jack
was obviously angry about something - undoubtedly something Brick had done
wrong - and Brick knew he was in no shape to deal with it right now. He was
exhausted from his exertions in the lake; his head was thumping and his back
throbbing. But there was no avoiding Jack in this kind of mood so after a
moment, he opened the car door and got out. The sooner he got it over with,
the sooner he could get out of here and find some space alone.
Jack marched down the path, confronting him before he had taken a step.
"Of all the stupid, irresponsible... suicidal things to do!"
Close up, Brick could see that his father was white with anger. He frowned.
Jack stabbed a finger at the map. "The Witch's Cauldron. You took them there,
didn't you? How many times do we have to have this conversation? You just
can't take risks like that with people's lives!"
At those words, Brick felt his already fragile relationship with his father
crumble to nothing. He had been expecting this moment, when he would finally
have to accept that his dream of reconciliation was doomed to failure, but
somehow, he had not expected it to hurt so much. Yet he was somehow unable
to leave without one more try.
"Jack, you don't really believe I'd take anyone there, not to the Cauldron."
Jack glared at him. "The route's marked out on the map and you just drove
back with them. What else do you expect me to think?"
All at once, the pain morphed into anger - a blinding rage towards the man
who had the ability to create such powerful emotions in him.
"What else?" Brick was shouting now. "What else? I'd expect you to
stop for once in your life and ask yourself if you have the kind of son would
risk someone else's life in a place where he almost lost his own!"
His words seemed to stun Jack into silence. Brick saw Bill appear in the
doorway and was vaguely aware of Leigh running towards them from the barn.
But his whole attention was on Jack.
"Well?" Brick challenged, trying to control the waver in his voice. "What's
your answer, Jack?"
Still Jack did not speak, and the emotion that crossed his face was unreadable.
In his father's silence, Brick read his answer. He spun around, climbed back
into the truck and turned the key with a shaking hand. He revved the engine
and the wheels squealed in protest as he turned the truck around and floored
the gas. He vaguely heard his father calling his name, but blocked out the
sound. There was only one thought only in his mind: to get away from Jack
as fast as he could.
From his perch on a rustic log bench, Bill Patterson contemplated his old
friend. Jack stood at the edge of the pond near the ranch house, his back
to Bill, idly skimming stones across the water.
It was two hours since Brick's abrupt departure and in the forty minutes
they had been down at the pond Jack had not spoken. Leigh had pulled no punches
as she berated her father-in-law for jumping yet again to the wrong conclusion
and it seemed to affect Jack deeply when he discovered his error. Bill had
to admit that he agreed with Leigh. Jack's tendency to go off at the deep
end without waiting to check his facts had landed him in trouble time and
The Levine group had been less than forthcoming about their time at the lake,
simply explaining that Brick had followed them and persuaded them not to
swim there. Bill was sure that there was more to the story than that and
knew that Jack thought so too; the bruise on Grant's jaw and Brick's cut
lip was enough evidence of that. Bill persuaded Jack to let it go and discuss
it with his son when he returned. If he returned. From his expression when
he left, Bill was not at all sure that the young man would be home any time
Bill knew Jack McKenna all too well; when something upset him he clammed
up, refused to talk about it and behaved as if nothing was wrong. Therefore,
Bill let him have his space until he felt the silence had gone on too long.
Then he said quietly, "Am I going to sit on this uncomfortable bench all
afternoon, or are you going to tell me what's going on between you and your
Jack skimmed a stone and they both watched as a succession of ripples disturbed
the stillness of the water. Finally, he answered gruffly, "We never did see
eye to eye, Bill. You know that."
Bill let the understatement pass. "There's a lot more to it, and you know
"It just isn't working out between us the way I hoped, that's all."
"And why do you think that is?"
When Jack apparently chose not to reply, he went on, "Do you love Brick?"
That got Jack's attention. He turned from the water, eyeing Bill indignantly.
"He's my son, isn't he?"
"That wasn't what I asked."
Jack looked searchingly at him for a moment, before admitting, "I love my
son, Bill, you know that."
"Ever considered telling him?"
Jack's eyes narrowed. "I shouldn't have to tell him. I'm his father."
Bill regarded him carefully for a moment. "Well, it strikes me that Brick
might have missed that particular memo."
"Don't start the business-speak with me, Bill," Jack said irritably. "Just
say what you mean."
"All right then. It just seems to me that Brick doesn't know where he stands
with you. You criticize him at every opportunity; you refuse to listen to
any of his ideas about the business, even though most of them are sound.
You're not behaving like a father who loves his son, Jack. You have an
opportunity here to re-build your relationship with your only remaining son.
The way I see it, what you're actually doing is your level best to drive
Jack glared at him coldly. "That's what you think, huh?"
Bill was unperturbed by Jack's building aggression. "Just telling it how
I see it."
"You know nothing about it."
"Maybe not, but it doesn't take a genius to see that Brick's confused. He
thinks you don't love him, that he's failed you - just like he failed you
all those years when Guy was alive."
Jack frowned. "That's ridiculous. He hasn't failed me. He's just - different.
I guess I haven't always been the best father to him; I never really understood
him and I didn't try too hard. I always thought he didn't care, that he wanted
to go his own way."
Bill had some thoughts on why Brick had chosen that particular route, but
felt that this was something Jack should figure out for himself.
"Now ..." Jack shrugged. "Something that happened when he first came back
made me think that maybe we had a chance to patch up our relationship."
"So why are you being so hard on him?"
"You think I'm hard on him?" Jack snapped. "Well, maybe if he was less foolhardy,
took fewer risks, I wouldn't have to be!"
"So the problem is that he's reckless?"
"Hell, yes. Let me give you a few examples." Jack was obviously agitated
now, pacing as he began to count off Brick's misdemeanors on his fingers.
"Last winter, he took on a job driving a truckload of explosives down the
mountain in the snow. That's reckless in my book! He thinks I don't know
about it - he certainly wasn't planning to tell me himself. He takes every
opportunity to push himself to the limit - takes on the most dangerous runs,
the most risky climbs. Only three days ago, he climbed one of the most dangerous
mountains in the area. He was lucky he wasn't killed." Jack's voice was rising
in volume as he got more and more agitated. "Sometimes I'm afraid to let
him out of my sight in case ..."
"In case of what, Jack?" Bill prompted mildly.
"Goddamn it, Bill, I can't lose another son!" Jack roared.
Silence greeted Jack's confession. Bill held his friend's eyes for a moment
and had no difficulty in identifying the shock and confusion he saw there.
Jack turned abruptly. "I'm not discussing this any more. You have no right
to come here and tell me about my relationship with my own son."
"Jack..." Bill began, but Jack shook his head and his eyes flared.
Bill could see he had hit a nerve - one which maybe even Jack had not been
fully aware of. Yet as his friend stalked off, he was unable to let the moment
go without a final comment.
"You need to deal with this, Jack - or you really are going to lose him,
and this time there may be no coming back."
Jack stopped in his tracks and his back stiffened. Bill thought he might
have gone too far, but after a moment McKenna strode on. Bill could only
hope that he would calm down and do some serious thinking before he next
saw his son.
Brick drove automatically with little awareness of the roads he was taking.
He just needed to get away. When he finally became aware of his surroundings,
he found that he had subconsciously headed for the place he always went when
he needed to think. He was high up in the mountains, steering the truck along
a narrow, rough forestry service road.
He pulled into a small parking area where the thick trees gave way to bald
mountain, got out of the car and walked a few hundred yards along a narrow
track to a ledge on the edge of the mountain face affording a spectacular
view over the Three Sisters.
Brick sat down, leaned back against the comforting solidity of the rock,
and closed his eyes. Now he was alone and no longer had any need to keep
up the pretense that he was all right, he felt the energy seep from his body.
It was probably nothing more than adrenalin that had kept him going for the
past few hours and now shock began to set in and he found himself shaking
violently. Tears pricked at his eyelids and soon began to flow unchecked
as he gave in to the emotions he had been holding back for so long.
It was a long time before he took a final gulping breath and wiped away a
remaining tear from his cheek. He felt drained, but peaceful, as if he had
cried away all the anger and frustration and fear. Tentatively, he allowed
himself to rehearse the events of the morning and found, to his surprise,
that he could recall the whole incident at the Witch's Cauldron without the
familiar stab of fear that always accompanied recollections of the previous
incident. History had repeated itself, but this time without the resulting
tragedy. Nothing would bring back those two boys who had lost their lives,
but now he felt in some strange way that he had claimed a life back from
the monster that had devoured them. For the first time, he began to believe
that he could genuinely put the accident behind him.
He lay back, shifting painfully until he found a position that didn't aggravate
his bruised back and closed his eyes, allowing the warmth of the sun to seep
through him, warming him inside and out. He knew he had some hard decisions
to make and that he could not put them off any longer.
He had left McKenna Outfitters three years ago looking for - something. What
it was, he didn't even remember. At the time he had felt trapped and needed
to get away: away from the shadow of his brother and the impossible relationship
with his father. He knew that life out there must be more fulfilling than
his life at the ranch and there had to be a place where he could finally
The longer he was away from home, the more he came to realize that life was
not about where you were or even what you were doing - life was what you
made of it. True, he became increasingly more and more frustrated with his
job. It was difficult at first to accept that he was no longer a big fish
in a small pond and that he would need a huge amount of good fortune and
simple luck to fulfill his dream of being a racing driver. His job changing
tires in the pit kept him close to the track but might have been a million
miles away for all the good it did him. He didn't enjoy the hustle and bustle
and constant movement of racing life as much as he had hoped and found himself
homesick for the wilderness. Now that he was back, he understood why; this
place was a part of him and always would be.
The news of Guy's death had been devastating. Even now, after almost
three years, he found it hard to believe that his brother was actually gone.
A hundred times he had visualized the accident in his head, wondering if
it might have been different had he been there. Everyone told him that was
garbage - Guy had slipped and hit his head. He was dead before anyone could
get near him. Nevertheless, Brick never lost the feeling that if he had still
been around, maybe Guy would not have been in that spot at that particular
His greatest regret was that the last words he had spoken to his brother
had been in anger and he had never had, or made, the opportunity to make
his peace. Guy died four months after Brick left home. During that time they
had not spoken a word to each other, following a violent argument the evening
before Brick left. Guy told him he was both throwing his life away and letting
the family down. Brick's bitter accusations that Guy and Jack had all they
needed in each other had been brushed off as emotional claptrap. Guy had
never really understood how Brick felt about being the odd one out, the one
who couldn't conform, the one who constantly failed to live up to his father's
expectations no matter how hard he tried.
Guy was wrong about him leaving, Brick was sure of that. He needed to get
away, if only to find some perspective and reflect on what he wanted to do
with the rest of his life. To do that under Jack's hawk-like scrutiny would
have been impossible. Yet during the remainder of the two years, he had known
that eventually he would have to go back. He had failed to reconcile with
Guy; he had to make one more attempt at making things right with Jack.
Time went on and he put off the trip back home, both unwilling and unable
to face his father. Returning with the runaway Cassidy had forced his hand
and the first few days had gone badly - as he had feared they would. Jack
was as unbending and unyielding as ever and Guy was as great a barrier
between them in death as he had been in life.
Then Brick's brush with death while saving Jack's life prompted an admission
from Jack that he needed his son and began the process of tearing down the
wall between them. It was all the encouragement Brick needed and he determined
to work at the relationship. The going was tough and at times, he despaired
of ever being able to communicate with his father. On other occasions, he
felt they were making real progress. He was surprised and thrilled when Jack
unexpectedly stepped in to help prepare his car for an illegal road race.
Jack's solid support when Brick was arrested for the murder of Kyle Dawkins
was unexpected but meant more to Brick than he could ever express. He had
begun to think that maybe he had finally come home. He even dared to hope
that his father really did love him - something he had not allowed himself
to think about for many years.
Then, just after Christmas, everything had changed. Brick had wracked his
brains repeatedly and with no success to work out what it was he had done
to change Jack's opinion of him so drastically. All he knew was that Jack
had withdrawn from him, until now they were back where they started.
These thoughts whirled around in his mind while his eyes traced the flight
of an eagle, hunting in the valley below. The bird was so majestic, so free.
Free. As he watched the bird soar through the sky he made the only decision
that could be made.
The hours passed and still he sat, unable to tear himself away from the beauty
of the wilderness. The sun sank below the mountains and the air grew chilly
as storm clouds gathered to herald a characteristic late spring storm. He
was oblivious to the rain as it began to fall, soaking through his sweater
and T-shirt and chilling his body. It was as dark and gloomy as his mood
when he finally rose stiffly from his perch and made his way back to the
"I've had a lovely evening," Casey said warmly as Dale gallantly helped her
on with her coat. "You're a really good cook!"
Dale grinned. "You sound surprised. Don't I look like the cooking type?"
"Honestly? I was expecting something in the 'can of beans and a slice of
toast' line. You're full of surprises, Dale."
In Dale's view, it had been a close-to-perfect evening. The boeuf bourguignon
was a spectacular success and he felt he had made a wise choice in sticking
to a simple dessert of strawberries and cream. Conversation flowed naturally
throughout dinner: they talked animatedly about everything and anything,
finding more and more things they had in common - and a few they didn't,
which added to the interest. By the end of the meal, Dale was walking on
air, especially as Casey had responded enthusiastically to his tentative
Dale opened the door and peered out into the torrential rain. "It's like
a monsoon out there. You sure you don't want to stay over?"
Casey smiled. "Nice try, Mr. Cop, but no - not this time."
Dale felt his face redden. "I didn't mean ... I meant, I can sleep on the
She took his face between both hands and kissed him deeply. "I know what
you meant. You're a real gentleman, you know that?" she whispered.
When she let him up for air, Dale cleared his throat. "So, I'm off Thursday
night. Would you like to do something?"
"Pick me up at seven. I don't mind what we do - surprise me." She turned
to go; a little reluctantly, he thought, as a truck pulled up beside hers.
The occupant of the truck got out, slammed the door behind him and walked
up the path.
"Isn't that Brick?" Casey asked.
Dale frowned. It was unusual for his friend to turn up unannounced at this
time of night. "Sure is. Bit late for social calls, McKenna," he called,
then stopped abruptly as he got a good look at his friend. Brick was wearing
only jeans and a sweater, he was soaking wet and the bleak expression on
his face sent shivers of apprehension through Dale.
Casey could obviously tell there was something wrong, for she gave Dale a
final peck on the cheek and walked quickly to her car, smiling a 'hello'
at Brick as she passed. Brick didn't even seem to see her.
"Brick, you're soaked, buddy," Dale said. "Where've you been?"
Brick looked at him blankly, then stepped into the open doorway and stopped.
Under the electric light Dale could see that he was pale and shivering from
head to foot. He also noted the fat lip that could only have been caused
by someone's fist. He grasped Brick's arm and guided his friend towards the
"You're dripping all over my carpet, hotshot. Shower. Now. There are towels
in the cupboard in the bathroom."
Brick looked at him uncomprehendingly and for a moment, Dale wondered if
there was something seriously wrong. Maybe he had slipped and hit his head,
although the swollen lip was the only obvious evidence of injury. How his
friend had come by that, Dale would get to the bottom of later. Then the
blue eyes seemed to re-focus. "Thanks, Dale. Sorry to just burst in like
"Don't worry about that. Just get in the shower before you freeze."
A flicker of a smile crossed Brick's face and he disappeared into the bathroom
without another word.
Dale waited until the bathroom door closed and he could hear the sound of
the shower running, then picked up the phone and dialed the McKenna ranch
number. His silent prayer was answered when Leigh rather than Jack picked
up the phone.
"Dale? What's... have you seen Brick?"
She sounded upset.
"He just turned up on my doorstep, soaked to the skin - I've sent him to
take a shower."
"Is he all right?"
"Depends what you mean. Doesn't look like he's been in an accident or anything,
but there's definitely something wrong. Anything to do with what happened
He knew from Leigh's earlier call that Brick had been to the Witch's Cauldron,
and now listened carefully as she told him what she knew and about the subsequent
argument with Jack. "If I'd only been in the house when Jack got back, I
could have explained about the map."
"Damn that man! He should know better - Brick would never endanger guests
"Dale, I think it might have been the final straw for Brick. I don't know
if there's any coming back from this."
"You think he's going to leave?"
"I'm not sure, but yes, I think so." There was a pause. "Don't let him go,
Dale felt the emotion behind those few small words. "Leigh, when did I ever
stop Brick McKenna doing exactly what he wanted to do?"
"Don't sell yourself short, Dale. Brick respects you; he listens to you more
than you might think. Please, make him stay. I... we don't want to lose him;
Jack doesn't want to lose him, if he'd only come out and admit it."
Dale heard the shower stop. "I gotta go. I'll do my best; don't worry, Leigh
- it'll all work out, you'll see."
He put the phone down, picked up some spare clothes from his bedroom and
tapped on the bathroom door. "You finished? I've got you some dry clothes."
Dale couldn't help but laugh as Brick emerged from the bathroom a few minutes
later, damp hair standing up on end and swamped in Dale's sweats and pullover.
"What's so funny?" Brick growled.
"Ah! It speaks! I was beginning to wonder, there." His smile faded as Brick's
eyes drifted shut and he swayed alarmingly. Dale grabbed his arm, guiding
him to the nearest chair. "Whoa, there, buddy. Take it easy."
Brick sat down, resting his head in his hands. "Sorry, just felt a bit dizzy
for a minute."
Dale regarded his friend quizzically. "You eaten today?"
Brick shrugged. "Breakfast, I guess. I'm not that hungry. I could use a whiskey,
though," he added, looking up hopefully.
Dale was surprised. Brick was not a big drinker and when he did drink, it
was usually beer - unless he had a lot of sorrows he needed to drown.
Dale shook his head. "You need some food inside you first. Eggs and bacon
Brick frowned, then nodded faintly, as if it was too much effort to argue,
and that really worried Dale - he could think of very few occasions when
he had seen his friend capitulate so easily on anything. Maybe a small drink
wouldn't hurt; Brick looked like he needed something to keep him upright.
Dale fished out the mostly unused whiskey bottle and poured them both a shot,
then left Brick nursing his glass and headed to the kitchen to rustle up
While he scrambled the eggs and fried the bacon in a pan, he kept half an
eye on Brick through the half open door. His friend was lying back in the
armchair, eyes closed. He looked dead tired. When the food was ready Dale
had to practically drag him into the kitchen and force him bodily into the
wooden chair. He didn't miss Brick's wince of pain as he sat down; it seemed
a fat lip wasn't the only injury he had sustained today. Brick stared at
the meal with indifference for a while, but once he reluctantly took a bite
at Dale's stern order to start eating, he seemed to realize how hungry he
was and wolfed it down in record time. He looked up at Dale then, and the
familiar grin touched his lips. "You'll make someone a great wife one day,
you know that?"
Dale sighed in relief at this small sign that the old Brick was still present
in this unfamiliar, silent figure and gestured towards the den. "We're going
to go sit down and you're going to tell me what's up."
He poured them both another shot of whiskey and sat down opposite Brick,
regarding him thoughtfully. They sat quietly as Dale tried to work out the
best way to handle the situation. In the end, it was Brick who broke the
"Hope I didn't break up your evening."
Dale shook his head. "Casey was just leaving."
"Good. That's good." Brick knocked back the rest of the whiskey with a sigh.
"Wouldn't want to screw up anyone else's life; I'm doing a good enough job
with my own."
Brick held out his glass and Dale re-filled it.
"You gonna tell me what's eating you, or are we gonna sit here all night
and stare at each other? No offence, but if I wanted to stare into someone's
eyes all night, you wouldn't be my first choice."
Brick's mouth quirked. "Same here, buddy." He sighed. "You can probably guess."
"Another argument with Jack?"
"You could call it that."
"Want to tell me about it?"
"I guess. I suppose it started when Grant decided to ignore everything I'd
told him and take a little trip to the Witch's Cauldron."
Dale listened attentively as Brick recounted the events of the day. Leigh
had been hazy about the details and now he knew why; no one had told her
the details of what really happened that morning. Even though Brick told
Dale the whole story, his description of his rescue of Grant was sketchy.
It took a lot of precise questioning for Dale to picture exactly what had
happened and how close Brick and Grant had come to death.
He sat back when Brick finished recounting the details of the rescue, sipping
his whiskey and contemplating what he had been told. It boiled down to this:
not only had Brick made it to the Cauldron without having a panic attack,
he had willingly gone into the water and saved Grant's life. Dale couldn't
begin to imagine how much courage that must have taken. Typically, the way
Brick saw it, it wasn't about courage - he had had no option, so it wasn't
a big deal.
"I lost it with Grant afterwards, though," he finished. "I'd have beaten
his stupid head in if Christian hadn't pulled me off him."
"That where you got the fat lip?"
"Pity you didn't beat his stupid head in," Dale remarked grimly and
"Come on Dale, you don't believe in fighting!"
"Yeah, well it's different when my best friend almost gets himself killed
rescuing a stupid schmuck who should have known better. He deserved a beating.
I should arrest him for disobeying State laws."
"He's not worth the paperwork."
"Maybe. But it would give him a scare."
"Well, anyway..." Brick filled him in on the later confrontation with his
father. He tried to make light of Jack's comments, but Dale could tell from
the stiffness of his jaw and the emotion in his eyes that he had been badly
shaken by Jack's accusations. Finally, he finished the story and looked up
"Is he right, Dale?"
"Right about what?"
Brick's voice was so quiet Dale barely made out the words. "Am I really that
big a loser?"
"You're not a loser, Brick, and you know that," Dale replied immediately.
"Jack knows it too. He's got some issues..."
"You can say that again," Brick interjected bitterly.
"...Which you guys are going to have to work out, but I reckon he's the one
with the problem, Brick, not you." Dale went on. "Anyway, if you're a loser,
what does that make me for hanging out with you?"
He'd meant the final comment as a joke, but Brick looked at him seriously.
"It makes you about the best friend a man could have, Dale."
"Oh, come on, Brick," Dale said, uncomfortable with the honest admiration
in Brick's voice.
"It's true, Dale. Jack - I just don't know what it is he wants from me. I've
come to terms with the past as best I can. I understand why he loved Guy
more than me and I can accept being second best. When I came back - I didn't
plan to stay, but I thought that maybe... just maybe... now that it was just
the two of us, we could have a second chance, you know? That we could work
things out, learn to get along. And for a while it was going okay. It wasn't
easy - I guess I couldn't ever expect it to be easy between me and Jack -
but we were working things out. And then everything went to hell and now...
I'm beginning to think that I imagined it all, that there's nothing there
between us. I can't live with that. I've done a lot of thinking, Dale, and
there's only one option. I have to leave."
Dale had known that was coming and had no argument against it, maybe because
he thought that perhaps Brick was right.
All his life Brick had lived in the shadow of his brother, and for someone
like Brick McKenna, it wasn't a comfortable place to be. Physically there
had been a strong resemblance between the two brothers. Same dark hair, same
piercing eyes, same resolute, square jaws. Guy was a few inches taller and
broader than Brick, thought what Brick lacked in bulk he made up for in agility
But there the resemblance ended. Guy McKenna was steady, dependable and
even-tempered. Brick was hot-tempered with a tendency to act first and think
later. He had always been fearless - the kind of person who needed to push
himself to the limit and take on every challenge that presented itself. This
trait had landed him in plenty of trouble over the years and coupled with
the rebelliousness of youth and his rocky relationship with his father, could
easily have sent him over the edge as a teenager. Yet Brick always stayed
on the right side of the line, refusing to have anything to do with the drug
and alcohol scene that some of their contemporaries had embraced. Instead,
he channeled his frustrations into sports and outdoor pursuits - and
finally, the more dangerous road racing that had eventually led to his decision
to leave and try his hand with the stock cars.
Now, tempered by experience and common sense, his life would best be described
as adventurous. Brick McKenna wanted to live his life to the fullest, and
Dale couldn't fault him for that.
It hadn't escaped Dale's notice that most of Brick's more reckless adventures
had been the result of some altercation with his brother or father. Once
he was old enough to understand what was going on, it upset Dale to witness
Brick's constant inner turmoil. One the one hand Brick needed to be himself,
to find his own way; on the other he couldn't help trying to win his father's
approval. Jack McKenna was Brick's hero and always would be. That was the
tragedy of it--he knew and Dale knew that the only way he could achieve that
was to be more like Guy.
Dale, who had a close relationship with understanding parents, had never
understood why Jack couldn't accept and love Brick for who he was. He had
known from the first moment they met that Brick McKenna was a cut above the
rest. Sure, Dale always played second fiddle to his friend - Brick got the
pick of the girls, was the better sportsman, more popular in school. Regardless,
Brick always stood by him, never intentionally made him feel second best,
fought bullies on his behalf. Most importantly, Brick believed in him, never
once made him feel that he was too slow or too scared to do anything and
consequently Dale's confidence in himself grew. Brick had contributed a great
deal to the man Dale was today. He was the best friend Dale was ever likely
to have and Dale knew he could not stand by and watch him destroyed once
more by his father.
"Brick, at least think about it a bit more," he said feebly, feeling obliged
to at least to fulfill his promise to Leigh. "You can't just leave. What
about Cass - and Leigh?"
Brick sighed. "I don't want to go, Dale. I have to go. I know Cass
will be upset, but she'll get over it. Leigh - I don't know. I thought about
asking her to come with me, but she's not ready for that kind of commitment.
Apart from that, I don't even have a job yet - I couldn't support her and
the kids. 'Sides, I'm not sure I'm ready to be a father."
"You'd make a fine father, if you had to."
"Maybe. But I think Leigh's better off without me. Anyway, I've been thinking
about it, and I've decided to stay until the fall - unless Jack can find
someone else to help out over the summer. But I was wondering if I could
move in with you until I leave? I just can't face living at the ranch, knowing...
I'll make myself scarce when you want to be alone with Casey."
"Of course you can stay, if that's what you want." Dale held Brick's eyes,
seeing both pain and determination in their depths. "You're really sure about
this, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
There was a lot he could say, but nothing he could think of that would change
Brick's mind. Only Jack had that power. So he simply said, "You planning
on going back to the stock cars?"
Brick shook his head slowly. "No. I made that decision last year when I beat
Clint Emmens. This is my life, Dale; the Wilderness, introducing people to
it, seeing how it affects their lives. I thought I might head over to West
Oregon. I ran into Johnny Fisher the other day, he's working at one of the
big Outfitters over there. Said he'd put in a good word."
Dale was silent. He wasn't sure how his friend would fare in that kind of
set up, where he had no say in the running of the place and just had to take
orders. Then again, how different was that from his current life?
"Gonna miss you, buddy," he said simply, swallowing past a sudden lump in
"Me too." Brick was silent for a moment. "You know it was you who saved me
in high school?"
"What you talking about?"
Brick shrugged. "I know I was wild - don't know why you stuck by me all that
time. I could easily have gone the same way as Brad Metzler."
Dale remembered Brad Metzler well. He and Brick had been rivals all through
high school - in sporting achievements, with girls, in most everything. But
while Brick had always drawn a line, Brad had set out to cross every line
he could and by his senior year was heavily into drugs and alcohol. Dale
had no idea where he was now - he had dropped out of school before graduation.
"Don't sell yourself short, Brick. You were wild, but you were never stupid."
"You have no idea, do you? Remember that time when Brad challenged me to
a tequila drinking competition?"
Dale grinned. "Yeah, I remember. You won."
"Afterwards, I was throwing up in the rest room, met some of Brad's buddies
sniffing dope. I was pretty far-gone. When they invited me to join in, you
know what stopped me? The thought of the disappointment on your face if you
came in and caught me."
"Brick..." Dale was sure it was the whiskey that was making Brick so emotional,
but nevertheless his friend's words made him feel good.
"You're the best buddy a man could ever have, Dale. I wan... want you to
Dale cleared his throat, terrified that his friend might just leap up at
that point and hug him. "Well, I appreciate that, Brick, I really do, but
I reckon it's time for you to turn in."
"Night's young, Dale. We could hit a club ..."
"I don't think so - not with the shape you're in. Bed, Brick. You've got
to work in the morning."
"Ah, yes, work for the great Jack McKenna." Brick stood up, swayed, and Dale
grabbed his arm firmly. "Well, wouldn't want to disappoint him, would I?"
Leigh put the phone down with mixed feelings. Her conversation with Dale
had reassured her of Brick's safety but did nothing to quell her rising anxiety
and confusion about the situation. She stood quietly for a moment, collecting
herself, then returned to the den where Shannon Masters sat sipping a glass
During the year since Shannon had arrived in Oregon to open a guesthouse,
she and Leigh had developed a close friendship. Their respective commitments
allowed them little opportunity to get together, but Leigh looked forward
to their meetings. There were few other women in the area with whom she felt
as able to share her heart.
Shannon raised an eyebrow as Leigh sat down and picked up her own glass.
"Sorry about that," Leigh said.
"Everything all right?"
"Yes." She didn't want to explain and have to go through the whole horrible
story. She was afraid that if she started talking about Brick, her feelings
would be obvious. So far, she had kept them hidden from everyone,
"So, did this call have anything to do with whatever it is you have on your
Leigh groaned inwardly. She had spent the whole evening trying to pretend
that everything was fine, but she should have known that Shannon would see
"It's nothing. Brick and Jack had an argument earlier; Brick left and we
weren't sure where he was. That was Dale calling to say that Brick's with
him. So everything's okay."
Shannon gave her measuring look. "You have a funny idea of 'nothing', girl.
Jack's hiding in his study, you've been watching the door all evening, and
Cass has been down three times to check when her brother's due back."
"We were a little worried, that's all."
"So, this has nothing to do with your feelings for Brick?"
Leigh started and spluttered out a mouthful of wine. "What?"
Shannon smiled. "I'm not stupid, Leigh. There's been something going on between
you two for a while."
"There's nothing going on! I'm... he's..." Leigh floundered to a halt. She
had thought she had been so careful, so ruthless in keeping her feelings
in check. Dear Lord, if Shannon had noticed, what about Jack? No, that was
impossible: he would have said something.
"So, are you going to tell me about it?" Shannon seemed unconvinced by her
Maybe it was time to talk; she had kept her feelings bottled up for
long enough. Slowly, haltingly, Leigh told Shannon about the fateful kiss
on her birthday, how Brick had wanted to take things further, and the way
her fears and doubts had held her back. How she had begged him to pretend
that nothing had happened, to let them go back to the way things had been.
How she had been trying to keep him out of her mind ever since.
"Well, you don't seem to have done a very good job of it," Shannon remarked
dryly. "And where does John fit into all this?"
John. Leigh had not though about John in a long time. Looking back, the whole
episode seemed surreal, like a dream. When he had dropped into her life five
months ago, a stranger with no memory, she had been flattered by his attention
and dependence on her. It had been a long time since someone had needed her
in that way. She believed she was falling in love with him and when his identify
was discovered and he left to pick up his old life, was sure that she would
be devastated. Strangely, though, when he left, the feelings seemed to leave
She felt herself flush as she thought about John and her behavior at the
"The time John and I had together - it seems like a dream, like a kind of
madness. When he was gone, there was nothing left."
Shannon regarded her thoughtfully. "So, you're telling me that your feelings
for John weren't real?"
"They felt real at the time. But..."
"But maybe you were just trying to block out your feelings for Brick by falling
in love with someone else?"
Shannon had discerned in only a few moments what it had taken Leigh months
of heart-searching to work out. She nodded mutely.
"Tell me, what's so bad about you and Brick together?" Shannon went on.
Wasn't it obvious? "He's Guy's brother, Shannon."
"So? It just - well, it feels wrong."
"Why? Do you think it's disloyal to Guy to have feelings for his brother?"
"I guess so."
"Don't you think Guy would want you to be happy?"
"Of course he would, but..." she wasn't sure how to explain. "I'm not really
sure what it is that attracts me to Brick."
Shannon raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Apart from the fact that he's the
hottest guy south of the Cascades?"
Leigh had to laugh. Her friend was nothing if not direct. "Apart from that."
"Does he remind you of Guy?"
Leigh had thought about that a lot. "In some ways. When he first came back,
all I could think about was how alike they look, yet in character they couldn't
be more different."
"So when you look at Brick," Shannon persisted, "do you see Guy?"
Slowly, Leigh shook her head. "Not now. Occasionally, perhaps, like in a
particular movement, or expression."
"So, why are you attracted to Brick?"
"I... I guess it's his love of life, his spirit, his sense of adventure.
He isn't afraid of anything, he'll push himself to the limit."
"And I'm guessing that these are all qualities that Guy didn't have?"
Leigh was stunned by this insight, was about to leap to Guy's defense, but
realized in a sudden flash of clarity that Shannon was right. Guy was a wonderful
person - he was strong, dependable, loving. He had a great sense of humor
- that at least he shared with his brother - but he never shared Brick's
sense of adventure.
Shannon looked thoughtful. "Sounds like the brothers were two sides of a
"That's one way of putting it."
"So, maybe deep down you feel that it's a betrayal of Guy to fall for his
brother, when he's so different from Guy?"
Leigh sipped her wine thoughtfully. "I'd never thought of it like that. Guy
wasn't perfect - he was too much like Jack for that! He could be stubborn,
judgmental, and self-righteous. It's the same with Brick. He can be reckless,
thoughtless, and hot tempered."
"But you're still in love with him."
In love with him? Leigh had never dared to define her feelings in such direct
terms but now, hearing the words, she knew she had been deluding herself
in thinking that her feelings amounted to anything less.
"I think so," she whispered. "But it's so complicated..."
Shannon leaned forward, putting a hand on Leigh's arm. "It doesn't have to
be, if he feels the same way."
Leigh ran her hands through her hair. "I still can't shake the feeling that
it isn't right. I guess it's partly feeling I'm betraying Guy, partly what
Jack would think, and the kids - Brick's their uncle!"
"So? They love him, don't they? You're already halfway there!"
"Can you see Brick as a father?"
Leigh shrugged. "I'm not sure he's ready for that kind of responsibility."
"Have you talked to him about it?"
"We haven't really talked at all since - since it happened."
"It's up to you, Leigh, but I think you deserve to be happy. Be honest with
yourself, and if you're really in love with him, give him a chance. And as
for Guy... did he love Brick?"
"They had their differences, but yes, he loved him very much. Brick's his
"Then I think he'd be happy that you were with someone he cared about too."
After Shannon left, Leigh sat for a long time in the darkness thinking about
her friend's words and wondering, if she did decide to put aside her fears,
if it was already too late.
Leigh was making breakfast when she heard the main door to the house open
and close with its habitual creak. A moment later Brick walked in. She noted
in concern that he was pale and the skin of his face was taut as if he was
He walked into the kitchen, silently picked up some plates and began to set
the table. Leigh put down the bread knife she was holding and crossed
the room to him. Laying a hand on his arm, she said, "Brick, are you all
He turned and in that moment, she knew. She could see it in the defeated
droop of his shoulders and the resignation in his eyes.
"Leigh, there's something I need to tell you," he began, but she interrupted.
"Don't say it, Brick."
Brick opened his mouth again but before he could speak, Jack entered the
room. He started when he saw his son. Leigh watched as the two stared at
each other in silence for a few moments, then Jack said quietly, "Brick,
we need to talk."
Leigh felt a surge of hope. Jack had been very quiet since the angry exchange
of words yesterday. She knew that Bill had spoken to him and since then Jack
had spent most of the day and evening in the study. She had hoped that he
was finally coming to his senses.
When Brick shook his head grimly, her heart sank again.
His voice was tight as he said, "I'm done talking, Jack. I might as well
tell you now. I've decided to leave. I'll stay until September - that should
be enough time for you to find someone else. I'll do my fair share of the
work in the meantime, but I'll be bunking at Dale's."
Jack's mouth tightened and he looked as if he wanted to say something, then
his expression closed. "It's your decision, son. Maybe it's for the best."
"How can it be for the best!"
They all turned, startled. No one had seen Cassidy come into the room.
"Cass, I'm sorry, I was going to tell you..." Brick began.
Cassidy ignored Brick, storming up to Jack. "You have to do something! You
can't just let him go!"
"Cass, this is between Brick and me."
"No it isn't, it affects us all! He's my brother and I need him. This is
all your fault, Jack. You've driven him away and I'll never forgive you.
I hate you!"
Cassie stormed out of the room, pushing past Brick as he tried to intercept
Brick looked helplessly at Jack. "I'm sorry. I was going to tell her later
- she shouldn't have heard like that. If you think it would be easier for
Cass, I'll leave right away."
Jack shook his head. "No need for that, she'll get over it. I'll drive into
Bend this afternoon and put up a notice for a replacement."
"A replacement?" Leigh couldn't hold her tongue any longer. "A
replacement?" This is your son you're talking about, Jack, not a new
piece of equipment!"
"Leigh, don't. It's okay." Brick said softly.
It was far from okay, but she kept her silence.
After a moment, Brick turned away. "Count me out of breakfast. I'm going
to take a shower."
Jack started for the door. "I'll go and talk to Cassidy."
"No, Jack." Leigh put out a restraining hand. "Leave her. I don't think she'll
want to see you right now. Let me talk to her later."
For the past few months Leigh had been afraid that the deteriorating relationship
between father and son would come to this and had known how badly Cassidy
would take the news if Brick decided to leave. The youngster had been so
thrilled last year when her brother returned and decided to stay; the two
of them had always been close. When she was younger, he had stood up for
her, allowed her to tag along with him, and indulged her. He understood her
in a way her father and Guy never had and Leigh knew that he had always been
Cassidy's hero. Now, as a teenager, she still looked to him for support in
her frequent altercations with Jack. It was not that Brick always agreed
with her, but he listened and explained things in a way Jack never could.
Cass had been devastated when Brick had first left three years ago. Now she
was losing him all over again.
Somehow, Leigh made it through breakfast, which was a somber affair. It was
the final morning for the Levine party and they were all subdued. Bill tried
his best to keep the conversation going, but received little reward for his
efforts. When he left to visit some friends in Bend and the other guests
headed to their cabins to finish packing, Leigh went upstairs. The bathroom
door was still shut and as she passed, she heard a thud followed by a string
of expletives. She knocked on the door.
"Brick? What happened?"
"Nothing," said a muffled voice. There was another thud.
"Brick, open the door."
"Open it, or I'll kick it down!"
After a moment, the door opened a fraction and Brick stuck his head out.
"So which one are you, Starsky or Hutch?"
She smiled at the lame attempt at levity. "You're not fine; I could tell
that earlier. Do I have to beat it out of you?"
"Promise you won't make a fuss?"
"I won't make a fuss."
The door opened fully, revealing Brick clad only in a towel around his waist.
She hastily averted her eyes from his lean yet well-muscled body and looked
into the troubled blue eyes.
"What's wrong?" she asked softly.
He turned around and Leigh gasped. The upper left side of his back was a
mass of ugly blue-black bruises. Realization hit her.
"This happened at the Cauldron yesterday! You didn't get there in time, did
you? My God, Brick, what happened? Why didn't you say something before?"
"I didn't get much opportunity, if you remember," Brick replied dryly. "It's
not a big deal, Leigh. I had to go in to get Grant, got knocked against a
rock. It isn't serious, my back's a bit stiff, that's all."
Leigh was shaken at the revelation and everything it implied. However, now
was not the time to quiz him for the details. She debated telling him he
should head straight for the doctor, but held her tongue, knowing that it
wouldn't do any good. "Go and lie down," she said briskly. "I'll get you
an ice pack."
"Don't tell Jack," Brick said urgently. "Things are bad enough."
After a moment, she nodded shortly. "You'll have to tell him sometime, but
all right. I won't say anything for now. Go and lie down."
Fortunately, Jack was nowhere in sight when she snuck into the kitchen. She
took a towel, filled it with a large handful of ice, and headed back upstairs.
She found Brick lying face down on his bed, head propped up on one arm, the
other at his side.
She sat down on the edge of the bed. "Let me take a look, just to make sure
it's just bruised."
Brick grunted assent and Leigh began to run a hand gently over the discolored
area, wincing as she felt him tense. She pressed a little harder and a sharp
intake of breath was the only evidence of the pain he was feeling.
"You're right - it's just badly bruised, but I'll bet it hurts like hell."
She positioned the ice pack over the worst of the bruising, maneuvering it
into place with a gentle hand. "How does that feel?"
Leigh clicked her tongue impatiently. "Apart from cold."
He sighed. "Better, thanks."
After a moment, she said, "So, you're really going?"
"I have to, Leigh. I can't stay here any more. It's killing me. I'd ask you
to come with me, but it wouldn't be fair to you and the kids - not until
I have a job, at least - and I| know you're not ready for that. I understand
how you feel."
"Do you? When even I don't understand it?"
He twisted his head around to look at her. "Maybe some time apart will help
us figure this out."
"Maybe. I just... I can't imagine what it's going to be like here without
He was silent and after a moment closed his eyes, relaxing as the ice began
to relieve some of the pain. Leigh leaned in and dropped a quick kiss on
his cheek. "Stay just where you are for a while. I'll give you a call in
a bit and you can come and say goodbye to your best friend Grant."
"I can hardly wait."
An hour later Brick was saddling his horse in the stable. He had decided
on the drive from Dale's to ride out that morning; although he knew he was
not really up to it, he couldn't face being around the house. When he was
ready he walked back to where Grant, Cindy and Christian were gathered, loading
luggage into the SUV. Cindy went up to him at once, giving him a quick hug
and kissing his cheek.
"I'm sorry for everything that happened," she whispered.
"It wasn't your fault, Cindy."
"You know, my mother does volunteer work for a shelter in LA, working with
underprivileged kids. It would be great if we could work it out so they could
come up here. Most of them have never left LA."
Brick nodded. "That would be great. Talk to your mother; we'll see what we
can arrange." He felt a pang of regret as he realized that he would not be
here to see that happen.
Grant stepped forward then and said quietly, "Could we have a word, in private?"
Taken by surprise at the serious nature of Grant's tone, Brick found himself
nodding and motioned for Grant to walk with him to the paddock. Brick rested
his back against a rail. "Well?"
Grant looked uncomfortable, but he held Brick's eyes as he said, "I want
to apologize for my behavior these past few days. I was way out of line."
Brick studied the well-bred features, looking for signs of Grant's usual
sardonic expression, but it was absent. Unbelievably, he seemed to be serious.
"And yesterday - I know you saved my life. I just... I guess I wasn't ready
to admit it."
Brick was silent, not yet ready to let Levine off the hook.
"I can be a real jerk, sometimes - just ask Cindy," the blond went on. "And
Lori ... when she started coming on to you, I couldn't handle it ... I know
you weren't encouraging her, but it still made me mad."
Brick weighed Grant's word, sensing the sincerity in them. "I can understand
that," he said finally. "Look, it's all right. Forget it. Maybe you can come
again some other time, we'll do a class four run and get in the climb you
Grant's eyes lit up. "That would be cool, man." He held out his hand and
Brick took it, shaking firmly. Grant nodded once, and walked back to the
car. Brick shook his head in disbelief. Who would have thought it?
He re-joined the others. Christian and Cindy were saying their goodbyes to
Jack and Leigh. Lori had appeared and was standing with her arm linked with
Grant's She looked Brick in the eye for the first time since the incident
in his bedroom.
"No hard feelings?" she said.
"Have a good trip home," Brick replied shortly, reluctantly taking her proffered
hand. He tried in vain to interpret the strange expression in her eyes as
she shook his hand, then she smiled sweetly and got into the car. He shook
Christian's hand and then watched in relief as the car roared down the road.
Brick turned to Jack immediately. "I'm going to take a ride along the gorge
trail. I'm planning to take the Wallis group there tomorrow, but I want to
see if the rain's made the trail too dangerous."
Without waiting for a response, he strode off to the barn, mounted his horse
with a degree of difficulty, and rode off.