“Not now. Please not now.” Cassie begged silently to the God she wasn’t sure even existed anymore as her old ’94 Tercel sputtered to a pathetic halt on the side of the freeway. Even in the midnight inkiness of the cool Californian night, She could see the smoke beginning to billow from under the hood of her incredibly unreliable car.
Ironic how the old rust trap of a Tercel was echoing the footsteps of her life, she noted dully. When she had bought it, the car had only been a few years old with the promise of having many more before it. It had served her well for the last ten years, in spite of all the abuse she had heaped upon it’s dented old frame.
She wanted to give up, just quit like the old junker which had coughed its last spark-plug into oblivion. But she couldn’t, it wasn’t an option.
“Mom, where are we? How come we’re stopped?”
Cassie looked briefly in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of her son as he wiped the sleep from his eyes and let out a huge yawn.
“Sorry, Kyle, but I think Matilda has finally bit the big one.” She said with a small jab at humor to lighten the mood. Kyle seemed to pick on it as his smile broadened slightly.
“Let’s have a funeral. I wanna throw rice.” Her six year old said as he pulled his favorite friend to his small chest. Cassie cringed inwardly as she noticed how scrubby looking the old stuffed bear had become. The once soft brown fur was now unidentifiable under a thick layer of grime, an arm was coming unstiched, and the poor thing was missing both of the beautiful blue buttons that had once been its eyes.
“They throw rice at weddings, Ace.” She said as he gave a childish giggle, indicating that he didn’t particularly care. It amazed her to see him so, well, normal looking after all he’d been through. After all they’d both been through.
She shook her head. She could allow herself the luxury of dwelling on the past now. Because if she reflected on all the what ifs and what had beens, she’d never find the strength to pick herself up again. And if anything, she’d learned over the last ten years how to pick herself up again and again.
“Mom, Phantom wants to know what we’re going to do now.” Kyle’s voice piped up from the back seat, drawing her out of her reverie.
“Oh he does, does he? How does he even know we’re stopped? He doesn’t have any eyes.” She couldn’t help but tease as she turned around in time to see Kyle frown slightly at his teddy. Her son paused for a moment.
“Oh he’s gained mental powers now has he?” Cassie said with a forced grin. “Well, being the all knowing teddy that he is, I’m sure that Phantom realizes that we’re about to begin a huge adventure.”
“Ah, Mom! No more adventures, I don’t want to go on an adventure.”
“C’mon Ace, where’s your spirit? Angel Grove is a couple miles from here. We can walk there just like the cowboys did in the days of the wild west.” She said as she tried to make the prospect of walking five miles in the middle of the night along a deserted road exciting to a six year old. From the mulish look on his face, she knew she wasn’t doing so hot in that department. When he was younger, she just would have carried him.
But she hadn’t had the strength when he was younger to run from the man she’d married. She barely had it now.
“The Power Rangers were once based in the outskirts of the Angel Grove desert. But I understand, Ace. You don’t want to see if you can find their hidden lair by cutting across the desert, after all, you’re not much into adventure are you.” She attempted again, and by the curious look of enthrallment on Kyle’s face, she knew she had struck a cord this time.
“I dunno, Mom. I think Phantom wants to go and see. I don’t like adventure, but Phantom does.” He said as his big brown eyes tugged on her heart.
The world saw thirty year old, Nigel Cunningham, as an Englishman with a clean past, an impeccable lineage, and no worries. He’d worked very hard to bury the person he had once been, who everyone had thought he had once been.
He looked for all the world like a well adjusted, carefree bachelor who was just taking his sweet time before he found the perfect girlfriend who would later become the perfect wife who would take care of their perfect children. His deep rich brown hair looked as if it was in desperate need of a hair cut, but with a glance at his deep blue eyes and the boyish dimple that quirked in his cheek when he was amused, the shaggy hair was obviously deliberate.
And even though his voice had a slight British accent to it, he failed to have the pasty complexion that the English were notoriously stereotyped with. In fact, Nigel looked much like a fun loving, down to Earth, downright happy man.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nigel looked up to see the stars dancing in the desert sky. Idly, he swirled the mountain dew he’d swiped from his cousin’s fridge as he contemplated his life under the solitude of the cool, crisp Angel Grove night.
What was he doing here on Earth instead of up on Eltare with his mother and his aunt? Hadn’t he wanted to be rid of this planet and its crummy memories? He drank the mountain dew slowly as the full moon drew a lonesome howl out of a coyote.
This planet and this town offered him nothing but misery. He seemed to love making himself miserable, and Fate had definitely seen to it that he’d never be in short supply of things to be miserable about.
Even the beauty of the desert bathed in the ethereal glow of the moonlight failed to brighten his sour mood. The moon couldn’t change the fact he had imprisoned himself on a backwards planet on the far reaches of some reject galaxy. It irritated the hell out of him, he couldn’t seem to get the technologically stumped world out of his system.
He couldn’t seem to help himself. Earth drew him. After all, it was where he had been born, where he’d almost died on a few memorable occasions, and where he’d fallen in love.
Love. He snorted in disgust. Just like everything about his life, that experience had been spoiled here on Earth as well. He let the years roll back off his shoulders and he pictured himself at twenty. Young in body, he had been on a mission. A mission to save a backwaters little planet from destruction. His young body had taken a lot of punishment back then, and so had his mind. But his mind had never been young, he’d come from the cradle old.
Of course when one’s parents were Divatox, the world’s worst pirate, and the mighty Lord Zedd, it was easy to understand that the cradle was more like a basket surrounded on all sides by a pit of deadly vipers. Survival had dictated that he would never be young.
He distinctly remembered his aunt Dimitria rescuing him from the den of evil when he was eight. One of his father’s minions had been prepared to run him through with a sword when she had appeared from out of nowhere.
He loved his aunt. She had been beautiful, openly affectionate, and caring. She had been everything his own mother had not been. The contrast between them had been staggering to his eight year old mind, and when he’d met his uncle Zordon, he knew that he would never called the two who had given him birth his parents again.
But he’d also known that he would never be able to call Dimitria or Zordon his mother and father.
His lips quirked upward slightly as he heard the phone ring within the house. He turned slightly and opened the door so he could hear the answering machine as it kicked into action.
Andros’ no nonsense machine greeting flowed through the still night and then the beep sounded. Nigel’s grin deepened as he heard Ashley’s peppy voice penetrate the silent twilight.
“Nigel, I know you’re there, pick up.” There was a small pause. “Okay, I’m going to assume you’re outside then and you didn’t hear the phone ring. Heaven knows you’ve probably got one of my mountain dews in your hand and you’re staring morosely at the moon.” His lips slanted upward into a full blown smile.
“Now I know I said I wouldn’t call to check up on you, but give me a break, you’re the only cousin I’ve got. Besides, like any parent I wanted to make sure that you’re taking good care of my baby. Kelsey hasn’t been giving you any problems has she? Whoops, Andros is coming. Gotta go. Bye Nigel.”
The night went silent again, but Nigel endured it with a smile. His cousin Ashley was one of a kind. She never lacked for energy, and Nigel was entirely certain that she was running Andros around in circles on their second honeymoon in Alaska. Ashley seemed to have two speeds to her personality. Really, really fast and asleep.
He was glad to know her though. He had expected to hate her, to despise her because she had the one thing he had always wanted but could never have. She had the parents he had known could never be his.
His opinion had changed the day he realized she didn’t know. She didn’t know that she was the only daughter, the only child, of Dimitria and Zordon of Eltare. And after he’d gotten to know who she was as a person, he realized he wouldn’t have cared even if she did know. She had a way of breaking through a person’s defenses.
But he couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth about her birth. It was a secret he held close to his heart, and one that made him miserable every time he thought about it. Ashley didn’t know she had been adopted by her Earth parents. He had let her believe that he was a cousin from her adopted father’s side of the family. And since most of her adopted relatives from that side of the family were dead and couldn’t refute his claim, she had believed him.
Besides, she was happy with her life as it was, and he had no right to spoil that by dredging up a past no one remembered and no one cared about. She was married to Andros now.
His lips quirked again as a coyote howled once more in the distance. It was ironic that they had gotten together, he thought to himself. Ironic especially since the reason Carone had been taken as a child had been because Dark Spectre had mistakenly assumed the blonde haired Telekinetic child had been the only offspring of Zordon.
Dark Spectre had believed that he’d turned the golden child of the universe into a Princess of Darkness. The irony of the matter lay in the fact that she had brought about his downfall while the golden child of the universe had fallen in love with the Princess of Darkness’ brother.
Fate worked in odd ways, he acknowledged.
“It’s going to eat me!” Kyle cried out as another coyote howled off into the distance at the moon. Cassie turned slightly as she readjusted the backpack on her small shoulders. Her son was terrified of dogs or anything that even resembled a dog.
And she didn’t blame him.
“He’s not going to have a chance to eat you, Ace. There’s the house just up ahead.” She said as she pointed to the quaint house that sat out in the middle of nowhere. Right where the Command Center had once been.
“You’ll like Ashley and Andros, Ace. They used to be my best friends in the whole world. I think that they have a girl your age, too.” She added as she stared at the house in the distance.
Kyle shot her a disgusted look.
“A girl? Ah, yuck Mom! I don’t want to talk to a crummy girl.” He complained sticking his lower lip out enough to make Cassie hide a grin.
“I’m a girl and you’re talking to me.” She felt the need to point out as the six year old shot her a horrified look.
“No you’re not!” He said as he hefted Phantom higher up into his arms. “You’re my Mom.”
“Thanks, Ace. I think.” She said as she reached out and ruffled his thick dark brown hair.
He heard the voices in the distance before he actually saw them. One was the soprano of a woman, and the other was a higher pitched voice of a child. Probably a little boy. They puzzled him.
It had to be close to midnight and women and children just simply did not walk through the desert in the middle of the night. Especially around here. They didn’t walk around here even during the day. Ashley had insisted that her home be built in the middle of nowhere.
He started slightly as he began to realize that they were headed straight for the house. He could just barely make them out in the moonlight. She was petite and dark haired, and the child barely came to her waist.
He waited silently, staring at the moon and pretending that he couldn’t hear them and couldn’t see them. Maybe they would walk on by and he could finish his mountain dew in peace.
But he saw as they walked into the yard that he wasn’t going to be that lucky tonight. Not that he’d ever been particularly gifted in the luck department, he should have expected it.
“Can I help you?” He asked as he stepped out from behind the shadows of the porch. The woman yelped as she whirled around to face him.
“Who are you?” Her question came out with a breathy sense of fear that he could almost taste as she locked her eyes on his. As he found himself staring into the depths of her chocolate brown eyes, the world exploded and froze at the same time.
It was her.
He tried to calm his wildly beating heart as she stared at him quizzically. She didn’t know it was him. Of course she didn’t know it was him, he berated himself, she’d never seen his face. She wouldn’t have known Phantom from Adam. This particular secret was safe.
“My name’s Nigel. I’m house-sitting for Ashley.” He said as calmly as he could. “Who are you?”
“Ashley’s not here?” She responded instead, with an intense look of disappointment.
“Nope. It’s just me and the Brat.”
“I’m an old friend of Ashley’s. My name’s Cassie, and this is my son Kyle. I had hoped she’d be home. This is going to make things difficult.” She muttered half to him half to herself. Nigel nodded, even though he was completely confused by her.
“Why don’t you come inside. You both look pretty thirsty, I’ll get you some mountain dew.” He said as he led the two to the door. He couldn’t help but notice though, as mother and son walked through the doorway, that the boy was giving him a wide berth.
If it hadn’t been midnight and if they hadn’t been standing at such a weird angle to the moon, he would have sworn that he saw absolute terror in the kid’s eyes.
“Here, I’ll take your jackets and grab the mountain dew. Why don’t you two have a seat at the table.” He said hastily as Cassie shrugged her jacket off. The kid glared at him and made a beeline for the table and kept the jacket he was wearing tightly wrapped around him.
He dropped the jacket off in the hall closet, grabbed the two cans of dew from the fridge and reluctantly made his way back to the table in the kitchen. He had been so wrapped up in trying to figure out how he was going to get over this new obstacle in this crazy life he had insisted on inventing here on Earth, that he hardly saw them as he handed them the cans.
“So…how do you know Ashley and Andros?” Cassie asked as the silence stretched out over the homey kitchen. He looked up at her startled, and her confusion grew. He acted like he’d just seen a ghost.
“I…um…Ashley’s my cousin.” He finally managed to get out. It was then that he took the time to get a closer look at her in the light. She looked older, wiser than when they’d both been younger. There was a lingering sadness in her eyes and an undeniable wariness in her son’s.
“I didn’t know she had a cousin.” Cassie said as she scratched her right arm self- consciously. Nigel’s attention was immediately drawn by the tiny movement. Anything to get out of having to look into her doe brown eyes. It was then that he saw the ugly black and blue welt looking bruise that spanned over the majority of her upper arm.
“What in the hell happened to your arm?” The question came out brusque and angry, but things were finally sliding into place in his mind. All of Ashley’s veiled hints at her friend’s marriage, the kid’s wariness, the sadness in her eyes.
Kyle watched as the unfamiliar man rose from his chair and took a step towards his mother. He looked angry. Kyle felt the familiar fear clench in his gut and sweat began to form in beads at the sides of his face.
“Now really, it isn’t that bad.” Cassie said, a little embarrassed by the outburst and more by the bruise.
Kyle watched the two grown-ups with cagey eyes. His mother always said that. Now really…
“Now really, Lenny, it can’t be that bad that you have to hit me.”
“Now really, lets think about this. It can’t be so bad that you have to take it out on me.”
The words echoed in his mind, haunting him. He had thought they were free. His Mom had told him they were, and now there was a man standing beside her who was going to change all that again. His heart pounded in his chest as he looked at the man’s balled up fists. He sat still until his poor heart thumped so loudly against his rib cage that he couldn’t stand it anymore.
He threw every muscle he had in his six year old frame at the tall dark haired man, and bit down for all he was worth.
The first thing that registered in Nigel’s mind was that the kid had just bit him on the thigh. The next thing that registered was the fact that Cassie looked absolutely terrified. He knew in an instant that if he even put a hand on the kid, he’d just bite down harder and if he was incredibly unlucky, which this night had just proven, Cassie would probably join in on the attack.
“Ow! Ow,ow,ow,ow,ow. Yeow!” He hollered instead. He looked like a complete idiot he acknowledged hopping up and down in a kitchen with a kid attached to his leg, but it was the best thing he could come up with on short notice.
The kid let go, and Nigel breathed a sigh of utter relief as he massaged his throbbing thigh. For a kid who didn’t have any front teeth, he had a bite like a crocodile.
“Ace! Ace, are you all right. Why did you do that?” Cassie demanded as she hugged her now hysterically sobbing son to her chest.
“I dunno, Mom.” He managed between tearful hiccups. Nigel sat back down and watched Cassie attempt to comfort her son. It was a bittersweet sight to see, he admitted, the woman he loved and her son.
Nigel groaned loudly. He’d accidentally woken up the Brat. Kyle peeked out from behind his mother’s shoulder and regarded the angelic blonde haired girl in the doorway to the kitchen with utter contempt.
“Hey Brat. Come on in and join the party.” Nigel said as the six year old girl made a beeline for him. He heaved a sigh as Kelsey clumsily climbed onto his lap, but he managed to bite back an oomph of pain as she accidentally kneed him the groin. He met Cassie’s slightly bemused look over the top of Kelsey’s curly wild hair.
“Brat, this is your mom’s old friend Cassie and her son Kyle. Cassie, Kyle this is Andros and Ashley’s little brat, Kelsey.” Nigel said making the introductions. The Brat giggled as she smacked her hand down on his thigh in the exact spot that Kyle had just bit.
“You’re so funny, Uncle Nigel.” She then turned her angelic face towards Cassie. “Uncle Nigel calls me Brat. But that’s only cause Mommy wouldn’t let him call me the Demon Child from Hell.” She announced with utter innocence. Cassie looked startled.
“Demon Child from Hell?” She repeated blankly. Nigel almost grinned at the shocked look on her face. He knew she didn’t understand. The Brat had earned that name whether her mother liked it or not. He’d thought up the nickname when he’d caught her tearing apart his communicator with childish glee. Needless to say, he hadn’t told Ashley about the communicator, just the nickname.
“Listen, its late. It’s too late for you and Croc to get a hotel room, why don’t you just stay here in the guest bedroom. There are two twin beds in there. Brat, its way past your bedtime and if your Mom gets wind of the fact that I let you stay up this late, she’s going to have my hide for breakfast.” He announced as he picked the scrapper up and put her on the kitchen floor.
Cassie and Kyle made their way out of the kitchen and Nigel was glad, because moments later, the Brat had decided she needed a sip of mountain dew. He intercepted the floating can before it reached her grubby hands.
“No, Brat. Go up to bed and I’ll be up in a minute to tuck you in.” He ordered as she reluctantly headed for the door. Nigel stared at the can. He was stuck in his cousin’s house with the woman he loved, the Crocodile kid, and a telekinetic Brat who didn’t realize just yet that powers like that had to stay secret.
He sighed. It was going to be a long night.
“Morning, Uncle Nigel.”
He tried not to groan as the Demon Child from Hell elbowed him in the ribs as she climbed over him. Bleary eyed, he glanced over at the alarm clock. 5:45 am. He didn’t deserve this. No one deserved this, he thought as the Brat accidentally smacked him upside the head with her tiny hand.
“Look at this bear I found in Croc’s stuff.” She announced. Nigel opened an eye to see his niece give the ratty old teddy bear he’d seen in Kyle’s arms a doubtful look.
“Something makes me think you didn’t just rummage through his stuff. You’ve been up to monkey business and it isn’t even dawn yet, Brat.” He felt compelled to point out, even though it was obvious that the six year old didn’t care in the least.
“Just look at it, Uncle Nigel.” The Brat’s voice had a tint of sadness to it, and Nigel found himself opening his eyes and regarding his niece with interest as her lower lip quivered.
“What’s the matter, Scout?” He finally asked as a huge tear dribbled down her cheek. He pulled her closer to him and she snuggled up to his side.
“Can’t you feel it, Uncle Nigel? The teddy’s hurt and scared and sad and angry.” She said softly as he rubbed his hand against her soft baby blonde curls.
Telekinetics be damned, the Brat was empathetic too.
“Ah, don’t cry, Scout. Here, I’ll fix him.” Nigel said as he gently pulled the bedraggled looking bear from her arms. He wiggled his fingers and the grime from the bear’s coat disappeared. He wiggled some more and the arm was filled with stuffing and reattached to the bear’s shoulder.
“He needs eyes.” Brat said softly. “Blue buttons.”
He wiggled his fingers one last time, and two sapphire blue buttons appeared on the bear’s face. Kelsey let out a contented sigh.
“Well, Brat, don’t you think you should give him back to Croc. I think he needs that bear more than you do.” Nigel said as he gently pushed his niece off the bed. She nodded and then padded softly out of the room.
For all his complaints about his niece, he loved her. She also knew how to keep a secret when she wanted too. She had yet to tell anyone about her Uncle’s special powers, and he was just fine with that.
She smelled scrambled eggs. The knowledge was fuzzy in her mind as she tried to throw off the last dregs of sleep. Nigel was making eggs. She grinned in spite of herself. It was amusing to think of men making food in the kitchen.
Lenny hadn’t known a frying pan from a cookie sheet. But then, her ex hadn’t known a whole heck of a lot about anything, she acknowledged as she curled deeper down under the covers. Lenny was an asshole, she finally acknowledged to herself. She had been a complete idiot when she’d taken up with the dumb jock.
After he’d resorted to blackmail just to get her to go out on a first date with him, she should have known that he was trouble. But she hadn’t. She never did the smart thing it seemed when it came to making important decisions in her life. Well, at least not up until now.
Lenny had found her at a vulnerable point in her life, and she’d let him take advantage of it, of her.
Evil had just been eradicated everywhere, and she had no longer had purpose in life at eighteen. Zordon’s death had left her bereft and lost. She had mourned the great being’s passing. But his death also marked the ending of one of the greatest experiences in her life. One of the few good experiences she’d ever had.
As a ranger she had respect and a place where she belonged, and more importantly, a purpose for simply being. Rangering, for that brief time, had been her life. For once, she had steady friends and she had fallen in love.
After Zordon’s death she’d had her friends, but that was all she had had. Something inside her was still angry that that hadn’t been enough. But it didn’t change facts. She hadn’t had any family to fall back on like the rest, and she never felt comfortable being brought into someone else’s. After all, her own parents hadn’t loved her, why should she expect someone else’s to love her?
Three months after Zordon’s death, Ashley and Andros had gotten married. Two weeks after they had tied the knot, Zhane and Carone had taken the plunge. She had been ecstatic for them, but the envy had run so deep that it felt like someone had ripped her heart from her chest.
Four months after Zordon’s death, and Cassie gave up on her elusive Phantom and gave into Lenny’s persistence. It had been the biggest mistake she had ever made in her entire life.
According to Ashley, Phantom had never resurfaced in Angel Grove. But that didn’t change the fact that she had tied herself to someone she didn’t love. And if that fact hadn’t been bad enough, she also tied herself to someone who was a notorious alcoholic.
Lenny had a tendancy of getting mean when he got drunk. And he had been drunk a lot.
Nigel stirred the scrambled eggs in the pan as he watched his niece and Cassie’s son from the corner of his eye. Croc’s arms were protectively wrapped around his bear and he was currently glaring at the Brat, who seemed to be content returning the favor.
“Uncle Nigel, can I have a mountain dew.” The Brat whined as egg sloshed onto the burner. Nigel frowned, vowing that Ashley would be the one to clean up the kitchen and not him.
“Mountain dew may be the nectar of the gods, Brat, but you can not have it for breakfast. Your parents would kill me.”
Brat pouted, sticking out her lower lip. He watched from the corner of his eye as Croc stuck his tongue out at her. More egg sloshed off the pan and onto the burner. The smell of burnt egg filled the kitchen.
“Okay, that’s it you little Hellions. Outside with both of you. I’ll call you when breakfast is ready.”
Croc glared at him, and Brat looked very much like she wanted to protest.
“And no monkey business, Brat. I mean it.” He felt compelled to add as the two monsters disguised as six year olds trailed out the back door.
The noise startled him, and the rest of the eggs went sliding onto the hot stove surface. Smoke began billowing from the burner and the fire alarm began to go off. Cassie looked taken aback by the scene and Nigel felt like just giving up and crawling back into bed.
“Here, let me help.” Cassie said with a grin as he stared pathetically at the now black embers of what was once a couple of eggs. He flashed her a happy grin and as his deep blue eyes fastened on hers, she felt her heart jump.
“I don’t like girls, so don’t think I’m gonna play with you or anything.” Kyle stated flatly as the two reached the edge of the driveway. Kelsey said nothing, and Kyle rubbed his fingers over the bear’s now soft fur.
“Uncle Nigel fixed your bear.” She said instead as she stared off across the horizon. She gave a telepathic whistle, and then turned back to the boy standing belligerently beside her.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with him before.” Kyle said defensively, but the words didn’t sound as tough or as gruff to his ears as he had wanted them to be. Kelsey ignored the words again as she sat down on the sandy dirt in her pjs. Kyle mimicked her actions, making sure that Phantom’s new clean fur didn’t touch the sand.
“Wanna see a trick?” Kelsey asked as she picked up a hand full of sand. Kyle glanced at her slightly bored.
Kelsey grinned at him and tossed the sand up into the air. The grains flew up, but then they froze, suspended in the air before they could descend. Kyle gaped as the grains glistened in the dawn sunlight.
“Cool, huh?” Kelsey asked as he climbed to his feet, dropping Phantom in the sand.
“How’d you do that?” He asked as he poked gently at the suspended kernels of sand. Kelsey gave him a toothy grin. He then remembered Phantom. Hastily, he grabbed the bear and dusted the sand off its fur.
“It’s easy. I can show you how sometime, if you promise to play with me.” Kelsey said slyly as Kyle frowned at her.
“Well, I s’pose you can’t be that bad of a girl if you can do stuff like that.” He finally relinquished. There was a happy bark from a few feet away, and Kyle froze.
He hated dogs. They were big and scary and they had huge sharp teeth. His Dad had had dogs. Really big ones that had always tried to bite him.
“Scruffy!’ Kelsey yelped happily as a mangy looking coyote bound enthusiastically into the yard. Kyle felt the fear clench in his stomach. The coyote came closer and closer and failed to show any signs of stopping.
It was going to eat them, the solitary thought flashed through his mind. Without thinking, he shoved Kelsey behind him, placing himself between her and the coyote.
“Run Kelsey! It’s going to eat us!” He yelled. She looked up at him confused as the coyote came to a stop at his feet and cocked its head.
“Scruffy won’t eat us, and you pushed me.” She said accusingly as she came out from behind him and put her hand on the coyote’s dusty yellow head. “Here, he’s really friendly, just pet him.”
Kyle backed up a step as the coyote came a step closer to him. Then, suddenly, he couldn’t get his feet to move anymore. Sweat trickled down his back and the coyote came closer.
“My mom told me when I went to the dentist that the only way to not be scared of something was to face it. I thought that the dentist was going to pull my teeth out and make me bleed, but my mom made me go anyways. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. I even got a toy out of it.” Kelsey jabbered on as she pulled Kyle to sit beside her on the sand in front of Scruffy.
The coyote sat perfectly still until both kids were sitting on the ground. Then it came up to Kelsey first, nuzzled her neck with its muzzle and licked her face. Kelsey giggled slightly, and Kyle felt as if his mouth had turned to cotton.
Then the coyote came over to Kyle and sidled up next to him. It pushed its nose up against Kyle’s hand, and in fear he instinctively pulled his hand back up slightly. The coyote immediately pushed its head underneath the childish palm, and Kyle felt himself petting the dog-like creature beside him.
Then it licked his face.
Kyle felt a giggle escape before he could stop it. “Silly dog.” He said softly. Kelsey grinned.
“Isn’t Scruffy cool?” She said as she reached over and scratched the coyote’s ears.
“Brat? Croc? Breakfast.”
Kyle turned to the coyote and scratched its head one last time, and then he and Kelsey headed for the house.
“What happened to your bear, Ace?” Cassie asked in amazement as her son came in with a brand new looking bear tucked securely under his arm.
“Mr. Nigel fixed it.” He said softly as he pulled himself up into the chair between her and Kelsey. Cassie looked up at the man who was currently holding three plates of the eggs she had fixed in his hands.
He blushed. Honest to God he was blushing. She smiled at him as she mouthed “thank you” over her son’s head.
“Hey, Uncle Nigel.” Kelsey piped up as he set a plate in front of her.
“Straw what, Brat?”
“Kyle’s bear has the same name as you.” She said happily as she pushed her fork into her eggs. Cassie froze in her seat as Nigel grinned at his niece.
“Kyle’s bear’s name is Nigel?” He asked bemused, unaware of the tense look on Cassie’s face.
“No silly.” Kelsey announced as she rolled her eyes. “The bear’s name is Phantom of course. Nobody’d name a bear Uncle Nigel.” She said with a giggle.