Character Name: Nat Ryan
Alternate Identities: Goliath
Player Name: Phil
|Hair Color:||Sun-bleached Blonde|
|Eye Color:||Sea Blue||Height:||7' 3"|
|Nat Ryan is huge and bronzed with short sun-bleached blonde hair and dazzling sea blue eyes. His face is smooth and handsome, still with a hint of youth, and, for so powerful a young man, his body while, though well-defined, is does not betray the strength that lies beneath the tanned skin. Nat is a surfer and dresses the part, ragged cut offs, muscle tee shirts and little else. Wren is trying to reform his fashion sense but if she blinks too long she always finds him back in cut offs. The few times she has gotten him to dress up, she has been smugly satisfied at the results.|
“C’mon, Sammy, you KNOW we gotta do it!” Cass stood in front of her husband with her hands on her hips.
When they had married nine years ago, her father had given them a run down house on Island Court in San Diego. Over the years they had gradually made repairs and improvements while both worked just to keep up with the taxes and rising utility costs. Suddenly the neighborhood property values had spiked and Cass had immediately seen an opportunity to reduce their tax burden and make some extra money for a nest egg.
“I got Jerry and his guys to take a look at it and they say it can be done for under twenty-five thousand,” she said.
Sammy, though she loved him dearly, wasn’t one who liked change. He was comfortably settled into their life and she knew the thought of re-zoning their property into two lots then renovating the one and a half car garage into a cottage was not something he’d look forward to.
With a heavy sigh, he nodded. “Okay, Cass.”
The girl stood at the door with an infant in her arm looking lost and more than a little scared. Cass’ heart immediately went out to her and she pushed open the screen door.
“Come on in out of the sun,” she said.
They had just put up the sign in front of the cottage that morning and hadn’t even started the ad in the paper.
“You sign says you want $200000 for the house,” the girl said in a voice that made Cass knock another couple of years off the age.
Cass was more than a little surprised. This child was not what she’d expected for their first inquiry. She smiled and pulled the blanket to one side for a better look at the baby.
“He’s beautiful!” Cass said wistfully. “May I hold him?”
The girl carefully passed the baby over to Cass and watched the older woman’s eyes fill with tears.
“Are you okay?” the girl asked.
Cass looked up at her, “My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for ten years now. What’s his name?”
“Nathaniel,” she said with a little smile.
Cass rocked the baby as she moved over to the couch.
“What’s your name, dear?”
“Mary,” the girl said. “Mary Ryan.”
Nat toddled along behind Cass, one little fist gripping the hem of the dress, the other stuffed into his mouth and covered with slobber. She swung around and scooped him up. He giggled and splattered her with spit.
“You are such a mess!” she grinned and parked him on her hip. With a paper towel she dried him off before wiping her own face. “Are you hungry again?”
From the cabinet she retrieved two jars of baby food and set them on the counter. She dropped the boy into the high chair and tied on a bib before twisting the top off both jars. Pulling a stool over she sat before him and start spooning in sweet potatoes as fast as she could. She’d never heard of a baby that ate like this kid.
“How’s he doing, Cass?” Mary Ryan said as she came into the kitchen from her bedroom.
She was dressed in a short black skirt, white blouse and low heels of her barmaid outfit. With only light makeup, she’d highlighted an already pretty face into a gorgeous one. Tips would be good.
“Eating, as usual,” Cass said.
Mary stopped and looked over at Cass and her son.
“Cass . . . “ she began but the older woman waved her off.
“I love you both, Mary and you’re family now,” she said. “Go on to work and don’t worry.”
Sammy walked down the beach with three year old Nat on his shoulders, clutching his hair and laughing. When he turned toward the surf, Sammy figured the boy would start screaming at the waist high breakers but as soon as the water swirled around the man’s legs then boy started wiggling.
“Down, Sammy!” the boy demanded and when Sammy started to retreat up the beach the boy did scream. “NO!”
Sammy stopped and scowled then lifted the child off his shoulders and cautiously set him into the surf. The next wave was bigger than he expected and before he could react the surging ocean swallowed Nat leaving only his blonde hair floating at the surface before passing on. The man snatched the boy up in panic expecting a wail of fear instead he found the boy grinning.
“AGAIN AGAIN!” the boy said.
“Nat! Did you do your homework!?” Mary Ryan called as her ten year old son banged out the screen door.
Without looking back the boy waved, “going surfing mom!” he called and disappeared down the street heading for the beach.
“MOM!” the twelve year old Nat Ryan whined. He was just about to walk out the door to catch the bus for school. The pants he was wearing revealed a couple of inches of socks. “I look like a geek!”
“Well, if you weren’t growing so fast!” His mother returned. She sighed and opened her purse. “Ask Cass if she can take you up to Wal-Mart and get some new jeans. AND make sure they are too long!”
Nat snatched the money out of his mother’s hand and rocketed out the door.
Nat looked at his mother and realized suddenly, he was taller than her. She looked up at the boy just as amazed. A tall woman herself, she hadn’t expected her boy to be this tall at only thirteen. Backing him up to the edge of a door she marked the top of his head with a pencil. It was nearly a foot above the mark from his last birthday.
“Come on, mom, we can’t miss the bus!” Nat pulled her by the arm, anxious to be on their way.
It was his birthday and they had a date with Disneyland. By Nat’s figuring, the sooner they got to the city bus, the quicker they’d get to the Greyhound station. Mary groaned. It had been a late night for her and getting up at 4 am was not one of her favorite things.
“Okay, okay,” she said.
There was a knock on the door and Nat bounced over to yank it open. Cass stood there with a travel cup of coffee. She smiled at Mary as she entered.
“Thought you could use some fortification,” she said, offering the coffee.
Mary took the cup gratefully. “Cass, sometimes I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
Cass gave the younger woman a kiss on the cheek then turned to Nat.
Scowling up at him, she took his hands and said, “Don’t you run your mama to death, Nathaniel Ryan,” she warned. “You don’t have to RUN everywhere, nothing moves.”
When she pulled her hands back she left a folded piece of paper in the boy’s hand. Subtly he glanced down at his hand and found a $50 bill. He started to protest but Cass shook her head.
The sun had plunged below the horizon as Nat lay face down on the board half asleep, the gentle swells of the Pacific Ocean lolling him. He had almost nodded off when a faint crying shattered his peace. Rolling up to sit astride the board he listened for a moment before stretching out and paddling toward the sound. He hadn't gone fifty feet when the riptide caught him and pushed him out to sea at about 5 knots. Being an experienced surfer, he began to paddle parallel to the shore, looking for the edge of the current. Out of the growing darkness, a faint phosphorescence caught his eye, something was feebly stirring the surface. It was behind him and in the current. In desperation he turned the board and pushed back into the stream only to find the contrary sea pushing his target away faster than he could propel the board.
Something surged in him when he caught the sound of air being expelled from exhausted lungs and he dug his hands deep into the ocean and pulled with all his might. To his amazement, the board leaped forward, covering half the distance with one stroke. The second put him right on top of whoever was drowning and he rolled off the board and began to frantically feel around.
His hand touched bare flesh and he drew the body in, looping an arm around the waist of a girl. With a single kick he shot nearly his full body length out of the sea and came down with a huge splash only inches from his board. He pushed the girl up across the board and heard her vomit up the salt water she'd taken in. He was amazed at how light she was. As he arranged her full length on the board he thought about that. The change had been so gradual he hadn't really taken note but he knew now that since he'd begun to grow taller, he had been getting steadily stronger. Mind working on this idea, he pushed the board toward the beach now more than a mile distant.
The girl coughed then groaned and lifted her head. At first she was confused not seeing the boy pushing the surf board along at a surprising clip. When she looked back he smiled at her, his blue eyes meeting hers. She sucked in a breath. He was gorgeous!
“Hi,” he said, ignoring the sea water that occasionally got into his mouth. “I’m Nat and I’ll be your captain for this evening.”
“Keri,” she said, her throat feeling like she’d swallowed sandpaper.
“How’d you get out here?” He asked.
“I was swimming and a riptide caught me,” she said.
“You were swimming alone?” he frowned at her, his look stern.
“I’m with my family,” she said. “We just moved in and there was this beach party . . .”
His grin made her heart skip a beat.
“There’s always a party!” he said. “Now if you can scoot up toward the nose of the board so I can get on, we’ll ride the next wave in.”
The idea of moving on the narrow piece of fiberglass scare the hell out of her and her hands tightened to the point of white knuckles.
“It’s okay,” he assured her. “I been surfing for years and you’ll be safe with me.”
She nodded and tried to pull herself forward without rocking things.
After a foot or so he said “That’s enough, now if you can spread your legs a bit so I can get on.”
She looked back over her shoulder.
“Spread my legs?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I can’t lay on them.”
Hesitantly she parted her legs and there was a surge from behind. The nose of the board rose and she let out a little shriek of fear, then he was laying on top of her, his chest pressed against her bottom.
A swell rolled under them, lifting the board enough for her to glimpse the bonfire on the distant beach. It looked like miles.
“Can you follow my instructions without questioning me?” he asked.
She was very aware of the heat of his body against her ocean-chilled skin. Swallowing, she nodded.
“Okay,” he said. “I am going for the next big one. When I get us going and tell you to stand, you give me your hands and I’ll pull you up.”
“Stand?” she squeaked but the board shifted and suddenly his arms were digging into the water on either side of her body, pulling them to catch the wave.
As the nose of the board tilted down she screamed and clung like a limpet. At first she tried to close her eyes but it only made things worse. She felt the board shift and then his hand was on her shoulder.
“Give me you hand,” he said.
She looked back at him only to find him already on his feet and crouching low. Carefully she did as he instructed and with a surge of muscle she found herself on her feet and pressed against him. He moved, shifting his weight, and the board’s nose came up. The speed began to increase as the wave hurled them toward the distant beach. She found his arm around her waist and grabbed it with both hands, her nails leaving little crescents in his skin.
On either side of them the water became roiling foam and the boy began to laugh. His reaction, strangely, calmed her and she started to relax, her knees flexing with the bouncing of the board. It was easy, easier then she’d ever imagined. She was surfing!
The board nosed into the sand and there were shouts. The girl’s parents and a phalanx of beach cops rushed toward them. Keri hardly got her feet wet as she stepped off the board and ran to her mother. Both of her parents crushed her between them and it was a few moments before she gave a thought to the boy who’d saved her.
Pushing free she searched the crowd but couldn’t pick him out, and then she saw a shadow rise on the crest of a swell. He was already pulling back out into deeper water. She lifted a hand to wave.
“Who are you waving to?” her mother asked.
Keri pointed out to sea, “The boy who saved me from drowning!” she said.
Her dad tried to follow her gesture but could see nothing but the dark water.
“Who was he?” he asked. “Why didn’t he wait so we could thank him?”
“Maybe he doesn’t need thanks,” Keri said softly. She thought she spotted him a moment later racing along the face of the wave toward the south but she wasn’t sure. “Nat,” she whispered.
The semi tractor had been parked beside the house for as long as Nat could remember. He couldn’t begin to count the number of times he’d been awakened by the rumble of that huge diesel engine at two in the morning. The guy that owned it and drove it, Tommy Harris, was a pretty cool guy and always willing to contribute to the eats at the party but since it was Tommy’s livelihood, what Nat was contemplating had him a little worried.
Tommy didn’t go out every day, but mostly, and when he hadn’t started the truck up that morning Nat had been lying awake listening for it. Slipping out the backdoor, he weaved his way through the backyards of his neighbors until he reached the tractor. It was sitting there as he’d expected.
Walking around it, he looked over the way it was built and could see the way the cab was bolted to the thick frame. The metal of the body didn’t look very thick, maybe an eight of an inch or so and Nat didn’t think it would withstand what he had in mind . . . even IF it worked.
Dropping to the gravel driveway he looked under the front and could see how the bumper was bolted to the frame by half inch bolts. Shaking his head he rolled to his feet and walked around the vehicle, stopping at the rear. Here the frame was open, the third wheel welded between the beams. He stood between them and placed a hand on each beam then took a deep breath.
The ease of the thing scared him and he had to actually catch the truck to keep it from flipping over on its nose. He stood there for a long moment, the truck entirely off its wheels as he held it over his head.
“Holy crap!” he muttered.
NOW what did he do with it? If he tried to set it down nose first, it would probably damage the truck, heck, no matter how he tried to set it he knew it was going to be bad. Finally he slowly sank to his knees then sat on his ass, the truck still off the ground by the length of his arm. From there it was just a matter of lying back and carefully setting the thing back on its wheels.
With a huge exhalation he lay under the truck for a long time, trying to wrap his mind around the fact he’d just about thrown a 20 ton truck over onto its back. Grinning suddenly, he rolled out from under and stood clinching his fists and flexing his forearms. Twisting his wrists he opened his hand and stared at them. A whole truck . . . and it had been so light, like a twenty pound sack of potatoes.
Suddenly he laughed only to hurriedly stifle it with his hand. It WAS still 2 am. He mind began to race, spinning out like a loop of cast fishing line to encompass everything. He was super-strong. What else was there?
Dawn found him lying on the beach watching the last stars wink out over the Pacific with his hands laced under his head. Well, he couldn’t fly but he sure could jump and once he’d gotten the nerve up, he’d found that hitting a thumb with a hammer wasn’t going to be a problem. So he was probably bullet-proof. He already knew he could hold his breath longer than anyone on the beach after a few of those macho contests swimmers get into.
There was a movement in the sand and he tilted his head back to find the girl he’d pulled from the surf standing over him in shorts and a tee top.
“You didn’t let me thank you,” she said taking a seat beside him.
He propped himself up on his elbows and smiled.
“No thanks necessary,” he said.
She seemed to understand that and nodded then stretched out beside him adopting his position.
“It’s weird,” she said, staring at the vanishing night sky.
She shrugged, “The sun is supposed to come UP over the ocean.”
Nat smiled, understanding.
“Where on the East Coast are you from?” he asked.
“New York,” she replied. “Long Island to be exact.”
“How’d you end up out here?”
“My dad’s got a new start up here in San Diego and had to be here to watch over it since he doesn’t think anyone else could,” she said as the last star vanished.
“So where are you living?”
“Island Court,” she said. Over at the bay side.”
Nat nodded. He knew that house there had been for sale for months and had seen the ‘sold’ sign go up.
“You?” she asked.
“Island Court,” he replied. “About half way between your house and here.”
“Then we’re neighbors,” she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, He was even better looking in the morning light. She counted her blessings for having taken the time for makeup and brushing her hair before walking down here.
Nat looked at her and smiled, “Guess I’ll have to be your guide until you figure out where everything is!”
Keri’s heart leaped and she blushed, hoping the light wasn’t bright enough to show it.
“That would be great!” she said.
He rolled to his feet and offered her a hand which she took. With a yelp she pulled back and cradled the hand. Nat turned white as a sheet and she knew it hadn’t been on purpose.
“Its okay,” she said wiggling her fingers. “You must have pinched a nerve or something.”
Realization dawned in Nat, he could have crushed her hand. He didn’t see the realization also dawning in the girl before him. She slipped the hand into the crook of his arm.
“Where can we get breakfast,” she asked. “On me . . . to thank you.”
“I said it . . . “ She stopped him with two fingers to his lips.
“Its just breakfast . . . “
Over the next few weeks Nat found it more and more difficult to keep from crushing things. It was like his muscles weren’t firing right, like they were trying to grow into his new strength. After nearly maiming Keri, he’d been extra careful not to touch anyone or pick up anything he wasn’t willing to crush.
Somehow his surfing didn’t seem to be effected. The board didn’t get crushed, he didn’t snap the leash when he put it on, everything was just like it had always been but Keri had become his constant companion.
She’d begun to tan, her hair lightened and she became comfortable in a bikini. People also began to talk about them being an item. It bothered Nat. He liked her well enough but more like . . . a kid sister though they were both 15. Keri, however, had other ideas.
Over the fall Nat hit a growth spurt and he reach seven feet just before Christmas. His new and sudden urgent need for longer pants began to tax their already tight budget. When his upper body development got going, he didn’t bother to mention it to his mother preferring to just wear the tight tee shirts without comment. It wasn’t only Keri that approved of this new look and Nat found himself the center of attention not only on a board but around the campfire in the evening.
One evening, after turning down a straight forward offer of sex from one of the party irregulars, who happened to be twice his age, Nat headed for home without a word of goodbye to anyone. Cass caught him up and kept pace beside him.
“What’s wrong, Nat?” she asked.
He looked down at the older woman and shook his head, “Nuthin’.”
Her hand pulled him to a stop and she glared up at him.
“Nat Ryan, you don’t think that after practically raising you I wouldn’t be able to see when something was bothering you?”
He blushed “Cass, I can’t talk about it!”
“Why not, you talk about everything else with me,” she said.
“Not everything,” he muttered.
Taking his bicep in her hand, she squeezed as hard as she could.
“Like that?” she said.
His mouth dropped open and he stared at her. It was like a great weight had fallen from his shoulders. Someone else knew and it was Cass, someone he trusted and loved. He nodded then shook his head.
“Well? Which is it?” she said.
“That’s only part,” he said. She hooked her arm in his and started them toward the house.
“Tell me, what else?”
“You know that Diane? The one that comes down once in a while?”
Cass nodded, “Yeah, she’s got a daughter a couple years younger than you.”
“Crap!” Nat growled. “That’s WORSE!”
“What is?” Cass met his blue eyes. She sighed. “Oh . . . I see.”
Nat nodded. “It ain’t right, Cass, she’s older than my mom!”
Cass patted his arm.
“No, it’s not right, Nat,” she said. “But you are going to have to get used to it.”
Nat stopped, his jaw dropping open. Cass reached up and pushed his mouth shut.
“Nat,” she began. “You are a gorgeous hunk and you are getting even more gorgeous.”
He blushed. “I am not!”
“Honey, you have no idea . . . “ Cass smiled. “And those tight tee shirts . . . sometimes it makes me wish I was twenty years younger.”
Again Nat’s mouth dropped open. Cass laughed.
“I’m no Mrs. Robinson, Nat,” she said with a smile.
Cass rolled her eyes. “You are SOOOO young.”
Nat silently rested his board against the wall and pulled open the screen door to the back porch. He’s oiled it just for moments like this. It moved silently. He stole into the house and tiptoed past the bathroom to his room. His mother’s door was ajar and he could smell the faint odor of grass. He stuck his head in to her room and found her lying back on the pillows, sound asleep. She was still fully dressed.
Moving around the door, he knelt beside the bed and carefully pulled off her shoes before lifting her legs onto the bed. She stirred and rolled to her side but Nat wasn’t really concerned that she’d wake. Pulling the comforter Cass had made from the chair, her spread it over her as a ward against the approaching morning chill. Both of them had a habit of sleeping with the windows open and though the cold never bothered Nat, he knew that if she slept without the blanket she would awake in the morning with a sore throat.
Pulling the door nearly to, he moved into the kitchen and found the usual brown paper bag on the counter beside the refrigerator. His stomach growled as he unrolled it and peeked inside. Most of the time she brought him a hamburger and fries from the bar but tonight is was chicken tenders and potato salad.
Grabbing up the bag and a spoon he went into the tiny living room and dropped heavily into the old recliner he’d salvage just the other day. All it had taken to make it work again had been a gentle pressure of thumb and finger to mushroom the head of a bolt. Leaning back it pulled the foot rest up and tried to relax.
As he munched the slightly soggy chicken he thought about their situation. The tiny cottage, though paid for, was becoming a serious problem when it came to taxes. With the value of every square foot of land in San Diego skyrocketing, his mother had been working two jobs and all the overtime she could just to keep up.
Nat did everything he could to keep the utilities down, never using lights, not watching TV or even listening to the radio much, but it was never enough. Tomorrow he’d go down to Bingo and ask him about a job. The Rasta man owned the skate and surf shop where Nat had gotten his board. It had cost him a lot of hours working there but he needed money now, not a board. If that didn’t work out, he had a few other places close in mind.
As he waded the paper bag up he thought about his mom and the dope. In many ways he thought himself lucky it was grass. He’d been around too many drunks on the beach and he knew if she’d been a drunk they would have been out on the street long ago. It wasn’t legal, he knew, but it was a damn sight better than the alternative. Still . . . he wished that she didn’t have to resort to it just to get though the days.
In a valley an unknown distance away a man sat at a desk, a holographic computer screen and keyboard projected onto the polished mahogany. Page after page scrolled up so fast the print was a blur but the display stopped exactly where the man had wanted. Quickly he read the report then pushed the chair back and rose to his feet.
The sudden movement drew the attention of the room’s other occupant and a tiny woman rose gracefully from the couch. They met and she nestled into his strong arms with a contented sigh.
“In your arms,” she said softly.
His 6’4” height necessitated a considerable amount of bending to reach down to her diminutive 5’ but both were long practiced and their lips met passionately. One arm looped around her slender body and he lifted her from her feet without breaking the kiss.
She gasped at last and green eyes met green eyes. “You found one?”
“San Diego,” he said.
“Then you’d best get going so you can get back to me,” she said giving him a lecherous grin.
He returned the grin and without effort took two steps and threw open a door. Stepping inside he literally threw her onto the bed.
“I can delay for an hour or two,” he said.
The woman’s eyes flash with lust.
“Or three,” she whispered.
The shimmering heat on the cracked blacktop of the packed parking lot just across the boardwalk had no effect on the tall blonde young man in cutoffs with a long board tucked under his right arm.
The amount of effort put forth to actually piss off the young surfer could only stem from pure malevolence. Why else would two young men, both in their mid-20’s want to torment a sixteen year old that easily had a 15 inches height and a 150 pound advantage over either?
Nat Ryan was about as mad as he’d ever been. Ten minutes ago he’d been coming out of the water when these two showed up and started saying things about his mother. Not the usual smack talk any teen was used to but disgustingly graphic things. He knew his mom smoked dope, it was hard not to figure it out, but he also knew there was no way she’d ever done the things these two were saying about her.
The long board tucked under his arm seemed to groan as Nat fought to maintain. Losing his temper was NOT an option for him or anyone else like him but he was having a real hard time remembering that.
“She was down on her knees beggin’” one said. “So I told her, while she was down there, she could take care of me. Next thing I know, she’s unzipping my pants!”
Nat clinched his fist.
“Man, you should’ve seen her!” the other said. “Us and your mom!”
Reaching up with his free hand, Nat gripped the top edge of the board and prepared to swing it like a fly swatter.
The authority in the voice stopped him. A man dressed in black pants bloused into red mariner’s boots and an unbleached linen poet shirt put a hand on the board and held it. Many might at first mistake his hair style for a ‘mullet’ but the effect was wilder, as if he’d just been running through a forest someplace chasing deer. Lips were pressed together in a thin line and set in a face that was deeply tanned and weathered with a stubble of beard. Cold jade green eyes turned on Nat’s tormentors.
“You have a 20 second head start, then I turn him lose on you,” the man said. He held up a leather wallet and let it fall open. A gold shield with U.S. Marshal embossed on it made all three blink. “Fifteen seconds now.” They broke and ran for the parking lot, glancing back over their shoulders.
“I can’t go after them,” Nat said quietly.
The man turned his attention to the boy.
“Of course you can’t,” he said. “But they don’t know that and a cop just gave you permission to beat the crap out of them.”
A car roared to life and burned rubber out of the parking lot.
“Who are you?”
“Let’s talk,” the man said, releasing Nat’s board.
When his mother got home, he had already prepared dinner, boxed mac and cheese with a side of steamed broccoli, and had it on the table. The man from the beach was sitting at the breakfast bar on a stool watching Nat move around the small kitchen pouring three glasses of iced tea.
Ancient refrigerator, beat up gas stove with oven, no microwave but everything spotlessly clean. Though the linoleum was cracked and peeling up in one corner everything was in its place and the young man almost danced around the room as he worked. Both turned as the screen creaked open.
“Nat?” his mother said from the door, half afraid of this stranger.
She was only thirty-five but looked a haggard 45 and the fatigue in her face made Nat’s heart ache. Blonde, like her son, her hair wasn’t much longer than his, a poorly cut pageboy style, and her blue eyes looked washed out. She was in a pink and white one piece dress with a little apron that ended just above her knees. No one would ever mistake the outfit for anything more than what it was, a waitress uniform. Clutching her purse to her stomach she regarded the lankly man on the stool.
The object of her concern came to his feet and bowed slightly to her. “Ms. Ryan, my name is Cufaen Fireoak and I have come about Nat.
“It is called the Lothlorien Academy and is a privately funded non-profit school for young people like Nat.” Mr. Fireoak said as Nat and his mother sat together on the battered old couch.
He appeared to be totally at ease in the recliner Nat had rescued from a trash pile. Nothing in the man’s bearing or his occasional glances around the room hinted to Nat that this man was making any judgments about the way they lived.
“But I can’t afford . . .” Mary Ryan started but was stopped by an upraised hand.
“Ms. Ryan, this is a free school,” he told her. “The only real requirement is that it is also a boarding school. Nat would have to live there during the week but could come home anytime he wished.”
“How far away is it?” Nat asked.
A strange smile touched Mr. Fireoak’s lips. “Not so far as to make a visit out of the question. And your mother is always welcome, day or night, with or without notice.”
“What do you mean ‘young people like Nat’?” Mary Ryan asked suspiciously.
Nat knew what he meant and he also knew his mother didn’t want to admit the truth. Fireoak seemed to read something in Nat’s body language.
“Nat has a talent for surfing that has been brought to my attention,” the man prevaricated smoothly. “The Academy specializes in the training of young people with such special talents.”
“Mom’s never had time to watch me surf,” Nat said quietly. He took his mother’s hand, extra careful not to crush it. “Mom, I think I should go. It’s a boarding school so I’ll be gone most of the time and you won’t have to worry about feeding me.”
“Ms. Ryan,” the man said. “My own children have many special talents and the two eldest will be Nat’s classmates. We treat every one of our students like family. Nat has been drifting through school as you know and unless his grades improve dramatically very soon, he will never be able to get into a college. I guarantee that not only will his grades improve but that he WILL be going to college.”
“Mom, maybe we should go see the campus, see what its like?” Nat suggested.
She was too tired to take it all in but she nodded.
“If you want, go ahead,” she said to Nat. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.
Nat looked at Fireoak. “How long will we be gone?”
“That’s really up to you,” he replied. “If you want to stay, you are welcome today.”
“How do I need to dress?”
The man gestured to Nat’s current cuff offs. “That’s fine, but maybe you might want to put on a shirt.”
Nat slapped his knees then rose, heading down the hall.
“Be right back,” he said.
Mary Ryan leaned forward.
“You’re one too, aren’t you?” she said very quietly.
The man nodded.
“We will take very good care of him, Ms. Ryan,” he assured her.
“Who are you,” she whispered.
He handed her a gold embossed card with the words ‘The Wild Hunt’ and a phone number.
“I am Ghost Archer,” he said.
The sensation of ants crawling all over his body made Nat Ryan shiver but he instantly forgot the feeling as he gazed around at the rugged wilderness of a canyon valley. It was easily ten miles across and a forest of redwoods followed the contours of the valley floor, broken by a river or meadow here and there. In the midst of the 300 foot giants towered a single white tree with green and gold leaves easily twice the height of its companions.
A dozen long feathery waterfalls cascaded from the high canyon walls to form streams that join in a lake near the center of the valley. A river flowed swiftly from the western end of the lake out through a gap in the canyon walls and plummeted over a further cliff. Through that pass Nat could see the ocean, a progression of wave rolling in with a regularity that made him regret not bringing his board.
They had appeared on a thick lawn between two very different buildings. One was massive, made of granite with thick walls and deep set windows. It looked like an English manor house that had been plopped down in the middle of a perfectly manicured lawn. The other building was beautiful, white, three stories, with a tremendous number of floor-to-ceiling windows in the upper and lower floors. From the portico a long pool ran perpendicular surrounded by thousands of flowers in bloom. The glassy smoothness was dotted with rippling circles of koa kissing the surface. In the crystal water Nat could see the large fish of gold, white and red with occasional touches of black.
The forest of redwoods began after a half mile expanse of lawn and the areas between the giants was surprisingly clear of undergrowth. Rocks thrust up through the forest floor to be coated with patches of mossy green. On the wind the sun-heated loam of redwood detritus reached the young surfer causing him to pause to enjoy the scent.
“This way,” the man said, gesturing toward the castle.
“Come on in, Nat,” Mr. Fireoak said as he threw open the double doors to the library.
Inside two young women, nearly identical in looks, save for height, ignored the intrusion.
“He CAN!” the taller of the two declared.
Nat fully expected her to stomp her foot. She caught sight of the newcomers.
“Mother! . . . ummm . . . “ her mouth snapped shut with an audible pop.
“Come on in, Nat, this is my wife, Raven, and eldest daughter, Jessy,” Fireoak said with a sweep of a hand.
Nat ducked under the lintel of the door and stood with his hands clasped together in the front. He was a couple of inches over 7 feet tall and probably weight well over three hundred pounds. Perfectly proportioned for his size, he was well muscled with a smooth youthful face. Straw-blonde hair has uncombed, only an inch or so long and he looked down on the two women through shockingly blue eyes. All he wore was a ragged pair of cutoff jeans so worn they looked almost white and a tee shirt that was too small by half leaving his hard belly exposed. From his deep bronze tan and the smell of salt spray about him it was obvious he spent a great deal of time at the beach.
“Greetings and welcome, Nat,” the smaller girl said with a smile.
Maybe five feet tall and only a hundred pound or so, she was stunningly beautiful with hair that cascaded down her body nearly to her knees. She too look as if she might be ready for the beach as she wore a revealing black one piece thing that looked like a bathing suit and displayed an intricate tattoo of a pair of dragons that twined about her body. There was a hint of amusement in her green eyes as she stepped up to the tall boy and hugged him around the waist. The top of her head barely reached his ribcage. Nat flinched and looked down at the tiny woman hugging him then raised his hands, careful not to touch her.
Stepping back she crooked her finger at him, “Now bend down here.” She commanded.
Blushing slightly Nat shook his head.
“I’m okay,” he said giving the man a pleading look.
“We have a shy one,” she said with a smile. “Jessy, say hello.”
On closer inspection the taller girl’s similarity to her mother wasn’t quite as marked as Nat had first thought. While she had the same general facial features and the black hair, her face with fuller, softer, and the slant of her eyes less pronounced. If asked to pick which of the two was the more beautiful, Nat figured silence would be the best bet, both were stunning. The big difference was that Jessy was dressed in loose fitting jeans and a baggy, oversized sweatshirt. Under that she could have weighed anything from her mom’s diminutive hundred pounds, to her father’s substantial two hundred plus. She didn’t, however, look to Nat like he might snap her in two with a breath. It did seem strange to him though that the mother didn’t look more than a couple of years older than the daughter. Perhaps a step-mother?
Nat bobbed his head and in a very quiet voice said, “Hi."
“Jessy say hello,” Raven urged.
Eyes glued to her feet the girl said, “Hey” in a voice as quiet as Nat’s.
“Hey,” Nat replied.
Raven shook her head, long black hair seeming to shimmer down her body.
“How about showing Nat around, Jessy?” she suggested then added, “Your father and I have things to discuss.”
"Come on this way,” the girl said, still not looking up.
With a small hunch of the shoulders he followed her, “Okay,” he said.
“Um . . . “ Nat started. “You super too?”
With a lift of her shoulders Jessy left Nat still wondering but with her in this place, he figured she would have some powers.
Jessy stopped in front of the door, still watching her feet.
"Umm . . . you are blocking the door,” she told Nat.
“Oh! Sorry,” Nat stepped backward through the door, forgetting to duck. The back of his head banged against the lintel splintering the molding.
“Sorry,” he said, ducking out into the hallway. Jessy scooted around him like a trapped little animal. “Anywhere here got a higher ceiling?” The tone was slightly jesting but Jessy didn’t react as he’d hope she would.
His path lighted only by the dawn outside the French doors, Nat Ryan came into the common room and dropped into the oversized chair Spock the computer had designed and manufactured for him. Sticking his feet out, he slouched down, his chin resting on his chest.
At the sound of the knob turning slowly on the double doors behind him, he glanced up at the huge, dark flat panel TV mounted on the wall. It reflected just enough for him to see the door opening a crack and a figure slipping through, closing the door almost silently. The figure move silently toward him and Nat steeled himself for his first encounter with Jessy since his return.
“Oh, pardon. I did not mean to disturb.” It wasn’t Jessy. The girl had a British accent and Nat sat up to face her.
She was tall, at least taller than most girls he’d met, and slender with long legs and a fluidity to her movements that was intriguing. Though it was just dawn, she looked fresh from a shower, her black hair brushed back, still damp. She wore just a hint of makeup though Nat could not imagine why. Her skin was dark, not tanned like his, but a color that hinted of some exotic parentage. Soft brown eyes regarded him and while her demeanor seemed aloof there was no hostility in her body language. For a moment her costume puzzled him but then he recognized the tights and short flirty skirt of a dancer. Though barefoot, a pair of silk toe shoes dangled from one long perfectly manicured finger.
“That’s okay,” he said, hurriedly. “Who are you hiding from?”
Her look changed from bored indifference to condescension.
“I do not hide,” she said firmly, the accent fitting her demeanor perfectly. “I politely avoid or make promises for lunch.”
Nat stifled a smile and bark of laughter.
“Same thing,” he said. “Since you never plan to keep the engagement.”
A shift of light gave him a clearer look at her face and something clicked.
“You’re Aidan Collins’ daughter.” It was a statement.
She glanced at the reflective TV screen and smoothed her shirt flat.
“Yes,” she admitted. “Along with Nicole, that girl in France claiming he had an affair with her mother.”
“He makes a great bad guy,” Nat commented.
“I am sure he would be very pleased to hear that,” she said flatly.
“Sure he doesn’t care much . . . “ Nat said, slouching back into the chair.
“Oh, you would be surprised.”
She moved over to a chair across the coffee table from him and smoothed her skirt under her as she sat. Her posture was perfect, knees together, back straight, and hands folded primly in her lap.
“You do not appear to be particularly happy.” She observed.
“Hey, it’s nothin’,” he said, sitting up. “By the way, I’m Nathaniel Ryan, Nat.”
The girl tilted her head slightly as if to bow. “Pleased to meet you, Nathaniel. I am Wren Collins.”
“Look, I gotta . . .” he began just as she said. “I was wondering . . .”
Both stopped talking and gazed at each other.
“You first,” Nat said.
“I was wondering if you could tell me where to find the dance studio?”
Nat sighed. “I really don’t know. I have only been here a couple days and haven’t explored that much. Did you ask Spock, the computer?”
Two delicate lines appeared between her eyes.
“The computer?” she said.
“Spock, can you tell Ms. Collins how to get to the dance studio?”
“Wren,” she said.
“Wren,” he repeated and he liked the flavor of the name.
A green line appeared on the floor.
“If Ms. Collins will please follow the green line, it she will arrive at her destination within forty-five seconds.” The computer replied.
“There ya go,” Nat said coming to his feet.
She rose smoothly and stood watching him with her toe shoes clasped in her hands.
“And you were saying?” she asked.
“Huh?” Nat was confused.
“When we spoke at the same time.”
“OH! Yeah . . . well . . . you gotta practice I guess,” he said with a shrug.
“Please, finish the sentence anyway.” She told him.
“I was gonna say I gotta catch a few waves . . .” He stared down at his feet. “I was just wondering . . . but you got things to do . . . “
Nathaniel,” she sounded just a tiny bit annoyed.
“If you might wanna go surfing with me!” he blurted.
She blinked, a little taken aback.
“I don’t know how to surf,” she admitted. “And I do have to practice. Perhaps a rain check?”
“Is that ‘perhaps a rain check’ like ‘let’s do lunch’?”
“Since we are both students of the same school, a school with a limited student body, I believe the later would be rather blatant and detrimental any future relationship we may foster. Therefore, I consider your offer genuine as you may consider my rain check.”
Nat blinked. He’d never heard that many words strung together in just such a way in his life. He was used to something more along the lines of ‘later,dude’. Then her words sunk in. She’d actually said she would go surfing with him!
“Okay,” he said, blushing. “Cool!”
“Now,” she said. “If you will excuse me, I have a line to follow.”
Nat turned as she moved by and watched her open the door and step out. She turned to face the door rather than just slamming it and when she did she paused long enough to look him over. For a brief moment, their eyes met then she was gone.
“Holy crap!” he whispered, dropping back into the chair. It gave a protesting groan. “Wren . . .”
|Nat only has one power in his mind, his enormous strength and this tends to limit his combat to the basics. With future training and this nearly unlimited strength, there's no telling what skills he might develop.|
|Nat is pretty easy to described, a huge Boy Scout. He tends to see things in black and white and take people at face value. He doesn't understand the more manipulative people he has met recently and it has gotten his hurt. Will he change? Maybe, after a few years, after people have had a chance to make him cynical but until then he'll remain the easy going surfer he's always been.|
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