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episode one - a boy called saint

There was a boy who lived round the corner whose name was Saint. The way I tend to think about that little fact is this: what kind of parents would ever name their kid Saint? I mean, really, what the hell sort of pressure is that? He makes one little mistake in school sometime, or he hooks up with the wrong friend one day, and his whole life would be like some horrible joke, his name nothing but a contradiction, a reminder of his failings.

Of course, maybe it wouldn't be all that bad.

Maybe he liked it. I know, most of the time anyway, he lived up to it. He was a good kid. He was friendly to everybody, young kids, kids our age, and adults, even old people. I'm pretty sure he'd even done his share of helping old ladies across the street, though I'd never seen that firsthand, just heard the rumors. He got good grades in school. Hell, I'm pretty sure he got straight As. But, he was no nerdy kid. He was that guy that every once in a while, it's a total shock that his grades are so good, cause he's in the back of the room joking along with the troublemakers just as often as he's raising his hand to brownnose his way into the teachers graces. He was no teacher's pet, well not all the time anyway. He was cool. But, he was also not the most popular kid, even though he played on all the varsity teams.

He was not the popular guy. He was not the outcast. He was somewhere in between, maybe smack dab right in the middle. He was just there. He was Saint McMasters. Everybody knew him. Everybody knew his family. And, there are plenty of guys who would have loved to know his younger sister Eve. But, of course, they'd all have to get through Saint to do that, and that was only gonna happen for some very lucky, very clean cut, straight laced guy. He'd have to be someone the whole McMasters family would approve of. Of course, I had no worries in that department.

You see, I had had my eyes set on Haley Manning since elementary. That's kinda why I'm running through this whole storytelling thing here, part of it anyway. I'm trying to figure out a couple things, like where things went wrong, where things went right. I suppose I've said so much about Saint, that you think this story's about him. Well, it's not. But, it's important to know your players if you're gonna watch a play. So, well, you need to know Saint to get something out of this first little bit.

You should also know something about the McMasters maybe, just to know why Saint would have done what he did. I know, I'm getting a little ahead of myself there, but maybe that little mention will get you salivating for the rest of my story. Oh, what did Saint do, you might be thinking. No? Not salivating yet? Ok, I'll try again.

You should also know something about the McMasters maybe, just to know why Saint would risk his life like that for someone he hardly knew. There. Did it work? Still didn't? Oh well.

Well, the McMasters are a religious family. You'll catch them at church every Sunday morning, listening quite intently to Mr Belts' sermons like he was the second coming himself or something. They seem to thrive on every word out of his mouth. Out of his mouth, or out of any other minister we've got around her. Of course, since I've spent a lot of my time in church drawing or reading and hardly paying attention, I can only tell you about how much they dwell on every word from what others have told me, not from my own observations.

The McMasters are a big family. I'm not even sure how many of them there are around here. I know they've married into the Phillips, the Alvarados, the Doyles, and even my own family, the Adams--my oldest sister, Ruby married Daniel McMasters about ten years ago, that is about seven years before the events I'm about to describe. They work all over town, they're involved in everything, all the historical festivals over in Memorial Park, or the parties thrown for no particular reason at all up by the gazebo by Miller's Pond. They are the first ones to volunteer to help the church fundraisers or to sell chocolates or magazine subscriptions for the school. Well, let's just say they're a bunch of do gooders. But, not so much, or so arrogantly, that people hate them. Most people in this town are glad to offer up some money to a cause the McMasters get behind.

But, I digress. I think I tell stories like Haley always says her father does. Just a short time ago, she told me he'd sat her down and told her some long ol' story about he and Old Lady Scranton's daughter, something about how she was his first love and all that. Haley didn't quite like that story when he first told it to her, something about how it meant he hadn't always loved her mother. But, of course, Haley wasn't so deluded to really believe that her parents had always loved each other. But, it was still nice to pretend. "Like you with Santa Claus," she said to me. See, I'd told her about how even several years after I knew damn well that Santa wasn't real, I still played along with my parents when they put extra gifts under the tree, wrapped in special Santa paper. I just kept that image of the jolly old fat man dropping down the chimney with those extra gifts, and it made things a lot brighter on Christmas morning, whether I knew it was real or not. Pretending was still fun. That's how it was for Haley with her parents. Hell, that's probably how it is with most kids and their parents. No one wants to hear about how their parents weren't each others' first choices, that they ended up together not because they'd been destined to be that way but because circumstances shoved them together when their first choice was busy or away or just too damn interested in someone else entirely to notice. Well, now, I'm getting off my subject again. Where was I? Oh yes. See, Haley wanted to believe like so many other kids that her parents had been destined to be together. Then, there goes her father, sitting her down to tell her this long, drawn out tale about he and Old Lady Scranton's daughter, about how he and Kate Scranton were in love from when they were little until she left town after high school. Haley, as I said, didn't like the story at first. She thought it meant that her father didn't love her mother, or something like that. But, upon thinking over it again later, she decided it meant something else. It had nothing to do with her parents loving each other. It had to do with figuring out what you've got before you lose it, or something like that, one of those universal subjects that shows up in song after song, play after play, novel after novel, movie after movie, and yet still so many people don't get the point, and it keeps having to be retold over and over and over again. Well, that was one of the things Haley thought it was about, anyway. But, that wasn't my point, was it? I was trying to say that I tend to digress a lot, just like Haley's father did when he told her that story. And, now, I guess I've proven it. So, I don't even have to get into the specifics of all his digressions. If you want to hear them anyway, just call him up some time. Joel Manning, Reverence, California. I'm sure he'd be more than eager to tell you the whole thing.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes. The McMasters. A good family. Like the boy, Saint, the whole family is neither too popular nor too outcast, but somewhere in the middle. You look up average in any dictionary here in town, I bet you'll find a picture of one of the McMasters. I don't know which one, but one of them, or maybe a group shot. Saint would definitely be in there, if it's a group shot.

But, still, I guess I'm missing my own point here. I'm not trying to tell you about Saint. I'm trying to tell you about what he did three years ago. What I thought would end things between me and Haley before they'd even begun.

See, we were ten years old. Me, Haley, Kyle DeMetz, Josh Doyle, and two different McMasters (though not twins but cousins or something like that), Barbara and Saint. There were other ten year olds in town, of course. Reverence is not THAT small a town. But, those are the ones who were there that day up at King's Fate, the cliff that gave the town it's original name.

Well, really, Saint wasn't there at first, but oh well. It's not like I'm lying saying he was there. He got there eventually. That's kinda how this whole thing got going.

And, well, while we're on that subject, you should probably know, since you probably don't already, that the cliff, King's Fate, is no cliff. It's a rock that juts out on a hill on the north side of town. If you sit out on the end of it, it's kinda like a cliff, of course, and you can see pretty damn far from up there, so a lot of people will sit out there quite often and many have fallen off, and I'm sure they'd all jump at the chance to say it's a cliff. But, believe me, it's just a rock.

Now, we were up there, because there's kinda this unspoken rule around town, if you're a kid, you don't go anywhere near the cliff. Not even if you're an avid birdwatcher or you want to get a nice view of Carlton Falls or Lake Nacimiento. But, of course, unspoken rules, even more than the spoken ones, are made to be broken. So, most kids in town make it up there at some point or another. For teenagers, it was one of several popular makeout spots. We weren't teenagers yet, so the rule was, don't go there. Those of us up there that day all were under the impression that no McMasters kid would ever dare break the rule. Barbara, of course, was eager to show us all that she would not only go near the place, but would go right out to the end of the rock and sit down, her legs dangling over the edge. Sure enough, she did just that. That's kinda how we got into the whole mess that followed. But, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself again.

Let's back up a little. No? You don't like that idea? Too bad. Skip ahead if you'd like. I'm not stopping you. But, if you want to know about me and Haley, about how we were thinking we were a couple of those predestined lovers we wished our parents were, about how before that day, we thought we'd end up married with those 2.5 kids, a family pet, that whole bit, then keep on reading.

Back some time before, maybe when we were two or three, Haley and I had met in daycare over at Betty Cooper's house. Haley's mom was in charge of some play or ballet or something at the high school. Her father was busy painting something or other. My own father was working at Wrinkler's, my mother was . . . well, my mother just wasn't available to be looking after me. So, there we were, me and Haley. And, we like to tell people it was love at first sight there in daycare. But, I'm pretty sure we hated each other back then. Like any little boy, I tended to pick on all the girls. I'm lucky all those sexual harassment things have stuck to bigger cities, or my family mighta been sued by the Mannings, rather than me falling for Haley as the years went by. I guess things just had to work out how they worked out. We were predestined lovers, remember.

So, jump ahead a little, get past those daycare years, the hair pulling, the name calling. Get past all that. Jump ahead to a whole different bit of hair pulling and name calling, elementary school. Haley and I were friends, best friends. When we talked about being married and having kids and that whole bit, we tended to act like we were joking. We probably WERE joking most of the time. But, speaking personally at least, I know I meant those things when I said them at least a few of the times. Well, as much as an elementary school aged boy can mean that sort of thing anyway. And, Haley has admitted something like that to me as well. So, there we were, two kids in elementary school, mostly just acting like friends, unless you count that day behind that big oak tree, when the two of us, just barely seven years old at the time, kissed for the first time, or that time we talked about playing doctor, but only as a pretense to see each other without our clothes, only to chicken out before either of us saw more than our bare chests. And, believe me, at that age, hers wasn't any more impressive than mine.

Jump ahead a little bit. We're nine years old. Ok. Got the picture. Haley with her long blonde hair, her cute smile, you know that kind of smile that could make the most depressed person thank God for brightening this world, and her overalls--she always loved the overalls--and me with my practically bald head, little black hairs poking out all over, my dark eyes--puppy dog eyes, some called them on more than one occasion--and my own overalls. We were a cute couple of kids, believe me. I've seen the pictures. And, she's just gotten more beautiful since then. I don't know what happened to me. Well, if you ask her, I've gotten to be a pretty good specimen of beauty or handsomeness or whatever you want to call it, but I don't see it most of the time. I see a kid who's got a crooked nose, a hideous black mop of hair, and teeth that could use some braces my father can't afford. But, back then, I was cute, not as cute as she was, but cute enough.

We're on the swings over in Memorial Park. Her father is sitting on a bench nearby, watching us both. As I said before, my father worked at Wrinkler's, my mother just wasn't available, so it would fall to whichever of Haley's parents wasn't too busy that day to watch us, or we'd be allowed to run around unsupervised. Sure this is California, but Reverence tends to be kinda small townish. Plenty of parents let their kids run around unsupervised. Of course, maybe that's not always a good idea, but I'll get to that in a bit.

So, we're on the swings. We're talking about something or other, some toy she'd just gotten or maybe a game we'd played at school the day before. I don't know what it was. All I know is somehow the conversation, as simplistic and childish as it was, came around, as some of ours inevitably did, to the topic of the two of us getting married. "You know," Haley said to me, "you're still gonna have to ask me someday. It's not just gonna happen."

"Ask you what?" I may have been cute, and she may have loved me, but I was pretty dense sometimes.

Kyle DeMetz, my best friend as far as most people were concerned--though I always claimed Haley as my best friend and she always claimed me as hers, people tended to assume me and Kyle were best friends, since we were both boys and spent as much time together as I spent with Haley--was on the third swing, Haley on the one between he and I. He looked over at me right then and laughed.


"She wants you to ask her to marry you," he said, laughing some more.

Josh Doyle was hanging upsidedown from the bars nearby, and he was laughing too.

Haley just swung past me, smiling. She said nothing further.

I watched her go, back and forth, back and forth. My own swing slowed its pace as she pumped hers higher and higher. Finally, mine came nearly to a stop, and I stopped it all the way by dropping to my feet. Then, standing there, I watched her a few swings more. "Can you stop," I said.

It took her a little effort, but she stopped down next to me as quickly as she could. And, there we stood, each of us in our overalls, Kyle still swinging away in the third swing, Josh still hanging upside down, now bothering Barbara McMasters, who was trying to climb up onto the bars near him. Haley looked over at me, still smiling that smile. I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to run over to Barbara, cause surely she'd know some appropriate words to use while thanking God for that smile. Well, not really, but that sounds good, doesn't it? I guess, really, all I was thinking was that Haley was pretty cute, and we were best friends afterall, and . . . ok, I admit it, I have no idea what I was thinking. But, I looked at her, saw how pretty she was standing there smiling at me, and I asked her to marry me. I did what she wanted, and I asked her to marry me. She said yes, of course, and she leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, which suddenly took on a bit more importance than usual, and she dropped her butt back into her swing and started up swinging again, as if nothing had changed. Me--it took me a few seconds to get my head straight enough to even think of dropping into my swing again. Of course, I did do just that, did start swinging. And, our day went on.

And, our lives went on. We spent every day together. Sometimes Kyle was also there. Sometimes Josh was also there. Sometimes Barbara was tagging along with Josh--this wasn't like them being a couple like us, so don't think that, but something more like big brother and little sister, as he was like a foot taller than her and tended to help her out with just about anything much more than any of her real brothers would, and that's saying a lot, as these were the McMasters, remember, who would help anyone with just about anything. Let's just say Josh and Barbara were close, very close, but they were no couple. They had no predestined future as lovers.

Haley and I tended to brag to anyone we could about us being engaged, about us planning on getting married, having kids. She'd be a dancer like her mother. I'd be a great writer, or actor, or politician, or something important, a doctor maybe, anything that would put my dad's job at Wrinkler's store to shame. We'd be rich, we'd be famous, we'd be important. Or, maybe we wouldn't be any of those things. But, we'd still be married. We'd still be happy.

A lot of people believed us. Or, at least, they humored us. I'm sure they just found us oh so cute, the little couple. Oh, those kids, thinking they're engaged, thinking they've got their futures planned already. Sure, they'll be famous. Sure, they'll be rich. Sure, they'll be happy.

It's that last one that probably made them all want to scoff the most. So many people hate the happy ones. And, we were happy. Whether or not we'd be happy in the future, me and Haley were happy then. And, people could see that. And, as much as they liked seeing us running around town, smiles on our faces, as much as they liked to believe the fairy tales we told about our future together, I'm sure plenty of them hated us. But, we didn't know that then, so what did it matter?

So, jump ahead again. We're ten. And, Haley and I, along with Kyle DeMetz, and Josh and Barbara, are heading through the woods by Icles Creek, heading north up the hill, rounding the western edge of Miller's Pond where no one goes 'cause of all the ragged and prickly plants. No one, that is, except every kid who wants to head over to King's Fate.

Well, I guess I should admit now, that King's Fate really isn't all that important around here. It's not like it's some rite of passage for every kid. In fact, I'm sure there are plenty of kids in Reverence who have never gone over there, have never even thought of going over there. But, for our little band, at least, it was a big deal. Kyle's oldest brother, David, had told him about the place once, and Kyle wanted to be just like David, just like big brother. Kyle had told all of us, and his excitement about the place had rubbed off. And so, there we were, our little band of five, getting all kinds of scrapes and scratches as we hiked our way over the hill and down to King's Fate, which I must admit looks rather insignificant from the top of the hill.

So, we get down to the rock, much more impressive once we're walking out onto it, jutting like it does out of the side of the hill. And, looking out at the not that far off town of Carlton Falls, and Lake Nacimiento, a jet airliner flying overhead, we all just stood there, like well here we are, now what?

That's when Barbara stepped forward and plopped herself down at the edge of the rock, her legs dangling out in the open air. I remember quite distinctly--or maybe my mind made this detail up for some reason--Josh being very quiet as she did this, then suddenly letting out a large amount of air, like he'd been holding his breath, like he was afraid she might fall. Then, breathing easier, Josh stepped forward, and dropped to his butt right next to hers.

Barbara was kicking her legs forward and backward now, enjoying the hell out of all that open space before her. And, she was laughing. Doing something so simple as sitting at the edge of the rock called King's Fate, she was laughing. Josh looked over at her and smiled. And, it was about then that Kyle moved forward to join them. And, Haley did the same. Coward that I was, I was perfectly fine with being the last one out there, or not doing it at all.

Kyle and Haley reached the edge of the rock at the same time, and not thinking where they were, they nudged at each other, a sorta mock fight over who would get to be the third one to sit there, feet dangling. Well, though no one would ever really blame him--we'd certainly say some things that day, but we'd never really mean it--Kyle nudged a bit too hard at one point. Haley stumbled a little, and when she tried to catch herself on Josh, sitting there smiling away like everything was as good as could be, her hand hit his greasy hair and slipped right off, and she fell.

Now, she didn't immediately fall off the edge of the rock. I know, you're jumping to that conclusion, aren't you? Well, she didn't. She was laying right at the edge. She didn't go over. Like Josh before, we all had our breath held, and exhaled all at once seeing Haley was ok. I moved forward to help her up. Kyle, already apologizing, also reached to help her. But, Haley wasn't one to take help if it wasn't needed. And, she didn't think it was needed. She propped herself up on one arm, then both, then got on her knees, her feet over the edge of the rock, and she started to stand. But, the rock was slippery, or her shoe just was too slick, or maybe she just missed her footing. Go ahead and jump to that conclusion this time. 'Cause, that's when Haley fell.

It wasn't quite in slow motion, but it did seem to happen a little too slowly. First her one leg went, then the other, then her body, one arm, the other, then her head. And, then she was gone from view, screaming as she fell, but totally invisible to us. Josh and Barbara leaned forward and looked for her. Kyle and I both stepped to the edge, trying to grab her, but we were both too late.

You know how people always say the next few seconds were a blur. Well, it's my turn. The next few seconds were a blur. Kyle and I both ran back to the hill then made our way through the trees and bushes around the side of King's Fate, heading as best we could towards Haley, who--thank God she wasn't dead--we could hear crying right below the rock, though Josh, still up there, said he couldn't see her. Barbara ran for help--thank God for Barbara.

And help came in the form of Saint McMasters--thank God for Saint McMasters. He was our age, of course, but he was bigger than all of us, taller than Josh, huskier than I, and like he was still determined to never let his name be too much pressure, he ran down the hill, and was right behind Kyle and I, tearing through prickly bush after prickly bush in no time.

We could still hear Haley crying somewhere in all those bushes. I called to her, and she was quiet for a moment, like she was listening to me, or maybe she needed to catch her breath. And, I remember thinking, oh no, she's dead. She stopped breathing altogether. The fall and those prickly bushes have killed her. But, then she started crying all over again, and I tore through the bushes even more, my own arms getting all torn up, covered in blood. Kyle wasn't so determined, though he was helping. And, Saint--well, though he and Haley hardly knew each other, though they would still never really be friends, he just tore through those bushes with as much determination as me and twice the strength.

We tore through one particularly large bush, and there at our feet was another dropoff, something more like a cliff, but not as high up as King's Fate. Saint took one look down, then stepped off the edge, dropping through several branches that tore at his clothes and his skin. He hardly flinched at all. Me--coward that I was, I just stood there and watched him, watched him dig through more bushes, watched him fish out a bloodied Haley Manning, watched him lift her up to me.

She was crying about as hard as anyone can cry when I got her in my arms, and she leaned against me, wrapped her arms around me, and held on tight. I got the singular impression that she would have collapsed to the ground if I wasn't there to hold her. And, then she was out of my arms again. Saint was there next to us, having climbed back up that dropoff about as quickly as he'd dropped down it, and he pulled Haley into his arms, and carried her away, running faster than most kids could run when not carrying another kid. I hesitated. Then, I followed. Kyle and Josh and Barbara were already running after Saint. I brought up the rear.

At Miller's Pond, we found Charles and Sarah Lodge picnicking. Charles was a cop. He jumped right into professional helper mode, got to his car, parked nearby, and took Haley and Saint and I--I barely made it to the car, just as he was gonna pull away--up to Carlton Falls General Hospital in record time. Josh and Barbara and Kyle were left behind with Sarah Lodge.

At Carlton Falls General a Dr Saperstein told us--well, told Charles Lodge, and he told us--that Haley had broken one of her arms and one of her legs, and had fractured the other leg pretty badly, not to mention the bruises and cuts, and a mild concussion. Could we see her was all I wanted to know once I knew she wasn't gonna die. He said we had to wait.

When Haley's parents got there, Dr Saperstein let them in to see her. I was angry. I wanted to see her, but he hadn't let me. But, Mrs Manning got me in there soon enough. And, Haley looked so horrible, all scraped and bruised, bandaged and fragile. She looked broken. Broken, but still beautiful. She smiled, and I realized she was awake. She was looking at me. Right then, Mrs Manning thanked me for saving her daughter. And, I nearly accepted that. But, what had I done? I'd given up. I'd reached that dropoff and I'd stopped. I'd been the little coward who hadn't even wanted to go to King's Fate, the little coward who'd been so frightened I don't think I ever would have sat at the edge of that rock, and now would never even think to go anywhere near the place. If Barbara hadn't run for help, if Saint hadn't been nearby, if . . .well, Haley would have still been down there, bleeding, crying. Maybe, she'd even be dead.

I looked at Mrs Manning, the way she was looking at me like I was someone sent by God to keep Haley alive, and I couldn't do it. I couldn't let her think that. I couldn't claim any of the credit. "Saint did it," I said, and I turned and ran from the room.

Out in the waiting area, Saint was sitting, waiting patiently. He looked up at me briefly. His arms and his face were covered with scrapes and a few small bandages some nurse had put on him. He was wearing a shirt someone had found for him. And, despite all that, he was smiling. But, why shouldn't he have been smiling? He hadn't just failed the girl he was supposed to be marrying. He hadn't just failed his predestined love. He had come in and torn his way to her. He hadn't hesitated at that dropoff. He had gone in and gotten the job done. He'd been the Saint here, not me.

As he looked at me, I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to tear at those bandages, tear at that shirt, something, anything. But, how could I? He'd saved Haley. I owed him everything.

But, I couldn't tell him that, not then.

I diverted my eyes, and I walked past him, found Charles Lodge waiting nearby and asked him to take me home--my father, as usual, was working.

But, it wouldn't be so easy as all that. I couldn't just not see Haley, even if I HAD failed her. Even if I'd have left her there crying like that. Even if that sound would forever haunt me, awake or dreaming, I couldn't just step back from her, from us. I got my father to drive me back to the hospital that night. He convinced a doctor to let me in to see Haley--my father's good at that sort of thing, convincing people. And, again, I was standing by Haley's hospital bed.

She was asleep.

I didn't want to wake her. So, I just stood there, looking at her. She was so beautiful, even all cut up and bruised. She was the most beautiful thing in the world. And, she was dreaming of something nice, 'cause she smiled right about then. And, it was one of those sights that makes everything seem right in the world. But, I knew it was only seeming right. Everything was NOT right. I'd failed to do what I should have done. Haley had been in pain, and I'd hesitated. I'd left her there. If not for Saint, she could be dead for all I knew.

I turned to leave, and then she said my name, or so I thought. I turned around quickly, looked back at her. But, she was still asleep.

I walked out, found my father in the hall, and went home.

Haley was still alive, all because of Saint McMasters. And, sure enough, that night in my prayers I'd thank God for the whole McMasters family, for Barbara, for Saint. And, I'd thank God for Dr Saperstein and the whole staff of Carlton Falls General.

And, just before I'd say Amen, I'd ask God to make me braver. And, I'd ask him to let Haley forgive me, for I was sure she'd never forget how I'd failed her, that she'd never forgive me for leaving her to die. I was sure everything between us was over.