Epilogue

Homeward bound at last, Mark McCormick resisted the urge to press his nose against the truck window to drink in the sights. Hardcastle had already commented on his hyper activity at the hospital, so Mark was trying to appear calm and collected.

As they passed the various houses perched on the beach side of the Pacific Coast Highway, Mark cracked his window open. Fresh air, gas fumes, salt water, the occasional scent of someone grilling as well as the hint of long dead fish all spelled home to the man with the shaggy curls.

When the two men in the truck finally neared the last stretch of highway before the entrance of Gull's-Way, Mark felt an ache deep in his heart. He never got tired of seeing the vivid blue and white of the ocean's waves, the various shades of tan of the beach, and the contrasting greens and browns of the estate. It all added up to home for him, a term he had never been that familiar with, not even when he was a child. He sighed deeply, a sweet smile on his face.

"You okay?" Judge Hardcastle asked, a concerned light in his faded blue eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Judge. Just glad to be ho…out of the hospital."

Hardcastle caught the slip and smiled in return.

In an uncommon show of concern, Hardcastle pulled the truck close to the front door of the main house and hurried around to the passenger side to assist Mark from the vehicle.

"Judge, I won't shatter. I just have to be a little careful, that's all."

"The doctors don't want you to fall, so I'm gonna make certain you don't."

As they walked to the door, Mark paused, staring around intently. He sighed again, his smile slipping.

"Something wrong? You didn't want a surprise party so soon, did you?" Hardcastle asked, his hand hovering just behind Mark's back, ready to grab the younger man if he so much as looked as if he might slip.

"Not right now. Maybe after I've been home awhile, but right now I just want to take it easy."

The Judge nodded decisively. "Thought you'd feel that way. Told the others we might have a little cookout in a couple of weeks, after the docs clear you."

They stepped into the house, Mark still looking about.

"What are you looking for?"

Mark shrugged. "Nothing really."

Hardcastle didn't buy it, but was willing to let it go for the time being. He ushered Mark into the den and to the younger man's usual chair. "Siddown. I'll get you something to drink. Feeling like eating?"

"Not right now, Judge. But I'd love something to drink. No beer, huh?"

"Not for another week and you know it."

Mark flashed a grin. "It was worth a try." The smile disappeared once the Judge was out of the room. He let his head lean against the back of the chair.

A wisp of cold swept across his face, causing his bright blue eyes to pop open. "Mrs. H?"

"You say something, kid?" Hardcastle bustled in carrying two glasses of lemonade.

"No." Mark was disappointed, then sat up, staring past the Judge. A smile spread across his face, causing his face to glow.

"You're startin' to worry me. Are you sure you're okay? Do you want anything else? Maybe one of your pain pills?"

"Judge, I couldn't be better. I've got everything I want now."