A Special Thanks To: Sylvia W., Cheryl C., and Abraxan, who were my editors and critics. The readers may thank these three for most of the commas which are contained in this work.

The idea for this story came to me in June of 1988, but never saw paper until a year later. I told this story to Sandra S., Patsy C. and Linda H. in Asheville North Carolina on October 22, 1988. At that time I expressed my desire to use it as the beginning or ending of a much longer story. Linda suggested that it would make a complete story without anything more. After months of cogitation, I decided she was right, and "Together" was born. Thank you Linda.

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All place names used in this story exist.

"Together" is a non-profit, amateur publication written for the enjoyment of STARMAN fans, and is not meant to infringe upon copyrights held by Henerson-Hirsch Productions, Michael Douglas Productions, Columbia Pictures Television, or ABC-TV.


TOGETHER
By: Desertgal
(c) 1989

.

Scott Hayden kicked at the leaves, then looked up at his father hopefully, "Do we have enough money to stay in a motel tonight?"

Paul Forrester paused in mid-stride, placed his hands in his jeans pockets, and faced his son. He sighed and then said, "Yes, we have the money, but, I don't know, Scott. It's only been four days since we had to leave Gastonia because of Fox."

"I know that," Scott pleaded. "But we haven't seen hide nor hair of him in all that time."

Paul frowned at his fifteen year old son, then raised one eyebrow in puzzlement. "Hide nor hair? What is, hide nor hair?"

"Ah, Dad, it's just a saying." Scott tried not to show the exasperation he felt at his father's questions.

"What kind of saying?" Paul knew humans were an unusual species and their language was full of strange expressions. It always pleased him to learn new things about his adopted home.

Scott sighed. "Well, I think it probably comes from a hunter's expression. When they've not seen the hide or the hair of the animal they're hunting they say they've not seen hide nor hair of whatever."

"But we're not hunting Fox, he's hunting us. Why would you say that?"

Scott gestured wildly with his hands. "Dad! It's just an expression. Okay?"

"Okay, I think I see. We don't want Fox to get his hands on our hides nor our hairs." Paul's eyes twinkled as his gaze met Scott's. He tried to keep a straight face, but soon both father and son were laughing aloud.

Paul put his arm around Scott's shoulders as they continued walking through the beautiful autumn-colored woods. The trees sparkled with the early morning dew. A thick carpet of leaves covered the ground and the hillsides were a mosaic of greens, reds, browns and yellows. A low misty fog hung over the tops of the trees, and gave the whole area a slightly blue appearance.

In the months since the Starman's return to earth, he'd only just begun to understand the tremendous variety on this small blue planet. Not only was there a fascinating assortment of people, but the physical environment changed rapidly also. He and Scott had spent most of their time on the run on the west coast, but recently had come east to complete a photo assignment for an outdoor magazine. They'd been getting ready to leave Gastonia, North Carolina when FSA agent George Fox had found them again.

An affectionate smile softened Paul's face as he focused on the dark hair of his young son. The love he felt for Scott continued to grow with each passing day. He tried to be a good father, but didn't know how to give his son what he wanted, and at the same time, keep him safe from the relentless government agent who wanted to capture them both.

Paul gazed off in the distance as he said, "Maybe, if we can find a place out of the beaten road we'll be able to sleep in real beds tonight."

Scott looked up at the innocent face of his father. He tried to control himself, but soon was overcome with hysterical laughter. After catching his breath, Scott managed to say, "Dad, that's 'off the beaten track'".

%%%

"Wylie, do you have any idea where we are?" George Fox was trying to keep his eyes on the road, see the map on his assistant's lap, and juggle a cup of hot, black coffee. Fox had taken over the driving several hours previously, after Wylie had nearly fallen asleep at the wheel. But Fox had known it would be a mistake to let Wylie navigate.

"Yes. No." Wylie paused. "I'm not sure, Mr. Fox. I think we're on Route 64 somewhere between Rutherfordton and Bat Cave..."

"Bat Cave!" Fox shouted, as his face quickly turned red. "Wylie, this isn't a game! I asked you to read the map, not a comic book! Now, where are we?"

Wylie turned his head quickly so Fox wouldn't see the hurt expression on his face. He again studied the map intently, and then took several deep breaths.

He kept his eyes on the map as he spoke quietly, "Honestly, Mr. Fox, the map shows a town called Bat Cave." Wylie pointed to the spot and traced the route with his finger. "If we're where we should be, we'd be on Route 64 between Rutherfordton and Bat Cave. But something isn't right. We should've come to Lake Lure before now." Wylie looked apprehensively at his boss expecting another outburst. "I... I just don't know for sure."

George Fox scowled at the man seated next to him. "Wylie, I've never..." He stopped abruptly, glared at his assistant for a moment, and then turned to stare down the road. Fox knew they'd both had very little sleep in the four days since losing the alien and its son in Gastonia. What they both needed was a hot meal and sleep. His eyes didn't leave the road as he said, "That's alright, Wylie. It's almost dark, and I see lights up ahead. We'll find a motel for tonight, and start fresh again in the morning."

%%%

"Molly, do you know where my name tag is?" Ruby yelled as she continued digging through her dresser drawers.

Molly entered the bedroom and smiled at her friend. Ruby's white-haired head was now almost buried in underwear, and her plump body was a blur of motion. Although Ruby was in her early sixties, had raised three children, and outlived two husbands, Molly had never known such a disorganized person. "Have you looked in the bathroom?"

"Yes," came the muffled reply. Ruby stopped her burrowing for a moment to come up for air. "I know I took it off last night and left it right here on the dresser. I'm going to be late for work if I don't find it soon."

"Jane and Joan were here yesterday. Were they playing motel again?"

Ruby snapped her fingers. "Why, yes, Molly. You're a genius. Those two granddaughters of mine must've moved it. If they aren't playing model and photographer, they're playing motel."

Molly chuckled. "Well, can you blame them? With a father who's a fashion photographer, an ex-model for a mother, and a grandma who tells them stories about the famous people who've stayed in 'her' motel, they imitate what they know."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. But right now, what do you think two ten year old girls did with my name tag?"

Molly shook her head. "I don't know, but I'll help you look."

As Molly left to search in another room, Ruby paused for a moment to watch her young boarder. Molly was in her late thirties, slender, with shoulder length dark hair. She was quiet, rarely laughed and mostly kept to herself. It had been good to see her open up to the twins yesterday. Molly seemed much more at ease with the children than she was with adults. Ruby had wondered about Molly's past, but had never questioned her.

"Here it is!"

Molly's shout and arrival at the door roused Ruby from her thoughts. "Wherever did you find it?"

As Molly handed the name tag to Ruby she smiled, and said, "You wouldn't believe it. It was in the cookie jar."

"The cookie jar?" Ruby raised her hands in a gesture of exasperation and shook her head. "Twins!" She was still muttering under her breath as she grabbed her jacket and rushed out the door.

Ruby and Molly both worked at the Red Bird Lodge. Ruby had been the night desk clerk for several years, ever since her second husband had passed away. Molly had started as an early morning maid only six months ago, when she had first arrived in Lake Toxaway and had begun boarding with Ruby.

%%%

"There's a motel, Dad. What do you think?"

Paul scanned the quiet little town. Besides the motel, there was a gas station, cafe, grocery store, post office, and a few other businesses. Several small, neat houses lined the side streets. In the twilight it was hard to see, but Paul was sure there was more town back in the trees.

Nothing much was moving on the street which ran through the center of the town. There were a few cars in the grocery parking lot but most of the shops were already closed. The gas station attendant was taking in the tire display getting ready to go home. A lone car was parked in front of the cafe. The neon sign on the motel invitingly flashed, VACANCY.

"It seems quiet enough, but I still don't know if it would be a good idea."

"Come on, Dad", Scott pleaded. "There's nothing here. Fox would never look for us in a one horse town like this."

Paul squinted at his son quizzically. "One horse town?"

Scott rolled his eyes and shook his head. "It's just another saying. I'll explain it later. Now can we go get a hot shower and a warm bed?" he asked hopefully.

Paul again scanned the streets of the sleepy little town, and then peered down at his road-weary son. A gleam of mischief appeared in his blue eyes as he clapped his son on the shoulder and started him moving rapidly down the street. "Well, come on, Scott! We'd better hurry so we can get a room before this crowd gets them all."

Scott looked at his father's grin and began to laugh. "Still working on your sense of humor, huh, Dad?"

"Yep. I'm getting pretty good, don't you think?" Paul replied with a wide smile.

"Well, you're getting better. But I don't think you're ready to star in any sitcoms yet." Father and son joined in happy laughter as they neared the entrance of the Red Bird Lodge.

"Scott?"

"Yeah, Dad."

"What's a sitcom?"

Scott stumbled as laughter overcame him, but finally he managed to gasp, "Later, Dad!"

%%%

"Didn't you think that was a really good steak, Mr. Fox?", Wylie asked enthusiastically.

George Fox glared at his assistant. Wylie had polished off two large steaks along with all the trimmings and had just ordered a whole pie for dessert. Fox didn't know where he could put all that food. They'd stopped to eat at the Lake Toxaway Cafe before going to the motel and he didn't think Wylie was ever going to stop stuffing his face so they could get on with the search.

The waitress and cook hadn't recognized the photos of the alien, and Fox was anxious to see if anyone else in the town had seen them. "Yes, Wylie, it was good." Fox began drumming his fingers on the table. "Are you about done?" He made no effort to hide his impatience.

"Yeah, sure, Mr. Fox. I can take the pie with me for later," Wylie said dejectedly.

Fox didn't wait for Wylie to utter another word. He jumped up from the table with the check in his hand, paid the bill, and rushed out the door.

Wylie gathered up his 'doggie bag' and the thermos of black coffee from the table. He waited at the counter for the waitress to bring his Dutch Apple pie before he followed his boss out the door to the car. They'd been the only patrons in the cafe and Wylie couldn't figure out why Fox was in such a hurry. Their quarry surely wasn't here.

%%%

"Here's your room key, Mr. Forrester. Room 242 is down the hall and around the corner to your left. It's on the left side of the hall." "Room 242? This place didn't seem to be that big from the outside," Paul said with a frown.

The desk clerk laughed. "It's not, but all the rooms are numbered in the 200's. When the place was built the number plates were made incorrectly and rather than have them re-done, our 50 rooms are all numbered in the 200's."

"Oh. Well, thank you."

"Think nothing of it. Lots of people ask the same thing."

As hungry as they were, Paul and Scott decided to go to their room to clean up before heading to the cafe for dinner. They'd just gone around the corner when Ruby rushed into the motel office.

"Sorry I'm late, Sam. Jane and Joan hid my name tag and..."

"Don't worry about it, Ruby. You're the best night clerk I've ever had. I knew you'd be here."

"Thanks, Sam. You're an understanding boss just like your father was. How full are we?"

"Only 18 rooms so far, but we have several unclaimed reservations. I expect we'll be full before morning. The rush will start soon."

"You know, people called your father crazy for building a motel in Lake Toxaway, but it's turned out to be a really popular place."

"I know", Sam agreed.

Ruby smiled as she remembered the elder Sam. "He was a smart one for sure. This is one of the few places to stay for miles around, and it's close enough to the national park to get lots of spill-over during the peak season."

"You're right, Ruby. Yet in the morning all the tourists leave, and we have a small, quiet town again for a few hours."

Ruby nodded in agreement. "Well, Sam, I've made you late for dinner already. You better get home to Betty and the kids. 'Bye now."

%%%

Fox and Wylie found a line of people waiting to register when they arrived at the motel. Fox hoped they could stay here. He didn't like to admit it, even to himself, but he knew they needed rest. After about fifteen minutes, they were at the desk.

"Do you have two rooms for one night?" Fox asked the clerk.

"Well, let me see here. Many of our rooms are reserved but I think I can get you two." Ruby was searching the key board trying to locate two rooms next to each other. "You know, in a week or so when the fall colors are really at their peak, you'd have to have a reservation to get a room anywhere in this part of the state. You boys are lucky you're here now."

"Yes, I'm sure that's true." George Fox opened his case and pulled out the photos of the alien and his son. "By the way, have you seen these two people? We're supposed to meet them here, but we were delayed in traffic. They may have already registered."

Ruby glanced briefly at the photos. "I just came on duty a little bit ago and I've been really busy with check-ins. I can't say as I remember them."

"Could you see if they're registered here?" Fox asked, trying his best to control his temper and be pleasant.

"Mister, right now all I can do is try to get these people in their rooms. Maybe later I could look for you. What're their names?"

"The man is Paul Forrester and the boy is his son, Scott Hayden. I'll leave a few copies of these photos for you to pass around to the staff."

Ruby glanced up when Fox gave her the photos and decided the man did seem just a little bit familiar but she couldn't be sure. She'd think about it later. "Here we go. I can put you in rooms 241 and 243. That's right side by side. Just go down this hall and turn to your left. The rooms are on the right side of the hall."

%%%

It was after 1:00 AM when Ruby finally had all the guests registered, the paperwork finished and could relax. As she was straightening the desk, she again came across the photos of the man and the boy. Now, why did he seem so familiar? She was sure she hadn't registered him. Even at her age, Ruby would have remembered such a handsome man. His intense blue eyes stared out from the picture in a far-off gaze. An involuntary shiver went up her spine. There was something about those eyes.

The boy looked sort of lost and alone. He reminded Ruby of a little lost puppy. She wondered what would make such a nice looking young man appear so unhappy, sad, and forlorn.

What was that name again? Foster? No, it was something which reminded her of trees. Forrester, Paul Forrester. That was it. Ruby knew she'd heard the name somewhere. It wasn't just the face which was familiar.

Ruby sat with her cup of coffee and the photos for a long time. She'd found where Mr. Forrester was registered and had left a silent message on the phone of Mr. Fox. He'd get it in the morning when he awoke. Her shift would be over at 2:00 AM and she wished she could remember where she'd seen that face.

%%%

George Fox awoke at 6:30 AM. He lay with his eyes closed for a moment to get his thoughts together and make plans for the day. Since they'd ended up in Lake Toxaway the previous night - totally the opposite direction from where they should be - he wasn't sure where to go next. His search had turned up few clues and now, on the fifth day, George Fox decided it was time to go home.

That decision made, he threw the covers back with a vengeance. He had to catch the nightstand lamp as it nearly toppled over on him. Fox dressed in sweats and went out into the crisp fall air for an early morning jog. While on the road he usually didn't take time for this pleasure, but today he needed some time to think.

%%%

Molly dressed slowly. She gazed out the window at the few visible stars remaining in the pre-dawn light. The stars were still comforting to her, even though she no longer lived in an endless night. She'd been happy in the six months since coming east to Lake Toxaway. Ruby was a good friend and treated her more like a daughter than a boarder. But her thoughts often went back to that one night in Arizona, to the one night she'd spent with him. It was almost like a dream, but Molly knew it was real. As real as the first time she'd been with him. As real as the son she'd borne nine months after he'd left her that first time. She hoped, someday, they all could be together again.

The chiming of the clock striking seven brought Molly out of her reverie. She had to be to work by 7:30 and, even though the walk from the house to the motel was short, she wanted to have time for some breakfast.

%%%

Ben Wylie extended his arms above his head, yawned and stretched to his full length. His feet protruded well beyond the end of the bed. As he relaxed he wondered why motel beds were always so short. Wylie rolled over on his side and squinted at his watch. He sat bolt upright when he saw 7:25. Mr. Fox was usually ready to go by this time and Wylie knew he'd overslept. As he rushed to get ready he wondered why Fox hadn't already been there to awaken him.

As soon as he was dressed, Wylie went out and knocked on Mr. Fox's door. There was no answer. That seemed odd since Mr. Fox was always an early riser. But where could he be? Wylie was puzzling over the absence of his boss, as he approached a maid who was standing in the hall. "Miss, have you seen anyone come out of room 241 this morning?"

Molly was startled by Wylie's sudden appearance. She jumped and then looked up at the tall husky man. "No, I've only been here a few minutes."

"Is there a coffee shop in the motel Miss, uh, Kellerman?"

Molly stared down at the linen cart when he said her name. She absently touched the name tag pinned to her uniform as she answered. "Yes, it's been open for about an hour and a half." She met the man's eyes as she said helpfully, "Your friend could be down there."

"Thank you. I guess I'll try there." Wylie stared at the attractive young woman as he backed towards his room. He didn't mean to stare, but she seemed somehow familiar. When he entered his room, Wylie pulled the file on the alien from his briefcase. As he turned the pages he came to a picture of the alien's woman. Even though the photo was old, he was sure the maid in the hall was Jenny Hayden.

Wylie sat for a moment wondering what to do. With Fox away from the room should he approach her alone, or should he wait for help? Mrs. Hayden knew Fox, but she'd never seen him. It seemed the right thing to do would be to take her into custody, then find Mr. Fox.

Ben Wylie stood, straightened his jacket and tie, patted his pocket to be sure his ID was in place, then walked into the hall. He was a little nervous, but tried to approach the woman casually. His butterfly stomach wasn't because he didn't think he could do the job, but because he was afraid of what Mr. Fox would say if he failed.

"Miss Kellerman, I'm Agent Wylie with the Federal Security Agency. I'd like to ask you a few questions." Wylie was holding his badge for her to see with one hand as he reached for her shoulder with the other.

Molly took one look at the badge and approaching hand before reacting. She pushed the cart into Wylie's middle, shoving him back against the wall.

"No!" she screamed, as she ran towards the back exit.

"Wait! Stop! Don't run from me!" Wylie kept his eyes on the woman as she ran up the hall while he hurriedly extricated himself from the towels and sheets which had fallen from the cart. He pocketed his badge and ran down the hall after Jenny. "Please stop! I won't hurt you!"

Jenny glanced back once and saw Wylie gaining on her. She kept running as she yelled, "Please! Help me! He's trying to rape me!"

Paul and Scott had been up for about an hour. They were discussing their next move when the commotion erupted in the hall. Paul frowned at his son. "It sounds like someone's having a fight."

"Yeah," Scott agreed, "and I don't think it's a friendly fight."

"Friendly fight? How can a fight be friendly?" Paul's face mirrored his puzzlement.

Scott shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

Paul opened the door in time to see a woman in a white uniform run around the corner at the extreme far end of the hall with a man in close pursuit. "I've got to see if I can help."

"Dad, no. Don't get involved!" But Scott's words fell on an empty room. Force of habit caused him to grab their bags before he ran after his father.

Jenny glanced back one last time as she pushed open the doors and emerged into the motel parking lot. She headed for the far end and the safety of the woods.

Wylie was so intent upon keeping up with Jenny he didn't notice anyone behind him. He ran through the door after Jenny wondering how she could have gotten so far ahead of him. He dashed between the cars to catch up.

As George Fox jogged towards the back entrance of the motel, he saw a woman run out. She was soon followed by a man who looked a lot like Wylie. He slowed his pace and stared at the pair. In just a few seconds, two more people ran out of the door and collided with him. Fox lost his balance and fell flat on the ground in a heap. When he raised his head to see who'd hit him, he recognized the alien and his son. George Fox scrambled to get up from the ground, yelling, "Forrester!" at the top of his lungs.

Wylie heard his boss shouting from across the parking lot and turned in time to see the alien and his son sprint away from Mr. Fox. He wondered why Mr. Fox was on the ground. When he turned back towards Jenny, she'd disappeared into a thick grove of trees covered in kudzu vines. He then saw Mr. Fox get up and begin the pursuit of Forrester and the boy. Wylie decided he'd better go help Mr. Fox. Although the woman was important, the capture of the alien had top priority.

When she reached the shelter of the trees, Jenny stopped to catch her breath. She'd heard shouting coming from the motel but hadn't been able to make out the words. When she peered through the trees, she saw her pursuer heading away from her, back towards the building. After a brief moment to rest, she walked cautiously to Ruby's house.

Jenny went straight to her room and began to pack her few possessions. She knew she wouldn't have much time before the FSA would find her. That guy, Agent Wylie, knew the name she'd used in the motel and it wouldn't take him long to get her address from the employment records. Jenny was so intent upon her task she didn't hear Ruby come to the door.

"Molly honey, whatever is the matter? Why are you home so early? Why are you packing?"

Jenny jumped at the sound of Ruby's voice. Tears came to her eyes as she met Ruby's puzzled expression. She turned away. "I...I can't tell you."

Ruby entered the room and placed a hand on Jenny's shoulder. As she gently squeezed, Jenny turned and their eyes met again.

Jenny took a deep breath and choked back a sob. "I...I'm sorry. I don't mean to hurt you, but I have to leave. I just...just can't explain it."

Ruby hugged Jenny tightly and stroked her hair. "That's ok, honey. I understand."

After a moment of caring and sharing, Jenny pulled back and focused tear-stained eyes on the warm, motherly lines in her good friend's face. "If someone comes searching for me..."

"I won't say a thing. You can be sure of that." Ruby again stroked Jenny's hair. "Molly, dear, do you want me to pack you some food?"

"Yes, that would be nice. Thank you." Jenny watched Ruby leave. She finished packing her bag, walked to the kitchen and put it on the floor.

Ruby turned and saw a very frightened young woman. "Here, sit for a minute while I finish." Ruby went to the kitchen table and closed the book she'd been looking through.

Jenny's eyes fell on the picture on the back cover of the book and she nearly collapsed. She sat in the chair, hard, and grabbed up the book. Staring at the photo, she asked hesitantly, "Why do you have this out here?" not really sure she wanted to know.

Ruby turned to see Molly gently rocking, and cradling the photo book in her arms as if it were a baby. "Well, last night a man checked in who asked if I'd seen a couple of people. He gave me some photos of them. I knew the name and face were familiar but I couldn't place them so I brought one of the pictures home so I could try to figure it out. I awoke from a sound sleep just a while before you came in. I knew who he was. I went to get that book from Billy's things. He's admired Paul Forrester's work for years. He met him once at a photographer's convention, and when that book was published, he just had to have it."

Jenny gazed at the picture of her Starman through tear-stained eyes. In a very quiet voice she asked, "Someone was asking about him last night?"

"Yes. He'd checked in before my shift so I didn't know he was in the motel until later. I left a message for the man who was asking about him."

Jenny drew in a sharp, sudden breath.

Ruby continued, "It probably was some magazine publisher or something. Forrester is a pretty famous photographer."

Almost inaudibly Jenny whispered, "No."

"What?"

Jenny looked up. The tears were streaming down her face again. She took a short labored breath to control her sobs and shook her head to clear her thoughts. "Nothing." Jenny placed the book on the table and stood. "I have to be going now."

"Wait a minute." Ruby rushed into her bedroom and came back in a few seconds holding the picture of Paul and Scott. Even though she didn't understand the connection, Ruby knew this man was important to her young friend. "You should have this."

Jenny took the photo and held it to her breast. "Oh, Scotty, Paul..." She labored to control her emotions. After taking a few deep breaths, she gazed upon Ruby for what she knew would be the last time. "Thank you so much. This picture means a lot to me." Jenny gently placed the photo in her bag and then turned and took Ruby's hands in hers. "Thank you for letting me stay here, getting me a job and most of all, for being my friend." Jenny gave Ruby a big hug, picked up her bag and the sack of food, and left Lake Toxaway on a trail leading through the woods to the north.

%%%

Paul and Scott ran up the sidewalk by the building before Fox could get to his feet. They rounded a corner and Scott started to run across an open field towards the trees.

"Wait, Scott. We'll never make it before Fox catches us. Come over here." Paul pulled his son towards him and they both pushed in behind some tall, bushy shrubs growing close to the motel. They sat quietly for only a few minutes before hearing people approach.

"The alien was here. I saw it. It can't be far away." Fox was red in the face, more from anger than from exertion. "We've got to get some help and search these woods. If you hadn't been so far away we'd have already caught them. What were you doing way over there anyway?"

Wylie was still trying to catch his breath. The run across the parking lot and back had winded him badly. He gasped for breath a few times and then managed to say, "I was chasing...Jenny...Hayden."

"You were what?" Fox was nearly apoplectic with rage.

"I recognized...one of the maids. It was Jenny Hayden. She ran from me when I tried to take her into custody."

Fox glowered at Wylie. "You're sure it was her?"

Wylie shook his head eagerly. "I'm positive sir. She looked just like the picture."

Unseen by either FSA agent, Paul and Scott's eyes met in a questioning, painful, sharing of the hurt.

Fox rubbed his hands together in glee. "This is fabulous. All three of them are here. It must have been planned. Why else would the alien come so far east, so close to Washington? We've got to get some help from the local police. Let's go make the calls." Fox hurried back around the corner of the building so fast Wylie had to run again to keep up.

Paul and Scott sat quietly in the shrubs for a moment. Neither knew what to say. After they heard the two FSA agents leave, and felt it was safe, they came out of their hiding place. Scott sniffed, wiped the tears from his eyes, and looked up at his father. "Do you think what he said was true? Was Mom here?" Scott asked plaintively.

Paul put his hand on his son's head and let it slide down to the back of his neck. "I don't know. He had no reason to say it if it weren't true."

They stared at each other in painful silence. This was the second time in less than a year when they'd been very close to Jenny. The loss hurt them both deeply.

Scott gazed at his father through teary eyes. "Could we try to find her?" he pleaded. "She can't be far if Wylie was just chasing her in the parking lot." Scott hadn't taken his eyes from his father's face.

"We can't do that, Scott. You know that." He paused and placed his other hand on Scott's shoulder. "Besides, you know your mother is good at hiding. She won't leave a trail which can be followed. That's why she's still free. We've got to get away from here as fast as possible so we can remain free to be able to find her again."

Scott choked back a sob. He couldn't say anything, and just nodded.

Paul took a deep breath, trying to control his own emotions. "We all have dreams and hopes. That's part of what makes us human. But sometimes things happen to keep us from fulfilling those dreams. We don't always get what we want, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying."

Father and son stood staring silently into each other's eyes, and then Paul pulled his son into a tight hug. They shared their loss, love, and affection in that brief moment before cautiously scanning their surroundings and heading south, across the field of kudzu, and into the timber.

%%%

"Forrester was here, right under our noses. Why didn't that desk clerk tell me? I'll have her job for this." Fox was so angry he was fumbling with the key. When he finally got the door open he went straight to the bed. He pulled the covers off the nightstand where he'd thrown them, and saw the flashing red message light on the phone. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach as he picked up the receiver and dialed the desk.

"You have a message for room 241?" Fox paced as the clerk checked.

"Yes. Let me see. Here it is. The party you were asking about is registered in room 242. You may dial that room directly, sir."

Fox managed to mumble thank you as he hung up the phone. He sat on the bed and pulled the phone book from the nightstand drawer. On the inside of the front cover was the emergency number for the Transylvania county sheriff. As he dialed the number, George Fox wondered what kind of strange people lived in North Carolina. With a city called Bat Cave and a county called Transylvania, he wondered if maybe there was something here which should be investigated.

"Good morning. Transylvania sheriff's department. How may I help you?"

THE END

.

Appendix:

Bat Cave: The town is named for a cave in the vicinity. Its roof is formed by two massive boulders almost meeting in a peak. The entrance is 30 feet high and the cave runs back about 100 feet.

Brevard: The seat of Transylvania County. It was named for Ephraim Brevard, a Revolutionary War soldier.

Gastonia: The seat of Gaston County. Both the city and the county were named for Judge William Gaston, a North Carolina Supreme Court Justice. He composed the state song, "The Old North State". Eight miles east of Gastonia is Lake Wylie.

Kudzu: A leafy green vine which has made the south its home. The plant arrived in the United States when the Japanese brought it to Philadelphia over 100 years ago to decorate their pavilion in the centennial celebration. Kudzu grew in popularity as an ornamental shade plant until the 1930's, when experts at the U.S. Soil Conservation Service discovered how well it stopped soil erosion. Soon Conservation workers had planted kudzu on farms all across the South. The plant not only stopped erosion; it sent tendrils in all directions in its quest for more space. Southerners thought kudzu was pretty, and planted it in their yards to hide tree stumps and compost piles. They soon learned kudzu's true nature, however. Growing as much as a foot a day in hot weather, the vine spreads by sending roots into the earth where its leaves touch the ground. In a single season, one plant can creep 100 feet. It entwines telephone poles, telephone lines, and overtakes trees, porches and yards. So far, kudzu has been successful in its search for space, spreading from Florida as far north as Maryland and as far west as Louisiana.

Lake Lure: The town is named for the 1500 acre artificial lake east of town, which is formed by a dam on the Broad River. Lake Lure is a popular resort area.

Lake Toxaway: The town is at the site of an ancient Cherokee village. Toxaway is the Cherokee word for 'redbird'. The town was once a fashionable resort built around an artificial lake, but in 1916, a flood swept the dam away. A new dam has been built and there is now a planned resort community being built on the shores of Lake Toxaway. Nearby are the Toxaway River, Toxaway Falls, and Mount Toxaway.

Rutherfordton: The seat of Rutherford County. It was named for Revolutionary War General Griffith Rutherford.

Transylvania: The county was created in 1861 and named for a land development company which had been active in the area since 1775. The name probably was given for the literal Latin meaning, rather than an echo of the European location of the same name. "Trans" is Latin for "across" and "Sylva" is Latin for "woods", therefore, Transylvania means "Beyond the forest".