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For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.

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“You look lost.” 

The shock was like waking up in a hospital, tubes attached, monitors chirping, and conversations just too far out of range to understand, finally coming close enough for words to form. When focus was pulled to bring his surroundings to clarity and his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the world he awoke to, he found himself in the middle of the Payless supermarket. Fluorescent lights high above buzzed and flickered and the concrete floors bounced the sounds of the place back at Scott.

The voice had a foreign accent. Latin?

“Are you well?” the voice asked again. It seemed like it should be familiar. 

“I was here to get something,” Scott replied, his own voice sounding far away. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked only a slight head-turn to the right and saw that there was a big man in black, like Johnny Cash, standing there. His hand felt heavy on Scott’s shoulder through his coat.

Scott had expected a deep southern drawl but Johnny Cash was dead. The Man in Black began saying something in Spanish, or Italian. Something foreign. Scott knew a good amount of Spanish and it wasn’t that. Must have been Italian, he decided.

Scott’s mouth was parched. He had a terrible thirst. He interrupted The Man in Black.

“I need something to drink,” he said, his eyes searching the store for a drink cooler.

The man leaned close in toward Scott’s face. His nose sniffed at Scott’s mouth and Scott could smell incense and something else on The Man in Black. 

“It does not smell as though you are looking for alcohol. Are you?”

Scott finally looked to The Man in Black’s eyes and almost fell into them, the steel blue bright and clear and empty of any pretense or deception. They were eyes of youth and of age and the man appeared to be in his mid-sixties.

“No,” Scott replied, coming back to his own mind enough to know to take in a big breath. He looked to the hand still on his shoulder. The Man in Black smoothly removed it.

“Then I can show you where to get something to drink?”

Scott nodded and said, “Yes”.

“Would you follow me?”

Scott nodded and said Yes again and followed, a faint but uneasy shame in the back of his chest to be doing so.


CookieSheet’s Cafe hours were 6am to 6pm, so they were skirting the wrath of CookieSheet. She always came back from her afternoon at home to make sure the place was closed properly, register rung out, and prepped for the morning crowd.

Even though out of the two last customers, she had a running conflict with the one, she also had a fondness for the other, so she cut them some slack. 

The cappuccino had worked, as The Man in Black had thought. Scott felt he was becoming himself again - whatever that was - although he was both embarrassed and shocked that he could lose control of things like he had.

“I am relieved to know finally remember me,” the man said in his thick Italian accent and holding out his beefy hand to Scott. “It is so nice to see you again.”

Scott took hold of the strong hand, shook once, and let go to secure his own hand  around his coffee. The man he had met only once before had a large face and full lips, thick eyebrows, and some jowls were growing around jaw. In some ways, he reminded Scott of Todd, in the largeness of him. But where Todd’s eyes were baby blue and pink-rimmed and tended to dart around, Father Adrian’s were both fierce and calmly steady with dark eyelashes despite the blond in his hair that was going to gray at the sides. The mop of hair was thick and course and he needed a haircut, Scott thought. But his remembrance of  Father Adrian’s deep but youthful voice came back to him and he felt he was safe and in good company.

Father Adrian’s face held a smile that looked both challenging and mischievous and waited, almost begging for a question or reaction. It seemed like the face could wait out indefinitely for an answer to a question.

The thick stubble indicated to Scott that the man just did not have time - or maybe it was an inability to hold onto such a menial task as shaving from day to day. On cue, Father Adrian leaned back in his seat and passed his left hand across the growth before his right hand reached for his to-go cup of coffee.

Lee. Stubble. Scott remembered working with Lee earlier.

“Fiteen min’ts!” CookieSheet called to them from the kitchen. Her helper had taken off his apron and was storing it under the counter, coat on, ready to leave.

His cup almost to his lips, Father Adrian said to Scott, “Drink your coffee, young man and we will go to my car. I have something for you.”

Scott was full to the gills as The Man in Black had strongly urged him to drink a full glass of water before the coffee came. After he drank it, he realized that the only liquids he’d had that day was his morning coffee and the Diet Coke at lunch time. Not enough in the high, dry altitude and especially after attacking the gravel pile that morning. Must’ve been why he went away a for a bit. 

Full, he drank anyway, because the sweet, creamy taste of the cappuccino tasted so good. He watched Father Adrian as the man called back to CookieSheet in his rusty, Italian baritone voice. 

“Remind me, Señora, not to drink your coffee after eight in the morning!” He winked at Scott. “Only your freshest is palatable!”

CookieSheet came around the corner of the kitchen toward the counter a few steps, dishwashing gloves on and a huge butcher knife in her hand, dripping with dishwater.

“You should to be careful, Kuhn Adrian! Not to challenging me when I have knife in my hand!” CookieSheet stood for a moment, a dangerous look in her eyes, before she relaxed, grinned, and shook the knife at him. “Come back in morning! I give you some special!” she said as she turned and went back to the kitchen.

After CookieSheet pushed them out of the door and locked it behind them, Scott followed Father Adrian out to the Payless parking lot and to his older and modest white Ford Taurus, parked quite askance to the yellow guidelines of the lot. It was getting toward 7pm and it was a cold night again, clouds out beyond the sodium vapor lights of the lot.

As Father Adrian opened the back driver’s side door and leaned in, Scott could see the black seams of his overcoat stretch with the bulk of the man’s muscles and the extra that was underneath. He was almost as tall as Todd and Lee.

I’m in a land of giants, here,” Scott thought.

“Ah! Here it is...” Scott heard from Father Adrian inside, bent over the rear seat filled with folded blankets and bibles in bubble wrap. He pulled himself out of the interior, straightened his body and his garments, and held out a white FedEx box to Scott.

“What is it?” Scott asked.

“Betty send to me a few days ago. She said she forgot to give it to you before your departure.” Scott took the box and looked at it.

“She instructed you to open it when you feel a need. Maybe if you get lonely.” Father Adrian grinned again.

What’s with these grinning giants?” Scott asked himself, wonderment at the sameness between Todd, Lee, and now Father Adrian. And yet all three were completely different human beings. Well, two were human beings and one might be an alien.

“I should have found you and given it to you sooner. It is a very busy season for me. Many people in crisis in this time that should be joy.”

“It’s okay, thanks. Thanks again,” Scott said. “You really saved me there, Father Adrian. And that you realized who I was was pretty incredible. I owe you.”

“I am a servant of the Lord, that is all,” the priest said, his smile softening. “Let us meet again soon for coffee. Would that be suitable for you?”

“Uh, sure,” Scott said, hesitant of making any commitment.

The Priest seemed oblivious to the chill in the air and instead of offering his hand to Scott, he stepped one king-size step toward Scott and wrapped his arms around him. It was close to a bear hug and Scott lightly placed his free left arm on the priest’s broad back.

“Very nice to see you, Laddie. God bless you for your mission here,” Scott heard him say from behind his head. When the man broke contact, he patted Scott on the shoulder and closed the back door, opened the driver’s door, and turned around.

“Oh, my!” I almost forgot.” Father Adrian looked to the heavens and said, “Please forgive me, my Lord, for forgetting in even a moment.” Then with clasped. hands, he looked at Scott.

“Merry Christmas, Scott!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah! You too!” Scott replied, just realizing it and not wanting to let on he had forgotten.

The tall priest got into the old car behind the wheel and started it. He adjusted the heating controls and rubbed his hands together before putting the shifter into Drive. He closed the door, smiling at Scott again.

The box under one arm, Scott waved to the old Taurus as the priest gingerly worked the car out of the iced-over parking lot. He looked down at the box and then met it with his nose to smell it. It didn’t smell of baked goods, but Scott thought that might be because of the cold air numbing his sense of smell. It was heavy like it had dense brownies and soft cookies, but was evidently packed so well that it was hard to tell.

If these are goodies, I may be feeling the need pretty quick!” he thought.

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