Although written some time following the original story, this is considered a Prequel to By Way of Introduction, which can be found at https://www.scribd.com/document/28229437/By-Way-of-Introduction-MASTER and takes place in late May of the year 2000 – the month which saw the release of the movie, Gladiator.
The Twenty-Eighth of May 2000 — early evening:
John Biebe tried to recall if he’d ever been in the CrowesNest gift shop before. The more he considered it, the more he realized he had not. Truth be told, he was not certain why the existence of it was something which would have crossed his mind, because he really had no use for it. He did recall Arthur, Dom and Andy mentioning working in there for short shifts on occasions, but since it wasn’t open on a constant basis, the sheriff had never spent any time there helping out.
Now here he was, appearing very lost as he wandered around, Johnny paying little attention to him as he restocked some inexpensive chocolates.
If things hadn’t worked out the way they had, he would not even be here. Briefly, his thoughts returned to the night before. He and Maximus escorting Tina to her new suite at the hotel; her distress when it came time for them to leave her; her decision to have the general remain with her for the night.
John maintained a brave face. He smiled, told her not to be concerned — after all, they had left it in her hands, and as she had said, she did love Max first. And it was not as though he left her in the arms of someone who might harm her physically, or injure her emotionally. Max genuinely cared for her too, and when John watched the two of them enter the Tavern earlier that day, he was not only happy for his brother — considering the suffering he’d undergone — but Tina as well.
He just wished it had been him instead.
Biebe inhaled deeply as he picked up a music box, then put it back down. At that moment when he wished her good-night, then turned away and walked down that hallway, even more than down in the Tavern he knew she was now a lost cause. When Bud encouraged him not to give up, and he told the cop he knew what he was doing; that he must let Tina make her own decisions and not attempt to interfere, the explanations were hollow even to him. When he finally went to his room for the night, he laid awake in bed for over an hour, haunted by memories of the evening — her smile, her laughter, that tinge of sadness deep in those dancing brown eyes, her love of English history, her passion for movies going all the way back to the silent era.
The fact she knew ‘Mystery Alaska‘ and had adored it immensely.
At least you have that Biebe, he had thought, rolling onto his back to stare into the blackness. I told her to listen to her heart…and she did. She loved Max first. Why wouldn’t she? He felt tears burning his eyes, and he restlessly turned onto his side, trying not to hear the ‘Good-night John‘ she said not with her lips, but with her mind. And yes, he heard her — standing there at the top of the staircase he heard her, the words burning into his soul as a part of her reached out and tugged at him, letting him know that despite all this, she still cared.
Things amazingly had worked out, even after all the pain he’d undergone the previous night.
The two of them ran into each other when Maximus brought her by Biebe’s frozen pond while he was working out. The general — excusing himself due to a meeting with Peaches and the other Nest administrators — left them alone, and John spent a wonderful time giving Tina a lesson in hockey basics.
They talked about him and when he’d first come to the Nest. He promised to teach her to skate, and he watched her bundled inside his favorite winter jacket, wearing his gloves as those small hands held a cup of cappuccino to her lips. She would blow on the liquid to cool it; he could see the gentleness in her eyes when she spoke of defending him against Sid…and then John kissed her. It wasn’t a long kiss — they barely touched, but it was enough. He felt the electricity again, as he had on entering the Tavern prior to meeting her. What she felt exactly he was not certain, but she had accepted his apology and said something about friends being able to kiss.
Is that what she thinks of me — we’re just friends? He could live with it. If Maximus made her happy, that was all that mattered to John for he knew she deserved to be loved and loved well. But unexpected events dropped into John’s lap, and he now found himself escorting her to dinner. His brother couldn’t take her as promised. Something about performing a task or having another meeting with Peaches. So it was the Spaniard’s suggestion John take Tina to dinner so she would not be disappointed, an idea everyone happily agreed to.
Reservations were made at one of the hotel’s semi-formal restaurants. Almost the second Tina left him in the ice rink, John hurriedly put away his gear and rushed to his room, intent on getting some rest before dressing for dinner. He’d been careful about everything, unconsciously wanting to please her, from his choice of fragrance to the casual red flannel shirt to wear over a black turtleneck. In fact, he had been in such a hurry to get ready towards the end, that when he left his rooms to go pick her up, he suddenly realized it was only seven o’clock — and he wasn’t due until eight!
That led to him wandering about the gift shop, wasting a bit of time, secretly hoping that he might find some appropriate item to give her as a token of what he hoped would be a pleasant evening for them.
Candy? He touched a ballotin of precious Godiva chocolates, then recalled her mentioning a low fat diet, so as delicious as those were, that wasn’t a good idea unless she said otherwise. Balloons? One balloon? A t-shirt? A t-shirt? Come on John — get real.
“Having problems Sheriff Biebe?”
John looked up from the shelf he was staring at, smiling as he saw Michelle standing a few feet away. “Hey Chelle. I didn’t know you were here.”
“I’m just helping Johnny out a little. We had a big rush earlier, but it’s slowed down now. Hey…how are you?”
“Okay I guess,” he shrugged.
“You guess? What’s up?” she asked, moving closer and linking an arm in one of his.
John sighed. “It’s just that I feel as awkward as some kid on his first date right now, that’s all.”
“What?” Biebe quickly explained his dilemma while his Canadian friend carefully listened, considering all of his possibilities. “So…you want to take just something…simple, right?”
“Right. I don’t want to imply anything, or make her feel uncomfortable. We’re just friends after all.” Just friends…This isn’t a date. You’re just escorting her to dinner while Max is busy. This isn’t a date.
Michelle was cocking an eyebrow as she thought, her eyes searching an area near one of the windows. She started to walk, and the sheriff followed, curious to see if she had an idea. “Okay…so let’s keep this informal; simple; and I think I know…Here we go.”
John looked at what she was indicating. “Teddy bears?”
“Teddy bears. Lots of adults collect bears, John, and Tina’s one of them.”
“She is?” He was smiling, thinking how that seemed to suit what he knew of her so far.
“Yeah. We were on IM one night a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned something about collecting teddy bears. She said no matter where she travels, she always brings home one or two with the name of the place she’s been to. She told me about having one with a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line badge; and another from Denver; and one from London.”
One bear near the back — sitting on top of a clear stand — caught John’s eye immediately. The golden furred teddy had the biggest blue eyes, wore a friendly smile, and was wearing a sweater almost like one of his, only this one had the words CrowesNest emblazoned across the front of it in careful stitching.
The second he saw it, John knew it was the right one. “I like him.”
“Aw — he’s adorable.” Michelle picked him up, straightening the little sweater as she did. “Reminds me of you, John,” she whispered, which earned her a deep chuckle.
“Yeah right. That’s me — Teddy Bear Biebe. I’ll take him Chelle.”
He glanced at his wristwatch. He still had about twenty minutes. “Let me take one more look before I say yes.”
“Okay. I’ll put Teddy up on the counter and tell Johnny to protect it with his life.”
The bear was a perfect gift, but he felt as though he needed something more, and he moved along the refrigeration units — and stopped. Hands slipping to the glass, he stared inside, a smile coming to him, and he removed a piece of white tissue paper from a nearby box before opening the closest of the four doors. Reaching inside one of the buckets, he shook droplets of water from a long-stemmed white rose, one just barely about to open, the petals forming such a perfect cluster, he could not imagine how it would look when in full bloom. Instinctively he took a whiff and found the fragrance honeyed with a slight musk, and he was certain she would like it.
She loves white roses anyway. I hope this’ll make her smile. I know the bear will, but the rose…just one…not a bouquet. A bouquet makes it look like I’m expecting something in return. It’s not a date. he reminded himself again, then he paused, eyebrows furrowing. How the hell did he know Tina loved white roses? Humph. Maybe she said something the night before…. No…No…flowers had never come up. Oh well, he was certain she would love it, and finding a pair of scissors, he started trimming the thorns from the stem….
At ten minutes to eight, John was in the lobby, wasting a few more minutes before heading upstairs. He found a quiet corner, hoping no one would ask him questions about the bear or the rose, but in the short time he sat in the armchair, not a single person approached him. He couldn’t help laughing, thinking about him bearing these simple gifts to present to a young woman he’d barely known twenty-four hours…but whom he knew he couldn’t forget if he tried.
You’re hooked, Biebe. No two ways about it. Not hooked — that sounded as though he was trapped. None of this felt like a trap, he thought, smiling as he recalled the incident in the garden, his dream, his strange ability to hear her in his mind. He wasn’t sure about matters of one’s life being preordained; or whether he and Tina were meant to be together.
All he knew was that in the long, nearly empty months he had spent in the Nest, even when he left her apartment — leaving her in Maximus’ care — his existence had been a shell…until he saw her. Laying the bear and the rose on a tabletop, John felt in a back pocket, removing his wallet and holding it gently in both hands. It fell open to a spot he went to quite often, which was what he wanted in the first place, a favorite photograph of Donna. He stared at it for what seemed forever, thinking of her…of Tina…of their differences and their similarities.
I’ll always love you sweetheart. You know that. There will never be a second in my life when I’ll forget you or our sons. But when I saw Tina…something inside me…I just knew, Donna. I knew. I’m not saying I still understand any of this. I don’t know that I ever will. I’m in this place, and sometimes I can come back to you, but I always have to leave in the end. I just figured I’d spend the rest of my life coming back to Mystery whenever I felt lonely — and I have been lonely. I like the ladies that come here; I love my brothers — well, most of them anyway…but it’s like I walk around here in a daze, and count the days until I can be with you and the boys again. I hate feeling empty. Sometimes I don’t feel real anymore, but I know I am. Just one more time…I’d like to be happy — really happy….I’d like…to love again….I hope you can understand that.
The lobby was so silent, when the large hand on the grandfather clock moved, the Alaskan couldn’t help but hear it. He glanced at his watch: 7:59. He’d better get going — he didn’t want to be late. Giving the photo a gentle kiss he whispered, “Wish me luck sweetheart.” With that, John grabbed up the teddy bear and the rose, and smiling, hurried up the staircase to room 205.