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Chapter 1

Aaron stepped out of his apartment and looked at his surroundings. He had arrived about 24 hours ago and spent most of the time sleeping since then. Now he stood on a small porch that looked over a lovely garden and a small pond.  He saw some birds swimming in the lake but from this distance he wasn’t sure what they were.  He had tried to brush up on the local animals once he knew where he was going.

He heard a door  close softly and then he heard footsteps approaching. He turned to see a petite blond woman about his age carrying two mugs. “Hello, neighbor. I thought you might need a cup of coffee.  I hope a little cream and sugar works for you.” Aaron smiled back and accepted the outstretched mug of steaming liquid. She continued, “I’m Jessa.  I arrived two weeks ago. And I am sure by now you know I’m from…”

“New Zealand.” He extended his empty hand and said, “I’m Aaron Taylor-Kinney. I know there isn’t anyone here from Australia right now so I thought I would take a stab. Nice to meet you, Jessa. You are a psychologist right?”

Jessa kept his hand in hers. “You reviewed your co-workers carefully.”

“I had plenty of time on the flights.”

“What part of the states do you come from Dr. Taylor-Kinney?”

“Well, when I was young we moved quite frequently but most of my childhood we lived on a ranch near Denver, Colorado.” Aaron held up his cup and took a sip. This is really good coffee.”

“Thanks. Africa has some great beans. So tell me,” She took a sip of her own. “Aaron, do you have any plans for the day? I am heading to the market to pick up some supplies. I thought we could pick up some breakfast and stroll through the shops.  We can pick up any supplies that you might need.”

“You don’t have to try to entertain me.  For the last three years I have been a recluse except for school. I…”

“I am sure all you have had time for was studying. School will do that to you but that is over now. Come on, Aaron, live a little. You have a new country to explore.” Jessa grinned at him.

“Do we have time for one more of these?” He held up the empty mug.

“Let’s pick up the next one with breakfast. The coffee is amazing in the bazaar.” She took the empty cup and smiled.  “Give me 10 minutes to pull my hair back and brush my teeth.  If you have a tote, take it along.  If you don’t, that will be your first purchase.”

A half hour later Aaron was absorbing all the sounds and smells of the bazaar. “What is this stuff? It is really good!” He took a bite of one of the rolls Jessa told him to try.

“Let me know when you figure it out.  All I know is these are the best I have tried so far and what about this coffee?”

“This will definitely keep me going.” He took another swallow and then said, “Did I tell you I have a sister named Jessi.”

“Older or younger?” They finished their breakfast and started roaming again. 

“Jessi is less than a year younger than me.  She is traveling the world and hopes to spend Christmas here.”

“Any more Taylor-Kinney siblings?”

“I have an older brother, Gus and he is married to Fi. They fell in love when they were five and they’ve been married about 10 years.”

“Sounds like a busy family.  Especially with two kids in less than a year.  Your mom..”

“I don’t have a mom. My dads have been together for almost 30 years. Gus is a Kinney by blood and I’m a Taylor by blood and Jessi is a Taylor-Kinney by heart. That’s what we said when we were little.  Oh, look at that?” Aaron pointed to a stall of blankets and pillows to add some personality to his space. “How do I know what will look good when I move to the permanent location in a couple weeks?”

“So far I have noticed that the homes and furnishings are pretty neutral.  It is this kind of thing that brightens up the place.” Jessa picked up a stunning woven blanket.

Aaron reached out and ran a hand over the  rows of color.  “They remind me of the colors of a sunset. Teddy would love…”

“Who is Teddy and where did you get your sense of color?” She asked as Aaron picked up a couple pillows that worked perfectly with the blanket.

“My dad is an artist so we always had color around us.” He had been upset with himself for mentioning Teddy already.  “Help me pay for this. I don’t see a price.” 

The remainder of the shopping trip, Jessa taught Aaron the art of haggling as they moved from textiles to food and then moved toward the food stalls for groceries they could use the next few days.

“Oh, one last stop,” Jessa said, as she made a beeline to a shop at the corner.  “It wouldn’t be a complete Tanzanian experience without some of this.” She picked up two different bottles of liquor. “Here, take these.  I will grab some sodas to go with this.  You don’t want to drink those straight.”

By the time they returned to the apartment, Aaron was dragging. “I don’t know what just hit me but, I’m dragging.”

“It’s the heat mixed with the jet lag that just sneaks up on you. Go take a nap. You are probably tired of my chatter by now, too.”

Aaron smiled, “Your energy reminds me of Jessi. I learned to tune her out years ago.” He kissed Jessa’s cheek.  “Thanks for today.  It was great.”

“I don’t want to get on your nerves but how about I make us some dinner around 7:00 and then you can meet a few of the other people living here right now.”

“I’m not sure. I…”

“Trust me, by this evening you will be ready to go again.”

“Ok, you’re right.  It will be good to meet some more of the … what does everyone call each other here?”

“I just call them the gang or by name, if I know them. Don’t worry. I can tell you have people skills, you’re just a little reserved at first.”

“You really are a psychologist,” Aaron said as he opened his door. “See you about 7:00.” He stepped in but stuck his head back out, “Thanks, Jessa.”

Aaron stepped into the room and leaned against the door, letting the cool, dark room surround him. After a moment he stepped forward and put his throw and pillows and then he stretched out on the sofa and as he drifted off to sleep, the tears began to spill from his eyes. “Teddy, I miss you,” he said softly.  “We were supposed to do this together.” As the silent tears rolled onto his new pillow, Aaron drifted off.

“TEDDY!” Aaron called out in his sleep waking himself up. Softly he said, “Don’t leave.” He had been dreaming about an afternoon in the valley near Spirit Pass with the bison feeding nearby. They were laying on a blanket with fingers entwined, talking about their future adventures when Teddy got up and started walking into the grazing herd.  He hadn’t even looked back when Aaron had called out to him.

Aaron was now on his feet and looking around his new lodgings. For a minute he had to remember where he was and why he was there alone. When he remembered his morning with Jessa he looked at the clock.  He had slept over 2 hours. He had a little over an hour before going next door and his first stop was the shower. He needed to shake this feeling.  Three years ago he had dreams like that nearly nightly. Now it seemed to only happen if he was very tired or if he was sick. When it happened every night he had wished they would stop so he could get a good night's sleep but then he also worried he would never dream of Teddy again and that was even worse.  He couldn’t imagine not being able to talk to him, even if it was only in a dream.

As he woke up under the spray of water, he soon found out there was a limit to the hot water. It soon got chilly so he made sure the soap was all rinsed off and he toweled off.  The water had washed away the haze he had been in and as he got dressed he started thinking about the people that would be at the get together later tonight.  He hoped there weren't too many people.  Growing up in his family he knew how to manage a large gathering but Jessa nailed it, he was by nature quieter than the rest of his family although his dad, Justin, had times when he preferred to be alone, especially when he was working on a big project. 

Aaron lifted his hand to knock on Jessa’s door when he heard her call, “It’s open.” 

He walked in and exotic scents filled the air. “Wow, something smells really good.”

“It is the only local dish I have learned to cook, although I did put an NZ twist.” She smiled at him and added, “By the way, don’t follow my example.  Keep your door locked. I just opened it a couple minutes ago.  I knew I would have my hands in this water so I wanted you to be able to get in.” With that she pulled her hands out of the water and dried them off. “I heard your shower running.  I’m sure you found out the hot water supply is not great.  We all share the water heater and sometimes it runs low.”

Aaron walked over to where she stood, “I was about done when it started to cool off.  Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, I’m just going to fill the plates here and we can either sit out on the porch or eat in here. Was there a breeze out there?”

“It actually feels really nice out. The lake helps cool it down, doesn’t it?”

“Then we’ll go outside.  I made plenty of food in case someone comes early and hasn’t stopped to eat, there will be something for them.”

“Jessa, you’re a really good person.”

“Oh, I have a dark side just like everyone else. But like you, mine doesn’t come to the surface often.”

If only she knew, he thought as he took a plate of food from her and took the bottle of booze she handed it to him.  She managed to carry her plate as well as two glasses. “I already have some soda out there.”

Once they sat down, she mixed them both a drink. Aaron took a sip and shivered, “What is this stuff? It reminds me a little of vodka but I don’t think it is.”

“Well, it is Tanzania’s version. It is about 160 proof so you don’t want to drink it straight.”

“You’re a good cook.  Next time I’ll cook for you.”

“You’re on.” As Jessa spoke another guest arrived. Jessa introduced them and soon he was also holding a plate.  

By 11:30 p.m., the party was breaking up. Many of the gang had things to do the next day. Aaron helped Jessa straighten up and then joined her for one more drink.  It wasn’t until he started drinking it that he realized how drunk he was.

Jessa was in the same state. She joined him at the rail of the porch. They leaned against it and looked out over the water. “Aaron,” she dropped an arm around his shoulders and said, “I don’t know who Teddy is but you brought him up earlier today and I heard you call out his name before… anyway, if you ever want to talk about him, I’m here.”

“I need to go to bed,” he emptied his glass and handed it to her. Without another word, he went into his place, locked the door, and then pulled all the blinds.

Jessa watched him and heard the lock turn. She then finished her own drink and said to herself, “You may have just over stepped. What kind of psychologist am I?”

The remainder of the week Aaron was kept busy in training for the post he had been assigned to. They taught him about the village he would live in and some of the common traditions and beliefs. He was also briefed on the most common animals he could expect. 

Jessa had apologized to him for being too nosey. She assured him she had drank too much so in the evening they shared dinner. but he always made an excuse to return to his apartment after they had eaten. She was glad they at least mended their friendship.  She hoped she could regain his trust. She had really enjoyed getting to know him. His family sounded so caring and interesting. She hoped to hear more sometime. For some reason she was sure Aaron Taylor-Kinney had a story to tell.

Aaron was laying in bed reading over some of the village traditions when his phone rang. He knew who it was immediately.  “Hey, Jessi, I was hoping you’d call tonight.”

“Well, bro, you left me three messages.  Are you still in the city or have you moved on to the village?”

“I leave tomorrow.  That’s why I wanted you to call tonight.  The village has patchy cell service but I’m told the wifi is usually working.  We may have to set up times to talk.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.  I actually may be going off grid for a while myself but if I do, I’ll make sure you know what I’m up to and the approximate duration.”

“Jess, where are you? Are you still in Japan?”

“No, but I’m not far from there.  I’m in Manila right now but I will be traveling to some of the small islands.”

“And you will have wifi?”

“I have gotten satellite wifi with my new job.”

“New JOB? I thought you were just exploring the world.”

“One of my college friends showed a friend some of my pictures and a travel magazine offered me a job. They are the ones sending me out.  I’m so excited!”

“Ah, Jess, I’m happy for you.”

“I know! Now we are both living our dream,” she said excitedly and when Aaron didn’t respond she asked, “Aaron, are you alright? I know you’re not.”

“Jess, Teddy was supposed to be here with me. I wasn’t supposed to do this alone! I should have stayed at the ranch and taken care of all our animals.”

“Oh, Aaron, I wish I could reach out and hug you right now. Once you get to your village and have a place you can call your own, you’ll find your way, bro.  You are one of the strongest people I know. The way you supported Teddy…”

“If you hadn’t been there to support me, I would have never even finished my degree.”

“That’s not true, but we have always been there for each other and we always will be.”

“Jessi, be careful out there and keep in touch when you can. I love you, little sis.” He wanted to say more about her safety but he knew Jessi would tell him to stop worrying.

“You will always be my best girl!”

When the line went dead, Aaron took a deep breath. Jess could almost always make him feel better. She had always been his cheerleader. She was probably right. When he had his own space again and he could make it his own. With Jessi’s energy still boosting his mood he fell into a restful sleep.

The next day was a whirlwind of activity. After saying goodbye to Jessa, the program director took Aaron to his village. Upon arrival, they emptied his belongings into his half of a duplex before being introduced to the leader of the village. Before receiving a tour of the local area, the director had to return to the city. “Aaron, I was hoping Dr. Remington would be here before I had to leave but he is out setting a leg. He will have to introduce himself. 

Aaron found the village and surrounding area fascinating. He couldn’t get over the local homes and people.  One minute he felt like a group of homes were very primitive but then he would see bovine and caprine being herded by four wheelers but they were not the same kind of cows and goats he had worked on in the states. The village leader was a very good guide and by the time they got back to town, Aaron had met several people and he felt much more comfortable about his new home.

The sun was beginning to set when Aaron had finished  unpacking his clothes.  While arranging items in his bathroom, he heard the shower start in the other half of the duplex. It took him a moment to remember the doctor’s name. He was fairly sure the name was Remington, however, he wasn’t sure if that was his first name or last name. He’d find out soon enough.  He hoped they had something in common.  If nothing else they could talk medicine and if they weren’t best friends that was fine with him. In fact, that might be the best. Friendly colleagues was his goal. 

As he moved to the kitchen, Aaron realized the shower had stopped sometime. He opened the fridge and looked over the food he had.  There wasn’t one frozen meal, not even a pizza. He enjoyed cooking but tonight he just wasn’t in the mood. He pulled out some cheese and bread. He started digging through a drawer to find something that would slice the cheese and loaf when there was a knock on the door.

“Coming,” he called as he walked to the door. He unlocked it and opened it without asking who it was. In front of him stood a man slightly over six foot tall with mocha skin and golden eyes. 

“You really should check who is at the door before opening it.” His tone was brusk.

Aaron shut the door in Remmie’s face, locked the door, and then said, “Who is it?” in a sing song voice. 

“Open the door.” the visitor said.

“I was told to never open the door to a stranger.  Who is it?” Aaron heard an odd noise coming from the other side so he unlocked it and slowly opened the door and looked out. The gentleman at the door was now leaning against the porch pole with a grin on his face.

“I deserved that. You are Dr. Aaron Taylor-Kinney, son of one of the world’s most outstanding artists of the 21st century. Not that I’m a big fan of his amazing work.” Now he stepped forward with a small bow. “I am Julian Remington. My friends call me Remmie. Will you forgive my rudeness?  I had a very long day and I am guessing you have too.”

Aaron extended his hand and Remmie shook it. “Nice to meet you, Remmie.” For a moment their eyes locked and, if Aaron wasn’t mistaken, Remmie noticed it, too. “Um, did you want to borrow a cup of water buffalo milk?”

Remmie grinned, “Actually, I was going to ask if you wanted to join me for dinner.”

“Oh, I… no, thanks. You just said you were tired after a long day.”

“What I didn’t say was that my patient's wife sent home enough food for several people. Come join me and we can get to know each other a little better.” 

Aaron almost said no but then he got a whiff of the aroma coming from his office and he said, “Ok, thanks.  I was going to settle for some cheese and bread.”

“If you don’t mind grabbing the bread, I am getting more tomorrow but am out right now.”

“So what are we eating?” Aaron asked as Remmie put a large scoop of some kind of stew onto his plate.

“I am not sure what the official name of it is. I just call it goat stew whenever I get something like this.  I hope you aren’t one of those people that won’t eat goat just because you have never had it before.”

“Not at all.  I have had it before and I grew up on bison and venison so I am used to a variety of proteins.”

“Oh, that’s right.  You’re from a ranch in Colorado, right?”

“Have you been stalking me or my father?”

“I did know he lived there but I read your bio when I found out you would be joining me. I hope that doesn’t make me seem like a stalker.”

“No more than me knowing you grew up outside of London with your parents, who are both doctors.  Your dad specializes in neurology while your mom specializes in childhood cancer. You have one sister who is a couple years older than you. She married your best friend.”

Remmie grinned back at him, “Good lord, why did they go into that much detail?”

“Honestly, my dad sent me a report that his security team put together for him.”

They both reached for the bottle of wine at the same time. Remmie’s hand rested on top of his Their eyes met and they were silent for a split second. Then Aaron slipped his hand out and Remmie filled both glasses. “Did I pass the test? If I hadn't, would you have stayed home?”

Aaron met his eyes, trying to decide if he was serious or just joking. “It’s been a while since I needed my dad’s permission.” His voice was a little clipped.

“Please don’t take offense until you get to know me. I really don’t mean to upset you. Most people like me once they really get to know me. I really hope we can become chums.”

For a moment Aaron got lost in Remmie’s gold flecked eyes. He smiled at him and said, “I suppose I must.  I have a feeling we will need each other from time to time.” He took another swallow of wine and added, “Thanks for sharing this with me.”

“The last vet and I shared dinner at least four nights a week.  It all depended on how busy we were. You don’t have to do this but we found out that whoever was home first just started dinner.  If I had a busy week I would eat over at her place and if she was the one that got home late I made the meal. We just balanced out the chore of cooking.”

“That makes sense to me.  So the last vet was a female?”

“She was.”

“Why did she leave?  It sounds like she was supposed to be here for a few months more.”

“Large animals weren’t for her. I think she pictured cows in a barn, not water buffalo in the desert. She was a lot of fun but country life was not for her. She needed more excitement. I just didn’t do it for her.”

“Were you two an item?”

“Not like that. We had a couple drunken nights where we shared a bed but..”

“But?” Aaron had gotten the feeling Remmie was gay but it wouldn’t be the first time he was wrong.

“She had come here to get away from a broken heart.  Besides preferring small animals, she realized running away isn’t the way to heal a heart.”

Aaron drank the last of his wine and he stood, “I should go. I want to review some of the species I will be working on.”

Remmie had felt something shift in the room. “No worries. It will only take me a couple minutes to put this stuff away.”

“Thanks again.”

Remmie stood and looked into Aaron’s eyes, “I…” He stopped for a moment, “I hope you have a good sleep.  If you need anything you can always knock on our adjoining wall. Trust me, you are safe here but after dark, we do hear some interesting sounds.”

“I hadn’t thought about that. Remmie, I’m sorry I’m such poor company. I think it is all the changes in the last couple weeks. I’ll make dinner tomorrow unless you get home first.”

“Sounds brilliant.” Remmie stepped out and waited to hear the lock of Aaron’s door turn before going inside himself and locked his own door.


As he got ready for bed he thought about Aaron. He was so bright and so attractive but he had walls but, hopefully, he will be able to really get to know Aaron Taylor-Kinney, even if he had to do it brick by brick.

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