This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any actual resemblance to persons or historical persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Hooper characters, settings, locales, ect. are owned by other entities who have not endorsed this fic nor have they given express permission for the character's use. Author makes not claims to these characters and is not making any profit from their use.

All original characters are the property of the author.

Copyright: 2001-2004. Lisa Philbrick

 

Chapter One
September 23, 1983...

After more than a year, it still haunted him. For Cully Dawson, the memory was an intense, unrelenting reminder that never left him alone. He saw it in his dreams, he saw it when he heard the sound of a helicopter flying overhead. He even saw it when he was trying to think of nothing at all. He tried to forget about it and tried to explain it away. It was just an accident, a very tragic one, but an accident nonetheless.

But he could still see it. Vic Morrow's death haunted him and had done so every single day for the past fourteen months. The even itself happened in a matter of seconds. But the play back for Cully always seemed to drag on for minutes...even hours. Over and over. Never ending. Nothing comforted him or offered much solace. All he felt was guilt. He had survived the war in the Pacific, and 35 some odd years of stunting in Hollywood. But that one incident that took place just over a short year before...was as fresh in his mind as if it had happened yesterday.

Yesterday... What did he do yesterday? He stared at the bottle of tequila in front of him realizing for a brief moment that he wasn’t remembering much of anything lately. The concern was fleeting. He shrugged and enjoyed another drink of the brew.

The Friday night Palomino Club crowd was bustling around him, but Cully didn’t care to pay attention. All he cared was for the god awful feeling he had to just go away. Drinking curbed it, for awhile, but it never made it go away completely. He wondered if anything would ever make it go away.

* * *

After fourteen months of Cully’s drinking, Leeah Dawson had had enough. On that very same night, as Cully wallowed away the hours at the Palomino Club, Leeah packed up their three year old daughter Casey and told her they were going to San Diego to see the dolphins at Sea World. The little girl was happy about that...but leaving at such an odd hour of the night made her pause.

“Is Daddy comin’ with us?”

“No sweetheart, he’s not. He’s got other things to do.”

“Oh.”

Leeah packed a few things quickly, grabbing several of Casey’s clothes and the little girl’s favorite doll. The younger Dawson girl still had questions, plenty that had carried over for awhile now. Like, why daddy didn’t come home every night and why did mommy seem upset whenever daddy was home? Her three year old mind couldn’t quite comprehend all that was going on, it only knew that something was very wrong.

Casey watched her mother and then followed her at her command down the hall of their apartment. “Mommy? Why can’t Daddy come with us?”

“He just can’t, honey. He wouldn’t like San Diego.”

Casey was only more confused now. And a little scared. She held her favorite doll tight in her arms and followed her mother out of the apartment but slowed in the corridor. She watched her mother walk ahead a bit until Leeah turned and looked back.

“Come on, Case.”

“I want Daddy to come too...”

Leeah looked at her little girl, mirror image hazel eyes looking at each other. “I know you do, sweetie...I know you do.” She walked back to where Casey stood and put the carry bags down and kneeled down to her daughter. “I wish he could come with us too...” Leeah paused and looked off to the side in thought. “I wish...he would come home more often...”

“Why does he not come home? I miss him...”

Leeah paused, her eyes misting up a bit now. Casey’s question burned within Leeah too, but on a deeper level. “I don’t know honey...”

“He don’t like us?”

Leeah sighed. “No, honey I don’t think it’s that he doesn’t like us,” she replied. “But I don’t know what it is.” She shook her head. “Mommy isn’t sure why daddy won’t come home sometimes.”

Casey adjusted her grip on her doll and looked down the empty corridor. In the dim light, Leeah could see the child’s eyes were a storm of questions, confusion and sadness. Leeah felt the same way, but unlike Casey there was an underlying anger. Anger at Cully for how he was treating himself and what he was doing to his family. The little girl didn’t deserve a father that was more interested a damn bottle of beer.

And that was why they had to leave. Leeah had had enough of Cully staggering in late at night, knocking something over, being sick in the bathroom and all but scaring his own child. Casey now sometimes awoke when Cully came in and she had watched from the doorway of her room as Leeah would have to practically drag him to the bathroom. When Casey started asking what was wrong, Leeah could only reply that “Daddy was sick.” And it was turning out to be a hell of an illness.

But Leeah would no longer have Casey be subjected to it. She wondered if Cully would even realize they were gone.

“Come on, sweetheart. It’s time to go.” Leeah stood up and held on to her carry bags. Casey’s little feet followed and they walked out of the apartment building into the cool night air.

LA was no place for a child and a drunk father was no parent for a child. Cully wasn’t perfect but he had tried his absolute best to be a loving husband when he and Leeah had married just over four years ago, and a wonderful father when Casey was
born...but somewhere along the line it fell apart. Something happened and Leeah spent many lonely nights and a lot of tears trying to comprehend it. Was it a phase? Was he still reeling from the tragedy that had happened just over a year ago, when Vic Morrow was killed with the two child actors during that scene? If that was true...Cully had been in mourning for a lot longer than expected. Either that he had gone so deep, he couldn’t pull himself out.

Leeah refused to be pulled into the depth with him and she especially refused to see Casey have to suffer. The child deserved better.

The bags were packed into the trunk of the green 1973 Firebird Formula in less than two minutes. Leeah then held the passenger side door open and the seat forward so Casey could climb into the sports car. The child sat in her car seat and Leeah buckled her in snug and then handed her the doll.

Without any further hesitation, Leeah was in the driver’s seat and had the ‘bird pointed towards the city limits.

* * *

The former Gwen Doyle...now Mrs. Sonny Hooper walked through the living room of the ranch. Sonny was working late gaffing a picture, and their two year old son, Tyler, had finally settled down for the night. A glass of iced tea in her hand, she headed for her favorite chair to just sit and relax but she paused when a set of headlights shown through the front window.
The lights stopped moving at the front of the yard, but didn’t shut off.

Leeah put the car in park and left the engine running. “Mommy’ll be right back, Case,” she said and got out of the car.

Gwen stepped towards the window and saw somebody come out of the shadows and up the front walk. She recognized Leeah and went to the front door to meet her. Leeah looked up when the door opened. Unfortunately, she couldn’t muster much
of a smile for her friend.

“Leeah?”

“Hi Gwen. Listen, I just stopped to let you know I’m going to San Diego...for awhile. I don’t know when I’ll be coming back.”

Gwen came out of the house and closed the door. “Leeah, what’s wrong? Did you an’ Cully have a fight?”

Leeah snorted. “How the hell can we have a fight when he’s never home?” She bit off the rest and resumed with, “I just...I can’t stand it anymore, Gwen. I gotta git out of here. I’ve got to get Casey away from all of this. He’s destroying himself and I can’t do nothin’ to stop him.”

“He’s still--?”

“Drinkin’ every fuckin’ night of the week? You got it. I’ve yelled at him, I’ve threatened him, I’ve even tried to be nice. He won’t snap out of it and I’m not putting up with it anymore.” She glanced back at the car. “Look, I left the car runnin’ with Casey in it. I gotta go.”

“Leeah, wait a minute,” Gwen said, grabbing her friend’s arm desperately. “Have you really thought about this? When Cully finds you and Casey gone--”

“Like he’s gonna notice! But if he does notice, I hope to hell he feels sorry. Maybe enough so that’ll he change, he’ll realize what he’s doing. For cryin’ out loud, Gwen, he’s 60 years old and he’s trying to be like a twenty-something, drinkin’ all that heavy liquor. He thinks he’s indestructible...but he’s destroyin’ everything else! I’m not gonna stand by and watch him slowly die!” She looked back at the Firebird, tears springing fresh in her eyes. “And how the hell do you explain to a three year old why her daddy won’t come home??" She looked at Gwen. "Why he’s always sick in the bathroom...why is it mommy and daddy can’t have a civilized conversation anymore?? How?? How do you explain it??”

Gwen paused, watching Leeah’s eyes in the light from the porch, seeing the tears spill down her cheeks. “Leeah, I’m sorry...” she said softly.

“Oh Gwen," Leeah sighed and wiped her eyes, "it ain’t for you to be apologizin’..." Leeah looked at her friend for another moment in total heartbreak. "I gotta go.” She turned again and started to walk back to the Firebird.

Gwen’s eyes weren’t exactly dry either. She didn’t try to stop Leeah but all she could think of was all her friend and Cully had been through and how they had survived before. Was this it? Was it now over? How would Cully take the news that his wife had left him taking child with her?

As the Firebird sped away, Gwen could only think that the damage done was now irreparable. The happier times of just three years ago, seemed so far way. Possibly now out of reach for good. She turned and went back inside of the house, finding tissues and praying for Sonny to hurry up and get home.

* * *

Cully, meanwhile, was far far away. At least, mentally speaking. Within the swirling vision of the tequila, he watched as the Palomino Club was hoping with music, laughter and dancing. A bottle was in his grip and he took another swig, trying to hang on to the minuscule feeling of happiness he had. Being sober was overrated. And within the past year Cully couldn’t recall the last time he’d been sober for more than a day.

Next to him, a woman who’s name he couldn’t recall at the moment playfully took the bottle from him. “Damn, Cully, ain’t you had enough of this shit?” She took a drink. “Besides, don’t you know it’s polite to share?”

Cully laughed and snaked his arm around the girl’s waist. “Honey, there ain’t no such thing as enough. And I’m always willin’ to share...” He pulled her closer to him and slobbered a drunken kiss upon her cheek.

The woman, who could have been anywhere between 25 and 45, giggled and grabbed a hold of his jean jacket. She was a tease and she let Cully have a moment of pleasure with her, his other hand coming up under her cropped frosted denim jacket.

“Whattya say we ditch this place?” he spoke in her ear. “Find some place a little more...private?” He kissed her on the neck and cheek.

She giggled and threw her head back, her long curly hair waving back and forth. He touched it with one hand, while the other tried to get inside her tight fitting top. “You know we can’t,” she said.

“Who the hell’s gonna care? Come on...”

The woman politely squirmed from Cully’s hold. “You’re wife might. You forget you’re married?”

Cully snorted. “Shoot...that don’t make no difference. Leeah don’t want me around no more anyway. Far as I’m concerned I see myself as a free man...”

“I’m sorry, Cully. You’re a sweetheart, but I can’t be beddin’ with a married man.”

Cully pouted and twirled a strand of her curly hair in his fingers. “That’s a shame, I was hopin’ you’d help me forget a few things for a little while.” He played with the hair for a moment longer then let it drop back onto her shoulder. “So what the hell’s a man gotta do for some fun ‘round here?”

She smiled at him. “Find somebody who doesn’t know you as well.” She handed his tequila bottle back to him.

Dejected, Cully watched her walk away. He took one more drink and then threw the bottle at the wall. Glass and tequila showered over a poster and a dart board and came to settle on the floor. Anybody who saw him either started laughing, or applauded his expert throwing arm. The ex-stuntman, however, no longer felt like celebrating. He staggered off, grabbing hold of anything he could to keep himself up right as he made his way to the door.

He made it to the parking lot but not quite to his car. The ground slipped out from under him and down he went into the dirt. Laughter and snickers came with it. He looked up and then turned his head.

A group of four guys were looking at him. One of them was Ski, the now self proclaimed King of the Stuntmen. When Sonny had finally retired from stunting, Ski eagerly stepped in to take his place as the greatest stuntman alive...and it all went straight to his head.

“Check it out, the old geezer’s had too much to drink again,” one of the guys chuckled.

“Go to hell,” Cully growled.

Ski was laughing. “Listen, you guys go on ahead in and find a good table. I’ll see if I can help the old man here find his car.”

Another laugh was shared by the group as Cully grabbed on to the bumper of a nearby car and lifted himself up to stand. Three of the men went in, leaving Ski behind in the parking lot.

“I don’t need yer help, Ski.”

Ski walked up Cully now, still looking amused. “You pissin’ that stuff out yet on your own or what? Damn if you ain’t got a lifetime’s supply flowin’ through your veins.”

“Shut up. How much I drink ain’t your fuckin’ business.” Cully shuffled away, realizing he couldn’t remember where he parked his car.

“True, but it sure is a shame to see a livin’ legend such as yourself end up all washed up.”

Cully heard the tone in Ski’s voice. He was being sarcastic. “Yeah, I can see your heart’s just bleedin’ about it.”

Ski took a few steps to keep up with Cully. “Actually, it’s kinda embarrassing you know? I mean...it kinda makes me look bad in a way. You and Sonny were the hot shit in this town and then along came me.”

“And you just blew everyone away with all that you could do, and Sonny and I had to face the fact that we’re too old to keep up with you. So we quit.”

Ski paused, then gave a quick nod tousling his brown hair. “Yeah.”

“Fuck you.” Cully stopped walking and looked around the parking lot. His car was obviously not at this end so he turned around.

“What’s the matter?” Ski chuckled. “Can’t find your car?”

“I know where the hell I left it. Go join yer fairy friends in there and leave me alone.”

Ski stopped by the front entrance and watched Cully make his way across the parking lot. So caught up in himself, he didn’t feel bad for the ex-stuntman. He saw him as just a foolish old man, trying to hang on to past glories. Ski shook his head and quickly forgot about it as he went inside the Palomino.

Cully made it to his Subaru and fumbled for keys. The little “Brat” roared to life and squealed out of the parking lot, spitting dirt into the night.

* * *

“Leeah WHAT??”

Sonny Hooper’s voice echoed through the living room of the ranch he shared with Gwen. He cringed, glancing up at the ceiling and hoping he hadn’t woken up Tyler.

“Easy Sonny..” Gwen said. “Leeah left. She packed up Casey and they’re headin’ to San Diego.”

“Shit...” Sonny turned and paced in the living room. “Shit, Gwen.” He stopped by the window and ran a hand through his dark hair. He sighed. “Did she say anything?”

Gwen stepped up to her husband and touched his arm. “She said he’s still drinking...and that she can’t stay and watch him slowly destroy himself.”

“And that’s exactly what he’s doin’. Damn, Gwen, I know Vic’s death hit him hard, it hit all of us hard. But...it’s been almost a whole year...” Sonny turned to his wife suddenly at a loss for words. “I had...no idea how far this had gone.”

“Sonny, do you have any idea where Cully might be now?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. He’s either still at the Palomino...or he’s gone home and found Leeah and Casey gone...”

* * *

Cully parked his Subaru Brat in it’s regular spot, but failed to notice the missing Firebird that was usually parked in front of him. He staggered out of the car and made his way into the apartment building.

He had promised Leeah when they were married that they would get a house out in the valley, maybe a ranch like Sonny had with a little pony for Casey to ride when she got older. But none of that ever came to be. He had thought about it and came close to setting the ball in motion before the accident. But Cully couldn’t seem to figure out where all his money went, and made no connection between his increase in drinking after the accident and decrease in money.

Cully teetered while he tried to get his key in the lock. But the door clicked opened anyway. Cully watched it slowly open, confused. Leeah always locks the door...

He stepped into the apartment and found the light switch. The brightness hurt his eyes for a moment and he closed his eyes against it. “Leeah?”

Uneasy silence replied.

“Leeah...ya left the door unlocked...” He muttered. He shut the door and dragged his feet through the apartment, checking the bedroom that he and Leeah shared...but had not spent much time together in for quite some time.

The room was empty. The bed undisturbed. Cully did notice that the closet door had been left open.

He turned back to the rest of the apartment, his confusion growing and now mixed with dread. He stepped to his daughter’s room and checked it, finding it empty as well. Casey’s favorite doll wasn’t even sitting in it’s usual spot on the bed. Absently, he closed the door and wandered across the floor of the living room. He paused at the window and stared down at the street. He saw his Subaru ...and the gaping space where the Firebird had once been.

Full blown dread now consumed him and the effect of the alcohol was no help. Were they...gone? Leeah had threatened once that she would leave but he had barely paid attention at the time...

Cully swallowed and turned away from the window. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears and he felt as empty as the apartment he stood in. They were gone. He had pushed them away for so long, taken for granted that Leeah would always be there and never gave a second thought to it. He reached out and steadied himself against the chair next to him. Slowly, he sat
down...and hit rock bottom.

So far lost in his thoughts, he heard the phone ring in the background but he didn’t move to answer it. He just listened to it ring as the hard fact that Leeah and Casey were gone became absolute. Could he get them back? Were they gone for good? Would they want to come back to him...?

Sonny, meanwhile, was listening to the ringing on the other end of the line. “Come on, Cully...pick up...” It kept ringing. Ten...eleven...twelve...

Cully finally looked over to it, realizing that whoever was calling wasn’t going to hang up until he answered. Grudgingly, he got up from his chair and went to it.

“Hello?”

“Cully?” Sonny had almost hung up when the ringing stopped. “Cully, ya all right?”

There was a pause. “No...no, uh...She’s gone, Sonny...”

Sonny sighed. “I know, partner...”

“How...how’d you know?”

“She stopped here and talked to Gwen.”

“Did she say where she was going?”

“Yeah. Listen, you sit tight I’ll be over to git ya, ok?”

“Where is she, Sonny??”

Sonny sighed. “I think she’s in San Diego.”

Cully paused. “What the goddamn hell is in San Diego?”

“I dunno, but listen, just stay put! I’m comin’ to git ya.”

“What the hell good is that gonna do, Sonny? That gonna bring her back?”

“I dunno, it might. I just wanna help ya, Cully, that’s all. Plus yer plastered right now. I’ve seen what you’ve done when your drunk and feeling like shit.”

Cully paused. “That’s why she left...” he mumbled to himself. “I think...”

Sonny listened to Cully take a series of deep breaths. “Oh shit...”

“Cully?”

“Git over here, Sonny...”


* * *

When Sonny got to Cully’s apartment, he found his friend passed out face down on the floor. The smell of the heavy liquor was nearly unbearable as Sonny kneeled down next to Cully and shook him genlty.

“Cully? Goddamn son...” He turned Cully onto his back and starting gently slapping the older man’s face. “C’mon, Cully....” A few more pats and Cully’s eyes rolled open. He looked up at Sonny.

“Sonny...”

“Yeah, it’s me. C’mon ol’ buddy let’s get you the hell outta here...” Sonny started tugging on Cully’s arm, trying to get the other ex-stuntman to at least sit up. Cully did, groaning and teetering in the process.

Sonny steadied him for a moment. Cully rubbed a hand over his face. “Oh man...”

“What happened to you, Cully?” Sonny asked. “What in the hell happened to you??”

“...passed out.”

“I don’t mean that. I mean for the past year.”

Cully was quiet. “I dunno, Sonny,” he said, his voice wavering. “I just...I dunno...”

“C’mon, let’s get you outta here.”

Cully resisted and looked at Sonny. “Why you doin’ this?”

“Because you’ve always helped me,” Sonny said, gripping onto Cully’s Jean jacket just to keep him from falling over. “Dammit, Cully, you used to be the one that was gettin’ after me about stuff...now I’m gonna return the favor. And you don’t have any choice about it either. Now c’mon.” Sonny pulled Cully to his feet, steadied him and walked him out of the apartment.

Cully was passed out again when the truck pulled into the ranch. Sonny’s horse, Dancer, trotted across the coral and neighed in the dark, coming toward the fence by the driveway to see what was going on. Sonny tried to lift Cully out of the truck himself, but only managed to get as far as leaning the older stuntman against the front fender.

“Goddamn it....Gwen!”

Gwen had seen them from the window and was already heading towards the door when Sonny called out. She came out of the house and hurried over to the truck.

“He’s passed out,” Sonny explained to Gwen’s concerned look. “Help me git ‘em inside...” Sonny lifted Cully's shoulders and Gwen carried his feet, getting him as far as the couch in the living room. They decided they’d leave him there to sleep it off.

“Oh Sonny,” Gwen whispered as she sat beside Cully and brushed some of his hair back. “What happened to them? They were so happy just a couple years back.”

“I know...” Sonny sighed. He turned away in thought. Why was it he had no idea what had been going on? Why was it he couldn’t see what Cully was going through? For God's sake, he saw his friend often enough in the course of a week.

There was nothing to see, that’s why. Cully had hid it all pretty well. Sonny knew his friend was nursing a beer bottle a little more often, but he just never thought anything was wrong. Cully had always liked his liquor...

Cully had always hid in the liquor. Sonny knew that and silently cursed himself for not making the connection this time. He had been so busy either gaffing a movie or helping with his son, Tyler, that he just...didn’t notice.

Gwen softly stood up and came to stand near him. “Sonny?”

“I should have seen something was wrong, Gwen. I just should have seen it...”

“I don’t think any of us really saw it.” She hooked her arm around his. “Not until more recently...”

“Not until tonight. Not until Leeah took off.” Sonny sighed heavily. “Can’t blame her I suppose...”

Gwen shared in the silence with Sonny. She then looked up at him. “What do we do now?”

Sonny looked back at Cully. “Git this sumbitch sober first. Then we’ll go from there...”


* * *

By the time Leeah arrived in San Diego two hours later, Casey had fallen asleep in the back seat and wasn’t aware of the Firebird’s arrival to the house where she would be staying, hopefully only temporarily, with her mother.

Deep down, Leeah was hoping it was temporary too. She had lost track of how many times she had nearly turned around to go back to LA. Maybe if I go back and wait for him and try to talk to him one more time...

But then she would remind herself that he would probably be so drunk he’d get in the door and pass out. Or he would drunkenly say he would stop drinking and then completely forget about it the next day. And then she was right back to being mad at him again and it would simmer to a boil and then her memory would remind her of some of the happier times and she’d find herself crying while speeding along the highway at 70...80 miles an hour in the dark of night.

Then she would think to turn around and the cycle would repeat itself. And it went on for the entire two hour drive to San Diego.

Sherry Sullivan had been watching from her front window for the arrival of the Firebird and her old friend from LA. When Leeah had called and said she was coming tonight and to leave the light on for her, Sherry didn’t ask why. She didn’t have to. She knew what Cully had been doing. Leeah had already talked about it a few times. And Sherry had made it clear. If you ever want to get out of there, just come on down...

And now it had come to that point. Sherry had wondered when it would. Leeah was strong...but not that strong. She wasn’t sure what Leeah expected in staying with a man more interested in a booze than his wife and child. Whatever it was, Leeah obviously now realized that things weren’t going to change.

Good for her, Sherry thought, proud of her friend for making the tough decision. It was the right thing to do.

After the Firebird pulled into the drive, Sherry came out. “You okay?”

Leeah came around the front of the car and opened the passenger door. “As well as can be expected I suppose...” She pushed the seat forward, removed Casey from the car seat and held the sleeping girl.

“Go ahead and take her in upstairs,” Sherry said. “I’ll help get your stuff.”

“Okay.” Leeah handed her car keys to Sherry and carried Casey into the house.

By the time Leeah had the girl settled back down, Sherry had brought in all of Leeah’s few bags.

“Thanks, Sherry.”

“Oh no problem. Listen, you hungry or anything?”

“No, I’m all set. I ate before...I left...” Leeah turned towards the couch behind her and sat down. “Sherry, what have I done?” She wiped a tear off her cheek.

Sherry came to sit beside her friend. “It’s okay, Leeah,” she said, putting an arm around her. “It’s all right..I know it was hard for you, but you did the right thing.”

“I almost turned around,” Leeah sniffled. “About twenty times I almost did.”

“I know. But you didn’t and it’s good that you didn’t.”

“Well how come that doesn’t make me feel any better?” Leeah looked Sherry, her eyes red with tears.

“Because you’re very emotional right now. You just went through the toughest decision. Believe me tho’, you’re gonna be okay.”

“I was so mad when I left, but driving down here I started thinking about all the good times ya know?”

“Don’t go nostalgic on me, Leeah. All those are, are memories and they’re not worth much when compared to the fact that Cully’s been payin’ more attention to a bottle of booze for the past year than he has to you or Casey. You don’t have to stand for that anymore.”

Leeah sniffled again. “I know...but I keep thinkin’ if I try to talk to him one more time...”

“You’ve asked him a zillion times up to this point.”

“I know.”

“He ain’t changed, has he?”

Leeah shook her head sadly. “No.”

“Then what difference would it make to ask one more time?”

“I....I don’t know. I just figured, you know...one last chance for him--”

“How many one last chances have you given him?”

Leeah sighed. “Enough.”

“Yeah. And it ain’t changed him or phased him.”

“No.”

“No. You had to leave, Leeah. For yourself and for Casey.”

Leeah wiped her tears and nodded. Sherry was right, but Leeah still cried. She was so mad at Cully...and at the same time already missed him so much.



* * *

September 24, 1983

Cully awoke Saturday morning when the scent of eggs and toast tickled his nose. He opened his eyes, stared up at the blurred ceiling of Sonny’s living room and put together his first thought of the day.

How the hell did I end up here?

He felt like crap. He realized he was still in his clothes thus he probably looked like crap too. His head pounded, his mouth tasted like somebody had left cotton in it and no matter how often he blinked, his vision wouldn’t clear. Not only that his eyes hurt along with his head.

“There ya go, Tyler...” Gwen’s voice softly carried from the kitchen. The two year old replied with the short one syllable sounds of a baby just starting to talk. Cully could hear the sound of a bowl being placed on a surface and then the running water from the sink.

The eggs were still sizzling. Damn if they didn’t smell good....

While his olfactory senses were enjoying the eggs, his brain was trying to recall who or what got him to Sonny’s place. The last thing he could recall was leaving the Palomino, Ski acting like jerk and then going home to...

Nothing.

Leeah... Now his head really hurt. Against his better judgment, Cully attempted to sit up.

“Whoa...” He steadied himself and then leaned back on the couch, closing his eyes and sighed. Leeah hadn’t been there. Casey wasn’t either... What the hell happened? What did he do?

Why the hell can’t I remember?

Brewing coffee now had his attention. His stomach now had his attention. He was hungry, he was thirsty and he also had to pay a visit to the bathroom. Priorities was priorities.

Slowly, Cully stood up and waited a moment to make sure he was steady enough on his feet. He creaked his neck, rubbed the back of his head and stretched a bit. Confident he could walk well enough he shuffled across the living room towards the hall.

Gwen saw him as he passed the doorway to the kitchen. “You okay, Cully?” she asked.

“I’m awright. I’ll be right back.”

Tyler turned in his highchair but didn’t see Cully. “Cul-ee?”

Gwen smiled. “Yep, that’s Cully.”

The boy smiled. He liked Cully. Cully was funny and made him smile a lot.

The bathroom door softly clicked as it closed and Cully looked at himself in the mirror. He had been right, he looked like crap. He looked pretty damn old too...

His gray hair looked like a Vidal Sassoon project gone bad. He messed with it, tried to fix it and desperately wished he had a comb. Oh well, the messy look’s hip now right? Hell, at least I still have a full head of hair at my age!

After taking care of the primary thing he had come in for, Cully removed his Jean jacket and turned the cold faucet of the sink on, washed his hands and then filled his hands with the water. Once it hit his face, he started to feel a little more awake. A few more splashes and his mind started to clear.

He wiped his hand over his face, feeling the stubble of a budding beard and looked at his reflection in the mirror. His blue eyes were marred in a bloodshot cover, the attractive result of another night of heavy drinking. Thing was, something had happened
the night before and Cully couldn’t put anything together in his mind to figure out what it was. Whatever it had been, however, he had a bad feeling about it. And usually those were never wrong.

Cully dried his face and returned the towel to the rack. He picked up his Jean jacket and walked out to the kitchen, pausing at the doorway.

“Sit down, Cully, I cooked up some eggs for ya,” Gwen said as she placed the plate down on the table. Tyler turned in his highchair again.

“Cul-ee.”

“Thank ya, Gwen. Hey sport.”

The boy giggled, and smiled at Cully complete with a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

Cully chuckled. “I see yer enjoyin’ that.”

“Hee hee!”

Gwen smiled. “Tyler will eat just about anything. Haven’t found anything yet that he doesn’t like.” She wiped Tyler’s mouth and face and removed his now empty breakfast plate. When momma finished wiping his hands, Tyler picked up his juice cup and took a sip. He then held it up to Gwen.

“More.”

“What do you say?”

Tyler paused, and momentarily looked to Cully for help.

“Can you say please?” Cully suggested.

Tyler suddenly turned back to his mother and held the cup up. “More, pease.”

Gwen smiled and took the cup for a refill. Cully started on his breakfast.

“Where’s Sonny, out with Dancer?” he asked.

“Yeah. He should be in in a minute.” Gwen returned the now full juice cup to Tyler. “There ya go.”

“Tank-you.”

“You’re welcome.” She looked at Cully. “Got the thank you part down, still workin’ on the please.”

He chuckled. “He’s doin’ good.”

“Yeah, he is.” Gwen smoothed Tyler’s dark hair back off his forehead and the little boy looked up at his momma.

Cully suddenly thought of Casey and the dreadful feeling he had earlier came back to him again. He took a drink of coffee, wishing he could remember the night before. He was tempted to ask Gwen what had happened, but realized that would have sounded ridiculous. Hey, I don’t quite remember what happened last night. Could you perhaps fill in the details for me?

He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what had happened anyway.

Gwen sat down at the table across from Cully. She had prepared her own cup of coffee while Cully had been lost in his thoughts. She looked at him.

“You look awful, Cully.”

He nodded. “I know. Feel pretty awful too.” He couldn’t stand it. He had to ask. “You wanna know what’s worse?”

“What?”

“I have no clue how the heck I ended up here. I don’t...really remember much of last night.” He looked at Gwen and saw the look on her face. He really did miss something. He poked at his eggs with his fork for a moment, feeling ridiculous. “Gwen,
whatever it is, I’d appreciate if you’d just lay it on me.”

Gwen hesitated and took a deep breath. “Cully, you don’t remember anything of what happened last night?”

Cully paused. “The last thing I remember...” He closed his eyes briefly, trying to recall. “I remember being at the Palomino...and Ski was there, being a--” Cully held his tongue, careful of Tyler. “I went back home and...that’s really all I remember. I ain’t even sure Leeah was there.”

“She wasn’t.”

Cully looked at Gwen, startled by her straight unhesitant answer. He waited for her to continue.

“Cully...Leeah and Casey went to San Diego last night. She stopped here and told me she was going.”

“San Diego?”

“She said she...couldn’t stay and watch you destroy yourself with your drinking.” Gwen’s voice was soft. “She didn’t want Casey to see it anymore.”

Cully looked at Gwen, stunned.

“That’s what she said. Tho’ she was a little bit more upset when she said it.”

Cully put his fork down and leaned back in his chair staring at his plate. “Oh damn...” he said softly. Now his head really hurt and he brought his fingers to his temple and then covered his hand over his eyes.

“Cully? Can you blame her? Can you truly and honestly blame her?”

“No...She said she would do it if...”

“If what? If you didn’t stop drinking?”

“Dammit...”

“Thought she was kiddin’ didn’t you?”

“No, I just...didn’t...think she’d do it.”

“Well. You were wrong weren’t you?” Gwen stood up. “You wanna know what else she said? She said she didn’t think you would notice she and Casey were even gone. She didn’t think you would even notice! That tell you anything, Cully?”

Cully looked up at Gwen and realized he was getting both barrels from her for a reason. And if Gwen was giving him hell, he could only imagine what Sonny was going to do to him.

Yes, it told him something. It told him something that made him loose the rest of his appetite. Gwen apparently was going to exit on that thought, because she undid Tyler from the highchair and carried the boy out of the kitchen.

I wouldn’t notice?? Of course I would have noticed! Maybe...if I had been sober...

Cully leaned towards the table and pushed his plate away. He propped his elbows on the edge and brought his palms together in front of his face. All the thoughts he couldn’t remember from the night before floated through his mind. He always thought
Leeah would be there. He always figured she understood what he was going through...but he couldn’t recall if he had talked to her much about it. He didn’t like to talk about Vic’s death. It bothered him too much. So instead he popped a can and drank until he couldn’t remember it for awhile...

But now he couldn’t even remember last night. His wife left him and he couldn’t remember anything about it!

Cully heard the sound of hoofs hitting the earth outside. Sitting by himself in the kitchen wasn’t getting him anywhere and his thoughts offered little comfort. Not that Sonny giving him hell was going to be any more comforting....

Cully could only guess at filling in the blanks of the previous evening after Leeah announced she was leaving to Gwen. Sonny must have tried to find him and Cully could only figure he was so drunk that, well...anything could have happened.

No longer interested in eating, and wondering how the heck he was going to get Leeah back, Cully stood up from the table and grabbed his Jean jacket. He looked out the kitchen window, saw Sonny riding Dancer and figured now was a good time to cut out. He knew what his friend was trying to do, but Cully felt that this was one mess of his he had to clean up himself. He shrugged into the jacket and left the kitchen.

Sonny turned Dancer to the front side of the coral for one last go around. As soon as the horse was turning again to face the gravel drive, Sonny saw Cully trying to duck out behind the truck.

Sonny shifted in the saddle and commanded Dancer to keep turning and pick up speed. The horse galloped around the back of the house and turned towards the fence facing the grassy lawn next to the drive and the big oak tree. Dancer never slowed.
Cully heard the thundering run and looked in time to see horse and rider clear the fence.

“Uh oh...” Cully kept walking, even when Dancer came up beside him and slowed to a walk.

“Well, good mornin’ Cully,” Sonny said.

“Mornin’.”

“Sleep well?”

“Coulda been better.”

“Understandable. Did you eat?”

“Tried to. Gwen told me what happened last night. Needless to say, I lost my appetite.”

“You’ve lost more than your appetite my friend.”

“Yeah, don’t remind me.” Cully walked faster.

Sonny commanded Dancer to trot ahead of Cully then turn to face him, stopping him.

“Sonny...dammit.”

Dancer grunted her opinion.

“Where ya goin’ now?” Sonny asked. “Back to town?”

“Maybe.”

“It’s a long walk.”

“So? Maybe it’ll do me good.”

“What do you think you’re gonna do once you get there?”

Cully paused and shrugged. “I dunno...” He looked down to the ground and turned away from Sonny and Dancer.

Sonny dismounted and walked up to Cully. “I’ll tell ya what’ll happen if you go back now. You’ll drink whatever the hell you got left in your refrigerator! You realize that’s what’s got you into this mess don’t you? You’ve been neglectin’ your wife and
daughter for a bottle of beer! What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“Aw dammit, Sonny, you weren’t even there that night!” Cully shouted at his friend. “You have no idea what the hell happened!”

Dancer shifted her stance at Cully’s sudden outburst. The older stuntman rarely raised his voice in anger.

Sonny stared at Cully. It was true, Sonny hadn’t been there when Vic died and he realized that Cully had more than likely witnessed the entire thing in living color. Sonny cringed inside. Cully never said if he witnessed the whole thing. In fact, he had said very little about it after it had happened. And Sonny had never really asked....

Cully couldn’t stand the scrutiny and turned away again, starting to walk back in the direction he had originally been heading in. Sonny took a few quick steps and grabbed Cully by the arm, stopping him.

“Wait a minute--”

Cully pulled himself away. “Goddammit... look, Sonny, if you’re gonna give me hell can you at least wait until I get rid of this damn headache?”

“Sure, I can wait. How long you think Leeah’s been waiting?” It came out before Sonny could stop himself.

Cully puffed up and looked ready to lash out at Sonny. Dancer made some noises and adjusted her stance again. The animal could sense Cully’s tension.

“Gwen told me what Leeah said when she stopped here last night,” Cully said, his emotions restrained. “She didn’t think I would notice she had left! Dammit, I know what I’ve done Sonny!”

“Cully...” Sonny spoke gently. He could see Cully was about on the edge of breaking down. “Awright, so you realize what you’ve done. You gonna do something about it?”

“Look," Cully paused a moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, "I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you ain’t got no reason to have to help me." He looked at Sonny, his blood shot blue eyes showing sadness. "It’s my own damn mess...”

“Like hell I don’t. Haven’t you always been there for me? Even when I told you not to be? And more often then not it was those times when I ended up appreciatin' your help more. Cully...Leeah was the best thing that ever happened to you. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit idly by and watch a bottle of booze come between the two of you.”

Cully looked at his friend and read the concern, sincerity and determination to help in Sonny's dark eyes. They had been through the best and worst of times together. But Cully had never been through something as bad as the past year, and then Leeah leaving. He had no idea what to expect from it all now, what to expect from Leeah or himself. And deep down, he was hurting so bad he didn’t know how to ask for help, or if there was anyone, including Sonny, who could help him. But he needed something desperately to hang on to. And booze obviously was no longer the answer.

Sonny knew him well enough to answer the call for help without Cully even having to ask. And Sonny was right. To Cully, Leeah was the best thing that happened to him. And Casey, his little girl, was what made him feel blessed.

But it was the demon that had the best of him. The relentless memory of Vic’s death, the guilt, that wouldn’t let him go. He had tried hiding from it, but instead only managed to nearly lose his wife and daughter. Or maybe he had lost them already. Which ever way it was, it was a loss he was sure he couldn’t handle. He knew he had to get them back. He also knew he had to come to terms with Vic’s death. Damn, this wasn’t going to be easy....

He looked at Sonny. “I love her, Sonny...”

“I know ya do. And you don’t want to loose her do you?”

“No...” Cully drew in a ragged breath and swallowed back his tears. “No....but what the hell do I do now?”

“First, you get sober and stay sober. But the very first thing you’re gonna do is get a change of clothes and grab some stuff from your place cuz you’re gonna stay out here for awhile. Then we’re gonna do some detective work.”

* * *


“Does Leeah have any friends in San Diego?” Sonny asked after they pulled up to Cully's apartment building.

Cully paused. “I think she’s got a couple, yeah.”

Sonny looked at Cully. “Huh. And last night you were wonderin’ what the goddamn hell was in San Diego.”

“I said that?”

“You did.”

Cully shrugged. “Well...what the goddamn hell is in San Diego?”

“Leeah for one thing,” Sonny said. “Do you know what her friend’s names are?”

“Um...” Cully thought. “One is Sherry Sullivan. The other one’s a girl named Lisa...but I don’t know if she’s living in San Diego anymore. I seem to recall Leeah saying Lisa had gone out to Arizona or something.”

“Does Leeah have an address book?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you know where it is?”

“Yeah.”

Sonny nodded. “I think we’ll find our answer there. C’Mon.” They got out of the truck and went up to the apartment. Sonny turned the knob and the door opened, much to Cully’s surprise.

“You weren’t exactly in the condition for me to be asking where your keys were, so I left it unlocked,” Sonny said. They walked into the apartment, the smell of liquor stale in the stuffy air.

“Man...” Cully said. He went to the window and opened it, allowing some fresh air in. He glanced back to Sonny who made no comment.

Cully hadn’t expected one. Without a word, he went to the writing desk where Leeah kept her address book. Rummaging through the desk however, made him pause. Sonny quietly watched him, knowing that some kind of memory must have been
tugging at his friend. Cully gently opened the address book, saw his own name written in Leeah’s hand and the little heart she had drawn next to it. His eyes then drifted to the wedding picture at the top of the desk. Leeah had looked so beautiful that day and his grin was from ear to ear as he held his bride close for the picture.

When was the last time he had held her close? Kissed her? Told her he loved her? He gently closed the address book and let his gaze leave the picture. He sighed and turned to Sonny, holding out the address book.

“Here.”

Sonny took it and looked at Cully with empathy. A silent moment passed between them then the older stuntman headed towards the bedroom, to pack some clothes. Sonny didn’t follow, figuring more memories would haunt Cully in there. Sonny thumbed the address book and then turned towards the kitchen.

He eyed the refrigerator, glanced back to see where Cully was and then walked to it and opened the door.

Beer. There was a enough Coors on the bottom shelf to float an air craft carrier. The usual milk, juice, bread and eggs were represented, but the beer clearly dominated. Sonny removed the two six packs out of the refrigerator.

Cully, meanwhile, packed some clothes while his memories worked to torment him. The good memories, the bad...whatever his mind could find to show him how much he had fucked everything up. Leeah’s scent was strong in the room. He could see her, feel her, taste her... He remembered the times when he held her, loved her. When they talked, when they goofed around. He remembered the first few months after Casey was born, the late nights, the elation of watching the tiny baby with her big hazel/blue eyes looking around in wonder. Cully had never been so happy or so scared in his life. Every little sound Casey made had both him and Leeah running. “Lemme guess,” Cully had joked often whenever they came across something new with caring for a baby. “The doctor forgot to pull out the instruction booklet when he cut the umbilical cord?”

But they had learned. And they did it together.

Just as his feelings of missing Leeah were getting worse, the memories changed. The clouds darkened. He could hear her. Yelling at him, crying, threatening him. Demanding him to stop drinking or else...begging him to stop. Cully stopped packing and
sat down on the edge of the bed, listening to the jumbled memories.

Why are you doing this to me? To US?? Cully...dammit, listen to me...Cully! CULLY! You’re not going there again tonight!

He closed his eyes, buried his face in his hands. The memories faded, but the echoes didn’t right away.

The sound of a beer can being opened got his attention. He listened, then got up and walked out to the kitchen.

“Sonny?”

There, Sonny Hooper was pouring the amber brew into the sink. Sonny only looked up at Cully, as if to issue a silent challenge. You gonna try to stop me?

Cully took a step closer, almost as if he was going to. Instead he just watched the beer swirl around the drain and disappear down.

“Leeah did that once.”

“I’m not surprised.” Sonny opened another can and poured it down the drain. “But you went out and bought more didn’t you?”

“I...I don’t remember what I did...”

“You either bought more or you trotted your ass down to the Palomino and filled up there.”

Cully paused. “Probably.”

Another can’s contents were dumped. Cully felt his entire life was represented by that beer going down the drain. He suddenly reached out and grabbed Sonny’s arm. “No ya don’t,” Sonny said, gently pushing Cully back and holding the beer car
away from him.

“You know how much that cost?” Cully asked.

Sonny looked at him. "Do you know how much it's cost you?"

Cully paused, briefly closed his eyes and sighed. “I could really use one of those right now.”

“This,” Sonny held up the can, “is no longer an option. You understand? You’re done with this. No more. Now, are you packed?”

Cully made face. “Just about...”

“Well you better go finish. We got a lot to do.”

Cully walked back to the bedroom to resume his packing. You come home drunk one more time Cully, I’m leaving! I swear it!

Cully clicked the suitcase closed...


* * *

Cully’s first full day of sobriety was also the slowest. The desire for a beer crept in every so often. Memories of Leeah stayed with him. Realizing Cully needed something to do, Sonny put him to work with Dancer, taking the horse out on an exercise run in the afternoon and mucking out the stall. It kept Cully busy and the older stuntman welcomed the distraction. Dancer seemed pleased with Sonny’s choice of handler for the day, and at the end of the exercise run, the horse came up behind Cully just outside the barn and gently nudged the ex-stuntman on the shoulder with her nose. Cully turned and grinned and rubbed the animal on the side of it’s massive head and face.

They had attempted to verify Sherry Sullivan’s address that was in Leeah’s book, but the phone number rang up as disconnected. There was no one else listed in the book as living in San Diego. No one else they could contact.

“What do we do now?” Cully asked.

“We got a couple more things to try,” Sonny replied.

“Cul-ee.” Tyler walked into the living room from the hall with Gwen following. The little boy had two toy trucks in his hands and went up to Cully and dumped them in his lap with a laugh.

Cully chuckled. “Is this an invite?”

“Play trucks.” Tyler’s grin was a mile wide.

Cully looked up at Gwen, making sure momma approved of Tyler’s choice for a play friend. Gwen smiled.

“He’s been asking about you all day,” she said. “I figure he’s not going to settle down for the night if he doesn’t get a few minutes with you.”

Cully grinned. “Well, in that case...” He picked up the two trucks and handed them to Tyler. “Hang on to these, sport.” He then stood up from the couch and picked Tyler up.

Cully carried Tyler down to the boy’s room, the two year old babbling the whole way. Gwen smiled and then walked over to sit next to Sonny on the couch.

“Any luck?”

“Not yet.” Sonny picked up the piece of paper he had scribbled a number on. “Let’s see how we do with this one.” He picked up the phone and dialed the number.


Cully kept Tyler occupied for an hour, pushing the little trucks around on the carpet. When they would crash into each other, Tyler would look up at Cully with big dark eyes and say “Uh oh” before giggling.

“Tsk, drivin’ like them truckers on the 405...” Cully shook his head at Tyler. The boy just smiled. When the boy started yawning, Cully knew that was the cue.

“You gettin’ tired?”

“Yeah.” Tyler rubbed his eyes and then looked up at Cully. Cully smiled and got up off the floor, ignoring his stiff joints.
“C’Mon.” He picked up Tyler and carried him out of the room.

“I think I got it,” Sonny said as he hung up the phone. Before he could tell Gwen, Cully came in.

“Here ya go, Gwen. I wore ‘em out for ya.”

Gwen smiled and stood up to accept the changing of the guard. Once in his mother’s arms, Tyler laid his head down on her shoulder.

“Say goodnight to Daddy,” Gwen said. Tyler lifted his head and said goodnight to Sonny and got a goodnight kiss in return. Gwen carried Tyler down to his room.

Cully plopped down on the couch, really starting to feel the age in his bones. He leaned back and closed his eyes.

“Any luck?” he asked.

“Maybe. I’m gonna wait and try a couple more numbers in the morning. I’ll let ya know then.”

“Fair ‘nuff.”

* * *

Leeah settled Casey down for the night and then settled by the telephone in Sherry's guest bedroom. She picked it up, put it down, waited, picked it up again, started to dial, put it down. Waited.

Finally she carried through, dialed the number and listened to it ring. And it kept ringing....and ringing.

“Fuck.” The phone slammed down.

He probably didn’t notice we left, she thought. He’s out drinking, the dumb shit. Hasn’t a clue what the hell’s happened!

She thought of calling Sonny and Gwen, but decided she didn’t feel like it. Instead she turned in for the night, laid against the pillow and cried.

 

Chapter Two