Before Hunter could take a seat in front of the computer next to Julius, he heard his name being called. He turned to see a skinny, bearded man with wavy, graying hair walking toward him.
He stopped right in front of the boy and extended his hand. “Hi, Hunter, I’m Dr. Collins. I wanted to visit with you for a few minutes.”
Hunter stood frozen in place.
“Hey, Pachelbel. Dr. Collins ain’t gonna bite ya!” said Julius.
The man who had identified himself as Dr. Collins looked over at Julius and smiled warmly. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Julius.”
“No problem, Dr. C.,” Julius said as he turned to face his computer screen.
“Well, Hunter, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. I’m not going to bite you.”
“I never thought you would,” said Hunter quietly.
“No, I don’t suppose you did. Come with me to my office and we’ll get to know each other better.”
Hunter followed the man across the big open room of the lodge toward a door on the far end. Dr. Collins led the way. When they reached the door, the doctor pulled out a key and unlocked it. This was the first locked door Hunter had yet seen at Promise Ranch.
“Come on in, my boy,” said Dr. Collins, motioning into the room with one arm as he held the door open with the other.
Hunter walked in without responding. He wasn’t sure if he liked this at all. Once inside the room, Hunter stopped and looked around. The room was warm and comfortable. A fireplace, similar to the one in the great room but much smaller, was directly in front of him. On either side, the walls were lined with bookshelves that reached to the ceiling. He drifted over to the shelves, feigning nonchalance, and glanced at the titles. He had once loved books, but that was the BT Hunter. The AT Hunter loathed them.
“You read these books?” Hunter asked over his shoulder while attempting to be uninterested.
“Oh yes,” responded Dr. Collins enthusiastically as he stepped up beside the boy. “A book doesn’t make it onto my shelf until I’ve read it. A book hasn’t fulfilled its purpose until it has been read, I always say. Do you enjoy reading?”
“No way. Reading is for nerds,” Hunter said with a snort.
“Well, I guess I am the ultimate nerd,” responded Dr. Collins cheerfully. “Please sit down,” the doctor said, pointing toward an over-stuffed leather chair with a cowboy print throw tossed over the arm. Hunter sat and watched Dr. Collins slide another chair up close to him…too close as far as Hunter was concerned. He decided right then that he liked the company of horses and even cowboys better than doctors.
“What kind of doctor are you?” said Hunter with almost a sneer on his face.
“I’m a psychiatrist.”
“I don’t need a psychiatrist.”
“Great. We’ll just be friends then,” Dr. Collins said with a warm smile. How many times have I had boys tell me that in the course of my career? the middle-aged man seemed to be asking himself.
“I don’t need friends, either,” Hunter answered while twisting the corner of the throw.
“Everybody needs friends,” Dr. Collins responded. His eyes reflected the ache in his heart that he felt for this boy.
“Not me. So called ‘friends’ just get you in trouble.”
“Sometimes that’s true. But not always. I guess it just depends upon the friends you choose.”
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