Horses are like people in a number of ways — each has a distinct personality and a set of moods — and Lucas was busy with understanding the horses at Vi's farm as winter steadily bore down on spring. The weather didn't allow as much riding as he would have liked because the snow and ice were hard on the animals, but Lucas took each horse out occasionally when the snow wasn't deep. At first, he rode with Martin, who was surprised at how quickly Lucas learned to ride well and at how quickly he earned each animal's respect. The small boy was gentle but firm with the thousand-pound beasts, and he was clearly attuned to their moods and their needs. Lucas often spotted problems with the horses before Martin did. Martin decided that Lucas was far more adept at relating to horses than to people.
Lucas didn't have to observe more than one or two times before he understood Martin's approach to the animals. He had a natural way with animals. When he went in to muck out a horse's stall, Lucas instinctively had the horse move to accommodate him instead of him moving around the horse. The horses, even the more stubborn ones, faced the boy, heads down and mouths soft when he approached them. Lucas was a quiet person, and although he enjoyed time with his new family, his time with the animals was carefree and uncomplicated by memory of his past.
Vi had been concerned that Martin let the boy ride out alone occasionally on some of the gentler mounts, but she knew Martin had good instincts about what Lucas could manage. The boy desperately needed to feel accomplishment and not to let his disease define him.
In the cold, winter weather, the horses couldn't be bathed, so the process of removing dirt and crap from their coats, by brushing, was more arduous. Vi worried that Lucas would pick up E. coli or some other bug from the animals, but she and Jim agreed that caring for the animals was more a benefit than a risk. And, Lucas was religious about hand-washing and wearing gloves and masks.
Martin thought of Jason and even Jonathan as family, but his bond with Lucas was at a higher level. He recognized the boy's wounded heart and saw much of his son in the boy. He also saw the boy's struggle with fatigue but left him to it because he respected the boy's heart. He never used North's and Jason's nickname when addressing him.
Jason and Jon were beginning to break away from the challenging lives they had fashioned with each other in Goldendale. Psychically, their thoughts and attention were shifting more and more to the north, to Seattle, as they prepared for their time at the University of Washington. The change in attitude was hard on Vi, but she was proud of them. Almost a year after Fred's death, the farm was still together and prospering, and the boys had shown everyone how responsible they were. So she could accept the natural, growing distance between her and the boys.
North continued to visit Martin's home once a month. Martin enjoyed the visits and appreciated that North was interested enough to continue them long after he had repaid an obligation. The man and the boy shared news of their families, and more often now they discussed Fry.
Sitting in the small living room, after Martin filled North in on the news about his children, Martin asked, "How's the adoption process for Lucas coming along?"
"The home visits are almost done. Julie has really pressed the Interstate Compact offices in both states to keep the process moving." Lucas had told North of his conversation about his health with Martin. "I think Fry's HIV status is actually lighting a fire under them. People aren't exactly lining up to adopt HIV positive teenagers."
"I'm very happy that your family has a place for him."
"He's a peculiar kid. At first, I wanted to help him because he'd had a rough life, but now I really love him. He's been very hard to get to know, and he's defensive. All the bluster is a defense, I think."
"Come out to the porch for a minute."
They walked onto Martin's simple front porch where Martin pointed to an old elm tree. The tree trunk took a ninety-degree bend about five feet from the ground and then grew horizontally for a foot before taking off again skyward. A large rounded burl bulged at the first angle.
"See? It grew for a while and then something terrible happened, but it didn't die. It just took another path. The top is healthy now, but that old wound will be close to its root forever."
North stared at the tree and nodded.
"Something's going on, but he won't tell me what." Tom, drinking from a mug of hot tea, was looking at Jim across the dining-room table. He stretched his right hand out to take his husband's.
"He's always done whatever he pleased, but I admit I couldn't have predicted something like this."
"Reed College just isn't his style; I think he'll go crazy out of NYC. Still, I'll bet Reed is thrilled to get him. This has Gary Snyder's fingerprints all over it once again. Eric told me that Sam didn't share his reasons for moving, but where Sam goes, Eric goes."
"Where are they going to stay?"
"Eric told me that he's rented a house near the campus."
"When's he due?"
"I think they're coming in late March."
"God help those poor undergrads."
"He's dead, Jase. The only part of him still here is what you drag around with you." Jonathan's words were unusually strong.
Jason, who had rarely cried since his father died, was near tears. He felt as if Jon had ripped open a wound. "Be careful, Jon. No one important to you ever told you that you were unnatural."
Jonathan saw the injury he had unintentionally caused. "I just see you as strong and perfectly natural, and I hate the memory of that man for having treated you the way he did. I don't just dislike his memory, I hate it."
Jason smiled at the most important person in his world, the sting of a few moments ago now vanishing. "You stood up to him, didn't you? And he respected that, didn't he?"
"Well, I was crazy in love and lust and all the rest. Do you think your sadness this time is because of what's happening to Lucas?"
"Martin says that the horses can't lie, that they know what's at Lucas's core. I was thinking about how my father would have reacted to Lucas. You know that you're going to have to put up with the echoes of my relationship with my father forever, right? Frank tells me that some wounds scar you in a way that always shows, but they don't have to consume you."
"Trust his advice, Jase."
Jason leaned in to kiss Jon softly, and when he smelled Jon's unique sweet odor, wanted to fuck him senseless — but later. He pulled Jon off the bed, and they walked downstairs to talk with Vi.
"I don't see why we can't go alone."
Vi stared at her son with a decidedly maternal look that said she couldn't believe what he was saying, and Jon couldn't believe his partner's tactical error. "For one thing, you're not eighteen yet. You can't sign a lease, and neither can Jonny. Tom has some business up there, anyway. You should be grateful that he's willing to go up with you." She knew more of the reason that Tom wanted to make the trip than she was telling.
Jason didn't respond. Finally, Jonathan said, "Cowboy, we'll see what we need to see, and we'll find a nice place. Tom's friend said she'd help us."
"Sorry. I'm just nervous about the trip."
Vi laughed and touched Jason's cheek, "After what you've been through in the past eight months, I shouldn't think much would make you nervous."
"Well, Jon's used to living in a city."
Jon rolled his eyes. "You're perfectly comfortable in Portland now. Seattle isn't all that different."
"It sounds a lot different to me."
"Think of the joy of dragging me up Mt. Rainier instead of Mt. Adams."
"We do have a fine time camping on mountains."
The boy simply wasn't as twitchy as he usually was. Frank had thought the boy might never find calm. "You seem unusually settled, today, Lucas."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you seem less agitated."
Lucas had never thought of himself as agitated. Maybe people who had peaceful homes just didn't seem agitated. "You mean like I'm not on the edge of running away?" His smile didn't impress Frank, but the psychiatrist was pleased to hear the attempt at humor.
"You think you're going to stay?"
Lucas thought for a couple of minutes. One thing he had learned about Frank was that he was very good at waiting for answers without trying to fill a silence. The boy got out of his chair and walked across the office. "What do you know about Sam Marshall?"
"I read the books about his war experiences when I was in school. I'm not that much for poetry, but I guess he's pretty good. Are you asking for an armchair psychiatric evaluation?"
"I think he's angry and has a right to be. I also think he took his anger and made something disturbing and beautiful from it. Is that what you want to do?"
"I want to try. Jim, Tom, and North have put up with a lot from me. When I was on the street, I thought I deserved that place in life because I wasn't worth very much. Don't tell them, but they make me think that where I ended up didn't have much to do with what I'm worth."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"My parents weren't my fault. My first foster parents weren't my fault. If my new family believes in me, then I can believe in me, too. If Sam Marshall can survive what he did and be responsible, then maybe I can, too."
"I think you can."
"Did you know that Sam was a drug addict?"
"Yes. He wrote quite a bit about that."
"He's been in a wheelchair most of his life. He killed people. He ran away by taking H. I just ran. He told me that I could be responsible for myself."
"And you believe that?"
"Yes. He and Martin are teaching me that I can be responsible — Martin every day."
"You like Jim and Tom, but I think you love Sam Marshall and Martin."
"Yeah, I guess I do. Martin's the kind of person I want to be."
Frank noted the omission of Marshall in the reply. "Are you keeping up with the Effexor?"
"I'd like to try to stop it. One set of side effects is enough."
Frank had already talked to Jim about the SSRI antidepressant. He had prescribed it mainly as an anxiolytic when he thought the boy was depressed. He was also concerned about the additive suicide risk resulting from the HIV diagnosis and treatment.
"I'm worried about increased suicide risk from the Atripla, but if you're willing to check in frequently and be honest with Jim about how you're feeling, I think weaning you from the Effexor will be all right."
Smiles came to the boy's face more often now, and each bright smile transformed Lucas's face, although he could see a shadow of pain cross Frank's. Everyone at SMYRC knew about Frank's son. Lucas almost asked Frank about his pain, but instead asked, "What about sex?"
Frank was speechless for a moment and then smiled. "Could you be a little more specific?"
Lucas sighed audibly in impatience. "There's no one now, but what if I meet someone?" Frank's eyebrows arched. "I know, I know. Goldendale isn't exactly crawling with gay kids, at least not ones that are out, but it could happen, or maybe in Portland when we're visiting. How should I tell someone about the disease?"
"Why should your HIV status be anyone's business unless you're going to have sex with him? Are you still thinking about casual sex?"
"Not so much. I'd like what North and Annie or Jonathan and Jason have."
"I'm really happy to hear you say that!" Frank rose and hugged the boy. "In that case, it'll be a while before you have to cross that bridge. When the time comes, ask yourself what Martin would do."
His phone calls with Marshall, while frequent, were always brief. This time, Lucas noted the slight breathlessness in the voice, almost a hoarseness. He asked Sam, "Are you treating Eric any better?"
"I always treat Eric very well, thank you. He sends his regards. Now, how are you feeling? No bullshit."
"I couldn't bullshit you if I tried. I'm good." Lucas wasn't used to being open with people — to revealing himself too much — but he thought Marshall could see all of him no matter what he tried to conceal, so he didn't bother trying. "You know, our talk at Stonehenge was a big deal for me."
"That's what friends do — they talk about important things or they consider important things in silence together. It's a two-way street, Lucas. Talking with you helped me, too. There are too few interesting people in the world, and I find you interesting."
Lucas almost believed the man; then he remembered what Eric had said: He just won't be even politely dishonest with anyone about anything. He did believe Sam — no more ‘almost'.
"I'm sticking around. I love working with the horses, and the new family is a real family. I love to ride out alone."
"Damn right, you do. You keep riding out alone. Just remember your pledge. I'm going to be in Portland for a while beginning next month. I hope you'll come over to see me."
"I don't know, Doctor Marshall. You're hard to take sometimes."
"All right, you little shit. I'll expect you." Then the phone connection was instantly dead.
His new family didn't make a big deal about birthdays, which was fine as far as Lucas was concerned. He received a few small gifts, but what pleased him most was that his fathers and North celebrated his birthday at a family dinner and that Jim had baked a cake for him. He blew out fourteen candles and allowed himself a little pleasure in his new family's relaxed recognition of his birthday.
The weekend after his fourteenth birthday, he was determined to ride out in the late Saturday morning on Buster. Lucas went to the tack wall to pull the small saddle he used. In its place was a dark-brown Mexican saddle, smaller and shorter in the seat than the one he normally used and polished to a rich gloss. The cantle was generous, as was the skirt, and fairly sharply angled, and the fenders were slender. Fingering the stitching, he knew this was an expensive saddle, smooth where it should be and cut for utility, almost a combination of Western and English riding saddles. You wouldn't be able to bring down a steer with it, but you would be able to stay in it for a whole day. The saddle wasn't showy, and its cut was minimal. He frowned and turned to Martin. "Tio Martin, I don't see my saddle." The boy infrequently used the term when referring to Martin, but felt it an apt description of their relationship.
Martin looked up from mending a bridle. "You must be blind, then. It's where it always is."
"I don't think so."
"Feliz cumpleaños. You'd better get out there before Buster gets too frisky."
Lucas ran to Martin and hugged him. "Thank you, Martin. I didn't think you knew when my birthday was. This is way too much."
"Every horseman needs his own saddle."
Lucas pulled his gift down and put a saddle blanket and the saddle on Buster, followed by a hackamore, because he disliked using a bit in near freezing weather. The saddle floated into place and when it was secure, Lucas mounted Buster. His ass and thighs felt as if they were seated on butter. Martin walked over and adjusted the stirrup length slightly.
"You're getting taller."
Lucas smiled. I suppose I am. Taking the reins gently, he nudged Buster with his thigh, turning the horse gently toward the door. The sky was a pulsing bright gray, making him squint as the horse and rider cleared the barn door. Lucas felt as if he were on the back of Pegasus. Buster was no pushover, but the boy knew how to work with him. He gave the horse his head and they cantered around the last of the outbuildings and onto the field that would soon be sown with alfalfa. What would the men who have fondled me say if they could see me now? I wouldn't let them touch me now, and I no longer have to retreat to that silent inner place where I hid the small part of me that they could never reach.
He practiced turning the horse right and left with pressure from his thighs and a little tension on the reins in a swerving course, but he let the horse have his way sometimes in a partnership little resembling a contest.
As he and his mount cantered over the field, he thought about how his new family regarded the future. For them, it ran out to some far horizon, a natural course laid out starting at North's childhood. His own view of the future ended at a few weeks; well, at least the view was longer than a day or two now. While he knew that his situation could change in an instant, maybe someday the horizon wouldn't be so near for him.
He stopped Buster and hopped off. With no bit in his mouth, the horse picked over the leftover stubble on the field. He stroked Buster's shoulder, and the horse turned his head toward the boy and head down, gently nuzzled Lucas's chest. Lucas laughed and pulled carrot pieces from his pocket and offered them to Buster.
Lucas pondered his situation. At first, North's invariable kindness and concern had really irritated him. North always tried to be his protector. After the incident in the snow park, Lucas began to understand that being a protector was just North's nature, and that there was no other motive in the boy who had become his brother. He's so fucking naïve; they all are — even Jason.
But, rather than detesting that naïvete as he once had, he now saw it as a kind of principled strength, a strength which he admired but about which he was skeptical.
To Lucas, the future was something out of his ken, ground he wasn't used to traveling. He'd be happy to make it through the next week. One of the reasons he wasn't thrilled about going to school was that school is about the future — what's next and next and next. He didn't want to look ahead to college and then a profession.
He remounted Buster and turned the animal toward the back of the property — on ground the horse was used to traveling. All he had to do was lean forward, placing his face close to Buster's ear, and say, "Go." They were off at a gallop, though not as fast as Buster was capable.
As they sped toward a not yet-visible fence line, he thought about Sam, who had to make his way in life a little at a time. He realized that his love for Sam came from their common perception of life and a common struggle to live in circumstances with an uncertain future, a future in which solving the immediate problems was enough. He had seen the intimacy of the community of warriors displayed by the old man at the school-board meeting. That man didn't know Sam, but they were connected by the experience of trying to live for just a few more minutes and trying to keep their brothers alive. Maybe heart is the issue. I don't want to have North's view of the world, but I'd take a heart like his.
He sat up straighter in the saddle, and Buster immediately slowed to a brisk trot. The fence line was in sight now, and Lucas knew he had been lost in thought for more than a few minutes. He brought the horse to a stop and stood tall in the stirrups, which for a 14-year-old Lucas wasn't all that high. It was enough, just to be alone on Jason's land, to ride out alone, as Sam had encouraged him to do. He knew that Sam wasn't just talking about horseback riding.
The office at the back end of the gym was small, with just a desk, a whiteboard, and couple of chairs. At her request, North had dropped by the office to talk with the track and cross-country coach. "I don't understand. What? You've proven a point and now you're going to take your ball and go home?"
"I can't run track if I don't commit to working hard, and I'm not sure I want to work as hard as I'd need to."
"Brent mentioned that you've decided not to run cross-country next fall, either."
"I haven't decided, but I'm leaning against doing it."
"I think you're making a big mistake."
"Why? Because I owe something to the school?"
"No, because you love running." North grunted. "I know. You can run without being on a team and competing, but you and I know it's not the same. You like people to see you as above the fray, but you love winning, and you love the planning it takes to win."
"You and Brent make a good team. Is this why he's been bugging me?"
"Any pressure he's exerting on you is his own doing. I know the team would do much better if you came out …" North began to chuckle. "… All right, bad turn of phrase — if you joined the team. All the cross-country runners think you walk on water, and the team enjoyed finishing races above the cellar."
"I know how good I am. I'm not bragging. I mean that I don't have anything to prove. Brent's a natural leader, and he's a good runner; you won't have any trouble keeping the team focused. I like running with Brent, just the two of us on the dirt roads, but I'll think about it, Coach."
After Lucas's foster status was resolved and his academics had been tested to what seemed beyond any bounds of reason, the school district had decided to place him in the eighth grade at Goldendale Middle School. His school records from Portland were spotty, but he tested well, especially in math. In fact, one of the placement specialists who had looked at his math test scores thought, until he verified the boy's age, that he must be a high-school senior.
The middle school was north and slightly west of the high school, and on a Friday late afternoon, before his appointment with the high-school track coach, North dropped Lucas off at the middle school to look over the building where he would start classes the next Monday. Lucas would just as soon have continued studying at home with Tom and the tutors, but Tom was insistent that he start regular classes.
The days were getting longer as spring approached, and the sun was still three solar diameters above the western horizon as Lucas walked back to the high school to meet North. After looking around the mostly deserted school building, he walked along King Avenue in front of the middle school and then turned east on Brooks before turning south on Roosevelt. As he approached the high school, a boy that Lucas recognized from the school-board meeting, along with a couple of others, blocked his path. Not a coincidence, he thought.
Lucas judged that the boy who had attended the school-board meeting was on the fat side of bulky and tall, much larger than either he or North. Lucas tried to maneuver around the other boys. "Another faggot for the Underhill house?"
Jeremy, that's his name. Lucas remembered his conversation with Martin. Lucas's life experience had taught him the difference between psychopaths and garden-variety bullies. He briefly considered the only similarity between his brother and the oaf before him — neither North nor Jeremy had spent any time living on the street. Lucas, of course, understood the codes by which both his brother and the hulk lived — North's, a code of fairness and Jeremy's, a code of fear. Lucas was keenly attuned to every strength and weakness in anyone he faced. Now, he saw only physical strength in the bully. Though Jeremy didn't know it, his problem was that Lucas wasn't afraid of anything he might do. Lucas had been down these roads before.
North, having finished his meeting and seeing the confrontation, ran toward Lucas. He was about to put himself between Jeremy and his brother when Lucas walked up to Jeremy, who took a half step back before beginning to reach for the boy. North almost launched himself at Jeremy, but Lucas leaned forward toward the bigger boy and said in a low voice, "Know this. If you or your friends lay a hand on them, justice will find you. You will not be able to hide, and no one will be able to keep you safe. It will find you, and when finished, it will melt away leaving no trace."
Jeremy's face reddened, and he barked at Lucas, "You little queer, you better keep out of my way."
"I wasn't in your way."
Jeremy turned and with his helpers walked away toward the middle school. North told Lucas, "Don't you ever do anything like that again."
Lucas smiled. "He just thinks he's scary. I've faced some really scary people; I know when to run and when to fight, North." North saw Lucas's eyes lose focus, gazing into some distance of his own. "If you have to take it, you make a place in yourself where you can hide while the bad things happen, so it's like they're not happening to you at all." Then the boy's eyes came alive again. "You haven't had as much practice as I have at those kinds of decisions, but thanks for the big-brother thing."
After a little laugh, Lucas said, "It's one of Martin's passions." Lucas knew that North would assume that Martin's promise was empty, a bluff, but Lucas knew that Martin had meant every word; that's what had scared and still did scare Jeremy.
North finally had an answer to the question of how Martin's conversation with Jeremy across the fence line in the fall had ended. "Let's not tell the dads about this."
Lucas nodded, took North's hand in his, and they walked the rest of the way home in silence, North wondering about the kinds of decisions Lucas had been forced to make in his young life. He didn't have a place in himself like the one Lucas had described.
"How was your meeting with your coach?"
Saturday morning, Lucas and Jason were finishing the morning work. They had been at it since four in the morning. Jonathan and Annie hadn't come to Goldendale for the weekend, and he and Jason had an opportunity to talk one to one for a few minutes as they worked. Their conversation was easy for Lucas, much as the ones he'd had with Jason at the drop-in center.
Jason was clearly looking forward to moving to Seattle with Jonathan.
"I worry about you two up there in the big city," Lucas joked.
"I may be a rube, but Jon's very sophisticated, you know."
"Still, two hot young things alone in the city . . ."
"Very funny, Fry. We'll be fine as long as you keep up your end of things back here."
"I know how lucky I am, and my end will be just fine, thank you."
"I think it must be pretty lonely for you out here."
"I like being alone. You and Jonathan are joined at … well, I'm sure at many places, but I'm okay by myself. Besides, I have my paragon of a brother." His smile told Jason that he wasn't complaining.
"Your paragon brother saved my life, Fry, and introduced me to Jon. I hope you meet someone to love for the long haul."
"Long hauls for me have been pretty short."
Lucas was tired as he walked back to the house after the long morning's work at Vi's farm. He would go back later in the day to ride a couple of his charges. When he walked in the door, North was reading. Tom was already writing in the office and Jim hadn't returned from his early weekend rounds at the cancer center.
Looking up from the book, North said, "You look exhausted. Why don't you get some sleep?"
"Zevon, brother, Zevon." When he had first begun the treatment and North suggested that he rest, Lucas had taken to quoting the Warren Zevon song, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.
North laughed. "At least get some food. You're filling out — turning into a real little stud."
Lucas blushed, something he didn't often do. He had never thought of himself as attractive, but regular food, the work at Vi's, and good medical care had made him less scrawny. Although he'd never be the über-stud his older brother was, he knew he was becoming "cute," a status that irritated him a bit.
"Are you sure you're not a fag?"
North laughed at the obvious discomfort he had caused, as Lucas went to the kitchen to fix a bowl of cereal. He brought the cereal bowl and a glass of juice out to the living room, set the food on the occasional table, and asked North what he was reading. North turned the book up so that Lucas could read the title. The Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton. On the cover was a line drawing of the poet's face looking out from a white background, her right hand resting against the side of her head.
"You can't avoid poetry about difficulty. Screwed-up people sometimes write powerful stuff."
Lucas thought, I wonder if he puts me in the screwed-up category?
"Listen to this:
I would like to unlock the door,
turn the rusty key
and hold each fallen one in my arms
but I cannot, I cannot,
I can only sit here on earth
at my place at the table.
"You like that? You'd unlock the door in a heartbeat."
"Some doors you can't unlock, Fry."
The front door rattled with a tentative knocking sound. Lucas looked at North who raised his eyebrows as if to say, "Well, aren't you going to answer it?"
Lucas swallowed the last of a spoonful of cereal and milk before walking to the door. He couldn't remember anyone knocking at that door in the whole time he'd lived there. When he opened the door, he found two young boys, bundled up, with books in their hands. He looked at them and waited for some explanation for their interruption of his second breakfast.
"Is Britt Phlebas in?"
The two held up their books. "Britt Phlebas."
He looked at the books, and saw a cover of one of the Gyres Chronicles series, and he understood. "There's no one here by that name," he said, protectively.
"Someone who lives in Goldendale posted on the forum that she got her book signed by the author because he lives here. Please, we've come all the way from Spokane."
"Where are your parents?"
"Down at the road. We walked up."
"Really. I've never heard of this guy," Lucas said.
The two looked crestfallen and began to walk down the porch steps when Tom appeared from the office. "Everything okay, Luke?"
"Yeah, Tom. Just a mistake."
Tom saw the two interlopers and the books. "Let them in."
North was so startled that he dropped his book, and Lucas said, "Are you sure?"
Tom called out to the two on the porch, "Come in, but this is going to have to be quick."
The two boys hesitantly walked through the door and over to Tom and asked the wide-eyed question, "Are you Britt Phlebas?"
"Guilty. What can I do for you?"
The slightly taller one held out his copy of the book. "Would you sign this, please?"
Tom took the book and then looked at the other boy who proffered his copy as well. When he had both books, Tom went to the table in the living room and asked the boys for their names. The taller one answered, "Tom," and the shorter, "Drew."
While Tom inscribed the books, the boys looked around the room until their eyes found North. The older one blurted, "You look just like Kendall."
North winced. "I am definitely not Kendall."
Lucas decided to give his brother a little grief. "Come on Kendall, don't be bashful. Show them your time orb."
North's face reddened. "You're dead, you little creep. I am not Kendall, despite what my irritating little brother says."
Tom returned the inscribed copies to the boys. "You know, it's rude to interrupt people on a weekend. Kendall is always polite."
"Yes, sir. We're sorry, but Mom told us that if we wanted to meet you, we should try."
Lucas finally said, "Go home."
The two boys backed out of the house and then ran down the steps and the drive.
North asked his dad, "You know what this means, what's going on?"
Tom looked at Lucas. "Sit with your brother." When Lucas was beside North on the sofa, Tom continued, "I've done better hiding than I thought I would, but I've always known that eventually I'd be found. I'm almost through with the series now, so the to-do won't last long. I'm not J.D. Salinger; I am not a recluse. The books have made a lot of money for us, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm not grateful to the people who read them."
North shook his head sadly, "Please, don't do any talk shows."
"Let the man finish, Kendall." North jabbed Lucas in the shoulder with his elbow. "Ow! You're really upset."
"Of course, I'm upset. This celebrity crap is bullshit." North looked accusingly at his father.
"Sorry, North, but if I don't take control of the situation, others will. I am not going to go on the run or be coy, but I hope you know me well enough to know that I can keep boundaries. I'm going to control this as much as I can."
"Jesus Christ, Dad, we got out of Portland to avoid this. So, now we're both stuck here and we're going to have to go through this circus."
Lucas had never heard North as angry as he was now. He felt sorry for Tom. "North, Tom's doing the best he can. The books are good; you should be proud of him."
"Thanks, Lucas, but North thinks I've violated an agreement. I've tried as hard as I could, North, but the toothpaste is out of the tube, and I can't spend time trying to push it back in."
North stood, tossed his book on the sofa, and walked into the kitchen. Lucas started to say something, but Tom shook his head, and Lucas swallowed his words. When North returned, he looked a little calmer. Lucas smiled and told him, "I'll protect you. I can be a hell of a bodyguard."
"Oh, great. Fry, the protector. Thanks, but I'll manage."
Lucas was tired of hearing Tom abused. "Then stop whining, and let's hear what Tom has in mind."
North grumbled, and Tom smiled. "Thanks, son. One of the reasons I'm going to Seattle with Jason and Jonathan is that I've scheduled a couple of book-signing appearances while we're there. The publishers peed in their pants when I agreed to do them."
North asked, "Where?"
"I wanted to do one at Couth Buzzard, but they're closed, so I'll be at Queen Anne Books and Elliott Bay Book Company. I could use some help."
North grunted. "Jon and Jason will be there."
"They'll be busy trying to line up a place to live."
"You saw what happened just now. I am not going to hand you books while little girls call me Kendall," North pouted.
"I see your point. Lucas?"
"Hell, yeah. Besides, cute gay boys might buy books. I can always tell them I've slept with Kendall." Even North laughed at that.
"This whole business won't last long. When the parents of my readers find out that I'm gay — and they will — sales may tank, but that wouldn't be so bad."
Tom insisted that they wait until mid-afternoon Friday to begin the drive. Tom didn't want to battle the rush-hour traffic in downtown Seattle. The four-hour drive would take them up US97 to Yakima, onto I-82 and then over I-90 across Snoqualmie Pass and into the city. Jason and Jonathan let Lucas ride up front with Tom while they took the back seat of the Forester.
"Where are we staying?" Lucas asked. They planned to stay Friday and Saturday nights.
Jonathan replied from the back seat, "Belltown. Right, Tom?"
"At the Lake Union Silver Cloud."
"There's more than one bedroom I hope. I really don't want to have to block out the sounds those two make at night."
Jason told the boy, "We brought ear plugs for you."
Lucas watched Tom in the quiet that followed. His new father seemed occupied by the problem of navigating what for the family was a potential mire. To Lucas, the solution was obvious: be a celebrity for a while and use those who would use you. Then he thought about protecting North who thinks he would make a poor gatekeeper, but Lucas knew he could keep the gate and give North relief from what he fears. Lucas knew that the others thought him too young to be of much use, all except Jason, perhaps.
Jon and Jason drowsed, leaning into each other as much as their seat belts would allow, and Tom and Lucas were silent. The sun was close to setting as they reached Cle Ellum where the boys had fast food. North had suggested that they eat at the Roslyn Café, made famous by the television series Northern Exposure, but that was a twenty-mile detour from the interstate. They were silent again as they continued through Issaquah and then passed just south of Bellevue. The boys in the back had been awake since their dinner.
As they crossed Mercer Island, Tom told Lucas to look north to Medina where Bill Gates has a multi-million-dollar compound, but he could see nothing much in the darkening twilight. In the dark, they turned north onto I-5 to the Mercer Street exit.
The suite had two bedrooms and a queen sleeper sofa in the living area. Tom gave the two older boys a bedroom and told Lucas to take the other one. "I can sleep on the sofa. I want to stay out here. I need to finish my plan for Elliott Bay."
"Okay. Are you nervous?"
Tom laughed. "I wouldn't say nervous, but you can't be prepared for what you can't imagine. I just want to be sure I've imagined everything I can. You look tired. To bed with you now."
Lucas had left his door open and woke the next morning to the subtle noises of the hotel — doors opening and closing, room-service trays delivered and picked up, and the unaccustomed sound of the forced-air heating. Of necessity, he had learned to be a light sleeper. He looked at the alarm clock beside the phone on the nightstand that showed six o'clock. After his morning erection subsided enough to pee comfortably, he tried to use the bathroom quietly. When he came back to his bedroom, he closed the door and unplugged his phone from the charging cable to look for emails or texts.
Hope things are going well. Have fun in the Emerald City. Sorry I was cranky before you left. Love, N.
He smiled and quickly replied, Nice, quiet drive. Think Tom is a little nervous. Js probably wore each other out overnight, but at least I didn't have to listen. I like it when you show you're human. L. He appreciated his brother's restraint in not using emoticons, and he couldn't yet bring himself to end a text with the word love. He put earbuds in and listened to Montserrat Caballé singing Casta Diva, a favorite since Jason's revelation about his first sleepover with North, and then a playlist of different singers doing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. He was especially fond of Antony Hegarty's version.
He dozed off again and was awakened by Tom's knocking on the door. "We're getting ready to go to breakfast. Get your shower."
Tom took the little gay troupe to meet Mary at the Boat Street Cafe on Western Avenue. Mary was a real-estate developer and a friend of both Tom's and Jim's who had agreed to help the boys look at places to live while at school. The cafe was a strange little place with surprisingly upscale breakfast fare. Mary was already there when they arrived and had commandeered a table for five. She hugged Tom and shook hands with the boys.
"So, this is the new son. You are a very handsome lad, Lucas."
Lucas smiled, but since he didn't really crave approval, he treated the comment as a pleasantry. Mary and the Js talked about different neighborhoods in the city. The boys were interested in Capitol Hill, but Tom told Mary that he and Vi thought something in the University District might be better.
She saw the boys' disappointment. "Capitol Hill isn't the gay mecca it used to be, but it's still nice and full of idiosyncrasy. We can look there, but the U District has some really nice places, and you'd be in walking distance to a lot of UDub activities. We should look at the Green Lake area, too."
Mary knew what interested Tom, although the boys had no idea that he and Jim had decided to buy something in Seattle. After breakfast, Mary took charge of the older boys, leaving Lucas and Tom at the table. People were waiting, so Tom settled the bill, and the two went on a drive to show Lucas where the bookstores were. The session at Elliott Bay Book Company was at seven that night, and tomorrow the Q and A and signing at Queen Anne Books was at ten in the morning. Tom drove through the Queen Anne neighborhood before taking them to the Capitol Hill neighborhood that Elliott Bay Book Company now called home after many years in Pioneer Square. "It's no Powell's," Lucas observed, referring to Portland's citadel bookstore.
Tom laughed. "No, you're right about that, but the room we'll use is comfortable."
"Exactly what am I going to do?"
"I hope you'll be willing to hand me the books after getting them opened properly for signing. If you're uncomfortable with that, one of the bookstore staff will do it."
"No, no, I can do that. North doesn't think I'd make a good bodyguard, but I'll protect you from all the groupies."
Tom glanced sideways at Lucas and thought, I bet you will. "Thanks, but we'll be lucky if fifteen groupies show up. We'll get there an hour early, and I'll show you what I need, and thanks, I'm more comfortable with family at the table."
"Where do you want to go?" They had hours and lunch to go before the event.
Lucas didn't know enough about Seattle to really know, but he did want to see the Experience Music Project, so he and Tom spent the rest of the morning and the early afternoon wandering through the Gehry-designed museum.
"Do you understand why North was so upset?" Tom asked Lucas.
"I think so. He doesn't want to keep opening the front door."
"It's more about why we came to Goldendale."
"I guess you thought you could hide better there."
Tom laughed and play-slapped Lucas on the back of his head before giving him a shoulder hug. "Moving was hard for North, but he just sucked his distress up and tried to help Jim and me. He feels as if the decision to become more public about Gyres is a betrayal."
"You know North a lot better than I do, but I think you're wrong. He did what he thought was right. He always does what he thinks is right. He doesn't feel betrayed; he's just sorry that things have changed, and he doesn't think there's any place left to run."
Tom said pointedly to Lucas, "Running is rarely an effective tactic. Let's go back to the hotel and get cleaned up for the event. We'll catch an early dinner before we go to Elliott Bay."
They had a very early dinner at Chinook's at Fisherman's Terminal where Lucas stuffed himself with warm biscuits. The drive to Elliott Bay took about twenty minutes, and the sight that greeted them was entirely disconcerting. At 5:45, a line of mostly teenagers wound out of the main entrance and around the block. "Holy shit!" Lucas whispered. "It doesn't even start for another hour.'
"Fuck!" Tom said. Finding parking was impossible until Tom called the store and was directed to a reserved space in a lot off Broadway a block from the bookstore.
They were rushed in through a side entrance where the owner met them and thanked Tom for coming. "I had no idea. We only put the notice on the website two days ago."
"Well," Tom told him, "this is unsettling. This is my son Lucas." Lucas shook hands with the owner.
"Let me show you where you'll be doing the Q and A and the signing. It's almost identical to the setup we had at Pioneer Square."
Tom had refused to do a reading but had agreed to a brief question-and-answer session before agreeing to sign books for a couple of hours. The space for the program could hold fifty people comfortably, and all the seats were already taken with an overflow crowd in the adjacent room, many crowding in through the archway between the rooms. A lectern stood against the wall facing the room's entrance, and a table where Tom would sign books was near the entrance. Beside the table were cartons of books shipped by Tom's publisher. Tom had insisted that he would sign one copy that readers brought with them from home provided they purchased at least one copy at the store.
Thirty minutes before the start, three bookstore staffers helped Lucas learn how to handle the dust jackets and what page to open for Tom to sign. They also had their own copies of the books for Tom to sign, which he did with more good humor than Lucas would have shown. Tom also signed a number of books to be sold later as autographed copies. Five minutes before the scheduled start, the Elliott Bay owner walked to the lectern and began with a review of coming events at the store before introducing Britt/Tom by detailing the publishing history of the Gyres Chronicles series. "For the first time ever in a public appearance, please welcome Britt Phlebas."
The predominately younger audience applauded and screamed. Tom looked appropriately daunted. When the applause diminished, Tom began, "Thank you. I'm happy that, despite reports in the press, reading isn't yet dead. These stories began as bedtime tales for my older son and were eventually spun into the books you have been kind enough to read.
"For more than a few years, I have maintained absolute privacy for me and my family, but I fear nothing can be private in this climate of instant worldwide communication. So, I want us to be clear about the ground rules: I'll answer reasonable questions for thirty minutes, and then I'll be happy to sign copies of the books. As you can see, quite a few people showed up this evening, so no more than three copies per person, please, and although I'd love to chat with each of you, tonight we won't have time. Now, please let one of Elliott Bay's fine workers find you with the microphone before you ask your questions."
The first question was from a ten- or eleven-year-old boy. "Is the message of the books that the world we live in should be more like the other world Kendall visits?"
"I'm not really trying to promote a message. Well, now that I think about it, that's untrue. The second Gyre is the kind of world I hope my sons will try to make. But, if I've managed a story you like, then I'm happy."
An older woman asked, "Where did the title of the series come from?"
"From a book of prose by the poet William Butler Yeats titled A Vision. A central theme of the book is related cycles of time and history that he called Gyres."
The questions continued until shortly before the time for the Q and A session was up, when one teenage girl asked, "You said that the main character is based on your older son. What do your wife and son think of you writing a fairly public description of your son?"
"First, my husband knows that because the books began as stories for our son, with him as the hero, that kind of broad description was inevitable. My son, though initially pleased, has been less so as the books have developed and he's grown up."
A murmur had started in the crowd the moment Tom had used the word husband. Now, the expected questions followed. Finally, one young man asked, "Are these books allegories for gay experience in modern life?"
"I'm afraid that's the last question I can take, and I dearly hope not. The books are not intended as allegory. They're simply stories of how a young boy, as he approaches manhood, decides what's right and wrong and decides how he should treat others even when doing what's right is dangerous for him. That kind of struggle happens for all of us no matter our gender or whether we're gay, straight, or in between.
"Thanks. Now give me five minutes and I'll be ready to sign your books. Please remember the ground rules."
The next two hours were a blur of book signing — for Tom, just hearing what name to write before the brief inscription was an effort. He was touched when the young man who had questioned him about gay allegory asked him to sign his real name. He hadn't thought about whether or not signing his name would be a problem, but the young man was so sincere that, after looking at Lucas and getting a nod, he signed Tom Jansen.
A very tired Tom and a very energized Lucas were on the sofa in the suite's living area. Jason, Jonathan and Mary were spread out in chairs and looked as if they had been through the same wringer as Tom had. "Everything we looked at is so small compared to the place in the Pearl District," Jonathan said.
Tom smiled, remembering the places in which he and Jim had lived while they were students. "You're not going to live there permanently — you're looking for student housing."
Jason asked, "How come we were looking at condos, then?"
"Jim and I want to buy a place up here, and with the market down, this is a good time to buy."
Jason and Jonathan perked up a bit. Finally, Jon asked, "Does that mean we could rent your condo while we're here?"
"Something like that," Tom replied, smiling at Mary. "What did you think of the one on Brooklyn?"
Jason looked at Jonathan before replying. "It's just been redone. Laminate flooring and new appliances. It's a great location; we could walk to most of our classes. I'm just not sure we could afford the rent."
"I think the landlords might give you favorable terms. Let's do it, Mary." Tom handed her an envelope containing a bank check for earnest money.
"I'll make the offer and let you know, but I think since you're making a cash offer, it's a safe bet that the boys have a place to live."
Lucas decided not to yank the other boys' chains too hard. "Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Dibs on the other bedroom when we visit."
"I don't think so, Fry. The landlords will be sleeping there."
The next morning, after checking out and a unanimous vote for breakfast at the Boat Street Café again, all of them travelled to Queen Anne Books. Parking was an issue again, and they had to park in front of a bank a few blocks away. A call to the owner gave them instructions to come to a back door. "I've never seen this kind of a crowd on a Sunday."
Inside the store, the owner greeted Tom and was introduced to the boys. "Edie, when we get to the signing, I want Lucas to help me, if you don't mind."
"No, not at all. Let me guess — you have experience from last night."
"Yes. Number-two son always has Tom's back."
The owner smiled at the boy and then looked at Tom. "Quite a bombshell you dropped last night. I don't know if you follow the fan forums or not, but they really lit up."
"I don't, and this kind of honest answer to a question shouldn't precipitate a moral crisis."
"Don't get me wrong. I'm so proud of you, and I'm very appreciative that you've made the store your second public appearance."
Lucas interrupted, "Shouldn't you get busy with the store copies?"
"Right, number-two son. Let's get busy." Jason and Jonathan laughed as Lucas got Tom squared away. This space was smaller than the one at Elliot Bay, and the lines were already stretching up Queen Anne Avenue for blocks, stretching north to Howe St. The side of the tan-and-gray building had a ramp, already crowded, running the length of the Blaine Street side of the building.
"I've called extra staff in to keep things under control. I'm only worried about turning people away at the end of the time we agreed for the event."
"I'll see if we can accommodate everyone, but I need to be on the road by one at the latest."
By the time the Q and A session began, people were hanging from the walls or at least standing on the ladders against the wall shelving. After the introduction, Tom reviewed the ground rules with the predominantly younger audience. Since the smaller space didn't have a PA system, no microphone was available. Lucas promptly became the referee, pointing to people and interrupting interrupters. Tom was impressed.
A couple of kids prefaced their questions by saying how much they appreciated Tom's being out. That made Tom increasingly comfortable with his decision to be honest. He deflected questions about his family as inappropriate, but did talk about the process of developing the stories beginning with bedtime tales for his older son. One questioner asked if Lucas was one of his sons, and after looking to Lucas for permission, said yes. He immediately wished he hadn't done that, as cell-phone cameras began to operate almost incessantly.
Finally, before ending the Q and A session, Tom remarked, "I know that by mentioning that I am a gay father with a husband I have created a bit of a stir. The stories are built on themes that touch a common ground — what it's like to grow up and begin to take responsibility, to stand up for what's right even if doing so is unpopular. A person's sexuality in no way limits that challenge. I hope you will help each other."
Once the signing began, Jonathan and Jason along with the store staff helped keep the lines civil and moving. Tom was stunned at the number of kids who briefly told him they were gay and thanked him. More than a few of them looked a little longingly at Lucas before leaving the store, and Lucas didn't seem to mind one bit.
After finishing at one in the afternoon, having not quite managed to sign books for everyone who showed up, Tom asked Jonathan to begin the drive back. Jason sat up front with Jon, and Lucas sat in back with Tom. His whole notion of what Tom did for a living had changed, and he understood a great deal more about why his brother was as he was.
On the way, Jim called to say that the phones were already ringing with requests for interviews. After ending the call with Jim, Tom thought, What have I done?