Springtime in the Cascades — April brought only infrequent snow, and not much with each snowfall. The three mountains, Wyeast (Hood), Klickitat (Adams), and Loowit (St. Helens), were still solidly snow-clad, though, making hiking on them impossible.
The air in Goldendale was drying, and morning temperatures were now just above freezing while afternoon temperatures reached the mid-fifties. At the end of March, the spring-seeded alfalfa crop had been sown in the two larger fields, and seasonal workers began to arrive.
The influx of pilgrims to the home of the Gyres was significant after Britt Phlebas's first public appearance ever, but when people were routinely disappointed with their Goldendale visit, the crowds diminished. Steve's father had helped by increasing the Sheriff's patrols to chase lingerers away. In small towns like Goldendale, everyone knew everyone else's business, but they protected one another, even the newly arrived, from intrusions by outsiders. The staff at Ayutla, the closest restaurant to the highway, presented blank-faced confusion when strangers inquired where Britt Phlebas lived.
Lucas hadn't helped, however. He had incurred North's displeasure by posting what turned out to be a short-lived sign on the fence at the end of their driveway that read: Kendall is available for photographs on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:00 PM until 5:00 PM. $2.00 per snapshot. Lucas enjoyed deflating the self-serious strain in his brother's behavior.
Being able to pull this prank reflected the reduction in the younger boy's fear of alienating his family and his need for reassurance. Lucas needed to sleep in his brother's bed much less often. However, he often came into North's room to talk with his brother before going to bed in his own room. No topic was off base.
"How did you end up an Underhill and not a Jansen?"
North swung around in his desk chair to face Lucas, who sat cross-legged on North's bed. The question startled North because in some ways he felt that Lucas had always been here and should know; in other ways, Lucas seemed a recent arrival.
North hadn't known Lucas in Portland, and Jason's early descriptions of his now new brother led him to imagine an even smaller boy than the one who had appeared a few months ago. The Lucas on his bed, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, was still physically slight, though he had filled out a bit, but his attitude made him seem larger. His dark hair, parted in the middle, touched his shoulders, but Lucas had assured North that he wasn't going to wear a ponytail because that would be "just too gay."
"I was too young to have a say," North answered. "The dads said that they didn't want me to have a hyphenated last name, so they tossed a coin, and I was given Dad Squared's last name. Why?"
"Last time I talked with Julie on the phone, she said to think about whether or not I wanted to keep my last name or change it after the adoption."
"I'm glad you'll get to choose."
"How come you've never been pissed that I showed up and stayed?"
"Damn, you switch topics quickly. Okay, how big do you think my ego is? I grant that you're a little shit sometimes, but I see you trying to take care of the dads and you have a good heart. I mean when you first showed up, I figured we had to take care of you, but then I realized that you thought you should take care of us, too." Lucas looked at him squarely, something he had begun to do only recently. "What does Sam say — that you're interesting? I don't know — you're squirrely sometimes, but I like you, and I love you — as a paragon should love a younger brother."
"Jason's an ass for telling you I said that, and if you tell anyone I said this, I'll call you a big-time liar, but I love you, too, even if living with a paragon is occasionally a pain."
With a smile, North said, "I won't tell anyone your big secret, but I don't see why you're so afraid to let people know you're capable of love."
"You love Annie, right?"
North made a face that said, stop stating the obvious. "So?"
"You've known her since you were a little kid. You've known me for a few months. I don't get how you can feel the same way about both of us."
"I hope I don't feel the same way about you and Annie. Love isn't only about the amount of time spent together, Luke. Love is about respect, chemistry, trust, and putting someone else first. I think Jason loved Jonathan almost from the first time he saw him. Relationships change over time, and you and I will have a different relationship in a few years, but that doesn't mean I don't love you now."
Lucas frowned as much as North had smiled. "Love . . . or sex … is something I learned to trade for peace. Saying I love someone feels like giving that person a weapon against me, but I told you, and I mean it."
"You might think about telling the dads that you love them. And, how about Sam or Martin or Vi or Jason? At some point you're going to have to accept that none of us are going to change our minds about you, that you can trust us."
Lucas looked down and worried the hem on the left leg of his shorts with his thumb and forefinger. "Yeah, I know that."
"I hope you also know that how you treat people shows as much about your feelings toward them as words. Sometimes though, hearing the words is great."
Lucas looked wistfully at the photograph of Annie and his brother on North's desk. "You'll find someone eventually. Don't you have homework?"
"All done. I don't spend all my spare time Skyping with a goddess." Lucas saw devilment in his brother's eyes. "Oh, shit. Please don't tell her I said that."
Hallways and more hallways, classrooms, the cafeteria, the auditorium, the sea of kids — Lucas thought himself lucky to have avoided this sort of imprisonment for the last few years. June is only a couple of months away, he reminded himself. All that most of his fellow middle-schoolers talked about was clothes, television, YouTube, Facebook, and sex. Some of them saw themselves as lions or crocs by the watering hole, waiting for the weak and halting to furnish a meal; some were the meal. Still, a couple of his classes were okay.
He liked science and, especially, math. His math teacher didn't know what to do with him. Jim and Tom had talked with a counselor about letting Lucas take advanced-placement math at the high school, but since no one had ever proposed something like that, the request hadn't yet found the right ears.
A week had gone by before most of the kids had figured out where he fit in the middle-school ecology. On the plus side, one of his fathers had written a very cool series of books; then, he wore understated but cool clothes, and he had a cool older brother at the high school. The appearance on the web of pictures taken by fans at Queen Anne Books had raised his profile a bit. On the minus side, he was gay and made no bones about the fact, although a surprising number of kids respected the journey that Jason had made during the school year and had at least neutral feelings about Luke's sexuality; he lived with two gay men and was adopted, or almost adopted; and, he wasn't born again — once was quite enough. Then, there was his mouth, which he had no intention of controlling.
He had learned what kind of character to project in order to survive when he had been on the run in the city, and he thought that attitude was appropriate to this little jungle. When he walked down a school hallway he couldn't help but imagine homeless people and panhandlers in every doorway. He knew with certainty that many of the homeless were more caring and solicitous toward one another than the students here were to their own. Lucas wondered that some kids seemed to think that muttering "fag" under their breaths as they passed would affect him. As often as not, he would mutter back "breeder," knowing that his fathers and especially his brother wouldn't appreciate that comment. His evident self-assurance was attractive to many kids who were anything but self-assured, and he was definitely not prey.
"Hi, Lucas." The small, brown-haired girl had been the first student in the school to speak to him. Beth was slender and pretty in an all-American way, with a clear complexion and dazzlingly white teeth. On Lucas's third day at the school over lunch in the cafeteria, Beth had mentioned that her sister, Amanda, was on the cross-country team and knew North. Beth had filled Lucas in on the adventure of the Prom and revealed that, although she was straight, Amanda had a girlfriend named Amy. The two had begun to construct a relationship much like Annie's protective relationship with Jonathan.
As they walked down a hallway between classes, chatting, Beth said, "What would you think of helping Amanda and Amy start a GSA at the high school?"
"I'm not much of a joiner, but if it pisses off the religious fanatics I'd give it a shot."
"I like to deliver news promptly, especially good news. Your viral load is undetectable and your CD-4 count is above 500 — this means the therapy is working as we had hoped. If these levels hold, we can almost certainly say you are a slow progressor, which means you should start thinking in terms of what you're going to do over decades, not years."
"But things could still go wrong?"
"No guarantees. I can only tell you what I think your odds are, and I think your odds are good if you take precautions and are absolutely diligent about your medication."
"I don't know how to plan for decades."
Dr. Salgado thought the boy looked confused by the prospect of planning a life. "You can learn. Your home has a lot of people who know how to plan; ask them for help. Asking for help won't kill you."
"Yeah, I'll see what I can do."
"I see that Dr. Gerard took you off the Effexor. Any problems?"
"No. I feel better, and before you ask, I'm not thinking of offing myself."
"You're a very resourceful fellow. Your resources won't help you if you don't apply them to the right problems." Before Lucas could ask for an explanation, Dr. Salgado held up his hand. "Maybe you should shift from thinking only about tomorrow and start thinking a bit about five years from now."
"Okay, okay. Message received."
The two smiled at each other before the doctor asked, "Any questions before I leave you?"
Lucas thought for a minute. "You told me they aren't, but I read on the net that blowjobs are safe."
"Some people think so," the doctor responded. "The problem is that if someone blows you and has even small cuts or sores on the linings of the mouth or throat, infection could occur. So, the answer is yes; blowjobs are safe as long as you use raincoats and use them properly. They make flavored ones, you know."
Lucas laughed wryly. "That sucks."
"Lucas, this is important. I know your infection and having to use condoms makes having sex less spontaneous and more troublesome, but for someone your age, maybe that's not such a bad thing. I know you and Dr. Gerard have talked about impulse control, and you need to do your best not to get frustrated and say, ‘What the fuck?', and have unprotected sex. I know you don't want to infect a partner."
"Jeez. I just wanted to know. You don't need to repeat the lecture."
"The lecture is part of my job. While you were on the Effexor, you weren't all that interested in having sex. Maybe that's changed."
"I hadn't connected feeling hornier with stopping the Effexor. Thanks."
Saturday the Goldendale contingent decided to go to Klub Z in the evening because the weekends when everyone was together in Portland were increasingly rare. The crew this Saturday would include North, Annie, Jonathan, Jason, Mary, Frannie, Pete, Charlie, David, and Lucas who had never been to the club. The five staying at the condo in the Pearl District would meet the others at the club. Tom had volunteered to drive them so they wouldn't have to park a car.
Inside the music was loud, and the beat shook the fixtures and the people. Lucas stuck near North and Jason as if the crowd might suck him in and never let him go. By now, Jason and Jon were known by most of the regulars as a couple, as were Frannie and Mary.
They had been talking and dancing for a half hour when North saw a boy who appeared close to Lucas's age thread his way hesitatingly through the crowd until he was behind Lucas. He was only slightly taller than Lucas but was more muscular. Touching Lucas's shoulder, the boy shouted over the music, "You wanna dance?"
Annie smiled, expecting Lucas to accept the offer because, after all, they were here to dance. Lucas said nothing, but moved his head from side to side, hardly looking at the boy. The boy frowned and turned to move away, looking genuinely dejected. North thought the boy must have needed to summon his courage to approach Lucas; for one thing, he had given up too easily. North nudged Annie and nodded toward Lucas. Annie, who had also seen the exchange, pulled Lucas to her and whispered in his ear, "He didn't want to marry you; he just wanted to dance with you. You hurt his feelings." She shoved him toward the retreating boy.
Lucas looked as if Annie were shoving him into a pool full of sharks, but he didn't want to hurt the boy's feelings. Annie and North watched him pinballing through the crowd to reach the retreating boy. When he touched the boy's shoulder from behind, the boy turned and, seeing Lucas, smiled broadly. Lucas shouted over the music, "I'm Lucas. I wouldn't mind a dance."
"Jerry," the boy said, and then pulled Lucas over toward the wall where they found a little more space and began to dance.
As Annie watched the boys, she told North, "Look, Lucas has some moves."
North laughed and found himself relieved to see Lucas smiling a bit and moving to the music. When the song ended, a slower, quieter song began, and North was surprised to see Lucas accept a light embrace from his dance partner and sway to the music, and they got an opportunity to talk to each other without shouting.
After a couple of minutes, Lucas, who had never danced with anyone this way, could feel Jerry's hard-on against him, and despite his anxiety about how to move his feet and who was leading, found his own erection growing. Jerry wasn't grinding against him. In fact, he seemed concerned that Lucas would feel his dick and backed away just a little. That small move made Lucas comfortable enough to ignore their penises and just try to enjoy the dance. Jerry, whose arms were lightly around Lucas's waist, said, "Hey."
Lucas looked up from his feet to meet Jerry's eyes, where his gaze rested for the remainder of the dance. When the song ended, the DJ announced a song by the Parlotones. The percussion was so forceful that Lucas felt the drum beat as a series of light blows to his chest. The two boys lost touch with the rest of the crowd, and Lucas forgot to guard himself. As they danced, he listened the lyrics:
Listen, mothers, fathers
To your sons and daughters,
When they pray
You will hear them say,
We just want to be loved,
We just want to be loved.
His usual wariness evaporated, and he felt as if something in him had broken loose. He was at once joyful and fearful. He also found Jerry interesting, to use Sam Marshall's word. This must be how North feels, how Sam feels about Eric. How do people take this kind of risk with someone without bleeding all the time?
When the song ended, Jerry looked across the room to a couple of boys Lucas thought near Jason's age. They were smiling and nodding. Jerry looked at Lucas and gave an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "My cousin and his boyfriend; they're my keepers tonight."
Lucas turned Jerry to look toward North and Annie. "I know what you mean."
The two younger boys took out their phones and shared contact information before walking back to their older relatives. As he turned from Lucas, Jerry said, "You're very hot," and blushed. Lucas wasn't even aware of the walk back to where North and Annie were dancing, surrounded by the rest of their friends. Annie hugged Lucas and whispered in his ear, "Do I detect a chink in the attitude?"
Lucas tried to manage a frown, but had to smile and nod. He spent the rest of the night dancing with varying combinations of their little group, but mostly with Frannie and Mary who informally adopted Lucas as their little brother. But he kept an eye on Jerry, who kept a reciprocal eye on him.
On the third Tuesday of April, Lucas and his family, along with Jason, Vi, Martin, and Julie Steiner gathered in the chambers of the Superior Court judge for Skamania and Klickitat counties promptly at nine in the morning. Julie had earlier filed the motion for a decree of adoption according to the Court's rules.
The judge came into his chambers at five after nine. He smiled, and after Julie identified herself, asked each of the group his or her name. He quickly glanced at the pile of paperwork from both Oregon and Washington, including the home-visit reports. "Adoptions are just about the happiest duty I get to perform. I've read the motion and supporting documents. Ms. Steiner has done a thorough job, and I'm convinced that this adoption is in Lucas's best interest. Now, Lucas, do you consent to be adopted by Dr. Underhill and Mr. Jansen?"
"What last name do you choose? You can keep the one you have now or choose the last name of an adoptive parent."
Tom was genuinely surprised and became a little weepy. Jim put his arm around his husband.
The judge signed the decree and wished them all well. The process was over in twenty minutes. As they were leaving, Julie said that she needed to talk to the Court Clerk to be sure that when the decree was recorded, enough certified copies would be sent to her. Although a family had been coalescing around Lucas for months, suddenly the State of Washington and, by extension, all other states recognized Lucas as Tom's and Jim's son and North's brother, a relationship legally indistinguishable from that of a biological child.
In front of the courthouse, hugs went all around, and the group walked to their cars in the clear April weather. North was walking beside Lucas, slightly behind the others, when Lucas began to cry, tears trickling down to fall from his chin. North pulled him close. "What's up, Fry?"
Lucas sniffled, and he wiped at his cheeks when the tears had stopped. "I never really believed this would happen."
On a Saturday three weeks after Sam Marshall and Eric arrived on the south side of Portland and took up residence near the campus of Reed College, Jim drove Lucas to see Sam. Usually, when one father drove to Portland, it was Tom, but Lucas didn't think much about Jim's presence.
Sam and Eric were living in a large house on SE 34thAvenue off of Woodstock Blvd. "About damn time you showed up," Sam shouted from his study. Eric took Lucas's jacket and sent him into the study. Jim left them to meet some colleagues at the Knight Cancer Center at OHSU. Sam's voice was husky, and he sipped frequently from a bottle of water. Although Sam had always been wiry, Lucas saw that his face was a bit more hollow now and his complexion a little sallow. The boy wasn't going to pry, but he didn't like Sam's appearance at all. I'll talk with Eric before I leave.
Sam had a present for Lucas to celebrate his formal adoption. "Hell, if those two hadn't adopted you, I would have."
They both laughed at that thought. Lucas unwrapped the gift to find a slim volume of poetry by John Yau entitled Crossing Canal Street. He gently opened the well-used book, passing an inscription from Yau to Sam. He found the poem, "An Old Chinese Gentleman Drops in to See His Cronies in a Coffeeshop (Mott Street)," and read the first few lines.
"It's beautiful, Sam, but you should keep it. He gave it to you."
"He gave it to me because he and I were exploring what it meant to be outsiders looking at everyday aspects of our own cultures. Outsiders are often interesting, and you should read that now because you will always be something of an outsider. To whom else would I pass that along? You are an interesting young man who is in danger of becoming less of an outsider."
"You could have given it to Eric."
Sam shook his head and smiled, something he didn't do very often. "Eric has what's important from me."
Almost at the mention of his name, Eric's gentle knocking on the study door interrupted their conversation. Opening the door, Eric said, "Your guest is here." Lucas saw subtle anxiety in Eric's face when he looked at Sam.
"Good." Sam wheeled to the door to greet a middle-aged woman in a dark-green dress. Her look was severe, and although she wore only minimal makeup, her face was unlined. When she saw Sam, the severity of her face was broken by a look of genuine joy. She placed a small case on a chair.
She spoke with a hint of an Eastern European accent. "Sam! I'm so glad you asked me to come up. I miss our talks since you left San Francisco so many years ago, and Palo Alto is no place to be imprisoned."
"Lita, this is Lucas, the young man I told you about. Lucas, this is Lita Koresh.
Lucas took her extended hand and thought about how to address her. She saw and solved his problem. "Please, call me Lita."
Releasing her hand, Lucas said, "Pleased to meet you." Why did Sam tell this woman about me?
"Sam tells me you like numbers."
Then, Lucas saw it. Son of a bitch! He didn't want to embarrass Sam, but he was frosted. He couldn't believe that Sam would pull this crap, especially after their talks about what Lucas wanted to do with his life. "Sometimes Sam is a pain."
Sam laughed before dissolving into a fit of coughing. Eric brought him a little towel. When his coughing subsided, he caught his breath, smiled again, and looked at the visitor. "I told you he speaks his mind."
"So, Lita, what did Sam want us to talk about?" Lucas said in an over-loud voice.
"I like number puzzles, too." The small woman retrieved her case and pulled a few pages out. She put the pages on Sam's writing desk, a piece of furniture in the style of Jefferson's desk — only two drawers above a generous writing surface with no drawers below, making rolling the wheelchair under the writing surface simple. "Look at these, and tell me what you think, Lucas."
Lucas walked to the desk and looked over the first page. Most of the formulas he could make out, but he had never seen some of the notation. He pointed to a string of calculations and said, "I don't understand this notation."
Lita smiled and, taking a pen from Sam's desk, changed the notation using space below the original line. "Better?"
"Two mistakes — here and here."
"Correct them, by all means, please," she said looking toward Sam.
He changed a sign and added a term. "That makes more sense."
"And what are we looking at?"
"I think it's derived from Tao and Ziegler — a nonconstructive proof for polynomial progressions of primes."
"Who is your teacher?"
"I don't know him. Oregon Graduate Institute … Washington State University?"
"No. Goldendale Middle School."
Sam chuckled, trying to avoid more coughing. "Lita is a physicist and mathematician who works at Stanford." Lucas tried not to appear cross with Sam but wasn't wholly successful.
"Do I call you Professor or Doctor?"
"Lita will still do. This isn't an interrogation, I promise. Sam knows you like math, so he asked me to talk with you. Enough of this. Sam tells me you love working with horses, too."
Lucas told her about his life in Goldendale and how he was learning to work with the animals and about Martin. She heard the happiness in his description of the isolation of that work. "Mathematicians often lead solitary lives, Lucas." She saw him frown. "I'm not going to try to kidnap you. Relax."
"I think my fathers want me to go to college, but they won't insist."
"If I remember what Sam told me, a physician and a writer."
"Right, and it turns out the writer is famous, or at least some of his books are."
"I take it you're not interested in being famous."
"Lita is famous, but only to a hundred or so people," Sam said more good-naturedly than was common for him.
He thinks she's interesting, too, Lucas thought.
"What do you study?" Lucas asked the woman.
"The mathematics of M theory."
"String Theory! That's cool."
"So you see, going to college and beyond can lead to cool things in life. I have one colleague who raises horses."
Eric again knocked on the door and asked if anyone wanted lunch. They all agreed to eat, and Eric, helped by a rotund, older lady, brought in soup and sandwiches. Eric made sure that Sam was set, with a tray in his lap. Sam smiled at the younger man affectionately. "You're hovering, Eric." Eric put his hand on Sam's cheek and nodded. Lucas had never seen Sam express or accept that kind of affection from Eric or anyone else. He really does love Eric.
Lucas almost inhaled the vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwiches made with a sharp provolone and thin slices of tomato. He didn't like raw tomato, but heat and chemistry transformed them into sweetness. With his mouth full, he was able to listen to the three adults catching up. Eric was going to teach a section of contemporary American poetry in the summer session. Lita and her colleagues were awaiting data from Fermilab that might prove the existence of the Higgs boson and provide tenuous experimental evidence for String Theory, a theory in physics that seemed to explain a great deal, but for which no one could construct an experiment to prove or disprove it. This was the conversation that the fourteen-year-old found himself overhearing. Looking at Sam during the conversation, Lucas observed that he wasn't eating much.
After the lunch paraphernalia was cleared, Lita told them that she was going to make a pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books. As she left, she took Lucas by the shoulders and said, "If you decide to study math, let me know. I'm willing to give you a chance."
Before Jim came back by to pick Lucas up, Sam wanted to take a "wheel" around the campus with Lucas in the drizzly, spitting, early-spring weather of the Willamette Valley. They went north a couple of blocks and crossed Woodstock. The two of them moved silently on the roomy sidewalks of the tree-lined streets of the campus, looking at the still mostly bare branches of deciduous trees beginning to bud out against persistent color of the evergreens. Occasionally, bright, open-faced students would greet them. Sam gave them all a small nod, and they would whisper when they had passed. As they moved past the library, they talked about the adoption and how it had and hadn't changed Lucas's feeling of belonging to the family, which led to a long discussion of the uses, good and bad, of ceremony. They talked about school and how Lucas felt like an inmate.
"Excellent description," Sam commented.
After an hour, as they were returning, Lucas finally risked asking, "What's wrong?"
Sam snorted, "Wrong? Everything's just as it should be. End of discussion."
Back inside the house, Sam reminded Lucas, "Don't let your good fortune dull your edge." Then, as Lucas and Eric waited for Jim, Sam went to take a nap.
"Okay, what's going on with Sam?"
"Did you ask him?"
"He said everything was 'just as it should be'."
"I can't tell you anything more."
In May, with the alfalfa under irrigation and on the way to the first harvest, Lucas no longer rode directly from the barn over the main fields to the back of the property. Now, he took the same dirt road that North and Brent ran for practice. After he reached the end of the crop field, he unlocked a gate to a smaller field where he could work with the horses. He tried to get each horse out at least every other day, riding in the afternoons after school. On the warmest days, the temperature reached toward seventy degrees. In the late afternoon of the second Tuesday in May, as he worked with Buster, his phone vibrated. He recognized Sam's number.
"No, Luke, it's Eric. Listen, Sam died about an hour ago. I'm sorry."
"Eric, are you okay?"
"No, but I will be … eventually. Sam asked that I let you know when he went. I have to call a bunch of people, but we'll talk later, I promise."
When he went? He knew he was dying? I knew something was wrong, and the son of a bitch didn't tell me. He bounced between anger and loss, barely restraining himself from riding north as far as he could, maybe keeping on until he escaped the empty feeling. No more phone calls every other day, no more Saturday or Sunday strolls, no more unflinching honesty from the man who shook him awake at Stonehenge and befriended a boy simply because he found the boy ‘interesting'. But, he was through with running, and he didn't feel bereft. Sam had been shot in Viet Nam in 1965 and he had fallen only now. ‘Everything is just as it should be.' Then, he thought of North and his fathers and Jonathan — how they must be feeling the loss. Oddly, he didn't feel like crying — nothing about that old man demanded tears. He wheeled Buster around and headed back through the gate and down the road to the barn.
He groomed Buster for an hour in the barn before returning him to his stall, and by the time he walked into Jason's house, the sun was close to setting. Vi was in the kitchen, and when she saw him, she ran to him and pulled him into her embrace. "Your uncle is beyond us now, young one."
Without thinking, he said, "He's just dead, Vi." She smiled and he knew that for her no one became just dead. "Is Jason home?"
"He's over with North. You go on along."
When he walked through the kitchen of his house and into the living room, Lucas found his family, including Jason, sitting and talking as they usually did, with laughter and jibing. The group was anything but funereal — everything is just as it should be. Everyone in the room looked at Lucas to see how he was doing. He smiled to let them know that he was doing just fine. "I'm going up to my room so I can talk to Eric in peace."
He flopped on his bed after taking his shoes off and pulled out his phone. Eric's number rang until Lucas thought it would go to voicemail, but after five rings, Eric answered. "You have a minute or two?"
"Thanks for calling. I'm ready for a break. I expect him to wheel in and give me a hard time." Then he broke down and Lucas silently listened to him cry. Thinking of Sam in a loving relationship was odd, but he had always seen the depth of their bond in the looks they gave each other and in Sam's occasional restraint when talking to Eric. Sam wasn't Eric's mentor; he was much more.
After the weeping abated, Eric mused, "I guess this is why Sam always told me to be careful with my heart. He tried to tell me that loving him was a losing proposition, but I couldn't help myself. He also told me that love isn't a choice."
Lucas told Eric the truth. "I can't imagine how you're feeling."
"Well, I guess love risks self-injury … or maybe just self-pity."
"When I first met you two, I was way pissed off at the way Sam treated you. But I learned that he loved you."
"He treated me as he treated almost everyone he allowed around him — as an equal. Right now, I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I'll come out of the fog soon."
"I could get Tom or Jim to drive me over if you want some company."
"Not now, thanks. The place is a circus, and I still have to deal with a lot of loose ends, but if you can get here over the weekend, I need to talk with you about a few things."
"Sure. You call if you need to talk, okay?"
"I will. Come out on Saturday. Just text the details when you know them."
Tom and Lucas parked on the street, and, with Tom's arm around his son's shoulder, they walked up to the familiar house. A few weeks ago, Lucas would have been uncomfortable with Tom's support.
Eric looked haggard when he opened the door to admit them. Lucas half-expected to hear Sam's usual snarl as he looked around the foyer. He saw Sam's light-weight chair, collapsed and leaning against one wall. He jerked his head away. He felt the first physical pang of distress in his chest since Eric had called him to tell him the news.
He rushed past the chair, leading Eric and Tom into the formal living room. Eric thanked Tom for bringing Lucas and then moved over to the boy and hugged him. Lucas clung to Eric and began to share Eric's grief. After a few moments, Tom coughed and told Lucas that he was going to walk around the Reed campus a bit and would be back in about an hour.
"What happened? He and you knew he was going to die. You did, didn't you?"
"Yeah. He insisted on keeping that private. He talked with your father — Jim — about what was happening, but he chose not to have any tests or try any therapy. I think your father had a hard time not bugging him to get some help. He had a fair amount of pain, but then he had been in pain since ‘65."
"I would have come more often… . I would have helped you take care of him." For the first time, Lucas began to cry.
"He would have hated that," Eric said, putting his arm around the boy. "He had enough trouble letting me help."
"So — cancer?"
"Probably. Jim never told me the diagnosis, but Sam went fast, so I think so."
When Lucas's tears stopped, he asked, "What are you going to do, Eric?"
"The department chair has asked me to look after the students that Sam was advising and to teach the course he was going to do over the summer. I have an offer to begin working at UC San Francisco in the fall, but I haven't decided to take it."
"What do you want to do?"
"We can talk about that later." He walked over to the study door and waited for Lucas to join him. "Someone's waiting for us in Sam's study now."
Crossing the threshold to the study and seeing the Jefferson-style desk, with yellow legal pads and stationery spread out on the surface was disorienting for Lucas. In one of the wingback chairs sat an old, round, fleshy man in a suit. "Lucas this is Aaron Wiseman, Sam's attorney and business agent."
The man heaved himself up and surrounded Lucas's small hand with his pudgy, much larger one. "Mr. Jansen."
"No, my father is out walking."
"Yes. You are the Mr. Jansen I need to see. Lucas, right?"
"Yeah. Eric, what's going on?"
"Sit down and hear Mr. Wiseman out."
Eric sat in a wooden, straight-back chair by the desk and Lucas took the other wingback across from the lawyer. "Okay."
"I'm the executor of Mr. Marshall's estate. Mr. Anderson," he nodded to Eric, "is Sam's literary executor."
"Right. What's this have to do with me?"
"Mr. Marshall executed a fairly straightforward inter vivos trust on your behalf as well as providing a bequest."
"What's that mean?"
"It means you are a wealthy young man. The trust has as its principal about two and a half million dollars, and the bequest is fifty-thousand dollars. The principal of the trust becomes yours on your twenty-fifth birthday, and the interest and dividends are to be paid to you quarterly until then. I am the sole trustee at the moment."
Lucas shouted, "No! No fucking way." He looked at Eric. "This should be yours. There's no way I'm taking it. He must have been crazy at the end."
The lawyer's eyes widened. "You really don't have a choice. The choice was Mr. Marshall's. What you do with the proceeds is up to you. By the way, the trust was set up shortly after Mr. Marshall met you."
Eric got Lucas's attention. "You know he wasn't crazy, and this is what Sam wanted. He's taken good care of me, and he made smaller bequests to Jonathan, North, and your fathers, along with a lot of other people. He always did what he thought right."
"How the hell did he get that kind of money?"
"His first books were best sellers, and Sam found a great business agent. He didn't need much to live on, and everything his work made was invested."
The lawyer added, "It didn't hurt that he was a genius trader. Lots of Apple stock — I told him he was nuts."
"No, Eric. You loved him. You put up with all his shit. Everything should go to you."
The lawyer sighed and looked to Eric, indicating that he should talk some sense into the boy. "Sam and I loved each other. He provided amply for me, in many ways, so you need to respect his wishes. I think he wanted you to have a choice about your life, not to be beholden to anyone. He told me that you'd know what to do with whatever he left you."
Eric rose and walked to the desk where he took a sheaf of papers and brought it to Lucas. "This is the last volume of poetry he completed. There are some gems in it. Read the dedication."
Lucas read: "For Lucas Jansen, another orphan who risked forcing the world to grant him a place on his own terms."
"Sam made sure that future royalties on his work would come to me, and I'll control where his papers end up."
A subdued Lucas finally gave in. "Whatever he wanted. He's dead, and he's still finding ways to piss me off." Antiretrovirals and now Sam had stretched the future out before him.
The lawyer managed to rise again. "I have to catch a flight to New York." To Lucas he said, "One of the benefits of a trust is that it doesn't go through probate. The bequest will take a while, but the interest and dividends from the trust principal will begin immediately. Per Mr. Marshall's instructions, I will add your fathers as trustees, assuming they are willing."
Wiseman left Eric and Lucas alone in Sam's study.
"All I want to do is work with horses."
"You should be able to manage that, now."
"I can't think straight yet."
Lucas remembered the first time he had seen Eric, as the two reminisced about Sam until the stress of the morning dissipated in laughter. Shortly before noon, Tom returned from his walk. "You two have been telling Marshall stories."
Lucas said, "Yeah, we have."
"We should get back to Goldendale, son."
"Can we stop for lunch at Provecho?"
"Sure. Want to join us, Eric?"
"No, I have a lot of details to take care of."
"What was the news you had for Luke?"
"I'm sure he'll fill you in on the way back."