I've managed to get all my stuff unpacked and my half of the dorm room arranged to suit me, all the while wondering what my new roommate is going to be like. I just hope he's going to be as great a guy as the one I had last year. Tom was a year ahead of me and graduated last spring, but for the year we roomed together life was the best. We made each other study, did our laundry, shared clothes, and did everything else together, well almost everything.
The door slams open and I see a tall blond guy scowling as his eyes sweep the room and come to rest on me.
"What the hell are you doing in here?" He snarls.
"This is my room, why shouldn't I be here?" I ask quietly, hoping to calm him down.
"Because I'm rooming alone," he snaps back.
"Housing must have screwed up then, because this is Akers 211. Want to see my assignment form?"
His scowl deepens. "No. I'm going over there now and get this straightened out." He wheels around and slams the door behind him.
What a shit head, I say to myself, at the same time wishing the impossible because he's so beautiful I can hardly believe it.
Twenty minutes later he's back, scowling even more deeply if it's possible. Without a word he drops two large suitcases by the foot of his bed and turns to leave again.
"Need some help?" I ask.
His glacial blue eyes come to rest on me. "You really want to help?"
"Sure, be glad to."
"Then leave me alone."
I shrug and go to my desk to bring up my computer to check for mail and browse the web.
A few minutes later he staggers in carrying a footlocker and drops it with a crash, muttering under his breath. He makes more trips for his computer and a box of books and other stuff. He never looks at me as he unpacks and puts his things away, then makes his bed.
I look at my watch and make one more hopeful attempt. "Time for dinner, want to walk over to the chow hall with me?"
I shrug and go to eat. He's gone when I return. I read for the rest of the evening and have just turned the light out when he comes back in. He leaves the door open for light from the hall until he switches on the light by his bed, then closes the door softly. At least he's that considerate, I think to myself.
He sits on the edge of his bed and begins to undress. I move my head on my pillow so I can watch through practically closed eyes, hoping he won't notice and blast me again. I have to sigh when he removes his shirt, because he's got a six-pack that reminds me of an old fashioned wash board. Perhaps it's because he's so blond or I'm squinting, but he appears to have practically no body hair, definitely an appeal for me. I'm no fuzzy bear, but my hair is black and what I have shows up strongly.
My eyes open wide when he takes off his left shoe and sock, then pulls his slacks down. His right leg is prosthetic from below the knee. I feel myself begin to drool, so I swallow hard. Amps have fascinated me from the time I was a little kid. The man who owned the farm next to ours lost his left leg below the knee in an accident with one of his corn pickers. He quickly made an old-fashioned wooden peg leg. His knee rested on the top, two leather straps holding it in place. He was kind and answered my child's questions about it, saying it was better than his fake leg for working around the farm. From that time on I wanted one, but I was scared to ask if he'd make me one. Besides, my parents would have found out, to me an idea worse than having them know I'm gay.
I'm so fascinated I lose my pretense at sleep, for he glares at me and snarls, "What the hell are you looking at?"
"Then turn over and go to sleep. I hate people looking at me."
I do, hoping he's just out of sorts because he's tired, that tomorrow will be better.
He's still asleep when I get up, so I'm as quiet as possible while I grab a shower, shave, and go for some breakfast. He's gone when I return to get my books and set off for my first class wondering what his name is. I'm not the most sociable of people, but I've always gotten along well with my former roommates and it would be nice to at least know the name of the guy you're rooming with. I'm also curious as to why he's so hostile.
It's after three when I get back to the room. I deliberately set up my schedule so that I have only MWF classes, leaving Tuesday and Thursday free for study. Not so difficult as it sounds since a lot of students like light MWF schedules so they can leave early on weekends and have Monday to recover. I stop by our mailbox in the foyer and remove the few pieces. One letter bears the university's medical centre logo and is addressed to Halston G. Carruthers, the rest is mostly junk. I sort mine out and lay his on his desk.
He comes in about five and spots the mail. "You bring this up?" He asks.
"Well in the future don't. I don't like anyone else going through my mail and stuff."
"Whatever," I reply. "I'm Cam McCabe. I guess you're Halston."
"Geof, if you have to call me something." His tone is as sharp as it was yesterday.
"Hey, if I've done something to piss you off, I'm sorry."
"Your being here pisses me off, but there aren't any single rooms so get off my case."
"Suits me." Looks like I'll be living in an armed truce, but I'm thinking: damn, here I am sharing a room with the guy of my dreams and he hates me.
He goes his way and I go mine without any words between us, a hell of a way to live, but I manage. I have my computer and pleasure reading to keep me happy and, fortunately, a headset for my small stereo.
Several weeks into the semester he comes in late one afternoon barely able to walk. He makes it to his bed and drops down. To me he looks sick as hell. "You okay?"
"No!" He snarls and rolls over.
A half-hour later he staggers into the bath and I hear him puking his guts up. A few minutes later he comes out looking like a ghost, sheds his clothes and leg, and crawls under a blanket, though it's already quite warm in our room.
I'm really concerned now. "You …"
"Get off my case!" He yells weakly, so I do.
So far as I know, he hasn't gotten out of bed since he came back into the room, and the next morning he looks like death warmed over. He stays in bed, so I spend my time studying, then surfing the net until lunchtime. I get up to leave, remembering he hasn't had anything to eat that I know of. "You want me to bring you something to eat?"
I've no more than said 'eat' before he's out of bed and crawling toward the bath. I reach down to help him, but he snarls "no," so I walk out with a guilty feeling.
I put a bottle of chilled sparkling water on his night stand when I get back from lunch, but he says nothing to me the rest of the day, staying in bed, getting up only twice to take a leak and to swallow a few pills. He tries to refuse my help each time, starting to crawl to the bath on his hands and knees. When I realize he's too weak to put on his leg, I lift him and all but carry him bodily.
He's gone when I return from breakfast the next morning to get my books and go to class. The empty water bottle is in the trashcan so I take time to replace it. He's in bed reading when I come in from class about three and looks a little better to me, so I guess he's gotten something to eat.
Our relationship settles into a routine and he finally begins to speak on occasion, mostly to thank me when I take his clothes to wash along with mine. The few times I mention that I need something from downtown, he tells me I can get the same thing from Wal-Mart a lot cheaper and, knowing I don't have a car, drives me to the shopping plaza out on the edge of town. I'm wondering what's wrong when he struggles to lift the case of bottled water he buys on one trip, then lets me take it to his car for him while he carries my few purchases which weigh practically nothing. I keep longing for a time when Geof will be laughing and joking with me as we ride along together.
A week later he again comes in late one afternoon looking as sick as before. He falls into his bed, only to be up a few minutes later throwing up. I wonder what's going on because I never detect the odor of alcohol, so I know he's not boozing it up. He tries to refuse my help as usual, but protests less than before when I insist. The next two days are a repeat of what happened six weeks before, but even as he seems to recover he displays a complete lack of energy. I do what I can for him without making him too angry. Why, when he resents it? Because I've always been a sucker for the underdog, trying to rescue homeless animals and all that when I was a kid, much to my parents' dismay.
It takes a few days for him to return to, what for him, is normal. I'm playing around on my computer one evening when he says, "Cam?"
"Thanks for your help when I'm sick. I know I'm not nice to live with at best. You're a good man to put up with me."
"I wish I could do more. What's going on with you?"
He shakes his head. "No need to worry you with my problems. You're here for an education; I'm here, well … because I have to be. My classes are just to pass time."
I go sit next to him on his bed and put my arm around his shoulders. "I wish you'd tell me, but I'm here for you, buddy."
"You always are." He squeezes my hand. "Is that why you are always looking at me when you think I won't notice?"
"Even if you may hate me after I tell you?"
"I could never hate you, Cam. You're too nice a guy."
I take his hand in mine and squeeze it lightly. "You're the most handsome guy I've ever seen."
He looks into my eyes and tries to smile. "Your eyes need checking. There's nothing good looking about me, especially with one leg."
"The way I like to see a stud, especially one I'm in love with."
I'm surprised to see a tear or two. He wipes them away and looks at me again. "God, you're making it harder for me, Cam. I wish I could return your love, but I doubt there's going to be enough time."
He looks so near to crying, I say, "I love you, Geof. I don't know why you say there's not enough time, but I'll never forget you."
He lies back down, turning away from me.
Knowing now that he comes in sick every six weeks, I've marked my calendar so I'll be here to help him, especially as he hasn't recovered very well from the last time. Though he tries to keep up appearances, he seems listless.
A couple of days before he's due to spend a day out, wherever he goes, it's a perfect Indian summer day, sunny and warm. He looks at me when I come in from class.
"Cam, I feel so cooped up and it's beautiful out. Let's take a ride with the top down. I don't care where, just somewhere out in the country."
"Great idea. Class was boring as hell."
He gets up, but when he tries to take a step, his leg comes loose. Fortunately, I'm close enough to catch him. While I hold him up, he drops his jeans and tightens the strap that holds his leg in place.
"You losing weight?" I ask.
"A little. I'm damn glad I don't have a suction socket because I'd never keep this thing on."
Even so, I keep my arm around him when we go down the stairs. My mouth drops open when he hands me the keys and gets in the passenger side.
"You drive and let me relax. Find somewhere out in the country where it's pretty."
When I drive off campus toward the highway, he looks at me and nods. "You were made for this car, Cam. You didn't clash gears once."
I grin at him. "My dad's truck is straight shift. I've had plenty of practice."
A few miles out of town I turn down a county dirt road. He makes no comment, just takes in the scenery until I park in a small overgrown lane.
"Think you can walk a little? This is my favorite place."
I have to help him walk up the slight grade, but it isn't far to a spectacular spot. I lower him to a large rock and he looks around. The old watermill leans precariously toward the stream, where the wheel lays on the bottom, the crystal water gurgling around it. A grove of young evergreens makes a background.
I see him silently, reverently taking in the isolated beauty. "God, Cam, I wish I were an artist. I'd love to paint this. Thank you for bringing me here. The quiet is wonderful."
Sensing his mood, I smile and say nothing. For the first time since I've known him, Geof looks completely happy and at peace with whatever demon he's fighting. I open a couple of bottles of water and, after loosening the top, put one in his hand. He takes a long drink, then hands it back to me.
We sit in silence until the sky begins to color. "It's time, buddy," I say.
I have to help him up and keep my arm around him until we're back at his car. As soon as he's in the seat, he closes his eyes, not opening them until I park in the dorm lot. When we're back in our room, he hugs me with what little strength he has. "That's the best thing you could have given me, Cam." He gets into bed with my help and we don't speak again that evening.
The next evening as I'm at my computer working on a paper for one of my classes, I hear someone at the door. When it doesn't open, I get up and open it. Geof falls into my arms; I help him to his bed. He accepts with no protest as I undress him and manage to get his leg off, then cover him with a couple of blankets.
I'm hardly back at my computer when I hear him and look around to see him struggling to get up without much success. "Sick," he mumbles. I put my arm around him and practically carry him to the bath just in time. I hold him until he's finished throwing up, then wash his face and help him back to bed. He sleeps for a while, then wakes. "Cam … ," he says so softly I'm not quite sure I heard him, but I look up to see him point to his desk. I open the drawer and take out three bottles of pills, taking them to him. He points to one, which I open and hand him the pill. He swallows it down with a sip of water and falls back with a feeble, "Thanks."
By the time I'm ready to hit the sack, he's struggling to get out of bed again. I help him to the bath where he takes a leak, then back to bed. If possible, he looks worse than before, his complexion pallid. He looks at me and whispers weakly, "Hospital."
I call emergency and the crew is in our room almost instantly, our dorm being just across the street from the hospital. They check him over, load him on a gurney, and wheel him out. Since I have tomorrow free, I gather up his dirty smelly clothes along with mine and take them down to the laundry room. While they're washing, I clean up our room. He may not like it, but I doubt he'll notice. I don't miss the chance to look closely at his leg, wondering how he feels being dependent on it. He's so proud or sensitive, I don't know which, he hasn't a pair of crutches. I'd love to see him on them just once.
On my way to the cafeteria for lunch, I stop at the hospital to inquire about him. They give me his room number after I tell them I'm his roommate and I go up. He's lying there so still and colorless I'm afraid for a moment he's dead, but I can see the slight movement of his chest rising and falling. A doctor comes in, checks all the equipment hooked to Geof, and shakes his head without saying anything to me. I can't begin to describe the feeling I have. We've never talked that much, and if we've had any real feeling for each other it's been mostly my attraction to a beautiful amp, but I have to wipe a tear before I leave.
After I've eaten that evening, I stop by to see him again. A nicely dressed man is sitting by Geof's bed, holding his hand. He looks up as I enter and speaks softly. "Who are you?"
"Cam. I'm Geof's roommate. How's he doing?"
I'm surprised when he gets up and hugs me. "I'm Geof's father. Thank you for being so kind to Geof. He roused for a few minutes just after I got here and told me how wonderful you've been to him. He tried to say more, but he lapsed into a coma." He wipes his eyes with a snowy handkerchief. "He's losing the battle."
"What's wrong with him?"
He slowly shakes his head. "I'm not surprised he hasn't told you. It's cancer. It got his leg two years ago and we had hope that was it, but it came back. I didn't want him to come to school, but he's so damned independent he came anyway. He's been taking chemo since he got here."
"Oh, damn! I had no idea. He never told me he was so sick."
"He wouldn't; Geof hates weakness. I guess that's what's kept him going. You'll never know how thankful I am that he had a caring man like you to room with. No one else would have done what you have for him."
By now I'm wiping a tear myself. "I just wish he had let me get to know him. He's such a beautiful guy."
"Thank you for saying that, though I know how surly he gets when he doesn't feel good. He's always been that way, and I doubt he's had many good days since you've been living with him. It must have been hell for you."
"Not really. He never would talk much, but he was considerate."
I start to leave, but Geof's dad stops me. "Please stay a while if you've nothing more important to do."
He sits back down and takes Geof's hand in his again; I pull up a chair next to his. Words seem superfluous, so I sit with him in the same silence I've gotten used to with Geof.
Some thirty minutes later Geof opens his eyes and looks at us. We stand, and Geof motions to me. I lean over to hear him whisper faintly, "Thank… Bud. Love ya … ." He looks at his father. "Love ya … ," then his eyes close.
His father kisses him on the forehead, as do I, then I ring for the nurse. She rushes in followed by a doctor. His father and I embrace for a few moments before the doctor asks us to leave. I lead Mr. Carruthers into the hall, looking back into the room to see the doctor beginning to remove the tubes and wires, and the nurse draw the sheet up over Geof.
Mr. Carruthers composes himself, takes a card from his billfold, and writes a phone number on it before handing it to me. "Call me when you're out of class tomorrow and I'll get Geof's things from your room."
"No need for that, sir. I'll drop the key to our room off at the hotel on my way to class so I won't hold you up. I have a break at ten."
"Thank you, Cam. Please come by your room then."
Mr. Carruthers has everything of Geof's packed and is sitting at Geof's desk when I get back to our room at ten.
"I couldn't leave without telling you once more how grateful I am to you for all you did for Geof. Is there anything of his you would like?"
"Do you have a picture of him I could have, sir?"
He pulls out his billfold and removes a small photo of Geof. He's standing on crutches in a beautiful garden. "I have another like this at home, so please take it."
"Thank you, sir. He looks so happy here."
"He was. It was his first time out of doors after losing his leg. He loved being outside." He fishes in his pocket and holds out a gold chain with a tiny zodiac emblem on it. "I want you to have this. It was his birth sign and he always wore it. I know he'd want you to have it. I just wish you could have known the Geof I love, because you would have loved him too." My eyes tear up as he places it in my hand.
Then he drops a ring with two keys on it in my hand. "Geof told me you don't have a car and I have no need of his. It will bring back too many memories if I keep it, but I know I could never bring myself to sell it. Whenever you're out enjoying a beautiful day, I hope you will perhaps think of him sitting beside you enjoying the ride."
I hug him and dissolve in tears. "I can't take it, sir. I don't deserve it."
"You do, Cam. The expression on his face while he told me where you took him yesterday was that of a man seeing heaven. I know the past weeks have been difficult for you, especially after he returned from a chemo session, but you made him happy as he could be under the circumstances. I'll have the paperwork mailed to you as soon as I can."
"Geof never told me where he was from, sir."
"We live in Eden, why?"
"That's not so far. I want to come to his funeral now that I have a way."
"God bless you for that, Cam, I would like to have you with me. I'll let you know in time." He hugs me. "And plan to stay the night with me, and any other time you can get that way. You'll always be welcome, son."
I help him carry down Geof's footlocker and other belongings to his Bentley. He points to Geof's racing-green Jaguar convertible. "I hope you find the same pleasure in it that Geof did, Cam. I … I left his leg in the boot. I couldn't bear to take it any further, so dispose of it as you wish."
I remember something I've seen recently in the campus newspaper. "Some of the doctors at the hospital make trips to South America to help young amputees there. If you don't mind, I'll give it to them. Some poor kid will be happy to have a new leg, and a part of Geof will live on in him."
Mr. Carruthers turns with tears in his eyes again. "No wonder Geof loved you, Cam, what a kind and loving thought. If they accept it, bring me more information on their work when you come."
"I will, sir. Thank you so much for everything."
He kisses me on the forehead. "No. Thank you, Cam McCabe for being a man Geof admired." He turns and walks slowly away from me, both of us in tears.
When I return from classes, my room seems so empty without Geof and his things I can't stand it. Even though we didn't talk that much, the silence presses in, so I walk across the street to a small off-campus bar and grill for something to eat and down a couple of beers. I seldom drink, but a beer relaxes me. On my way back to the dorm, I realize I shouldn't have a second beer, because it makes me introspective and, looking around the room again, I miss Geof even more.
I finally give up and go to bed. I suddenly awake in darkness, not from any noise, but from a dream I can hardly believe I had. Geof and I are at the old mill again, this time with a picnic lunch. Geof is full of joy, his smile radiant as he tells me he loves me then gives me a kiss. That's what woke me. I seem to sense Geof's presence in the room and start crying at the futility of it all. After a while I calm enough to go back to sleep.
It's almost ten when I awake, thankful it's Thursday and I have no classes. After I've dressed and had a cup of instant coffee, the dining hall having closed an hour ago and I'm not hungry enough to walk to the student union for something to eat. I remember what I told Geof's dad so I walk across the street to the hospital and ask to speak to the doctor who arranges the South American trips.
The receptionist smiles at me. "You’re in luck, young man, Doctor Hawkes is in his office. It's on the 5th floor."
I find his door and knock, entering after he yells, "Come."
Hawkes looks to be in his mid 30's. He tells me to sit and asks what he can do for me. His face lights with pleasure when I tell him why I'm there. "Thank you for thinking of our program, Cam. We need all the help we can get. Why don't you go get the prosthesis now if you have time, and I'll make up a packet of information for your roommate's father."
I get a few odd looks from people as I get Geof's leg from the car and carry it in. "That was fast," Hawkes comments.
"Dorm's just across the street. Here you are, Doctor."
He whistles when he examines Geof's leg. "State of the art, this. I know a young man in Ecuador who needs this badly, and it looks to be the right length. Only a new stump socket is needed, and that's easily and cheaply done."
"Could I ask a favor?"
"When you take this to him, would you take his picture for me? I promised Geof's dad I'd let him know if you could use it in any way."
"I could do that. In fact, I have a picture of him already, but I'm sure you'd like one of him on this leg."
"Could I have both?"
"Why not? Thanks to you, he's going to have a new life." He takes an envelope of pictures from his desk and sorts through them, finally holding out one to me.
The young man is tall, slender, striking with his light olive complexion and black hair and sparkling eyes. He has a crutch under one arm, his right leg missing at almost the same place as Geof's.
"Thank you, sir. He's very nice looking. Would you tell me something about him?"
Hawkes shakes his head. "I can only tell you that he wants to finish the university there and has been working to try to save enough money. His family can't afford to give him much help. He doesn't really qualify under our program guidelines, but because of your gift I'm making an exception. He will have this leg." He smiles at me again. "He speaks some English and I know he has access to a computer at the university. If you would like I can give him your e-mail address, because he's going to be interested in why he's getting a leg after we told him we couldn't help him. Mind you, we don't leave until after Christmas, so don't expect to hear from him soon."
"Please, I'd like that and I know Mr. Carruthers would." I write my address down on a slip of paper he hands me, then watch as he tapes it securely inside the stump socket.
He places the leg in the corner, then holds out a bulging envelope. "Here's the information about our work you asked for. Thank you again for what you've done, and feel free to come by any time if you have a question."
When I get back to the dorm and check my mail, there's one from Geof's dad waiting with an attachment. I open it to read: Dear Cam, forgive me for having my secretary do this, but there are so many things to be done. The service for Geof will be at 3 on Saturday at St. Matthew's Church, Eden. I hope you will be able to come tomorrow and be with me. Attached is a map directing you to the house. Come directly there. If I am not at home when you arrive, my housekeeper will be expecting you. Hall
I print out the map, scan the photo into my picture program, then go to see my professors about my absences tomorrow. Only one says I'll have to take an unexcused cut, the rest are more generous because my grades are decent and give me the assignments they'll announce in class.
I grab some lunch, then start on my homework. I'm about half done when the phone rings. The conversation is brief, and I start packing. Mr. Carruthers has asked me to come immediately, if I can.
The trip is easy, taking me about an hour and three-quarters. Eden is not a big place, but so spread out because it was formed by three smaller towns merging that I'm glad of the map. I know they have money, but I'm surprised when I reach a gated community and get stopped by a guard who asks my name. He lets me in immediately, directing me to the Carruthers home.
The front door opens while I'm getting out of Geof's car and Mr. Carruthers comes down the steps to hug me in greeting. "Cam, I hope I haven't bothered you too much, but I really need you with me. I thought I could do things alone, but I can't."
"It's no trouble, sir. I don't have classes today, and I've already told my professors I won't be there tomorrow."
"Thank you, son. I'll show you to your room and let you freshen up then I need you to go with me."
I follow him in, my mind hardly able to take in the beauty of the house. He shows me to a bedroom and indicates the bath, then tells me he'll meet me downstairs.
A few minutes later we're in the backseat of a Bentley, a chauffeur at the wheel. When he stops, we're at a funeral home.
"Cam," Mr. Carruthers says, "I want you to come with me to say goodbye to Geof. I can't bring myself to do it alone."
I'd rather be anywhere else, doing anything else than this, but how can I refuse. "Yes, sir."
The moment we're in the slumber room he grasps my hand tightly and we walk over to the coffin to see Geof. Though I'd rather remember him as he was at the millstream, I look down at his body thinking how long ago last Tuesday seems now. After a few minutes, his dad and I wipe our eyes and go out to the car.
"Cam, I know it was hard, but thank you. I didn't feel alone and there is no one else. Geof's mother has been in a hospice for nearly a year now in a coma. I can only wish her the peace that Geof has finally found."
"I'm so sorry, sir."
He nods. "Yes, there are things worse than death. I realize that now."
Next, we drop by an insurance company where Mr. Carruthers talks to the agent, and I sign some papers changing the insurance on the Jaguar to my name because it's already been paid for a year. Another stop at Motor Vehicles to transfer title to me, then we return to the house.
After Mr. Carruthers has gotten a drink for himself and the Coke I asked for, we sit down in a comfortable sunroom at the back of the house. It over looks a beautiful swimming pool and fantastic landscaped garden.
"Cam, have you had a chance to talk with the doctor about the leg yet?"
"Yes, sir. I went over this morning as a matter of fact. He seemed delighted to have Geof's leg. Let me get the information. I have a picture of the young man he plans to give it to."
Mr. Carruthers looks pleased. I run upstairs and bring down the information, handing it to him. He sets it aside and takes the picture, looking at it. "Tell me what you know."
I relate to him what little the doctor had told me, then he looks at me. "Cam, did the doctor give you any way to contact this young man?"
"No, sir, but he said Roberto speaks some English and has a computer at the university he can use, so he took my e-mail address and put it in Geof's leg so he could contact me. It won't be until after Christmas."
"I wish he could have given you this young man's address, but when he contacts you, please let me know immediately."
"Yes, sir. I won't forget."
He reaches over and pats my hand. "I know. You're one who keeps his promises. I admire that, Cam. You don't know how much your being here has helped. If there's anything you want while you're here, please don't hesitate to ask."
Typical of our capricious North Carolina weather, Friday is unseasonably warm, so I get a swim in the pool while Mr. Carruthers is out somewhere. Though I'm uncomfortable at the thought, I can't refuse him when he asks me to go with him to the funeral home for the visitation that evening. He introduces me to everyone who comes in at the beginning then I find a comfortable chair in a corner and sit.
When the crowd begins to drift out, he motions to me and we leave. It's an emotional weariness, but I'm glad to hit the bed early.
He hadn't told me before hand, so I'm surprised when we arrive at the church for the service. Mr. Carruthers leads me over to a brick wall in the garden and shows me a simple bronze plaque set in the brick with Geof's name and dates on it.
"Geof's ashes rest here now. I like to think he would approve of looking out at this lovely garden."
"I'm sure he would, sir. This is very beautiful."
"His grandparents are just above. They gave the money to have this columbarium built and the garden cared for perpetually."
The church is filled with people. At the front of chancel steps is a table with a large portrait of Geof that I had seen over the fireplace in the living room; it's surrounded by flowers. As soon as we're seated, the memorial service begins. Mr. Carruthers guides me through the Anglican Mass. When the organist has finished playing 'Lift High the Cross' with full organ, Mr. Carruthers whispers to me that Geof was crucifer here during his high school years and loved the hymn.
When we're back at his house, Mr. Carruthers and I change into more comfortable clothes and talk until dinner, mostly about me, my family, and school. After, he reads the papers while I read a book I had started earlier.
Late Sunday morning I bring my bags down and we have breakfast together. The cook looks at me with a smile each time she comes in the dining room. Mr. Carruthers seems genuinely sad as he tells me to have a safe trip and makes me promise to come back for a weekend now and then. The drive back to school is fast, but I'm in a somber frame of mind.
My family is shocked at the Jaguar when I arrive home for the Christmas holiday. I tell them how I came by it, my father telling me he doesn't approve of my taking such an expensive gift, but that he's proud of the way I helped Geof, even though one of my semester grades was lower than I expected as a result
I've not forgotten Geof, as if I ever will, but I find a suitable card and send it to Mr. Carruthers, hoping the poor man has someone to spend Christmas with. Christmas evening I call him at my parents' suggestion and we have a nice conversation. He tells me he's just gotten in, that his closest friend had him there to share Christmas.
The day after I return to school, I'm checking my e-mail when I see one from a email@example.com that puzzles me until I open it.
Honored Señor McCabe, I much overcome with joy I forget English. Today I stand on two leg. El Señor Doctor tell me it come from your great heart. It make me a man again, I can work more to complete my university.
I cry much hard from joy to write this. I light a candle to our Blessed Mother for you, and wish you well. I write when I remember English. Muchos gracias, mi caro bienhechora y mi amigo. Roberto Alvarez de Agular.
I look at the bed Geof used and say, "This is to you, Geof. I know you are happy at helping someone else. He will love you as much as I, buddy."
I immediately send a copy of the e-mail to Geof's father, adding a few words of my own, telling him I'll send him the picture of Roberto as soon as Doctor Hawke gets back and gives it to me. I save Roberto's letter in a new file, and turn back to my studies.
After I've eaten dinner, I go back to my room and write a long letter to Roberto telling him of Geof and his father, that I have sent a copy of his e-mail to Mr. Carruthers.
I am surprised that I get no immediate reply from Mr. Carruthers, but several days later I get another from Roberto:
Mi Honored Señor Cam, now I write better English. My mother and father have many tears when I go home and they see my new leg. They bless you and Señor Carruthers. I remain so full of joy as they at this miracle. We give thanks daily for your kindness to a stranger.
I am much happy to know you are a student at university. I have one year. I wish to study law. I work one year to go university one year. Is long, but with leg I work more.
El proctor tell me my computer time es terminar. Please to write and tell how you live in America. I respond to all your kind letter to me as I computer use.
Su amigo, Roberto
I send a copy to Mr. Carruthers and save this and my earlier reply to the file.
A few days later I get a call from Doctor Hawke asking me to drop by his office. As soon as my last class is over I do.
"Cam, good to see you. Have you had any mail from Roberto?"
"Two e-mails, but he doesn't have much computer time apparently."
"He told me they were very limited in time because their university doesn't have that many computers. I wish you could have been with me, Cam. I've seen quite a few people when we've helped them, but none have been as overcome with emotion as Roberto when I showed him the leg. He grabbed my hand and kept kissing it to the point I almost couldn't get a mold of his stump. When he walked out on it after we made a socket to fit his stump and gave him a little practice using it, he was crying with joy.
"I did a little investigation on my day off and found his parents have a little cantina catering to foreign tourists. I expect that's where Roberto learned a lot of his English. They're hardly better off than peasants, yet they're sacrificing everything to give him an education in hope he has a better life. I'd have never found a way to help Roberto if you hadn't brought in Geof's leg. He's a fine hard working young man who really deserves the chance at life the leg will give him."
He hands me a picture. "This is Roberto now. He was delighted I took his picture to bring you. Handsome devil, isn't he? He's a damn fine young man, too."
"I really appreciate this, Doctor. I'll send it to Mr. Carruthers tonight, and tell him what you've said about Roberto. He'll be happy to know what kind of man he is."
He grins. "We're having a fund raiser soon so we can make another trip. If he's so inclined, we'd welcome any gift he cares to make."
"I think he might kick in something. I'll ask anyway."
"Thanks, Cam. Keep me posted about Roberto. I know you'll be hearing from him."
"Will do, and thanks for the picture."
I'm finishing up my homework Friday night when the phone rings. It's Geof's dad telling me he's been out of town on business and would like me to come for the weekend if I can. I tell him I'll see him tomorrow.
I'm greeted with a hug and a fantastic lunch. The minute we're finished, Mr. Carruthers drags me into his study and asks for a full report on Roberto. I tell him what Doctor Hawke told me then give him the picture. He looks at it closely, then compares it with the first one he's put on his desk in a small frame. "Cam, I know their culture is very different from ours, but it's beyond me why he would think losing a leg made him less than a man."
"Doctor Hawke told me it has a lot to do with the way disabled people are regarded there. Seems most of them wind up beggars because nobody will give them a chance. They don't have any sort of rehab programs except for the very rich. That's why Doctor Hawke and the others go down there when they can get enough money."
He looks at me in surprise. "This doesn't have anything to do with the university?"
"No, sir. It's all volunteer by the doctors. They can't go unless they raise funds privately."
"I read their material and it seems to be the only program of that type. What would you think if I gave them a donation in memory of Geof?"
"I've gotten to know Doctor Hawke a little and he impresses me as totally devoted to doing the best he can with the money. I found out he's in charge, so I doubt any gets wasted."
"I was very impressed with the letter he sent me thanking me for Geof's leg. He said it would be put to good use, but he made no mention of needing funds. I trust your judgment on this, Cam. Thank you for being so open with me."
He takes me out for dinner and I find I enjoy his company. Before he's been dependent on me, now we're more like friends. My dad's a good man, but Geof was lucky to have a dad like Mr. Carruthers.
After we have dinner Sunday and I'm getting ready to go back to school, he asks, "What have you planned for spring break, Cam?"
"Nothing really. I plan on going home to see the folks, but not much else."
"Would you be willing to spend a lot of it with me and a young man you've never met? I know you'll like him."
"Yes, sir. I don't think my parents will mind."
"Excellent. I'll let you know more later if my plans work out. And please find out from Doctor Hawke when they plan their next trip."
The first time I have a free day, I run over to see Hawke. I have to wait for about a half-hour while he finishes an operation. He grins when he comes back to his office and sees me, telling me that he and his group will be making a trip in the spring now they've just had a generous donation from Mr. C. He smiles and says I'll be in for a big surprise at spring break. I'd love to know what he means, but he's paged.
A few nights before spring break, Mr. Carruthers calls and asks me to meet a plane at the only commercial airport between the Univ. and Eden on the day spring break begins. He says I'll know whom I'm to meet the minute I see him, and to bring him to the house.
The last passenger through the gate is a fantastic looking guy who looks totally bewildered. "Roberto!" I yell and run toward him.
I nod and he hugs me. "I think Señor Doctor joke me when he say I come America, but he take me to plane yesterday," he says tearfully. "Is so good to see you. I have no way to open picture you send. You mucho handsome, Señor Cam."
"Call me Cam, Roberto. You are even more handsome than you are in the pictures. Let's go, Mr. Carruthers is waiting at home."
He tells me the small bag he's carrying is his only luggage so I lead him out to the parking lot. His eyes open wide when I unlock my car and lower the top.
"Is your car?"
"It was Geof's, but Mr. Carruthers gave it to me. He's a very kind man."
"Si. I have leg from him."
Roberto is busy looking at everything and asking questions as I drive. At last, he says, "Such rich country I cannot believe."
"This is just ordinary. Mr. Carruthers is rich. Wait 'til you see his house."
"You are no rich?"
I shake my head. "Far from it. We're just ordinary folks."
"What is ordinary folks?"
"You know. We live like most other people."
He shakes his head. "I see nothing like my country. America much more rich. That is why I wish to be lawyer. I make life better for my family."
I get waved on by the guard this time. Robertos' eyes are huge when he sees the house. "Is palace," he gasps.
"Naa. Just a big house."
Mr. Carruthers comes down the steps to greet us. When he extends his hand to Roberto, Roberto lifts it and begins to kiss it over and over. Mr. Carruthers looks at me, but I just shrug.
Roberto's eyes are streaming when he lets go of Mr. Carruther's hand and says, "You are great man, Señor. A poor man as I no deserve such kindness. I much grateful, Señor."
"You are a fine man, Roberto. It is my pleasure to meet you at last and welcome you to my home. Get his bag, would you, Cam."
He walks in with his arm around Roberto's shoulder; Roberto looks around as awed as I was the first time.
"Cam, I'm putting Roberto in the room next to yours. Would you show him up, then bring him to the sunroom for drinks when he is ready?"
"Yes, sir. Come on, Roberto." I pick up his small bag and point out my room, then show him his.
Though Mr. C makes me feel at home here, I feel like a bellhop at having to show Roberto the bath, where the towels are, and all the little things I've taken for granted all my life. The poor guy looks completely lost.
"Cam, I no stay here."
"Is too grand."
"You are a guest here just as I. Enjoy yourself; I always do."
"You be here often?"
"Every time I'm invited. Wait until dinner; his cook is fantastic. Do you want to change into something more comfortable?" He's wearing a suit that shows hard wear.
"I have jeans and shirt."
"Put 'em on."
"I cannot for to eat at rich man's table."
"Why not? Look at mine." I'm wearing jeans also, though I had planned to put on a pair of slacks for dinner. Then it dawns on me that this is all the clothes Roberto has brought. "I'm not changing, so put 'em on. I'll be in my room."
"Please, Cam, how shower to work? Also I wash what I wear for tomorrow."
I show him how to divert the water to the shower then say, "Leave your clothes on the floor. They will be washed and ready for you tomorrow morning."
He shakes his head and starts to undress, so I leave him and go for a quick wash-up myself. When he comes to my door, the jeans and shirt he has on are more worn than his suit. Mr. Carruthers raises his eyebrow at me when we enter the sunroom. I hold my right hand out, palm up, to show I'll explain later.
I take a Coke from the bar fridge while Mr. Carruthers asks Roberto what he wants to drink. He goes over to the bar and looks at the assortment of liquors. He points to a bottle of Campari. "I have, Señor?" He asks.
"Of course. With soda and a twist?"
Roberto nods. As soon as Mr. Carruthers hands him the drink, Roberto sips it cautiously, then smiles. "Is good."
As soon as they are seated, Mr. Carruthers begins to ask Roberto questions about his school and country, listening carefully to his answers. Occasionally he has to ask the question over in halting Spanish when Roberto doesn't seem to understand. I don't speak any Spanish, so I miss some of what they say.
Dinner is the usual feast. Roberto does have good table manners, though he's constantly glancing at me to see what I do. When he stifles a yawn during the coffee after dinner, he blushes.
"How thoughtless of me, Roberto," Mr. Carruthers says. "You must be tired after a long flight. Do go to bed if you wish, Cam and I will talk a while longer."
"You most kind, Señor. I wish you good evening."
When he's upstairs, Mr. Carruthers looks at me. "Doesn't he have any clothes, Cam."
"No, sir. I apologize for wearing jeans to dinner, but that's all he had other than his suit. He said he needed to wash what he was wearing for tomorrow. I told him to leave them."
"Run up and see if he's done that, if you don't mind. Bring them down and give them to cook, she'll put them in the laundry."
I knock at Roberto's door and enter to see him picking up his clothes. He's wearing only a worn pair of briefs.
I hold out my hand. "I'll take your things to the laundry."
"No, Cam. I wash."
"Not a chance, buddy. Let me have 'em."
He reluctantly gives them to me. Seeing the leg reminds me so much of Geof, I feel sad for a moment. "Sleep well, Roberto. I'm next door if you need anything."
Mr. C is talking to a maid I've never seen before when I come down. He stops and indicates that she's to take Roberto's clothes from me. She does and leaves the room.
"Cam, did you see any other clothes in Roberto's room?"
"I know a man of his pride would bring his best on a trip, so god knows what he wears at home. I want you to take him into Geof's room and let him try on everything. He's about Geof's size, so a lot of it may fit. Anything else he needs you can get when you take him shopping tomorrow. Be certain he has enough to last for a while."
"I'll leave you some money if I'm gone before you get up. I need to be at the plant a while tomorrow morning. You'd better buy him a large suitcase, too." I nod. "Now, Cam, tell me honestly what you think of him?"
"I don't know, sir. He's obviously poor by our standards because he thought ordinary houses were for rich people. I like him. He mostly wants to get a good job so he can help his family."
"He impresses me, too. He wouldn't be working so hard to get an education if he didn't want to succeed. In his way, I think he is a fine hardworking young man just as Doctor Hawke said."
"I think so, too."
"I'm glad, because I'm calling his university tomorrow. I just hope I can get someone who speaks English, because I want to know more about him. If they say he's worthy, I will give him a scholarship to finish school."
"Thank you, sir. When I went up there he was down to his briefs and I saw Geof's leg. For a minute I thought he was Geof."
"I had almost forgotten he has Geof's leg, he walks so perfectly." He gets up and hugs me. "You were right, Cam. In a way Geof does live on in him, that's why I'm glad to see he's worthy of any help I can get him to take."
"Me, too, sir. Thank you for bringing him here. I wish he could go to the university. I'd be glad to room with him."
"I know you would, Cam, but if he stays with law, he'll need the classes they offer in Ecuador. Their law is different than ours."
"I know. I just hate to see him leave when there's so much to show him."
"Make the most of the week. I'll bring him up in the summer for a couple of weeks and we'll all go to the beach house. I'm going to bed now."
It's Roberto who wakes me the next morning. "I regret to wake you, Cam," he says when he comes in wearing the jeans and shirt from last night.
"No problem, we have a busy day. Let me get dressed and we'll go down for breakfast."
When I'm ready, we go down to the kitchen. Cook sends us into the breakfast room and brings in far more than either of us can eat. Roberto surprises me, by eating more than I. After he's finished a second cup of coffee, I take him back upstairs.
"Go take off your jeans and shirt and the leg, and come back on the crutches."
"Why is this?"
"You're going to be trying on a lot of clothes."
"Mr. Carruthers told me to do this, Roberto. Now go."
He comes back a few minutes later and follows me into Geof's room. He looks at the TV, stereo, tower computer system, books, and everything else in awe. "For who all this?"
"This was Geof's room, so this was all his stuff."
He looks amazed. "This is Geof who gives me leg?"
"Yes. Rather Mr. Carruthers did after Geof died. Geof was my roommate at school."
"I have sorrow to know Geof is with God. He special young man I think."
"He was." I open the dresser and toss Roberto a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. "Try these on first."
He blushes as he sits on the bed to pull off his briefs and put on the pair I've handed him. The briefs aren't a bad fit, but the T-shirt is a little large. "How do they feel?"
"So fine," he says with a smile. "I like shirt so."
"Good. Keep 'em on." I pull one of Geof's sport shirts from another drawer and hand it to him. "Try this."
It's a little large, too, just as I expected, but Roberto stops smiling when I shake my head and say, "It's too big for you."
"Oh, no. Is very hot in Ecuador." He pulls the shirt out for me to see how loose it is on him. "We wear like so."
"Are you sure?"
"Si. This feel like shirt at home, I like."
"Okay by me, then." I open the closet and hand him a pair of slacks. To my surprise they fit him well and the length is just about right. I had thought him a little taller than Geof, guess it's because he doesn't have Geof's muscular build. I find a shirt that goes well with the slacks and tell him to put it on, that we're going shopping.
He goes to his room to put on the leg and comes back with his long hair neatly combed. He looks gorgeous in Geof's clothes. We're just at the bottom of the stairs when Mr. C comes in.
"Dear Lord, what a transformation," he says.
"Yes, sir," I reply.
"Let's have lunch then I'll go shopping with you."
"I'd like that, sir. I don't think Roberto understands what this is all about."
"I see. How did the clothes fit?"
The shirts and coats are a little big, but he says he wears them that way because of the heat."
Mr. C nods. "They would, of course. It's a tropical country, so he won't need many heavy clothes."
"Please, Señor, why you tell Cam for me to put on clothes?" Roberto asks.
"Because you can use them."
"I am to use here, yes?"
Mr. C nods. "And I will send them to you at home when you leave."
"With respect, Seņor, I cannot."
"Why not? You look very handsome and you will need them when you return to the university."
"Is so much!" He protests.
"Roberto, Geof would be proud to see you looking so handsome. You have his leg and that gives me much pleasure. Allow me to give you more of his things as a memorial to him."
I'm surprised to see tears in Roberto's eyes again. "Oh, Señor, so much you give to me. I must accept for save father money when I go to university."
"You and Cam are like sons to me, Roberto, so I hope you will think of me as your American father."
"My heart overflows, Señor. I much happy you think me son. Truly, I have blessing."
When Roberto goes up to his room after lunch, Mr. C calls me aside. "Do you have a new computer, Cam?"
"Yes, sir. I got it last year because some of my classes require it."
"I realize that Roberto cannot use a big computer like Geof's, but he can have the lap-top."
"I think there's a difference in their electricity, sir."
"Thanks for reminding me. We'll stop at the shop and see if we can find an adapter that will work."
Roberto's eyes get huge again when he sees the Bentley. I get in front with the chauffeur and let them have the back seat. Mr. C chats with Roberto who is taking in everything. One of the clerks in the computer store rushes over when he sees Mr. C and listens while he explains what he needs.
"I don't have it in stock, but I'll check with the manufacturer of that computer and get what you need by day after tomorrow. You'll need a different phone plug too, I think."
"Find out and get whatever we need. You have the billing record on file."
Roberto is looking around in wonder. "So many computer. Is wonderful to see."
"Yeah, I have fun in a store like this."
"You have computer?" he asks in surprise.
"Have to. I need it for a lot of my courses at school."
"I dream of computer. I have little time at university. That why I must send short message."
"If you had one, could you use it in your room at school and at home?"
"For send message I take to room for computer at university. You can use in residence hall?"
"Yeah. Every room has a phone line so we can be on the campus net."
"How wonderful that. If I had computer I could no use at home. No phone there."
"But you have electricity?"
He smiles proudly. "Yes."
"Then you could do a lot of work on it at home."
"Si. But it dream for man like me." He looks around again. "You American so rich. So much I can only dream."
When we're back in the car, Roberto says to Mr. C, "Sir, we go to shop so I buy for mother?"
"Of course, son. Tom, Valley Mall," he says to the chauffeur.
Even knowing there's money in Eden, I'm surprised at the upscale stores. Mr. C winks at me after seeing Roberto's amazed expression. We walk casually through a large department store, Roberto looking at everything. When he stops at a fabric counter, Mr. C asks, "You wish to get that for your mother?"
"Oh, si, Señor. She make her dress. She like such fine cloth."
"That is not very good quality. You should get something much better."
"You know, Señor?"
"I've spent my life making fabrics, son. My grandfather started the mill years ago and I ran it after my father until I sold out a couple of years ago. I'm still the CEO for local operations. Would you like to see the plant?"
"I would, too, sir. I didn't know what you did."
"Excellent. I love to show it off and Roberto might see something he likes in our display room."
I'm as fascinated as Roberto during our tour of the plant. It's unbelievable at how fast the machines weave material from dozens of spools of thread. But the display room blows my mind. There are hundreds of fabrics of all types and colors. Roberto seems attracted to bright colors and patterns. He looks at three indecisively.
"You like these, son?" Mr. C asks.
"Much beautiful. This soft and good."
"This is summer weight, so it would be good in your climate."
"I can buy?"
"For you I will make an exception. These are sample bolts, but I can cut what you need from the back of the bolt."
"I no understand."
Mr. C picks up one of the bolts and puts it on a table, unrolling it about six feet. "I will cut from far end so the colors will be fresh and clean. These get handled quite a bit."
Roberto nods. "Si. How much?"
"How much do you need?"
"I not know," he says sadly.
"Is your mother slender or large framed?"
"Mother much like woman we see when we enter."
Mr. C steps to the door and calls, "Mrs. Sims, would you come here a minute, please?"
"Do you happen to know how many yards it takes to make a dress for a woman your size?"
"It depends on the pattern, but three yards is more than enough unless there's a jacket with the dress. A straight street dress can be done with two or two and a half depending on the pattern."
"This young man wants some fabric to take to his mother, but he doesn't know how much to get."
"I'd suggest three yards at a minimum, then. Would you like me to help you, sir?"
"Please. Cut from the back end of the bolt. Which one do you like, Roberto?"
"I can no say, Señor. They so beautiful."
"Then take four yards from each of these bolts, Mrs. Sims."
Mr. C unrolls the fabric to the end of the bolt; she measures then cuts. When Mr. C lays the second bolt on the table, Roberto says, "I can not for so much pay, Señor."
"I think you can. Go ahead, Mrs. Sims."
They don't stop until she's cut each of the fabrics. As she lays the scissors aside, she says, "You might let him look through the ends in the plant, sir. They're due to be sent to recycling next week."
"Thank you, I hadn't even thought of that. Put this in my office and I'll write it up later. Come along, boys."
He leads us back into the plant and stops in front of several large boxes filled with short pieces of fabric. "See what you can find that you like, Roberto. These are fabric ends from the standard bolts. It costs only what we'd get from the recycler."
With a hasty search, Roberto finds a half dozen pieces Mr. C says are long enough to make a dress. "No more," Roberto sighs. "I can no pay."
Mr. C hands the fabric to me to carry and we go back to his office. He begins to write figures on a pad. The scrap pieces come to only a dollar and a half, but the fabric from the display room comes to nearly sixty dollars at cost.
He looks at Roberto. "How much do you have to spend, Roberto?"
Roberto pulls a wad of worn colored notes from his pocket. "I not have American money, Señor. Please to count."
Mr. C counts the bills rapidly and comes to a total of several thousand. He picks up the phone and makes a call asking the exchange rate. When he writes it down I can see it's very low and Roberto doesn't have near enough, but Mr. C counts out about a third of the bills, handing the rest back to Roberto with a smile.
"We need to stop at a fabric shop and pick up the thread to match," he tells Roberto.
"Please. Mother say our thread not so good."
I'm worn out by the time we get back to the house, but Roberto is so happy he's almost babbling as he thanks Mr. C over and over. I'm ready for swim then a beer.
I find a pair of trunks in Geof's room and hand them to Roberto. He wants to use the leg, but I talk him into crutches by telling him water is bad for the leg. He's so beautiful when he comes out of his room I can only stare at him.
"Is wrong?" He asks.
"No, buddy, you are so beautiful."
He lifts his stump for a moment. "Is not beautiful."
I can't resist hugging him. "Your stump is very beautiful, just as Geof's was."
I reach down and stroke the end. "I like. It makes you more handsome."
He blushes heavily. "I no understand."
"I like you very much, Roberto. I want to hold you and touch your stump."
He hugs me back. "Mi amigo, Cam. I think it good you wish to hold me. I let you touch leg."
"Thanks. Let's go swim."
Roberto does not swim well, but he makes a few laps then splashes happily in water just up to his chest. I find a beach ball and we toss it back and forth in a game of water volleyball until time for dinner.
On Wednesday Mr. C tells me to take Roberto and visit my family then return on Saturday so I can take Roberto to the airport on my way back to school. I give the folks a call to tell them I'm coming. Mom would kill me if I didn't let her know ahead so she could cook more than we'll be able to eat. She thinks I'm still too skinny.
With the new freeway to the coast, the trip only takes a little over four hours. Roberto misses nothing during the drive, asking me to identify the crops in the fields and practically everything he doesn't know, even though the freeway is away from most towns. He's surprised when the terrain gets flat. "So not like home," he says.
My mom welcomes Roberto after I've been given the requisite hug and kiss. Mom is surprised when he takes her hand and kisses it, but flushes with pleasure. "You are a very handsome young man, Roberto," she says.
He blushes. "Cam and Señor Carruthers make me so."
"They send leg with doctor. Make me man again."
"Roberto got Geof's leg. I told you about it," I say.
"I'm so happy for you, Roberto. Come in. Cam show Roberto to the guest room."
"Okay. Let me get our bags."
"You say to me you no rich," Roberto says when we're in the guestroom. "Much nice home."
"We're not. My dad has a farm machinery business."
"If you want. We can go now."
When I park in front of the shop, Roberto gets out and looks at the tractor and combine on display, shaking his head.
"Tractor much big," he says.
"Has to be. Farms are big here, so everyone wants eight-row equipment. I'll show you. Come on."
I help him climb up into the cab and show him the air conditioning, stereo, and other controls. I can see it blows his mind, for he just shakes his head. "So costly," he murmurs.
"It ain't cheap, that's for sure."
I take him in and introduce him to dad, telling him how Roberto came for a visit. I let Roberto look around a little then we go back home. At dinner, dad and mom make Roberto talk about himself and his home, fascinated because dad loves to travel but never has a chance beyond an occasional convention and the one trip we made to Canada for a few days.
With a trip to the beach to show Roberto where the first airplane flew, the first English settlement in this country, and a few other things, the time flies by. Saturday we get ready to leave. Mom and dad tell Roberto he must come again and stay longer. Mom gives him a kiss and he blushes.
Mr. C is not at home when we get there, so we get in the pool. I can tell something is bothering Roberto. "What's wrong?"
"I no find cloth for mother."
"It's okay. The maid probably put it somewhere. Mr. Carruthers will know. Ask him."
At dinner, Roberto does, looking surprised when Mr. C laughs. "I had everything shipped to your home while you were with Cam. You could not take it all on the plane with you."
"Much trouble you have?"
"Oh, no. Our company has a South American representative. I had it all sent to him and he'll see it gets to you safely."
"Gracias, Señor Carruthers."
As soon as we've eaten, we go to the sunroom for coffee. Mr. C comes in a minute later carrying a flat black case and hands it to Roberto. "Use this with pleasure, son. It will work on the electricity and phones in your country."
Roberto zips open the case and takes out Geof's lap-top. When I open it and he sees what it is, he begins to cry softly. I look at the books with it surprised to see they are in Spanish. I show him how to connect the adapter and the phone cord, then plug it into the wall and show him how to operate it. It's probably the first lap-top he's seen.
"I had all the programs changed to Spanish as much as I could," Mr. C tells him. "I hope you enjoy using it as much as Geof did."
"Oh, Señor!" Roberto gets up and hugs Mr. C. "I work much, I swear."
"I'm sure you will, son. Be sure to write Cam and me. I put our e-mail addresses on the mail program. Show him, Cam."
I do and show him how he can write long messages and save them to send when he has a chance, and how to use the picture program. He plays with the word processing program and spread sheet for a few minutes then closes it and puts his hand over his heart, looking at Mr. C. "I much full here. I come poor man, I go home much rich. I have love for you alway."
"Cam and I love you, too, Roberto. Take these to show your parents." He holds out a fat envelope stuffed with pictures of us I didn't notice him taking. It looks to me as if every minute of Roberto's time here has been photographed.
"I have a set for you, too, Cam," Mr. C says.
Thanks, sir. I didn't even think to get a little camera."
"You don't have one?"
He hands me a camera bag containing a Nikon and several lenses. "Take this. It was Geof's and I have my own."
"Oh, wow! Thanks, sir." I give him a hug.
After a late breakfast Sunday Mr. C tells me we have to leave soon to get Roberto to the airport. I know, but I'm no more ready to leave than Roberto. This has been the best holiday of my life. Roberto cries as he says goodbye to Mr. C and is silent all the way to the airport. I park and take his suitcase in while he hugs his computer against his chest. I get him checked in and stay with him until his flight is called.
He hugs me tightly, then surprises me with a kiss. "Mi amigo, Cam, I miss you much. A wonderful time I have."
"Me, too, buddy. I'll see you this summer, but write me when you can. I'll write you every week."
"Send with computer picture of you home and mother and father. I show my mother and father."
"I will. I love you, Roberto."
He hugs me again. "I have love of you, also, mi amigo."
I stand at the window of the terminal and wave after he's taken a seat where I can see him. I know he'll be okay when he changes planes, because Mr. C has arranged for a Spanish speaking attendant to help him. I sigh as the plane taxies for take off and go out to my car.
As the plane flies over, I look up and wave, saying, "Thanks, Geof, for giving me so much."
Back at school I throw myself into the routine, especially to bring up the grade point average that fell a little during the time I was trying to help Geof. I really want to, not so much for me as for my dad because he didn't give me any grief over it.
I often think of Roberto and I'm beginning to wonder what's happened because I've received no mail from him. I know he says he loves me, but I wish I could believe it's as a lover and not just as a friend. I'm only sorry that I didn't get a chance to hold him in my arms as he told me I could.
A couple of weeks later I find a message in my mail:
Amigo Cam, It take long to get time at computer room to send message. My heart full of joy for kindness of Señor Carruthers and you. Mi companeros de clase not believe my computer and fine clothes. Mother have tears when she see new cloth, already she have 2 dress made. She so beautiful when she wear. She fix 2 suit for to fit father. He has, you say, pride not like before. They not believe pictures I show of you and Señor Corruthers, su casa and casa de Señor Carruthers.
I take English class this term, I hope to learn better to write. I have not English to speak what in my heart. I no understand when el Señor Canciller tell me I bequista. Is of Señor Carruthers? I send e-mail to el Señor. You please to offer also to el Señor mi gratitud. Father take money he save for my school to fix cantina beautiful now.
Know my love, amigo. Roberto
I send a copy of Roberto's message to Mr. C immediately then pick up the phone and call him. "I just forwarded to you the e-mail I just received from Roberto, sir. He's having trouble understanding the scholarship is real."
"Yes, sir. You'll see what I mean when you read his letter. His mother is delighted with the fabric, too."
"This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been so kind as to give up a lot of the time you could have spent at home with your parents," he says. "How are things going with you?"
"I'm trying to bring my GPA back up."
"I'm sorry that your grades dropped because of the time you spent helping Geof, but you will never know how much your kindness to him means to me. Also the way you've helped Roberto."
"That's nothing, sir. Meeting him made my break the best I've ever had."
"I'm glad to hear you feel that way and I want you to visit me again. I've been busy, but I'll call you the first weekend I have open."
"That'll be great, sir. Thank you."
"I thank you, Cam. I'm looking forward to having you here for a weekend."
Three weeks before exams are to begin Mr. C calls and asks if I have this weekend free. I do and promise to drive up Friday after class.
His welcome is as warm as always and dinner is great. After we've finished eating he asks me into his study for coffee. "Cam," he says after we're seated, "may I ask you a very personal question? It's really none of my business, but I would like to satisfy my mind."
"Other than my parents, there's no one with more right, sir."
"Thank you, Cam. I assure you your answers will go no further."
I feel a drop of sweat forming, then he drops it on me.
Are you gay, Cam? And if so, was that part of your attraction to Geof and then Roberto?"
For a few moments I'm so suddenly dizzy I feel like I might pass out. When my mind clears enough, I nod. I can't speak.
He smiles. "Don't get upset. I know Geof was gay, too. He told me he fell in love with you the first day, but didn't want you to know because he had a feeling his time was close."
My tears are flowing now. "I loved him, sir, but he never let me tell him."
"You didn't have to. Acts speak far louder than words, and you never hesitated to help him even though he tried to put you off. Only someone who loved him would have done what you did, even letting your grades drop off because you spent so much time helping him."
"He was so beautiful, sir. So is Roberto."
"And the attraction there?"
"I can't help it, sir, but I have always thought of amputees as being more perfect."
"An imperfection adds beauty?"
"Put that way I guess it sounds sick, but to me a stump on a beautiful man is like the icing on a cake."
He smiles. "I know several works of art that the artist purposely flawed slightly because he felt nothing could be perfect. You seem to feel the same."
"You've given me your usual honesty, though I'm sure it was hard for you. That's one of the reasons why I admire you, Cam. Please don't think this lessens my opinion of you by the slightest fraction. It makes you a more compassionate person if the way you responded to Geof is any indication.
"I've had several recent e-mails from Roberto. A few times I've had to have a close friend partially translate them for me, so I hope you will take Spanish and study as diligently as he is studying English, because he is in love with you, Cam."
"I thought that might bring a smile to your face. He told me because I told him I'm his American father. He was afraid of how you might feel and turned to me. I'm making arrangements for him to come for a couple of weeks this summer, so you both have something to look forward to. His university gets out later than ours, so I will let you know, but plan on being with Roberto and me at the beach house the last week of June and the first week in July."
I get up and hug him. "Oh, thank you, sir."
The rest of the weekend is such a blur in my joy Mr. C asks a couple of times if my feet have hit the floor yet. I guess they still haven't.
I return to school and bury myself in study. A student from Mexico gives me a few crash lessons in Spanish so I won't make a complete fool of myself with Roberto. The end result is that I sail through all my exams with confidence and speak a few words of Spanish, though Tomas laughs and says my accent is dreadful.
After my last exam I head for home to wait for Mr. C's call. While I'm there my grades come in – all A's. My parents are thrilled, dad especially; his hug is solid proof, especially when he tells me to take as long as I want for the holiday at the beach with Roberto.
Monday of the last week of June, Mr.C calls and gives me directions to his beach cottage, telling me to be there by four. It's only an hour away for me so I've plenty of time to get ready.
I guess maybe I don't have much good sense, because my mind is blown again when I get there. It's a huge four-storey place in what the locals call millionaire's row. He was wise enough not to build directly on the oceanfront, but across the road on a sand dune which gives the place a sweeping view of the ocean. I pull the Jag to one side of the drive because he's not there, but before I can take my bag from the boot, a Bronco pulls in.
Roberto jumps out and grabs me in a hug. "Oh, Cam, how I wait for this, amigo. I have much joy when Señor Carruthers tell me you have love for me also."
"I loved you from the first moment I saw you, Roberto, mi amor." I turn to Mr. C, "I hope you had a nice trip down, sir."
He hugs me and smiles. "It was very pleasant with Roberto's company. If you will, move the Jag under the cottage next to my Bronco to give John room to park and we'll go in. He and cook will be here in time to fix dinner for us."
"You're bringing them down, sir?"
"Of course. They enjoy being here and their duties are light, so they'll have plenty of time for themselves. Besides, you don't want to try my cooking; it's terrible."
I move the Jag and pick up my bag. Mr. C says, "Let's go in, I need to turn on the air conditioner." He puts a key in a switch by the door to a small enclosed space and turns it. A few seconds later a small elevator car stops and the door opens. "I had this installed for Geof. You young guys take the steps up to the second level. I'll open the door from the inside."
When we're inside, he explains the cottage has a reversed floor plan. There's no real first floor because the ground level is in a flood plain. The second level is bedrooms and baths for guests and a separate section for the servants. He leads us into a room with a huge king-sized bed.
"Would you like this together, or separate rooms?"
I look at Roberto's broad smile and say it will be just right. We set our bags down then follow him up a flight of interior stairs. The third level is the huge master bedroom with a sitting area and a bath with a large Jacuzzi on the extended deck. The fourth level is all one room, living room, kitchen, and eating area combined. It's nicely furnished, but with rugged stuff that sand and the humid climate won't destroy. Outside is a spacious deck with as beautiful a view of the ocean as I had anticipated.
Roberto looks around in amazement, then opens the sliding door to the deck and steps out to look at the ocean. "Is Atlantic, si? I not see ocean before."
I put my arm around him. "That's it. Do you swim?"
"Not much. I go in … ," he pauses to think, "lake at home. Not much time for swim."
"We'll have a lot of time to lie on the beach and swim, if you like. Do not go in without someone; there are dangerous rip tides here," I explain.
He gives me a beautiful smile. "Two week not much time, Cam. I want to be with you all the time."
"And I want to be with you, Roberto. I love you." I kiss him then he starts to shake his head. "What?" I ask.
He holds me at arms' length and looks me over carefully. "Señor Carruthers and you be rich men. I be poor. How can you love?"
I put my hand on his chest. "You are rich in here, my love. That is why."
"You are both rich in your hearts," Mr. C says. He's come up and puts his arms around both of us. "That is why I am proud to call both of you son."
We each hug this wonderful man.
"Señor Carruthers, with permission, I wish to speak for advice."
"Any time, Roberto. If this is important, let's wait until we can talk alone."
"With respect, Señor, I wish Cam also."
"Of course, son. Now get unpacked and enjoy yourselves. There are drinks in the bar fridge. It'll take the air conditioner a few minutes to cool this place down."
Roberto and I get our things put away then go back upstairs for a Coke. Roberto loves them. Just as I've opened the cans, cook and her husband come into the kitchen area. She smiles when she sees us. "l'm so glad you boys are here. I haven't seen Mr. Carruthers this excited about coming here since before Geof's trouble."
"It's good to see you, too, but after two weeks of your good cooking I'll be fat."
"You complain just like Geof." She shakes her head. "You boys will play so hard you won't gain an ounce."
"I hope so. I wish I could cook like you."
"I'd let you help some, but Mr. Carruthers wouldn't like it."
I grin. "I'll ask him nicely."
"Get on with you. As soon as John brings up the groceries I've got to start dinner."
It's not too hot and there's a nice breeze, so Roberto and I go out to sit under the awning over the deck.
Roberto looks at me with his sweet smile. "I still not believe I am with you once more, mi amor."
"I know. It seems forever since I saw you last." I smile back. "I never got to hold you last time, so tonight I'm making up for it."
He grins and playfully slaps my hand. "What you say in America … down boy?"
"No way! It's gonna be up."
He shakes his finger at me. "You maybe not so good boy?"
I grin back. "Only sometimes, love."
Mr. C comes out with a drink in his hand and pulls up a deck chair next to us. "I see cook has everything well in hand, so this will be a good time to talk, Roberto. What is it?"
"With respect, Señor, I wish to change study at university."
"Oh? To what?"
"Mi profesor say I have much fine computer; I must study computer. Is much better job in Quito, pay more than law."
"Will you be happy with that?"
"Si, Señor, now I have fine computer to work. University have few for study at much cost. A poor man have no way."
Mr. C looks at Roberto closely. "Would you be willing to attend a university in this country where you will have the newest and best equipment to work with?"
"Is impossible, Señor. You give beca to university at home."
Mr. C looks at me. "I think he means the scholarship, sir."
"Yes, of course. Roberto, it is a renewable one-year scholarship, so I can switch it to the university here with no trouble at all."
Roberto looks at me. "Do it, love, we can room together. Mr. C won't lose anything if you go to school here." I tell him.
"Is possible, Señor?"
"Very possible. I will see that you are able to fly home for Christmas and the summer, unless you wish to attend summer sessions."
"What about his papers, sir?" I ask. "One of the foreign students had a bad time with Immigration last year."
"No problem, Cam. The company legal department does this all the time."
I reach for Roberto's hand. "If Mr. C can get all your papers in order will you attend the U and room with me?"
He squeezes my hand. "I like much, mi Cam."
"Does your university have e-mail in the registrar's office, Roberto?"
"Si, Señor. I have address."
"Then you must ask for your transcript to be sent to the university here immediately for evaluation. I would not want you to be short on credits."
"What is transcript?"
Mr. C smiles and gets up. He's back in a few moments with a small Spanish dictionary and flips the pages. "Yes, hoja de estudios."
Roberto smiles at his pronunciation. "Si." He looks at me. "You tell what to say. I send e-mail tonight if possible."
"Then I had better call our lawyers and get them cracking on the paperwork," Mr. C adds.
After dinner I help Roberto with his request. We have to borrow Mr. C's dictionary for me to look up the proper terms in Spanish when Roberto does not know the meaning of the English words I tell him to use.
About time we finish the request and send it, Mr. C comes in the living room. "I left a message on voice mail, so the legal office should begin work tomorrow morning. They know to call me here if they have any questions."
Roberto looks incredulous.
"What?" I ask.
"So fast everything go. Not so in my country."
Mr. C smiles. "Time is short and the University does not move swiftly. We must have your admission acceptance before we can obtain your student visa, Roberto."
"I have hope, Señor. Mi familia have sorrow I leave home, but be happy I study in great American university."
"I'm sure your university is quite good, Roberto, but the computer equipment here will be more up to date I think."
"Si, Señor." Roberto looks at me and smiles. "Also here I have Cam."
There's no way to describe my first night in bed with Roberto. He keeps me from rushing things, content to hold me, caress my body, and give me an occasional kiss. When I at last get to stroke his stump, he sighs heavily as my finger finds its way along the deep fissures created by the scars. Geof's stump was smooth and rounded, so I'm saddened to see Roberto's is so rough.
"So ugly," he whispers. "How can you touch?"
"It's rough, but it's yours and I love you, Roberto. Am I hurting you?"
"No, Cam. Is gone long time, not hurt. You dulce, feel good."
"You should always feel good, Roberto. You're so beautiful."
He pulls me up against him. "You are beautiful one, Cam. I have much love for you."
The kiss I give him is lingering, our arms around each other as we go to sleep.
Roberto and I spend a lot of time on the beach getting great tans and doing a lot of swimming. I would have loved to surf a little, but the ocean is too calm the entire time. Mr. C and I also show Roberto all the sights and attend The Lost Colony one evening. On the way back home from the play, Roberto says, "Much like Spanish and Indian in my country."
"And is there still discrimination?"
"No so much now. But best work go to those not Indian." He smiles. "Is good I have much Spanish not much Indian."
Mr. C smiles at him. "Not so different in this country, Roberto. Some things are slow to change."
Each night the love Roberto and I share grows stronger. He is gentle and understanding, letting me hold and caress him as much as I want. He also grows accustomed to my adoration of his stump though he always shakes his head in disbelief when I stroke it gently.
"I much happy you have no care my leg is gone, Cam, but I not feel a man when I use crutches," he tells me. I try to understand, but his beauty without it overwhelms me, just as Geof's did. Despite my pleas for him to use crutches, he uses the leg unless we're on the beach.
The night before Roberto is to leave for home Mr. C's cook treats us to an extraordinary dinner. That's when it crashes in on me how swiftly these two weeks have flown by. Worse is that we've had no word from the university about Roberto's transfer. I sniffle once or twice, and Mr. C picks up on it.
"What's wrong, Cam?"
"I don't want Roberto to go home. I'll miss him so much."
Roberto looks at me with tears in his eyes. "I will miss you, Cam, el Senõr also. This is dream to me, I always remember."
Mr. C looks none to happy either. "My sons, you have made this a holiday to remember with the greatest pleasure, but it will be only a few more weeks before you will be back together at school."
"But we haven't heard anything from them, sir," I say.
"I told you and Roberto it takes time, Cam. Don't get discouraged so quickly."
"I'll try, but it's going to be hard."
"For me, also," Roberto says.
Mr. C smiles. "I'm glad you've become so close. Now enjoy the time that you have left, and I hope to see a lot of you both when school opens."
After breakfast the next morning, we pack while cook and her husband clear the fridge and clean the cottage. It's nearly ten when I go down to put my bag in the car. Mr. C and Roberto put their things in the Bronco, then Roberto pulls me in a hug and kisses me firmly.
"Cam, mi amor, I have much joy with you. I do not wish to go. I make prayer I come to university to study and live with you."
I kiss him back. "I will be glad to go back to school if you're there, Roberto. I'll call housing as soon as Mr. C lets me know you're coming and ask for you as my roommate. Take care. I love you."
"I love you, Cam."
I spend the rest of the summer working for my dad at the shop, but by the second week of August I'm beginning to worry because I've heard nothing from Mr. C. On Saturday evening I give him a call. After the usual catching up, I ask, "Sir, have you heard anything about Roberto's acceptance at school?"
"No, I haven't. I'm glad you reminded me, because I've been out of town quite a bit. I'll call a friend and see what the hold up is and get back to you."
"Thanks a lot. I'm sorry to have bothered you, but I got a note from housing telling me who my new roommate is and it isn't Roberto. I hope they'll let me change when he comes."
"Try not to worrry, Cam, things will work out."
"Yes, sir, but it's hard not knowing with school opening in two weeks."
"I'll let you know as soon as I find out anything."
When he hasn't called back by Tuesday the prospect of returning to school becomes a drudge despite a nice note from my assigned roommate to which I've not replied. My parents notice and ask me what's wrong.
After I tell them I was hoping Roberto would be admitted and we could room together, my dad says, "I know you like Roberto, Cam; he's a charming young man. But things don't always go the way we wish. Try not to be disappointed; just study like you always have and perhaps Mr. Carruthers will bring him back for another visit."
My reserve breaks; tears start to roll down my cheeks. "You don't understand. We're in love."
"What!" My dad shouts.
I look at mom and see her crying, then realize what I've done. "I'm sorry, dad, mom. I didn't mean to tell you yet."
My dad just looks at me unbelievingly, then gets up slowly and goes into the kitchen. When he returns he's holding a drink. I know then he's really upset because he never drinks except for one social drink at a party.
After taking a long pull at his drink, he looks at me, shaking his head. "Please tell me you're not a queer, Cam."
"I'm gay, dad. I've known since I started high school. That's why I never dated except for the proms."
He takes another swallow of his drink. "But how? Is it something your mother and I did?"
"No. When I took that class in psychology I found out gays are born that way." I get up and go hug my mother, whispering, "I love you."
She hugs me back, and I go to dad. He flinches when I hug him. "I'm sorry, dad. I know you're disappointed, but I love you."
He doesn't hug me back as he usually does, but he doesn't push me away. "I'm going to bed. We'll talk about this tomorrow."
He finishes his drink then he and mom go to their bedroom. Though it's early, I go upstairs to mine and crawl into bed. I can faintly hear my parents talking together, and I cry a little at having put them through this before I finally fall asleep.
Breakfast is somber without anyone speaking until we've finished. Mom gets more coffee for us and sits down.
"Cam, your mother and I talked a long time last night. We're disappointed, but you're still our son and we love you. Tell us when this all started. Does Mr. Carruthers know?"
I hang my head. "I'm sorry I've let you and mom down, dad, but I couldn't keep it a secret any longer. It's been tearing me up."
"I wish you had told us when you first knew, because I always wondered why you never had girl friends." My mom looks at me. "I suppose I knew all along, but I didn't want to admit it."
"I was so confused when I was in high school. I knew I liked boys a lot more than girls, but I was scared. When I got to school and Geof walked in our room, I fell in love with him, and ..." I tell them everything about Geof.
Dad nods when I finish. "I'm proud of how you tried to help that poor boy, Cam. Now I understand why his father thinks so much of you. But what about Roberto?"
I tell them how he got Geof's leg and as much of his life as I know. Dad shakes his head slowly when I finish. "Don't you know this is a foolish dream, Cam? Roberto is a fine young man who wants to make a good life for himself and help his parents, but Ecuador is a long way and he'll be returning home when he finishes school if he's allowed to come here. You won't be able to go with him. What then?"
This is the first time I've thought of that. "I don't know. I just know I love him and he loves me."
"We don't want to see you hurt, son, but I can't see how this is going to work out. Do his parents know?"
"He's never said, but I doubt it."
"I do too. I expect he's Catholic, so being gay would be a terrible thing in South America, especially after what you told us about how they treat cripples."
"If he does come, can I still bring him home on weekends?"
"Of course. He'll be a long way from home in a strange country where he knows no one except for you and Mr. Carruthers; your mother and I would never turn him away."
"Thanks. I really love you."
"We love you, son. I wish we knew more about gays so we could help you."
"There's a group called Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I'll ask them to mail you some information, if you want."
"Please do, Cam. I promise your dad and I will read everything," my mom says.
Dad stands up and gives me a tiny smile. "We're very late for work, Cam. Get it in gear."
I do my work in a daze, not believing how cool my parents have been with my sudden coming out. I'm only sorry I couldn't have done it in a better way. Two worries remain: Roberto's acceptance at school and, now that dad has planted seeds of doubt in my mind about the future, what will happen in three years when Roberto and I finish school. With difficulty I push this last worry to the back of my mind.
Thursday night the phone rings. I listen, then yell, "Yes!" and punch the air with my fist when I hang up.
"What was that all about?" Dad asks.
"Mr. C says Roberto's coming to school. He's supposed to receive his student's visa tomorrow and be on the plane next Thursday. Mr. C wants me to meet them at his house Friday so we can get our room assignment all set."
"It's good to see you so happy, son, but please don't let this affect your studies. Your father and I are so happy you're doing so well."
I hug her. "I won't, mom. I'll have to help Roberto, too."
For once, packing all my stuff is a pleasure. I leave home Friday morning after the usual round of hugs and kisses. In my anticipation the miles fly under my wheels, then I'm pulling up in front of Mr. C's home.
Roberto comes down the steps and grabs me in a crushing hug the moment I'm out of the car. "Cam! I not believe I go to school with you. So good to see you."
"I'm so happy, Roberto. Where's Mr. C?"
"He go to work for a time. Come."
It doesn't take long before I'm happily making love to him.
"Oh, Cam, I forget how good you make me feel. I love you."
"I love you too. Guess we better get dressed; Mr. C should be here soon."
Mr. C comes in not long after Roberto and I are in the sunroom. "Cam, good to see you, son. All ready for school?"
"Yes, sir, especially now." I glance at my watch. "Guess I better call housing before they close and see if I can get my roommate changed to Roberto."
"I'm afraid that's not possible, Cam. I've already checked."
"Cam and I not live together?" Roberto asks. I'm too stunned to speak.
Mr. C smiles. "I didn't say that."
"But how? I mean …" I stammer out.
"I called about housing the moment I knew Roberto was accepted. As usual, the university has a room shortage so a change wasn't possible." He smiles at us. "How would you like to share a small apartment?"
"That's wonderful, sir, but I can't afford it."
"The rent is already paid. The owner is an acquaintance of mine and the building is only a few blocks from campus. He doesn't rent to students but he knew Geof and would have rented to him so I was planning on you and Geof moving there if his illness hadn't progressed so swiftly. I've asked him to let you and Roberto have the apartment, and he's agreed provided you don't throw any noisy parties."
I hug him. "No parties, just me and Roberto."
"I wonder why I suspected that." He winks at me. "I know Roberto will want to ride with you, so I'll drive Roberto's things down Sunday and see you settled in. Now, let's have a drink."
The moment I see the apartment house I recognize it and shudder at how much the rent must be, but Mr. C laughs. "My sons are worth it. Come along; Bill is waiting."
The owner looks Roberto and me over carefully and not very happily. "If it wasn't for you, Halston, I'd never do this. Bad precedent you know."
"I know, Bill, but you'll not find quieter young men anywhere. You won't regret this."
"I hope not." He hands me a packet of information and keys. "Your apartment is on the second floor. Use the freight elevator to take your things up, it's at the end of the hall. The key that fits the front entrance works on the rear door. Your apartment number is painted on your parking place on the lot, so don't use anyone else's."
"Yes, sir. And thank you."
"Let's get you settled. Meet you out back, " Mr. C says.
I'm knocked over when I see a large computer workstation that looks like the one from Geof's room with Geof's big computer on it, and some of the other furniture looks familiar. "Where'd this come from?" I ask.
"Home. These are unfurnished apartments," Mr. C says, then smiles. "Take a look in the bedroom."
"I look at Roberto and grin when I see the huge king-size bed."
"If you guys don't want to sleep together, I can get twin beds," Mr. C says with a smile.
"No, gracias, Señor. All is so beautiful," Roberto murmurs overwhelmed.
"Have you money for groceries, Cam?"
"Yes, sir. I was expecting to eat in the cafeteria."
"Unless school food has changed that will grow old fast, so lay in a stock of staples." He glances at his watch. "If this is all, I'll be getting home. I'm depending on you to take care of Roberto, Cam. Give me a call if you need anything."
"I will, sir."
He hands me a checkbook. "Show Roberto how to write a check if he doesn't know. I've set up an allowance account for him so make him use it. There's also another checkbook on your desk for household expenses."
"Thank you, sir."
Roberto grabs his hand and kisses it again. "Oh, Señor, my heart so full."
Mr. C hugs him. "I'm glad you're here, son. You and Cam study hard, Cam will help you. Your schedule is light, so if you have trouble understanding your professors, enroll in the special English class for foreign students."
"I will do so, Señor."
I show Roberto over the campus and the buildings we have classes in and the one in which I don't have a class with him, then we settle into a routine. It takes him a few days to acclimate then he's comfortable. Though he asks me many times about words he doesn't understand, I'm surprised at how fast he catches on.
One afternoon the second week of school I take him to the hospital and ask for Doctor Hawke.
"Roberto!" Hawke yells in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"I am student, Señor Doctor. I have honor to live with Cam."
"I'm so happy for you, Roberto. Cam is a fine young man."
"Si, Señor Doctor. Señor Carruthers most kind man also. He bring me here to study."
"That's wonderful. How's the leg?"
"Perfecto. I use all time."
"I wish I had more time to chat, but I have an operation scheduled. I'll make a late appointment for Roberto so I can examine his stump." He stands and holds out his hand. "Thanks for bringing him by, Cam. I want to see a lot of you guys."
"Thank you, sir."
"Why Señor Doctor say I come back, Cam?" Roberto asks as we're walking back to the apartment.
"He wants to make sure the leg still fits properly. Besides, I have talked to him a few times socially. He's a nice man."
"Si, but much important. Not have time to talk to poor man like me."
I stop long enough to hug Roberto. "He likes you a lot, Roberto. He told me so."
Roberto shakes his head. "America so different. In my country important man like Doctor not wish talk to me."
"Doesn't happen much here either, but Hawke is a good guy."
I get a call from Hawke's office and a month later I walk over with Roberto for his examination. I stay with them while Hawke gives Roberto a thorough physical then examines his stump carefully.
"It looks worse than I remembered it," Hawke says after we're back in his office. "I'm not exactly happy with the socket we made either."
"What do you suggest, sir?" I ask.
"Revisionary surgery the first time you have a few days off from school."
"No!" Roberto cries. "Not to cut leg more. Is much pain."
Hawke gets up and puts his arm around Roberto. "I will see you have no pain, Roberto. There will be a little discomfort for a few days until your stump heals and you will have to be on crutches, but that is all. With a new socket, you will walk more smoothly and have no trouble with the leg." Hawke turns to me. "It's little more than plastic surgery normally, but I suspect the muscles were not tensioned properly. I will do that so he will have the most comfort possible."
"The leg doesn't seem to bother him. He wears it all the time."
"Roberto is a proud young man, but I can tell he's having some discomfort. Help me talk him into this, Cam."
"He can't afford it, Doctor."
Hawke smiles. "Mr. Carruthers has asked me to do whatever I can for you, Roberto. I only need your permission to set a date."
"I have fear."
"I know. No one likes facing surgery, but after it is over you won't believe the difference. You're in excellent health so your stay in the hospital will be minimal. Talk it over with Cam and Mr. Carruthers and let me know."
That evening we go to bed early, Roberto wanting me to hold him. "I must do, Cam?"
"It's your decision, love, but you will have a beautiful stump and the leg will feel good. Why didn't you tell me it hurt you?"
"I am so happy I have two leg, I not know it should not."
"It won't take long, then you'll be walking again." I kiss him. "I'll like the time you use crutches; you are so beautiful with one leg."
"I not get treated different?"
"No body will care but me and I already love you." I smile at him. "Your new stump will be as beautiful as Geof's was."
"I must talk to Señor Carruthers also."
"I'll call him and we'll go to see him on the weekend if he's home."
As I suspected, Mr. C is fully informed. After trying to calm Roberto's fears he says to me, "I expect Thanksgiving will be when Hawke wants to do the surgery to avoid Roberto missing classes. Are you willing to stay with him? Hawke says he will fit Roberto with a temporary leg immediately, but it will be a few days before he can use it without crutches."
"You know I will, sir. My parents will understand."
"I must meet them in person, Cam. Perhaps they can come here for Thanksgiving if Roberto is doing well. We can have our Thanksgiving dinner together on Sunday."
"I'm sure they'll like that, sir." I wish they would come, but I don't expect it to happen. Dad's not much around people he doesn't know.
"How is Roberto getting along otherwise?"
"A lot better than I would with changing schools and a strange language. He's smart."
"I'm glad he's doing so well. As soon as Roberto comes down we'll have dinner."
Tuesday afternoon as soon as Roberto comes in from classes, I walk with him to the hospital to enter him. Hawke has scheduled the surgery for Wednesday morning.
Roberto's back in his room by the time I finish up my last class on Wednesday. "How you feel, love?"
He smiles. "Doctor do not put me to sleep for operation, but I feel nothing. Now I have not much pain and new leg. Doctor say I do well."
I kiss him. "I'm so happy for you, love. But with the leg, I won't see your new stump when you're on crutches."
"You see soon. Doctor come later, tell when I go home."
"I hope it's by Saturday, because Mr. C wants us there for Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but we'll have it on Sunday."
"What is Thanksgiving?"
By the time I've finished explaining, Hawke has come in. "How's my patient?"
"I feel only small pain," Roberto says.
"Excellent. He was a superb patient, Cam. All went well, so if you are staying with him over the holiday, I can release him Friday. He can use crutches over the weekend because he already knows how. I'll check him Monday afternoon. If all goes well, he can start walking some."
"That's a lot faster than I thought," I say.
Hawke smiles. "I had one student return to class in two days. I expect Roberto to do as well."
Thanksgiving morning I go back to see Roberto. To my surprise Hawke is with him, holding his arm as he takes a few steps.
"He's doing better than I expected," Hawke tells me. "He can go home tomorrow morning."
Roberto hugs me. "Is no pain and I walk, Cam. New leg is good."
"Looks like your old one to me."
Hawke grins. "It is. It has a temporary socket to shape his stump, but he'll have a permanent one before long."
I spend all of Thanksgiving Day with Roberto. We watch the Macy Thanksgiving Day parade and, thanks to Hawke, eat dinner together. For hospital food it's pretty good.
I'm lying on the bed with my arm around Roberto when the phone rings and Roberto tells me to answer. It's Mr. C asking how Roberto is doing, so I pass the phone to him. After a few minutes he passes the phone back.
"When is Roberto being released?" Mr. C asks me.
"Good. I'll expect to see you as soon as you can get here. And, Cam?"
"I have a surprise for you, so don't dally around."
"We'll leave as soon as Hawke lets Roberto go. I'll pack for us tonight."
Roberto protests being pushed to the entrance in a wheelchair, but Hawke is firm. "You'll have plenty of time to walk, Roberto, don't push it." He walks the few steps from the door to my car and gets in. "Make him use his crutches if you can, Cam. He's stubborn as a mule and he's going to have some pain if he tries to walk too far. You did get the prescription filled, didn't you?"
"Good. See you next week."
Mr. C opens the door the moment I pull up in his drive. He's smiling broadly when Roberto gets out and walks toward him holding his crutches rather than using them.
"You're doing surprisingly well, Roberto. I'm glad to see you."
"Si, Señor. Gracias. Doctor say I walk now with no pain."
"The way it should be. Come in."
I grab our bags and take them to our room. Mr. C is waiting at the bottom of the steps when I come down. "We're in the sunroom, Cam."
I stop at the door not believing whom I see. "Mom! Dad! I can't believe you're here." I rush over to hug them.
"We came yesterday," Mom explains. "Mr. Carruthers kindly asked us so we could have our Thanksgiving together."
"Your mother and I had a long talk with Hall last evening so we understand things a lot better now. I'm glad Roberto is doing so well, too, he's a fine young man," dad adds.
The time flies by and it's with genuine regret we leave. I asked the folks to stop by and see our apartment, but dad says they need to get home and traffic will be heavy.
Roberto had one last check-up with Hawke the day before semester and Christmas break begins. I finally get to see Roberto's stump and I can hardly believe what a wonderful job Hawke did. It's tapered and rounded with only a small scar remaining. Even Roberto smiles when he sees the transformation.
"As soon as you're back from the holiday we'll fit you with a new socket, Roberto, then you'll be all set. Have a Merry Christmas."
"Gracias, Señor Doctor. I feel much happy with my leg now. Not so ugly. Felices Navidades."
That night Roberto smiles and looks at his stump when I caress and kiss it. "Not so ugly, mi Cam."
"As beautiful as it should have been, Roberto. I hope you will let me see it more often now."
He grins. "I think about it. I will miss you, Cam."
"I'll miss you, too. I wish we could have Christmas together, but I know your parents want to see you."
"Si. Is only three weeks, but it seem much long time."
Mr. C arrives before I leave for home so he can wish me a Merry Christmas and to take Roberto to the airport. After a kiss for Roberto and a hug for him, I leave.
Winter is a slow time for my dad's business, so we have a lot of time together. He's read the information I got for them and seems more accepting of my being gay. My real surprise comes the day before Christmas Eve when Mr. C arrives to spend Christmas with us. I couldn't imagine it, but he fits in like one of the family and he and dad talk business a lot. Mom, of course, has to show him my semester grades which are all A's. He pats me on the back and tells me he's proud of me and Roberto who made A's except for one B. Very good for his first semester and the language barrier.
Two days before the break is over I go to Mr. C's so I can pick up Roberto at the airport. He breaks into an awkward run toward me when he sees me waiting then he's hugging me to the amusement of some of the other passengers.
I stop at a quick photography place in Eden to leave the two disposable cameras Mr. C gave him to take home. That evening we sit together as Roberto tells us about each picture. He shows us the picture of a colorful shop with two people standing in front in very stiff poses. "Mi father and mi mother at cantina," he says proudly. I'm a little amused at the ubiquitous Coke sign prominent on the front. His father is not much taller than I, wearing a suit and white shirt. He would look something like Roberto if he were smiling. His mother is short and round. She has on a dress I recognize as being made from one of the pieces of fabric Mr. C gave him.
"A very handsome couple, Roberto. I know you are proud of them, " Mr. C says.
"Si. Father work hard so we have good home." He pulls out a picture of a small house. It's made of unpainted wood with an open door and windows, but there flowers and ferns everywhere. "Mi mother spend much time in garden."
Mr. C gasps and points to some flowers. "My god, look at those orchids. They're gorgeous."
Roberto shrugs. "So many grow wild. Nothing special."
Mr. C just shakes his head.
Because of his long flight, Roberto and I go to bed early, but he's asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. He's still sleeping when I get up and join Mr. C for breakfast.
"It's kind of you not to disturb Roberto, Cam. He looked very tired."
"He was asleep before I could get to bed. He had some nice pictures, but his parents looked so stiff."
Mr. C smiles. "I'm told people in Ecuador don't smile a lot unless they're with family members. It's quite different there. I asked Roberto if his parents would like to visit him here and he quickly said they would never travel. I think they have a mistrust of flying and being in a strange place."
"Shame. I'd like to meet them."
"Almost impossible, Cam. You could go as a tourist, but that is the way you would be treated, with respect, but not the friendliness you would find here." He shakes his head. "I sometimes wish I had studied modern cultures, there's so much difference. The more wealthy are as cosmopolitan as any other people, but they are far from being the average person."
"I guess I never thought about it. How will Roberto fit in when he goes home? I mean he's going to be among the cosmopolitan group with his degree and all."
"With his personality and education, he will be. I'm certain that's what his parents were hoping for and why they agreed for him to study here. You remember he said they wanted a better life for him."
"Poor guy. He loves them so much and now he's going to be way above their social class."
Mr. C smiles. "I've done some reading on South America and it seems that when the son of a family rises, it reflects positively on the entire family. Far more than it would in this country. I expect it will make his father very proud."
"Just like Geof's leg gave Roberto a boost."
"Exactly." He puts his arm around me. "You and Roberto are exceptional young men, Cam. You make me proud and give me a reason to live. I thought I had lost that with Geof."
I hug him. "We love you, too, sir. Thank you for all you do for us."
"You and Roberto are more than welcome to what little I can offer you. I thank you especially, Cam, for spending so much time with me when you have family of your own and for always being honest with me. It's because of that and your good sense that I found a fine young man who I could help."
I smile. "And me someone special to love."
I go with Roberto to have the cast of his stump made for the new socket. Roberto and I watch fascinated as the young prosthetist puts his calculations into a computer and the program draws a socket in three-dimensions.
Three days later I take a cut I can well afford in lab and go back with Roberto for his fitting. Roberto gets upset when Bob the young prosthetist refuses to let him walk out immediately. I calm Roberto while Bob attaches all sorts of electrodes to the leg and Roberto's stump then has him walk between parallel bars. He makes adjustments to the leg and the process starts over again.
I can tell Roberto is about to lose his temper when Bob tells him to walk around the room. Roberto's face breaks into a huge smile and he comes over and hugs me. "Is like not before, Cam. Is feel perfecto. I like walk on soft wool." He grabs a surprised Bob in a hug. "Is so wonderful I not believe. Gracias, Señor."
"That's the way it should feel, Roberto. I'm sorry it took me so long to adjust, but it was necessary. Doctor Hawke wants to see you before you leave."
Hawke seems delighted when Roberto's enthusiasm causes him to break into Spanish. He answers in the same language to Roberto's delight.
"I'm glad to know Bob is so good," he says to me. "He's new, but he knows his business. I hope he'll go with us on our next trip down there."
"But I thought you made Roberto's first socket."
"I'm a surgeon. One of the apprentice techs who went with us made it. We don't have the equipment or time to do the kind of work Bob did on this one. We are training some people in Ecaudor in the latest techniques though unfortunately only the very rich get the best prosthetics."
"I'm glad Mr. C brought Roberto here."
"I'm sure you are. You make a handsome couple." Hawke surprises me with a wink.
Roberto and I settle in for the long haul of spring semester. We split the break between my house and Mr. C's, then back to school, a pattern we repeat over the next two years. Roberto always goes home for Christmas and summer. It's when he comes back from the Christmas break of our senior year that he gives me completely unexpected news, a crushing blow!
We're hardly back in the apartment when he pulls a picture from his billfold and hands it to me. The young lady is very beautiful in the dark way that Roberto is. He smiles at me proudly when he says, "This is Maria my novia, my fiancée. We will marry when I return home after graduation."
"Marry!" I scream. "How? You're gay, Roberto."
"No, my love. I wish I could have told you I was bi-sexual when we met, but the word wasn't in my vocabulary until recently. I like men, but also I like women. I want children, specifically a son I will name Cameron for you. You will be godfather to him I hope. I want him to visit you often when he's old enough so he will be bilingual."
I stagger back and fall into a chair staring at him. I can't believe I'm in love with a bi.
He comes over and kneels down by me, taking my hand and pressing it against his cheek. "I will always love you, Cam. I'm sorry if I have hurt you, but this is what I want. It will also make it easy for me to get a good job. Maria's father is a very important man in Quito, so he will make sure I get the best work possible now that I know computer science and English."
I can't help the tears that flow down my cheeks. Roberto pulls me up and hugs me. "Please don't cry, Cam. We both knew we would be parted when we graduated. I promise to stay in touch with you by e-mail and perhaps visit you and Mr. C on occasion. Be happy my love. I will never forget how much you gave a poor boy so he could become a man with a future to look forward to. We will make the best of our love for one another in these five months."
I can only nod and return his kiss.
May and graduation arrive with bewildering speed. My folks come to stay with Mr. C and us the two days we have before graduation. Later that same day, Mr. C's car brings three new people from the airport. With Roberto are his parents, and Maria. How Mr. C convinced them to come I'll never know, but Roberto is overjoyed.
His parents are awed and say little, but I can see how proud they are when they look at Roberto. He stays busy translating, especially when my dad and mom start asking his parents about Ecuador. Roberto looks embarrassed when mom says how much she and dad love him and what a fine man he is, but he translates and his mother hugs mine.
In the meantime I find Maria speaks some English. She's more beautiful than her picture and seems proud to talk to me about my kindness to Roberto. Obviously he hasn't told her we've been lovers for over three years. It doesn't take long for her to captivate me or for me to agree that I'll be godfather to little Cam when he comes along. The kid's going to have three sets of grandparents; there's no way my parents will be left out when little Cam will likely be the closest they'll get to a grandchild.
Graduation is almost anticlimactic when it arrives. On the way back to Mr. C's Mom tells me that Roberto's mother cried through the whole ceremony. That night Roberto and I make love for the last time – the most gentle prolonged loving we've ever shared.
After breakfast, Roberto and I have one lingering kiss before there are hugs all around and Roberto, his parents, and Maria leave in the Bentley for the airport.
"I'll love you forever, Cam," Roberto says softly as the car begins to pull away.
Once the limo carrying my love disappears down the drive my mother grabs me in a hug.
"I know you loved Roberto, Cam, but he's off to a new life in the country he knows. Maria is a lovely young woman who will make Roberto very happy. Perhaps you can see them from time to time."
I kiss mom on the cheek. "You and dad have made me so happy accepting me for who I am and letting me live my life in the way that makes me happiest."
She smiles at me. "I knew about you being gay before you told us. But I'm proud that you loved us enough to not hide it from us. We only regret that it will bring some difficulties into your life that could have been avoided."
"I'll be careful, mom. No way will I have this reflect on you and dad. But how did you know?"
"Mothers sense things about their children long before anyone else, even the child himself." She pats me on the arm. "I see Mr. Carruthers waiting for us and after we eat your father and I must leave for home."
Cook has outdone herself with our lunch. I've never seen Dad eat so much away from home and even mother had a small second serving of the poulet maringo.
I excuse myself while they and Mr. C are talking over coffee and get a small gift from my room and take it to the kitchen.
"I hate to leave your good cooking, Annie, but I will always remember it." I hand her the gift. "Just to say thanks to a special person."
She hugs me. "You ought not to of done it, Mr. Cam, but I'll be here whenever you come back to visit Mr. C. You take care now."
"What's this? A strange man huggin' my woman." John teases as he comes through the back door.
I hold out my hand to John. "I want to thank you, too, for always making my stays here and at the beach so special, John. Take good care of Annie, there's not another like her."
He squeezes my hand hard. "Some people are a pleasure to do for, Cam. You and that nice Roberto are special in our book. Now you're done with school I hope you won't forget us and let us see you from time to time."
"I hope to."
I go up and bring down my parents' suitcases and put them in mom's car. It's a tight fit with many of the smaller things I had in our apartment in there. I plan to spend the night there and see the movers pack the furniture to return to Mr. C. I can get the bit that's left in my car.
"Don't be a stranger now, Cam," Mr. C says as he hugs me.
"I'll try to get this way occasionally. You can count on e-mail each week."
"I'll look forward to them. Keep me posted on your work and if I can help in any way, please let me know."
I wipe my eyes of a tear or two that have managed to surface in spite of my resolve not to let this get to me.
"I will. Thank you so much for all you've done for me. I know I've been an unnecessary expense to you, but it has allowed me to concentrate on my studies and enjoy school in a way I wouldn’t have had otherwise."
He shakes his head. "It was for me, Cam. Having you to love and enjoy made losing Geof far less of an emotional strain. You and Roberto brought me joy far beyond any monetary expenditure, and who else do I have to spend it on? No, my boy, it is you who has done me the honor of accepting my few gifts. I will miss you sorely."
I get in my Jag and drive away before I lose it completely.
After a day or two of rest, I begin work at the shop with dad. I wanted to do this in hopes he would take some time off, relax, and maybe travel with mom as he's always wanted to do, but I should have known better. It's been his life all these years and he can’t turn loose. Another problem is that most of his employees have known me since I was a kid so ignore me when I ask them to do things and go to dad instead. I struggle along for a good six months under these conditions. I've not even tried for any social life in this small town and it's a fifty-mile drive to any place large enough for me to make male friends without being outed.
After dinner one evening, dad says, "Get us another cup of coffee, son, and let's talk about things."
I pour him a cup and refill mine before sitting back down at the old kitchen table.
He smiles at me and shakes his head slowly. "It's not working, is it, son?"
"No, sir. I'm sorry. I have tried."
"I know and I don't blame you for anything. I guess every dad has dreams that are impossible to realize. You have little in common with the majority of our customers and the men think of you as a kid no matter what I tell them. I've had an offer on the business, son, and I think it's best if I sell it. I don’t want you to think I'm throwing you out because I'm not."
"I'd never think that, dad."
He smiles. "I know. I'll get barely what the business is worth, but it will be enough for your mother and me to get by on. I'll try to help you until you're settled in a new job, Cam. One I hope you'll be happier doing."
"I guess you knew I've been looking in trade journals and all. I'd never have left you to go it alone, dad, but I've thought of several things I'd rather do."
Dad gives me a smile like he used to at Christmas when I was trying to guess at what Santa would bring me. "I've found a possible position for you I expect you'll enjoy. It's been open for a few weeks and there's been no rush to fill it, but you've been invited to give it a try."
"Do you think you might enjoy being executive assistant to Hall? He and I talked about it last week."
"I'd love working with him, dad, but I know nothing about fabric mills or cloth."
"You won’t need to. Hall feels they need to modernize the way the plant is managed. Management was your major and he feels you are capable of studying the situation and instituting the necessary changes. He told your mother and me that a suite of rooms has been set aside in his home for your use and you are to live there as you have on your holidays from school."
"I hate to be so far away from you and mom."
Dad gives me a wicked grin. "Think of the fun your mother and I will have without you around!"
"Yeah. Like I used to enjoy the few times you took her with you when you went to conventions and left me home alone."
"Oh, I suspect our fun will be better than yours. It'll give us a chance to kick up our heels."
"I heard that," mom says. "There's no fool like an old fool and I'm certainly not going to be a part of it. Now if you want to take a nice leisurely cruise for a second honeymoon then I might be interested."
Dad gets up and hugs her. "You start getting information while I close out the business. You've done more than your share, too."
Six weeks later I find myself sitting in Mr. C's study listening while he outlines the job he wants me to do as his assistant. It's going to be a challenge, but one that fits my area of knowledge. I have no fear of working for him for I feel in a way that I'm back home.
"Have you heard from Roberto recently, Cam?"
"Not for about a month. He said he was awfully busy trying to get established in his job."
"Then I have news for you. I had a note from him yesterday and they're expecting."
"Boy, he sure didn’t waste any time. When?"
"Toward the end of August if the estimate the doctor made is correct. They are hoping you will come when the baby arrives. You'll have to if it's a boy because Roberto insists you will be the godfather."
"I made a promise to both of them that I would, but how can I get away?"
"Vacation or personal-leave time. You'll have some built up by then." Hall puts his hand on mine. "You realize that since you're not Catholic Roberto and Maria are both defying their church by making you godfather to their son. Not only that, but also over her parents' vociferous objections, so it's doubly important that you be there. If you were Catholic it could be done by proxy."
"It'll be good to see Roberto, but it'll be hard in a way, too."
"I understand, Cam, but you must put the past behind you and move on. Roberto has made his choice and started a new life, you must do the same."
"It was impossible at home, but I hope it will be better here once I have the time to find some social life."
"It will, son. Geof's journal is in the top desk drawer in your room. Read it. I know he left some notes about where he met people of similar inclinations."
"I can’t read anything that personal, sir."
"You can read that. It's not his diary, but a book of thoughts and things he found pleasant. You won’t be reading anything he wouldn’t have told you were he here."
I glance at Geof's notes then put them aside, immersing myself in my job. I spend a lot of time on the floor of the plant talking to nearly everyone I see doing a different job. I take careful notes and study them in my office before looking at the organizational chart and studying production and cost figures. Finally I recommend a couple of small changes in the system as a trial. Probably as much to my surprise as Mr. C's they work well and increase output while dropping cost a small but significant amount. With my new gained confidence, I expand the scope of my studies to the extent I have little free time. Mr. C complains about this to me, so I take nice Saturdays for exercise and pleasure while I spend Sundays with Mr. C.
Roberto and I exchange e-mail on a near daily basis now as my job is a near duplicate of his, though he has far less trouble making changes than I because of the heavier handed management system they have. Roberto laughs when I mention it saying that anyone who doesn’t want to accept change can easily be replaced.
When I mention that apparently workers with the needed skills are plentiful and non-union, Roberto says they have unions, but the bosses are quite corrupt and cheaply bought off. It seems to be the way of life there.
About six months later I get a frantic phone call from Roberto one morning begging me to come immediately. I talk with Mr. C and head home to pack my bags. A quick check by computer and I find that I can get a flight that with one change in Miami that will put me in Quito in about eleven hours. I book my ticket by computer and let the Jag out once I hit the interstate. John, who is going to drive my car back home, looks a little pale but doesn’t say anything.
The flight is okay but the change in Miami is rushed. As is usually my luck the gate I have to get to is the length of the terminal away so I take it at a dead run. Once I'm settled in after the change, I sleep until the steward wakes me to put on my seatbelt for the landing.
Once through immigration, I see a uniformed driver holding up a card with my name on it. I walk over to him.
"Did Roberto send you?"
"Si. Señor Cameron?"
He takes my bags and I follow him out to the Mercedes in a no parking zone. It's becomes obvious he speaks no English and has some difficulty with my Spanish so I ride in the back seat in luxury. Though I always thought Ecuador in the tropics, I'm glad for the lightweight jacket I brought along at the last minute. It's cooler at this high elevation than I expected.
I knew I wouldn’t find anything here like what I know from back home, but I'm surprised when the driver pauses to let a gate open then drives through and around the circular drive to the front door of a large house. The driver opens the door for me and bows as I step out. A butler in formal dress waits at the top of the steps to the door.
I knew Maria's parents had money, but not like this. The butler opens the door for me and follows me in. "Por favor, Señor Cam," he says indicating I should follow him.
What I see of the house is gorgeous, formal in decoration. I can’t help but wonder if all this has affected Roberto. I'm shown a room, and the butler hands me an envelope then leaves quietly. It's a note from Roberto.
Cam, when you have freshened up and had a drink, please indicate to Ramon that you wish to join me at the hospital. I need you like never before. Your Roberto
It feels good to wash up and change into a heavy long-sleeve shirt. I go down and the butler meets me at the bottom of the stairway and shows me into Roberto's study, opening a panel in the wall to reveal a wet bar. I mix myself a drink and refuse an offer of a snack, walking around to relieve the stiffness from sitting so long on the plane.
More relaxed, I grab my jacket and tell the butler I'm ready to go to the hospital to see Roberto. I'm immediately ushered out to the Mercedes and whisked into the heavy traffic of Quito. The ride is hair-raising to say the least; drivers seem to do as they please with no regard for anyone else.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I'm finally deposited at the entrance to the hospital. To my delight there's a small sign in front of one of the receptionists reading English. I ask for Roberto and am given the floor and room number.
To my amazement it is not a private room but a suite. Roberto opens the door in response to my tap and embraces me tightly then kisses me.
"Cam, I knew you would come for me. I am so glad to see you."
"I'm happy to see you, too, Roberto. How's Maria?"
He shakes his head sadly. "It is not good, my friend. Come, sit, and I tell you."
Maria has gone into labor three weeks early and there are complications Roberto doesn’t know how to explain to me. The long and short of it is that her doctor has nothing left to try. They can only wait for the end. If her condition worsens he will do a cesarean section, but he has told Roberto that there are four possible endings. The baby will be born and both will be well, the baby will live and Maria dies, the baby dies and Maria lives, both die.
Roberto almost crushes my hand as he talks. He obviously loves Maria very deeply and already speaks of the baby as Little Cam. When he finishes and looks at me in despair, I hug him tightly adding my tears to his at seeing my love in such pain. We get interrupted by a doctor.
"Señor Agular I dare wait no longer. The priest is here to give unction then I must proceed."
Roberto nods and pulls me up with him. We go into the next room and approach the bed quietly.
Roberto takes Maria's hand in his and leans over to kiss her on the forehead. She opens her eyes and looks at him, then me, giving me a little smile. "I am happy you are here for Roberto," she says in a drugged drawl. "I love you, Roberto," she mutters then closes her eyes.
A priest makes the sign of the cross on her forehead while mumbling something in Latin. It's done in such a perfunctory way it pisses me off. Roberto seems more upset afterward.
"What?" I ask. Then I realize it was extreme unction the priest administered, a sign he's convinced Maria will die.
Roberto shakes his head and returns to his seat in the outer room. Surprised but pleased to see a coffee maker on a low cabinet, I make a pot. It's more something to do than a desire for some to drink.
"Where are Maria's parents?" I ask.
"I suppose on their way. They were supposed to be in Spain, so I sent a cable to their hotel." He looks up at me. "They are against you so we will stand up to them together. I will not allow them to tell me who my friends will be. I have a lawyer friend to advise me and keep Little Cam from them if anything happens. I will need your strength, mi amor."
"You and Maria are so kind to ask me to be godfather to Little Cam. I want him to be my son, also, and mom and dad already feel he is their grandson. They will love him as much as I."
Roberto smiles. "They are fine people. I will be proud for them to love Little Cam."
"And don’t forget Mr. C. He wants to be a grandfather to Little Cam as well."
Roberto smiles. "Already he knows Maria and I make him godfather also. He arrives tomorrow."
I pull him up into a hug. "I know you have made him very happy, Roberto, just as you have made me."
I get us cups of coffee and try to divert his thoughts. "Of what I saw, you have a very beautiful home, Roberto. I didn’t expect a butler though."
He smiles at me. "The house is part of Maria's dowery. Her father say we must live to the position I hold."
"Obviously you've become very important, but you've never told me what your real job is."
He grins. "You loved me when I was a poor man. Now fortune smiles. I got a job with the primary export agency for wood and paper products and textiles. I made some suggestions for change and they fell on ready ears. My reward is Assistant to the Director of Exports. I negotiate deals on the international market."
"I know you're smart, amigo, but that's unbelievable."
"Politics, my friend. I could easily be out of favor tomorrow and begging."
"No way, buddy, because if you needed a job I expect Mr. C could find one for you, especially since you've been dealing in international affairs."
Roberto chuckles. "I have even had dealings with his people but it was not the man who helped me go to the United States for school."
"Then I know he would be interested."
"You sound as if you wish me to come work with Mr. C."
"I do, my love. I know it won’t happen, but I work for him now."
"Did you not go home to work with your father?"
"Yes, but …" I tell him the story.
"When Little Cam is old enough to travel, we shall come visit you and perhaps go to the beach house once more."
"We would like that."
The door opens and the doctor walks in with a grave look. Roberto jumps up.
The doctor shakes his head. "I am sorry, Señor Agular. It was impossible to save her."
I grab a stunned Roberto and ease him down into a chair. "The baby?" I ask.
Again the doctor switches to excellent English. "He is very healthy but he has a condition …"
"What?" I shout.
"Please, Señor. The boy has only part of a left arm. It stops below the elbow. We do not know why this happen. It is not so rare, however."
I sag down beside Roberto and we put our arms around each other.
"You can see your son in an hour," the doctor says to Roberto.
After the doctor has gone Roberto looks at me in anguish. "Am I so bad a man, Cam?"
"You are a good man, Roberto. You have the respect of all who know you."
"Then why does God bring such sorrow to me?"
I hug him. "I do not believe that, my friend. God does not punish us in this world. He sets things in motion and they play out by natural forces. He does not say to one man that he will be rich and to another that he will be poor because of something they or their parents have done. He gave us minds to make choices and seize opportunities when they come along. No, my friend, He did not cause this, but He will give you strength to get through your grief. I am here and Mr. C will be here tomorrow. We are here for you and Little Cam. Let us help you, love."
He hugs me back. "You always make things seem so clear, Cam. Yes, I see what you mean."
We walk down the hall to the nursery. I spot a crib with Agular on it and point. The nurse picks up a baby wrapped in a tiny blanket and brings him to the window. I can't tell who he looks like as yet, for he's still red and wrinkled from birth. I motion for the nurse to unwrap him and she pulls the top of the blanket back. Little Cam waves his right arm with its tiny hand and the left arm which ends just below the elbow.
Roberto clutches my hand tightly, tears flowing down his cheeks. "I see what doctor say about Little Cam. Do you still wish to have a godson though he has but one arm?"
I have to smile at him. "Did I turn away from you because you had one leg?"
He smiles through his tears. "It will make you love Little Cam even more?"
"That would be hard to do, my friend. But yes, I will love him more and so should you. He is a beautiful boy I am proud to have carry my name."
We walk back to the room where I pack the few things belonging to Maria and Roberto then wait for Roberto to call his chauffeur and take the sheaf of papers the doctor holds out.
The chauffeur comes up for the bags. I take Roberto by the arm and lead him to the elevator. The chauffeur's eyes are downcast as I help Roberto in the car and get in behind him. Our ride is in silence, but somehow the news has spread. The butler is silent as he holds the door for us. I see a huge bow of black crepe hanging from the knocker.
I take Roberto to his study and mix him a drink. He looks at me and sighs.
"Everything is all arranged, Cam. I need only wait for Maria's father." He takes a long pull at his drink. "I will wait until my Maria is with the angels to have our Little Cam christened so she can watch from above."
"I was afraid you would have it done immediately. I know Mr. C would be upset to miss it."
"Yes. I am happy he comes tomorrow. Ramon will pick him up at the airport and bring him here."
As the drink relaxes him, I can see fatigue set in more deeply in Roberto than my own, though I feel bone weary also. After a delicious but barely tasted dinner, I take Roberto up to bed. He seems to collapse as I at least pull the sheet and spread over him. I go to my own bed with a sigh of pleasure.
I wake when the glimmer of light from the hall disappears as the door to my room softly closes and I feel someone pull the covers back and get in beside me. I know it is Roberto. I feel him snuggle against me then my arms go around him as always in the past. He sighs and is instantly asleep. I go back to sleep feeling at peace also.
When I wake, I see Roberto, in a robe, sitting in a comfortable chair and sipping a cup of coffee. There is a pot and another cup on the table next to him.
"Come have coffee and wake up, my friend. I do not forget how you are a grump in the morning."
I have to smile as I get up and go into my bath for relief and to throw cold water on my face to wake me. He holds out a cup when I seat myself.
"What would I do without you, my love," he says to me. "You comfort a lonely boy in a strange land, you love him for his defects, and now you comfort him in his own home and share his grief. You are truly a friend and still my love above all men."
"I will always love you, Roberto, and our Little Cam as well. You have made my life full of joy in the past and I hope in the future."
"You may be sure of that. Distance may separate us, but love spans time and space. Now we must dress and greet Mr. C. He is due any time for he took a night flight."
Roberto suggests I wear a suit as will he. I brought only my dark gray, but when I take it from the closet I see someone has sewn a black armband on the left sleeve. I find it depressing, but I know the customs are different here. I join Roberto, who has on a black suit, in the entry.
"Mr. C has arrived he says."
Mr. C comes immediately to us and hugs Roberto. "What's going on?"
"My Maria," is all Roberto can say.
Mr. C looks at me and I nod.
He hugs Roberto. "I'm so sorry, son. I am glad Cam was here for you. If there is anything I can do for you …"
Roberto shakes his head. "No, Señor. Gracias. It is all arranged. We wait only for Maria's parents to arrive."
I smile at Mr. C. "Let me show you your room so you can rest if you wish. I know sleeping on the plane was tiring."
"Not at all. I used the company plane which has sleeping accommodations so I'm very rested. I could use a wash up and a cup of coffee, though."
"Of course. This way."
Roberto goes into his study as I walk with Mr. C up the stairs.
"What happened, Cam?"
I tell him all of it as he washes up and puts on a fresh shirt. He shakes his head.
"Poor Roberto. I hope he can survive all of this without breaking. It's a lot to lose his wife and worse to have his son born with a birth defect. That'll be a constant reminder."
"I have talked with him some and it seemed to help. For some reason he seems to feel Little Cam will be rejected and all of this may affect his job."
Mr. C smiles. "How quickly we forget. Don't you remember the change Geof's leg made in Roberto and what he said about those who are crippled in this country?"
"I had forgotten. But I had thought that with his wealth and social sophistication it wouldn’t be a problem. Now I can see why he's worried. This may never happen, but if Roberto has a hard time in this country is there any way you could bring him to the states and find him a job?"
"Nothing would please me more, Cam. I know the joy it would give you and we would both have the pleasure of seeing our godson grow up."
I hug him. "Thank you, sir. I know it's a lot to ask, especially after you've already been so kind to us."
"I can never do enough for young men as fine as you and Roberto, Cam. Now I must include Little Cam. I hope I can see him soon."
"Of course, sir."
When the butler announces lunch, we go down and join Roberto. "When it is convenient, I would like to see my new godson, Roberto."
Roberto actually smiles. "I wish you to see him, Señor. He is so beautiful. I must await the parents of Maria, but I will have Ramon drive you and Cam to the hospital after we eat."
"Thank you. I hope you have your camera, Cam."
"Would I come to see my baby and not bring it?" He knows I'm teasing because I take my tiny digital camera everywhere I go.
Ramon drives with the same insanity as the rest but deposits us safely at the hospital. I lead the way up to the lounge just outside the maternity ward. Mr. C looks as impressed as I had been.
I smile. "Remember, sir, this is the hospital for the rich. Roberto says the poor have one across town which is nothing like this. He should know since that's where they took his leg off when he was a kid."
I stop at the desk and ask if we can see our godson. One nurse immediately smiles at us. "Baby Agular will have two American godfathers? I know his father is very proud."
"No more than we are proud to have such a beautiful boy," Mr. C says. "He will be named for Cam here."
"Oh, I saw you last evening with Señor Agular."
"Yes. May we see Little Cam now?"
"If you will have a seat in the lounge I will bring him to you."
I know she's got to be kidding, but it's only a moment before she's back holding Little Cam in her arms and placing him in mine. I can’t help the tears that spring to my eyes as I look down at Little Cam. His thumb is in his mouth, but his dark eyes look into mine and thick black hair curls over his head. He waves his partial left arm in random motion. I can hardly take in his beauty. I lean down and kiss him on the forehead while Mr. C takes several pictures.
I hand him to Mr. C who takes him gingerly then kisses him also. I get pictures of him and the nurse kindly takes a picture of Mr. C and me with me holding Little Cam in my arms.
"He's absolutely gorgeous, Cam," Mr. C says as we go down in the elevator.
"He should be. With parents like his how could he be otherwise."
Mr. C smiles at me and adds, "And I know his special attraction for you."
I know I'm blushing.
"I couldn’t resist that, Cam. Your devoteeism has placed you in situations where your attraction for others has benefited them. But never once have you forced your attention on someone else. To you and to me Little Cam will be normal and he will feel that way himself. I'd not have it otherwise."
"Nor would I. I only hope I can be with him any time he needs me."
The butler meets us at the door and asks us to go to Roberto's study. He leads us past an older couple I know must be Maria's parents. I'd like to offer my sympathy but they merely scowl at us.
"Oh, Roberto, what a gorgeous son you have. I am thrilled to be asked to be his godfather." Mr. C says when Roberto looks up.
"Thank you, my dear friend. It is Little Cam who is fortunate to have such godfathers as you and Cam."
"Let me get you a drink then give you a schedule." He rings for the butler and indicates he is to fix our drinks. "I assume you saw Maria's parents. They are waiting for their chauffeur. I am sorry to say they have not been cooperative. The service day after tomorrow will be a high requiem mass instead of the simple service Maria wanted." He nods after we're served and the butler leaves. They may see the baby tomorrow, I am not certain." His mouth twitches. "It seems I am at fault that Little Cam is a cripple. They have no regard for cripples and may not even acknowledge him as their grandchild."
"Unbelievable!" Mr. C says loudly. "I've never heard such crap in my life. I’d love to give them a piece of my mind. Little Cam is gorgeous! I'll never forget that I've actually held him in my arms. Thank you, Roberto, for giving me such a child to love. He'll never want for anything as long as I have a penny to my name."
Roberto gets up and hugs Mr. C. "Your heart is so big, Señor. I love you as Cam does."
"Have your parents been up to see him?" Mr. C asks.
"Not yet. I was about to call them when you came in. I will send Ramon for them tomorrow morning."
Mr. C smiles. "I'm glad I'll have a chance to see them as well. They are fine people of whom you must be proud."
Dinner is a rather somber affair. Roberto tries to apologize but Mr. C and I cut him off. He does have one piece of good news.
"The doctor tells me I may bring Little Cam home the day after the mass for Maria. I have found a wet nurse for him so he will grow fast. I hope you will have some time with him before you must return home."
"My plane is scheduled to return on Sunday and I planned to ask Cam to join me for the flight home."
Roberto smiles. "I will ask for Little Cam to be christened on Saturday so we can celebrate. My parents can stay here that long."
Roberto, wisely I think, does not go against the wishes of Maria's parents even when they insist on sitting in front of him at the funeral, all because he insisted that Mr. C and I sit next to him.
The mass is long and dull and that damned incense causes me to sneeze violently a couple of times, most embarrassing. It would be worse if I didn’t have Mr. C to follow. Apparently an Anglican mass isn’t that much different. But it's finally over and we're home. I make a bee-line for the bar in Roberto's study and fix my own drink much to the consternation of the butler. He does get to fix the drinks for Mr. C and Roberto.
Roberto's parents arrived just in time for the funeral so we haven’t had a chance to talk with them. I'm delighted when the butler shows them in. I actually get a hug from Roberto's mother. It's a surprise because she seemed so shy at his graduation, the last time I saw her. For the next hour or so poor Roberto stays busy with translation for his dad and Mr. C, though his mother and I do fairly well with my poor Spanish. A word or two I have to ask Roberto about he says are from the Indian dialect.
The five of us go to the hospital the next day to check on Little Cam and to let Roberto's parents see their grandchild. There are cries of delight until Little Cam's incomplete arm comes into view. Roberto's mother breaks into heaving sobs, so I take Little Cam into my arms and snuggle him. When I'm certain she's looking at us, I kiss his little arm on the end then kiss him on the forehead.
There's an immediate flurry of Spanish between Roberto and his mother. I hear him explain that both Mr. C and I love Little Cam as he is and are to be his godfathers. His father looks puzzled, but his mother manages to give me a tiny smile.
"El es tan hermoso," I say when I hand him back to her, then bend to kiss his arm again.
She gives me a tiny smile as if she's not convinced he's beautiful, but when Mr. C does the same, her smile becomes bigger. "Si, hermoso," she finally says.
The nurse comes in with a small handbag and gives it to me.
"Hey, we get to take Cam home with us," Roberto says then says it in Spanish to his parents. His mother immediately takes Cam from his arms.
Ramon is beaming when he sees us coming out with Little Cam in his grandmother's arms. He helps her into the car with amazing gentleness.
I don’t understand what kind of underground news system they have here, but when we get to the house the entire staff is lined up in the entry to see Little Cam. There's lots of oohing and aahing until the blanket slips and one of the maids I've not seen before mutters, "es lisiado."
Roberto points at her and yells, "Usted es despedido!"
Her face falls as the butler grabs her by the arm and pushes her roughly into the back hall. Mr. C and I look at each other knowing without understanding the words that she's been fired, but we're delighted to see Roberto take Little Cam in his arms and kiss him on the forehead. When Mr. C and I do the same and Cam is back in his grandmother's arms, the staff applaud quietly and file out with smiles. Any worries about his acceptance by Roberto or his grandparents have vanished.
A young woman with large breasts, dressed in a white uniform, comes in and takes Little Cam from Roberto's mother. "The wet nurse," Roberto explains after they've gone to the nursery.
I'm not certain what we had for dinner that evening, but it was superb. I did recognize the huge prawns served first. Roberto had mentioned they were exported in large quantities to gourmet restaurants in Europe and the U.S. I think the main course was chicken, but it was cut into small pieces and mixed with some type of vegetables and served over rice. The sauce is wonderful.
After dinner, Mr. C asks us to excuse Roberto and him for a talk. They go into Roberto's study and Roberto's parents and I go into the den where they are quickly absorbed in television. I go to my room for a book and begin to read.
It's a full hour before Roberto and Mr, C emerge from the study. Mr. C looks pleased while Roberto looks a bit stunned. He brings in his lap-top and I download the pictures we took at the hospital. Roberto's parents are amazed to see themselves on the screen with Little Cam. I shouldn’t have downloaded one picture I took deliberately because I should have known it would upset them. It's of Little Cam with his arm and stump lifted toward his father with a tiny smile. I know they say newborns don't smile but I'd swear this one does. This is one pic gets printed and framed to go on my desk when we get home.
At ten the next morning we all leave for the parish church where Little Cam is to be christened. Roberto looks a bit worried.
"What's wrong, buddy?" I ask.
"I don’t know who they will send to do Cam's baptism. This is the old family church of Maria's parents and Maria wanted Cam christened here, but the church is not used often and there's no regular priest. They're sending someone from the cathedral."
The sexton has opened the church, prepared things, and we're waiting only for the priest. He comes bustling in, obviously in a hurry and feeling put upon to have to perform this ritual. I frankly don't like anything about him and Roberto is looking very unhappy.
When he asks Roberto about the godfather, I can understand his Spanish. Roberto points to Mr. C and me. The priest snaps, "El Catolico?" at Mr. C and me.
"I'm Anglican," Mr. C tells him.
"And I'm converting to the Anglican faith," I reply.
The priest whips the stole from his shoulders and slams his little black book down. "Debe ser Catolico," he snaps at Roberto. He looks at Roberto's mother holding Little Cam about the time Cam raises both arms. The priest looks disgusted. "Un lisiado."
Roberto is so red I fear he might have an attack of some kind. He stomps his foot on the floor and lets go with a torrent of Spanish I can’t begin to keep up with. It must be good because his mother looks absolutely horrified. His father looks upset but is trying hard not to smile. The priest flies out the door with Roberto yelling after him all the louder.
When he runs down, he catches his breath then asks Mr. C if an Anglican priest would baptize Cam. When Mr. C responds that it will be no problem if Roberto promises to raise Cam in the Anglican church.
We all follow Roberto out to the car and the driver follows Roberto's instructions. In a few minutes we're at a small but lovely little Anglican church. Mr. C and Roberto go in and return a few moments later to beckon us all in. The priest is a kindly older man who seems delighted to be asked to christen Cam. Since Mr. C and I are familiar with the service, it is easy for us to guide Roberto through the ritual. His parents look decidedly uncomfortable until just before I hand Cam to the priest, he says something quietly to them and Roberto's mother begins to smile.
With in a few moments Little Cam is baptized into the Anglican faith to our joy. When the priest gently touches Little Cam's incomplete arm and says to Roberto, "God has given you a special child. You may not think so now, but you will realize that you have been blessed," Roberto is one big smile as he hugs the man and immediately asks for a schedule of classes for converts.
I see Mr. C unobtrusively hand the priest a hundred-dollar bill and shake his head when the priest tries to refuse it. Roberto has said the dollar is acceptable currency here. In fact, one president wanted to make the American dollar the national currency.
My curiosity is so great I can’t resist asking Roberto what he said to the priest. He grins and says "I use American saying: 'fuck you and the horse you rode in on.' Then I ask what nun was his mother."
By now I'm in hysterics. What ever happened to the quiet shy guy I used to room with at school?
Dinner is superb as fits the occasion. His nurse brings Little Cam in long enough for us to drink a toast to his long life, health, and happiness. His gifts rang from simple toys from his grandparents to an engraved silver cup from me, and a pile of stock certificates from Mr. C. Roberto hugs us all after Little Cam has endured our kisses without crying.
His parents insist they must get back home, so after hugs all around Ramon drives off with them. Cam says it's a short trip, only about 30 kilometers. We're relaxed and enjoying each other when the door to the salon bursts open and a woman rushes in screaming epithets at Roberto in a vituperative manner.
The butler comes in looking horrified. After a few more words from her, Roberto walks over calmly and slaps her hard. He has a few words to say before he has the butler escort her forcefully out of the house.
"Well," he says, rubbing his hand together, "I may need that position you offered me, Mr. C."
"Why? Who was that?"
"My former mother-in-law. They wouldn’t come to Cam's baptism because Maria and I chose you and Cam for his godfathers and you aren’t Catholic. Then she just found out Cam was baptized Anglican. They've disowned him, which down here means he no longer exists as far as they’re concerned. She also informed me that they hold the mortgage on the house and will foreclose. She also said her husband will use his influence to have my job."
"Can he do that?" I ask in amazement.
"Quite likely. He has a lot of highly placed political friends. A few words, a little pressure, and I could easily be found to be incompetent in my job. It will then go to someone more in political favor."
"I want to use your phone, Roberto. We discussed this possibility and it's time for action to begin."
"None of this will happen immediately. Things move slowly, even a foreclosure."
"And you know how slowly they can move at our end, too. Be sure you have all the documentation for Little Cam ready along with yours and get your lawyer busy."
"Yes, sir." I see tears running down Roberto's cheeks as he hugs Mr. C. "Again I must rely on your help. I am so grateful for your counsel and generosity."
"Always for you, my son."
Mr. C asks for the car the moment Ramon returns. I hear him tell Ramon to go to the American embassy.
On our flight home Mr. C tells me that Roberto and Little Cam will be coming to live with us as soon as the paperwork for immigration can be completed. They will be coming on a permanent resident visa. I'm delighted to know my Roberto will be living and working with me and I'm looking forward to helping raise Little Cam.
By anticipating possible trouble, Mr. C's advice made it possible for Roberto to keep a large portion of his wealth and belongings. In fact Mr. C got Roberto to move almost all of his cash and investments to the branch of an American Bank in Quito for immediate transfer to the states then closed the local account. In that way the local bank can honestly claim Roberto has no account with them. There are times when Roberto and I could learn far more from Mr. C than we ever could in a classroom.
Within a few weeks another suite of rooms in Mr. C's house has been transformed into a nursery for Little Cam and a nanny hired. My mind boggles at the toys strewn around the playroom when Cam is only a few weeks old.
After Mr. C retired a few years later, Roberto and I opened our own management consulting firm and are doing quite well. There was no question about our continuing to live with Mr. C because I don’t know who would be the most upset if we left, Little Cam or Mr. C. Mr. C spoils Cam to death.
Roberto, now known as Robert, insisted Cam have the best prosthetic arm possible. I don't know how he got the information, but the best for children seems to be the Prodigits robotic hand being tested in Nottingham, England. Because of likely problems with re-entering the country, Roberto decides to stay home and lets me take Cam to England. Cam is as content to be with me as he is his blood father, calling me dad as often as he calls Roberto that. It's total acceptance of the fact that Roberto and I have a perfect relationship between us and have had our union blessed by an Episcopal priest Mr. C found.
Cam is not pleased with the arm, complaining that it's too heavy, it looks funny, he can’t make it work right, and an endless string of excuses. I get him to hush by telling him how disappointed his father will be. I do get the technicians to make a custom cover for the hand that matches Cam's skin color and is elastic enough not to wrinkle when the fingers change position. That helps Cam accept it somewhat. At the end of three weeks Cam has pretty well mastered the use of it so we return home.
Roberto is thrilled to see Cam use the hand well at dinner, but except for meals the hand seems to stay in his room. Cam is not sensitive about his arm and the other kids in kindergarten accept him totally.
Cam is growing swiftly, a happy child. His father and I are equally as happy in our love for each other and Cam. Mr. C continues to invest our money wisely and is the cornerstone of our loving family. Perhaps Shakespeare had it when he said "all's well that ends well."