FOREVER 1 - Beginnings
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2014 - 2015. All rights reserved.
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2014 - 2015. All rights reserved.
from Dune (1984) by Frank Herbert, David Lynch
I overslept. I couldn't believe it. When I finally woke up I realized I had been kissing Seth, his hands all over my ass while he had me pressed up against the stainless steel cabinets in the first class galley. Things were rattling on the shelves around us as we made our own turbulence. I was just about to cum in my pants when I was startled awake, my cock throbbing under the sheets. Why do the hottest dreams always have to end just before the climax?
The sun was shining around the edges of the drapes, and I was momentarily disoriented as to where I was. I heard my pitifully weak watch alarm going off on the nightstand, muffled by a pillow I must have tossed on top of it during my wild fantasy tryst with Seth.
I pressed the button to silence the alarm and then saw the time: 8:25. Oh, crap! Billy was picking me up at 9. I was screwed.
I flew out of the bed, used the toilet, then jumped in the shower. I was bummed because I didn't have time to enjoy it. The Bvlgari shower gel was astounding – I smelled like a million bucks. I immediately made plans to take as much of the shower gel back home with me as I could cram into my duffel bag. I did a fast shave, brushed my teeth, spread some deodorant under my arms, and I was done.
I didn't know exactly when we were to meet the judge, so I skipped the suit. I pulled it out of the closet, realizing I had forgotten to put it in the bathroom while I showered. It was still horribly wrinkled so I hung it on a towel hook on the wall next to the shower. Maybe some lingering steam could work out some of the kinks during the day.
I put on my Thursday uniform of work clothes, found my shoes where I had kicked them off the night before, and with one final check in the mirror to brush my hair, I was moving to the door. I stopped momentarily to think if there was anything I needed to take with me, but quickly realized I didn't have anything but myself.
I could smell something wonderful in the hallway, wafting in from the Club Lounge. My stomach ached for some attention, but there was no time. I had five minutes to get to the lobby, and this hotel was huge. Keep moving, Jack.
Thankfully I didn't get lost, and I stepped outside the entrance just as a gleaming black sedan pulled up. I could see Billy at the wheel and when he saw me, he gave me his signature megawatt smile. I could feel myself finally relax a little bit. I didn't realize how tense and nervous I was, in the rush to get ready.
Billy was out and holding the rear door open for me in a flash. I think he wanted to beat the bellboy to the task. This man took his job quite seriously.
"Good mornin', Jack. Sleep well?" he asked in a chipper voice.
"Like a baby, Billy. Best night in a long time. I overslept – guess I didn't want it to end."
"I hear ya, man. If I had that bed, I'd never want to leave it either." We both chuckled as he got back behind the wheel.
"Alright, Jack. Next stop, the office." He pulled into the surprisingly heavy morning traffic and we made our way slowly past the downtown high rise buildings. I busied myself just looking out the window at the people on the sidewalks around us, walking quickly to get to their appointed tasks. I tried to ignore the rising anxiety spreading through my system.
After a fairly short drive we were pulling into a parking garage underneath a mid-sized building. Billy pulled off his sunglasses as he maneuvered the car around the turns, moving up a couple of levels before pulling into a spot reserved for Wilson, Matthews and Associates.
As I had no idea where we going, I waited for Billy to open my door - I think he liked that part of his job a lot - and I followed him toward a bank of elevators about twenty yards away. I zipped up my jacket as there was a definite chill in the air.
We rode up to the seventeenth floor, and I trailed Billy to Suite 1701, stealing glances at his muscular ass moving under his tight black suit pants. Magnificent ass!
The entrance was floor to ceiling glass walls and doors with polished brass fixtures and an engraved plaque announcing the firm's name. As we entered, a young, blond woman wearing too small a blouse and just a tad too much makeup looked up from her desk and her smile got larger.
"Good morning, Billy. It's great to see you again." I could have been mistaken – I'm no expert in these things – but it appeared to me she was flirting with Billy. She had so far ignored me.
"Mornin', Shelly. We're headed in to see Mr. Watson." He didn't bother to introduce me and she paid me no attention. Her eyes never left Billy. He barely seemed to notice her or how she was looking at him.
We moved further into the inner sanctum, Billy walking quickly along the interior corridors, nodding occasionally to someone sitting at a cubicle or desk as we passed. We made a right turn and entered into some kind of executive wing, as the décor became more refined with dark polished wood accents and a thicker carpeting under our feet. The ambient office noise fell off quickly, hushed perhaps by the more important work being done in these offices. We passed a couple of doors on our left with names on them, probably partners with the firm, I guessed, and opposite them were a couple of executive desks out in the open, manned by two mature elegant women, quietly working, answering phones and typing at computers. They both smiled as we walked past then returned to their work.
Billy never slowed down as we made one more right turn and entered what looked like a lobby of sorts. It was oval shaped – I immediately thought of the Oval Office in the White House – the center of which was occupied with a large work area with a curved panel in front of it. It looked big enough for three people to work behind it. The whole work area acted as a sentry in front of two doors in the wood-paneled wall behind it.
Billy had stopped and was looking around, so I did the same. There was a large conference room to my right, with the entire wall facing us made of floor to ceiling glass. Inside I could see a huge cherry wood conference table with various pieces of communications equipment sitting in the middle. I wondered for a moment if there was anything in there from our company. That would have been a "small world" moment for sure.
A large credenza sat at the far end of the conference room with a silver coffee and tea service adorning the dark marble top. I could see fresh pastries and cut fruit on serving platters with a stack of fine china plates at the ready. I couldn't tell from where I was standing, but I was willing to bet the napkins were linen, not paper.
I heard a door click, and a beautiful woman exited one of the offices immediately behind the work area and walked around toward us, the dark skin of her face shining in the ambient light coming from above. She looked like an angel. She wore black pants and a frilly off-white blouse with lots of ruffles, and it struggled to cover what my Aunt Helen would have called her ample bosom.
"Mornin', Mama," said Billy.
"Morning, baby," she replied sweetly, receiving his gentle kiss on her cheek. He had to bend down to give her the kiss. I had been somewhat hidden behind Billy, large as he was. He stepped to the side and reached back to usher me forward.
"Mama, may I introduce you to Mr. Jack Schaeffer." I would have been amused at his sudden formality if I hadn't been in shock at his greeting. This was his mother? She smiled at me, and I immediately knew they had to be related. She had the same incredible, all-the-way-to-the-eyes smile of Billy's, and for a split second I could see something familiar in her eyes as well.
I couldn't explain it, but she looked almost in shock, kind of like she was looking at a ghost. She stared at me for several seconds, her eyes studying my face intently. Then she seemed to recover herself and her smile returned.
"Jack Schaeffer, it is an honor to finally meet you. I'm Sharon Adams. We spoke on the phone yesterday. Welcome to Denver."
"Thank you, ma'am. I'm glad to be here – I think." My nerves were settling a bit in her presence, for which I was grateful.
"Has my son been taking good care of you? He may be big, but I could still turn him over my knee if he doesn't do right." Her eyes were dancing with humor, and we all burst out laughing at the image she had just painted. I think Billy was the most amused of all.
"Mama, you're too much." He looked at her with obvious love, and something else – respect, I think.
She was looking at me again with studied wonder. "So Jack, I'm sure you have a million questions running through your mind, so why don't we get you settled here in the conference room where you'll be more comfortable while we wait for Clyde to finish his call, okay?"
We moved into the conference room. "Have you had breakfast? Would you like something to eat?" At that moment my stomach made a gurgling noise which echoed in the room. She laughed and said, "I'll take that as a yes. I know young men such as yourself need to eat often to keep up your strength. My Billy could eat enough for ten men when he was your age." Small wonder, the guy was huge. And strong.
I followed her to the credenza and selected a couple of pastries and some fruit, placing it all very delicately onto the china plate she handed me, along with a napkin. I was right – linen.
I declined coffee, taking a proffered Fiji water bottle instead, and took a seat at the table near the center, where I could look out through the glass wall into Sharon's domain. I prefer to have my back to the rear of a room – fear of surprises, I guess. I didn't recognize any of the communications equipment adorning the table.
"Jack, I have a couple of things to finish up quickly for Clyde, so will you be okay here for a few minutes? If you need anything, I'll be right outside there at my desk."
"I'm fine, ma'am. Thank you."
"You can call me Sharon, baby. I won't take it as disrespect, I promise." She stepped out and returned to her desk. I could see her chat with Billy for a few minutes, at one point he leaned into her and gave her a kiss on the cheek again, and she smiled at him. They clearly loved each other.
I found myself feeling jealous of Billy all of a sudden. It looked to me like he had the kind of relationship with his mother I had always wanted with mine. Warmth, respect, affection. My mother made sure my basic needs were met growing up – food, shelter, clothing. But there had been little affection, and to be honest, I wasn't convinced all the time about her love for me. She didn't hate me, or even really dislike me, I don't think. But there was no warmth or joy in the relationship. It became an obligatory co-existence.
I sometimes wondered if it had been different before my father left her. I had vague recollections of her smiling and laughing more when my brother Terry and I were little. She would play games with us. We had birthday parties with all my cousins and they were big affairs. She was a room mother in our elementary school. Even Terry and I seemed to get along back then, as brothers should. I actually enjoyed my early childhood. I liked to believe we had been a typical happy family, before my father gave in to his selfishness and left us in relative ruins. He tried to tell my brother and me he only left our mother, not us. But that is never really true in divorce.
I was putting my empty plate off to the side of the credenza, not sure what else I was supposed to do with it, when I heard a deep voice behind me say, "Jack, I'm so glad you made it."
I turned to face Clyde Watson for the first time. He was a trim, fit man in his 60's, I guessed, but when he saw my face the color drained instantly from his and he suddenly looked as if he was going to faint.
Sharon was standing next to him, but couldn't see his face. I took a step closer to reach out and help him should he start to fall, but he quickly recovered, and steadied himself with a hand on a chair. He seemed suddenly embarrassed by his reaction to me.
"Are you okay, Mr. Watson?" I asked, genuinely concerned.
"Yes, yes, my boy. I'm fine." He still seemed shaky, but determined to move on. "Let's have a seat, shall we?" He gestured to the table and I returned to my previous place.
As we were situating ourselves I noticed he stole several glances at Sharon, who joined us at the table. There was a silent communication going on, as only two people who have worked closely together for years can do. What they were saying I had no idea. I just knew my nerves were back, an unsettled feeling rising quickly.
"Sharon tells me you made it in okay, and Billy got you to the hotel last night. Was everything satisfactory there?" He was shuffling papers as he tried to make opening small talk.
"Yes, sir. It was very fine. The hotel is beautiful. Much more than I expected. Also, thank you for the airplane ticket. First Class was so not necessary."
"Nonsense, Jack. We take very good care of our clients here, and you are a special client indeed." This was the second time I had been referred to as a special client. First by Sharon yesterday on the phone and now by Clyde. My anxiety ratcheted up a notch.
"Jack, to be honest I'm not sure where to start. We have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time." He kept glancing up at me, and then back down to his papers. I think his thoughts were shuffling as much as the papers in his hands. This went on for several uncomfortable seconds.
Finally Sharon cut to the chase. "Clyde, just tell him. The boy deserves to know."
It was a very matter-of-fact statement, but it sounded immensely ominous to me. Know what? What had I gotten myself into? I suddenly suspected I had been played. A first class plane ticket, a five-star hotel, private driver. This was a set up. My thoughts started racing. What do I do now? How am I going to get back to Chicago? I don't even know where I am actually. I felt trapped. How do I get out of there?
Clyde's continued silence was irritating me, so I blurted out, "Will someone please tell me what is going on here?" There was no mistaking my frustration now. Things had taken a decidedly downward turn in my mind.
My outburst startled Clyde into action. I don't think he planned to say it, but his first words rocked me to my core.
"Amanda Franklin was your mother."
I felt blood start rushing into my head, the veins in my neck got tight, and my chest got tight as well. I suddenly needed air, feeling as if the conference room walls were slowly compressing towards me. My hands started shaking violently and I was a curious mix of afraid and angry. I tried to process what he had said, but nothing was registering in my brain. It made no sense.
I had had enough. I stood up, fury rising. I was fast losing control, and I knew it. I started yelling at Clyde. "Are you crazy? Why would you say something like that? That is the meanest thing you could say to me. My mother is back home in Illinois. And she is definitely not dead!"
Clyde's face was now ashen white, with a look of real alarm on it. I could feel Sharon watching me closely, but strangely she seemed unmoved by my reaction. She probably had witnessed more than her share of angry outbursts in that conference room over the years, and she was prepared for it, even if Clyde seemed totally uncertain as to how to proceed.
I shifted my flashing eyes from Clyde to Sharon. She looked at me with what I can only describe as compassion and love, and a touch of sorrow I had been hurt by Clyde's statement. I don't think either of them had anticipated such a reaction from me.
"Jack," she said softly, "Of course your mother is still alive. I spoke to her briefly myself last week when we were tracking you down. Try to calm down, baby. No one wants to be mean to you or hurt you, I promise." Her voice in the moment possessed such a kindness I did immediately calm down. My hands stopped shaking, and I could feel my legs weaken as the adrenaline drained away. I collapsed back into my chair, the fight gone out of me.
Sharon looked sideways at Clyde as if to say, "Fix this, mister." He cleared his throat, looked once more at her, and found the courage to try again.
"Jack, my apologies. That was not kind of me. I shouldn't have started with that. I know your mother is alive and well. I didn't mean to be confusing or hostile. But Jack, let me ask you a question. Were you not adopted as a baby?"
With his statement, everything fell into place and started to make sense. Sort of.
Yes it was true I had been adopted as a baby. This was not news. I had known this since I was five years old, if not earlier. My mother had been told she could never have children, so after three years of marriage, she and my father agreed to try adoption. Less than a year later they brought me home, a perfectly normal 2 month old baby boy. To their shock and amazement, two months later my mother was pregnant with my brother Terry. There were no other surprises after him.
I don't think Terry liked the idea I was adopted. As we got older I think he came to think maybe I wasn't his real brother, especially since our relationship was non-existent. Which of course was due more to his behavior and violence than our mismatched genetics, but he would never perceive that on his own.
Being adopted had never been an issue for me. In fact, I had worn it like a badge of honor when I was younger, until I offended half of the third grade with my arrogance. Apparently telling 9 year olds you are special because you were chosen by your parents while their parents had been stuck with whatever they got, was not the way to make friends. But that was how I saw it at the time.
Later, as I grew up, it ceased to even be a thought. It really had no bearing on my life whatsoever. Occasionally I would hear about a celebrity searching for their long lost birth parents, but it never intrigued me enough to care. To be honest, I think I had just assumed they were dead. I never dreamed they would show back up in my life. I know I never spent any time thinking about them.
My first thought when Clyde mentioned my adoption was of my mother – my adoptive mother. My real mother. I suddenly was afraid for her, like she would somehow be threatened by this revelation. Imperfect as she was, she had always been my mother. And she deserved that place in my heart. Not some stranger I knew nothing about and who had never done anything for me. A few minutes ago I was jealous of Billy and his mom, and now I was mentally defending my own. I think that's why I had reacted so violently to Clyde's initial statement.
We had been stewing in silence while I processed his question. They were probably grateful I was still sitting there, reasonably composed again.
"Yes, Clyde, it's true. I was adopted. So, are you saying that Amanda Franklin was my birth mother? I think that's the right term." My voice sounded stronger than I felt on the inside, but I was coming back.
"Yes, Jack. I believe she was. I can only imagine how this must be a real shock to you. And I'm very sorry you had to find about her in this way. As much as I have wanted to meet you, I have been dreading this conversation." Now that we were talking, I could sense he was relaxing a bit more as well. I could see and hear the true kindness in the man, and Sharon was looking at him with a renewed respect. Apparently he had fixed things to her satisfaction.
My head started to fill up with a lot of questions about Amanda. Who was she? What was she like? How did she live her life? Why did she give me up for adoption? Now that she was dead, I assumed I would never know the answer to the last one.
I had no sense of any emotional connection to her, but I assumed Clyde, and perhaps Sharon, did. I think Clyde had even called her a family friend.
"Can you tell me a little about her, Clyde?" I asked more for him, I think, than to satisfy my own curiosity. I sensed he needed to talk about her and had waited a long time to do so.
"Yes, of course. Amanda was first and foremost my good friend, long before she became my client. She and her husband, Phillip, were longtime friends with my wife, Shirley, and I. We spent a lot of time together: dinners and golf at the club, ski weekends, concerts, theatre. The usual. The girls would go shopping on weekends a lot. I knew them for more than 20 years, and I miss them both very much. Phillip was probably my best friend." His eyes got a little misty as he talked.
He continued on, telling me the story of meeting Amanda for the first time, how head over heels in love his friend Phillip had been. Clyde was asked to stand up in their wedding, and his wife Shirley, a real estate agent, helped Amanda and Phillip locate their dream home in the hills just outside of Denver. Apparently Phillip and Clyde were avid golfers, and together with two other guys, were a frequent foursome at the country club they both belonged to. Being Denver, golf was not exactly a year round sport, so when the weather was good, they played as often as they could.
I interrupted him at one point to ask the unspoken question. "Was Phillip Franklin my birth father, then?"
Clyde looked pained at the question, and he looked over to Sharon again, perhaps for direction on how to answer. She gave him the look, saying, "Go ahead, tell him the truth."
"No, Jack. Phillip was not your birth father. As far as I know, he never knew anything about you. None of us did, you see. Amanda never told anyone she had had a child, not until about four months before she died. By then Phillip had been dead for nearly two years. She and Phillip never had children. To be honest, Jack, I don't know who your birth father was, or is, or if he is alive now or not."
Okay, that's an open question now – one I had never considered, but in light of the morning's revelations, might become more important than I ever imagined.
"Clyde, if it's not too painful, would you tell me how she died?"
"Well, I need to start with Phillip. He and Amanda were deeply in love their whole married lives together. I love my wife Shirley, don't get me wrong, but I have never seen the intensity of Amanda and Phillip's love for each other." Sharon was nodding her head silently, apparently also in the know about their deep love.
"Almost three years ago now, Phillip and Amanda were in Vail for a ski weekend. Amanda skied a little, sticking to the bunny hills. Phillip was always more adventurous. So one afternoon he decided to tackle a pretty serious hill at the resort. Apparently, according to the coroner's report, a bracket on one of his skis broke and he lost control in a particularly steep portion of the run, and sadly he hit a tree on the side of the trail. He died instantly from severe head trauma. He wasn't discovered until Amanda got concerned he had not arrived at the bottom of the hill when he was expected.
"I think at first she just figured he had stopped to talk to someone on the lift or something. He was always doing that – talking to strangers. It's like he never met a person he didn't already know. Anyway, after about an hour of searching, the trail boss came to her and told her the horrible news. She called Shirley, Shirley called me, and we got to her later that evening. She was devastated to say the least.
"We did the best we could to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She and Phillip had retired from their work doing pharmaceutical research together when the company was sold, so she was kind of at loose ends. Thankfully a mutual friend of ours encouraged her to help out with a charity organization helping disabled kids, and she put herself totally into it. I think it saved her sanity, to tell you the truth."
Clyde had gotten up to get himself some coffee while he talked. He now came back and sat down, looking sadly into his coffee cup. "I'll never forget the day Amanda came here to my office to talk with me. She never came here. I had done some legal work for Phillip on occasion, and I had set up their estate. Wills and trusts, that sort of thing. But Amanda had never involved herself with any of that. Anyway, she came in one afternoon unannounced and said she had some news she needed to discuss.
Apparently she had discovered some lumps in her left breast that appeared to be growing rather rapidly. She quietly had them biopsied. As far as I know she told no one in advance. The results came back positive for cancer. A particularly aggressive variety. Her prognosis was not terminal, but it wasn't good either. She told me that day that her mother had died at the age of 50 with the same kind of cancer. Amanda had just turned 52. We had celebrated her birthday with a small party at the club two weeks before.
She started chemotherapy right away, along with some radiation treatments. For a while it seemed like it was working. The lumps disappeared, her strength and her hair returned. If anything she looked more beautiful than ever.
She got very involved in her charity work. I think it gave her a real sense of purpose to be helping people. She always said the reason she got into drug research was because she wanted to really help people, and with the right medicines, millions of people's lives could be bettered. I know Phillip felt the same way. It was that passion that connected them more than anything I think.
But then came the day when a follow up exam showed the worst. The cancer was back – and it was everywhere. At the time she had no symptoms, but within weeks her strength started to fail. She was given three to six months to live. She worked with her charities as much as she could, but eventually she couldn't hardly leave the house anymore. Shirley and I would go out there and visit at least once a week. Maggie and Charles, the couple who lived in the house as caretakers, took really good care of her that whole time.
As I said before, about four months before she died, she asked me to come to the house one afternoon alone. Apparently she had sent Maggie and Charles on some errands so they wouldn't be around to hear what she wanted to tell me. It was on that day that she revealed that she had a secret – a child that she had given up for adoption during her first marriage.
I was shocked. About the baby, but also about the previous marriage. I don't think even Phillip knew that she had been married before him. But I recovered quickly as she told me what she wanted to do.
You have to understand, up to this point, Phillip and Amanda's estate was earmarked almost entirely to go to various charities upon the death of the final survivor. Neither one of them had any living relatives. With Phillip already gone, Amanda's passing would mark the end of their estate. As I was the executor, it fell to me to see to it that all assets were taken care of as planned. Nothing had been changed for years – really since they sold the company two years before Phillip died. That's when we set up the family trust.
Amanda told me that she had been doing a lot of thinking – about her life and her legacy. She asked that I change some of the benefits to some specific charities. Two in particular that she had spent her recent years helping were to receive significant increases.
She then turned to the subject of her baby. She didn't know much – she had chosen to remain anonymous in the process, having no interest in an open adoption. She had been living in California, near Los Angeles, at the time, and the adoption was handled by the local social services agency for the county. She remembered that she had given birth on May 18th and she was allowed to hold her baby boy for a couple of hours, then surrendered him to the agency. She had been assured that there was already a good local family planning to adopt him.
Less than a year later, Amanda decided to move to the Denver area, though she never said why. I had always assumed she lived here her entire life. She never spoke of anywhere else. She got a job in the research lab at Franklin Pharmaceuticals, where she met Phillip, the founder's son, at a company mixer a short time after she started. They were married eight months later."
Clyde looked exhausted. I didn't really know what to say at this point. It was all so surreal. This Amanda person had gone from being just a name dropped on the phone to becoming a real life person, and my birth mother to boot. I assumed that that part was true. I couldn't imagine now that Clyde or Sharon would involve me like this if it wasn't true.
Sharon quietly interjected, "Jack, would you like to take a break? I'm sure you still have a million questions, but we would understand if you wanted some time to process." The kindness flowing from her heart across the table to me was uplifting and very welcome.
"I do have a couple more questions, if I could?"
Clyde replied, "Of course, Jack. Whatever you need."
"Well, I understand the she told you about the baby, but how did you find me? Are you really sure that I am her son? I don't mean to doubt you, but that seems like a pretty important fact to get right, you know?"
"How about I let Sharon tell you that part, since she did most of the work."
I turned to Sharon, and she settled into her chair to tell me her part of the story.
"It was almost four months after Amanda had dropped this bombshell on Clyde here. He told me she had asked for me to come out to the house. She wanted to talk to me about some things. Now I did things like that from time to time for Clyde's clients. It goes with the job, so I didn't think anything of it. A couple of days later I headed out to the house, and again, no Maggie or Charles, which was unusual, because one or the other was always there by this time, keeping an eye of her. It was my understanding that she was in the end stages of her disease.
I remember she was sitting in her favorite chair by the big picture window in her bedroom. She had a blanket across her lap, and some paper and a pen sitting on the small table beside her. She looked very frail but she was smiling, eager to talk. After our hellos, she asked me to have seat and if I would be willing to listen to a story. She told me that she had decided to trust me with her secrets.
Her request seemed a little odd, but I wasn't going to say no to the lady, so I set myself up in the chair next to her and got ready to listen, and for the next four hours or so she told me the story – the story of you. She then asked me what I thought about it all, and we discussed it a bit. I think she was wanting a mother's perspective on it. Then she asked if I thought it was appropriate for her to write you a letter, telling you about herself and why she made the decisions she did. I thought about it for a few minutes and then told her I thought it was the right thing to do. I asked her if she needed any help to do that, because by this time she was very tired and having trouble concentrating. She said no, that she would do it tomorrow, she wanted to sleep on it one more night. Maggie had come back from whatever errands Amanda had sent her on, and together we got her back into bed.
Sadly, I never got to talk to her again. She died in her sleep two days later. Maggie found an envelope on the nightstand by her bedside, sealed and addressed 'To my son...'."
I sat there speechless. My mother – my birth mother – had written me a letter on her death bed. I was suddenly filled with all kinds of emotions, the most surprising of which was deep sadness. I almost didn't want to know what she had said about me. It would make the loss of her more real, and it was rapidly becoming more and more real to me by the minute.
Clyde open the folder that had been sitting in front of him all this time and carefully extracted an envelope. I could tell it was a lady's stationery, the borders covered in intricate, colorful floral patterns. He handed it to me like a priceless heirloom, and I gingerly accepted it across the table. I looked at it and found myself fighting back tears. It was sealed. I wasn't ready to read it. Not yet. Not here. I wanted to be alone with it. With her.
"If you both don't mind, I would like to read this a little later." My voice was shaky, and both Clyde and Sharon looked at me across the table with concern.
I still wanted to know how they had determined I was her son. "I understand Amanda passed away 6 months ago or so. How did you find me and what took so long?" This I addressed to Sharon, as Clyde had said she was the one who did the finding.
"Well, Jack. Amanda died without giving us a whole lot to go on. She of course had no idea where you were, what had happened to you, or if you were even still alive. We had a birth date but no year, a place of birth, and the name of the adoption agency. Not a lot to go on.
After the funeral, Clyde let me know that we had a short window within which to find you, if you indeed existed, otherwise her final wishes could not be honored. He was adamant that we try our hardest to do so. So I got busy. I first called California and got what I needed in the way of filing formal legal requests for adoption information. The adoption was closed, but as we are a law firm seeking to handle legal affairs, I can sometimes get people to tell me more than they would tell the general public.
Three months after filing my requests, I got a packet of information in the mail that gave me a few of the missing details. Inside was a note from the court clerk for the judge who finalized the adoption. She said I was in luck, that there had been only one adoption case for a boy with a birthday of May 18th in a three year window prior to her marriage to Phillip. So that fit the timeline she had given Clyde.
It had your original birth certificate, as well as your adoptive one. Both had your birthdate of May 18, 1988. Now I had your current adoptive name, so the rest was locating your current address. I figured you were now over the age of 21, so you probably had a credit report with the reporting agencies. So I ran that, got the different places you had lived, and was now reasonably sure I knew who you were and where you were. The only thing I didn't know was a phone number. I called the only number we had, which was your old home phone number. I spoke to your mother but she said you didn't live there anymore – you were now in Chicago. She refused to give your current number to a stranger, and I didn't blame her. More confirmation. I had no home phone number or cell phone in any of the reports, but I did have your employer's name. So I looked that number up and that's what I ultimately gave to Barry Wilson so he could reach out to you, since Clyde got sick and couldn't come.
Before contacting you, Clyde wanted me to be absolutely sure, so I dug backwards into your parents address history as well. It took awhile, but I was able to create a definitive line of information back to when they lived in the Los Angeles area at the time you were born. Apparently they must have left California shortly after adopting you, because your brother Terry was born in Illinois."
I had been holding my breath as she unfolded her steps of discovery, and with the knowledge that she had linked my parents all the way back to California, I knew that this was all true. My parents had in fact been planning a move back to Illinois the whole time they were waiting for the adoption to be completed. The only reason they stayed as long as they did was because they didn't want to start over in Illinois. Within two weeks after my adoption, once the court required doctor's exam was completed, they were free to take me out of the state. This part of my story I already knew.
I was quiet now, trying to process all that I had taken in. I don't know if a person can really be in mental shock, but it sure felt like it. I didn't trust my brain to connect the dots anymore, so I stayed quiet.
Sharon broke the silence, this time deciding for herself that it was time for a break. "Clyde, Jack, we all need to take a few minutes. This has been pretty intense, if you ask me." With that, she got up and started collecting empty coffee cups. "Jack, there is a restroom right around the corner from our office area where you came in. Feel free to use that to freshen up."
Clyde gathered his papers, looked at me with concern in his eyes, and then turned and headed back to his office. I wasn't sure who needed the break more, him or me. My guess is Sharon was reading him and knew when to call a halt. She had probably been watching out for him like that for years. Seemed like something she would do.
I did as Sharon suggested, and headed to the restroom. I was the only one in there. It was clean, quiet, and much needed. I did my thing at the urinal and then stood at the mirror looking at my haggard face. I appeared a little shell shocked, I think. I splashed some cold water on my face and neck which helped. I wondered how much more could I take.
I returned back to Sharon's area, since I did not know where else to go. I didn't see Billy anywhere; he was probably driving someone else around now. Sharon came out of Clyde's office just as I got to her desk.
"How you doin', Jack? Are you alright?"
"I think so. A little shocked I guess, but I'll be okay. It sure is a lot to take in."
"I'm sure it is, baby. I'm sure it is."
I wanted to say something to her, but I wasn't sure how to do it. It had come up in me the second she told me what she had done for Amanda. I hesitated for a few seconds, but then went for it.
"Sharon, I want to thank you for what you did. For talking with Amanda and sitting with her and listening to her story. My story. And...for encouraging her to write me a letter." I started to cry then. I couldn't help it. The tears just flowed down my face, the dam of emotions bursting under too much pressure.
Sharon quickly came around her desk and put her arms around me and pulled me into a tight hug. I felt so safe and warm there, pulled up against her. I once again thought about what it would have been like to have her as my mother. That brought on another wave of tears. She held on to me, patting my back and make soft, comforting noises, until I finally settled down. She let go of me, leaned back, and looked intently at me.
"Don't you ever, ever be ashamed to cry, Jack Schaeffer. Sometimes it's the only way we know we are human." I noticed she had a few tears on her face as well.
We shared a Kleenex box and got ourselves put back together. Clyde stuck his head out of his office and asked if we would both come in.
All I can say about Clyde's office is if it had been mine, I would have never gotten any work done. The view of the city and the snowcapped mountains in the distance was breathtaking. He had the expected large desk with two guest chairs in front of it, plus a round table with four additional chairs off to the side. There were stacks of papers and folders all over his desk and the table, in direct contrast to Sharon's very tidy and orderly work space.
"Jack," Clyde said. "I know we have all had a bit of a shock, but we do still have some more we need to accomplish today. Do you think you are up to meeting Judge Bartells this afternoon? I think we are all agreed here that we have the right person. Now we just need to let him meet you and satisfy his curiosity, if nothing else. Whadda ya say, Jack?"
I took a deep breath. "I think I can do that, Clyde. But I was planning on wearing a suit to meet with him, and that's back at the hotel. And I'm getting kind of hungry. What time do we need to be there?" Sharon chuckled at my need for more food.
"Our meeting is scheduled for 2:00 this afternoon, during his usual trial recess. How about we have Billy take you back to the hotel, you can get yourself changed and maybe grab a bite to eat. I apologize, but I have a Partner luncheon meeting I have to attend here. We'll have Billy pick you up at 1:00, then he can swing back by here to get me and we will head over to the courthouse. We can just make that work, I think."
"Works for me I guess." I was wanting a change of scenery, I realized. I needed to put a little space between me and the events of the morning thus far.
"I'll get Billy," said Sharon, as she departed the office. I followed her out. While Sharon was on the phone letting Billy know he was needed, I paced a bit back and forth, trying not to act like a caged animal.
I didn't know what was happening to me. One minute I thought I was doing okay, the next I wanted to climb the walls. It seemed to come in waves. I knew one thing though – I was talked out for now. I just wanted to get back to the hotel, get something to eat, and try to relax a little bit. I was starting to realize this trip was more of a journey of emotions than I planned on.
Billy arrived within minutes, from where I have no idea, and Sharon detailed the plans for the afternoon. He gave his mother a hug – she gives great hugs – and we were on the move. Following Billy is like following a bulldozer. People just sort of get out of his way lest they be run over. I was glad to be behind him and not in front. Plus I liked looking at his tight ass.
We got to the car, he opened my door, and I collapsed on to the seat and closed my eyes for a minute. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I caught Billy looking at me in the rearview mirror, concern etched on his brow, but he didn't say anything. I was glad for the silence.
When we got to the hotel, he got out quickly and when my door opened, it was him standing there. I could see a bellboy sheepishly stepping backwards toward the curb. Nothing was said, I don't think, but the bellboy must have figured out from Billy's look that he was in charge of this vehicle and all who rode in it.
I got out and looked at Billy, and he smiled. A Billy smile. And I smiled back. His smile had me feeling better already.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Jack? You got everything you need right now?"
"Yeah, Billy, I'm good. Thanks. I'll meet you down here at 1, right?"
"Sounds good, Jack. See you then. Hey, maybe you should try to get a nap. You look a little beat up."
I laughed, thinking he didn't know the half of it.
I got to my room with no more interference from staff and let myself in, then made my way to the bedroom. I was thinking a nap sounded pretty good right about then, but first I needed to figure out what to do with my suit.
I stepped into the bathroom and immediately froze. My suit was gone! I was sure I left it hanging next to the shower this morning. In a panic, I ran to the closet and pulled it open, only to see a garment bag hanging there next to my shirts. I cautiously opened the garment bag; inside was my suit, fully pressed. I pulled it out and looked at it, then noticed that all my shirts hanging in the closet had been pressed as well.
There was a note attached to the garment bag that I had missed.
"We noticed your suit hanging in the bathroom and thought we would help you out by having it pressed. Your shirts as well. We hope you are enjoying your stay here with us." It was signed Housekeeping. I don't care what the front desk manager said, I'm leaving a big tip for Housekeeping when I leave.
I had put Amanda's letter on the desk when I entered the room, and I could see it there from where I was standing. I debated on reading it now, or waiting until this evening when I would have more time to deal with whatever emotions came up. I decided on later.
I was hungry, so I went down the hall to the Club lounge, where I found some of the most delicious hamburgers and French fries I had ever eaten. Even the ketchup was top notch. I saw some more of that chocolate mousse I had had last night, and took two glasses of the fluffy dessert back to my room.
I ate them looking out my window at the mountains in the distance. They were so beautiful from that far away. Up close I supposed they might be treacherous in places, but from here, they gave me a peaceful feeling.
I dressed in my suit and tie – I even polished my shoes with the little shoe shine kit in my room – and was back down at the lobby entrance at 1:00pm. I patted my breast pocket to make sure I still had Amanda's letter safely stored there. I never had a nap, but the food and the view had helped restore me back to some semblance of my version of normal. As I stood there, watching people come and leave the hotel, I noticed a couple of very sexy men in three piece suits walking by. I laughed at myself – yep, if I was ogling the guys, I was going to be alright.
Billy picked me up on time – again intimidating the bell boys to stay back from his car – and we had Clyde with us in short order. The ride to the courthouse was spent listening to Clyde browbeat some court clerk who was holding up some kind of paperwork that he needed processed. He was still giving him grief when we walked up to the door of Judge William Bartells' chambers. Billy had waited with the car, as we did not expect to be too long.
Clyde hung up his call after being assured the requested paperwork would be ready this afternoon, then knocked on the judge's door.
"Enter," said a loud, booming voice. So we did.
Sitting behind a standard issue desk was a small, unassuming man. His official robes were hanging on a coat rack next to the desk, he had his shirt sleeves rolled up and a napkin tucked under his chin. He was eating a sandwich. He wiped his mouth and hands, and stood up to greet us.
"Clyde, great to see you again. Been too long. How are you?"
"Fine, Bill, just fine. I have with me Jack Schaeffer, the heir to the Franklin estate that you had requested to meet. Judge William Bartells, meet Jack Schaeffer."
I stepped up to shake his outstretched hand. "Nice to meet you, your honor." I hoped that was the right greeting.
"Likewise, Jack, likewise. I have to tell you, when Clyde first came to me with the story of the lost son and all of that, I didn't know what to make of it. But I had the privilege of meeting Phillip and Amanda Franklin a time or two, and I have to say, you are the spitting image of Amanda. Isn't the resemblance remarkable, Clyde?"
Clyde was looking embarrassed. Now I knew why he and Sharon had looked at me so strangely when they first saw me. Apparently I looked a lot like my birth mother. I had never, ever considered that possibility. I caught myself wondering if anyone had a picture of her. I was suddenly wanting to know more and more about this mystery mother of mine.
"Well, Bill, as you can see, he is definitely related to Amanda, which should satisfy the Colorado statute of exclusion for disinterested parties. I have amended my filing with a notarized affidavit as to his identity and the supporting legal evidence we have compiled along with his signatures on the required forms." Clyde had had me sign those in the car on the way over. He handed the judge a folder containing a lot of papers.
"I'm satisfied, Clyde. You've found your man. Congratulations, Jack. I hope you will be very happy with your new life. Clyde, I have the final adjudication report waiting for my signature. I'll sign it right away and have my clerk file it immediately electronically. If I know you, you have someone waiting downstairs to stamp it so you can pick it up on your way out of here, am I right?"
Clyde started laughing, visibly relieved that this part was over. "You know me too well, Bill. Thanks for everything. We'll get out of your hair now so you can get back to the bench. Tell Mary Jane I said hi."
"Same to Shirley from me. Don't be a stranger." That last part was said as we departed out the door and down the hall at a brisk clip. Clyde was muttering under his breath, and seemed aggravated about something.
"You okay, Clyde?" I asked. "I thought everything went according to plan back there. You seem upset about something."
"What...oh...yeah, well, sometimes Bill can be a real jackass. I know he's a big shot judge and everything, but sometimes he has a really big mouth."
"Did he say something he shouldn't have?" I was still confused.
Clyde appeared to calm down a little bit, seeing as how I was not upset. "I guess not, I just didn't like what he said about how you look like her. I mean you do, Jack, a lot. It's kind of uncanny really, but I guess that should be expected. If I hadn't been sure from the demographic data that Sharon came up with, one look at you would have convinced me for sure. Sharon feels the same way, I can tell you."
"It is a little weird, Clyde. But I didn't take offense. I'm actually curious now to see a picture of her. Do you have any that I could look at?"
"I'm pretty sure I do back at the office. We'll look together, okay?" He was feeling better, and so was I. "Now, let's go see if the deadbeat civil servants downstairs can still figure out how to process a simple court order."
He was back in lawyer mode, safer terrain for him. We had to wait about 40 minutes for the necessary papers to flow from the court clerk to the circuit clerk and then to be stamped and filed electronically before Clyde had everything he needed. He stopped at a public fax machine near the county clerk's office and sent two copies of the reports, to who I didn't know.
We found Billy by the car in the parking garage next to the courthouse, and Clyde instructed him to head back to the office. I relaxed back into my seat while Clyde started making more phone calls. I tried to ignore him as I looked out at the traffic passing by, the sunlight warming my face. I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
I woke when Billy opened my door. We were back in the parking garage at the law firm. I climbed out and followed Clyde and Billy to the elevators and up to the office. I stepped into the bathroom and splashed some more cold water on my face. I was feeling drained, and a little queasy. Too much fancy Ritz ketchup on my fries?
Sharon was at her desk when I returned and she gave me a quick smile as she typed on her computer. Clyde's door was open and I could hear him on the phone. I sat down in a leather chair within a small seating area in front of Sharon's work space. And waited with my thoughts.
The day had been a rollercoaster of emotions. Some good, most of them pretty rough. A lot of unexpected revelations. I suspected there were more coming, but I didn't know what or why. Just that we were not finished. Clyde and Sharon were obviously working on something with focused intensity, and I was pretty sure it still concerned me. I hoped I would be strong enough to handle whatever it was. I tried to relax and remain calm. My stomach was not feeling too good.
I had almost fallen asleep again when I heard someone walk up to Sharon's desk a short time later.
"Afternoon, Sharon. Is the man in?" Sharon looked up from her desk, gave him a smile, and pointed to Clyde's open door behind her.
"He's waiting in there for you, Larry. Here, give him this. Tell him that's the last of it." Larry took the folder from her then scooted around the desk and walked right into Clyde's office. I heard Clyde greet him as Larry turned and closed the door behind him.
Sharon saw me watching the proceedings carefully, smiled at me and said, "That's Larry Weiss. Financial Wizard with First Colorado. He's here about the Franklin Trust. He and Clyde are finishing up the final details. It shouldn't be too much longer. Can I get you something to drink, Jack? You're looking a little green around the gills there." Her concerned mother face was back.
"Yeah, my stomach is not doing so hot. Would you have a Coke or something that I could have? That might help settle things."
"Sure do. Wait right there, baby. I'll get it." She went into the conference room and opened a hidden refrigerator compartment in the credenza and returned with a can of Coke. I popped it open and took a long drink. It felt wonderful going down.
"Mmmm. Thank you. That helps, I think."
"You're welcome, baby. Now take it easy, everything's gonna be okay. I promise." She smiled her big smile of reassurance and returned to her work. I sipped on my soda and willed my stomach to stop rolling.
Clyde and Larry came out of his office about 20 minutes later and headed towards the conference room. "Jack, would you please join us in here?" asked Clyde. I got up and followed them in, taking my same seat from this morning. I was still holding my can of Coke, but it was almost empty. I eyed the credenza, trying to see the hidden refrigerator compartment, in case I wanted another one.
"Jack, this gentleman here is Larry Weiss. Larry, this is Jack Schaeffer."
"Nice to meet you, Jack," Larry said, as we shook hands. He took his seat across from me; Clyde was two seats to his right. Larry had a very large, 3-ring binder on the table in front of him.
Clyde looked to Larry and silently gave him the floor. Larry opened up his binder and was looking at the first page. I could not read it upside down from where I was sitting.
Larry began. "Jack, I'm the Vice-President of the Private Trust division of First Colorado Banc Corp. My job is to oversee all private trust accounts and ensure that they are managed properly for risk and profitability. I have known Clyde for over 20 years. He and Phillip Franklin and I have played more golf together than I care to remember."
"Yeah, that's because you usually lose and have to buy the first round at the 19th hole," said Clyde, laughing.
"Yeah, yeah. Pipe down old man. One of these days you'll be too old to swing straight and I'll be the one gloating over drinks at the bar." He was laughing too. He was probably a little older than Clyde, which made his comments all the more absurd.
"Okay, back to business." Larry focused and continued. "When Phillip Franklin sold his pharmaceutical company to Merck several years ago, he and Amanda found themselves with a pile of money and no knowledge of what to do with it. So Clyde sent them to me. Phillip and I were already friends, so it made sense. Together, Clyde and I setup the Franklin Family Trust, a living trust for Phillip and Amanda until their deaths. Sadly those deaths happened much earlier than any of us wanted." He looked a little downcast at the memory of his lost friends.
"My team has managed the assets of the trust since its inception, with pretty good results, if I do say so myself. We diversified the portfolio according to how risk averse Phillip and Amanda were, which was very averse by the way, and we built things from there."
Clyde took over from Larry at this point. "Jack, if you'll remember, I told you that Amanda had asked me to change some of the gifts to a couple of charities that she had worked with the most during the last years of her life. When we set up the trust, all of the assets were to go to a collection of charities hand-picked by Phillip and Amanda. You see, they had no surviving relatives of any kind. Both were only children, and they had no children of their own. All of their parents had passed by this time. So when Amanda made this one change, it was no big deal to reprioritize the charities' benefits from the trust.
But Amanda wanted another, more significant change. She told me about you, her baby from long ago, and she wanted to do something for you that she regretted having never done before. So she told me her new plan. If I was able to locate you within six months of her passing, and if I was able to determine that you were an upstanding citizen with a decent character, she wanted control of the entire estate to transfer to you. If I could not locate you, or you were in, I think she called it an 'untenable personal condition', then the original provisions of the trust would prevail."
I sat there and took all this in, listening to them discuss this like it was just more boilerplate, same-old same-old stuff. To me Clyde was stating pretty clearly that not only did he have to find me, but he was to pass judgment on my character as well. That rankled a bit, though I didn't think I had any "untenable" issues to speak of.
"So Clyde, did I pass inspection?" I tried to sound funny, but it came off irritated and flippant. I regretted saying it.
"Yes, Jack, of course," said Clyde, clearly upset that I would have thought otherwise. "There was nothing in your background of concern, and having met you and spent the day with you, I am confident that you have a very sound character. I believe Amanda would have been proud of the young man you have become."
I was overwhelmed by his heart-felt sentiments. I suddenly wanted Amanda to be there with me, so she could see for herself that I had turned out alright. That my life had not been horrible and I wasn't a screwed up drug addict or alcoholic or criminal. I was a nice, normal guy doing the best I could. I was gay, but maybe she would have been okay with that. Now there was a thought.
"Thank you, Clyde," I said, as I once again fought to keep my tears from overflowing. The emotional rollercoaster was running at high speed now and threatening to derail any minute.
Taking a deep breath, Clyde continued. "So Jack, we found you. And yes, you are of sound character. The provisions of the trust have been met per Amanda's last wishes. Judge Bartells signed the official order this afternoon ending probate of the estate, establishing you as the sole heir to the trust, and I have given Larry all the necessary legal paperwork to transfer the bulk of the Franklin Family Trust to you. Congratulations, Jack."
I heard the words, but I know that they were not penetrating my reality at that moment. I couldn't make true sense of what he was saying. It sounded like Amanda had given me everything she had, but what that was I had no idea. More confusion. More questions. Would they never end?
I think Larry could tell I was struggling to take it all in. If I hadn't been earlier in the day, I was definitely in a state of emotional shock now.
"Perhaps this will makes things a little clearer, Jack," said Larry.
He turned his big binder around so I could read the top page right side up. Across the top in bold letters was the banner "Jack Schaeffer Living Trust" and under that was "formerly the Phillip and Amanda Franklin Family Trust".
There were two columns on the page, one labelled "Asset Category" on the left, the other labelled "Accumulated Balances" on the right.
Under the assets column was a list of entries for stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, personal property, and transportation, among others. The balances next to these entries were confusing. I couldn't tell if they were account numbers or something else. The total number at the bottom of the right hand column made no sense at all.
"What does all this mean, Larry? What am I looking at?" The frustration and emotion was mounting rapidly again. I didn't get it. Why didn't they understand that I just didn't get it?
"Jack, as of this morning, when totaled all together, you now control an estate of approximately 580 million dollars."
I stood up and shouted at them. "Are you crazy? There is no way. No way. I can't...I don't know how...what was she thinking?" A fresh wave of emotional and nervous energy started in my shaking legs and moved upwards rapidly. I could feel my stomach coming up with it.
I lurched to my right and promptly surrendered my very expensive hamburger lunch right into the very expensive trash can next to the credenza. I wretched a few more times, then sat back. I was on my knees now, shaking. Clyde and Larry had jumped up when I started to get sick, and kept looking at each other, hoping the other guy knew what they should do to help.
I was humiliated and embarrassed beyond words. I was so ashamed at that moment. Ashamed that I had behaved so abominably. Ashamed that I had ruined a very nice trash can. Ashamed that I couldn't control my emotions. That I couldn't control anything, really. In fact, everything was out of control in my life now. Nothing made sense, and I couldn't find a mental anchor from which to hold on until the emotional currents subsided.
I saw Sharon's feet through the glass wall from under the table. She was up from her desk and moving rapidly for the conference room. She must have seen everyone jump up, and was now coming to see what the fuss was. I suddenly wanted desperately for her to not see me like this, laid out on the floor with vomit on my face. So I exercised every ounce of remaining strength I had, wiped my face on my shirt sleeve, pulled myself up by a chair and got to my feet as she entered the doorway. The room was spinning, and I was having trouble focusing.
Sharon took one look at me and shouted, "Jack!"
Author's Note: If you are enjoying this story, please take a moment to comment in the Forum on CastleRoland – you can click the link labelled "Forum Discussion" just under the story synopsis at the top of this page. Or, if you prefer, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your thoughts about the story.