A Special Place--Part Fifty--Matt
I tried to call Luke when I got up late Sunday morning, but still got no answer. I was still feeling rotten about what had happened with Lucas. But I was so very, very glad that Luke's ring had stopped me before things got out of hand--or I guess, more correctly, in hand--as I showered and got ready for Mass.
As I walked to All Saints', I thought to myself, "I sure will miss the music when I get back home". Woody had asked that I play for the service and I had rehearsed with the orchestra made up of students from all the music programs and it was great.
I had lunch with Woody and Stinky and when we finished, Stinky said, "Why don't we have a last swim before the performance this evening?" We spent a couple hours swimming and then sitting on the bank of the river talking. I hadn't intended to tell them what a fool I had been, but the two had been so close to me that I suddenly found myself telling them about the last week, including the episode in the bathroom Saturday morning. By the time I finished, I was crying like a baby. Woody put his arms around me and hugged me tightly and said, "Matt, to be honest, you fared better than I feared you might. No real damage was done, was there?"
I looked at him and said, "Woody, I guess I keep thinking that the lust in my heart was as bad as doing something about it."
"I'm sure that Luke would disagree and, even if he doesn't, your love for each other will win in the end. It's too powerful to let one mistake overcome it." I felt better but, even at that, I still felt rotten about what I had done. "You're not going to let this wreck your performance this evening are you?" Woody asked.
The thought had never occurred to me but as soon as Woody asked, I started bawling again. Through my tears I said, "Woody, I'm playing an excerpt from 'Yonghon Tongmu' that I have transcribed and re-written for the organ. I can't do it."
"Yes, you can and you will, Matt. Too much depends on it. As long as you perform, you'll have times when your life seems a mess and you perform anyway. That's what separates the greats from the wannabees."
When we reached the campus, I went to my room and took a nap--or rather tried to. My old faithful escape from reality failed me and I just lay on my bed thinking about what I would say to Luke. I realized, again, that it would be two weeks in hell before I saw him. I wondered if I had made the right choice by writing him about what had happened. I mean I knew I would tell him but, the more I thought about it, the more having written an e-mail seemed to have been a bad idea. Little did I know just how very unwise it was and how soon I would be living in hell because of it.
It was finally time for me to get dressed for the closing dinner and the performance before it. As I dressed, I told myself that my performance had to be great because it was my way of telling the world how much I loved my Bright Angel, and of telling him how sorry I was for the pain I had caused him. I started to call him before I left for the performance, but decided against it. I didn't need any more emotional load than I was carrying already.
The whole performance went well; some parts were better than others, of course. After all, all sorts of people were playing and singing. And while I was crying silent tears all the time I was playing, I knew I had done pretty good. The applause was great and welcome when I finished. The performance was followed by a reception and many people came to speak to me and tell me how much they enjoyed the piece and how well I played. But they were just people. As the reception was winding down, Woody and Stinky came up--I had wondered where they had been--and hugged me. "Magnificent, magnificent," Stinky said and Woody added, "Boy, you did yourself proud. We're holding a small celebration in my room after dinner and you are invited."
Dinner was a festive occasion. Awards were handed out for some of the programs, but not for mine. There was a short--very short--speech by the vice-chancellor thanking all who had, once again, made the music program a success. Dr. Camp just said, "You have heard the performance and that says it all for the music program. Thanks."
After dinner, several people wanted to talk to me--telling me how well I had played and how much they had enjoyed the composition. Several asked about copies of the video of the concert--fortunately Anthony had sent me the address and business cards with all the information for ordering it. It was a good twenty or so minutes before I was able to leave for Woody's apartment.
When I arrived, only Woody and Stinky were present. "Where is everybody?" I asked.
Stinky looked around the room and said, "They're all right here. Woody and I wanted you to ourselves tonight." Woody had been pouring wine and when he handed it to me I saw it was champagne. "Here's to the best young organist I have ever met and to a better than good composer," he said, and he and Woody raised their glasses.
"You don't know how much I treasure those words," I said. "You two have taught me more than I can ever tell you this summer--some of it was about being an organist but, most important, about being human. Here's to two fine mentors." After that we talked about the summer, went over the performance and then discussed my future.
"Matt, I hope you will take seriously Woody's suggestion that you forget about engineering. It's a demanding course and your studies at Oberlin will also be demanding. If you can learn something about organ building, you will be a very valuable person in the organ community and you need not worry about making a living. You will live well."
We talked about that at length. Finally Woody said, "I don't want to take a thing away from Millie. She was good and I bet she still is. She has done an amazing job teaching you but, let's face it, Concord is a small town. Your exposure to the wider world has been limited. And, while I hate to bring up a painful subject, that's also true of your being a gay man. The value of the Sewanee programs--even isolated on God's Holy Mountain," both men smiled, "is exposure to a wider world. Some of it has been painful: learning not to be a whore--organ and, dare I say it, maybe otherwise--comes to mind. You are a great talent and a great man. Never forget that and never be less. End of sermon." The rest of the evening was spent listening to the two old friends tell tales--half of which may have been true.
When it was almost time to go, Woody said, "Matt, be sure and get in touch as soon as you get to Ohio".
"I will, I promise. And I expect you to spend some time at the lake when we are all there."
"Matt, keep in touch with me. I'm not close enough to just hop up to the lake but, then again, I just might one day. I do have some things I am thinking about and will let you know as soon as I can check them out. And do let us know what happens between you and Luke. I'm certain it will come out ok, but I'd like to know that."
We all three hugged each other, said goodnight, and I walked across campus feeling as though I was leaving friends I had known for ages. How good they had been to me.
When I reached the room, I took a deep breath--the sick feeling I had felt before came back--and dialed Luke's number. There still was no answer. Well, I guess if I had a choice of spending the night in a dorm alone or being with friends, I'd stay with friends as long as possible. I knew that Douglas drove in just in time for the first session each day and I suspect all three decided that was a good idea.
I didn't go to sleep quickly. In fact, at 2:00 a.m. I was still tossing and turning, thinking about all the possible ways Luke could respond to my letter and none of them were good. I really wished I had waited until I saw him or at least talked to him on the phone--but I guess it was just proof that eighteen-year-olds are not nearly as grown as we like to think. Sometime before 3:00 I finally drifted off to sleep only to wake up again and again just as, in a dream, I was about to take Lucas' cock in my hand. The last time I remember waking up was at 5:30 and the predawn light was visible outside.
It was 12:30 when I was awakened by the sun streaming through my window. I had overslept. Luke would be in his workshop or at lunch so there was no use trying to call him. I had planned to leave at 8:30 so I was very late, but was still determined to drive straight through. Mom and Dad wouldn't expect me until Tuesday, but I wanted to get home, needed to get home. I took a very quick shower, grabbed the last of my things--I had put most in the Jeep yesterday--and dashed out of the dorm. It took less than fifteen minutes to turn in my key and be checked out. I was on my way just after 1:30
I had taken a scenic route to Sewanee expecting to enjoy the mountains. I did, but it had made leaving Luke no less painful. Now I was in a rush to get home, so I took the most direct route and as many interstate highways as possible. I only stopped for gas and drive-thrus to get some food and drink. I made the trip home in eight hours. I noticed the Andrews' place was dark as I passed and, as I approached it, saw mine was as well. The Larsens' house was all lit, so I drove past my own place to Luke's.
When I went inside, Mom grabbed me and hugged me tightly, her eyes full of tears. She finally let me go and said slowly, "Matt, Luke's missing". I fainted.
When I came to, I was lying on the sofa in the den with Margaret leaning over me. She handed me something and said simply, "Matt, drink this" .Dad was standing beside her.
When I finished what she had handed me, I looked around and didn't see Jens and Gabrielle. "What's going on? Will someone tell me what's going on? Where's Jens and Gabrielle?" I pleaded.
"David has taken Jens and Gabrielle to Jackson to catch a plane to Florida. We don't know what is going on otherwise," Dad answered. "This morning Janet called and said she had stayed with Douglas all weekend and when they came in for the workshop, Luke didn't show up. At the break, they rushed to Luke's dorm and found his room open. They expected to find it ransacked, but his key and wallet were on his bed along with an e-mail from you they had printed out Saturday when they had driven into town for a concert. There was no sign of Luke. They went back to the workshop and asked Mr. Smith about Luke, and he said he hadn't seen him since Friday's class. When they told him Luke had left them a note saying he was going out with him Saturday night, Mr. Smith said he didn't know anything about it."
"They called the campus police, who checked the sculpture studio and learned Luke had worked there until after lunch and had left and did not return. Finally, the campus police called the city police and they started their own investigation since Luke had been, apparently, missing since Saturday afternoon. Janet and Douglas talked to them about the previous weekend when, it seems, Luke had gone out to a gay club and gotten drunk. That was where he had said he was going with Mr. Smith Saturday night. Mr. Smith denied that as well, saying, 'You know how kids like to tell tales about their exploits. I don't know what he was talking about.' Finally Janet remembered part of the name of the club and the police checked it out. Seems no-one working then had worked Saturday night but, when they went to the house of the bartender on duty Saturday night, he remembered Luke and Mr. Smith being there. In fact, he said they both were drunk--especially the younger one-- and when they decided to leave, he had insisted on calling a cab. According to him, it was some time well after midnight when they left. He said he always called the same cab company when someone had too much to drink, and gave the police the name."
"The cab company looked at the log and found no cab going to Luke's dorm. When the police gave the dispatcher Mr. Smith's address, they found a log entry. The police contacted the cab driver and he remembered the two well. "They were both drunk, but the younger one was really drunk. He had to be helped out of the cab," he told them. Asked what the young man had been wearing, the cabbie raised an eyebrow and said, "Very little. He had on very tight black leather pants and an open black leather vest. It wasn't much, especially since it had started raining."
"Confronted by the police, Mr. Smith admitted taking Luke to the club, including the fact that Luke had a fake I.D. and had been drinking heavily. Since he had lied previously, they took him in custody for further questioning. All he added was that Luke had gotten angry and left his place sometime early in the morning--between 2:00 and 3:00 he thought, but wasn't sure. 'That's the last I saw of him,' he said. Apparently, that was the last anyone saw of him."
Just after Dad finished speaking, the phone rang. He answered it, listened for a few minutes and said, "Thank you," and hung up. "The police have found Luke's fake I.D. and what they assume are his pants and vest on the causeway crossing an inlet from the gulf. That's all they know beyond what we have been told already." I fainted again.
When I came to, I was crying and heard myself saying over and over again, "It's my fault. It's all my fault." I didn't know how long I had been unconscious, crying or speaking. When I looked up, I saw Margaret holding a needle which, obviously, she had just used on me.
I guess what she had given me made it possible for me to gain some control because I stopped the babbling and just sat weeping silently. Mom and Dad were sitting beside me and Dad said, "Matt, tell us what you know. What is your fault? Why is it your fault?"
By the time Dad had finished, the shot had taken full effect. I felt as if I was speaking, but not really there. No, I felt like I was in a dream telling about something that had happened to someone else. Anyway, slowly, and in a voice which sometimes slurred words and paused for me to think of a word, I told them the whole story of Lucas. I didn't hold back anything, including how I had almost started jerking him off and wanted him to get my rocks off. When I had finished telling them that, I said, "Mom, Dad, I had been honest with Luke about everything that had happened to that point and I wanted to talk to him in person about that. I tried phoning him, but I finally wrote him an e-mail. I now know that was foolish. I should have waited until I could talk to him, at least on the phone. I have thought about it a lot and I guess I took the easy way out by e-mailing him."
"Mom, Dad, I betrayed Luke. I was unfaithful to him and now he's gone. I don't know where, I don't know what he has done. I am scared. I am frightened. I am ashamed. I feel filthy and dirty. I hate myself." I had been in control to that point, but no shot would have stopped the tears which started or the self-loathing I felt inside. I just cried and cried, all the time saying, "Luke forgive me. Come back to me, Luke. I can't live without you."
Dad said--his voice sounded far off--"Matt, you are over-reacting. You actually did nothing. Maybe you wanted to, but your loyalty to Luke stopped you."
The shot was doing its job and I couldn't say what I was thinking but, to myself I thought, "Dad, that's logical and rational, I'm sure, but this is not a physics problem. It's all emotional and I don't see any logic at all, just hurt, pain, betrayal and I have messed up big time."
Mom was rocking me slowly in her arms, humming that Korean lullaby she had sung to me as a child, but I just became more and more out of control. Finally I heard Margaret say, as if she were far away, "I hoped the smaller dose would do the job, but it didn't". I felt the prick of a needle and I entered blessed oblivion in seconds.
A Special Place--Part Fifty--Luke
As I walked, I had thought about what my first attempt at taking my life had taught me, all the pain it had caused and all the love I had been shown since, but it was not enough. Maybe what I had decided to do was illogical and foolish. I knew it would hurt the Fellowship and the Family, and Matt, but I was convinced I had destroyed any possibility of keeping Matt's love--no, not his love, but Matt. My life was worthless, not worth living, and I knew it. I was filthy inside and hated myself. Full of self-loathing, I climbed atop the bridge rail.
As soon as I was atop the rail, I gave one last thought to Matt and said, "I love you, Matthew Sarang Hanun Pomul Greywolf," and leaned over to throw myself into the sea. As I did, I felt an arm about my waist which yanked me back and then lifted me from the rail. As soon as my feet were on the ground, two strong hands on my shoulders turned me around. I was facing an Indian. I knew that, but where did he come from? Why was he here? What was he doing? I had been all alone and suddenly out of nowhere an Indian--well, he wore regular clothes, but I knew he was an Indian--had pulled me back from the brink of death.
"Nothing in this world is bad enough for a young man to seek death," he said. "Nothing." I didn't answer. I couldn't. This was all like a dream. I think I must have fainted because the next thing I knew I was being carried to an eighteen-wheeler. Still naked, I was half-frozen from the rain. Inside, the strange man found a towel and dried me, then wrapped me in a blanket and put me in the sleeper without saying another word. As I gradually grew warm again, I couldn't keep sleep from my eyes. The drone of the truck speeding down the highway was like a lullaby and soon I was fast asleep.
I don't know how long I slept but when I woke up it was dawn--or maybe dusk--I wasn't sure as I peeked out of the sleeper. The driver looked in his mirror and when he saw me said, "I've been drunk before and slept for twelve straight hours, but I have never stripped to take a dive into the gulf. What's wrong with you, Boy? You crazy, stupid, or what? Do you have a name?"
"Luke, Luke Larsen."
"Well, Luke, you were about to do a damn foolish thing last night. Damn foolish. I can't think of anything half as foolish as killing yourself. Problems, even big problems, can be solved but there's no solution in or for death. Too many people I know have tried and too many have made it. I know, I know it doesn't solve anything and creates one living hell for those you leave behind. You don't look like a stupid, selfish person who has no love in his heart, but you damn sure were acting like it. Want to come up front and tell me about it? You've got nothing else to do for the next few hours before we stop."
I slid into the front seat and didn't say anything at first, then said, "If we don't stop soon, I'm going to be hurting, really hurting. I've got to piss."
"Good. Maybe I should let you suffer for a while since that lets you know you failed at making a complete fool of yourself. If you've got to piss, you are still alive. That's good." He pulled over as soon as he could and said, "Hit the woods and piss."
I hopped out of the truck and ran for the woods, clutching the blanket around me. And I sure did need to piss.
When I finished, I climbed back into the truck and said, "I don't know your name."
"Taequo. Taequo Wayadisi--Running-wolf in English."
"You're a Native American?" I asked, knowing the answer I thought.
"Yeah, I was born here. Weren't you?"
"Yea, but what I meant was..."
"Am I an Indian? Sure. Pretty obvious isn't it? But aren't you trying to avoid the issue?" He didn't say any more and I was also silent. We continued down the road with Taequo picking up his mike from time to time to talk to other truckers. I guess he was just ignoring me. Why shouldn't he? I knew I was hardly worth thinking about.
Later, when he picked up his mike and started talking, I began paying attention when I heard him say, "Yea, Al, I've got a beautiful young man sitting beside me as naked as a jay bird. Damn right I said he's beautiful... Well, I did kinda pick him up, but not the way you mean... I could only wish, but I'm afraid he's not into older men. Anyway, he needs underwear, pants and a shirt and I think Chris is a perfect match for him... Hell no, he's ten times better looking than Chris, so find some clean clothes for him before I get ideas. That is if that Chris has any clean clothes. I'll pull into Walmart just ahead and we'll get clothes on him... Well, since we'll be at Walmart we can get him shoes... No, don't know his story, but it must be a beaut from where I picked him up... Ok, see you in fifteen."
Fifteen minutes later, Taequo pulled into a Walmart parking lot and was soon joined by another eighteen-wheeler. A tall gangly man and one my size got out and started walking toward Taequo's rig. The shorter fellow was carrying some clothes. Taequo introduced them as Al and Chris. Chris tossed the clothes to me and Taequo said, "Crawl in the sleeper and get dressed, then we'll think about shoes.
I did as I was told while the three stood outside the truck and talked. When I was dressed, I slid into the front seat again and Al said, "People will think we're damn fools walking into Walmart with a barefoot boy. What size shoes do you wear, Luke?"
"Tens," I replied.
"Chris, get the boy some shoes," Taequo said and tossed Chris some money. While he was gone, I heard Taequo telling Al where he had picked me up. "Damn fool kid was about to drown himself," I heard him say.
Al walked over to the open door of the truck and said, "Luke, wouldn't solve anything and would sure as hell create a lot more problems for those left behind. Of course, you would have proved you were too chicken to face real life and wouldn't know. How do I know? I tried it. I've been there and I know it big time. I lost my first real love to AIDS several years ago and decided to end it all the slow way--with alcohol. It didn't work fast enough when I found out I was HIV%2B so I tried alcohol and sleeping pills. Almost made it, but Chris found me passed out and nearly dead. He got me to the hospital and I survived. I'm still HIV%2B, but show no signs of full-blown AIDS and I found Chris. He, too, is HIV%2B but, by damn, we are both living and loving."
"I tried it too--before I mean--and knew it was selfish and would hurt a lot of people, but I just couldn't stand being the rotten human being I am."
"Can't be too rotten. You don't smell," he laughed. "How long before you have to stop driving today?" he asked Taequo.
"Another hour. Was thinking about a motel rather than the sleeper tonight. How about you and Chris?"
"We're good for another eight to ten hours since Chris has slept a good part of the day and he can drive and I'll crawl in the sleeper. But we'll stop for a while if you like. We've got to eat." The two continued talking and named a motel where Taequo would stop for the night. They had just finished talking when Chris came back with shoes and socks and I was finally dressed.
"Eat at the truck stop?" Chris asked.
"Yea," Taequo said, "and then you and Al are joining me and Luke for a little prayer meeting." Chris laughed.
When we were back on the highway, Taequo said, "Gay truck drivers sometimes live a hard life. Lots of redneck drivers, but there are also some really great guys--gay and straight--pushing freight. There's two of them. I didn't think Al would make it. After his partner Andy died, he was able to drink and drive for a while, but soon it was all drinking and no driving. He hired Chris to operate his rig and took just enough to keep himself in drink. He owned his house and Chris moved in when he started driving for Al. One day Chris was supposed to make a run, but a shipment got held up and he decided to go by the house and sleep until he could leave. That's when he found Al. Al was rushed to the hospital and went from there to the detox center then a half-way house. Chris took short hauls so he would be in town more often and spent every spare minute with Al. When Al got back home, he said to Chris, 'Chris, I wouldn't be alive today if you hadn't found me, and I don't think I would care if you were not here'. Al told me Chris just looked at him, smiled and said, 'Not sure I'd care about being alive if you weren't here'. That's when the two of them found out the other was HIV%2B. Chris had never told Al he also had a partner die with AIDS--those years were really rough on us gays--even those of us who didn't get the virus. We had so many friends and lovers die. Well, those two tough, macho truck drivers finally said the L word and have been together ever since. Believe me, they both know how precious every day is."
"Yea, and without a partner and have been for some time now. It's a lonely life, but I can always hope. Maybe even keep a throw-away kid I pick up on a bridge," Taequo laughed then immediately said, "Don't take that seriously, Luke, although you are a damn beautiful piece of humanity."
"I'm gay," I said softly.
"I know," Taequo replied and we both fell silent. Any further conversation would have to wait as we pulled into a truck stop.
I had always heard that truck stops had good food. I don't know if it was the fact that I hadn't eaten in over twenty-four hours and had upchucked anything I had eaten before, or if the food was really as good as it seemed. I wolfed down enough for two people my size. I had just finished when Al said, "Luke, the one difference between being dead and alive is who's food. Had you had your way, you'd be food for worms and fish by now rather than eating. They'd be yelling to all their buddies, 'Hey, come here, we've found a nice, tender Luke steak'. Seems to me that makes the choice pretty damn straightforward." I almost gagged at the thought but he was right, of course.
The motel was just down the road. Taequo knew the woman at the desk and made a point of telling her he wanted a double with two beds. Penny, the desk clerk, laughed, "Young man, I know Taequo is gay but I'd trust him with my own son who's as good looking as you".
"Obviously takes after his father," Taequo kidded. "But one of these days, Penny, I'm going to come in here with a hunk you will lust after and demand one bed."
"And I'm the Virgin Mary," she laughed in reply.
We went to the room and were soon joined by Chris and Al. "Ok, it's prayer meeting time," Taequo said. I felt very uneasy. I wasn't exactly in the right frame of mind for some religious something. "What's the meaning of the stupid, dumb-ass thing you were about to do, Luke?"
I sat with my head down, staring at the floor. None of the three broke the silence. Finally I decided I may as well tell the whole story and started from the day I had swallowed the pills and dived into the river and ended with feeling Taequo's arm around my waist, pulling me back from a second suicide attempt. I hardly need to say I was crying like a baby.
The three hadn't said a word and still sat silently until Chris got up, came to where I was sitting on the bed, put his arms around me and held me close. Finally he said, "Luke, you have to be pretty dense to have tried to do away with yourself a second time. Didn't you learn anything the first time?" I didn't answer. What could I say? After another silence, he continued, "Luke, Matt, your family and your friends love you--will always love you--and you just about told them to shove their love up their ass because you got yourself in a mess. They all must know you are missing by now and have to be beside themselves with worry. You have been hurt, or thought you had been hurt, and you wanted to hurt in return. Most of all, you wanted to hurt--kill--yourself because of what you had done. But what had you really done? You need to think about that. But your family and friends are hurting because, regardless of what you might have done or might not have done, they love you. Remember, Matt said he would never stop loving you. Do you believe that?"
I was crying again so all I could do was nod my head against his chest. "Then you need to let him and them know you are safe. You can deal with all the other shit--and you've created a big pile of it--later but, right now, call them."
I don't know why, but I was terrified. I didn't know what to expect when I called. I didn't want to have to face what I had done, even on the phone. "I can't. Please, I can't. I'm no good. I can't."
"Cut the shit! You can and you will," Al said. His voice left no doubt that one way or another, I was going to call home. I picked up the phone and dialed my number. The phone only rang once and I heard Greywolf's voice. "Greywolf," I said and started crying again. "It's Luke," I finally got out, "I'm safe". I started to hang up the phone when Taequo took it from me and said, "Greywolf, this is Taequo Wayadisi. I'm Tsalagi [Cherokee]. Luke is here with me. It's a long story, but he is safe. Are his parents there...? Well, get in touch with them and tell them Luke is safe. We're spending the night outside Columbia. If someone could meet us in Jackson tomorrow, I could bring him there. It's not out of my way too much. If not, I'll bring him to Concord... Probably about noon. I'll call you when I can give you a better guestimate... No, he's not been harmed in any way--well, emotionally he's a wreck but physically he's ok... Yea, just tell him that Luke loves him and always will and that they will get their problems worked out... Right, that exit on the Interstate will be great. Call you tomorrow."
Al and Chris stayed a few minutes after the phone call, gave me their address and asked that I stay in touch. Then Al said, "Chris, Babe, time to hit the road". Both hugged me and Taequo, wished me luck and were gone.
When they had gone, Taequo said, "You'd never think it, suffering as they have, but you have just met two of the happiest men in the world. Both know that sooner or later AIDS will get first one and then the other and maybe that's why they are so happy. They know every single day they have together counts and that it will end when one goes so, in the meantime, they intend to make the most of it. Maybe we all would be better off if we remembered we only have a limited time on this earth to love, even you and Matt. Maybe if we remembered that, we'd not be damn fool enough to try to shorten it." He was silent for a while, then said, "Well, you slept all day but I've been working so I'm hitting the shower and the bed."
Taequo took a long shower--he sang in the shower, some Indian song, I think--came out in his birthday suit, crawled into bed and said, "Sweet dreams, Luke". He was sound asleep when I finished my shower and slid into bed.
As he said, I had slept all day and didn't expect to go to sleep at once, but I guess the combination of events and telling my story had also been hard work because I was asleep in minutes--but not for long.
I waked up from a dream screaming and Taequo was beside me in seconds, hugging me. "What's wrong, Luke?" he asked.
"I was having a nightmare. I dreamed I was face down, ass in the air, on a bed and Rich was fucking me and I was screaming for him to fuck me faster and deeper. Between screaming for him to fuck me, I was saying, 'That'll show you, Matt Greywolf'."
"It was a bad dream, Luke. There's a bad spirit torturing you. Don't let it." He held me until I relaxed and then went back to his bed.
I wondered to myself, "How do I get rid of a bad spirit? How can I ever be clean again?" I tossed and turned for a long time and then fell asleep a second time only to have the nightmare return. I waked up, apparently without screaming because Taequo was still asleep. I got up, walked to his bed and, as I had done as a little boy when I had nightmares, slid in beside him as I had Dad, spooning myself into his back. I was asleep in minutes and slept until he woke me up in the morning saying, "If you want breakfast, you better get pants on. Even truck stops have some rules about dress."
We ate--and I ate like a wolf again--and hit the road. Taequo never mentioned my crawling in bed with him and neither did I. For the next several hours, I listened to Taequo talk about his hopes and dreams and I would have talked about mine, but I knew so much depended upon Matt and his reaction to my being unfaithful that I really had no hopes or dreams beyond re-establishing our relationship.
"We'll be in Jackson in ten minutes," he said at length. "I said prayers to the Great Spirit for you, Luke. Listen to Greywolf. Much healing is needed and he will guide you. Do keep in touch. And remember you are special. I know that and maybe one day you will know it fully. You have power... Well, here we are and our trails separate for a time but they will cross again, maybe very soon. I know that." He pulled into a truck stop and I saw the Greywolfs' van and Greywolf beside it.
Taequo and I got out of the truck and walked toward the van. When we reached it, Greywolf grabbed me and hugged me, then he and Taequo greeted each other. Taequo said, "Luke, run inside and get me a couple bottles of cold water and get something for yourself". As I turned to leave I saw Greywolf and he were deep in conversation.
A Special Place--Janet
It was odd that Luke didn't show up for Monday's workshop so Douglas and I went looking for him as soon as we had a break. When we saw his door open, we expected to see his room ransacked, but it wasn't. The campus police got involved, then the city police and finally everything came out. Well, most everything. Luke had gone to the club with Rich--Rich lied about that--and had gotten drunk. As soon as we learned that, Douglas said, "Janet, he hadn't read the whole letter and thought Matt had cheated on him". I nodded. It seemed clear to me too.
Suddenly I remembered our conversation on the plane and told Douglas about it. "Douglas, I'm afraid of what Luke might have done." I was almost in tears and Douglas held me and tried to reassure me, but he wasn't very convincing even to himself.
The police had picked up Rich from his afternoon session and left word at my dorm that they wanted to talk to me. I told them everything I knew--about the letter and Luke's previous suicide attempt. The officer wasn't any more reassuring than Douglas had been. He said the Larsens had been called and were on their way down. He wanted to know if we'd like to be there to meet them. We both nodded and he said he'd send a car and officer around to pick us up at my dorm.
We went back to the dorm and did the only thing we could do, wait. When the officer came to pick us up, we got in the car and, on the way to the airport, he got a radio message. Luke had been found and was safe. That's all the police knew at the moment. "Think I'll let you give his mom and dad the good news," the officer said. "They'll only expect something bad if I start to tell them."
Needless to say, Luke's parents were ecstatic when they heard the news and were asking a thousand questions, none of which we could answer. Finally Luke's mom said, "Thank God, at least we know he is safe".
We went to the police station with them and found out that Rich was being held. Luke's dad asked some questions and the officer said he didn't know whether Rich could be charged with anything since Luke had gotten the fake I.D. himself so far as they knew and, with it, they couldn't do anything about Rich buying him drinks. "Well, maybe we could since he had him in class and should have known his age. But that's about it. Even the teacher-student laws may not apply since it would be hard to prove Rich had something to hold over Luke's head like grades. Frankly, Mr. Larsen, if Luke were my son, I'd want Rich locked up for the rest of his life but, to be honest, you will probably have better luck teaching him a lesson dealing with the school."
While the officer was talking to us, his phone rang and when he answered he said, "It's a Mr. Greywolf. He has news of Luke."
When Mr. Larsen hung up the phone, he told us Luke had been picked up by a trucker and they were spending the night in a motel near Columbia. Greywolf would pick him up tomorrow in Jackson. "I guess we need to find a motel because I want to talk to college officials tomorrow before we leave," Mr. Larsen said.
"You'll do nothing of the kind," Douglas said quickly. "You're coming to my house. We'll take care of you. Luke is a good friend and we'll not have his parents in a motel. I'll call home and tell them we'll have two guests for dinner."
Douglas' parents were often off doing whatever wealthy people do and seldom had dinner at home, so I hardly knew them. However, they canceled whatever they were planning for the evening and had dinner with us. Nonetheless, the maid had barely cleared the table when they said, "Excuse us, but if we rush we can make our after-dinner engagement".
After they had gone, Douglas asked the Larsens if they wanted to go to their room, swim or visit. When they said they'd like to visit, to see what we thought about the school and Luke, Douglas said, "We can stay down here or, if you like, my place is more comfortable".
"I hope the maid got your dirty clothes off the floor," I laughed.
"Ask her. She'll tell you I am very neat in my space. Besides, you know that from all the time you've spent here." Lupe, the maid, walked in as he spoke and said, "Douglas is my boy and I trained him well". I had already learned that Douglas was hers. He felt more like she was his mom than his real mom. Douglas showed the Larsens to his room and got wine for them and sodas for us. Finally, I suppose, Mr. Larsen could stand it no longer and said, "Janet, Douglas, was something going on with Luke and Mr. Smith?"
Both of us started to answer, then Douglas nodded to me. "There may have been--I mean you never can know everything--but if there was, Luke hid it well. All he could ever talk about was Matt and how much he missed him. But, no, I'm sure there wasn't, as sure as I could be without knowing Luke's every move."
"I think I would definitely have known and I am positive there was not. After Luke went to the club the first time with Rich, he talked about their dancing and how all he could think of was how much he missed Matt and how he wished he was with him rather than Rich," Douglas added. "I think what happened was that Luke read only part of Matt's e-mail, decided Matt had cheated on him and Rich called him or he called Rich and they went out and something happened. I'm sure that's what took place. What happened with Rich I can only guess."
We talked about Luke a while longer then the Larsens wanted to know about me and Douglas. Douglas said he was staying at home and going to Ringling for his education as an artist. I told the Larsens that since I met Douglas I wanted to switch schools and Rich was supposed to be working on getting me into Ringling, but I guessed that wasn't going to happen now. When I said that, Mr. Larsen said, "Are you sure you want to do that?" I told him I did and he said, "Maybe something good will come out of this yet". I didn't know what he meant.
The next morning, Mr. Larsen said we had an appointment with the president of the school. "We?", Douglas asked.
"We," Mr. Larsens replied. "I was first referred to some dean or other, but I said I had wanted to talk with the president, but I would send my lawyer to talk with the dean if the president was too busy. I've learned a few things from my boss," he laughed.
"We've heard tales about Millie," I said.
"All true, I'm sure, and there's more to be told," Mrs. Larsen said with a smile.
The president was all apology until Mr. Larsen said, "You can cut the crap, Dr. Winthrop. My son had a fake I.D. which Mr. Smith helped him obtain, he was taken to a club twice--again by Mr. Smith--where he got drunk although he is underage, and something happened in Mr. Smith's apartment while Luke was so drunk he had to be helped out of the cab. So let's just cut to the chase. What are you going to do?"
"Mr. Smith will, of course, have to face a committee of the faculty senate and the outcome will depend on their decision. At the moment I can't tell you what that will be."
"Dr. Winthrop, I suspect you would like very much to have this not get into the papers but, I can tell you, I am not satisfied with some future action by a faculty senate. I will go to court if necessary and I will sue this school for all it's worth. Now I might be willing to do otherwise if I can get some satisfaction here and now. You know Mr. Smith's contract and know what you can do. Suppose you tell me what you can do today before I leave this office. Otherwise, we are wasting time and I need to find a lawyer."
"Of course, of course. Should this get into the papers your son's reputation would be damaged and I know you don't want that to happen. Perhaps we can work something out."
"Apparently you don't hear well, Dr. Winthrop. It's your school that will suffer if this is not settled right now."
"Well, of course, we will refund your tuition for the summer as well as the room and board even though it was Luke who decided to leave."
"I can see we're getting nowhere. You are wasting my time. You are trying to shift the blame to Luke. Perhaps he was foolish for trusting a teacher, but aren't students supposed to? I believe there are statutes covering teacher-student relationships even when the student is over eighteen. Maybe I just need to spell out what you will do to save time."
Luke had laughed once about his dad being a book-keeper twenty-four/seven and I knew what he meant as Mr. Larsen laid out his demands. "One, you will, of course, give a complete refund which will be applied to Miss Lake's"--he was talking about me!--"room and board next year. That and her complete scholarship will make life easier for her."
"Oh, of course I didn't realize she would be a regular student this fall," Dr. Winthrop said. "And on a complete scholarship. That's very rare, very rare indeed."
"You know it now, so you need to get the paperwork done. It's her reward for helping Luke and is one of the conditions."
"I see," Dr. Winthrop said, somewhat crestfallen.
"Second, Mr. Smith is to be dismissed from the faculty immediately. I'm sure there is a moral grounds clause in his contract or some such. You don't need a faculty senate vote. And don't try the old dodge of just allowing him to resign--which I understand is the usual policy of academia. It avoids lawsuits, but turns teachers loose to do the same thing again."
"That could ruin his career," Dr. Winthrop said in a pleading tone.
"I suspect a lawsuit might do the same for the school--especially after it pays the damages I am sure any jury of parents would grant."
"Well, I understand Mr. Smith is ready to tender his resignation."
"Fire him," Mr. Larsen said in an icy voice.
"Very well, if you think it is necessary."
"Finally, you are to write two letters to Luke. One is to be a letter of apology and there is not to be any glossing over the situation. Luke bears some blame in this mess--after all he is eighteen--but the teacher-student relationship is sacred in our family so Mr. Smith must bear the brunt of it, and therefore the school which hired him. The second, and I suggest you might like to have Miss Lake and Douglas--Mr. Rhys--help, since they saw Luke's work and know what he did, will state that you regret Luke had to leave and give an account of what he had done up until his leaving."
"We are going to collect Luke's things and get them ready to ship home, have lunch and be on the 4:00 o'clock plane. I want all the paperwork done and certified copies of all of it in my hands before I leave. You can have them delivered to the airport since that will give you more time to get everything done. In the meantime, while Mrs. Larsen is gathering Luke's things, I will make arrangements for a lawyer to file the necessary papers should I not have proof that you are going to honor the conditions. Good morning, Dr. Winthrop. By the way, we will have Luke's things packed by 3:00. I suggest you make arrangements to have them shipped--today."
When we got outside, Douglas could hardly contain himself. "Wow, I guess you have learned a few things from Millie." He then grabbed me and kissed me flat out on the mouth and said, "Janet, welcome to Ringling!" It was only then I realized what Mr. Larsen had meant last night and that he had, in a sentence or two, changed my life.
Douglas and I helped pack Luke's things. When we had finished, it seemed there was something missing and I couldn't think why I felt that way or what was missing. Just before I closed the door, I happened to glance at Luke's bedside table and remembered Matt's picture hadn't been there. I went back into the room and looked carefully and found it on the floor, shattered. It was obvious Luke had thrown it against the wall.
Over lunch, I thanked Mr. Larsen profusely for what he had done for me. "I'm afraid the cost was very high," I added.
"Janet, the cost was high, but nothing would change that. Luke grew up in a very small town. He has had no experience outside of small-town life. But, even at that, he should have known better than to do as he did. He has suffered greatly the past few months and now he is suffering more--much of it brought on himself by his own actions. Maybe he will learn the world can be pretty cruel, but I hope he doesn't decide it's out to get him. The cost was high, but there was some good out of it," he smiled.
"Well, you didn't have to do what you did and I appreciate it."
"Janet, you and Douglas," he laughed, "--even with that hair, Douglas--have been good friends to Luke. What I did is a way of showing appreciation to you, Janet, and I think at the same time to Douglas."
"You're sure right about that!" Douglas said and smiled at me.
"By the way, Janet, if there is any--and I mean any--flack given you in an attempt to make life hard for you at Ringling, let me know. If I can't handle it, I'll send Millie."
"Bringing out the big guns," Douglas said.
"Until you have seen Millie in action, you don't know how big," Mrs. Larsen said. She paused a moment and then asked, "What are you two doing after the program?"
"I'm supposed to go to Europe with my mom and dad," Douglas said. "In theory it is to give us quality time together, but I know how it will be. It will be as always. They will have an agenda which holds absolutely no interest for me and I'll suggest I spend the days in museums and other art-related places and they will agree, relieved that I'm not with them, and we'll come home. It happens every year."
"I'll go home, get ready to come back and find a way to avoid being caught in the middle of my mother's and father's continuing divorce. You know how it is, 'Marriage is with you until the divorce and the divorce is with you forever'. They'll fight over which one has me for the rest of the summer--all the time hoping the other wins."
"Doesn't sound like either of you are looking forward to a happy summer's end," Mrs. Larsen said. Both Douglas and I nodded.
"Well, I can't really issue an invitation since I am not part of the corporation, but I think the Board of Directors of the Oberlin Five might like to have the two of you come to Ohio when we are all there. Should be some work and a lot of fun--unless you really mind parents--and there's another plus. As Eugene's mom, Millie will be there."
"Sounds great," Douglas said. I agreed.
"I'll see if I can work on the Board," Mrs. Larsen laughed. "Hey, we better get to the airport. We've got someone to meet."
Mr. Larsen paid the check and we were on our way to the airport.
The Larsens checked in and we went to the gate to wait for their flight. A man was waiting for us with the papers Mr. Larsen had demanded. After he checked them over, Mr. Larsen said, "Ok, it's all here". The man rushed out of the area. As he did, I was surprised when I saw Mr. Smith walking toward us. "Mr. Larsen, there's Mr. Smith," Douglas said.
"Jens, don't you dare make a scene," Mrs. Larsen said. "Don't you dare!"
Mr. Smith walked over to us, nodded and said, "Mr. and Mrs. Larsen?"
"Yes?" Mr. Larsen's voice was pure ice.
"Mr. and Mrs. Larsen, I don't blame you for hating me. I hate myself. I make no excuses for what I did. Had I realized... well, there's no excuse. I hope Luke is ok and will go on. He is a tremendous talent. I didn't want you to leave without making an attempt to apologize and to thank you. I have done great damage to my professional and personal life, but I brought it on myself. Had you pressed charges, I think I would have died because I know I would have gone to jail. I have learned a real lesson. The cost has been high--not only for me, but also for your son--but it could have been higher. I won't ask you to forgive me. Were Luke my son, I wouldn't. But do know that I appreciate what you did. I can put my life back together. I couldn't had I been sent to jail."
"Mr. Smith, the past cannot be changed. You have hurt us deeply. In time we may be able to forgive, and maybe in time you can forgive yourself. I hope so," Mr. Larsen said.
Mr. Smith whispered "Thank you," and disappeared in the crowd.
The Larsens' plane was announced and Douglas and I hugged them and they turned to go down the tunnel to the plane. "I wonder what they will find when they get home?" I asked.
"Don't know," Douglas answered as he took my hand, "but Luke's made of strong stuff--his Mom and Dad." He suddenly swung me around, kissed me and said, "Jan, you're going to be here next year!" I was excited too, but wondered what would become of a romance only four weeks old. It might just be a summer romance--but I was still going to Ringling next year.