Supposing that I should have the courage
To let a red sword of virtue
Plunge into my heart,
Letting to the weeds of the ground
My sinful blood,
What can you offer me?
A gardened castle?
A flowery kingdom?
What? A hope?
Then hence with your red sword of virtue.
— Stephen Crane
My emotions tumbled through me as I climbed into Robbie’s van. I knew what a mess I had made with Robbie and Alec. The civility between Alec and me existed because Robbie was involved. Maybe there was civility on Alec’s side because of the resilience of a teenager who respects his father and his choice of friends—or lovers. Had Robbie not been there, of course, Alec and I would have long ago taken our separate paths. But it was Robbie who held us together, each tethered separately to him like children of parents walking through a busy park on a Sunday—with leashes long enough to stay apart—but not that far apart.
Alec curled up in the back seat of the van and went to sleep. I curled up and pretended the same thing, but I was awake the whole time thinking things through.
We arrived at the campground in the early afternoon and set up our tents. It wasn’t too hard to be side by side with Alec and Robbie as long as nothing of importance needed to pass between us—like conversation. Of course, I don’t think ‘Hand me the hatchet, please’ counted as conversation. Things were awkward, to say the least, but not really tense. There was an uneasy peace—a trench-to-trench Christmas peace—or truce, rather, that I had practiced and thought perfected for the past year.
Robbie had warned me that this was going to be the last night of soft beds and luxury. I suspected that Alec already understood full well the rigors of backpacking. At that time I didn’t. So I probably didn’t appreciate the comfort of the soft pads and the crystal wine glasses at dinner and afterwards the camp chairs by the fire as much as I should. I probably was just too wrapped up in myself and what I was going to do for the last day of comfort for it to have made any difference, anyway. As I drank the wine over the evening, I felt myself growing more and more distant from Robbie and his son, feeling that maybe I didn’t belong in this family world, feeling myself an outsider looking in.
The closeness that I saw between Alec and Robbie began to hurt and undermine my earlier confidence and determination to open myself up. I felt jealous of Alec, who shared blood with Robbie, blood which produced a tie between them that I could never duplicate. I felt this tie produced a life bond that was unearned. And I felt once again that Robbie forcing me to choose was a demand too great. I wanted to go back to the way we were, to the mode of living Alec and I had developed. I could live with that.
But the hours I’d spent brooding had only convinced me that that life with Alec could no longer be. Holding the paradox in my mind—of wanting to break with the past but not—was, well, almost an impossibility. But, I remembered what Duke had advised: I couldn’t keep this private part of my heart private any longer, because it affected the person I loved most in the world. Tomorrow—or the next day or the next—I had to open myself up or choose to keep it forever hidden—and leave.
We grew weary after the large dinner, the wine, the fresh air and the fire; Alec excused himself to go to bed, and Robbie and I went off to our tent. Robbie slid into his sleeping bag, methodically straightening it out and unzipping the side, as was his norm. He pulled me to him for a kiss (which I felt was a little too chaste), and then he turned his back to me, as if to say, or taunt: ‘It’s in your court now. Don’t bother me until you’ve sorted things out.’
Of course, that attitude was enough to keep me wide awake and wonder, briefly, why I had left the sure thing of the Ians that I has seen in Vancouver for a much more difficult task of straightening out my relationship with Robbie and his Alec. I stared for hours at the slopes of the canvas, then I got up, left the tent and sat at the picnic table, looking at the stars through the canopy of the firs, organizing myself for the next day. Robbie came out to check on me, but I waved him off, and I’m sure he knew that I needed the space.
And I did.
Robbie and Alec packed our backpacks the next morning as I cleaned up from breakfast. I did cleanup mainly because I knew nothing about what I needed for a backpack trip. With the sun still behind the mountains, it was cold, but the air smelled sweet, making me think of the time when I was 10 years old in a Christmas-tree lot with my father.
I could hear birds chirping in the trees, and I could hear the zips of tents opening and the clank of cooking gear as other campers started their day.
Robbie and Alec loaded what we needed for the hike into the back seat of the van and what we didn’t need into the far back. Robbie asked me to drive the van to an open area near the trail sign while he filled out the paperwork for the hike. I unloaded the backpacks onto the road and locked all the doors. Robbie carried both our packs to the trailhead, and as I neared him, he held out my pack like a jacket that a maitre d’ might hold for a departing guest. He lifted the pack onto my shoulders, turned me around and cinched the shoulder straps before attaching the belt and cinching it up as well. In better times, I think he might have squeezed my crotch. Finally, he looked me squarely in the eye with a go-for-it look as if I was about to make the final ascent on Mount Everest—and maybe I was. There was resignation in his look—maybe he was beyond passion—and I shivered from his stand-offishness. But his final look held encouragement and seemed to say: ‘It’s up to you, now. You can do it.’
One thing about a hike, particularly a long climb, as I learned, is that it induces a lot of thinking. The metronome sounds of footfalls leads to introspection. I knew I had to reveal parts of my private life that I had mostly suppressed for over a decade. I knew I had put someone—Tran—in such danger that he became a victim of my naïve do-gooder deeds. Because of me, he had died—needlessly. Because of my actions, a young life was ripped from the earth. I blamed myself. I could not stop blaming myself, and I had been carrying this burden for over a decade, unable to face it, unable to throw it off, unable to deal with it. Those were my thoughts as I hiked through the subdued forest light that seeped from a gray sky overhead through a heavy overhang of Douglas firs and hemlocks. The grayness matched my mood perfectly as my feet moved mechanically up the trail.
The first moments of awe came as I glanced upward into the sheer dominion of the forest—into the towers of the Douglas firs and hemlocks and the distance to the tree-scraped sky. I was hit by the sepulchral feel of the space we were walking through, and the regularity of my steps seemed trivial in comparison to what was above me. It was the first time in several days that I allowed my mind to empty and to leave behind my worries about the daunting task that faced me—and I was glad.
In about an hour, the sky began to brighten; then from time to time, sun rays would pierce the forest with bright fern- and moss-green destinations. I sought the welcome sun when there were breaks in the forest, letting the warmth settle on my head and shoulders. It was just me, the forest and the sun’s warmth during that climb—no Robbie and no Alec.
We were actually like separate hiking parties climbing this ridge that morning. Alec and I acted with each other as if we were solo hikers on the same trail at the same time going the same direction. One of us would be ahead on the trail, then, during breaks, cede the lead to the other, passing with a nod in a friendly but distant manner. In a way, Alec and I were strangers going in the same direction at the same pace, but coming from such different worlds that there could be no true communication between us. Robbie would move between me and Alec on the trail, joining one or the other of us, but never the two of us at once.
I felt the isolation—of the forest and of my circumstances. As my thoughts returned to my problems, I realized that the isolation really came as a result of the wall that I had constructed between myself and Alec. It was an isolation that Robbie, in his earnest way, was trying to break down so that he didn’t have to choose one side or the other. But breaking the wall down would require an opening up of my soul and the exposure of the private darkness within.
The forest started to thin as we moved to higher altitudes, and I found myself ahead of Robbie and Alec; I think Robbie had said something to me about them catching up. The trail clung to a steep slope. I could almost touch the ground on the right side by just reaching straight out; to the left the terrain fell away steeply for hundreds of feet, rock at the top and the tops of trees at the bottom. I held as close to the right side of the trail as I could, keeping my eyes down to make sure I didn’t trip and go flailing down the mountainside. At one time, I thought that maybe that would be an easy way to solve my problems—as long as it was guaranteed to be quick and terminal. The trail turned to the right, and the terrain leveled out.
There are times in one’s life when the beauty of nature makes one small and inconsequential. This was one of those times. As my eyes rose and beheld what was ahead, I was struck with my insignificance. Ahead of me was Mount Rainier, craggy with volcanic outcroppings–enormous, dominating, covered with snow, even in August. Beneath the background of the mountain and just ahead of me on the trail was a meadow of fresh green grass spiked with wildflowers that flowed down to a postcard-perfect mountain lake.
I was absolutely overwhelmed. How could my turmoil—a transitory event in the universe—mean anything in the face of the forces of the eons that had created and recreated the scene before me. My inner troubles seemed so small. My eyes would not leave the scene in front of me. All the issues that I had before me, all the heartbreak that I had caused, all the errors in my life seemed so trivial.
I turned off the trail onto the meadow and collapsed to my knees, struck dumb. At first I could not think, but soon the sad and suppressed images hidden in my conscious streamed before me as if I were the proverbial dying man seeing his life flashing before him. I began to sob and went on and on, for an hour at least, both oblivious to and in awe of my surroundings. I recalled Robbie and Alec passing me by. Through my tears, I saw that they settled onto some rocks that protruded from the side of the lake. I vaguely recalled a worried-looking Robbie getting up to move toward me but me waving him off. This was to be my turmoil and mine alone. These were my sins that needed to be expiated. And those I did.
Maybe it was the ultimatum from Robbie, maybe it was the support I got from my mother and the final acceptance of my father, maybe it was the advice I got from Duke in Vancouver, maybe it was even the hollow experience with Ian—probably it was all of these, but when I finally composed myself, I felt that an enormous burden had been lifted and that I was ready to take up life again.
I had one major task left. I hiked down the path to join Robbie and Alec where they were seated and where they had started to set out something for lunch along with a bottle of chardonnay. I think I made some stupid Mariner joke. Maybe I felt the assurance of Robbie’s arms around me at one point before I sat down to have something to eat. We finished lunch, and I hesitated.
It was Robbie who broke the ice, and he began to say how much this place meant to him during his breakup with Anne. And he started to go on and on, seemingly to fill the gap. I knew he was trying to help and I knew he was trying to get me started, but he was talking nervously, and that struck me as humorous, especially when Alec said: “You’re babbling, Dad.”
I glanced at Alec, and he glanced at me, and we almost started to giggle. But that glance and our joint reaction to his father became a thread that tied us together. It was a thread that I knew with a few more strands could become a lifeline to the heart of Alec. So I took hold of it and bared the darkest part of my soul to both of them. It was an emotional hour. I addressed myself to Alec, though I felt the presence of Robbie sitting behind me, being my rock, as he always had been since Mississippi.
When the hour and the story were over, I was emotionally empty. My soul was wide open, exposed, but protected by Robbie and ready to be filled again with better things.
We three sat in a shared silence, listening to the warm wind and the buzz of the bees on the tufts of wild flowers. I felt Robbie’s hands on my shoulders, massaging my pain away. I leaned, pulling Robbie’s right arm to my lips to give it a light kiss. Alec asked to see the bracelet. I pulled it from my pocket, then gave it to Alec, who examined it, turning it in his hands, held it and gave it back to me to put back in my pocket.
“It’s fantastically beautiful,” Alec said. He looked at it for a while then finally stood. “I want to go ahead alone, Dad” he said. “I need to think.”
“That’s fine. You know where we are going to camp tonight. We’ll see you there.”
Alec gave his father a hard and fierce hug. Then he came over to me, hesitated, then gave me an almost-fierce hug before he started north along the trail. Robbie and I sat, quietly finishing up the chardonnay, leaning against each other, letting the sun dry our tears. I couldn’t suppress my smile, which bordered on the giddiness of having been relieved of an enormous burden.
We picked up our gear and hiked in silence to our camping spot for the night, Alec going on ahead. We didn’t really speak, as we hadn’t on the climb up from the pass, but it was a companionable silence, a silence of unuttered warmth and respect. I had not felt better in over a decade, and each step seemed to drive a small bit of warmth into my heart.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginably You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
— e.e. cummings
I smiled to myself as I repeated the poem in my mind—and aloud twice—as I walked. Robbie probably thought that I was talking to myself, but really I was talking to the reopened world ahead.
We camped that night somewhere ahead on the trail. I really had no idea where we were, but Robbie did, as did Alec who had arrived at the night’s stopping point earlier, staking out the best campsite, and he had already started to set up things. We ate dinner quietly that night. I wasn’t in the mood to say much, and I don’t think Alec and Robbie were either. It wasn’t unpleasant, though, and we finished off our meal with a nice wine that Robbie had packed. It was as if we needed the quiet dinner to recharge our emotions. I know I did.
After the last light left the sky to the west, Robbie and I climbed into our tent, undressed and lay on the top of our sleeping bags. We made love, as Robbie has described in his story, and it was good and just right for our mood.
* * * * *
The next day, I felt at the time, was the first day of the remainder of my life. It dawned for me with a cup of fresh, steaming black coffee thrust into my hands, and it ended with a midnight skinny dip and much laughter in between. Well, it didn’t end with the skinny dip, but I won’t go into what happened after the midnight swim. The day after that we built upon a new, warmer relationship, and the day after that we had to pack up for our trip out—me with a new outlook on our relationship. You should read Robbie’s story if you want to find out about that part of our hike.
After lunch on that last day, I made the sad decision to make the final break with the past. I wanted, no, needed, to get rid of my gift to Tran: the emblem of my past, continually dragging me back to Vietnam. We had passed a steep cliff that fell sharply into a river valley several thousand feet below. My idea was to throw the bracelet as far as I could over that cliff, leaving me with no bracelet and no memories coming back every time I saw it. I would let the mountain swallow the Vietnam nightmares, leaving them, I hoped, entirely behind me. I would retain only intangible memories of my time there—memories that might fade away some day if I was lucky.
We were picking up everything from lunch, and Alec and Robbie were busy stuffing the packs for the final leg of our hike.
I rose from where I was sitting and walked about a hundred paces down the trail to do what I had decided to do. I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out Tran’s bracelet, turning it in my hand as I walked along the trail, alternately losing my will and then regaining it. I walked toward the edge of the cliff and stood, opening my hand for one last look at the silver and turquoise symbol of so much sadness. Tears rose in my eyes. This decision seemed almost larger than the one I had been through two days earlier. I lost track of time.
The next thing that I noticed, through the blur of my tears, was Alec’s hand on my wrist. I hadn’t seen Alec come up behind me.
Alec stood before me with a rueful grin on his face: “You’ve been a selfish asshole this last year, you know that. You’ve been so wrapped up in yourself that you haven’t had any real time for me—or for my father for that matter. And you’re about to do it again.”
I couldn’t figure out how to react. Here, Alec had told me the awful truth of the year, yet he was grinning at me. I didn’t know what to say, if anything. I sat down on the outcropping, my legs dangling over a sharp drop below me. I buried my face in my hands and started to say I was sorry once again.
Alec put his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t say a word. I’ve said my piece. I’ve wanted to say that for a year now, and I couldn’t resist.”
I peeked through my hands to see Alec grinning again. “Now I want you to forget that I said what I said. The words are off my chest, behind us. Leave them there. You don’t need to apologize or say anything, because it’s over. I believe things have changed—truly, I do. I forgave you three days ago, by the way.”
I looked up at Alec, a guileless boy of 14 who had acted more like a man in the last year than I had. His face showed only forgiveness—and amusement at my reaction. I opened my arms, and we hugged as we should have done months ago if I had been the least bit sensitive to this young man. He sat down next to me, and I put my arm over his shoulder, and we sat, silently, basking in the sun and the enormous bulk of Mount Rainier.
It was time to complete my task. I looked at the turquoise and silver bracelet in my hand and decided it was time to throw it as far as I could throw it. I stood and started to wind my arm up to throw it over the cliff below us, but I felt Alec’s hand on my wrist again, softly restraining me from my throw.
“You’re doing it again—getting wrapped up in yourself. Don’t,” Alec said. His hand rested on my arm. I sat back down, and Alec sat next to me. “Talk to me,” he said softly.
“I just want to get rid of this part of my life…” and I nodded toward the bracelet, “…and put it behind me.”
“If you’d really wanted to do that, you could have thrown it away years ago.”
I thought about what Alec said. “I know,” I admitted. We sat in silence for a few more minutes, me trying to hold back the tears.
“Tell me in your own words why you didn’t,” Alec said softly. “I think I know the answer, but I want you to tell me.”
I put my head in my hands. “I didn’t because….” I halted. I couldn’t go on. I could hold back the tears no longer. They poured down my face unchecked.
Alec reached over and took the bracelet from me. “You didn’t because it was the symbol of Tran, and it was a good symbol, and you couldn’t give up that one tie to him.” Alec looked me straight in the eye.
I nodded. My mind returned to the many times in the past that I had sat and considered throwing the bracelet away but couldn’t find the will.
“And even though this piece of jewelry brought you incredible sadness, it also represents an incredible gift of your love and time.” Alec handed the bracelet back to me, saying: “I want you to promise me the same gift of love and time.”
I had come to edge of this cliff intending to get rid of a part of my past, and Alec had asked me to make my past part of my present and future. My initial intent had changed character—had morphed into a very different decision, and I realized immediately how much better was this outcome.
I started to slip the Navajo bracelet over Alec’s wrist, but then hesitated. “I’m so afraid that harm will come to you as it did with Tran.”
“Shit happens,” Alec said with a grin, knowing full well that his father would not approve of his Anglo Saxon. He held out his wrist to me and with misgivings and hope, I placed the bracelet on it. He looked at my gift—with its implied promise.
“I’ll be afraid for you as long as you wear this bracelet.”
“I want you to be afraid, because I know then that you care.” Then, he smiled his father’s smile and began to laugh softly. “Besides, superstition is for baseball. We’re not talking about the Red Sox, for Christ’s sake. It’s me and it’s a beautiful piece of jewelry that was intended for love, not for sorrow, and love should never be thrown away.”
Tran would have been happy, I thought, as Alec opened both arms and let me fall into them. Here I was a 34-year-old man being comforted by a 14-year-old—and loving it.
* * * * *
The rest of the trip went by in a blur as we met up with Celly and Anne climbing up the trail. We got back to her car, got ferried to our van, unloaded and reloaded our gear, said goodbye and drove off. I was so exhausted I fell asleep almost instantly, waking only for a piece of huckleberry pie à la mode in one of those mountain-highway restaurants that could have been built when the first autos were able to drive to the mountain. I think Robbie must have known every good place to get pie in the Northwest if this place was any indication.
I think I asked Robbie if he wanted help driving at some point during the trip, but he waved me off, telling me to get some rest for our upcoming night at home. Home! That sounded good. Upcoming night sounded even better. And coming? Well… Thoughts like these caused me to adjust my pants, and I had to think of neutral things before I could go back to sleep.
* * * * *
Something appeared seriously wrong when we walked in the door of the condominium. Had someone broken into our home? I knew I had turned off some of the lights that were now on. I almost said aloud that something smelled suspicious, but it actually smelled like good cooking. Robbie looked as puzzled as I was, but when he got to the kitchen door, the tenseness left his body, and I heard him exclaim, “Sarah!” There, sitting in the kitchen was my mother. The only thing I could think of was: What in hell’s name was she doing here?
Mom was looking anxiously at Robbie, ignoring me, I noticed. He must have figured it out first because I felt his arm circling my waist, which was enough of a signal to cause my mother to break into a warm smile—in fact, she beamed—before she remembered to chide me about not giving her a proper greeting.
As I walked over to her, I realized why she had come, and I became a bit pissed at her and at Robbie, who I figured had set her trip up in case the hike went badly. However, Robbie’s initial surprise belied my suspicions, and I had to believe in his innocence. I finally cooled down and decided I should be grateful that my mother had come to pick up any pieces, should any picking up be needed .
The next year was a truly happy one for me—the happiest since my summer in Mississippi. My work was still hard and intense and totally absorbing, and I was given ever more responsibilities by Drew. I became less the tormentor of the computer geeks and became more their collaborator, at least as far as the program interface was concerned. Our company’s sales were rising rapidly, and we had one of the lowest “help desk” needs of companies our size.
My home life was also intense and hard, but being hard at home had a different meaning than hard at work—in more than one way, of course. I was trying to make as much time for Alec and Celly as I could. Doing so seemed no longer a chore or a duty; it was a pleasure, but it consumed time that I had to steal from Robbie. He didn’t seem to mind, though, because of the growing ties between Alec and me.
I was able to regain some of the devil-may-care spirit that I had set aside for the past 14 years. I had loved to let myself go and be creative and do things that no mature adult would do, because I knew that somebody was there as my steady support. I could consciously avoid being mature, again, which, curiously enough, was probably a sign of maturity. I was able to press the limits of our relationship—the embarrassment limits—as the confidence in myself rose and as I shucked off the anchor of my awful memories.
* * * * *
In one way, though, I wanted to press Robbie’s limits. I wanted him to become more open about us. I had admitted to myself that I was gay and that I believed there was nothing wrong with being gay. Robbie lagged behind me in this respect. I could sense his reluctance about exposing our relationship to people who did not know us. Our relationship was no problem to our friends. It was no problem to Robbie’s kids and Anne. But I could sense Robbie’s unease at times, and my mission, I believed, was to press him till the resistance rose, to back off, and then to press him again. I knew that Robbie deep down did not mind what I was doing because he would have said something if he did.
So, I pressed him. I wanted us both to feel that we could be physically affectionate to one another in public—not physically affectionate in the sense that Robbie and I would feel embarrassed were it done by a heterosexual couple but in the sense that we could hug or lightly kiss each other on the cheek or lips without feeling we were acting “gay.” I knew that holding hands in public was too “in your face” for Robbie’s conservative self, and I respected his sense of privacy. But holding hands in a darkened theater, in a dimly lit restaurant booth or when we were largely alone was okay, even though I had to press him to take those chances sometimes. Actually, I had to charm him into taking them, but that was okay—with both of us.
* * * * *
On a day in November, I announced to Robbie that I was taking Alec and Celly back to Boston and I wasn’t taking him. Actually, I said that I would like to take them, and I thought enough to ask him if he wanted to go. However, my decision had been made, and he was certainly welcome to come, but I knew he probably wouldn’t. I think he wanted me to act like a responsible father-like figure in front of my mother, and he knew, I suppose, that playing that role was not too far outside of my abilities. And, as a saving grace, he probably didn’t think I could mess up their lives too much—no more, at least, than our recent winter camping excursion.
Alec and Celly had never been to Boston nor anywhere else in the Northeast, so they were excited as they got on the same flight that Robbie and I had taken some months earlier. I played the nonchalant role, but I realized that I felt like a proud father showing my brood where I was raised.
My mother had met Alec and Celly briefly in Seattle on her blessedly failed rescue mission, but she hadn’t really had a chance to get to know them. These two kids might have been her grandchildren if circumstances had been different, so I hoped that she would accept them as substitutes.
And she did. In fact, she absolutely doted on them. She insisted on taking them to every possible tourist destination that she could think of. She took them out to Legal Seafood for lobster, up to Gloucester for fishing boats and lobster, out to Harvard, Wellesley and M.I.T. as a not-so-subtle hint that they should apply to colleges there, and to Locke-Ober for an expensive dinner. Mom would bribe anybody with a fine meal. “I can spoil anyone I want to,” she said one evening after I complained that she was doing too much. “I spoiled you, didn’t I? And you turned out all right.” Of course, she didn’t know how close a call that was, and I figured then that Dad had said nothing about our bet—about how close I was to calling an end to everything before he beat me to the grave. However, she may have understood me better than I did myself and knew that I could never have the courage or the stupidity or both to end my own life.
Mom even wanted to take Alec and Celly to New York City, but I insisted that was just too much for everybody this time, and I promised to bring them back again. I think she threatened the New York trip solely to ensure my promise that they would come back. In fact, she said they could come back with or without me or Robbie.
Celly and Alec spilled the beans about our winter-storm camping trip one morning over breakfast, and when she stopped laughing, Mom tut-tutted her confirmation that I was crazy and smiled her approval at my eternal adolescence.
She didn’t spare me an examination of my love life, either. No intimate details, of course, but she wanted to make sure that everything was okay between Robbie and me. I think she knew the answer before she asked, and she understood me so well that she would have known if something was wrong, plus I figured she’d been on the phone to Robbie, who would have spared her nothing: they had grown that close since our hike.
I called Dave Handel to see how he was doing after he decided not to move to Seattle with Molini. He sounded particularly nervous until I told him I was involved with Robbie—for the long term. Then he relaxed and said he finally could entertain a friend at his apartment without going apoplectic with nerves. He had taken a job with another software firm outside of Boston, but he admitted he liked Molini better. I said he always had a job waiting for him. Finally, he said his love life was beginning to develop. I wanted to ask whether his friend was a he or a she.
“I don’t know if Mike is ready to quit his job,” he said.
Now, that answered that, and it probably meant it really had been enough time from when he had been unable to sit at the same couch with somebody without freaking out.
“Mike…?” I asked.
“He’s a dancer. He was a gofer where I’m working so that he can afford to eat while pursuing a dancing career. He’s 19. He’s cute. He loves me. I love him. We’re both out to our families and friends now.” He paused. “I just wasn’t ready when you were here. I’m sorry. But I love you, too. But differently, of course.”
“That’s okay. I rediscovered the person I loved most in my life, and we’re together. And I don’t think I could’ve committed to anyone else until I had resolved my issues with Robbie. So I probably would have left you in the lurch. I’m happy you found somebody. If you come to visit Seattle, we’ve got room for you both to stay.” We hung up on a positive note and agreed to keep in touch.
The trip home was eventful. Alec and Celly could not stop talking about what they had done, and it seemed to me that they thought half the people on the plane needed to be told about their good time. I would grin and shrug my shoulders as I caught the eyes of the amused passengers they cornered. All the passengers seemed to be enchanted, however, with these two exuberant children.
Anne and Robbie were waiting for us at the gate. I gave Robbie a quick kiss, which caused his eyes to look around the waiting area in concern, but once again nobody was really paying attention. Alec and Celly immediately attacked their mother with yet another retelling of all that occurred on the trip. They were talking nonstop, simultaneously, and Anne was trying to get them to talk one at a time as Robbie and I slipped off to the baggage-claim area. Where did they get all that energy?
I only had enough energy for a quick lovemaking session with Robbie before I fell asleep in his arms that night. Well…it wasn’t too quick, but it was 1 a.m. Eastern time as my eyes closed.
The hike, of course, is fiction, and the individual places on it are imaginary, but they are based on real lakes and views in the Cascades. To experience the view of Mount Rainier that Jake saw—the surprise and the beauty—you need only to take one of the Cascade Mountains shorter hikes. There is a trail called the Naches Peak Loop that begins at the top of Chinook Pass in Washington State, circles Naches Peak and ends up at Tipsoo Lake, from which a short hike up takes you back to the point of origin. It is about a 3.5 mile loop hike, but to get Jake’s experience, you need to travel clockwise. In early August, the wildflowers are at their magnificent peak.