“I was hoping that as the other unattached under sixty member of the faculty that we could be friends. It’s a lovely campus and everyone is more than kind, but it is kind of lonely.”
Kenny spoke, “Samir, you have no choice. You cannot allow your country, the country I know you love, collapse into civil war or even worse yet, fall into the hands of an oppressive regime. Rajesh has prepared the way, but you must do this.” Kenny was firm.
“Madam Secretary, I fear that the influence of the United States will be taken as interference and will damage my authority.”
“I agree. The United States will not participate in the transition in any way. France and Canada have offered their support to your government. France has obtained commitments from the popular opposition. Once your government is well established, the United States will happily acknowledge its legitimacy and offer our friendship. We hope to promote peace in the region, support the equality of women and all citizens, honor traditions and religious values, but not at the expense of the rights of the people. This may sound like rhetoric, but these are the principles of our country. We seek to promote them in yours.”
Samir rose from his seat. He embraced Kenny then looked him in the eye. “This may mean we cannot marry as we had planned. If you go with me, your life will not be your own.”
“From the moment I met you, my life has not been my own. As long as I am with you, I will be happy. I could not leave you in danger. Do what must be done.”
“Madam Secretary, Mother, I accept this proposal. With Kenny at my side, I accept this life.”
“Good. The French government has arranged transportation. It is vital that you have returned to your country before the king dies. I fear for your father’s life at the hands of his own brother. Once you have arrived, the balance will shift. You can depend upon our support and our discretion. Good luck, Samir.” The Secretary of State and her entourage left the room.
They sat in silence, as if recovering from a great storm. Samir embraced his mother, then Rajesh. They thanked him for his choice.
Alex, Guy, and Cal stepped toward the door. Samir broke from his family and interrupted them. “No, my friends. You have given me, given my country a new life. If it’s long or short, only heaven will decide, but it will be my life. And Kenny, you are the man every man wants by his side. I apologize now for every moment we will not be able to share. Your gift to me is greater than any other and all I can return is my need for you and my love.” Samir kissed Kenny.
“Cal, I will need advice on matters of the economy. May I call upon your assistance?”
Cal demurred. “I am not in a position to offer my help, as welcome to my help as you are.”
“Fuss! Academic credentials are trivial compared to the loyalty you have shown me all these years. I could never trust anyone as much.”
“Alex, Guy. You give me hope for the world. You have been selfless in your pursuit of justice. I pray to be worthy of the honor you have made possible. If in my power, I will grant any request.” Samir embraced them both.
“Be as good a man always as you are today, idealistic and loving. That is all I request” said Alex. Guy put his arm around him and held him tightly.
The door opened again. A French officer came in and addressed Samir. “Sir, we have received word that your father is failing. We need to move quickly. With your permission, we would like to go to the airport immediately. Who, other than your mother, the minister and security will be travelling with you?” He scanned the room.
“Just me” said Kenny as he again embraced Samir.
“Then follow me.”
“Good bye, my friends. Thank you for all you have done. My apologies for this abrupt departure.” They were gone.
Alex, Guy and Cal sat in the hotel bar well into their third drink.
“I can’t believe all that has happened today” Guy said.
“Three weeks ago I was hiding in the Caribbean, wondering if my life would ever be normal again.” Cal replied.
“Cal what are you going to do next?” Alex asked.
“I have no idea. I’m broke, no job, been in hiding for five years. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well you are the economic advisor to a Middle Eastern country. That’s got to be worth something” Guy encouraged.
“I guess. It’s hard to quantify that right now.”
“One thing we’ve got to do is tell Henri and Thibaud how everything has turned out. Thibaud was the link that filled in some critical gaps and Henri was the one who really made things happen. Without his connections, today would not have happened” Alex said.
“And Dr. Waldheim, we must tell him. He still has work to do with Worthington. We should see him as soon as we can” Guy reminded them.
“Cal, you’re welcome to stay with us. I can offer that since I’m confident you’ll find your way. And I kind of liked having dinner made those evenings, not to mention, you clean really well.” Guy agreed.
They called Thibaud the next morning, having time before their flight back to New York. He sounded a little breathless. “Thibaud, are you alright?” Alex asked.
“Marveilleu, mon frère. I was just finishing someone, I mean something.”
“Butcher or baker?”
“Not even the candlestick maker, ha ha. No it is none other than the handsome Henri. He came to me early today so we have dined in bed, among other things. So, have we news? Let me put the phone on speaker. There. Tell all.”
“So, it has happened? I did not expect to hear from you for another day or so” Henri informed them.
“It was yesterday, here at least. We did not want to call in the middle of the night, and I’m afraid we got a little drunk. Yes, it has happened.”
“Samir agreed?” Henri asked.
“Yes, he agreed. You seem to be ahead of us on this.” Alex told him.
“I happened to have heard that he might be offered a role as transitional leader provided he declined the throne, agreed to support the rights of the people, and decry violence. Now it is done. That will mean I have much to do. I have never met your friend, Samir, but he must be a most remarkable man.” Henri’s voice showed his admiration.
“Maybe even more remarkable is Kenny, his lover. Kenny helped Samir escape and has been protecting Samir all this time. Now he has agreed to go with Samir as his confident and guard.”
“Was Rajesh there?”
“You know Rajesh? Yes, he was there. So was Samir’s mother.”
“She was?” Henri was amazed. “This is very important news. She will carry much of the old guard, Rajesh represents modern moderates, and we have support from the opposition. Much will depend upon how well the king’s second son can be neutralized. I am hopeful for a good outcome.”
“How is Cal?” Thibaud interrupted.
“He’s right here. Cal, how are you?”
“Thibaud. It’s wonderful to hear your voice. Henri, I am envious of you. You must be very special to have captured Thibaud’s heart.”
“Not so special that I have to keep recapturing the rest of him.” Henri was tart as usual.
“I’ve got to figure out what to do next. Alex and Guy have more than generously agreed to put me up for a while. I have my life to put back together.”
“After all this, good fortune must be on your side. All of you, you must come back soon to visit us in Provence. This time I will warn my mother that there will be guests. Keep in touch, in the meanwhile, you have all become very dear to me, especially since I think Thibaud is safe with you. But, you Cal, perhaps it is necessary for you to find a lover before you come.”
“It’s not my first priority, but I’ll see what I can do.”
They said good bye and hung up.
Once back in New York, Alex called Dr. Waldheim to tell him all the news. He was overjoyed to hear that there was so much promise for Samir. Dr. Waldheim asked, “Cal is staying with you, you said? You must all come up this weekend. I am sorry to sound impatient, but with Cal out of hiding, there are things we must do. Is it possible for you to come?”
Alex told Dr. Waldheim that they would come. Alex could tell that there were important things yet to tell in this matter.
Both Alex and Guy tried their best to refocus on their jobs. Each had returned to work with some anxiety about all the time they had taken off. Alex was greeted by his friends from the office on his first day back.
“I don’t know what you did or where you’ve been, but things have been buzzing. The head honcho keeps asking when you’ll be around. When I told him I didn’t know I was afraid he’d be pissed. No way. He said things could wait and to let him know when you returned. It was almost like he was afraid of you.” Alex shrugged his shoulders in disbelief. “I can’t figure it out either.”
Later that day, the chief economist stopped by Alex’s desk and asked if he would accompany him to lunch. Alex’s friends gave him the high sign. The higher ups only took important clients out. If they were going to fire him, someone from Human Resources would do that.
The luncheon was in the executive dining room on the top floor of the building. The meal was elegantly served in a beautiful room. The chief economist was approached by the president of the banking division. He was turned away, the economist saying he had more pressing matters. Alex was stunned.
“So, I’ve been reviewing the work you’ve done since you’ve been with us, solid ideas, well reason, thoroughly supported, all around good work. I hadn’t realized how much of what I’ve presented these past few years was based on your contribution. I’ll admit that you gave us all a start that day in the meeting. A congressional summons generally means bad things for those of us in the board room. I’ve been told it had nothing to do with the company, though a matter of importance no doubt.” Alex told him that he was not at liberty to discuss the matter, but could confirm that it had nothing to do with the company. The economist was relieved, though still a little skeptical. “Well, my boy, we’ll leave it at that.” A distinguished man approached their table. “Ah, here’s the chairman. Bill, this is the young man I was telling you about” indicating Alex. “Yes, we’re just discussing his future with the company.”
The chairman leaned in close. “Young man, your name came up in a conversation I was having with some colleagues of mine in Washington. You are held in high regard by some important people. And I’m sure as Al has already told you, we appreciate your efforts here.” The chief economist nodded his agreement. “Al, let’s make sure Alex here is invited to the next offsite. You can bring your wife or girl. It’s more of a ‘get to know you’ session among the executives.”
Alex swallowed hard. “Sir, I have a partner, not a wife.”
The chairman reeled, but caught himself. “Of course, he’s welcome too. Might even shake things up a might. Those deals can be frighteningly dull. It would look good for our corporate image. Definitely bring him along.” The chairman said his luncheon appointment had arrived and excused himself.
The economist shook his head and said, “I don’t know who you know kid, but I’m beyond impressed. The chairman has not been what I might call ‘open minded’. I think you just changed his life and the whole company.”
“Look Mr. Grayson, I’m not trying to impress anyone, well I am, but not with whom I happen to know, though I’m not really sure who he was talking about. Anyway, I appreciate the attention, but I like what I do, I’m doing okay financially, and I’m not looking for any favors, just fair treatment. I think you might do well to give all the people in the department a closer look. They’re all as good as me, sometimes better. Sure there’s some rivalry, but I’m proud to be part of the team. I think we all are.”
“That, my boy, is how you get promoted. Have some dessert. I’ve got another appointment, if you will excuse me.” The economist left with a wave.
As Alex sat having dessert, he became aware of many eyes from other tables pointed his way. He smiled back awkwardly, quickly finishing his meal and leaving the dining room. When he got back to his desk, his friends gathered around. “So what was it like? What’s going on? You talked to the chairman and he knew who you were?” They peppered him with questions, most of which he did not know the answers to.
Alex’s immediate boss called to ask to speak to him. Alex went into the office, again apprehensive. “Alex, you’ve caught the eye of the brass. They’ve created a new position of advisor to the chief economist and you’re the man to fill it. I couldn’t agree more, your work has been outstanding. Congratulations.”
“Come on, Lou, I haven’t done anything the others haven’t been a part of.”
“Look Mr. Modesty, you’ve been recognized, promoted and there’s nothing you can do about it. But keep the attitude. Me and the boys will still go to lunch with you, if you’ll have us. Your new office is upstairs, next door to the chief economist.”
Alex left that day with his head in a spin. Somehow he had gotten on the fast track. It was nice, but dizzying. He could hear Cal and Guy talking when he got home. Guy greeted him with a kiss, Cal with a more chaste hug. “You look about to burst, and I don’t mean in the way you usually look about to burst when we’re together, if you know what I mean” Guy teased with a wink.
“It’s really weird. I got a big promotion at work. If I had known all I had to do was take a bunch of time off with no explanation to get a promotion, I would have goofed off long ago. The chief economist took me out to lunch. He’d been looking for me since the first meeting we had in New York. The Chairman knew who I was and said his friends had been talking about me. What’s going on?”
“Friends in Washington?” Guy asked.
“Yeah, he did mention that.”
“I think our little adventure, while very secret, may be having some impact.” Guy speculated. “I got invited to a political event next week. I normally steer clear of the DA’s political ambitions, but he insisted I attend. Other than chewing me out when the judge went nuts that time, he hasn’t really spoken to me. It seems to be a pattern.”
“Rewards well deserved, my friends.” Cal beamed.
The three left for the college on an afternoon train the next Saturday. A cab dropped them off in front of Dr. Waldheim’s house. He must have been looking for them since he greeted them from the porch. “Welcome my friends.” Then he looked into Cal’s eyes. Dr. Waldheim’s chin quivered, his eyes filled with tears. Cal embraced him, tears also flowing. “I’m so very sorry, dear Cal. This is the first we have met since that awful day, when we, you lost so much. Please forgive this old man’s tears. The grief is always with me, as I see it is with you. Please, come inside.”
On entering the grand foyer of the old Victorian house, they met with Dr. Waldheim’s wife. “Dear, you remember our young friends. And you remember Professor Stephenson. He’s returned to us.” She welcomed them all and patted Dr. Waldheim on the shoulder, understanding his emotion. “Come into my study. I think Manhattan’s were agreeable last time. Cal, what will you have?”
Cal sank into an old chair, grieving anew. “I haven’t had Bourbon since Stu and I were together. I think it’s appropriate now. Thank you, Dr. Waldheim.”
“So you, my boys have changed the world. Samir will be leading his country to a new way, I think a better way. It’s all possible because of you. I don’t forget Thibaud and Henri. What fine friends you have.”
Dr. Waldheim pulled a file from his desk. “Cal, there is some business I need to discuss with you.” When Guy and Alex got up to leave, he said, “I’m sure it will be alright if you stay. While it is personal, I think Cal will appreciate your presence.” Dr. Waldheim adjusted his glasses and quickly glanced over a few documents. “I am the executor of Stuart Marcus’s will. Since his death, it has been in probate, pending communication with the beneficiaries. I contacted Stuart’s wife, since she was not named as a beneficiary and thought she should be informed in the event she wished to contest the will. She did not. Her reply, of which there is a notarized copy in the file, states that Stuart’s estate was his to dispose of and she makes no claim. Which brings us to you Cal. Stuart left his estate to you. It consists of his house and contents, including the car and a not inconsiderable investment account. He was a frugal man, good with money.” Cal was weeping openly. Alex was sniffing. Guy tried to swallow his own emotion. “He loved you Cal, of that there is no doubt.”
Dr. Waldheim took a long pull from his drink. “There is something else I want to talk to you about, Cal. You never finished your contract with us.” Cal looked up in shock. “Understandable under the circumstances, but it is my intention that you return to fulfill that contract. There is an opening in the Economics Department. I’m sure you’ve been keeping up with your field.”
“Cal has done a major paper on emerging economies. I think, from the brief look I had, that it will serve as a dissertation” Alex added.”
“Well done Cal” enthused Dr. Waldheim. “Perhaps we can arrange a discussion with some of my colleagues at Columbia and see if you can join their doctoral program. If you’ve already done the work, we can fast track it.”
“Now, if we’ve finished our drinks, why don’t we walk over to Stuart’s” Dr. Waldheim stopped himself, “Cal’s house.”
As they walked along Dr. Waldheim told them that he had talked with the ladies of the business office of Cal’s return and that he had inherited Mr. Marcus’s house. They asked permission to fix things up, which was granted.
On arriving at the property, Cal remarked on how beautifully cared for the grounds were. Dr. Waldheim explained that after Mr. Marcus’s death, the college maintenance crews adopted the property into their care as their tribute to Mr. Marcus. Dr. Waldheim produced keys and handed them to Cal. Once inside, Cal wandered from room to room. He went into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.
Dr. Waldheim spoke through the closed door. “We’ll go along to my house. When you’re ready join us for dinner.”
Alex stood in the living room, looking at the floor. Guy put his arm around him, and looked down. “The rug is stained red. The wine you saw spilled.” Alex collapsed into Guy’s embrace.
Dr. Waldheim spoke to them from across the room. “Cal grieves for what he has lost and what might have been. You, my friend, Alex, experience the pain of being alone in the world with none who can understand, then losing the one chance to be heard. It’s different now, but I know it hurt terribly then.”
“Dr. Waldheim, you understood me better than I did myself. I cannot tell you how much your kindness mattered to a shy, unhappy student.”
“Come along, we’ll leave Cal for a bit.”
Cal came into the parlor as they were having wine and hors d’oeuvres. “Perhaps you would like to freshen up a bit? Mrs. Waldheim offered.
“No, thank you. I washed up at Stu’s, my house. Dr. Waldheim, thank you for all you have done for me. And you Alex and Guy, thank you. A few weeks ago I thought I was alone in the world, had lost everything. Now with the help and kindness of friends I did not know I had then, I have a home, a job, my reputation, and a new chance at life.”
“You are most welcome, my boy. No less than you deserve. I think we are ready to eat, my dear.” Dr. Waldheim invited them to sit and enjoy the meal.
Cal sat on the bench in the early fall light. The sun was warm after the early morning fog had lifted from the campus. His life was quiet now, he had classes to teach, students to advise, friends among the faculty and a close relationship with the acting college president, Dr. Waldheim. He savored his good fortune but still felt the empty grayness that lingered in his heart. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sun.