This is the last chapter of this story. I had planned an epilog, but there is just too much to say, and it would have no bearing on the plot. Most of you understood what the story is really about, and I'm pleased for that. Your email has sustained me, and given me hope that there is a chance that somewhere down the road we will prevail.
There are too many problems in today's world to name them all. From uncaring parents to greedy exploiters of children. I'm tired, and can't do it alone. Gay men, in particular, have allowed legislatures throughout the world to pass laws without a whimper. Beating your cheast and wringing your hands will accomplish nothing. Prejudice will prosper as long as we hide ourselves away. Education is the only thing that can begin to change anything. We have to teach the masses that we really are viable citizens - not ogres.
The usual disclaimers apply. Comments are welcome at : email@example.com
Saturday dawned as Eric and I sat on the patio with our coffee and watched the sunrise. The air had a little bite to it - a harbinger of the winter weather to come, but the rising sun rapidly warmed the hillside and chased the wisps of mist from the lake. A Blue Heron waded in the shallows stalking his breakfast, and we could hear bigger fish jumping farther out on the water. Almost as if we both knew the day would bring change, we waited until the last minute to leave for the university.
The campus was a different place on the weekend. Gone were the crowds of young faces plying the paths between the halls of academia. Gone were the little groups of laughter and horseplay. Gone were the study cliques lounging on the well kept lawns. It seemed as if the whole place was resting up for another hectic week.
I parked the truck in the lot Dr. Franklin had mentioned, and we walked up the stairs of the Physics Building. Eric had a nervous smile on his face, and I was strangely apprehensive. Dr Franklin was waiting for us in his office with a rather small, withered, old man, whom he introduced as Dr. Horst Mueller. We all shook hands, and sat in comfortable chairs around the desk. After a bit of small talk, Dr. Franklin got down to the reason for the meeting. "Eric, you have an amazing mind. You seem to know things by instinct that other men spend years figuring out. I've invited Dr. Mueller here to help us find out why; to find out how how your mind works. Do you think we could conduct some tests?"
"It's OK with me, but you'll have to ask my Dad," said Eric. "I'd like to know too."
All eyes turned to me, and I said, "I have no objections to tests so long as they are not invasive, and they cause no pain or other discomfort. What tests did you have in mind?"
Dr. Mueller said, "First we'd like to give him a standard electro-encephalogram (EEG), and then a similar procedure while he's calculating problems mentally. It's all quite painless."
I looked at Eric and said, "I had one of those done to me forty years ago, and I can attest that it is, indeed, painless, but it can be uncomfortable because you're not allowed to move."
Dr. Mueller chuckled, and said, "We've learned a lot since then. We know where to put the probes now, and moving no longer presents the problems it once did. Then too, computer technology speeds up the tests. They take about a tenth of the time they used to."
Eric's eyes widened. "Probes?"
"We don't stick them in," said Dr. Franklin with a chuckle. "We glue them on."
Eric thought briefly, and then said, "OK. Let's do it. I want to know what makes me tick as much as you do."
By two o'clock, Eric was getting restless. He hadn't had any lunch, and was becoming cranky as a result. To be fair, nobody else had eaten lunch either, but I called a halt to the procedures, and said, "If this is going to take much longer, we're going to eat."
Dr. Mueller said, "This is the last test. Then you can eat and come back in about an hour. We should have some preliminary results by then."
They finished up in ten minutes or so, and spent another twenty cleaning the electrolytic putty out of Eric's hair. Aside from some minor pale gray stains, they did a good job of that.
We went to a nearby campus restaurant, and ate a reasonably good meal. It was a busy place - being just off campus - and there were many students there; some attempting to study, others just relaxing and having a good time.
By the time we returned to Dr. Franklin's office, the two doctors were sitting among piles of computer printouts talking with excited animation. They greeted us with enthusiasm, and both started talking at once. Finally, Dr. Mueller said, " He's your student. You tell him."
Dr. Franklin looked at Eric, and said, "Eric, as best we can tell, you're a genius. Your IQ is off the charts, but more than that, you have a unique method of processing information that neither one of us has ever seen before."
Dr. Mueller interrupted and continued. "Everyone's brain does multitasking," he said. "For instance, you can talk while you're walking, or sing in the shower while washing. Your brain takes multitasking to a new level. The tests indicate that you can compartmentalize completely unrelated problems and work on them simultaneously. I'm not talking about just two or three problems. You can handle many, many tasks. We were unable to find the limit of your capabilities."
Eric sat quietly, assimilating what they told him. "So what you're saying is that when one of those compartments reaches an answer, it just pops up. That's why I can't explain why I know things."
"Exactly," said Dr. Franklin. "Your brain solves the problem, but your education hasn't yet reached the level necessary to produce the process with the answer. As an example, you knew intuitively that Gibler's theory was flawed, but you didn't know why. It took a team of mathematicians three years to reach the same conclusions you saw in just a few days. After another two years, they figured out why. The problem is solved by perfect measurement of all the variables - an impossible task."
"Impractical, maybe," said Eric, "but nothing is impossible."
The two scholars looked at one another. "Ah, the optimism of youth," said Dr. Mueller.
Dr. Franklin said, "I'm glad you see the difference, Eric. I'm going to advise you now. Please listen carefully." He paused to gather his thoughts. "There are those in the academic community who would exploit you for personal gain because of the exciting concepts your mind poses. Horst and I agree that we will not do that. As far as these tests are concerned, they never happened. Being practical men, we copied all the data onto these twelve disks." He held up a bundle of CDs. "Then we erased every byte of this morning's procedures from the computer. I am going to give these to you to keep until you're ready. I agree with your father that you need to finish growing up before you enter this rat race. Go home and have fun. Learn how to relax. Finish your emotional development. Make friends, and most of all, learn the difference between true friends and those who only want to use you. Continue your education, and learn the processes in their normal order. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Eric nodded and said sadly, "I think so. If I understand correctly, you want me to drop the Honors Program."
"Actually, no. You lend an excitement to the class that the others don't. But if you think that's best, I wouldn't try to talk you out of it."
"I really enjoy the class," said Eric. "I'd like to finish what I started."
"Then I'll see you Tuesday," said Dr. Franklin with a smile. "Thank you for coming down today."
Eric picked up the box of disks, and we drove home in silence. He had a lot to think about. I was grateful to Dr, Franklin for the way he had talked to Eric. He had echoed my own thoughts on the subject, and precluded the possibility that I would have to step in and play the heavy.
Sunday morning, Eric called Josh, and they went out on the lake in his boat to fish. I was pretty sure that the fishing was just an excuse to spend the time in quiet conversation, but they did bring home two very nice German Brown trout.
The results of the tests had resolved one thing in my mind. I now knew how Eric could fall into separate and distinct modes of behavior. He moved from one neural compartment to another without consciously doing so depending on what was required of him. He did this happily, without stress, and seemed to revel in each role with no detriment to any of the others.
Eric seemed subdued, and I asked him if he was feeling bad. He smiled at me and said, "No. Not really. I just have to figure out how the tests will change how I feel about myself. Now that I know what's happening in my head, I have to decide if it's good or bad."
"One thing I know," I said, "you are still the same wonderful young man I have loved since the beginning. The only thing that's changed is that you now have more knowledge about yourself. Knowing how and why an engine runs doesn't take the pleasure out of going for a drive. It doesn't make the engine run any differently either."
Eric brightened and wrapped his arms around me. "I love you, Dad. You always know just what's bothering me, and you fix it with just a few words."
I returned his hug and said, "Glad I could help."
We fixed the fresh trout on the grill, and ate a sumptuous meal. Eric must have resolved whatever his problem was because his demeanor returned to that bubbly person he had always been. It was kind of spooky though - knowing that all his little problems were cogitating slowly toward a solution even as we ate, talked, or slept.
By Thanksgiving, it was becoming obvious that Eric had a photographic memory. Dr. Franklin had called several times to talk to me about all the wonderful things he observed in Eric. We didn't bother Eric with the details, but I encouraged the development of this last talent. It was a normal thing for him, and I saw no need to make him feel any more like a freak of nature, so I gave him a book on computer coding in C++ to aid him in his original intention to write a program to display fractals. He devoured it like a wild beast, and was soon coding pixel placement and had a viable fractal program by Christmas.
On the bright side, Eric was well liked in his class. He didn't lord it over the other students. He was always willing to help if it was asked for, but didn't insist if someone wanted to work things out alone.
Eric aced his finals, and I felt I was doing him a disservice by withholding his GED diploma. I made arrangements for him to take the test just before Christmas, and he had that little piece of parchment by the first week in January. We made a trip to the University to talk to Dr. Franklin about his possible admission to the Physics program.
The three of us were seated in the professor's office. Dr. Franklin was enthusiastic about having Eric in his classes. I said, "We are going to pass on the further testing, and exploitation of Eric's abilities."
Dr Franklin said, "I'm disappointed about that, of course, but I see the wisdom of your decision."
"I don't want to be treated like a mutant specimen," said Eric. "It's going to be hard enough to fit in considering my age, and I don't want to draw any more attention than necessary."
"I concur," said Dr. Franklin. "I think you'll do well in any subject that interests you, and I'll be happy to help you go in any direction you say. I don't think you'll be able to hide your photographic memory though, and we might use that to deflect inquiry into your other abilities."
"Good thinking," I said. "Do you think we can stave off the notoriety for another two years? Eric will be eighteen then."
"I don't see any reason why not," said Dr. Franklin. "I expect that he'll graduate by then, and that will be exceptional, but not unheard of."
Eric nodded and asked, "What do I have to do now?"
Dr. Franklin said, "Since you want to keep a low profile, an accelerated program is out of the question. I think the best thing you can do is get your Liberal Arts Core Curriculum out of the way first. It's a boring set of courses mandated by law to keep some professors off the streets, and you can't graduate without them." He chuckled ruefully.
"What kind of courses?"
"Things like Art, Music, Political Science, Psychology, English and Literature, Speech. I think you could challenge many of them, particularly the required Math courses, and get the credits without actually attending the classes. You have to pay for them so we can pay the instructors, but that doesn't seem to present a problem in your case."
We all walked over to the administration building and Dr. Franklin authorized waiving the entrance examinations, helped Eric set up the challenges for six of the fifteen LACC courses, and registered him for the other nine - putting his reputation on the line by authorizing a twenty four credit term load for Eric for each of the two remaining terms in the academic year. He said, "You'll have to take the finals for each of those challenged courses at the end of the term in March. In the meantime, you can attend the others where you don't have all that much experience. It will be a full schedule, but if you can mange it you won't have to bother with the boring stuff next fall."
I knew the winter term had already started, and asked, "Can he still get into these classes?"
"The term started yesterday, and he'll be a little behind, but I don't see him having a problem catching up. These courses typically go rather slowly in the first few sessions."
After spending almost four hundred dollars at the bookstore, Eric and I stopped at the clothing store on the way home. I sent him in alone to buy what he thought he needed. When I saw his selections, I wasn't all that pleased, but he was happy, and he was the one who had to wear them.
Josh came up to the house that evening, and the two boys went over Eric's schedule. They arranged the logistics of transportation, and Josh marked the campus map with the locations of Eric's classes.
I bought a Cadillac Escalade for Eric's birthday, and took him in for his driver's license. He was on cloud nine, and he and Josh began using the new car instead of the Monte Carlo that had served Josh so well. I saw they were becoming closer, and one night in June as we were sitting on the patio watching the sun set, I said, "You and Josh are in love, aren't you?"
Eric looked at me and asked, "How did you know?"
"It's pretty hard to hide it when someone is looking for it."
He began to tear up and said, "We didn't want you to know because we were afraid you'd be hurt."
"You're growing up, and I've been expecting something like this. I'm glad it's Josh, and not some flighty bitch from school, but anyone would be OK with me as long you weren't being set up for a fall."
"I don't love you any less," he said, "just a little differently."
"I hope you'll both be very happy," I said. "You are just entering the best years of your life, and to put it nicely, I'm moving past my prime." I smiled and chuckled. "If the truth be known, I was past my prime when we met."
"But I love you, Dad," he said sadly. "It's just that Josh and I really like each other, and it's been almost three years since he's felt anything like that at all. He wants to have sex with me, and I want that too, but I don't want to cheat on you."
"Would it be easier if you moved back into your own room?" I asked.
"Only if Josh could move in with me."
"I can live with that," I said. "I think Tom will see the good part of it, but we'll have to convince Carl."
"We thought about that too. I wanted to talk to you first."
"Well, it's too late to start that tonight. Let's call Carl and Tom in the morning, and we can beard the lioness then." I smiled at him, and we went up to bed. I laid alone for the first time in almost three years, and threw a pity party for myself, but I was glad that Eric wouldn't have to mourn the passing of a lover. It would be bad enough for him when it happened.
Carl wasn't nearly as resistant to the idea as I thought he would be, and Josh brought his clothes and accessories up to the house the next afternoon. He moved into the room next to Eric's, but they planned to sleep together in Eric's bed. Josh was somewhat diffident, and seemed to run from my presence. I finally cornered him and told him, "We can't avoid each other, so we have to get used to you being here. I love you both, and you're welcome here. If you weren't, I wouldn't have allowed it to happen."
Josh hugged me, and said, "I know, but it feels strange."
"It's the newness of the idea," I said. "Just relax, and know I approve."
It took a few days for the boys to get used to living together, but they seemed as happy as two newlyweds. The nights were long for me, but the days were a joy with Eric being so happy.
Although Josh was the older by almost two years, Eric asserted his dominance and became the more masculine of the two. Josh took on some of Carl's characteristics, particularly the sudden raucous scream that could curdle cream.
By the time Eric graduated, both young men were well known in their respective fields. Josh had been offered an appointment to teach at Julliard, and Eric, who had opted to enter Astrophysics, on the basis of his perfect grades (and a recommendation from Drs Franklin and Mueller) had been offered a free Masters degree from several universities if he would study for his Doctorate at that school. Princeton had made the best offer. They offered him a teaching position in Alfred Einstein's research facility. Neither of them wanted to live on the east coast, however. Since there were no financial considerations for either of them, Josh opted to accept a teaching position at his Alma Mater, and Eric started his Doctoral thesis there, which he completed before his twentieth birthday. He also took courses in Business Administration, and took his degree as an MBA at the same time.
As for me, my body is wearing out, and there is little time left. We all know it, but the boys treat me as if it wasn't true. I'm more than ninety now, and thankful that my God has given me the time to see my boys grow into leaders in their chosen fields. Eric is managing the business affairs of the Jeremy Shaw Memorial Shelter too, which has been expanded to twice its original size, and become the premier institution for training social services interns.
Josh has written over a hundred pieces of music - all well received, and has just accepted the baton of the Oregon Symphony. He and Eric travel the world on Josh's tours, and they are still very much in love.
Dennis has retired, and Sam is now managing the market. Bobby attended a culinary school, and has his own business - a seafood restaurant - and is doing well.
Billy is a full partner in John's Law practice after graduating Summa Cum Laude from Harvard, and has a very pretty wife and two well behaved children. John has taken in two other boys, and the last of them is just nearing graduation from high school.
Oops. Time to go. The angels are calling......