Absolute Convergence: Transformations
Chapter Eighty-one
By John Yager

With this chapter I am bringing the first of what I anticipate being a progression of stories about Robert Ballinger and William Amsted and their life together.

This new story spans five chapters and, while it is being added to the existing Absolute Convergence file, it constitutes an independent, self-contained story. I've therefore taken the liberty of giving it the subtitle, Transformations, to distinguish it from the original series.

Absolute Convergence made its first appearance in January, 2001, as a series which eventually ran to a total of eighty chapters, the last of which was posted in January, 2004. I never anticipated the series going on for so long and I continue to be amazed by the incredible loyalty of readers who have stayed with me from the beginning. I am also sincerely appreciative of those newer readers who have contacted me from time to time to say that they've discovered the series and ventured through the collected chapters.

I'm always glad to receive comments, questions, criticism and encouragement and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it's only because of the pressures of work.

Andrew has agreed to continue giving me much needed proofing and editorial help. I am sincerely grateful for his help.  Some readers have commented on typos in the original series.  I want to be clear that despite my efforts and Andrew's invaluable help, mistakes slipped by.  This was in part true because of the speed with which I was writing and posting the chapters of the original series.  These new stories are being written more deliberately and Andrew and I have taken greater pains to catch mistakes.  Some may have still slipped by, for which I am sorry.  Despite being amateurs at this, both he and I are trying.

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The first five years of our life together were charmed. Perhaps a better word is blessed. Any way I describe them, they were amazing years, years during which William and I grew as individuals and as a couple.

The first year was by far the hardest. We wanted to be together, but I was in LA, starting my masters program at USC and working about twenty hours a week at the NSB studios as part of the program for Nathan Fellows. William was in Durham during the university terms, but got down to London or Sussex now and then.

My fall mid semester break at USC didn't come at at time William could travel, but we did manage to meet in Jamaica for ten days over New Year. I flew home for Christmas with my family as soon as my classes ended in December, 1972, and then left a couple of days later to join William.

My parents, especially my mother, were disappointed that my time with them was so short, but I guess in a way they were glad I got home at all.

I saw Rick and Deb briefly while they were in Spring River visiting their folks on Christmas day.

Deb hadn't begun to really look pregnant and Rick told me the morning sickness she'd had earlier had ended. They'd settled into life in Memphis and seemed happy and content, looking forward to the birth of their first child. As things worked out, Rick and I were never really alone, for which I guess I was grateful.

I'd flown into Memphis and my parents had met my flight, so managing to see Steve and Daniel was difficult. They were spending the holidays with Daniel's family in Memphis and in the end they came down to Spring River the day I was due to leave for Jamaica, and drove me back to the Memphis airport. As we drove north, Daniel driving one of his family's cars and Steve sitting beside him in the front seat, I noticed the relaxed mood between them. It wasn't long before the truth came out and that in turn gave me a chance to tell them about William.

Steve and Daniel were both in law school at Vanderbilt, and sharing an apartment. In the time they'd been together there they'd formed what turned out to be a life-long relationship. We talked about our time at Oxford and about Sammy. They expressed their gratefulness for the experiences we'd had as a foursome, but said they really felt those days were behind them. They were as protective and even as jealous of their relationship as William and I were of ours.

I'd already told them that I was flying to Jamaica to spend New Year with a friend, but, after their openness, I shared with them the depths of my feelings toward William and our hopes for establishing a life together.

There was a sense of shared happiness between the three of us but also growing concerns for Sammy, knowing he'd not really found himself, and wanting to be of help, but feeling there was little we could do.

The drive from Spring River to the Memphis airport went quickly and in no time we were saying good-bye. I couldn't imagine then how long it would be before I'd see them again.

The time William and I spent in Jamaica was almost like a honeymoon. Peter had arranged for us to have the use of a house on the coast east of Montego Bay and we hardly left the place during our entire stay.

We again speculated about Peter's attitude toward our relationship. He seemed to be going out of his way to be supportive of us but William and I still wondered what lay behind his good will.

With a little bending of the rules, William was able to come to LA in the spring and we had a week together. Nita Ball, true to her word, had gotten the larger apartment at Alvarado Court ready for us and I'd moved in by the time of William's spring visit.

In April, 1973, Rick and Deb's first child was born, a boy whom they named Robert Richard Carlson, and known from birth as Bobby. They asked me to be his godfather, which I gladly agreed to do, although I was not in Spring River for Bobby's baptism.

In July, 1973, William returned to LA and we were able to look forward to an uninterrupted life together.

The next few years were hectic. I was beginning my second year at USC in the fall of 1973 and William was entering the masters' program in film studies. He didn't apply for a Nathan Fellowship because his father felt it was inappropriate. The cost of the masters' program at USC was not at all a problem for the Amsteds and Peter felt it would have been wrong for William to be considered when there were students who needed the financial support that the three year fellowship provided.

Because the Nathan Fellowships required the recipients to work at the NSB Studios while earning their degree, the program took a full three years. The masters' program at USC could be completed in two years without the added responsibilities of the fellowships so, even though William started a year after me, we finished our degrees together in the spring of 1975.

William's special area of interest was in the business and production side of films. Mine, of course, was writing, and eventually, some years in the future, in directing as well.

In the summer of 1974 William made a trip to London and while he was away I visited my parents in Spring River. While I was there I saw Rick and Deb in Memphis and saw their son, Bobby, for the first time. He was a beautiful blond, blue eyed boy and could have easily been assumed to be Rick's child. I was surprised at how well the baby behaved in the restaurant where we'd met for dinner.

It was over dinner that evening that they told me that they wanted to have a second child. The unused semen I had donated in 1972 had been frozen and because of the release I'd signed, they didn't really need my approval to use it. But I was grateful that they did ask and was pleased when, just a year later, Deb gave birth to a little girl, whom they named Debra Susan.

William and I continued to live in the apartment at Alvarado Court until I finished the Nathan Fellowship. William benefited from the housing provided for me by NSB as a part of the fellowship but, otherwise, he paid his own way.

In the summer of 1975, soon after we finished our degrees at USC, we moved to a house in Pasadena which we took on a two year lease. It was a small house, but convenient, and we remember it and those years as very special ones for both of us. Our decision not to renew the lease and instead look for a house to buy was the first of many changes which occurred over a period of two or three months in the summer of 1977.

The film version of Call the Dark Waters had not been released until the spring of 1974. It received considerable critical acclaim but did only modestly at the box office. Eventually it became a sort of cult favorite and has often been shown at film festivals. It is also studied in university film programs because of its interest as a successful adaptation of a novel to film.

In a sense, my involvement with Call the Dark Waters gave me some standing and the film did win some important awards, although not the Oscar Peg Solanski had dreamed of.  My involvement with the adaptation of the Corley novel resulted me receiving some attention.  That, in turn, led to me being asked to work on a succession of other adaptations.  I developed a bit of a reputation for work with 'literary' projects, which was both good and bad so far as my career was concerned.

Those were the years of "Big" movies and a comparatively modest film like Call the Dark Waters did well to stand up against the likes of the Godfather trilogy and the Rocky series.

I eventually tired of working on adaptations from other media and longed to develop my own original scripts, a goal which I eventually reached, but which took a long time to achieve.  I could hardly complain, though.  I was employed, well paid and my reputation within the industry was benefiting from a growing list of critically acclaimed projects.

Bell Corley died in 1975, less than a year after the film based on her novel was finished. The circumstances of her death were odd and tended to add to the sense of mystery which surrounded her. There was the suspicion, commented on in the British press, that Corley's death in a one car motor crash might have been one more in that strange chain of suicides, but there was no conclusive evidence that it was more than an accidental death.

During the two years William and I lived in Pasadena his career also advanced nicely.  He'd begun working at NSB as a liaison between his father and Dexter Cohen, but he soon landed a couple of assignments with projects which resulted in successful films.  Through them William became known as a capable and energetic team player.  I think at first he was just seen as Peter Amsted's son, but producers soon learned that he had a knack for making them look good and he was given opportunities to work on increasingly important projects.

One outgrowth of the filming of Call the Dark Waters had been the formation of a new British - American production company called Albion, which was jointly owned by NSB and Amsted's group.

Also, while William and I were living at the house in Pasadena, I completed my first book. It grew out of the suggestion Roger Bardwell had made when he and I visited London in July 1972.

I'd kept notes of our meeting with Bell Corley and, in a much expanded form, they became the basis of my novel, Flawed, about a woman writer. Much of the story grew out of my own imagination but Corley's life and personality lay behind it.  In my version, however, the setting was a small town in Mississippi, not rural England.  It was best, I knew, to write about the places and cultures I really knew.

Flawed was well reviewed and went into a second printing, a reasonable mark of success, especially for a first novel.

I'd not stayed in close contact with Roger Bardwell, but he and I did continue to exchange occasional letters.  I was pleased to receive a letter from him after the publication of Flawed, in which he made some complimentary comments.  Then, a few months later, a review by him of the novel was published in a literary magazine associated with Ole Miss.  In it he made no reference to Bell Corley but did comment on the regional setting and my Mississippi roots.

Many years later I had the privilege and pleasure of adapting it into a film script, but that is another story, from another era of my life.

In those first years William and I were together, the Viet Nam War had ended, Nixon had resigned, and the brief Ford administration had come and gone and Jimmy Carter had been elected president.

On a personal level, it's odd how we can go along with regularity and purpose and without any real crisis and then, in a period of a few weeks, many things can change.

On June 30, 1977, William and I had informed our landlord that we would not be renewing our lease, which gave us until the end of August to find a new home. Just six days later I received a call from my brother Ted, telling me that our father had died.

Dad was only fifty-two and, so far as anyone knew, he was in excellent health. He and my mother had been away together over the Fourth of July weekend, and the first day after they returned he collapsed at the lumber yard and died almost instantly of a massive heart attack.
"I'll come with you," William said as soon as I reached him to tell him the news.

We made a bevy of telephone calls to those who needed to know our whereabouts. We gave them information on our flights and how to contact us while we were away from LA and managed to get a flight that afternoon from LA to Memphis. There we rented a car, and were in Spring River by midnight. My mother and Ted were waiting up for us.

My parents had met William only once, during a visit they made to LA in 1975. I'm not sure what they made of our relationship but, even though it wasn't discussed, it seemed impossible for them not to realize that we were lovers. I think they did grasp the nature of our relationship but chose to ignore it, not at all an uncommon attitude in those days, or even today, for that matter.

They had stayed with us, used the guest bedroom, knew we shared the larger master bedroom, but made no comment about it. They didn't ask and we volunteered nothing, probably not the most healthy way of handling the situation, but the best way to make their visit with us as pleasant as possible. In fact, it was a very pleasant visit. It was clear they were impressed by LA and the life William and I were leading there.

Ted had never met William and, frankly, I feared for the worst. At that time he'd just split up with his second wife, one of several separations before their eventual divorce, and he was again living at home with my parents.

He was very silent when we arrived and as we were unloading our luggage. I couldn't tell if his silence was the result of our father's death and the shocking suddenness of it, or if he was having trouble with me coming home with another man.

I was also concerned by Ted's appearance. He was heavier than I'd ever seen him and he seemed to have lost all interest in how he looked. He was, to put it plainly, fat, out of shape, unkempt.  He looked old beyond his years.

"Ted's back in his old room," my mother fretted when we'd gotten through our initial sorrowful greetings. "Will you and William be all right sharing your old room? I could make up a bed for one of you on the sofa."

"We'll be fine in my room, mom," I assured her, remembering the old standard sized bed. It was narrower than the king sized bed William and I shared at home, but I knew we could manage.

The next few days went by with shocking speed.

The arrangements for the funeral had been made before William and I arrived and there was little else to do but visit with the continual stream of family and friends who came by my parents' home.

In some ways it was like a homecoming, despite the sad reason for our visit. Many of our old family friends called to express their sympathy. Even Steve and Daniel drove down from Memphis, where they'd gone into legal practice together. I'd stayed in touch with them, as well as with Sammy, and knew what had gone on in their lives over the past few years. I'd not actually seen them since my visit home over Christmas in 1972 and was surprised by how they'd both aged over the last five years. They definitely looked older, but I had to admit William and I probably did as well. They also looked very distinguished, like aspiring young attorneys, out to make a place for themselves in the world.

I was pleased to see that they and William seemed to hit it off at once.  I was talking with an older couple, life-long friends of my family, and looked across the living room to see Steve and Daniel and William deep in conversation.

Later Steve came up to me and whispered, "he's a keeper."

"I know," I replied with a smile.

My father's funeral was at our old church on Saturday morning, followed by the burial at the Spring River Cemetery, where my grandparents were also buried.

The women of the church had prepared far more food then we could consume in a week and, after returning from the cemetery, we were joined by many of our extended family and friends for a late lunch at my parents' home.

Steve and Daniel had come down from Memphis on Friday but stayed over and had been at the funeral and then again came by the house for short while before leaving to drive back to Memphis that afternoon.

Not long after Steve and Daniel left, I looked over to the front door, which someone had just opened, admitting another group of guest.  To my surprise it was Rick and Deb and they had the kids with them, their four year old son,  Bobby and Debbie Sue, their baby daughter, whom I'd not seen before. It turned out that they'd been at the funeral, although I'd not seen them there.  They'd gone on from the church to see both sets of their  parents while we were at the cemetery. My mother had thoughtfully called Deb's mother to say if they were in town they should come for lunch after the service.

There are many qualities about William I love, but one in particular, is his ability to adapts so easily to what must be new and strange circumstances for him. One example was the way he so graciously became a part of the family during our brief stay in Spring River.  My family home was so simple, so middle class, compared to Peter's luxurious London flat and the Tudor house in Sussex, yet he fit right in and if you hadn't know his background, you'd never guess how different his own circumstances were to my family's comparatively simple lifestyle.

My mother and the ladies from the church, who'd come to help with the lunch, were obviously impressed with the way William helped out without any fanfare or show.  When he saw something which needed doing, he just jumped in and did it.

At one point when there must have been at least thirty people in the house, I realized he was no place to be seen and found him in the kitchen helping some of the church ladies wash dishes.

"Your  friend is certainly helpful," one of them, Mrs. Day, said, when I came looking for him.

"Yes," I agreed, "he's very good at lots of things."

"Well, he'll certainly make some young woman very happy," she responded, to which William and I smiled.

I only had time for a brief conversation with Rick, but it was obvious from our short exchange that he was happy. I couldn't ask for more.

I was glad to have a chance to introduce William to Rick and Deb and the kids.  William, of course knew the whole history of my relationship with Rick and that I was, in fact, the biological father of the kids.  Nothing was said, of course, and there seemed to be an easy and friendly feeling between Rick and Deb and William.

Bobby took to William as quickly as he took to me, treating him like one more accommodating uncle.

Deb had put on a little weight, which I supposed was the result of two pregnancies.  In some way it seemed to become her.  By comparison, Rick looked great.  He'd lost weight and was obviously working out.  Even in the dark suite he'd worn to the funeral, it was clear that he took good care of himself.

He'd finished his MBA degree and was moving up in the company he'd joined after graduating from Mississippi State. He and Deb had recently bought a house of their own, ending their apartment years, and their lives seemed to have settled into a stable, happy routine.

"I'm so grateful for the kids, Rob," he said when we were briefly alone.

"They're great kids, Rick," I assured him.

"Thank you," he replied and the rest was left unsaid.

That evening after everyone had gone and my mother, Ted, William and I were sitting alone in the quiet house, the fact of my father's death finally hit me. I don't know if my mother or brother realized the change that came over me, but William sensed it at once.

"I'm really tired," he said, getting up from the sofa where he'd been sitting beside my mother. "If you don't mind, I think I'll go up to bed."

"Yes, it has been a very long day," my mother agreed. "We should all try to get some rest."

With that, William and I went upstairs. As soon as we were in my old bedroom he closed and bolted the door and took me in his arms.

"Let it go, lover," he whispered and it was as if an emotional dam had broken. I sobbed silently into his shoulder for at least half an hour; no way for a twenty-six year old man to behave. When I was finally able to check my emotions, William undressed me and got me into bed, then got out of his own clothes and joined me, again taking me into his strong arms. We lay together in silence for a very long time.  Eventually I fell asleep, knowing that, no matter what happened in my life, as long as I had William, I was loved.

I realized later that over the four nights we spent in my old bed, my old bedroom, in my parents' home in Spring River, we didn't make love once.  Perhaps it was the lack of complete privacy with my brother just down the hall and no bathroom of our own.  I think it had more to do with my emotional state, the sudden loss of my father, and William's protective nature.  He certainly put my feelings and needs ahead of his own.

To my complete surprise my mother knocked on our door just before nine the next morning.

"Are you boys awake?" She called softly.

"Yes, mom," I managed to respond.

"I was hoping you'd accompany me to the eleven o'clock service. I doubt if Ted will come."

It hadn't dawned on me that she'd want to go to church the day after my father's funeral, but William nudged me and nodded yes.

"Sure, mom," I said, barely concealing a groan.

"Well, come down as soon as you can so we can have breakfast together."

The service was unremarkable but my mother was pleased and impressed by William's familiarity with the liturgy. Somehow for me that service was very reassuring. There was a sense of continuity about it, as if to say that life would go on and that my mother, especially, would be fine, despite her loss. At fifty, she was still an attractive woman and I knew she'd make a life for herself

We were greeted by Dr. Walker as we were leaving and I introduced him to William.

"Ah, you're British," the rector said as soon as he heard William's accent.

"Yes, sir," William responded.

"I noticed you seemed familiar with the service. I assume you were raised in the Anglican Church."

"Raised and educated," William smiled. I knew he'd made a favorable impression, but then, he always does.

That afternoon the house was again full of family and friends and the less formal ceremonies of shared grief went on. I couldn't help being impressed by how many people came by to express their sympathy and their their respect for my father.  He and I had not always agreed and there were aspects of his life and thinking I could not accept, but it was clear that he had been a prominent member of the community and that he'd be missed.

About four that afternoon my brother answered what had become a steady succession of phone calls. I saw him turn round and scan the living room. There were at least a dozen visitors there at the time and, thinking he was probably looking for our mother to see if she could take the call, I was surprised when he caught William's eye and beckoned him to the phone.

My first reaction was that it was odd that anyone would have called him at all while we were at my parent's home, but even odder that he'd get a call on a Sunday afternoon.

I guess I read William's emotions as well as he reads mine because I knew something was wrong by the way his entire body stiffened moments after he'd taken the call.

I worked my way toward him as he continued talking to the person on the other end of the line, put my hand on his shoulder and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

A moment later he said, "Yes, dad, I understand," and hung up.

"Peter?" I said, amazed that William's father had found out how to reach us.

"Yes," William said. "He just got word that Dex Cohen is dead."

To be continued