Spending Saturday with Justin’s father turned out to be time well-spent. We slept in, then met him for lunch– which he’d canceled in years past. Justin had always been nervous about whether his father would actually be there; he often called to give an excuse, but there had also been a year when he hadn’t called at all, and I spent the afternoon waiting with Justin, watching him refuse to give up on the idea that he’d be there, because he hadn’t called to cancel. He waited all the way into the evening, when his mother showed up and was finally able to call Raymond, find out what had happened, and give him an earful.
After lunch, we went shopping, and Justin’s father bought him new boots, plus a pair of Vans in navy blue suede, just so he’d have something soft. Justin tried to say that one pair was plenty, but I pointed out that his boots were stiff, and as amazing as they looked going up his calves with all those buckles, chains, and steel hoops, sometimes he had to focus on comfort. In addition to several shirts and pants, Justin found a pair of stud earrings that looked like skulls, which he wore happily for the rest of the day.
He was happy as a clam when we went out for funnel cakes with ice cream and fresh fruit. He actually ate more when he was happy, and the food in turn gave him the energy to do more and feel better. It was a huge relief to see him getting into such a positive feedback loop. It meant that he would get through this, he would heal, and he had a chance at a bright future.
We took in a movie later in the day. Justin loved going to the cinema, although he normally only went to the discount ones, and even then he’d bring his own little snacks hidden in his jacket. Sometimes Killian or I got to take him out to one of the nicer theaters for a new movie release, but he was shy about accepting such invitations. This time, however, his dad paid for the lot of us, and got the biggest tub of popcorn available, and Justin got his fill of popcorn and Red Vines.
After that, Justin wasn’t nearly hungry enough for a restaurant, so we agreed to meet the next day for breakfast and more shopping. Raymond went back to his hotel room for the night, and I took Justin back to my guest house. We watched movies– or what could be called ‘watching’ when what we really did was make out until he actually was hungry. After that, I massaged him, making sure every muscle in his lean body was relaxed. He was exhausted, but it was the kind of exhaustion that comes from excitement and joy, and his happiness lifted my own spirits.
I stayed up to read after he fell asleep. I’d brought a book of Edgar Allen Poe’s works with me, and there were still plenty of stories in it for me to read. Justin and I often read together; sometimes I read to him, enjoying the way he watched me with starry eyes as he listened to my voice, and other times we’d both read our own selections quietly, just enjoying each other’s company. He’d get excited and tell me about the scene he was on, which was as adorable as it sounds. He also liked hearing my recommendations about dark stories I’d read, and I was sure to find some in Poe’s book that evening.
Or I would have, if my grandfather hadn’t slipped out of the darkest corner of the room when I was only half-way through “The Pit and the Pendulum.” He stayed silent as he approached and beckoned me to follow him.
“I can’t go far,” I whispered after closing the book and stepping into the darkness with him.
“I know,” Grandfather said in a hushed tone. “He’ll stay asleep well enough for us to talk.”
“You mean about Mr. Corbyn?” I asked, getting straight to the point. I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Certainly,” he replied in his matter-of-fact way. “He’s been working very hard for me, Emory. I understand he hasn’t been his best in the past, but he has been making quite an effort to turn that around. I don’t know why you seem so bothered by that.”
“It’s how you went about employing him that concerns me.”
“I didn’t entrance him, Emory. He’s been wanting to do better for quite a long time; I merely gave him the opportunity nobody else would.”
I gave him a long and serious look. It wasn’t so much that I distrusted him; it was more that I knew all the ways Raymond had let his son– and his other offspring– down over the years. Ultimately, I had to admit that Grandfather wouldn’t lie to me, and he didn’t like using his abilities on people he meant to help. There was also the fact that I’d been very surprised to see Raymond change so much– and the money he’d shown up with told me that my grandfather was paying him very generously.
“I’d ask how you even found Mr. Corbyn,” I said, “but I know you have connections that you’ve developed over the years. What did you do; show up at the bar he was drinking at?”
“Essentially, yes. I saw an opportunity to speak to him when a woman rejected him, and approached him to share some kind words. We spent some time talking, I bought him some drinks, and before I left that evening, I made sure he had my business card.”
“The one that gives your name as Damien Rosenthal, rather than Thorne?”
“Of course,” he replied. “I dare not mix business and pleasure.”
Grandfather owned a few businesses on Earth; Rosenthal was one of a handful of the aliases he used to avoid drawing too much attention to himself. He made sure that he had ample wealth to look after his children, and as the generations passed, he would find ways to help his descendants without telling them everything or risking being accused of nepotism. It often involved giving the person a well-paying job, so it was easier if he didn’t always do business as Thorne. He’d find something that matched the person’s skill-set and ensure that he wasn’t creating something that seemed too good to be true.
“Grandfather… what happens if we have a family gathering, and both you and Justin’s father are invited?”
“That won’t cause any problems,” he told me. “Mr. Rosenthal looks quite different from the man whom your parents and Justin know as your grandfather.”
I nodded to show my understanding. “I think it’s safe to say at this stage of my life that I didn’t inherit that ability from you.”
“It’s better that you didn’t,” he said, his tone taking on a more remorseful quality. “It’s rarely passed down, and when it is, it doesn’t last for more than a couple generations. In fact, most of my descendants who had that gift struggled with it.”
“And the vampires?”
He thought for a moment before answering. “They handle it much better. I suppose that’s because they know what it means to be turned and accept my gifts. Still, it is rare even for the ones I sire myself.”
“Heh… Speaking of which, hasn’t it been a long time since you turned anyone?”
Grandfather nodded slowly. “It’s been… well, over a century, Emory. I’ve been looking after the younger vampires, as well as my children. I haven’t met any worth even considering turning until–”
He paused and gazed out past the shadows, back into the bedroom. My eyes widened when I saw where he was looking.
“No,” I hissed. “No, you will not bring my boyfriend into this!” I was having a hard time keeping my voice down.
His gaze came back to me. “No, I did not mean to indicate that. I was just checking on him because I heard something. Emory, I know how protective you are of him. That’s why I gave his father a job; it will help not only him, but also Mr. Corbyn’s other children.”
I gave him a wary look. “I… Grandfather, I don’t know if he would survive the turning. He’s still very delicate. And then there’s that thing you said about him being hungry.”
“I would never do it without your consent,” he assured me. “What I was going to say is that you are the only one I’ve seriously considered turning for a very long time. I know you’re not sure that you’d want to join me; that’s all right.”
“Okay… Well, I don’t want to talk about that right now. The other thing I need to know is whether any of the vampires are feeding on Mr. Corbyn.”
“No. He needs his vitality, and he is still getting used to sobriety. He is safe from being preyed upon. Even if he knew that vampires were real, I would ask him not to offer himself.”
“If any of them knew he was the father of your grandson’s boyfriend…”
“They will respect my decree,” he insisted. “And before you bring up the other bloodlines, I’m not taking him off the continent. I know very well that some would pay quite a sum to taste him– if they knew who he was– and that he wouldn’t be able to resist. He’s just an employee who’s been thriving ever since he found a job he’s suited for.”
After giving him a long, wary look, I said, “Sometimes it’s hard to know whether to thank you or ask you to step away.”
“I have heard such sentiments before. Nevertheless, I hope that you can understand that there is no shame in accepting help. There is a sad trend in humans to believe that asking for, needing, or accepting help is a sign of weakness, or lacking or morals, or whatever other failing they think applies.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “There’s help, and there’s interfering… I know Mr. Corbyn couldn’t have done this without your help.”
“He had so many disadvantages right from the start; I thought it best to put a stop to generational poverty.”
“Emory,” he whispered after several tense moments of silence.
I looked up at him when he took my hand, and saw a face weighed down by sorrow and regret.
“The arguments we had in the past…” He paused in an attempt to steady himself. “You were right. I should have taken you away from your father when I saw that the arguments didn’t stop, when you cried when he entered the room. The way you clung to me… I should have whisked you away to my castle.”
I narrowed my eyes at him; why was he bringing this up now? “Kidnapping me would have broken my mother’s heart.”
“The way she was being hurt by him, she would have adapted to coming with us. She would have found happiness another man… and she wouldn’t ha–”
“Stop,” I snapped. I didn’t want to hear him talk about what could have happened, especially in relation to my mother. “It happened the way it happened, and you voicing your regrets won’t change anything.”
“I thought only to show that I care.”
“By suggesting a course of action that would have kept me from meeting Justin?”
“I know that you wouldn’t change the love you have now,” he replied, “but at the time you said it, you were right. And long before you met Justin, you deserved to be shielded from–”
“You can’t undo these scars,” I reminded him, turning so that he could get a better view of my back, where the thicker scars were. He’d seen them many times before, but I wasn’t afraid to remind him. “You promised to teach me an ability that would make use of them, so focus on following through with that instead of things that can’t be changed.”
There was a long pause before he said anything. “Of course, Emory.” Grandfather looked between me and Justin. “I’ll let you go to bed and keep your beloved warm. I only came to assure you that Mr. Corbyn is safe working with me, and to remind you how much you are treasured.”
Sunday was a pleasant enough day. Justin and I spent time with his father, and then his mother wanted to see him for a while before we met back with Mr. Corbyn for dinner. Monday, on the other hand, was a busy day. Justin’s father came with us to the hospital for his appointment. He got his next nutritional supplement bag started, then went in for another therapy session.
After that, Raymond went with us to the high school so that Justin could withdraw. We probably could have taken care of it ourselves, but he felt better having a parent with him just in case the office staff gave him any trouble. Ms. Anderson was going to be the one to be there, but since Raymond actually came as he’d promised, and she had to work, she let him do it.
Raymond and I carried the bags of textbooks as Justin led us to the office. The main receptionist looked over the rim of her glasses at him as he approached the counter.
“What can I help you with?” she asked, already annoyed that she’d been distracted from her work on the computer.
He explained that he’d com to withdraw, and she pulled up his file and sighed.
“You’re not going to try to graduate?”
“I will, just from a different school… and in my own time. I have to focus on my health.”
The receptionist looked over at Mr. Corbyn. “Are you the father? Are you letting him do this?”
“He’s eighteen now,” he reminded her. “he can do what he thinks is best for him.”
She looked back at the computer, then picked up the phone and dialed the principal, as though she needed his clearance to continue with the withdrawal. Finally, she pulled out a form for him to fill out.
“Did you even try to get anything done?” she asked as she looked at the textbooks he was turning in and saw all the blank worksheets.
That was when Mr. Corbyn stood up and approached the counter. “He did try, actually,” he told her in as even a tone as he could manage, “but he was so traumatized by the way he was attacked– by three boys bigger than him, let me remind you– that he couldn’t. Nobody here would listen when he explained his side of the story, and you’re still acting uncaring even though his mother informed you that he was in the hospital. I would appreciate it if you could just let him finish the paperwork so we can get out of your hair.”
“Sir, I’m just saying that he won’t get a diploma if he doesn’t–”
“That’s not your concern anymore. You didn’t care about my son when he was attacked, so don’t worry about whether or not he wrote on some papers.”
“No, I don’t want to hear you criticize my son anymore. Let’s finish this so I can enjoy my time with him and not look for a lawyer specializing in protecting the rights of gay students.”
Justin stared up at his father in awe. Raymond wasn’t shouting, but he was stern. He even sounded a little more professional than I remembered him; it seemed that his on-the-job training was doing him a lot of good. The receptionist didn’t say anything more to them. She accepted the completed form from Justin, processed the withdrawal, and gave him the paperwork showing he’d been withdrawn and owed nothing more to the school. She even made extra copies when Raymond asked for them.
We left the office quietly and didn’t speak until we were back in the car.
“Wow…” Raymond said, exhaling heavily. “That school is a pile of crap. Justin, I’m sorry. I know my words can’t change things, but…”
“It’s okay, Dad.”
“It’s not okay, though. I should have done better. I should have found this job sooner, so I could help your mom pay the rent and stay in Portland for you to graduate.”
Justin looked to me, searching for what he was supposed to say or do.
“My grandfather would say that you can’t change the past, so instead of criticizing yourself, focus on making the present and the future better.”
Raymond made a weak smile. “You’re a smart ki– a smart young man, Emory. I’m just… I can’t tell you how thankful I am that you’ve been there for him.”
“I’ve always been able to count on him, Dad,” Justin told him before I could speak.
There was so much pride and affection in that statement; I couldn’t hold back from blushing.
“I’m always happy to help,” I said.
“That’s fantastic,” Mr. Corbyn said. “Look, I don’t get to see Justin very often, so I’m just going to come right out and ask: are you two going to stay together? As a couple, you know? Live together and all that.”
Justin gave me a doe-eyed look that would have melted my heart if I hadn’t already made my decision weeks ago.
“Yes.” I had to start with that; Justin looked like his heart would stop if he didn’t get an immediate answer. “I’ll be with him for as long as he puts up with me.”
Justin chuckled and shook his head. “I’d say you more than put up with me.” Then he looked to his father. “We fell in love, Dad. We’re best friendsand boyfriends, and maybe…” His cheeks turned bright red.
Raymond smiled and ruffled his hair. “It’s good to see you happy, son. And listen: I promise to keep working hard and get even better at helping out. I know it’s late, but I’m gonna be there for you from now on, okay?”
“Yeah, okay, Dad.” Justin nodded.
Raymond pulled Justin into his arms and hugged him tightly. They spoke in hushed tones for a while, and I gave them all the time they needed. After a while, they both had to dry their eyes.
“All right, son, how’s that med-pack treating you? are you up for some shopping, or do you need to eat first?”
“It’s great,” Justin replied with a faint laugh. Raymond had decided that morning to call his intravenous nutrition supplement a ‘med-pack,’ and Justin actually liked it. It felt like I was finally seeing the father he should have been all along. “We can go shopping first and eat after.”