I actually must have cried myself to sleep, because a knock at my door woke me up. I looked at the clock to see that it was only noon, so it wouldn’t be Noah. I wiped my eyes and said, “Come in!”
Stef and Grand came in, and just seeing them transformed my mood. I felt a huge smile erupt across my face even as I jumped up to greet them, forgetting that I had that just-woke-up hard on. Stef giggled at me, but I hugged them anyway, arching my body away from them so I didn’t stab them. “You guys are back early,” I said, stating the obvious.
“We just got back and we thought we would come check on you,” Stef said, ignoring my statement.
I looked at him carefully, and then at Grand. “And Matt told you that I was torturing myself, so you thought you’d make sure I wasn’t crazy like my mother.”
“Actually, I was just coming to watch you torture yourself,” Grand teased. His witty sense of humor was usually a tonic to my bad moods.
“Did you have fun last night?” I asked, unable to hide my sadness over not being there.
“It was nice to see everyone,” Stef said cryptically.
“What aren’t you telling me?” I demanded, gesturing for them to have a seat.
“Robbie appears to be doting quite a bit on JJ,” Grand said.
“You mean like Mom did?” I asked.
“It may be similar,” Stef allowed. What was it about JJ that made him latch onto one parent and become totally dependent on that person? I ignored the hypocrisy of that thought, since I’d done the same thing with Dad. “The party tonight should be quite the extravaganza.”
“For his fifteenth birthday?” I asked. I hadn’t gotten any kind of party for my last birthday, other than a ration of crap from my family.
“There is a band slated to play, and fireworks will shoot off as soon as it gets dark,” Stef said. Robbie was really pulling out all the stops to throw one big party for JJ.
“Maybe one of them will misfire and blow up the house,” I joked, but it was hard to hide my bitterness. “Is Dad going to be up here next week?” I asked, as if it were somehow relevant to our current topic of conversation.
“I do not think so,” Stef said.
“You seem moodier today than normal, and that’s saying something,” Grand joked, only I didn’t laugh.
“What if I’m like her?” I asked him intently. “What if I’m like my mother?”
“It’s actually worse than that,” Grand said deadpan. “You’re actually more like your father.” I tried hard not to laugh, but I couldn’t.
“Because you are moody, you are worried that you will ultimately become mentally unstable like your mother?” Stef asked, driving to the heart of what was bothering me.
“They say it’s genetic,” I noted.
Grand eyed me carefully, making sure he had my attention. “It certainly can be genetic, and in that case you have it coming at you from both sides of your family. But I have seen a strength in you that your mother does not have. That is not to imply that people with bi-polar disorder are weak, it is to say that when you are moody, you usually have a rational reason.”
“Alright, but here I am, far away from JJ’s big birthday weekend, and I don’t want to go anyway, but you were all there celebrating, and if it weren’t for Darius, I’d have been up here all alone. Well, and Nana, Matt, and Wade,” I added, remembering to add them to the mix of castaways.
“That is true. For one night,” Stef said, trying to minimize the situation. “And it really makes no difference in the grander scheme, now does it?”
“Perhaps,” Grand said, “but I can see why you would feel that way.”
“You can?” I asked, surprised.
“What Stef said is logical, but he, more than anyone, should know that feelings aren’t logical.” Stef gave him a pouty look. “Darius, Matt, and Wade could have been at dinner last night if they had wanted to be there. You were pointedly excluded from a family gathering, which is, in essence, excluding you from the family.” I was really surprised to see real anger seeping through Grand’s staid veneer as he said that.
“That’s exactly how I felt,” I said, so happy that he got it.
“It is a point I explained to both Robbie and your father,” Grand said. “If I had known you were pointedly excluded, I would not have attended either.” He gave Stef a foul look. Evidently Stef hadn’t relayed the details on my conversation with Robbie to Grand. That really surprised me. I’d assumed that Stef would have explained that I’d been uninvited. He was usually such a good gossip. But having Grand validate my feelings, and back me up at this juncture, was like a tonic. Fuck JJ. Fuck his party.
“It’s nice to know that I wasn’t really alone,” I said to him earnestly. “How did they react?”
“Typically,” Stef said, irritated. “Your father understood immediately, and was furious with himself for not thinking it through.” Grand gave him his steely look. “I had much the same reaction,” Stef added.
“What did Robbie say?” I asked, wondering why I cared, or if I really did.
“Robbie did not understand at all, because he thought it was a fair compromise,” Stef said. “I would have thought that, even if he didn’t listen to JP, he would have paid attention to your aunt.” So Aunt Claire had jumped on them about this too? Wow. It was funny that Stef’s playful swipe at Grand didn’t seem to bother him at all, probably because he was so justifiably proud of his daughter.
“Knowing that you guys and Aunt Claire understand, and that Dad gets it, somehow makes it not matter anymore,” I said. It was as if the cloud lifted.
“I am glad we were able to help,” Stef said, and patted my knee. “Did Tony come up to see you?”
“No. He was busy, and had to cancel,” I said. “It’s fine. We’re on good terms.” Stef studied me carefully, as if to try and decide if I was telling the truth or not, and seemed convinced that I was.
“So what do you have planned for today?” Stef asked.
“My friend from Menlo is coming up to visit,” I said.
“The one that thinks you are interesting, at least according to Marie?” Stef asked.
“What did she say?” I demanded. Grand chuckled.
“She just said he liked you, and seemed glad to have another friend,” Stef said.
“He was arguing with this guy at the party. I think the other guy is gay. I couldn’t tell what it was about, but I kept wondering if they had hooked up or something.”
“Teen drama,” Grand said airily. “I survive quite fine without it.”
“You are no fun,” Stef said, then turned back to me intently, wanting to hear the gossip. “You did not overhear any of their conversation?”
“No,” I said. “It just looked like they were arguing. Noah, that’s my friend, he just shrugged and walked away, only that’s when he decided to leave the party.”
“Hmmm,” Stef mused. “If I were you, I would not push about that specifically, but perhaps you can ask him about the people at the party. Then it is more general, and may draw him out.”
“Good idea,” I said. “He gets up here at 3:30 or so. Gives me time to get some food.”
“Did you meet Nana’s new driver?” Stef asked.
“You mean Paulo?” I raised my eyebrows suggestively even as I asked the question.
“I see you have,” Stef said, giggling. “He is a friend of Jeff’s.”
“They’re fuck buddies,” I said. Stef’s eyes bulged, and he stopped giggling abruptly. “I know. Hot, isn’t it?”
“That would be a good description,” Stef agreed. “And how did you find out about this?”
“I worked out with him last night. My arms are sore as hell,” I said. “Dude knows his stuff, though.”
“Perhaps I will have to work out with him,” Stef joked.
“That’ll be the day,” Grand said, teasing him. Stef gave him a dirty look. “Exercise for you is walking through Nordstrom’s.”
“I am motivated by different things,” Stef said, cracking us up. “Watching Paulo exercise could be motivating.”
“I can’t wait to move up here. It already feels like home here. When I’m in LA, it feels like a business trip.”
“I am so glad that you feel that way,” Stef said, smiling. “It will be good to have you here with us. You belong here.”
“This is true. You belong here. Drama and all,” Grand said, teasing me.
“Stef likes the drama,” I said.
“Sometimes it can get dull around here. I like a little excitement in my life,” he said. Grand rolled his eyes.
“Then you should exercise with Paulo,” I said. We walked up to the kitchen together, where I indulged myself in a big lunch, since I’d neglected to eat half my breakfast.
I was just finishing up when my phone rang. I excused myself and left the table to answer it. “Hey Will, it’s Noah. I’m still at work.”
“Cool,” I said. What else was I supposed to say? He was supposed to be at work, and he was at work.
“I’m going to have to blow you off tonight,” he said. Based on the way my day had been, with its ups and downs, it would have been hard to hide my sadness if he hadn’t sounded so disappointed.
“What’s up?” I asked as casually as I could.
“Two things. I have to work late, and I have to go to the synagogue tonight.”
“Dude, that sucks,” I said sympathetically. Working late, then going to church would certainly ruin my day.
“No shit. If I finish up early enough, and I can escape, you want me to call you?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Even if it’s late, you can come up and hang out. Hell, you can even stay over.”
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said cautiously. That kind of surprised me. I mean, just because I asked him to stay over didn’t mean I was going to try and get into his pants. I’d do that anyway, I thought, almost making myself chuckle.
“Up to you,” I said, like it was no big deal. It really wasn’t. “We’ve got plenty of room.”
“No shit,” he said, chuckling.
“I’m here until probably Sunday evening, and except for tonight, I’ll just be hanging out.”
“You have plans tonight?” he asked. He probably wondered what the fuck that was all about, since I was supposed to do something with him.
“Tonight at seven there’s a Stanford hockey game. That’s where I’ll be. I was planning to drag you along tonight. You dodged that bullet.”
“It might have been fun,” he said, and seemed genuinely disappointed.
“Their games usually are.”
“Dude, wait a minute,” he said, evidently realizing this wasn’t a one-time event for me. “A Stanford hockey game? Why would you go to a Stanford hockey game?”
“Matt and Wade live with us here. They both go to Stanford, and they both play hockey. I try to go see them whenever I can,” I said.
“Who are Matt and Wade and why do they live there with you? Are they related?”
I thought about that, and I guess if you stretched it, you could call Matt my stepbrother, but otherwise they weren’t. “They’re like my older brothers. It’s pretty complicated. I’ll explain it to you sometime if you want.”
“That’s cool,” he said. “I gotta run. I’ll call you later.”
“Sounds good,” I lied, and hung up the phone. My whole weekend had turned to shit. I’d come up here with big plans to get Tony to fuck me and to hang out and get to know Noah better. Now it looked like neither one of those things was going to happen. Meanwhile, my closest friend at school was going to a party for my brother, one that I was intentionally excluded from attending. I was prevented from sending myself spiraling into doom and gloom by Stef and Grand, who were studying me as I returned to the kitchen. “Noah can’t come up tonight,” I said glumly.
“Why?” Stef asked.
“He has to work late, and he has to go to the synagogue,” I said.
“Jewish services are usually on Saturday morning,” Grand noted. It amazed me that he seemed to know so much about so many different things.
“Maybe there’s something else going on tonight,” I said. It didn’t matter what he was doing, it mattered that he was doing it without me.
“So you are stuck with just our company,” Stef said.
“I know. Sucks to be me,” I teased. “You guys are going to the game tonight, right?”
“I have some new heated gloves and socks I am going to try out tonight,” Stef said. Trying to stay warm at the ice rink had become a personal challenge for him.
“Paulo can get them to turn the heat up, if you want,” I said, raising my eyebrows. He giggled. “He’s very persuasive.” I left them then, and went back to my room to sulk. I was trying to decide what to do, when there was, once again, a knock at my door. My popularity was becoming annoying. “Come in!” I said resignedly.
The door opened and my dad walked in. I was so shocked; I just stared at him for a minute, but then the realization of him being here hit me. He must have gotten it, gotten what Grand had said. He cared enough about me, loved me enough to fly up here to make sure I knew that. I jumped up and ran over and gave him a big hug, almost knocking him down. “Happy to see me?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said, even though I didn’t let him go. It felt so good to just have him there, hugging me. He wrapped his arms around me and just enveloped me. It was wonderful.
“You doing alright?” he asked, probably because I was clinging to him. I let go.
“I’m fine, especially now. It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you before you left LA. And I’m sorry about the party.” I walked back to my bed and sat down, while he sat next to me.
“It didn’t really bother me when JJ and Robbie asked me not to show up, but when everyone else went, and I was pretty much shut out, then it kind of bothered me,” I told him.
“I felt the same way. It seemed so reasonable that you wouldn’t want to be there. We worked all this out, about your mom, but JJ was still really upset about it, and that seemed reasonable too. This has been very hard on him, and you’ve been a convenient target for him to vent his emotions at about your mother. And because of that, it even seemed reasonable and logical that on his birthday weekend, since he was so pissed off at you, that he wouldn’t want you around. But then Grand, with a little help from your aunt, put it into a different perspective.”
I chuckled at that. “They have a way of doing that.”
“No shit. I didn’t even connect the two, that you were being excluded from a family event. So I figured that to make it up to you, or at least to try, I’d come up here and hang out with you, then fly back to LA with you on Sunday.”
“You know,” I said, looking in his eyes, “that means more to me than anything.”
“I’m still so pissed off at myself,” he said. This was so typical of my dad. Now that he’d gotten it, gotten what he’d done wrong, and that he’d hurt me, he was going into self-flagellation mode.
“Let it go,” I said. I didn’t want him to feel bad about this.
“I think back about the times when I’ve been really unhappy, and the worst times were when I felt rejected by the family,” he said. “In high school, when I had to run away to Malibu with Robbie because Grand threw Robbie out. With my mother, after Billy outed me, and she didn’t seem to give a shit. And during all that crap with Brian. And when you ran away. Those were some of my toughest times.”
“Why?” I asked, as he seemed to want me to.
“Because it called into question whether I really belonged here or not. It made me feel like I was an interloper, my mother’s bastard son. And that led to really intense feelings of loneliness and isolation,” he said thoughtfully. That he could answer so quickly and succinctly told me he’d thought about this a lot. If I had to guess, I’d say he covered it with his shrink too.
“Wow,” I said, as I digested that. “I felt pretty crappy, but not that bad.” The pain he was describing must have been an internal hell for him.
“It’s over now,” he said dismissively. He’d really opened up there for a few minutes, and really let me see inside him, but with that clipped phrase, his shields had at least partially gone back up. He did that to force himself not to think about it, to ignore how upset it had made him.
“How did JJ and Pop react to your leaving?” I asked, to change the subject, and to find out how those two had handled this.
“JJ wasn’t happy about it, especially when Jack and Claire came back too.” Aunt Claire came back early? Wow. “Pop didn’t really understand the situation either, even after Grand and Frank explained things to him.”
“I get JJ, because he’s just being himself. He’ll be pissed off that he’s not getting everyone’s undivided attention. I just don’t get Pop.”
“I think that Pop is feeling bad for your mother, and he thinks the way that he can best help her is to be there for JJ. And I think that in their own way, he and JJ are finding they have some similar traits.”
“Yeah, they bring out the worst in each other,” I groused.
“It seems that way at times,” Dad said. “But Robbie understands JJ. He sees JJ approach skating like he did with football, and he has a good idea on how to handle him.”
“Yeah, he just caves in to him,” I grumbled some more.
“When this happened, it was easy for me to understand where you were coming from, because I’d been there myself. Just like that, Robbie sees JJ struggling with losing your mother and probably reacts the same way.”
I blinked at him. “He hates his mother, while JJ is devoted to Mom. How is that similar?”
“Robbie didn’t always hate his mother. She lost it when she got involved with that church. I think he prefers to believe they poisoned her mind.” I could see the parallels there. “Besides, he cares deeply for your mother, and as I said, this is his way of helping her and JJ out. JJ is even more alone and isolated than you are, or were. I think that it’s a good thing for Robbie to reach out to him.”
“This would be so much easier if JJ weren’t such a little bitch,” I said petulantly, sounding a lot like a little bitch myself.
Dad sensed that I’d figured that out, so he didn’t rub the point in. “You know, we’ve had some pretty intense battles over the past few months, and much of the conflict revolved around you maturing, both physically and emotionally, much faster than the usual fourteen-year-old.” That was part of it, but he waited for me to nod before going on. “I had to understand that kids mature at different rates. I’d think that you’d understand better than anyone that JJ, who’s actually older than you, is physically and emotionally less mature than you.”
I smiled at him. “You’re accusing me of being as thick-headed as you were?”
“You might say that,” he said, smiling back.
“I’m worried that this is all going to cause problems with you and Pop,” I said.
He shrugged. “It already has. It may even get worse. But our love, our relationship, is probably strong enough to survive these challenges.” He did that, talked philosophically, like he was stoned, when he was nervous.
“So how do we fix this problem?” I asked him, wanting to help him get back to a good place with Robbie.
“I think that Dr. Kraft actually had a good idea. I think that everyone is at a stage right now where when they’re together, they’re pretty toxic.” He paused to let me think about that. “That’s why he recommended that your mother put some space between herself and her sons.”
“And you and Pop,” I added.
“And us,” he agreed.
“So you’re saying that I should stay away from Pop and JJ?” I asked.
He sighed, a sign of the high level of frustration this was causing him. “I think that it’s a good thing for you to be separated from JJ right now. He needs to rebuild his foundations, and you’re not really part of that right now. Until he does, he won’t be able to deal with you.”
“Kind of like Mom has to get back to a good place mentally before she can deal with me,” I said.
“And kind of like how you have to put your anger and negative feelings aside so you’re ready to talk to her when she’s ready,” he pointed out.
“I’m working through things about Mom. As for JJ, that’s actually pretty easy to do,” I said. “I don’t really see him much at school. I’m not living in Malibu anymore. So other than Christmas and maybe New Year’s, I don’t think I’ll be in his world.”
“He likes to get a reaction from you, so he may be a little difficult over the holidays. Pop and I will talk to him about it, but you know how he gets.” Dad noted. “All I ask is that you try to be patient, and not provoke him.”
I was going to argue about that, but JJ and I both knew how to push each other’s buttons. “I’ll do my best,” I said, unwilling to promise something I couldn’t deliver on.
“That’s all I can ask.”
“What about Pop?” That relationship was actually more important to me because it so directly impacted my dad.
“I think you should consider apologizing to him,” Dad said.
“What for? He’s treated me like crap, all but tossing me out of the house, and then basically banning me from even showing up this weekend.”
“I’m not going to defend his points, because many of them I don’t agree with. And I definitely don’t agree with the way he treated you when you were at home. We’ve argued about it often. But you’ve been pretty rude to him. Your encounter with him in his office was pretty upsetting, and even a little embarrassing. Don’t you think you could have handled that a little better?”
“That’s the deal, this double standard he throws at me. He treats me like a kid, but expects me to act like an adult.”
“Don’t you think that he deserves some respect, though?”
“I think that if you give respect, you get respect,” I said. “He gets so fucking stubborn.”
He laughed at that. “Remember how he was when you got back from Hawaii? Remember how hard that was for him? He does what you do. He lets anger cloud his feelings. If you remove the anger, you can get through. Only he’s not like you are. His anger doesn’t dissipate over time as fast as yours does.”
“So what you’re asking me to do is to suck it up and apologize to him, even when I don’t think I’m wrong, just so he can get over this and we can move beyond it?” I demanded.
He shrugged. “You asked me how to fix the problem, and I told you. You don’t have to do it. You’ll be up here, or at the hotel, and thus not in his face on a day-to-day basis. Probably, over time, he’ll get over it. It’s really your call.”
“Only if I don’t suck up to him, it will be an open wound, and that will make it easier for JJ to fire him up if he gets pissed at me,” I said. My father was really a master strategist when it came to controlling people, and he’d just outlined a plan that was so typical of him. He knew that the key to keeping JJ in line was the adult in his life, who would probably be Robbie, what with my mother out of action. And he knew that the key to repairing his strained relationship with Robbie was me having at least a neutral relationship with Robbie. And he also knew that for he and I to be able to spend time together without Robbie being all pissed off, it was important that I repair the rift in my relationship with Robbie. So he was advocating that I swallow my pride, and take the first step. He was working on me, manipulating me in his own way, to get me to do what needed to be done.
“Possibly,” he said, breaking in on my thoughts.
“Looks like I have a lot to think about this weekend,” I said.
“Can I make another observation?” he asked cautiously.
“Sure,” I said warily.
“If you decide to do this, it would be best if you made your peace with Robbie before Darius did.”
“I didn’t know that they had major issues,” I said.
“I don’t think they have major issues, but they have issues,” Dad said. “Darius hit Robbie pretty hard when he told him that he’d lost a lot of respect for him. That was a big contributor to him making the decision to relinquish control over your mother to Darius.”
“So why do I have to beat Darius to the punch on that?” I didn’t get that.
“It’s easier if you’re not last,” Dad said. “If Pop has a good rapport with JJ and Darius, and then you come along to fix things with him, it makes it look like you’re only doing it because you’re lonely.”
I looked at him, blinking in amazement at how Machiavellian his mind was. He was really opening up to me, not only sharing his feelings, but more than that, showing me how he was thinking. I thought back to how I’d gone shopping with Stef, and once I’d gotten over my bitchiness, I’d realized that he was trying to educate me. Dad was doing the same thing now, in a sense. He was teaching me how he thought, how he plotted and strategized. It was flattering and scary all at the same time. “I can see that,” I finally said.
“I’m going to go get some rest before the game,” he said.
I paused, collecting my words, and he waited for me to say what I wanted to say. “I want you to know how important to me you are,” I said. “You coming up here made a pretty shitty weekend pretty terrific.”
“I love you too,” he said.
“And I want you to know that I appreciate how well you’re doing with me, and the way you treat me.”
“Really?” he asked. That had surprised him.
“Yeah. You don’t order me around, or bluster, or act like my moral compass. You talk to me. And now what you say matters.”
“I try,” he said.
“I know. And I thought it was important for you to know that you were succeeding,” I said with a smile. He pulled me into another long hug, and then he left me to go back to his own room.
December 11, 2000
I decided to eat lunch with my group today, since I wanted to firm up my Tuesday plans with Ryan, and I wanted to know how JJ’s party was. I got my food and went out to the fire road.
“Hey,” Ryan said casually, which we knew was a pretty enthusiastic greeting.
“Hey,” I said in the same way. “How was your weekend?”
He shrugged. “Went to the party on Saturday.” He knew that’s what I was asking about.
“Yeah?” I asked like I didn’t care.
“Yeah. Good band. Cool fireworks,” he said. Shiloh nodded. I thought about my conversations with my father, and how I could read his deeper meanings in what he was saying. It was the same way with this. The rumor mill around school was that the party was pretty fun, but overdone, which was saying something for this crowd. Ryan and Shiloh all but confirmed that.
“It was fun, but there was like a lot of tension. It was weird,” Morgan added. That made sense, what with the family bailing out on Saturday morning. JJ would probably blame me for that too.
That was pretty much confirmed after school. I was walking out to find Tish when I saw JJ getting into an SUV with his new driver, who I hadn’t met yet. He saw me and gave me a dirty look, and seemed even more pissed off that I didn’t let it bother me. I just ignored him and hopped into the SUV with Tish. So far, ignoring him had been easy.
“Where to today?” she asked.
“Anders-Hayes,” I said.
“Uh oh,” she said, and then drove off.
“I think this time will go better,” I said optimistically, but the fact that I didn’t do homework on the way there told her how nervous I was. My weekend had ended up being pretty boring. Noah never made it up to see me, and all the emotional bullshit had exhausted me so much I’d ended up crashing early on Saturday. Even though it had been boring, I was still anxious to go back up there next weekend. It was so much better than being here.
I got to Anders-Hayes and strutted in confidently, my backpack slung over my shoulder. I made to walk past security, only this time they stopped me. “I’m going to see my father, Robert Hayes,” I told them.
“We can’t let you go up there,” one guard said uncomfortably.
“You can’t let me go to his office?” I asked, stunned.
“Those are our orders,” he said. I was really pissed off at that, and my look must have intimidated him. “Let me call Ms Somers.”
“Thanks. Ask her if she’ll talk to me,” I instructed. He nodded, while I went over and sat down in the leather chairs in their waiting area, ignoring the other people who were there.
I waited for about ten minutes, and then Evelyn appeared, looking uncharacteristically upset. “Hey Will,” she said nervously.
“Hi,” I said. “I see I’m banned from Anders-Hayes.”
“He was pretty upset after your last visit,” she said. “They’re not allowed to let you pass.”
“Can you get me by them?” I asked with my charming smile.
“If I want to lose my job,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it then,” I told her. “It’s pretty ironic that I come down here to apologize, and find that he’s blocked me from getting close enough to him to do that.”
“I’m sorry, Will,” she said sympathetically.
“It’s not your fault,” I said. I walked out of Anders-Hayes, trying not to be too pissed off, telling myself that at least I’d tried.