When we entered the hotel room, A-R said, “Damn, I am so sick of sweating today.” Now that he mentioned it, it had been a hot evening, car travel was sticky and fatiguing anyway, and the blowing cold A/C in our hotel room really did feel wonderfully luxurious all of a sudden. A-R threw his bag down on one of the beds, kicked off his shoes, peeled off his socks, kept on stripping until he was down to his briefs, and then flopped on his back, face up on the floral-printed bed spread. “It feels so good to be cool again.”
I opened a beer and looked around for the TV remote control.
A-R turned his head leftward and looked at me. “Can I have one of those?” I didn’t answer immediately, so he added, “I mean, you bought like a lot of it. Any chance you were thinking about sharing? I’ve had a hard day, too, you know.”
“This is not going to become a habit between us, you and I,” I said, trying to sound very stern and prim but handing him a can. “It is, as you know, highly irregular and even illegal for me to serve alcohol to you.”
“Well, it may be illegal but it’s sure not that irregular,” he said, sitting up and opening his can. “You always let me have wine at home. So did Brace.”
“Nonetheless. And this is a bit different. This was a fairly shitty day, I’m stressed, somewhat panicked even, and I plan to get rather drunk tonight. And since you’ll be here in this room with me during it, I suppose I am going to let you do the same.”
“Why the panic?” He sipped and looked at me, seeming suddenly rather more mature than he usually did.
I sighed heavily. “I am not looking forward to spending several days in your grandmother’s house.”
“I know, right?” He gulped beer. “Let’s just not. Let’s get a hotel up there. Or I’m sure we could crash at all kinds of people’s houses. Hey, we should get a hotel that has a pool and a hot tub and a sauna in it and maybe a Jacuzzi tub in the room. That would be excellent!”
“Negative. Maybe another time.” The plan was that we would stay with Racine for a few days, have Brace’s memorial party at her house, and then I would find an apartment for A-R and I to move into after we had gone back to Chako Paul City to get the bulk our stuff. “I am trying to be nice to Racine. She absolutely insists that we stay with her, and I really think we should play along.”
“She’s not nice to you ever.”
“Maybe she’s trying to change.”
“Hmm.” A-R didn’t seem to believe it.
“Tell me about how you met Brace.”
“You’ve heard that story plenty of times.”
“From Brace, but not from you. He always said that he fell in love with you immediately, but that you weren’t interested in him for a long time.”
“He exaggerated that somewhat. On both ends. He may have been in lust right away, but probably not love. We didn’t know each other much other than as co-workers for the first few months after he hired me.”
“But he started coming on to you after a while?”
“Yes!” I confessed, laughing and feeling suddenly rather exposed by this line of questioning. “Do you really need every little detail?”
“But didn’t you like him at first?”
“Yeah, I liked him a lot. He was exciting and fun and I wanted to pursue him. But it was strange for me. I had just broken up with a previous boyfriend, and he was still married to your mother.”
A-R frowned and nodded. “That seems so long ago.”
“Well it was. You were just a little kid then.” Very little. It was weird to remember how the fact that Brace was a father was nearly a deal-breaker for me back when our romance seemed to be igniting.
“So he was cheating on his wife with you.” A-R said it bluntly but without a hint of judgment.
“He didn’t view it that way, and you should know that she did not either. They were well along in their long process of splitting up already. She was pissed off at first when she found out about us, but she admitted that she didn’t have a lot of room to talk since she was,” I paused to carefully consider my next words, remembering that I was discussing the kid’s mother, “also involved with someone else by that point.”
“I remember that. She was seeing this dude named Augustin. He used to come over a lot and sometimes spend the night after Brace moved out. I didn’t like him that much.”
“Did you like me that much?”
A-R grinned. “I still don’t like you that much!”
He swallowed the last of his beer and helped himself to another. “But I guess I still don’t know what it’s like to be in love with someone the way you guys were with each other.”
“That’s fine that you don’t know that yet. You’re too young for it anyway.”
He stared at me, unblinking for a few moments and then said, “Neither you nor Brace have ever really told me that I’m too young for anything. It’s weird that you say that now and about this thing. Love. I’m not mature enough to handle it, you don’t figure?”
“I mean that I think it’s fine for you to not have to go through all that already. It can be painful, too, you know.”
He nodded. “I’ve had crushes on people that have hurt a lot. It feels really good but also really bad at the same time. But they fade away after a while. But that’s probably not love. I know it’s not. Sometimes I just want to have sex with someone. You know, because it’s fun, but without that crazy sick-in-the-stomach crush feeling. Do you know what I mean?”
“Of course. That happens all the time.”
“Brace said that sex without love is fine and not to let people make you feel guilty about it.”
“But I know he told you also that respect is essential. He thought it was fine to have some fun with someone he didn’t necessarily love, but he thought it was very important to have respect and equality between the partners.”
“He told me that. He sometimes creeped me out talking about it, but I am glad that he did.” He fell silent for a few moments, looking downward as if considering what to say next. Eventually, he continued, revealing: “I did something pretty wild a few times, with Henry and his girl. Beth, you know? Did you know about that? Did Brace tell you? Because I think he knew. In fact, I’m sure he knew, so I’m sure you did, too.”
“We knew,” I admitted, hoping that I would not need to admit how we had discovered it.
“Well, that was fun, but then it started to feel not quite right. She acted like she was way into it, and she is older than us and had been with other guys before us, but I wasn’t sure that she really wanted to be doing that with us. With Henry, yeah, because she likes him a lot. But not with me, and not with me and him at the same time. I don’t know. I started to worry that some respect was lacking there.”
“Your respect for Beth?”
“More Henry’s respect for her. He wanted that scene more than she did, I think. Or at least he kept pushing for it to happen again and again when I think maybe she was done with it after the first time. I called him out on it.”
“What did he say?”
“You know. He’s kind of an ass. But he has feelings and it’s easy to hurt them and he is basically a good guy. Next day he told me I was right. I think he understood what I was talking about.”
Later, after a couple more drinks, he changed subjects.
“Matteo. You said you see stuff in the Dust.”
“Hmm. When did I say that?”
“You told me you did. Come on.”
“Just imagining things, like when you look at clouds long enough and they start to look like animals and ships and shit like that.”
“People online are saying that they see things, too.”
“Like I said. It’s common.”
“No. People are seeing very specific things. Like people they know, or things that have happened in their lives playing out like stories in the Dust. Matteo, what do you see? Please tell me again.”
“Lot’s of stuff,” I admitted. “Sometimes I see you, and it feels like you are fading away, or drifting away. And soon I can’t see you at all anymore. I don’t know why.”
“Does it mean something? Is it from the future? People think they can see stuff from the past and the future.” This was an eerily odd question from Arthur-Rimbaud who was as much a skeptic as his father had been. I can remember him joining Brace in casting doubt on my own belief in ghosts, and now he was seriously entertaining the notion of seeing future events in visions in the Dust?
“I don’t think so,” I said. “What could it mean anyway? Nothing.” Stuff doesn’t mean stuff, I could hear Brace-within saying.
“Matteo. I wonder if I’m going to die like my dad died, from the Waste.”
“No! Absolutely not! Do you feel sick or strange?”
“No. But he didn’t either until it was too late.”
“You’re not going to die. Not for a long, long time.”
“If I do, I’d like to first be able to fall in love with someone. So that when I die it can be for me like it must have been for Brace.”
“Kiddo,” I whispered, fearing that tears were welling up. “Please stop it. You will be in love someday. And you won’t ever die.” Still I wondered: when I saw him in the Dust, he did seem to slip away and evanesce, and it felt like I was probably seeing him for the last time every time.
I think it was at about the time of beer number seven or eight, A-R suddenly said that he really missed Brace. He crumpled into a ball on the bed and sobbed. This was the first time he had done this in front of me since he returned from Bohemia. I tried to reach out for him, thinking that this was a proper time for a hug if there ever had been one. But he raised a hand, warning me back. “No tears tonight,” he said.
“Do you remember,” Arthur-Rimbaud said, pointing at me with a beer, “when I was a kid and still lived with my mom, but I would visit you and Brace during the winter break from school? And Brace would sometimes have to go to bed early because he had that super-early morning job. But you would stay up late with me. And I would cuddle up with you on the futon. You’d kind of hold me like one of the cats and we’d watch a movie until I fell asleep?”
I certainly did remember that but hadn’t thought of it in a long time. It seemed impossibly long ago, from another world and another life. He was another kid entirely then. Soft and polite and shy and a big beating mass of need. I did hold him like one of the cats. We’d had the two cats even back then. He had smelled like one of them too, sweet and fuzzy and rather candy-like.
“Can we do that again?” he said softly. “Please,” he said and bowed his head as if ashamed.
“Of course,” I said, nonplussed. He nodded and set about a little task. He plugged his tablet into an input on the TV. He found a movie on it to play for us. Forbidden Planet it was. He got it playing on the hotel TV.
Gingerly, he climbed into the bed with me. It actually was much like the childhood experience he had described. It felt suddenly normal despite the obvious differences wrought by time and circumstance: it was years later, and we were both drunk; instead of in our living room, lit by a Christmas tree, we lay in a TV-lit hotel room in a strange town; instead of a slight and soft nine year-old clad in flannel Pokemon pajamas, he was a big and lithe and mostly naked sixteen year-old. But as he spooned into me, he still felt like a little kid who needed a hug, and I let myself wrap arms around him. Instead of cat fur and candy, he smelled like sweat and the road and beer and, thanks to his choice of grooming products, Brace’s hair. But in spite of all these changes, it was still the same basic thing.
The eerie drone of the movie’s aetherphone score filled the room and the first few minutes of Forbidden Planet scrolled by. At about the point when the spaceship had landed and just before Robbie came out to greet the crew on behalf of the mysterious Morbius, Arthur-Rimbaud said, “You know that I’m not like you and my dad.”
“Like what?” I said carefully, sensing a trap of some sort being laid in my way.
“Not like you guys. Not gay.”
“I never thought you were. Brace never thought you were either. We always knew that. You know that.”
“Oh,” he murmured. “Well, I’m not. But for some reason I do get hard sometimes when I think about certain guys or when I see guys…like Henry…doing something with a girl.”
“You’re sixteen years old,” I said to the back of his head. “You’re probably hard all the time.”
He shuddered a bit, with some sound. Chuckling, actually. “I am hard all the goddamned time, Matteo.”
“You’re sixteen,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”
We fell silent and watched the movie. I’ve seen the first half of Forbidden Planet about a thousand times, and even if I get deeper into it than that, I always doze well before the arrival of the id monster. That’s what happened this time, too.
I dreamed of Dust and Arthur-Rimbaud again, but this time he was singing on the pier: “Die, die, die, my darling, just shut your pretty eyes…Die, die, die my darling, I’ll be seeing you again…I’ll be seeing you in Hell!”
I woke up alone in bed. Sunrise was peering through the curtains. Water was running. That’s it, I realized: A-R is in the shower, singing that song. His real-life noise was blending into my Dust dream. I turned over and must have dozed again for a few minutes. When next I woke, I saw Arthur-Rimbaud at the sink in the little vestibule outside the bathroom, freshly showered, hair dripping rivulets down his neck and back, shaving away his thin line of jaw beard. “I didn’t see the end of the movie either,” he said. “But the beginning is always so good.”
By the end of the third year, Reese had begun to despise his son. He’d started to wish that he had never adopted the boy. He’d done it at Linda’s insistence, when sweet Kirin, the natural son that he’d shared and raised with her for fourteen years, had died of the Waste. But it—the boy’s demise—did not play out as expected. Kirin had lingered past his death-by-Waste far longer than anyone could have imagined, far longer than any parents trying to move past their grief could possibly be expected to endure.
Linda had purchased the new boy at Resettlement and brought him home one rainy afternoon without preamble, with no prior consultation with Reese. The adoption was fait accompli, she’d told him, handing him her handheld and demanding that he imprint his thumb on the digital paperwork.
The new kid’s name was Jad. He was maybe eleven years old the day he arrived. Though he was younger than Kirin, it was immediately obvious to Reese that Linda had indulged in a crass attempt to replicate the dead boy: he had the same olive skin color, the same big hazel eyes, the same high-bridged nose. Later he would learn that the hazel eyes were the result of contact lenses that she’d had the kid fitted with before bringing him home. Jad’s dark hair had been freshly cut to mimic the floppy, bangsy style that Kirin had worn at the same age.
“But why are we even doing this?” Reese had wondered that night, after their new son was asleep. He had gotten gradually (but very) drunk on wine during the awkward hours of Jad’s settling in and throughout the endless, strained dinner conversation. He had feigned interest in the food, some roasted pigeons in garum with long beans and roasted blue potatoes. Jad had eaten it politely and feigned passably a mild interest in his new parents.
After the new boy was tucked away in Kirin’s old bed, Reese had poured himself a snifter of brandy and said to his wife, “But aren’t we still getting divorced? Kirin is dead. You’re moving out. End of family.” He didn’t even want to hold out any hope. Because he really didn’t (if he had been honest with himself) hope for it, but he said anyway, “Or have you changed your mind? Are you staying now? Now that we have a new son?”
Every bit of warmth had leeched out of their relationship years ago. It had never been Linda’s way to emote effusively anyway, but then, after Kirin, she had become even more of a shell than her husband. Reese had understood that this rash action of buying the new son was a way for her to say what she was feeling.
“I’m still gone, Reese,” she had said after a long, dry moment. “I’m moving to El Dorado forever while I still have some youth left in me. But I know that you will fall apart if left shambling around this old house all alone. Kirin was to have stayed with you, to be your rock and your anchor and your single purpose on Earth. Now you will have him again.” She’d stared at him for a while, lips pruned in dismay as he swallowed his drink and poured another. After a while she had said, “But you know his name is Jad now.”
Jad was fourteen now, or so that was anybody’s best guess. No one could really prove one way or another how old he was since he was from Resettlement, and records at Resettlement ranged in quality from incomplete to completely nonexistent. Linda had gotten an opinion of the kid’s age from a doctor. Then she had simply assigned him Kirin’s old birthday and decided he that had just turned eleven shortly before she brought him home.
Reese’s feelings for the kid swung among various extremes, none of them pleasant. There was real pity and real sorrow. Never quite love, never quite compassion, but always a raw pity. Then there was a lot of fear and disgust.
First the disgust: the boy had become, in Reese’s estimation, quite unpleasant to behold. As his adolescence progressed, his body had grown freakishly, well beyond what one would normally expect. He was both way too thin and too tall. Way too tall. He was nearly six inches taller than Reese already, and Reese was not a short man. Also, he smelled bad and seldom bathed. He lingered about the house and in the gardens in a decomposing pair of shorts, when not entirely naked, quite oblivious to his appearance and probably not caring in the least since few people other than Reese ever saw him in person. He had grown thick and rank thatches of hair under his arms. A bizarre tuft of downy hair sprouted from his back just above his tailbone. Oddly, his voice hadn’t changed much yet, but a thin line of beard had begun to erupt along his sharp, bony jaw-line. He had kept the basic Kirin-style haircut, but it grew wild and seemed both brittle and greasy at once.
And there was an element of fear of this boy in Reese always, for Jad had a friend and ally. Jad talked to Kirin all day long.
Though Kirin had Wasted and died, the process somehow never quite finished itself, or at least not as quickly is it should have. During the first months, between the boy’s death and the arrival of Jad, Kirin had made many of the expected appearances in vid screens and mirrors and by way of errant EM auras here and there. But the doctor said it was a weak manifestation of the phenomenon—Kirin, for example, had made no attempt to speak to them—and that he would pass away completely, out of this universe, in days or weeks at most.
The weeks passed and Reese had almost gotten used to finding himself in tears every morning while shaving when his dead son would appear like fog in the mirror and then vanish again. And then it stopped happening. He quit appearing in mirrors and on screens. Reese could look at his handheld and not fear seeing the boy’s sad eyes in its luminous face.
Two weeks after Jad’s arrival and a few days after Linda’s blessed, bloody exit to El Dorado, the new kid had sat at the breakfast table munching on dripping slices of mango. He had said in a creepily adult fashion, “Ah, Reese. I almost forgot to mention it. Kirin says that he knows you loved him and he isn’t mad that he caught the Waste.”
The next morning, Reese had called in a cyber/psi remediation service to assess what was going on in his house. He had been rather put off by the whole pest-control feel of it. He was, after all, talking about the earthly remains of his son if Jad was correct that Kirin still lingered in the bones of the house somehow.
“I understand exactly what you mean, Mr. Reese,” said the cyber/psi guy, a short and skinny dude in an outré paramilitary costume complete jangling medals. He wore glowing green goggles over his eyes, some kind of device to see what they were “up against,” as he put it. “We hear it all the time. But what you gotta understand is that whatever residue—and that’s what our term for it is: residue—whatever residue is hanging out in your household cybersphere is not really your son or even any part of his real mind.”
Reese said nothing. He looked at the strange goggled man skeptically.
“Mr. Reese, did you ever hear the old saying about the duck?”
“OK, it’s one my favorites. It goes like this: ‘If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.’ But you see, the opposite applies to our situation here. You see, in our case, if it walks like your son and talks like your son, then it’s probably not your son. See?”
Reese saw Jad standing out in the back courtyard, looking a lot like his son. But he wasn’t. “Hmm. Well, what do you think the deal is then? Do we have something here?”
“Excuse me?” Reese had really not expected a flat “nope” as the answer.
“Well, what I mean is, you might. But I can’t find it. It must be real low level. Happens sometimes. This is very old house—must be three hundred years at least—and I’m getting nothing other than some ancient background effluvia. One way to be sure is we could do a full dump-and-flush.”
“Basically we just crash your whole local cybersphere, wipe any hard media and bust up any cloud data. Then you can reload. The downside is that you will lose everything. You’ll have to get new drivers for all your appliances, you’ll need to rebuild your web presence, nothing will work like normal for days, your toilets won’t flush reliably, you’ll lose all your TV channels, it’ll be a big PITA.”
“Pain in the ass, brother.”
“And if I do nothing?”
“Up to you, Mr. Reese. If you have a lingering Waste presence in your household systems, it’s not strong enough to do anything or I’d see it in my goggles. If it doesn’t bother you, then you can just let it alone.”
“But…” Reese hesitated to try to ask this weirdo another serious question, but he needed to say it. “If he is in there somewhere…is he in any pain?”
“Mr. Reese,” the cyber/psi guy said softly, shaking his head slowly, “he doesn’t feel anything. He’s just rogue data.”
Reese had then pressed Jad further as to where and when he sees Kirin.
“I don’t really see him. It’s more like I feel him. And I definitely hear him.”
“He does not show up in screens or mirrors?”
“I just hear him, and sometimes I feel him lying down next to me in our bed.”
Reese became less concerned about the household cybersphere and more concerned about Jad’s mental health. But that, too, passed, and after a couple more years of this situation, Reese had come to accept that Jad somehow perceived Kirin and was content to leave it alone. Until it got more weird again.
“You need to clean up—especially that hair—and get dressed in something nice.” Reese stood in the middle of Jad’s bedroom looking up at the bed loft where the boy lounged languidly, looking at something on his hand-held.
“Why?” Jad wondered, peering down at Reese with great skepticism.
“It’s theatre night!” Reese cried. “It was you who wanted to go!”
“Oh, yeah.” Jad returned his attention to whatever he had been doing on his handheld. “I want to see the play but I’d rather you not try to make me pair up with that horrid girl, Mr. Javid’s daughter. She’s the perfect beast, a lemur in woman guise.”
“She’s perfectly sweet,” Reese said tightly. “And it would not hurt you to make some friends outside of this house. You’ll soon be old enough to be dating someone, but no one will have you unless you take a shower first!” Reese felt badly for yelling at the boy, but he just couldn’t stand the kid’s attitude.
“I already have a lover,” Jad said flatly, still gazing at his handheld.
“Do not start that again.”
“Kirin does it with me nearly every night.”
Reese hated this sort of talk. This was a new angle that Jad had recently calculated to piss Reese off, this blunt bragging about his imaginary teenage sex life, and with his own dead “brother” no less. “That’s called masturbation, Jad. That thing you do with yourself all day. It’s not lovemaking. You’re smart enough to know that.”
Jad set down his handheld and hopped down from the loft. He towered over Reese. “When I do it by myself, it’s called masturbation. When Kirin does it with me, then it’s ‘lovemaking,’ as you call it.” He shook his head and squinted at Reese like he was trying to understand what sort of low beast his adoptive dad might be. “Really, Reese! ‘Lovemaking!’” Then Jad uncharacteristically and rather tenderly, half-embraced Reese, wrapping a long bony arm around the older, shorter man’s shoulders and squeezing a bit. “I’ll be ready on time. Don’t sweat it.”
How about you don’t sweat it, Reese thought wryly, nearly overcome with the stench from the boy’s hopefully soon-to-be-washed armpits.
They stood in the vast gilded lobby of the theatre, sipping on tiny flutes of kir royale, awaiting the acquaintances that they had planned to meet ahead of the show. The crowd was thick and a loud hubbub pervaded the space, precluding any sort of quiet conversation. But neither Reese nor Jad would have wanted that anyway.
Reese had to admit that Jad cleaned up rather decently when he tried. He smelled sweetly now, like fruit-tree blossoms, and he was clad in an immaculate new suit. It had been a challenge to keep the kid in clothes—literally, because he generally eschewed wearing them, but also because he had been growing with such alarming speed. But his new suit fitted perfectly. Emerald green trousers stretched all the way down his long legs to tuck into shiny black boots. A chrome tunic adorned with epaulets and embroidered roses was cinched closed above his waist by a gleaming belt of neo-basilisk skin. He wore a tricorn cap and had pulled his stray locks behind his ears. Opalescent studs shimmered in his earlobes. A perfectly presentable young gentleman, at last.
The thought rattled around in the back of his mind that Mr. Javid would probably be quite impressed and even keener to see his daughter (“the perfect beast”) have some sort of liaison with Jad. Javid and she were among the new throng of people that entered the theatre lobby. Before greetings commenced, Jad leaned down toward Reese’s ear and whispered, “I don’t know for sure, but I think Kirin has come out with us tonight.”
The play was Troilus and Cressida, presented in the currently fashionable clockpunk style. The actors wore stage avatars, those masks that turned their faces into what Reese considered to be wild caricatures. But Reese would be the first to admit that he was not necessarily conversant with what was hip and fashionable in the world of Shakespearean theatre these days.
He glanced occasionally at Jad, who appeared rapt with enjoyment. Above his broad smile, upon the high bridge of his nose, rested a set of opera glasses that were no doubt recording the event for later review.
About midway through the play, Jad nudged Reese’s arm and passed over to him his handheld. “Watch carefully,” he whispered. Reese examined the images on the small screen. It was a slow motion replay of some of the action on stage from just a moment ago, focused on the actor who was playing Troilus. As Reese watched, the actor’s stage avatar shifted, changing slowly from the fair face of the hapless Trojan prince to someone else, and then back again. Reese saw what Jad had wanted him to see, however: for a moment, that actor wore not the face of a cartoon Troilus but the face of his long gone son Kirin.
“I saw him. For just a moment,” Reese said to the boy as they entered the house. Reese had been in no mood for post-theatre socializing with Javid and the others, and Jad had been more than happy to come straight home. “Do you see him like that all the time?”
Jad shook his head and fiddled with his handheld. “Not all the time. Usually he is just in my head. But lately I have been…finding his frequency somehow.” He frowned, as if dissatisfied with that answer. “I don’t know what is happening. But I am planning to try to see him again now. Do you want to see him again?”
Reese remembered the weeks of seeing Kirin in vaporous glimpses, flashes in mirrors, a hazy visage on a computer screen. He remembered all those time trying to shave in the morning without weeping when Kirin would manifest behind him and then evanesce into nothing. He did not want to see that again. “Yes,” Reese said, “I want to see him again.”
Jad turned on the large-screen TV monitor in the living room.
He pressed a button on his handheld and linked it for upload to the monitor. The video of the play began to scroll past, and then it slowed to a crawl at the point when Jad had focused his opera glasses on Troilus and the actor’s stage avatar. The cartoonish rendering of the Trojan prince lost integrity. It faded into grayish static and vanished altogether. For a moment Reese could see the actor’s own face beneath the mesh of the avatar device. But in the next moment, the face changed again. The speed of the video playback slowed to almost complete motionlessness. Frame by frame, it crawled gradually past, each second bringing more of the new image into clarity.
Big hazel eyes, olive skin, a high-bridged nose, lips pursed as if about to kiss the air: it was Kirin, but not as he had been when Reese had last seen him in mirrors and screens. “How can this be?” Reese whispered, tears stinging his eyes. Kirin had aged the three years that he had been dead. He approached the monitor and said again, “How can this be?” He saw a boy of seventeen years now, just as he would have looked had he lived to see that age.
A sound passed through the room, through Reese, a noise that he more felt than heard, but it was everywhere at once, a blast of static that shifted into a nearly inaudible white noise. “Dad,” said a voice.
Reese spun to look at Jad, who had never called him Dad or anything like it. Jad shook his head and pointed to the screen.
Louder it became: “Dad. Listen. I’m OK now.”
The room seemed to glow now, from more than just the huge TV screen. Mirrors on walls radiated, the stainless steel of the breakfast bar, the glass of the patio doors, everywhere that a surface could shine it now did. And in every one of those surfaces were images of Kirin, radiant and smiling. Reese had no sense of how long this spectacle continued but eventually it faded. Kirin vanished again, gone from every shining object and gone from the TV screen. After a few stunned moments, Reese realized that he was hearing sniffling, a quiet weeping. Jad sat slumped on the floor, face buried in his large hands.
Reese knelt next to his adopted son. Jad looked up at him and said, “It’s OK. But I’ll miss him.”
“So he’s really gone now?”
Jad nodded. “I knew he wanted to finally go away and pass on to wherever they go. But he wanted to be able to tell you it was OK first.”
“You said that to me the first week you were here.”
Jad looked at Reese, directly into his eyes, something he seldom did. His eyes were bright bluish-green—he had not worn the hazel Kirin-colored contact lenses for a long time, but Reese had never really noticed. He was overgrown and sloppy, but not really so disgusting as Reese had come to regard him. He was, of course, not Kirin and now Reese seemed to learn the answer to a question he had not known he had been asking. Yeah, he decided. He doesn’t need to be anyone but himself.
“I guess it’s just the two of us now,” Reese said.
“Probably. I guess we’ll see.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is a very old house. Kirin wasn’t the only one who ever passed away here.” Jad grinned widely, eyes drying. He removed his tricorn cap and placed it atop Reese’s head. “Good night, Dad.”