Luis stood up. He reached for Ashton's hands. “Thank you. I knew I could trust you.”
“Don't go,” Ashton said. “Stay here with me. I'm graduating soon and I'm going to Stanford in the fall. We can go there together. We can live together and I'll take care of you. There are a lot of exciting things happening around Palo Alto and Cupertino these days. I think I might be falling in love with you, Luis. I'd do anything for you. You could be the love of my life, Luis.”
Luis felt a sharp pain in his stomach; he started to cry. He hadn't seen this coming. “Oh Ashton, I have already met the love of my life. You're a wonderful guy and you're going to have a great life. But I already have someone who loves me and would do anything for me. And I love him as much and I'd do anything for him. I'm sorry, Ashton. I have to leave.”
Ashton reached out for Luis's arm, but not fast enough. “Can I come with you? I don't care where it is.”
“No,” Luis said, “You're going to change the world and save millions of lives. You have to be here.”
Luis turned fast and jogged out of the library. He wasn't sure where he was going or what he was going to do now. He passed Betsy Melchiorri and her girlfriends in the main lobby and didn't stop to say anything. He pushed the glass doors open, walked out on the main courtyard, and turned right. When he started jogging again, he heard a voice call out his name.
Luis stopped and turned back. He saw Jase coming in his direction and he didn't know what to do.
“Hey,” Jase said. “I've been looking all over for you.”
Luis refused to look Jase in the eye. “I was working.”
Jase smiled. “I was thinking maybe we could take a quick camping trip up to Denali this coming weekend. You know, just you and me.” He winked and poked Luis in the ribs.
Luis knew what Jase was doing and he couldn't let it happen again. Jase had to go back to dating women like Betsy Melchiorri and figure out who he was. Luis lifted his head and looked into Jase's eyes. “What about Betsy?”
“I'll tell her it's a weekend for the guys,” Jase said. “She'll understand. She'll never suspect a thing.” Jase sent him a naughty look and winked. “Besides, Betsy and I are just dating. We're not like engaged or anything.”
Luis rolled his eyes. He never thought he'd see the day when he would be sneaking around with his own husband. This situation was overwhelming him to the point of physical pain. His head began to throb so much he could feel his heart beating in his temples. “I can't go with you, Jase. I'm going away, somewhere else.”
Jase's jaw dropped. “Where?”
Luis thought fast. The only other person he really wanted to see in 1986 was his gay uncle. In the future, he would lose this uncle to AIDS the same year he would meet Jase. And Luis would never stop wondering if there was something more he could have done to keep his uncle alive. “I'm going to visit my uncle in Tennessee.”
“But what about us?”
“Oh Jase,” Luis said. “There isn't an ‘us’ right now. And you know it. I have to go.” Then he turned and ran all the way back to the Nicholas house. He didn't look back once. He knew in his heart this was the right thing to do.
* * * *
An hour later, he arrived at the Nicholas house and no one was there. He entered through the back door, went up to Jase's bedroom, and changed into the white shirt and the black tuxedo pants with which he'd arrived. He tossed the clothes Jase had lent him into the hamper and sat down at Jase's desk to write a short note.
I want to thank you and your family for everything you've done for me.
I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer but I have to see my uncle. I wish you the best.
I know you're going to be very successful in the future. Please thank your grandfather for advancing me cash before I received my first paycheck. And tell him to take the check the high school owes me, cash it himself, and keep all the money. Again, thank you for all you've done for me.
Luis re-read the note and wiped his eyes. He was crying so hard he couldn't see clearly. He thought about rewriting it and signing it “Love, Luis.” But he changed his mind, took one last look at the bedroom, and left the house. After that, he walked into town and hitched a ride to Anchorage with a truck driver. Luis never had any problems getting a ride from strange men. All he had to do was stand on the side of the road and lift his thumb. This truck driver wanted to get into his pants; he tried several times. But Luis had learned how to handle his type years ago and nothing happened.
In Anchorage, he walked to the bus station and bought a one way ticket to Seattle. In Seattle, he bought another one way ticket to Las Vegas. This was all he could afford with the cash Judah had advanced him. From Las Vegas, he hitched a ride all the way to Tennessee with a robust woman truck driver who wore plaid flannel shirts, chewed tobacco, and began almost every sentence with the word fuck. She made him laugh more than once with her deep, throaty voice. And she never asked anything from him and never tried to get into his pants once.
When the woman dropped him off in Tennessee, she left him on a narrow road that was surrounded by farmland not far from where his uncle lived. Luis knew his uncle wouldn't recognize him as an adult. In 1986 Luis was barely six years old. Luis couldn't even remember if his uncle was out of the closet and living an openly gay life in 1986. The first time Luis realized his uncle was gay was when he overheard his mother and father murmuring about his uncle's “sick, depraved lifestyle,” while they watched the eleven o'clock news. Luis must have been around thirteen years old at the time. He never asked his parents about his uncle; he figured they'd refuse to talk about it if he did. So he tried to figure it all out on his own.
He walked a mile or so until he reached the end of his uncle's long, dirt driveway. He could see the little white farm house in the distance. His uncle's old dog, a mongrel named Rusty, was chasing something around the front porch. When he was halfway down the driveway, he saw two people walk out of the house and step onto the porch. He knew the man was his Uncle Frank. He had the same tight, muscular build and the same dark hair Luis had. When Luis was a child, he thought his uncle had been the handsomest man in the entire world. He looked like a movie star and rock star combined.
Luis took a deep breath and continued walking. The other person with his uncle was a little boy and it didn't register at first. But when he saw the little boy pick up a baseball and toss it at the dog, he knew instantly it was his identical gay twin brother, Eddie. In the future Eddie would change his name to Gage when he moved to New York ... a dreadful name that reminded Luis of a gay pornstar. But Luis would always think of his twin brother as Eddie. Luis knew the little boy tossing the ball had to be Eddie, because when Luis was a child, he never would have looked at a baseball let alone toss one at the dog. Luis had never been into sports; Eddie had always loved anything to do with baseball.