When Laura returns, I take the car to start working in the field.
Glancing sideways, I notice a piece of paper on the passenger seat. It has been folded several times and stuck between the seat and backrest. I believe Jack was there when Laura took him to the airport.
It was a point when I should have stopped reading this note, but when I saw the name, my eyes ran down the lines even faster.
"I'm sorry" - this line has been crossed out several times.
"I wanted to see you and talk, but I didn't know what to say. Your brother is right in many ways, and we know too little about each other, and I'm not sure I'm ready for more, and neither are you.
I didn't mean to hurt you.
Please do not think that everything that happened between us meant nothing to me.
I'm sorry". This line wasn't crossed out. But there was one more line at the very end of the letter. Jack blacked it out carefully, so I can't make out what was there.
What did he want to hide?
After all, he did not dare to give the note to Aiden.
In fact, I'm just an observer here... well, sometimes I meddle... for Aiden's sake.
Jack didn't give the note himself. I don't think I should either.
I put it away in my pocket.
Since Jack has left, Mr. Phelps has to communicate directly with us to discuss our job for the day. Our relationship is purely businesslike, which suits me perfectly. Laura helps often now too. Two new workers have appeared in the stable. Aiden and I work either in the pasture or in the field. I must say, Jack taught me a lot, I don't feel like a beginner, and work doesn't scare me.
Aiden is by my side almost all the time now. He became pensive, but aside from that he acts normal. I often see him with the notepad, but I never ask to show what's inside.
Sadly to admit, all my good intentions built a wall between us. I am no longer a "friend-brother" who he could talk to about everything, secretly smoke in the backyard with. Now I am a "big brother" who tells what to do and uses his seniority to impose his opinion. I didn't want that... And besides, Aiden is really 18, not 6. Yes, he is young, but quite capable of making his own decisions. And I need to reckon with him. This is some kind of new relationship, but I don't know how to come to it.
I often think of my parents. I probably could have expected everything from my father. But when I think of my mother, I feel the pain of betrayal. Cowardly and treacherous betrayal. I can't imagine how Aiden must feel. Does he think of them at all?
"Do you think they're looking for us?" Aiden asks me, not looking up from his notebook. He sits on the bed, one leg tucked under him, I try to read. We finished early today, the sun is still hanging over the horizon.
"I think not," I answer a little later, looking at my brother over the top of the book. This is a good chance ... "Would you be glad if they did... ? So we could come back?"
Aiden purses his lips.
"I miss home, but not them." He pauses and glances at me. "Why did you take me from the hospital?"
I don't know what to say. I don't want to tell him that mother was going to send him to a mental hospital. There are enough dark colors in the portrait of our parents. Suddenly Aiden helps me.
"Because of dad?" He asks.
"Yes," I say. It's not even a lie. "What happened between you two?" I ask carefully.
"He took my laptop to look something up. I left some tabs open... so stupid..."
"Why didn't you tell me anything?"
"You were at the university, how could you help me?"
"Well, I returned and as you can see – I could."
"How? Took me into the fields? Forbade me to see..." Aiden stops himself and lowers his gaze at the notebook again.
"Listen." I sit up in bed, putting my book aside. I want to be closer to him, as if this will make my words more convincing. "I want to tell you again – I don't care about your sexual orientation. I only care that you were able to commit suicide. It scares me. Every day I am afraid it may happen again. So I'm trying to keep you safe. That's all. I had nothing and have nothing against you, or against Jack, or against you together. I'm just worried."
Aiden stares at me intently.
"It won't happen again."
"I will not kill myself. I promise. You can stop worrying and protecting me."
I look at him with a grain of disbelief. He continues:
"Then I was in despair. You know our father... we were afraid of him. Mother was not going to take my side. You were far away. I didn't think you could help me with anything. I didn't get to college. And a lot of things piled on... I wanted to escape. Now..." Aiden grins bitterly. "...the situation looks even worse, but I don't want to run away anymore. So you don't have to worry. I will not do this."
I sigh with a smile. Yes, I feel better now. Now we can move on to other pressing issues.
"You didn't get to college?"
"No… but I didn't really try. Father chose this college. I am the biggest disappointment for him now."
"What about CalArts?"
Aiden looks at me in disbelief.
"Are you kidding me?"
"Why? You wanted..."
"No, stop, Brent."
"Why? We won't stay here forever!"
I pause to relieve the pressure a bit and add in a calmer voice.
"Why don't you practice this year to get better. In a couple of years I will graduate from university, I will help you. Don't give up on yourself. It's hard now, but..."
"Let's finish up here first, and then we will decide. I need to think."
"Okay," I say, and lean back, opening the book to a random page. "Think about it."
We stayed with the Phelps for another month. Before leaving, I was once again convinced that Jack was a great guy. As it turned out, after the main work, he and Aiden returned to my old car, and Jack fixed it. I was immensely grateful. We said goodbye to the Phelps, it even seemed to me that they were sorry that we were leaving. Mr. Phelps paid us well, Laura put some food, and the farm remained in the rear-view mirror.
Pasadena greets us with sunshine and heat, Mrs. Miller (an aunt I live with while studying) meets us with a surprised face and hastily made plum pie. Aiden and I had time to come up with a story, which we tell, sitting at the table with Mrs. Miller.
The next day, Aiden goes to look for a job, and I go to campus.
I like everything about Caltech! I belong here, like a fish in water. I did not make close friends, but only because I'm quite a loner. But I have good relationships with everyone I study with.
I slow down as I walk towards the exit. I have a new curriculum in my pocket, now I also need to find a job for the evening. Thoughts in my head begin to line up and...
...Is it Jack?
He never told he was studying at Caltech. I had been studying here for two years but never met him, and here he is!
Is that a fate? A curse?
He doesn't see me, he goes somewhere, immersed in his own thoughts.
I don't call him out and pass by.
It has spoiled the impression of my alma mater on the very first day!
At dinner I don't tell Aiden anything about Jack, I tell him I found a job in an office nearby. Aiden says he will work full-time at the cafe.
"When will you prepare your portfolio for CalArts?"
"But we need money," objects Aiden.
"Your full-time still won't be enough, but a lousy portfolio will be definitely enough to put an end to your admission. So let's focus on the essentials. I'll think about the money. There are student loans and stuff, right? The main thing is to show your talent, and for this you need perseverance. You need to practice six or seven hours a day. Maybe even ten or twelve!"
"I'm serious," I insist.
"Sometimes it seems you are my father." Aiden says and adds hastily. "Only you are better."
Now it's my turn to grin.
"Believe me, I never asked for this. I liked being just an older brother, but everything has changed."
"Nothing has changed," Aiden leans back in his chair and looks thoughtfully out of the window. "You took care of me since childhood. I want to get back on my feet quickly so that we can be just brothers again."
"You forget that I'll always be older than you anyway," I'm joking. But Aiden only smiles wryly.
"It doesn't matter."