Posted October 2, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART SEVEN – Midwestern Medley

Chapter 5: Recounting My Story

Another customer entered the bike shop followed by another, so both Greg and Billy went to work showing used bicycles, in the case of Billy, and riding gear, in the case of Greg. In the meantime, a kid came in with a bike that had obviously been damaged in a fall or an accident. Seeing the way he looked, I greeted the boy with, “Ouch, that looks like it really hurt! And you don’t look like you fared too well, either.”

The boy, who was maybe fourteen or fifteen laughed at that and responded, “It’s pretty embarrassing, but there wasn’t a shoulder on the highway, and I didn’t want to pull off onto gravel to let the truck pass —”

“Was it a semi?” I asked, and he nodded his head. “It takes a lot of guts to take on a semi but even more stupidity. The boundary layer of air around the truck is huge and getting anywhere near it is like hitting a brick wall.”

“Don’t I know it?” the boy agreed. “At least now I do.”

“By the way, I’m Adam,” I said as I extended my hand.

“Tom,” the boy answered as he shook my hand.

“We’ve all been there at one time or another,” I continued. “It’s one of those things that all too often must be learned the hard way. Anyway, let’s take a look at your bike.”

Lifting the bike up onto the worktable, it was obvious it was going to take a lot of work. “I probably don’t need to tell you that the frame’s bent in at least a four – no, make that five – places. If this were a composite frame, you’d be looking at replacing it altogether. Even so, your frame’s a titanium alloy, which is quite brittle. It has to be heated with a blowtorch and straightened using equipment and expertise that’s beyond what we can do in our humble shop.”

“Do you know of a shop in town that can do the work?” Tom asked.

“Let me ask the owner,” I replied. “Greg?”

“Just a minute,” Greg said to his customer, and then he joined me at the worktable. Taking a quick look at the bike, he said, “Looks like you went down pretty hard,” and the boy nodded. “I don’t know of anyone that does this kind of repair work in town. I could send it out for you, but with shipping costs, you’re looking at spending seven or eight hundred dollars to get it fixed.”

“Fuck,” Tom replied under his breath, almost in tears.

“The bike can be repaired or replaced,” Greg continued, “but you can’t. Consider yourself lucky to be here without any broken bones or a head injury. I take it you were wearing a decent helmet.”

“Just like that one,” Tom said, pointing to one of the better ones on display.

“That helmet saved your life,” Greg agreed. “There are two things I can suggest. First of all, there are a lot of bike shops in Champaign because of the university. I know of a place that can do the work there for around four hundred dollars. That’s assuming they don’t find anything else wrong with the bike, and already I can see that you need new wheels and tires, a new chain, and it looks like there’s some damage to the front derailleur that probably means you’ll need to replace it. If I did the work, I’d have to charge you around $1200, give or take. You could buy a new bike like yours for not much more than that and a used one for less. If you can take the bike to Champaign, however, they can probably fix it for, maybe, seven hundred, which is less than half the cost of buying a new one.”

“Until I get my license in October a year and a half from now, it might as well be the North Pole,” Tom replied.

“At least you could have it fixed in Santa’s workshop if you took it there,” I quipped.

“I might hafta wait for help from Santa,” Tom replied. “Otherwise, I just don’t have the cash.” I was about to offer to give Tom my old bike, when he asked Greg, “What was the second thing you were gonna suggest?”

“It looks like it’s a fairly new bike,” Greg commented. “I can offer you four hundred for the bike in trade if you buy a new or used bike from us, and I have something in a used bike I think might interest you. I have to get back to the customer I was serving. Perhaps Adam can show you that red Cervélo over there. It’s five years old but only saw maybe two years of use, and the owner’s family sold it to me for a song with the provision that it go to a good home.”

“What happened to the owner?” Tom asked.

“Covid-19,” Greg answered. “The owner was only 37 years old. You’re just the sort of person the family wanted to see have it. I can let you have it in trade for five hundred plus tax.”

“Are you serious?” the boy replied. “I can afford that – just.”

“Let Adam show it to you, and then we’ll talk.” Greg answered.

Taking one look at the bike, I knew right away that Greg was taking a loss on it. Even used, it would go for over a grand. Probably well over that. It was a bike that was considerably nicer than mine, as was Tom’s wrecked bike, for that matter, and it was much newer. More importantly, parts for it would be much easier to find. Mine used parts that had to be flown in from the U.K., which made it a very expensive bike to repair, as I’d found out the hard way. If I was not mistaken, the Cervélo had a lifetime warranty on the frame and otherwise used standard parts that could be found on the shelf in any bicycle shop.

Maybe if Greg got it for half the usual price, he’d break even on it. The boy’s bike was pretty much a loss. Greg would have to get someone to take it to Champaign and sell it there, but it wouldn’t pay unless the person taking it had other business there. Maybe he had a supplier who could take it to Champaign or would buy it, or maybe I could take it there. It was a bit out of the way, but it would be a good way to help pay Greg back for what he and his dad did for me four years ago. With my own bike stuffed in the trunk, I’d have to take the wheels off and stick it in the back seat, but it wasn’t like anyone was sitting there.

“Damn, this is a really fine ride,” Tom responded as he approached the bike with reverence. “It’s even nicer than the one I wrecked.”

“Titanium has the advantage of being able to be repaired,” I said, “and it’s one of the strongest, lightest materials around, but as you just discovered, that advantage has its limits. You need to live someplace that has a machine shop capable of fixing it. You’re way better off getting something with an aluminum frame, which anyone can repair and is still strong and pretty light in weight. Titanium might make a difference in a fighter aircraft, but commercial aircraft use aluminum. Even Macintosh laptops, which started out being made of pure titanium, are now made with aluminum. It’s not worth using it in a bike frame.”

“Where were you when I bought the thing?” Tom asked.

“I was installing servers for Applazon,” I replied. “I was all over the world then. Depending on when you bought it, it could’ve been Japan, or India, or Africa.”

“Whoa,” Tom said. “Is that your Tesla in the parking lot?”

“Unless someone drove up in another Tesla, then the answer is yes.”

“What the fuck are you doing selling bikes?” he asked.

“Greg saved my life during a particularly dark time in my life,” I replied. “His father was still alive then, and they extended a lifeline at the time I needed it most.

“My father had tried to kill me when he discovered I’m gay. I’d literally escaped from my home in Indiana with my life and my bike, but then I ran over some broken glass and really did a number on my Raleigh mountain bike. Several-hundred-dollars’ worth. Not only did they fix my bike up for free, but they gave me a place to stay for nearly a week while they fixed it. They’re good people.”

“I can see that,” Tom agreed. “So, what can you tell me about the bike?”

“I looked at a lot of info online when I bought my own bike. New, this model runs just under $5k from an independent shop like this one. You can buy one from an online dealer for about $3k, but don’t expect them to provide any service, and you definitely should check to be sure they’re an authorized dealer or you’ll be stuck without a warranty, and you definitely want the lifetime warranty on the frame.

“This is a carbon-fiber frame. It’s lightweight, aerodynamic, rigid and durable. Like I said, there’s a lifetime warranty on the frame, and I’m pretty sure it transfers with the owner, but I’ll check on that. I’ve no doubt at all that the frame on this bike would’ve survived your accident with barely a scratch and no significant damage. It’s a triathlon-qualified bike, by the way, which means that so long as you use only OEM parts, you’re good to go when you compete in a triathlon.”

Laughing, he said, “Yeah, right, like that’s ever gonna happen.”

“Hey, you never know,” I said.

“You really think the frame on this bike would’ve survived the accident?” Tom asked.

“If not, they’d have given you a new one,” I replied. “That’s what it means to have a lifetime warranty on a bike frame.”

“Wow! Can I ride it?” Tom asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Your track record on the old bike suggests otherwise.”

“Jerk,” he responded. “What I meant to ask was: can I take it for a spin around the block?”

“I wouldn’t sell it to you if you didn’t,” I said. After adjusting the bike to fit him, Tom took it out the front door and was gone a good fifteen minutes – long enough that I worried he might have stolen the bike. Then again, he’d left his backpack, so he obviously intended to return, and shortly after I had that thought, he did.

“That’s a wicked bike!” Tom exclaimed. “It’s even better than the one I had. Way better. I’ll take it! Do you guys take Applazon Pay?”

“Applazon Pay, Google, Samsung and PayPal, not to mention the usual credit cards. I know it’s unusual, but we even take cash,” I added with a laugh.

There was a string of customers after that as people stopped by after school and after work. I repeatedly found myself helping out, particularly with bikes people brought in for various repairs, and some of them I managed to repair on the spot. As the rush subsided, I commented, “You guys seem to do a decent business.”

“Thursday’s our best day ’cause people know we’re open late,” Greg said. “Even our early-afternoon business does well.”

“Now that you no longer have church to worry about, have you thought about opening on Sundays?’ I asked.

“We’re actually closed on Saturdays, too. We made an exception when you were here. Downtown is pretty much dead on the weekends, so it doesn’t make much sense to be open then, but that’s been changing since the new Lincoln Library opened. Until Billy graduates in a couple of months, the weekends are the only time we have off together,” Greg added. “Once he graduates, we might try opening on Saturdays and closing instead on Mondays or Tuesdays. I’ve also thought about hiring back some of the folks we laid off.

“The pandemic didn’t affect us the way it did restaurants. Bike sales went up because people who were otherwise homebound went looking for other ways to exercise, but being downtown, we didn’t benefit as much as some of our competitors did. With the economy in shambles, however, people bought cheaper bikes and more used bikes and repaired their old ones, so overall we took a hit. Then when Dad died, I had to quit school just to stay afloat, and I ended up laying off our entire workforce, some of whom had been with us from the beginning. I really hated to do that, but survival came first.

“Then I fell head over heels for Billy, and he had his troubles at home; he ended up moving in with me, and I hired him to help out at the store, which made a huge difference. Once he’s eighteen and we get married, the store’ll be as much his as mine.”

“How long do you think it’ll take to save up for college, and where do you think you’ll go?” I asked.

“That’s the question of the hour,” Greg responded. “If it were just me, I’d look into getting my undergrad and MBA online. There are plenty of programs, and the cost is much more reasonable online. It’s not like I’m looking for a job in a Wall Street brokerage. However, I have Billy to think about. I think Billy should focus on human or veterinary medicine. I know there are good lawyers, but if you want to make a living at it, you either hafta be ruthless or do incredibly boring stuff. You can be a pro bono lawyer for Legal Aid or something like that, but it pays shit. You can be a public defender, but then you spend your time defending scumbags. Pardon my insensitivity, but it’s largely the truth.

“I think Billy would make a fantastic doctor, but the practice of medicine isn’t what it used to be. The insurance companies are always looking over your shoulder. There’s a medical school right here in Springfield at Southern Illinois University, but there’s no guarantee he’d actually get in there. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket, and assuming he applies to medical schools all over America, he could wind up anywhere. Then, there’s the need for internship and residency, and that might mean going someplace else yet again.

“I think Billy would make an even better veterinarian, but veterinary schools are even harder to get into and fewer and farther between. There’s a veterinary school at the University of Illinois in Champagne, which is about a ninety-minute drive away. If he doesn’t get in there, he might hafta go to Purdue University in Indiana or the University of Wisconsin. Of course, wherever he goes, I go, but then what would happen to the store?”

“Is there an undergrad university nearby?” I asked.

“Yeah, there is,” Billy answered. “Not that the University of Illinois’ main campus is all that far from here in the first place, but a ninety-minute daily commute each way would bite, and I’d hafta get a license and a car. There’s a local undergrad campus, however, and it has a large number of the same degree programs that are offered on the main campus. I could do either pre-med or pre-law there, but I’d still hafta leave to do either professional degree.”

“They have a limited graduate program,” Greg chimed in. “I could even get my MBA there without ever having to leave town.”

“You guys need to keep open minds when it comes to the future,” I responded. “I know that better than most. It’s usually a matter of when and not if life will throw you a curve ball.” Then noticing the clock on the wall, I said, “Gentlemen, it’s 8:00. Let’s close up shop and go eat. This is your last call for Nick & Nino’s while I can still get a reservation.”

“Babe?” Greg asked his boyfriend.

“I might have taken Adam up on it if it were earlier, but on a weeknight, it’s only open until ten. By the time we get there, we’ll only have an hour or so, and they’ll be rushing us through it the whole time. What would be the point of spending all that money when there isn’t enough time to enjoy the meal? Obed & Isaac’s is open ’til 11:30, so we can take our time to enjoy the food while we continue the conversation.”

It took Greg a few minutes to close up, and then he retrieved my bike and things from the basement of the shop. I had a weird sense of nostalgia as I loaded the bike into my trunk. We had to remove the wheels to get it to fit and still leave room for my luggage, but I didn’t want to take a chance on the bike being damaged or stolen in Chicago or along the way, even though Greg offered the use of a bike rack from his shop. I looked inside my backpack and realized all the clothes inside were from when I was several inches shorter, so it was unlikely any of them would still fit. Besides which, not to sound conceited, I could afford to buy much nicer things now. I left them for Greg to donate to a homeless shelter. Truthfully, the bike was too small for me, but there was no way I was letting it go – not after what I’d been through with it.

Greg set the alarm and locked the store up. We took my car ’cause I didn’t want to leave it unattended. Both Greg and Billy were impressed that I could actually ask the navigation system to direct us to the restaurant by name. They were blown away, however, when I told them that I’d spent another $8k to upgrade the car with the self-driving option, and that, with a single command, I could’ve had the car drive itself to the restaurant. It was impressive enough that I could pull up in front of the restaurant and have the car park itself after we got out.

As soon as we got inside and saw how crowded it was, I asked if they had any place where we could have some privacy. They called the shift manager, who told us they had private rooms upstairs, but they were reserved for parties of twelve or more. Greg and Billy’s eyes bugged out when I showed the manager a Ulysses S. Grant and asked her if she could make an exception. The manager was only too happy to pocket the bill and to take us upstairs herself. I asked if the tip was sufficient to avoid being carded; she told us she’d let our server know. We were seated in a small private room with only four small tables.

A young African American woman approached and immediately began, “Good evening, gentlemen. Hey, Greg. Hey, Billy. It’s always a pleasure.”

“Hey, Lawanda? How’s Ky liking the bike?” Greg asked.

“He loves it,” she answered, “but he gets into more trouble than ever.”

“Wait ’til he’s in middle school next year,” Billy chimed in.

“My hair will all be gray, and then you’ll know that boy’s sending me to an early grave,” she replied. “So, I’ve been instructed not to card you, and that’s cool. No one ever comes up here anyway. Can I get you guys a pitcher of beer and some appetizers to start?”

“Hi, Lawanda. I’m Adam, an old friend of Greg’s,” I announced. “What do you recommend for these naïve jokers and this seasoned traveler who’s tasted the best beers the world has to offer?”

“You look way too young to be a world traveler, Adam,” Lawanda commented.

“Looks can be deceiving,” I said. “I spent one or two months at a time in countries all over the world – on five continents for close to two years. I was in charge of upgrading data servers for Applazon to increase capacity and throughput during the pandemic. I’ve tasted the best beers of Europe, Japan and Australia. I’m game for anything.”

“He’s being modest,” Greg interjected. “Adam invented the servers he installed all over the world.”

“A boy genius, I take it,” Lawanda replied. “No one will ever accuse my son of being one of those. Thank God, I think. He’s enough of a terror as it is. In terms of beers, if you like the taste of German beers, I’d recommend the Hefenator Hefeweizen, but that might be too strong a taste for the beer naïve. We’re especially proud of our amber ale.”

“Yeah, let’s go with a pitcher of that,” I said, “and let’s start with an order of the Parmesan artichoke dip and an order of the Bavarian pretzel rolls.”

“Very well, gentlemen, I’ll be back shortly with your beer and your snacks.”

“I can’t believe you got away with ordering beer without being carded,” Greg exclaimed.

“I can’t believe you ordered so much food to start. I won’t have any room for anything else,” Billy chimed in.

“In Europe the drinking age is much lower in most countries, and they’re quite a bit more lax about asking for I.D.,” I began. “In Japan you can’t go out with your colleagues without drinking beer, and over there, as soon as your beer glass is empty, your colleague has an obligation to refill it – and vice versa. Couple that with the obligation to eat everything you’re served, and you can see why they have salaryman hotels with rooms scarcely bigger than the inside of my car where you can crash for the night.

“Anyway, I witnessed how it’s done all over the world, and America’s no different. For a Grant or a Franklin, depending on the type of place, they’ll seat you in a private area and look the other way when it comes to alcohol or even drug use. I don’t even smoke pot, mind you, and I only drink socially. I’m only drinking tonight because I don’t get to microbreweries very often. However, I’ve personally witnessed executives snorting coke and even shooting up heroin. We quietly asked them to resign, by the way. It’s easy for some to forget that this kid outranks them.”

Lawanda returned with our beer and appetizers. Filling our pint-size beer glasses pretty much drained the pitcher. Lifting my beer glass, I said, “Kampai! L’chaim!”

“Cheers,” Greg chimed in, and we drank a bit of our beers. “This is pretty good,” he added.

“It handily beats many better-known beers I’ve tasted,” I noted.

“Maybe I just don’t like beer,” Billy responded.

“For most, it’s an acquired taste,” I noted. “I happened to like it right away, but that’s not usual from what I’ve heard. Also, ale is a bit stronger than beer. When Lawanda returns to take our orders, feel free to order a soft drink, instead.”

“I’ll drink whatever you don’t,” Greg added.

I grabbed a pita chip and tried some of the Parisian artichoke dip. It was delicious. I took one of the pretzel rolls and broke off a piece of it and then dipped it in the accompanying cheese dip. It was equally good. I planned to take only a tiny portion of the appetizers, saving room for the main course and for dessert, but already that was proving to be difficult.

“Is there anything on the menu that’s a must or that should be avoided?” I asked. “Am I reading this right? PB&J burger?”

“It works surprisingly well,” Billy replied. “It’s one of my favorites. They use a bacon jelly that helps to blend the beef hamburger with the peanut butter. But then all the burgers are good. The flatbreads are exceptional. The wraps are outstanding.”

“If you have to choose only one thing, I’d get the horseshoe. It’s a burger of any kind on toasted bread, with a secret cheesy sauce and fries on top. I’ve given up eating red meat, so I usually have it with the veggie burger, the buffalo chicken, the turkey or the turkey burger,” Greg said.

“Yeah, but the beer and whiskey burger and the stinger burger are especially good,” Billy added.

“And the jerk-turkey burger’s amazing, too,” Greg chimed in.

“Don’t forget the chicken-taco flatbread, or the chicken-and-goat-cheese wrap,” Billy offered. “They do a nice pork tenderloin, too.”

Lawanda returned and asked, “Are you gentlemen ready to order?”

When no one else moved to say anything, I moved right ahead, “Yes, I’ll have the beer-and-whiskey burger, medium rare if there’s a choice, with your potato salad and the bacon green beans. Also, please set aside a piece of the bread pudding for me. Okay?”

“I’m sorry, but we’re out of the potato salad and the bread pudding,” Lawanda warned.

“In that case, I’ll have the pub fries and the gooey-butter cake,” I said.

Greg ordered the veg-head flatbread with a side salad and baked beans. Billy ordered the jerk-turkey burger with mac and cheese and zesty coleslaw as well as iced tea.

“So, you stole some other kid’s I.D.?” Greg asked.

“Yeah, I needed to find a dead kid who was an orphan, who was two years older than me, who was born in a dinky rural town that didn’t require proof to obtain a duplicate birth certificate, and who still had an active social security number. I ended up building my own search engine and eventually found a kid who was killed along with his entire family in a car accident. For the last three years I’ve been Josiah Joshua , or J.J. for short.”

“Damn, it’ll be hard to get used to calling you that,” Greg responded.

“You can still call me Adam if you want,” I replied. “It’s as good as any name. The Rodriguez family knows me as Simon. We may never know what my real given name was.”

“The man without a country,” Billy chimed in. “I remember reading something like that in school, but I don’t remember the context.”

“It was a wonderful short story written by Edward Everett Hale and published in The Atlantic Monthly in December of 1863,” I related. “It was written during the height of the Civil War and intended to inspire patriotism. It involved the trial of a fictional army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who was tried for treason as an accomplice of Aaron Burr. When he shouts out that he never wants to see or hear of the United States again, the judge grants his wish and sentences him to exile at sea. There have been multiple film adaptations, and it remains a story that resonates to this day. With all that’s happened, it wouldn’t hurt for people to read it now.”

“He’s showing off again,” Greg said.

“Yeah, but he’s pretty cool. Do you think we should let it slide?” Billy asked.

“Maybe this time,” Greg suggested, “but the next time we’ll hafta let him have it.”

“Agreed.”

“Sorry, guys,” I apologized. “Sometimes, I just can’t turn off the thinking part of my brain, and my mouth engages before I can stop myself.”

“So, you got the birth certificate from a dead kid who was two years older,” Greg reiterated, “and then what did you do?”

I explained about using the birth certificate to justify getting my GED at the age of sixteen, when I was still fourteen, and then discovered I couldn’t get a driver’s license in Kansas, but I could in Nebraska, so the Rodriguezes made arrangements with a friend in their church for me to stay temporarily with a family in Omaha, the Gonzalez family. I’d started to fill them in on the different members of the Gonzalez family when the food arrived, and we got down to serious eating. Over the course of the next couple of hours, I filled in all the relevant details, from getting my credentials in web design, being offered a position in the data center at considerably more pay, designing a self-contained, automated, data mini-center and dealing with the fallout from the explosion of the prototype. I told them about taking Driver’s Ed, getting my license early and buying my Tesla while I was still really only fourteen. I told them about discovering Henry’s genius, confronting the family, talking to the chair of the math department at the university and both of us passing the qualifying exam. I spoke of getting my Ph.D. and Henry’s plans to get his.

Although I didn’t want to talk about it, Greg helped me talk about my time with Shaun and the love we shared right up until the accident. We spoke about the pandemic, Applazon’s sending me all over the world to upgrade servers and then to install my new design once it was in production. We talked about the election that I’d essentially missed and the insurrection that led to Trump’s second impeachment and the fallout that continued from it to this day. We spoke of my plans to get a second Ph.D. in A.I. and of the possibility of moving to New York. I even spoke about the PTSD and my nightmares. When I explained why I didn’t feel comfortable seeking professional help, Billy suggested something I hadn’t considered: getting someone I could trust to act as a counselor while I relived the two causative events in detail. It was a lot to ask of anyone, though.

As the conversation wound down, it suddenly dawned on me that I could do something to help these boys out – to get them started in life and to help them get the education they deserved. “Guys, would you be willing to take on a partner, so you could get on with your lives and still keep the shop?,” I asked.

“I don’t know, Adam,” Greg replied. “Taking on a partner would mean losing control of the shop, and sharing the profits with them for the rest of our lives. Sure, Billy and I could afford to go to school, but unless the shop ended up making us a lot more money down the road, it wouldn’t generate enough revenue to support both Billy and me after sharing the profit with our partner, so no, I wouldn’t be interested in something like that.”

“Wow, talk like that shows just why you need an M.B.A., Greg, and why you really could use a partner. For one thing, you’re forgetting the money Billy can generate, once he gets his degrees. With billy bringing in maybe a quarter-million a year, you could afford to hire more staff and you wouldn't need as much revenue from the shop to support yourselves. The bigger issue is the money you're losing in taxes, ’cause you don’t have a background in business. Not that I do either. Only recently did I discover that while I was traveling all over the world, installing new data servers, I was earning royalties on my patents, paid in shares of Applazon stock. On paper, I’m worth millions or maybe by now, billions, and I’ve been getting a crash course in corporate money management.

“What I'd like to propose is this: let me look into setting your business up as a corporation, with me having perhaps a third of the shares. Granted, I’m new at this myself, but I know enough to save you a shitload on your taxes. I’ll take care of the attorney’s fees and other costs of incorporation, and fund setting up things like health insurance and a retirement plan, as well as a tuition benefit for employees. All of those will come out of your operating expenses, tax-free, before you calculate your profit margin, which will be small. We’ll set up a meal plan, a clothing allowance and cover as much of your living expenses as we legally can from the business, so you’ll pay as little in taxes on your salaries as possible, and the taxes on the business will be at the lower corporate rate.”

“But wouldn't we have to share our profits with you?,” Greg asked.

“Not if the profits are plowed back into the business,” I explained. “We can set up the tuition benefit in such a way that it only applies to the two of you. There are several ways we could do that. The bottom line is that you could both go to school at the corporation’s expense, hire back some of the laid-off employees to cover you when you’re in school, and maintain control of the business, even if you have to go to college out of town. You’ll pay a lot less in taxes and the only downside is that I’ll own a share of the business, but not enough to out-vote you. The only impact would be when you sell, as I’d get a third of the sale; alternatively, you could buy me out at any time.”

“I don’t know, Adam. It’s a lot to think about. Could Billy and I maybe get back to you?”

“Just don’t put it off too long,” I replied. “I’d like to see you two get started in college this fall. Just promise me you’ll think about it.” Both boys nodded their heads in agreement.

I volunteered to make a stop in Champaign to drop off Tom’s damaged bike at a shop where it could be repaired and sold. It added nearly two hours to the next leg of the trip, but it could be months before Greg would have another opportunity to offload the bike, and I was only too happy to help out. By the time dessert arrived, we were all exhausted. I wasn’t sure where we managed to put all that food, but by the time we finished, we’d eaten almost everything, and Greg and I had finished off all the beer. Generally, I wouldn’t drive after drinking so much beer, but with the light traffic in Springfield on a Thursday night, the short distances involved and the self-driving feature, I figured there was little chance of something going wrong. I wasn’t sure what the law might say about letting the car drive itself while I was mildly intoxicated, but I wasn’t about to leave the car in a restaurant parking lot overnight, particularly when I needed to have it charged for the trip to Memphis.

We all agreed that we needed more time together, but Billy had school in the morning, and Greg had to open the store. I offered to stay another day and help Greg out in the store, but he thought that would be a silly waste of my time. Instead, he suggested that he and Billy spend the weekend with me in Chicago when I got there, and, of course, I loved the idea and offered to let them stay in my room for free. It had been a long time since they’d visited Chicago, and it would be a lot of fun to have friends along who actually knew their way around the city. It was late, but I called the front desk at the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile, where I’d be staying, and arranged to exchange my single room with a king-size bed to a double room for only $25 more per night. I could’ve done it on my phone, but I wasn’t about to take a chance on losing the reservation altogether, particularly since I’d gotten an excellent rate of under $200 per night for a top-rated hotel in the heart of the city. I booked them on Amtrak for a train leaving Springfield at 7:32 PM in four weeks on Friday night, with a return that Sunday night. It was gonna be great!

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope and vwl-rec in editing my stories, as well as Awesome Dude and Gay Authors for hosting them.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.