Posted November 3, 2021

The Brilliant Boy Billionaire

The Amazing Journey of a Remarkable Kid, by Altimexis

PART EIGHT – Henry

Chapter 6: Dinner with the Walters

“We’re meeting up with a kid and his family, a kid I know from the internet but someone I’ve never met before. He knows me, and he knows you separately, but he doesn’t know we’re together. Is that right?” Henry asked for the tenth time.

“He knows we live together and that we like each other, but he doesn’t know we’re a couple yet,” I explained. “He doesn’t even know you’re here. It’ll be a surprise all around.”

“I’m sure it will at that,” Henry said just as we pulled up in front of Franklin’s family’s building in Battery Park City. When I’d mentioned that I was going to be in town and wanted to take them all out to dinner, they insisted on having me over for dinner, instead. Because of that, I asked if I could bring a guest, and of course, they agreed. They just didn’t know it was Henry.

The building was elegant, and the doorman held the door open for us, and Henry and I entered. Immediately, I felt underdressed, as somehow the t-shirts, cargo shorts and sandals we were wearing seemed inadequate. Franklin had told me to wear something very casual, like what I wore in St. Louis, and I’d taken it literally. Perhaps that had been a mistake. Perhaps I should’ve followed my instinct instead of listening to Franklin.

I let the doorman know we were there to see James and Mora Walters, and she dutifully called up to let them know we were there. It was Franklin who eagerly opened the door, and when he saw me with Henry, he shouted, “Henry!” and then engulfed my boyfriend in a hug tight enough to put a boa constrictor to shame.

“Franklin?” Henry asked.

After he finally released my boyfriend, he responded, “Well yeah, obviously. Are you two together?”

“We’re boyfriends, but it’s more than that,” I replied. “We’re partners for life. We’re more in love than you can imagine.”

“I’m just glad you two finally figured it out,” Franklin said.

Mora and James approached us, and Mora extended her hand and said, “J.J., it’s so nice to see you again, and did I hear correctly that this is Henry, Franklin’s friend from the internet?”

“You did, indeed,” I responded. “Henry is now my boyfriend and my partner for life.”

“Why don’t you come in and we’ll sit in the living room?” James suggested. I felt much less self-conscious, seeing that Franklin was dressed even less formally in a loose-fitting tank top with open sides and athletic shorts. James and Mora were a bit better dressed, wearing dressy casual clothes but clothes that were comfortable. Seeing that the three of them were barefoot, Henry and I toed off our sandals and left them by the door, neatly placed in a rack with other footwear.

“Oh, and here’s a little gift for the occasion.” I said as I handed a small box to James when I passed by. “At our ages, I couldn’t bring wine, so I brought a little remembrance of our meeting in St. Louis. You have a great view, by the way,” I added as we approached the living room windows and enjoyed a view that included the Hudson, Lower Manhattan and Jersey City.

“Thanks. We like it,” James responded as he opened the box to find a baseball in an acrylic case. Looking at the signatures on it, he said, “This is from the Cardinals, but look at the names. Johnny Mize? Dizzy Dean? How did you get this? Those were Depression-era players. This baseball’s almost a century old!”

“I’d like to say I scoured the world for this, but I work for Applazon. We get merchants selling all sorts of things, many sold for pennies at estate sales by people who have no idea what things are worth. The merchant who offered this got it for $20 at an estate sale in Columbus, which isn’t exactly a baseball town. He had it appraised and was told it was worth $50. Obviously, his appraiser wasn’t much of an expert. We have an algorithm that catches things like that – actually, it was my idea – and when we spot things that seem to be over or undervalued, we offer the merchants fifty percent of the reappraised value – if it’s legitimate. I won’t tell you the appraised value, but it was quite a bit more than fifty dollars. As an Applazon employee, I’m entitled to purchase it at cost, in this case half the appraised value, but as the one who wrote the algorithm, I’m permitted to purchase it at a substantial discount on top of that, so I got it for a song.”

“But that’s still too much,” James complained.

“You gave me something far more valuable: friendship,” I replied. “Lifelong friendship, I hope.”

“Well, although you’re not permitted to bring wine, I see no reason why we can’t serve it,” James said. “Could I interest you gentlemen in wine and cheese in the living room?”

After glancing at Henry and seeing him nod, I replied, “That would be delightful.” Henry and I sat together on a sofa facing the windows, and Franklin squeezed in on the other side of me. Mora handed Henry and me a wine glass that was half full of white wine. Franklin had a wine glass that was full of an amber, fizzing liquid that I realized must be ginger ale. Mora set a tray on the coffee table with a variety of different cheeses, a cheese slicer and several kinds of crackers. She set some napkins down as well. She and James, each of them with a full glass of wine, sat opposite us in a pair of chairs.

“It’s so good to see you again, J.J.,” James began, “and it’s good to finally meet you, Henry. Franklin talks so much about you. It’s nice to have the face of a living, breathing boy to associate with the name and not just an old selfie from the internet. Mora and I are delighted that you’re moving to New York, and Henry, I understand you’ll be going to MIT in the fall?”

“Actually, the entire department of computational mathematics will be moving to NYU, so I’ll be moving here as well. J.J. and I bought a condo together in Chelsea.”

“That really is great news,” James responded. “Perhaps we should open a bottle of champagne to celebrate, but I hope this can be the first of many times spent together.”

“No need to open another bottle,” I said. “We rarely drink wine, so this is special for us, too.” We all sipped our beverages. The wine was smooth and dry, and although I wasn’t close to being a connoisseur of fine wines, I could tell from my limited exposure that this was one of the finest wines I’d ever tasted. It was the kind of wine that if served in a restaurant would cost over a hundred dollars a bottle. “You know, with all the time we spent talking about what Henry and I are doing and about Franklin and his studies and his obsession with photography, I never did get a chance to ask what you guys do for a living.”

“I’m a cardiologist,” Mora began. “I’m a clinical associate professor at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. I split my time between our outpatient facility at Trinity Center, right near here, and the Cardiac and Vascular Institute on First Avenue, where we have our cath lab.”

“Trinity Center’s right next to Trinity Church, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes,” Mora added, “and to answer the inevitable question, Alexander Hamilton is indeed buried there, his wife at his side.”

“I wasn’t going to ask,” I replied. “I already knew that. I read a rather unflattering piece in the Times some years ago. I think I saw it because it was picked up by Applazon News, but it accused Trinity Church of being one of the largest real-estate developers in Manhattan and questioned how well that fit in with its core mission.”

“Yes, we all read that story, and in fact, they own the Trinity Center building where I work,” Mora said.

“Never doubt that religion is a business – and a rather exploitative one at that,” James filled in. “That’s one of the reasons we aren’t at all religious. I’m not saying we’re atheists, but organized religion is more about money than about God.”

“I couldn’t agree more, although I am an atheist,” Henry chimed in.

“So am I,” Franklin chimed in.

“You are?” Mora asked. “Since when?”

“Since I gave it any thought – about a minute ago,” he answered. “Seriously, I never really believed in God in any way, shape or form. The whole idea’s just so irrelevant to my life.”

“I’m what I like to call a radical agnostic,” I replied, “but that’s a discussion unto itself. Suffice to say that I believe god’s existence is irrelevant. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of religions in the world, all of them with their own mythology and a creation story that’s just that, a story. The problem with atheism is that it requires absolute faith that everything has a scientific explanation, but science can only explain what it can test. There’s no way to test what was here before the Big Bang, nor to test the origin of life itself. I’m not saying there has to be a creator, particularly since that opens up the question as to who or what created the creator, but I’m not ready to claim that life and the universe, for that matter, arose purely by chance.”

“That’s a very interesting concept, J.J.,” James agreed.

“What is it that you do?” I asked him.

“My training is as corporate attorney, but the work’s rather boring, and I’m now a full professor and the chairman of corporate law at the New York Law School, nearby in TriBeCa,” he related.

“Is that a part of NYU?” I asked.

“No, NYU has its own school of law,” he explained. “We’re a very small, private law school with a faculty composed of retired and semi-retired attorneys like myself who have real-life experience with some of the most famous cases ever litigated. Most of us still have law practices on the side. We’re very selective in our admissions, and the tuition’s quite high, but we offer an advanced, accelerated two-year program that’s well-suited to exceptional youth like yourselves.”

“With your memory, maybe you should apply,” Henry suggested.

“The only problem is that I have no interest in the law,” I replied. “Perhaps if I could litigate case law before the Supreme Court but not the usual tedious stuff.”

“You mean the boring stuff, and I couldn’t agree more,” James replied. “As they say, those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

“The corollary in medicine is see one, do one, teach one,” Mora chimed in.

“So, do you have any plans for the summer?” I asked.

“I’m attending a conference in Stockholm next week,” Mora answered, “so we’re taking an extended vacation in conjunction with that.”

“Boy, it’s a good thing we’re here this week and not next,” I observed. “I never considered the possibility you could be away on vacation.”

“I’ve never been to Scandinavia before,” Franklin interjected, “so I’m really looking forward to it. We’re gonna take a cruise to see the fjords of Norway, and we’ll be above the Arctic Circle and we’ll see the midnight sun. We’ll visit Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm. I expect I’ll shoot a billion photographs.”

Laughing, I responded, “A million would be a stretch, but I might believe it. No way you’ll shoot a billion. You’d need hundreds of terabytes of memory cards for one thing. Maybe a petabyte, with that full-frame sensor in your camera.”

“Is Franklin the reason you bought all that photographic equipment?” asked Henry.

“It was seeing his gear and talking to him that got me interested,” I replied.

“You bought a camera?” Franklin asked excitedly. “What’d you get?”

“I bought a Fujifilm X-Pro4. I bought just the body at B&H Photo, here in New York, so the guy who sold it to me would get his commission. I’ve ordered a set of lenses and the flash from Applazon since I can get my employee discount.”

“I’m not all that familiar with Fuji,” Franklin said. “Pros seem to like them, but their cameras are so boxy compared to the competition, especially compared to Sony. Is it a full-frame camera?”

“It’s an APS-C,” I answered. “After doing a bunch of research and talking to a friend who’s also an advanced amateur, I decided that was the optimum size for me. Besides which, faster lenses are even more important than sensor size. What would be the point in getting a compact, full-frame, camera body only to fit it with ginormous lenses? Your kit lens is nearly a full stop slower than mine.

“So why did you choose Fuji?” Franklin asked. “Why did you choose that particular model?”

“Fuji cameras may be a bit boxy,” I explained, “but they’re often compared with Leica, and the comparison is apt. The optics are amazingly good, perhaps even on a par with Leica, but they have a much more extensive lineup, and their APS-C sensor is second to none. As the model name suggests, the X-Pro4 is a professional camera with a full range of features. It differs from the X-Pro3 in that it has in-camera OIS.”

“What’s OIS?” Henry asked, and I realized I’d never discussed my choice of camera with him at all. I’d merely bought it and presented it as my new camera without getting into the specifics, unlike the way he had with me and his audiophile equipment. I hadn’t thought he’d be interested. I was learning something about the give and take in a relationship.

“OIS is optical-image stabilization,” Franklin explained when I failed to do so immediately. “It’s an essential feature in cellphone cameras, which people rarely hold steady, but nothing can substitute for mounting your camera on a tripod. In the film industry, they use something called a steady cam, which is a gyroscopic, gimbaled mount that eliminates camera shake. They make them for still photography, too, but they’re expensive and heavy.

“OIS is a way to compensate for camera motion, to reduce image blur with a handheld camera. The concept actually arose in optical telescopes, where recording times can last all night, and even minor shake from a passing truck or from seismic activity can wreck an image. Cheap point-and-shoot cameras use image shift, merely shifting pixels to compensate for unsteady hands. In better cameras, OIS is designed to compensate for motion on all five axes of motion.”

“I thought there were six degrees of motion,” Henry interrupted.

“You don’t need to compensate for out-of-plane camera motion,” I explained. “The effect of that is less than what can be corrected with compensation. When it comes to ILCs, OIS can be done in the camera body or the lens, or a combination of the two. There are advantage and disadvantages to both methods, but using them together yields the best results.

“Not only does the Fuji X-Pro4 have in-body and in-lens OIS, but it has a magnesium and titanium body that’s lightweight and rugged. An X-Pro4 body can survive a fall from two meters onto concrete. I wouldn’t advise trying that with Franklin’s Sony a7C. The coolest feature in the X-Pro4 is the hybrid viewfinder, which combines optical and electronic viewfinders. With the flip of a switch, you get optical, electronic or picture-in-picture electronic within optical.”

“That does sound cool,” Franklin replied. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish getting dinner ready.”

You made it?” I asked in surprise.

“It’s my other major hobby,” Franklin related. “My parents don’t get home until pretty late, so I either had to learn to cook or eat from meal kits or frozen dinners.”

The kitchen was open to the living room and dining room, so Franklin could remain a part of the conversation as he worked, but his concentration was focused on getting dinner ready; we tried to avoid disturbing him. We spoke in general terms about Henry’s family and his studies, both of which Franklin was already aware of from their internet communications. I spoke a bit about my work for Applazon without getting into my world travels, as I knew Franklin would want to participate in that. We finished off the wine and unfortunately ate far too much cheese by the time Franklin called us to the table.

The food smelled wonderful as Franklin brought out the first course, which was a seafood and wine bisque that was out of this world. A cup would’ve been sufficient, but, of course, he served each of us a full bowl with garlic toast. That was followed by a pasta course consisting of prawns, shallots and broccoli, tossed with linguini in a light, sherry-cream sauce.

“This is wonderful, Franklin,” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe you made all of this from scratch.”

“Keep in mind that we’re just getting started,” he replied. “This is just what Italians refer to as the primo, the first course. The secondo is yet to come.”

“You’re just kidding me, right?” I asked jokingly.

“No, he’s not,” James replied. “The trick is to pace yourself.” Damn!

“You still have the same Tesla Model 3?” Franklin asked, changing the subject.

“It’s only three years old,” I answered. “There are five garages near the condo we bought that are listed as having Tesla Level 2 chargers, so I’ll need to compare prices and to make sure I can rely on them to charge my car every night.”

“What’s a Level 2 charger?” Franklin asked.

“It’s a charger that runs off a standard 220-to-240-volt outlet, such as the one you probably have for your clothes dryer,” I explained. “It’s the kind of charger Tesla installs in private homes, and it can recharge a car in about five hours. That’s as opposed to a Level 1 charger, which runs off 110-to-120 volts and takes all day. A Level 3 charger uses 480 volts, I think, and it recharges a vehicle in under an hour. Then Tesla has their superchargers that run off DC and can provide an 80% charge in under twenty minutes. The way I figure it, people have to recharge, too, and you can fully recharge your car in the time it takes to enjoy a burger and fries.”

“That’s cool. I like that,” Franklin said.

“My boyfriend has developed an interest in auto racing,” Henry added. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with Formula E racing, but that’s a shortened, Formula-1-style race using electric race cars. J.J.’s working on a new super­conducting motor design that he hopes can compete directly with traditional ethanol-fueled engines in the Indy 500.”

“Whoa. That’s epic, man,” Franklin responded. “Is the engine fast enough? Does it have enough range? What do you do when the battery’s depleted? Do you replace the whole thing, or can you recharge it fast enough? You can’t exactly to take a break and eat a snack in the middle of an auto race, after all.”

Laughing, I replied, “Slow down there a moment. We’ve yet to get a working prototype of the motor, let alone an entire car. They do have flash chargers in Formula E that can recharge the batteries fully in under a minute, which is comparable to a refueling with ethanol. They actually used to use two race cars per team in Formula E and switch cars halfway through. It became more of a relay race that way.”

“That’s crazy,” Franklin replied.

“The range on a set of batteries wouldn’t be enough to make the jump from Formula E to Indy, however, and the speed is a pathetic 140 mph. Indy Cars average around 170 mph during a race, but they qualify at over 200 mph, and the fastest speed ever recorded was 237 mph by Marco Andretti, the grandson of Mario Andretti. I need electric motors that can at least match that to be competitive.”

“How fast have your motors gone?” Franklin asked.

“Zero, I’m afraid,” I answered. “They do quite well in the lab, but the moment we mount them on a car and try driving on a real racetrack, even slight irregularities in the road surface create microcurrents in the super­conducting materials, and that’s enough to shut the super­conductivity down, bringing the car to a halt.”

“Why would microcurrents kill the super­conductivity?” Franklin asked.

“It’s a quirk of super­conductivity,” I replied. “It’s actually the magnetic fields induced by the microcurrents that collapses the super­conductivity. In low-temperature, metallic super­conductors, the pathologic magnetic fields constrict the super­conducting band, causing it to behave more like a semiconductor and generate heat, which collapses the band entirely. My ceramic super­conductors operate at room temperature, and although heat dissipation in the motor is a big problem in and of itself, it has viable solutions as we demonstrated with our servers. The super­conductivity in ceramics is a quantum tunneling effect. No actual current flows through the ceramic material, but the pathologic, magnetic flux opens an energy band that has much the same effect; it turns the ceramic into a semiconductor, and it literally shatters from sudden heating.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound good,” Franklin replied. “Can’t you compensate for it?”

“We’re trying that approach right now. Here’s hoping it works,” I responded as I raised my wine glass and took a sip.

“So, I told you about our plans for summer vacation,” Franklin began. “Do you guys have any plans?”

“Definitely, but they’re still up in the air,” I replied. “Much depends on what we need to do to move to New York. We don’t have much to bring with us other than clothing and the like, but we do need to drive my car here, and I need to make arrangements to park it.”

“The trouble is that where we want to go on vacation for the summer, there aren’t many chargers at all. It’s a big problem for us. For example, we thought we might visit Rocky Mountain National Park and do some hiking, but there are only a couple of spots with EV charging stations of any kind. It’s literally easier to park the car and go back-country hiking the entire time, but they’re already booked for back-country permits for the summer. The situation’s even worse for Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. There are four chargers in all of Yellowstone and none in the Tetons. All four are Level 2 chargers, which means we’d have to stay near them overnight and to hope that no one else gets there first.”

“I’ve worked out an alternative vacation that makes use of only fast chargers,” Henry interjected.

“You have?” I asked. “Why didn’t you mention it?”

“I only just worked it out, but we need to discuss when to go and make all the reservations,” Henry explained. “Some things just aren’t possible. For example, I’d like to travel up the Missouri River, which is supposed to be quite beautiful, but the charging stations aren’t there. We have to go up to Sioux Falls and take Interstate 90 across to Wall, South Dakota, home of the infamous Wall Drug tourist super-trap —”

“Wall Drug tourist super-trap?” Franklin asked with a bemused expression. “Is that like an open-air drug market, or something?”

“Actually, I was wondering the same thing?” I added.

Laughing, Henry replied, “Maybe it’s because I’ve lived half my life in Omaha, but it’s pretty well-known throughout the Midwest. It’s on the way to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, so a lot of people have either been there or have at least heard of it. It’s become a bit of a tourist destination in and of itself. I guess it started out as a drug store that sold souvenirs to passing tourists, but when the Interstate was built, they got the idea of putting up a series of billboards along the way. Now, there must be over a hundred billboards, spreading out in both directions along Interstate 90, and the whole town is like one big tourist trap, with souvenir shops, restaurants and motels. However, Wall really would be an ideal place to stay because of the availability of a Tesla Supercharger.

“I’d suggest we charge up in Grand Island, Nebraska, but then we’d hafta chance a 288-mile-drive to Murdo, South Dakota. I’m sure it’s a prettier route, but is it worth being so far from charging options? I don’t know. Another option would be to drive up to Sioux City and cut across to Yankton along the river, and then drive up to Mitchell for our first recharge. That’s only 250 miles, and from there we could drive to Wall, which is another 225 miles, give or take.”

“That sounds good, Henry,” I commented. “It’s a safe day of driving with one layover for charging and decent scenery along the way. If we had a gasoline engine, we might do it differently, but until we get more charging stations, we have to make compromises.”

“Exactly,” Henry agreed. “So, we’d use Wall as our base for exploration of Badlands National Park, rather than staying in the park, and we’d plan on mostly doing day excursions into the park. Unfortunately, most everything must be seen by car, so we’ll need to plan around that. We’ll probably spend three nights in Wall and two-and-a-half days in The Badlands, and then recharge in Custer, which is about 150 miles via the southern loop through the park.”

“One of the advantages of driving an EV is that the power used is more dependent on the distance traveled than the speed of travel or the terrain,” I explained. “There are losses to be sure from hilly terrain or from wind resistance at higher speeds, but the range suffers hardly at all from starting and stopping to sightsee along the way.”

“Custer’s another great jumping off point ’cause you’ve got Custer State Park to the east, Wind Cave National Park to the south, Jewel Cave National Monument to the west and Mount Rushmore to the north. Then, after charging up in Spearfish, it’s about 250 miles to Miles City, Montana, via Devil’s Tower National Monument.”

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there!” I exclaimed.

“Then the route between Miles City and Glendive, Montana, is only 76 miles, but it follows the Yellowstone River the whole way, and it’s supposed to be scenic, so we’ll want to take our time and then see Makoshika State Park, which is supposed to be stunningly beautiful. We could stay overnight in Glendive, charge up the car and then head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There’s a scenic loop drive and a lot of hiking trails in the South Unit, and another scenic drive and numerous hiking trails in the North Unit. It’s only a hundred miles from Glendive to Dickinson, so we can probably see the South Unit and camp and hike for a few days there, then charge up in Dickinson and spend a few more days camping and hiking in the North Unit. Then we have choices.”

“What kind of choices, Babe?” I asked.

“Minnesota’s quite beautiful,” Henry related. “The Land of the Thousand Lakes, they call it. Of course, we could drive directly south from Bismarck to Ocoma, South Dakota, but that’s at the end of your range for sure. It would be safer, but more boring to drive from Jamestown to Mitchell or from Fargo to Sioux Falls and then to Omaha. But if we wanted to, we could drive from Fargo to St. Cloud and into Minneapolis-St. Paul and spend a few days there before heading home. Or we could drive from Fargo to Duluth and then down into St. Paul. I hear Duluth is quite beautiful.

“But if you really want to do some serious sightseeing, particularly since we have to drive across the continent anyway, we could drive from Duluth up into Thunder Bay in Canada and drive all along the northern shore of Lake Superior, seeing Isle Royale National Park via the ferry from Thunder Bay. It’s one of the few U.S. national parks that’s more easily accessed from Canada. There are charging stations all along the way – Canada’s so far ahead of us – and we could drive all the way to Sault Ste. Marie, crossing into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and seeing Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Tahquamenon Falls. Then we could either drive down to Detroit and across to Toronto, or we could continue over the northern shore of Lake Huron to North Bay and Algonquin Provincial Park, which is renowned. From there we’d go to Ottawa and Montreal, then Burlington, and down through Vermont and New Hampshire into western Mass, Connecticut and on into New York. Or the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs, the Hudson Valley and into New York.”

“A trip through Canada sounds fantastic, Babe,” I responded. “Let’s plan on doing that.”

“I’ll get started on making the plans,” Henry replied.

We’d long ago finished eating the pasta and as Franklin went about clearing the table and serving the second course, I wondered if Rob and Sam had set a date for their wedding. If so, we’d have to plan our trip around it. In the time I’d known Rob, however, I’d come to appreciate that he was a major procrastinator and I wondered I Sam was the same way. If so, they might well not set a date until Sam became pregnant. I’d have to ask Henry about it when we got back to our apartment.

The second course consisted of Parmesan-encrusted deep-sea bass over saffron rice, with white asparagus and sweet-potato compote. It was as good as anything I’d ever been served at the finest seafood restaurants in the world. I was impressed.

Franklin had many questions about my travels around the world, and so we spent much of the dinner talking about some of the things I experienced during my travels. I had the table in stitches with my stories of traveling in Japan. “Even though I learned to speak the language and to recognize basic characters, the cultural differences were profound. What an American would perceive of as an offer was intended as a command. If food was set in front of you, it was considered incredibly rude to not eat it. It wasn’t a question of ‘would you like some fried bat testicles?’; it was, ‘I’m willing to share this incredible delicacy with you, so you’d damn well better eat it.’”

“Fried bat testicles?” Franklin asked in hysterics.

“Honestly, I’ve no idea. There are things I ate that to this day, I have no idea what they were,” I explained. “If someone set a glass in front of you and in front of themselves and opened a bottle of Asahi Dry – which is an excellent light beer, by the way – the expectation was that you kept each other’s glass full. I’m not a drinker, but I never ended up drinking so much in my life. Eventually I learned how to nurse my drink without being rude. Otherwise, I’d have always been rip-roaring drunk, which unfortunately happened a few times, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

“The worst was the shower incident, when a colleague invited me into their home and asked if I’d like to take a shower. I’d just taken one before leaving for their home, so I begged off, saying I’d just taken one and was fine with that. They weren’t. We went from ‘Would you like a shower?’ to ‘Please take a shower’ to ‘TAKE A SHOWER’. Apparently, I was a sweaty, filthy foreigner, and they wanted me to shower before contaminating their furniture. And they gave me a yukata to wear after coming out of the shower; that’s an elegant silk robe, but it was designed for someone Japanese, which meant it was way too short for me. Even for an American, I’m quite tall. The shower was like a separate room, and someone had removed my clothes and left the yukata and nothing else for me, but it didn’t cover what it needed to. My first thought was that they were trying to embarrass me, but then I realized that they were trying to treat me with dignity, and they would be the ones to be embarrassed if I wore it.”

“So, what did you do?” Franklin asked.

“I couldn’t tell them they’d given me something too short, and I couldn’t sneak in to get something else.

“As was typical of Japanese apartments, there was a bedroom for the parents, and the kids slept on futons in the living room, which also served as the dining room. There was no kids’ bedroom let alone a guest room. Of course, I’d offered to stay at a hotel, but they considered that an insult. But my things were in the living room so there was no way for me to get my clothes without being seen. So, what I did was wrap a towel around my waist and get the attention of the older boy, Yoshi, and pointed to my backpack. He caught on quickly enough.

“So, he grabbed my backpack and carried it to me, but he didn’t give it to me but instead carried it to the bathroom, where he waited for me to follow. He held my backpack and wouldn’t give it to me until I removed the towel and let him have a look. He wasn’t exactly subtle about staring at my stuff, either. Then he grinned, gave me my backpack and left.”

“How old was he?” Franklin asked.

“He looked to be about twelve, but Asians look young for their age, or as they put it, we look mature for ours, so I’d guess he was thirteen, and his brother was probably about ten or eleven. I would’ve thought it was rude of Yoshi to be so blatant about seeing me naked, but Japanese boys are much more open about sex. Japanese men, too, for that matter. I saw many businessmen reading pornographic newspapers right out in the open while riding the bullet train. But getting back to the boys, they engaged in open sex play right in front of us. They kept grabbing each other all evening in what appeared to be a game of dick tag. They shared comic books with each other that we’d consider blatant pornography, too. Getting back to the yukata, I wore it with a pair of bikini briefs and acted as if that was the way it was supposed to be worn. It was a way for them to save face.

“The parents insisted that I sleep in the bedroom, but I insisted on sleeping in the living room with the boys. After all, I was just a boy myself. The boys seemed to be delighted, but after the parents went to bed, they tried to include me in a game of dick tag.”

“You’re kidding!” Franklin responded as he turned beet red.

“Then it got really weird,” I added.

“What, you make it sound like there was an orgy or something and maybe you traded blow jobs,” Franklin said, but when I didn’t say anything, he asked, “J.J.?”

“Let’s just say I’m not proud of how I handled it and leave it at that. I’d rather not talk about the specifics, but I was only sixteen at the time, and it had been a while since I’d been in any kind of relationship.”

“If it’s part of their culture, what’s the big deal?” Henry chimed in, much to my surprise. “There are cultures where it’s expected for people to share their children with their guests, for their children to perform sexual favors. It’s even in the Old Testament. It’s not like J.J. was some fat, middle-aged guy. He was himself an incredibly good-looking boy. Who could blame the boys for wanting to have sex with him?”

“Were they gay?” Franklin asked.

“The Japanese don’t acknowledge the existence of homosexuality; male bisexuality is the accepted norm in their culture,” I explained. “Marriages are arranged and expected. Salarymen spend more time with their male colleagues than with their wives. Although the encounter with the boys was consensual, there’s no getting around the fact that one of the boys was maybe only ten, and it was with a colleague’s children, which made it inappropriate. I’m embarrassed I let it get as far as it did. I was much more careful after that, but there were times I encountered men who took offense if I didn’t consider their daughters attractive enough to take to bed with me.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Franklin replied. “Do they have any openings for geeky, thirteen-year-old straight boys?” he asked to all our laughter.

We spent hours talking about all the far-flung places I’d visited. Franklin, and his parents, too, and Henry, for that matter, were enthralled by my description of witnessing the night sky on a hot December night in the Australian Outback, seeing the Milky Way spread across the entire night sky with not a speck of artificial lighting to spoil the view. I’d seen and done so much without someone with whom to share it, other than colleagues and acquaintances who were with me at the time. There was so much of the world to see, and now I had someone in my life who meant more to me than life itself. I always used to think that was such a trite expression, but now I knew exactly what it meant.

It had been a while since we’d finished eating the second course, but everyone was on the edge of their seats listening to anecdote after anecdote. Finally, Franklin asked if any of us were interested in homemade cheesecake with coffee or tea. Was the sky blue? Of course, we all had the cheesecake, which he served with a variety of toppings. I chose the blueberry compote, while Henry had the caramel sauce with crushed peanuts. It might not have been up to Junior’s standard, but then few cheesecakes were. For homemade cheesecake, it was fantastic.

It was as we were enjoying our cheesecake and coffee that Franklin threw me for a loop by asking, “Do you two plan to have children?” What a loaded question.

“J.J. and I haven’t really discussed it yet,” Henry replied. “Right now, the concept’s so abstract, and there’s so much that could change. When we were apartment shopping, we spoke about having a place with room for a family, and with three large bedrooms and a den, the new condo’s certainly big enough, but we expect it will be a long time in the future if we do have kids. I think I’d like to have kids and to be responsible for molding their lives, but I wouldn’t even want to consider starting a family for another ten or twenty years, at least. I’m still only fifteen, after all. Of course, my experience stems from a wonderful, loving family. J.J.’s experience was quite different. It goes both ways, and many a parent has had to deal with kids who do drugs, break the law or suffer from mental illness. Even if they’re perfect, there’s no guarantee they won’t get cancer, be struck by a drunk driver or collapse and die on a football field.”

“That actually sort of happened to my first boyfriend’s father,” I interjected. “He died last year from complications of Covid-19. He had an artificial, aortic heart valve, and apparently that’s one of the worst risk factors for Covid, but he could’ve easily died when he was a teenager. He had a congenital heart condition called IHSS —”

“Idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis,” Franklin filled in.

“Most kids don’t even know they have it until they drop dead in the middle of an athletic activity. Larry was running cross-country, of all things, so he wasn’t even near the school when it happened, but a kid nearby realized what was happening, and while other kids did CPR on him, the kid ran back to the school grabbed an AED and ran back to him while there was still a chance to shock his heart back to a normal rhythm.”

“Not only was he the father of your first boyfriend, but he literally helped to save your life during a critical hour of need,” Henry added. “It’s a pretty amazing story when you think of it.”

“I would hate to lose a kid that way,” I interjected, “but it would be worse to ignore the needs of a kid who otherwise has no hope, because of our irrational fear of what might happen. I know some guys feel the need to bring a child of their own into the world, but as a gay man, I’d much rather help a kid in need. Especially with what happened to me. What was the purpose of buying a 4800 square foot, four-bedroom home if not to start a family? That was certainly something in the back of my mind and maybe Henry’s —”

“Of course, it was, Babe,” Henry interrupted.

“So maybe once Henry finishes his Ph.D. and gets settled into his first job, and once I finish my second Ph.D. and am solidly on top in my field with a Nobel Prize or two to my name —” The wadded-up napkin hitting me in the face from my boyfriend’s direction told me he knew I was kidding, sort of. “Yeah, I’d definitely like to adopt.”

“And we will,” Henry agreed.

“I’m just so glad you’re moving to New York,” Franklin said. “You’ll be awesome parents and the best ‘big brothers’ a boy could ever have.”

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.