CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-SIX
They walked along in silence. After a while, Nash gave a little cough.
“Yes,” John said with a smile. “I’m sorry. I was trying to decide where to start. How old are you now?”
“Fifteen,” Nash said.
“When will you be sixteen?” John asked.
“Six months,” Nash said
“Ah, that is helpful,” John said.
“O-kay,” Nash said.
“Things we have in common,” John said. “That’s what I was thinking. When I was your age, I was living with my sister and her husband in London. Even though you live with your father, you live with a step-mother, who is as much older than you as my sister is to me.”
“What happened to your mom and dad?” Nash asked.
John winced and raised an eyebrow in Nash’s direction.
“I can handle it!” Nash said.
“My father died when I was ten. He had a heart attack after a bomb he’d set went off before he was ready,” John said. “My mother … My father had just gotten out of prison when he killed my mother.”
“What?” Nash asked.
“She had me when he was gone,” John said. “He was sure that I wasn’t his child. He would have killed me if it weren’t for my brother, Ciaran.”
“Ciaran?” Nash asked. “Mr. Jackie’s friend?”
“That’s right, you know our Jackie,” John said with a smile. “Ciaran and Jackie were in prison when my father died.”
John gave Nash a soft smile.
“It’s a fairly ugly story,” John said.
“So’s mine,” Nash said. “My parents are alive, but…”
“Yes,” John said. “You and your sister have had a tough time with your mom’s addiction.”
“And my dad’s addiction,” Nash grumbled. “But my mom’s still alive. Unfortunately.”
When John didn’t respond, Nash snuck a glance at him. He gave Nash a kind smile
“I know what you mean,” John said.
Nash felt a rush of relief at not being judged for his angry feelings about his mother and his fear that he was just like her.
“I was a year and a half older than you when I left Scotland and went to college at UCLA,” John said.
“Scotland?” Nash asked. “I thought you lived in London.”
“That was another big mess,” John said. “If we get to the end of this, and you want to hear it the story, I will be happy to tell you. But, I think the part that will be interesting to you happened when I was at UCLA.”
“Did you meet Max there?” Nash asked. “He went there.”
“How did you know?” John asked.
“We’ve been talking about colleges,” Nash said. “Max told us about going to UCLA. He said that you guys lived in the dorm for a year and then got your own apartment.”
“That’s right,” John said. “We moved to this lovely duplex when Alex and I married.”
“What I thought I’d tell you about started on the plane between England and Los Angeles,” John said.
When Nash didn’t respond, John marveled at this interesting young man. He continued.
“I had had this crazy life,” John said. “Northern Ireland troubles, my mother’s death, the drunken horror that was my father, living with Rita in London, and then in Scotland. All of these things had happened to me — most, if not all of them, had nothing to do with me. I was the youngest. My father was in prison when my mother fell pregnant. He killed her. He was so horrible that my elder siblings were either in jail, active in the PIRA, or the girls in the convent.”
“I decided that my life belonged to me,” John said. “I wasn’t going to get caught up in some ancient politics or some drunken mess. I was going to have a real life, a good life. In order to do that, I needed my very own plan.”
Nash glanced at John.
“I have a plan,” Nash said quietly.
“I thought you might,” John said. “Or I should say that Alex thought you might.”
Nash nodded. Embarrassed by hearing an adult talking so familiarly about someone he admired, he fell silent again.
“Right there, on the plane, I wrote down the outline of the plan,” John said. “Would you like to hear it?”
“I would go to university in America,” John said. “I would focus on three things — working out, bedding women, and being the best in my class.”
“Bedding women?” Nash burst out with.
“All of them,” John said. “Often a different woman every night. Always using contraception, of course. I couldn’t let some disease or a pregnancy get in the way of the plan.”
Shaking his head, Nash grinned.
“I would be the top of my class at UCLA,” John said. “Then I would either — go to business school and become a business mogul, all the while bedding all the ladies …”
“Of course,” Nash smiled.
“Or possibly a doctor,” John said. “Maybe a realtor. Something where I could make loads of money and still have time …”
“To bed all of the ladies,” Nash said.
“Exactly,” John said. “I would make so much money that I’d never have to ask anyone for anything. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. No one was going to tell me what to do. I just had to …”
“Work the plan,” Nash said.
“No time for drugs …”
“Or friends?” Nash asked.
“Well, young Nash, that’s the first situation that caused the plan to be adjusted,” John said. “I met a kindred spirit in Max.”
“Max bedded all the ladies?” Nash asked, his voice rising in surprise.
“Of course,” John said. “Women. Men. Whoever he was interested in. He liked them all.”
“And you didn’t mind?” Nash asked.
“Why should I care?” John asked. “I had the plan!”
John punctuated the word “plan” by pointing his finger up at heaven. Nash chuckled.
“ Iadjusted the plan for Max, and carried on,” John said. “Max also wasn’t into drugs. He is mind-blowingly smart, so he wanted to be the top of his class as well. We studied. Hard. We partied when we were done with studies. We bedded everyone. Only women for me, in case that’s of interest to you.”
“Life was good,” John said.
They walked along in silence. They stopped on the dirt path near the creek that gave the greenway its name. Nash gestured up onto the embankment.
“That’s where the St. Jude Killer kept a lair,” Nash said. “Between some old concrete from the airport.”
He looked at John.
“So I guess I was here when they were doing some of the cleanup,” Nash said.
John gestured to the dusty path and general disorder of the open space.
“Clearly, it’s a work in progress,” John said. He nodded. “I’d forgotten that you were in on that satellite stealing mission.”
Nash blushed and glanced at John.
“What did you do to Teddy?” Nash asked.
“I took him to the morgue,” John said. “There’s always someone who is killed falling down the stairs after a long weekend. I made him look at the body. Talk to the families. See how easy it is to die.”
“No phone is worth that,” John said.
Nash nodded, but didn’t respond.
“What happened to your plan?” Nash said finally.
“I met Alex,” John said. “For two years, my entire life revolved around the plan I’d written on the back of an airline napkin. It was my friend, my family, my conviction when I needed it. The plan was everything. I never wavered. Not even once. It’s weird to think about now but those few lines meant everything to me.”
Nash stuck his hands in his pocket and started shuffling down the path again. John walked beside him.
“Everyone who knew me knew about my plan,” John said.
“Even the women?” Nash asked.
“Especially the women,” John said. “I was the guy they could bed and not expect to hear from again. I was really clear.”
“They didn’t mind that?” Nash asked.
“I told them up front,” John said. “So if they minded, they couldn’t complain to me.”
“Does Alex know?” Nash asked.
“Oh yes,” John said, with a rueful laugh. “Alex has a background check on every single woman I slept with.”
“Every one?” Nash asked.
“Mmm,” John said in affirmation.
“It’s a lot?” Nash asked.
“Why would she do that?” Nash asked.
“For her work,” John said. “They presented a possible liability to me and so to her.”
Nash didn’t respond. They walked for a while before he said, “God, how awful.”
John laughed. Nash was once again taken by John’s laugh that he couldn’t help but smile.
“The moment I laid eyes on Alex, I knew that she was a threat to my plan,” John said.
“Because she was so much like Max?” Nash asked.
“Because of how I felt,” John said.
“How did you feel?” Nash asked.
“Whole,” John said. “Complete. Like this missing hole that I knew nothing about had suddenly been filled. I met her and suddenly …”
“You felt the hole,” Nash said.
“The empty space, my empty space,” John said. “It was a space that the plan had filled and suddenly …”
“Yes, I thought you knew what I was talking about,” John said.
“I spent the entire day talking myself out of having anything to do with her,” John said. “She wasn’t very fond of me either. Oh, she knew all about my ‘slutty ways.’ That’s what she calls it. She didn’t like the fact that I was not an American, either. I was off limits as far as she was concerned.”
“What did you do?” Nash asked.
“You mean how did we end up married the first night after we met?” John asked.
“Really?” Nash asked. “The first night?”
“I’d known her for twelve hours.” John nodded. “And no, we hadn’t gone to bed together.”
“What? Really? How?” Nash asked, not hiding his disbelief.
“It just happened,” John said. “It wasn’t even a conscious thought. I just knew that I couldn’t survive without her.”
Nash made a kind of “tsk” sound. The boy looked down to cover his emotions.
“We were married and then shared this intensely glorious week,” John said. “And then she left.”
Nash snuck a glance at John. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice Nash’s look.
“It was awful,” John said. “For me. I was alone again. My plan was broken. My voicemail filled up with women who wanted a date. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t party. My workouts were messed up because I knew a lot of women at the gym. I …”
John looked at Nash and saw that he was privately weeping. John put his arm around Nash’s shoulders.
“I was angry,” John said. “Really. Truly. Deeply angry. My life was finally my own and this person came and …”
“Fucked it up,” Nash choked out.
“Exactly,” John said.
They walked under the highway and continued along in silence. After a while, John tugged on Nash and they turned around to go back. They’d made it to the spot across from St. Jude’s lair when Nash wiped his eyes. He looked at John.
“What did you do?” Nash asked.
“I was an asshole,” John said. “For more years than I’d like to admit. I probably would be still if Alex hadn’t almost died. I mean, have you seen the men she spends her days with?”
“But when she was shot …” John sighed. “I don’t know. I guess I just got over it. She lost her team. I lost these men who were … You never met them but they were truly the best human beings I had ever met. Funny. Friendly. So smart. They were such a great support to me in my schooling and in my life. Me. The husband. They were family. My family. And then they were gone. Alex was so broken that …”
John shook his head.
“That’s the problem with a plan,” John said, so softly that Nash had to strain to listen. “It makes you lose focus on what’s real and all that’s real is very transient.”
He fell silent and they walked so more.
“I was so focused on getting somewhere, that I didn’t really value where I was,” John said. “I didn’t realize that I had been there the entire time until I almost lost everything. I couldn’t have survived Alex dying. I couldn’t survive it now and we have children! I have the career the plan built! Money! Friends! Status! Everything the plan got me!”
“It wouldn’t matter one lick if Alex wasn’t there,” John said.
They walked in silence for a while. The day was getting cold and daylight was beginning to wain.
“Fin says that I have to become a better person,” Nash said. “Because she’s a better person than I am.”
“Fin?” John asked with a snort. “The Prince?”
Nash smiled at John’s derision.
“Last I checked, you were no prince,” John said.
“He was talking about becoming good enough to be with Abi,” Nash said.
“In your opinion — is he good enough to be with Abi?” John asked.
Nash burst out laughing. John nodded.
“They pick us,” John said. “That’s how it is. We’ll never be as good as them. I will never, ever be as amazing as Alex is. She loves me anyway.”
“That doesn’t mean that I stop trying to be fit, smart, educated, and the best person I can be,” John said. “I do that for her and for myself.”
“Bernie tells me that you’re trying to learn a bunch of languages,” John said.
“How do you …?” Nash asked.
“He lived on campus at the University while I went to school there, residency, fellowship,” John said. “He used to clean the floors in building 500. I was there late one day; Alex was who knows where in the world and he started talking to me. We’re sort of friends, if you can be friends with someone as unique and brilliant as that.”
“Small world,” Nash said.
“You have no idea,” John said. “So languages?”
“Nadia speaks at least five languages,” Nash said. “She easily jumps back and forth between English and Spanish. She speaks Arabic and Ukrainian and I don’t know what else.”
“Hmm,” John said.
“I should be able to speak with her!” Nash said. “At the barest minimum.”
“You have to do one thing at a time, Nash,” John said. “Learn one language. Then another. I was twenty when I met Alex. If I’d learned one language every five years, I’d be close to what you’re talking about. You have time!”
“I don’t have time to be good enough for her!” Nash said. “And now I’m addicted! Game over! I may as well just kill myself!”
Nash angrily shook his head.
“I had a plan!” Nash said, his voice filled with rage. “It was going to work! I was going to be … and now …”
“Alex told me to tell you that she picked me because of me,” John said. “She didn’t know about the plan. When she found out, my plan became our plan. Our plan was so much better, smarter, and more practical. Alex was making a salary so we were able to purchase a home. From there, together, we grew safety and security, and eventually financial freedom, or relative financial freedom.”
“You believe that she picked you for you?” Nash asked.
“Not really, but it is what she says,” John grinned at Nash. “My guess is that Nadia feels the same way. I know that it’s different for the two of you because of your ages and the distance, but …”
John scowled and looked at Nash.
“Not much,” John said. “We had a lot of obstacles that you wouldn’t understand. Lots. They might have been bigger than yours or smaller than yours or easier or harder. We also had our plan.”
John looked at the boy and Nash nodded.
“One thing I think …” John said.
John pressed his key fob and his car unlocked. Nash got in the passenger seat.
“One thing I think,” John repeated as he turned on the vehicle. “Love is … magic. Plain and simple. I don’t know about past lives. I’ve had dreams about Alex and I in different situations and different times. She has too. Maybe we’ve loved many lifetimes or maybe this is it. What I know is that it’s sheer magic.”
John started driving down the street.
“Everything I wanted happened because I knew Alex,” John said. “Things I didn’t even know I wanted happened because Alex loved me.”
“What do you mean?” Nash asked.
“If you’d asked me when I was twenty years old if I would want my life partner, my beloved, to have a work partner who was smoking hot, smart, intelligent, and someone she loves deeply,” John shook his head. “I’d say that was crazy. But you know Raz? He’s amazing. He’s been such a great friend to me and to Alex. A real brother when I had none. More than that, he loved Alex so much that he found her and saved her life.”
John nodded to Nash.
“Love has a wisdom of its own,” John said. “I’m not going to tell you to trust it because you’re never going to do that. People like us don’t trust anyone or anything. We know life is not a romance novel. What I’m saying is that this thing has happened to you.”
“Sandy being injured?” Nash asked.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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