(final edit before the proofreaders (he said). You can read the previous version here.
Jack Games leaned against Room 343’s window. 343 was the largest private patient’s room in his clinic and the only one with a picture window overlooking the University of Chicago Medical Center’s quad. He watched some med students play hackeysac on the lawn while others sat on benches soaking up the early Fall sun. The quad was surrounded on all sides by the Medical Center’s white, gray and tan facades. The university hospital stood just out of sight off to the side.
“What are we going to do, Tom?”
Tom MacPherson snored, a gentle hnnh sound.
Thirty PhDs, MDs, DScis and related specialists worked for Dr. Jackson Arthur Games. He chaired the University of Chicago’s Neurosciences Department, co-chaired the Center for Narcolepsy Research at the University of Illinois, Chicago, was on the board of the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unofficially owned the third floor of the Brain Research Institute, sat on the board of the BRF Center for Molecular Neurobiology, and on Monday afternoons held an online, invitation-only Sleep Disorders Specialty Clinic.
None of which meant shit right now. Jackson Arthur Games had come a long way from DC’s Prospero House, the largest orphans’ home in the tri-state area, and most of it with the MacPherson family’s financial backing.
“Smart investment, eh, Tom? You spent how much money on my education and I can’t do a frickin’ thing for you now?”
Tom hnnhed. Tom hnnhed in his sleep for as long as Jack knew him.
He remembered one day when he and Tom were in Jack’s college dorm room. Jack got dressed while Tom sat on the bed, watching Jack’s silhouette against a not quite as large window.
“Holy shit, Jack. You’re black.”
“All the way down and for most of my life, smart ass.”
“No, I mean, I’ve always known you were a ‘black man’, but I never noticed your skin. It’s black. Darker than mine anyway. Wow. That’s neat.”
Jack held up his hand as if to check Tom’s statement then caught himself. Tom’s sincerity was both stupefying and contagious. But Tom had always been innocent and naive in ways Jack couldn’t quite fathom.
“You are truly color blind, my friend.”
Their bond cemented in their junior year.
Tom was packing his car for Christmas break and Jack blocked his path. “Hey, fuckhead.”
“How come you never ask me home? What’s the matter, you a closet racist? You got something against orphans? Did you think I had someplace to go?”
Tom made no comment. He picked up a laundry bag and put it in his trunk. “None of that’s true, Jack. You know that.”
“Well, you never ask me home. What’s the prob? You got a crazy uncle locked in the attic?”
Tom stopped mid way to his trunk with a box of books in his hands. “No. Go get your things. I’d love to have you with me for the holidays.”
They drove two-hundred highway miles in silence. They exited the highway and traveled some low mountain roads until they came to a old village built along a river.
Jack said, “Is that a waterpowered mill?”
“Yes. Still operational. Doesn’t power anything, just something to look at and remember.”
Jack looked at the company store turned country store, the hitching posts, rail guides, and water troughs still prevalent along Main Street. “Wow, what a sense of history.”
Tom snorted.”You got that right.”
They rode another twenty minutes in silence. Tom turned up a gravel drive hidden in trees at the far side of town. The drive stopped at an ivy covered mansion buried in a copse of oak, ash and pine.
“Tom, I’m sorry. This was a stupid idea. I’ll head back to town and hitch back to school.”
“I’ve been here before, Tom. I’ve made friends before whose family thought the darker the skin the darker the man. I don’t need to be your proof that desegregation doesn’t work.”
“You think that’s why I never asked you home?”
“Come on.” They walked through the front doors, their arms full. Tom headed up some stairs. “I’ll get you settled. Then you can meet Mama.”
“Yeah, Mama. You’ve gone this far, you might as well get the whole show.”
“Look, Tom, just tell me. Am I going to be the show?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can imagine it now. The sweet smile, the warm handshake, the genteel and curious questions. Then when you and Mama are alone, ‘Get that nigger out of my house.'”
They dropped their packs and books in a room with aircraft models hanging from the ceiling and ship models on the shelves. Superhero and car posters covered the walls.
“No Farrah Fawcett poster?”
“A, she was before my time and 2,” he pointed, “it’s hanging in my bathroom.”
Jack stared, unmoving, unbelieving he was this close to the Grail. “You got a private bathroom?”
“Sure do.” Tom headed out the door. “Follow me.”
They walked down a thickly carpeted hallway of heavy wood paneling. Every few feet there was a picture of an old white guy. Tom opened a door.
Jack took a deep breath and followed him in.
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