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Subject: Cottagecore Chapter 5 Cottagecore: Road Trip Chapter 5 � Sam Please donate to Nifty at fty/donate.html Please let me know what you think via email ail ***Sorry for the delay getting this chapter done, fellas. Life got in the way. I hope you enjoy it. Lots of fun to come, 4 more chapters partially written and fully developed in my mind.*** —– As I pulled up to the hotel in Omaha, it was even more spectacular than my mom had suggested. Before I left Texas, I had arranged my gear so I could just grab a duffel and hand the truck off to the valets. Before I had even turned off the engine, a dark and handsome man opened my door and welcomed me, no matter how scruffy I must have looked. “Good morning, sir. Welcome. May I help you with your things?” Was I wrong, or did he leer a little when he said “things”? I blushed, no matter his intentions. “Thanks,” I stammered, “it’s just my backpack and a bag. I can handle it.” “Very good, sir. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” He smiled again and I blushed furiously. “Thanks,” I managed to say. “Can you point me to the front desk?” I followed his directions into the grand marble foyer. I’d put on the nicest shorts and polo I’d brought with me when I parted from my Texas friends, but I still looked casual among the hotel’s other guests. Lots of men in suits and women in dresses and sleek pants suits. Bellmen pushed designer luggage on gleaming brass racks. I hated to feel like a rube, out of place and too casual. The desk clerk took my name and entered the information into his computer. After a moment, with a briefly raised eyebrow, he said, “Welcome, sir. Our concierge will show you to the Executive Suite.” Judge Mom scored again! The concierge was in his 20s. He was just under six feet tall, with wavy blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. His suit was slim cut and he looked very smooth, professional but also hip. He introduced himself as Dean and asked me to follow him. From the elevator, Dean led me to a set of double doors which opened onto a two-story room filled with opulent furniture, fresh flowers, and a welcome basket that included fruit, cheese, cured meats, and bottles of red, white, and sparkling wines. Dean said, “The Western Association of Women Judges welcomes your mother. Relax and enjoy yourself until she arrives. Let me show you around.” He showed me around the suite’s amenities, including a large sitting area on the ground floor, with a small bathroom and kitchen off either side. Modern but comfortable looking couches faced each other across a glass-topped coffee table on which a vase with a spray of lilies sat. A massive television was somehow unobtrusive on the wall above the fireplace. Classical music played lightly in the background through speakers that must have been mounted in the ceiling. Dean showed me how to operate the music selection system and then took me upstairs. The stairs led up to a bedroom larger than some of my high school classrooms, with a massive bed absolutely covered in pillows and bolsters and puffs. There was another sitting area to the side of the bed, with two armchairs flanking a reading table. More flowers, this time tulips, sat in a small vase. Through a pass-through, Dean showed me an opulent master bath with a steam shower and soaking tub the size of a spa. Baskets holding soaps, bath salts, and other luxuries stood on every counter. Bud vases were filled with yellow roses. We walked back downstairs. “May I help you unpack?” Dean asked. “Thanks,” I said. “But all my clothing is dirty. Are there laundry facilities here? There’s nothing clean to unpack.” Dean laughed. “Our concierge services includes laundry. Sort what you want washed and you’ll have it clean in the morning.” I was embarrassed to itemize my dirty socks, tee shirts, and underwear along with the rest of my clothes, but Dean passed no judgment. I handed over my entire wardrobe. He laughed and said his department would call in the morning to deliver the laundered clothing. While I sorted my laundry, Dean filled a champagne bucket with ice and put the wine in to cool. We chatted about my travels. I kept the story G-rated. “You must have been lonely traveling solo,” he said. “I’ve met some folks, made some friends along the way.” I blushed a little. I think Dean noticed. “I’ll bet you have,” he said with a wry smile. Did he look me up and down as he said it? As Dean left, he added, “if there is anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable, please do not hesitate to ask.” Was he making more than just a solicitous concierge’s offer? I felt myself blush but then I was immediately embarrassed. Was I dreaming up all this attention? Had my sex-fueled last few weeks caused me to imagine attraction from guys I was attracted to? Dan had mentioned “gaydar” but not how to use it. I wandered downstairs and stretched out on one of the couches. Soon my eyes started to droop. I hadn’t slept much the night before and thought I’d grab a nap in the few hours before my mom arrived. Just as I started to doze off, the phone rang. It was the front desk, putting my mother through. “Darling,” she said, “how are you?” “Great, Mom. This suite is insane, even better than the Grand California we stayed at last year. But shouldn’t you be in the air right now?” “That’s why I’m calling, dear. My plane had engine trouble and there is no replacement flight. I won’t be able to get there in time to give my address, so I’ll call in and give the speech over the phone. I’m so sorry. The main reason I accepted the invitation to speak was so I could see you.” “I’m sorry too, Mom. I was really looking forward to seeing you and catching up.” I had been planning to tell her I’m gay, which I didn’t want to do over the phone. “I tried, dear. They were going to fly me down to L.A. but there wasn’t enough time to make the connection and that was the last flight from the West Coast. How are you? We’ve loved your postcards.” We chatted for a few more minutes before wrapping up the call. “Oh, Mom, what about the room? Should I check out?” “No,” she said. “I called the front desk first to make sure you could stay. The Association will work with the airline to straighten out all the charges. You’ve been camping for so long, you should pamper yourself. Have a bubble bath, lounge around in a fluffy robe, order room service, drink some champagne.” I laughed. Although she is a reformed hippy, my mom knows how to enjoy herself. “Sure thing, Mom. I love you. Tell Dad I love him too. I’ll see you next month.” “I love you too. Call more often. We love the postcards, but it’s so nice to hear your voice.” “Okay, Mom, have a safe drive home. Love you.” We hung up. Well, damn. I’d been getting ready to talk with her about being gay for weeks, running the conversation around in my head. I didn’t expect her to have a problem with it, my dad either, but I wondered if it would be a surprise. Now I’d get to tell both my parents at the same time, when they met me in New York to move me into college. I didn’t feel like a nap any more, so I took my mom’s advice. I carried the champagne bucket upstairs to the marble bathroom and started to fill the spa/tub. After all the camp showers and sponge baths I’d taken over the last few weeks, I was going to enjoy a long soak. I added a citrus bath bomb, poured a glass of bubbly, and climbed into the water. Total heaven! I spent more than an hour in the tub, topping up the hot water as it cooled. Finally, the combination of wine and relaxing water got the best of me and I drifted off to sleep. The next thing I knew, there were voices coming from the suite’s living room. “Hello?” I called out. “Hello? Who’s there please” a confused but official voice called back. “I’m Jon McGee, I checked in a few hours ago.” A man wearing the same suit as Dean appeared in the doorway, a puzzled look on his face. “Oh, excuse me, sir. I didn’t realize you were in the bath. But there has been a mistake with the reservation system. This room was listed as vacant as of an hour ago, and it was assigned to another guest.” He had an overly formal, stuffy manner. Officious. “I don’t understand,” I said, sitting up in the water. “Dean from the Concierge Desk showed me to this room a few hours ago. He’s taken all my clothing to be laundered.” “Oh, dear me. Give me a moment, I will need to speak with the front desk.” He pulled the bathroom door closed as he stepped out. I got out of the water, gave myself a quick rinse in the shower to clean off the bath bomb, and pulled on a long white robe made of impossibly soft cotton that hung on a warming rack. I stepped onto the staircase landing above living room to see the concierge’s back, hunched in obvious frustration speaking quietly into a telephone. Watching him was an African American man in his thirties. He was wearing a slim-fitting dark navy suit with a starched white dress shirt and a deep purple tie. A small rolling suitcase stood beside him and he carried a brown leather messenger bag briefcase over one shoulder. “Sorry about this,” he said to me. “Apparently the system showed the room as vacant. I thought I’d scored the upgrade of the year.” “This was supposed to me my mom’s room. She had to cancel her trip, but she said she’d worked it out with the hotel to allow me to stay over as planned.” I came down the stairs. Just then, the concierge hung up and turned to us. “Gentlemen, I am very sorry for this mistake. Mr. McGee is correct, the room should not have been released after his mother’s flight was cancelled. The front desk is working on options.” “Is your mother Justice McGee?” the other man asked. “Yes, I’m Jon.” I reached out to shake his hand. “Her flight had mechanical issues and she couldn’t get here in time to give a speech tomorrow. She told me to enjoy the room even if she couldn’t be here.” “I’m Sam. Sam Kruger. I’m here for the conference, mainly to interview your mother for my firm’s diversity initiatives. We were supposed to meet tomorrow morning after her speech.” Just then, the room’s phone rang. The concierge answered and turned away, speaking quietly for some time. I felt awkward standing there in just my robe, but figured the concierge would have things wrapped up quickly so didn’t go up to get dressed. The concierge hung up and turned back to Sam and me. “Gentlemen, again, I am very sorry. This suite was the hotel’s last vacant room. When the hotel assigned it to Mr. Kruger, it released his gaziantep escort room, which has now been assigned to another guest. The front desk is attempting to locate a commensurate room at another property, but with the judicial conference and arts festival happening at the same time, we have not yet had success.” Sam and I looked at one another. “I just need a room for the night, it does not need to be anywhere near as grand as this,” I said. “This is your room, Mr. McGee. We are searching for a replacement for Mr. Kruger.” That didn’t seem right to me. He was a professional traveling for work, while I was a kid who’d been sleeping in my truck for the last month. “He can have the room,” I said. “I was going to sleep on the couch anyway, so a bed in a normal hotel room would be an upgrade.” “Thanks, man,” Sam said to me, “but doesn’t this hotel have all your clothes?” Shit, I hadn’t thought of that. “Why don’t we both stay here,” I suggested. “There’s plenty of room. I can take the couch. You should see the bedroom upstairs, it’s nicer than any normal hotel room.” “I couldn’t ask that of you,” said the concierge. “The front desk is calling over to the Grand to see if they have a room.” “It’s fine with me,” Sam said with a shrug. “I have two toddlers at home so I just planned to sleep and watch T.V.” The phone rang again. “I’m going to get dressed, I’ll be back in a second,” I said. “Do you mind if I use the bathroom?” Sam asked. “Behind that door,” I pointed to the downstairs bath. By the time I was dressed and Sam was back from the bathroom, the concierge was off the phone. He looked even more flustered. “The Grand has no vacancies. They are continuing to try to locate another room,” he said peevishly, like it was somebody’s fault other than the hotel’s staff. “Sam, if you’re okay with it, just stay here. You can have the bedroom.” “Okay,” he said. “I just want to relax. The more time I spend trying to get a new room, traveling to the new hotel, getting checked in, et cetera, et cetera, the less time I have to chill.” “Gentlemen,” said the concierge, “this really is not a solution I can accept. In my years here we have never asked strangers to stay together due to a hotel error.” “You’re not doing it now, either,” I said. I was tired of his stuffy attitude. “I invited Sam to stay in my suite’s bedroom and he accepted. The hotel and its staff were not involved.” Sam laughed. “Are you going to follow your mom to law school?” I grinned back at him. “I’m just about to start undergrad. Right now, I don’t plan to go to law school but my mom would love it. My dad, not so much.” The concierge seemed uneager to leave. “Look,” said Sam, “if a room opens up later today, I’ll move there. Otherwise I’m just fine here.” “Gentlemen,” said the concierge, “the front desk will be in touch if another room opens up. My manager may wish to speak with you as well. I believe the room and room service will be comped, but he will confirm when he calls.” “Thanks, that’s fine,” I said. The concierge left, unhappily. At least he was gone. “There’s an open bottle of champagne in the upstairs bathroom if you’re thirsty,” I said to Sam. “I was making the most of the room.” He laughed. “I like the way you think. I’m going to get unpacked, get out of this suit, and hop in the shower. A glass of fizz will be nice.” “Let me clean things up in there, I was napping in the tub when you came in and didn’t have a chance to straighten it up after I got out. I’m sure the floor is a mess.” “Don’t worry about it, man,” Sam said with a smile. “I grew up sharing a bathroom with three older brothers and sisters. A wet floor is no big deal.” While Sam cleaned up, I spoke with the hotel’s manager. I offered to move to a different hotel if they would deliver my clothes in the morning but he would not hear of it. Instead, he offered a very generous resort credit and the promise that he would relocate Sam if another room opened. I hung up with the manager just as Sam came back downstairs. He was dressed more comfortably, in a pair of khaki shorts and a light blue polo shirt. Sam is a very handsome man. About six feet tall, lithe and agile like a tennis player, with deep ochre colored skin, intense brown eyes, and a quick smile. He moved gracefully down the stairs and sat on the couch opposite me. “That was the hotel’s manager,” I said. “No new rooms so far but a $500 hotel credit.” Sam laughed. “I get reimbursed for business travel, but now I can order whatever I want. Sweet!” “I’m trying to figure out what I can order to take with me when I leave.” I said. “I have about a month left in my trip and want to make the most of the credit.” “Tell me about your trip,” Sam said. “I left California about a month ago. A lot of cycling, climbing and hiking in Utah, Colorado, the Oklahoma plains. I’m headed North from here to the Dakotas and then on East. Mostly national parks and monuments, I’m not driving on interstates and mostly avoiding cities.” “Where are up headed eventually?” he asked. “I start my first year at A. Ham in August and I’m driving around to see the country until then.” “Nice!” said Sam. “My sister Janie when to A. Ham. She worked her ass off but she loved every second. What are you going to study?” “My favorite subjects are American history and biology, but I went to a really small high school so don’t really know what all my options are.” I hated that I was this uncertain with a month to go before the start of classes. “You have time to figure it out,” Sam said. “I started at Wharton planning to study economics focused on statistics, graduated from the Management and Technology program with joint degrees in Econ. and Engineering, and then I went to law school.” “I’ve spent so many hours reading the course lists my head is completely turned around,” I admitted. “Don’t worry too much about it,” Sam assured me. “Janie said the academic mentorship there is really strong, both from other students and the faculty. Take advantage of that.” “I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “She met with her faculty advisor before the start of classes every semester. They talked about what Janie liked and didn’t, what she wanted to study. She completely changed her course list after the first professor talk. There are also seniors who will be assigned to meet with you and answer questions. It’s really supportive.” “I’m glad to hear it works. I was worried the student mentors would be too busy with their own work.” “Well, Janie said there’s a social side of it too. She didn’t think it was a coincidence that assignments are made by opposite sex.” I rolled my eyes. “Bad luck for me,” I said. When Sam looked confused, I said “I’m gay.” He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. Janie’s mentee was gay, but just coming out. She was his fierce guardian all year. They’re still really close. By the way, I’m gay too.” “And with toddlers. I like the sound of that.” “You want kids some day? Do you have a boyfriend?” “I do think I want kids some day. Boyfriend? No, or at least, it’s really complicated.” When I paused, Sam gave me the “go on” hand gesture with a smile, so I kept talking. “The day before I left on this trip I told my best friend that I am in love with him. He told me the same thing. But I probably won’t even see him for about three years. Later this year he leaves for New Zealand to do his LDS mission.” “That is complicated,” said Sam. “Are you guys exclusive?” “No,” I said. “He has a lot more experience with guys than I do. We didn’t think it would work to wait years to be together.” “That’s . . . realistic. I tried an exclusive long-distance relationship with my college boyfriend at the start of law school. It was hard for me and turned out to be impossible for him. I know some people make it work but . . ..” he trailed off, clearly thinking about a painful experience. “Is your husband a lawyer too?” I asked to change the subject. “No, he’s a pediatrician. Rick’s his name. Just getting his practice off the ground. We went to high school together, lost touch, and eventually reconnected through mutual friends. Neither of us even knew the other was gay. We’ve been together seven years,” Sam said with a smile. “Where are you from?” I asked. Sam had a faint accept I couldn’t place. It reminded me a little of how my grandmother spoke, just whispers of her Appalachian childhood in a word here or there, but mostly worn away by decades in California. “Philadelphia,” Sam said. We live in the duplex I grew up in, but now we’re next door to my parents in the unit my grandparents lived in when I was growing up.” “How’s that?” I asked. “I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, but not right next door.” “It’s worked out great,” said Sam. “Rick’s parents and grandparents also live nearby and my sister, one of my brothers, and both their families are all in the same neighborhood. We all grew up close together, so it comes naturally. One of Rick’s cousin’s is our nanny while she finishes her nursing degree.” “Sounds nice,” I said. “Every day is a weekend is a family reunion.” Sam nodded. “My grandparents retired to Atlanta and keep threatening to move back to be close to the grandkids. But a bunch of relatives from their generation all moved to the same neighborhood down there, and they hate the winters in Philly. So long as we all keep bringing their grandbabies to see them, they’re staying put.” In my last year of high school, I’d taken an independent study course in American history since 1900. One block of the course had focused on the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West in the years following World War I. One theme, which the course did not give enough attention to, was the return of African Americans to South in recent years. I was curious about his grandparents’ return to the South but I wasn’t sure how to ask without prying. Finally, I just asked, “did your grandparents grow up in Atlanta?” “No,” Sam said, “they were born in Philly. My great, great grandparents are from Georgia, but near Savanah, closer to the coast. They left in the 1920s, before the Great Depression, and settled in Philly. But growing up my grandparents spent a lot of time visiting family who stayed behind. Over the years many of them moved to the Atlanta area.” “Do they like it?” I asked, trying not to pry but curious. “I’ve never been to the South, I don’t really know much about it other than what I’ve read in history books.” suriyeli escort “They do. They don’t even mind the humidity, which rings me out. It’s changed a lot in the last few decades, especially Atlanta. There are still problems, but we have problems in Philly too.” “I guess everywhere has its own problems,” I said. Sam nodded. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions about your mom? I’ll reschedule my interview with her but if I get some of the background stuff out of the way, I can spend more time on the details of the programs I want to learn about.” “Sure,” I said. “There may be things I can’t answer, or should leave to her, but I’m happy to help.” “Yeah, just let me know if anything I ask is too personal or whatever. I guess what I’m most interested to start with is how a kid raised on a commune in Northern California ends up working as a prosecutor.” I laughed. “The commune thing. So, first, it’s not really true. She never lived there, although they visited it a lot when she was young. And from what my mom told me, `commune’ is a maybe little dramatic.” Sam looked disappointed, so I continued. “The Farm is what they called it. It’s mainly just a campground in the Santa Cruz mountains. Some people lived there permanently. There were yoga and gardening retreats, folk music, that sort of thing. Everyone was expected to contribute when they were there, but my mom said it’s a long way from a `commune’,” I said, making air quotes with my fingers. “No Eastern religions? Funny diets?” Sam asked lightly. “I’m sure there were both,” I smiled. “Some parts of Northern California never moved on from the 60s. But my grandparents only dabbled in that stuff. It was just an inexpensive place close to where they lived that they could spend time outside with people they liked.” “Well, that’s a burst bubble,” said Sam. “I was developing a mental image of your mom as a living dichotomy, a hippy at heart but also a tough as nails prosecutor.” “Honestly, I don’t think you’re too far from the truth. The hippy stuff is a little oversell. She’s always done yoga, taught me to love it too. But she would love this hotel.” “Who wouldn’t,” Sam asked. “Thanks again.” “No problem,” I said. “You shouldn’t let the prosecutor thing confuse you about my mom. Social justice is really important to her. She initially ran for D.A. after a corrupt prosecutor was forced to resign in a bribery scandal.” “Do you know why she became a prosecutor in the first place?” Sam asked. “She and my dad were mentored by one of their law school professors. He had worked in the Kennedy and Johnson Justice Departments, in the Civil Rights Division, helping to protect voting rights in the South. He showed her that prosecutors can use the law to seek justice.” Sam seemed skeptical. “I know it can be true, but prosecutors have done so much to harm my community that it still can be hard to hear.” “My dad eventually stopped practicing law. He couldn’t accept the role he was forced to play seeking long sentences for victimless crimes. He had helped a lot of people and worked to improve the system from inside, but eventually he couldn’t do it any more.” “But not your mom?” “I think I’d better let her answer that question,” I said. “I will say, though, that her she spent her first term as D.A. rooting out the previous D.A.’s corruption and prosecuting him and his buddies.” “Don’t get me wrong,” Sam said. “I know prosecutors are valuable and important. I guess I started with a stereotype of who she was, which compounded by my distrust of D.A.s.” “She’s spent a lot of time since joining the Court of Appeal focused on criminal justice reform. She just published a report to the Governor and Legislature documenting systemic inequalities in the state’s criminal justice system and proposing a bunch of structural changes. It’s really important to her.” “Really, that report is one of the reasons I most want to speak with her, although I cleared the trip through our office’s Diversity Committee so I could learn more about her Young Lawyers of Color mentoring program.” I smiled. “She’s passionate about that too. She’ll talk your ear off.” “Can I ask about your dad quitting the practice of law?” Sam asked. “Sure, but you already know most of it. The other part is that he hit his limit at about the same time my mom was appointed to the Superior Court. She was assigned to the court’s criminal division. He couldn’t appear before her. There were work-arounds, but he was ready to quit anyway.” “What does he do now?” Sam asked. “His great love,” I smiled. “Along with my mom, that is. He fixes cars. He and a buddy opened a garage when I was just starting school. Fixing cars was always his hobby. But the garages around the county were expensive, and some dishonest. He’d prosecuted a few fraud cases involving unnecessary repairs.” “And you guys live way up in the mountains, right?” “Yes. My parents started practicing law in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. Oakland, Berkeley, and the East Bay. But my Papaw, my dad’s father, got sick so we moved to the town they’d retired to. She took some time off after the move to help care for Papaw, but before long both she and my dad were working for the local D.A.” “She paused her career to help care for your dad’s father?” Sam asked. “Yes, but it was her idea. She and Papaw were really close, her father died when she was young.” “That makes sense. So prosecutor, then district attorney, and then the bench,” Sam summarized. “Yeah, a friend of hers from law school worked in the Governor’s appointments office and recommended her for an opening on the Superior Court. She sat on that court for ten years and was appointed to the Court of Appeal about five years ago.” “That’s an amazing career arc that’s still developing. Can you say if she has any interest in a different court? There were rumors she was on the President’s list for the Supreme Court last year.” I laughed. “Ask her. No way am I going there.” My mom was on the long list of candidates under consideration for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy the previous year, but they dropped her from the short list. She was unlikely to receive a nomination, but she wouldn’t be happy if she knew I’d discussed any of this with a stranger. The California Supreme Court was another story, however. My mom’s reputation had grown after her report on racial inequality, and she had led a number of other Judicial Council initiatives to expand electronic access to cases and ease burdens on litigants without lawyers. The Governor leaned towards young academics, but my mom had caught a lot of eyes by quietly doing hard, often-thankless work to improve access to justice. It wasn’t inconceivable that that work would be rewarded by a seat on the state supreme court. I didn’t mention any of this to Sam. Instead, I changed the subject. “Is there any champagne left?” “Half a bottle, I only had one glass.” “I’ll be right back.” I brought the cooler down and grabbed two fresh glasses from the kitchen. “Another?” Sam nodded. As I poured, I said “I’ve got a question for you. I’m sorry if it comes across as weird. But, would you tell me about your family? I spent a chunk of last year studying the Great Migration. I did an oral history project with Great Migrants to California, but I’ve never talked to folks from the South.” I plopped the bottle of white into the slushy water. I liked talking with Sam and hoped he’d keep it up rather than retire to the bedroom. “What do you want to know?” he asked. “Do you know why your great, great grandparents left Georgia?” “Whew!” he said. “Lots of family trauma there. We don’t talk about it. They were newly married, still in their teens. A white man attacked my Gran. Granddad cracked his skull with an axe handle and they ran. Everybody from their parts were headed to the West Virginia for the coal mines so they went straight North, ended up in Philadelphia.” “Jesus,” I said, “I’m sorry I asked. I should have known it started with something awful.” “It’s good to talk about it. It’s hard, but the more we bear witness to the reality of what it was like down there, the harder it is to pretend it wasn’t awful.” I nodded. Sam continued. “Grandad dug graves and Gran cleaned houses. They made it, but just barely based on the stories. They died before I was born.” “I’d like to hear more,” I said, “but I don’t want you to ask you to talk about things that are hard.” “The rape was the worst of it. Their lives were hard. The Great Depression hit right after they got to Philly. But in time, they found steady jobs. Their son Samuel was my Papaw, and his son is my dad David.” I nodded, and Sam continued. “For most of his life, Papaw worked nights in a canning plant, cleaning the machinery. He died from lung cancer, probably from asbestos, before anybody knew asbestos was bad. My Mamaw June was his wife.” “June is a family name on my Dad’s side,” I said. Sam smiled. “Mamaw stayed home to care for the kids until the middle of World War II. They say Black women were the last to be hired, but eventually she sewed uniforms in the Philly Quartermaster’s Depot. Papaw worked in the shipyards during the war, probably where he was exposed to the asbestos.” “What about your Mamaw’s family?” I asked. “She had a brother. He stayed in Georgia, left the coast and moved down to Columbus after Gran was raped, and then moved on to Atlanta. His family’s still there.” “On my Dad’s side,” I explained, “my great grandparents had fourteen kids who survived to adulthood. They’re spread out all over the country now. I only know a few of their families. It’s almost 200 people.” “We’re spread out too,” Sam said, “mostly in the East and Southeast, but I know of most everybody. Family reunions are a big deal for us.” Sam went on to tell me about the other branches of his family. It was a similar story. His grandparents or great grandparents left the South in response to brutality or threat or the promise of opportunity beyond agricultural and domestic jobs. Hard times made a little better by the scraps of opportunity World War II gave them. Slight advances checked by the denial of opportunity. Hostile, open discrimination, if not the same threats of violence. He talked about better college and housing opportunities after the 1960s civil rights laws passed, but a lot of hardship. His grandparents on his mother’s side had worked as a rail porter on the Chicago line and nurse. rus escort They’d both died in their fifties, with arthritis and health problems brough on by the demand of their jobs. “My dad got his teacher’s certificate straight out of college,” Sam said, “but before long he was working in administration. He’s a great talker and an even better listener. Now, he’s the main liaison between the Philly School District and the teacher’s union. My mom’s a registered nurse. She’s chief nurse at a private cancer clinic and manages the office. They’ll retire in a few years to travel the world.” “And now you and your sister have elite educations. It shouldn’t have taken this long, should it?” I asked. “My brothers, too. One’s a professor at Howard and the other is in banking. My parents gave us our brains. They made us use them. They made sure we chased every opportunity. But I think my mom and dad are each as smart or smarter than my sister and me. They just didn’t have the opportunities we did.” “It goes back generations, right?” I asked. “Of course,” Sam said. “I can’t think about that too much without getting really angry.” I couldn’t remember the exact quote about people with the equivalent of Einstein’s brain dying in sweatshops and cotton fields, so I keep my mouth shut. “Let’s change the subject,” I suggested. “I’m sorry I asked you to talk about this.” He exhaled hard. “It’s good to talk about. Hard but good. I showed mine,” he said with a wink, “now show me yours.” “Okay. Dad’s side of the family is from Appalachia. The moved into the territory cleared by the Indian Removal and Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Family history says that some of the counties in the south of West Virginia and north of North Carolina are named for my ancestors. It’s kind of gross, to be honest.” I said. Sam nodded so I continued. “Coal miners and subsistence farmers until World War II. My grandpa enlisted to fight in Europe after his brother was killed at Normandy. After the war he got an engineering degree, the first in his family ever to go to college. My grandmother got a teaching certificate later in life, after they’d moved to California.” “What brought them to California?” Sam asked. “Opportunity. One of my grandpa’s Army friends was in a family that owned a construction company. They hired him to do their civil engineering.” “What about your mother’s side?” Sam asked. “My great grandmother on that side was from Southern society. Her is directly related to Mayflower and Jamestown colonists. She hated the Southern Belle crap, though. She was a New Dealer and married my great grandfather over her parents’ objection. He was Jewish, liberal like her, and they disowned her.” “Wow,” said Sam. “She finished her training as an architect and moved with my great grandfather to California. He taught chemistry at Berkeley. Eventually she taught in the School of Architecture, but she also had a side practice designing private homes.” “A pioneer,” Sam said. “Sort of,” I agreed. “She thought it was easier for her in California than most other places. There’s a history of well-known woman architects, so maybe a little less prejudice. But I think she understated the barriers.” “They had my mother’s mother, Elle, who married my grandfather Steve, who she met at Berkeley. I didn’t know him. He died in a plane crash before I was born. I actually don’t know much about that side of the family because they all died young. They came to California from Oklahoma in the 1930s. Elle never remarried.” Sam laughed. “Listen to us. Between us, we have the Great Migration, the Dust Bowl, the New Deal, the rise of California, Black civil rights, gay rights. Together, we cover a huge swath of modern American history.” “This is what makes the idea of studying history so interesting to me. To learn these stories. To tell these stories. To understand these stories.” “You’re going to kill it at A. Ham,” Sam laughed. “My sister’s major was Sociology but she used tools she learned from history and historiography seminars to give meaning to the statistics. They loved her for crossing over disciplines, said it made her demographic work much deeper and more relatable.” “They really emphasize the cross-over stuff. It’s one of the things that tipped me to choose A. Ham.” “The First Year Dorm is amazing too. I was so jealous when I visited my sister,” Sam said. “I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t made contact with my suitemates yet, they sent out the info after I left on this trip.” I’d read their names and where they lived, but didn’t know anything more about them. We kept talking when I suddenly realized I was starving and a little tipsy. “I’m going to order something to eat. Are you hungry?” We went through the menu and ordered anything that sounded good. And then we feasted. As we ate, I asked something I’d been rolling around in my mind all day. “Sam, can I ask a personal question? How do you figure out if a guy is gay? I keep feeling like I’m getting looks, like from the concierge who showed me in and the valet who took my truck, but I don’t know how to be sure.” He laughed. “My man, you’re getting checked out. You’re hot. Whether or not they’re checking you out, it’s fun to look at hot people. But they were probably checking you out.” “You must know all about that, getting checked out.” I had to replay his compliments. And it was true. “I do okay,” he said. “And I appreciate the attention. But Rick and I are exclusive, or mostly exclusive.” “Mostly?” I asked. “Sometimes we bring a third into our bed. But we’ve got a bunch of strict rules.” “Do you mind if I ask what they are? I’m so new to this. My parents have gay friends, but I’ve never really talked with them about how they live their lives.” “Mostly, we live just the same as everybody else. Plenty of straight couples have threesomes.” “I guess that’s right. I’d never thought about it like that.” I was starting to realize that my upbringing was pretty sheltered. “We only have threesomes when we’re away from home. Our families accept that we’re gay but that’s too much for some of them. We only hook up with people we know. We have a safe word to use if either of us wants to end it.” “That all makes sense,” I said. “Really, that’s how we deal with everything in our relationship. We negotiate who does what housework, or whether to hire someone to do it. We check in regularly to talk about what’s working and what needs to change. When we were getting ready for the twins, we made long lists and talked through everything.” “A negotiation,” I said. “Yes sir!” Sam agreed. “As I rose in my law firm, I saw so many women colleagues just naturally assume responsibility for the housework, and cooking, and laundry, even when they had better and busier jobs than their husbands. It’s a shame. Without gender assumptions, we figured out what we like to do and what we can outsource.” “That makes a lot of sense. Once my dad’s garage was up and running, he took over a lot of the housework and cooking. And then he trained me to be his helper. It makes things a lot easier for my mom.” “My parents have a very traditional relationship, but they were still a good model. She likes cooking and they also have a housekeeper every week and send their laundry out. Rick and I both like to cook, so we split that. Did you say you help cooking?” “Yes. I was responsible for cooking dinner twice a week last year after helping my dad cook for the previous few years.” “That’s a great skill to have. Do you like it?” “I love to cook. One of the things I’m going to miss at college will be cooking.” “You have access to kitchens you can use. My sister and some of her girlfriends thought the soul food options around campus were weak, so every couple of months they’d get together and cook family recipes.” “That’s great. I’m so glad they messed up the room assignment. I’ve learned so much talking with you.” “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you too. I’m going to head upstairs and chill for the night, watch a little T.V. and go to sleep early.” “Sounds nice. Take the wine if you want it. I’m not going to drink any more tonight,” I said. “Thanks, man. T.V., a bottle of wine, and no toddlers invading my bed at 4:30 in the morning is pretty much the perfect night.” He grabbed the bottle and headed upstairs. I didn’t bother pulling out the fold-out bed, just curled up with a blanket and pillow and soon was fast asleep. I woke when I heard Sam coming downstairs. He was again dressed in a suit that was both modern and professional. Again with the white shirt, but today his tie and the matching pocket square were solid robins-egg blue. He was carrying his bags. “I ordered pastry and coffee, it should be here in a few minutes. I’ll grab some for breakfast and head to the conference. What are your plans?” “After breakfast, I’m going to have another bubble bath and wait for my laundry. When I check out I’ll head towards Badlands National Park, then on to Devil’s Tower and then Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’ll feel weird driving West on a trip to the East but I really want to see the Badlands.” “Your road trip is amazing. Are you going to see Rushmore?” Sam asked. “Not really interested, to be honest, and it’s even further West. I’ll see how it feels when I’m ready to leave Badlands.” Just then, room service arrived. They delivered my laundry at the same time. As he was leaving, Sam gave me his business card. “If you’re ever in Philadelphia look me up. I’d love to introduce you to Rick and show you the city.” “Wow, thanks,” I said. “That would be great. I’ll give my mom your background.” “Thanks, man. Safe travels. I’ll talk to my sister to see if she has any other recommendations.” Once Sam was gone, I have another long bath, packed my clean clothes, which was individually wrapped in tissue paper, packed the remnants of my mom’s gift box, and with three minutes before I was due to check out, left the room. In the gift shop, I used the remainder of the resort credit on stable food, postcards, and one of those impossibly soft robes. It was silly but my mom would love it. True to form, the hotel had washed my truck. It had not been so clean since I left California. I tipped the valet, got in my car, and headed towards Badlands National Park. Let the adventure continue! ***** Thanks for reading! I hope the lack of sex wasn’t too disappointing. I wanted to do some background character development and start to set up A. Ham a bit more. I’ve got a couple of steamy chapters partially written. Hopefully I’ll get them done quicker than this one. Next: Cottagecore: Road Trip Chapter 6 � Quarry and Cody Please consider donating to Nifty at fty/donate.html Please let me know what you think via email ail

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