Author: Starview PM
The real Paul Forrester is alive and has just tracked down the impostor to reclaim his identity. But is he a foe or a potential friend? A story of deepening camaraderie and a search for identity. What secrets made the original Paul the obnoxious character portrayed in the series? Can Starman help this man to a better life, as he had done for so many others?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Friendship - Words: 29,177 - Published: 06-12-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8211955
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
2000 Fan Quality Award Winner
The real Paul Forrester is alive and has just tracked down the impostor to reclaim his identity. But is he a foe or a potential friend to the Starman? A story of deepening camaraderie, and a search for identity. What secrets made the original Paul the obnoxious character portrayed in the series? Can the Starman help this man to a better life, as he had done for so many others?
A Starman Fan Fiction Story By Chuck S
2000 Fan Q Award Winner
"Twins" is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. With the exception of Ironwood and Peagrum Air Force Base, which appeared fictionally in the original TV series, all place names used in this story exist. Ironwood is the real town of Grass Valley, CA. Peagrum Air Force Base is actually the airport in Sedona, Arizona.
Copyright © November 1999 Chuck S. TWINS is a not-for-profit amateur publication written for the enjoyment of STARMAN fans and my friends, and is not meant to infringe upon any existing rights.
A WARM Blue Light to Vicki for her insights into Hal Walker's character in her lovely story "The Final Gift". Her Hal lives on in my Hal.
Pleiades to Vicki, Nina, Todd, and Joyce, for all of their thoughtful comments, and encouragements while editing "Twins." My sincere thanks for helping a new writer become passionate about storytelling.
Chapter 1: Cool
"Do you know the water could be 55 degrees if we fall in, Dad?" Scott shuddered as he finished reading the brochure on rafting the South Fork of the American River. The unmistakable aroma of pepperoni-pineapple pizza still permeated the small cabin where they were spending the night in the tiny town of Cool, California, a few miles north of the river, on Route 49. Up the road in the other direction was Ironwood, Paul Forrester's boyhood home.
Father and son were just relaxing before going to bed, their spheres, keys, and wallets on the table near the TV. Paul, the Starman, looked up from the program he was watching. "Is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?" he responded with an amused smile on his face.
Scott mentally calculated how hot 55 degrees would be on the Celsius scale. "In this case, I would definitely want it to be Fahrenheit."
"I never could understand why humans insist on having two ways to measure everything."
"Culture, Dad, culture," Scott chuckled. "But seriously, if that raft tips over tomorrow, 55 degrees sounds mighty frigid."
As a commercial appeared on screen, Paul arose and went to the kitchen to get a soda. He grabbed another can, and held it up inquiringly toward Scott. His son got up and joined him in the kitchen to get some cookies to go with the drinks.
"Yes, but the air temperature will be around 100; a sudden dip might feel quite refreshing! " Paul studied his son. "You're not really worried about the trip, are you? We've been talking about going white water rafting for a year now – ever since we wanted to throw Fox off our trail that time we set Waldo free."
"We've come a long way since then, haven't we?" Scott's thoughts turned to almost a year before. Those early days were where I first learned to have trust in you, and really enjoyed having you as my dad.
"I remember, Scott, and I am very happy that things turned out the way they have between us. You sure had me worried—and baffled—for a while!" Paul gave his son a small grin, proud of the loving relationship the two had developed.
"That's what fathers do," Scott grinned back, "worry and get baffled by their sons. It's in the job description."
"Well, we're going down Class 3 rapids tomorrow, which are thrilling, but quite safe, according to what I read."
"I know. We'll have a blast!"
A loud, angry pounding on the door broke the euphoric anticipation of finally braving the rapids on a raft down California's most popular river. Father and son exchanged a look of panic. The cabin had only one door and some small windows unfit for human egress.
"Fox," Scott mumbled tersely. "But how? We watched him boarding the plane for Washington this morning."
Paul had no time to reply, as they heard a key grating in the lock. Almost simultaneously, the door flew open, and in stepped an apparition that drained the color from his face and left Scott gasping. They realized there was no place to run, their spheres were out of reach, and they were trapped.
The man was not Fox, but he was just as agitated. He still held what could only be a burglar's tool in his right hand.
"Hello, Paul," the man rasped out mockingly. "We need to talk." Scott's mouth just hung agape, and Paul had that look of utter bewilderment he thought he had long ago discarded as he acclimated to earth's customs.
Standing right in front of them, scowling yet triumphant, was the man Scott and Paul had come to know so intimately over the past year. He looked menacing and wore a bulky, gray jacket that could easily have concealed a weapon. The single being who now could end it all for both of them, but who had died in a helicopter crash—the original, and decidedly alive, Paul Forrester.
Knowing there was no point expressing indignation at the intrusion, Starman tried to calm the seething Paul Forrester. "Take it easy, Paul, I can explain everything." Starman waved at Scott. "This is my son, Scott. He's 14, and whatever you want with me, he's innocent. Please don't hurt him. I give you my word that neither of us will attack you or try to escape."
Scott started to protest, and Starman just looked him in the eye, silently communicating, "Trust me." Scott stopped and gave a little nod.
Paul Forrester also had the look of a startled animal in front of the headlights of an oncoming Corvette doing 140 miles per hour. He expected a reasonable look-alike, but not coming face to face with his exact clone—a twin so identical in every discernible feature that only their clothing told them apart. He recovered quickly, and ordered, "Move over closer to your father, son, and both you guys come sit on the couch. I have no intention of harming either of you, provided I get some answers. If I don't, I'll let the authorities take care of things. Is that clear?"
Father and son nodded somberly. Moving very slowly away from the kitchen, Scott followed his dad to the couch. Starman gently put his arm around Scott's shoulders to quell the teen's trembling, while the real Forrester took the chair by the TV. Scott's eyes revealed the fear he felt with a living Paul Forester holding total power over the future for his dad and him. Impersonating Forrester was clearly over; Forrester definitely would put his father in jail, and ultimately into Fox's clutches. And his dad had shut down their only hope by pledging not to escape.
With full control established, Forrester broke into a sardonic grin. "Well, this is quite a scene. I have a double who steals my life, assumes my identity, makes money off of my reputation, using my own camera, and then passes himself off as a decent father trying to raise a 14-year-old boy on his own. You want to start at the beginning, pal?"
Trying to lighten the situation, Starman quipped, "I don't suppose you would believe I'm your twin brother, who was abducted at birth by aliens, would you?"
Caught off guard, the original Forrester snickered. "Nice try. Your humor is as lunatic as mine. Considering your situation, I'd be very careful with how you talk to me."
Much more soberly, Starman replied, "Paul, what I have to say may sound just as strange, but it's the truth. Moreover, I can prove it. While I did steal your identity, my readings told me you were dead. I detected no breathing, and your heart had stopped. Obviously, I was wrong, and I deeply apologize for my actions. It distresses me to learn I left you there, having survived the crash, when you then might have died from exposure or wounds that I could have attended to."
Once again, caught totally off guard by Starman's words and evidently genuine dismay, Forrester took a moment to digest it all. Then with an incredulous expression on his face, asked, "Who are you and how can you look so identical to me?"
Starman heaved a sigh. "Everything started at Mount Hawthorne, but may I first ask how you came back to life?"
For the briefest moment, Forrester hesitated. He was intrigued and thought to himself, this guy is one cool cucumber—not at all what I expected. But then he scowled with anger. "Let's get this straight, pal. I'm here asking the questions. I don't owe you a thing. I tracked you down to find out who the hell you are, and what you have been doing with my life this past year. When I resume it, I don't want to look like a jerk. I really don't give a damn about how curious you are."
"OK, Paul," Starman conceded. "I am from a star system you humans named Algeiba, in the constellation of Leo. Basically, I came to earth and cloned your body. I thought you—"
Forrester harshly interrupted. "Look pal, don't push your luck. You're aware of enough about me to know I don't suffer fools kindly. Now, if you expect me to believe a story like that, either you are the world's most naïve jerk, or you're playing games to buy time. You said you have proof. Show me."
Starman glanced at the spheres lying on the table close to his twin, only eight feet away from Scott and himself. He and the teen exchanged looks of remorse at having both gotten up without thinking to grab one. After a year on the run, they had vowed to keep one always close at hand. "Those spheres nearby you on the table are not of this earth. They give my son and me certain powers, although Scott is just learning how to use his. If you give me one, I will prove what I am saying about my origins, and I again assure you, I will do nothing to hurt you or try to escape. I would never intentionally harm anyone, and after what I did to you, you have a right to know everything."
Forrester just stared. He wasn't about to trust this guy with anything just yet, no matter how sincere he sounded.
Sensing his thoughts, Starman added, "I can appreciate your lack of trust right now, but that sphere would be my proof."
"Just get on with it," Forrester demanded.
As the tale unfolded, the man from the stars observed every nuance in Paul Forrester's eyes. They flickered slightly when Starman related Jenny's tearful farewell, hardened when he narrated what happened at Mount Hawthorne, and grew larger when he recounted the early days with Scott. Scott chimed in every now and then with his own perspective, and throughout it all, Forrester never interrupted. His only audible reaction came while Scott was describing the search for his mother.
"We traced her to Saguaro in Northern Arizona, but lost her when Fox and the FSA captured us." Scott told him. "Her brother, my Uncle Wayne Geffner, knew where she was, but initially wasn't all that cooperative. I guess he wanted to protect Mom from reliving her pain if she saw me. He was still feeling the pain of abandoning his son, Jimmy, in Vietnam."
At the mention of a son in Vietnam, a perceptible gasp escaped Forrester, who quickly turned it into a gruff cough. Paul noticed, and added the reaction to his observations.
Starman went into some detail describing the visit to Ironwood to meet Stella, Paul Forrester's mother, just before she died. He recounted how her dear friend, Hal Walker, had summoned Paul home with a letter, purportedly from Stella, seeking reconciliation with her son. When Starman related that Stella died at peace with her son, Forrester gulped and blinked just once.
The blinking turned fast and furious when Forrester learned he had a son from his liaison with Joanna Daniels, and that Eric enjoyed a typical adolescence with his mom and step-dad, while inheriting his natural dad's photographic bent.
At the end, a pensive, veteran journalist sat in silence. In all of his experiences from Vietnam to Moscow to Zimbabwe, this was the strangest story of them all. The utter stillness and cessation of sound after the narrative reverberated throughout the cabin, powerful as a gunshot.
Suddenly, on impulse, Forrester grabbed a sphere, and tossed it to Starman. Even Starman was taken aback at the gesture. Clearly, Forrester must have realized he stood little chance against the alien's powers if they were indeed real. Does he believe us, Starman wondered. Starman stared into his double's eyes, silently searching for an explanation for this impetuous act.
"My entire life has always centered on taking risks others would shun," Forrester replied to Starman's silent inquiry, "and this is no different. I've been around the most deceitful liars and scum in existence, and your tone, your manner, tell me you're not one of them. Now, prove me right."
In a flash, a blue light permeated the cabin. An image formed, and a helicopter appeared, having just crashed on Mount Hawthorne. Starman's words leaped to life as the sphere faithfully recreated Forrester's apparent death and Starman's cloning of Forrester's body.
Starman softly inquired, "Now will you tell me where I went wrong at Mount Hawthorne?"
Chapter 2: Paul Forrester
"I've spent the last year since the accident on Mount Hawthorne in a coma in a hospital in Portland." Forrester began to chronicle a story almost as amazing as Starman's.
"It happened one time before, in Vietnam. You don't need to know the details, but basically, I was clinically dead with no discernible brainwave – or so the medics later told me. It was only for a brief moment, but I thought I was hovering above my body, in a dreamlike state, watching them try to resuscitate me. I dismissed it as a hallucination. I recovered and moved on with my life.
"One reason I believe your story, and was so confident when I flipped you your sphere just now, is that everything you said jibes with my memory of events and a theory of mine that what happened this time was clearly of a supernatural or extraterrestrial nature. I am far from some religious Holy Roller, but, as a journalist, I do respect factual evidence.
"Have you ever heard of an out-of-body experience? I am now convinced that's what happened to me—both on Mount Hawthorne and in Vietnam. In the past week, I have done extensive research on the subject, and discovered that some eight million people claimed to have experienced such near death phenomena and returned to tell about it."
Recalling a TV special he had watched just a few months earlier, Starman related what he knew:
"This actually is a subject I have heard about and find quite fascinating. There's a common thread throughout most of them. It starts with a sense of rising above one's body, and watching events as if through a duplicate body. Some have described it as perceiving their 'energy essence' enter a new, physically perfect body that appears outside of their own, only they can't feel anything. The spirit in the new 'body' then proceeds through a tunnel, at the end of which is a bright light, feelings of joy and peace, and a sense of well-being."
Forrester was impressed. "That's right. Various religions ascribe the light to a divine presence or God, but all who describe this experience agree, at a minimum, that it's a bright light, and the dominant emotion emanating from this light is intense love. Most religions speak at length of the fact that we have spirits—some call them souls—which many believe proceed to an afterlife following our deaths.
"I never got that far, but most who have written of such an experience indicate they did not want to return. Some do, nevertheless, and generally describe their return as corresponding to a physical resuscitation of their human body. They resume breathing, and diagnostic machines would register a heartbeat and renewed brain activity. These usually occur within minutes of their clinically dead condition, and the feeling of existing in a duplicate body ceases."
Forrester got up from the chair, strode into the kitchen and drew himself a glass of water before settling back in. "Having heard your story this evening, let me tell you what I think happened on Mount Hawthorne. When you found me, I believe I was dead. Your sphere confirmed it: no breathing, no heartbeat, and no brainwaves. After the crash, just like in Vietnam, I again looked down on myself as if in a separate body. Only, instead of a pure energy one, there was a physically perfect duplicate available—you. I believe you arrived almost simultaneously with my death, and my spirit, if I assume I have one, had not yet departed my body. Your cloning of my body, combined with the traces of your energy essence still lingering around, caused my spirit to confuse your body with the energy one possibly still being formed. I think it entered your new body instead."
"That would explain the strange tingling I felt, which I didn't experience in my first cloning," Starman interjected, excitedly.
"As my spirit entered your body, my sensations were as they always had been," Forrester resumed. "I did not sense any other sentient being or presence. There was no dreamlike state, and I observed and experienced with all my senses every detail of what you were doing. I could feel the leather strap and the weight of the camera in my hand as you picked it up. As you put on my clothes, I felt the fabric, and it was no more extraordinary than when I get dressed in the morning. The coolness of the air and the snow under my feet all felt as they always had. No tunnels, no bright light, nothing out of the ordinary, except, I saw my crumpled body lying in the snow beneath me.
"Then, you started to leave, carrying the pilot over your shoulder. I remember feeling intense confusion, and in my mind I passed out, but you kept on going. The next thing I remember is coming to in a stark naked body, lying in the snow with an intense pain in my head, as well as all the wounds from the crash. When you told me earlier how you expected the volcano to bury me under tons of debris and decided not to move me, I neglected to say thanks. That probably saved my life.
"I think you interfered with the afterlife process in some other substantial ways. With my spirit in a perfectly healthy body, it missed the opportunity to move into the energy one. Once it discovered that your body was not the vehicle to the tunnel and the light, my spirit had nowhere to go. But souls must go somewhere where they belong, and so it returned, thoroughly confused, into my lifeless body. I believe your energy also interacted with mine and endowed it with some of the healing capabilities you've described. No spheres were needed, because this was already an intermingling of energy. That combination proved sufficient to resuscitate me. Unfortunately, that healing energy didn't last long enough to complete the job."
"How did you get off the mountain?" Scott interjected, now thoroughly enraptured by Paul Forrester's brush with the spiritual.
"Pretty simple, actually. After a short while, I felt strong enough to start walking. I checked the radio in the helicopter – useless. There were some spare overalls, a shirt, jacket and boots in back. I donned these and soon ran into a group of other survivors evacuating the mountain. We were picked up by sheriffs' deputies and taken to the local hospital. I collapsed along the way, and was brought in unconscious. The doctors evidently saw more than they could handle, and airlifted me to Portland's main trauma facility. I remained in a deep coma until last month, a John Doe to the hospital staff all the while my wounds were healing.
Forrester paused, and the sounds of silence in the cabin reached a crescendo. Scott's eyes remained as wide as flying saucers at this tale of what happens after death. Starman just stared at his alter ego, the only other being in existence whose energy essence had entered another body.
Chapter 3: Twin Endeavors
"Paul, I truly regret what happened," the Starman said, his grief evident. "I'm terribly sorry."
Forrester grinned at his twin brother, "Don't be. I rather like this life, and I'm grateful to you for letting me extend it. Heaven can wait."
The twins exchanged smiles of warmth, feeling a bond forming between the two.
"I saw an old movie, once," Scott spoke up, still in awe of what he just heard. "It was called, The Man Who Could Cheat Death. You've done it twice."
"I don't want to talk about that first one, OK, Scott?"
Scott nodded and queried, "How did you find us?"
"Let's say I'm a lot more resourceful than that old moose Fox can ever be!"
Scott chuckled. I think I'm beginning to like this guy. "Really, how?"
"When I awoke in the hospital, the doctor's first words to me were a jolt. 'Welcome back to the living. Can you remember your name? We thought you might be Paul Forrester when you first came in, because you look somewhat like him. Then, we were stumped when he showed up a few days later. No one has inquired about you all year.'
"Well, when someone tells you that you reappeared over a year ago, you're not about to tell them that you are right there! I mumbled something about not remembering anything at that moment, and the doctor just left me alone.
"I knew I had to get out of there and find out what the hell was going on. Escaping is something I do well, so let's just say I was outta there." At that, Starman and Scott exchanged loaded glances. Escape from hospitals was something they, too, were familiar with.
"Once out of the hospital's control, I went to a phone booth to call Liz Baynes, then I stopped. For all I knew, you and she might well be in bed together. I've done a lot of inconsiderate things to Liz, but I wasn't ready to just pop in without knowing exactly what was the scoop. It was then that I decided to track you down and have this confrontation. I took a job as a migrant worker picking cherries. No ID needed and they provided room and board. I quit after two weeks – long enough to get some cash, and hitchhiked to San Francisco."
"After a year on the run, we're pretty good at escape, too," Scott interjected. "You still haven't said how you found us."
Forrester erupted in a boyish grin, almost as good as one of Scott's best. He kicked his feet up on the table, deliberately knocking the second sphere onto the floor so that it rolled at Starman. The alien deftly fielded the silver globe and, with a short toss to Scott, both were reunited with their most precious possessions.
"You're welcome to have your sphere back, Scott. You shouldn't leave them just lying around. What if I were Fox? If it were me, I'd sleep with them under my pillow!"
Father and son grinned, first at each other, then at a Paul Forrester who was showing why Liz Baynes found him so engaging.
"Finding you was easy. Remember, I was the only person able to locate that public defender, Steven Putnam."
"Yeah, dad got arrested when he wouldn't reveal where he lived," Scott interjected.
"Right, " Forrester responded. " You had no clue to his whereabouts, but the authorities didn't know that."
"How would you know about all that?" Paul asked.
"While researching out of body experiences, I also checked the archives for any news about Paul Forrester. In any event, I suspected, if you were going to continue to impersonate me, you had to be in San Francisco for the Freelance Photographers Press Awards at the Commonwealth Club. It's the one single convention I always attend, because I'm invariably up for some award."
Another impish grin emerged from the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. "And I do like my ego stoked!"
"If you were aware of the press awards, I figured you had to risk the media attention, since my absence would surely be questioned. I thought I'd take a different risk, and show up to see if I was right about you, and how closely you really resembled me. If you didn't show up, maybe I'd at least get some leads from some of my buddies about what I had been up to this past year. Maybe I'd even accept an award for myself, based on your, or is it my, squatter pictures. Yeah, I also came across them during my research in the library. You're not bad with a camera. Was that skill innately in my body, or did you acquire it?"
With a laugh Starman recounted how, the first time he tried to take a photo, he had aimed the camera backwards, blinding himself when the flash went off fourteen inches in front of his face. Forrester and Scott shared a good laugh with Paul at the image.
"I knew I had to be careful," Forrester resumed. "What if we both showed up at the same time? Well, I'm also a master of disguises. Until I was certain you weren't there, I'd remain safely incognito. Since I didn't know whom you might have talked to, I was more worried about saying something stupid if I did end up posing as myself. Anyway, what's life without a few risks for excitement?"
"I worry about Dad saying something stupid all the time!" Scott could not resist a light barb in the direction of the father he loved and "took care of" whenever earth's eccentricities started to baffle his parent.
"Sometimes, I think you are overly protective of me, Scott," Starman remonstrated, but with a big smile, completing the parent-teen role reversal.
For the barest second, Paul Forrester's eyes clouded over with a look of longing at the loving banter between the two. Recovering, but not without escaping Starman's observant gaze, Forrester went on. "I never did catch up with you at the convention, although I heard you were in town. Fox evidently also heard, and you obviously got preoccupied with losing him."
Scott nodded, rolling his eyes and then shaking his head. Forrester revealed that while Fox was busy making his usual frontal assault at the convention, "asking even the janitor if he had seen you," Forrester had been busy doing some real detective work.
"I didn't know who that jerk was, but he hadn't a clue of how to go about finding people!" Forrester had known the official hotel hosting the convention was the Grand Hyatt on Union Square, and had figured that with the special convention rate of $49 a night, his impostor would, in fact, stay there, because there would be no better rate in town. Brazen and daring as always, with the convention in full swing, the original had slipped off his disguise, hiked the few blocks over to the Hyatt, and then boldly walked up to the counter.
"I just said I was Paul Forrester, and could I have my key. The clerk looked up, and with a smile of recognition, readily gave me a duplicate key. Within minutes, I was in your room, found your literature on rafting the American River, and a brochure describing the 'secluded' cabins for rent in Cool. Of course, I had these lock picks as the backup plan, but that wouldn't have been as much fun," Forrester smirked.
Scott and Starman just shook their heads at each other, in awe of Paul Forrester's roguish genius and Fox's ineptitude when it came to investigative techniques.
"So, here we are," a suddenly somber Forrester murmured very softly.
Chapter 4: White Water River Rafting
A perceptible gloom settled over the cabin. Starman seemed suddenly deep in thought, Scott chewed his lip, and Paul Forrester shifted uncomfortably in his chair, then got up and began to pace the cabin, clearly weighing his course of action.
Starman thought how much beyond a cloned body he and Forrester shared. They were both well versed with life on the run, resourceful, and both were fine photographers, having an eye for seeing the real human story behind their pictures. The causes Paul Forrester had espoused—from the homeless squatters, to the Boat People of Zimbabwe, to the irrationality of war, to the plight of orphaned children—were all moral issues Starman also believed in. The twins had shared a most unique experience, including a mingling of their energy essence. Each was alive because of the other.
Starman reflected that, despite the gruff exterior, Forrester showed hints of a genuine, good person beneath. He could have come in with a gun, and possibly used it. He showed a certain consideration toward Liz Baynes, and faith in his judgment of character by allowing the alien and his son to have their spheres. He would accept facts when proved valid, even if they defied his previous beliefs.
Remembering the reaction in Forrester's eyes to a number of the details in Starman's story, the cloned twin suspected they might have even more in common than Paul Forrester had revealed.
Starman tried to break the utter stillness with some levity. "We may just have to go back to that 'twins separated at birth by aliens' explanation." This time, the joke fell flat. He continued much more seriously. "I'll stop being Paul Forrester and let you resume your life, of course. Scott and I will just have to avoid places where you're known."
After, another long interlude of silence, Forrester finally emerged from his introspection. "That won't be necessary," he quietly intoned.
Scott let out a loud gasp. Starman also appeared alarmed. Could Paul Forrester mean to harm them after all? Was he planning to call in the police? Fox?
"Relax, guys." The original smiled to break the tension. "I didn't mean to be so melodramatic as to alarm you.
"Despite everything I believed before I got here, and how I planned to handle all this, listening to what you've said has changed things entirely," Forrester declared. "You confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt what I've suspected about how I came to be alive right now. I'm still not sure I understand what it all means, but the evidence is substantial and incontrovertible.
"Also, you, Man of the Stars, are clearly not the person I thought you to be. I didn't know what your game was, but I fully expected to find a fraud who would richly deserve and serve a long prison term, after I had filed charges. But you are altogether unique on this planet. While Fox runs around in his paranoia, I see a tremendous opportunity to learn about things that no human has imagined. Talk about an ego trip!"
Forrester looked introspective for a moment before continuing. "If I accept this whole thing about spirits, afterlife, etc., then my life has been a waste up to now, Pulitzer Prizes not withstanding. I need to examine other values, and come to define a new identity that has meaning to me in this life and in the next, while retaining what I like about my past life. With all that you've observed from a fresh perspective, and all the insights you've provided for others this past year, you are the ideal teacher of a man in search of himself."
Starman hastily protested. "I just comment on what I observe."
"And that's enough. I'd like us to join up for a while, so that I could learn and think in ways I never did before. I don't have a life right now. You are Paul Forrester, Man from the Stars. You have lived and breathed him for a year, and there is no way I can learn every detail of every contact that you've had with my world."
Forrester then proposed a most daring approach to the dilemma of how to handle two Pauls. He would become "Bob Forrester," Paul's twin brother, with none of the history Paul carried around that could impede him from exploring a new identity. Starman, who had adapted quite a knack for impersonating Paul Forrester, would remain as Paul, and even have it easier with the real Paul at his side to guide him through historical pitfalls. Each would guide the other.
Scott and Starman looked at each other incredulously. What Forrester was proposing was a most improbable solution on this night of inconceivable revelations. An adventure not unlike the upcoming white water trip: exploring unknown waters of self-discovery for Paul, navigating the rapids of possibly being discovered for Starman and Scott.
Where Bob would have been all this time became the subject of lively discussion among Scott, his dad, and the original Paul Forrester. What emerged sounded plausible, right in line with all the other strange news stories appearing in local papers every day. It would have to be tested.
Starman concluded, "Let's sleep on this, and we'll decide tomorrow what happens next. In the meantime, why don't you join us rafting in the morning, Paul?"
The man who had survived the jungles and rivers in Vietnam grinned. "It's Bob, you're Paul, and I'd like nothing better!"
Chapter 5: Thrills, Spills and Chills
The morning dawned bright and sunny. A brilliant blue sky beckoned the adventurers to the thrills of an exhilarating plunge down the gorge of a racing river. Scott woke first and strode to the kitchen purposefully. Soon the smell of hot pancakes and sausages and the welcome aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the cabin.
The newly minted Bob Forrester joined Scott and Paul at the table. "Those pancakes smell delicious," he said. Scott just smiled at the compliment with a look not altogether innocent. Bob took a bite, and an absolute grin of delight escaped him. With a little sparkle in his eyes, he chuckled, "You got my mother's secret recipe!"
Scott broke into one of his most engaging boyish grins, the kind reserved for when he was particularly thrilled with life at the moment. "Stella's pancakes are how your mom will always be a part of me. It was a grandmother's gift to her grandson, and it's my gift to you. Her secret ingredient is cornmeal."
Bob's eyes reflected a deep yearning, which lingered a second or two. There was a certain complexity to his look, as if he wanted two things at once: a mother's love, and a son like Scott. But all he could say was, "Mother never gave me her recipe."
"Maybe you never asked," Paul commented softly.
Startled, Bob Forrester reflected. "I never went back either—not when my father was dying; not even for his funeral. I would never have returned like you did, even if it did sound like my mother asking. I thought what had happened between my parents—particularly my mother—and me, was final and irrevocable. Yet, you walked right into her life and repaired our relationship. You asked for forgiveness on my behalf, and got it." The realization suddenly set in. "All I had to do was ask."
"That, and show a little love in return," Paul responded. "One thing you inherited from your mother was a certain stubbornness. She found it difficult to forgive after seventeen years of estrangement, without a word from you, but she never stopped loving you. Remember how she sold her engagement ring to get you your first camera? That was giving you her love, the best gift of all. Now, in addition to her pancakes, you have something else that will keep your mother always with you—the knowledge of her forgiveness. And that is my gift to you."
"I have got to go back to Ironwood. To the cemetery, to talk to Hal, to exorcise some demons," Bob declared.
Scott replied with a groan. "Nothing like testing our story at the source." Then with a wry smile, "I know. I know. 'What's life without a few risks for excitement?'"
They finished breakfast, and headed to the river.
The gathering point was Camp Lotus, a rustic picnic area overlooking a deceptively calm portion of the American River. Scott, his eyes sparkling with a touch of anticipation, led his dad and his new uncle down the wooded path to the rafts.
About thirty rafters were already there, chatting in small groups, clad only in T-shirts and swimsuits. A well muscled, bearded man, with tousled red hair and a clipboard, waved at the group to gather around him. "Greetings," he said with a friendly smile. "My name is Jeff. I'll be one of the guides taking you downriver through the rapids." The other guides—three women and two men—then introduced themselves. All bore the hard, sun-bronzed bodies of outdoor adventurers.
"Anyone ever raft before?" Jeff began. Bob and several others raised their hands. Jeff then divided the rafters into groups of six, with at least one experienced rafter and one guide assigned to each group. Jeff assumed stewardship of the final rafting crew, containing a couple, their 12-year-old son, Bob, Paul, and Scott. The guides issued paddles and orange-colored life jackets, and Jeff continued.
"You're about to have one of the most exhilarating experiences legally available. We guides are here to make sure you enjoy it to the hilt. Like any sport, there are some important things to know for your safety. For starters, never stand up in the raft. If you fall off, roll over onto your back, and get your feet pointed down river. This way you can see any hidden rocks—they'll look like a "v" coming your direction. Try to steer around them. Don't head for the shore—there can be dangerous branches submersed along the banks. Just stay calm and we'll steer the raft around to pick you up. Oh, and don't reach out with your hand to somebody in the water. Use a paddle. Any questions?" He paused only momentarily. "All right! Let's do it!"
Jeff turned to his group. "Everyone take off their shoes or sandals. We go barefoot down the river. Bob, you take the left front position. With your experience, you will be the pacesetter. Everyone else, watch Bob and paddle in unison."
With the two boys sharing identical looks of excitement, the expedition got underway. Scott and Paul perched behind Bob on the left side of the raft, while the other boy sat between his parents on the right side. Jeff sat alone in back, ready to steer in any direction needed. Paul found it interesting that paddlers do not sit in the raft, but rather on the top of each side. After thinking about the physics involved, he understood how such dynamics promoted the most efficient paddling.
As the current caught them, Jeff explained that the first few miles downstream were confidence-building riffles, with a current of about three miles per hour. Here they would practice paddling to glide forth effortlessly, stop, reverse, and turn appropriately when needed. In the rapids, quick, precise movements would be the keys to not overturning. Turns were particularly interesting, as people on one side of the raft paddled forward while the others paddled backwards, always in unison. Once they had mastered maneuvering the raft, Jeff seemed satisfied that they were ready for the descent into the gorge.
The current quickened. The rills and runnels ran as one. Around the bend ahead, the splashing schuss of "Satan's Cesspool" splattered on the rocks. First of the Class 3 rapids, the roaring cataract looked non-navigable to Paul's inexperienced eye. With a whoop and a shout of exuberance, the rafters plunged into the froth, paddling furiously as if the devil himself were in hot pursuit with a vengeance for them.
Pitching and tossing, the raft became a helpless victim in the jaws of a cougar violently shaking its prey. Scott's paddle struck only air as a gigantic drop opened a chasm right in front of them. The raft took a dramatic dip, his stomach almost escaping through his mouth—which hung open so widely, he could have swallowed a gallon of spray in a single gulp. Shuddering, as icy splashes showered him with shrapnel-like impact, Scott let out a shrill sound and yelled, "No prisoners!" Bob and Paul just grinned, remembering the old Vietnam War cry they shared with best buddy, Jake Lawton.
Seconds later, they were through. The river became a quiet eddy and the turbulent tide only a memory. "Awesome! Totally awesome!" Scott exclaimed, his eyes aglow with exhilaration.
Before anyone could catch their breath, they were up on "Hospital Bar" and then "Haystacks," and "Double Dip," shooting the chutes, lunging, diving, and bursting through deluges and cascades of thrilling, swift, turbulent water. Up ahead was the biggest rapid of all, "Deadman's Drop," a rumbling, roiling waterfall of pure white terror.
Rocking and rolling, the raft slid through the swirls and whirls. A wave six feet high crashed in from the left, sending Bob, Scott, and Paul reeling onto the floor of the raft. On the right, their fellow rafters barely held on, and then with a whoosh, another wave swept across the raft, sending the 12-year-old into a rendezvous with the very heavy water.
The boy's parents were knocked onto the floor and into the melee where Bob and Paul were still struggling to regain their balance. Scott ended up in the exact position where the boy had been, draped on top of the right side of the raft. Without a thought to Jeff's safety instructions, Scott instinctively leaned over and reached out to grab the boy. The panicky youngster clutched Scott's arm in a death grip, but another wave and the boy's desperate tug were too much for Scott to handle, and he, too, tumbled overboard.
After the initial shock of entering the cold water, Scott remembered the rest of the safety briefing. He wrenched himself free from the boy's grip and rolled the panic- stricken child into the correct position pointing downstream. He then twisted himself onto his back and let the current propel him forward to catch up to the raft. Recovered by now, Bob extended his paddle to Scott. "Grab it and hold on," he yelled. Following Bob's lead, Paul did the same for the boy. Gradually, both twins pulled in their precious cargo, while the others resumed paddling to get the raft through the remainder of Deadman's Drop.
As the river quieted, ten willing hands hauled the boys back in. The 12-year-old started to cry, and Scott just emitted a long sigh of relief. The 100-degree sun quickly eliminated any chill the boys were feeling.
"You two sure know how to keep your cool in a crisis," Jeff said to Bob and Paul.
"Thanks for what you did for my son." A grateful mother put her hand on Scott's shoulder. "That was a very brave thing to do."
"But not the smartest," his Uncle Bob said, with a paternal hug that took the sting out of his remark.
Scott grinned sheepishly. "Now I know why you rescue someone with a paddle and not with your hand."
The trip ended at Folsom Lake without further incident. Recovered, everyone emerged with a sense of excitement and jubilation, vowing that this was not their last time on a wild river.
At dinner in the cabin that night, Paul mentioned to Scott, "I hadn't heard you say, 'Awesome, totally awesome' since I recreated all those stars when we were looking for Steven Putnam."
"No offense, Dad, but today exceeded even that."
"Oh, so you like physical thrills better than the cerebral thrill of observing the universe?" Paul grinned playfully at his son.
"Well, OK. Let's say it was at least equal." Scott grinned back.
"Speaking of physical sensations, how cold did the water feel when you took your unplanned swim?" Paul inquired.
"You were right. It was actually pretty refreshing. But then, I had no time to even think about it. So, how come you let Uncle Bob rescue me, and didn't just whip out your sphere?" Scott asked mischievously.
"That's because your uncle and I are a team," Starman responded. "Besides, what if I pulled it out and lost it in one of those upheavals?"
"Oh, so your sphere is more important to you than I am," Scott slyly joked. "Gotchya, Dad!"
Bob just watched this interchange with an amused smile.
"Bob, thanks for being there for my son," Paul addressed his twin. "It would have been difficult to focus on both boys, even with my sphere."
"I haven't had so much adrenaline rushing since almost getting murdered in Vietnam," Bob revealed. At the shocked recoil from both Scott and Paul, Bob quickly waved them off, and said, "but that's nothing I talk about. You know, Paul, you were pretty quick out there yourself, today. You seem to always be rescuing people—from perils of their own making, and now physical ones. It's why I like you.
"There's something else that intrigues me about you." Bob paused for emphasis. "The reason you returned. You and Scott have developed a fine relationship that, frankly, is quite alien to me. But not for the reason you think—my swinging bachelor's lifestyle. Quite the opposite: I had a son once, but I sort of had to give him up."
Chapter 6: Sons and Sins of the Father
Scott jolted to attention, fork poised in midair. Bob's words, so reminiscent of what Jenny had said to Scott on the tape that she had given him, reverberated in his mind—"I had to give you up." Just as Scott imagined the grief his mom went through at coming to that decision, so too, did he feel for Bob. His bond with "Uncle Bob" grew closer.
Paul noted Scott's reaction, and his eyes stared out the window of the cabin. He knew what Scott was thinking, and he was saddened at the implications for Bob and his son; simultaneously, he realized he had yet something else in common with his twin—both had "given up" sons. In fact, the pattern of separation between parent and child that Starman had encountered during his experiences on Earth was becoming alarmingly frequent. He and Scott, Jenny and Scott, Wayne and Jimmy, the initial alienation between Tom Kendall and his son, Eric, Eric and the original Paul, Stella and her son, and now his twin and another son. Even their story about the missing twin and Stella represented another child-parent separation. Was parenting so fraught with dangers?
Aloud, he quietly asked his brother if that was something Bob wanted to talk about.
"Remember Jake telling you about the orphanage in Vietnam? Well, after his tour of duty was over and he returned to the States, I went back there. Life Magazine had picked up my pictures at the orphanage, originally published in Stars and Stripes, the Armed Forces Newspaper in Vietnam and Asia. There was a young boy in one of the pictures that Life put on its cover. Without Jake to pal around with, I was feeling lonely, and I remembered the poignant look of loneliness in the face of that 17-year-old boy. So, like your Uncle Wayne, Scott, I became the father of a son in Vietnam."
Paul and even Scott expressed surprise at Bob's revelation, because such a decision seemed totally out of character for the old Paul Forrester as they knew him. They were eager to learn more details. The Dutch apple pie Paul had bought for dessert lay untouched in the kitchen for the moment.
"That's quite a choice you made," Paul commented. In his typically straightforward manner, he added, "I would have thought you might seek companionship with one of the bar girls Jake talked about in his manuscript about the war."
Bob laughed. "Oh, there was plenty of that, too." With a grimace of pain, he added, "Maybe I'll tell you about Yvonne sometime.
"But Alex was a different story altogether. You've been in an orphanage, Scott, and Paul, you too visited, however briefly. Both of you were there for just a short amount of time, but you couldn't help but notice the sadness that permeated the grounds. Your depression, Scott, was strong enough to send a message across the galaxy summoning your father. Now add in the horror of what these children witnessed as their parents were blown to pieces right in front of their eyes, and imagine the psychological wounds these kids were enduring. My pictures were moving, and arouse passions even in me, the ostensibly dispassionate journalist. I said I was lonely a minute ago, but that, of course, was the easy cover to describe considerably more complex emotions. Jake's departure was merely the catalyst that spurred me to act on my convictions and attempt to save one life from the hell so many of those kids were destined for."
Scott asked. "So you adopted a son while in a war zone? How did you manage to have any kind of relationship when you were dodging bullets all the time?"
"That's one reason why I chose an older boy to adopt. With my work, I was frequently traveling to the points of fighting and didn't spend every day at home in Saigon. Alex was entirely capable of taking care of himself during those times when I was away, yet like me, had no one to be with, no one to talk to, or confide in. During the early months of our relationship, the times we did spend together were quality time for both of us."
Paul arose to warm up the pie in the oven. "How did Alex come to be an orphan?" he asked.
"Like many of the children at the orphanage, Alex's parents died in a bombing raid on a village near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The killers in his case were American B52's, but it could have just as easily been Viet Cong mortar fire. War is pretty indiscriminate when it comes to claiming victims and identifying who caused what."
"I don't understand the motivation for killing members of your own species. That is very strange," Paul interjected, returning from the kitchen. "I've encountered similar behavior elsewhere in the universe, but nowhere does it make sense." Bob silently nodded his agreement.
"Bob, it must have been difficult for a single American to adopt a Vietnamese child in Vietnam in those days. How did you do it?"
The old Paul Forrester look of smug accomplishment returned to Bob's face. "I usually get what I want, when I put my mind to it. But you are right; a single, male foreigner wanting to adopt a kid in the midst of a hellacious war was not exactly routine. But like everything about that war, unique circumstances gave rise to extraordinary occurrences."
Bob went on to relate the pattern of how things got accomplished in war-torn Saigon. His renown as the photographer who depicted the plight of the multitudes of children, parentless because of the war, didn't hurt his cause. That, coupled with paying a suitable "fee" to the appropriate official, and Alex suddenly had a new dad.
Lieutenant Forrester was no stranger to manipulating the System to work for him. His very presence as a photographer recording the horrors of war, while working for the government conducting that war, was evidence of his skill in getting what he wanted, while taking advantage of the easiest way to get there.
From the flag-burning demonstrations in Ironwood, to the student protests at the University of California in Santa Barbara, the original Paul Forrester held and voiced a deep conviction of the senselessness of the butchery and brutality of war. He was the last person on earth whom one would expect to find commissioned as an officer in the Army of the United States.
In 1971, Forrester, already a photographer with considerable prowess, decided that the way to voice his strongest message about the absurdity and inhumanity of war would be by going there, and using his camera to record the poignant effects of war on the people involved in it. He would record the agonies of the soldiers dying from wounds too incomprehensible for the average citizen to accept while watching safely from a distance on TV. He would capture the haunting looks of innocent victims as their villages and lives exploded around them in bewildering disarray. This, his greatest protest of them all, might just have the most compelling impact.
As a college senior, Paul's deferral from the draft would have ended upon his graduation. An elaborate lottery system was in place to select the men to man the war machine of the US Government. Each day of the year was drawn in random order, and all men eligible for the draft whose birthday fell in the order drawn would be drafted to serve, up to the needs of military manpower allotments for that year. Typically, men whose birthdays were drawn after Number 135 escaped the draft. Most called in this manner were "the grunts" who would soon find themselves mired in the jungles of South Vietnam, fighting a war in the traditional manner, M16 rifles in hand, ready to kill or be killed in an instant. Paul's number had come up "127."
In Forrester's mind, allowing himself to be drafted in this manner would represent another fruitless loss. At best, he would survive and return home, having made absolutely no impact on changing the course of actions of his government. He could also end up dead.
In the spring of 1971, just prior to the draft lottery for that year, he and thirteen other like-minded companions who cared deeply about the immorality of the Vietnam War were planning a massive protest. It would culminate with a march to the Santa Barbara Courthouse to seize the draft records of every young man between the ages of 18 and 26 residing in the county.
Then, the lottery results were announced. It looked like Forrester was going to Vietnam, but not in the manner he desired. Rather than as a journalist for a respected news media, he, too, would become just another number in a senseless war, impotent to change even his own surroundings.
Grimly, he reviewed his options. Seizing the draft records would certainly foul up induction processing in the short term, and the longer the delay, the greater the possibility the war would be over. But he didn't expect that to be a permanent solution, nor did he want the perception that he participated in the protest because he himself would gain by it.
He could just take his chances – 127 was close to 135, and the war was winding down a bit. But he was not the type to just leave things to chance. Or he could just go and get it over with. If sent to Vietnam, that Tour of Duty would be only for a year. Still, his deeply held belief that all war was immoral made going to fight an extremely problematic compromise with his conscience.
Of course, he could always flee to Canada, but this struck Forrester as a direct affront to all that he fought for and believed in. Nothing was ever accomplished by running away. Besides, there was no guarantee everything would be forgiven when the war ended. He might never be able to set foot in his native country again.
Applying for a permanent deferral was a possible option, and Paul seriously weighed its considerations. He didn't qualify by virtue of his religion, could hardly claim a family hardship since he had abandoned his family, and clearly was not a sole surviving son with siblings killed in the war. Nor could "The Lothario of Santa Barbara" get away with a claim of being homosexual, and physically, he was as fit as any other member of the rowing team.
That left Conscientious Objector status, which Paul felt sure he would qualify for. However, while leaning in that direction, if he were classified a "CO," Forrester still would have felt cheated from his dream of making a grander impact by recording the horrors of war firsthand. He knew no major journal or magazine would send such a photographer into an environment where he might have to defend himself in combat.
The final option was to volunteer for military service, provided he could be guaranteed of getting the kind of assignment he wanted. He discovered he could become a photojournalist for Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, if he applied for Officer Candidate School. There was only one problem – doing so meant he could not risk almost-certain arrest by participating in the march on the Santa Barbara Courthouse.
His friend, Bill Avery, his colleague on the school newspaper, had already decided to cop out, and was urging Paul to join him on the sidelines just recording what happened to the protesters. Avery argued that publicizing the plight of the protesters as they were arrested could get more impact, while remaining perfectly safe themselves. Paul felt that was tantamount to betrayal of their twelve co-conspirators, but began to balance this small-potatoes demonstration against his infinitely more strategic protest if he got to photograph the war in Vietnam. And Avery had a point about generating publicity.
"The Santa Barbara 14" became "The Santa Barbara 12." All were arrested, but Paul Forrester's pictures catapulted him to fame and ready acceptance into the officer corps of the United States Army.
Reflecting on how he got to Vietnam, Bob knew a visit to Santa Barbara would also be on the agenda.
By now, the aroma of hot pie had filled the cabin and Scott went to scoop some vanilla ice cream onto the crumb topping filled with sugar and cinnamon that defined Dutch apple pie. It was his dad's favorite.
After three such treats appeared in the hands of the appreciative recipients, Bob resumed his story about Alex. "I very quickly came to love my adopted son." Bob Forrester's eyes reflected love, hurt and sadness. "Paternal instincts soon played their role. For several months I avoided the bars and honky-tonks Jake and I had frequented so often in the past, coming home to a sense of family life I hadn't experienced since before my blowup with my parents in Ironwood. For a short while, we both reveled in being a family. I was quite proud of being a dad.
"In reality, our ages were not that far apart—Alex was 17, and I was only 22 at the time. This made for more of a friendship, or perhaps a big brother, than a father-son relationship, at least in Alex's eyes. In my youthful arrogance, I thought I knew everything, but I had actually had no experience with fatherhood. Before long, the arguments started. The result is, we never quite got to the warmth you two guys display for each other.
"Alex was a street-savvy kid, whose rough edges formed his defense against all manner of threats to his well-being. Prone to angry outbursts, Alex was quick to react verbally, and—at times physically—to any perceived attack. Other kids in the neighborhood were terrified of him, and the result was Alex grew more isolated. It became a challenge to tame the beast in him, but I felt I was making progress. I urged him to find a girlfriend, and he did."
"So you had to give him up so he could marry his girlfriend?" Scott anticipated.
Bob gave a harsh laugh. "In a manner of speaking. But it's late and we're heading for Ironwood tomorrow. I'll tell you more another time."
That night, with the two of them alone in one of the bedrooms in the cabin, Scott asked his dad, "What do you think of the old Paul Forrester now?"
"What he told us about his experience in Vietnam already explains a lot about how Paul Forrester came to be the way he was," his dad replied thoughtfully. "Something hurt him terribly – something so devastating he can't yet bring out and tell us about. It may be the key to all that recklessness, as well as his façade of callousness toward women and the world in general."
"Yeah. I noticed the pain in his eyes when he mentioned Yvonne and certainly his son, Alex. I just wish he'd come out with it and not keep us in suspense."
"Whatever it is, he'll tell us in his own time. You know, Scott, I really do see him as my brother. It's funny, but that experience on Mount Hawthorne was like the birth of twins – only we were 'born' as adults. I feel for him and hope his time with us will help him become the person he wants to be deep inside. Whoever that is, I suspect it will be a different Paul or Bob Forrester than we knew in the past."
Chapter 7: Family Separations
Nestled among soaring sugar pines, Ironwood was about forty miles north of Cool on Route 49. Paul gave Scott a rare treat, and let him drive the deserted back road through the exquisite countryside. The road winds through the foothills of the Sierras in the heart of Gold Country, right past Sutter's Mill, where a few gold specks flickering in the river in 1848 set off a boom leading to creation of the Golden State. Along with it's neighbor, Nevada City, four miles to the North, Ironwood was the best preserved of California's still alive gold rush towns. Scott's interest in history was tweaked, and he expressed keen interest in stopping for a visit at Sutter's Mill. Afterwards, the three resumed the pleasant drive to Ironwood, passing the occasional ghost town along the way. As they approached the town of Paul Forrester's boyhood, conversation turned to review their story of Stella's missing son, Bob.
"Do you think it'll fly?" Scott asked a bit nervously.
"I've heard stranger stories," Bob responded with a wink at Paul.
As their car pulled into Ironwood, Bob's plan was to find and have a long talk with Hal Walker, who had so deeply loved and cared for Stella after Bob's father died. But first, Bob wanted to pass by his old home at 403 Neal Street, where Stella had lived so many years without even receiving a Christmas card from her son. A town landmark going back to the 1890's, the stately old Victorian on the corner lot looked the same to Paul and Scott, and surprisingly, to Bob as well. A fresh coat of white paint glistening in the sun was about the only change any of the three could discern. Bob noticed that the large Brandywine maple, planted from the fields of Gettysburg in 1876, still dominated the front yard. It had survived the fire of the first home on the site and even survived the twenty odd years of his absence. They stopped and went up to the front porch to fully indulge Bob's hunger for nostalgia.
Bob stared. A tiny tear welled up in his eyes. "I'm home, Mother," he whispered softly.
Paul thought of Hal Walker's words: "You can see what pride cost you. Was it worth it?" He saw no need to repeat them just then.
As they turned away from the front porch, the door suddenly opened, and the figure of Hal Walker appeared. He stopped and rubbed his eyes thinking he was seeing double for a moment. "Paul!" Hal shifted his glance back and forth between the two men in some confusion.
Paul smiled and offered his hand to the man who had reunited Stella and her son. "I'm the one you met, Hal."
"I never expected to see you again, but it is a pleasure to have you back. You, too, Scott." Hal's gaze returned to Bob. Gesturing at the twin, he addressed Paul, "And did you clone another?"
The twins smiled, and Paul replied, "We're calling him my brother 'Bob' and he's no clone. He's the original."
Hal stared at Bob with just a hint of displeasure, remembering the pain the original Paul Forrester had caused his beloved Stella for so many years. "You're Stella Forrester's boy? The real one?"
"But not the same person you knew, Hal," A surprisingly ill-at-ease Bob Forrester replied.
"That government guy, Fox, said you had died when the volcano erupted." Pointing at Paul, Hal continued, "And this alien being cloned your body."
"And so I had. But this man here, who took my identity, gave me back my life."
"This sounds like a story I want to hear. Why don't you all come in." Hal ushered everyone inside. Except for the Christmas tree, and Stella herself, nothing was missing since Paul and Scott's last visit.
Hal watched them glance around at the familiar room. "I've kept it just like Stella had it, because there are such wonderful memories here of the times we shared, Stella and me. I didn't want her to do it, but she insisted on naming me her heir about a year before she died."
Bob picked up a knickknack from the table and studied it. "That's OK, Hal," the original Paul Forrester assured him. "I would have no use for it, and I'm quite pleased to be able to come here and see it almost as I remember it eighteen years ago. Your living here helps you remember those times with my mother, and that means my mother will always be a part of you. I learned that from these guys!" Bob grinned while hooking his thumb in Paul and Scott's direction.
The narration of the entire course of events at Mount Hawthorne raised Hal's bushy thick eyebrows almost permanently. When Bob came to his theory of the afterlife process, Hal recalled a strange dream.
"That's interesting. One night, not long after Stella died, she appeared to me in a dream. It was so real I could smell her perfume and feel the heat from her body. She said, "I win the bet, you old goat. An afterlife does exist." He smiled warmly as he thought of her words. "There was something very real about that dream."
Suddenly his look turned to one of concern. "Paul, Scott, why did you come back here? Do you know the danger you might be in? George Fox got into town right after you left. I didn't tell him anything, but he sure gave Dave Winfield some kind of hell for not arresting you. Besides, how will you explain there are two of you? Everyone knows Stella didn't have twins."
"I need some more memories that will keep my mother forever a part of me," replied a somber Bob Forrester. "And only you can tell me what she was like for the last eighteen years." The old Paul Forrester look of conspiracy returned as he continued, "As for explaining the two of us, we'll need your help to confirm it, but wait until you hear this story!"
With the ease of someone well versed in talking his way out of things, Bob began a tale of yet another parent-child separation: While Stella was pregnant with Paul, she and her husband, Luke, were traveling about two hundred miles from home, near the small town of Mendocino, California. She unexpectedly went into labor, and Luke rushed her to the first doctor's office he could find. The doctor, a woman, was in the process of leaving town, her own dreams of having a child shattered by the loss of her fetus, just a week previously. Coupled with the loss of her husband in a boating accident two months before their baby was due, the miscarriage sent the woman packing to find solace in a new life on the East Coast in the small hamlet of Ashland, New Hampshire.
Unknown to Stella, she carried twins. And so it was that a very distraught woman performed a Caesarian procedure, and presented a skinny, blue-eyed baby boy to his proud parents, keeping a second equally skinny, blue-eyed boy back when mother and son were transferred to the hospital fifteen miles away for recovery.
Hal's eyebrows arched up another millimeter. "Crazy, but totally plausible," he exclaimed. "How do you say you found each other?"
"When Bob's mother died, she left him a tape telling him the truth," Scott interjected, proud of his contribution to the tale they had concocted.
"And a signed letter to back it up." Bob elaborated. "My brother's reputation had not extended to small town America, so I lived the life offered me. Then one day, while in a camera shop looking for a gift for a friend of mine, I chanced to see my face on the back cover of a book. The Eye of the Storm was a collection of photographs taken by Paul Forrester. A little research at the library found me enough information about him and I tracked down his address. We met, and I now have returned to Ironwood to learn about my real family and assume my rightful identity as Stella's other son."
Arched to their max, Hal's eyebrows could rise no further. "What an incredible story, and yet, it makes perfect sense." He smiled coyly. "You didn't want him abducted by aliens, huh?" Paul, Bob, and Scott exchanged knowing looks and joined Hal in a raucous burst of laughter.
It was Paul's job to request the favor of Hal. "Hal, we need your help to pull this off. You have lived in this town a long time, and if you say you're convinced that Stella had a twin son she didn't know about, most other folks will also be convinced. I can vouch for him as my brother, but you're the only other person close enough to the Forrester family to act as a second witness. We may need that for Bob to establish his identity."
Hal thought for a second, and replied, "Well it only confirms the obvious, doesn't it? You two are so alike, no sane person would contradict you."
"Tell me about my parents after I left." Bob got down to business.
"While you were still home, your mother seemed content being a mother and homemaker. When you left, I noticed changes in both your folks. Being a medal-winning Army man in the big war, your father didn't take well to your vocal anti-military opinions. Fortunately, Stella wasn't cut from the same cloth. She vigorously defended your right to fight against the things you felt were unjust, but like Luke, she didn't particularly support your chosen causes.
"When you left eighteen years ago, a change came over your mother. She would speak out on working together to improve the many things in town she felt needed improving. She even had her own seat in the council chambers. Everybody called it Stella's Place, and nobody else sat there unless they were out-of-towners. When she was in it, the city fathers knew she was there to argue her position on something. Most often her common sense approach to community problems prevailed. Everybody knew if Stella supported something, it was probably the right thing to do for Ironwood.
"Your mother was tireless in her efforts to improve life for every person living here. When the town fathers squabbled over trivialities, you can be sure Stella's straight talk would cut through the nonsense, and bring sense to them all. She fought for values many believed had long ago died out in modern America.
"Through it all, she bore a deep sadness at your abrupt departure. To her, it was like having a child die. That's perhaps the hardest thing for a parent to endure, but eventually, most people accept the real death of a loved one. Your mom grieved for your father but eventually accepted his death. In many ways, your estrangement with your mother was even worse than if you had died, because your perpetual absence continued to inflict pain. You were not dead – just estranged. You may have had a lot of reasons to leave this town, but your mother was not one of them." He shook his head. "The two of you shared such a common stubbornness that neither of you could accept the fact that differences arise even between people who love each other. That's not a reason to just run out."
Bob was quietly absorbing all this when Paul gently observed, "You and your mother had a lot more in common than stubbornness: her dedication to changing things for the better, fighting for what was right to improve her town. She did it with words, example, and a strong spirit. You did it with your camera, but in the end, you both tried to make your world a better place."
"Thanks, Hal, for showing me another side of my mother. Now, that will always be a part of me." Bob said simply. "One thing I should clear up. When I left in 1969, I did leave without saying goodbye, but my parents already knew I would be leaving to start my last two years of college. I had graduated from junior college that May, and this would be my first time away from home. I was incredibly angry that it had to start with an argument. At the time, the thought never crossed my mind that I wouldn't be home for Thanksgiving. When it arrived though, I still wasn't ready to go home and settle things. As time went on, it got harder and harder to come back to face them, then her."
"That's where that famous Forrester stubbornness came in," replied Hal, arching his eyebrows. "You didn't write or call, so she didn't write or call—no communication on either side. Well, it's past history. Thanks to your twin here, your mother forgave you, and died happy in the knowledge that her son had returned and even gave her a wonderful grandson to cherish in her last few days. You, too, seem to have changed from the stubborn firebrand I remember."
Bob, Scott and Paul all smiled together at Hal's compliment of each of them. Bob said, "You will always be a friend to the Forrester family for sending your deceptive summons. Thank you for that deviousness. And out-of-body experiences do have a way of changing one's perspectives!"
"I will always love your mother," Hal declared. Then, with a twinkle in his eyes, "And I am coming to have great respect for her two sons!"
"Now comes the test of our story," Bob said. "Let's take a walk into town."
They all walked down the hill to the Flower Shop on Main Street, and smoothly launched into introducing the town to the Forrester twins.
"Can you believe it?" Hal's arched eyebrows punctuated his act. This being California, the story was accepted without much comment all over town.
They then headed for the County Courthouse, where they were ushered in to the judge's chambers. The judge, a life-long friend of Stella Forrester, looked skeptical. But the clear evidence of identical twins standing before her was incontrovertible. She stared at Bob and said, "If Stella's son and her designated heir are willing to accept you into the Forrester family, far be it from me to deny it." Without any further documentation, she then readily issued the order giving Bob the right to a birth certificate attesting that Stella was the mother of twins. She copied the rest of the information from Paul's birth certificate regarding date, place, delivering physician, etc. and with a flick of the wrist, and an embossed seal, Robert H. Forrester was officially born, twenty minutes after his famous brother. From there, in a few weeks, a Social Security Card, Passport, and all of the other accouterments of identity would follow.
After dropping Hal back home, and picking up their car, next stop was the Division of Motor Vehicles. Bob was prepared for the suspicious look from the examiner wondering why a grown man in his late 30's had never gotten a license before. His explanation, that he had lived abroad all his adult life and never needed a driver's license up to now, brought a wistful smile to the examiner's lips. "Pretty exciting life," the examiner commented. Then, armed with his new birth certificate, and much to Scott's amusement, Bob readily passed the written and road tests to receive his "very first" driver's license.
Chapter 8: Lessons
Leaving the DMV, Scott and the twins split up. Bob wanted to spend some time at the cemetery, and it was Scott who beat Paul in suggesting they wander around town while Bob was at the cemetery. Paul gave his son a loving look, quite proud of Scott's growing sensitivity to respecting the feelings of others.
As they strolled towards the hospital, Scott revealed more of his maturing ability to perceive insights from other people's behavior, a skill of empathy he had inherited from his dad. "I think Uncle Bob discovered that there are different ways to protest and change things you don't like. I'll bet he remembers Grandma's way for the rest of his life.
"The young Paul Forrester was too impatient," Scott added, "and acted rashly at times. He didn't think about how his actions would affect others."
Paul put his arm around his son, while continuing to walk, pleased with the boy whose character was developing so quickly. "Yes. He was young and lacked maturity. You are quite perceptive to notice he seemed deeply moved by his mother's dedication to improving things," he replied.
Scott put his arm around his dad's shoulder, and they continued strolling in a father-son embrace that clearly revealed their feelings for each other. The many experiences they shared united them in spirit and delight in the other's company. Passing the hospital, they stopped to admire the giant spruce tree, the one that had brought so much pleasure to Stella as, for one last time, with the help of a Starman, she beheld the Christmas spirit uniting her town.
"Stella chose well, didn't she, Dad? If we ever find Mom and settle down, Ironwood wouldn't be such a bad place," Scott said a bit wistfully. Paul gave his son a look, tinged with a slight hint of guilt. "I know. Someday, Scott, we'll have a house up there in those hills above town, with an observatory, and we'll call it "Starview."
The tree brought back memories of how much those first gifts to each other, on their first Christmas together, had meant. Each had learned so much from the other, and each was so proud of the other, as they thought about their year as father and son. Paul's gift to Scott of that telescope symbolized all of the tools a father gives a son to help him find his way around the stars and life itself. Scott's gift of that special key ring to Paul symbolized his giving the key to his heart to a dad he loved and respected. The two had something special going, and both knew they had become a part of each other.
"Forrester!" The warm reverie was abruptly broken by a harsh shout. "I told you never to return to Ironwood." An incredibly angry Dave Winfield, Ironwood's chief of police, accosted them from behind.
"Hello, Dave." Paul turned and smiled at his antagonist.
"You're under arrest, Forrester!" Dave jabbed a finger at Scott. "You, too, son." "I don't even know what the charges are, but there's an obsessed federal agent who tore me apart for letting you go at Christmas. Whatever you did for this town does not permit me to ignore my duty regarding wanted fugitives."
"Fox was here, huh?" Scott inquired dully, pretending surprise.
"Yeah, Fox was here all right. The man went through here like a Class 5 Hurricane having apoplexy. He's obsessed but he has a warrant to hold the both of you. I'm lucky I still have my job."
Paul started to apologize for causing Dave to endure Fox's wrath. The officer was not in the mood, and ordered father and son to turn around and lean up against the building. Two pair of handcuffs materialized, and Dave started to cuff Paul's hands behind his back. A loud yell interrupted him.
"Hold it, Winfield!" A man sounding amazingly like the fugitive he was handcuffing ran up to them.
Without turning away from his captives, Dave shouted back, "Police business. Stay away!"
"If you're trying to arrest Paul Forrester, you got the wrong man. I'm Paul Forrester," the newcomer declared.
Closing the last cuff snuggly around Paul's wrist, Dave grabbed Scott's arm before turning to face the new threat. Indeed, the man he was facing looked no different from his prisoner.
Catching on immediately to what Bob was trying to do, Paul quickly interjected, "No, I'm Paul Forrester."
The newcomer pressed his advantage. "Confused, pal? Well, what are you going to do now? You have only one warrant to arrest Paul Forrester. How are you going to choose which of us is the right one? I'll tell you this: choose the wrong one, and you'll have a lawsuit for false arrest laid on you so fast, it will make your head spin."
Taken aback, but not losing any of his swagger, Officer Winfield rejoined, "Let me tell you something. You're obstructing a police officer in the performance of his duties, and that means I can arrest you for obstruction, and we'll sort out who's who later."
Bob didn't miss a beat. "You just go ahead and try, pal. If you arrest me for obstruction, you can't turn me over to Fox until my hearing. And I'll win that battle, because far from obstructing you, I'm urging you to arrest me on the Paul Forrester warrant. So you'll have to release me, or else hold me as Paul Forrester and release this guy. You still will be unable to distinguish between the two of us. What if I'm the one Fox really wants? Care to give any thoughts as to what Fox will do to you if you bungle this so badly, you let the real Paul Forrester go? And let's not forget the publicity. One of us is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. The AP will certainly pick up on that. You'll be such a laughingstock, you couldn't land a job in law enforcement for years.
"Yeah, for years." Paul added, echoing his twin.
Bob had clearly boxed Dave into a corner, and Dave knew it. Speaking to both twins, he said, "Whichever of you is the Paul Forrester I despised for years, I remember now why I hated you so much. When you came back last Christmas, I thought perhaps you had changed, but you're just as arrogant now as back in 1969. Then, all you knew how to do was yell and scream. I'm going to let you all go, and just pretend this encounter never took place. Just tell me, are you both Stella's sons, and how could we never have known she had twins?"
"Yep, we're the Forrester twins," Bob confessed.
Without revealing who was who, Paul and Bob alternately divulged the story of how Stella came to have twins and never knew it. The twins constantly altered styles with each other, both at times explaining quietly without any arrogance, and both assuming a more belligerent attitude on occasion. At the end, a thoroughly bewildered officer of the law still had no means of discerning any differences between them. More importantly, he had no reason to doubt what he had heard. He would have to tell Fox that there were no legal means to arrest either Forrester, unless Fox had some way of distinguishing the man he wanted from the innocent one.
Paul smiled slightly, knowing that Fox could not rely so easily any longer on other law enforcement agencies in his manic quest to get ahold of the alien. That might not stop him – Fox's obsession had already shown he was willing to compromise a few legal niceties when he felt it necessary. Only if caught by Fox, would the lack of scars, the energy level, and the perfect teeth of the cloned photographer give any clue as to the identity of each twin. Luckily, Dave Winfield had no clue of such differences, and since Fox had never seen the alien and the real Paul Forrester together, even he could not issue a bulletin giving distinguishing characteristics. Fox had been dealt a major defeat, but like a wounded cougar, he was still just as dangerous.
"Dave," Bob concluded gently, "I want you to know, and I think I can speak for both of us, we bear you no ill will. I just have to act strongly sometimes to protect my family," waving his hand at Paul and Scott.
Blinking and nodding his acknowledgement, Dave Winfield realized that neither of the men resembled the firebrand Paul Forrester he remembered from his youth.
Dave's advice was to get out of town, and Scott and the twins were only too happy to comply. As the signs on Highway 49 indicated they were leaving Ironwood, Paul turned to Bob. "Thanks for handling that situation so well."
"Yeah," Scott chimed in. "I thought we were goners for sure."
"I guess my old tough guy approach has its uses, sometimes," Bob replied, grinning. I'm re-looking at a lot of things in my life, but a little intimidation is sometimes needed in this world.
"But you used that approach in a gentler, more responsible manner. Think of your last comment to Dave. You were sensitive to his feelings and that's something the old Paul Forrester never did."
"Hmm. An interesting lesson. Can you be both strong and gentle at the same time?" When the Starman raised an eyebrow in his direction, Bob felt the bond with his twin grew stronger.
The tall, green pine trees around Ironwood whizzed by as the old California Gold Route took them south, past the signs for Yosemite National Park.
Pointing, Bob turned to Scott. "Ever been there, Scott? It's a magical place – one of my favorites in the entire world, and I've seen a lot."
"I've always wanted to." Scott replied. "What do you mean by magical?"
"It has the power to electrify you, to inspire heroic achievements, and to bring kindred spirits together. It never fails to send my spirits soaring, to move me to create images even Ansel Adams would appreciate, although I would hardly put myself in his category. I've probably been there twenty times, and each time is still special. I've taken many people there over the years, each coming away with a different perspective, but all learning something about themselves or about each other. It's inspired love, poetry, and awe, aroused passions and provided lessons on how to deal with life. Simply put, it's my silver sphere."
"Wow. Let's go!" exclaimed the exuberant 14-year-old boy. Yosemite sounded like no other place on earth. Like every schoolboy, Scott had read about Yosemite National Park, and marveled at the old black and white photographs of its foremost photographer, the world master, Ansel Adams. In fact, Yosemite was the single best-known park in California, rivaled only by Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks in America's Pantheon of raw and scenic beauty. But he had never heard it described the way Bob had.
"We will," his uncle replied, "but first I want to go to Santa Barbara. I need to meet my son and make some amends." He gave them a warm smile. "After that, I'll be ready for Yosemite, and I have a very special gift for my brother and his son awaiting you there."
"Dad!" There was no mistaking the emotions and urgency in the voice of that 14-year-old boy.
In a restaurant in the quaint California gold mining town of Angel's Camp, Scott had left his dad and uncle to make a call to Wayne Geffner, his mom's brother and his real uncle. Wayne had urged them to check in every now and then to see if there was any news of Jenny. Scott's mom would surface sometime and no doubt would contact her brother with news that she was safely hidden from Fox. Maybe they could even get a message to her, Scott secretly hoped. What Wayne told him this time though, clearly blew the young teen's mind.
"Take it easy, Scott," Paul said, rising from the sturdy, old wooden table. He and Bob were discussing Eric Kendall's decision to leave his parents to go off with the man he thought was his natural dad, the cloned Paul Forrester.
"Dad, I have absolutely awesome news! Mom's in Hawaii, in Hanalei, on the island of Kauai."
Bob snorted. "Well, that's about as far from DC as you can get. I'd love to see Fox track her down to there."
"Fox hasn't yet, but here's what's so mind blowing. He called Uncle Wayne. And get this, Fox says he won't bother Mom anymore, and he wants to make a deal with us. Something about a truce."
"What!" It was Paul's turn to look completely shocked. His eyebrows arched upward, and his head snapped backward as it had so many times before when he encountered something amazing about this planet. Stunned himself, Bob declared, "I wouldn't trust that man to help his brother, much less cut you guys any break."
"Let's start from the beginning, Scott," a slightly recovered alien addressed his son. "Tell us everything Wayne said."
They took their seats again, and Scott replied. "He said Fox wants to offer us a truce in exchange for our help. He told Uncle Wayne only that it is a matter of the utmost national security, and our help would go a long way in convincing him that we really are benevolent aliens. Dad, I'm scared. This sounds like a trap. What do you think is going on? Besides, the heck with Fox. Let's go see Mom!"
A look of perplexed anxiety crossed Paul's face as he looked to his brother. "Bob, what do you make of this?"
"Could be your hunter found some bigger game to snare. I agree with Scott. Let George solve his own problems. Tell you what. You go to Hawaii, and let Scott meet up with his mom. I'll pretend I'm you—or is that me?—and nose around my old government friends and see if I can find out about any great national security thing going down. Whether I learn anything or not, I'll join you in Hawaii as soon as I leave Santa Barbara. If nothing else, I'll take you and Scott snorkeling and scuba diving. The Islands are famous for it."
For the first time since Scott's announcement, Paul found himself smiling. "Leave it to you to combine business and pleasure. Going to Hawaii makes sense. I'd like to discuss all this with Jenny before we make any effort to contact Fox. And hopefully you may have some news that will influence the decision.
"This will only be a visit, Scott, but I'm really glad you'll have an opportunity to finally see your mom." Paul grinned at his son as he watched his quiet understatement sink in.
"Wow! I get to see Mom, and hit the beach in the same week!" Scott's exuberance made him forget for the moment any concerns over whatever Fox was up to. His boyish grin infected his elders and soon all were beaming with equal delight.
Finishing dinner, they planned their rendezvous for three days hence at the Princeville Hotel, high on the cliffs above Hanelei Bay. The travelers continued down to Santa Barbara. There, one father left to meet his son for the first time, while the other took his son to catch a plane to meet his mother for what would seem like the first time.
Chapter 9: Reconciliation
"Now this is the only way to fly!" Scott's obvious delight at soaring once again through the clouds no doubt reflected that they were savoring the delights of first class air travel for the very first time. Thanks to Paul's twin, who in another life had accumulated over two million frequent flyer miles, Scott and Paul were feasting on filet mignon, served on real china with a chanterelle mushroom sauce and garlic mashed potatoes shaped in the form of a seashell. Paul had found the lobster and tiger prawn salad to be the appetizer equivalent to his favorite dessert. One row ahead, the cabin attendant was serving Aloha Macadamia Nut Sundae, with a truly mouth-watering hot fudge sauce drizzled over vanilla bean ice cream, topped with crushed macadamia nuts, fresh coconut, whipped cream and a cherry. Accompanied by a tubular pirouline cookie, coated with chocolate on the inside and protruding out of the side of the dish at a jaunty angle, the combination made for the most sumptuous hot fudge sundae Scott had ever tasted. Meanwhile, the travelers reveled in the luxury of capacious leather seats with equally roomy leg space and footrests to stretch out on.
Scott was as excited as his father had ever seen him. Traveling on what was really his first vacation-to one of the most exotic spots on earth-along with the thought that finally he would meet his mom, combined in a powerful potion of enthusiasm. His youthful exuberance, so engaging in normal circumstances, seemed boundless. Seeing his son so passionate, Paul smiled to himself despite his worries about what Fox was up to. Scott certainly knew how to express his pleasure whenever he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Spooning his sundae, Paul wished what all parents wish—that somehow this moment of sharing fun with his son could last forever. And because it had become a part of him, it would.
The plane landed on the narrow strip of pavement, surrounded by palm trees swaying gently in the breeze. One look at the azure blue water of the tropical Pacific reminded the Starman of the incredible view of the oceans he had experienced while entering earth's atmosphere for the first time.
Unlike Honolulu, Lihue Airport on Kauai was a small, rural, almost aerodrome-like airstrip, a throwback to the old Hawaii, when landings were made in fields. It had the virtue of providing a speedy exit right off the plane, where one picked up baggage right out of the tail. In minutes, Paul and Scott had their rental car and were whisking North on Route 56, the sole highway around the island. Scott was reading the text accompanying the map of the island. "Listen to this, Dad. It describes Kauai as 'The Garden Isle,'" Scott said. "I can see why. It sure is green." The lush scenery looked like something he had only seen in the movies, and indeed that was true, because Kauai was the setting for many Hollywood films, from Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii, to South Pacific, to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
"'Kauai has the most rainfall of any of the Hawaiian Islands,'" Scott read aloud, "'and boasts of harboring the wettest spot on earth-the Waialeale Volcano, where some six hundred inches of rain fall every year. It makes for a freshness of air, where the senses became immersed in a cornucopia of magnificent visual delights, incredible thundering waterfalls, and wonderful fragrant flowers-all alive in the brilliance and crystal clarity of that luminescent light that follows a rainstorm.' Wow!"
"I agree, double wow!" Paul's sense of wonder at seeing such beauty reflected everywhere enhanced his appreciation for all things on this planet-natural splendor as well as seeing beauty in earth's people. He greatly admired the heights humanity could climb, and their ability to change things for the better, if only they were determined or enlightened enough. With a small sigh, he wondered what would it take to enlighten George Fox.
Scott checked his map. "That must be The Sleeping Giant." His head shifted from side to side trying to imagine a 3-D view. "It's a rock formation that's supposed to resemble a giant human lying on his back, with a distinctive nose and face."
"Yes, now that you've described it, I can see it," replied Paul. Thanks for being my lens." They exchanged smiles.
The travelers stopped for lunch at Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls, famous for their long cascading descents into pools of crystal blue. Back on the road, Scott glanced to the right, where gentle waves washed ashore onto a beach of sugar-white sand and into the moat of a three-foot high sand castle, which a family was just completing. Must be an architect among them, an admiring Scott thought.
Rounding the bend past a lone lighthouse, Scott reminisced happily when they passed a horse ranch. That reminds me of the time we spent at Aunt Antonia's, learning to ride. What a life. Dad and I sure have been to a lot of interesting places. As Dad once said, "That's what life's about." But wasn't life also about families and love? Will seeing Mom for the first time in eleven years be the first step towards us all eventually becoming that loving family? What will Mom be like? Other than the fact that she is my mom, she is also a perfect stranger. I can accept she thought she had to give me up to escape Fox's pressure, but wasn't there some other way? Dad and I would never abandon each other.
Paul's thoughts turned back to George Fox, the FSA agent who seemed to have dedicated his life to tracking down every lead relating to the alien. Fox certainly possesses a surfeit of determination. He's obsessed with capturing Scott and me, and convinced we're lurking among humanity with evil intent. But there is no evil intent. From the hundreds of contacts Fox had interviewed, he should have discovered my true values by now. Yet, nothing seems sufficient to counter his notion that my "alien seed" would spread across the earth, threatening humanity's very existence.
With such an attitude to overcome, Paul had to admit that Bob and Scott were probably right, and Fox was baiting another trap. And yet, what if Fox could be reconciled to the truth? Jenny and Scott could have the family life they deserved. No more running, hiding, or fearing – a normal, loving family whose support for one another would provide the strength, companionship, and joy that humans seem so capable of. Was it worth the risk?
With father and son deep in thought, the crescent of Hanalei Bay soon loomed ahead. A perfect juxtaposition of aquamarine waters, alabaster and taupe colored sand, emerald-green palms, and azure-blue sky, this was truly paradise.
"Look Scott! A double rainbow!" a fascinated alien interrupted both their thoughts.
"Wow! That's awesome, Dad. I've never seen one before either. In fact I wasn't sure they were real, what with all that talk about a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
A thoroughly perplexed man of the stars gazed at his son with that familiar "what in the world are you talking about" look.
"Just an expression, Dad. A lot of writers use it," Scott quickly added.
"Oh, OK. I was trying to figure the amount of energy that would be needed to convert light into an element as heavy as gold. It's simply not possible on earth."
It was Scott's turn to look amazed. "You mean it's possible somewhere out there?"
With a twinkle in his eye, Paul grinned at Scott. "I don't know. I just said it's not possible on earth."
"Oh, Dad. You're funny!" Scott grinned back with a slight shake of his head, recognizing his father's developing sense of humor.
With growing excitement, Scott and Paul turned into the quaint little town of Hanalei, the land made immortal in Peter, Paul, and Mary's famous folk song, "Puff, The Magic Dragon." They quickly saw that it looked like an artist's town, a New Age kind of feeling that they knew Jenny would find appealing. According to Wayne, Jenny did not live in town, but in a small cabin much farther out along the winding two-lane road with all the one-lane bridges. They were supposed to check with the manager of Captain Zodiak Raft Expeditions, who knew how to reach Jenny's cabin.
The manager at Captain Zodiak was Ivan Westberg, a native Hawaiian who had, for years, operated the famed Zodiak motorized raft trips around the Napali Coast. That fabled stretch of raw beauty-with its lush green cliffs jutting out like razors, pristine beaches, and quaint sea caves-was one of the highlights of any trip to Kauai. Wayne had told Scott to ask for Ivan and tell him Jimmy was looking for his aunt. This obtuse reference to Wayne's lost son from Vietnam, known only to the Geffner family, would be the cue for Ivan to take them to Jenny, who was working for Ivan as a Captain Zodiak Tour Guide under the name of Jennifer Reilly.
As it turned out, they had no need to approach Ivan because there was Jenny preparing for another tour when Paul and Scott walked in. Without missing a beat, she asked if they were interested in taking the tour. They were.
Scott could hardly contain his youthful impatience. He wanted to just reach out and hug his mom, but his father's steadying hand on his shoulder every now and then kept the teen's emotions in check. The thrills of the tour also helped. Dolphins accompanied the raft for most of the trip, bobbing in and out of the waves on all sides. With the surf exploding against the rocks, sometimes surging straight up through a blowhole in the ancient lava, it all became the backdrop for an exhilarating ride. Jenny's expert narrative of the history of the local people, pointing out the secret beaches and the many scenes familiar to movie buffs added a personal involvement to the excitement. And this time, no one had to lift a paddle.
When the trip ended, Paul and Scott lingered to catch Jenny alone. She handed them a business card, and told them to be sure to tell their friends about the tour. On the back of the business card was scribbled an address. They knew what to do from there.
A while later, on the road to Jenny's cabin, Scott's emotions whirled like the turbulent whitewater rapids they had so recently navigated in California. Straining against his seatbelt, he reached out to loosen its grip. Would it really happen this time? Mom! I'm coming! Please be there! We came so close before. I don't think I could handle missing you again. What if Fox is waiting in the bushes? Well, this is one time Dad will have to use his sphere to keep Fox at bay. Nothing is going to prevent me from seeing Mom. Faster, Dad!
Scott's arm brushed against his dad's, and Paul's hyper senses could feel the blood coursing vigorously through his son's body. Humans have an amazing capacity to actually feel what their emotions are dictating, Paul thought, with a glance at his son. He observed the storm in the teen's eyes and wisely said nothing.
Scott's passions raced on. His agitated body twisted and turned in the passenger seat, and when he tried to sit still, his right leg pumped up and down as if it had a mind of its own. How do I greet her? "Hello, remember me?" Will I make a fool of myself in front of my mom and dad? Just bust out bawling like a baby? Do I care if I do? This is my mom, and I haven't seen her in eleven years. How can a guy be cool under those circumstances? Scott felt a sudden thrill of amazement. I'm really going to see her! Short of meeting an alien who claimed he was your dad, this is the most awesome thing to ever happen to me! Oh, please, God, let her be there!
This time, the reunion took place. Jenny was just where Captain Zodiac's business card said she would be – in a cabin not far from Ke'e Beach, the farthest paved point on the North Shore. With nary a pause, mother and son immediately enveloped themselves in each other's arms, clutching so tightly, Paul feared someone would crack a rib. Holding the embrace for seemingly an eon, without ever uttering a sound, neither was willing to break the spell long enough to even say hi. Finally, Scott did it, looked into his mom's eyes and just said, "Hi." With tears welling in her eyes, mirrored unashamedly by both Scott and Paul, Jenny Hayden acknowledged her son's greeting and savored that single word uttered by a being she had thought existed only in another life.This man-boy is my son! He clasps me so strongly, and yet, with such a gentle touch as he tenderly wipes the tear from my cheek. Oh, Scotty, how much I've missed you!
It was Paul's turn and the scene repeated – only this time the embrace turned into a long, loving kiss. Scott could have sworn he saw some blue light emanating behind them, reminiscent of the light that formed when his dad used his sphere to set up Jenny's image for Scott to see.
Then all three joined together. It was like a New Year's celebration in Times Square. The atmosphere was electrifying with a delirious giddiness. One could almost see the fireworks bursting over, around, and through the millions of pieces of colored confetti swirling through the air, so characteristic of America's most famous street party.
"This even beats going to Disneyland after winning the Super Bowl!" Scott cried out.
And indeed, it was.
Close to Disneyland, another reconciliation was taking place. Bob had finally met his son, Eric, although he pretended that he was seeing him again as Paul from the Starman's recent trip to Santa Barbara. He mentioned that Scott had found his mom, and while the two were getting to know each other, thought it would be a great idea for Eric and his biological dad to do the same. With things going so well now between Eric and his adoptive father, Eric was much more relaxed, eager to get to know his natural dad, but clearly comfortable with the life he had with his mother and Tom.
Still grateful for how Paul helped Eric see the love he had for his son, Tom welcomed the man he thought was the Paul Forrester he had recently met. That man was no longer a threat, but a friend of the family. Joanna too had finally put aside thoughts of what might have been, and the Kendall family, like scores of others, who had encountered the Starman, felt enriched by the experience.
Thinking of how he himself might have handled the situation at the time, Bob inwardly shook his head in amazement at how an alien being could have such an understanding of human behavior and motivation. Paul said he just commented on what he observed, but was it that easy? Was the right way always that obvious?
Bob and Eric spent the day together just walking around Santa Barbara. Passing the courthouse, Bob told his son his real motivations for not marching with the Santa Barbara 12. They talked about photography, about seeing beyond the picture and feeling what the people he photographed were feeling. Later, along the same beach where Paul and Scott had their discussion about the roles of fathers and sons, Bob candidly spoke to his son. "You know, Eric, had I known Joanna -your mom - was pregnant, I no doubt would have run away from the responsibilities of fatherhood, just as I did with Scott for fourteen years. Today, things are different. My values have changed, and I am more mature. I would love to have a son like you."
Eric, who had been unaware that Paul had only recently come into Scott's life, felt his love for Tom grow even more. He had an intact, loving family from the day he had been born, thanks to Tom. And yet the man he was walking beside had helped bring him into this life, and it was clear that man was not the same man he had been sixteen years before. That he had indeed changed was evident from the love he showed Scott, and the loving interest he was showing in Eric right now. Eric felt enough acceptance from his biological father to honor him with the title.
"Dad, I want you to know I forgive you, and I understand why you did what you did at the time. A little while ago, I wanted to run away from things too, but I learned about love and responsibility. Maybe that will prevent me from doing what you did." He looked up at his dad and smiled warmly.
Bob put his arm around his son, and father and son walked quietly together for a few moments, the waves of the Pacific lapping gently on the sandy beach, completing the mood of harmony and peace that its namesake implied.
Eric recalled the parting conversation that he had with Scott when they were alone for a moment, just before the train left. "Your dad is really cool," he had told Scott, who said, "Yeah," and then related how astounded he'd been when Paul asked him an amazing question. "Now that's a cool dad!" Scott had exclaimed. Thinking about the time he spent today with the man he knew as Paul Forrester, Eric now fully appreciated Scott's feelings. He knew exactly how he wanted to convey his own feelings.
"Dad, Scott told me that when you and he were walking along this beach, you asked him how were you doing as a father. I think that is the most extraordinary question a father could ask his son. I'd really like for you to ask me the same question right now."
Startled, Bob Forrester repeated the pivotal question that came so naturally to his twin. He was well aware that even the thought of asking such a question would have been beyond him at any prior time in his life.
He was even more startled at Eric's reply. "You're doing OK, Dad. In fact, more than OK. Tom is my dad now, but I want you to know I will always love you, too. I'm pretty lucky to have two dads who care about me, and two dads I'm proud to look up to."
Later Bob related to Tom what their son had said. Tom gave his friend a knowing look and said, "You know, there's something about the ability to forgive that marks the maturity of a man. It's darn difficult to do especially when you're angry, but if you don't, it could affect your outlook for years, perhaps forever. I had to find it within myself to forgive Eric, but couldn't until you helped out. I'm glad you were able to help Eric come to grips with his past and also find the maturity to forgive."
"He's a fine boy," Bob replied. "And the credit is all yours."
After two days together, Scott and his mom were getting to know each other. Each saw a strength of character that was admirable. Scott finally brought up the central question in his mind.
"Mom, I listened to your tape several times before Dad had to erase it so Fox wouldn't get it. Was there any other way? I know you didn't make the decision to let me go easily, and I sure can appreciate what Fox chasing after you must have been like. But, oh, how I wish we could have stayed together."
"Me too, kiddo. I have agonized over that decision for eleven years. Today, I would do it differently, but back then I saw no other option. Maybe I just wasn't as skilled in the art of evasion in those days. Maybe when you are young, you don't have a lot of life's experiences and successes to give you confidence when things seem overwhelming."
Scott was touched at his mom's candor. Hearing adults admit that they were not perfect was still a new concept for him. "I forgive you, Mom. I don't fully understand the reasons for your decision, but I recognize that you made it because you believed it was for the best for both of us at that time."
For the next two days, the three talked and laughed, ate together and had fun together, reveling in being a family at last.
Chapter 10: Irreconcilable
Talk inevitably moved on to what to do about George Fox and his tempting offer—or dastardly plot. Jenny's pragmatism said they needed more data, and they all eagerly awaited the arrival of the most incongruous source of help the Starfamily could ever have expected – the long dead Paul Forrester, "Uncle" Bob, twin brother and best friend of Starman. His government contacts could prove invaluable in maybe finding out what Fox was up to, and deciding what to do.
Before calling those government contacts, Bob had some remaining business in Santa Barbara. He paid a visit to Bill Avery, the magazine publisher who so long ago had copped out on the Santa Barbara 12 with considerably less noble motivations than those of Paul Forester. Bob's encounter with Avery was decidedly less successful than his meetings with the Kendall family. Still livid from Paul's last visit, Avery lunged at Bob with vehemence when the two met. Only well-honed reactions prevented a physical confrontation. Quickly taking his leave after vainly arguing with Avery, Bob sought out his former comrades, members of the Santa Barbara 12 still in town.
While Avery had suppressed Paul's photos depicting the truth—present day Santa Barbara 12 members were heroic, caring leaders of the community—Paul had exposed Avery for what he was: a mean-spirited man who wanted to demean his betrayed comrades to justify his own behavior. The photos later appeared in the local paper when Paul sent copies to the people he had photographed. To Avery's utter infuriation, the Santa Barbara 12 had been vindicated. Thanks to Paul neutralizing so much of their negative feeling for Paul Forrester, Bob's revelations of his true motivations for not marching with them earned him the forgiveness and understanding he desired. In contrast, Bill Avery and Paul Forrester had nothing in common—perhaps never did—and Bob realized that not all people can be open to conciliation; some people simply don't have the inner character for it.
As he prepared to leave Santa Barbara, Bob made two telephone calls, the first to Washington, D.C. With the professional journalist's demeanor, he revealed nothing of his reaction to what he heard. Only his twin's acute powers of observation might have detected the slight hardness in Bob's eyes at the news.
On his way to the airport, he stopped at the American Express office. As advertised, American Express issued replacement cards immediately to anyone losing their wallet, and knowing all the right passwords on an account. The process was even easier for celebrities and Pulitzer Prize winners. They even asked if he would like to do one of their famous commercials ("Do you know me? That's why I use the American Express Card!") The man known to American Express as Paul Forrester also filed a statement that his brother, Robert Forrester, would henceforth also be authorized to use his account.
Eight hours later he was in Hanelei, making his way toward the Princeville Hotel to meet with Paul and Scott. Paul was a bit worried since Bob had not arrived on the third day as originally planned, but the fallback was to meet at the same time on the following day. This time, Bob was there.
"Sorry I'm a day late," Bob said as they rode toward Jenny's cabin. "I got so involved with things in Santa Barbara, I just didn't have the time to get here yesterday."
A perplexed alien blurted out, "So is that what humans mean when they say they are out of time? Never could figure it out. How can anyone ever be out of time? There are always exactly 1440 minutes in every day—never more, never less. Although I did hear they will give us an extra second on New Year's 1999. Strange to think anyone could believe they are out of all that—where did it go?"
Even Bob, who looked serious when he came in, couldn't help but break into a grin. "That's what everybody asks, Paul. 'Where did the time go?'"
An equally grinning Scott chimed in. "That's what people say when they are just too busy to do everything they should be doing."
A now sheepish-looking Paul laughed at himself and said, "I see. It does make a wonderful excuse!"
Scott laughed. "I think you got it, Dad,"
Jenny just shook her head, smiling, but not before Bob noticed the tender look—which could only be love—that she had for the father of her child.
"So, you're Jenny. You must really be something to have these two guys on such a quest to find you!" Bob smiled warmly. He couldn't help but notice the striking beauty of the woman who had made love to a Starman. He thought of the last time that he had made love. It was to that French stewardess—what was her name?—the one that Liz found me with when she walked in on us just before the accident on Mount Hawthorne.
Then, just before that, there was Jake's wife. The thought of that tryst suddenly revolted him. How could I have made it with the wife of my best friend from the war days? And here, right in front of me, was an even more stunningly attractive woman. Would I end up betraying even my brother, and turn on Jenny the way I had so many others? No! That was his past, and though he didn't yet realize why he used women so freely back then, he knew his future approach with women would be far different.
Jenny responded simply. "People move mountains to be with the ones they love."
Then, with another loving glance at her family, she continued, "Or in this case, travel from another world, then halfway around this one."
"Now, that's a long-distance relationship," Bob replied, pleasantly.
"Any news, Bob?" Paul could wait no longer and in his usual straightforward manner signaled it was time to discuss the business at hand.
Snapped from his friendly chatting with Jenny, Bob's eyes narrowed, and Paul knew whatever the news, it was not encouraging. "Well, to begin with, your friend Fox is now the Big Man on Campus. He's quadrupled his personal staff, moved into some top-flight office space in Washington, and is seen hobnobbing with such luminaries as the Secretary of Defense, the Commander in Chief of NORAD, and the Surgeon General of the United States.
"What's more, he now heads a one hundred-man task force comprised of agents, experts from SETI, outstanding researchers from every prestigious university in the country, and can call up crack military units faster than you can say 'enemy attack.'"
At Jenny's audible gasp, Bob looked over and sent a wry smile her way. "That's the bad news. The good news is he may be so damn busy that he has little time to worry about benign aliens like your family here."
Paul stirred uneasily in his chair. "With that many resources, he could come after Scott and me in a big way, and still have plenty left over for whatever he's doing."
Bob gave his twin a caring look, revealing his deep concern. "I know, Paul. I'm trying to make light of a grim situation, because that's how I've always dealt with highly dangerous situations in the past. Everything I've learned is not good. I made another call to a friend at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. He tells me that there is tremendously stepped-up activity all around. Every military installation in the Southwest is on increased alert, and shipments of military and laboratory equipment have increased dramatically in the past few weeks into Roswell and Peagrum.
"Dad, could it be your friends coming back?" Scott chimed in.
"No, Scott." Paul replied with certainty. "When I left, my superiors made it clear that I was on my own. They have no plans for further interaction with Earth far into the next century."
Bob continued. "Scott's right about one thing. With Fox's reputation as the alien hunter, his sudden rise to prominence can only mean all this has something to do with extra-terrestrial life. And the scope of this operation conclusively proves you two are not the center of this steeplechase."
Paul's brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what a horserace had to do with anything. Then he got it—people chasing around like horses chase each other in a race—clever. He brightened a bit. "So maybe he does need our help. If there were other alien beings on earth, Fox's paranoia would instantly conclude that they constitute a threat. Perhaps he sees me as able to communicate with the other species, and that's why he wants to set a truce with us."
Bob interjected, "Ha, more likely he'd suspect that this new alien threat was just more of your kind, and he'd want to capture all of you."
Jenny gave Paul the same look of exasperation she showed when reacting to his "yellow light" driving some fifteen years ago. This was the naivete she remembered. But she also recalled not only his naiveté, but also his wisdom and trust in humankind. Soon, an unmistakable softness appeared in her eyes, more akin to that look of love she had given him back then as she watched him slowly ascend to the stars.
"Oh my love, you can't fall into Fox's clutches, even for a moment. Don't you see what's happening? He's gained in power and arrogance. Someone as obsessed as Fox is with hunting down aliens, won't stop until every last one is rounded up. If you go to him and help him now, even if you're successful, there's nothing to stop him from reneging on every promise he makes. He has the entire US Government at his beck and call. That kind of power, to a man like Fox, corrupts, and we already know he's not above 'bending' a few laws to get what he wants."
"But Jenny Hayden," Paul said tenderly using the old term of endearment he had first used to address the woman he loved all those years ago. "What if he's on the level? It would mean a normal life for the three of us to grow as a family without having to run ever again. What if I could convince him to be on the level?"
Slightly teary-eyed she spoke softly. "Paul, you and Scott mean more to me than anything this planet—or even your planet—can offer. If it meant your freedom, I would gladly give up mine, but Fox wants me only as the means to get to you two. A man that unscrupulous just can't be trusted, despite all the good will of your efforts and all the powers of influence you have. Some people are just irreconcilable."
Bob quietly interjected, "Paul, I tried with Bill Avery, and came to the same conclusion. But there is one more thing you have to know. One of my contacts heard Fox tell Wylie—he's Fox's most trusted assistant, right?— that he will soon rid Earth of all its enemies. And Paul, he said it with a vengeance."
A pause, and then with a mournful nod, Paul acknowledged what Jenny and Bob were saying: George Fox was not yet ready for conciliation. Turning to the woman whose love he so deeply shared, his words were tender, yet tinged with a touch of sadness. "You told me once what love is," the Starman replied. "It's caring more about another than yourself. Well I, too, would be willing to give up everything for you and Scott to have a normal life. Not to Fox, but now that you two are together, perhaps its time for me to return to Algeiba."
"Do you remember what else I told you about love?" Jenny's words were full of determination. "It's about an incredible joy of being together that's better than terrific, better than Dutch apple pie. Do you really think Scott and I could be that happy without you? You are the pleiade that shines so brightly, you bring life to all the stars around you. Extinguish your blue light, and the sky dims perceptibly.
"No, my darling, we are not giving up anyone for the good of the remaining two. We may not be able to do it now, but someday soon, all this will pass, and we'll be a family together. Fox will have captured his other aliens, or not, but for now, the quest for them takes some pressure off us. Furthermore, you and Bob have dealt him a blow – he can't arrest one of you without the other raising Cain about mistaken identity."
"So while you can't stay here too long for fear of attracting him to us, I'll remain in hiding here until he picks up the trail, and then I'll disappear into the wind once again. But in the meantime, you and Scott can visit often. It's not everything we want, but oh, is it a start!"
The two embraced and melted into each other. Scott held back tears, and Bob's thoughts turned to Chicago and a woman named Liz Baynes.
That evening, Bob treated them all to dinner at The Pacific Café in Kapaa, probably the best restaurant on the island. The homemade ravioli joined the growing list of food delights Paul's tastebuds had come to savor. At the end of the meal, Jenny reached over and kissed Bob lightly on the cheek. "Thanks for all you've done for us, Bob. You're part of this family, now." This time, it was Bob who blinked back tears.
Chapter 11: Frolicking With Fish
With his Uncle Bob's words echoing in his head—"Breathe only through your snorkel"—Scott was starting to get the hang of the differences between breathing normally and breathing the same fresh air through a snorkel tube while his entire face was immersed. Whenever he forgot and started breathing through his nose, he just ended up struggling for air, while the mask enclosing his eyes and nose pulled more tightly on his face.
Scott watched the three most important people in his life swimming freely under the clear blue waters around Tunnels Beach, off the Kauai coast. Uncle Bob swam like a fish. His dad, a bit more hesitant at first, was clearly adapting to this new environment quickly. And his mom swam with a serenity of someone who had found a great way to relax. He had also been amused when his mom calmly spit in his mask, and assured him this was the best way of preventing it from fogging up under water. And I thought Dad was weird.
He resumed concentrating on his breathing. His natural inclination had been to breathe rapidly, as if that blue tube pointing straight up from his mask would somehow not supply all the air his body craved. "Just relax," his uncle had told him. "You're hyper-ventilating, and while that's no problem with a snorkel, you'll run out of air pretty quickly once we go scuba diving. Just take normal breaths through your mouth, relax, and enjoy the scenery!" His uncle had grinned.
And the scenery was every bit as spectacular as his uncle had promised. The coral lying just beneath the calm, warm waters exploded with bright greens in all shapes and sizes. There was some that looked like a human brain, with its long wavy ridges and rounded structure, called "brain coral," appropriately enough. Then there was the cornucopia of colors as nature splashed the scene with its brilliant inks on the live canvas that comprised the coral reef. Purple fans served as delicate lace, gently swaying in the sea currents, filtering plankton, algae, and miniscule denizens of the sea. Splotches of reds, oranges, pinks, and mauves illuminated the sea anemones opening and closing their hundreds of tiny fingers as they swept the sea for their nourishment.
On the seabed, small hermit crabs crawled among miniature shrimp, occasionally changing shells found along the way like women trying on new dresses in a fancy boutique. Starfish lazed on a clump of coral, seemingly watching the world go by. Every now and then, a green sea turtle, with black and brown streaks decorating its outer body, would gracefully glide by, poking through the rock formations that formed little arches above the reef.
But nature reserved its most creative palette for the color schemes of the hundreds of species of fish inhabiting these tropical waters. Canary yellow Moorish Idols; electric blue parrotfish, tinged with neon green streaks and yellowish stains; black-and-yellow-striped sergeant majors aglow in these crystal blue surroundings—all dazzled the young teen. Then Scott spotted the one he knew would always be his favorite: the large blue tang, flat shaped, about a foot in diameter, with a thin black stripe around its edges, and contrasting yellow tail. What attracted him the most about this creature was the positioning of the gills, emanating from each side of the face like a huge grin. This fish looked like it was enjoying life, smiling happily through a watery wonderland.
I wonder if this is as close as I will get to seeing life on another planet, Scott thought, everything so exotic, so fascinating, so different. Now I can imagine Dad's wonder at visiting Earth for the first time.
Indeed, Paul was delighting yet again in the wonder and variety of Earth's species. He felt a camaraderie with these sea creatures, gently going about their business, navigating through the inner space of the sea, just as he sailed among the stars of outer space. Floating through the water, he experienced an incredible calmness, as all of the elements united to gently ease the tension out of his stomach. For these brief moments of tranquility, worries about Fox, concern for his son, and regret for causing Jenny's nomadic life all disappeared. One thought remained: If only life on this planet could always be like this!
For Jenny, snorkeling the pristine waters off Hawaii's most lush island never failed to provide therapy and relief from the pressures of life on the run. Her loneliness and sadness immediately dissipated whenever the soothing waters grasped her being. The dual loves of her life had found her, and they would all frolic with fish at every return visit.
Bob too, was in a state of bliss. He had almost forgotten the soothing powers of enveloping himself in warm tropical waters, surrounded by fish and coral. It had worked for him while diving off Borneo, after his near-death experience in Vietnam, and it was working for him now. The serenity enabled him to reflect on the extraordinary events of the past few weeks since his resurrection from a yearlong coma.
For the first time since Vietnam, he felt part of a family again – he had a "brother, " a "nephew," and a "sister," all of whom he really he cared about, and who equally cared about him. Moreover, in Jenny and Paul, he now had a model of what it was like to truly love someone, with such a loyalty and dedication to the other, that each was willing to sacrifice everything for the person they loved. He remembered his parents had shown an equal love for each other, but that was his mother and father. They were supposed to love each other. Seeing it openly demonstrated now, when he was an adult, was an experience quite foreign to the wild, womanizing, love 'em and leave 'em philosophy Bob had endorsed all his life, particularly after Vietnam.
I wonder what my life might have been like if I had found a Jenny instead of Yvonne? He thought of Liz. Has the opportunity for happiness been right under my nose and I was too blinded by distrust of all women to see it? Liz is a wonderful woman, dedicated and loving. But after Vietnam, I was incapable of getting close to any woman. I just could never trust to that extent. It was far easier to erect a shell of bravado and not worry about wantonly using all women, rather than risk a repeat of such intense pain.
Yet, Jenny has been carrying a different pain for almost as long. Her trial by fire only intensified her love— a love I readily notice every time she looks at Paul or Scott. Far from fearing separation, she willingly endures it, because she values the possibility of future happiness far more. Up to now, I thought I couldn't endure the pain of another separation, and so fled any hint of a long-term relationship. But Liz was different. Despite my most outrageous behavior, she stuck with me and was willing to give me another chance.
Watching Jenny and Paul, and seeing what real love is all about, I now yearn for such a relationship. Could Liz be the one? I don't know. This kind of thinking is so new and so fraught with risk, I'm going to need some more time to define my values and assess my ability to truly love a single being. Would I really be giving up so much by forsaking the swinging bachelor life, or could I find love and happiness, and above all, trust in any woman? Come to think of it, what kind of woman would attract me to the point of real love? With the splendors of the ocean depths surrounding him, Bob's mind soared with thoughts of exactly what splendors he would like in the woman of his dreams:
"Sensuous and passionate, of course. But, first and foremost, a unique woman with a kind heart, whose warmth radiates on everyone she meets, who is tolerant of other's beliefs, and truly cares about people. Equally important would be an openness to sample the many experiences life has to offer— that grain of adventurousness that shows a spirit for savoring the unexplored, as well as the familiar. An even-tempered nature that permits her to banish the demons of anger whenever she encounters one of life's traffic jams. Self-assurance, and a lack of possessiveness. And finally, an intelligence that enables meaningful discussion and appreciation of the world's concerns as well as its grandeur."
Well, that was about as opposite from Yvonne as I can get in a few minutes of thinking. Most of my other girl friends, too. Did such a woman exist? Liz was close, tantalizingly close. How could I have ignored these things all these years? Paul certainly has had an influence on me – in my prior life, none of these characteristics would have mattered. But now, do I dare put aside a way of life I have nourished all these years? And what about my future life? Would it accommodate such a woman? Even a perfect soul mate?
Bob smiled. It's ironic. I have repeatedly stared down bullets, bombs, and other forms of instant death, and yet, I'm terrified at the thought of trusting a woman into my life. I need to talk all this over with my brother and best friend. Bob cast a glance at the Paul, swimming with his own thoughts a few feet away. It's strange how easy it is to think of this Starman as my brother. How quickly his whole manner makes me feel close enough to naturally think of him that way. Maybe with his help, I can finally come to grips with my past and my future. Isn't that what brothers are for? I know just the place for such a complete baring of the soul, and I foresee a long night around the campfire at Yosemite.
At that moment, a large school of blue tang swept by, their cheerful "smiles" oblivious to the thoughts of their human companions swimming alongside. For them, it was just another day in paradise.
Paul elected to spend the last day of their stay on Kauai with Jenny, while Bob took Scott for the introductory course in scuba diving. The two had already developed a strong bond, and each admired the other for the strengths they brought to bear when needed. Scuba, with its emphasis on buddy diving and dependence on each other for survival underwater, brought home to Bob another element of life he had missed all these years. It made him realize that humans are dependent on each other for many things, and that trust has to be extended in both directions, or neither may survive.
Scott's slight apprehension at breathing canned air forty feet below the surface brought yet another wistful thought to Bob's mind. He got a great amount of satisfaction from gently encouraging a young person like Scott to try new things, to test and stretch his abilities, and to grow into manhood. For different reasons, he had twice missed the chance with both Eric and Alex. Yet seeing Scott's expression of accomplishment at achieving a new skill, and feeling that surge of well being within himself for having been the catalyst, told Bob that somewhere, someday, he wanted another chance at fatherhood.
Chapter 12: Real Ghost Stories
Yosemite! Just the name was enough to get Bob's blood going. The massive granite formations, the long ribbons of cascading waterfalls and the lush greenery of the sequoia trees equally excited Paul and Scott. Traversing Yosemite Valley by car, Bob smiled at their awe, and quietly promised the best was yet to come.
They turned onto the mountain pass toward Tanaya Lake, elevation 9500 feet, away from the crowds, and with a side view of Half Dome that few tourists ever glimpsed. This was the high country, a land where reflections in the water mirrored almost perfectly their originators on the shore. Even now, in July, the mountains surrounding the lake retained their snow-capped crowns, and among the ridges, sparkling pockets of white glistened here and there. In the meadows, splotches of color endowed wild flowers with the same beauty as the tropical fish in Hawaii. A mosaic of purple, red, blue, and yellow petals, in every tint and hue, contrasted with a frame of green leaves and brown stalks to provide another example of nature's prowess at putting paint to canvas. With the light dancing on each object, producing flickering glows as it filtered through the trees, the whole scene looked more like the imaginary landscape of an Impressionist artist giving free rein to his creativity.
With backpacks brimming, Bob led Paul and Scott up a narrow trail toward May Lake, a pretty mountain pool, crystal clear and icy to the touch. The temperature had dropped some 20 degrees from down in the Valley, and the cool, crisp air provided a refreshing exhilaration with the hikers' every breath. Near the lake, they found the ideal camp spot—secluded but with a view of the canyon, the river far below, and the silhouette of Half Dome way in the distance. Here, Scott's obvious experience in setting up camp, aided by two equally outdoorsy adults, made short work of the task. Within an hour, the adventurers were savoring a bountiful and delicious meal, cooked on the open fire.
As the embers settled to a glowing coal, all three hikers were relishing the yummy taste of lightly toasted marshmallows, with the delicate outer shell, made crusty by the heat, yielding to a warm velvety cream interior. Bob rose and heaped some more wood on the fire. The flames leaped higher, illuminating the faces around the cozy scene with a reddish hue.
Gathering his thoughts, Bob felt it was time to open up, and reveal to his friends—his family—things from his not-so-distant past, recollections held deeply inside him, and revealed to no one in all the years since their occurrence. Only now, having returned from the dead, and having reassessed much of his recent life, did he feel capable of analyzing those events, and where they had taken him. Now he needed an empathetic audience like Scott, along with just a few of Paul's insightful observations to confirm the direction he thought he should go. That he felt trusting enough of these two, who were total strangers just a few weeks ago, was strong testimony of the transformation he had already undergone.
Bob glanced into the faces of his adopted family. I think this is the right time and the right place, and I think I have the right people to listen. But how do I start a conversation about something I have held bottled up inside me for so long?
Perhaps sensing Bob's thoughts, Scott interjected. "Hey, Uncle Bob. You know any good ghost stories?"
How do you start a conversation? Bob thought. You just do it. "You guys want to hear some real ghost stories?"
"Yeah," Scott responded eagerly.
"Well, there are some ghosts in my past that have haunted me since Vietnam. And believe me, the truth is definitely stranger than fiction! I also want to tell you some of my thoughts about the future—my future in particular—after these weeks of reassessment."
Both Paul and Scott blinked, glanced at each other, and prepared to give Bob their rapt attention. They both knew how important this was to their companion.
Bob began. "Scott, remember my telling you how Yosemite was my silver sphere? Well, let me use the ability of this place to open minds and take you both back to a country, far away, which dominated the consciousness of almost every young adult in this nation about the time you were born. It would have dominated yours too, Paul, if you were around. What I didn't realize until recently is that it has continued to dominate my life, even up to now. As you probably guessed, that country is Vietnam.
"To understand everything, you have to see things through the eyes of a 22-year-old in a foreign land and a war zone for the first time. Unlike the serenity of Yosemite, the jungle, there, was ominous, and a more apocalyptic feeling swirled in the air."
Scott shuddered in anticipation.
Bob continued in a slow, but firm voice. "I arrived in Saigon as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant on the photographic staff of Stars and Stripes. Those first few weeks of indoctrination into a war zone were a mixture of idealism, anticipation, loneliness and, yes, fear. Bravely marching in the streets of Santa Barbara—telling yourself you could face another Kent State incident—just wasn't the same as dropping spread-eagled in the mud with bullets whizzing past the very space your head had been in. I discovered you never admit to any of this—part of that macho spirit—but I could tell all of these emotions were present in the grim faces of my colleagues. Even some of the veteran journalists let their masks slip occasionally, and I could detect a certain weariness in the eyes of virtually everyone. I asked one of them, who had re-upped for another tour of duty, why he continued to risk his life. His reply gave me the strength to carry on, despite my fears: 'Because maybe, just maybe, one word picture, or one searing image will be enough to make the difference, and it will all end.'
"Saigon was a beautiful city. Stately trees lined wide boulevards that were a legacy of the French colonial past of almost one hundred years ago. City Hall was a Versailles-style palace, as was the Continental Hotel—the main hangout for spies, diplomats, and journalists who covered the war. Enter it, and you are assaulted with the surreal. Many a time, I would spend the day trying to forget the ghastly products of war: a teen-aged soldier dying and writhing in agony because the bottom half of his body had been blown away by a land mine, for instance. Or a frag bomb victim, with fifty to sixty small black freckles looking like obscene beauty marks on an otherwise perfect skin. Only upon closer inspection could you tell they were small wounds, each requiring surgical attention.
"Returning that evening, I would walk into the Continental, and head for the terrace. In the lobby, I'd stare up at crystal chandeliers, reflecting their kaleidoscopic light patterns upon large Chinese urns. Toward the rear was an intricately carved wooden stairway reminiscent of the ones in French chateaux in the Loire Valley. Under the stairs, a beautiful young pianist would be softly playing Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons,' or if the mood warranted, a livelier rendition from Mozart or Beethoven, or even Miles Davis. If I turned to the left and entered the restaurant, a large, white Corinthian column graced the center. As I walked slowly to one of several carved wooden booths, each with its own chandelier, I'd pass the bar with its inlaid marble counter contrasting with yet another exquisitely carved piece of wood.
"After dinner, I'd find Walter Cronkite quietly discussing business with the Ambassador to South Vietnam, while the Commander of MACV—that's the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam—would be sitting among the arches on the terrace, sipping whiskey in front of the six-foot high, green-shuttered windows. This was the Vietnam you never saw on TV – neither the bloody corpse of that poor boy, nor the splendor of the locale where his death was recorded as just another statistic for the body count that day. I photographed both, but neither ever made it to print—one was too decadent, the other too gory."
Scott blurted out. "What a gruesome thing." A clearly horror stricken expression dominated Scott's features. "I always thought of you as the cool, dispassionate journalist."
A chipmunk stopped and stared at the campers as if it, too, was engulfed by the story. Bob looked up with an expression of utter fatigue at recalling what it was like to be a journalist in a war zone. "Well, Scott, there's no person on this planet who can view such butchery and not be affected for years afterwards. I was supposed to be a professional, dispassionate journalist recording a war without letting it get to me. But nothing prepares a human being for encountering spilled guts and bloody body parts strewn along a jungle pathway. To hide our feelings, we assumed a brazen demeanor, cloaking our sense of horror in a mantle of machismo. Then comes the anger at both sides for letting its youth, 'the hope of our species,' to paraphrase your dad here, meet their demise so horrendously and so prematurely.
"You think you can make a difference and you can. But there's a price to pay. What you see, what you are recording, are the smells, sights, and sounds of the dead. You ask, 'Why were people born to die this way?' Of those alive, many are but walking skeletons, shattered bodies whose meaningful life expired in an abrupt explosion. How can you not end up in a dark depression when all around you lurks unspeakable insanity? There's nothing objective in reporting, because you are a human being first and a photographer second."
Paul shuddered at the image Bob had painted. Every peaceful and gentle instinct of the alien wondered if he could have borne the stress of day-to-day immersion in such a society. "How did you cope?" He asked gently.
"You resolve to find that one picture that will end it all. You become a master at your craft, so that when that picture comes, you're ready to recognize it and to capture it. You turn your terror into energy that enables you to forsake the telephoto lens and move in with a wide angle, so you're right up close to the action. You refuse to wear a flack jacket, because you can't approach people in the street if you have one and they don't. And you grieve when one of your own doesn't eat dirt quickly enough."
Bob continued. "Much worse, infinitely worse, were the effects on the children. You've probably seen the iconic picture of "the napalm girl"-the one with the young girl running screaming down the street naked because napalm had melted her clothes off and burned almost all of her body. My buddy, Nick, a Vietnamese photographer who worked for the Associated Press, took that picture, and I was standing right next to him and took the same shot. We both knew it was a powerful image, but that it would be a difficult picture to publish because both the AP and Stars and Stripes had a strict policy of never publishing nudity. I urged Nick to try with his editor because I knew trying to get approval from the Pentagon brass would take took long, and there was little chance of success. His editor took one look, and knowing it could be the iconic picture of the war, allowed it to be published. It later won a Pulitizer, the same year I won for my book of war photos. I'm also happy to say Nick and I saved that little girl, using our US press credentials to get her special American medical attention even when local doctors felt she was too far gone. She's still alive today. But the strain of photographing child after child afflicted with gruesome injuries took its toll on me. I saw these innocent kids and countless others just down the street from my hotel, at the Tu Do Maternity Hospital, which doubled as a trauma center for wounded children." Bob shut his eyes momentarily against the memory. "I needed to find an escape, and that escape was also just down the street from my hotel."
"Further down Tu Do Street, leading toward the Saigon River, the red light district—with its siren call to escape all this insanity—beckoned every night. Obviously, since I was known as the 'Lothario of Santa Barbara,' this scene was hardly something I shied away from. However, understand that back home, even Lothario was a romantic soul who loved his women dearly, if not for very long before falling in love with the next one. In Vietnam, those women were just objects to dull our raging inner feelings by momentarily forgetting what caused them."
Scott arose and tossed some more branches into the fire. "Was this where you met Yvonne?" he interjected.
"Yes. Yvonne's reputation was legendary. She had studied and mastered the Kama Sutra in all its glorious diversity, then embellished its creativity with her own."
"Kama Sutra?" Scott inquired.
"A book on Asian lovemaking. Your dad might consider you a bit young for the details, Scott. Let's just say life in the Orient has its attractions and leave it at that!" A slight leer escaped from the original Paul Forrester's past, covered and quickly replaced by a more genuine smile.
"Yvonne became the object of fantasy of every soldier, and most of the heterosexual journalists who passed through Saigon. You already know how determined the young Paul Forrester was when he wanted something. I made a bet with Jake that I would make her my woman, living and loving only with me. And believe me, the competition was fierce."
Bob related how the quest continued long after Jake and the bet were only memories. True to form, the young Paul Forrester never gave up. A number of months after Forrester's adoption of Alex, she moved in with them. Aside from having a comfortable place to live, she seemed attracted by the perverse thought of acting as mother to a boy only a few years her junior.
"However," Bob continued, "Yvonne was the quintessential street hooker. Smart and savvy, she knew how to ply her trade and cared about as much for any 'client' as any man cared about her. A product of the toughest neighborhoods even before the war, Yvonne was not the type to settle down, even using the tortured definition of such a state as it existed in 1971 Vietnam.
"By this time, the relationship between Alex and me was already starting to deteriorate. Introducing an interloper into this volatile mix at such a point was tantamount to pouring gasoline on an open wound. Even without a match, the situation created excruciating pain. Soon that match was lit."
"I didn't give it much thought until now, but I suspect Alex saw Yvonne joining our household as a total rejection of himself by me, in favor of 'that woman.' His resentment and envy probably grew, particularly whenever he heard our rather loud lovemaking. The arguments also grew worse, with Alex frequently storming out of the house and back into the dangerous environment around war-torn Saigon.
"I was totally unaware that my relationship with Yvonne was the direct cause of this witch's brew of emotions in my son and did ignore him a bit," Bob confessed. "I found myself falling in love with Yvonne, despite her background. What started out as a conquest was beginning to feel good in other ways. I actually began thinking I might be able to take my entire 'family' home with me and have a real family life after I rotated back to the States. Alex might even do much better there away from all these war stresses.
It was Paul's turn to stretch his legs. Arising, he moved to another spot around the fire, and leaned against a tree. "That sounds like it would have been a good thing for everyone," he observed.
"Unfortunately, Yvonne had no such feelings toward me. To her, this was just one more gig, with one more soldier, although somewhat longer in length than her normal one-niters. I now think her wanderlust soon turned to fantasizing about her next lover. Knowing Yvonne, she probably began to feel it was time to teach Alex some of the pleasures of life. After all, she reasoned, he was 18 now, and what better legacy could a 'mother' leave her 'son?' He would be learning about it soon enough, and wouldn't it be better that he learns at home—and from such an expert, too?"
Bob's voice couldn't hide his sadness, as he went on. "It didn't take much for a pro like Yvonne to thoroughly seduce the young boy. And I'll bet Alex got a perverse pleasure out of this way of getting back at me. The thought of flirting with his father's lover must have seemed an exceptionally fitting revenge against the man who refused to understand him.
"But of course, such things can't remain secret forever," Bob revealed, staring into the fire. "One night—after a particularly grueling day in the steaming jungle—in which I barely escaped a sniper's death sentence, I staggered home and surprised my lover engaged with my son in decidedly unmotherly activities. All the rage bottled within me from ten months in this hellhole on earth—combined with all the frustration of dealing with an ungrateful kid—emerged in a fury. That kid, whose way of thanking me for rescuing him from a wretched existence was to spit in my face on occasion, had just committed the ultimate sin.
"I became enraged, struck them, and kicked them out of the house, yelling to get out of my life forever. I felt betrayed, by the only two people ever in my life that I had truly loved, despite their flaws. The pain in my side where I had taken a knife wound throbbed as if I was being stabbed anew.
"Then the door crashed open, and there was Alex with a gun in his hand, and Yvonne just behind him. I heard the gun shot, and felt the bullet punch into me. The last thing I remembered was the dramatic increase in pain where the wounds of betrayal and a knife had already made their mark. The rest, you know. I had my first out of body experience, and never saw Alex or Yvonne again."
Paul and Scott exchanged looks, and Paul got up to comfort his son, who had turned white despite the red glow from the dying embers of their campfire. No one spoke for a few moments as they recovered from the ordeal of Bob's story.
Paul quietly addressed his brother. "You've carried a huge weight around with you all these years. Perhaps finally being able to talk about it is the first step in getting rid of the ghosts from your ghost story. Then the healing process can begin."
Still drained from his narration of the biggest secret in his life, Bob replied with total sincerity to his closest friend. "Paul, you are the healing process. I could never have told that story to anyone other than you and Scott here, even my parents. It's another reason I couldn't return to Ironwood. Mother could always make me come clean, and I just wasn't ready."
"Thank you for having the trust in us to feel that way."
"What makes me feel that way is that you never judge, do you, Paul? No lecturing that I shouldn't have lost my temper, that I shouldn't be violent, or that nothing would have happened if I had only tried to understand my son better."
"Neither humans nor aliens are perfect beings, Bob," Paul observed.
Scott thoughtfully added, "A year ago I think I might have reacted exactly as you did. Since I've gotten to know my dad, and seen him in situations where he could have used his powers in anger, but didn't, I've come to learn that no matter what the situation, it's best handled when you've cooled down."
"Well, I don't think I'll ever reach your dad's level of budda-like calm in situations, but he certainly presents a model to compare against. Let me tell you some of the other things I've learned with the help of you and your dad.
"I realize now that so much of my life after Vietnam was shaped by Vietnam. My recklessness in the face of physical danger, my cynical attitude, my use of women, my aggressiveness and tough-guy image, all became a part of me because I basically didn't care. Didn't care what others thought, didn't care about my safety, didn't care whether a woman was anything more than a fleeting affair. After what I had been through, professionally, emotionally and personally, I erected the biggest shield I could, impenetrable to all people and all events, impervious to all pain."
"Bob, you shouldn't be so harsh on yourself, his twin declared. "We talked about running out of time a while ago. There's another concept of time – the one that heals all wounds. Some people take more time than others; some people never heal. Our time together has shown me that so much of your behavior was based on some environmental cause and hid a far better person beneath. You care deeply about issues that are important to humanity. You care equally about having a family life, and you want to enjoy that life to the fullest. These are not the traits of a man who is trying to shield himself from human feeling."
Acknowledging Paul's words, Bob went on. "Aside from my parents, all that I've learned about family life I've learned from you guys. I saw what it means to truly love a woman from you and Jenny, Paul. Both of you guys showed me how compelling a mutual love and respect between a father and son can be. And Scott, you taught me that a son, properly nurtured, and with a parent who takes the time to understand adolescent needs, can mature into a young adult with values any father could be proud of. It all starts with a general attitude of caring for the feelings of another, and Paul, that may be the greatest lesson you have taught me."
Bob lapsed into silence for a moment. He arose and slowly tossed a few pebbles, one by one, into the woods. A new family and the splendor of Yosemite had once again opened his mind to consider the boundless possibilities and a future direction. With a totally new identity, he had a clean canvas upon which to paint a life that would meet his new values and strengths. Bob's assessment so far told him he needed several crucial keys to happiness and fulfillment. Achieving some would be most satisfying; having all in hand would be bliss.
First and foremost, he needed to have a passion to motivate his life. Ideally, that could be a passion for a lifetime companion and a family, or a passion for at least one overriding achievement that would leave its legacy on this planet. Some fortunate people achieved both, and this would be Bob's objective, but he wondered if he had to, could he be happy with one or the other? Achieving both would simply mean having a magnum of fine wine as opposed to a liter. Next, he needed to define a set of values that held meaning for him. These could range from ethical values, his own talents, all the way to activities he enjoyed pursuing. Finally, he needed a life's occupation that supported that passion, enabling his love to flourish, his legacy to be established, or his values enhanced. Within that context, he could try many fields of endeavor, or one, or several at one time. The point was to engage in an occupation or a pasttime that constantly intensified his passions or his values.
Scott, who was beginning to realize he could also sense others thoughts, asked, "So what are you going to do now?"
Paul added. "Whatever direction you take, Bob, have you considered that you might have survived death twice for a reason? Think what that reason could be, and you'll be on your way to fulfilling your destiny."
Sitting down again around the fire. Bob took a long drink from his cup. "I like that, Paul. I actually have been thinking along those lines," he replied, with new energy. I'll try the easy ones, first. I don't know how Liz feels about me now, but I'm going to invite her to join me in Sedona. We had visited there once, and it was a place Liz fell in love with. I thought it was a bit touristy myself, but there is no denying the beauty of the red rock formations would make a perfect setting for a reunion."
Scott interrupted excitedly, "Yes, I heard of it. It's near Saguaro, where we first found Mom."
Bob continued. "At Sedona, Liz really started to get into the local vortex theories, particularly the positive energy they promised at Cathedral Rock Vortex. Although I scoffed at it at the time, she just might be right. She might also just be the one, and I have to find that out. I also have to explore if I can overcome my distrust and fear of any close relationship. If that vortex does have healing powers—well, it can't hurt, can it?"
"Liz just might be the one for you," Paul observed. "She told me she loved you, but longed for the maturity that I think you have gained these past few weeks. She's a fine woman, Bob."
"If seeing things in a different light is maturity, then maybe I have matured," Bob confessed. "I'm still not sure I want to—or will be able to settle down—with one woman, but if I do, it will be with someone like Liz I know that much."
Bob returned to his future. "I know I need to be involved in something meaningful—not just to me, but something that clearly benefits mankind, or at the least, reduces human misery in some way. At the same time, I enjoy world travel and the sophistication that brings. I doubt a year's layoff has done much damage to my skills in photography, and I know I can be as assertive as necessary when I have to." Bob grinned at his twin. "In a gentler way, of course."
"I have learned that every photographer has to be somewhat assertive on occasion," Paul recollected. "I could never have gotten those squatter photos if I wasn't determined enough to ignore the guy with a shotgun, despite the danger."
"Right on, Paul. You really are aware of what it takes to succeed in this business. You have to remember that many times we are recording something that someone doesn't want revealed, and if you are not downright aggressive sometimes—you can call it 'determined'—you'll never get the shot," Bob replied.
"In any event, I'm thinking of taking the rest of my Pulitzer Prize money and establishing a Foundation, because it's the one endeavor that seems to incorporate all of these values into a worthwhile direction for me. It would be a unique organization, where I would be free to roam the globe much as I used to do. Only now, the purpose of photographing some of the world's most troubling environments would be to raise money to eliminate their causes. Paul, you showed me the power of influence and persuasion. I can add my own talents in photography to influence, and channel my assertiveness into compelling persuasion. If my work raises the funds to rescue human beings from even one den of misery, I will have succeeded in leaving my legacy."
Paul looked at his twin in admiration. Bob clearly had done a terrific job of assessing his values, and finding something that would satisfy him. Bob's idea of establishing a foundation was totally logical. "That really does seem to fit you, Bob."
"It sounds like that could be really exciting," Scott added, "but sharing it with Liz would be more fun!"
"You're right, Scott. Another thing you guys have showed me is how wonderful having a companion around can be. For the moment, you guys have each other, and sometime soon, I hope, Jenny can join you, and you'll have the full companionship of a family. For me, the thought of constant companionship is still a big question. In the past, even when I was with someone, it was always temporary. But now when I think of companionship, I'm thinking of being with a life-long kindred spirit—like Liz could be. I realize that requires an investment of trust and the simple love that you, Paul, bring to any of your relationships. I don't know if it's in me, but thanks to you, I have my model."
Bob smiled warmly – a huge boyish grin that mirrored Scott's the time he made Stella's pancakes for Bob. "And now, remember I told you I had a special gift for both of you when we got to Yosemite. Well, it's time to present that gift in gratitude for this time we spent together, for your friendship, and for taking me into your family."
"Paul, Scott, look up." Bob extended his hand in the general direction of the heavens.
So engrossed were father and son in listening to Bob, neither had looked up to notice the most spectacular starscape they had ever encountered. Different from all the other nights they had camped out, the stars tonight glowed with the clarity of a master musician hitting the perfect note on a Stradivarius violin. Algeiba, readily visible to Paul and Scott's practiced eyes, emitted a distinct blue light that Scott had never noticed before. The moon, still rising over the canyon, looked close enough to hike to, and the red dot of Mars was clearly visible to the naked eye. The utter look of contentment on Paul's face as he contemplated the scene left nothing more to be said.
Bob just observed their enjoyment with a smile. "That may be Yosemite's greatest treasure. Being 10,000 feet up, and as far away from civilization as we are, the atmospheric haze, which everyone sees even on the clearest nights, just totally disappears. And you see the results."
Scott dug in his backpack, pulled out his telescope, the first Christmas gift from his father, and quietly whispered, "Awesome, totally awesome."
Bob and Liz popped the cork on a bottle of Chateau Rothchild, 1986 to the applause of their Hollywood friends who had come to Starview to honor Paul and Bob's 50th birthday. The movie depicting Bob's life and work as the founder of The Starbright Foundation would debut that night. The world-renowned Center had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for its leader and its 617 dedicated activists around the world.
The actor who bore an uncanny resemblance to Bob and his equally famous brother, Paul, and who starred in the movie in both roles, came by to offer his congratulations. Soon, all the members of the cast had gathered around. Paul and Jenny joined the group with their new child, Lizzie, and then Scott came by. Bob and Liz's 10-year-old son, William Scott Forrester, ran up to his dad, who put his arm around his son, as Paul had done with Scott so many times in the past. The StarFamily was complete.
Even Fox and Wylie had joined the party. A Starman's help, and persistent belief that no one is irreconcilable, had finally earned the grudging respect and friendship of the obsessed lawman.
As they raised their glasses all around, noticing the bottle, Paul commented, "1986—they created some very fine wine that year."