Vic Wilson knew one thing. He never at any time wished to return to Kansas. He chuckled whenever he caught a glimpse of something related to The Wizard of Oz.
He was no Dorothy, that was for sure. Never at any time did he ever say, 'There's no place like home.' In fact, if it wasn't for his mother, Hope Adams Wilson, he would never go back. He often tried to convince his mother to join him in the northeast. "We could sell the farm and use it to buy something small and cozy, in New Jersey or somewhere. I'll work in the city. They love me at the bank. I'm sure I'll be promoted soon. I will take care of you." But Hope was having none of it.
"I don't want my son taking care of me," she'd say with her stoic grin. Vic would just shake his head in despair. He worried about her all the time. He knew she had lots of help from Aunt Destiny and Aunt Destiny's husband, Uncle Gary, and their enormous brood. They lived on the neighboring farm and often talked about wanting to absorb Hope's farm into theirs, in order to help out even more. But Hope refused, never telling anyone why she was so adamant to keep the farm in her name. Being blind, she had to rely on her sister's family for much of the work, but she went on doing whatever she could: caring for the chickens and milking the cows. She used to love cleaning the pig sty too (Vic thought she was crazy!) but lately that was proving too difficult. Hope felt exhausted for the first time in her life. Vic watched her fading away. She seemed to have lost another five pounds every time he saw her and she was losing color at an equally alarming pace.
"Come on, Mom," he would say during his holiday visits to the farm. "You can bring the chickens to New Jersey. You will have your gardening. Let me help you."
That stoic grin again. Mixed with knowingness. "My home is here, Vic. If you want to help me, you can move here and help me here. This is your home too."
This always made Vic angry. He suppressed it because he did not want to hurt his mom, but it was hard. "Mom, you know farm life isn't for me. It never was."
"I know," she would say with a curious mix of amusement and regret. "For the son of a man who died in a tractor accident, you do fall far from the tree."
One day at Christmas, as they were having this conversation (again) he lamented. "I hardly remember Cliff anymore. It's weird. I can't even remember his face anymore. If it wasn't for the pictures around the house, I don't think I'd be able to picture his face."
"He adored you. He was so protective of you."
"I remember him holding me. I remember his hands. Always so dirty."
Hope laughed. It was nice to hear her laugh again, even though she started coughing because of it. Vic jumped up from the kitchen table and fetched her a glass of water.
"Thank you," she said when she was finished drinking. "I do remember so well those dirty hands. Obviously, I couldn't see the dirt, but the smell was horrid! Manure!"
Vic laughed. "I remember. God. I don't understand people romanticizing farm life."
Suddenly Hope became serious. "Vic, there's something you should know. Cliff didn't want me to tell you, but my gut is telling me it is time. I won't be around forever."
"Mom, no-" He didn't like when she brought up the fact of her mortality and his aloneness in the world. It was depressing. He could not imagine the world without her. It was too awful to contemplate.
"Vic, I know you don't like talking about it, but we can't avoid it forever. There are some things I need to tell you. You need to know." She seemed to be trying to convince herself more than him. "Yes. It is time. You have to know."
Vic sat back in his chair and sighed. "Mom, you have said so many times, 'there is something I need to tell you, it's time,' and you never do. What is it? The big, deep, dark secret? Are you going to tell me who my long lost father is?"
Hope's frown deepened. "Why would you say that? Cliff is your father."
"I know, Mom," said Vic, surprised by her reaction. "I was kidding."
Hope forced herself to smile, but her discomfort was evident to Vic. "I'm tired, son. I need to rest."
"What about that thing you need to tell me?"
"We'll talk later, sweetie."
It always ended somewhat like that. She had something vital to tell him and then she lost the courage.
Vic returned to Manhattan and his cubbyhole at Keller-Stuart. He always worked late in his cubbyhole on the 70th floor, lights going out left and right, but his light shining on. What was the use going home? His 'home' was a two-bedroom apartment in Queens where his roommate was likely to be sitting on the couch playing video games?
Sometimes, in his cubbyhole, he'd get a text from his best friend ('with benefits') Skye Lockhart, asking him if he'd like to meet her at their favorite East Village bar. Tonight, there was a text from Skye but she was also still at work- she worked for a hedge fund with an office way uptown. "Let's do lunch tomorrow," the text read. "Want to discuss new opportunity." Which was cut-throat-city code for want to discuss what you got going on so I can get in on that action too.
The truth was, however, that Vic did not have anything going on. His career path as a stockbroker was starting to feel like a dead end. He had gone to Northwestern and then Harvard for his MBA with such big dreams. Graduating from Harvard Business School second in his class, after Skye, he accepted a promising entry-level position at Keller Stuart, thinking he would rise quickly and make his first million and perhaps... oh who knows? Buy a few homes? Take care of his mother? Marry a Wall Street princess? Retire with a golden parachute that would never touch the ground?
How could he, with a blind mother in Kansas to worry about, keep going like this? Vic found himself increasingly wondering if New York City was the wrong place to try to be a big fish. He glanced down at the hardcover book on his desk: Victor Newman's latest bestseller. There was 'The Mustache' beaming up at him from the back cover photo. Vic could not explain it but he felt that he understood something about Victor Newman.
There was the shared name, yes. In a way, Vic felt that he too, like the older Victor, was an orphan. Even though he still had his mother, she was blind and increasingly failing in health. Victor Newman was someone Vic looked up to as a true role model. The old man had been born with nothing, no one to help him, no material advantage, but with sheer passion and ambition, had become a Titan of the universe. This was how Vic felt he wanted his life to move. Who but himself would get him out of his cubbyhole? Who but himself would get him into the penthouse?
"Mom?" Vic was standing in the kitchenette of his apartment, waiting for pop tarts to pop out of the toaster, when he answered the phone call.
"Vic, how are you?"
"I'm great, Mom. How are you?"
"Oh, honey, I'm fine." (She did not sound 'fine' to Vic, not remotely 'fine.')
The pop tarts were ready. He ignored them. He was not hungry anymore.
"You don't sound fine," he found himself saying.
"Honey, I am fine, but I need you to come out here as soon as possible. I need to tell you so many things. But not on the phone. I want to see your face. I need to see you, honey. Can you come soon?"
"I can come today."
"You don't have to work?"
She laughed. But it was not 'her' laugh. It was not the laugh he knew. That was a delightful sound. This was anything but delightful. It was horrible to hear her attempt such a weak laugh, one so devoid of humor. It was the saddest laughter he had ever heard.
Vic stepped into the house calling for her. "Mom!" he called several times into a dark, seemingly empty house. He checked every room, even closets. You never knew, she might have gone into the storage under the stairs, for instance, looking for something, tripped and fell and hit her head and lay unconscious in a pool of blood... But no. She wasn't in there, nor in the basement. He found her upstairs in bed, thin and pale and attempting a brave loving smile for him.
"Vic," she said in a low, faltering voice. "My boy."
He rushed to her side and kissed her and rubbed her arms. "Mom, how are you?" He felt stupid for asking it, knowing full well that she was sick. He knew as well that it was no stomach flu that had her looking like this, lying in bed, barely able to speak above a whisper.
She looked toward the window and he followed her look.
For the first time, he noticed a strange man, oddly familiar, standing by the window. The man's arms were crossed, and he seemed nervous, but he had the trace of a smile on his face. Vic had a wild thought that he was Victor Newman, but quickly pushed the thought from his mind. Why would Victor Newman be standing in his mother's bedroom?
"Victor," Hope said, addressing the strange man and trying to smile. Then she looked at her son. "You know who this is, honey?"
Vic and Victor made eye contact.
"This is Victor Newman. He is your father."
"This doesn't make any sense. My father is dead."
"Yes, honey. Cliff Wilson is dead. You knew him as your father and he loved you like his son, but he was not your biological father. Victor is."
Vic didn't believe it at first. It was too weird. It was crazy. To find out at the age of 27 that his father was not really his father, and moreover, the "biological father" was the internationally renowned tycoon Victor Newman, whose book sat on Vic's desk back at Keller-Stuart Wealth Management!
"Why are you telling me this? Why are you telling me this now?" He braved a glance up at Mr. Newman. The business giant was looking down at him, a mixture of emotions in his eyes. Sadness? Regret? Pain? Anticipation? Eagerness? Hopefulness? Vic couldn't pinpoint it, but he felt a rush of all those things when he made eye contact with the old man.
"I don't want you to be alone," Hope said.
"I won't be," Vic said, snapping his attention back to his mother. "Neither will you. We have each other."