“Good evening, Mr. Salvador! What brings you by?”
The Columbian lawyer stepped into the entrance hall and took off his hat. He shook Louis’ hand firmly. “I happened to be in the area, and decided to drop in and say hello. How are things, Louis?”
“Great. Everything’s great. I’m working at a bookstore on the Strand during the week, and that’s going really well. I’m adapting to life down here just fine.”
“I’m very happy to hear this. I must confess, I did not maintain a dispassionate interest in your situation. As your grandfather was a close friend of mine, I was and continue to be very interested in your continued success. If there is ever anything I can do to help you, I hope you will not hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you very much, I appreciate that. Can I get you something to drink?” Louis asked.
“No, thank you, my boy. I cannot stay for more than a few minutes.”
“Would you like to sit down then?” Louis asked, motioning to the study. The lawyer nodded and followed Louis through the open door. After flipping on the light switch, Louis motioned for Salvador to take a seat in one of the leather armchairs in front of the desk. Louis began to walk around the desk to sit in his grandfather’s office chair, but hesitated for a moment before sitting in the other armchair.
“So, Mr. Salvador, how are things?”
“Things are going very well, Louis. My practice is as it is, which is to say, productive. My family is also fine.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Louis said. (Unlike many who use this phrase, Louis meant it.)
Salvador leaned forward in his chair. “I would love to engage in further small-talk at a future date, but I’m sorry to confess, I do have a specific reason for stopping by.”
Confused, Louis said, “Okay… go ahead.”
“As I indicated earlier, I have a bit of a vested interest in your situation. Not ‘interest’ in a financial sense, as calling it such would seem to imply. That is to say, I am very concerned and—what is the word—eager for you to complete every aspect of the arrangement you have agreed upon. I want very much for you to succeed. As such, I have been keeping tabs on you, so to speak.”
Louis bolted forward a bit, opening his mouth to speak, but Salvador held up a hand to silence him, and then reached down and patted Louis’ hand (the knuckles of which growing white as Louis gripped the arms of his chair).
“Not to say that I have been spying on you, because I have not, Louis,” continued the lawyer. “I have simply been making…inquiries…about your employment and other activities. This is part of my position as executor of your grandfather’s will; as such, I must confirm that you are adhering to your obligations. And it came as no surprise to me when I learned that my inquiries had turned up no false steps on your part. I’m very pleased to know this, as your grandfather would be.”
Louis relaxed his grip and eased back into his seat. “So, if you’ve been checking up on me already, what brings you here?”
“Please, do not think of it as ‘checking up,’ my boy. I’m merely protecting the estate of my friend, your grandfather. But there is one thing that I needed to check with you about. How is the book coming along?”
“The book? Oh, it’s…coming along fine. A little slow getting started, but I’m starting to hit my stride.”
Salvador nodded and smiled. “Very good, Louis. How many chapters have you completed so far?”
“Um, by ‘completed,’ do you mean done on paper, or planned out?”
Salvador’s smile faltered. “Written down. Done on paper.”
“Right, well, not many. I had a bit of a false start, and so I’m now going back and reworking the plot.”
“How many, Louis?”
“None in final form.”
Salvador’s smile disappeared. “How many in draft form?”
Louis looked away, and sighed. “None.”
Louis shrugged. “I’m sorry, Mr. Salvador. I’ve just got so much going on right now that I haven’t really paid much attention to the book. I know I should, but whenever I think about starting it, something else comes up.”
Salvador closed his eyes and pursed his lips. After thirty seconds of breathing through his nose, the lawyer opened his eyes and said in a level tone, “Louis, I realize that you are still a boy in many ways, and that this is the first time you have been on your own since college. I recognize that this provides a few challenges, and that you are, on the whole, meeting these challenges. However, given the particularly delicate conditions of your life here on the island, I cannot ignore this. When you entered into the agreement to live at Taylor House, you committed yourself to specific guidelines, most of which you have kept. However, you are failing your commitment to your grandfather and yourself, and as his representative in this matter, it is my responsibility to say so.”
Louis stared at the paperweight on his grandfather’s desk—the one the lawyer had employed as a gavel on the morning of the reading of the will—during Salvador’s speech. When the lawyer paused to take a breath, Louis stood abruptly. “Well, thank you for your concern, Mr. Salvador. I promise to do better in the—“
“Louis, sit down. I’m not finished.”
“Actually, Mr. Salvador, I need to be—“
“Louis, sit down now!” the lawyer barked, thundering every word.
Shamefaced, Louis sat down. He could feel himself start to cry, and hated that it was happening. When Louis cried, it was always preceded by a prickly feeling in his nose, which felt a bit like having to sneeze. He focused on his breathing, doing his very best not to blink and drip a tell-tale tear. Louis had always been a very emotional person, and more prone to cry than most other boys (and some girls). Fortunately, he was raised by parents who did not see this as a sign of weakness, but one of deep emotional connection and strength. His mother always said he had a poet’s heart; however, his father warned him, some would try to use this tenderness against him, so he would have to learn to closely master his emotions in certain situations.
What Louis did not know, and more in his favor, was that Salvador himself had such a disposition, and could recognize it in others. The lawyer cleared his throat and continued. “I’m sorry to have to speak to you in this way, my boy. I know you mean well. I believe your grandfather knew it, as well. He also realized that good intentions never produced results. I think this is why he included this difficult requirement of you. Living here, in this house, can be a wonderful and comfortable life for you, but you will never achieve greatness by being comfortable.
“The choice, then, lies before you. You may continue to live here—provided you maintain the other four conditions of your housing—for the rest of the 12-month period you agreed upon. At the end of the year, if you have not completed all five requirements, you will be asked to leave, taking only your prior possessions, and I will take care of settling the estate. However, if you have also completed the first and most difficult component of the arrangement, you will be given full and final ownership of Taylor House and its contents. The choice is yours alone, because the power to fulfill it is yours alone.
“Perhaps you do not wish to live here long-term. This is understandable. Your childhood home is in Chicago. The weather here is usually disagreeable and sometimes quite unpleasant. You have no family here, no strong ties, and no real sense of community. If, after twelve months, you wish to simply leave and consider this a worthwhile life experience, everyone will understand. I too will understand, and will wish you the best of all things. Either way, your decision will be final.
“I cannot tell you what to do. You are free to choose either path. I would only caution you to first think very carefully about what you want, and what is at stake. I would also urge you to decide as soon as possible. If you choose to complete the task before you, you haven’t a moment to lose.”
Louis almost made it through the lawyer’s admonition. However, by the end, he was blinking back tears that began to streak from the corners of his eyes.
Salvador saw this and, not wishing to shame the boy further, rose to leave. He picked up his hat and placed it carefully on his head, and put his hand on Louis’ shoulder. “You are a good man, from a line of good men. Whatever decision you reach will be the right one, I am sure. And as I said, if you need anything, please call me. Have a good night, my boy. I will show myself out.”
The lawyer was walking through the study doorway when Louis turned and said, “Thank you, Mr. Salvador. I’ll do better.”
The lawyer stopped, turning back toward him, and smiled. Had he clearer eyes, Louis would have seen the moisture glistening on Salvador’s own cheek. “I know you will, Louis,” the lawyer replied, and with a nod, he walked out the front door.
Louis walked out of the study, wiping his eyes. Mr. Cross came out of the kitchen, wiping his dripping hands on a towel tucked into his belt. “Was that the door I heard? I’m sorry, sir, I was washing the dishes and had the wireless playing, so I didn’t hear the bell.”
“No worries, Mr. Cross. It was Mr. Salvador.”
“Ah, yes. What brings him here?”
“Checking up on me.”
“Right. Well, that’s his job, I suppose.”
“Anything amiss, Mr. Louis?”
Louis shook his head. “Just getting a reality check. I’ve been a bit…lax in my duties, it seems.”
“Ah, yes. The writing of the book, I take it?”
“Yes—wait, how did you know?”
Cross flushed a bit. “I’m sorry, sir; it’s none of my business, I know. But I live here, too, and I don’t ever see you writing. To be honest, I was a bit concerned myself.”
Louis turned away. “You’re right, it is none of your business,” he snapped. “For it being ‘my choice,’ everyone seems too damned concerned about it.”
Cross sighed, scowling. “Begging your pardon, Mr. Louis, but may I speak plainly?”
Louis looked back at the caretaker, eyes narrowed. “Go ahead.”
“All right then—I was just being polite a moment ago. Fact is, the writing of your book and the fulfillment of your other duties are very much my business, because my fate hangs on them as much as yours does.”
Louis shook his head. “What are you talking about?”
“Ach, forgive me for saying so, but you’re being a bit stupid now, aren’t you, sir? If you go home and the house is sold, I’ll have to find a new place to live, won’t I? And a new job. Easy for you to do, but a bit harder on me.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything?”
Cross straightened a bit and the detached air of a career subservient returned. “Not my place, sir. The way I see it, you’ve got to be your own tugboat.”
Louis wiped his face with his hand, a few new tears replacing the old ones. “Look, I’m sorry, Mr. Cross. I—I wasn’t thinking about what would happen to you.”
Cross cleared his throat, a blush creeping back up his throat. “Not that you should have. I—I beg your pardon, Mr. Louis. I really shouldn’t have said anything about my own situation. I don’t want to try to influence your decision. If you decide that you need to leave, I’ll have plenty of time to make other arrangements for myself. Please don’t give it another thought.”
Louis nodded. “I appreciate you saying that, but you were right. I’ve only been thinking about myself this whole time.”
“Nevertheless, Mr. Louis, I apologize for saying what I did. This decision needs to be based on what you want, and that’s all.”
“I know. When it comes right down to it, I really do want to stay here permanently; but now I’m not sure if I can do what I need to, to make that happen. I’ve just…wasted so much time already.”
After a moment, Cross replied, “My father used to say that what’s broken can be mended, and what can’t be mended isn’t worth having to begin with. Of course, he never owned anything of value in his life, but I don’t think he was too far off, there.”
“So what do I do?”
Cross walked over to Louis, and, in a rare act of physical affection, patted the young man’s shoulder. “Well, tonight, I’ll scramble you some eggs. Once you have a full stomach and a good sleep, in the morning you can decide what comes next.”