Victor wanted to see Lester another time. It was a fantasy to talk to him in a much more intimate, much friendlier place, not on a bus full of gossiping passengers who witnessed Lester's wrath. Although maybe, if this hadn't happened, he would never have had the courage to face him, at least not as an unattractive man on minimum wage and living in a room. An egotistical thought - little to nothing similar to the Victor he once wanted to be - he was tired of feeling like a nobody, but, he was going to answer any and all of Lester's questions.
Whatever it was, there was no going back. It wasn't a reconciliation but... was it going to be a first date?
Lester's first day on the job was uneventful. His mission was to teach databases to a group of 25 students between the ages of 18 and 40. Some looked at him with respect, others simply with disdain or with slightly more flirtatious intentions. Lester displayed an attitude rarely seen by those who knew him. A strict, severe and intolerant man with excuses. One thing he learned in the 30 years of his existence is that he was not going to patronize his students unless they proved capable of following his instructions. The professor-dictator version that he intended to adopt was a more proactive approach so that future professionals could undertake innovative solutions. An almost effective strategy.
The university was quite big, the first semester students easily got lost in the thousands and thousands of corners that led to the same part: a huge sports area where soccer and basketball tournaments were held. Built about 100 years ago, it had originally been a convent, but was later transformed into an educational center. The feeling of cold in the classrooms was overwhelming; Lester considered wearing warmer clothes the next day.
Once he finished the first class, he decided to go to a nearby place for coffee before his next shift and after that - he thought - he was going to go to his apartment to have lunch with his father. He did not have a fixed schedule, because according to his contract, he had to work by the hour or even on weekends.
He entered a vintage-style coffee shop with walls painted in pastel colors. He sat by a window; he asked a young waitress for a coffee without sugar. She quickly went to prepare it while he read some notes in the little green notebook that he carried with him everywhere.
Lester heard a man talking to the waitress - his voice was too thick and a bit scratchy - but it sounded familiar.
“Victor?” he thought.
Indeed it was him, apologizing to the woman - he was late for his shift change. Victor was forced to go to a prison to arrange a last-minute meeting with some inmates about a play that was to take place weeks later. He was directing that project with Lorna, the actress who gave him a great job opportunity to continue with her in the city jails.
The waitress put the coffee on the table where Lester was sitting. Victor recognized him immediately; he didn't know if he should greet him or just change his clothes to put on his particular work uniform and he did the latter. Victor entered a small room full of lockers; his outfit was a bit embarrassing. A tall, stocky, slightly bearded man in a white shirt, tight purple pants, and a vomit-pink apron.
“I need the money. I need the money,” he said himself.
He got out of there quickly. It was his second day at work, but the first time he had served clients, advised by the owner of the coffee shop and the only one who knew that he was an ex-convict.
Lester saw him walk by in his particular outfit; he had to hold back his laughter - somehow he found him cute - even though he looked ridiculous.
“He's so… ” but he stopped himself from saying more. He realized that Victor took his job very seriously and that made him feel guilty for making fun of his clothes.
Lester finished his coffee to go back to the university, paid the bill and as he went to the entrance he ran into Victor who was carrying several dirty dishes to the kitchen.
“See you tonight,” he said.
Victor's emotion was so great that he gave a slight start and he was about to drop what he was carrying into his huge hands.
After a few hours, Lester returned home. James's goddaughter, Diana - who was once his nanny - was spending time with the old man whom she cared for every day. The truth is that Lester wanted to hire a nurse, but he hadn't found the right one. It was lunchtime. There weren't really any big topics of conversation; it was common among the three of them.
“I have to go back, Diana. There is a professors' meeting and I wanted to know if…. ,” he expressed, remembering that, indeed, he had to go back to an useless chatter among his co-workers and try to meet Victor at the agreed time.
“I told you yesterday that I had plans. Take him with you. You could do that, right?,” Diana said, as she ate.
Taking his father to university wasn't going to be a problem, but Lester didn't want James to feel scared in a completely unfamiliar environment. After thinking about it a bit more, he realized that it was a good opportunity for Victor to see Mr. Haydar again.
A while later, he bathed his father and dressed him impeccably. Lester chose to wear a dark blue suit, with his best and most expensive shoes. It was going to be an important meeting for him. His father was his sanity; he was not going to face Victor as he intended; he just wanted to evoke the old days. Then he remembered Benxamin; his job as a criminal investigator that helped him become a forensic photographer, and he thought about calling the next day to tell him about his dinner with Victor.
Father and son got into a taxi. James was calm, he seemed like a curious child. The journey was short - enough for Lester. Once at the university, they walked at a slow pace; the old man with his cane guided by his son. They had to go up some stairs to the second floor, then through a short corridor to finally enter the staff room of the faculty. Lester sat James next to him; the professors didn't say anything - they just felt sorry. The talk was not entertaining; issues related to the grades of the students and some minor conflict. After the reunion ended, they took a taxi to the restaurant.
“Do you remember that I worked here? ” Lester said when they arrived.
They sat at a large table. On one occasion, Lester tried to teach his father to use chopsticks, but the man got angry for not understanding his instructions, so the son was prepared for such situations: he carried a briefcase with everything James needed, including his own cutlery. Victor arrived a few minutes later in a different outfit, dressed in black, with a shirt that looked like new. He didn't smell like cigarettes but cheap- unflattering cologne.
“Lester! Mr. Haydar!” Victor said swallowing hard. His hands began to sweat and he quickly dried them on his pants.
Seeing dear James as a weak old man, bent over and with a dull look, touched him. Victor reached out to shake his hand, but Mr. Haydar seemed to evade him.
“Victor... ” Lester said. “Dad has dementia. I live with him and for now I have no one else to take care of him."
“Don't worry. I'm glad to see your father and you too,” he answered, that detail about James already knew thanks to Stella.
Victor's sweet look made Lester a little nervous, he didn't know how to react; it was as if those 13 years of absence had been lost in that night.
“This is Victor Dautt, dad. You met him when he was a child. He is Benxamin's brother.”
Victor tried something different. “Mr. Haydar, you gave me a yellow rubber ball, I was like, I don't know, 8 or 9 years old and,... you even invited me to dinner! Lester's mom scolded me for being a spoiled brat, but I ended up crying and hugging her. I hope I wasn't reckless with your wife.”
Victor tried to shake his hand again and this time the old man agreed.
“It's been a while,” he continued. “About that ball, I lost it during the shipwreck.”
“You never mentioned it,” Lester said.
“The truth is that I had kept it among my belongings, but I never knew what happened to it.”
After giving more and more explanations, it was time for dinner, remembering all their experiences. For James's sake, Lester preferred to withhold details about Benxamin and his accident until he could speak privately with Victor. Mr. Haydar wasn't familiar with Japanese food, but he seemed to enjoy it. Once the three of them finished eating, the old man asked his son to take him home. Lester knew his father was getting irritable, Victor read James's thoughts and stopped the conversation, he said goodbye to Lester respectfully; the professor didn't want to leave his date unfinished.
“Would you like to come with us?” he asked, eager to wait for an affirmative answer. “Of course, if you are not busy.”
“Are you sure?” Victor expressed, who also had the same desire to talk to Lester alone.
“Yes! I want to know what happened after you left with Marcus.”
Once in the apartment, Lester put his father to bed and carefully closed the bedroom door. Victor was waiting for him on the sofa in the living room. Lester - to feel more comfortable with him - invited him to have a glass of wine.
“I was in prison,” Victor said. “I made friends with an actor and joined a drama club there. I never thought of acting again.”
“Victor,” Lester interrupted, “I have a confession to make. You see, I lied to you on the bus. The truth is that dad told me some details, not everything I wanted. That was before he started to forget me. I know you made a mistake, but you didn't have to be punished like that. I tried to visit you in prison two years ago and you weren't there. I stopped talking to Benxamin and his aunt after a while; I was mad at all of you.”
“Sorry, man. I just… don't know what to say. We got used to excluding you because we thought it was the best for you. We never considered whether it was the right thing to do.”
Lester felt uncomfortable; he stopped looking at him, the tension back again. Victor bit his lower lip and sighed deeply; he then expressed his thoughts about Mira.
“I'm sorry about Mrs. Haydar”
“My mom loved you very much and she died young.”
“You should stop answering like that, it's like I'm talking to the wall,” Lester shared another thought to avoid talking about Mira. “Have you still thought about building your mother's house in Hephaestus?”
“I have other priorities,” Victor hesitated.
“And what is more important than that?”
“A son,” he said, taking the last sip of his drink. “I have so much to tell you. It's just that… ”
“You have a son? Dad never told me that, I don't know why he kept something so important from me. Benxamin knows it, right?” Lester sighed heavily and tried not to raise his voice to avoid waking his father, then considered his words, it wasn't about him or Benxamin; there was a child involved. “I congratulate you, so you're in a relationship? Are you married?”
“Lester... No, I never have been. I wanted to tell you the truth. Saying sorry will never be enough,” he moved closer to him to look into his eyes.
“I know, you're free and that should be the only thing that matters to me right now, but I don't understand what's wrong with me,” Lester said to himself; he thought it was childish of him.
“His name is Daniel and Tamara is his mother. It just happened while I was in prison. He is 11 years old. I'm telling you honestly, I never let her get close to me again; the only thing we have in common is the child,” Victor expressed as he massaged his neck. “What I'm telling you doesn't justify what I did and you can hate me all you want. I got used to making excuses in my life, and I was with Tamara because of her father's threats. Do you think Ernest harassed me just to tell me that I had to pay him everything he invested in me and nothing more?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don't have custody of Daniel. Ernest is a legal guardian, during his prison visits I realized something. When I was with my son, for some reason, I suspected that this man was using the boy to see me. He never said anything to me, but it was as if he had been watching everything I did.”
Lester couldn't believe Victor's words. He was feeling disgusted and frustrated at the same time.
“And, Daniel? Do you know where he lives? Does he even know you're his father?”
“He lives with Ernest in a huge house on the outskirts of the city. Daniel studies at a school for rich kids, but I have a hard time getting close to him. All this I have investigated on my own, following that man is not easy. I need help and it costs money. Benxamin knows that I have a son but I have never told him anything more about Daniel. The boy... was raised with the idea that Ernest is his father.”
“I don't know how to help you, there must be a way for you to talk to your son,” Lester expressed.
After several drinks, the two spoke more candidly about what they did during their time apart. Lester remembered every detail of his life up to that moment - the dreams he had during the last few months were more significant as was his concern for Benxamin. He knew Victor had incomprehensible reasons but he no longer wanted to feel like a delicate glass object and it was time to move on - with or without his crush.
Victor Dautt observed his Lester - with whom he had fallen in love - as the sweetest but also the strongest man he had ever known, living with a father who barely remembered him; which generated an enormous desire not to abandon him again.
They drank more than estimated; Lester saw a small wine stain on Victor's shirt, he wiped it with his jacket sleeve. Victor took his hand, caressed it, and brought his face closer to Lester's. His breathing was strong and vigorous; it seemed that he was not going to hold back but he expected his consent to do so. Lester looked at him puzzled by his approach, he quickly understood and wanted to let himself go in the same way.