“The 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Freedom to conquer. Boulders, river crossings and mud baths all have a way of cleansing of the soul and reminding you what really matters. With exceptional capability and a go-anywhere-anytime attitude, the off-road-ready Rubicon will take you farther than you ever thought possible.” Alfred was reading from the brochure, his tone smarmy and grand, as if he were doing the voice-over for a film trailer.
The car dealership had a floor as wide and polished as a ballroom’s and the sales crew had a manic energy that had Stuart scouting the exits. He should have just bought the thing on the internet.
“D’ya mean ‘borders’?” Vince asked. “You don’t ‘cross’ boulders? Do you?”
“It’s lazy copy, ‘Farther than you ever thought possible’,” Stuart scoffed. “It’s a car, not a bloody time machine.”
“It is though, it’s your own personal TARDIS, flashing you back to when you owned Canal Street, and I was at your beck and call.”
“Is this your midlife crisis? I’m here for it, Da.” Alfred ran an admiring hand along the glossy red bonnet of the Jeep. Not overly tall, sweet-faced like his mother, and narrow and lean like him, Alfred might have easily been mistaken for a tenth grader, but he still looked troublingly adult to Stuart.
“It’s for you, you little tosser. It’s your early Christmas present. For getting into Northwestern, like a good little lesbian.”
Alfred grinned at him and Vince rolled his eyes, elbowing Stuart in the ribs.
“He doesn’t drive, Stuart. You know he doesn’t drive,” sighed Romy.
“It’ll be, what, motivational, then. People in the States drive, y’know.”
“It’s fine, mum.”
“Be practical, then.” Romy pressed, “At least get him an electric one.”
“Wait a year or two and you could get him one of those self-driving cars—he could drive himself home after a night’s drinking, when he’s legal,” suggested Vince. “Brilliant!”
“Where’s the fucking independence in that? He takes after you, you know, no drive, no initiative.”
Vince burst out laughing, plainly delighted. “Was that a pun? You’re going all ‘kid’s today’ on us. What’s next, Stuart, yelling at the neighbor kids to get off the lawn?”
“We don’t have a lawn,” Stuart said sourly. “You and Alfred converted it to some kind of rock garden the summer he turned twelve and you’d convinced him it was his job to single-handedly rescue us all from climate change.”
Romy smiled at Alfred and adjusted a lock of his hair.
“He’s always been very socially conscious,” she said fondly.
Vince wrapped an arm around her, and bussed her cheek.
“Takes after his mum that way.”
A saleswoman in a vaguely terrible pantsuit took the bit in her teeth and strode up to them, giving Romy her best professional smile.
“It’s a pretty practical first car for a college kid,” she said. She dangled some keys in front of Alfred the way you’d taunt a housecat. “Want to take it for a test drive?”
Later, much later, after Stuart had named a price, and Alfred had happily promised to enroll in a student driving program, and the valet at the Four Seasons had taken the new Jeep’s keys, Vince was getting out of the shower to dress for Alfred's celebration dinner at Fat Rice. Lisa would be there, unfortunately, but Hazel would keep the peace.
The twenty years since they’d moved to the U.S. had lined Vince’s face, but his back was smooth and leanly muscled, and his arms were very nice, since he and Alfred had started taking kickboxing when Alfred had asked Vince to come to lessons with him. He'd been ten and annoyed about bullies, but it had become their father/son bonding event. If Stuart had met Vince at the hotel bar, he’d have brought him back to his. Most days, that startled him more than the Alfred's American accent.
“I expected you to get podgy,” he commented.
“And why do you sound resentful about that,” asked Vince, dragging a vest down over his head.
“You got sexier, somehow. You look…” Stuart considered Vince with an ad man’s eye. “Distinguished now. Landing me lent you gravitas or something. I got all weedy and dried up, but now the lads look at you when we walk into a room together.”
“Oh, shut it. You still walk everywhere cock first and shoulders back. You’re a menace, you are. The living embodiment of, what is it the kids say… ‘big dick energy’. I’m just Alfred’s other dad.” Vince buttoned his shirt and reached out to choose a tie from the hanger in the closet.
“You’re not just a dad, though, you’re a daddy now. You could have someone else any time you like.”
“This is Stuart Alan Jones, humbled.”
Vince finished knotting his tie and reached for his phone, tapping at the screen. "I reckon it is a midlife crisis," he said. "Ah, I knew it. Listen to this: 'Statistically 99% of all men will cheat on their spouse during their marriage.' That's shocking, that is. I'm shocked!"
"Lucky for you we're not married," Stuart muttered, gritting his teeth and trying for the seventy-sixth time to set his watch to Central Mountain Time.
"We may as well be. And you'll be thinking, 'oh, now that Vince is so ruggedly attractive, he's bound to cop off with some other fellow', and then you'll have to accept it as a statistical fact." Vince's expression was one of exaggerated pity. "If it makes you feel any better, I've heard Nathan is free again. Once I've married a royal, you can catch up with the current king of Canal street. Or you could take one of those singles cruises!" Vince said enthusiastically.
"Don't be stupid," replied Stuart, never lifting his head. "I've already had every other bloke on five continents and I don't fancy taking an Arctic expedition and I hate Australians, so Oceania's right out--"
"Oceania? What's that? Like, Atlantis or something?"
"Continent. One of seven. Asia, Africa, Europe, North America-- bugger!" He threw the watch across the room and sank lower into the handsome leather recliner.
"Now that you mention it, maybe I should broaden my horizons. I do feel a bit restless. After all, 'it's built into our make up to hunt and conquer,'" he read aloud.
Stuart pressed himself out of the chair and scowled over Vince's shoulder to read the phone's screen.
"You're taking advice from some knob called Fred Cuellar, 'The Diamond Guy'? Are you pissed?"
"Stone sober. But, as I said, restless. Perhaps I should give up on you and roam about, taking men at my leisure--"
"I'd pay money to see that," Stuart grinned in spite of himself and lifted his chin appraisingly. "Think you're quite the Dapper Dan, do you?"
"If you're just going to stand there, I'm off then. Unlike some people, I still have six continents to--"
"Oh, shut it. If we hurry, we can go twice before Lisa calls to nag us that we're late."