It's the most wonderful time of the year!
There'll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
- from "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," by Andy Williams
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Walking through the Katzin Courtyard on the campus of UC San Diego following his last class, Clay Jensen updated his roommate and "big brother" in Sigma Phi Epsilon, Keaton Williams, on the rest of his day.
"...and then the next chapter study guide for World History."
Keaton nodded from behind his sunglasses. "Good. Doesn't sound like it's a whole lot to do, then, and you're staying on top of it."
"Yep. Trying to, anyway."
"Awesome. So, that means we can take some time and chill later tonight."
"Well...I was going to try and read ahead a little. Maybe go to the library."
Hearing this, Keaton laughed under his breath and stopped walking, turning to face his friend. "Little, being a Balanced Man means you know when to take a break every once and awhile. You just said you're pretty much caught up, right?"
"I mean...well, yeah."
"All right then. So, get done what you need to get done, and then we're taking the rest of the evening off. I'm going to teach you how to play Madden, and play it well, if it's the last thing I do."
Clay rolled his eyes and groaned. "Listen. If Justin couldn't accomplish that feat, I seriously doubt you can. Trust me, he's tried. Multiple times."
"Well, I'm a better teacher than your brother. Stick with me, have some patience, and I'll get you to where you can beat him in the game."
"I don't think I....wait. Really?"
"That might just make it worth it." Feeling the vibration of his phone, Clay pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the caller ID. "Speak of the devil."
"Tell him I said hi, I'll see you back at the room."
Fist bumping Keaton with his free hand, Clay answered as his roommate walked off. "Hey, JJ!"
"Hey, Clay. You're not on your way to class or anything are you?"
"No, my last one ended a little while ago. Why, what's up?"
From the other end, Justin Jensen sighed. "I've got some bad news, man. Sean died."
Clay didn't register the name right away and frowned. "Sean?"
"Mayer. Cam's brother."
Clay's eyes widened, and then he closed them slowly as he sighed. "Oh, no. What happened?"
"He had a seizure in the rehab hospital this morning. He never woke up, it was over pretty fast."
"Shit. God, poor Cam. I know this is going to be a stupid question, but how's he doing?"
"Not good. He's really taking it hard."
"Yeah, stupid question like I said. Okay. They know anything about a funeral yet?"
"It's looking like Friday morning."
"Okay. Tell the rest of the Gang if you haven't already, and I'm guessing that the Subs already know." Running through his schedule in his head quickly, a decision was made and conveyed. "I'll leave right after my last class on Thursday, be home that night. Might be late, but I'll be there."
"Clay, you don't have to...I mean, he'll understand if..."
"I haven't skipped a class yet. And this is more important, this is what we do. Keep me in the loop and I'll see you on Thursday."
Friday, October 4, 2019
"...in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, we commend to Almighty God the body of our brother Sean, and we commit his body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him..."
While the minister recited the prayers over Sean Mayer's casket, Clay sighed as he stood next to Justin. The skies over the cemetery were an azure blue, a few puffy clouds floating past, and the breeze that gently came through the trees gave a hint of the cooler weather to come. There had been far too many funerals in Clay's life over the last few years, mainly for someone his own age, or now in the case of Sean, just a year or so older. This one was made more difficult in many ways for two reasons. In five days, the second anniversary of Hannah Baker's death would occur, and as the mourners had gotten out of their cars and walked to the gravesite, Clay couldn't help but look once or twice in the direction of her own resting place. The other reason stood across from him with his family. Camden Mayer looked absolutely shattered as he stood next to his parents.
Had one or two things turned out differently over the last year or so, it might very well be himself or Justin in this same situation right now, and he could only imagine the pain his young friend was in.
Following the service, the mourners went to a local restaurant for a lunch reception. Seated at one table with Clay and Justin were other members of the Gang and the Subs who had been able to come into town for the funeral.
"God I hate these things," Alex said to the others. "Especially for someone our age."
"Yeah," Cyrus agreed, nodding. "This fucking sucks."
"Should...like, should we go and say something? To his parents or whatever?" Charlie asked.
Jess shook her head. "I think it's best to give the family space, we can talk with Cam when he's ready."
"She's right," Justin added, sighing as he leaned back in his chair some. "Last thing we want to do right now is intrude."
While these conversations were going on, Clay looked past his friends and over to where Camden was sitting by himself, as his parents and other relatives were mingling with other guests. Putting his napkin on the table, Clay stood up. "No."
Justin looked up and over at his brother. "Huh?"
"He shouldn't be by himself right now. Be right back," he said, walking in the direction of the sophomore. Giving the family space was one thing, that was fine and probably the best thing to do in this situation. But talking to Cam? That time was now.
"Hey," he said, sitting down next to him, "want some company?"
"Hi, Clay. Yeah...I guess."
"How're you holding up?"
Cam shrugged. "They're not talking about him. Sean. My folks, aunts and uncles...they're talking about, like, everything but. They're talking about Trump, but not Sean."
"Well. Most families see each other only at funerals, weddings, birthdays...it's kind of the way these things work. And they wind up talking about other things, you know? And if not politics, it'd be sports or something like that."
"It still sucks."
"Yeah. Didn't say it didn't. Listen, Cam. I don't want to say something like I know what you're feeling right now, because I don't. But I can guess how much this hurts. I want you to know, the Gang? The Subs? We're all here for you, whenever you need us. I know Sheri and Zach couldn't be here today, but they are, too. It's okay to...not be okay, but remember what Justin told you a long time ago - don't keep stuff bottled in, or it'll make you feel worse."
Cam nodded. "Yeah. I just...I miss him."
"I know." Clay thought for a moment before continuing. "Looks like your parents are still making the rounds. Wanna come sit with us for a little bit?"
"I can't believe he's gone," Cam said quietly, looking down at the table. "I never even got to say goodbye." As his voice started to break, Clay turned his head back in the direction of the Gang, nodding to indicate that they should come over and join the two of them.
Friday, December 20
"Tell me again why we're doing this?"
Justin scratched his chin and looked through the selection - what was left of it, anyway - of artificial Christmas trees in the holiday section at Walplex. "Because. You said you wanted to have Friendsmas at the Outhouse this year..."
"...whatever. And we're decorating. And we need our own tree."
"When you said decorating, I thought you meant, like, lights and stuff," Clay said.
"We need more than just lights. Hmmm. What about this one?"
Clay looked at - up at, more appropriately - the tree his brother pointed out. "JJ...that's got to be at least nine feet tall!"
"So? we have a high enough ceiling in there. I think. And I like it, it's really full. We can make it all pretty and stuff."
"Justin, that's...what about this one," Clay pointed to a considerably smaller choice to his left.
"That looks like Charlie Brown's tree."
"There was nothing wrong with Charlie Brown's tree. It just needed a little love."
"Thank you, Linus. Nah, we're getting this one." Walking over to the shelves where the boxes were located, Justin found the correct one and began to pull it out. "Bring the cart over here."
"Are you serious?" Clay followed his brother. "That's never going to fit in the cart!"
"No kidding, Dumbass. We lay it across the top. Either that, or we each take an end and carry it up front."
"Justin, for real. They have smaller ones."
"If you agree to this one, you get to wear the Santa hat this year and I'll wear the elf hat."
"We're doing the hats again?"
Justin rolled his eyes. "Clay, c'mon."
"How're we even going to get it in the car!"
"We'll....tie it on the roof or something, it'll be fine."
"All right. Fine. But I'd better get to wear that Santa hat."
"Yeah, yeah. Now take the other end."
Clay joined his brother at the shelf and dutifully took the opposite end of the rather large box, pulled it off, and grunted while his eyes widened. "Good God! This thing weighs a ton!"
"Okay, so it's a bit heavy," Justin's voice strained. "Let's get it on top of the cart."
"I kinda left the cart back there. Down the aisle."
"Great. Okay. Start walking."
"It's fine, just go! The sooner we get there the sooner we put it down."
"I don't know how you talk me into this stuff all the time," Clay muttered as he looked back over his shoulder.
While Clay sorted out what seemed to be a never ending amount of branches, Justin was moving furniture out of the way so that the tree could be assembled. "That card you picked out for Cam is on the table, by the way."
"They're not color coded," Clay said to himself.
"The branches. Usually there's, like, tape or something around the bottom of them so you can sort them by the right size. There aren't even instructions....JJ, how are we supposed to put this thing together?"
"Carefully? C'mon, fraternity man, we can figure this out, we're two intelligent guys."
"This is not going to end well."
"Oh, yes it will. Stop being a sourpuss, it's freakin' Christmas!" Justin had now joined Clay on the floor and started to help with the sorting. "Anyway, the card is on the table. You all done with the drawing?"
"Just about. I want to add a few more details and then it's...no, Justin, put that with the smaller ones....good to go. I just hope he....no, those are still too big, start another pile....I just hope he likes what we're going to do."
"You're kidding, right? After what he told us on the day of the funeral?"
"True. I kinda want to - no, Justin, those are still too big, separate pile. I'd like to give it to him before Christmas."
A confused Justin looked at the pile of artificial branches in front of him. "These really need color coding or some shit," he said to himself before answering his brother. "Why not on Friendsmas?"
"That's a medium sized one, wrong pile. Because, I kinda want to keep this special, just the three of us. You know? Maybe give it to him tomorrow night before we go to the movie."
"Yeah, that's not a bad idea."
"Justin, those don't go in that pile, they're still too big!"
"Well, these need something on them so they can be sorted out the right way! Now I know why no one was buying this tree."
"JJ....just. Let me do this. Here," reaching over for his phone, he swiped and pulled up an app. "Look. Memes of Baby Yoda."
Taking the phone, Justin looked down and gasped. "Oh my fuck...he's so cute!" Standing up, he walked over to the table and got lost in the pictures of the newest viral sensation, while Clay talked to himself and continued to sort out branches.
It was opening weekend of the newest addition to the Star Wars franchise, and Clay convinced Justin, Charlie and Camden to accompany him on that Saturday night to see the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, a perfect opportunity to give Cam an early Christmas gift. The idea had come to Clay in the weeks after Sean's funeral, and he had told his brother about it over Thanksgiving. It was going to be a little costly, but Clay figured that since it would be summer, they could stay at the Sig Ep house on campus and save a little money that way. Plus, it would give him an opportunity to show off his fraternity and campus some to their young friend, which would make the trip even more special.
While Charlie stayed inside the house and made small talk with Matt and Lainie, having been clued in ahead of time, Camden was walked out to the Fortress.
"Whoa...that's a massive Christmas tree!" he said once he saw it, eyes wide. "How did you all manage to make it fit in the corner like that?"
"Once we took out a couple shelves, it was no problem," Justin explained.
"And one of us staying up late sorting branches by their correct size," Clay added. "Anyway. So, the reason Justin and I brought you in here is...we wanted to give you one of your Christmas presents now."
Cam looked at both of his friends. "Now? Clay...Cap...I mean, I didn't bring your alls gifts or anything, you don't have to..."
"Cam," Justin interrupted, "it's okay. It's an early gift, and it's sort of...well, special." Clay had gone to the tree, which had not only taken most of the previous night to assemble and decorate, but part of that morning as well, and picked up an envelope that lay on top of a pile of presents. With a warm smile, he came back over and handed it to their friend. Cam opened it, after being reassured that it was all right to do so, and pulled out the card.
"Hey, Snoopy and Woodstock," he laughed as he looked at the front.
"Go ahead and open it, Cam," Justin smiled.
Doing so, Camden found a piece of paper, the exact size of the card so it wouldn't have to be folded, and saw the logo of the San Diego Comic-Con, hand drawn by Clay. "I...I don't..."
"Read the card, Camden," Clay explained gently. "What we wrote."
And so, Camden did just that:
We know how much you miss Sean, and remember you telling us
that the two of you always wanted to go to Comic-Con together.
So, on July 23-26, we're taking you to San Diego, and we
can all go for him. Consider this an IOU until the tickets
go on sale next year!
-Clay and Justin
"Guys..." Camden's lower lip trembled. "This...this is..."
"Hey, I've always wanted to go, too," Clay put a hand on Cam's shoulder. "We're going to have a lot of fun, you'll get to see my school, we can..."
The rest of Clay's words were cut off as Camden hugged Clay. Then, pulling back and smiling, tears streaming down his cheeks, turned and gave Justin a hug as well. "Thank you. Both of you. We...Sean and I...we'd talk about it a lot, and he said we'd go one day. I didn't think I'd ever get to."
"Well, now you are," Justin smiled.
"How...what should I tell my parents?"
Justin looked at Clay. "We...didn't quite think of that. But, we'll figure it out. We always seem to," Clay chuckled. "Don't worry about it, we'll cross that bridge when we get there."
After a few more minutes, allowing for Camden to compose himself, he excitedly went back to the house to tell Charlie the news. "C'mon, we need to get going. He's right, I guess we should have talked to his parents some," Clay said as he walked towards the door.
"Hey, Dumbass. Wait a sec."
Turning around, he saw Justin holding a present. "Here. I want you to have an early gift, also."
"JJ, you don't have to do that. we can wait until Christmas. Besides, I thought our presents to each other were in the house."
"They are. Except for this one, I brought it out here after we got done decorating and all that. I want you to have it now."
Clay walked back over and took his gift, and opened it, tearing the colorful paper off. It was a frame, that was certain, but he had opened it in such a way that he was looking at the back of it. So, he flipped it over in his hands and saw that under the glass wasn't a picture.
It was a copy of Justin's adoption papers.
"I just thought you'd might like to have a copy of those for yourself."
Clay stared at it for several seconds, then slowly raised his head. His face was full of emotion as he looked at his brother.
"That was really nice of you to ask," Justin said. "I'll see you inside the house. Take your time." Patting his brother's arm, Justin walked out, while Clay shifted back and forth on his feet a little and then held the frame close to his chest and lowered his head, crying softly.