When he finished playing, Everett joined Madison and Graham on the grass to listen to the next band. The afternoon sun was warm but mitigated by a moderate breeze that move the leaves on the trees encircling the sloping field. Maddie lit a joint and handed it to him. Everett took a toke and relaxed in the afterglow of his set. He didn’t like to get high before he performed, but for this audience it hadn’t much mattered – everyone was stoned, and he had taken a couple hits before going on to get himself in the proper frame of mind.
“Good stuff, Uncle Everett,” Graham said. “I particularly liked the rock version of the Gilligan’s Island song.”
“Yeah, that one’s always a hit,” he said. “Even kids your age are familiar with Gilligan’s Island.”
He was grateful to Maddie for the gig. As a local, she knew all the festival organizers, and had put in a good word for him. The money wasn’t much, and he had to throw a little bit to the bass player and the drummer, but it was a chance for him to develop a full set of songs and try to hold an audience for an hour or more. He’d done a fair job, judging by the reaction. It was hard to tell, because the crowd spread itself out over the grassy upslope in clumps of two, three and more, on blankets and in lawn chairs, and any concentration of attention was fleeting. He hadn’t known what to expect. He had never played at a cannabis convention before.
The emcee, a tall guy with a shock of dark hair who dressed in an Uncle Sam suit emblazoned with a marijuana leaf and called himself Captain Cannabis, had whipped up the crowd with a passionate pro-legalization speech just before introducing him. Everett had worried that the choir was more interested in being preached to than his music. But the Captain had been right there on the stage to congratulate him at the end of his set. “Give it up for Everett Sprauling,” he cried. And they had given it up.
Madison had brought along some beer in a picnic basket, but Everett noticed that almost nobody else was drinking. Nonetheless, he was thirsty after singing, and accepted the PBR Madison handed him gratefully.
He was surprised to see Graham take a big hit off the joint. “Don’t they frown on that in training camp?” he asked.
“It’ll be the last one for awhile,” Graham said, holding in the smoke.
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Madison said. “Unless your father’s radically changed, he’ll probably have some on hand.”
“The last time I saw your father,” Everett said, “he bequeathed me the end of his stash before he fled the country.”
“I don’t even remember him,” Graham said, handing the joint back to his mother. “Serena remembers him better. It’s gonna be strange, seeing him again after all these years. All my life, he’s been the long lost father.”
“Hey, be thankful he’s alive,” Everett told the kid. “At least you’ve got a chance at a relationship. That’s more than I ever had with my dad.”
“I know,” Graham said. The story of Elliott Sprauling’s death was as familiar to the extended family as the story of the fall of Troy was to the Romans. It was part of their foundational mythology.
Graham was getting ready to leave for preseason hockey camp in northern Minnesota. Madison planned to put him on a bus in Bangor that evening, and to give Everett a ride home as well. The kid hadn’t seen his father in more than twenty years. Everett didn’t know how Madison felt about Wayne Waggaman’s sudden reappearance in their lives. All she had told him was that he was somewhere up in Manitoba, that he had heard about Graham’s budding hockey career, and that he wanted to see his son.
Outwardly, Madison maintained a show of calm. Wayne had spent most of the past two decades working in the Canadian north, making under-the-table money and avoiding the long arm of the law. Aside from a couple of short letters, in all that time she had not heard from him. But now he had apparently settled down in a small town near Winnipeg, with a new woman and a couple of kids. Madison didn’t appear to be bitter. She and Mike Murphy were still trying to work things out, though Everett noticed that Madison’s husband hadn’t been around much during the festival. “He’s here somewhere,” Madison had said, dismissively, when Everett had asked.
He supposed it was none of his business, but it seemed as though all of the Spraulings – with the exception of Joanie – were experiencing difficult love lives. Corinne hadn’t wanted to come to the convention. She wasn’t keen on pot to begin with, and said she had no desire to spend the day in a gathering of stoners. She was still miffed at him for staying out all night at a musical party on Pushaw Lake last week when she’d been on call. He told her he’d stayed over because he couldn’t get a ride, but then she had found out that several other people had stayed, including a girl singer he’d been friendly with before they’d met. Nothing had happened, but now Everett kind of wished something had, for all the grief he was getting about it.
The next band took the stage: a six-piece group featuring a dreadlocked lead guitarist who seemed to get lost in his own solos. It took them fifteen minutes to finish the first song, and then they launched into a new number that sounded just like it. Everett was reminded of open mike nights where the limit was two or three songs, and how some performers milked them with extended instrumentals, boring everybody but themselves. To fill an hour he’d had to come up with about fifteen songs. These guys wouldn’t need more than four or five.
He tried to silence his inner critic. It was a pot convention, after all; what was wrong with a little improvisational jamming? But it didn’t suit his mood, in spite of the mellowing effect of the weed. He wanted to get back to Bangor and patch things up with Corinne, maybe take her out for a nice meal with the money he’d made. She had been springing for a lot of things lately, and he felt a little guilty about it.
Speaking of money… He pushed himself to his feet. “I’m supposed to go see this guy Dan, about getting paid,” he said. “Then I gotta find Paul and Eddie, if they haven’t left yet. How much longer you plan to stay?”
“Graham’s bus leaves at six,” Maddie said. “I guess we should think about leaving in an hour or two.”
“I better go find him, then.”
In the back of his mind, Everett worried that Dan would be off getting high somewhere and forget to pay him as promised. But with the uncanny ability that siblings somehow have of short-cutting communication, Madison said, “He’ll be in the lean-to behind the stage, or close to it. That’s where he likes to hang out. And don’t worry – he hasn’t forgotten to pay anybody yet.”
Dan was where she said he’d be, and doled out the agreed-upon amount without being asked. Everett had a harder time locating his band mates, but he found them eventually, and settled up. On his way back to Maddie and Graham, he spotted Mike Murphy by of one of the craft tents along the side of the field, in animated conversation with a thin, long-legged young woman in tiny denim shorts. The girl laughed at something Mike said, and he snaked an arm loosely around her skinny waist. Mike didn’t see him, and Everett decided not to tell his sister. It might be nothing.
As the band wrapped up its set and Madison tucked the empty beer cans into the picnic basket, she said they should allow time for running the gauntlet of police between the festival and the main road. “Don’t worry, they’re harmless. I’m on a first-name basis with most of ’em. But they appreciate it if you keep anything illegal out of sight. The only people who get arrested are the ones being stupid about it.”
The local police had an ambivalent relationship with the cannabis culture and the periodic celebrations that took place on this and other private spreads of land, she explained. They did not come onto the property unless invited, but they maintained a close watch on all the nearby roads, and drivers leaving the festival were used to getting pulled over for flimsy reasons.
Sure enough, a police car was parked in a dirt pulloff less than half a mile from the festival entrance. A cop stood beside it, and as they approached, he waved them to the side of the road. Everett was in the back seat with his guitar and amp; Graham rode shotgun. Madison pulled over, and the officer approached the window.
“What’s up, Frank?” Madison said. “Whatever it is, make it quick, ’cause I gotta put the kid on a bus.” She nodded in Graham’s direction.
“Routine equipment check, Maddie,” Everett heard the cop say. He was short and swarthy with short-cropped dark hair underneath his hat, and Everett, sitting in back and trying to make himself as invisible as possible, judged him to be about his own age. He’d put on a few pounds since being fitted for his uniform.
“Can you turn on your headlights please?” the cop said.
“A routine check, Frank? Right outside of a pot convention? Come on. That’s lame, even for you guys.”
“Gotta do it, Maddie, the boss says so.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. There, they’re on. Can I go now?”
But the officious cop put her through the whole routine: high beams, low beams, brake lights, reverse lights, horn. And then he wrote her out a warning for a crack in the windshield he said was too long to pass the car’s next inspection, due in August. Everett sat still as he peered into the car, trying not to make it obvious that he was looking for some sign of contraband. Finally, after about five minutes, he waved them on their way.
“Asshole,” Graham said from the front seat.
“He’s just doing his job,” Madison said. “Blame the job, not the guy. It’s not his fault weed’s still illegal.”
“Meanwhile, somewhere in the distance, at this very moment, some drunk is beating his wife,” Everett said. “You know, I’ve got a feeling there aren’t many fights at a cannabis convention.”
“Yeah,” Graham said. “I better get it out of my system before the season starts.”
They all laughed at this, and then Madison found some music on the car radio, and an hour later they were at the bus terminal in Bangor, the heat of the day dissipating but still radiating off the pavement. They made Graham’s bus with fifteen minutes to spare.
Everett stood a short distance away while mother and son had their final face-to-face conversation. When it was time to say good-bye, Everett offered his hand, but the kid practically crushed him in a bear hug. Accustomed to being the tallest member of his immediate family, he was momentarily surprised by Graham’s bulk. “Throw your weight around out there,” he said as they parted. “I want to hear about a lot of Gordie Howe hat tricks.”
Graham laughed, and they bumped fists.
“But don’t take any stupid penalties,” his mother added.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” he said. “I can take of myself and my team at the same time.”
“I know, baby. You always have.”
And then he was handing his ticket to the bus driver, and setting one foot on the step, and turning around for a final wave.
“Give my best to your father,” Maddie called after him.
He acknowledged this with a smile and a small nod, and then he was gone.
Everett was disappointed to see Jeremy’s rental car parked outside his building. He was itching to call Corinne and smooth things over, and maybe take her out for a drink or have her over and, if things went well, possibly get laid. The last thing he wanted to do at the moment was to shoot the shit with his older brother.
But Madison said, “Jeremy’s here,” as she pulled in next to his car, and Everett found himself inviting her up for a beer. What the hell – she’d just seen her son off to visit the former husband who had dropped abruptly out of her life twenty years ago, and she could probably use the company.
They found Jeremy out on the deck, his bare feet up on the wooden railing, drinking a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and listening to a Creedence Clearwater Revival album. “Lowering your standards?” Everett asked, nodding at the can.
“Burnishing my redneck credentials,” Jeremy replied. “There’s more in the fridge. Help yourselves.”
Jeremy appeared to have gotten a good start; Everett counted three empties scattered around the small porch. “You want one?” he asked his sister. “I might have some real beer, unless Jeremy’s nailed it already.”
“Nope.” Jeremy shook his head. “I’m wallowing in the local culture.”
“What we’ve been doing all day,” Madison said. “I’ll stick with PBR.”
Everett went into the kitchen and fished two more cans from the 18-pack Jeremy had shoved into the front of the refrigerator. Returning to the deck, he opened one and handed it to Madison, then opened another for himself. Jeremy said “Cheers,” and tipped his can. They all drank.
“Strangest thing happened to me today,” Jeremy said.
“I’ll bet we’re going to hear about it,” Everett predicted.
“Well, maybe what happened today was normal, and the strange thing happened last month.” He drank from his beer again. “Only I didn’t realize how strange it was.”
“Jeremy, what are you talking about?” Madison asked him.
He looked at each of them in turn. “How many floors in that hospital?” he said. “Where Ma was?”
Everett exchanged a look with Madison. “Three, I think,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure it’s three,” she agreed. “Gretchen would know.”
“Gretchen does know,” Jeremy said. “And the correct answer is three. You win the jackpot.”
“But Jeremy, what’s strange about that?” Madison said.
“Because until this morning, when I went to the hospital to verify it, I would have sworn I’d been on the fourth floor. A floor that, it turns out, doesn’t exist. It’s where I met Bernadette.”
“The chick who came to my gig?” Everett said.
“That’s the one. I met her that day we visited Ma, with Pilar. The elevator took me to the wrong floor. Or at least I thought it did. But apparently I was wrong. Either I was hallucinating, or something really, really weird is going on in that hospital.”
Everett looked at Madison again.
“You mean, maybe Corinne was right after all,” she said.
“I refuse to believe that,” Jeremy said.
“I do believe in spooks,” Everett said. “I do, I do, I do…”
Madison laughed, but Jeremy waved a hand. “I’m sorry, guys, but it’s too much. Dear old Dad prowling around in a hospital elevator, playing tricks with his kids’ minds. And yet… that fourth floor felt at real to me as this deck does now. Of course I did eat one of your magic cookies that day.”
“But didn’t you eat the cookie after you met Bernadette?” Everett asked. He was enjoying his older brother’s confusion. He could remember very few times from his childhood when Jeremy hadn’t been completely sure of himself. “Besides, they take a little while to kick in.”
“Have either of you talked with Pilar lately?” Jeremy took a last swig and tossed the empty can in the general direction of a green plastic bucket Everett kept in the corner of the deck for that purpose. He missed.
“She dumped the Quebec liberation guy,” Madison said. “That was as of, oh, sometime last week. She was ambivalent about taking the job in Vermont, because it’s only two days a week and Claude would be right across the border. And she said she wanted to go see this guy on an island, some writer or something.”
Jeremy nodded. “Cyrus Nash,” he said.
“Who,” Everett asked after a moment, “is Cyrus Nash?”
“He’s the guy who’s got Pilar convinced our father’s ghost is real,” Jeremy said. “He’s the caretaker of one of the islands off Stonington, but he used to write for a newspaper in Ellsworth. And one year his editor had him write a Halloween story about haunted places in the area, including, supposedly, the hospital. He sort of rolled all the rumors together and highlighted the best ones. More entertainment than news, really, but he told us he’d researched Dad’s death, and came away feeling the people at the hospital were hiding something. Pilar’s convinced of it.”
“You’ve met this guy?” Madison said.
“We went out there yesterday. We had a little mishap with the boat. Cyrus helped us fix it. He seemed to know what he what he was doing, but there was also something a little off about him. He stays on that island eight months a year. All that time by himself might have made him a little cuckoo.”
“Like how?” Madison asked him.
“Well, like he claimed to know that ghosts are real. He doesn’t think they’re real – he says he knows they are, because he saw one once. He said ninety-nine out of a hundred reports of the supernatural are bogus, but that still leaves a lot that aren’t.”
“Kind of like UFOs,” Everett offered. “All those sightings that turn out to be aircraft or balloons don’t mean that the government isn’t holding extraterrestrial remains in the New Mexico desert.”
“Give me a break, Everett,” Jeremy said. “That Area 51 stuff is bullshit. If we had real evidence that extraterrestrial life exists, the whole world would know it.”
“Not if it was kept on a need-to-know-basis.”
“How could you keep something like that a secret?” Jeremy said. “And more importantly, why would you?”
“To prevent a worldwide panic?” Everett spread his palms upward and grinned at his big brother. “To keep some alien disease from killing us all? To dissect and study them? There are all kinds of possible reasons.”
“And how many people would have to be in on the secret?” Jeremy challenged him.
“I dunno, probably no more than a few dozen. Mainly scientists, but there’d have to be military personnel involved, too.”
Now Jeremy was smiling, albeit a bit drunkenly. “As a simple matter of mathematics,” he said, “the greater the number of people involved in a conspiracy, the shorter the time until the conspiracy is exposed. When were those aliens supposed to have landed? I think it was 1947. That’s a long time for several dozen people to keep a secret.”
“It worked for the Kennedy assassination,” Everett said, openly provoking his brother now. “And the Moon landing.”
Jeremy turned on him. “Everett, you weren’t even alive then. You’re just parroting some nonsense you heard on the radio or read on-line. You have no idea what you’re talking about. It would have cost more to fake the Moon landing than…” He went off into a mini-rant about the vacuity of the “evidence” cited by the lunar landing deniers: the photos that exposed for the bright foreground and not the stars, the wire-stiffened flag, the separate shadows cast by the sun and the earth. Everett looked at Madison. They exchanged a smile as Jeremy rambled on.
“Excuse me,” Everett said, and ducked inside. He had to pee, but he took the phone upstairs to the bathroom with him, and punched up Corinne’s number. He got her voice mail in mid-piss, and didn’t leave a message because he didn’t want her to come home to a recording of him urinating. He’d try again later.
When he returned to the deck, Jeremy was still talking. “I found her office, after I rode the elevator up and down twice and climbed the stairs once, to make sure there were really only three floors, Her office is in the old wing, in what used to be the front of the hospital. It’s on the first floor. You don’t even have to use steps to get there, unless you count the stone steps outside. It’s not handicapped-accessible.”
“Is that even legal? At a hospital?” Madison asked.
“You know, I asked the lady at the desk about that. She said that where that wing is all administration, and the building’s so old, it’s grandfathered in.”
Everett wished Corinne were here to witness Jeremy’s confusion. It would be sweet revenge for the way he had scoffed at her in the bar. “And what did she say?” he asked.
“What did who say?” Jeremy tipped his can back and drained it. He tossed it at the trashcan. This time it hit the rim and bounced out.
“Bernadette. I assume you asked her about it.”
Jeremy shook his head. “She’s on vacation. For they next two weeks, they told me. I guess I probably won’t see her again before I go back.”
It was the first time Jeremy had mentioned going home. Everett was glad to hear it. His brother had certainly mellowed, and his company was no longer the work it once was, but he had wearied of the comings and goings, and hankered to have his apartment to himself. Two weeks. He could live with two more weeks.
He ducked into the kitchen and brought out another round of beers. From a pocket somewhere Madison produced a joint and offered it to Jeremy. “Here, bro, I think you could use this,” she said. To Everett’s surprise, Jeremy accepted.
They sat and drank and passed the joint as twilight became full darkness and the stars began to appear between the tree branches. Everett put on a Bob Dylan album. They discussed their father’s death and the strangeness of the hospital in which he worked and died. Jeremy and Madison tried to recall the order of events during the days between his fall and his final breath. When had Annabelle called Jeremy at St. Paul’s? Did Madison and her sisters stay overnight at the hospital? Everett noticed that their accounts did not always agree. But it was a long time ago, and they were kids. He, of course, hadn’t been born yet.
Jeremy continued to resist the notion that Elliott Sprauling’s essence had somehow managed to escape the death of his physical body. Madison argued just as strongly that the eccentricities of the elevator could not plausibly be explained by anything else. Everett mostly sat and listened. He thought about the gulf between himself and his older siblings, especially the three oldest. Jeremy and Madison had known their father as a flesh-and-blood human being. They had grown up with him into their early teens, or just before. Things like his facial expressions, the touch of his hand, the flare of his temper, were imprinted on their memories but not his. To him, Elliott Sprauling had always been a ghost.
Everett expected his older brother to dismiss any supernatural stuff out of hand, but Jeremy seemed genuinely shaken by his experience with the elevator. He was certainly drinking more than he normally did. “Maybe,” he said, “that elevator’s really a transporter, and it beamed me to the old wing. Maybe I only thought I was on the fourth floor.”
“Oh, so now Star Trek is real, but spirits aren’t?” Madison said.
Jeremy tipped up his beer can, looked down into it, and tossed it at the pile around the trash bucket. “Beer is real,” he said. “And that’s one’s empty.” He started to get up, stumbling a bit.
“I’ll get it,” Everett said. “You want one, Maddie?”
“Better not. I have to drive eventually.”
Everett ducked into the kitchen and looked at his phone. No message from Corinne. Should he try her again? It was getting late. The clock said ten-thirty but he always set it fifteen minutes ahead. Still too late, he decided, fishing out a fresh beer for Jeremy and one for himself. Fuck her if she’s still mad. It’ll blow over. He headed back out to the deck, where his brother and sister were still arguing.
“I just don’t see how,” he heard Madison say, “you can spend your whole life looking for aliens in outer space, and yet dismiss the possibility that there’s life after death.”
“Those are two different things,” Jeremy said. “One is biological, and the other is spiritual – religious, even.”
“You don’t think anything happens when you die?” she asked him. “That’s it? Poof, you’re dead? Worm food and dust, that’s all we are?”
“I don’t know,” Jeremy said. “I’d like to think there’s life after death, if only for my own comfort, but who knows? There’s no scientific evidence of an afterlife, none that I know about, anyway. It’s one of those great unanswered questions, isn’t it?”
“Kinda like life in outer space,” Everett suggested, handing him his beer.
“Bingo,” Madison said. “There’s no evidence for that, either.”
Everett knew what his brother was going to say: that among billions of stars in billions of galaxies there had to be advanced life somewhere. But Jeremy didn’t respond right away. Instead, he looked into his beer can, then out toward the stars visible from the porch. “No,” he said finally. “No, there isn’t.” He tipped up his beer can and took a long swallow.
“You say that like it disturbs you,” Everett observed.
“I don’t know,” Jeremy said, sounding not at all like the confident, haughty first child of the kitchen table debates Everett remembered from long ago. “It’s all disturbing. Life, death, the universe, the whole thing.”
“Human consciousness,” Madison said softly, after a moment. “It’s what we value the most. We don’t know where it comes from, and we don’t know where it goes when we die. Maybe it goes out into the universe.”
“Maybe,” Jeremy said. “Or maybe physical death is what keeps us from going out into the universe.”
“Huh?” Everett said.
Jeremy waved his red-white-and-blue beer can at him. “You’re right,” he said. “There’s no evidence of extraterrestrial life, at least intelligent life, and there should be. We should be able to detect a civilization as advanced as ourselves, or more, at least nearby in the galaxy. But so far there’s nothing. If we are alone in the universe, maybe Sagan and all those science fiction writers were wrong. Maybe the universe was made for us, and it’s up to us to figure out what to do with it.”
Everett turned to his sister. “Was it your idea to get him stoned, or mine?”
“When I was in high school,” Jeremy said over their laughter, “we read this short story in class about a colonial farmer in Africa defending himself against a column of ants. The ants were marching across the land, eating everything in their path – corn, cows, people, everything. Nothing could stop them. So this farmer built a moat around his farmhouse, and filled it with water, thinking they’d be safe. But the ants got to the moat and kept right on going. They marched into the water and drowned. And the ants that came after them walked out onto the bodies of the dead ants and they drowned, too. But finally the pile of dead ants got high enough to break the surface of the water. And then the rest of the ants could march across on top of the bridge made by all the dead ants that came before them.”
“Jeremy, what on Earth is your point?” Madison said.
“Don’t you see? It’s a silly story. Even the teacher said so. It’s completely unrealistic. But it works as allegory. The moat is death, and the ants are all the generations of humans back through time. Think about it – all the advancements we’ve made, in medicine, in science, and technology. But we still haven’t conquered death. We’re the ants just under the surface of the water, walking on the corpses of the ancient Greeks, who are walking on the corpses of the cavemen. Eventually we’ll break the surface, though. We’ll find a way to put this consciousness we value so much in an unbreakable vessel. And once we’ve defeated death, the universe is wide open to us, because we’ll have literally all the time in the world. What’s a few thousand light years, or a few million, when you’ve got an eternity?”
“That’s small consolation,” Everett said, “to all us ants under the water.”
“But maybe some of their ant-essence survives,” Madison said.
“I never had an aunt,” Everett said. “Only uncles.”
It took them a moment, but then Madison laughed and Jeremy groaned and Everett grinned at them both.
“What about Aunt Sally?” Jeremy said.
“Dad’s sister,” Madison said. “The one with the horses.”
“I think I might have met her once, when I was about three,” Everett said. “Is she even still alive?”
Gretchen and Jeremy looked at each other. “I… think so,” Jeremy said. But neither knew for sure. Everett shook his head.
“And you’re wondering about immortality when you don’t even know who’s alive and who’s dead in your own family.”
“Consciousness has to go somewhere,” Madison argued, turning serious again. “It can’t just exist and then not exist. Isn’t there a scientific principle for that? You can’t destroy matter or energy. You can only turn them into something else, right? Maybe the energy that was Dad’s consciousness turned into something else. And maybe it’s trapped in that elevator.”
Jeremy shook his head. “That’s a lot of maybes, Maddie,” he said. “And some pretty soft science, too.”
“Well, science can’t explain everything.”
“No, but it’s the best tool we’ve got,” Jeremy replied.
“Mom’s not going to live forever,” Madison said. “Maybe he’s waiting for her.”
“For forty-one years?” Jeremy scoffed. “That’s preposterous.”
“What’s forty-one years when you’ve got eternity?” she shot back at him.
Jeremy fell silent at this, and slumped back in his chair. He tipped the beer can to his lips again. “All right,” he said at length. “Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that you’re right, and that Dad had some unfinished business, as Pilar called it, when he died. Even if it’s true, which I still don’t think it is, what’s to be done about it? How are we supposed to communicate with Dad’s ‘essence’? Stand in the elevator and wait for something to happen? I was there today. I rode it up and down to the third floor twice. Nothing.”
“But something happened before,” Madison said. “To you, and to me. And have you noticed that Mom won’t go near that elevator?”
“Funny you should mention that,” Jeremy said.
Briefly, he related the story Joanie had told the previous night in Gretchen’s kitchen.
“Maybe he is trying to communicate with her, and she doesn’t want to hear what he has to say,” Madison suggested.
Silence fell over the Sprauling siblings. The night was quiet, the road in front of the house empty of traffic, foot or fueled. “I don’t know,” Everett said finally. “I’d still kind of like to meet him.”