Marco in the Park

by Nick Brady

Part 22

The spring semester was over. Marco was pleased to tell me that his grades were all A's. His watercolor teacher was excited about his work and was encouraging him to do more with his art. He intended to continue to paint, but also determined to pursue with his more technical education at OSU as soon as he could. For this summer however, he would take a break from school and ride for Mercury Courier Service.

"I talked to Mercer," Marco told me. "He's glad to have me back."

"So you are back in the saddle again, eh?" I kidded him.

"Yep. I will start tomorrow."

You don't want to take a break and goof off a little?" I asked.

"There is no money in that. I thought maybe we could do some fun things on the weekends though. I would like to go back up to Woolaroc again."

"Did you like their museum?"

"I did, and I like the animal park. I thought maybe I might make some sketches while we are there," he said.

So the next Saturday morning we drove up west of Bartlesville to the big park and I sat in the shade of some trees while Marco sketched out some scenes on his pad of newsprint. I looked over his shoulder as we migrated from one location after another. He quickly drew out a small group of three buffalo, a bull and a cow with a small young calf lying between them, several elk standing belly deep in a shady pond, a rolling hill surrounding a pond and some aging outbuildings laid up under the trees.

The sketches were minimal but captured the essence of the scenes. He took some photographs with his cellphone that helped him remember the color and details. His hand was fast and sure, capturing the scene to be expanded upon later. Other than a few words of encouragement I was quiet and let him focus on his vision of what was before him. He was really good.

We went through the museum buildings where Marco admired the many works of western masters like Remington and Russell, paintings and bronzes of cowboys on horseback, Native American portraits and villages preserved on canvas and statuary which seemed alive to him.

"Wow, look at the movement in these things. They are like a moment frozen in time," he was taking this all in and filing it away in his head. This was no casual sight-seeing for him. His mind was busy working.

In the middle of the next week Marco received a large yellow envelope of papers from the prison where his father was incarcerated.

He looked them over. "These are forms I have to complete to be able to visit Billy Cusco," he explained. "I guess they have to check to see that I'm not wanted for something."

"Not that I know of," I volunteered.

"No, I'm clean," he assured me. He sat down and began to fill out the required information. "I should get something back that will let me get in. Damn, this is exciting." He signed and folded the forms and stuffed them into the return envelope.

"I'm still learning to sign myself as Marty Montgomery," he chuckled.

"You know, that was really a simple process, changing your name," I remarked. "I thought that would be complicated but it wasn't."

"No, it was easy – fill out a form at the courthouse, pay a fee and sign here. Two weeks later I had a new name," Marco grinned. "I like it better than the old one."

I hesitated then remarked, "I guess you could have changed it to Cusco if you had known about Billy."

"No," he said emphatically. "I want your name. I haven't even met this guy. He might be a real asshole."

Two weeks later Marco got his papers back from the prison. It was an authorization and a schedule of visiting hours. He sat looking at it quietly.

"What have you got?" I asked.

He sighed. "I'm good to visit Billy Cusco. I can go meet my father."

"So what is your plan? How do you want to do this?" I asked.

Marco hesitated. "Man, I don't know. Now that I've got permission, I feel kind of scared."

"What are you scared of?"

"I don't know, the fear of the unknown I guess. I mean what if he's a really scary guy? He killed somebody," Marco wondered.

I put my hands on Marco's shoulders and leaned over the table against him. "He is your father. You have to see him and he has to see you. If this doesn't work out you won't have to see him again, but you have to do this at least one time, right?"

Marco sighed. "Right. But it's still kind of scary. I wish you could go with me."

"Marco, you are tougher than I am. You will be just fine. I will drive you up there and wait for you. You can do this."

The next Saturday morning we went up to Hominy to the prison. Marco was quiet as I drove, so I left him to his thoughts. We pulled up to the prison.

Marco looked around. "Damn, look at all the barbed wire."

The perimeter of the prison was enclosed by a double 12 foot chain-link fence with a walkway between them for guards to patrol. Clustered on top of the tall fences were shiny coils of concertina wire covered with razor sharp barbs. On one corner was a tower with a commanding view of the prison yard and we could see uniformed guards inside keeping watch over what little movement took place inside. We had to pass by a guard shack at the entrance where I was told that I should wait inside rather than in the car. We were somewhat intimidated.

I took a seat in the lobby while Marco checked himself in with the receptionist. He explained that he was there to visit his father Billy Cusco and told to take a seat. Thirty minutes later his name was called and he was patted down and walked through a metal detector. From there he was shown in through a double door into the visitors area. I could look through a thick window to see men in blue dungarees talking with women and a few young children. Sitting at one table was a slender Native American man who looked anxiously at the doors. I assumed that was Billy Cusco. I felt a lump in my throat then was told by the receptionist that I was to sit back down.

Their meeting lasted about 45 minutes then Marco was ushered back into the lobby.

He looked solemnly at me and said simply, "Let's go."

We walked out to my car in silence then drove out of the compound as a guard waved us past the guard shack. Marco looked composed but rather stiff.

After we pulled out onto the highway I turned and asked him. "How did it go?"

Marco remained thoughtful for a minute then began to relate the conversation to me.

"It was OK, really. I walked up and just stood there for a minute until he asked me to sit down. I knew it was him. I could tell by looking at him that he was my father. He looked a lot like me but older and kind of beat up looking. It was like we already knew each other. I shook his hand and told him my name was Marco Montgomery. He said he was Billy Cusco and we just sat looking at each other.

"Marco. Marco? That's my middle name, did you know that? I didn't know about you," Billy said. "I didn't know I had a son."

"I didn't know who you were until a couple of months ago. It took a little time to get up here."

"This is a rough place for us to meet," he said.

"I guess. But at least we finally get to see each other."

"How did you find me?" he wondered.

"I just figured it out."

"How is your mother? Margaret wasn't it? I'm sorry, that was a long time ago," he apologized.

"She is doing pretty good. She's sober now."

"Oh yeah? Hey, that's good," he smiled wanly. "So am I. Not much choice in here. So, are you OK? Can you tell me about yourself?"

"I'm OK. I'm gay actually, and married to a really nice guy. I'm working, going to college, and I'm happy. I have a good life."

Billy frowned a little as if trying to process all that. "Really? That's cool I guess. I'm glad you're happy anyway."

"So are you OK in here? I mean, what happened? I don't know anything about you. You're a stranger to me."

Billy looked away as if embarrassed. "Hey Marco. This is a hell of a way to meet your father for the first time. I'm sorry kid, I didn't know about you. Me and your mother, we were pretty casual, you know? I didn't know about you."

Marco said nothing, waiting for Billy to continue.

"I guess you are asking why I am in here, right? Well, I guess you have a right to know," he spread his hands out on the little table and looked down at them.

"I was pretty crazy there for awhile. I was messed up all the time, drugs and stuff. I was shooting coke and smoking a lot of dope. I don't remember half of it. I was trying to do a drug deal with this guy in a bar and we got into a fight. I tried to leave but he followed me outside and started to pound me with a pipe or something. I had a pistol in my car so I grabbed it and shot him. It was self-defense really, but they got me on it," he sighed and looked very sad.

"I was into a lot of trouble with the law. I think they saw the chance to put me away and stuck me in here. I had a public defender who didn't care about me, he was just collecting a fee." he tried to smile. "I guess I wasn't a very nice guy back then."

He looked away and was quiet. "I'm not the same guy anymore Marco. After 12 years in here I've changed a lot."

"What is it like for you in here?"

Billy shook his head and laughed quietly. "It's a lot different in here. At first I was pissed off all the time. But after awhile I kind of figured out I was going to be here for a long time and maybe I should make the best of it, you know? You might not believe it but I am part of the chapel crowd now. I kind of got religion, you know?"

"No, I believe you. That's cool, really."

Billy looked intently at Marco and seemed to relax a little. "Yeah, I read the book and everything. I got my GED and I am learning some things," he sighed. "Not that it will do me much good. I don't know that I'll ever get out of here."

"Do they treat you OK?"

"Yeah, it's OK. Three hots and a cot, you know? I guess I'm OK. I'm not mad all the time. That's better. I'm trying to making the best of it."

"So what do you do?"

Billy shrugged. "I don't know, I read a lot. I never read much before but I got time now, and they have a pretty good library. I read the bible too. They have some good programs for that. I'm even teaching stuff to the new guys. I am trying to be a good person. " he looked at Marco to see some sign of approval.

"That's cool. I got baptized last year."

"Yeah? Really? Hey, that's good. I did that about 5 years ago. It made me feel different about a lot of things," he admitted.

"So what else do you do? I mean, you have a lot of time I guess."

Billy glanced away and then said shyly. "Well, I paint, you know, I paint pictures. I'm not that great, but it gives me something to do."

"Really? That's cool. I like to draw too. I'm pretty good at it."

"No kidding?" Billy looked surprised. "Maybe we have that in common. Maybe you got something good from me after all."

"Actually, I need something else from you, not much really. I'm trying to get a scholarship through the Seminoles and I need to establish my blood line. I need to be able to claim you as my father. Would that OK?"

Billy looked very surprised. "Yeah, I guess that would be alright. I mean if you want to claim me. I reckon I must be your father, you look so much like me when I was a kid that it's scary," he almost smiled, "Yeah, go ahead. I'll claim you."

"Good. Thank you. Maybe you will have to sign a form or something. Can I have your mailing address?"

"Sure Marco," He scribbled an address with his DOC number on a scrap of paper and handed it over. "Hey, you might write to me sometime if you wanted to. I never get letters from anybody in here."

Marco paused in his narrative as I continued to drive back to Tulsa.

He looked at me. "That's about it Marty. We kind of shot the bull a little then I had to go. I shook his hand and told him I was glad to finally meet him and he looked weird – kind of sad, kind of relieved I guess."

"Are you glad you got to meet him?" I asked.

"Yes. I felt bad for him. Who knows, I might have been just like him if I hadn't met you," Marco reflected. "He isn't a bad guy, actually he was pretty nice. He wasn't scary at all."

"Do you really think you could have turned out like him?

"I don't know, I don't know his story. When I told him my name was Marco he told me that was his middle name. Billy Marco Cusco. I have his middle name."

"Damn. Your mother must have known that. I bet that's why she called you Marco," I thought about that for a minute then asked, "Do you think you want to visit him again?"

Marco was quiet. "I don't know. I will have to think about it. I guess I would like to know his story. Everybody has a story."

We drove the rest of the way home in silence.

Marco got back to Mr. Blankenship to ask about the Indian scholarship. He told Marco that he would have to work through the Seminole tribe to get registered and verify the blood line through his father. He gave Marco a phone number to contact the tribe but told him he would have to do that himself. He called the number and talked to somebody then made an appointment. He kept this to himself, and I left him alone.

School was out for the summer and Marco didn't try to take any classes before the fall semester. His plans were a little uncertain at this point, but he was a busy guy. He got up early and we had breakfast together, then he rode for Mercer from 9:00 to 5:00 and sometimes later. Fridays he took off at 3:00, came home, showered then went to Luigi's for a 6 hour shift there. Saturday and Sundays he had some time during the day but was back at the restaurant in the evenings. Sunday morning we went to church, Saturdays we tried to do something to break the routine but often were busy with laundry and other chores. It was not a summer vacation for him.

Evenings he tried to spend a little time working with some of the sketches he made during our last trip up to Woolaroc. He turned several of them into nice watercolors.

I was concerned for him. There was no friction between us but he was quieter than usual. When he was not busy with something else I would find him sitting on the sofa looking at his Indian painting. This seemed to be his time to withdraw into his head and reflect and I tried to leave him alone. The experience with his father was weighing on him. I guessed that he was trying to sort some things out in his mind.

He met with someone from the Seminoles and they sent him a packet of forms to verify the requirements for tribal registration. Most of the information would have to come from his father. He asked me to make several copies of the forms at my office, then filled out what he could and covered them with his own letter.

"Are you sending that to Billy?" I asked.

"Yes, but I'm afraid he probably doesn't know some of this stuff either. I don't know how much he remembers about his own history."

"Well, he will enjoy getting a letter from you anyway," I suggested.

"I guess. I have written him every week since we went up there."

"Really? Has he written you back?" I asked.

"Not yet. Maybe he is busy."

That didn't sound likely but I didn't say anything.

The next week Marco got a letter with a big red stamp on the back cautioning him that this was mail from an inmate. "Billy wrote to me," he opened it quickly and read it.

"Did he get your packet of forms?" I asked.

Marco frowned. "He said he thought something like that came for him but they wouldn't let him have it. He wants me to send it again, but this time to the chaplain. He did thank me for my letters though."

"Why wouldn't they give it to him?"

"It's a prison, Marty. They don't operate out of compassion for the inmates. Somebody figured it was too much trouble I guess." He patiently filled out another set of forms and addressed it to the Chaplain.

Two weeks later he got the forms back from the chaplain's office. "Billy filled some of this stuff in."

"How does it look?" I asked, peeking over his shoulder.

"He knows the name of his parents, and of his own grandparents. That's a start."

I took a look at the forms. "They want you to trace your lineage back to somebody on the Dawes Roll."

Marco gave me a blank look. "What's the Dawes Roll? How do I do that? "

"Let me look at that thing." I took the papers, opened up the laptop and started looking around. It didn't take long to find a copy of the Dawes Roll online.

"OK, the Dawes Roll is a list of the original people who were members of the tribes that settled in Oklahoma," I read to him. "There is a separate roll for each tribe. Here are the Seminoles, now we need to connect somebody on this list with Billy, and in turn to you." I looked at the name of Billy's grandparents and then started scanning though the list.

I scrolled down through a lot of screens. "Look, here is a Cusco. We might be in business. I think they are a couple of generations back, but I bet you are related to them."

Marco was starting to get excited. "Hey, I have relatives. How cool is that?"

"It is cool, but we don't have the names of the people in between Billy's grandparents and the roll."

"Well write that stuff down, or print it out, and let me take it to the tribal office," he suggested. "Maybe they can help me fill in the gaps."

To make a long story short, Marco did it all. He filled in the blanks. He took his information to the Seminoles and sweet talked some girl into looking though a stack of documents until they found Billy's grandfather and made the link to Billy. Marco got the right paperwork to the chaplain to have Billy acknowledge his paternity and the connection was complete. What really amazed me was the patience he had to see this through. He was right about one thing. He was stubborn. I preferred 'persistent' but it amounted to the same thing.

By the time he had everything in place to apply for tribal membership and then a scholarship, it was too late for the fall semester but might be in time for the next. We pooled our resources and enrolled him for OSU using our combined savings. He had been very frugal with his earnings over the summer and I was able to help him with the rest. He was ready to go.

"I owe you $400." Marco told me. "I will pay you back as soon as I can."

"Don't worry about it Marco. You can support me in my old age after you are a famous artist."

"No really. I'll still have my tip money from Luigi's. I'll have more of that in no time."

"OK, if it matters to you, but I'm not worried about it. We are in this together."

"I know, but it's important to me. I will have enough to help with groceries after this weekend."

"Jeez, Marco. You are so stubborn. Can't you let me help you sometime?"

Marco gave me a hug. "You help me with all kinds of things Marty. I just want to feel like I'm paying my share."

I kissed him on top of his head. "Maybe I will let you take it out in trade."

He reached around and squeezed my ass. "You get that anyway." He chuckled.

"So what are you taking now that you are officially a university student?"

"I got my basics out of the way at TCC. I am taking JAVA programming and some systems classes this semester – and another art class. OSU has some cool stuff."

"Great. So you are thinking of keeping the art as an option?"

We migrated over to the sofa. "Yes. I decided you were right. I really do enjoy that stuff. Ms. Walters gave me a big pep talk when I finished up the watercolor class. She thinks I might have something going for me."

"I think you might get some help from the Seminoles before next semester. That will take the pressure off of you. You don't have to rush through this thing you know."

Marco looked up at his Indian. "I have been thinking about a lot of things. I always suspected I was Seminole but I wasn't sure about any of that. This thing with my father and the tribe has me thinking of myself as Native American."

"What does your friend have to say to you about that?" I nodded at the picture.

"Oh, he doesn't really talk to me. That's just something I sort of focus on sometimes."

"If it helps you think, there's nothing wrong with that."

"I keep wishing I could see something that Billy does. You know, what kind of thing he paints."

"I wonder what he does with that stuff?"

Marco shrugged. "I don't know. That's a good question. Do they show their stuff or maybe can they sell it? I wonder."

"Why don't you write Billy and ask him about that?" I suggested.

Marco sat and looked at the Indian for awhile, then got up and pulled out some paper and started writing. He tore up several false starts then leaned back and studied his letter. He came back over and sat down with me and started to read.

"Dear Billy.

Thank you for helping me with the tribal information. I have applied for tribal registration with the Seminoles. If they give me a scholarship it will be a big help.

I am glad we finally were able to meet. I guess things are pretty rough where you are but I can see that you are making the best of it. I didn't have a great start either but I am in college now and doing OK. I guess we are kind of the same.

I think I told you that I like to paint and would be interested in seeing some of your things. Please tell me if they are ever exhibited.

Marco."

"What do you think?" he asked.

I looked it over. "What can it hurt? Send it and see what happens."

"I think I will," Marco said with a grin. "What can it hurt?"

I nodded towards the picture on the wall. "What does your friend think about that" I asked.

Marco grinned. "Oh he thinks that's a great idea. He says you are a fart smeller, I mean a smart feller."

That preceded a wrestling match that involved a lot of crotch grabbing, then evolved into a decision to shower and get ready for bed.

The fall semester began and Marco had to say goodbye to Mercer again with the assurance that he was welcome back any time. The systems classes and JAVA coding went well, I was able to coach him on a few things from my experience but he didn't need a lot of help. He picked up new things like a sponge. What he liked to talk about were the things from his art class. They were looking at different kinds of media – watercolor, tempera, oils, even pastels. He said he was experimenting with all of them.

"The teacher is a cool old gal," he told me.

"What is she like?" I asked.

"Her name is Katrina Lubowski. She is an older lady and looks like a retired hippy, you know, long hair, no makeup, dresses kind of sloppy. She is all business though. She made this one girl cry."

How's that?"

"She was very critical of something the girl did. I mean it was pretty crappy, but she wasn't all that nice about it."

"What does she say about your stuff?" I wondered.

"Really, she doesn't say all that much. She will come around and ask me something and then nod and walk on."

"Is that good?"

Marco shrugged. "It's not bad. She hasn't made fun of me yet."

"She hasn't made you cry yet?"

He laughed. "Not yet. Last week she stuck one of my sketches up on the board and asked students to comment on it. I think she liked it."

"What did they say about it?"

He grinned. "They liked it too."

Marco brought home some new things from school. "One was oil on poster board of a shaggy buffalo lying in tall grass with eyes half closed. The buffalo was fairly detailed but the background of grass and sky was merely suggested. The other was a watercolor of a young girl, sitting relaxed with her hands in her lap. I looked closely at them both and immediately was taken with the portrait.

The girl's clothing and the chair she sat in was just hinted at. Her face was simply drawn but had a sweet expression. "Who was the girl?" I asked.

Marco shrugged. "I don't know who she was. She came in and sat for us one afternoon and we had to try to do something quick. We didn't have much time, that's why I used watercolor."

"She's pretty," I said.

"She seemed real sweet. I tried to get her face. It is a pretty good likeness actually."

"I really like this," I put it aside. "Tell me about the buffalo."

"We were supposed to try to do something in oil. I used one of the photos I took up at Woolaroc for the buffalo. What do you think?" he asked.

"Well, I like his curly hair, and the sleepy look on his face. What do you think of it?" I asked him in return.

"I don't much like it," he admitted. "The colors aren't right and it looks kind of flat."

"It looks pretty good to me, Marco. I have to say that I like the watercolor better though," I agreed. "Maybe oil is a harder medium for you."

Marco frowned. "It takes too long. It looks kind of messy or something. The oil just doesn't feel natural to me."

"You should show these to Billy," I suggested. "I bet he will like the buffalo."

Then Marco got something interesting in the mail.

He pulled it out to show me. "It's my tribal card," He said. "I am officially one-quarter Seminole. How cool is that?"

"That is very cool," I agreed. "What prevents you from applying for a tribal scholarship now?"

"Nothing. I already have the application. I just need to submit it with my registration number and see what happens."

"Is it automatic if you are officially Seminole?" I asked.

"No, I have to have decent grades. It is partly academic," he explained. "I have a record of my grades from high school and TCC, but the semester isn't over yet from OSU. That's all I have."

"Right, but those are all good, right?"

"Yep," he grinned. He completed the application and put it in the mail the next morning.

When we went up to the prison the following Saturday morning he carried in the sample of his art work, the buffalo and the portrait of the girl, while I waited in the lobby. Forty-five minutes later he came out wearing a smile.

As we walked to the car I asked, "How did it go?"

"Billy brought a couple of his paintings and they were pretty interesting."

"What did he have?"

"He does Indians in native dress mostly. At least that's what he showed me. He said he looks up stuff in the library and then makes a picture from that. They are men in buckskin shirts and leggings with colorful beaded belts. Things like that. He says that he can sell them though the craft shop and gets part of the money from them. I guess that's about all the income he has."

"Can you get one?" I asked.

"I guess so. They have a craft show about twice a year and he will let me know when one is coming up. That would be kind of neat."

"Would you say they were good paintings? I mean is he a good artist?"

"They are pretty good. They are kind of stiff looking really, but I think he does what he thinks will sell, you know."

"What did he think of yours?" I asked him.

"You were right, he liked the buffalo. I don't think he was too impressed by the watercolor though," he shrugged.

"But it's something that sort of connects you, that you both paint, right?"

"Yes, that part is cool. I showed him my new tribal card and he was tickled about that."

"So how do you feel about Billy now that you talked with him again? Are you more comfortable with him now?" I asked.

"Yeah, I think so. He really isn't a bad guy at all. I'm glad I finally met him and we have gotten to see each other. We aren't going to be buddies though. It's a little late for that."

"Is this what you expected?"

Marco shrugged. "I don't know that I expected much of anything. It is what it is, I guess. At least I know who he is."

We got back in time for him to go to work. I felt sort of bad for him. He had been so excited that he was going to finally meet his father and it had turned out to be a little disappointing. When he got back from work I had something for us to eat. We showered together and I tried to divert his attention from his worries with some good sex. It helped. I would have to say it definitely helped. We cuddled up and slept well.

Before the end of the semester Marco got the approval for his scholarship from the Seminoles. It was tuition only, but that was a big help. He used it to enroll for the spring semester and was very upbeat.

At the end of the fall semester the art department hosted an exhibition of the collective work done by the students. Mrs. Lubowski entered four of his paintings and they were very well received. I thought they were the best things in the show. I was pleased to see that he had signed them all 'Marco Montgomery'. An article came out in the Tulsa World reviewing the show and he was one of several who were named as outstanding. 'A very promising young artist' he was called. Things were beginning to look up.

"Hey, you are already famous," I told him.

"Well, I don't know that I am exactly famous, but somebody bought the portrait of the girl."

"Really? I didn't know they were for sale. What did you get for it?"

"Mrs. Lubowski put prices on them. It sold for $400 and I got all the money!" He was very pleased.

"No kidding? That should make you feel pretty good," I told him.

"Amazed would be a better word. Maybe there is more future in this than I realized. I guess you were right, Marty."

"I'm very proud of you Marco. How do you feel about that?"

"I think I will start to take it more seriously," he grinned.

"What did Mrs. Lubowski have to say about that?" I asked.

"She handed me the check and told me to get busy," he told me. "I think it's the first time I have seen her smile."

At this time Marco sort of shifted gears. It was not the money so much as the encouragement from the recognition that he had real talent. Mrs. Lubowski told him that the art room was available in the evenings and he began to go over there after he came home from class and we had a quick dinner. It cut into the time we had together but the effect on his attitude was remarkable.

I was somewhat disappointed that we didn't find the time for our usual excursion during the break between Christmas and New Year. We did take a few day trips both to Gilcrease and Philbrook in Tulsa, and back to Crystal Bridges in Arkansas. For Marco they were working trips and he took photos with his cell phone when he was permitted and made sketches on a small pad of note paper. When we got home he transferred some of these to rough sketches on better paper to be completed later. He was compiling an impressive portfolio of work in a short amount of time. I was a bit jealous of his time but pleased to see his obvious passion.

When the spring semester began he continued with a full load of work towards a degree in Computer Science, and re-enrolled in Mrs. Lubowski's art class. He was not neglecting his other studies but was making extra time for his art. The spring semester found him very busy.

"The art class will count as elective hours but not as required courses towards my degree," he explained.

"Hey, you don't need to apologize for that. That may be the most important course you're taking," I reminded him.

"There will be another exhibition at the end of the semester," he grinned. "Maybe I can sell some more stuff."

Marco insisted on continuing to work at Luigi's on the weekends. By now he had regular customers who came to the restaurant expecting to be served by him. Some of them were quite generous. In turn I insisted that we spend our Saturdays together. It was important for our relationship that we reserved some time for ourselves.

Although Marco was keeping himself busier than I thought was good for him, we were quite happy and determined to make time for intimacy. I was discovering that living with a working artist could be a challenge. He would meet with his mother for lunch occasionally and reported that she was maintaining her sobriety. He wrote to his father every week and received a few letters in return. He seemed to have his ducks in a row.

Marco was at the kitchen table looking at some sketches. "I worry about you sometimes, Marco," I said to him.

"Huh? Why is that?" he didn't raise his head."

"You set such a frantic pace for yourself. I worry that you are going to crash," I told him.

"Crash? What do you mean?" he looked surprised.

"Well look at you. You never stop, you are losing weight even."

He passed a hand over his stomach. "No I'm not. Am I?"

"I think you are. Have you weighed yourself lately?" I suggested.

"Well no, but I'm OK. I have just been kind of busy. Is that a problem?" he replied defensively.

I walked over and put my hands on his shoulders. "No one could be more pleased to see you so engrossed in your art, but I think you are pushing yourself awfully hard. I love you Marco and I do worry about you."

He turned around and put his arms around my waist. "I love you too, but this has become pretty important to me. I thought you approved of all this."

"I do, but you are trying to do everything at once. I think you need to slow down a little. Don't you think? Maybe you need to back off of something. You are going to school and working on the weekends, and every spare moment you are painting on something either here or in the art lab. We have no social life and almost no time together. You don't see that as a problem?"

He sat with his face pressed against my stomach but didn't look up at me. "Are you jealous or something?" he asked.

I stepped back and looked down at him. "Well, maybe I am a little. I am becoming an art widow," I tried to smile.

He looked back up at me. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to neglect you. I have just been kind of busy, I guess."

I took his hand and led him into the living room to sit together on the sofa. "Marco," I said. "I love you and want nothing more than to see you develop and grow and be happy. Truly I do, but you are trying to do so much right now. I know I have advised you both to pursue a degree and your art. Maybe I have created a monster."

Marco looked rather downcast. "I'm sorry. I guess I thought this was what you wanted me to do."

"Look, it's a good plan, but slow down a little. It is not only hard on you, it is hard on our relationship. I want to see more of you than the back of your head."

Marco looked at his Indian and sighed. "I don't want to mess us up Marty. What do you think I should do?"

I put my arm around his shoulder and pulled him against me. "Marco, Marco. You are so bright and talented, there are a million things you could do. Look, you are discovering that your painting is going to be more than just a passing hobby for you. Why don't you focus on that and slow down on the computer stuff."

He looked a little dejected. "But the degree is really important. I understand that. Should I quit school?"

"No, I am not suggesting that you give up on that. But this semester will be over in a few weeks. I think you should take a break this summer and not work. Focus on your art without the distraction of both school and job, and see where it goes. Then in the fall, take a lighter school load. How many hours do you have to take to be qualified for the scholarship?"

Marco thought for a moment. "Nine hours. I only have to take 9 hours to keep the scholarship. That's what it calls full time."

"And how many are you taking now?"

Marco looked at me. "Fifteen hours. Is that a problem?"

"You tell me. Wouldn't you like to be able to catch a breath?"

Marco smiled. "I guess it would be nice not to have to work so hard. But I do like riding for Mercer."

"OK, let me put it this way," I suggested. "What do you feel most passionate about. Let's prioritize some things. You have your art, your computer classes and your courier service. What do you love doing the most?"

Marco shrugged. "Well, it you put it that way, the painting. I enjoy that the most, but the others are important too."

I nodded. "I didn't say they weren't. Now what do you like next best?"

Marco frowned. "Well, neither one really. Those are just things that I need to do, except for Luigi's. I do like working there because people come in looking for me."

"OK, then how about this summer you maybe take another art class just for fun, work at Luigi's on the weekends and maybe play with your husband?" I suggested.

Marco grinned. "Actually, that sounds pretty good. But I could use the money from riding."

"Let me worry about the money," I smiled. "What if I told you that I am getting a promotion that is worth more than what you make riding for Mercer?"

"Really? That's cool."

"So think about that. Could we try that this summer?" I asked.

Marco looked up at his Indian and was quiet for a minute. "You know, sometimes I think you really love me, Marty."

"Oh? What makes you think that?" I asked with a smile.

He leaned his head back on the sofa. "Well you are always thinking about me and what's best for me. I know you aren't the boss of me, but I like it when you help me decide things."

We both looked at the Indian on the wall. "What does he say?" I wondered.

Marco sighed. "He says you're right as usual."

"Is that all he says?"

"No," Marco smiled. "He thinks we need to take a long hot shower."

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