Ricardo and I sat alone in my study. Ricardo leaned forward, tilting his silver mane toward me. “How did they die?”

The clock on the mantle chimed 3:00. When the third tone died away, I said, “Kayaking on the South Fork River.”

Ricardo, dressed in a crisp suit, his hands gripping the arms of the Windsor chair like a throne, sat tall and unmoving despite his age. “Tell me what happened, Carter.”

“The EMTs found them in the vortex at the base of an old rock dam. Ruth and Naomi must’ve paddled past the warning signs to check it out. The police told me the South Fork is low, so the waters appear calm.”

Ricardo’s gaze turned distant. “Sounds like something Ruth would do, doesn’t it?”

“You mean like something they would do.”

“Of course. That’s what I meant.”

I figured this was as good a time as any to tell him.

“Ricardo, I called a producer from CBX. They want to interview me. They’ll be here any minute.”

Ricardo raised one eyebrow and growled, “Did you say CBX?”

“Yes. Mother’s death will be international news.”

“I know, but c’mon, Carter: not CBX. Do you know how many lawsuits I filed against them for your mother over the years?”

“I remember her talking about losing most of them.”

Ricardo’s face and neck got tight. “That’s because most of them had no basis in law or fact. But my job is to represent my clients, no matter what I think. And right now, I think you’re making a mistake.”

I blew out a long, nervous chestful of air. “I need to talk to them, Ricardo. After all, I wouldn’t be able to marry my partner if Ruth and Naomi hadn’t fought for our rights. It’s the people who watch CBX who need to understand.”

The barracuda smile flashed. “You’re Ruth Black’s son, all right.”

I shrugged.

He glanced around, tapped a finger against the armrest. “How’s Michelle taking this?”

“Not well. She’s already half-crazy from planning our wedding next month.”

“So you’re going through with it this time?”

I stared back at Ricardo until my eyes burned.

“Sorry, Carter. I didn’t mean to pry. Could I speak to her?”

“You know Michelle’s not good with situations like this.”

“Right.” Ricardo sprang from his chair, nudged the curtain open, and peered out. “The CBX van just pulled up.” Without turning, he said, “Go ahead and open the gate.”

“Let them ring the intercom first. No need to appear anxious.”

Still peeking out the window, Ricardo let out a guttural laugh. “You also have Ruth’s genius for handling the media.”

My phone chimed, and I touched the screen. A dark-haired man with a goatee leaned out from the driver’s seat of a white van. He gazed directly at the security camera and said, “Dan Braxton, CBX.”

I opened the gate.

Ricardo let the curtains fall together and twisted toward me. “Good God, not him.”

“What about him?”

“15 years ago, when your mother began organizing protests for Multi rights, Braxton interviewed her. But instead of reporting the facts, he edited the vids to ridicule her; hell, the entire Multi movement. He ran those vids for years, kept saying people who claimed to be hosts to multiple beings were either lying or delusional. It drove your mother crazy, which kept me pretty busy.”

“Those years were one long blur to me, Ricardo.” I glanced at the doorbell monitor on my phone. Braxton had parked his van in the circular driveway. “I was shuffled around to various daycare centers while Ruth organized petition drives, or protests, or chewed out some public official.”

“Well, it isn’t easy being a single mother.”

“It’s harder being the only child of a single mother. Especially a famous one.”

Ricardo flinched, and my tone surprised me, too.

“Anyway,” I continued, “I don’t remember Dan Braxton.”

“You saw him once, at one of your mother’s Multi rights rallies in Atlanta five years ago. I told the little bastard to keep back, but he pushed a mic in Ruth’s face, and I decked him.”

My jaw dropped. “That was Braxton?”

“It took me a lot of wrangling to stay out of jail.”

“I remember him now. Ruth had just married Naomi, and it was the first of Mother’s rallies I attended. I’d just turned 15. The level of hatred from the counter-protesters terrified me. When we got home that night, I asked Ruth why people were so hostile. Know what she said?”


“She said she couldn’t talk. Said she and Naomi had things to discuss.”

“Carter, your mother—”

“Yes, I know, Ricardo; Ruth devoted her life to an important cause. I’ve heard it before.” I rubbed my temples, determined to ward off another headache. “But the next day, Michelle came into my life. What’s the old saying? One door closes—”

The doorbell rang, and I checked my phone. Dan Braxton’s face filled the screen. I swiped the doorknob icon to unlock the door and pressed the talk button. “Come in, Mr. Braxton.”

The door opened and Dan Braxton strode in, pulling what looked like a gallon-sized cooler behind him.

“Hello, I’m Dan Braxton.”

The short man standing before me was nothing like the imposing presence from the newscasts. I stood and said, “I’m Carter Black, and I believe you’ve met my family attorney, Ricardo Uris.”

“Great to see you.” Braxton held out a fist. Ricardo bumped it, hard. Braxton’s eyes widened. “Oh, you’re—”

“Wonderful to see you again, Braxton.”

“Yes.” Braxton rubbed his hand. His voice shaking, he said, “Thank you for seeing me, Carter. I want to offer my sincere condolences. And I want to pass along the best wishes and sympathy from the entire CBX team.”

“Thank you.”

Braxton touched a couple of buttons on the contraption he’d dragged in. It whirred to life, raised itself on little wheels. A camera popped out of its top on a telescoping arm.

“Carter, I hope you don’t mind my videobot.”

“Not at all.”

The videobot emitted a low, musical hum as it scooted backward, and its camera silently telescoped until it was head high.

“Just a moment.” Ricardo pointed toward the videobot. “Is that thing recording us?”

“Not until I tell it to.”

“Let me make one thing clear. I know your ratings are down, and have no doubt you’ll do anything for publicity. If you turn this into one of your famous on-air muggings and try to embarrass this young man, who happens to be my client, I will personally throw you and your tin-plated cameraman out the door.”

Braxton didn’t flinch. “You don’t understand.” He sounded like the brash news commentator again. “You see, I’m part of the story. That’s why they sent me.”

Ricardo’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Braxton leaned close to me. “I understand you Multis now. I realize your mother and her wife inhabited the same body. And I understand you, Carter.”

Ricardo and I stared back.

“CBX hired a psychologist to explain it to me. It makes sense now.”

Ricardo shot a look my way, and I nodded. This could be a trap. I folded my arms across my chest and said, “Then please explain it to me.”

Braxton stood straight. “It’s the next step in human evolution. We’re just doing what we’ve always done, what makes humans superior. We’re adapting to our environment. The environment we created.”

A mild flutter rose in my chest. Was this for real? He sounded sincere, but I reminded myself this was a media personality who just wanted a story, and that his viewers were deluded people who eagerly embraced his reassuring lies. I sneaked a glance at Ricardo, who stood unmoving, his body at an angle to Braxton.

“Carter, I now understand you Multis are the wave of the future. You know why? People spend more time with their phones than they do other people. We don’t have the time to make friends or risk relationships that could end up badly. You don’t know who to trust these days. But sometimes we need other people. You get lonely, and that makes you sad, makes you feel left out. You’ve felt that, haven’t you, Carter?”

The skin on my neck and face fired up, but I said nothing.

“And what do we humans do when we need something?” Braxton pulled his shoulders back, his eyes gleaming. “We make it. We don’t have to warm ourselves in the sun because we have built-in heaters.” He patted his belly. “Body fat means we don’t have to eat all the time. And language is a way to bring other people’s minds into our own heads. Multis are just the next step. You’ve evolved other people inside you.”

Ricardo murmured, “I’ll be goddamned.”

Braxton fixed his eyes on me. “You see? I get it. I’m with you now. So what do you think?”

But as I tried to digest what should have been good news, my chest grew tight. One thought after another froze half-formed in my mind. Why did I feel so conflicted?

Ricardo gave me a nudge. “Go for it, Carter. I think Ruth would approve.”

Braxton frowned. “Hey, your lawyer’s happy. So why are you looking at me like that? Are you ready to do this? Well? Are you?”

“No. He is not.”

Ricardo stepped closer. “Michelle?”

“Yes.” Michelle made tight fists at her side. “There’s something I need to say. Neither of you understand Carter. I do. And you should know better, Ricardo. Carter Black deserves friendship. He deserves love.”

Ricardo touched Michelle’s shoulder. “I know that.”

She glared at his hand, and he pulled it away as if he’d been scorched.

“You’re his attorney, his protector. But you didn’t say a thing when this talking head called Carter a sad, lonely person. He doesn’t want anyone’s pity.”

“Michelle, you know I—”

“Carter is not going to go along with this. He will not be treated as a victim or a freak.”

Dan Braxton stepped between Ricardo and Michelle, both hands on his chest. “Michelle, let me assure you I meant no disrespect to your fiancé. This is all new to me. I need you and Carter to help me understand. And if I understand, my viewers will, too.”

Michelle cocked her head.

“I promise the interview will be objective and fair. Think of this as Carter’s opportunity to complete his mother’s work.”

Ricardo said, “It’s okay, Michelle.”

Michelle took a long, hard look at Ricardo, then at Braxton. She breathed in, and exhaled. “I believe you. I do.” She closed her eyes. “I believe you now.”

“So we’re on?”

I opened my eyes. “Yes, Mr. Braxton. As long as my attorney can listen in.”

“No problem. Uh, is it Carter now?”

“Yes, it is.”

“See? I’m learning already. Can we start the interview?”

I nodded assent and looked at Ricardo. He gave me an assuring, knowing smile.

Braxton turned to his videobot. “Record interview with Carter Black. Engage.”

The camera lowered and pivoted toward Braxton.

“This is Dan Braxton, CBX News. I’m at the home of Carter Black, the son of Ruth Black, the activist known for her tireless dedication to Multi rights. By now you’ve heard the news about the tragic accident that took the lives of Ms. Black and her wife, Naomi Mara, but now you’re about to see and hear an intimate and uplifting story. Carter, I understand you’re getting married next month. Please tell us about it.”

My breathing slowed as an unexpected joy swept over me. Michelle was right. I did deserve her. Yes, I believed her now. Next month, I would stand before the world and promise to love, cherish, and respect her…and myself. Silently, the camera rose and pointed toward me. I gazed into its reflective lens and wiped my eye before I spoke.