It’s that time of year again! Merry Christmas to you all, wherever you may be. We hope all of you have a grand holiday, if not a very white Christmas.
We are, of course, having a white one. Eighteen inches of white on Thursday alone, as a matter of fact. Here’s the aftermath. Any volunteer snow shovelers?
So, as mentioned in my last post, a new story, and just in time for Christmas. I hope you enjoy.
Ferris Bueller’s Night Out
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” – attributed to ‘Ferris – I feel a fever coming on – Bueller’
quoted in the New Trier High School Class of 1986 30th Reunion Yearbook
“What do I remember most about the Class of ‘86? I don’t know…but for some reason, a Rottweiler comes to mind.”
Retired School Superintendent Edward R. Rooney, when interviewed by the New Trier High School Class of ‘86 30th Reunion Committee
So, yeah, like basically, once upon a time there was a land of milk and honey that existed on the shores of a great lake, and vast, amber waves of grain beckoned beyond all her fair horizons. The land was called Illinois, or so French Catholic missionaries reported in their first written descriptions of the region. In time a great city arose along the water’s edge: Chicago, home to great football teams, art museums and wondrous architecture the envy of all the world, as well as rail-yards and slaughterhouses and, of course, Abe Froman’s Wonderful World of Sausages. Chicago in time became a veritable microcosm of the United States, and by the late 20th-century home to a peculiar suburb called Winnetka. This village has long noted in film and literature as the locus of an ongoing experiment in teenaged angst, a petri dish ladled full of jock straps and tampons, testosterone and zit creme, Colt 45 Malt Liquor and ‘The Pill.’ So we look at Winnetka through rose colored glasses, and as such it is a most glorious village if ever there was one, with a Ferrari in every other garage, a swimming pool in almost every back yard, and at least one Starbucks on every corner.
The locus of all Winnetka’s teen angst is her high school, New Trier, and this venerable institution voices a respectable, even a noble motto: ‘To commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.’ Which no doubt explains why so many of her graduates move on to Ivy League business schools, and end up working for investment banks and hedge funds. And which in no way explains why one graduate of the Class of ‘86 opted instead to go to the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
His name was, of course, Ferris Bueller.
Ferris ‘the free spirit’ Bueller. Voted least likely to succeed by his peers – twice – but we’ll get back to Ferris in a minute, because you already know him well enough, don’t you?
The great love of Ferris Bueller’s life in those faraway, halcyon days was his best friend, Cameron Frye. There wasn’t a day that passed in high school when Ferris and Cameron weren’t together, and they did all the things boys in high school usually do together: they listened to music together, they talked about girls, they went to movies together and talked about girls after and, well, you get the picture. Girls figured into most of their conversations, one way or another. A hypochondriac by nature, a child of neglect by circumstance, Cameron was destined for great things – until he failed to gain admission to an Ivy League school. Without the intervention of an uncle in Los Angeles, it’s doubtful he’d have made it into the University of Southern California, but three weeks after graduation he received his admissions letter and for the first time in his life he began thinking the unthinkable – about what Life After Ferris would be like.
The other great love of Ferris Bueller’s life was, of course, Sloane Peterson. They broke up two weeks after graduation, though she dated Cameron for the rest of that summer, and when Cameron took off for LA she split for Oregon, headed to Reed College. After graduation, she lived in a commune north of Coos Bay for several years, then moved to Portland and took classes to become a licensed massage therapist, and when not so engaged she taught classes on using crystals to deal with illnesses as varied as osteoporosis and hemorrhoids.
No account of Ferris Bueller’s life would be complete without mention of his sister, Jeannie. Within a week of Ferris’s graduation she disappeared, apparently on the back of a Harley Softail ridden by a leather-jacketed young man – and by all accounts headed south at an exceptionally high rate of speed. Tom Bueller, their father, was summoned to Nogales, Arizona in early August to bail her out on drug smuggling charges – after five balloons of heroin were discovered “up there” by an inquisitive border patrol agent. Her companion on the Harley disappeared over the border and was never heard from again, and eventually, after her return home, she went on to Loyola Chicago where she took a degree in English Lit. Gaining a PhD from Northwestern, she eventually took a position at a boarding school in western Massachusetts teaching Women’s Studies, and eventually lived with a domestic partner who coached the girl’s wrestling team.
Of course, the center of Ferris Bueller’s universe was his mother, Katie, and so she remained, right up to events leading to the night in question.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
When Ferris arrived in Madison in August, 1986, he had not a care in the world, yet when he was placed on academic probation after mid-terms were posted, he had the second epiphany of his young life. The kind of revelation that occurs when one’s father advises that funds will be cut off – unless at least a 3.0 GPA was maintained.
Oh, yes. His first epiphany? Really, need you ask? Abe Froman? The Art Museum? Twist and Shout? A crumbled Ferrari and Cameron’s catatonia?
Ring any bells yet?
Anyway, he went home for Christmas holding a 3.1 grade point average – which annoyed his little sister Jeannie no end – and with his reprieve in hand. After talk about the relative merits of girls in LA versus Wisconsin, Ferris and Cameron lost no time getting caught up on life in the fast lane – the future, in other words. Cameron had decided that Hollywood was the life for him and told Ferris he’d decided to major in screenwriting, maybe take a minor in philosophy, or perhaps SCUBA diving, which sounded kinda fun if you ignored the whole shark thing. When Cameron asked where Ferris might concentrate his studies, he replied, seriously too, that dental hygiene was the thing.
“Dental hygiene?” Cameron replied – looking almost cross-eyed.
“Yes, Cameron. I want to explore the endless ways female pubic hair can be used as dental floss.”
“Ah. I think I see where you’re headed with this.”
“Yes, and I see a lot of openings in this field.”
When his father asked what he might be interested in studying, Ferris could only offer a sort of rough, non-committal shrug – followed by a grunting noise that sounded a little like: “Ahum-grumble-ort.”
“Feel a fever coming on, son?”
“Of course, you know how I feel about the law. Can’t go wrong there. And don’t forget, Ferris, law school is where the big bucks are.”
“Then again, we could use a physician in the family.”
Still, in the greater scheme of his unfolding universe, these things have a way of working themselves out on their own, and with no help from anyone at all. Fascinated by a horoscope Jeannie had shown him one morning after Christmas, he decided then and there that he wanted to take a class in Astrology, assuming UW offered such a course, and when he showed up (late, as usual) for registration four days into the new year he signed up for AST 101.
Which was, as luck would have it, Astronomy 101. The course was titled Celestial Mechanics, which Bueller thought must have something to do with horoscopes, but the text was thicker than all three Chicago area phone books put together, and the first chapter didn’t even mention stars in House of Uranus…
And yet, oddly enough, Bueller loved the class, even the physics – which after 17 years in Winnetka offered a kind of certitude he found at once comforting and exhilarating. He continued to go home for Christmas, always giving his father a Brooks Brothers tie, his mother a box of Godiva chocolates, and Jeannie a scarf of some sort, usually from K*Mart. Cameron’s father divorced his third wife somewhere in there, and though Sloane had literally disappeared from their world by then, she was usually in their thoughts.
Eight years later he left the University of Arizona Tucson with a PhD in Astronomy – bound for the University of Hawaii and Mauna Kea’s pristine airs. Not exactly a lawyer or physician, he knew, but he’d found his niche in the world and was reasonably happy, so he hoped his father was, as well. Cameron settled in at a production company in Beverly Hills – cleaning up scripts for a few years before working as an assistant director on a Spielberg film. After that his career took off, but a curious thing happened along the way.
Sloane Peterson showed up at Cam’s one night, broke and at an end. Cameron picked her up and dusted her off, carried her along for a few months, but then she disappeared again. Cameron didn’t tell Ferris about the encounter, though they still spent quite a bit of time together, usually over the holidays. The entire event had rattled Cameron, however, seemed to shake up his sense of humanity. He started writing more serious pieces after those weeks with Sloane, and even Ferris wondered what had happened. Jeannie and his folks came out to LA one Christmas, and they all had Christmas together at Disneyland together, and Cameron took them to the famously invisible 33 Club. They went on all the rides, yet Ferris thought Jeannie looked frail that trip, her spirit almost broken. So did Cameron, and he wondered what had happened to these two girls. He wondered about it a lot, as it turned out.
Jeannie, like Ferris, was living alone, and her first year teaching was proving difficult, and to Ferris she seemed fundamentally different. She’d been almost bi-polar during high school; full of anger one day, seemingly in love with life the next, yet after her Mexican excursion she’d grown inward-looking, seemed perpetually introspective – which Ferris always suspected was why she majored in literature. He recalled seeing Kate Chopin’s The Awakening on her bookcase one day, thought about all her banked down anger and wondered where she’d end up, but he realized he really didn’t know her all that well – and that realization troubled him.
He bought a house far out Manoa Road the next year, and life slipped into patterns of a new familiar. Years passed and he dated occasionally, came close to falling in love with a grad student once – but nothing came of the affair and he retreated into his work after that. One day he looked up and noticed a little gray in his hair, and because he worked at night many times a week his skin had grown pale. He went home for his father’s seventieth birthday and was unsettled when he saw echoes of himself in his father’s wizened features, yet as he looked around the old house on Walden Road he realized he was looking at everything still missing from his life.
Would he take a wife, perhaps? Become father to a child, make all the memories he realized you’re supposed to make as you work your way through life? Memories, he knew, he’d yet to make? And then the thought hit him: why had he never thought these things important before? Was it some sort of biological clock ticking away – or something more?
Was there, he wondered, really something missing from his life? He’d had more than a few academic accomplishments already – with one book published and another in the pipeline – but nothing so wonderful as what his father had created in this house on Walden Road. No, he spent his days talking about the cosmological origins of the universe, his nights out under the stars – looking for those telltale signs of ‘beginnings’ – yet the question echoed in the night: ‘what about my origins, my beginnings? What does my solitary existence say about the end I’ve apparently chosen?’
“Or did I choose this life?” he asked the sky one night.
He looked at his parents after that awakening with something akin to respect in his eyes, maybe for the first time, too, and yet even so he wondered when he’d stopped taking ‘all this’ for granted? When he realized how hard they’d worked to create the life they’d given him? Or when he began to think about how far short of their mark he’d fallen? But…had he, really?
He thought of Cameron and Sloane and that faraway day – pretending to be Abe Froman, then Jeannie’s furious, passive-aggressive pursuit of his deciet, lip-syncing his way through the parade downtown…and a passing moment of something like grief came for him as he drifted among his memories of those lost moments…
Had he, he wondered, been lip-syncing his way through life even then? Pretending to be the rebel, but – what had he been if not the proverbial ‘rebel without a clue?’ He was one of the most popular professors on campus, but in the end, what, really, did that say about his life? Wasn’t he still just lip-syncing his way through life, still pretending, still trying to be the class clown? Trying to be popular, in other words, and never completely realizing how utterly vacuous pretenders usually are?
He looked at his father’s house – at his father’s life – and knew the answer to that and a million other questions had been staring him right in the face all his life. He left Winnetka after that Christmas with the repercussions of that moment, his own little awakening, haunting him all the way back to Hawaii, and Ferris Bueller knew it was finally time to take stock of life.
Which, of course, he promptly forgot to do.
It was December already, with Christmas break just around the corner, now only a few days between him and three weeks off. Three weeks when he could just kick back and relax. Maybe call Cameron and hop over to LaLaLand, take his new Ferrari out for a spin up the PCH? Talk about girls again, maybe go to a movie or three?
But not today. No, today he was holding a review session for his senior seminar, and picking up research papers from his freshman survey class, which meant he’d be grading papers all through the night and into tomorrow. “Better run by the Don Quijote for some fresh coffee beans and cookies before class,” he said to himself, “and stop by the ATM for some cash…”
He felt his pocket vibrate and sighed.
“Time flies when you’re havin’ fun, darlin’,” he said to the latest love of his life – a brand new iPhone – as he pulled it from his pocket. He looked at the screen, wondered if he had time to talk to his mother and decided he had to take the call.
“Yeah, Mom. What’s up?”
“Ferris, we need you to come home…”
Something in the tone of her voice. Something different, full of dark shadows.
“Mom? What is it? Is it Dad?”
Then his father’s voice was on the line and he felt a flood of relief: “Ferris, I have you booked on Virgin tomorrow morning, you should be getting an email with the information.”
“Dad, I have papers to grade…”
“Bring ‘em with you, son.”
“One of us will meet you at the baggage claim. And it’s snowing, so bring warm clothes.”
But the line was dead and he looked at the time, decided he didn’t have any to spare so grabbed his messenger bag – and his phone – and walked out to his silver Prius. He drove in on Oahu Avenue, took University to the faculty lot off Maile and parked, then walked across campus through the mall, then on inside the Physical Sciences Building. He was still ten minutes early so went to his office and turned on his iMac, checked his email and saw the entry from Virgin America. He opened it, printed out the boarding passes and entered flight times on his phone, then grabbed his bag and walked to the seminar room, all the while wondering what the hell was going on back at home…
After the review session he walked with his TA and a couple of students over to The Nook and ordered his ritual pork belly Benedict; he sat with them and listened quietly while they probed each other for answers to tricky problems – all while looking to him for hints about what might or might not be on the final exam – and he toyed with them mercilessly, before he explained to his TA that he had to leave in the morning for a family emergency.
“Really?” she asked. “Nothing serious, I hope.”
He shrugged, then explained the nature of the call. She was bright, cute as could be and had made it known more than once she was willing to help him make it through the night. “Br-r-r…Chicago,” she shivered, “in December. That’s my idea of hell.”
He laughed at that, remembered the wind coming off the lake, but he also remembered all those faraway Christmases with Jeannie and Cam and Sloane. The snow falling on silent trees, the street after street of Christmas lights, Santa perched on front porches handing out candy to kids driven through their neighborhood by young parents dreaming about all the Christmases to come. Driving to his grandparents house on Christmas Morning, the second round of opening presents, turkey and his grandmother’s stuffing, looking at his grandfather – and wondering what it was like to be so old.
“Oh, it’s not all that bad back there,” Bueller said to the girl – almost wistfully. “I don’t even remember the cold. In fact, I’m not sure it ever bothered me.”
“I guess you can get used to anything, huh?”
“Maybe,” he said, but he was thinking about Jeannie just then, and how they’d teased one another about stealing the other’s Christmas presents, about sitting by the tree on Christmas Eve when they were little, speculating who was getting what from Santa that year.
“You look kind of lost…what are you thinking about?”
“My kid sister.”
“The one back in Massachusetts?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“How I used to torment her…how we tried to tear each other down all the time.”
“I think that’s what brothers and sisters are supposed to do to one another.”
“Is it? I wonder.”
“Well, I had two brothers, and they sure tried to tear me apart more than once.”
“I wish I never had,” he said with a faraway look in his eyes, but the sudden thought had startled him. “I’d like to know her now, know about her life.” He sighed as he looked up through the ceiling, beyond the veil of stars. “She’s all I’ll have after my parents are gone.”
‘Truer words,’ the TA said to herself, ‘have never been spoken.’ She looked at him for a while, then turned away quietly from his words. She’d never known a more self-isolated soul, not ever, and she found herself wondering once again what had happened to him. And who had hurt him so much that he had turned to the silence of the stars for solace.
He looked out over the wing to the city below: he could just make streets and houses through patchy clouds hovering under the aircraft, lines of yellow streetlights and little patchwork quilts of dark gray sprinkled over a snowy landscape, and he had to think hard to remember the last time he’d been in Chicago in winter. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them again the Boeing was far out over the lake – and fleet-footed memory ran from him. The jet made another turn – hard this time, and to the right – and he smiled at Orion, now high over South Bend and the turn of the lake. Another turn and the Airbus settled onto it’s final approach, and he looked at the Navy Pier and the Field Museum beyond the wingtip, at the planetarium and Soldier Field between sprints through clouds – until they entered a solid wall of snow and everything suddenly disappeared.
Just seconds passed, really, and then he saw the reassuring pulse of strobes ahead, the light guiding them down, then the jet’s landing lights popped on and he saw how heavy the snow really was…and what did he think, what word sprang to mind?
‘Is the way ahead really so obscure?’ he wondered. ‘Is this what Shakespeare meant when he spoke of winter and discontent in the same breath?’
He’d tried not to think about what lay ahead, the sense of urgency in his mother’s voice, the raw edge of latent anger in his father’s – all the fears he had ritually chosen to ignore?
Then the ground rushed up and he heard tires making contact with the earth, the engines as they roared their arrival to the world, and he saw the terminal buildings as they turned off the runway – the sight filling him with sudden dread, and yet hope. He was seated two rows from the front door, yet waited until people from the last rows made their way off before standing, and he walked up the Jetway wondering if he should make his way to a jet returning to Hawaii within the hour. He sighed, put his coat on and tramped off towards the baggage claim, depressed and unsure of this unfamiliar terrain.
His father was standing in the baggage claim, waiting impatiently as he looked at the nearly empty carousel circling endlessly around the room. When they saw each other, dark shadows passed over their faces as each struggled with the consequence of unwanted memory.
“Ah, there you are,” his father said – of course looking at his watch. “You know, I got you a seat by the front so we could avoid all this hoo-hah.”
“I had to help a little old lady off the plane, Dad.”
His father stared at him, then shook his head. “I guess the idea growing up…” – but Tom Bueller stopped, held his tongue in check as he stuck out his right hand.
Ferris looked at the gesture, then took his father’s hand in his own, and he thought the exchange perfectly summed up their relationship. There’d never been any real intimacy between them, and he realized there never would be anything – beyond, perhaps, a series a constantly shifting grudge matches. They walked in silence through the falling snow out to his Audi, and he put his bag in the trunk while his father got in and started the car, but he turned and looked at the falling snow, at all the holiday travelers coming and going, and he wondered if they felt as barren inside as he did just then.
“Could you brush the snow from the glass?”
If you think that’ll really help us see.
His dad took the 294 north out to Willow Road, and he stared out the window in the stifling silence, waiting for his father to say something – anything – but his old man seemed intent to simply push on through the night.
“Quite a snow,” Tom Bueller said at last. “First good one we’ve had this year.”
“Oh?” Ferris said, turning to look at his father. “Is that so?”
But nothing. Not even a ‘How are you doing, son?’ – so he turned and looked at time passing bare trees, their snow covered branches beginning to sag under the weight of so much…what? So much memory? Expectation?
“Got a girlfriend yet, Ferris?”
“No, but I’ve been thinking seriously of adopting a Pitbull.”
“Don’t worry, Ferris. We won’t be visiting you out there any time soon.”
“Phew. One less thing to worry about.”
They turned on Hibbard and the contours of this part of the world seemed less changed to him, more comfortably familiar, and when his father turned on Pine the landscape seemed to pop into sharper relief – and the word “Home” kept slamming into consciousness. Home, as in ‘I belong here.’ Home, a life sentence with no parole…
‘And I did belong here, once, but I turned away from all that, didn’t I? Like I turned away from – him. From everything he represented, everything he wanted me to be.’
Passing Rosewood, then Blackthorn – and feelings of the familiar engulfed him as they turned on Walden Road. Houses he had known since childhood looked resolutely unchanged, even the Christmas lights looked transported from the 70s to the present, and he saw a snowman in their front yard and wondered who the hell had made it…
Yet all the lights were off inside, save for the Christmas tree in the living room, and as he got his bag out of the trunk he wondered if his mother had gone to sleep early. He cut across the yard – a simple gesture he knew infuriated his father no end – heading for the front door, and he waited while his father walked along the freshly shoveled walk for the front porch, and he stood aside and waited while his old man fumbled with the keys to the door – dropping them once before he managed to open the door.
He followed his father into the dark house, and put his bag down and reached for a light switch when –
Every light in the house flipped on, party-poppers popped and confetti arced through the air, and as Ferris Bueller jumped back in shock he noticed that about half the Class of ‘86 was in the living room – iPhones out, cameras flashing away – and he turned and looked at his old man.
“Happy Birthday, Ferris,” his father said, trying to make himself heard over the roar – and just as gravity is an inescapable force, so too was their overwhelming need.
He flew into his father’s arms, then felt his mother beside them and he turned and gathered her into their enfolding embrace, and he didn’t want this moment to end, this feeling of belonging to something so good.
But soon enough gravity pulled him out of their grasp and into the living room, and he made his way through his friends – until he came to Cameron. Then he flew into Cameron’s arms, too…
“Bastard!” Ferris cried. “You knew? And you kept this a secret!?”
“Dickhead! Of course I did – your mother would have killed me if I hadn’t!” And Katie came over and hugged Cameron – again – and then the three of them walked through the crowd to the kitchen together…
…and there was Sloane Peterson, standing by an open oven door, taking a fresh batch of her infamous brownies from the oven…
Thirty years since he’d seen her, and the wave of emotion that rolled over Ferris Bueller was unsettling enough – until he saw her eyes. Again, and for the very first time. Just like the last time he’d looked into her eyes.
Thirty years, and the wave of anger that hit him hadn’t subsided even a little bit. Thirty years since she’d shown him the letter. From the boyfriend she’d never let on she had. The other boyfriend – she’d had for over a year. The boyfriend out in Oregon.
“Ferris! Hi!” she said, but she was measuring his reaction as closely as he was gauging hers.
She put the pyrex baking dish down on a trivet and came to him, gave him a little hug, and the slightest kiss on his chin. “You’re looking pretty good,” she chirped.
“Uh-huh. You too.” He turned to leave – but Cameron was blocking the way.
“Ferris? Come on…it’s been thirty years…let bygones be bygones…” Cameron whispered, but he saw his mother standing in the dining room, looking at him carefully now, and once again he felt something wasn’t quite right in this little corner of the universe. No, something was very wrong, something badly askew.
And as his father walked over and stood beside his mother, all the tumblers started falling into place…
“Jeannie,” he whispered inwardly, then: “Where’s Jeannie?” His voice was louder now, his words now full of concern.
His father came to him then, and he felt Sloane by his side, too.
“Ferris, she’s upstairs. In her bedroom,” his father said. “You need to know – this – was all her idea – she wanted to do this for you.”
And he saw his father was having a hard time speaking now. “What? What’s wrong? What are you not telling me?”
Sloane had him by the arm now, Cameron too, and his mother came up to him and led them all into the kitchen. Once the door was closed his mother came to him: “She’s sick, Ferris. Our Jeannie’s very ill.”
“What do you mean, sick? How sick?”
Tom Bueller looked away, and in that moment he knew his sister was in trouble, and with that he broke free and ran for the back stairway, the one that led straight to their rooms. He bounded up the stairs two at a time, then he stood outside her door, listening. And now very afraid.
Voices, he heard voices. Jeannie’s and…who else?
He knocked on the door, waited a second then opened it and stuck his head in.
He saw a nurse adjusting an IV in the gloom, and another woman, about their age, blocked his view of the bed as he started to come in…
“Ferris,” came the disembodied voice he knew so well, “not yet, okay?”
The other woman came to the door and ushered him out into the hall.
“You must be Ferris. I’m Deb,” the woman said, holding out her right hand.
He looked at it and took it. “Deb?” he asked, clearly confused.
“Jeannie and I are, well, we’re together.”
“They’re married, Ferris,” Katie Bueller said, now standing by her son’s side.
“Married? I didn’t get an invitation?” – and he turned and looked at this woman anew.
“No one did,” Tom Bueller said. “They eloped. Isn’t that right, Deborah?”
“Yes, Dad,” this stranger said, and the word rocked him – then the nurse opened the door and asked Ferris, and only Ferris, to come back inside.
He turned, looked at his father – who nodded his head gently, mouthed ‘it’s okay’ as he motioned to her room with his head – and Ferris Bueller closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath…
“Hey, it’s Dickhead!” Jeannie said after he’d closed the door behind him.
“Hey, Fuckface. What’s with all this nonsense?” he asked, pointing at the IV stand by her bed. “You know, you don’t need all this bullshit if you’re just trying to cut classes…”
“No one would know better than you, Ferris.”
“You got that right. Now really, what’s this all about?”
“Oh, a little problem with my pancreas.”
“Cancer?” he asked – quietly trembling now. He didn’t see her hands shaking, or her lips trembling. Neither did he feel his own world shaking, starting to come apart.
She nodded her head and he started to cry. Slowly at first, then almost uncontrollably.
“Come here, Dickhead. You’d better sit your fat ass next to mine and give me a hug.”
They held on to another for the longest time, then she told him to go downstairs, join his party, and that they’d talk again later.
“Dad said this was all your idea?”
“Uh-huh. One more Christmas together, Ferris. You and me and all of us. Let’s make this one the best ever?”
He nodded his head. “Okay.”
She wiped another tear from his face and he kissed her forehead, but the ground felt unsteady now, all life suddenly a very tenuous, precious thing…
The nurse went back in as he left, but no one was waiting for him now so he walked back down to the kitchen. Deb and Sloane were cutting brownies, his mother leaning into his father’s shoulder, smiling very bravely now as he came over.
“I take it she asked you to not tell me?” Ferris said when his father was by his side again.
And his father nodded his head slowly. “She only told us right after Thanksgiving, Ferris. She came home two weeks ago, and we’ve been getting hospice care set up since then.”
“Hospice? Now? How far along is this?”
“She has a week, maybe two, Ferris,” his mother said, tears falling freely now.
“I see,” he said in a daze, but he didn’t, not really. He just couldn’t accept these words as real, then he turned towards a voice he’d never expected to hear again. “Is that – Rooney?” he said, now clearly exasperated.
“None other,” Cameron said, suddenly standing by his side. “Darth Rooney, in the flesh.”
“Who the hell invited him?”
“I can not tell a lie,” Cameron said, pointing to his mother. “She did.”
“Of course I did, Ferris,” Katie Bueller said. “This is an important night for him, too. He’s been invited to speak at your thirtieth reunion this summer.”
“That’s exactly what he said, Ferris. Isn’t that strange?”
“Here Ferris,” Sloane said, handing him a brownie. “Try one of these,” she said before she disappeared into the living room, handing out fresh brownies as she went. He watched as she handed Rooney two of her potent bombs, and he groaned inwardly, dreading what surely had to come next. Her marijuana brownies had been the stuff of legend since their sophomore year, and he turned in time to see Deb carrying a couple up to Jeannie’s room.
“Oh, swell,” he said – but Cameron was already giggling.
“Mow-ee Wow-ee,” Cameron pantomimed, then: “I can’t wait to see Rooney with the munchies.”
“You’re sick, Frye.”
“I know. Ain’t it grand?”
Then he watched his father take two of the brownies – and when Sloane grinned at Ferris he rolled his eyes – and for a moment wished he’d never been born.
The party wound down sometime after midnight, some time after his red-eyed father downed a bag of Doritos, some time after the old man stumbled off towards his bedroom – dragging Katie behind him – all the while muttering something about taking Viagra this late at night – leaving Cameron, Sloane and Ferris to hold down the fort. Ferris – on Hawaii time and a confirmed night owl – wouldn’t be sleepy for another five or so hours, while both Cameron and Sloane, being long-time west-coasties, weren’t in much better shape. Ferris turned off all the lights save for those on the elaborately decorated Christmas tree, and the three of them sat in the living room – staring at the tree’s amber glowing memories – and all their dancing implications.
“You know,” Ferris said after several minutes in the zone, “my earliest memories are right here in this room. In this very spot, I guess – I don’t think Mom has even changed the furniture arrangement in here since third grade. Most of the ornaments on that tree…I recognize most of them from grade school.”
“I think I’d be kind of grateful to have those feelings right now,” Cameron sighed.
“I don’t think your folks were ever into Christmas,” Sloane said. “Not like Ferris’s parents, anyway.”
“No one’s into Christmas like my Mom is,” said Ferris.
“I love her so much,” Cameron sighed, and Sloane leaned over and gave him a hug. “She was always the mother I wished mine would be.”
“She’s like glue, I guess,” Ferris said, still not looking away from the tree. “She’s the thing that bound us all together, one way or another. I think she still does, like it’s been her purpose in life.”
“Remember when she taught us how to bake cookies?” Sloane said. “After my father died?”
“What year was that?”
“I can’t remember.”
“We need to get the fire going again,” Cameron said, standing to go get a few logs. Ferris went with him, then they stoked the embers and added a log, waited for it to catch, then he added another – to get the fire going again.
“Good call,” Sloane said – yawning, and Cameron smiled at her as he sat beside her on the sofa. Without any pretense she scooted away a bit, then lay her head on his lap, and Cameron visibly relaxed for the first time all evening.
“Why don’t you two get married?” Ferris asked as he watched Cam let go. “Just stop all this pussyfooting around and, well, go out and tie the knot?”
“I think, Ferris,” Cameron began, sarcastically, “maybe it has something to do with her still being in love with someone else.”
“Oh? What do you have to say about that, Sloane?”
“It’s true,” she said, then she yawned again. “My god, I’m sleepier than I thought…”
“Go upstairs, take my bed,” Ferris said. “I won’t be sleepy ‘til noon tomorrow.” Seconds later he saw she was out cold, her head still planted firmly on Cameron’s lap. Ferris shook his head: “Have any idea how much pot she put in those brownies?”
Cameron bit his lip, snickered: “A shitload, man.”
“You know, my dad is 82 years old, for God’s sake – and I think he’s upstairs boning my mom.”
“Hope springs eternal, Ferris,” Sloane purred, a smile buried within her sleepy features.
“Go to sleep, Sloane.”
“How’re things going in LA?” he asked Cameron after Sloane started purring again.
Cameron leaned back, looked at the ceiling for the longest time, then shook his head. “It’s high pressure, Ferris, and not at all fun. I always thought Hollywood would be fun, but it’s not. The actors I’ve met are like something out of a nightmare, all ego and drugs and manic parties…and everything is always money-money-money.”
“What did you expect?”
“Any bright spots?”
“Yeah, the composers. Zimmer is cool. I could see hanging out with him someday.”
“What are you working on now?”
“Paramount approached me to direct a remake of Now, Voyager…”
“The Bette Davis flick?”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me…?”
“Nope,” Cameron sighed – and Sloane was grinning now, trying to stifle a laugh when Cameron continued. “She’s really gotten her act together, and when you get right down to it, she’s not a bad actress.”
“Been getting’ any?” Ferris asked.
“Any what? What the fuck’s wrong with you, Frye? Have you been going out any, or did you join an order?”
“The Franciscans, Ferris. Years ago.”
“So, why don’t you ask her to marry you?”
“Who are you talking about, Ferris?”
“Maybe you have another ear infection, too?”
“Sloane?” Cameron asked as he looked down at the girl with her head on his lap. “Sloane, honey, would you like to get married?”
Her eyes popped open and she turned to face Cameron: “You serious?”
“Yup. What do you think? Wanna hop on a plane, go to Vegas and tie one on?”
She turned and looked at Ferris, a million questions hanging in the air, apparent. “What do you think, Ferris? Should I marry Cameron?”
“Would that make you happy, Sloane? Happier than anything else in the world?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“What would make you happier?”
“If you asked me to marry you.”
He looked at her for a long time; his eyes danced around the room and he looked at the fear and longing in Cameron’s eyes, then he smiled and shook his head. “I’m too old for you, kid.”
“Then I’ll marry you, Cameron,” she said, grinning.
“You better be sure this time,” Ferris added, “because I think he is.”
And Sloane sat up when she heard the import in Ferris’s words, then she rubbed her eyes as she looked around the room. “Cam, do you mean it? You really want to get married?”
“Only for the last thirty seven years.”
“I think I’d like that,” Sloane added. “Ferris? Do you think your dad would stand up for me?”
“Yeah, if your goddamn brownies don’t kill him first.”
“You think we could do it here?”
“Where?” Cameron asked incredulously. “Here?”
“Yes,” Sloane added. “Right here in this living room. That way Jeannie could be here, be a part of everything. Cam? What do you think?”
“I like it,” Cameron said as he pulled at his chin. “Ferris? You in?”
And Ferris Bueller looked at the two people he still loved most in this world, and he nodded his head. “Yeah. Why not. I’m sure Dad knows a JP we can get to do it. When? When should we shoot for?”
“Christmas Day?” Cameron said, his voice cracking now as the turn of this evening’s events caught up with him.
“Ooh, I love it!” Sloane added. “Ferris? You really think we can pull this off?”
“Hey,” Ferris Bueller said, pointing to himself with both thumbs, “you’re talkin’ to Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago. Now get upstairs, both of you, and get to work, try to make some babies or something…”
An hour later Ferris was still sitting alone in the dark, still looking at the Christmas tree, still thinking about Cameron and Sloane and smiling to himself when he heard voices coming down the back stairway, and he turned in time to see Jeannie – with Deb rolling the IV stand behind her – and he stood and rushed over to her.
“Are you okay for this?” he asked as he took her forearms and steadied her.
“Yeah,” she said – her voice tremulous, beyond weak as she looked in his eyes. “I needed to sit with you for awhile. Like old times, ya know.”
He helped her over to the big chair by the tree – always her favorite – then sat on the sofa across from her as Deb disappeared back into the kitchen…
“What’d you think of Rooney?” she asked as he settled in.
And Ferris sighed as he thought back to their encounter now almost thirty years ago – and their latest only a few hours gone. “You know, it’s hard to think we were ever afraid of the guy. He seemed so much bigger than life back then. Now, he just seems…”
“Yeah, Jeannie, that’s it. Like, why were we so concerned about something so small. So…”
“Yeah,” he grinned. “Exactly.”
“Kind of like all the differences between us, huh?”
He looked at her then, saw something wonderful in her eyes. “Yes. That too.”
“When I was diagnosed,” she began as she drifted, “I was sitting in the docs office waiting for her to come in – after all the MRIs and blood work – and I just knew it was going to be bad news.” She sighed, looked at the tree while Ferris looked at the glow on her face. “I was sitting there thinking how much I needed you with me just then, that you’d know just what to do, that you’d know how to get me out of this, take me away from everything I knew was about to happen. That you’d make everything all better again.”
“I wish you’d called me.”
“I wanted to.”
“Why? After all this…?”
“Time?” She turned and looked at him again. “Time hasn’t been that kind to you and me, Ferris, or maybe…”
“Or maybe we haven’t been too kind to time.”
She nodded her head again. “You know, when I wasn’t so busy hating you I looked up to you like you wouldn’t believe. My big brother, the kid with the plan, the man I knew I’d always be able to count on to get me out of anything bad.”
He smiled at the irony within the thought, of her emotions. “I’ve never loved anyone as much as I loved you that afternoon. When Rooney…”
“I know. I’d never hated anyone as much I hated you that afternoon, then I realized all that hate was just envy. That you were the person I’d always wanted to be, yet somehow never could be, and I realized that wanting to destroy you was just a way of destroying myself.”
“Yeah. It was that one moment in my life when everything became crystal clear. I wanted to be like you – just like you, in every way, if you know what I mean. And I knew I never could be, so I just let go for a while. I let go and started to drift.”
“Tell me about Deborah.”
“We met at school, right after I started my third year at Deerfield; we were house mothers in one of the dorms. I’d never thought of myself that way – you know, liking women – but I liked talking to her, had never felt so comfortable with anyone, and all the rest was easy after that. It was like all the stories you hear growing up, finding a soulmate, finding someone to grow old with, to talk with, to hold in the middle of the night.”
“What about you?”
He shook his head. “No such luck.”
“You know, I think I finally convinced Cameron to ask Sloane to marry him tonight, and I think she said yes.”
“I think they’re going to do it, too. Right here, in this room, on Christmas Day.”
“Ferris? Not you? Why didn’t you ask her?”
“Because if I did I’d end up losing them both, forever. This way I can have them and hold them in my heart, the way I’ve always wanted them to be. The way we were back then.”
“But you’ve always loved her, since second grade, anyway. It just doesn’t make sense, Ferris. You two belong together. You always have.”
“That’s the beauty of it, Jeannie. I always have, and this way we always will be.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Ferris, and you know it. What’s the real reason? Cameron?”
“I’d like him to be happy, for once in his life. She’s always been the only thing that could make him happy.”
“You love him that much?”
“I guess so, in a way, anyway. He was the one person I always felt most comfortable around when we were growing up. I think I always wanted to just grow old with him, sit around and read books and shoot the shit by a fireplace somewhere. I always thought I’d be happiest if I knew he was around. Weird, isn’t it?”
“Have you? I mean, are you…?”
“No, no, that’s not it at all. I’m not attracted to men…and never have been.”
“Just to him?”
“No. Again, I’m not talking about the physical, nothing like attraction; it’s more about knowing what happiness means – to me, where it comes from and accepting what is. Knowing he was happy always made me happy back then. Still does, I think.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Did you ever see that film about C S Lewis and Joy Davidman?”
“Shadowlands? Yes, but that was his brother, Ferris?”
“Yes, but don’t you get it? Cameron’s always been my brother.”
“Oh.” And his sister nodded her head. “I guess I can understand that. Geez, married – right here – in this room.”
“Yup. Think you can stick around that long?”
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world, Ferris. Oh no, not for the world.”
“Mind if I give you your Christmas present now. I know it’s a little early, but…”
He went to the entry closet and got his bag, opened it up and took the package to her. “I was going to mail it, then I got that call from mom and didn’t know what to do,” he said as he handed it to her.
She looked at the wrapping. “Hermes?”
He looked away, looked at the Christmas tree as she opened the present, heard her gasp, then cry.
“Oh Ferris, it’s gorgeous…”
“I know it’s just another scarf…”
“Nope, this is anything but ‘just another scarf.’ Oh Ferris, thank you so much.”
She held the silk up to the glowing tree and Ferris smiled inside.
“Ferris, would you do me a favor? It’s a biggie, so don’t answer to fast.”
He nodded his head. “Anything, Jeannie.”
“My ashes. Grand Canyon. North Rim, at the overlook. And white roses. Whenever you think of me, think of white roses, and throw one with my ashes.”
“Okay,” he said instantly. “Consider it done.”
He looked at Christmas lights dancing in her eyes, and after a moment he turned and looked away, wiped a tear or two from their brief existence. He thought about a world without his kid sister in it, and as he watched her leave he wondered if he could accept so much heartbreak in one night – then he thought about Deborah and the impossible emptiness she must have felt swept aside all his fears.
He looked at the tree until the sunrise came for him, and he fell asleep moments later.
And his little sister passed a week later. Two nights after Cameron and Sloane tied the knot. Two days after she watched her brother stand beside his best friend, after her father stood with Sloane and gave her away. After all their friends came to her and said their goodbyes.
Her parents were with her, of course, but so was Ferris and his two best friends. And the love of her life stood back in shadowlands of her own, hiding her fear, her disbelief, but she too watched as Jeannie Bueller passed from this life and on to the next.
And she too watched the smile form on Jeannie’s face as her eyes closed one last time.
Maybe Deborah would have been surprised to see those last thoughts forming in Jeannie’s mind. Wind-blown, sun on bare shoulders, she was on a motorcycle headed south, her arms wrapped around her brother’s waist, her face resting on his back. She was free at last, and she’d never been happier.
“So, this is eternity?” Jeannie Bueller said into her brother’s back, and then she smiled.
He was holding her hand as his sister left, and he felt her squeeze as that last smile came to life, and he felt the night pushing in as he never had before.
He felt the sun on his wings as he turned on a breeze, and he caught a thermal and soared higher and higher, looking down on the rim of the canyon – and the river far below. The red-rocked earth seemed small from up here, small to the point of insignificance, but he looked out at his wings and knew he was wrong. His survival depended on these wings, on his eyes, on his ability to see prey on the rocks far below, to streak down and snatch life away to sustain his own, but even so he looked out over the vast canyon and banked into an even steeper turn…
– chime –
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be landing in Los Angeles in just a few minutes, and the captain has just turned on the seat belt sign, so it’s time to stow those tray-tables and bring those seats backs all the way forward. It’s 68 degrees and foggy at the airport, 90 degrees downtown with nothing but sun, and it looks like we’re going to be at the gate about five minutes ahead of schedule. We’d like to thank you for flying Virgin America this morning, and we hope to see you again real soon…”
Ferris shook the cobwebs from his mind and lifted the window shade, looked out over the endless city floating-by down below. Everything seemed adrift in an ocean of brown haze, then he turned and looked at Cameron and Sloane sitting across the aisle, still hand in hand, still chatting away non-stop. Cameron still happier now than he could ever remember, Sloane still a mystery, all intent cloaked behind veils of inscrutable imagination.
A little jolt, whirring thumps as the landing gear dropped to meet the earth again, flaps drooping, the palpable feel of slowing down very pronounced now, freeway traffic on the 405 moving – naturally – at a crawl, then the runway…and another easy, uneventful touchdown. The roar of thrust, then a slow taxi to the gate on the far side of the terminal complex, and Cameron was on the phone as soon as the wheels hit the ground, talking in hushed tones to God only knew who; Sloane looking at Ferris now, that sly grin still on her face.
Once they were out the Jetway Cameron leaned over: “Ferris, you remember Mary Simmons?”
“The actress in My African Dream? Yeah. Sure.”
“Well, I’ve been trying to get the studio to agree to her for the part of the mother in Voyager. Anyway, she’s here, in the limo, and she’s going to ride home with us, then go out to lunch. Hope you don’t mind.”
Ferris Bueller felt his palms start to sweat, a hammering pulse in his forehead. “No, I don’t mind,” he stammered.
And now Sloane’s grin was huge.
The limo driver got their bags and led them out to the VIP stand, and Cameron got the door for Sloane and let her climb in, but then he shut the door behind her and turned to Ferris. “Sorry about this, but it’s something I really can’t put off any longer. She meets with the studio tomorrow morning, and I need to go over things with her today.”
“Like I said, Cam, no problem.”
“Oh, just in case you start wondering, she’s single. But she’s kind of fierce…”
“So be careful. She’s one of those Ivy League types…smart as hell, and she can spot a phony from around three miles out.”
Cameron opened the door and stepped in, and Ferris followed. The only open seat was, of course, next to Simmons, and he said “Hi there!” as he plopped down and fiddled with his seat belt.
“Who’s this?” the actress said – clearly annoyed.
“Mary?” Cameron said. “This is Ferris Bueller. Ferris, say Hello, Mary.”
“Is he an actor? He looks like a fucking actor.”
“No, Mary, he’s a fucking astronomer.”
“He’s also been my best friend – since kindergarten – so be nice to him.”
Ferris noticed Sloane looking at the woman just then, looking at the actress almost possessively, almost like she was judging the woman.
“So, Mr Bueller…”
“Mary,” Cameron sighed, “it’s Doctor Bueller. He’s a professor, for Christ sakes, at the University of Hawaii.”
“Really? How…fascinating. We filmed at all those observatories on the volcano once, for a few weeks. Were you up there?”
“I was, one day anyway,” Ferris said. “You were in Keck I, looking at the alien mothership, if I’m not mistaken, through the ten meter. And I was trying to get ready to make some observations that evening, watching all the excitement.”
“And very put out, I assume?”
“No, no, not in the least. It was – fascinating, watching all the action, and I was fascinated watching you, too.”
“Of course. When you’ve had a crush on someone for twenty years, and then finally see them, if only in passing… Well, anyway, you made an impression on me.”
“Yes, but I think Cameron is drumming his fingers right now because he wants to talk to you. Cameron, be nice and stop throwing hate bombs at me. I’ve still got papers to grade, so I don’t mind.” He pulled out the FedEx package and pulled out the next exam in his stack and began reading through the essays…
And an hour later they pulled into Cameron’s driveway, just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Ferris had been there a few times over the years, but the house, and the house’s setting, were still as overwhelming as the first time he’d seen them. Long and low, perched on a series of exposed rock ledges, the house seemed to have grown out of the earth itself, but that was to be expected. Cameron had grown up in an architectural masterpiece, so he’d inherited his fine sense of design from his father.
Yes, of course there was a red Ferrari in the garage, but it was parked next to an old, tan Chevy Impala, built sometime in the mid-80s – though still in excellent condition. That’s what he drove to work, or so he’d told Ferris once. Nothing flashy, nothing ostentatious, just reliable transportation that didn’t draw attention. No flashy watch on his wrist, just an old Timex, and never more than a few bucks in his wallet. That was Cameron. Midwest values, as incorruptible now as they had been in grade school. Ferris smiled at the thought as he led the way out of the limo and out into the salt-laden beachfront air. He sighed and stretched lis legs as…
“Oh God,” Sloane said, her voice full of evident relief, “the sun! Feel that sun! I forgot how much I hate winter, and – snow!”
“I hate to rain on your parade,” Cameron said as he stepped into the light, “but we’ve got reservations in an hour, and a forty five minute drive to get there. Could we get the bags inside and head back out?” he said to the limo driver.
“Uh, Cam, mind if I stay here? I want to get through this stack of exams…?”
“Why yes, Ferris, I do mind. Put your fucking papers in your fucking room and get in the fucking limo!”
“Whoa, who’s this? The assertive Cameron? I had no idea he existed,” Ferris said, smiling. “Sloane, you may have bitten off more than you can…”
“Oh, don’t worry Ferris,” she said. “I can chew him just fine.”
“Interesting friends you have here, Dr Bueller.”
“You have no idea,” Ferris said to the actress.
“Come on,” she said, “get your stuff inside, then I want you tell me your sexiest story about heavy metal concentrations in Type II globular clusters.”
And Mary laughed when she saw the look on his face. “Google’s a wonderful thing, Ferris Bueller,” Mary said as she turned and disappeared inside the limo, leaving a very confused Ferris standing out there under the sun.
She was an interesting sort, he decided sometime during their lunch together. All business with Cameron one minute, then playful, almost flirty the next – when she turned her attention to him, anyway. Once, when she excused herself, Cameron smiled at Ferris as he stood and helped Mary with her chair…
“I think she likes you, Ferris,” Sloane said, grinning inscrutably once Mary was out of view.
“Yes,” Cameron added, “but the real question is, does Ferris Bueller like Mary Simmons?”
“Oh, he does,” Sloane said. “Notice how he has to keep wiping his hands? He’s got sweaty palms, and we know what that means, don’t we, Ferris?”
“Oh yeah,” Cameron said. “Remember Mrs Dunsworth, in fourth grade?”
“The one who always wore those sky-high heels?” Sloane giggled.
“Yup, she’s the one. That was a real sweaty palms year, wasn’t it, Ferris?”
Bueller shook his head. “You’ll never let up on me about Dunsworth, will you?”
Cameron turned to Sloane. “All year long, every time we got to gym, he was popping wood…I mean real redwood timber type wood…”
“Well, you have to admit,” Ferris interjected defensively, “she did have great legs.”
“What do you think of Mary’s?” Sloane asked. “I mean, tennis shorts and gym socks aren’t the sexiest thing…”
“Oops, here she comes,” Cameron whispered, though he smiled when Ferris hopped out of his chair again to help her in. And he noticed that Mary had taken note, as well.
‘This is going better than expected,’ Cameron said to himself, but even so he wondered if Mary would be a good match. Still, it just wouldn’t do to have Ferris live this way much longer, as he was in real danger of becoming used to living alone. No, that wouldn’t do, and even Sloane had said as much last summer…
He took her hand and helped her out of the limo, yet she didn’t let go after she was clear of the door.
“So, you’re only going to be in town a few more days?” she asked.
“Until Friday, while Cam and Sloane run up to Oregon for some of her things.”
“How about dinner tomorrow night? Just you and me?”
“That sounds fun. Where’d you like to…”
“Oh, just you leave that to me. How ‘bout I pick you up around three or so?”
“Sounds good,” he said, yet still she didn’t let go of his hand.
“Good,” she said. She was staring at him, like she was coming to a decision of sorts, then she leaned in and kissed him, just once, and gently, on the lips – then she turned and ran up he walk to her house.
“Jesus H Christ, Ferris,” Sloane said with a smile as he got back in the limo. “Was that a smacker – on the lips?”
“Not bad, Bueller,” Cameron sighed. “She’s got kind of a Star Trek reputation around Hollywood. You know, where few men have gone before?”
“You should have warned me, Cameron. She irresistible, you know?”
“I know, but this has been too much fun…watching you squirm, hide your woody – and besides, you’ve got papers to grade, remember?”
Bueller groaned as they pulled into Cameron’s driveway, when he saw another FedEx package leaning against the front door. He rolled his eyes, knew what lay ahead, because those were the term papers from his senior seminar, just waiting for his perusal.
Cameron laughed just then. “Maybe it’s time you finally left school, Ferris. You know, grow up and get a real job, in the real world.”
“You call what you do ‘in the real world?’”
“Hey, it beats working for a living.”
“Uh-huh. Sure,” Bueller said as he picked up the package.
“Heavy enough for you, Ferris?”
“Oh, why don’t you two go make some babies or something…?”
He walked out onto the deck sometime during the evening, saw Cam and Sloane down on the beach with a fire going, and he stood there and looked at them for a while. He thought they looked happy, like they belonged together, like time had stopped for them all, once upon a time, and had only just now restarted – then he saw their faces in the firelight and he drifted back to other nights. Summer nights at the beach on the lake. Tower Road, wasn’t it? The little park on the water’s edge, with all the fire-pits? How he’d watched her there, the way her face danced in the firelight.
He watched her now, Cameron too, and in the flickering light it was as if nothing had ever changed. Time had stopped for all three of them.
“Maybe now time can begin again,” he said to the night. “For me, too,” he didn’t bother adding.
She pulled up a little before three, in a blazing red E550 Cabriolet, and he came out the door dressed in a sport coat and slacks.
She hopped out of the Mercedes – wearing shorts, running shoes and a golf shirt – and came up to him. “Sorry, I should have warned you. We’re going casual tonight. Have you got any shorts?”
“I’ve got some gym shorts? Will that do?”
He ran in the house and changed as fast as he could, then reset the alarm and bounded back out the door to her car. He looked at his phone, confirmed the alarm was set and got in – just as Mary dropped the top – and once he was belted in she pulled out onto the PCH and made for Sunset Boulevard, then headed south on the 405 – at speeds somewhere just south of Mach 2.
“Where to?” he asked over the roar.
“Disneyland!” she shouted.
She grinned like a fool as she made her way to the fast lane, her hair fanning out wildly in the slipstream. “I always wanted to go on a first date to Disneyland,” she said over the subdued roar, “and I figured nobody would ever think that’s something that I’d like. So, if this is ever going to happen, I’ll have to make it happen. Hope you don’t mind?”
“You’re probably right,” he said, “but I can see the appeal.”
“Yup. We went to Disney World a couple of times when I was a kid, but Cameron took us to the 33 Club out here once, a few years ago, then we hit a few rides. I like it out here more, I think. The weather’s nicer.”
She shrugged. “Anyway, I wanted this to be our first date.”
He looked at her as she drove along, then he looked down at her legs for a moment, then her hair. “You know, I think you’re better looking now than you were twenty years ago.”
“Well, I was madly in love with you, all through the nineties, anyway?”
“What happened to us?”
“Grad school, then Hubble.”
She laughed. “I guess I was no match for a space telescope, huh?”
He laughed too. “Nothing has been.”
“Nothing? You mean, as in – no one?”
“As in no one.”
“How long has it been?”
“Been? Since what?”
“Since you’ve been with someone?”
He leaned back, looked up at a passing thought as it drifted by. “I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it was before Obama. Maybe even Clinton…?”
“You’ve got to kidding! How on earth…?”
“You know who runs one of the biggest networks of observatories in the world? The Vatican, and for good reason, too. Astronomy is a breeding ground for celibacy, because we do all our best work at night, while every one else is home…”
“So, you’re saying it’s been ten years since you popped your cork?”
“Probably. At least.”
“Does it still work?”
“I think so. Why?”
“Well, just so you know, but before the night’s over that’s gonna happen, so wrap your head around that.”
“As a red-blooded American female, Ferris, it’s my sworn duty. Twice, at least.”
“And we have to go to Disneyland for this?”
She laughed hard now. “You’re goddamn right we have to. I told you, I want our first date to be one for the history books.”
“You know, Mary…I think it already is.”
She smiled, then turned serious. “I spent all morning over at Paramount. Looks like I’ve got the part, if I want it, anyway, so I wanted to ask you something.”
“Sure, fire away.”
“You’re familiar with Now, Voyager? The Bette Davis film?”
“Well, Cameron’s idea is an update, set in current times, with me playing the mother, the part Gladys Cooper played.”
“Well, my concern is simply this. I’ve never played anyone so utterly and sincerely evil before. Not once, and I’m afraid it could be a career wrecker for me.”
“I think it would almost have to be fun, but I see what you mean.”
“Sure, but people know you, know what you’re capable of. I think most people would just see this as simply extending your range, and maybe having a little fun with it along the way. And let’s not even mention that you look about half Cooper’s age…”
“You know, Ferris, if say one more flattering thing to me I’m going to pull over and give you a fucking blowjob, right here on the side of the road!”
“Did I mention you have the legs of a twenty year old?”
She almost lost control of the car at that point, then settled down again. “So, could I ask you something off the wall?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“You find me attractive?”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, Ferris, I’m serious. I’m also needy, insecure, and more than a little narcissistic. You have to be in this town, but yes, I’m really serious.”
He thought about how to answer that one for a moment, then: “Cam and Sloane know me better than anyone else in the world…well, maybe my mother knows me better…but they razzed me yesterday about my sweaty palms.”
“Since I was a kid, whenever I see a really gorgeous woman I get sweaty palms.”
She thought about that one for a moment too. “And I gave you sweaty palms?”
“Like two fire hydrants, Mary. I ran through two napkins at lunch. Soaked right through ‘em.”
She nodded her head, flipped the right turn signal and made for the far shoulder, and when she stopped the car she unfastened her seatbelt and leaned back, looked him in the eye. “If you don’t get over here and kiss me right now, well, I’m gonna die. I’m just gonna lay back and die.”
And Ferris took his seatbelt off and crawled over the center console and kissed her. Semi-trailer drivers honked their horns as they passed, and still they kissed. A few years later she came up for air, then leaned over and ripped her sneakers off, scratched the bottoms of her feet…
“When I get horny, I mean really, really turned on, the bottoms of my feet turn to pure fire.”
“We’ll make an interesting couple, I think. We can use my sweaty palms to soak your flaming feet.”
“You think we’ll make a couple, you and I?”
“I sure hope so.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“I haven’t fallen in love since second grade, and I was kinda hopin’ I might one more time, before it’s all over, anyway.”
“You’re falling in love, Ferris Bueller?”
“You had me at the whole Disneyland thing.”
“It’s been fifteen years since someone made my feet itch like this.”
“So, what’s it gonna be?”
“Let’s go ride a few rides,” she said, laughing, “then what say we fly up to Vegas and get married?”
“Sounds like a plan to me…”
A moment later she pulled back into traffic and drove on to Anaheim, both of them lost in furious thought, both of them wondering if they’d really said the things they’d just said. He looked over at her bare feet and smiled, then wiped the palms of his hands on his shorts and knew he was lost, a total goner.
She, of course, belonged to the 33 Club and pulled into a reserved lot and up to a valet stand. Park Security met the car and escorted them to a special entrance, and they were escorted through the park to the French Quarter, to that storied gray door next to the Blue Bayou, and their escort rang the bell. Another girl met them and walked with them up the broad, curved stairway to the dining room, and they sat quietly and had a light dinner, not once speaking about what was now magically dancing in the air between them. She’d ordered Grand Marnier soufflés ahead, and they sat with their coffees looking out over river and the crowds below…
“You know, they have rooms here,” she said. “For people who need to – take a rest.”
“Bedrooms? In Disneyland?”
“Yes. I, uh, well, I booked one. Just in case.”
He looked at her and he couldn’t help but smile at the insecurities playing over her face.
“What are you grinning at?” she said, her lower lip sticking out about a mile and a half.
“You. You’re so goddamn cute it’s driving me nuts.”
She reached down, untied her shoes as she stood and turned to their waiter. “Jimmy, could you bring the soufflés and coffee to my room, in about an hour?”
“Yes, Miss Simmons.”
“Ferris? You’d better come with me…”
And he did. Several times, as a matter of fact.
“Do you want to keep teaching?”
They were sitting in the driveway in front of Cameron’s house in Malibu, and it was almost two in the morning; they’d been talking – and holding hands – for at least a half hour when she asked that, and he leaned back and looked up at the night sky.
“I can’t imagine not teaching now,” he said, “and not doing research. It’s who I am, I suppose.”
She nodded her head, though she hadn’t mentioned flying to Las Vegas since that first wild kiss. “Is there room for someone like me in your life?”
“‘Someone like me?’ What does that mean?”
“I’m needy, Ferris. Clingy, possessive, self-centered. And I’ve lived alone for a long time. I don’t want to live like that any more, but I don’t want a part time husband, either.”
“Okay. What’s your point?”
“What I’m saying, what I’m asking you is simple. If you want to teach, if you want to go on with your work, would it work for you if I moved to Hawaii? If we moved in together?”
“I know you were joking earlier…”
“No, Ferris, I wasn’t.”
“And it doesn’t matter much to me now where I live. It’s a four hour flight to Hawaii, and I could keep my house for a while, for when I’d need to be here for work.”
“Did Cameron tell you about Jeannie? My little sister?”
“Oh. Well, Cam and Sloane got married last Sunday so she could be there. They got married in the living room at my folks house, by the way, again – so my sister could be with us. She passed away on Tuesday…”
He heard the sharp intake of breath, the whispered “Oh, God…no,” then: “Ferris, I’m so sorry. This must all be so confusing…”
“You know, Mary, the only thing not confusing right now is how I feel about you,” and he felt her hand then, squeezing gently, so gently, and he felt Jeannie’s hand squeezing his and he wanted to cry again…
…but no, not now. Please, not now…
“So, the truth of the thing, Mary, is that sometime in the last few hours everything changed. My life – changed – and you changed it. I’m afraid I really don’t care about anything else right now – except you. You being a part of my life, and me, being the center of your universe. I don’t think I could ever be happy again without you, and I know that sounds silly and infantile…”
“Ferris, shut up and kiss me.”
He went around and opened her door, pulled her out into the night and carried her to the front of the car; he pulled her shorts down and hoisted her up on the hood in one easy motion, then put her legs over his shoulders and went down on her, while fifty feet away traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway zoomed by blissfully unaware that two time Academy Award winning actress Mary Simmons was getting laid ON her car, and that her feet were “fuckin’ on fire” so many times she lost count.
“So, how was Oregon?” Ferris asked when he saw Cameron in the kitchen early Friday morning.
“Fuck Oregon, Ferris. What’s up with you and Mary? Pictures of you two all over the tabloids, a grainy video of you two screwing – in my driveway, no less?”
“Oh? I missed that one. Is it any good?”
“I’d give you a six on form, maybe a 10 on longevity, but hell, Ferris? On the hood of a new Mercedes? Have you no sense of decency? You probably scuffed five thousand bucks of paint off the resale value!”
“On the other hand…”
“You’re right. The notoriety alone made the value of that car increase by at least fifty grand. Maybe I should take Sloane out front…?”
“What? On the Impala?”
“Right. That wouldn’t do, I suppose.”
Sloane padded into the kitchen, yawning and rubbing her eyes. “Coffee?” she moaned.
“Brewing,” Ferris replied, checking out the dark circles under her eyes, the bow-legged walk.
“What’s with all the paparazzi out front?”
“Ferris and Mary, sittin’ in a tree…” Cameron sang. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Ferris with a baby carriage.”
“Screw you, Frye.”
“Ferris? So the stories are true?” Sloane added, still rubbing her face as she reached for a coffee cup.
“I’m going back to bed,” Bueller said.
“No you’re not, Paco.” Cameron said, looking at his watch. “Airport, in two hours. You packed?”
“Last night. Ready when you are.”
“Can I come too?”
“You’ve come enough already,” Cameron grinned. “Sure you’re UP to it?”
“If you are?”
“Oh, God,” Ferris groaned, “get me out of here.”
“So,” Sloane said as she poured a cup, “is it true? Is Ferris Bueller finally in love?”
He looked down into his coffee as if divining an answer, then he simply shrugged. “I don’t know, Sloane. Maybe. It kind of feels that way, but…”
“I guess looking at the stars for so long has taught me to be patient. To evaluate things, prove the theory sound…”
“Ferris,” Cameron said from across the kitchen, “love’s not a theory. It either is – or it isn’t. You either feel love…”
He nodded understanding. “That’s not it, Cameron. If I went by how I feel right now we’d have gotten married yesterday, but I’ve known the woman for what? – five days? I’m too old to be this impulsive, there’s too much at stake to be so completely irrational.”
“Is there, Ferris? Really?” Sloane said, looking him in the eye. “And is love ever really rational?”
He shrugged again. “Maybe. Maybe not. We’ve agreed to let things simmer for a week or so. She’s coming over next weekend, and we’re going to take a look at things then…”
The doorbell rang and Cameron went to a panel and looked at the video feed. “Sorry, Ferris,” he said, “guess who’s here?”
“Yes. Fuck. Right there, by my front door.”
“Fuck-a-doodle-do!” he said as he jogged off towards his room. “Would you let her in…I’ve got to shower, get dressed…”
He went and hopped in the shower, yet not a minute later he heard the bathroom door fly open, and she came into the bathroom.
“Bueller? Bueller?” came a voice from within the steam…
The shower door opened and she stepped in – still half dressed – then she slipped into his arms.
“I wasn’t ready for you to leave just yet,” she said after they came up for air. “I’m not ready for a life without Ferris Bueller in it.”
“I’m not sure you do, Ferris, so I want to make things clear…” She was doing weird and wonderful things with her hands just then, and he was suddenly finding it hard to think of anything else, yet her eyes were so close now, her breath a needful caress, and he held her close – “closer than forever,” he sighed. Her breasts pressed against his, her tongue mingling with all his hopes and dreams – then he felt himself inside a fleeting moment and he wanted to hold on to the feeling – forever.
“There’s nothing to it now, I suppose.” he said after a long while. “Will you marry me?”
Her’s was the face of a little girl on a Christmas morning full of love and warm puppies, and he saw water running off her nose as he looked into her eyes, then he kissed her forehead.
“So?” he said a minute later.
She nodded her head, kissed his chin – then took a playful bite.
“Closer than forever,” she whispered. “I like that.”
“You whispered that, just a moment ago. I like the way that sounds, the way those words feel.”
“I love the way you feel.”
“You’d better get used to it then, because this is where I want to be. Right up against you, with nothing between us. Ever.”
And so it came to pass that not a month later, in a house on Walden Road not far from the shores of a lake in the fair state of Illinois, a man and a woman held hands again, and they repeated sacred words in the living room of that house.
Not far from where the man and the woman stood there was an empty chair, and in the chair there was a little scarf neatly folded, and across the scarf a single white rose. When the ceremony ended, the assembled guests took their white roses and laid them with the first.
When he returned from the reception later that evening, Ferris Bueller took the scarf and the roses upstairs to his sister’s room, and he flipped on the light switch and went into the room of a million memories and he stood there for a time. The room hadn’t changed much over the years, even Ed Rooney’s tattered necktie was still folded neatly on top of her copy of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. He stopped then and smelled the roses, then laid the scarf and the roses on top of her pillow before he turned and left the room.
Sloane was waiting for him out there in the hall, and she wiped a tear from his cheek then kissed him just once, if ever-so-gently, on the lips – before she took his hand and led him down stairs. His parents were waiting for him there, as was his best friend – and his wife. They walked out into the snow and headed for cars and the drive to the airport, but Ferris stopped before he got to his father’s Audi, and he turned to look at the house he had grown up in one more time, and then at his parents.
Would he ever see this image again, he wondered? In his mind, perhaps, in another memory, stored away with Jeannie sitting in the living room by the Christmas tree…
He felt her arm sliding around his waist, felt her by his side again and she came over him as a breaking wave of relief.
“Are you ready to go home?” she asked.
He looked at the house and the snow, at all that ever had been – and all that was yet to be – then he turned to her and kissed her forehead.
“Yes,” Ferris Bueller said, “I’m ready.”
And he noticed he hadn’t cut the corner this time. He’d stuck to the path, had followed his old man, and maybe that’s why his father smiled all the way to the airport.
Two Years Later
He was just out of the shower, wiping steam off the mirror in her bathroom, getting ready to lather his face and shave, and he thought about the evening before. With Cameron and Sloane, at the old Bistro in Beverly Hills. How good those two looked together, how everyone stood and applauded when Mary came up the stairs into the main dining room. She’d won her third Academy Award the night before, for her portrayal of Charlotte Vale’s mother in Now, Voyager, and the restaurant’s patrons were almost beside themselves that she was there – her star now shining brighter than ever.
After dinner they’d all gone down to Cam’s house in Malibu, and sitting on his deck they had watched the stars out over the Pacific. Mary surprised them all by letting slip she was ready to retire, ready to call it a day. She’d never been happier than she had been these past two years, never felt more alive than when she was with Ferris at their new house in the hills overlooking Honolulu – looking at the stars together, walking rainforest trails or snorkeling off the surf.
Cam was disappointed, however. He had several roles in mind for her, but Sloane had simply shut him down, cut him off, and Mary looked grateful for the reprieve. The girls were of course best friends now, the two of them, which was only fitting.
He leaned forward and looked at himself in the mirror: a few more gray hairs here and there, especially in his beard, but, he thought, what did he expect? “Life’s like that, I guess. You roll with the punches, and meet each day with an open mind,” he said aloud, if only to himself.
“Did you say something?”
“No, just rattling on, talking to myself.”
“You do that a lot, don’t you?”
“Always have. Guess I always will.” And, as if talking to himself once again he looked in the mirror and continued: “And you meet each day with an open heart, because you never know who’s around the next bend in the road.”
He thought of the North Rim, of saying his goodbyes to Jeannie one more time, and he thought of snow falling on a house by the lake in Winnetka. Snow, falling like petals from white roses. Falling like tears into a canyon. Snow falling, falling like love.
(C) 2016 Adrian LeverKühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | Ferris and his friends were the creation of John Hughes, and they first appeared in 1986s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This story is an original, crazy-headed sequel based on the original screenplay by Hughes, to whom I dedicate this story.
Merry Christmas, and I hope you enjoyed the night.