Monday, October 31, 2011
His Only Friend
Zach dreamed that he asked Vida, this time with love and devotion: “Will you marry me?”
“So you can keep your job?”
He woke damp with guilt and yet relieved that by now Rosalind had told Beth all about Vida’s pregnancy. And no matter how angry and betrayed Beth felt, she would never blame Rosalind. It was Zach who had thrust the knife in her back.
Despite her stupidity, Beth had always harbored the truth: Zach was so wrong that “why and when” scarcely mattered.
While showering he swore he would telephone her within five minutes. He couldn’t hide forever. Although… allowing a few days to pass seemed reasonable. Better to let the fire die down before dousing it with gasoline. Besides, Beth knew. The damage was done.
Perhaps thinking he shouldn’t “hide” from Beth was inaccurate. Zach Severins didn’t hide, for Christ’s sake! But wasn’t it best if he never spoke directly to her again?
Sitting in ragged underpants, he watched the interaction as if attending a bad play.
Guess what, Mom.
Dad’s lover, Vida, is expecting twin girls any minute now.
The twins were insult enough, but Beth would harangue him forever for tossing Rosalind into the maelstrom. His daughter’s eagerness, Beth would say, was age-appropriate—not a random attitude for Zach’s convenience.
Shuddering, he opened his nightstand drawer and downed a quaff of whisky. But the play continued: Beth chats about Rosalind’s volleyball games next week, maintaining her impeccable niceness until Rosalind is asleep. Valiant but god-awful Beth leaves a note for both Matt and Rosalind: If you need me, I’m at Wren’s house.
After he dressed, Zach checked his voicemail. No calls. He had expected a response from Luke at Dartmouth at the very least. But after twenty years of advising these assholes? Nothing: Not one Institute member, not one renowned thinker whose awards and laudations stemmed straight from Zach’s advocacy, had responded.
How ironic that his only ally was newly gay and proud Duncan. And yet how grateful he was for their standing brunch date. Wearing a new plaid cashmere scarf against the increasing cold, Zach hurried to Bistro Ten 18 on Amsterdam Avenue.
Seated at a window table, Duncan grinned and half-stood, raising a Bloody Mary garnished with a twelve-inch celery stalk.
“Giving birth to two babies at once!” He shook his head, adorned with recently brightened and cleverly tousled hair. “Hard to fathom.”
“Duncan, I’m hoping to eat.” He ordered a skirt steak, three fried eggs, extra home fries, and another Bloody Mary.
Duncan sipped his drink from a tiny green straw.
“I suppose you’ve heard Dorothy’s strong-arming me out. I have no idea where this is coming from but after emphasizing that my ordinary misconduct was enough to stuff me in some backwater U., she alluded to rumors of ‘domestic abuse.’”
“What did you say?”
“I let her know the implication was slanderous and actionable.”
“And she has a position ready and waiting for me in Nebraska.”
“Omaha or Lincoln?”
“What the fuck difference does it make?”
Duncan’s superb posture somehow improved a millimeter. “Lincoln has an outstanding Public Policy program. And Omaha? A huge Poli-sci department.”
Duncan prattled a while about the fantastic opportunities at both campuses until Zach said, “Unless you want to come with me, shut up.”
“Maybe in time you’ll listen to me, Zach. Because I know professors in both quite lovely cities. If you were serious about me coming with you, my family in Westchester and the community at St. John the Divine are my only reasons not to.”
“Either you’re humoring me or you really would mosey off to Nebraska, just us two. One is as disturbing as the other. No offense.”
Tipping a coy shoulder toward his friend, Duncan breathed: “None taken.”
What a fucker! But Zach had to admit the gay guy forced a sense of humor on him—never his claim to fame. And goddamnit if Duncan didn’t live a helluva lot closer to the Scout Law than Zach ever had. He was exceptionally “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, and reverent.” However, Duncan was not “obedient,” nor anywhere close to what the movement intended by “clean.” Did homosexuals call it intercourse? Certainly, Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts in 1907, had never imagined such goings-on. Instantly upon grasping this notion, though, Zach wasn’t so sure. Still and all, Duncan, because of his homosexuality, was the Anti-Eagle Scout.
Outside the restaurant, he laid his hand slightly low on Zach’s back—just slightly. A gesture of kindness, no more, but Zach jumped away and Duncan pretended not to notice. As usual, the men walked, not quite side by side, to Riverside Park.
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