I couldn’t believe the turn of events. I never had felt so alone in my life. It reminded me of when I first arrived at Tulane and didn’t know a soul. It felt as if I was starting my life from scratch, even though I had been in the city for over two years. So I began to cultivate a new crop of friends, although I would always have Katie, Steve and Daniel. Vroom would also be a constant companion that summer too, but I soon let others into my life. I had generally let work just be those eight to six friends, but now I allowed myself to meet up with a few of them after work and on weekends. There also was the artist whom lived around the corner who I saw running often. We had always just been courteous to one another. I got myself invited over to his studio and invited him into the Garden to paint and draw together. He had the strangest girlfriend with a tattooed ear. She would sit and chatter endlessly as we drew in our sketchbooks oblivious of her. We would run together a couple of times a week. My times and distances improved dramatically.
I joined the Whitney and MOMA at the insistence of the guys from work. I began to enjoy the social scene, somewhat. At least I marveled at how thin and plastic it could all be, but I loved to be embarrassed by Andy when he would wave, come over to me and give me a kiss on the cheek at an opening, taking my picture with whomever he came with or celebrities who were there.
I loved being a babysitter too. It made me feel on top of the world being alone with Daniel. Steve always called me to come over if he was going to be alone with the baby for an afternoon. He knew that I could handle anything that came up because he was a bit tenuous at first about what to do. He wanted to skip to year four or five when simple conversations, ball playing and trips to the toy store were part of it all. I always teased Steve that the only reason he called me was to change the diapers, and he didn’t seriously deny it, although he retorted by saying that he had practice in wiping mine a few times. In the middle of August, Katie told us she was pregnant again. She put on her brave face for the situation. I don’t think she was ready to do this all again so soon. I promised her I would do anything to help. She knew I meant it too. She said that she was going to send Steve to fuck me instead of her for a while after this child was born because she was absolutely done with being pregnant. She was serious too.
When I called Tim on his birthday I tried to convince him to invite me to San Francisco, or for him come here. He wouldn’t agree to either even though our conversations and interactions had gotten better with time. He was much closer to his old self and seemed to be comfortable with our relationship. I was hoping to convince him to try to get transferred by the end of the year. During this conversation, I figured out that he was there with someone else with him and that they had had a few drinks and were fooling around. I didn’t bring it up but said that I had to go and had hoped he had gotten my present. I hung up and steamed with a jealous rage. My heart was ripped open again. I went out and worked in the Garden till four in the morning when the phone rang. It was Tim. He realized what had happened and how horrible I must feel. He was sorry. I told him that yes it hurt, but I didn’t have anything else to say except that I would be here for him, that I still loved him and wanted him to be my husband. He said he didn’t think that was going to happen and that it was time to move on. I was speechless. I told him good-bye and hung up.
I called Katie. She was up feeding Daniel. I cried into the phone with her for an hour. Then she got Steve up and the three of them came over for breakfast and to spend the morning. They convinced me that if and when it was right I needed to start dating, nothing serious, unless it happened, just having fun; simple dating. I promised them I would but didn’t think it would happen anytime soon though. By noon, the four of us fell asleep in my bed for a long nap, well, till Daniel was hungry again.
On the Monday after Dan’s birthday I got on the elevator at work. As the cab filled with people and their morning coffee and bagels I was pressed to the back. A handsome man backed into me. He turned and said he was sorry. I recognized him. He worked for the architecture firm two floors below mine. He smiled when he recognized me.
“How’s life turning lines into reality?” he asked.
“Fun, a pain in the ass at times, but fun,” I replied with a smile.
He backed into me again as people jostled to get off at their respective floors. I gave him a smirk, knowing that the last time was intentional. He got a broad grin across his face and winked at me. He didn’t get off at his floor.
“Are you lost?” I asked.
“No,” he said simply.
When the door opened to my floor, he turned and said, “Hi, my name is Jim Dessault. Have lunch with me this week?”
“I’m Pete Langer. Sure, I’d like that.”
He handed me his card and I dug out one of mine. I smiled at him as I moved to get off the elevator before the door closed.
“I’d like to kiss you too,” he said.
I let the door close and we kissed all the way to the ground floor. We broke apart as the doors opened up again. The people piled on, confused because we didn’t get off. The doorman’s eyes were aghast. He had watched us on the security camera all the way down. Jim was tight up against me the whole way till he got off this time at the tenth floor.
He turned and winked, “I’ll call you in a bit.”
I had to button my suit coat to not embarrass myself as I got off on the twelfth.
“I really need to get off, now,” I thought to myself.
Jim was about five foot ten with a slender face and soft, curly, sandy brown hair. He was two years younger than I, soft-spoken in tone but always direct in his manner. He was caring yet confident. We met for lunch at 11:30. He knew of a new vegetarian restaurant that had just opened up.
“OK, who am I moving in on?” was his first question when we sat down.
He was referring to the ring I will forever wear.
“No one, Jim, they died,” I said quietly.
It was the last subject I wanted to talk about at the moment.
“Me too, that’s life though.”
He raised his eyebrows, then inherently knew to let the subject go. It was past one when I paid the check and we walked back to work. We both couldn’t believe that the time had gone so fast while we learned about one another. We made a date for Friday and would have lunch together for the rest of the week and most days at work from then on as our schedules allowed.
I was nervous when I invited him back to my place on Friday night after going to an opening at an art gallery and dinner. It felt as if I had never done this before. After I thought about it I remembered that I never really had. He spent the night. We had fun. It was simple and straightforward although I had to put Dan’s watch on so that I could sleep.
There was a knock on the back door early the next morning.
I looked out then opened the door, “Hey, Vroom, what’s up? What are you doin’ home?”
“Mom wants me to go to this party with her tonight as her date. I came home last night. I’m bored and wanted to see you. How come you’re not in the Garden already, it’s late.”
“Whoa, you’ve had too much coffee this morning.”
He pulled the towel from around my waist and hugged and kissed me.
“Some day I’m gonna get you in…whoops…hey…I’mmmmm…I better go.”
I turned around to see Jim standing in just his t-shirt. He pulled his t-shirt down so that he made sure it covered his crotch.
“Hey, OK, looks confusing but it’s not. Jim, this is my good friend John Hall, whom I call Vroom most of the time.”
“Hey, don’t let that out!”
I looked back and smiled at John, then continued, “Vroom, this is Jim Dessault. We had our first date last night.”
They shook each other’s hand as I wrapped my towel back around my waist.
Jim bluntly asked, “Do you guys date too?”
“No, just good…”
John interrupted, “I wish. I’ve been trying to get him into bed for the last four months, but we just have fun together. We go on non-sex dates.”
He smiled and kissed me on the cheek. I felt myself getting hard. I wanted to have sex with both of them now. I felt my face get red with embarrassment. Now it was getting awkward because I didn’t know what to say. Vroom noticed my crotch. Jim saw John staring at it and did the same. I looked at their two smiling faces. We all looked at each other.
“Come on, we better get started. Vroom’s gotta be home by dark.”
I grabbed a hand of each of them and led them back to my room. Jim pulled my towel off along the way. I almost led them into the bathroom first but just smiled and continued into the bedroom.
“Maybe some day,” I thought to myself.
This began seven months of fun. Jim and I dated, but it we didn’t think of it as being a serious relationship. I don’t think either of us wanted it to be that way. We flourished in the friendship. John joined us at times on our dates when he was home from school or came back for a weekend. I was happy. I had a small slice of what life was like three years before but it was without the intense love. We loved each other as friends and showed the care, concern and respect for each other, but it wasn’t deep true love. None of us wanted that. So on the same weekend when Vroom came home after the last weekend of school and said that he had found someone he wanted to date “for real” and Jim said that he had been offered and accepted a job at the Washington D.C. office of his firm I was happy for them both and didn’t feel it as a loss. I did wonder a bit if my heart had become cold and hard though. Katie said no and that I had just done what we agreed on, had fun. I wasn’t going to argue with someone who had a one-year old in one arm and a one-month old in the other. I was happy to be the godparent and babysitter to Daniel and Steve Jr.
By late July the heat of that summer had become unbearable and it was relentless. It didn’t come in waves like previous years. It reminded Katie, Steve and me of New Orleans. We almost relished it, and although we were not as acclimated to it, we were infinitely more tolerant of it than most New Yorkers. We could at least laugh about it. The rest of New York was miserable and they complained continuously about it too.
During that long hot summer, the heat, being a mother, not working as a physical therapist and being a Damnyankee was a bit too much for Fitz. So, Steve and I offered her freedom for a weekend at least once a month. We packed up the kids in Sammy and moved them down to Uncle Peter’s house. Sometimes, when Katie wouldn’t even call for more than twenty-four hours, we knew she really needed the freedom. This would be the closest I might get to fatherhood I thought and enjoyed it immensely. Ever since the attack of the nightmares both Steve and I enjoyed sleeping together. We had the opportunity, yet we rarely had even the slightest form of sex. Katie imagined we did though, she sent Steve with condoms every time. “I don’t want either of you to come to me pregnant.” We just enjoyed being roommates and fathers together. We laughed at each other a lot. We took lots of photos. We had exquisite adventures at FAO Schwartz. Vroom and his new boyfriend began to join us too.
The last time I saw Jim before he left for D.C. was on the weekend right after Labor Day. John and Jeremy were there before they left to go back to Princeton for their sophomore and junior years, respectively. I had just gotten my formal notice that I had passed my architectural licensing exam so I was officially and legally an Architect. Happier than I had ever been in the four years since the accident, I considered my life very “normal” again. I was in love with the life that I had cultivated and grown around me. I was in love with my friends, my work, my Garden and the yoga and meditation that kept me on an even path.
I still called Tim on a regular basis but it had become a strained relationship at best. He finally asked me to stop calling so often. On the first of October I called and he had changed his number to an unlisted one. I decided that I had to let him go. If it were meant to be, we would meet again at the right time. My relationship was with my friends now until at some point…a shiver, came along. I was content with waiting for it, if it ever did, to come along. It was the same attitude I had about the breaking of the heat wave. I had to wait only two and a half weeks for both to happen.
Author’s Note: For those of you who have read this since the first posting due to the time that has elapsed you might want to reread the first chapter again since chronologically this is where it fits into the story.