Daniel and Sandra were sitting a couple of inches apart on one side of the sectional sofa, talking with Pablo and Nora, who was sitting across the table from them on the sectional, with one leg over the other. Pablo was lounging in a corner easy chair, his girlfriend sitting on a large cushion at his feet.
Nickolas was brooding in a corner of the dining room, nursing something orange, icy and doubtless alcoholic. Richard figured he should try to make amends, and headed to the dining room table. Nickolas scowled slightly at Richard as he took the seat across from him, but seemed to make up his mind not to start anything unless provoked.
“Nickolas, good to see you again. Have I missed anything yet?”
“No. Pablo is talking about the importance of cross-referencing official documentation with correspondences and first-hand accounts of historical figures.”
Definitely Brooklyn Heights. Not strong Brooklynese, but just enough to know where it came from. He had good diction, and he’d scrubbed a lot of the accent out, but the alcohol was giving him away.
“You disagree, Nickolas?”
“Call me Nick. No, I think research is important. I just think he takes himself too seriously.”
“Really? How so?”
“Well, he styles himself as an expert on Latin American history, and he attends history lectures at NYU, but he dropped out of full time study a couple of years ago and lost his scholarship. He affects a faintly Mexican accent and uses Spanish expressions when he’s angry, but he’s only ever vacationed in Mexico twice. His name isn’t even Pedro Moriz.”
“It’s Pete Morse. We went to the same high school. He was pompous then, too.”
“What about you? I’m pretty sure there aren’t any Edwardian dandies in modern day New York, if there ever were.”
“What? Oh yeah, the clothes. Look, I know you probably think I’m a joke. I probably would too, if I were your age. I just don’t like modern fashions. They either look too suburban homeboy or too 90s hipster.”
“I know what you mean. I haven’t had a serious wardrobe update since the 90s.”
“You’re hurting my feelings, really. Point is, I know what you mean. But you know, waistcoats and drainpipe trousers haven’t been in style since the swinging 60s.”
“Yeah, I know. Sandy was all about getting me a new look when we first met. I was dressing kinda emo for a while there. She got me interested in the mod look, but I didn’t like the raincoats and stuff. I started reading old magazines and watching movies and television from the 60s, British stuff, and it just clicked. I started haunting used clothing stores and changed my look. I guess I changed a lot of things.”
“Oh me and her, we went around for a while, but we weren’t serious or anything. She got stuck in the 60s, and I sorta drifted into 19th century literature and stuff. Poetry. Romance. Keats and Byron and Shelley. All that. And then Nora joined the group.”
Nick paused dramatically and took a long gulp of his drink. Richard took a sip of the scotch and noted that the Talisker was as strong tasting as he’d heard. He’d never had it before. He could never afford it. He’d have to find some way to show his appreciation to the ladies later. The scotch was challenging, but in a good way.
“Well, Ms. Crenshaw is a formidable woman.”
“Yeah, she really blew me away. I’d never talked to a professional author before, and when we got talking, she just seemed so genuine. She kinda patronized me at first, but eventually she started to treat me like an equal. I guess it was about the time I started showing her what I was working on. She had a lot of advice for me, but she really encouraged me to keep doing my own thing.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask, what are you working on?”
“Oh yeah, I guess we never got to that part before the fight last week. I’m writing a book called The Spirit of Independence. It’s historical fiction set in the 1700s, around the time of the revolution. I use a lot of literary devices to contrast between contemporary superstitions and the emergence of the Age of Reason. It has some supernatural overtones, with a Headless Horseman-type urban legend, but a professor and his young apprentice try to disprove the phantom’s existence. All of this is set against the backdrop of the birth of America and Franklin’s scientific experiments.”
“Sounds like a good book to me. How historically accurate would you say it is?”
“Oh, I researched it pretty good, but I’m not writing a biography or anything like that. It’s a stylish sort of historical suspense novel. I’m not trying to win any literary prizes.”
“That’s fine by me. A topic like that could easily get too stuffy. Sounds like you’ve got a good story to tell. I hope you’ll let me read it someday.”
“Yeah. I think I’d like that.” Nick took another drink.
“Me too,” Richard said after another sip. It seemed only polite to match him drink for drink.
“You know, you’re not who I thought you were.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the way Wanda talked you up before you met us last week, I thought you were gonna be this total asshole who knew everything and would think we were just a bunch of losers. Then I read up on you and learned you weren’t that big a deal after all. So when you showed up and Andy was asking for advice, I just thought you were feeding her a line to get in her pants or something. So when you and Nora fought, I got pissed off. I’m sorry about that now.”
“Me too. I think I hurt you both, and I really didn’t mean to do that. I’ve been a little touchy about my career lately, and Nora pressed some of my buttons. I shouldn’t have said what I said.”
“It’s okay. I think she’s over it. She was even asking Wanda and Candice if you were coming back. I gotta admit, I was a little jealous when she did.”
“I’ve had some experience with women… of Nora’s temperament,” Richard added judiciously. “I’ve been able to make friends with some of them, but they rarely ever become interested in me. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. With my luck, she’s just looking for a rematch.”
“I don’t know about that. I’ve seen her looking at you. She doesn’t look angry. But anyway, she’s not talking to me right now. What you said that day kinda made her see me differently, and now she’s keeping her distance.”
“She’s a very proud woman, I think. I don’t know if she’ll ever reciprocate your feelings for her, but I think she’ll let you back in, once she gets used to the idea. The thing is, if she didn’t like you at all, you’d never have gotten close enough to her to have fallen for her the way you have. She just hasn’t decided how she feels about you loving her. When she figures it out, she’ll probably find that she likes the idea well enough. Most women want to be adored, particularly by attractive young men.”
Nick blushed for a second, visibly trying to decide if he should get up and walk away. Richard placed a hand on the table in placation.
“Okay, I’ve probably said too much. Me giving advice about love is like a blind man trying to give directions to Shea Stadium. I may know how to get there myself, but I probably can’t give safe directions to anyone else. Just give it some time, and try not to let on that you’re hurting. Desperation is the world’s worst cologne. If there’s any chance of her taking you back, she has to believe you’re not an emotional infant. As my dad used to say, ‘Keep it cool, Ritchie Cunningham’.”
“Easy for you to say. The woman of your dreams doesn’t think you’re a lovestruck schoolboy. And anyway, I happen to know that your dad left when you were a kid.”
“No, that was my biological father. My dad was a man my mother dated for several years after that. He was the biological father of my sister. He had a lot of faults, and he wasn’t very good for my mom. I probably learned a few too many bad habits and ideas from him. I also had quite a rebellion against everything I thought he stood for when I was in my teens. We never really reconnected after my mom kicked him out. I didn’t really forgive him until years later, after he was gone. He fell twenty stories from his apartment balcony. ”
“I don’t remember reading about that.”
“No, it was a long time ago. I haven’t had many male role models in my life, and the ones I did have are all gone now. Times like this in my life, I wish I had a few more.”
“Me too. My father’s still alive, but he could already be dead for all the time we spend together. He definitely doesn’t think much of me trying to be a writer.”
“Sounds like your old man is just looking out for you, in his own way. Writing is a crap gig. The pay is bad, the hours are lousy and the benefits are non-existent.”
“Why do you do it, then?”
“It’s the only thing I’m good for.”
“That’s how I feel, too. All my life, I’ve tried to figure out what else I could do. You know, get a real job and settle down. There just doesn’t seem to be anything else I’m any good at. I’ve got a shitty job working in a grocery store because I can’t even handle waiting tables or answering phones.”
“Too much pressure?”
“The people. It’s like, they don’t care who you are, they just want you to kiss their ass and do it quickly.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to take people seriously when they’re serving you food. We all get a little rude and presumptuous when we’re hungry. That’s what tips are for.”
“I know you’re not supposed to take it personally, but I’ve never been good at that. I just keep wondering what it is that makes people treat each other like dogs.”
“It’s not universal. Some people are good to waitstaff. It’s just important not to seem ruffled or frustrated when you serve people food. It makes them suspicious.”
“What about phone work?”
“Even worse. You have to keep smiling, even when they yell at you and hang up, because there’s nothing to keep you going otherwise. Not even tips.”
“You always have a quick answer for everything. Do you believe half of what you say?”
“Half of it, yes.”
They grinned and saluted each other, Nick taking a long drink of his screwdriver or whatever the hell that was, and Richard another careful swig of the peaty single malt. It was then that Wanda glided over and smiled at them both before crooking her finger at each of them.
© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle