I was working at my desk, and already on my second cup of coffee, when I heard giggling from my bedroom.
The girls were up. It was a little after ten. I had assumed they would sleep longer after our late night together. I saved my work and went to the kitchen. I opened a cabinet and pulled down two cups.
The girls take their coffee as I do, strong, with sugar and half and half. I stirred, humming as a stream of sugar vanished into a whirl. I tapped the spoon twice on the lip of each cup. I carefully lifted the cups and made my way to the bedroom. I rapped on the door with my foot. “Are you decent?” I called.
“No, never.” More giggles. “But come on in.”
I nudged the door with my shoulder. “I thought you might want some coffee.”
“Oh!” Stevie said, tossing her hair as she sat up. “I could get used to room service.”
“Only the finest,” I smiled, placing the cup on her nightstand.
Stevie was a tourist, on her first visit to New York. Her naive awe of the city made her seem younger than her twenty years.
I made my way to the other side of the bed, the side where I sleep.
“Good morning,” I smiled to Stevie’s best friend. I put the coffee on the nightstand and leaned forward to kiss her. Stevie’s friend was a blond beauty, also a tourist, just a few days shy of her eighteenth birthday. Her braces showed as she smiled. I caressed the hair from her face. “Did you sleep well, love?” I asked.
“Yeah, fine,” she said sitting up. “Thanks for the coffee, Dad.”
My daughter Rachel was in town. Rachel brought along Stevie—and yes, she was named for Stevie Nicks—to introduce her best friend to her “other” family and the city she has come to know over so many visits throughout her childhood
I surrendered my bedroom to the girls, and bunked on the couch.
This was the first time she brought a friend to the city, and I was keen to make it special. It could only bode well for the frequency of future visits if Rachel regarded my place as an urban pied-a-terre for herself and her pals.
Rachel lives in a small town, a place where friendships can be a tad incestuous. Rachel’s best friend Stevie has a younger brother who is Rachel’s new boyfriend. Rachel’s new boyfriend is the best friend of two of her younger brothers.
Rachel tells me it can get a complicated. Sometimes her boyfriend comes over to skateboard with her brothers, and she feels left out. Sometimes her brothers feel neglected when he comes over to listen to music in her room, the door left ajar to allow her mother’s frequent peeks, “just checking in.”
“It’s not like we’re doing anything anyway,” Rachel says. “I mean, he’s only fifteen.”
Their visit was to last only a few days, but the girls had arrived with a hefty agenda. Stevie wanted to see Times Square and the tree at Rockefeller Center, and to go ice skating in Central Park, “if,” she added, “we won’t get mugged there.” Rachel wanted to go shopping at St Mark’s Place, and to visit the “glass mall” we toured on her most recent trip. (It took me a while to ascertain that the phrase “glass mall” referred to the new Time Warner Center.) Somewhere along the way, they would also need to spend time with my kids and my ex.
Their first night was the only one we would have on our own as a trio. I had a few items to add to their agenda. Stevie beamed as we took the subway to Christopher Street. She whispered to Rachel, “Everyone is New York is so fine.”
“I know,” Rachel replied, knowingly. “They walk a lot and wear black.”
“That’s cool,” Stevie said, holding her bag close to her raspberry coat.
As we walked through Washington Square Park, Stevie noticed a sign for New York University. “Oh, too bad the Olsen twins dropped out, we might see them.”
“Yeah, keep your eyes open for celebrities anyway,” Rachel said. “They all live down here.”
“Actually, my boyfriend Peter Sarsgaard lives nearby,” I said.
“He’s my boyfriend, not yours,” Rachel corrected. “Can we stop by and see him?”
“I though you had Jake Gyllenhaal?” I asked.
“Him too, he’s mine too. Hey, can we see Brokeback Mountain up here? I really don’t think it’s going to come to the Podunk Palace Multiplex back home.”
“If we have time, I’m game,” I said.
Rachel looked at me, smiling. “What did you say?”
“Game. I said ‘I’m gay-MUH.’ Listen for the final consonant.”
Stevie listened to our banter. “Wait, who is Peter . . . ”
“Oh cool, look,” Rachel interrupted. “A tattoo store. Can we go in?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s browse the flash.”
“Wait,” Stevie asked, “What’s flash?”
“Stevie’s got two tattoos, you know,” Rachel said, raising an eyebrow to me.
“Really? Let’s see,” I asked. “Here, under this street lamp.” I will always take that bait. Stevie lifted her jacket and shirt and bent forward to show the ornate sprawl on her lower back, then turned and lowered her waistband to show the flower on her lower torso.
I stooped for a closer look. “Nice work,” I admired, politely.
“Thanks,” she said, lowering her shirt in place. “My fiancé talked me into the second one.”
Twenty, tattooed and betrothed. There are times I miss the South.
We stopped in shops as we walked towards dinner, the girls admiring overpriced hand-painted jeans and cheap mass-produced sunglasses. I fell back, allowing them time together. I was content to be the third wheel.
Though I did my share of steering. “Hey, a friend of mine is doing some editing over at that Starbucks,” I said. “Mind if we say hello?”
“Sure,” Rachel shrugged.
“We’ll make her buy us coffee,” I elbowed her.
“Hmmmm,” Stevie smiled. “Caffe mocha light.”
At the Starbuck’s, I knocked on the glass. Bridget looked up. “Well, hello, Henry,” she smiled, as we entered the door. I kissed her cheek, and introduced the girls.
“Hi Rachel, I’ve heard so much about you,” Bridget said, scooting over to make room for more chairs. “Nice to meet you Stevie. You girls want anything? Some hot chocolate?”
“Well,” Rachel’s eyes scoured the menu. “We were thinking caffe mocha light . . .”
“Sounds good.” Bridget palmed a twenty my way. “You, boy. Go get coffee. We have girl talk.” They were laughing as I returned with three cups. They talked as we drank our coffee. Now I was a fourth wheel.
Bridget was taking to her new privilege as an insider in my family. Rachel was no doubt filing queries about Dad’s friend.
We finished our coffees and took our leave. Bridget had her work to do, and I wanted to get the girls fed reasonably early. We had a full night ahead. As the girls put on their coats, I leaned over to kiss Bridget. “Rachel is adorable, and yes, she looks exactly like you,” Bridget whispered. “And by the way—the girls just saw you kiss me.”
“People kiss in New York,” I smiled. “It’s sophisticated.”
“Just be ready for questions.”
“We’ll see. Take care. Good luck with your work. Thanks for the coffee.”
“Have fun, sweet boy.”
I walked a few steps behind the girls as they admired windows and vendors’ stalls. That was okay, I thought. Short but sweet. Maybe my secret life can be not so secret with Rachel. At least a little bit.
I turned. It was Thomas.
Thomas: my bisexual twink comedian who loves the trannies.
“What brings you to my neighborhood?” he asked.
“I’m here with my daughter,” I replied, pointing ahead. “And her friend.”
“Really? Huh. Man, I have to meet your daughter.”
“If you behave,” I intoned.
I was kidding, but half serious—for two years he has admired Rachel’s photographs on my refrigerator door. He stands naked in my kitchen and asks, “So how long before she’s legal?” I usually reply that I am not setting up my daughter with anyone I’ve been with, so eyes off, boyfriend.
Perverts are lost without scruples.
“Rachel? Stevie?” I called. “Hang on, I want you to meet my friend Thomas.”
We caught up. He shook their hands and introduced himself. The girls smiled that smile girls smile when meeting someone very cute.
“So what are you guys up to?” Thomas asked.
“Nothing much,” Rachel said. “Just looking at stuff, on our way to get something to eat.”
“Yeah, I was just on my way to grab some dinner too.” Rachel and Stevie looked at me. Thomas looked at me.
I supposed this would be all right. “Thomas, if you don’t have other plans, would you like to join us? We’re going out for Indian.”
“I like Indian,” Thomas said, nodding at the girls. “I know a good place on Avenue A.”
“That’s very likely the place we have in mind,” I said. “Come on.”
As we walked, Rachel described the restaurant to her Stevie, who was a little trepidatious. She had warned me that she didn’t like “weird” food, as all tourists will say, but she was open to all the major food groups, so Rachel and I were determined to broaden her horizons a bit.
I could imagine that Thomas was also willing to broaden her horizons. We climbed the stairs to the restaurant. We had warned Stevie to ignore the shouts of competing maitres d’, encouraging us to choose their doors over the one we selected. We were seated. Stevie marveled at the dense tent of lights overhead. “Cool, right?” Rachel giggled.
“Weird, but very cool,” Stevie agreed.
I described a few dishes, as the girls had decided I would order for them. Thomas made his selection.
He was very quiet. Thomas is funny like that. He’s a performer with a great sense of humor, yet he is also shy with new people. That’s as true at a dinner as it is at a party. He tends to listen and watch, observing people and their interactions. You know he is at ease when he begins dropping well-placed one-liners into the conversation. I knew to take the lead until he warmed up.
After we ordered, I remembered that we had failed to pick up beer for dinner. The
Indian restaurants of Sixth Avenue generally lack liquor licenses, so diners must bring their own beer or wine. “I think I want beer,” I said. “Thomas?”
He said that would be great and started to stand. “No, sit,” I said. “Talk. I’m just walking downstairs I’ll be right back.” I excused myself, nodding to Thomas. He would just have to fend for himself with these chatty tourists.
“So, how do you know Dad?” Rachel asked after I left.
“Oh, we just know each other,” Thomas gulped. “So, how was the trip?” Thomas was listening to the girls talk when I returned.
“Everything all right?” I said, unpacking two Kingfishers.
“Yeah, cool,” Rachel said.
I poured the beers. The girls excused themselves to the restroom. Thomas took a sip. “Man, you didn’t tell me Stevie was engaged. How am I supposed to score here?”
“You aren’t supposed to score. You are just here to pretty up the joint. Be nice and make nice talk.”
“Your daughter looks just as Aryan Nation as you.”
“Yeah, if I were young and pretty, I’d be her.”
“Too bad she’s not a slut like you.”
“You want to take this outside? Behave.” The girls joined us. We had ordered a round of appetizers, including the sweet crunchy banana pakoras Rachel likes. Thomas relaxed and kept the girls laughing. When dinner arrived, we passed around silver trays heaped with rice, chana saag, chicken tikka masala, and lamb vindaloo. We tore at the poori and nan, dipping it in daal.
The lights were dimmed in favor of flashing sirens and disco birthday music as the waiters brought Rachel her birthday mango ice cream. “This place is pretty awesome,” Stevie shouted over the music, clapping along.
“Yeah, I love it,” Rachel nodded.
There was a line of hungry diners waiting as we left. The tiny restaurant was so cramped we had to put on our coats outside. The maitre d’ thanked us profusely, as if we had been the only prospective customers that night. “Nice schtick,” I said to Thomas as the girls walked ahead. “They don’t charge much, but you know they do very well.”
“I’m convinced all these restaurants share the same kitchen,” Thomas said, gesturing at the street lined with Indian places.
“This is widely rumored. Like the cole slaw that is ubiquitous in Greek diners. It’s all the same, so it must come from the same source.” We talked until we reached Thomas’s corner.
“Well, this is where I live,” he said.
“Thanks for joining us,” I said. “We are off to be tourists.”
“Have fun.” He nodded to the girls. “Very nice to meet you. Have fun while you are here.”
“Thanks, you too,” Stevie smiled, flirtation dripping from her drawl.
“Nice to meet you too,” Rachel said. She reached to shake his hand. Stevie followed suit.
“Cool.” Thomas took their hands in turn. “Okay, have fun.”
“You too,” I said. He turned and crossed the street. Stevie watched his back.
“What’s up with that?” she said. “I thought for sure we’d get sex off him.”
“I know, what’s up?” Rachel drawled. “He’s just too cute.”
“You want me to set it up?” I teased. I turned toward the corner and raised a finger. “Oh, Thomas . . .”
“Dad!” Rachel punched me. “We are kidding!”
“Oh, whew,” I said. “Good thing you stopped me.”
“Were you really . . . ?” Stevie began.
“Don’t encourage him,” Rachel laughed.
“Come on now, no more cute boys,” I said. “We’re off to Times Square.”
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