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A Form in Wax

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To you your father should be as a god,

One that composed your beauties, yea, and one

To whom you are but as a form in wax,

By him imprinted and within his power

To leave the figure or disfigure it.

 

--Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I Scene I

 

 

[Session 1]

“So here’s the thing,” said Casey.

Abby squinted at him. “You’re Casey McCall.”

“That’s correct.”

“You’re Danny’s partner.”

He nodded, feeling stiff and awkward. “I was, yes.”

Abby rocked back in her chair, contemplating him. “You should probably find a different therapist.”

“I’m not here for therapy.”

“You’re on my schedule.”

“I couldn’t get in touch with you otherwise.”

“You’re still paying.”

“I can live with that.”

“So you’re here for something other than therapy?” She tilted her head to the side; her hair swung nicely. Her crisp white dress shirt set off her black skirt, and he could see why Danny had started talking to her at the bar, a year or an epoch ago.

“That is what I’m trying to say, yes.”

“Is it to ask me out? Because I’d be flattered, but again, I don’t think it would be a good idea.”

“No!”

“Then I’m at a loss as to why you’re here, in my office, in my ten a.m. slot.”

“I need to know why Danny left.”

 Abby’s eyebrows rose higher and higher. They were in imminent danger of disappearing into her bangs—there they went.

“Casey,” she said, in the calm and patient tones of someone talking to a lunatic, “do you understand why I can’t talk to you about my sessions with Danny?”

“I’m his best friend!”

“There’s these things called laws, see—”

“No one has to know—”

“—and also my professional ethics, which do, in fact, matter to me more than a little—”

“—he up and left the show for no apparent reason, I know I said he could do it alone but that was when I thought he might turn down a good offer when the show was imploding. He’s gone and I don’t know why.”

Abby stared at him. She placed her hands flat on her desk, palms down. “I’d like you to consider the possibility that you’re not upset that he left the show.”

“Why? Did he tell you something?”

“I’d like you to consider the possibility that you’re upset he left you.

Casey blinked at her several times, rapidly. “What now?”

“I really think you should find a different therapist.”

“I don’t need therapy.”

“Why do you need to know why Danny left?”

“Because it doesn’t make sense!” Casey smacked his fist into his thigh, which stung a little. “We were—he was happy, we were doing great. Quo Vadimus was going to pump a bunch more money into us. He was going to get a raise, the show was picking up more viewers. And then he left.”

“Why does it need to make sense? People make decisions that seem strange or confusing all the time. Why is this one different?”

Casey threw his hands in the air. “It just is.

“Therapists aren’t big on that, as an answer to life’s little questions.”

“Maybe they should be.” He found himself sitting down as she waved him to the couch.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean? Before he left?”

“No.” She folded her arms. He thought she should probably be more careful with her body language; he was getting the impression she wasn’t entirely happy about his presence. “What happened that drove you to make this appointment?”

 

Casey leaned back in bed. Danny was on at 8pm, PST, which was 11pm, EST, which meant Casey couldn’t watch him when Danny was live. However, Live Sports Zone—an objectively poorly named show by anyone’s standards—ran again at midnight PST, which meant that at 3am, if he couldn’t sleep, Casey could turn on the television and see Danny’s face.

He couldn’t watch LSZ and still get a full night’s sleep before he had to get into the studio at noon. It had to only happen when he couldn’t sleep.

And tonight he couldn’t sleep, so there was Danny, on the screen, smiling. Danny looked good. He looked happy. It didn’t seem like an act.

His cohost was Jonathan Jones, or J.J., in a cruel twist of fate. J.J. was a good contrast to Danny. Where Danny had that puppy-dog charm and had grown his hair a touch longer so he looked like a consumptive poet, J.J. had gelled platinum hair, a square, firm jaw, and cheekbones on which an enterprising fan could split hairs. He’d been a college pitcher and gone pro for all of a year and a half before destroying his shoulder. During his brief stint with the Padres, J.J. had come to network attention for his bright, witty interviews and irrepressible charm. After the rotator cuff injury that left him unable to lift his arm, he’d parlayed that into joining the talking heads of sports, and then he’d come onboard LSZ.

It had been five months since Danny joined him.

On screen, J.J. was teasing Danny about the Broncos versus the Jets. “I don’t want to poke a sore spot! Are you feeling the pain from your New York roots right now?”

“J.J.,” said Danny, with an easy, open grin, “I may have most recently hailed from New York, but let me tell you, tonight I am happy to be all in for L.A.”

“Or at least Oakland, am I right?” They shared a manly chuckle. “But let’s go to Michelle, who can tell us about the Maple Leafs taking on the Bruins and showing those bears the real threat in the woods.”

Casey hit the power button on the remote with vindictive force.

 

“I don’t know,” he said.

Abby raised one eyebrow in perfectly sculpted disbelief and waited.

“There was a thing.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I was watching Danny’s show.” Casey leaned forward, bracing his arms across his knees. The couch was way too soft and fluffy. He kept sinking into it.

“Doesn’t it air at the same time as yours?”

“It does, but it runs again a couple hours later.”

“Like Sports Night.”

“Exactly.”

“Are all television companies this cheap?”

“You have to fill the void with something, and Danny’s got a good show.”

“Really?”

“Of course he does. It’s Danny. You sound disbelieving.”

“I’m not.”

“It sounded a lot like you didn’t believe me about that.”

“I believe that Danny’s got a good show. He’s a professional.”

“Damn right he is.”

“Why were you watching his show?”

Casey looked away from Abby’s too-tolerant eyes. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“Does that happen often?”

“No. Well, not that often. There are times.”

“How often are there these times when you can’t sleep?”

“It’s not that I can’t sleep. I have trouble getting to sleep.”

“Once you get to sleep, do you stay asleep, or do you wake up a couple of hours before the alarm goes off and lie there?”

He drummed his fingers on his knees. “Are you watching me in my bed? Are you possibly some kind of witch?”

“Just a professional with an advanced degree, Casey.”

“He told you about—”

“I am going to be categorically unable to confirm or deny anything he might have said to me, because that’s how confidentiality works.”

“Ugh.”

“So you have trouble falling asleep and then you wake up early and can’t get back to sleep.”

“Yeah.”

“Most nights?”

“Yeah.”

“Tried any medications for that?”

“What? No.”

She made a vague noise. “Interesting. Most New Yorkers who can’t sleep find themselves a doctor and get a prescription, stat.”

“I’m not a New Yorker. I happen to live in New York, but it’s not like I’m from here.”

“So tell me about the thing.”

“What thing?”

“On Danny’s show. That made you want to come here.”

 

It had bugged Casey. It kept bugging Casey. After Danny’s rhapsodies about a New York renaissance, after the midnight Staten Island whatever, the musicals, Danny and Dana’s transparent joy—after all that, Danny was ready to toss aside New York for a punchline about how Denver’s football team beat them.

They talked, sometimes. Mostly after Casey got off the air. Danny would call him and ask how he was doing. Danny never asked how the show went, even though he couldn’t watch Casey live any more than Casey could watch Danny live.

Danny called him a couple of nights later. “Hey,” said Danny, over a tinkling background wave of noise that meant Danny was out somewhere. Probably a bar.

“Hey.”

“How’s it going?”

“Pretty good.”

“How’s Charlie?”

“He’s doing great. He’s got this science project he’s working on, and I have to tell you, it is so much more complicated than anything I was doing at his age—”

It was easy enough to forget when he was talking to Danny about Charlie.

Charlie had stopped asking about Danny. Danny hadn’t been back for a visit since he moved.

After they hung up, though, Danny’s voice going distant as he said, “Yeah, thanks,” and then closer again, “sorry, drinks came, I should get back,” and Casey said sure, good talking to you, and they hung up, after that, the anger came back. A long, slow, molasses-black burn.

 

“Hm,” said Abby.

“Hm? What hm? Is that a good hm or a bad hm?”

“You’ve got to stop assigning value to everything I do, Casey. I’m not judging you constantly. I’m not your father.”

“Hey—whoa—not cool. I never said you were, and why do you have to bring my father into this?”

“Just a guess. Was he a buttoned-up kind of guy?”

Casey snorted in deep, bitter amusement. “Abby, I have to tell you, that may well be the understatement of the century there.”

“Lucky me, winning on the first try,” she said dryly.

“He was an upstanding member of the community.” There was a taste like ashes in his mouth. “Right up until the day he died.”

“When did he pass away?”

“Charlie was—let’s see, Charlie was five, so it would have been 1994.”

“What kind of relationship did you and your father have?”

“Oh, did we have a relationship? I must have blinked and missed it.”

“What kind of relationship do you and Charlie have?”

Casey stopped cold. “What?”

“You and Charlie. How is that different than your relationship with your father?”

“Well, it exists, for one thing. For another thing, I—you know, I didn’t come here to talk about Charlie. Or my father.”

“That’s right. You came here to talk about Danny. What do you want to talk about with respect to Danny?”

“With respect to? Was that level of pretension necessary?”

“Casey, with you, pretension becomes as invisible and yet pervasive and necessary as water in a fish tank. Tell me about Danny.”

 

Casey liked working with Bobbi. Now that Danny was gone—and the weird tension between Bobbi and Danny had faded even before that—there was nothing about her presence to which he might object. She was funny; she was sharp as a tack. She had a good, solid, on-air presence, and she pulled in a whole different demographic than Casey did. Calvin had wanted to take a risk on putting a female co-anchor at the desk, and it was paying off. The burgeoning market of women sports fans loved Bobbi. The men didn’t object too strenuously, for the most part.

Casey had, however, retreated to his own office, previously hidden in the dusty depths. Someone had been storing things in it. After he’d moved the boxes out of the way and discovered his long-ago-issued utterly standard and utterly boring desk, and co-opted Jeremy to help him set up his computer and get that working again, he’d remembered why he’d started hanging out in Danny’s office to begin with. Casey’s office got a lot less light, it was a little smaller, and most importantly, it was boring.

That was the first day after Danny left. Bobbi deserved her own office.

Casey kept finding himself staring out of the window in his office. He had a view of a skyscraper across the way. It was June, and the weather was insanely beautiful; the sky was an electric blue, and he knew if he could get outside and feel the sun on his skin, it would be the kind of crisp, crackling heat that would fry him in no time. He’d need sunblock if he wanted to go outside.

 

“I’ve noticed you’re still not telling me about Danny,” said Abby.

“I’m setting the scene.”

“You’re dancing around the question.”

“I wasn’t aware you’d posed a question.”

“Implicitly, I suppose, but I can make it explicit. How did you feel about Danny leaving?”

Casey stared at her.

 

Danny leaving—

Well, Danny—

It didn’t make any sense. Danny had been so happy, like the rest of them, when Quo Vadimus came through for them. The one long shot, the Hail Mary pass, and they were the luckiest assholes who’d ever been bought, lock, stock, and barrel. There was no reason for Danny to leave now.

Casey hadn’t noticed anything was wrong with Danny after the network sold. They’d all gone out and celebrated like people who’d realized a war was over and they’d survived. Kim had picked up an actual underwear model whom Casey dimly recognized from a Calvin Klein advertisement in Times Square. Danny had a couple of shots of tequila, which was normally a signal that Danny was feeling A-OK, and grinned, and slung an arm loosely around Casey’s neck. “Dude,” said Danny right into his ear, so warm and so close, “the show. The show.”

“It’s going to be all right.” Hours later and Casey still hadn’t come down from the adrenaline high. “We’re going to be the reigning kings of late-night sports for the world to see, for many years to come.”

Danny had grinned, slow and sweet; his face was only a few inches from Casey’s.

“It’s the first night of the rest of our lives,” said Danny. “Buy me another drink.”

The next day, Danny made a cool washcloth out of a spare t-shirt in his desk and laid on the couch for hours, mumbling monosyllabic responses to any questions, while Casey sat at his desk in his sunglasses and palmed Tylenol every four hours with clockwork regularity.

They were doing great. They were on top of the world.

 

“That must have felt good.”

“Of course it felt good. We had—everything was going to be okay. Everyone was going to get to keep their jobs. It’s not just us, you know, it’s everyone on the set.”

“You were worried that losing Dan would mean the show might be canceled, and the staff would suffer.”

“Yes. Well.”

“You really thought the show would be canceled without him?”

“I—no. I didn’t think that was likely.”

“Was the main concern you had for the show really for the staff, then?”

“It…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

“It was for you, right? And it wasn’t about the show.”

“It was about the show.” It had been. At least part of it—a lot of it—look, he couldn’t pretend there wasn’t powerful relief because he was going to get to keep doing the thing he loved with the people with whom he wanted to be doing it.

“What did Charlie think?”

“What?” The sudden, sideways question caught him by surprise. Again.

“About the show being sold. How did he take it?”

“He was worried, sure, but he perked right up when he realized I was going to stay in New York.”

“Did you plan to stay in New York whether or not the show sold?”

“You know I did.”

“We’re going with the idea here that nothing that’s been shared with me in sessions with other clients will be referenced in sessions with you. Get used to it.”

“This isn’t a session.”

“Fine. Did Charlie know you were going to stay in New York no matter what?”

“What?” Even as Casey’s mouth was moving, he started frantically scouring his memories. What had he said—what had he told Charlie—had there been a moment—

Abby raised her eyebrows. “Do you remember what you said to Charlie about whether you would move away?”

“I…” He hadn’t told him. He hadn’t told his own son that he wouldn’t leave, even if the show was sold. “I told Lisa I didn’t think I’d go.”

“How did that go over?”

“Not well.”

He said he didn’t think he’d go, but that meant he still might. And Lisa—what had Lisa said to Charlie? Had Charlie asked? He’d never asked Casey about it, his voice quiet on the phone, his face brave and controlled when Casey picked him up for visits.

“How do you think he felt?”

Casey had to get up. He had to pace the office, even though it was too small for that. He found a path in front of the couch and followed it, back and forth, back and forth.

“Casey,” said Abby, with sympathy in her voice. “How do you think he felt?”

“Like I was going to abandon him!” He hadn’t meant to raise his voice, but there it was. For a split second he could hear endless murmuring echoes of his father shouting, as long as you’re in my house. “I didn’t tell him. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even think of it. Abby—why didn’t I say something?”

“What would you have said?”

And there it was, stark and obvious. “I would have told him I’d never leave him behind.”

“Why do you think you didn’t?”

“Because I—I would have had to say it to his face. I couldn’t have said anything else.”

“And?”

“And I wanted to leave.” Casey impatiently ran a hand over his hair, smoothing it back off his forehead. “I wanted to go to L.A. with Danny and I was pissed that I was going to stay in New York.”

He wasn’t crying. Charles Steven McCall had taught his son better than that. But the way he felt in that moment was like how he remembered feeling before crying, back when he was a kid, when his father would shake his head in stony judgment.

“You were still considering leaving.”

“I hadn’t turned the offer down. I didn’t until…”

“Until after the buy-out?”

“Yeah.”

“So Danny knew you were staying.”

“He did. That last—I told him.”

“Did he know that you wanted to leave?”

“God, no.” Casey surprised himself, choking on a laugh. “What good would that do?”

“To know that you wanted to go with him?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, how did you think it would make him feel?”

“Like if he only tried harder I’d go. Like he should have convinced me, somehow. You know Danny, you know he takes this stuff on, everybody’s problems turn into his—he helped Kim get her stuff back from her ex-boyfriend who wasn’t letting go, you know that? He went over there with her and told the guy a bunch of BS about how he used to play professional hockey until he got kicked out for excessive brutality.”

“Hm.”

“I didn’t—he would have thought it was his fault I wasn’t going.”

“What do you think he felt, not knowing?”

“What do you mean?”

Abby cocked her head to the side and repeated herself. “What do you think he felt? He didn’t know that you wanted to leave. He knew you were staying.”

“He…” Casey floundered. “You keep asking about what I think people felt.”

“It’s for a reason.”

“I don’t see how it could be relevant.”

“Casey, there’s a joke. You know it? It goes like this. A guy takes his car to the auto mechanic and says, man, I can’t get my car to start, nothing I do is working, I’ve tried everything, can you help me? And the mechanic says, I think I can. So he listens to the guy, listens to the car, and then he goes and he takes out a little hammer. He pops the hood and gives one little tap, and presto, the car comes to life. The guy says, that’s amazing! The mechanic says, you owe me a hundred bucks. The guy says, what? A hundred bucks? All you did was tap it with a hammer!”

“Yeah,” said Casey slowly.

“And the mechanic says, it’s five bucks for the tap. It’s ninety-five bucks for knowing where to tap.”

“I think I’ve heard that one.”

“You brought me a car today. You brought me your brain.”

“Wait, I—”

“You said, there’s a problem here somewhere, but I don’t know where. There’s a funny noise. And I’m telling you, I know where to tap. It’s what I spent a lot of time learning to do. If I want to hear how you understand the internal lives of others, I ask you what you think they felt. I’m not relying on you to be right. I’m looking for how you thought about it, and what you tell me versus what you leave out, and whether you seem to understand the impact that your actions have on others.”

“It’s not a session,” Casey protested dully.

“Casey, what time is it?”

He checked his watch. “It’s…” He trailed off.

“You’ve been here for forty-five minutes telling me about how your relationship with your best friend imploded, how you still resent your father, and how you feel you’ve failed your son.”

He cleared his throat and opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

“You’re desperate. This is you looking for help. And I’m telling you, Casey, I’ve got the hammer, but you have to acknowledge what’s going on if you want the tap.”

“You can’t fix me.”

“That’s right. I can’t. That’s not my job. My job is to give you the tools you need to live a healthier life. Is that something you want to do? Because if it is, you should book another appointment, either with me or with somebody else. You won’t need a therapist forever, but I’m thinking you could use one right about now, before you set anything else in your life on fire.”

“Hey!”

“Forty-seven minutes. You have three more. Any closing remarks?” She clasped her hands and leaned forward expectantly.

“You think something’s wrong with me?”

“Do you?” She looked at him, deceptively calm.

He couldn’t answer. The remaining two minutes ticked away.

“It’s up to you, Casey,” she said as he got to his feet. “There’s no law that says people with issues have to get help, at least not until they’re in a much worse position than you are. But if you’d like to do something about the amount of pain you’re living with, give me a call and set up another time.”

He left without saying anything. He didn’t trust himself to say anything.

 

“Bobbi,” said Casey.

“What?” She looked up from her desk. She’d moved things around in Danny’s office after she had inherited it. One desk, in the middle of the room, and the couch off behind it. She was wearing her reading glasses and a pair of acid-wash jeans Casey felt fairly certain could not safely be classified as stylish.

He wandered around her desk to the couch and sat. “I’ve been thinking.”

She spun in her chair to face him. “Oh, don’t do that. You’ll pull something.”

“Very funny.”

“Thanks, that’s what I get paid for.” She gave him a grin—one that didn’t go to her eyes—but he’d gotten used to how she used it, like a fencing foil. Sparring with him.

“What do you think of therapy?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Are you thinking about starting?”

“Maybe.”

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“Do you see a therapist?”

She shrugged one shoulder, toying with a pencil. “Not at the moment, but I did, for a while.”

“Did it help?”

One corner of her mouth twisted up in a half-smile. “I think so. I’d like to think so.”

“Huh.” Casey slouched back deeper into the couch, resting his hands on his thighs.

Bobbi squinted at him dubiously. “Are you thinking about seeing a therapist?”

“A therapist thinks I should see her, and who am I to dispute her professional judgment?”

“She does have extensive experience that you do not.”

“Exactly.”

“How did that come up? Were you talking socially with a therapist and she said, hey, you know what, you could use some work on the ol’ ego?”

“What? No. Mostly not.”

Mostly not?” She laughed out loud. “Casey, you’re going to ruin her life, aren’t you? You’re like a big Gordian knot of issues. Cut one end and I don’t even know what unravels.”

He gestured with his hands, making a little box. “Smaller issues wrapped up in the bigger issues, I imagine.”

Bobbi shook her head, still smiling. “All hail the new millennium, when the macho men of sports admit they have issues.”

“It’s not technically the new—”

“Oh, don’t you even start that with me.”

“Fine.”

“Good.”

He lounged for another minute before saying, “Hey, about that feature we’re doing on the Rangers—"

 

Danny called him the next night while Casey was sitting on the couch; the cordless was sitting on the coffee table, and he grabbed it reflexively. Danny said, “Did you see Minnesota?”

“It wasn’t bad.”

“Could have been better, but you can say that about a lot of games.” Danny sounded relaxed and happy.

“There’s virtually always a team that can say that, as there’s usually a team that loses.”

“You most definitely have a point, my friend.”

“What are you up to on this fine evening?” asked Casey, because Danny sounding relaxed and happy made him feel good. Made it easier to feel good.

“Sitting by a picture window in a very comfortable chair with my feet propped up, a beer in my hand, and a copy of Lance Armstrong’s book.”

“That’s going to be an interesting read.”

“For sure.”

“Can you even see anything from your place at night?”

“Casey. My friend. I have a condo mere inches from the beach, and with a magnificent view.” This part they’d covered before. “At night, however…”

“Slightly less impressive?”

“I still like it, though.” Danny breathed quietly. “There’s lights out on the water from the boats, and you can see the waves moving—light pollution isn’t doing me a lot of favors, but it’s still nice.”

“I’m jealous. It’s been getting cold here. Fall is all about things getting wet and chilly, as far as I can tell, and then winter appears like a stalker around the corner, dumping snow over everything you love.”

“You gotta get up to Connecticut if you want to see some beautiful leaves, but other than that, fall’s kind of a wash.” Danny took a sip; Casey could hear the faint hollow noise of the bottle. “So what are you up to?”

“The usual.”

“Reading anything good?”

Casey looked down at the book resting in his lap, battered and well-worn. “Actually…”

“Oh, man.” Danny laughed. “Are you re-reading Strunk and White again?”

“It’s a classic!”

“You have it memorized!”

“Can’t hurt to brush up on the elements of style. Style doesn’t change.”

“Yours sure doesn’t.” There was a smile in Danny’s voice. “That book is more of a Bible to you than the Bible.”

“Hey, I spent too much of my youth waiting for the pastor to stop talking as it was. I’m not putting the productivity of my thirties into it.”

“No arguments here. Can’t remember the last time I went to Temple.”

“Do you—” Casey hesitated. “Never mind.”

“No, man, what?” Danny shifted, a little burst of static on the line. “What is it?”

“Do you have a therapist in L.A. that you see now?”

Danny was quiet for a minute. “If you’re worrying about me—”

“No. I’m not.”

“You don’t need to.”

“I’m not worried about you,” Casey said, trying to sound firm.

Danny heaved a sigh. “Abby recommended somebody. I go every other week.”

“I…” Casey wanted to say, I talked to Abby. But that felt like it would be too big, somehow, too wrong, give Danny ideas that weren’t true. “I’m glad you have somebody to talk to.”

“Yeah, well.” Danny warmed up a little. “It’s a good thing I’ve got somebody to talk to, because it’s not like I’m talking to you, ever, and certainly not right this instant.”

“We should visit,” said Casey suddenly. He was surprised by the words, but as soon as they were out of his mouth he liked them. “Seriously, it’s been five months, you’ve got to be pretty settled in by now.”

“Uh… you’re talking about coming here?” Danny sounded dubious.

“Or you could come back. Or—” Casey was struck by inspiration. “We could meet in the middle somewhere for an actual vacation. How about Vegas?”

“Las Vegas?” Danny was laughing. “Casey, it’s nothing but crowds and loud drunk people. I always thought you hated Las Vegas.”

“I’ve been there for work, but I’ve never been to see the sights.”

“It’s not even in the middle. I’m, like, an hour away, and you’d have to fly almost as far as for L.A.”

“We’ll get a suite, take in the sights, go to Cirque du Soleil. I’ve only seen them on television. It’s like gymnastics but with no winners and therefore totally inexplicable to me. What do you say?”

Danny, laughing again, said, “You know what, why not. I’ll look at my schedule. Maybe I can take a couple of days off.”

“We can do it as a weekend thing.”

“I’m guessing Lisa wouldn’t be keen on you bringing Charlie?”

The thought hadn’t occurred to him. “She probably wouldn’t be, no.”

“You’ll have to work out getting time with him.”

“Yeah, but come on, man. I need a vacation. New York is cold and it smells bad.”

“Las Vegas will too.”

“I’m not convinced you ever have to leave perfectly climate-controlled interiors in Las Vegas.”

“I guarantee you it will smell worse than you’re envisioning.”

“Can you envision smells? I’m not sure about that. I think the wording there needs an adjustment to reflect appropriate sensory modalities.”

“Casey…”

“Check your calendar.”

“I will, I will.” Danny’s voice still had that warm smile in it. “Case, you’re kind of a nut, you know that?”

“Ah, but what kind of nut? Are we considering me as the common peanut, or as the cashew, the aristocrat of nuts?”

It was worth being deliberately silly to hear Danny laugh again.

 

[Session 2]

When he went back, it was exactly a week from the first visit.

“Casey,” she said, smiling at him as he came in. “I’m glad to see you.”

“I’m sure you are.” He dropped onto the couch with a certain nonchalance.

She raised her eyebrows.

“I mean, I am a paying client now, after all.”

“You paid last time. My biller makes sure of it.”

“Yes, but now I’m a repeat customer.”

“Do you think I’ve somehow plotted to get you to come back?”

“Not intentionally, but I certainly think it’s possible that your profit motives have driven you to overestimate how much help I may or may not need.”

“Oh, boy.” She sighed. “What did you do?”

“What?”

“That you think is going to fix things. What did you do?”

“For your information, I’m going to meet up with Danny in Las Vegas for an actual vacation. A weekend of fun and frolic in one of the most dynamic and interesting cities in the world.”

“You’re going to Las Vegas for a weekend with Danny.”

“That is correct.”

“I’m starting to think I should have been firmer about you finding another therapist.”

“It’s not like you and I are going to be having a long-term relationship or anything. I’m here to iron out a few things and then I’ll be on my merry way.”

“Oh, is that so?” Her lips twitched. “What things do you imagine you’ll be ironing out?”

“Charlie.”

“Your son.”

“He’s—I don’t want to be like my dad was, with him. I tried not to be. I try.”

Abby nodded. “But it’s harder, right? When you see him less often, it’s harder to get back into that mindset and remember what you were trying to do?”

“God knows it was hard enough when I was living at home.”

“What kinds of things did you want to avoid doing with Charlie that your father did with you?”

“No physical discipline.” Casey folded his arms. “My father believed in it. I don’t.”

“Does Lisa?”

“No.”

“It’s helpful when both parents are on the same page.”

“It was. When we were on the same page.”

“What else was your dad like? Tell me about him.”

 

“Casey!”

Casey turned to huddle deeper into the closet. His baseball glove, nestled in the corner, mocked him.

“Casey.” The door to the closet was wrenched open, and there was his dad. About a million feet tall, from that angle, frowning down at him. “Your mother tells me you were throwing a football around the house today.”

“I was.”

“You broke her vase.”

“I d-did.” He tried to hold back the sniffles.

“Is that why you’re hiding in the closet?”

“Yes.”

“Get out of there. Come on, get up.”

Casey started to struggle to his feet; his dad reached down and grabbed him by the back of his collar, hauling him up—the fabric of his shirt pulled up under his armpits. It hurt.

His dad marched him into the living room and sat him on the ottoman that went with the big armchair. “Tell me what you were thinking.”

“I only wanted to play!” Casey protested, hearing the whine in his own voice and wincing.

“Football indoors?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking down at his shoe. It sounded like a bad idea when his dad said it like that.

“You know you’re not supposed to play games like that inside.”

“I know.”

“And you did it anyway.”

“I did.”

“You made your mother have to clean up that whole broken vase. She could have gotten glass in her foot, Casey.”

He felt about an inch tall, and he was feeling worse by the minute. “Y-yes, sir,” he snuffled, and to his horror he felt the tears start to come.

“Oh, not this again,” said his father, full of exasperation. “Come on. Men don’t cry.”

“I kn-know, but I can’t h-help it!” The tears were turning into a flood.

“That’s it. Come here.”

Casey hesitated, but his father made an angry gesture. He stood up and went.

“Over my knee.”

The spanking was swift and hard; probably about ten hits, give or take. Casey was sobbing by the end of it.

“Go to your room,” said his dad. “Don’t bother coming down for dinner. You can have breakfast in the morning.”

Casey escaped, running up the stairs two at a time. He slammed his bedroom door behind him—he’d already gotten the spanking, what could it hurt—and buried his face in his pillow, sobbing.

A few hours later, his mother snuck up to see him. She had a sandwich wrapped in a paper napkin.

“I’m sorry about your dad, honey,” she said, trying to lean in for a kiss. He jerked away from her, glowering.

She looked startled and hurt. After a minute, he relented, and leaned forward so she could press a kiss to his forehead.

“He wants you to learn,” she whispered. He took the sandwich. His stomach was rumbling, but he was still too angry and upset to want to eat.

When she left, five or ten minutes later, he unwrapped the sandwich. It was peanut butter and jelly.

In the morning, his dad had already left for work by the time he went down for breakfast. Like always.

 

“It sounds like he was pretty hard on you,” said Abby.

“You think?” Casey rolled his eyes. “Classic. I don’t even want to wonder what his dad was like.”

“Did he not talk about his father?”

“He didn’t talk about anything. I have no idea what my dad was actually like. All I know is what he thought about my school performance, sports, clothes, and attitude problem. And I’m guessing you can figure out those opinions for yourself.”

“Does Charlie know you better than that?”

“I should hope so.” Casey paused, though.

“What do you talk to him about?”

“We mostly talk sports. And, you know, how his school is going. Stuff like that.”

“What kinds of things do you wish your father had talked with you about?”

Casey folded his hands and then un-folded them. “God, I don’t even know. Anything. I wanted to know something about who he was as a person.”

“Did he have a favorite book?”

 

Casey’s dad was sitting in the armchair after dinner, the book in his hands. Casey was fidgeting, trying to work on his homework but continually distracted—long division took forever and it was hard.

“Dad,” he said, “can you help me with my math?”

“Casey, don’t you pay attention in class? I’m sure the teacher explains it.”

“She does, but it doesn’t always make sense when I’m trying to do it.”

“All right.” His father sighed gustily and set the book aside carefully, kneeling next to Casey on the floor. “Show me the problem.”

The book was one his father read over and over again. As a kid, Casey didn’t pay much attention to it; when he got older, he tried reading it, and was simultaneously fascinated and repelled. So firm, lucid, logical—and so cold.

 

“Probably Atlas Shrugged.

She whistled. “That’s a doozy.”

“I know.”

“Explains a lot, though.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you read it?”

“I tried to. I mean, I did. It was hard, though.”

“What bothered you about it?”

He shrugged with one shoulder. “It was… too close to right. There were parts that made sense and parts that were beautiful. The middle is always evil, you know? The idea that you had to stand up for what you believed in, at all costs. It was a seductive idea for a kid.”

“And now?”

“What do you mean?”

“How do you feel about standing up for what you believe in?”

“I try not to be as—as rigid about it as he was.”

“What else do you know about him?”

“He grew up in the 30s and 40s, so he saw some of the Depression. I think it made him… more of an asshole, in a lot of ways.”

“That makes sense. People had a hard time with the Depression.”

“And I mean, he remembered World War Two—he was too young to serve, obviously, but he’d talk about the rationing and everything. I think he thought I had it easy, by comparison.”

“What did you think about it then?”

“I thought he was insane. Life was plenty hard in the 60s. And my God, Vietnam didn’t end until I was in fifth grade. There were three kids we knew from church who died over there.”

“Was religion important to your family?”

“We had to go every Sunday.”

“That’s a strange combination with Ayn Rand.”

“You’re telling me.” Casey laughed dryly and smoothed a hand over his hair. “I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t. Dad didn’t say grace or anything at meals.”

“So why church?”

“And he read the Bible a lot, too. He was always quoting it at me. I think he liked the idea of a moral system with no wiggle-room and no workarounds.”

“Did you and Lisa raise Charlie with religion?”

“No. We thought about it, but in the end, neither of us were very religious. So we do Christmas and Easter, but that’s about it.”

“What did you and your father do together?”

“Church was the big thing. He was working most of the time, so I wouldn’t see him in the mornings or until he got home. Weekends he’d go out golfing. He tried taking me golfing once when I was seventeen, but neither of us liked it much, so we didn’t do it again.”

“What didn’t you like?”

“Well, I didn’t like listening to his friends—they were all older guys, you know—and they were a bunch of jackasses. And he didn’t like my attitude.”

“What was your attitude?”

“That I didn’t want to be there. He basically dragged me.”

“Were there any activities you did together that you enjoyed?”

Casey stared off into the distance. “I can’t think of—oh, he did take me fishing a couple of times.”

“Was that fun?”

Casey laughed. “Except for when I actually caught a fish. Jesus. He made me gut it and I gagged. He thought I was being a pussy.”

“Did he put it like that?”

“Oh, yeah. Dad never sugar-coated anything as long as we weren’t around women.”

“That’s… interesting.”

“Before I caught a fish, we had a decent time, though. Sitting out on the lake in a boat.”

“Did you talk?”

“Little bit. We’d talk about school. I was getting older by the time he took me out fishing, so we talked about where I was going to go to college, that kind of thing.”

“Did he ever ask you about your girlfriends?”

“I would have had to have girlfriends for that conversation to happen.”

“You didn’t date much.”

“Lisa was… she was my first serious girlfriend. I’d only gone on a couple of dates before her.”

“You got married young.”

“Twenty-three? That’s not so young.”

“It sounds like you were quite a bit younger than your father was when he got married, though.”

“Well, he met my mom when they were in their thirties. She was a couple of years younger than him. I don’t know if either of them thought they’d be able to have a kid.”

“Did you wonder whether you were wanted?”

“No, never. They definitely wanted kids. I think they were disappointed they couldn’t have any more after me.”

“And you had Charlie very quickly.”

“Right away. Lisa and I both wanted to have a child. We knew we wanted Charlie, and he’s—he’s the best thing that came out of that marriage. The best thing I’ve ever done.”

“Tell me about the time you’re able to spend with Charlie since the divorce.”

 

“Dad, it’s okay. We don’t have to go.”

“Charlie, I don’t know what you’re talking about. We have tickets.”

Charlie was clinging to his hand—self-conscious about it, at nine, but staring around them wide-eyed. “There are a lot of people here.”

“People are excited because it’s going to be a good game.”

“I don’t know much about soccer.”

“That’s okay. I’ll explain it to you.”

They made their way through the parking area. Charlie was right; there were a lot of people there, and Casey could see how the noise and confusion would be overwhelming. He didn’t always think of that when he planned things to do with Charlie, but once he’d said it and Lisa started making noises about whether it was a good idea, he felt compelled to stick to his guns.

They got settled in the stands, Charlie slowly letting go of him and looking around with growing curiosity.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun, Charlie,” said Casey. “I promise.”

That was when Danny got there. He was scanning the crowd, searching for their faces; as soon as he saw Casey and Charlie, he lit up, waving frantically. “Hey, look!” said Casey. “It’s Danny!”

“Where?” Charlie leaned over, fear of heights forgotten, and waved back. “Danny! Hi!”

Danny had always had a good way with Charlie. Better than Casey, in some ways. He never ran out of patience. He never talked down to Charlie. He could make Charlie feel like whatever thing Charlie wanted to talk about was the most important subject in the world.

Charlie sat back down. “I didn’t know Danny was coming.”

“He was able to take some time and join us.” Danny would have to run back to the studio afterwards, but he’d flatly refused to miss the chance to see the game with Casey and Charlie.

(“The striker, Casey—”

“I thought you didn’t even like soccer—”

“That’s different! This is Ricardo—”

“Fine, fine, Charlie will be thrilled,” Casey had said, and that had been that. )

Danny made his way up to them and took his seat, dropping down next to Casey. “Heck of a day for traffic!”

“Glad you made it in time.”

“And how are you, Charlie, my young friend?” Danny exchanged a solemn high-five with Charlie.

“Good,” said Charlie. And he did look better. Happier around the edges. Now that he was tucked between two adults he knew, he seemed more at ease.

Casey met Danny’s eyes over Charlie’s head and smiled; Danny grinned back at him. Through the game, Charlie kept tugging on Danny’s sleeve or Casey’s arm and asking questions. He ended up asking Danny more often than Casey, because Danny had a knack for explaining things simply. Casey would get wordy and lose track of what the original question had been.

“I think we’re going to need some snacks.” Danny flagged down a vendor.

After the game, Charlie was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. “Come on, champ,” said Casey to him softly. “Got to get back to the car.”

Danny gathered up Charlie’s stuff—somehow it always ended up spread out around him—and followed them back down the steps, all the way to Casey’s car, so they could rearrange stuff and get Charlie bundled in.

“All right, my man,” said Danny to Charlie very seriously. “It was a good game. I’ll see you soon.”

“Thanks, Danny.” Charlie fist-bumped him and sagged back against the seat, drifting off already.

Danny shut Charlie’s door and turned to Casey. “Good game. Thanks for letting me tag along.”

“Thank you. Seriously.”

“No problem, man. I’d better watch out or he’ll turn out to love soccer.”

They laughed together, and then Casey pulled Danny in for a quick hug. The standard squeeze-back slap-release.

Danny waved at him, wiggling his fingertips, and then strolled away.

 

“I would have two weekends a month, but my schedule doesn’t really allow that—it’s not always two days off in a row—so Lisa’s had to be flexible about letting me have him for a day, or a morning, depending on whether he’s in school or not.”

“And you can’t take him for vacations, I would assume, since you work over his school breaks.”

“I mean, I could, but she’s not working, and she can care for him full-time. It makes sense.”

“But there’s a nanny?”

“There was. He’s getting a bit big for that.”

“If Lisa wasn’t working, what made the expense of a nanny worth it?”

“She volunteers a lot. She’s very involved with Charlie’s school.”

“How do you talk about Lisa in front of Charlie?”

He sighed, rolling his shoulders back. “I’ve… we’ve been working on that.”

“Tell me about that.”

“We were—it wasn’t a good divorce, you know? We have a lot of issues with each other. But our lawyers were both telling us we need to be careful what we say around him, because he—we’re still his parents. Both of us.”

“Sounds like your lawyers had some common sense.”

“They did. They do.”

“How much was Danny hanging out with you and Charlie?”

“Oh, pretty regularly. I think he likes hanging out with Charlie. And Charlie adores Danny.”

“If they were close, Danny moving must have been tough on him.”

“He’s… I don’t know. Charlie asked about him, at first, and I’d say I didn’t know when Danny was coming back to visit. He hasn’t asked in a while. He’s got the new school year, and he likes his classes. He’s doing well. Mostly As, a few Bs.”

“What kinds of things does he do for fun?”

“Video games, you know. I’m not that good at those. He reads—he reads all the time.” Casey smiled. “He’s been talking about maybe trying out for a school play, I guess.”

“So not sports?”

“Not so much. He was on the baseball team, but he didn’t want to play this year.”

“Has that been strange for you? Having a son who’s not as invested in sports as you are?”

Casey frowned. “It’s fine.”

“It sounds like you don’t have a whole lot in common.”

“It’s fine.

“Casey, if you’re going to shut down on a subject, I want you to at least recognize that you’re doing it.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. I don’t need my son to be a carbon copy of me.”

“Was that what your father expected from you?”

“He wanted… I don’t even know what he wanted. It sure as hell wasn’t me, I can tell you that.”

“Oh?”

 

In 1979, Casey was a fourteen-year-old boy, caught between the incipient 80s and the truly spectacular bell-bottoms that Jimmy Danielson down the street wore when he left the house to take his fixed-up motorcycle for a spin. Jimmy was nineteen, with a very self-conscious John Travolta look going on, his dark hair cut short except for a curl dangling over his forehead, like a greaser who’d gotten to the party a quarter of a century late.

Casey’s dad hated Jimmy. He would frown out the window when the motorcycle roared by. “No respect,” he muttered. “And that stupid hair.”

“Charles,” said Casey’s mother.

“Barbara, what does that idiot think he’s doing? Impressing the girls?” His dad snorted. “Or maybe it’s not the girls he’s out to impress.”

Charles,” said his mom more sharply, glancing meaningfully over at Casey, where he was sitting at the kitchen table, plodding methodically through his History homework. He always blew through his English homework like it was nothing, but History bogged him down unless he could figure out a way to think of it like a game. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and right now the Continental Congress wasn’t exactly holding his rapt attention.

“What, he’s not supposed to know about fairies?”

“There’s no need to talk like that in my kitchen.”

“Fine, I’ll go sit in the yard and talk however I please.” His dad got up and grabbed a beer, and paused to kiss his mom before heading out back to the hammock he had strung between a couple of posts under the deck.

Casey kept his head down and wrote a nonsense line about Vermont.

After all his homework was done, he went out to the front lawn with a book. “I’m going to read, Mom,” he said, and she waved him off with a smile.

So he was in prime position, away from his father’s watchful eyes, when Jimmy came back down the block later. Casey couldn’t have said what part was exciting—whether it was the roar of the motorcycle, belching clouds of fumes; the way Jimmy dressed, all the masculinity Casey yearned to grow into but couldn’t quite reach; or Jimmy’s handsome face, like a sculpture in a gallery, like a movie star right there on his block.

Jimmy waved at Casey as he went by. Casey waved back.

He watched as Jimmy got to his driveway. Jimmy unbuckled his helmet, leaving it hanging over the handlebars, and strutted into the street with a serenity Casey knew immediately he’d never be able to imitate.

Casey, at fourteen, was a slight gymnast, on a collision course with a growth spurt—but he didn’t know that yet. All he knew was that he was no good with girls (but none of the other boys he knew were, either), he was okay at gymnastics, and he wanted a motorcycle like he wanted to breathe.

 

“So your dad had expectations about what it meant to be a man that you felt you were unable to meet?”

“Yeah.”

“This is good stuff to talk about, particularly since you want to give Charlie more support than your dad gave you, but we’re out of time today.”

“Wow,” he said, blinking. “That went fast.”

“It tends to.”

“Okay. I don’t know that I feel therapied.”

“That’s not really how it works.”

“How does it work?”

“First, I get to know you, and we talk about what you want to work on.”

“We’re doing that, right?”

“We are indeed. And then we start the actual work. This is the easy part.”

“What’s the hard part?”

She smiled at him lopsidedly. “Everybody has different ways of responding to the things that are happening in their lives. Some of the ways you can respond are healthier than others. The goal of therapy is to untangle the things you’re doing that hurt you, and how to move you from those reactions to ones that are better for you and the people around you.”

“I see.”

“Relearning how to do things you’ve been doing automatically, without thinking, your entire life… That’s work. And if you’re not ready to do it, I can’t make you. You have to sign on.”

“How hard can it be? I’ll see you next week.”

She gave him a crooked, sardonic smile. “How hard. Sure. Well, we’ll see how next week goes.”

 

“I’m just saying,” said Casey, spinning his pencil in his hand, “I’m not un-cool.”

“I lost all interest in this conversation before it ever began,” said Bobbi.

She’d come by his office to talk about a piece on the Flames, and now she was sitting in his second chair (scavenged from a storeroom up on West Coast Update’s floor), leaning back, with her ankles crossed and stocking feet resting on his desk while she tapped away at her laptop. Sometimes when Casey caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye for a fraction of a second he’d think it was Danny.

“It’s not that I haven’t heard any bands since the musical superstars of the 1970s. It’s simply that I’m not convinced that there have been any bands that surpass them.”

“You’re a million years old and everyone but you has come to peace with that.” She tugged on her ponytail, adjusting it. She got gussied up every night and transformed into Bobbi the Babe (their viewers’ nickname, not his, as he valued remaining alive and unmaimed), but the day belonged to her best attempt at a Dana Scully casual look.  

“Are you doubting the high quality of the music produced during the era of my youth?”

“I’m saying you are frozen in time like a mosquito in amber, clinging to the things that are familiar and bring you comfort in a changing world.”

He glowered at her fiercely and went back to the script.

“Seriously,” she said a few minutes later, “why does anybody think Ingraham’s worth what he’s getting paid?”

“Because performance in sports can be difficult to quantify?”

“He’s a jackass.”

“Not, sadly, factored in to many if not most salary discussions.”

She pursed her lips. “It should be.”

“I’m not arguing. In fact, if you’ll notice, I’m very carefully not arguing.”

“Is it because you don’t actually care?”

“Yes.”

She blew a raspberry at him.

“What makes you say he’s a jackass, anyway?” he asked. He had a nasty transition to patch in between two mediocre pieces and he needed either a distraction or for his computer to explode in a fiery ball and take all his work with it.

Bobbi sighed. “I met him once.”

“That memorable?”

“He left me dirty messages for like a month. To be clear, I had not slept with him, nor had I indicated in any way that I wished to do so.”

Casey paused. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s… unfortunate.”

Bobbi scoffed loudly. “Unfortunate? That makes it sound like an accident. Like a freak natural phenomenon, instead of a grown man deciding to sexually harass a professional reporter hired to cover his sport.”

“Uh,” said Casey.

“You know what, forget I said anything.” She smirked bitterly at him. “I’ll save the complaints for Girl’s Night. Tell the war stories over fruity pink cocktails in between talking about stylists and mascara.”

“I’m… sorry?” Casey bit the inside of his cheek. “I mean, I’m sorry. That sounds… bad.”

“It was obnoxious. Seriously, never mind. Don’t think about it.”

It was with an unquiet mind that he took her at her word.

 

Later, after some quality time spent bugging Jeremy about highlights, he swung by Isaac’s office.

“Oh, no,” said Isaac as soon as Casey walked in. “You want something. I can tell.”

“I don’t know what I have ever done to you to deserve this level of distrust. It’s frankly hurtful.”

“What is it that you want?”

“Some advice.”

“No, no, no.”

Casey pulled up a chair and sat across from Isaac, leaning his forearms on his knees. “I’ve been feeling out of sorts recently.”

“If you so much as say Dana’s name—”

“No, we’re fine.”

“Good,” said Isaac with a sigh of relief. “Now get me my Chivas and we’ll talk.”

“That’s a good one. It’s not even four.”

“I don’t care. If I’m going to have to listen to your inane drama, I want liquor.”

“Too bad. See, I was aware that something wasn’t right, but I was having a hard time pinning it down.”

Isaac drummed his fingers on the edge of his desk—first his good hand, and then, remembering himself, both; always an opportunity for a minute of rehab. “How long did it take you to figure out that it was Danny?”

Casey frowned, looking over toward the window. “Low blow, Isaac.”

“I know.”

“But you’re right. It was—something Danny said on a show was bugging me.”

“You watch that show?”

“When I can’t sleep. Sometimes.”

“Good Lord. It’s on so late I think I’ve seen it twice, and those were both taped.”

“Well, anyway, he said something on the show that was kind of a dig at New York, and it got me thinking about why he left. I still don’t—” He couldn’t make himself say understand. “Anyway, I went to see Abby.”

Isaac stared at him. “His therapist?

“Yeah.”

“That was stupid.”

“I know that now.”

“She tell you to go to hell?”

“Not in so many words.”

“What did she say?”

“She suggested I get therapy.”

“For once, a good idea darkens my door. Please tell me you got a therapist.”

“I did, actually. I’ve seen her twice now.”

Isaac squinted across the desk. “Her? Are you seeing Abby?

“She said it probably wasn’t the best idea, but she hasn’t kicked me out. It’s not like Danny’s her client anymore anyway.”

“Well, it’s her butt on the line. I guess she can decide to take on the second Wonder Twin.”

“Isaac, you say these things to me, but you and I both know that you consider me something of a protégé.”

“I consider you an extremely verbose pain in my ass.”

“That’s not entirely inaccurate.”

“Casey.”

“Isaac…” Casey sighed. “It’s a good thing, right?”

“What, therapy?”

“Yeah.”

“For you? Yes. After Danny left you acted like a bully took your lunch money for months. I think I liked you better after your divorce.”

Ouch.”

“You asked!”

“I’m beginning to regret that. Actually, I’m well into regretting that.”

“Casey, if you want to try therapy, I think that’s an excellent idea. You have a lot to deal with right now and you could use some support.”

“Thanks, Isaac.”

“Now either get me my Chivas or get out of my office. I have a meeting in ten minutes.”

“But if I bring you a drink, you’ll skip the meeting and talk to me?”

“No, but I’ll wait until after you bring me a drink to kick you out.”

 

To: mccall_c@qvn.com

From: thedanwithaplan@hotmail.com

Subject: Vegas

Hey Casey, my good man, I know you’re excited re Las Vegas but I hate to tell you that I can’t make it until at least after Thanksgiving. The bosses are on my ass about not taking time off until I’ve been here six months. That said, I think I could do two days, maybe December 1 & 2? Let me know.

 

To: thedanwithaplan@hotmail.com

From: mccall_c@qvn.com

Subject: Re: Vegas

Dear Danny,

That sounds good, although the way that you’ve phrased that makes it look a lot like you’re suggesting we go during the first and second December, as if there were multiple months in a row named December. Even if that were the case, I think that might be a bit long to spend in Las Vegas, no matter how good the company.

I talked to Dana and I can have the time off. (Don’t even start. She was your boss, too.) Let me know when you’re ready to pull the trigger and I’ll book rooms.

Sincerely,

Casey

 

To: mccall_c@qvn.com

From: thedanwithaplan@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: Re: Vegas

You still sound EXACTLY like a high school English teacher.

I got the forms approved, so you can book the rooms. My list of demands includes a suite at a five-star hotel appropriate for bringing anywhere from two to six scantily clad Scandinavian bikini models back for a Jacuzzi party. If the minibar has Cristal, that’s even better.

 

To: thedanwithaplan@hotmail.com

From: mccall_c@qvn.com

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Vegas

Dear Danny,

I sincerely doubt the presence or absence of a Jacuzzi is what’s going to make the difference in you scoring with Scandinavian bikini models, but I’ll take your minibar request under advisement. Alternately, I may book a suite at a casino shaped like a clown’s head, because I can.

Sincerely,

Casey

 

[Session 3]

Abby waved Casey to the couch. “Good to see you again, Casey.”

“Were you afraid I wasn’t going to show?”

“I take it one week at a time with patients.”

“That’s fine. I take it one week at a time with mental health professionals.”

She cocked her head, assessing him. “You seem chipper.”

“I am. Got the tickets and the hotel booked for Las Vegas.”

“A getaway for the boys.”

“Exactly! An actual vacation, for the first time in much too long.”

She smirked at him. “Two guys hanging out.”

“That is the gist of what I said.”

“Reconnecting emotionally with your best friend who left for the other coast without an explanation you could understand or accept.”

“Whoa!” He flung his hands up in front of himself. “That’s a flag on the field. Why are you going there?”

“Because that’s where you went, Casey. The very first thing you wanted to talk about was why Danny left. You’re feeling the void in your life and you’re hoping this trip is going to fill that. What I wonder is what happens when you realize two days of eating and drinking and going to shows doesn’t make up for six months of feeling abandoned.”

“You’re a crazy lady.”

“You can throw that word around all you want, but you can’t make the reality of your situation go away.”

“So you think Las Vegas is a bad idea?”

“I think trying to deal with your relationship with Danny without talking to him about it is a bad idea.”

Casey digested that. “There’s nothing stopping us from talking in Las Vegas.”

“But it’s a hell of a lot easier to avoid talking on neutral ground than it would be if one of you had visited the other, am I right?”

Las Vegas? Danny had asked, and he’d been right to. In Casey’s head Las Vegas was always a whirl of colored lights, loud sounds, crowds of people—and Danny didn’t love crowds, did he? Had Danny agreed to the trip to make Casey happy? Was Danny looking forward to it at all?

“Huh,” he said.

“What would you ask Danny, if you were in a consequence-free zone where you could ask him anything and he’d get amnesia an hour later?”

“Why he left,” said Casey immediately.

“Anything else? You’ve got an hour window. Surely you’ve got other questions.”

“Nothing springs to mind.”

“Wow, that’s easy, then. All you have to do is ask him that question, get it out of the way, and boom, you can enjoy your vacation with the air cleared.”

“You sound skeptical.”

“I am.”

“Why is that?”

“How long has it been since Danny left?”

“Six months.”

“And you haven’t asked him why yet, have you?”

“…No.”

“Why not?”

“I haven’t… felt the need.”

“And yet you felt the need to come to his former therapist to ask.”

“That is true.”

“Casey.”

“It’s been…” Tense was nowhere near enough of a word. “Hard. Even getting back to where we can have a real conversation on the telephone. I didn’t want to fuck it up.”

“What kinds of things have been tense?”

 

“Casey,” said Dan, carefully, “did you send me something?”

“I did indeed.” Casey switched his cell phone to his other ear, cradling it as he fished in his pocket for his keys. “An autographed Preacher Roe ball. From one historic lefty to another.”

“Ah.” Danny still sounded bemused.

“For your hundredth show with Live Sports Zone.”

“Oh. I see.”

“No need to sound so excited.”

“No, it’s great, I—thanks, Casey, I mean it.” Danny took a deep breath. “I just—I have to ask, the Brooklyn Dodgers?”

“Is there something wrong with the Brooklyn Dodgers?”

“I wondered—is this…” Danny trailed off. “Never mind, it sounds insane.”

“I’m proud of you.” Casey winced at his own voice, brightly laced with a transparent malice. “I’m glad your new show is doing well.”

“Is it because the Brooklyn Dodgers went to L.A.?” asked Danny in a rush.

“I thought it was thematically appropriate.”

“Are you—” Danny hesitated. Stops and starts, that’s all they’d had. “Mad at me, still?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Casey knew he was doing his best impression of his mother. He couldn’t seem to stop.

He’d spent way too long picking out the gift. Obsessing over it. He could have had a bottle of champagne delivered and called it good.

But it was October and he was tired of doing a show without Danny, tired in a way that he felt in his bones. All the effort that went into the banter with Bobbi on-air could have been avoided.

Danny sighed. “Casey…”

“It’s a little piece of baseball history, Danny, that’s all. I wanted you to have it.”

There was a long silence.

“Okay.”

“I have to get on the road,” said Casey. He’d been sitting in his car, staring out the windshield at the too-bright sky. “Talk to you later.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

 

“So you deliberately chose a gift to celebrate his hundredth show without you that you knew would have uncomfortable historical echoes for him.”

“He made too much out of it.”

“Did he?”

Casey didn’t answer, focusing instead on a hangnail that had been driving him crazy, worrying at it with the edge of his thumbnail. 

“Or do you have a habit of telling people that a cigar’s just a cigar, when it’s clearly not?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“How often have you tried to avoid conflict by downplaying the meaning of your actions?”

“I don’t do that.”

“Casey, humor me for a minute here.”

“I thought that was the vast majority of what I’ve been doing.”

“What went wrong with Lisa?”

“That has nothing to do with this.”

“I’m not convinced.”

“Lisa and I didn’t work out.”

“Since you’re divorced, I had figured that much out all on my own. What went wrong?”

He bit the hangnail—Jesus, he’d broken that habit over a decade ago. “She was crazy.”

“That’s not specific enough. What kinds of disagreements did you have?”

“You mean what did we fight about? We—she was always on my case about how much time I spent at work. She didn’t like it when we moved for work. She hated it when I spent too much time at work and she thought I was trying to sleep with Dana.”

“Were you?”

“What?”

“Trying to sleep with Dana. Were you?”

“No!”

“Why did she think you were? And please don’t insult my intelligence by saying she was crazy.”

Casey took a deep breath. “I—you know Dana’s a special person. She’s—she’s intelligent and driven, she works hard, she loves her job, she loves sports.”

“So she reminds you of you, with respect to all of the things that you consider valuable and noteworthy about yourself.”

“What? That’s not—it’s not about that. She’s also very attractive.”

“And yet you weren’t trying to sleep with her.”

“I was married. I took that seriously.”

“Why didn’t Lisa think you took it seriously enough?”

“Because…”

“Casey.” Abby half-smiled at him. “If you’re going to admit to uncomfortable things, this is the place. I’m not here to make moral judgments. That’s not my job. If you wanted a priest, you’d find a priest. I’m a therapist. I am, even when it may not feel like it, on your side—on the side of helping you live a more fulfilling life. So tell me why Lisa worried about you and Dana.”

“Because I’d flirt with Dana.” He blew out, letting the air puff up his cheeks. “I did it—maybe half on purpose. Dana was so different from Lisa.”

“How?”

“Lisa always had everything together. Too together. She made me feel like I was fumbling along behind her. Dana… She’s always been strong at work and then in her personal life she has no idea what she’s doing.”

“You found her vulnerability appealing.”

“That makes me sound like an asshole.”

“You’re going to have to learn to separate doing shitty things from being a shitty person, Casey. Everyone does shitty things sometimes. Most of us are doing our best in a world that’s difficult to navigate. If you attach too much weight to always doing exactly the right thing, it’s going to be impossible to do anything, because you’ll fear failure and you’ll fear that failure makes you a bad person.”

“Okay, wow. For one thing, I’d like to point to my professional career, where I have taken significant risks and reaped the rewards—”

“And you silo your professional versus your personal skills.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“I mean you have managed to treat reaching out for personal connection as an expendable luxury when it’s actually a critical part of being human. So what haven’t you done because you’ve been afraid? Don’t answer me right away. Think about it over the week and tell me when you come back.”

“Our session’s not over yet.”

“True, but you need some homework.”

“I don’t agree.”

“Good luck with not thinking about it now that I’ve brought it up. So you found Dana’s vulnerability attractive and flirted with her even though you knew it made Lisa angry. How did you feel about Lisa’s anger?”

“What?”

“How did it make you feel to know that Lisa was angry because of your flirting?”

“Bad?”

“Oh, Casey, you are going to have to do better than that. You’re a writer. I know you own a thesaurus. At least one thesaurus. More than one?”

“…Three.”

“So give me some meatier words. And don’t hold back. Tell me exactly how you felt, whether you’re proud of those feelings or not.”

“I was… pissed off that she didn’t trust me.”

“That’s a good start.”

“I liked knowing I could make her jealous.”

“Even better.”

“I wanted her to admit that she needed me.”

“Did she?”

“Need me?”

“Admit it.”

“No.”

“So you were trying to get her to tell you she needed you, that she wasn’t somehow better than you, without actually asking her for reassurance or affection.”

“Maybe.”

“And that didn’t work out all that well.”

“No, it did not.”

“Not unlike telling Danny he was overreacting to the signed ball, you tried to gloss over conflict with Lisa about Dana by telling her that there was nothing to your actions when, in reality, there was something.

“Maybe.”

 

“You’re being such a jackass!” Lisa whispered. Charlie, down for the night, had been waking up crying in the middle of the night for a while even though they thought he’d outgrown that, and they both dreaded disturbing him.

“I’m a jackass? I’m just doing my job.”

“Oh, sure, your job is why you’re coming home late and drunk.”

“I have to socialize. I’m building industry contacts.”

“If you put the same kind of effort into actually working—”

“Lisa, don’t pretend you understand what I do.”

They’d both been getting steadily louder, and there was a choking cry from Charlie’s bedroom. Lisa glared and him and gestured furiously. “I hope you’re happy!”

“I’d be a lot happier if you would get off my back!”

“Oh, the big man on campus wants his little wife to calm down, is that right?” She put out a hand to silence him. “I have to go deal with Charlie.”

“Sure,” he muttered resentfully at her back as she walked away. “Sure you do.”

“Don’t bother coming to bed.”

He slept on the couch that night. It stuck in his mind because it was the first time—before that, they’d joked about it once in a while, but she’d never actually made him sleep on the couch. He settled in resentfully, still half-drunk, with a blanket that was too thin and scratchy. They were living in L.A. then. Ever since they’d moved away from Michigan, things had started to go downhill.

There were still good times after that. Lots of them, days where he and Lisa would laugh themselves sick over the kind of jokes they both liked. The first time he took her for a real date night after Charlie turned four, when he got reservations at a swanky restaurant she’d been dying to try and had an actual, honest-to-God Italian violinist come over to serenade her; some women would have hated that—Dana would have murdered him, no question—but Lisa listened to the whole song with a straight face, insisted Casey tip him (again!), and then after he left put her forehead down onto the tablecloth and laughed so hard she cried. She smeared her mascara and she didn’t give a damn, because she’d had such a good time.

“You beautiful nutjob,” she told Casey, “I love you so much.”

He liked that he could still surprise her; she liked that he tried. He still knew what she was thinking, then, at least sometimes.

But over the years she got more opaque to him until finally he looked at her across the table during a furious argument about bills while Charlie was out with Casey’s mother, and he realized he had been living with a stranger for longer than he’d known.

 

“Your mother helped out with Charlie?”

“Whenever she was visiting.”

“Was that often?”

“Once or twice a year. And we split Charlie’s Christmases between Lisa’s family and mine.”

“Is your mother still alive?”

“You don’t know?”

“You’ve only talked about her in the past tense.”

“She’s alive. She’s in an apartment building where they have staff on hand in case she needs anything.”

“Assisted living?”

“Yes.”

“Is she in New York or back in Michigan?”

“She’s in Michigan. I visit her on holidays now.” Since the divorce, he didn’t say. He’d been getting pretty bad about visiting her before that.

“How did Lisa feel about your mother?”

“They got along.”

“How’s your relationship with your mother?”

Casey tapped a senseless rhythm on the arm of the chair. “It’s not fantastic.”

“Tell me about that.”

“She was always… passive. In the background. She handled the house and the kitchen, Dad did the bread-winning and the discipline.”

“Does your mother have dementia?”

“God, no. She’s still sharp. Well. Fairly sharp. She’s starting to get fuzzy with some details, but it’s not like she forgets the oven’s on or anything. She needs help with chores and things like that. She’s not as strong as she used to be and she was never exactly varsity.”

“How did you feel about her, growing up?”

“I don’t know. It was complicated.”

“How was it complicated?”

“She was… she loved me, I knew that, but she was always…” He had a hard time saying it. “Weak. Weak-willed. She’d give in to Dad on everything. Like it was going to make him happy. He respected her less every time she gave in.”

“What did he do if she didn’t give in?”

Casey stared fixedly at the wall above Abby’s head. “He got upset.”

“What did that look like?”

“I don’t know. He’d send me out of the room. But it sounded… He’d start yelling.”

“Did your father ever hit your mother?”

“No. Never. He didn’t lay a hand on her.”

“What kinds of things did he yell?”

 

“You lazy cow. You stupid fat useless—”

Casey, hiding under his blankets, covered his ears, breathing as loudly as he could, trying to drown out the sound.

He couldn’t remember later what set his dad off that time. Something misplaced, maybe, an heirloom lost. A dinner burned. Bad directions when she was the one holding the map. Whatever it was, his father had gone berserk over it.

They lived in the fragile lacunae between outbursts, always feeling the tension build, always hoping against hope that this time would be different; this time, the eruption wouldn’t come. But it did, every time. Every single time.

 

“So you learned early on that in order to get what he wanted, your father could use his anger.”

“I guess.”

“What else would you call it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he show other emotions? Tenderness, love, fear?”

“God, no.”

“Would you say you’ve repeated any parts of his pattern with Lisa and Charlie?”

“What—no. Lisa always had a mind of her own.”

“You’ve expressed frustration that she didn’t show you more affection and compliance.”

“You’re reading into—”

“Casey.” Her lips quirked in a not-smile. “We learn as children what to expect from family. What to associate with love. Your father may have been a very difficult man to live with, but you still needed that relationship, and in order to make it work, you internalized some of those values. It’s inevitable. The hard part is figuring out where you’re replicating those dynamics with the people you love, and the even harder part is figuring out how to renegotiate those relationships. If you even can.”

He stared at her.

“Why can’t you ask Danny why he left?”

“I told you.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I told you. Things have not been good. I didn’t want to…”

“Upset the status quo?”

“Maybe.”

“Who does that remind you of?”

He waved his hands, wordlessly frustrated.  

“Casey.” She leaned back in her chair. “Who did you know who was afraid to rock the boat? Afraid to push emotional issues for fear of repercussions?”

“I’m not like my mother.”

“You learn who to be, and how to be that person, as a child, at home.”

“I don’t agree.”

“You never answered a question I asked at our previous session. How did you feel when Danny left?”

“I don’t…” He couldn’t find words; where there were words, he couldn’t make them bubble to the surface, through the choking miasmic fog of his frustration and misery. Abby watched him, letting the time stretch into and past discomfort, but in the end he shook his head.

She took pity on him. “You need to be able to talk about it. If you can’t identify your own feelings, there is no chance you’re going to be able to deal with them in a healthy way.”

“I can—”

“I want you to think about what you haven’t done in your personal life because you’re afraid of the repercussions. I want you to come back next week and tell me.”

“What?”

“Time’s up, Casey.” She nodded at the clock. “You can’t tell me yet why it matters so much to you why Danny left, but you need to be able to at least tell yourself by the time you come back.”

 

“Do you think I have daddy issues?” Casey asked Dana, over sandwiches he’d brought to her office. They were sitting on either side of her desk. He’d managed to keep the conversation on a normal track—her fears for Thanksgiving (her mother was still, as it turned out, not quite over the attempted turkey of Thespis fame), how things were going with her new boyfriend (a Quo Vadimus executive named Jack, with a solid jawline and a starry look in his eyes when he watched Dana), how they were going to do the show on Sunday night—but Abby kept popping up in his head like a cheerleader, pompoms in hand, chanting two, four, six, eight, what fears do we regurgitate?

Dana, caught by surprise, laughed, putting a hand to her mouth to keep the lettuce from spraying out. Once she’d managed to swallow, she said, “Jesus Christ, Casey, is water wet? Does the Pope shit in the woods?”

“Wh—”

“You have daddy issues the same way I have mommy issues. Did you somehow not notice that before now?”

“Hey!” he protested weakly. “I know I have some, uh, some baggage around my dad.”

“It’s more than baggage. It’s a twelve-piece luxury travel set that can be yours for the low, low price of lifelong repression and a stick up your ass!”

He burst into laughter. He couldn’t stop—Dana’s answering laughter keeping him going—until he started to feel light-headed, almost hysterical. He took deep breaths, eyes watering.

“You’re a tough interviewer, lady.” He wagged a finger at her. “Remind me not to ask for opinions unless I’ve girded my loins.”

“The state of your loins is none of my concern, buster.”

“Thanks for the reminder.”

“You’ve been way too calm about Jack. I’m waiting for you to realize the terrible mistake you made in letting me go.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Are you really?”

She stole one of his chips off his wax paper. “No, but it sounds terribly romantic that way, doesn’t it?”

“Does it? I feel like all in all, our story does not make for a profoundly romantic one.”

“More farce than tragedy?”

“Definitely more farce.”

“I’m not going to argue that point. Seriously, Casey, what’s got you thinking about your father? It’s been years.”

He sighed, staring at a corner of his sandwich. “I’m… can you do me a favor and not tell Natalie this?”

“Probably not, but let’s pretend.”

“Fine. I’m seeing a therapist.”

That surprised her, too. She pushed back from the desk and folded her arms over her chest, staring at him.

“Casey McCall. In all the time I’ve known you, you have never once expressed the view that you could use a therapist.”

“I know,” he mumbled around a bite.

“I think it’s a good idea. Scratch that. I think it’s a great idea. I’m—wow, okay, these words are coming out of my mouth—I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks.”

“And they have you talking about your dad?”

He nodded, both pleased and somehow wretched.

Dana blew out a breath, making her bangs bounce. “That can’t be pleasant.”

“Not particularly, no.”

“It’s probably a good thing.”

“I’m told that I may not feel better immediately.”

“No one has ever described therapy to me as a speedy process.”

“I may be preoccupied for a while.”

“Like that’s new. Come on, you’ve been moping about Danny for months, and before that it was me, and before that it was Lisa. I’m not sure you know how to do anything other than mope, at this point.”

“Is this you being supportive? I don’t believe it’s having the intended effect.”

She leaned across and lightly punched his arm. “I support you. Go dump your issues on a stranger and we’ll deal with the fallout.”

“Thanks.”

 

He spent Thanksgiving day with his mother, at her apartment. There was a group dinner down in the main social area. It was a nice place to live. She had friends. She liked it. She was happy there.

“Mom,” he said, when they were watching some reruns of the Andy Griffith show up in her apartment, “are you happy?”

“Why, of course I am, dear!” His mother blinked at him in owl-eyed astonishment. “Why wouldn’t I be? I have my quilting circle, and there’s something to do every day. I’ve been reading.”

“That’s good.”

“Casey.” His mother looked more closely at him. She had blue eyes—he’d taken after his father, except that he’d gotten her hair, before it had gone snowy white—and he forgot, somehow, in between visits home, that she could still look right through him. For all the things his father had said to her over the years, Barbara McCall had a profound, quiet intelligence. “Are you happy?”

He opened his mouth to tell her he was, but he couldn’t make himself say it. “It’s been a rough year,” he found himself saying instead.

“Oh, dear.” His mother clumsily patted his hair. She hadn’t done that since his wedding. “I knew when you and Lisa parted ways that it would be hard for you. I suppose I’d hoped the worst was over.”

“Do you think Dad was proud of me?” He hated himself for asking.

She took his face in her hands and stared at him intently. “I know he was, dear.”

“He said it.” It wasn’t like Danny’s father, alive but farther away than Casey’s dad had ever been. “I know I should believe it. But…” He trailed off.

“You weren’t sure if he meant it?”

“I never was.”

“He did. He meant it.”

He blinked, hard, and turned back to the television. “Thanks, Mom.”

 

He found himself calling Danny that night.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Danny.”

“Aw, hey, man. What’s up?”

“Not much.”

“You do Thanksgiving at your mom’s?”

“They have this communal dinner.”

“Cool.”

“Did you go home?”

“Nah, some people from work were getting together and I didn’t feel like dealing with my family.”

“That’s fair.”

“Plus I already have a vacation scheduled.” There was a smile in Danny’s voice. “I’m still holding out hope for a hot tub.”

“I don’t think you should. There might be one downstairs.”

“Fine, fine. I’m looking forward to it, though.”

“Me, too.” Casey paused to cough. “Danny, there’s—I have to tell you something.”

“Yeah?” There it was, that instant tension, that turn-on-a-dime distance. Like Danny was trying to head off impending doom.

“I’m… I started seeing a therapist.”

There was a long silence. Casey nervously shifted his grip on the phone, conscious of his palms getting sweaty.

“Huh.” Danny sounded surprised, but not angry, the way Casey had obscurely feared.

“It seemed like a good time.”

“Well, good for you. I mean it. It’s not easy.”

Casey laughed, more sharply than he intended. “You’re not kidding.”

“There should be a song for it.”

“For what?”

“The therapy blues.”

“Oh. God, yeah.”

“I’m surprised,” Danny admitted. “You’ve always been—you’re kind of a rock.”

“Did you miss my entire divorce? I imploded.”

“Yeah, I guess. You seem like somebody who knows what’s up.”

“I hit… Some kind of wall. I couldn’t keep… Something wasn’t working.”

Danny sighed quietly into the phone. The whistling noise of it was somehow comforting. “I’m—if you want to talk about it, I’m here. You know that.”

“I do know that.” Casey took a deep breath. “I appreciate it.”

“Casey…” Danny sounded hesitant. “Are you okay?”

“You’re worried about me?” Casey laughed involuntarily. “You know what, that’s fair. Yeah. I’m okay.”

It would have been a good time—as good as any time, better than any time in recent memory—to ask.

He didn’t ask.

They talked about Jack (Danny, blessedly, accepted that Casey had moved on, even if Natalie wouldn’t) and about Danny’s co-anchor J.J. (whose young wife was expecting a baby) and it was a normal conversation. A nice, normal conversation.

When he hung up, Casey felt light-headed and oddly free.

 

[Session 4]

“So,” said Abby, “what don’t you do because you’re afraid?”

“I would have appreciated a friendly greeting first. Some kind of salutation.” Casey sat down on the couch slowly.

“Hello, Casey, it’s a nice day for November, isn’t it? What do you avoid doing out of fear?”

“I don’t know.”

“How did you feel when Danny left?”

Casey scooted closed to the edge of the couch. “I don’t know if I can talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“It’s hard.”

“You do lots of hard things. You get up in front of television cameras every night. Why is this different?”

“You know why.”

“I do, but I want you to tell me.”

Casey shook his head tightly in denial.

“Casey.” Abby’s voice was gentle. She was looking at him with something painfully close to pity in her eyes. “Would it help if I tell you what I saw?”

He shrugged.

“You stormed into my office. You were afraid, and you were covering that fear with anger. That sound about right?”

“Sure,” he said shortly.

“So tell me what you were afraid of when Danny left.”

“I’m—he’s—look, it’s not easy to make friends. Not at my age, not in my industry. There are plenty of people out there who are interesting, but not that many people who are funny, and you can’t find someone else like Danny.”

“You were afraid of losing your best friend?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“God, Abby.”

“I know. But say it anyway.”

“No! You know I didn’t. My dad—” Casey stopped himself.

But Abby noticed; of course she noticed. “What would your dad think if you told him you were afraid of being lonely because your best friend moved away?”

“He didn’t just move away, Abby, he left me!”

That sat between them in the ensuing silence. Casey lifted one hand and touched his own lips, wonderingly, like he could get the words back.

“There it is,” said Abby softly. “You’re furious because he left you, and you’re scared because he left you, and you don’t know who to count on or who to talk to, and yet at the same time it’s not like you told him everything. Was there something to the idea of someone who would always be there for you, but who you never actually leaned on?”

“On whom I—I leaned—I leaned on him. He had to write for me during the divorce. He looked after me when—I don’t know what you mean.”

“Have you told him you’re seeing me?”

“Sort of.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That I was seeing a therapist.”

“But not that it was me.”

“Yeah.”

“How do you think he’s going to feel when he finds out?” She raised her eyebrows. “Or are you under the impression that you’re that good at keeping secrets?”

It was like a sluice of ice water down his spine: he’d told Isaac everything, and one or the other of them would probably tell Dana eventually, and then Natalie would know—it was only a matter of time before Danny would hear that Casey was going to Abby.

“I don’t know,” Casey got out.

“You don’t have the words for the things you need to say to him, and I don’t think you’re going to learn them between now and your trip.” She propped her chin on her hand and sighed. “What do you think the best thing to do is, in that case?”

“Not tell him anything?”

“Try again.”

“I don’t… I don’t know.”

“Try again.”

He found himself turning the throw-pillow around and around in his hands. “Abby, seriously, quit playing games with me here.”

“They’re not games, Casey. I want you to think about strategies for approaching conversations you aren’t going to be comfortable with. There are going to be more of those in your life no matter what.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“And that’s part of the problem, right? You’re worried about saying the wrong thing, so instead, you don’t say anything. You sit on the feelings until they feel huge and unmanageable.”

He plucked absently at the trim on the pillow. “Sure.”

He could feel her watching him, out of the corner of his eye.

“What did Danny tell you when he left?”

 

“Casey…” Danny hesitated, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I have, um, some news.”

They were sitting in Casey’s living room, a partially demolished six-pack between them on the coffee table. (Casey had never particularly liked coffee tables. He was always banging his shins on them, but they seemed like something a functional independent man ought to have, so he’d bought one for the condo when he moved in.)

Casey looked up, frowning. Danny had been strange all night, staring off into space. His laughter had seemed forced.

“Yeah?” Casey asked.

Danny’s lips were pinched in that way he got when he was truly miserable about something. “I don’t think you’re going to like it.” He was drumming his thumb absently against the side of the beer bottle, and the little hollow noises it made were driving Casey crazy.

“So what is it? You’re scaring me here.”

“I’m going to L.A.” Danny’s mouth was set in a grim line. He said it in the way that he might announce that he was facing a firing squad at dawn. “I’m taking a job with the show out there.”

“Danny…”

Casey made it as far as his name, and then he had to stop, because what else was there to say? What else could he possibly say?

Danny rubbed his eyes with the backs of his knuckles. “I know it’s… It seems like it’s out of nowhere. But I think I need to work on building my own career. You’ve got a good thing going here, you’ve got Charlie to think about, like you said. I want to try going in a different direction.”

“Across the entire country? That’s a very different direction.”

Danny shrugged tightly. “I’ve always worked with you. I’ve never tried to do this on my own. I think it’s… It’s time to grow up.”

To grow up? Casey was sure he must have said it out loud, but Danny didn’t react, and his tongue still felt stuck to the roof of his mouth. Maybe he hadn’t.

“I’ve always been your sidekick.” Danny’s mouth twisted dangerously after he said it. There was an edge of something like loathing in his voice. It stunned Casey all over again. “I’m signing a year-long contract. After that… I’ll see what happens.”

“Danny.” Casey’s voice had gone very quiet. He wasn’t sure why.

Danny reached out and set his beer down abruptly, the bottle rattling against the glass tabletop. “I know you won’t… This isn’t something you wanted to hear.”

“I don’t understand,” said Casey helplessly. “What can I—is there something I should have—”

Danny laughed, harshly and without any humor. “No. Case. It’s not about you. This is—it’s about me, this time.”

That hurt, too.

Danny stood up after a moment of silence. “I’m going to head out. I’m telling everyone tomorrow. They should have time to find a good replacement.”

You aren’t replaceable, Casey tried to say, but it was like a dog with peanut butter. Stuck in his mouth, and he was choking on it.

Danny tugged on his jacket and walked out the door.

The next day, when everyone else found out, people kept trying to talk to Casey about it. He couldn’t remember later what he’d said, but whatever it was, they stopped asking.

Their next show was awful. Their remaining fourteen shows together before Danny left were all awful.

After Bobbi started, things slowly improved.

Danny called from L.A., once he’d gotten moved in, and then again, getting into a pattern. He called somewhat regularly. Regularly enough.

 

“That sounds like it was pretty hard on you.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” said Casey, raking a hand through his hair. “Pretty hard—what do you think really hard would look like?”

“I don’t know, Casey, why don’t you tell me?”

He shook his head. “Whatever.”

“Casey, you said that you didn’t understand why Danny left, but that sounded a lot like an explanation to me. Did you think there was more to it?”

“There was more to it! Danny’s not—he knows he was never my sidekick.”

“Does he?” Abby cocked her head.

“He has to.”

“Why?”

“Because…” Casey stopped.

Abby looked at him with something approaching sympathy in her eyes. “Casey,” she said, “how sure are you that he wasn’t?”

The silence lingered, that time, Casey staring at Abby and Abby, unperturbed, returning his gaze.

“Remember what I said? If you’re going to confess to any thoughts or feelings you think are unworthy, this is the place to do it.”

Casey put his head in his hands. “It feels…”

“Unfair?” she supplied.

He nodded.

“Lots of things are unfair. It’s easier to gloss over when they’re unfair in our favor.”

“He’s—he was always good. A good writer. Good anchor.”

“But not as good as you.”

Casey was blinking furiously. It took him a minute to identify the feeling: there were tears prickling in his eyes, something crushing and huge in his chest, his throat.

“No,” he got out around it. “Not as good as me.”

“You’ve been watching him on his new show.”

“Sometimes.”

“Is he getting better, do you think?” She spoke as though there was nothing there but mild curiosity.

He managed to control himself, walk it back from the edge. “Yes.” He hadn’t known—hadn’t thought about it, but as soon as she’d asked, he knew.

“Does that bother you?”

“Yes.” There was a tremendous weight that came with acknowledging it, tearing away from its moorings and now free to careen around his brain.

“Why is that?”

Casey shook his head. “I don’t—look, I never wanted to be this guy. I didn’t want to be jealous.”

“And yet you are.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I thought—he wasn’t… I thought he’d maxed out. Reached his ceiling. With me.”

“And discovering that he hasn’t is threatening to you?”

“Yes.”

“Does this feel anything like when Lisa was working and making you feel like less by comparison?”

“What? No!”

“Casey,” said Abby, gently. Firmly.

He stared off into the distance. “I didn’t think it did.”

“What would happen if you told Danny that you thought he’s been getting better?”

“He’d think I didn’t respect him when we worked together.”

“Really?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Casey, part of your problem is that you’re constantly trying to map out every possible reaction someone could have to what you say. Not by accident. Because when you were a kid, you had to try to figure out what was going to set your dad off. And as a result, you end up saying nothing, and the people who love you are left feeling like you won’t let them in. Like you’re deliberately keeping them out. Which is absolutely what you are doing.”

“Did Danny—?”

“I don’t need to know anything but what we’ve talked about in this room to know what effect your silence has on the people around you.”

He shrugged uncomfortably.

She said, “Remember how I was asking what you thought you should say when you aren’t sure what the right thing to say is?”

“That’s a convoluted way to phrase it, but yes.”

“Try the truth. Even if you don’t fully understand it. Try telling the truth, as far as you understand it, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”

He glowered at her. She didn’t seem put off by it.

“Why is it that Danny’s friendship is so important to you?”

“Isn’t that obvious?”

“Pretend it isn’t.”

Casey sighed, shifting on the couch, setting aside the throw pillow. It was a miracle the damn thing had any stuffing left, if other people were half as inclined to mess with it. “Like I said. It’s hard to make friends.”

“You’re afraid of losing a connection with one of the only people you consider a friend.”

“Yeah.”

“When was the last time you tried making a new connection?”

“What, like picking out a new friend? Like it’s the first day of kindergarten?” He was sneering, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“Sure.” Abby wasn’t impressed.

“I guess… I’ve been talking with Bobbi a fair amount. I mean, I have to, because we’re co-anchors.”

“Do you think you could be friends with Bobbi?”

“Maybe? I hadn’t thought much about it.”

“Well, try looking around. Here’s your homework—do at least one sociable thing with someone you haven’t known for ten or more years.”

“I don’t know if I’ve got time for that this week. I’m going to Vegas.”

“That’s right. Your buddy trip.”

“You say that very judgmentally.”

“I’m concerned that you have unrealistic expectations for what it will accomplish unless you’re willing to actually talk about your issues.”

He huffed, looking away. “I don’t think it’ll fix things.” It didn’t count as a lie if he knew that what he was feeling was hope, rather than an actual concrete expectation.

Abby said, “Think about what would happen if you told Danny the truth. That’s your tip from the pro this week.”

He made a face at her, and she gave him a crooked smile in return.

 

They were on air, Bobbi smiling through throwing it to a remote correspondent. “We go to Liam Nash in the field. Liam, how’s the team looking tonight?”

Casey tuned out mentally as Liam answered, through a clip of the players warming up, and snapped back to attention as Liam finished up: “—so I think they stand an excellent chance of making up for their earlier loss. Back to you, honey.”

He registered Bobbi’s smile stiffening and found himself saying, “Thanks, pumpkin. You’re watching Sports Night on QVN, so stick around.” He gave the camera his best shit-eating grin.

“And we’re out.”

Bobbi cracked up next to him, shoulders shaking. “Oh, my God, Casey.”

“What? He had it coming.”

She clapped him firmly on the back. “So he did.”

“Casey!” said Dana over the earpiece. “Don’t sexually harass reporters. Not even that asshole.”

“Sorry, Dana,” he said with all the sincerity he could muster, staring into a camera.

“Don’t make him apologize!” said Bobbi.

“Yeah, Dana,” said Natalie. “That was totally warranted.”

“Technically, I think he sexually harassed me first,” said Casey. “Even if he was aiming for Bobbi.”

Dana sighed in exasperation. “You can’t sexually harass in self-defense!”

“I’m not convinced,” Jeremy chimed in. “I think you can.”

“Great. Well, you can have that argument with the network.”

“Happily,” said Casey.

“They’re not going to complain.” Jeremy pushed his glasses up. “At most, Casey will get a phone call suggesting he be sensitive.”

“I’m sensitive!”

“Not that kind of sensitive,” said Jeremy with a rueful twist to his mouth.

Dana said, “Oh, for God’s sake, we have a show to do, people.”

After the show that night, Bobbi paused in the hall and put a hand on his arm. “Thanks,” she said.

“Any time.”

“You know…” Bobbi sighed. “I want to clear the air.”

“Oh, God.”

“What?”

“Nothing good ever follows that.”

“I wanted to make it clear that I’m not—I wouldn’t… I don’t believe in dating within the office.”

“Oh. Oh. No, uh, I don’t, it’s not,” he floundered, at sea with the sudden realization (which seemed, now, absurdly belated) that someone might mistake his camaraderie with Bobbi as interest.

She laughed out loud, looking relieved. “You can stop! I don’t need you to burst something here. I just, you know, wanted to make it clear.”

“It’s clear. Consider it clear.”

“Okay. Good.”

“Good.”

They nodded at each other, firmly and professionally, before heading their separate ways.

 

When Casey got on the plane, his stomach was unsettled. Not in a way that would have him reaching for the Maalox, but still. He’d known Danny for well over a decade. There was no reason to feel like this.

But now it was like there was a version of Abby sitting in his brain, watching him. She’d watched him pack, hands hesitating over clothes, trying to decide what to bring. What kind of impression are you trying to make, Casey?

He couldn’t answer, even to himself.

Don’t you know?

He didn’t.

Or is it that you don’t want to know?

He turned his face to the plane window, shoving the shade up with more force than necessary. He was flying coach. Hadn’t been able to talk himself into splurging on a vacation where he was already paying for an unnecessarily nice suite.

He dozed off somewhere over farmland and dreamed fitfully. Danny was there in the dream, mouth moving, but Casey couldn’t figure out what he was saying. Bobbi was there, too, and Lisa, leaning over Bobbi’s shoulder, watching Casey with burning eyes.

He woke up disoriented as they started their descent, blinking the sleep out of his eyes through the cloud cover. Once they emerged and the Strip lit up in the distance, he found he couldn’t take his eyes off the glittering spread of buildings.

It was mid-afternoon. Danny had told him he’d fly in around six, so he had some time to kill; he could either go ahead to the hotel and get checked in or hang around the airport. He decided to go to the hotel. He had his cellphone, if Danny needed to get in touch.

He’d gotten them rooms at the New York, New York hotel. The Abby in his head said, Are you trying to remind Danny about what he left behind? But that was silly. They’d had the best rates, that was all.

Once he checked in, he went upstairs and dropped his bag on the couch. He’d gone for a suite with two queen-sized beds and, tongue firmly in cheek, an actual hot tub. He was looking forward to Danny’s reaction to that.

He took a quick shower—rinsed off the smell of the airplane—and changed into a polo shirt and a pair of jeans. It was informal, but what the hell, he was a tourist. He could afford to be lazy. He squinted into the mirror and took care of his stubble, running a hand over his cheek as he finished.

That left him with enough time to get back to the airport. He didn’t need to. Danny would be fine getting to the hotel on his own. But hell, why not.

So Casey was standing in Arrivals when Danny came through, bag slung over his shoulder, looking tanned and healthy—somehow taking up more space than he had before.

 

Oh, thought Casey.

 

Oh, no.

 

The Abby voice murmured, didn’t you know? Didn’t you know, all along?

 

Because Danny was—it wasn’t just the rush of seeing a friend again, it wasn’t relief that he was still Danny, that he hadn’t somehow morphed beyond recognizability. It wasn’t a companionable thing that he was feeling. All this new practice thinking about feelings, considering them, holding them up to the light had totally and completely fucked him, because he was staring at Danny, watching Danny scan the crowd for him, and there was this new and terrible absolute knowledge in his gut and it was making his stomach sink through the floor.

Danny looked handsome. Danny was gorgeous. Danny had always flown in a ratty, huge sweater, but now he was wearing a neat Henley. The dark circles under his eyes that had plagued his makeup people for years had gotten better and even his shoulders seemed broader, somehow, as if he’d been working out or as if he’d finally done something about his posture. He’d always seemed like he was trying to disappear. Now he was holding himself with an easy, unconscious confidence.

And all Casey wanted to do was—

Danny’s lips were—

Danny spotted him; their eyes met and Danny lit up, grinning. Danny lifted his free hand to wave, other hand still resting on the strap of his duffel bag, and headed for Casey.

Casey tried to suppress his sudden, overwhelming panic, and when Danny made it to him, Casey managed to say, “Hey!” and give him a brief, one-armed hug like a normal human being might.

Danny pulled back, still grinning. “Good to see you, man! So where are we staying?”

Casey thought, Abby was right, clear as a bell. This trip isn’t going to fix anything at all.

 

Danny razzed him over the hotel choice as the roller coaster loomed. “What is this, a bid for nostalgia? I’ve been gone six months, I didn’t forget all about it.” When he saw the room, he burst out laughing. “I wasn’t serious about the Jacuzzi!”

“You don’t have to use it.” Casey pretended he was hunting for something in his bag while he tried frantically to think about something other than how fucked he was.

“Oh, I’m gonna!” Danny was still laughing as he took his toiletries kit into the bathroom. It was dangerous. Casey could imagine it with a crystal clarity, Danny stripping off his clothes, letting them fall to the floor, sliding into the water naked, heaving a sigh as he relaxed—

When Danny walked out of the bathroom, Casey jerked his hand back from his bag like something had bitten him. He’d picked the bed closer to the window, so he’d have something to look at besides Danny.

Danny had a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth and his hair was rumpled. He grinned at Casey around the toothbrush. “All right, Slick,” he said, pulling it out of his mouth. “What’s on the agenda this evening?”

“What makes you think I have an agenda?”

Danny rolled his eyes eloquently. “I have met you.”

Casey sighed. “Dinner at a place off the Strip, then tickets to Cirque du Soleil.” Good God. Dinner and a show. A shared hotel suite. With a hot tub. How hadn’t he known. Good God, did Danny know? Had Danny guessed? Casey found himself watching Danny, trying to decipher whether Danny had any clue, but Danny went back in the bathroom, whistling to himself as he finished brushing his teeth.

Danny emerged, wearing a white undershirt he’d pulled from his bag, buttoning up a dress shirt over it. “Don’t tell me you’re wearing that,” said Danny skeptically, eyeing Casey’s jeans.

“What? Oh. Oh, no, I’ll—” Casey grabbed his bag and escaped into the bathroom. He had to take a few deep breaths. Which was a mistake; the bathroom smelled like Danny’s aftershave. He’d smelled it a thousand times, and it had never done this to him before, never had him leaning his head against the cool tile of the wall feeling feverish.

He managed to change, somehow, screwing up the buttons on his own dress shirt twice in a row. By the time he emerged, Danny was sprawled over his bed, staring up at the television. “Hurry up,” said Danny without looking away. “I don’t want to be late for this amazing restaurant.”

“I didn’t say it was amazing.”

“Oh, so I’m a cheap date?” Danny laughed. “Get a load of this.” He pointed the remote at the screen, and Casey leaned to look, aware of his heart hammering in his chest all over again.

It was a piece on George W. Bush, delivered with poise by a local blonde anchor whose hair looked shellacked. Casey sighed. “He won. You have to get over it.”

“The hell I do! Can you believe it? That asshole?”

“We’ve covered this.”

Danny stuck his tongue out at the television before hitting the power button. The television crackled softy as it shut down.

“Let’s get a move on.” Casey jerked his head toward the door, grabbing his sport jacket, and Danny stood to follow him.

 

They took a cab to the restaurant. Traffic was weirdly bad, the streets thick with cars. Danny seemed at ease, maybe more than he had been in a long time, back in New York and even Dallas before that. Danny was keeping up a constant stream of chatter, low-grade small talk, like Casey was an interview he had to put at ease.

Casey couldn’t find it in himself to be anything but grateful for that. He felt like a nervous interview, all sweaty palms he kept stopping himself from wiping on his pants legs. What had he been thinking, this looked exactly like a date, it looked like they’d flown to Las Vegas to meet in a love nest, if anyone saw them—and there was also the crystal-clear realization, huge and unsettling and poignantly awful, that if that had been the price of getting to have Danny, of it being a real date, he would have had to think about it.

He wondered if there was some way to reach Abby on a Friday night from a different time zone. Probably not. She probably wasn’t available for any and every emotional landslide he might be having.

When he’d fallen in love with Lisa, it had felt like such a natural, normal progression. From the first time he’d caught her eye in freshman English, and she’d given him a small, pleased smile over her shoulder, it had all unfolded like a romance should. In the early years they’d been adventurous. They’d had sex in the bathroom at a party once, both panting with desire, struggling to get enough of their clothes out of the way.

He’d rarely—never—rarely felt that way about anyone else. He’d enjoyed sleeping with women since the divorce, but he hadn’t felt that kind of immediate, visceral need to be close to them. He’d chalked it up to not being in love, or being too old for that kind of effervescent excitement, and left it at that.

But now, this thing with Danny, it was all backwards. He’d never—had he ever? He struggled to figure out whether this was new, or whether he’d known, whether he’d hesitated so much over choosing clothes when he packed, been so careful with shaving, on purpose. This purpose.

Over dinner, thick steaks that Danny made properly appreciative noises at, they fell silent. There was wine and there was meat. What else would they need?

The restaurant was full of people. They were unremarkable, another pair of friends in dress clothes. Danny’s shirt was open enough that he could catch a glimpse of collarbone. Casey jerked his eyes back to his plate. Jesus, he thought.

Finally Danny settled back, sighing in pleasure. “Damn, that was good.”

Casey finished chewing and swallowed. “I heard good things.”

“You heard right.”

“I’m glad. It would be a shame to go all the way to Las Vegas for steak and be disappointed.”

Danny’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled at Casey. There was a moment of disorientation as Casey saw the crow’s feet that had crept on imperceptibly with the passage of time, superimposed on the face of Danny at eighteen, bright-eyed and verging on manic.

“Damn right.” Danny took another sip of his wine.

Danny filled more of the space between them, talking about his job. His co-anchor J.J. was fretting about the baby being due so soon and kept bringing in paint chips to get Danny’s opinion. “He seems to think I’m some kind of expert.” Danny sounded faintly bewildered. Casey kept chewing, nodding. “I tried to tell him I don’t know eggshell from ecru, but he won’t stop.”

“Does it get weird calling him J.J.? Do you think about network J.J.?”

“Not much anymore. Network J.J. is fading like a bad dream.”

“How old is new J.J.?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“Ah. You’re probably his sage advisor.”

“Hey!” Danny pointed an accusatory toothpick at him. “Just because you’re feeling your advancing years…”

“I may be your elder, but years are advancing for us both.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Danny sighed. “My producer wants me to think about Botox.”

“What, for real?”

“Yes.”

“But you look…” Casey found himself searching Danny’s face, relieved by the excuse to stare. “I don’t even know what lines they’re trying to get rid of.”

Danny laughed. “Thanks, man.”

“I don’t know how much I’d trust my advice on aesthetic issues, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Danny was grinning at him, swirling his wine in its glass.

“You’ve been—” Casey stopped. “You’ve been very good,” he finished, quietly.

Danny’s forehead creased in thought. “What—on the show?”

“Yeah,” Casey said to his wineglass.

“You’ve been watching?” Danny sounded curious. Casey looked back up to meet Danny’s eyes. “I didn’t realize. It’s on—” Danny hesitated.

“Late for me, I know. I’m not taping it.” Casey shrugged uncomfortably. “When I can’t sleep. I tune in.”

“Huh.” Danny was still watching him, something complicated happening on his face. “Well, thanks.”

“I mean it. You’re doing some of your best work.” Casey ducked his head. “You probably know that.”

“I have—I’ve felt like that,” Danny said in a hushed voice, like a confession. “I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, though.”

Casey found himself smiling, small and sharp-edged, down at his plate. “When I said you could do it without me, I didn’t realize you’d do it better without me.”

“Whoa.”

Casey sighed, reaching up to palm his face. “Sorry. Seeing—seeing a therapist is—”

“It does a number on you.”

“Yeah.”

“Believe me, if anybody gets that, I do.”

“I know.” Casey shook his head to clear it. “Show’ll be starting soon.”

“You mean they’ll start seating for it,” Danny teased him gently. “You’re anal retentive and you want to get there early.”

“Hey!”

“Am I wrong?”

“…No.”

Casey stared out the cab window on their way back to the show. Danny seemed to catch his mood and didn’t say much.

They settled in at the theater, side by side. Casey was agonizingly aware of Danny breathing, their shoulders brushing on occasion.

The show was incredible. People leaping and bounding, spinning and flying—Casey had gotten the tickets half on impulse, sure that he’d be bored or that it would be ridiculous or both, but he found himself leaning forward, holding his breath with the stunts. Ancient memories of gymnastics itching under his skin.

Afterwards, Danny smiled at him. “You look like Dana did right after she saw The Lion King. Are you going to start telling me about your epiphany?”

“Fuck you,” said Casey without heat, still feeling the thrill. “Want to get a drink?”

They were both used to late hours; Danny nodded.

They ended up at a bar in the hotel, too self-consciously modern and ostentatious for its own good. There was new money everywhere, like a discernible smell. Or maybe it was a real smell—cologne and perfume hanging heavily in the air, every time Casey turned his head. Which he tried not to do, too much, because he kept finding himself staring at Danny, like he couldn’t quite believe that Danny was real. Six months. How had he made it six months? How had they gone this long without coexisting in the same space? They hadn’t been separated for more than a week or two at a time for the better part of a decade before that.

At least the conversation was easier. He was telling Danny about Charlie being cast in a play—A Midsummer Night’s Dream; he was Puck. Casey was proud of Charlie getting a plum role.

“Oh, man,” said Danny, smiling. “You’re going to end up with a theater nerd.”

“What? It’s only one play.”

“That’s how these things start. The first play’s free. Next thing you know, he’s hooked. He’s doing Hamlet. Monologues in the kitchen. He starts reciting Death of a Salesman—” Danny was laughing, and Casey was laughing along with him.

“A—My therapist says I should be, uh, be honest, when I don’t know what to say,” said Casey abruptly. “She says I should tell the truth.”

“Interesting theory.” Danny lifted his bourbon but swirled it in the glass instead of drinking, peering down into its depths. “What is it you feel compelled to tell me the truth about?”

“I’ve—really, uh, really fucking missed you.”

Danny looked up, startled, and their eyes met. Casey hadn’t realized he was staring again.

Danny opened his mouth.

“Hey,” said a woman with immaculate hair. Blonde, shiny, falling past her shoulders in a straight waterfall. “Aren’t you Dan Rydell?”

Danny smiled at her and there it was, the switch flip. He put on his public figure face, and within a few minutes the woman was sitting on the bar stool next to Danny, a redhead (he doubted the color was wholly natural) was perched next to Casey, and Danny ended up turning to Casey and saying, with an easy smile, “I’m going to check out Laura’s room, she tells me there’s a real Jacuzzi,” and Casey was smiling robotically and waving as Danny and Laura vanished.

The redhead leaned her head on Casey’s arm and said plaintively, “Another drink?”—which was a sentiment he could heartily agree with, so he ordered for the both of them.

Her name, it transpired, was Jennifer, and she had truly magnificent cleavage that was carefully hoisted and displayed in a black satin dress.

“Have you known Laura long?” Casey asked, vividly aware of the inadequacy of his small talk.

Jennifer nodded, stirring her drink with its cocktail umbrella. “We’re in grad school together.”

“Oh? What are you studying?”

She flashed him a quick, dark smile. “You sound surprised.”

“I don’t meet a lot of grad students who look like you,” he said, with a sense he was fucking up somehow.

“We clean up nice.” She shrugged, sipping through her straw. Her nails were blood-red, and one black suede heel swung in lazy arcs as she looked around the room. “We’re studying astrophysics.”

“Wow,” said Casey, genuinely impressed. “Wait, do you do a thesis for that? Or a dissertation?”

She smirked at him, a little less bitingly. “Dissertations.”

“What’s yours on?”

“Oh, come on. Do you actually care?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

She waved at her body. “Most of the men around here are a lot more interested in the physics engine that animates my tits.”

He laughed out loud. “Sorry, sorry! That was—really funny.”

Jennifer smiled. It finally looked real.

“I’m working on a question of binary stars,” she said, and he nodded and leaned forward, focusing all of his scattered attention on her explanation.

 

Casey woke up in the morning with a vague buzzing in his head. As he surfaced to consciousness, he identified it as pain, and the night before came back in bits and pieces. He was naked under a sheet. Jennifer—he cracked an eye open and squinted across at the other bed.

Jennifer was sprawled across it, black satin dress nowhere in sight. She was wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt that Casey had packed in case the hotel room was too cold at night.

He tried to clear his eyes, waiting to remember the night. Nothing came back immediately.

He didn’t feel like they’d had sex. He waited for a minute, shifted slightly, and realized he needed to take a piss. He got up carefully, grabbing a pair of shorts, and tip-toed to the bathroom. Jennifer was still emitting quiet, endearing snores.

In the bathroom mirror, he inspected himself. No hickeys, no nail marks—if they’d had sex, it hadn’t been athletic. He gave up on trying to figure it out.

When the bathroom door opened again, Jennifer came awake with a snort and a start. “Mrgh?”

“Good morning.” He searched her face, trying to figure out how to talk to her.

“Oh. Casey.” She yawned around his name, half-swallowing it. “What time’s it?”

He leaned down to peer at the bedside clock. “Ten thirty.”

“Okay.” She yawned again, deeply. “Conference starts soon. I’ve got to get up.”

“Are you staying here? At this hotel?”

“Different wing, but same hotel.” She rolled out of bed, nearly falling over. She wasn’t wearing pants. “Oof! Last time I let a strange man trick me into explaining my research.”

In the morning, her makeup smeared and blurry around her eyes, she was more human than she’d been the night before, more attractive.

“Did we—” he said. “Should I—”

She laughed. “Oh! Oh, honey. No. I was complaining that Laura took your friend to our room and I was going to have to, like, wait for some sock on the door kind of bullshit, and you said I could stay with you.”

“Oh.” He digested that. “Okay.”

“You don’t have to look so disappointed! I told you.” She raised her eyebrows at him and he shrugged, holding his hands out palms-up to either side, to show he didn’t remember. “I’m not into men, Casey,” she said, and her voice was kind.

Oh,” he said, suddenly grateful. “Okay. I get it.”

“Good.” She laughed, shaking out her long, beautiful hair. “So there’s nothing—”

The door opened. “Case?” called Danny. Something rattled in the entryway, and Danny stood in front of them, blinking at Jennifer in Casey’s sweatshirt, lace-edged black panties peeking out beneath it, Casey mostly naked next to the night-stand.

They all froze for a second.

“I’ll just—” said Danny in a rush, backing quickly out the door.

Casey sighed, running a hand across his forehead. “Fuck.”

“It’s not a big deal,” said Jennifer. “I’m going to grab my stuff and be gone, you can tell him he can come back in.”

“Yeah,” said Casey. “Sure.”

Five minutes later she was stuffed back into her dress as best she could manage. With her sequined clutch purse in one hand, she paused to give Casey a peck on the cheek before leaving. He picked up his cellphone.

“Heeeey,” said Danny.

“Sorry about that.”

“No problem. I went to hit up a vending machine. You want a soda? They’ve got Coke, Mountain Dew—”

“Nah, I’m good. She’s, uh, she’s gone, if you wanted to come back.”

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

When Danny walked in, Casey was wearing his sweatpants—he couldn’t bring himself to waste clean clothes, when he still needed a shower.

“Sorry,” said Casey. “We woke up a couple minutes ago.”

“No, I got that.” Danny was looking anywhere but at him.

“Sorry if you got an eyeful.”

Danny nodded, still studying the television’s black screen. The way Danny was reacting was making something twist in his gust, unpleasant and irrational. Just because he—because he knew now, even if Danny didn’t—there was no reason for Danny to act so awkward about seeing him almost naked. They’d shared hotel rooms before, they hadn’t been dead set on modesty. This wasn’t new.

Danny was wearing his clothes from last night, somewhat the worse for wear. His hair was a disaster. There was a visible purpling mark on the side of his neck.

“So.” Casey cleared his throat. “Did you know that Laura and Jennifer are astrophysicists?”

“Astrophysics graduate students,” corrected Danny. “I don’t think they get to be official physicists until they finish their doctorates.”

“Sure, whatever.”

The corners of Danny’s lips curled in a small, unpleasant smirk. “Is that how Jennifer seduced you? With her higher education?”

“Oh, fuck off.”

“No, no, there’s no shame in being attracted to a woman for her mind. Noble of you to overcome her other failings.”

“I don’t have to wonder what you found to like about Laura.” After he said it, Casey realized the light, bantering tone he’d been aiming for had completely misfired, and it had come out tight and brittle. Angry.

“Whoa. Man.” Danny looked up from the television, finally. “Are you—mad at me?”

“No.” Casey shook his head, hard. “No. Sorry. This fucking headache.”

Danny was watching him with narrowed eyes, concerned. “You had a fair amount last night.”

“I did indeed.”

“And you’re not twenty-five anymore.”

“I couldn’t hold my liquor when I was twenty-five. I had a baby. It saps your strength. Must do something to your liver.”

They managed to stumble through the rest of the morning like that, eventually getting downstairs to the buffet. Casey didn’t feel particularly hungry, but he forced down eggs and hash browns from the enormous piles of food. The black coffee helped.

Danny appeared to be concerned with moving pieces of sausage from one side of his plate to the other.

“Did you get her number?” asked Danny, after some oppressive silence.

“Jennifer’s? Nah. I don’t think I’m her type.”

Danny looked up and met his eyes. “I’m sorry, man,” he said, with painful sincerity.

Casey shrugged. “It’s fine. The point of this trip was to have fun, and I learned a lot about, uh, binary star systems? I think? I didn’t retain it particularly well, but I think I learned it last night.”

Danny laughed. It was a little scratchy. “God, Laura was telling me about her work—I guess it’s theoretical? I didn’t understand but I nodded a lot.”

“The things we do for women.”

“Yeah.”

They lapsed back into silence over their plates. Casey drank his black coffee slowly, letting his stomach settle itself.

 

After breakfast, Danny said, “What do you want to do this afternoon?”

“I—you’re going to laugh.”

“No, trust me. What is it?”

“Helicopter tour.”

“Over the strip?” Danny did laugh. “Sorry, I said I wouldn’t, but—honestly, that is such a tourist thing to do!”

“And what are we, locals? I wanted to pack as much Vegas into this trip as possible.” Casey mimed compressing the ambient Vegas-ness into a small box.

“Do we have reservations?”

“Yes.”

“All right. Let’s do it.”

 

The helicopter ride was one more in a series of mistakes. He was trying to focus on the land unfurling below them, but he kept turning his head to see Danny, cheeks ruddy in the wind whipping past them, grinning and shouting back and forth with their pilot.

 

When they got back to the hotel to take a break before dinner, Danny frowned down at his cellphone. “Damn, I missed a call.”

“Go ahead and call them back.”

Danny nodded at him—Casey was stretching out on his bed, letting his eyes drift shut. He overheard Danny’s half of the conversation with varying fidelity as Danny wandered around the suite.

“Hi, Nina—you called? Okay. Okay…” A long pause, some murmuring. “That was me. What? No. Yeah, okay, fine. Thanks for the heads up.”

Danny hung up and muttered, “Ugh,” as he flopped back onto his bed.

“What is it?” asked Casey, blinking his eyes open with some effort.

“Apparently an online tabloid has pictures of me leaving with Laura last night.”

“Huh.”

“It’s not a big deal or anything, but it’s weird.”

“That people care about your one-night stand?”

Danny was quiet for a minute. “Yes.”

“Danny…” Casey levered himself up onto one elbow and stared across the distance between them; Danny’s head was angled over the side of the bed, so Casey was looking at him upside down. “There isn’t somebody back in L.A. who’s going to get mad, is there?”

“No.” Danny looked exhausted again. The bags under his eyes were back. “There isn’t anyone.”

Casey knew it was selfish of him, selfish and awful, but he felt marginally better.

“How about you?”

Casey glanced up sharply. Danny had closed his eyes.

“I’m not—seeing anyone,” said Casey awkwardly. “I’d—you know I’d tell you if I was.”

Danny shrugged. It looked funny, upside down like that. “If you wanted your privacy, that would be okay.”

“I—you’d know.”

“Okay.” Danny yawned. “When’s the next thing?”

“We don’t need to leave for two hours.”

“I might take a nap.”

“You don’t look too perky.”

“Hey, so sue me. I had a good time. In Vegas. With a busty blonde. I think that was the definition of my goals for this trip.”

“That’s true, and I’m frankly surprised that you achieved that goal.”

“There was even a Jacuzzi.”

“There’s a hot tub four feet from you.”

“True, but this one has a distinct lack of women.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Casey’s stomach knotted up again. He couldn’t tell Danny. That much was crystal clear. This was some kind of disaster, some stupidly terrible cosmic joke.

It didn’t have to be anything. He’d never—had he ever felt like that about a man? He’d looked, sometimes, not with conscious desire. But he’d looked.

Danny shifted, rolling over, propping himself up on his elbows to stare at Casey. “Man,” said Danny, “what is up with you? You’ve been acting weird.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Casey opened his mouth, took a deep breath, shut it again. “I’m not—ready to talk about it.”

“Oh.” Danny dropped back onto his chest, chin hanging off the edge of the bed. “Okay. That’s fine. If you want to talk about it, though, you can talk to me.”

Casey stifled the hysterical laughter bubbling up in his chest. “I—thanks, man. I know.”

“Is it—” Danny hesitated. “Never mind.”

“No, what?”

“Is it Bobbi? Because if you, uh, wanted to, I mean, she’s a beautiful woman, I can’t pretend it wouldn’t be weird for me, I might have some issues around it, but now that we know she’s not delusional—”

Danny stopped because Casey had started laughing, and this time he couldn’t keep a handle on the hysterical edge to it.

“I take it that was not correct.”

“No. God. Bobbi actually gave me The Talk the other day about how she doesn’t date at work.”

“Can’t blame her, it’s a solid policy.”

“I didn’t even see it coming. Maybe I was giving off vibes.”

“Did you say vibes? What are you, some kind of flower child?”

Casey laughed again, until he was hiccupping, and by the time he quieted down, the tension in Danny’s face had eased.

 

Casey refused to tell Danny where they were going for dinner. It was petty and weird, he could feel that it was weird, but it felt peculiarly fragile.

“Dress like you did for dinner last night.”

Danny shrugged, doing up his cuff links. The bones of his wrists stood out—Casey caught himself watching them again and tore his eyes away for the fiftieth time that day.

There were no neon signs outside, nothing to tip Danny off. Not very Vegas at all. When they got inside, Danny looked around, eyes widening. “This is a hell of a place,” he said under his breath to Casey. “Is that Yo Yo Ma?”

“Shh, here’s our table.”

They settled into the booth—all the booths, small and large, were arranged in semi-circles, tiered, so everyone could see the stage.

“I think that’s Hillary Clinton!” whispered Danny, grabbing Casey’s wrist—his fingers dug in almost painfully. “Maybe I can explain—”

Casey squinted to see in the dim light. “I think that’s actually an impersonator.”

“Oh.” Danny sighed, his hand falling from Casey’s arm. A waiter appeared with menus, and they ordered. Danny kept up a stream of light chatter until the food came—Casey set to his seven-flavor beef with a will, and Danny always had plum duck when it was an option. Always.

When Tom Waits walked onto stage, Danny went completely still.

Casey, watching him across the narrow table, nursing a tumbler of whiskey, felt something too huge to manage or contain spread through him. It started in his chest and extended into his fingers; they actually twitched, as the impulse to touch Danny ran ahead of his brain.

Danny didn’t notice. He was too focused on Tom Waits, who was leaning forward, starting to sing in that rasping, smoke-filled voice. The stage lights cast a faint glow over Danny’s features. He was so intent on watching the stage that Casey felt safe inspecting him, at least for a couple of minutes.

At times Danny would start mouthing along. Casey had never been a big fan, despite Danny’s attempts to convert him over the years. But there was one song that got to him, in a way he hadn’t expected. So if you find someone, someone to have, someone to hold, don’t trade it for silver. Don’t trade it for gold. I have all of life’s treasures and they are fine and they are good. They remind me that houses are just made of wood. Tom Waits sang it so low and harsh that goosebumps broke out across Casey’s arms. What makes a house grand ain’t the roof or the doors. If there’s love in a house, it’s a palace for sure.

Without love it ain’t nothin’ but a house, a house where nobody lives.

Danny was silent on the way back to the hotel, after.

When they got in through the door, Danny loosened his tie mechanically, as if still half-dreaming.

“Not going to lie,” Danny finally said. “I thought you were going to take us to Siegfried and Roy.”

“I have better taste than that.” Casey would have rather died than admit he’d looked into it before realizing that Tom Waits was playing.

He’d spent an incredible amount of money on those tickets, but he didn’t regret a penny, seeing how dazed and reverent Danny looked.

Maybe if he was going to say something—no, God, no. Danny shook his head and roused himself. “I’m going to take a shower.”

“Cool.”

“You know what your problem was?” Danny called over his shoulder. “You tried to start with Bone Machine. You can’t do that. Someone like you, if you’re going to learn to like Tom Waits, you have to start with Rain Dogs.

“Uh-huh.”

Casey lay down on his bed, easing himself down gently. He was aching; it had been a hell of a trip, and he wasn’t looking forward to the early flight in the morning. He’d have to go straight back to work.

Danny came back, a few minutes later, toweling his hair, wearing boxers. He was humming the tune, if it could be called that, of the one about the pony knowing its way back home. He crawled under his blanket and sighed heavily, letting the towel drop to the side of the bed.

“You’re such a slob,” said Casey fondly. “Going to make the maid pick that up?”

“Shut up. I’ll leave a tip.”

“You do that.”

“Casey…” Danny breathed quietly. “Seriously, what’s up? Are you… you’re not dying, right?”

“What? Why would I be dying?”

“A spontaneous trip? Steak dinner? Picking up a stranger? Tom Waits tickets? This feels weirdly like some kind of last hurrah.”

Casey frowned at the ceiling. He hadn’t thought of it in quite that light, but it made a certain kind of sense. As if he’d—expected Danny to not want to talk to him again after this.

“I’m not dying,” he said slowly. “You might want to kill me, though.”

“What? Why?” There it was, that humming tension that had defined Danny back when they’d met. It was all the more noticeable now because it was largely absent. This newer, improved version of Danny who had confidence and didn’t have to get up and leave tables. This Danny who seemed, for the most part, comfortable in his skin.

Casey considered his options and chose the lesser of two truths. “I’m seeing Abby.”

There was a silence. It weighed heavily and went on and on. It felt ugly.

Casey sat up. Danny was staring at the ceiling, jaw clenching and working.

“Do you mean you’re dating her?” Danny asked, voice gone so cold that it left a distinct Arctic chill in the room.

“No. She’s—I told you I was seeing a therapist. She’s my therapist.”

“Casey.” Danny sat up unwillingly. “What kind of bullshit is this? What the fuck are you pulling?”

“I don’t…” Casey hesitated.

“No, seriously, there are how many therapists in Manhattan, and you had to pick mine? What the fuck were you thinking?”

“She was someone I knew.”

“You never met her.”

“I felt like I knew her. I knew she—she helped you.”

“You have no right to go and—I don’t even know what you thought you were doing. What the fuck is your problem?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t need a fucking therapist!”

They were both silent for a long moment after that.

Danny finally said, “I need to go to sleep. I can’t deal with this shit right now.”

“Oh, like that’s new.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean you never met a fight you couldn’t run away from.”

“Big words from America’s bitterest divorcee.”

“Oh, sure. Fine. At least I didn’t move across the fucking country to get away from my troubles.”

Danny had gone deathly pale. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

“Why did you leave, Danny? Why the fuck did you leave?

“I told you! This isn’t some kind of big mystery. I wanted—”

“To get away from me! Right? To get away from the big bad man who kept you in the shadow? Well, you’re out of my fucking shadow now, and you’ve got a fucking tan, and I hope you’re happy in L.A., I really do. Because New York is doing fine without you.”

Casey stopped, breathing heavily. There was something like shock and rage running through him. He hadn’t know he was so angry about Danny leaving, but now that it was out there, he could see the shape of it in everything he’d said and done for the past six months.

“What the fuck.” Danny’s voice cracked. “Do you—do you hate me or something?”

“No.” Casey felt a thousand years old. “I’m pissed off. You up and left. You left the show. You left me. You didn’t talk to me before you made the decision, you didn’t let me say anything at all about it. You just left.”

“You’ve been sitting on this for six months?

“Apparently.”

“Fuck,” said Danny. “You—you self-absorbed bastard, you know what, go ahead, see my shrink, maybe she’ll do you some good. God knows you couldn’t get any crazier.”

“Oh, you’d think,” said Casey distantly. “You’d really think.”

“I don’t even know how you managed to make this about you.”

“Because it was about me! What else would it have been about? We worked together for seven years, of course it was about how you—” Casey stopped.

“How I what? Finish the sentence, Casey.”

“How you felt about being compared to me.”

“Oh, go fuck yourself,” Danny said fast and low.

“Why else would you run away across the entire country? You got as far away from me as you could without actually leaving the continental United States. And I’m not supposed to have an opinion? I’m not supposed to have thoughts about that?”

“I wasn’t running away from you.”

“You keep telling yourself that.”

“I’m serious. It wasn’t like I went to L.A. because it was far away. It was a good offer, I knew the city, I liked the people.”

Casey said, “You know what, I’m going to go take a shower.”

“Because you’ve never run away from a fight!”

“Because I don’t see the point in this fight. You’re in L.A. You’re happy, you’re doing great, it doesn’t fucking matter what I think about it. Right?”

“You can’t stand me having anything you’re not a part of.” Danny still sounded pissed, but tired, too. “I can’t have other friends. I can’t have a life. You’ve got to be, what, my big brother or something. Waiting at the doorway on prom night for me to come home.”

“What the fuck, Danny? Did—you know what, fuck it. I’m taking a shower.” Casey got up, digging in his bag for boxers and undershirt. “I have to sleep before I fly back.”

“This was your idea.” Danny pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. “This whole thing was your idea. You said you miss me. If you miss me, why are you being like this?”

“You ask your shrink. I’ll ask Abby.”

“You’re—you’re seriously throwing Abby in my face right now? You go out of your way to steal my therapist, and you’re making cracks about it?”

“I didn’t go out of my way to—look, I went to her office, okay? I went to her office because I was having a fucking thermonuclear meltdown. And she said,” Casey did his best Abby impression, which admittedly was not very good, “’wow, you know, maybe you could use a shrink.’ Hasn’t done me much good so far.”

“What were you having a meltdown about?” asked Danny, but Casey was already storming into the bathroom. “Casey!” Danny yelled as Casey slammed the door shut. “What were you having a meltdown about?

Casey stayed in the shower for a long time. The water never ran cold.

By the time he got back out, he thought Danny might be asleep. The lights were off, and Danny was underneath his blankets.

Casey settled into his bed, stomach still churning with rage and—fear, that was probably it. And guilt. Hell of a cocktail to try to fall asleep with.  

“Casey.” Danny’s voice was almost a whisper in the dark. It was somehow easier to bear.

“What?”

“You’re partly right. Thirty percent right.”

“How so?” There was a treacherous edge of hope and a word he couldn’t escape. Reconciliation.

“I did—leaving New York was about trying to start over. Trying to be me somewhere with less baggage around what that meant.”

“And I’m baggage,” Casey said.

“Yeah.” Danny sighed. “The Louis Vuitton kind. High-end.”

“I don’t know brands, Danny.”

“This much, I know.”

“I didn’t intend…” Casey’s jaw clenched. “I didn’t intend to make you feel like less than what you were. Are.”

As he was saying it, the words set off bells—it was so similar to something Dana had said to him. Danny gave a rusty laugh.

“What?” said Casey.

“I said something like that to Bobbi once.” Danny sighed. “Are we—like wrecking balls? Like a pair of wrecking balls, going through our lives, destroying everything we care about?”

Casey grimaced. “I hate to do this, but I feel obligated to point out that you described us as a pair of balls.

Danny was silent for a moment and then cracked up into wheezing, gritty laughter.

“Man,” said Danny. “I’m really, really tired of fighting with you. I’m not even a hundred percent sure why we’re fighting.”

“Me either.”

“Let’s not do that, then, okay? Let’s not fight. I’m—you’re right, I am happy in L.A. I’m doing good things for myself. Growing. And it’s not forever. My contract’s only a year, then I can decide whether New York needs me.”

“Whether it needs you? You’re not a caped crusader, Danny.”

“As far as you know.”

“If you take up a side job as a superhero, I think you should tell me.”

“You’d tell Natalie. Everyone else would know immediately. My secret identity would be dead.”

“…That’s fair.”

“The thing is,” said Danny, voice gone serious again, “I was looking at my life and I thought, what if nothing changes? What if I keep going like this, until one day I wake up and I’m old, and I never got better? Never did what I wanted to do for myself. You think it can’t happen but you look around. How many people are there in sports who got old while they weren’t paying attention? How many coaches with more divorces than Super Bowl rings?”

Casey tugged the blanket closer around himself against the image. “I know.”

“I was getting better. Things were—and I knew if I wanted to keep getting better, if I wanted to get to a point where I could put down some of the shit I was carrying, I had to change a lot.

“Like Sam?” Casey rolled to face Danny.

“How many years have I spent not living because of how shitty I feel about Sam?” Danny licked his lips. Casey was watching him, sidelong, in the punctuated darkness of the hotel room. “It’s like being in jail, always thinking, well, I can’t be happy, I can’t enjoy anything, because Sam didn’t get to.”

Danny looked over at Casey; he could see the flash of Danny’s eyes. Casey nodded.

“It’s not like I don’t think about him when I’m in California.” Danny took a measured breath. “I didn’t stop thinking about him in L.A. the first time, or in Dallas. But in New York—I was getting successful, and that made it harder, sometimes. Because I had all this stuff he was never going to get to have.”

“Yeah,” said Casey, just a puff of air.

“So it’s not—it was maybe thirty percent you, but a big chunk of why I left was about figuring out who I’d be if I didn’t feel so guilty all the time.”

“I get it.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But I had to be done, for a while, with always looking over my shoulder, always inviting you to judge me.”

“I didn’t—”

“No, I know. You didn’t mean to judge me. But I was always thinking, I guess. Maybe it was safer to have someone to judge me if my parents weren’t around to do it. Would Casey think I deserve this? Would he like this girl? I put way too much weight on your opinion. Not enough on mine.”

“Huh,” said Casey slowly. That had never occurred to him.

Danny ground a knuckle into his eye. “Neither of us fucked this up by ourselves, Casey. We had help.”

“What are friends for,” Casey mumbled.

“Exactly.”

“I’m sorry about Abby.”

“I’m still kind of ticked about that.”

“I honestly didn’t… I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“And then she got you.”

“Then she got me indeed.”

“She’s sneaky like that.”

“Bobbing and weaving.”

“Suckering you into better mental health.”

Casey sighed. “She’s trying to, anyway. You know she warned me about this trip?”

“What? Why?”

“She thought there was a chance we would not discuss things in a calm and rational fashion.”

“Good thing she was wrong,” said Danny, heavy on the irony.

“Hey, we got there. Eventually.”

“Although I have to admit, this feels vaguely like I have to imagine a slumber party would.”

“I’m not braiding your hair.”

Danny snorted. “I don’t think anyone could braid my hair.”

“I think you have enough now. It would be technically possible, in small pieces. Corn rows. However, I would not do it.”

“Oh, well, then. Glad we cleared that up.”

“Were you always this sarcastic? Looking across from the vast distance of New York, I can’t quite remember.”

“Yes.” There was a smile in Danny’s voice. “Were you always this repressed?”

“Actually, I’ve been much more repressed. If anything, working with Abby—” Casey startled himself with a yawn. “Abby is messing with my hard-won repression.”

“I know. It’s awful, isn’t it?”

“It sucks.”

“It gets better, though.”

“It can’t get a whole lot worse.”

“Ehhh,” murmured Danny.

“God, I’m tired.” With the slow collapse of the adrenaline, Casey was collapsing, too, a parachute folding down into itself.

“Me too. Tomorrow’s going to suck.”

“Don’t particularly want to sleep yet.”

“Still feeling pretty keyed up myself.”

There was a pause.

“Want to see if we can find some sports on TV?” asked Casey.

“Sure, why the hell not.” Danny bit his lip while he flipped through the channels, settling on one and turning the volume down.

Which was how they woke up the following morning with the television quietly flickering. Casey’s face was smashed into the pillow so hard there were crease lines all over his cheek when he went to brush his teeth. He had to be at the airport soon, a lot sooner than Danny.

“You set to check out?” he asked as he gathered his stuff.

“Mm, yeah.” Danny rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand, yawning. “Ugh. God.”

“There’s coffee in the minibar.”

“I’m taking it all.”

“Do it.”

“Case…”

Casey, standing halfway to the door, reluctant to go, shifted his grip on the strap of his bag. “What?”

Danny smiled at him. It was faint, almost ghostly.

“This was a good trip. Thanks.”

“Any time, my good man,” said Casey, and did a ridiculous little bow, what was he thinking, before waving. “I’d better get going.”

“Call me later.”

“I will.”

There was another moment, meeting Danny’s eyes, before Casey was finally able to turn and walk away.

 

He didn’t sleep well on the flight back, and lost three hours, and got back late, and then had to scramble to be ready for the show.

Bobbi made a face at him in the green room mirror. “You look like crap.”

“Thanks. I feel like crap.”

“Seriously. You’re going to make me look bad.”

“By comparison to me, you’ll look even better. I’m actually doing you a favor.”

“You have a point. It’s not a good one.”

“She’s right,” muttered Alyson, who was struggling to do something about the bags under his eyes. “You’re not making this easy on me.”

“But she will look better by comparison, won’t she?”

“Casey, she was already much prettier than you.”

“Hey!”

Bobbi laughed. “Why, thank you, Alyson.”

Alyson’s eyes darted up and met Bobbi’s in the mirror and—hey, thought Casey, with a kind of dawning indignation. Was that why Bobbi had been so adamant about not going out with him? No dating in the workplace indeed—

The two women were smiling at each other, small, private smiles.

On air that night, he and Bobbi were in a good groove. He was tired, sure, and he felt deeply unsettled, but there was something to this idea of therapy after all, because he felt somehow un-blocked. Like he’d been writing with one hand tied behind his back for months and he hadn’t noticed it.

“I’d ask if you want to go get a drink, but I’m guessing you want to sleep,” said Bobbi drily after they finished the show.

“You would be correct. I do indeed want to sleep. I desire sleep with a depth and degree of passion that I have experienced but rarely in my life.”

She rolled her eyes at him expressively.

When he got home, there was a moment’s insane craving to stay up and watch Danny’s show. I should start taping it, he thought. He could program his VCR. (Well, with help. Maybe Charlie could program his VCR, at his next visit. Maybe Jeremy could be coerced into coming over to program the VCR—no, Jeremy mustn’t know.)

His mail included a flat package. He frowned down at it, trying to remember whether he’d ordered something.

He tore it open; a new book lay in the packaging, Lance Armstrong staring soulfully up at him from the cover. (Staring soulfully a little to his left, to be precise.)

He picked it up and hefted it. It wasn’t an enormous book, not a paper-weight, but it felt like it would be a reasonably satisfying read.

He tucked it under his arm and reached for the cordless phone.

“Hi,” said Danny cautiously.

“Hey. Got your present.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“That was you, right? The Lance Armstrong biography?”

“Oh! It was me. Forgot about that. I was on Amazon the other day and thought you might be interested in it.”

“Definitely.”

“How was the flight?”

“Not bad. No screaming babies, which is all I can ask for.”

“That is indeed a boon from the gods of flight.”

“Right? I knew sacrificing my magazine was the way to go. Burnt offerings all the way.”

Danny chuckled. “By the way, a certain clip was called to my attention.”

“Oh, was it? What clip, and by whom?”

“My producer tapes Sports Night. You know, to see what you guys are up to. She tapes all the sports shows, don’t feel too special. Anyway, did you call Liam Nash pumpkin? Did that happen, or was I partaking in some kind of collective hallucination?”

“It was funny!”

“It was hysterical, but I’m saying, have you been checked for a head injury recently?”

“It would explain a lot.”

“It would explain so much.”

“How was your show?”

“It was fine. J.J. flubbed it on throwing to commercial before the 20s, but I decided to forgive him.”

“Very noble of you. Was I ever forgiven such crimes?”

“That, and so much more,” said Danny wryly. “J.J. never snacks at the anchor desk.”

“Hey! Sometimes my blood sugar gets low!”

“You get crumbs. Everywhere.

“Yeah, well, Bobbi wears much nicer perfume than you.”

“I should hope so, seeing as how I don’t wear perfume.”

“You definitely wear something.”

“I wear cologne. It’s a world of difference.”

“It’s expensive and smelly. Same thing.”

“Spoken like a man who fears the inside of a department store.”

“As any sane man would. They’re inherently terrifying places. They’re full of mannequins—don’t try to tell me that’s not creepy—and people with overly cheery smiles who are there to convince you to shell out your hard-earned money for something made in a sweat-shop for pennies, onto which a small Malaysian child was forced to embroider a fancy logo.”

Danny was laughing. “Have you thought about compiling your thoughts on this subject, and subjects like these, into some kind of book? I’m sure there’s a huge market for pedantic ranting.”

“If Jerry Falwell—”

“Do not start that again—”

“Hey,” said Casey, “speaking of Western civilization’s most notorious homophobe—”

“I think that would technically be Hitler, don’t you? With the actual pink triangles and everything.”

“What?”

“Didn’t you learn about that?”

“About what?”

“The Nazis—it wasn’t just the Jews, Casey, they hated lots of people. Gypsies, the mentally disabled. Gay people.”

“They—what?” Casey frowned out the window, trying to get a handle on the conversation.

“Rounded them up and put them in the camps and made them wear pink triangles? It’s why the pink triangle is a thing?”

“Huh.”

“Okay, so you learned something today.”

“I learn a lot of things, regularly, because I’m well-read.”

“And yet.”

“There are a lot of things in the world to learn.”

“True enough.”

“That’s particularly depressing, though.”

“Well, not much about the Nazis is anything else,” said Danny wryly.

“Yeah.”

“What were you going to say about Jerry Falwell? I’m going to regret saying that.”

“No, I was going to ask, do you think Bobbi likes women?”

What?

Casey winced at the affront in Danny’s voice. “I think she was, I don’t know, vibing, with Alyson today.”

“Vibing.”

“They were having a moment. I swear.”

“Casey, no offense, but you’re about as perceptive when it comes to these things as my pet rock.”

“Hey,” Casey protested.

“Besides, did you forget the whole thing with me and Bobbi? I mean, the whole reason she had a grudge?”

“It was because you were a cad, yes.”

“I wasn’t—well, I was a cad. But still, in order to be a cad, in order to have the opportunity to be a cad, I had to sleep with her in the first place.”

“That doesn’t mean she couldn’t like women.”

“You’re absolutely correct about that, although it does at least suggest that she likes men.”

“Maybe she likes both. Or maybe she was experimenting. Don’t lesbians do that?”

“Casey.” Danny choked a little on a laugh. “You sound… I don’t even know, like someone who hasn’t experienced nightlife or the changing political landscape since 1989.”

“In all fairness, I was married in 1989, and for a considerable amount of time since then.”

“Things change, my young friend.”

“I know! I saw Ellen!”

Danny gave up and guffawed. “I can’t believe you. You watched Ellen. I don’t know why I’m even surprised.”

“And if I remember correctly, Ellen slept with men on the show. Right? Or at least dated them? Before she realized she was a lesbian and came out. So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Bobbi slept with you, and regardless of your skill or your charm, ultimately realized that she preferred feminine company.”

Preferred… feminine… company. I need to write this down. I need to e-mail it to Bobbi so she murders you. This is amazing.”

(This was what they hadn’t had in six months, or maybe more; this kind of easy banter, full of free association and flights of fancy. And, perhaps, the odd alliteration.

And it was somehow agonizing, because Casey was dancing around it. He had no idea how he would even have begun to say it. As long as we’re talking about—no.)

Casey said, “I was asking whether you had any, you know, inside knowledge.”

“Whether the woman who spent the better part of a decade hating me had confided in me as to her sexual orientation?”

“…Yeah.”

“I do not. Even if I did, I wouldn’t share.”

“Don’t let Natalie hear you say that.”

“Why, is she on the extension in your kitchen?”

“I frankly wouldn’t put it past her.” Casey flipped open the book and started skimming the first page. “Wait, what?”

“What?”

“Lance Armstrong. What is this opening?”

“I’ve already forgotten it. Remind me.”

“’I want to cross one last finish line as my stud wife and my ten children applaud’—sorry, his stud wife?

“That’s weird.”

“I don’t know what he means.”

“Just keep moving.”

“That’s going to be difficult to do. If there are ten children involved, the stud would be—”

“Casey, move on from that.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“You’re so weird,” Danny muttered under his breath, but it was half-fond.

“Takes one to know one.”

“So that’s the level of discourse we’re going for. Good to know. I’ll get all my rubber- and glue-based retorts ready.”

“Move back,” said Casey. “When your contract’s up. Move back.”

Danny sighed. “I’ll—I don’t want to think about it too much yet, okay? I know that’s not what you want to hear. But right now I’m on a track that’s working for me. I’ll think about it, a lot, when it gets closer.”

“Fine.” Casey pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Damn it, Case, don’t get—you’re doing that thing again. Don’t get all WASP-y on me.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Casey said stiffly.

“Yeah, you do.” Danny made a faint, muffled noise. “You’re—if you won’t talk to me about it, at least talk to Abby, okay?”

“…Okay.”

“You seeing her this week?”

“I am.”

“Good.”

“I’d better go.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Nah, I need—I should sleep.”

“Okay.” Danny sighed again. “Okay.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

After he pressed the button to disconnect, he let the phone fall into his lap and sat, staring out into space.

 

[Session 5]

“Sounds like a hell of a trip,” said Abby.

Casey was lying flat on the couch, legs sprawled off uncomfortably to the side.

“You ain’t whistling Dixie,” he said in his best Southern accent, which was terrible.

“It sounds like you did manage to talk about some of your feelings, though.”

“I did.”

“Casey,” said Abby. “I get the impression there’s a lot going on that you aren’t ready to talk through yet.”

He threw her a quick A-OK sign. “That would be correct.” A lot encompassed his entire realization vis-à-vis Danny. Vis-à-vis Danny’s face. Face-to-face with Danny’s face, that was a good one, Danny would have enjoyed it.

“And that’s fine, but I want you to start thinking about how you would tell me about it.”

“Hm. All right.”

“How’s Charlie?”

Casey sat up, swinging his legs around. “He’s good. I’m going to drop by—he has rehearsal for his play on my day off, so I’m going to go sit in.”

“That’s interesting.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re finding a chance to get involved in something Charlie cares about.”

“I am. I’m trying.” Casey breathed out, conscious of the air gusting over his lips. “I’ve been thinking about my dad, and how he—and I don’t want that. I don’t want to be like that. So I’m, uh, I’m trying to encourage him.”

She smiled at him. “Even if it means sitting through a middle school production of Shakespeare?”

“Damn right.”

“That’s good.”

“That’s what I thought. It’s nice to have my judgment supported.”

“Being involved in Charlie’s life is something you’ve talked about repeatedly. It seems important to you.”

“It’s the most important thing about me.”

“More than work?”

“Work isn’t alive. It isn’t a human being. Charlie is.”

“That’s a thoughtful perspective.” Abby toyed with her pencil.

“Children deserve to know how much they matter.”

“Have you thought about having more children?”

Casey blinked at her. “What?”

“What does your ideal life look like?”

“My ideal—it looked like being married and having Charlie,” he said bitterly.

“And that didn’t work.” Abby watched him solemnly. “So where do you want to go from here?”

“I don’t—I don’t know.”

“Do you want to settle down? Get married again? Have more children? Do you prefer being single? You must have thought about it, with trying out dating since the divorce.”

But he hadn’t, not in any kind of detail. He’d stumbled through the dates with women, through sleeping with Sally, vaguely aware that whatever he needed, that wasn’t it. He’d chalked it up to the force of habit: having been with Lisa for so long, he’d assumed the gaps and disconnects were because he’d gotten soft with the luxury of having a partner who’d been with him for a decade and a half.

Except then there had been Dana. He’d bought flowers. He’d thought—but he hadn’t ever made it into thinking about their future together. Not beyond the giddy, ecstatic dual orbit of courtship.

“I’ll be damned,” he said slowly. “I don’t know.”

“Really?”

 

When Charlie was a baby, Danny babysat. He babysat a lot—he was still an intern, working with Casey at odds times and hours, for the first couple of years. So there were times when Casey would pick up the phone in desperation, and every time, Danny would perk up and say, “Sure!”

Sometimes they’d bring Charlie to Danny’s, but more often Danny would come over, guitar case hanging from his hand, the battered, beloved leather covered in band stickers from Danny’s latest adventures.

Charlie knew Danny, of course, and would toddle right up to him, arms sticking straight out for a hug.

Once, Casey got home early. Lisa was away for a girl’s weekend with her mother, and Casey had been out playing racquetball for the day. He’d come in, feeling relaxed, still damp from the showers in a humid L.A. summer. It was oddly easy to forget, now that it had been almost ten years, that he’d lived in L.A.—that they all had, him and Lisa and Charlie and Dana and Danny, before Lone Star, before Dallas. Back then, it hadn’t been the enemy.

He’d come in quietly, wearing rubber-soled shoes from the gym. He’d heard Danny on the way in. The soft, plucking, jangling sound of the acoustic guitar that was Danny’s most prized possession. Danny didn’t sing in front of other people much, never had, but that evening he’d been singing to Charlie in the nursery.

“—and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.” Danny was slightly off-key, but his voice was clear. “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.”

Casey leaned against the doorframe. Danny was sitting with his back to Casey, Charlie drifting off in his bed, blinking heavily. Neither of them noticed him. Charlie’s special light, the kind that cast rotating light on the walls from cut-outs—the Care Bears—spun hypnotically. Charlie must have been… three? Close to three.

Casey had somehow forgotten how sad the song was. When it got the part about “Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,” he must have moved. Danny stopped, glancing back over his shoulder.

“Hi, Case,” said Danny, a sweet, easy smile blooming on his face as the Care Bear silhouettes danced across it. “I think he’s just about asleep, do you want to wake him up to say hi?”

“Daddy!”

“Well, that settles that.” Casey smiled and came into the circle of light. He knelt for Charlie’s sticky-handed hug. “Did you have a good time?”

He got a babbling, half-intelligible recitation of the day’s events, with Danny constantly smiling and biting his lip, trying not to laugh at the prominence of meeting a “really BIG dog, BIG,” Charlie gesturing emphatically.

“We went for a walk, right, bud?” said Danny. He added to Casey, “Just around the block. He had a lot of energy.”

“I’m not sure the past tense is wholly accurate,” Casey murmured, extricating his hand from Charlie’s. “Big man, you should go to sleep pretty soon. Do you think you can do that?”

Charlie had some thoughts on the subject, including but not limited to his sudden, urgent need for water, the mysterious absence of his favorite teddy bear, and whether Danny was going to have to go right away.

“I’ll get you some water,” said Danny, getting to his feet and setting the guitar down. “You can talk to your dad some more before you have to go to sleep.”

Danny ended up playing the song one more time, after Charlie insisted on it repeatedly—“Puff! Puff! Puff!”—and by the third verse, Charlie was fast asleep, eyelids fluttering through early dreams. Casey watched him, and his heart felt like the Grinch’s—growing three sizes, too much to know quite what to do with.

Danny kept playing, though, right through the end of the song. Neither of them said anything about it.

When it was done, Casey cocked his head toward the living room, and Danny nodded. Danny carried his guitar back to the living room, putting it reverently back in its case with deep blue velvet lining, snapping shut the fastenings.

Casey got them each a beer from the fridge, and they sat in companionable silence. It was one of the best days that year.

 

He looked up. Abby’s eyes were kind.

“Abby,” he said, “there’s stuff going on I—don’t know how to talk about.”

“I’m not surprised. You weren’t taught a lot of tools for describing your feelings.”

“How do I learn the words?”

She leaned back. “You have words. Three thesauruses, remember? What you need is to be able to put those words together to accurately describe what’s happening in your brain.”

“What’s happening is I started therapy, and suddenly everything’s gone to hell in a handbasket.”

Abby laughed, which seemed inappropriate. “Casey. You were already in hell. Now you’re in the handbasket trying to navigate your way back out.”

 

“Bobbi.” Casey drummed his fingers on the edge of her desk. “Let’s go rob Isaac’s office.”

“No,” she said without looking up.

“He’s got his Chivas Regal, and if we wait until he’s in a meeting and water it down, he’ll never know.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Bobbi,” he whined.

She set down her pencil and sighed. “Why, exactly, are we robbing Isaac?”

“Not robbing Isaac, robbing his office. And we’re doing it to have fun.”

“That’s your idea of fun? Have you tried Parcheesi?”

“For your information, I happen to excel at Parcheesi. Theft has its advantages.”

She laughed out loud. “I should have expected both that you excel at Parcheesi, and that that’s something you would say with pride.”

“Hey!”

“No, no, no. I’m not in for robbing Isaac’s office. However, if you’d care to wait until after the show, which I’d like to point out is a mere four and a half hours away, I think we could justify grabbing a drink to take our minds off the Mighty Ducks…”

“Excellent. It’s a plan. One small flaw.”

“Which is?”

“I’m still bored now.

“Well, Casey, there’s always the option of doing something grown-up, like work.” She gestured at her own desk. “You may have noticed that I, in fact, was doing work, until you came in.”

“No, doesn’t sound right.”

“What kind of entertainment are you even looking for?”

“If I knew, I’d have an easier time finding it.” He sighed, turning to stare through the glass wall with his hands in his pockets. He bounced on his toes a couple of times.

“Look, use a lifeline. Ask the audience. Phone a friend. Whatever.”

He craned his neck to look back at her. “What?”

“Do you even watch television other than sports shows?”

“On occasion I have been known to.”

“Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

“No.”

“You’re aware of it, though.”

“Who can avoid awareness of Regis Philbin? It’s pervasive. It’s this peculiar, pervasive cultural moment in which we are collectively trapped, like so many flies on a strip of tape—”

“Oh my God, Casey, get out of my office before I murder you.”

“But drinks tonight?”

“Drinks tonight.” She looked back down at her paper, scribbling, and added with a studied casualness, “I might invite some friends along.”

“Uh, why don’t you see if Alyson wants to join us? And, uh, I’ll ask—” He racked his brains. Natalie was a no-go for obvious, gossip-related reasons. “Dave.” Dave was a good guy. Very safe. Casey could stand talking with Dave for some indefinite amount of time.

She squinted at him suspiciously. “That sounds… good.”

“Great. Anthony’s?” Oh, God, no, Natalie might go there of her own accord. “Or, how about El Perro Fumando?”

“I was thinking about that new place. Winter Garden.”

“Oh, sure, I’ve heard good things. Let’s do that.” He gave her a thumbs-up. She looked at him like he was insane.

“Good.”

 

Back in his office, he leaned back in his chair, staring at the corner where the ceiling met the opposite wall.

Ask the audience. Phone a friend.

He was dialing for an outside line before he’d fully registered he meant to do it.

“Hi?”

“Hey, Lisa.”

“Oh. Casey.” She didn’t sound angry, so much as nonplussed.

“Is Charlie around?”

“I’ll see what he’s up to.” The phone went muffled—her hand over the receiver, probably—and he could vaguely hear her voice in the background.

A minute later, there was a click. “Hi, Dad.” And a second click as Lisa, presumably, hung up.

“Hey, Charlie.”

“What are you calling about?” Charlie sounded cautious, but not displeased.

“Just wanted to find out how things are going with that play of yours.”

“Oh.” Charlie digested that for a moment. “Good? I guess?”

“Your friend Aidan’s in it, right?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah,” said Charlie, a little warmer. “I’m Puck, but he’s going to be Lysander, so we’re practicing, he’s helping me with my lines. Olivia is Titania, which is kind of funny because she’s really tall, and tomorrow night we’re going to go over to her house, like five of us, and we’re going to work on our lines. It’s really hard to remember them.”

“I know what you mean.”

“Why?”

“I always have to remember what I’m going to say for the show.”

“Oh.” Charlie thought it over. “That makes sense. Like lines.”

“It’s a lot like acting.”

“Plus you have to pretend to be happy even when you’re sad.”

Casey blinked.

“Like when you and Mom were getting divorced. You were mad all the time and you still had to be funny on air.”

Casey frowned into space. “You’re right. I guess I didn’t think of it like that.”

“So you know what acting is like. Hey, maybe you could—maybe you could help me with my lines?”

“I would be very happy to help with your lines.”

“I’ve been trying to—here, let me get—” Charlie rustled papers. “Okay, Dad, how well do you know this play?”

“It’s been a long time. Catch me up on it.”

“So there’s this part—I have to say, ‘Then fate o'er-rules, that, one man holding troth.’” Charlie stumbled over it a little. “‘A million fail, confounding oath on oath.’ What does that mean?

“Tell me what you think it means.” Casey was buying time to consider it.

“Fate o’er-rules means that fate, or I guess, like, destiny, is more important, but what’s troth? Why is one man holding it? My copy says it’s about vows.”

“It is. Troth is like—have you heard of plighting your troth?”

“Maybe?” Charlie sounded dubious.

“It means making a promise. Usually when people say it now they’re talking about marriage.”

“So destiny means he’s… not going to marry somebody?”

“Or at least not keep a promise.”

“Okay.”

“Tell you what, I’m going to find my copy of this and bring it in, and tomorrow we can run lines, okay? We’ll figure out which ones you have a hard time remembering and I’ll help you with those.”

“Okay!”

When he hung up, Casey felt better than he could remember feeling in months.

 

On air that night, he kept thinking about it.

How long had he been using the hour a day, less commercial breaks, that he was on air, as a way to pretend that he was all right? How long had he been thinking that if he could keep it together for that hour, he couldn’t be that fucked up?

 

After the show, Bobbi grinned at Casey. “It is time for lovingly hand-crafted cocktails, Casey. I hope you’re prepared for this.”

“I’m as prepared as I need to be.”

“I’m not convinced you’re fully prepared.”

“And you are?”

“Indeed I am.” She beat him back to Wardrobe. He shrugged, changing back into his street clothes, and met back up with her. They accumulated Dave and Will—Will had insisted on coming along, and there was no reason why he couldn’t—and Alyson, and the group of them set off on foot. Winter Garden was only a couple of minutes away.

Bobbi and Alyson headed the group. Bobbi was wearing heels, which made her seem like she had her shit together; Casey had recently begun to suspect that, as with Dana’s heels, this was more protective camouflage than reality. Alyson kept fussing with her hair and laughing.

Winter Garden had a lot of little white Christmas lights everywhere, probably in an homage to seasonal decoration, and ghostly white painted tree branches. It all felt very over the top, but whatever. The group of them settled in around a table and ordered their fancy cocktails. Casey, despite having had years to get used to the exorbitant drink prices in Manhattan, still felt more than a little outrage at the numbers on the menu, but he settled for a drink that was alleged to contain whiskey. It sounded good.

It was good. He let himself savor it, listening with half an ear to a vigorous debate between Dave and Will about whether George W. Bush was as big a moron as he looked like on TV. (“Bigger,” said Dave vehemently.)

After an hour or so, people started to drift off, and Casey found himself grateful to head home. He took a few minutes to hunt down his copy of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was an aged paperback that might have dated to his own high school days. He put it with his coat so he’d remember it in the morning.

His bed was comfortable. There was that book from Danny perched on the night-stand. He hadn’t gotten a good start on it yet.

So he picked up the Armstrong biography, and immediately found himself going cross-eyed with dismay.

“Hmm?” said Danny, clearly still wide awake when he picked up the phone. Right. Time zones.

“Did you read what he says on page two about his wife?”

Danny sighed. “I don’t remember. Is it outrageous?”

“He’s making fun of his wife for going too slowly and she says, ‘Lance, marry a man,’ and he treats it like this big joke.”

Danny was silent for a minute. “Well, I imagine to him it is.”

“He goes on to describe his, and I quote, ‘sissy-boy calves.’”

“Are we surprised that a professional athlete feels compelled to incessantly discuss his masculinity?”

“A little surprised that I can’t make it to page three without running into it!”

“I didn’t realize it would annoy you so badly.”

“The rest of this better be pretty inspirational if he wants to be such a dick up front.”

Danny said, “Hang on, hang on. I’m going to grab it—okay, here we go, page 5. Start reading.”

“‘People live. It’s an equal and opposing truth. People live, and in the most remarkable ways.’”

“‘I still don’t completely understand it,’” Danny murmured. “‘All I can do is tell you what happened.’”

Casey paused. “Okay, that’s pretty good.”

“I’m not going to claim this is all Hemingway or anything, but he has his moments.”

“Danny…” Casey sighed. “Do you think the rumors about him are true?”

“The doping?”

The line crackled faintly. Maybe Danny was shifting position.

“I don’t know,” Danny finally said. “I hope not. I won’t be surprised if they are.”

“It’s just…”

“I know. You said—with the divorce, when you were talking about quitting. You said.”

“I did. You’d think I’d get used to it. Grow a thicker skin. But some days it feels like every hero who falls is one more reminder than people are colossal fuck-ups, by and large.” Casey laughed painfully. “Maybe it hits too close to home.”

“Case.” Danny didn’t follow that up with anything.

“I know. I’m—look, the whole idea that I needed therapy—it took me a while, okay? And I’m still not comfortable with it. I’m working on it.”

“That’s the most important part. If you keep showing up and keep working, you start—it gets easier.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Casey leaned back, closing his eyes. “I’m going to run lines with Charlie tomorrow.”

“Oh, man.” Danny laughed. “That’s going to be something.”

“It is. He’s so smart, though. I told him I have to remember lines and he said something insightful. He said my job is like acting because I have to pretend to be happy even when I’m not.”

“He’s not wrong.”

“I know, but I hadn’t thought of it in precisely that way.”

“Hm.”

“You had?”

“Yeah,” Danny said. “Sometimes.”

“Damn.”

“I think—it was more obvious to me because I—it’s always putting on a face, for me. It’s not just the show. It’s all the time. Abby helped me see what I was doing, and she helped me when I started trying to not do that so much.”

“You never needed to pretend,” said Casey quietly. “You were always worth it.” Worth what, he didn’t, couldn’t say.

Danny was silent for a long time, then.

“Thanks,” Danny eventually said, and changed the subject so neatly that it took Casey five minutes to notice, and by then they’d drifted far away.

 

[Session 6]

“I still don’t know what I want out of my life,” said Casey.

“Now who’s not doing great with the greetings?”

“Right. Hello, Abby, good to see you, I don’t know what I want out of life and it’s freaking me out.”

“Okay. Is that what you want to talk about today?”

“Why wouldn’t it be? Are you judging me?”

“You said last week that there were things you didn’t know how to talk to me about.”

He frowned at his shoes. They were damp; the weather was getting genuinely nasty. “Yeah.”

“Are they related to this?”

“Uh, I guess.”

“Okay. Tell me what’s freaking you out.”

“If pressed, I would have to admit that I prefer being in a relationship to the single state.”

“That’s a place to start.”

“There are a lot of upsides to marriage.”

“What are they for you?”

He ticked them off on his fingers. “Someone to talk to. Who knows you, you don’t have to worry about what they think of you or whether they’re judging you based on irrelevant and useless criteria. Someone to share responsibilities with, so it’s not you alone with your disposal whenever it breaks, which it does all the time, might I add, which is ridiculous given how much I pay in HOA fees on that condo.”

“Casey,” said Abby warningly.

“Fine, fine. Someone to share burdens with, financial and otherwise. And—someone to have an—intimate relationship with.”

“And does an intimate relationship for you include sex?”

“What? Yes. Obviously.”

“It doesn’t for everyone, but it sounds like that’s something that’s important to you.”

“It is.”

“What do you see as the barriers between you and getting involved in another long-term relationship, whether or not that leads to marriage?”

Casey rolled his shoulders uncomfortably. “I—it’s hard to meet people.”

“You’ve said that before, about making friends.”

“It’s just as true for dating. If I can’t even make friends, how am I supposed to find someone I can be good enough friends with to marry?

“What would your ideal partner be like?”

He should have been able to answer that like a normal person. He tried. “Smart, uh, literary, attractive, accomplished, and into sports, obviously.” His heart was pounding out of control by the time he got to the end of that short list.

“Hm,” she said, taking a sip from her Thermos.

“Fuck.” He stood up abruptly again and paced. He knew it was a dead giveaway, worse than his poker tells, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t hold still. The knowledge was burning a hole in his chest.

“It seems like you’re having some strong feelings about this.” Abby watched him pace—he could feel her gaze. “What are you thinking about right now, Casey?”

“Danny.” The name took an immense amount of effort to get out.

“Tell me about it.”

“When I went—okay, you’re—this is confidential, right?”

“It is.”

“I’ve never—not with—Lisa was the first girl I seriously dated, and we were together for fifteen years and I never cheated on her. Not once.”

Abby nodded solemnly.

“After the divorce, I slept with a couple of women. It was fine. It wasn’t—I thought it was that I didn’t love them like I loved Lisa, and it was fine but it wasn’t amazing. With Lisa, especially before things got bad, it was amazing. You know? I was never going to tell anybody that because then I sound like some sad sack pining for his ex-wife, and I don’t want Lisa back, I don’t want that at all. We made each other miserable. It was a good thing we split up. But I didn’t get that same—it wasn’t there with anybody else.”

“Okay.”

“And then, when I went to—when Danny got off the plane, in Vegas, I looked at him and—” Casey stopped in his tracks, scrubbing at his face ineffectually with both hands. “Jesus. I don’t know.”

“You were sexually attracted to him?”

“Yes.” He was simultaneously grateful to and angry at her for saying it out loud.

“It seems to have taken you by surprise.”

“Well, I’ve spent—half my life with one woman, and I never saw the need to go anywhere else. I didn’t think about—about any men that way. I don’t think I did. And now I’m not sure anymore.”

“That sounds like a lot to handle.”

“You aren’t kidding.” He started pacing again. “I can’t tell him, and I can’t not tell him, it’s this thing now whenever I talk to him. I’m lucky if I can get through a conversation without starting to try.”

“Why can’t you tell him?”

“What are you, insane? We are barely back to anything like the friendship we used to have before I—before everything got all fucked up and he went off to L.A., you think I’m going to fuck that up?”

“Why would it fuck things up?”

He turned to gape at her, open-mouthed. “Are you serious? He’s not gay.”

“Neither are you,” she pointed out. “You were telling me that the sex with Lisa was, in your own words, amazing. Was that wrong?”

“No! It was—that’s different.”

“How is it different?”

“I don’t know. It just is.”

“Okay, we’re going to put a pin in that one and come back to it, but let’s say for the sake of argument that Danny is straight. Why do you think hearing that you’re attracted to him would necessarily end the friendship? What are you concerned about?”

“He’d—” Casey floundered.

“Do you think he’d be offended?”

“No—no, not offended.” Men had hit on Danny before. Fans, generally, when Casey and Danny were out together. Danny had never gotten mad, only smiled and thanked them and sent them on their merry way.

“You think he’d be uncomfortable around you?”

“Yes! Wouldn’t you?”

“You’re the one this is happening to,” Abby said gently. “Why would he be uncomfortable?”

“Because he’d have to wonder, forever, whether I was…”

“Trying to get into his pants?”

“Yes.”

“Would you be?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Would you only be his friend because you were trying to sleep with him?”

“No. Jesus. No.”

“But you don’t think he’d understand that?”

“I—”

“Would you have, if the situation had been reversed?”

“If—”

“If Danny were to have developed sexual feelings for you, and you didn’t feel the same way, how would you have responded?”

Casey sat down again on the edge of the couch. “I… don’t know.”

“Are you actually afraid of how Danny would respond, or are you afraid of what acknowledging it in front of other people would mean about you?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“How much of your identity is constructed around being a man? And what being a man means to you? What does it mean to you if you like men? Are you less of a man now?”

He rubbed at a dull throb starting in his temples. “You’re giving me a headache.”

“That’s what you pay me for.”

“I wish that was less true.”

“So tell me. What does liking men mean about you as a person?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does it make you less of a man?”

“Maybe.”

“Is that what your father would have said?”

“Yes.”

“We keep running into this, Casey. Bits and pieces of the things your father taught you, littering your internal landscape, and you keep running into them in the dark and stubbing your toe.”

“You think I’m upset about this because I’m worried about my dad would think?”

“Aren’t you?” she said, like she already knew the answer.

And the hell of it was, he suspected she might be right.

“You don’t seem as surprised as I would have expected.” He frowned at her. “Did I have some kind of tell?”

“Casey, when you’ve been a therapist for a few years, you might realize that there aren’t a lot of truly surprising things. The things that people think of as horrifying secrets, that they try to bury too deep to see the light—these are almost always common things. Fear is the biggest one. People will go to extraordinary lengths to cover up fear and disguise it as something else. Sex, everyone lies about sex, to themselves, to me, to each other. Love is another one. People are afraid love makes them weak.”

“Fear. Huh.” Casey blew out a breath. “Okay.”

“Tell me about your trip again. This time leave in the parts where you were freaking out about this.”

So he did.

 

Bobbi grinned at Casey, waggling her bat. He’d agreed to go to the batting cages with her, and now that he was losing, badly, in an entirely unofficial contest of skills, he felt disgruntled.

Another ball came whipping at her and she hit it with a smooth, satisfying crack that he could feel in his bones.

He made a face at her as she grinned and did a victory dance.

“Seriously, Wellesley?” he called. “They teach you that?”

“This, and so much more, McCall! Eat it!”

“Oh, for—”

“Sounds like somebody didn’t eat his Wheaties!”

“You’re as bad as Dana, you know that?”

“Au contraire, I am much better at this than Dana.”

“You’ve gone with Dana?”

“Once. She was amazingly awful at it.”

“And I’m less awful?”

“Enough less awful that I won’t prohibit you from coming with me next time.”

“I feel so touched.”

“Hah! Good.”

They ended up getting a bite to eat afterwards, standing on a sidewalk in cold that was trying to snake in through coats and scarves and thick socks. Bobbi was chewing a wad of hot dog (disgustingly) and telling him about her undergraduate Communications major. “I thought I might go into social work, so I shadowed one, and wow, did that ever convince me in a hurry that wasn’t right for me.”

“I’m having difficulty picturing it.”

“Hey, I’m very caring!”

“I’m not saying you aren’t, I’m saying that you have a glare that could cut glass. If looks could kill, you’d be mowing down a strip constantly wherever you went.”

“Hah, fuck you,” she said cheerily and took another bite.

It hit him, all at once. “Hey, wait a second.”

“What?” she mumbled.

“Are we friends? Is that what’s happening here?”

She raised an eyebrow. “If it isn’t, I have to ask what you think is happening.”

“Oh, God, no. Friends. Definitely friends.”

She threw back her head and laughed. Her baseball cap had her ponytail pulled through the gap in back. “Good. Glad we’re on the same page.”

“Uh, as friends, though.”

“What is it?”

“Are you…” He hesitated. “I get a, a vibe…”

“Spit it out, Casey.”

“Are you trying to pick up Alyson?” he asked in a rush. “Because if you are, I think she likes you. I think you should go for it.”

She had stopped, holding the remaining half of her hot dog as if she’d forgotten it, staring at him.

“Or, uh, if that’s not—sorry—I shouldn’t have…” He trailed off.

“No, I’m, look, if I’m honest here I’m frankly astonished that you of all people picked up on something like that.”

“Oh. Oh! So I’m right?”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re not… wrong. I don’t want to make a move unless I’m—it could go very badly, you know that. I don’t want to be the sports lesbian.”

“I don’t think it would go badly.”

“Ugh.” She sighed heavily. “Well, uh, thanks, I guess?”

“I should… are you a lesbian, though?”

She shrugged. “Close enough.”

“That’s… not really an answer.”

“I date a guy once every blue moon.”

“Uh,” he said. “That might… be where I’m at, too.”

She raised both eyebrows. “Huh. I did not see that coming.”

“To be fair, neither did I.”

“Post-divorce awakening? I’ve heard about those.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“It’s tough.” She shrugged. “Let’s get ice cream.”

 

He picked up the Armstrong memoir again. Terry had a bad temper, and he used to whip me for things. Kid things, like being messy.

Athletes don’t have much use for poking around in their childhoods, because introspection doesn’t get you anywhere in a race.

But that said, it’s all stoked down in there, fuel for the fire.

Nothing goes to waste, you put it all to use, the old wounds and long-ago slights become the stuff of competitive energy.

He had to put the book down for a minute, the cool weight of it in his lap.

When he tried to sleep that night, one of the speeches he’d been running with Charlie kept coming back to him. He knew the words by heart, after how many times Charlie had said them by then, with his intent childish concentration, mouthing the unfamiliar syllables carefully.

Thou coward, art thou bragging to the stars,

Telling the bushes that thou look'st for wars,

And wilt not come? Come, recreant; come, thou child;

I'll whip thee with a rod: he is defiled

That draws a sword on thee.

It wasn’t the same thing at all. But his brain wouldn’t let it go.

 

Two nights later, the phone was ringing as he let himself into the condo. “You’re not dating Bobbi, right?” said Danny, before he could even say hello.

“I am not.”

“Not dating Bobbi, or not not dating Bobbi?”

“Not dating Bobbi. I’m trying to help hook her up with, uh, her crush.”

“Her crush? What is this, middle-school—you know what, I don’t even have time to get into that right now. Did you see the picture on New York Snapper’s webpage?”

“On what?

“They’re a gossip rag, online only, so I guess that answers my question, you’re still a complete goober who can’t use the Internet.”

“You knew this about me.”

“I did. They posted a picture of you and Bobbi eating ice cream together.”

“We went to an indoor batting cage and then we got food. It wasn’t a date.”

“Casey, I hate to ask this in a way that sounds like I’m impugning your ability to figure out these things, but are you sure that wasn’t a date where you dropped the ball?”

“I’m absolutely certain.”

“And yet, I’m not convinced.”

“Danny. I didn’t—I should ask if it’s okay before I—but look, I asked her if she was trying to get with Alyson.”

Danny said nothing.

“She said yes. I asked if she was a lesbian, and she said mostly, and I don’t know exactly how that works, but I’m—it’s fine. I think we’re friends. It’s good.” He found himself saying it with a perfect sincerity he could only hope translated across the phone.

“And you can be her beard,” said Danny, low and oddly angry.

“Her what?”

Beard, Casey, it’s what they call the person someone gay dates to make them look straight.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I mean, we did go for batting practice. At which she kicked my ass, by the way. The tabloids can get into a lather over it if they want, but that’s all there is to it.”

“They said—I’m going to read you the caption.”

“Fine.”

“They said, ‘Is there something more than sports in the air for these two co-anchors? Bobbi Bernstein and Casey McCall of Sports Night have been working together for six months now--more than enough time for sparks to fly, if you ask us. They’ve been spotted out and about more than once lately, enjoying each others’ company. Casey, divorced for two years, is quite a catch, and obviously Bobbi is every bit the babe, on and off the air. We’ll keep you posted.’”

“That’s bad writing.”

“It may be, but people are going to believe that, Casey. What if Lisa reads that?”

“Lisa knows better than to think I’d talk to her about anything until it was serious.”

“She’ll freak out again.”

“It seems like you’re freaking out.”

Danny went quiet again.

“Look,” said Casey, “I’m not—secretly yearning for Bobbi or anything, okay? She’s—we’re friends. It took a while to get used to her being around. But I mean it, she’s not interested in me, I’m not interested in her.”

“You seemed pretty invested in that thing with Alyson.” Danny’s voice got nasty again. “You seem very interested, for someone who doesn’t have any skin in the game. And you’ve been obsessing about Jerry Falwell again, thinking a lot about those gays. Anything you want to tell me, Casey?”

Casey closed his eyes and counted to ten. He still hadn’t taken his coat off.

“Yeah, actually.”

“Wh—what?” Danny said.

“I—this is coming up, I think, because of the therapy. But, uh, I might—there might be—I haven’t, uh, ever dated, uh, anyone but women. And I’m not stupid. I’m not going to jeopardize the show. Women are great, they’re still a good option for me. For real. Not as, uh, beards. But it’s—look, it seems—I thought I should tell you. I wasn’t going to yet. It’s all very—I haven’t thought about it enough, probably.”

Danny said incredulously, “Are you trying to tell me you like men?

“Maybe. Yes. I think so. Not all of them, or anything.”

“Not—” Danny stopped and sighed heavily. “Okay. Okay.”

“Are you—is this okay?” Casey could hear how needy he sounded. He hated it.

“What do you mean, is it okay?” Danny was tired and still vaguely angry.

“You seem pissed at me.”

“I’m not. I swear.” Danny sighed again. “I need to wrap my mind around this.”

“It hasn’t been a thing. I haven’t been checking out our subjects or anything.”

“Not even Shane McArnold? You got really excited when he was coming on the show.”

“No, I—oh, you’re giving me shit, is that it?”                                                                                  

“If you’re going to idolize Shane McArnold, you bet I’m giving you shit.” Danny’s voice was getting stronger.

“I didn’t secretly want to…” Casey trailed off.

“Did you just realize you did?” Danny sounded entirely too gleeful.

“Shut up! I didn’t think about it at the time, okay?”

“Run your fingers through his luscious hair and—”

“Stop!”

“—kiss those pillow lips and pretend he didn’t say the world’s dumbest shit about New York to New Yorkers?

“I will murder you, so help me God.”

“But you’d do him.”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Okay, yes, fine.” Casey pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t understand how it came to this.”

“You were confessing your midlife crisis to me and I turned that into an opportunity for mockery, as best friends do.”

“That sounds about right.”

“I’ll—I’ll be fine about it. I swear.”

“Good. I don’t—if you weren’t okay with it—I don’t know.”

“No, I promise. It’s going to take some getting used to.” Danny cracked an anemic laugh. “For one thing, now you have no excuse for dressing so badly.”

“I dress perfectly well!”

That is demonstrably not true.”

“You don’t appreciate my classic, elegant simplicity.”

“And neither does anyone who’s been alive after the early 1980s. You dress like a substitute teacher from a John Hughes movie. All you need is a huge pair of bifocals.”

“You respond this way to my moment of vulnerability? In my time of great need?”

“What time of great need, it sounds like you just figured out that men are hot, which you could have observed at any time like the rest of us, by renting Blade and paying careful attention to Wesley Snipes. Who, by the way, you could never pull. He’s so far out of your league it’s like he’s American League and you’re Pee Wee T-ball.”

“I hate you.”

“You dress like a Pilgrim. You dress like Suburban Mom Barbie. You dress like you’re about to go golfing with Ronald Reagan. I’ve got a whole box of these someplace.”

“Bite me.”

“Very professional, very mature.”

“I’m picking up colloquialisms from Charlie, what can I say?”

“Oh, hey, yeah, he’s in that play. How’s that going?”

Danny was pathetically, transparently relieved to talk about something other than Casey’s least comfortable recent epiphany. And because he was a good friend, or was trying to be a better friend with the help of psychological treatment, Casey let it go.

As they were getting ready to hang up, Danny said, “I should mention. I’m coming back to visit my parents for Hanukkah. The last couple of days.”

“What is that this year, around the twenty-ninth?”

“Dead on.”

“Do you want to try to get together? I’m visiting my mom for Christmas, but I’ll be back in the city by then.”

“I don’t know, I don’t get much time off.”

“That’s fine. Where are you flying in?”

“Bradley. I’ve got a layover in Fort Lauderdale.”

“At least they won’t have ice storms.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. How’s the weather?”

“Terrible. I’m guessing L.A. is looking pretty good right about now.”

“It is indeed. It remains serene and beautiful. Beautifully serene.”

“I’ve been thinking about something, this year.”

“What is it?”

“The parenting plan says I can have Charlie for the first part of his break.”

“Yeah?”

“I know it’s late notice, but I think I’m going to see if I can get the time off.”

“Bold move. Dana will try to murder you.”

“I know.”

Lisa will try to murder you.”

“And I’ll have it coming.”

“That you will.”

“But it would be—I haven’t had that much time with Charlie in a long time. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Fathers. They’re pretty good at screwing up their sons for life.”

Danny laughed with a ragged edge. “You’re telling me? You’re preaching to the choir, here.”

“Are there choirs at Temple? I don’t even know these things.”

“Casey. Focus. You’re seriously going to ask, like a week in advance, whether you can have Charlie for a week?”

“I am.”

“You’d better get on that.”

“I know. First thing in the morning I’ll call Lisa, and I’ll talk to Dana when I get in.”

Danny hummed softly. “Good luck. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a good idea. Shitty timing. But a good idea.”

 

Lisa and Dana, in that order, agreed.

Casey,” said Lisa, heaving an enormous sigh.

“I know, I know. It’s such late notice. I’m the worst. I haven’t been there for Charlie the way I wanted to be, not since he was a baby. He’s growing up so fast, I know it’s not fair to you to ask now, but—”

“Casey,” said Lisa again.

“Yeah?”

“We don’t have any travel plans, and Charlie won’t stop practicing the oboe. If you can get the time off and live with the oboe, you can have the week.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.” Lisa sighed. “I know you think—I’m not out to get you, okay? I think it’s great that you’re talking with Charlie more and trying to spend more time with him. I think he appreciates seeing you and knowing that you care. And as long as we can do this in a way that’s not a total mess and doesn’t screw up his schedule or his life, I’m on board.”

“Thank you so much.” In the past, Casey would have tacked some disclaimer on to that. For letting me do this, or even though we don’t get along, but after six cumulative hours talking to Abby—and even, on occasion, listening to her—he was starting to get the sense that not everything he said needed a coda.

Lisa paused, like she was waiting for that coda, too. When it didn’t come, her voice softened. “Let me know as soon as you can, so I can tell him and we can figure anything out if we need to.”

 

Dana, meanwhile, said, “Are you crazy? What kind of operation do you think I run that I can just find someone to take over for you on a holiday week? You are the least considerate person I’ve ever had the misfortune to work with, and I’m including Luther Sachs and the Cut Man. That’s right, I’d rather have the Cut Man on my payroll right now than you, you—you—oh, I’m going to skin you. This is it. This is finally going to be the time that I skin you and wear your hide like a human suit. We already gave you Christmas Eve, what more can you possibly want? Would it have killed you to give us any amount of, say, actual warning? Natalie! Natalie, get Roy on the phone and see what he’s doing the sixteenth through the twenty-third!”

 

So he got the time. Lisa told Charlie, because Casey said, “Only if he wants to. If he doesn’t, that’s fine.” He didn’t want to put Charlie in a position where Charlie would have to say no to Casey’s face.  

She got on the phone after that conversation and said, a smile in her voice, “You are in for so much oboe. And guess what? He wants a bagpipe. I told him to ask you.”

“You’re truly cunning.”

“And devious. Don’t forget devious.”

“I would never. Also, you realize he’ll still have the bagpipe when he comes back.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take for the simple pleasure of knowing you’ll have to suffer through it. You know this was a big favor, right?”

“I do. And so help me, I will make it up to you somehow.”

“I’m keeping that in mind when he wants a car.”

“That’s a ways off. We can look at Buicks, keep him good and boring.”

She laughed. It was good to hear Lisa laugh; she hadn’t much since the divorce. At least not with him.

“You seem—good,” she said. “Are you doing well?”

“I’m seeing a shrink. I think it’s helping.”

“Good to know something could eventually convince you to.” She said it without much heat, but he knew the bitterness beneath the surface. He’d said no every single time she’d pushed for couples counseling. He’d said no, and their fights had kept getting worse and worse.

“I didn’t start it intentionally. I kind of… showed up. And then it all happened.”

“You accidentally went to therapy?”

“Yes.”

“Only you, Casey.” He could almost hear her shaking her head. “Only you.”

“That’s probably true.”

“But whatever. It seems like it’s doing something for you. Keep going.”

“I will.”