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
“So here’s the thing,” said Casey.
Abby squinted at him. “You’re Casey McCall.”
“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.”
“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 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.”
“Are all television companies this cheap?”
“You have to fill the void with something, and Danny’s got a good show.”
“Of course he does. It’s Danny. You sound disbelieving.”
“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.”
“So you have trouble falling asleep and then you wake up early and can’t get back to sleep.”
“Tried any medications for that?”
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.”
“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.
“How’s it going?”
“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.
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.”
“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?”
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 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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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 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.”
“You broke her vase.”
“I d-did.” He tried to hold back the sniffles.
“Is that why you’re hiding in the closet?”
“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.
“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.”
“And you did it anyway.”
“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.”
“Explains a lot, though.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“Isaac…” Casey sighed. “It’s a good thing, right?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
Subject: Re: Vegas
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.
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.
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Vegas
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.
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.”
“Why is that?”
“How long has it been since Danny left?”
“And you haven’t asked him why yet, have you?”
“I haven’t… felt the need.”
“And yet you felt the need to come to his former therapist to ask.”
“That is true.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“Trying to sleep with Dana. Were you?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“How did it make you feel to know that Lisa was angry because of your flirting?”
“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?”
“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.”
“I wanted her to admit that she needed me.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“What else would you call it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did he show other emotions? Tenderness, love, fear?”
“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?”
“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 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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.
“Aw, hey, man. What’s up?”
“You do Thanksgiving at your mom’s?”
“They have this communal dinner.”
“Did you go home?”
“Nah, some people from work were getting together and I didn’t feel like dealing with my family.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“Did you tell him that?”
“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?”
“What did you tell him?”
“That I was seeing a therapist.”
“But not that it was me.”
“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?”
“I don’t… I don’t know.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“Does this feel anything like when Lisa was working and making you feel like less by comparison?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“You know…” Bobbi sighed. “I want to clear the air.”
“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.”
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?
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.
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.?”
“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?”
“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.”
Casey sighed, reaching up to palm his face. “Sorry. Seeing—seeing a therapist is—”
“It does a number on you.”
“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.”
“Am I wrong?”
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.”
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.”
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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“Didn’t you learn about that?”
“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?”
“Okay, so you learned something today.”
“I learn a lot of things, regularly, because I’m well-read.”
“There are a lot of things in the world to learn.”
“That’s particularly depressing, though.”
“Well, not much about the Nazis is anything else,” said Danny wryly.
“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?”
Casey winced at the affront in Danny’s voice. “I think she was, I don’t know, vibing, with Alyson today.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“You seeing her this week?”
“I’d better go.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Nah, I need—I should sleep.”
“Okay.” Danny sighed again. “Okay.”
After he pressed the button to disconnect, he let the phone fall into his lap and sat, staring out into space.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.
“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.
“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,” 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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 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.”
“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.”
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.”
“Yeah,” Danny said. “Sometimes.”
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“Would you have, if the situation had been reversed?”
“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?”
“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?”
“Is that what your father would have said?”
“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!”
“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.”
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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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—”
“—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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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?”
“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.”
“—so Charlie’s play is on at the end of January, and until then we’re working on his lines. He’s really coming along. I still can’t believe I got the time over break with him, I’ve had that in the parenting plan for three years and this is the first time I’ve made it work. First time I’ve tried to make it work.”
“Were you not trying before?”
“I thought he’d be happier with Lisa. Since they were together all the time. I thought if he came to stay with me he’d think I was some kind of lonely miserable bastard. Which I was.”
“I don’t know. I feel better. I feel…” Casey shrugged. There wasn’t a great way to convey that he felt like a bone that had been set wrong and needed breaking, and now, having been effectively shattered, he was starting to come back together in ways he hadn’t anticipated. “More human.”
“Sometimes. Not all the time.”
“No one’s happy all the time, are they?”
“But you’re happy more often than you were?”
“I really am.” Despite everything.
Abby nodded, leaning forward, bracing one elbow on the arm of her chair. “Casey, tell me something.”
“You’ve been talking about Charlie since you got here.”
“You asked what I was doing last week.”
“And I think it’s a good thing that you’re putting a lot of thought and energy into that relationship. I’m also wondering how things are with the other major relationship in your life.”
“You mean Danny.”
“I, uh.” Casey studied his hands. “I told him. Not about—I told him I liked—I might like guys.”
“Did you backpedal like that when you talked to him?”
“What do you mean backpedal?”
“I mean go from saying ‘I like guys’ to ‘I might like guys.’ Those are different statements.”
“I—no. I told him… I told him.”
“Okay. That’s good. It’s important to be clear about what you mean when you’re having those kinds of emotionally loaded discussions, and it’s easy to try to hedge your bets. It’s a good thing that you were totally honest with him.”
“Well. I still didn’t tell him how I feel about him.”
“Do you feel like you should have?”
“No. I think… he seemed surprised enough. I think I should wait until he’s at least absorbed this.”
“It’s not always a bad idea to trust your instincts. Yours in particular have some bugs, but as you work on this, you’ll get better at noticing what other people are feeling, rather than going to your old knee-jerk of assuming the worst. And you’ll get better at figuring out what to do about it.”
“We’ve talked a little bit before about how your father felt about what it meant to be a man. How did he feel about men who liked men?”
“Barbara. Barbara, get in here! Get a load of this bullshit!”
Casey watched his mother dry her hands off on her apron hurriedly before going into the television room. From the kitchen table, he could hear perfectly.
“These fucking fairies think they can just march! Because they feel like it! What a load of shit.”
“Oh, my,” murmured his mother.
“Look at them! All lined up like that and not one man in the bunch.”
“Dear, why don’t you change the channel?”
“It’s the news, Barbara, what else am I going to watch? Good Lord. This is beyond belief. All these people think they can do whatever they like.”
“It’s not right,” his mother said.
“Damn right it’s not! Can’t believe it. This country.” His father’s voice got quieter, dropping off, until it was only a dull mumble, a buzz.
It was still scratchy inside Casey’s brain, like an allergy. An itch he couldn’t reach.
“So your father was very negative about this.”
“How do you think your mother would feel if you told her?”
“Are you kidding me? I’m not going to give her a heart attack.”
“You think she’d rather not know.”
“I know she’d rather not know.”
“That’s fair. It sounds like she agreed with your father, and made that clear.”
“She always did.”
“Did you know any gay people growing up?”
“Not that I was sure about. And I—I think I tried not to think about it too much, because I was worried I’d figure out something I didn’t want to know.”
“You avoided the issue as much as you could?”
“You avoided a lot of things.”
“Give the lady a prize.”
“Sometimes stating the obvious is helpful. Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with an elephant in the room once it’s been named.”
“Fine. I’ve avoided a lot of things, because who needs complications?”
“Casey,” said Abby. “You get complications whether you want them or not. The question is whether you address them, or let them fester in silence into the things that destroy relationships.”
“You had that one coming.”
“Maybe I did.”
“This is so great, Dad!” Charlie was beaming ear to ear, which made up, in some small fraction, for the practice chanter he was clutching protectively to his chest. “Nobody else at school is learning the bagpipes and I think it’s really going to be cool!”
Casey didn’t have the heart to disabuse Charlie of the notion that one learned the bagpipes in order to be cool. “Your mom said it was okay with her, but remember, you have to be very considerate about how loudly you practice and when you practice if you’re at home.”
“I know that! I’m super considerate about my oboe!”
Casey watched Charlie fiddle excitedly with the practice chanter, fussing over it. God, he thought, was I like that? He’d played the violin for a little while, but he’d quit when the practice got in the way of his gymnastics, and never picked up another instrument.
“All right. Come on, let’s get going. We’ve got a tree to decorate.”
“Dad!” Charlie was exasperated. “You haven’t decorated the tree yet?”
He wasn’t going to tell Charlie he’d only bought the tree about three hours before picking Charlie up, along with several boxes of lights and decorations in a panic. He thought he had either not enough tinsel or way too much. “Not yet, I needed some help. You can show me how to make it look the best.”
Charlie rolled his eyes at Casey. It was so like Lisa that Casey was startled into laughing out loud.
“What?” asked Charlie defensively.
“Sometimes you look just like your mother.” Casey smiled and ruffled Charlie’s hair. “Come on, let’s get that tree taken care of.”
Lisa hadn’t been kidding about Charlie’s apparently incessant desire to practice the oboe. Between that, the irresistible allure of his hand-held Nintendo that beeped and lit up constantly, the practice chanter, and rehearsing his lines for the play, Casey looked for alternative activities to fill what time remained. He managed to coax Charlie out to the park despite the freezing temperatures; they went to museums, to which Charlie was civil about pointing out he went with his nanny a lot, Dad; they saw movies, and Casey didn’t try to skirt around what Lisa would have thought was appropriate; they even hit up the batting cage with Bobbi once, who whispered loudly to Charlie, “Don’t worry about being good at this, your dad is awful and it’s funny.” Charlie hiccupped into a laugh and looked surprised by it.
On the way home, Charlie slipped his hand into Casey’s for a minute and confided, “Bobbi’s really nice.”
“I think she’s pretty cool.” Casey concentrated on Charlie’s hand in his. It had been a long time, and Charlie would outgrow it any minute, but it was precious. It reminded him of when Charlie, at three or four, had toddled along and gripped Casey’s hand with disconcerting strength.
“Are you dating?”
“Where’d you hear that? No, it doesn’t matter. We’re not dating. Bobbi and I are friends who work together.”
Charlie frowned up at him. “Okay.”
“You sound dubious.”
“Not sure about something.”
“Oh. I guess I am dubious.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know. It seems like you don’t go on dates but Lindon’s dad got divorced last year and he goes on dates all the time.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Charlie, except that I’m not Lindon’s dad.” He would never have named his child Lindon. Lynden? Linden? “Different people do different things.”
“Okay.” Charlie squinted up into the sky, a brilliant, solid gray, and started muttering. “I led them on in this distracted fear, and left sweet Pyramus translated there: When in that moment, so it came to pass, Titania waked and straightway loved an ass.”
“Hey, that was great!”
“Stop it, I need to work on it more.”
“You’re doing a good job of learning your lines, though. You’re going to have them all down by the play.”
Charlie took his hand back, but he looked pleased. “Thanks.”
Casey made them a hot dog casserole for dinner while Charlie read in the living room. The tree he’d crammed into the corner glowed benevolently beneath the weight of the many, many strands of lights Charlie had wound around it.
The tree smelled good. It sparkled with the perfect amount of tinsel. On top was a generic golden star.
It was the best week he’d had in a very long time.
He got caught up in the visit. He was expecting Lisa’s twice-daily call to say hi to Charlie when the phone rang.
“Hey,” he said. “You want me to put him on?”
“Oh, Danny! Hi. Sorry, I thought you were Lisa.”
“I have rarely been more insulted in all my life.”
“Charlie’s here, so she’s been checking in.”
“Makes sense. If you’re responsible for feeding him, she’s got to make sure he’s not starving slowly.”
“I’ll have you know I make a very serviceable selection of casseroles.”
“You also make pork chops with applesauce.”
“Yes, exactly! Hey, wait. Was that a dig? That was a dig.”
“No, no. Who wouldn’t love bland meat covered in bland sauce that was once fruit?”
“Oh, come on. You like latkes with applesauce and they’re bland.”
“Don’t insult my cultural heritage, latkes are delicious.”
“Pork chops are my—”
Charlie said, from the chair he’d claimed as his own in the living room, “Is that Danny?”
“Yeah, it is,” Casey called.
“Can I talk to him?”
“Danny, do you want to say hi to Charlie?”
“Totally! Put him on.”
Charlie came loping in—he was starting to put on height, but he gave the impression of being somehow mismatched, all gawky arms and pencil-thin legs. He took the phone from Casey’s hand and started talking. “Hi, Danny, how are you? Uh huh. Are you—oh.”
Casey tried not to listen in. He escaped to his bedroom, Charlie’s room (small, but with a nice big window and a closet all his own) just across the hall, and picked up the Armstrong memoir again.
You don’t win a road race all on your own. You need your teammates—and you need the goodwill and cooperation of your competitors, too. People had to want to ride for you, and with you.
“Dad.” Charlie stuck his head in the bedroom after a bit and proffered the cordless phone. “Danny wants to talk to you again.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Casey took the phone. “How’s it going?”
“Good.” Danny laughed. “Charlie is definitely excited about that play. I think before you know it you’re going to have the next Patrick Stewart on your hands.”
“More power to him. He can captain the Starship Enterprise.”
“Does he like Star Trek? I didn’t ask.”
“Not as much as he likes Johnny Bravo.”
“I don’t know that show.”
“Neither did I, and I’m wishing I’d remained in that state.”
“It seems weirdly adult for him, but he loves it, so he uses his television time on it.”
They talked a little more before hanging up—Charlie was peering into the room again.
As soon as Casey hung up, Charlie said, “I’m bored.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Can we play Scrabble?”
“Sure thing.” Casey, for the most part, tried not to let his cutthroat tendencies ruin a game with Charlie. He tried.
The board was half-covered, Charlie frowning at it with one hand over his mouth. Casey had his tiles arranged on his stand and kept trying to think of something clever to do with the K and the X.
Charlie put his pieces down—an uninspired rendition of LABOR—and said, “Why doesn’t Danny come back to visit?”
It caught Casey off guard. “I guess he’s been pretty busy in California.”
“He said he’s visiting his parents for Hanukkah.”
“He told me about that too.”
“Why doesn’t he come see us?”
“He doesn’t have much time. It’s going to take him a while just to get to his parents’ house. Connecticut isn’t that close, either.”
“Oh.” Charlie nudged a couple of tiles around on his stand. “That sucks.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Charlie mumbled, somewhere between grudging and sad. Casey had a moment to panic about upcoming adolescence. “It’s crappy.”
“You miss Danny?”
“I know.” Charlie shrugged, picking up the bag to feel the tiles clink. “You miss him too.”
“Yeah,” said Casey, and played LUCK off LABOR even though it was a terrible move.
Christmas Eve Day, Casey tried not to think too much about how he’d have to drive Charlie back that night. He tried to make the day as special as he could. They had Charlie’s favorite cereal for breakfast, and watched Christmas movies in their pajamas most of the day, and ordered pizza.
Finally, he and Charlie traded presents. Charlie had gotten him a silk tie with a more vigorous checked pattern than he usually wore, but he’d get Wardrobe to let him wear it.
“Wow,” said Charlie, staring wide-eyed at the box set. He picked up the first volume and read the title. “The Fellowship of the Rings.”
“I know you like Harry Potter, and this has some things in common with Harry Potter. I loved it a lot when I was your age. It’s for advanced readers, so if it’s too much for you now, hold on to it and try it again later. Maybe you’ll like it, too.”
Charlie was already flipping to the first page and starting to read.
When he dropped Charlie off with Lisa that evening, Charlie’s nose was still buried in the book and he was devouring it, having ignored Casey near-totally for the intervening hours.
“Sorry,” Casey mouthed at Lisa over Charlie’s head while Charlie started to tell her about Middle Earth. She gave him a crooked smile and a big eye-roll. He passed her an extra package—so Charlie would have something from him on Christmas Day; Lisa might have opinions about just how many bagpipe practice books Charlie needed but she’d survive—and climbed back into his car.
His condo felt colder and smaller with Charlie gone. At least the tree was still up, smelling of rich pine, dense and earthy and old.
The next morning he drove out to see his mother.
Her face creased in smiles when she saw him. Her apartment had a wreath on the door, and inside she had a small artificial tree, white with pink lights, like the one they’d had when he was very young.
He held out a box. “From Charlie.” It had the unmistakable look of something an eleven-year-old would construct on their own. And another: “From me.”
She opened the present from Charlie to find a heavy picture frame with… beads? He was pretty sure they were beads—glued to the frame, and in it a picture of Charlie and Barbara from Charlie’s graduation from elementary school. She smiled down at it. “Such a thoughtful boy,” she said. “Growing up so fast.”
“He does that.”
She tore the wrapping paper off her present from Casey next. Casey watched her face, trying to figure out whether she liked it or not, but she had a lifetime’s experience at hiding her feelings.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she said. “It’s beautiful.” She held it up to herself; it was a pashmina shawl, soft to the touch and warm. The blue made her eyes startlingly vivid.
He helped drape it over her shoulders. “It’s a good color on you.”
“Well, of course it is. You have excellent taste.”
“Merry Christmas, Mom.”
There was a communal event downstairs—Christmas-themed shuffleboard, at which Casey found he was no match for the seniors, and Christmas-themed bingo, where he once more got his ass handed to him on a platter. He accepted a single shot of smuggled ouzo from Mr. Alexopoulos. It burned like hell, and he was grateful he didn’t have to drive for a while yet. Then there were movies to watch, some of the same ones he’d just seen with Charlie. His mind wandered.
When the AIDS crisis had hit, Casey had been a teenager. He could still remember how the fear had grown: first whispers, then shouts. His father, raging in the den, those fucking—no big loss. Newspaper articles, television specials. And when Casey was in college, finally the government talking about it, finally someone doing something about it.
It hadn’t been enough. Only over the last, what, couple of years? There were drugs, at long last, and it seemed like the articles now were about how the deaths were slowing and stopping.
And he’d always felt insulated. Protected. Because it had been him and Lisa, in their perfectly contained unit of two, with nothing to worry about. They weren’t like that.
He and the women since the divorce had been careful.
He’d always been careful about—everything, maybe.
After the movies, he walked with his mom back to her apartment.
“This a nice place.” He tucked his scarf in more firmly; a chill was setting in, deeper than the occasional flakes that had been drifting all day. “Do you miss our old house?”
His mother hummed softly while she opened the door and let them in. “Not usually. Sometimes, on holidays, I suppose. But with you here, it’s easier.”
“I’m sorry I missed so many.”
“I knew things were difficult. It’s all right.” She smiled half-heartedly at him, sitting on a bench to take off her shoes.
He paused in the entry way, where the floor was tiled. There was a textured strip down the middle—to keep her from slipping—and a framed family picture hanging. It had to be at least twenty years old, Casey’s freckled, acne-pocked face staring out grimly, and his mother’s hair was still naturally chestnut-brown.
His father looked forbidding. It didn’t look like a happy picture, and it wasn’t. Casey remembered the day it was taken. His dad shouting at them to get ready, hurry up, if they were late for the photographer he was going to—and his mother had silently bowed her head and taken the stream of threats.
Casey had been furious. He’d slammed his bedroom door, but he hadn’t said anything to his father. What would the point have been? It would have made him even angrier.
He said, “Dad—he was a hard guy to live with.”
She glanced up, surprised, and followed his gaze to the picture.
“Oh, he had his moments,” she said airily.
“Mom. He—his moments? He was always an asshole.”
“Casey!” She frowned at him, the web of wrinkles around her mouth compressing. “I won’t have you speak about your father that way.”
“Are you telling me he wasn’t?” Casey asked in disbelief.
They’d never talked about it before. Not beyond his mother awkwardly patting his shoulder, apologizing for the man who never once apologized in person.
“He was a proud man. He had a difficult life.”
“We all had difficult lives, Mom, he doesn’t get to be special because of his!”
“You’re being disrespectful.” She got up from the bench, huffing in annoyance. “I don’t see why you have to bring this up. He’s been dead for five years, God rest his soul, and he always gave you a roof over your head and three square meals a day. He sent you to gymnastics even when he thought that was for sissy boys. He wanted you to be happy, and this is the thanks he gets?”
“Oh, Casey, for Heaven’s sake. Leotards? All that jumping around? He was worried about you. But then you met Lisa, and we could stop worrying.”
“Is that so,” he said through numb lips.
She turned to walk into the kitchen. “I’m going to make a cup of tea, Casey. Would you like a cup?”
It was an olive branch; more accurately, it was a spade full of dirt to throw over a conversation she didn’t feel like having. Bury it, in their fine family tradition.
Casey stood there, shoes still dripping.
There were two choices. It was obvious. It was easy.
“Yeah.” He raked a hand through his hair, hating himself. “Yes, I’ll take a cup of tea.” He sat on the bench and reached to undo his shoelaces.
“Now, my friend Phyllis said—”
He didn’t get back to Manhattan until late. Traffic was light, very light.
The television was still showing Christmas movies.
He picked up the Armstrong biography.
What is stronger, fear or hope?
He set it down again.
He talked to Danny later that week, when he was back on the air.
“Hey. How’s it going?” said Casey.
“Not bad. How was Christmas with your mom?”
Casey sighed and didn’t say anything for a second that stretched into several.
“That great, huh,” said Danny, not without sympathy.
“Hanukkah with the family could have been a lot worse. Dad let me talk about my job in L.A. for probably five whole minutes before he interrupted me.”
“That’s a record for him, isn’t it?”
“My mom… I said Dad was an asshole.”
“I’m guessing she did not take that well.”
“Apparently Dad was worried that gymnastics was going to turn me into a sissy boy.”
“Whoa,” muttered Danny. There were sounds from his end like he was moving around, doing something. “Ref needs to call that one.”
“And she said we. Like they were both worried. They were so relieved when I got together with Lisa.”
“Well, joke’s on them, isn’t it?” Danny snorted. “God knows, maybe you would have been happier with a guy.”
“What?” asked Casey blankly.
“I mean, if you’re bisexual, or whatever, playing for both teams, you could have gone the other way. Settled down with a guy.”
“That hadn’t occurred to you?” Danny sounded faintly amused.
“I hadn’t—no. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“It wouldn’t have worked out well in sports television, I grant you, but look at Cooper. He’s doing fine and everybody knows about him.”
“Okay, no, but in the industry, everybody knows.”
“You think I should have tried to get a date with Anderson Cooper?”
“No, although now that you mention it, you’d be a very handsome couple.”
“He keeps going into war zones, though. I’d worry.”
“Isn’t he hosting some shitty reality TV show now?”
“There’s another strike against him.”
“Well, if you don’t want him, I’ll take him.” Danny’s voice was fainter. “I’ll need—yes, thanks.”
“Are you at the store?”
“Getting some—okay, thank you. You, too! Getting some snacks for tomorrow. The office is having a party for J.J. and I said I’d bring some things. He really likes this specialty salami. I don’t know what his deal is with it but he eats it like popcorn. I don’t know how he stays so skinny.”
“You can’t have Anderson Cooper.”
“Why not? He’s a very attractive man.”
“He’s a reality TV show host. That’s anathema to what we do.”
Danny clicked his tongue. “He’s making good money. He could support me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed. Also, let me remind you before your moral outrage gets too overwhelming that the line between sports reporting and reality television is not as well-defined as you seem to think. You, yourself, have ranted at me about our coverage of amoral figures and personal drama.”
“…His is worse.”
“You can admit it. You’re jealous of his boyish good looks.”
“Okay, for real, though, I have to go. I drove here.”
“You can’t talk and drive?”
“Fine. I’ll talk to you later.”
Casey switched on the television. There wasn’t much to see.
“What do you wish had gone differently about the visit?”
“I wish I’d said something to her.”
“I don’t know. Told her…”
“Come out to her?”
“Maybe. Or at least been firm that calling people derogatory names isn’t going to work for me. It’s not going to fly.”
“Except it did?”
“It did. It flew like a 747.” He made a plane noise and gestured with hand, miming the plane coming in for a landing.
Abby’s brow wrinkled in confusion. He abandoned the attempt.
“I wish I’d fought her on it.”
“It sounds like she can be a difficult person to fight with.”
“She is. She’s very slippery. One minute you think you’re going to fight about something and the next minute she’s got you helping to shovel the walk.” He scowled at the bookshelf. “It’s all that politeness.”
“The Midwest is famous for its politeness.”
“It’s passive-aggressive. Under that sociable veneer, she’s waiting to stab you in the back.”
“Did she ever do that to you?”
Casey, at seventeen, was standing at the front door, smiling at Bradley from school. Bradley was on the track team—lean and rangy, with messy, long brown hair that was always getting in his eyes. Bradley grinned at Casey through his hair.
“Are you ready?”
“Let me check in with my mom,” said Casey. As he started to turn to go find her, she materialized at his elbow.
“Hello, dear,” she said, landing a kiss on his cheek. He could feel the splotchy blush breaking out over his face. Bradley was biting his lip to keep from laughing. “Is this that friend of yours from school?”
“Mom, this is Bradley.”
“Hello, Bradley.” She put out her hand; he shook it. “I’m Mrs. McCall, Casey’s mom. Did he tell you he could go out tonight?”
“Yeah, he said—” Bradley glanced back and forth between the two of them, confused by how cool her voice was.
“I’m terribly sorry, but he forgot he promised to do some chores for me. He’ll have to reschedule for another time.” And she shut the door in Bradley’s face.
“Mom!” Casey’s chest felt too tight. He was too hot, almost dizzy. “What was that about?”
“You need to clean the garage.”
“You didn’t say anything about that!”
“Besides, that young man is a grubby hippie.” She took her apron off the peg where it hung by the kitchen door and gave it a sharp shake, snapping it open. The starched folds hung around her as she looped it over her head and started tying it in the back. “You don’t need friends like that.”
“Interesting.” Abby propped her chin on her hand. “You think she disapproved of him because she thought he was gay?”
“I don’t know. But I wonder.”
“And you think she’d react badly if you came out to her?”
Abby raised her eyebrows at him. He sighed.
“I think she’d have a problem with her son being a sissy fairy.”
“You think she sees it like that? Black or white?”
“I don’t think she’d believe me at all. I think she’d say that since I’ve had relationships with women, since I’ll probably still date women, it doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter.” He shrugged. “That’s worse.”
“To be—to be told I don’t know myself? To be told I don’t know what I’m feeling? Yeah.”
“That’s interesting. When you first came to see me, it seemed like you didn’t know what you were feeling.”
“That part is getting easier. I’m getting better at knowing, and some things, I have a decent sense of at this point.”
“Good.” Abby tapped the eraser of her pencil against her legal pad. “That’s one of the intended effects of therapy. I’m glad that you’re making progress.”
“Is that what this is? Progress?”
“It’s not linear. It’s not like you start at point A, unwell, and march in a straight line to point B, well.” Abby sketched a line in the air while she talked. “You’ll pick up some skills. You’ll start ditching the things that aren’t working for you. There may be times where you can’t patch over a hole the way you used to, and that’ll mess you up. But the goal is that eventually you get to a point B where you can live without devoting so much time and energy to propping up a way of life that doesn’t work for you.”
Casey sighed deeply, tipping his head over the back of the couch. “It’s taking forever.”
“It’s been two months. I’m not convinced that’s forever.”
“Can I be done yet?”
“You can be done whenever you want to. You can walk out the door and never schedule another visit and never come back.” Abby gave him a crooked, humorless smile. “Is that what you think you should do?”
“Didn’t think so. How’s Charlie?”
“Casey.” Bobbi banged into his office, the door crashing shut behind her. He peered around her at the door in surprise; no one else had managed to get it to make that dramatic a noise, and Natalie had tried at least twice.
“Casey.” She was already wearing her heels for the show. She towered above him in the confined space. “I have a problem.”
“And it’s a problem with which you require my assistance?”
“Oh, don’t do that.”
“Puff up like that. I can see you starting to preen.”
“I’m not preening!”
“Casey. Focus. I have a problem.”
“Describe it to me, and I’ll see what I can do.” He waggled his eyebrows; she rolled her eyes and gave him the finger.
“There’s an awards dinner.”
“The plot thickens!”
“I’ve been to a few of these, but this time…” She took a deep breath. “I’m nominated.”
“Thanks. The thing is, I don’t know what to say.”
“For a speech? Do you expect to win?”
“I don’t know!” She gave up on pacing and perched on the edge of his desk, folding her arms. Bobbi rarely, if ever, looked nervous, but there was a certain air to her that Casey had learned to identify.
He steepled his fingers. “So you’re asking for help in writing your victory speech regarding an award for which you may or may not be a serious contender.”
“That’s about the size of it.”
“I will happily help. On one condition.”
She scrunched up her face like she’d bitten a lemon. “I knew there’d be strings attached. What do you want?”
“Take me as your date.”
“Not a date date, God. I haven’t been invited to one of these things in forever. And I don’t have a publicist, so my reputation is probably in tatters out there.”
“You know.” He waved in the general vicinity of the world. “There. On the Internet and suchlike.”
“You’re right. Your reputation probably is in tatters. Especially if they’ve ever heard you speak.”
“I’m an eloquent speaker.”
“You’re an eloquent writer. When you give speeches, you sound like a robot’s lovechild with a dictionary.”
“You may intend that as an insult, but I choose to take it as a compliment.”
“Fine. Ugh. I could use some decent company at this thing anyway.”
“I’m delighted to accept.”
“Get a publicist if you want one.”
“I don’t. I don’t like being answerable to people. I saw how it went for Danny.”
“Does he still have one? Somebody out in L.A.? Maybe they could recommend somebody for you.”
“He does. Maybe I will.”
“Good, because your obsession with remaining in the public eye is a little undignified.”
“Beneath your station as a veteran anchor, really.”
He pointed his stapler at her. “I don’t appreciate your tone.”
“I’ll keep that in mind at my next deportment lesson.”
“Casey!” Natalie stuck her head in. “Dana’s looking for you. Something about the division games.”
“Has she thought to check for me in my office? I know, I know, it’s a wild idea.”
Natalie pursed her lips. “Hardy har, Casey, very funny.”
“Thank you, I thought so.”
“Bobbi, can you call Stan at the Vikings? Find out if he knows anything about Defler’s knee.”
“I can call him, but who knows whether he’ll talk to me.” Bobbi blew raspberries. “He’s such a dick.”
“You want me to do it?” asked Casey.
“Nah, I’ll take care of it.”
“Good. See you two in—” Natalie checked her watch. “Half an hour. Thirty-seven minutes.”
Bobbi’s award show was the following week. He helped her hammer out a serviceable draft, or, more to the point, read her first draft and rearranged a few commas with obsessive tenderness. She hadn’t needed him at all. It was short, thoughtful, and eloquent. All the things a speech should be.
She frowned up at him in thought when he went to talk it through with her, wearing her reading glasses. Her computer screen glowed in the low light.
“Do you write? Personal projects?”
“Huh.” She went back to perusing his changes.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” She looked back up, blinking. “I’m surprised. You seem like someone with a lot to say.”
“I say a lot. I say it on air, almost every night.”
“I know, I know. And I suppose it doesn’t make sense to have your writing be both your main job and your hobby.”
“Right,” he said, as if that settled it. The question refused to leave him, though.
“Why don’t I write, though?”
“Do you want to?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you tried it?”
“No. It’s not something I’ve thought a lot about.”
“It seems like you’ve been considering a lot of things you haven’t considered in the past.”
“What, like Anderson Cooper?”
Abby raised one eyebrow.
“It was something Danny said,” said Casey. “He asked—we were talking a while back and he said something about how Anderson Cooper’s had a television career.”
“Is Anderson Cooper gay?”
“It’s an open secret. He doesn’t tell people, but everybody knows somebody who knows.”
“And Danny was thinking about how that applied to you?”
“You say that with a frequency and a regularity that’s starting to worry me.”
“How do you think it applies to you? Would you prefer to date men, at this point?”
Casey sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair. “I’d—you know how I feel about that.”
“Honestly, I don’t. Tell me.”
Casey closed his eyes. “I’d rather be d—dating Danny.” It was still hard to get the words out, even when he couldn’t see her face.
“Hm,” she said noncommittally.
“And that’s—not going to happen. So. I just need to…” He trailed off.
He looked up at her sharply.
“Why won’t dating Danny happen?”
“Because he’s—he’s straight,” Casey said. “I thought we went over that part. It seemed self-explanatory.”
“Of course.” Abby blinked at him slowly, like a cat. Like a cat watching a mouse. “And if dating Danny doesn’t happen, you’re not interested in dating other men?”
“I’m not interested in dating anyone right now. It’s all—there’s a lot happening.”
“That’s true. Therapy counts as a lot.”
“And Charlie’s play is coming up. We’re still going over his lines.” At least a couple of times a week, they’d talk on the phone, or Casey would drop by the echoing, dark theater where Charlie and his friends were rehearsing.
“When is his show?”
“Last weekend in January.” Casey found himself smiling without meaning to. “He’s getting a lot better.”
“How do you think Charlie would feel if you dated men?”
“You’ve struggled with what people important to you would think of you if they knew about your sexual orientation. Charlie’s important to you. What would he think?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Are you concerned that he wouldn’t look up to you? See you as a man, a man worth emulating?”
Casey looked up at the ceiling. He couldn’t stand to look at her. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Because he’s not going to find out?”
“So you’re not going to date men.”
“I don’t—that’s… maybe.”
“Because if you do date men, and particularly if you end up in a long-term relationship with one, he’s going to eventually figure it out.”
He risked a glance at her. She was watching him with an implacable kindness in her eyes that might as well have been cruelty.
“He’s a smart kid,” she said. “Just like his dad. And the attitudes he has around what it means to be a man—he probably started out getting them from you, but now he’s picking them up from the world around him. If you want him to think about it any differently than how his friends tell him to, you’re going to have to try to talk him about it.”
“Christ.” Casey leaned forward, absently squeezing his hands together until they ached. “You, uh, you don’t pull punches.”
“That’s not what you pay me for.”
“Great. Thanks for the reminder.”
“Casey. What does it mean to you about who you are?”
“That you like men. We’ve talked about this before, but I’m curious where you’re at now. What do you think that means about you?”
He shrugged wordlessly.
“Throw something out there. Give it a try.”
“It’s… my father always taught me to associate it with—with weakness.”
“Have you been thinking about it differently recently?”
“I—I’m the same guy, you know? The same—I was never hip, okay, I admit it. But I was a stand-up guy. I did the decent thing. Or I tried to. I had a wife, I have a kid, I’m trying to raise him right. And if I’m the same guy, and this is true about me—it can’t be like that, right? It can’t be like my dad always figured.”
“What do you think?”
“I think Dad was full of shit. I’m fine.” Casey’s voice got louder. “I’m not going to let him control my life from beyond the grave, for Christ’s sake.”
Abby was smiling. He frowned at her. “What?”
“I think that’s a remarkably healthy attitude.”
“Oh. Well, good.”
“How does that fit in with not wanting to tell Charlie?”
Casey shrugged one shoulder, looking off to the side. “I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.”
“It’s worth starting to think about now.”
“I’m not disagreeing.”
“Do you think he would be surprised?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“What do you think he thinks about men who aren’t heterosexual? Have you heard him use pejorative language?”
“God, no. He knows he’s not supposed to use language like that in our—in either Lisa’s home or mine.”
“Is he allowed to say gay? Has he ever said it in front of you?”
“I don’t know if he’s allowed to say it. He hasn’t said it to me.”
“How does Lisa feel about it?”
Casey blew air into his cheeks. “I… honestly don’t know.”
“That’s odd.” Abby raised her eyebrows. “You were together for fifteen years and you don’t know how she feels about people being gay?”
“People, in general, she’s… I’d say reasonably open-minded about. She had a lesbian friend in college I really didn’t get along with, and she’s never said anything that would lead me to think she’s homophobic. But me? I don’t know. I don’t know how she’d react to that.”
“How do you think she’d react if Charlie were gay?”
Casey sat up straight. “What? Why? You don’t think—”
“He’s a person, so it’s a possibility, but right now it’s a thought experiment. How would she react?”
“I think she’d try to be supportive. However she could be.”
“And how do you feel about that?”
“Good. It feels… It wasn’t a good divorce, you know that, but there were a lot of things I could still respect about her, and she’s always been a great mom to Charlie.”
“Hm,” said Abby, still watching him carefully. “Interesting.”
“I’m not planning on talking to her about this, though.”
“That’s up to you.”
Dana and Jack were at the awards event—Leading Women in Broadcast Television—and she gave him an excited little wave across the tables between them. He waved back. She looked good in a low-cut red dress; Jack was smiling, his arm draped around her shoulders. They seemed comfortable together.
Bobbi looked magnificent as well. Casey was no Danny when it came to knowing women’s clothes, but the dark green dress was shiny and hugged her curves in a way that made her look both classy and sexy.
“What?” she muttered to him, catching him staring.
“Those straps just don’t seem…” He gestured helplessly. “Structural. They can’t possibly support any real amount of weight.”
“They don’t.” She had her hair done up, piled on top of her head with a few artfully-arranged tendrils framing her face. She glared at him. “That’s what foundational undergarments are for.”
“Not that you’ve ever had to deal with those.”
“No, I can’t say that I have.”
“Although you have been married, so you should have acquired at least a passing familiarity with the idea.”
“I was aware of their existence. I never had to think about them on my own behalf, though.”
“For which you should be grateful.”
“For which I am grateful, believe me. I can’t imagine what foundational undergarments entail and I must confess I don’t particularly want to.”
“Shut up, they’re going to start talking soon.” Without her glasses on, with her makeup done, Bobbi looked very stylish. And Casey liked women—had liked women, still liked women—but it was like he’d filed Bobbi somewhere different in his head, because looking at her, done up, cleavage tastefully displayed, knowing how much they had in common, he still didn’t particularly want to sleep with her.
The opening remarks droned on, and he tuned out quickly in favor of considering Abby’s remarks that week. He kept circling back to that, to the question of what it meant about him, what had changed. But nothing had changed. And that, maybe, had been the most terrifying part about seeing Danny in Las Vegas, realizing what he’d realized, because if nothing had changed, then he’d felt that way for—how long? How long had he been keeping that submerged, trying to shove it back under the murky waters of his psyche?
He heard Bobbi’s name a split second before she registered it. He got to watch her face flush, a sudden and endearing wave, and then she was on her feet, making her way to the podium in her heels and shiny green dress.
Her speech was still as good as he remembered it being. She thanked mentors—thanked Dana and Natalie, among others, and he got to watch as Dana tucked her hair behind her ear with a pleased smile.
It was a good night.
You look pretty cozy.
[picture attachment: Casey helping Bobbi into the limo after the ceremony, Bobbi still smiling, leaning heavily on Casey; Casey leaning forward and smiling into her eyes]
Forget about it. It’s none of my business.
Except that you said you weren’t going to. It’s okay if you do but why didn’t you tell me?
Subject: Don’t read the last three e-mails
Delete them, they were accidents.
Subject: Re: Don’t read the last three e-mails
That’s not what happened. Bobbi asked me to come for moral support. As a friend. You do remember what those are, don’t you?
Subject: Re: Re: Don’t read the last three e-mails
Sometimes I wonder.
“Casey.” Dana pulled up the second chair in his office and sat across from him. “You need to chill the hell out.”
“Because you’ve been biting everyone’s heads off all fucking day and we’re quite frankly tired of it.”
He groaned, grinding the heel of his palm into his forehead. “Dana, if everyone would leave me alone, I’d be in a much better position to actually get work done.”
“Is this about Lisa, Danny, Charlie, or me?” Dana put her chin up defiantly.
He stared at her. “What? What is this insane nonsense bubbling out from you now?”
“You only throw fits like this when it’s something important to you. As far as I know, nothing has happened in your work life. That leaves about four people. Unless I should add Bobbi.”
“Christ! Nothing happened with Bobbi! Why won’t you people get off my back about that?”
“And I think we’ve found the sore spot. Did Lisa give you shit about going to the party with her?”
Casey looked away. He couldn’t force himself to pretend to work, so he stared at the blinking cursor in his open document.
“Not Lisa,” said Dana slowly. “Danny? Is Danny pissed because he thinks you’re dating his ex?”
“She’s not even his ex. They slept together once, in another country, and Danny didn’t even remember it until he was confronted with photographic evidence.”
“So that’s a yes.” Dana leaned back in her chair and sighed. “Great. You’re fighting with Danny again and you’re going to be a complete ass to everyone else about it. Casey, we didn’t save this show for it to be a vehicle for your temper tantrums. Get your shit together or so help me I’ll call in a replacement anchor.”
He glowered at her, but she folded her arms and stared impassively back at him.
“I’ll… fine. I’ll try to be less…”
“Of an asshole?”
“I’ll take it. But if you yell at Natalie one more time tonight you’re going to be doing the show with no pants for a very long time.”
He did manage to fight through the show that night, with what he thought was a fairly reasonable approximation of his usual good cheer.
When he got home the first thing he checked was his answering machine—no messages. And no missed calls to his cell phone.
Fine. Two could play this game. This idiotic game. He sat down and picked up the Armstrong memoir; he was making good progress in it.
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.
He couldn’t focus. He glared at the phone, sitting innocuously in its cradle, and finally stood up to grab it.
Danny didn’t pick up. Casey waited out all the rings, until the answering machine picked up, pacing angrily through his apartment.
“Danny. I know you can hear me. Pick up the damn phone.”
He waited another long minute. Nothing.
“Fine. Look, I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to you that Bobbi and I are friends. Which we are. It’s not—I’m not trying to—look, she’s like a sister, okay? Or what I imagine a sister is like. Which is a weird mental image, because then I realize you slept with my sister—”
“What the fuck even goes on in your brain, Casey,” said Danny, picking up.
“I’m trying to tell you!”
“I don’t understand you at all.” Danny sounded angry. “You tell me Bobbi’s like a sister to you but the tabloids are chock fucking full of the two of you hanging out, looking so very comfortable together—what’s your deal?”
“I’m telling you. I’m saying, it’s nice to have a friend. Since you left—” Casey had to stop and suck in a breath. He hadn’t realized how much saying that out loud was going to hurt. “Since you left, I’ve been lonely, okay? Who do you think I go places and do things with? We were best friends for twelve fucking years, and now I’m fumbling around with my thumb up my ass trying to figure out who I even am if you’re not here!”
There was a long, long silence.
Danny said, voice thick and strange, “I didn’t—I didn’t realize.”
“Didn’t realize what? That it wasn’t—it was about the show but it wasn’t, it was about us. You took off and what am I supposed to do? So I’m making one friend in a city of eight million people. Let me have this.”
“Yeah. Uh.” Danny cleared his throat. “I’m—I should have listened to you.”
“Damn right you should have! Getting jealous over Bobbi. Please. Did you know she has reading glasses? She wears them on one of those beaded chains like little old ladies on the subway. Trust me, you should move on from her.”
“That’s not a bad idea.”
“I don’t want to seem immature, but seriously, Danny, you could find someone who doesn’t chew bubble gum in the office. I’ve been thinking about stealing every pack in the place and hiding them.” Casey shoved his free hand into his pocket.
“Bubble gum? Really?”
“She must have been hiding that facet of her personality until she had a contract, because she chews bubble gum like that kid in Charlie and Chocolate Factory.”
They were quiet for another moment.
“How’s Charlie’s play coming along?”
“Great. He’s doing—he’s going to be great.”
“I believe it. When’s it open?”
“The last Friday in January. First showing’s at seven, so I’m going to have to run like a maniac to get back for the show.”
“Dana’s letting you do it, though? That close to the Super Bowl?”
“She is. She’s a queen among producers.”
“He has shows Friday and Saturday nights, plus a matinee on Saturday, so I’m going to the ones in the evening.”
“You’re going to see the play twice?”
“That is correct.”
“Truly, you are a committed parent.”
“I can also put myself into a near-fugue state at will, so I’ll survive somehow.”
“One wonders how much that auditorium is going to fill up.”
“It’s dark, the kids won’t be able to tell.”
“You know that’s not true.” Danny sounded nostalgic. “Didn’t you ever do any theater? Or concerts, how about concerts?”
“A couple, I guess. When I was in orchestra.”
“See, there you go. They can totally tell. You should coerce people into going.”
“Come on, who am I going to bring?”
“Bobbi? I’m not being sarcastic,” Danny added quickly. “She’s a good sport.”
“She is, but it’s a hard sell.”
“You’re not taking Friday off? Taking Charlie out to celebrate afterwards?”
“Do you think he’d want to? I mean, I think the theater kids get together to do stuff.”
“Maybe, but you should find out. You’re his dad. He might want to hang out with you.”
“I’m already losing social capital in his eyes, I don’t know much I want to accelerate the process.”
Danny laughed. “Come on. Ask him.”
“I—it’s been tough, you know. Figuring out who I am without you, too.”
Casey couldn’t speak. He nodded, even though Danny couldn’t see it, and stared out the window.
Danny said, after a minute, “It seemed—important. It seemed like I needed to know. I’ve been so wrapped up in the show, in working with you and with Dana, for so long.”
“I know. You said.”
“Okay.” Danny breathed quietly. “Okay.”
“It was the stupidest fucking fight,” said Casey. “I don’t even understand why he still cares about Bobbi. They were doing fine before he left.”
“Are you sure it was about Bobbi?”
“What? Of course. What else would it be?”
“How much of Danny’s identity do you think is invested in his friendship with you?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“You told me that you and Danny both had difficulty adjusting to life apart.”
“Do you think it’s possible that Danny was afraid of being replaced as your best friend?”
“Why?” Abby shifted, crossing her legs. “You’re on different coasts now. Presumably you’re both constructing independent social lives. You’re communicating mainly by phone, and often sporadically. Do you think it’s impossible that he experienced a moment of panic at the idea that your life had moved so far beyond him without his even knowing?”
“That’s—he knows he’s—oh, come on.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” She picked up her pencil. “You were telling me about how you’re struggling to use more emotional language with Charlie.”
“Danny knows he’s my best friend.”
“Is he? Still?”
“Yes, damn it.”
“Are you sure he knows that?”
Casey was silent.
“Talking about feelings can be very uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s the only way to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”
“I don’t want him on the same page.”
“You mean you don’t want him to know about your romantic feelings towards him.”
“Because it would be weird.”
“Exactly. It would be very, very weird.”
“So you can’t tell him he’s still your best friend.”
Abby nodded at him briskly. “Think on it. Meanwhile, I do want to hear about how you and Charlie are doing.”
“’Sup, my young friend?”
“You sound cheerful tonight.”
“Why wouldn’t I be? The air is clear, all of the beautiful young people are out and about in the streets of the glittering jewel that is Los Angeles.” Danny drew out the pronunciation of the word. “The city gleams like it’s been freshly washed, and the society women wear their furs.”
“Do you want to go? If this isn’t a good time—”
“Casey. What better time could there possibly be to talk to you than when I am feeling loose-limbed, limber, and full of good spirits?”
“Eighty-proof spirits, I’m guessing?”
“Absolutely. Heh. Get it? Absolut—”
“Like the vodka. Yes. I get it.”
“Casey. Case. You do not sound like you’re having as much fun as I am. I think you should seriously consider acquiring an alcoholic beverage and consuming it, with gusto.”
“Is the gusto part important?” But Casey, half-smiling in spite of himself, was cracking open the refrigerator and peering into its depths. A dusty six-pack, two beers down, stared back out at him. He grabbed one and popped the top.
“Aha!” Danny sounded gleeful. “Is that a beverage I hear?”
“It is indeed. Not of the caliber you’re enjoying, I’m afraid.”
“That’s all very well and good. Casey. I have news. I would like you to receive that news with equanimity and poise. Do you think you can do that?”
“I can try.” Casey’s grip on the can had gone white-knuckled.
“Today marks my fifth month on an antidepressant, and guess what—it works. It’s fucking working for me.”
Casey stared at the closed refrigerator door. “Antidepressant?”
“Prozac. I know, I know, it’s plebeian, and I didn’t say anything sooner because I didn’t know if I wanted to talk about it. But I can honestly tell you that I have never felt better in my life. I’m a responder. That’s, that’s what they call it when you have a response to the medication. It took two months. But once it kicked in it was like magic.”
“It’s not like it makes me happy. It’s that—it’s like there’s a background level of crap, okay, some amount of feeling like shit that is omnipresent in my life. Has been since—I don’t even know. Before Sam. And when I moved out here, Abby hooked me up with a therapist. She works in the same office as a psychiatrist. My therapist said, Dan, my man, have you ever considered medication? And I predictably said no, medication masks the problem, right? And she said, Dan, the problem in depression is the depression. You aren’t masking anything. You’re giving yourself a chance to feel better.”
“And this does that?”
“It does. I can finally go about my day without feeling like there’s a fucking anvil hanging off my neck.”
“I think you mean albatross.”
“I mean anvil. I mean a useless weight you can’t shake, an inanimate object. I mean I have felt like shit for a long, long time, and it turns out I didn’t have to.”
“I know!” Danny was jubilant. He hadn’t heard Danny that happy in—had he ever? It had been years, if he had.
“You seem like you’re in a good place.” He managed to say it sincerely. He managed not to say, without me.
“I am. I am in the best place I’ve been in for a long time. You’re the only person I’ve told.”
“Your family doesn’t know?”
“Are you kidding me? You think they’d be cool about it? No, I can already hear them. That was part of the problem with starting. Daniel, you’re weak, you’re going to be a zombie, yada yada. Thanks but no thanks.”
“I appreciate you telling me.” Casey blinked furiously. His eyes were stinging. “I’m glad. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“It helps so much with the anxiety, too. It’s like I’ve been revving at way too many RPMs for way too long.”
“Sounds like something worth celebrating.”
“Five months. Three months now without that background noise. It’s such a relief I could cry. I could kiss my psychiatrist.”
“I think their professional organizations frown on that, generally speaking.”
Danny laughed, a bright, pealing laugh. “You’re right about that!”
“Danny, I—I’m really happy for you, but I have to go, okay?” Casey couldn’t breathe. He needed to get off the phone. “You have a good time tonight, okay? And stay safe.”
“Stay safe? Oh, I’m safe. Good night, Casey.”
He hung up and put his head against the freezer door, trying to get himself under control. He could hear himself breathing raggedly, too fast. Why was he freaking out? What was happening?
He could hear Abby. What’s threatening to you about this?
He’s the best he’s ever been, and it’s across the country, without me.
What if he never comes back?
Casey had been doing a magnificent job of convincing himself that Danny was coming back. That this was temporary. An aberration. A blip on the radar.
But Danny was so happy, he was almost singing in the streets. Danny loved his job and his psychiatrist and the sunshine. Danny and J.J. got along great, he liked his production team, he’d socialized with people who weren’t even from work. There were Laker Girls and movie stars and beaches for surfing.
Casey punched the refrigerator door.
All that accomplished was that his hand hurt. It didn’t even dent the door. So much for violent masculinity.
People will go to extraordinary lengths to cover up fear.
“It’s fucking with me.”
“I can see how it might. The sensation of being left behind is a hard one to come to grips with.”
“I know—he’s not going to—I thought he’d come back. I thought he’d try out L.A., maybe stay there a year or two, and then come back to Sports Night.”
“No. God. I don’t want him to feel like he’s running back with his tail between his legs.”
“I know I’ve been jealous of him. But I never wanted that.”
“Okay.” She flipped to a new page in her legal pad.
“I feel like you don’t believe me.”
“Why is that?”
“You seem doubtful.”
“Casey, it’s true that I have reactions to things you say, but it’s also important to recognize that you’re going to end up projecting onto me. Are you absolutely sure you’re not doubtful about what you’re saying, given how hard you’re trying to convince me?”
He groaned. “I feel like these sessions are bear traps.”
“In what way?”
“In that way! In that you keep poking and prodding and disbelieving and raising your eyebrows, and it’s never enough that I say things, I have to defend them and look for fifteen layers of meaning when sometimes it’s all right there on the surface. I miss Danny. I thought he’d come back. I wanted him to come back. I’ve never been shy about saying that.”
“Not even to him, which is unusual for you.”
“You were very open with Danny about your displeasure that he left. You eventually managed to convey to him your deeper feelings associated with that. And yet he still might not come back. Does the effort you put into learning to communicate feel wasted?”
“Yes, God damn it.”
“Do you think it is?”
He was silent for a long time. Finally he said, “No. Fuck you. No, I’m glad I’ve been working on this, because it’s helping with Charlie. He’s talked more with me since we started than I think he did in the entire year before that. Maybe since the divorce.”
“So.” Abby smiled. There was sympathy in it. “Let’s talk some more about your feelings, and about what you’re doing to cope with the insecurity this is all provoking in you.”
“They’re going to burn you at the stake someday and I’m going to laugh and laugh.”
“Keep telling yourself that while I get out the feelings wheel.”
“Casey,” said Natalie, very seriously, which never boded well for him, “I have a proposition.”
“I think Jeremy should be present if you’re going to speak to me like that.”
“I have a friend.”
“If you try to fix me up—”
“I would never.”
“Because you’re secretly in love with Bobbi.”
“Get out of my office. I miss the days when you didn’t know where it was.”
“My friend lives in L.A. I thought you could set up a date with Dan.”
“Absolutely not. I hate you.” He capped his pen with extreme prejudice. “I am not secretly in love with Bobbi.”
“Of course not.”
“Just like you weren’t secretly in love with Dana.”
“Do they ever get tired? The hamsters running around in wheels inside your head. If I squint I can almost see them.”
“It’s okay. I can wait. I have patience. And twenty bucks riding on it with Elliot. Ask Dan if he wants to go out with a very attractive and accomplished lawyer. They have so much in common! Just like you and Bobbi.”
“I hate you!” he yelled after her as she sauntered away, whistling to herself. After she left, he picked up his phone.
“Hello?” said Bobbi.
“I thought I should give you a heads-up. Natalie has decided that we’re secretly in love.”
“Oh, I know.”
“You know already?”
“I’ve known for a solid week.”
“How didn’t I know?”
“You’re not always the most perceptive of men.”
“I resemble that remark.”
“Reduced to ripping off long-dead comedians. Look, it’s hilarious to keep messing with her on this, and as long as she’s focused on that she’s not going to ask me about Alyson.”
“So you two are still—”
“Yes, and I’d rather not discuss it at work, if you please.”
“Very well. Does that mean drinks later?”
“Can I tell Natalie about them and assure her they’re strictly platonic?”
“Only if you want her to hide behind a potted plant and watch us all night.”
“As long as she’s out of earshot, I don’t object.”
“Winter Garden okay again?”
Natalie, contrary to his expectations, did not stalk them. Bobbi ordered a Silver Dryad, whatever that was, and Casey got his whiskey drink again.
“So, how’s Alyson?”
Bobbi smiled. Her whole face softened. “She’s good. She’s been coming over a lot.”
“To your place, eh? A little nicer than hers?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been to hers yet.”
“Keeping some mystery in the romance. Good choice. Also, she probably lives in a rat-infested slum. I have no idea what we pay her but it can’t be enough.”
“For dealing with your hair and your ego? No, you’re right.”
“You are so easy.” She pointed a finger at him. “One little piece of bait and boom! There you go. Off to the races.”
“I’m a sensitive soul, what can I say?”
She snorted into her drink. “How’s Danny?”
“He’s been good.” Casey hesitated. “He told me—he’s made some changes, and they’re working out for him.”
“So he’s thinking about staying in L.A.?”
“He’s definitely thinking about it.”
“I’m sorry.” She grimaced. “I can’t pretend I wouldn’t be thrilled to keep this job, but it sucks for you.”
“Yeah. Wait. Why—do you—”
She looked at him, and her face changed. “I just assumed—the way you talk about him. You, uh, and men. Aren’t you…”
He was shaking his head. “No. It’s not, we’re not like that.”
He realized, to his distant horror, that his face must be doing something he hadn’t asked it to. Bobbi was looking at him with an expression of growing dismay.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, reaching out to put a hand on his arm. “I thought—I won’t mention it again. If you want to—well, you can tell me whatever you want to, but I—oh, I’ve really put my foot in it.”
He shook his head briskly. “It’s fine. Water under the bridge.”
“For what it’s worth,” she said determinedly, “I think he’s crazy. You’re a great guy. He’d be lucky to have you.”
“It’s not… He’s not…” He sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Think the Mariners will be any good this year?”
“God, are they ever?” she asked with a thinly-disguised revulsion that made him laugh.
The night Charlie’s play opened, Casey was there with his camcorder in hand. Parents were informed they were not supposed to block anyone’s view with recording, which stopped no one, as far as Casey could tell.
Lisa was there, too, naturally. He couldn’t see her in the crowd of parents (and siblings, and grandparents—faces young and old sprinkled through the audience struggling to maintain their composure), but she would have brought Charlie and she’d take him home.
The other kids were distractions at best. He watched for Charlie’s scenes and relished them, mouthing the lines along with him. Charlie was incredible, the best by far, delivering his lines like they’d practiced. Casey was reasonably certain that his opinion on this was totally unbiased.
Afterwards he went to find Charlie and give him a present—he’d gotten Charlie an older, leather-bound edition of the complete works of Shakespeare. It was ridiculously heavy, he realized as he handed it to Charlie and Charlie said “oof,” but Charlie was beaming anyway.
“You did great,” said Casey. “You were so good up there! You remembered all of your lines!”
Lisa was standing next to Charlie, smiling. “You were fantastic, honey. We’re so proud of you.”
“I thought I was going to be so scared and I was but then when I started talking it got better just like you said it would!” Charlie high-fived Casey. “That was so much fun! I can’t wait until we do another play!”
“You’ve still got two more shows for this one left, buddy.”
“Hey, Charlie!” One of the other kids came up, still wearing greasepaint.
“Hi, Aidan! This is my dad.”
“Hi,” said Casey, sticking out his hand. Aidan shook it. “I’m Casey.”
“Thanks, Mr. McCall.” Aidan was an oddly serious young man; Casey could see how he and Charlie would get along. He’d delivered a solid if unimpressive Lysander. (Titania, unfortunately, had suffered a panic attack partway through and they’d had a few moments of gentle music with an empty stage before they’d been able to coax her back on.) “Charlie, do you want to come over? My mom says you and Peyton can stay overnight.”
“Mom, can I?” Charlie appealed to Lisa, who looked torn.
“Where’s your mom, Aidan? I’ll talk to her. Good to see you, Casey,” she added over her shoulder, Aidan leading her in his mother’s direction.
Charlie was still beaming. “You were a real actor up there,” said Casey. He put his hands on Charlie’s shoulders. “I am so proud of you. You worked hard, and you did great. Even when you weren’t sure you could do it, you kept going. That’s the most important part.”
Charlie spontaneously hugged him. “Thanks, Dad,” he whispered. They shared a smile.
Lisa reappeared; Charlie handed her the book without asking, but she took it gamely, juggling it with her purse. “Okay, sweetie, I talked to Aidan’s mom. If you want to go over tonight, you can.”
“Awesome! Thanks, Mom! I’ll see you later, Dad!”
“See you tomorrow night!” Casey called at Charlie’s rapidly retreating back.
Lisa was smiling after him. “He’s going to realize in about two minutes that he needs to go home first and pick up some underwear.”
“You hope he’s going to realize that.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. He laughed; she laughed, too.
On Saturday, he tried throughout the day, but he couldn’t reach Danny. It was getting annoying.
“Hey, Danny,” he said. “Just wanted to know how you’re doing. Give me a call, let me know.” He wanted to talk to someone about the Super Bowl, and Danny would have been preferable to his other options. Dana and Bobbi were in an absurd conspiracy to deny basic facts about coaching.
That night, he went back for the final performance. Charlie was grinning and exuberant afterwards, bouncing on his toes.
“—and then when Oberon missed his line, did you see, did you see—”
“You fed it to him. Like a professional!”
Casey felt that voice in his stomach, in his toes, a split second before he recognized it consciously. He was turning—there he was: Danny, smiling.
“Danny!” Charlie’s voice went so high it was almost a shriek, and he hurled himself at Danny for a hug that knocked the breath out of him.
“Whoa! Good to see you too, young Mister McCall!”
Charlie squeezed hard before letting go and stepping back. “You came!”
“I did. I had a day off.”
“Just for my play?”
“You know it. I wasn’t going to let the finest theatrical premiere in modern history pass me by, like some kind of chump.”
Charlie’s eyes were darting back and forth between Danny and Casey. “Do you have to go? Dad has to go back to work.”
“I’m going to stay until pretty late tonight.” Danny’s eyes met Casey’s over Charlie’s head. “I’m flying out around three in the morning.”
“That’s super late!”
“Yeah, but I didn’t want to miss out on this.” Danny ruffled Charlie’s hair and then pulled his hand back quickly, making a face; it was now covered liberally in the glitter that hadn’t stuck to the gel. “Okay, not this, exactly, but I’m glad I got to see your play. You were amazing!”
All three of them jerked to look at Lisa, who was wearing a peculiar smile.
“Hey, Lisa. You look great,” said Danny. As Lisa shook his hand, her face kept twitching a little.
“Thanks. You, too.”
“I was wondering, did you and Charlie have plans after this? I don’t want to intrude, but I was wondering if I could take you out for dinner.”
“Charlie, would you like to go to dinner with Danny?” Lisa looked like she’d rather chew glass, but she was being very pleasant about it.
“I have an idea,” said Lisa. “Danny, why don’t you take Charlie for a bite to eat and drop him back at my place afterwards? He can tell you all the guy stuff he doesn’t want to talk to me or his father about.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Danny said to Charlie solemnly. “Your dad’s a pretty big dork, I don’t think he could tell you how to be cool.”
Charlie snorted with laughter. Casey said, “Hey!”
“Sorry, Case, but a fact’s a fact. Lisa, where do you think would be a good place for me to take him?”
She named a couple of restaurants close to their place, and Danny nodded. “Okay. Charlie, which one of those sounds best to you?”
Danny laughed. “That’s got to be good. You want to get changed first? Get some of that paint off so you don’t end up eating it?”
“Ick! I’ll be right back!” Charlie tore off for the greenroom.
Lisa had gone off a little ways to talk to another mom. Danny put his hands in his pockets.
“It’s really great that you’re here,” said Casey softly.
Danny nodded, looking off to the side. “He’s a good kid. I missed a lot this year. He’s like a foot taller.”
“He’s definitely starting to pick up, but he’s still shorter than most of the girls.”
“I thought he might be mad at me. He said… When I talked to him on the phone over Christmas break he said that he thought maybe you and I were fighting and that’s why I hadn’t come back.”
Casey shrugged. “I tried to tell him you had a lot going on in L.A. and not a lot of vacation time.”
Danny was watching Casey with the kind of narrow, focused intensity that made Casey feel transparent. “Vacation time is a beautiful thing. I’m taking a couple of days in February to go up to San Jose and hang out, visit a friend. Do some serious nothing.”
“That sounds like a good plan.”
“I didn’t take a lot of time over the holidays, and they’re not too picky about it now that we’ve got a better sub on speed dial.”
“Are you pissed at me?”
“What? No. Why?”
“You’re not looking at me.”
Casey realized it was true; he tugged his gaze up from Danny’s shoes. “Sorry. It’s just—I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“It’s only been two months.” Danny licked his lips. “Are you weirded out that I—that I know now? About, uh. Well, I guess everything.”
“No. That’s—it’s fine.”
“Is it weird that I came to this?” Danny glanced off in the direction in which Charlie had vanished.
“No, I think Charlie’s very pleased.”
“I figure he can be mad at me if he needs to.”
“He won’t be.”
“I didn’t—I should have called.” Danny exhaled quietly. “I should have come back for a visit.”
“It’s okay, Danny.”
“It feels kind of surreal.” Danny was looking around, scoping out the auditorium. “I caught a red-eye out after the show and I’m flying back tonight.”
“That’s going to be murder tomorrow when you have to do your Super Bowl coverage.”
“It’ll be fine. And J.J. does well with football.”
“You want to get together after the show?”
“Sure. I’ll come by the studio before I go to the airport.”
“Natalie will probably fuss over you. She had some friend she wanted to set you up with.”
“Oh, really?” Danny raised his eyebrows ruefully. “Sounds like a barrel of monkeys.”
“Too true. Oh, here’s the man!”
Charlie reappeared, in his jeans and t-shirt and only slightly sparkly around the edges. “Give me a hug before I take off,” said Casey. Charlie hugged him tightly before turning to Danny.
“Is California hot all the time? Dad said it was probably sunny. It hasn’t been sunny here much. Not since—”
Danny met Casey’s eyes over Charlie’s head and smiled again. Casey smiled back, feeling his treacherous stomach drop again.
It wasn’t fair, but things were what they were.
He tried not to be distracted during the show. It was like once he’d decided to start being in love he didn’t know how to stop. He almost blew a throw to a remote correspondent. Bobbi had to kick him under the desk to get his attention on another segment.
“And when we come back, an interview with Colonel Sanders,” he said, and as they cut Bobbi turned to him with wide-eyed horror.
“I don’t know!” he yelled.
“It was Lionel Sanders!”
“I am aware of that.”
“Not thirty seconds ago, you weren’t!”
“I watched a middle school play tonight! For the second night in a row. My brain is fried.”
“Deep-fried like a drumstick, apparently,” said Natalie.
“We’re going to hear about that one,” said Dana darkly over their earpieces. “We’ll be lucky if KFC doesn’t sue us.”
“Hey, it’s free publicity for them,” said Casey defensively.
“Whatever it is, get your head in the game. You have to survive another twelve minutes. And that includes surviving me stabbing you if you screw up like that again.”
When they were out for the last time, Bobbi said under her breath, “What fools these mortals be.”
“Hey! I am being a responsible and caring father, I’ll have you know, and if I watched some kid flub her line about what was supposed to be ‘see me no more, whether he be dead or no’ and say ‘me see no dead’ and it messed with my usually impeccable timing and delivery, that is hardly cause for mockery, but rather celebration that I came through the experience with most if not all of my brain cells intact.”
“Me see no dead?” asked Natalie with barely contained mirth.
“Word for word.”
Bobbi sighed. “You’d think someone would coach her on that.”
“You’d think, but either they didn’t or she’s impervious to coaching. I tell you, it makes you appreciate the luxury of working with largely adult professionals.”
“The exception being you,” said Danny. Casey jerked his head up to stare—there was Danny, beyond the cameras and the lights, leaning nonchalantly against a wall. Danny had a hint of a smile on his face.
“Give me a break,” Casey replied on autopilot.
“It sounds like you’re in the mood for some chicken.” Danny grinned. “I could have picked some up on the way over if I’d known.” Casey stuck his tongue out at him.
“Danny!” Dana had emerged from the booth and held out her arms for a hug. “How are you? How have you been?”
“I’ve been good.” Danny smiled at her.
“Hi, Dan!” called Bobbi with a sprightly wave. Danny waved back, grinning.
Natalie came up alongside Danny as Casey untangled himself from the mic and earpiece. “Dan,” she said, “I need to talk to you later.”
“Sure thing, pint size.”
“Is it inaccurate?”
“On the other hand, maybe I don’t want to hook you up with my friend,” she muttered.
Danny raised his eyebrows. “Oh, no, no blind date? What a tragedy.”
She pointed two fingers at her own eyes and then back at him in the gesture for I’m watching you.
“Hey, Dan!” Kim and Elliot had joined the crowd—slowly everyone in the studio was accumulating around Danny, greeting him, hugs and handshakes and how have you been? until Casey felt like screaming. He’s my friend, not yours. You haven’t been calling him. He didn’t come to see your kid’s play.
But, as Casey was a functional adult, or trying very hard to pretend to be one, he settled for leaning back against the desk and smiling graciously and patiently until people started to drift away again.
Dana was pressing him. “How long are you back for? Do you have time to grab a drink?”
“Heading back in the wee hours, I’m afraid,” said Danny. “I was going to catch up with Casey.”
“Oh.” Dana looked crestfallen. Danny met Casey’s eyes and they had a brief, silent, psychic discussion.
“Did you want to come with?” asked Casey. He thought he’d probably managed to successfully hide his reluctance.
Dana perked up immediately. “Sure!”
“Great, where should we go? Since KFC is closed,” said Danny, smirking at Casey. Casey rolled his eyes.
Natalie said, “I vote we go to El Perro Fumando. Dana’s been a pill today because she has bet unwisely on the game and I want to see her consume an enormous margarita.”
“Were you invited?” Dana raised one eyebrow. “I’m not convinced you were invited, whipper-snapper.”
“Danny, I’m invited. Tell Dana.”
Danny shrugged with a half-smile. “I think Natalie’s invited, Dana. It is a distinct possibility that she invited herself, but the invitation appears to have been extended nevertheless.”
“I don’t feel like El Perro Fumando, anyway.”
“How about Winter Garden?” Bobbi materialized, having changed back into her high-waisted jeans and a puffy jacket.
“And Bobbi makes five,” Danny said.
“Why not? I have social capital. Your stock can only go up from being seen with me.” She winked at him; he looked affronted, clutching his chest.
“I have social capital too!”
Bobbi snorted. “Keep telling yourself that. You’ve put your eggs in the California basket.”
“Is Winter Garden new?” Danny said to Casey.
Casey nodded. “Bobbi and I’ve been there a few times. It’s not bad. Ludicrously expensive, but the drinks are decent and they serve these sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds that are addictive.”
“What’s wrong with the classic peanuts?” asked Danny.
Dana said, “Nothing’s wrong with a classic, but sometimes variety is nice. Okay, let’s get our coats, we’ll meet you at the elevators.”
Danny, hands in his pockets, followed Casey to Wardrobe (but waited outside while Casey changed; Casey found his hands stumbling over the familiar buttons, felt his face getting hot) and back to the office to grab his things. Danny peered around Casey’s office with interest.
“Is this where you were actually supposed to be working the whole time?”
“It is.” Casey sighed.
“It’s kind of grim.”
“Definitely doesn’t have the same view.”
“The natural light is… minimal.”
“You can see why I colonized your office.”
Danny was still looking around. “You seem settled in.”
“I moved right after you left.” He didn’t say, that office hurt. “Bobbi seems to enjoy having the run of the place.”
“Do you have any trouble getting the writing to dovetail?” Danny gestured with both hands, down and together so the fingers interlocked, to demonstrate.
“We call each other.” Casey nodded at the phone on his desk while he pulled his coat off the back of his chair. “It works out.”
“Cool.” Danny reached out and ran his fingers along the back of the chair that faced Casey’s desk. “It’s weird, being back.”
“Miss it?” asked Casey, and could have kicked himself immediately.
Danny looked at him. Casey couldn’t read his face. “Sometimes,” Danny said quietly, and then turned and pushed the door open. “Let’s get going, the ladies are probably waiting impatiently.”
They were, as it turned out. Casey and Danny followed the rising hubbub to the elevators, and when they got there Dana slapped the call button with more force than was strictly necessary. “Here we go!” she announced loudly to the doors.
The effect was spoiled by the doors taking a while to open. Dana led them onto the elevator with her head held high despite that.
“So Danny,” said Dana, “before Natalie gets her hopes up about setting you up, are you seeing anybody?”
“No, I haven’t had a lot of time for dating.”
“Have you been surfing?” asked Bobbi. “I haven’t been on a board in years and I miss it.”
“On occasion. More like getting my ass kicked by the waves, though.”
Bobbi laughed. “That’s the fun part, though. If surfing were easy we wouldn’t feel so compelled to do it.”
“The story of human endeavor,” agreed Dan wryly.
They walked to Winter Garden. Casey had hoped to drop to the back with Danny to keep talking, but Dana seemed determined to cram eight months of catching up into one evening, and Natalie and Bobbi walked behind them talking about something Casey couldn’t quite hear. He ended up at the back of the pack, watching them, trying not to feel uncomfortably jealous and by and large failing at that goal.
It was a little better at the bar. Danny sat next to Casey in the booth, with Bobbi pulling a chair up to the end of the table and Dana and Natalie sitting across from them. The white Christmas lights in the white trees cast a flattering nondirectional light across their faces—not too bright—and everyone looked young and cheerful.
Danny dug into the pumpkin seeds, agreed that they were delicious, ordered an Elderflower Collins, and told Dana and Natalie and Bobbi all about L.A. Casey found himself realizing there were lots of questions he hadn’t asked.
“—Sandy was due two days ago and she’s screaming mad about it.” Danny grinned. “J.J.’s afraid she’s going to go into labor while he’s on the air.”
“Do they have a name picked out?” Natalie asked with interest.
“Huh,” said Dana. “I prefer a good, solid, old-fashioned named. Harvey. Quinton. Mortimer. Montgomery.”
“I’m not sure that’s old-fashioned,” said Bobbi. “Those names sound like low-grade Disney villains.”
“It’s a sad fact, but someone should broach it, Bobbi. You have no taste,” Dana replied seriously. She turned to Casey. “No offense.”
“Because I get along with you.” Bobbi took a sip of her tall, gold-tinged drink. “She’s suggesting you’re as appalling as those names.”
“No, I’m suggesting he’s as appalling as whatever baby names you’d come up with.”
“I wouldn’t come up with baby names. I feel no particular urge to reproduce, now or in the future.”
“Hm.” Natalie swirled her drink—it had come in a very trendy glass that was almost a sphere, the bottom flattened enough to be set down with success most of the time. “I think I’d name a baby Justin.”
“After who?” asked Danny.
“The emperor. Justinian.”
“Okay, I didn’t see that coming.”
Natalie leaned forward, bracing herself on her elbows, and began to deliver an explanation of why Justinian made sense, while Casey turned to Bobbi to escape that explanation.
“Seriously,” said Bobbi, mouth twitching, “Colonel Sanders?”
“I’ve said all that I have to say about that.”
Danny broke free of Natalie’s hypnotic gaze long enough to turn his head and contribute, “No, no, it makes perfect sense. Colonel Sanders has great yardage. More interceptions than you’d expect from an old man in a suit.”
“Coming from someone who once said, and I’m quoting, a park all covered with cheese, Danny—” said Casey.
“Hey, I had an excuse!”
“You had no such thing,” said Dana firmly. “You, however, did not infringe on any copyrights. I think. Legal didn’t give me any crap about it.”
“I did too have an excuse. I was thinking about Rebecca.”
Casey coughed. “Well, I was thinking about Shakespeare, which is a much higher and more cultured reason to screw up.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Casey,” said Dana severely. “Your screw-up was impressively bad.”
“Hey, we’re out of the pumpkin seeds,” said Natalie sadly.
Casey slid to the edge of the booth. “I have a venturous fairy that shall seek the squirrel's hoard, and fetch thee new nuts.”
“You better not!” said Dana.
“No, it’s—oh, come on, Dana, it’s Act Four, Scene One. You don’t know the Bard very well, do you?”
“Neither did you until you listened to Charlie reciting it for two months! You can’t quote Hamlet worth a damn and we both know it.”
He cracked up as he stood. “You may have a point there.”
He went to the bar to get a new dish of pumpkin seeds, and when he got back Danny was gone. “Went to the restroom,” said Bobbi, taking some of the seeds. “Thanks.”
Natalie scooted to the end. “Think I will, too. Be right back.”
Casey watched her head for the restrooms; partway there she ran into Danny coming back, and the two of them talked for a couple of minutes, heads close together. Blind date, thought Casey. Maybe Danny would go on it after all. Maybe Danny would have a good time. Who knew.
When Danny got back, Casey moved over against the wall rather than giving Danny his seat back. He also stole Danny’s drink for a sip before giving it back—it tasted barely sweet and also refreshing. Like something you’d want in the summer when it got hot and the sky was cloudless, the heat coming off up the asphalt in waves.
Danny slid Casey’s drink to him and turned to talk to Bobbi while Casey and Dana argued good-naturedly about the Super Bowl.
He could feel Danny next to him. From time to time they’d touch, Danny’s thigh against Casey’s, and every time it hit him all over again in the pit of his stomach. It was the jolt of a roller-coaster drop, but wonderful. He tried to focus on Dana’s arguments about the Ravens, which were nonsense.
“—I don’t think their defense—”
“That’s because you’re an idiot, Casey—”
“—this last season has been—”
Danny broke in. “Sorry, I’m going to have to get going to the airport.”
“Oh.” Dana stood up to lean awkwardly across the table for a hug. “Come back soon, okay?”
He smiled at her. “Okay.”
He got hugs from Natalie and Bobbi, in turn, and then turned to Casey. “It’s been great seeing you,” said Danny. He sounded sincere. Casey took his hug in stride and made himself let go.
After Danny left—Casey couldn’t stop himself from watching Danny leave, and Danny didn’t turn back, even to look—they talked for a while about the game, until Bobbi said, “I’m going to close out my tab and head home. See you all tomorrow.”
“Big day!” Dana saluted Bobbi with her drink. “To the Super Bowl.”
“To the Super Bowl.”
“And to all the ratings that go with viewers angrily dissecting it, however it turns out.”
“What she said,” echoed Casey and tossed back the rest of his drink. “Think I’ll take off, too.”
On impulse, he called Danny from the cab on the way home.
“Yeah?” said Danny, distracted, background noise almost drowning him out.
“Hey,” said Casey, “Call me when you get in.”
“About anything in particular?”
“Your critical take on Charlie’s play. No, just so I know your flight was fine.”
“Okay. If you don’t pick up I’ll assume you’re sleeping.”
“It was a good play.”
“Charlie was great.”
“Damn right he was great. I love my theater nerd kid.”
“He couldn’t stop talking about it at dinner. He loves it.” There was a smile in Danny’s voice. “Clearly he gets his nerdiness from you, even though he’s taking it in a different direction.”
“Which he is welcome to do. I, unlike my own father, and largely thanks to therapy, am coming to terms with the idea that my son may experience the world differently than I do.”
“That’s—actually really great.” Danny laughed, breathily. “It is so cold. Okay, I have to go through security. I’ll talk to you later.”
After they hung up, Casey stared out the taxi window, tracing a pattern idly in the condensation in the window.
The phone rang at a time when Casey normally preferred to be unconscious; his alarm wouldn’t go off for another two hours.
He fumbled the cordless off the nightstand. “Hm?” He had to clear his throat. “I mean, hi.”
Danny was already laughing. “See, I assumed you’d sleep through this. I should have known better.”
“Just got off the plane. It was decent. There was a woman ahead of me who kept sneezing and now I’m paranoid about getting a cold.”
“Or the flu.”
“Thanks, I didn’t have enough to be paranoid about, that was definitely the problem there.”
“Danny…” Casey sighed, trying to wake up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “I’m trying to be cool about this, but this city fucking sucks without you.”
“I have to admit, L.A. has a lot going for it, and I’ve been hanging out with some of the people from the station, but none of them have the unique brand of crazy I miss from Sports Night.”
Casey snorted. “It’s the Daffiness Boys in there.” The Brooklyn Dodgers had gotten the nickname for a particularly bad couple of seasons back in the 1920s, where they kept screwing up in ridiculous, hilarious ways. Like the Three Stooges had tried to put together a team.
Danny breathed for a minute. There was a low babble of background noise, now that Casey was listening for it—the swirl and rush of the airport as Danny walked through it. “I’ve been branching out a little. Did a couple of stories for other programs on our parent network about topics tangentially related to sports.”
“That sounds like fun,” said Casey. “Congratulations.”
“It’s not a big deal. One of them was on Barry Bonds and the cult of personality around high-profile players, it’s airing tomorrow night. The other was about the importance of public parks. That already aired.”
“I’m proud of you.” There were words that came more easily to him than they had, before Abby, and he’d been practicing them a lot lately with Charlie. It was strange to need them in this other context.
“Thanks.” He could almost hear Danny shrug.
“You’re a multi-talented guy.”
“Hah, whatever. It was good to be back, though.” Danny paused again. “Good to see you.”
“It was really good to see you, too.”
“I’m almost at the taxi stand, I should go.”
“Thanks for calling.”
“Yeah, good talking to you.”
After they hung up, Casey couldn’t make it back to sleep; he drifted in an uneasy haze until the alarm went off, thinking about Danny’s career.
“Now that Charlie’s play is over, what other kinds of things are you thinking about doing to keep up the connection between you?”
Casey leaned forward, elbows braced on his legs, gesturing as he talked. “They’ve got try-outs for the next play soon, plus I was thinking since he’s been enjoying Shakespeare so much we could do Shakespeare in the Park this summer, but before that starts he’s been getting into the bagpipes, God help us, and maybe I can swing Symphony matinees with him. And I can keep calling him at least a couple of times a week from work. I have time to do that, and that way he can tell me what he and his friends are up to.”
“Those are some good constructive ideas. I’d encourage you to keep thinking about it, because it’s not always easy to maintain it when you’ve started building good habits.”
“I feel… it’s like I’m getting to know him. I was sulking, for a long time, because I wasn’t living at the house anymore, and I felt like I didn’t matter. But he’s been so happy that I’m making time for him.”
“Is there a lesson in that for you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you assume you know what other people are thinking and feeling without asking about it?”
“I mean, I can.”
“That’s a good answer.” Abby cracked a smile. “Sometimes you can trust your sense of what’s happening, but sometimes you need to ask more questions before you decide what to do.”
“That makes sense. Did I tell you Danny came to the play?”
“He what?” Abby leaned forward, her eyes narrowing.
“Danny showed up for the last play. Saturday night.”
“Didn’t he have the Super Bowl on Sunday?”
“He flew back for it.”
“He flew to New York just to see Charlie’s play.”
“Casey…” She trailed off. “Does that strike you as unusual?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is there anyone in your life, any friend, whose child’s play you would fly six hours to see?”
“No, but Danny doesn’t have a kid. If he did I probably would.”
She drummed her pencil against her legal pad. “I see.”
“It meant a lot to Charlie.”
“I imagine it would. How did you feel?”
“Seeing Danny again. How did you feel about that?”
“It was great. I—you know I miss him. It was great to get to hang out.”
“He hung out?”
“He came by after the show and we all got drinks.”
“I see.” Abby sounded vaguely like she was strangling.
“It was the funniest thing, though, I screwed up on air.”
“Oh, did you?”
“I was supposed to say Lionel Sanders and instead I said Colonel Sanders.”
“That’s a pretty big difference.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“Really?” She cocked an eyebrow.
He sighed, stretching his hands, listening to the joints crack. “Okay, I might have—there’s a small chance I was thinking about Danny.”
“It was a shock to see him. The good kind, don’t get me wrong.”
“I’m sure it was.”
“He took Charlie out to dinner afterwards. I talked to Charlie on Monday and he was raving about it. Apparently he thinks Danny’s ‘like, super cool.’ He wants to start playing the guitar like Danny does. I don’t think I get to be super cool.”
“Well, you’re a dad. That lets you out of the running by default.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Casey, I’d like you to think some more about what you would want out of a romantic relationship. You’re getting to a point where I wouldn’t be surprised if you did start looking at dating again, and I think you’ve been developing a kit of healthier tools for dealing with the inevitable stresses and conflicts in a romantic relationship. Which means that you need to think seriously about what your goals would be. If it would be to have fun and meet people, that’s fine, but I get the sense that you’re a commitment-minded guy.”
“I think I am. I haven’t been great at keeping things light.”
“And that’s fair. People want different things out of life. The kind of relationships that have made sense for other people you’ve known may not be right for you.”
“I think I’d—I’d want to settle down. I’m thirty-five. Turning thirty-six this year. I miss the stability of having a family.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t know how likely it is that I’ll find that stability again.”
“Never say never.” Abby bit her lip, which wasn’t like her at all. “Never, ever say never, Casey.”
He was on the phone with Danny after a show later that week.
“—and did I tell you, Sandy had the baby?”
“That’s great! Did they go with Jayden after all?”
“They did indeed.”
Casey paused to consider the name. “Jayden.”
“I can’t say I’m a fan.”
“I’ll never tell him.”
“I may never meet him.”
“Who knows,” Danny said casually. “You could come for a visit sometime.”
“You mean that?”
“Why not? It’s not like New York can compete on the weather.”
“That’s the truth. You still have that San Jose thing planned?”
“I do indeed. One of my friends from college is opening a photography show, I told her I’d be there.”
“Anybody I know?”
“Iris? Iris Moorhill?”
“Not ringing a bell.”
“She was never a sports person. I don’t think you would have met her, she’s been working out of San Jose for a couple of years and she was in Iceland for a while before that. But she told me about this opening and it sounded like a great excuse to blow a couple of vacation days.”
“She’s a photographer?”
“She does this kind of surreal—it’s hard to explain. I wasn’t an art major. But she takes photos, sometimes landscapes, sometimes people, and then warps them. She’s been experimenting with digital stuff lately, it’s interesting.”
“Oh,” said Casey.
Danny laughed. “I know it’s not your cup of tea.”
“I can appreciate art!”
“Sure you can.”
“With the caveat that I may not always be able to appreciate art that is classed as modern.”
“So you’re there for a couple of days?”
“Yeah, I’m out there Friday and Saturday. Figure I’ll hit up the Winchester House, get a tacky t-shirt.”
“You do that,” Casey said with profound disinterest.
“Still not a ghost man?”
“I’m still alive, so no.”
Danny chuckled. “You are always going to be the world’s most insufferable literalist, aren’t you?”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Uh huh.” Danny hummed tunelessly for a second. “There we go. How’s Bobbi?”
“What are you working on?”
“Rearranging my desk. I’ve had this monitor too low ever since I moved in and now J.J.’s always talking about ergonomics, I thought I should give it a try.”
“So, what, you put a book under it?”
“I adjusted the height to be more consistent with my eye level.”
“You put a book under it.”
“I put a book under it.”
“I’d like to know which volume you’re subjecting to the kinds of physical stresses that will shorten its longevity.”
“It’s a phone book.”
“Well, that’s fine then.”
“I thought you’d be all right with the sacrifice of a phone book.”
“How’s Bobbi, though? She seemed good.”
“She’s making a lot of progress. She’s still no you, but I think we’ve got a good thing going.”
Danny sighed. “Casey. If I came back to New York, what would you think if I didn’t come back to the show? Or to sports at all?”
“You know I was talking about those other segments I’ve been doing.”
“There’s a lot more out there than sports to write about. Or to talk about on television. I’m not sure sports is it for me, the way it is for you.”
“That’s insane. You’ve been in sports for your entire career.”
“Yeah, because that was the place I got my foot in the door.”
“You love sports.”
“I’m not saying I don’t. I’m saying I think I could broaden my interests. I might try something different and see how it felt.”
“Danny.” Casey’s palms were clammy. “I don’t know what to say. I thought Sports Night was your dream job. I was confused enough when you left it. If you leave sports—hell, you were the one who talked me into staying.”
“Because sports is your life. But I’m—I’ve gotten some bites. There have been hints at possible offers.”
“You’d come back to New York and you wouldn’t do the show.”
“You know Bobbi’s contract is only for a year.”
“You still wouldn’t come back to the show. Even though you could.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“I think that’s bullshit.”
“I think you’re full of shit, I don’t understand why you’re doing this. Going to L.A., sure, finding yourself, sure, proving that you can be better if I’m not dragging you down, fine. But you said you had to go L.A. to figure things out and now, what, you’ve figured out you don’t want to work with me? I’m that—I’m that hard to work with, that you never want to work with me again? I don’t get it. I think it’s shit.”
“Do you hear yourself talking right now? Do you hear what you’re saying? You’re—it’s totally inconceivable to you that this is about me, it’s for me, because I want to try new things. I want to be happy.”
Casey smacked the wall with his palm. “Damn it, I don’t understand why.”
“Because life is about changing! Things change! I’m allowed to want different things than what you want.”
“You’re telling me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Never mind.”
“Casey, I swear to God.”
“Look. You want to do something different? Fine. You do what makes you happy. You try to find that. I’m—I’m pissed about it. I’m going to be pissed.”
“That’s what I fucking thought.”
“Let me finish. I’m going to be pissed because I—you know I miss you. I miss working with you. But Abby says you can feel more than one thing at the same time, and she’s right.”
“So I’m pissed, and I’m confused, and yeah, I’m hurt, but I’m also going to be—I’ll support you. Okay? Jesus Christ. I’ll be happy for you if what you’re doing makes you happy. Even when I wish you were back on the show so I’d be happy more of the time.”
There was a long silence.
“You’re right,” said Danny.
“You’re actually… right. Except—it’s not that you drag me down. It’s that I was unhappy. A lot. When I was on the show. And I don’t want to go back to that place in my head, where I’m smiling and smiling and wishing I’d get flattened by a semi on the way in to work.”
“Danny,” said Casey.
“You knew—you had to know. That it was that bad.”
“I promise you, I didn’t.”
“Well, it was like that for a long time. A long damn time.”
“And now it’s not?”
“It’s not. Ever since I moved to L.A.—no, that’s not true. It was bad for a while here too. But I got on the meds and got out more and this show, it’s not as good as our show, but it takes less of my time and the people are less intense about it, and I have time to do things I want to do. Like go to galleries or go to the beach, read new books, read old books. And I have the time and I want to do them. In New York I never wanted to do shit. I went home and I laid in bed and I stared at the ceiling.”
“I’m sorry,” said Casey, voice very low. “I didn’t realize.”
“I think—I didn’t know you didn’t realize. Maybe I did on some level. Maybe I didn’t want to know that, because I was hanging on to being mad at you for not, not seeing it and fixing me. I know you aren’t psychic. I know you didn’t want me to suffer.”
“I didn’t. I don’t.”
“And that’s why I don’t want to go back to the show. I wonder if I could be happy like this in New York. If it wasn’t the place. Maybe it was me, and now that I’m on meds I could do it again, I could do the show and be fine, but I don’t want to push it. And I did always wonder what it would be like—bounce around, do some other shows, try my hand at things I haven’t done before. Impress myself. Prove that I’m more than a one-trick pony.”
“You are.” Casey closed his eyes briefly. “You always were.”
The phone line buzzed between them with faint static.
“This is the winter of our discontent, huh?” said Danny finally.
“I mean, we’ve been fighting. But it feels like good fighting.”
“Would you go so far as to call it rebuilding?”
Danny laughed. “You know, I think I would. Would you?”
“I could be persuaded to see it that way.”
“Good.” Danny had a smile in his voice. “You know you’re still the best friend I ever had.”
“Have. Don’t go putting me in the past tense just yet.”
“Hey, can I tell you something?”
“I don’t get Iris’s pictures. I’m not sure what the point is.”
“I knew it! No one gets modern art! You’re all faking it.”
Danny laughed for real, and things were very slightly better, with a razor-thin margin.
“So how does knowing where Danny was coming from change how you feel about things?”
“You know I’d forgiven him already. Mostly.”
“I’m feeling a lot—better isn’t the right word. More at peace with it. If that’s what he needs, I finally feel like I can say that’s all right.”
“You can contemplate a future of anchoring the show with someone else?”
“I’d rather see Danny happy in California, if that’s what it takes, than have him right there and depressed.”
“That’s a healthy way of looking at it.”
“He was right. And he was wrong. I didn’t know how depressed he was. But I did know he wasn’t happy, and I thought, well, maybe none of us should be happy. Maybe none of us can be. Not in so many words, I never sat down and considered it too carefully, but if you’d poked around in my head back then that’s what you would have found.”
“And how you think about that has changed?”
“If the things I was doing because I was unhappy, the things I was doing that made me unhappy, were fixable—why the hell shouldn’t Danny get a chance to fix things, too?”
“Casey,” said Dana carefully, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Don’t cramp my creativity. You’re trying to clip my wings, but I remain untethered by your petty rules.”
“Okay, but that chair—”
It skidded out from under him and he fell with a resounding crash.
“Has wheels,” Dana finished with a sigh.
“I knew that,” said Casey from the floor, staring up at the lights on the ceiling.
“He did know it.” Jeremy pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Casey could see up his nostrils. “I brought it up with him shortly before he climbed onto it.”
“And he said?”
“And I quote, ‘That poster isn’t going to hang itself.’”
“Casey.” Dana heaved another mighty sigh. “Did you break anything? Do we need to strap you to a backboard and drag you to the doctor.”
“No, thank you.”
“He’s being polite.” Kim peered down at him. “Might be a concussion.”
“I’ll have you know I’m always polite. I was raised like any good repressed Michigan boy.”
“Could be a broken coccyx,” supplied Jeremy. “I sprained mine once.”
“You sprained your what?” asked Natalie, who’d evidently been attracted by the commotion.
“Tailbone!” Jeremy clarified hastily.
“I did not break my tailbone,” said Casey. “My dignity and pride, however, may be a lost cause.”
“Did your bubble butt cushion the fall?” Dana did not seem sympathetic.
“Where’s Bobbi? She’d never mock me like this.”
“No, you’re absolutely right,” said Bobbi, looming into the corner of his view. “I’d mock you like this. Hey, Casey, what the hell did you think you were doing climbing on a chair that has wheels? Someone once invented this brilliant device called the stepladder. Were you trying to look like an idiot?”
“You’re a shrill and angry woman.”
“I’m also standing upright, which seems to be a bit beyond you at the moment.”
“If someone would offer me a hand, I might be able to join you.”
“Oh, right! Sorry about that.” Jeremy stuck his hand out. Casey clasped it and levered himself up gingerly.
“Red alert canceled, everyone,” Dana called to the bullpen at large. “Casey’s not broken.”
“Did someone break Casey?” asked Isaac, stumping into view from the hall.
“No!” Casey yelled. “I’m fine.”
Isaac surveyed him grimly before turning to Dana. “Did we have a meeting scheduled, or did I hallucinate you specifically requesting this time?”
“Sorry! Sorry. I had to watch Casey fall on his butt in a spectacular display of poor judgment.”
Isaac glared at her with a gimlet eye. “I doubt you truly lack a supply of those moments.”
“You’re right, but every moment like this is so special.” She smirked at him as she followed Isaac back down the hall.
“Why do we need the poster, though?” asked Jeremy, peering at it in confusion. Casey had—not that any of these so-called friends of his had mentioned it—managed to get a thumbtack in place, and now it was unfurled proudly.
“Because there are days when you celebrate victories,” said Casey. The poster said Live Sports Zone! in enormous lettering over a tacky, airbrushed picture of Danny and J.J. He’d gotten it in the mail from an insensitive viewer a few months after Danny had left, and he’d shoved it into a dark corner of his closet. “And there are days when you recognize which defeats should be celebrated, too.”
Jeremy blinked. “That’s actually a much better explanation than anything I was expecting. Very deep. Or at least it sounds that way.”
“Therapy,” said Casey. “Lots of it.”
“You should look into it before you have another one of your episodes.”
“I’m just saying. You can’t have my therapist, though. I already stole her from Danny.”
Casey, hands in his pockets, sauntered back to his office. Whistling. Partly because of the poster, and yet mostly because of the satisfaction of having stymied Jeremy, who was staring after him gaping like a goldfish.
“Casey, my man.”
Casey smiled. “What’s up?”
“The glorious city of San Jose in the twilight. It’s a thing of beauty.”
“You know I’m still at work.”
“And I am not.”
“You’re enjoying the twilight?”
“It seems early for twilight there.” He squinted at the clock. “It’s seven.”
“It’s that time of year.”
“We’re not even close to the vernal equinox, Casey.”
“You’re transparently proud of yourself for knowing the word ‘vernal.’ And that’s practically its only use.”
“And yet, I used it, and used it successfully.”
“That you did.”
“It’s gorgeous here.” Danny sighed, a gust of air. “I’m going to Iris’s thing tomorrow night, I have tonight to get a drink and relax, and I’m staying at a hotel where the air smells of lemongrass and expensive linen.”
“Sure, lord it over me.”
Danny laughed. “That was the entire reason for calling.”
“Trip was easy?”
“Hopped on a plane and boom. Here I am.”
“I admit I’m feeling some envy right about now.”
“Casey, talking about his feelings. Abby’s awakened a whole new side of you.”
“I’m talking about vacations. I don’t think that’s a tough one to decipher.”
“There was a time when you wouldn’t even admit that you secretly hate gouda.”
“What? I don’t hate gouda!”
“Can you honestly compare it to your feelings for provolone?”
“Now that’s just not fair.”
“Point and match to Dan.”
“Ugh. By the way, Natalie wanted me to tell you that she saw your show and she thinks you’re cuter than J.J.”
“Now that’s nice to hear.”
“Did you ever go out with her friend?”
“Levi? No. I told her I’m not feeling it. She was all excited because he’s a lawyer, but that’s not my thing, you know? I’d rather date another creative type. I know it’s supposed to be a bad idea because of artistic temperaments clashing or whatever, but I don’t think I could stand dating someone whose idea of a good time is putting clauses in contracts.”
Casey had grabbed the edge of his desk. “Levi?”
“Her friend? They went to college together?” Danny sounded vaguely puzzled, like Casey should know this.
“She tried to set you up with a guy?”
“Yeah? Because—” There was a very long silence. “Casey, don’t tell me you didn’t know.”
“How, exactly, was I supposed to know?”
“I’m not that secretive about it!”
“I beg to differ!”
“Natalie knew, and you didn’t know?”
“I didn’t know. I didn’t—how did Natalie know?”
“She—I mentioned some guys from college, and—”
“Yes.” Danny sounded furious. “I dated in college, I dated guys in college, okay, what the hell, Casey?”
“You were joking about Anderson Cooper—”
“I was not. I would date him.”
“He’s a reality television show host now!”
“That’s not the fucking point!”
“How was I supposed to know I should take every joke you ever made seriously? Jesus fucking Christ, Danny, not again, not another thing I had no idea about. Did I even know you? Were we friends?”
“I didn’t make a big deal about it. I didn’t want to and I didn’t need to. I haven’t been dating guys, not since, at least since Dallas.”
“You—in Dallas? We were on television!”
“I saw a guy in Dallas once, it was not a big deal.”
“You let me go through—that whole confession to you—and you didn’t say—”
“I didn’t think I needed to! I thought you knew!”
“Why the hell did you think I knew?”
“You got so pissed about Jerry Falwell! You made cracks about flamers. You called me a woman like seven thousand times.”
“So you thought I knew and I was an asshole?”
“Well, you made the jokes, so yeah.”
“Danny, for fuck’s sake.”
“Casey, it’s not a big deal.” Danny’s voice was so funny. It was like he was pleading. He was breathing quickly. “It’s not a big deal, you don’t need to make it a big deal.”
“Is this why you didn’t want to come back to the show? You want a personal life that can be—that’s more open?”
“I want to try other things for the reasons we talked about.”
“This doesn’t factor in at all?”
“You know I’m not going to be a dick to you about it. Not anymore.”
“It’s not about that. I swear.” Danny’s voice was getting thick, breathing faster and faster.
“Danny—” Casey had to loosen his grip on the phone. His hand hurt. “Why—”
“Casey, I have to go. I can’t have this conversation with you right now.”
“Danny,” said Casey, but the line was already dead.
He sat there for what felt like a hundred years but, per the clock, was about ten minutes before getting up to go find Bobbi.
“I’m not feeling great,” he said.
She looked up, frowning with concern. “Do you need to go home? It’s late to get a replacement but we can try.”
“No. I’ll—I’ll make it through tonight. But you’re going to have to carry me and I think you’ll need a replacement for me tomorrow.”
“Are you going to throw up? You’re incredibly pale.”
“I don’t know,” he said, which was the truth.
He did make it through the show. Afterwards, Dana said, “You look like a corpse, Casey. Go get some rest.”
“I’ll do that.”
He kept his emergency overnight bag in the office. He grabbed it on his way out, hailed a cab instead of getting his car from the company parking garage, and went straight to JFK.
He bought the ticket, went through security. Waited. Six hours to LAX, an ungodly amount of time stuck at LAX watching people mill through like cattle, then another hour up to San Jose: he spent his layover sitting at the gate, checking and re-checking that he was in the right place.
A woman on the second plane said, “Aren’t you on television?”
“I get that a lot.”
He hadn’t denied being Casey McCall in a long, long time.
He got off the plane at San Jose, blinking into the light. It was an absurd time of day to be doing this. It was still morning. There was the low rumbling noise of planes, and fresh, sweet air, and fashionable people chatting with each other in amiable groups. The gift shop wanted to sell him a tie-dyed hat with palm trees on it as he walked by.
He found a phone booth that boasted an intact phone book and started calling galleries.
“Hello? Yes, I wanted to make sure I had the name right. The show tonight is Iris Moorhill? No? Oh, thank you. I must have written that down wrong.”
The sixth gallery representative said, “The photographer? She’s over at Indicative Studios.”
“Thank you so much,” said Casey.
He made one more call. From his cellphone. “Hi, Dana, yeah. I’m sorry. I’m not—thanks, yeah. I will.”
When he walked out the doors of the airport, the sunlight was brilliant. It cascaded over him like a blessing.
The show didn’t start until that evening. Casey got lunch at a cheap teriyaki place where for once he didn’t feel profoundly uncomfortable; he’d always remembered California as a place full of people with wide, insincere smiles, with curated collections of deliberately casual clothes. He killed as much time at lunch as he could. When he finally gave up on nursing his ice water and asked, the waiter directed him to a movie theater showing old black and whites for a pittance.
He settled in for a nap, trying not to snore too loudly. It was mostly empty, anyway, and the other people there looked like they could all use hearing aids. Except for a couple of kids making out in the back row, but they weren’t going to complain about him either.
The glow of the projector illuminated a wedge of dust in the air.
The gallery event was open to the public. Casey stopped in the theater bathroom on his way out. He ran a hand over his chin, assessing in the cold fluorescent lights, and then busted out the safety razor from his bag. He cleaned up his stubble as best he could. Brushed his teeth. Splashed some cold water on his face, ran a comb through his hair, swapped out his undershirt, reapplied deodorant. He was wearing business casual, noticeably creased from the plane. It would have to be good enough.
When he couldn’t stall anymore, he left the bathroom and got a taxi.
The gallery was a lovely building in a quiet, pretty area. It had big glass windows all along the front and the walls were painted white, and when he stepped inside the sunlight was making the room warm.
He smiled and nodded and shook a few hands as gallery staff drifted up to him, curious about someone arriving early.
“I’m a friend of a friend,” he said. “It sounded like a very interesting experience.”
The photographs displayed on the wall were interesting. Swirls of color blended and bled into images that seemed normal on first glance, but on closer inspection were distorted in curious ways.
(Danny had anxiety. Sometimes when Danny had anxiety he didn’t go to things.)
(Casey had given Danny anxiety. Take responsibility, Casey, said Abby in his head, grave-faced and sad. Even when you’re not proud of your actions, they’re yours, and you have to deal with the consequences.)
“Good evening,” said a tall, elegant woman wearing a black evening gown with a slit up one side. “My name is Iris.”
She smiled, dipping her chin. “The same.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Your work is very—” Casey searched for a word that seemed appropriate and also fancy. “Evocative.”
“Thank you. I’ve been working on this exhibition for years.” She nodded at the piece in front of which they were standing. It was enormous, easily six feet on the smaller dimension. “That one is La Bête.”
“The beast?” His French was handy for something, at least.
As he looked more closely at it, he could see what she meant. It was a man, at first, but the longer he looked the more he could see how the figure pulled in the shadows around, draining them into his body like a whirlpool.
“It’s gorgeous,” he said at length, surprising himself. Iris looked surprised, too.
“I know a friend of yours.” Casey had his hands safely pinioned under his crossed arms. She wouldn’t be able to see them shaking. “Dan Rydell?”
“Oh, Danny!” Her face lit up. “He’s such a charmer.”
“Do you know if he’s going to be able to make it tonight?”
“When we talked this morning he said he was looking forward to it,” she said cautiously.
“That’s good. I know he was excited to see what you’ve got lined up for us.” He smiled at her.
(Danny wouldn’t bail on her without warning. He wouldn’t. He’d be here.)
Casey wandered the room, going from partition to partition. After a while it was harder to concentrate on the photos.
It was about half an hour before he caught a glimpse of a familiar figure, Danny’s back in a suit. The sight sent an electric bolt through him. He edged closer. Danny was hugging Iris, who was crooning over him ecstatically.
“—friend of yours,” Iris was saying. “I didn’t know any of your friends were coming!”
Danny looked politely puzzled, half-smiling. “Neither did I. I can’t imagine—” and then came to a dead halt.
Casey stepped out into plain view.
Danny stared at him; Iris looked back and forth between them. Casey could barely see her. He’d blacked out, once, from the heat, when he was a teenager at a gymnastics competition in New Mexico. He remembered the sensation of the world graying out around him. Tunnel vision. He was getting it again now.
Danny turned on his heel and walked out without a word.
Casey stood, stunned, and then went after him.
The streets were still flushed with sunlight. It was just beginning to change, pink unspooling at the edge of the sky. Danny was around the side of the building, fumbling with his tie, clawing at it with both hands.
“Danny,” said Casey.
“Shut up!” Danny yelled.
Casey froze a couple of feet away. Danny sucked in gulps of air, leaning forward to brace his hands on his thighs.
“You—unbelievable—what are you doing here? I told you—what do you think you’re—” Danny was shaking his head, hectic color rising in his cheeks.
“I needed to see you.”
“The hell you did! I don’t understand, Casey,” Danny roared. “What do you want from me? You blockhead, you didn’t even know. What more could you possibly—”
Casey took Danny’s face in his hands and kissed him. Danny went stone-still.
“I can work without you.” Casey brushed his thumb over the corner of Danny’s lips. “But how am I supposed to live without you?”
Danny’s mouth hung open.
“What do I want from you? I figured it out. I finally fucking figured it out. I want you to marry me,” Casey said. “I thought you were—I didn’t know—it’s you, Danny, for God’s sake, you’re—”
Danny was shaking his head again, backing up. Holding up his hands to stop Casey. Casey’s mouth closed, slowly, the words going dry.
And Danny turned and walked away from him again.
Casey stood there.
Danny didn’t come back.
Casey used his cellphone to call a cab.
At the airport, the next flight predictably had a layover. He’d get home around five-thirty in the morning.
“Great,” he said dully. He handed over his credit card.
He didn’t have long to wait for the first flight.
How could he have been wrong? He’d gone back through, thinking—suddenly everything looked different. Danny, sitting by his side, year after year. Danny blowing up at Lisa, a level of fury that had always startled Casey even as it reassured him. Danny showing up to Charlie’s play, for God’s sake. He’d thought—no. He’d been sure. (But not that sure, his brain told him, because he’d done this, hadn’t he? He’d gotten on a plane and flown three thousand miles because he needed to know.)
The layover stretched out, delay after delay piling up. He glared fiercely at the baggage-handlers he could see outside the windows. Their carts darted back and forth like industrious beetles from his vantage point.
When the second plane finally took off, he shocked himself by closing his eyes and falling asleep.
“Please return your tray tables to the upright position,” someone was droning. Casey struggled back to consciousness and ran a hand across his bleary eyes. He’d get a few hours of sleep before he had to be back at the show.
The show. God. The thought cut right through him. He wanted to throw something; he wanted to yell. He settled for snapping his tray table into position with particular malice.
Landing, as always, took forever. He squinted at his watch—it was almost seven.
He hoisted his bag on his shoulder as they lined up to deplane. He should have sprung for first class, but he hadn’t been able to convince himself that it mattered, back on the ground in San Jose.
Casey was filing off into the Arrivals section when he stopped like he’d walked into a brick wall.
“You look like the Unabomber,” he said.
Danny, behind a pair of aviator sunglasses, wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, winced. “I know. God.”
“You’re—” Casey shook his head, unsteady. “You’re here.”
“There’s, like, one direct flight from San Jose a day. I caught it.” Danny jerked his head back toward the gates. “I got here about fifteen minutes ago. Saw this flight hadn’t landed yet. Thought you might be on it.”
“We had—delays—why are you here?”
“Same reason I’m dressed like the Unabomber,” Danny said.
“I don’t—” Casey started, but he didn’t get any further than that, because Danny grabbed him and kissed him.
It was a peck, chapped lips barely touching. It was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Casey staggered.
“Come on,” said Danny. “We have to get a cab.”
The cabbie, blessedly, appeared to have zero interest in them. Casey kept staring at Danny’s hand, resting on the seat between them.
“I’m not—saying yes,” said Danny unsteadily. “I can’t—that’s a big fucking thing to say, to show up and say.”
“I know.” Casey blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think it through.”
“Obviously. Who does that?” Danny scrubbed at his face with his hand, pushing the sunglasses up far enough to pinch the bridge of his nose before pulling them off completely and tucking them into the neck of his sweatshirt. “Who just—but of course you do that.”
“I didn’t have a plan. I just needed to see you.” Casey sucked in a breath. The cab driver was whistling something jauntily. “I needed to tell you.”
“I don’t even know what you’re trying to tell me!” hissed Danny.
“I—when I realized I liked—it wasn’t everybody, Danny, it was you.” Casey couldn’t look at Danny. He looked straight ahead at the back of the seat in front of him.
“How long is this cab ride?” asked Danny, voice low.
“It’s another twenty minutes if traffic’s good.”
“We’ll just—we’ll talk about it when we get there.”
Casey looked back at Danny’s hand on the seat. He put his hand out. Not to cover it, not to take Danny’s hand, but so their pinky fingers brushed.
Next to him, he could hear Danny let out a careful, measured breath.
He left his hand there. Danny didn’t move his away.
They got to Casey’s building. Casey paid the cab driver and they carried their duffel bags into the elevator in silence. Casey kept sneaking glances at Danny. Danny looked bone-tired, like he needed a shave, like he was barely keeping it together.
When Casey’s front door shut behind them, Danny grabbed Casey again—put his hands on Casey’s shoulders, shoved him back against the door, and kissed him. Casey’s hands scrabbled over Danny’s back. Casey yanked the hood of the sweatshirt down so he could run his fingers through Danny’s hair, down the back of Danny’s neck where he could reach. He settled on resting his hands on Danny’s waist.
Danny pushed against him. Casey groaned into his mouth, shockingly loud, that roller-coaster sensation back in his stomach, his cock getting heavy in his slacks with the pressure of Danny’s body on his.
Danny pulled back; Casey leaned after him. “You weren’t, uh, kidding,” said Danny, cheeks red, hair a mess.
“What?” Casey ran his hands up and down Danny’s sides. He’d gotten to skin, struggling under the layers. He brushed a finger over Danny’s ribs, and Danny twitched.
“About you,” Casey murmured. He went back in for another kiss. Danny gave him a moment and then pulled back again.
“I’m not marrying you. First of all, it’s not legal.”
“Second of all, you—you fucking maniac—” A reluctant smile was starting to break over Danny’s face, like watching the sun coming up through the windows. “Usually people date first, they don’t go straight to life-long commitment.”
“Usually those people haven’t been effectively together for twelve years but fine. We can date.” Casey tugged at the sweatshirt ineffectually. “You desperate to keep this thing on?”
“I can’t believe you,” Danny muttered, but it was muffled, since he was pulling the sweatshirt off over his head. His sunglasses skittered away under the coffee table. “You—absolute moron—”
“Are you going to insult me or are we going to make out?”
“If I get half a chance I’m going to suggest we fuck,” said Danny, struggling out of the sweatshirt. The t-shirt under it came away with it. Danny was standing, shirtless, in his living room, wild-eyed and breathing hard, tenting his jeans uncomfortably. Staring him right in the eye and as good as daring him.
“Sounds great,” said Casey. He started in on his own buttons.
“You’re insane.” Danny reached out, hooking his index fingers through Casey’s belt loops. “You’re ridiculous.”
“You think I’m ridiculous now, wait ‘til you see me naked,” muttered Casey, pulling his dress shirt off and yanking at his undershirt. It got tangled around his head. Danny cracked up, helping him pull it the rest of the way off.
“Here, come on.” Danny started undoing the button on Casey’s jeans before looking up him sharply. “Okay?”
Casey nodded. His heart was pounding. The zipper sounded unbearably loud. It was like someone else’s living room, someone else’s life. No one had been like this, up-against-a-door desperate, about Casey in a decade.
Danny eased Casey’s cock out through the slit in his underwear, carefully, cradling it in his palm for a moment before wrapping his fingers around it.
Casey moaned, the noise long and drawn-out and animalistic. Danny shuddered and kissed him, his hand still working, through wave after wave of pleasure, until Casey was shaking and the muscles in his legs were straining to keep him standing. He was trying desperately not to come because he wanted it to last, just one more minute, just one more, and finally he couldn’t take it. He let it overwhelm him. It hit him like a sucker-punch, forcing a grunt out of his lungs, and he came and came and came, all over Danny’s hand and their clothes.
Danny was panting, open-mouthed, still half-kissing him. Casey gasped for breath in great whoops. It dawned on him that Danny was rubbing against his leg, grinding his cock into Casey’s thigh. Casey reached down and cupped the bulge in Danny’s pants; Danny froze, eyes flying open, meeting Casey’s.
“I,” Casey managed, licking his lips, “I want to—”
“Don’t let me stop you,” Danny got out. Casey wheezed a laugh and went through the awkward backwards process of undoing Danny’s belt, yanking it open.
“You wore a belt with jeans,” Casey said under his breath, “you forfeit your rights to tell me about style,” and then he finally got the zipper down and took a deep breath and sank to his knees.
“God!” Danny banged his hands against the door in a hurry, trying to keep from falling, Casey thought. Trembling already as Casey tried to figure out where it all went: things were different from this side, where he had to negotiate the huge, hot weight in his mouth, find a place to put it, much less get any kind of rhythm going. He licked the sides in broad strokes with the flat of his tongue—Danny jumped—he tried to suck, but couldn’t get any leverage. He let his eyes close, and when Danny moaned, a long, low, needy sound, he had to groan, the sound buzzing around Danny’s cock.
That was it for Danny: he thrust a fraction of an inch before stopping himself, Casey drawing back, trying not to choke, and Danny silently shook as he came in Casey’s mouth. The sudden hot flood was obscene, salty, so wet and so much, and Casey couldn’t help moaning again.
“Oh, God,” Danny said weakly. Casey licked at his softening cock experimentally and Danny convulsed, so Casey let Danny’s cock slip out of his mouth.
Danny collapsed in slow-motion, still bracing himself against the door, until he was essentially sitting in Casey’s lap.
“I wasn’t sure you were serious,” said Danny. “About liking men.”
“You stand corrected.” Casey leaned in to kiss Danny’s ear, his jaw. Danny tensed up, but his hands came up around Casey’s back to hold him there.
“More like I sit corrected.”
“I can’t believe I want to marry you,” muttered Casey. He nipped Danny’s earlobe punishingly; Danny’s cock twitched in a noble if futile effort. “You’re such a lame-o.”
“Hey, if either of us gets to object on those grounds, I think it’s me. I saw a Land’s End catalogue in here. Is that your secret to persistently—oh—” Danny’s voice went up as Casey wrapped his arms around Danny and squeezed, inhaling deeply, breathing in the smell of his hair. “Persistently terrible fashion sense?”
“Stay with me,” Casey breathed into Danny’s ear. “Stay.”
“I can’t.” Danny sounded wretched. “I’m supposed to be back at work tomorrow. You have to work tonight.”
“I’ll call in sick again. One day.” Casey could barely hear himself, couldn’t be sure Danny could hear him. “Stay with me today.”
“This is a bad idea. Playing hooky to hook up—” Danny tilted his head back; Casey kept kissing his neck. “Fine. I don’t know what I’m going to do about clothes.”
“You have a bag, didn’t you pack spares?”
“I grabbed my overnight bag without checking until I was halfway across the country, so no, I don’t.”
“I have a washer and dryer.”
“This is the worst pillow talk of all time.”
“I love you,” said Casey. It was easier to say it to the side of Danny’s neck than to his face. Danny went still, hands cupping Casey’s shoulders. “I want you to come back to New York. Whatever you want, whatever makes you happy, I don’t care if you go host The Mole with Anderson Cooper, but at least be here.”
“You would absolutely care if I hosted reality television,” said Danny, but in a blank way that told Casey he was on autopilot.
“I wouldn’t. I’m—look, I’ve been an idiot, okay, I didn’t realize, I didn’t know I had a shot with you. Maybe I should have known but I didn’t,” said Casey, aware in an unfortunately cooling and sticky way that maybe while they still had their dicks out on his living room floor was a bad place and time, but unable to stop. “And once I knew I had to know, all right?”
“Your Harry Met Sally moment?” Danny was clearly aiming for withering, but failed.
“Yeah. You can make fun of me if you want to, and I hope you do, I hope you stick around to make fun of me for the rest of our lives.” Casey ducked his head to hide his face in the crook of Dan’s neck.
“Casey,” said Danny, voice breaking.
“You don’t—you don’t have to tell me anything.” Casey sucked in a breath and went on, doggedly drawing up every last scrap of self-actualization Abby had ever beaten into him. “But I need you to understand what this is for me. You’re it for me.”
“Casey!” It was almost a shout. Casey stopped talking, and Danny took a deep breath that Casey could feel, their chests touching. “I’ve been in love with you for years. I thought you knew.”
“You thought I knew?” Casey asked doubtfully.
Danny laughed raggedly, the vibrations shaking Casey. “It does seem foolish in retrospect to assume that you of all people would notice—”
“I hate to say it, but it really does.”
“—but somehow I was under the impression that you knew and you were—ignoring it, I guess, until this year, and then I thought you were letting me down easy.”
“This all would have been much simpler if you had had less faith in my ability to read people,” Casey mumbled against Danny’s collarbone. “Your faith was completely unjustified. I have to point out it was also not supported by anything you’ve ever seen me do.”
Danny laughed, vaguely hysterical. “I can’t believe you.”
“What did you think was happening when I showed up today? Yesterday? Whenever.”
“I don’t know! I didn’t know.”
“You’re going to stay today, though,” said Casey. He kissed Danny’s chest over his heart. “Right?”
“I am.” Danny ran his fingers through Casey’s hair, cupped the angle of his jaw. “You’re going to kill me. Jet lag is going to kill me. I don’t even know what time it’s supposed to be right now.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I want to take a shower.”
“You’ll have to get up first.”
“And you’re not making that easy,” murmured Danny, dropping a few kisses on the top of Casey’s head. “Let me up.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.”
“Last time you said that was about that piece on the Colts.”
“I took it under advisement.”
“I saw the outline in the trash can that afternoon.”
“I didn’t say I’d like it.”
“I’m going to tickle you if you don’t let me up.”
“Danny, we are both grown men. That kind of threat is—auuuuuuuuuuugh!”
Danny clambered to his feet, laughing, and reached down to pull Casey up. “Never underestimate my willingness to do the unthinkable.”
“I’m not sure traitors are allowed to use my shower.”
“Want to join me?”
“Oh, Christ, yes.”
Danny climbed into bed, wearing a borrowed pair of sweatpants. “My schedule is so fucked,” Danny marveled. “It’s an unprecedented level of fucked.”
“We’ve got a bigger problem to confront.”
“Which is?” Danny was nervous again in a heartbeat.
“You’re on my side of the bed.”
Danny grinned slowly at him. “Sorry, pal, it’s my side now. Them’s the breaks.”
Casey heaved a huge sigh, sliding under the covers. “I suppose you can have that side of the bed for now, but we’ll be revisiting this question.”
“Oh, will we?” asked Danny quietly, tangling his legs with Casey’s.
“I hope so.” Casey reached out again, touching Danny’s face. Danny kissed the base of his thumb. “You have, what, four months left on your contract?”
“Come back to New York after that. Come back for visits before then.”
Danny hesitated, and for an awful moment Casey felt his heart sinking. White sand beaches, the Laker Girls—but then Danny blew out a breath and said in a rush, “Yeah. Okay.”
Casey could feel himself smiling without meaning to. He stretched over to kiss Danny on the mouth again.
“Casey,” Danny said against his lips. “Casey. Case.”
“I will.” Danny made a face, embarrassed at himself, and the lightbulb went on.
Casey kissed him in earnest.
Casey called in sick. Dana made noises about coming over to check on him.
“No. God, no,” Casey said in horror as Danny tried to stifle totally inappropriate laughter. “It’s—it’s like a scene from the Exorcist in here. I’ll be fine tomorrow, though, I’m sure. It’s got to be one of those twenty-four-hour bugs or something.”
They stayed in bed most of the day. Casey got delivery, answering the door in sweatpants, while Danny stayed in the bedroom and their clothes clunked around inside the washer. They fucked twice more—Casey felt wrung out after the last time, blissed out, boneless, as Danny propped himself up on his elbows and said, “I haven’t done that in a long time.”
“You’re still good at it.”
“You don’t exactly have a long list to compare it to.”
“Long enough!” Casey laughed weakly, flinging his arm up to cover his eyes. “You jerk. Don’t mock me.”
Danny kissed his elbow and Casey pulled his arm away from his eyes, still smiling.
They napped again until it was getting late, Casey’s bedroom going dark in the evening light.
Danny wasn’t facing him; that made it easier to say, “I’m not ready to be public.”
“No.” Danny didn’t sound mad, though. “Me neither.”
Casey kissed the back of Danny’s neck.
When it was time for Danny to go, Casey watched Danny get dressed.
“Do you want a ride to the airport?”
Danny shook his head. “I think it’s better if no one sees you drop me off.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Casey realized belatedly that his car was still in the company parking garage; he’d have to take a car in the morning, too.
When the car got there, Danny stood in front of the door.
He didn’t move, his face anguished. After a minute he whipped back around to yank Casey into an embrace. He kissed Casey hotly, fiercely, before pulling away, lips twisting in grief.
“I’ll figure out when I can come back,” Danny said.
“Or when I—when I can come see you.”
“Call me when you land.”
Danny’s eyes searched his face; Danny relaxed, fractionally.
So Casey got a call at ass o’clock in the morning, when he was trying to get enough sleep to be able to function at work that afternoon.
“I’m back home,” said Danny. Casey could hear a door shutting.
“Did the hotel bill you for the full stay?”
“I don’t even know, honestly. I don’t care.”
“How was the flight?”
“Small child screamed from the Great Lakes through the Rockies.”
“I am so sorry.”
“My psychiatrist offered to prescribe me Valium for flights and I said no, but somewhere over the Farm Belt I was feeling pretty stupid for turning that down.”
“Danny…” Casey hesitated. “Nobody’s—maybe nobody’s going to give us a gravy boat, but I meant every word.”
Danny breathed quietly on the other end of the line. “Me, too,” he said finally.
“The thing is,” said Casey, “when I saw you and I realized—when I figured it out—I realized, it wasn’t like something had changed. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been in love with you. I didn’t know, that was all.”
“Who knew you were a romantic at heart.” Danny sighed. “We’ll have to be careful. You’re, we’re both famous. We can’t just—we’ll have to be careful.”
“I know. It’s fine. We’ll figure it out.”
“We’re both very intelligent and resourceful, adaptable people.”
“That much is true.”
“And for the sake of love, men have dared much, much more.”
Danny burst into laughter. “You’re such a goober.”
“I woo’d thee with my sword,” said Casey, picking his way carefully through the words. “And won thy love, doing thee injuries; but I will wed thee in another key, with pomp, with triumph, and with reveling.”
Danny was quiet for a long time.
“With pomp, huh?” Danny said at last. “I’d believe that. I’ll believe the reveling when I see it.”
“Hey, I can revel! I’ll revel you so hard—”
“That has no meaning—”
“It’s already too quiet without you,” said Casey. He’d found Danny’s sunglasses under the table earlier, and he was turning them over in his hands, running a thumb absently along the earpiece. “I didn’t realize how much—I didn’t know, until now, and now it’s all I can think about.”
“That was you.”
“On my mother’s life.”
“You don’t like your mother that much.”
“On Orlando Rojas’s pitching arm.”
Danny inhaled sharply. “Well,” he said, and seemed at a loss for words.
“Abby,” he said, “I hope you brought a lot of coffee today, because you’re going to need it.”
(Halfway through his explanation of the most recent turn of events she spilled what remained of her Thermos. He thought meanly that she had it coming, for having known all along that Danny was into men and was in love with Casey, and not telling him, no matter how many times she kept repeating, “Patient confidentiality is a law and not just a strong suggestion, Casey,” in increasingly irritated tones.)
“Natalie,” said Casey, “I believe you and I need to have a conversation about sharing.”
He shouldn’t have brought it up. He shouldn’t have gone to El Perro Fumando with them at all, but now he and Bobbi and Dana and Natalie were sitting at one of the slightly tacky tables that smelled faintly of bleach, and they were all at least one and a half (normal-sized and appropriately green) margaritas in, and God damn it, Natalie.
She raised her eyebrows at him. “Why, Casey? Do you need to share something with me?”
“No, I needed you to share something with me that you did not.”
“What? I tell you everything!”
“I thought you only tell me everything!” said Dana, hurt.
Natalie shushed Dana. “I have to tell him that I tell him everything or else he won’t tell me everything. Don’t blow my cover.”
“Oh, okay,” sighed Dana.
“Secret agents, you are not,” said Bobbi drily, taking another sip.
“You didn’t tell me about Danny.”
“What about Danny?”
“His… past.” Casey raised his eyebrows at her, hoping she’d get it. She did not. He muttered, “His exes, Natalie. Like the person you were trying to set him up with.”
“With whom you were trying to set him up,” Bobbi contributed, just to be a show-off about how well she was handling her tequila.
“Wait, what?” Dana’s face was creasing in concentration.
Natalie was staring at him. “You mean you didn’t know?”
“Know what?” demanded Dana.
Natalie turned to her and whispered, “That Danny dated guys, Dana! Hush!”
Bobbi cracked up. Natalie glowered fiercely at her.
“See!” said Casey. “He said it wasn’t a secret, but I didn’t know.”
“It’s not a secret.” Natalie shook her head, leaning across the table to talk to Casey urgently in an undertone. “I mean, I would never tell anyone outside the show, but I’ve known for years. He wasn’t particularly hiding it.”
“What?” Dana repeated, with greater volume.
“This is what I’m saying,” Casey said to Dana. “No one tells us things. We are out of the loop.”
“It’s not a loop!” Natalie said desperately. “It’s—we really need to keep this one quiet, Dana, you cannot do that thing where you have to process information loudly and in public.”
Dana sat back in her seat, resting one elbow on the back of her chair. “I’ll be damned,” she said slowly. “I’m not in the loop. I’m not even in the Natalie loop. I need to think about this.”
“That’s fine, Dana, just do it quietly, inside your head.”
Dana nodded, staring off into space, clearly already lost in thought. Casey had the petty satisfaction of knowing that he had at least harshed Natalie’s buzz.
(She made him pay for it later, but that was the price of thwarting Natalie.)
On the way out of the restaurant, Bobbi said, “Want to split a cab?” to Casey casually. He nodded.
Once they were outside she poked him in the ribs. He jumped and squawked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Bobbi was beaming. “When did you find out? What did you do? Are you together now?”
The street was almost entirely empty, that time of night. He nodded.
She whooped with glee and pounded him on the back so hard his eyes watered.
“It’s not—” Casey sighed. “It’s not like we can make this—normal.”
“It doesn’t have to be normal, Casey, it just has to work,” Bobbi said, which was very sensible. She was a sensible person. A good person to have around. A damn good friend.
Margaritas and sentimentality, gossip about personal lives—“Wait,” he said, “was that a girl’s night? Did I get invited to Girl’s Night?”
“Did you have a good time?”
“Then does it matter?”
He nodded slowly. “Not one damn bit.”
“There you go.”
Bobbi was not only sensible, but also wise. Although when he told her that in the taxi, she laughed and laughed.
The next play Charlie’s school was putting on was Our Town, and Charlie wanted to be the Stage Manager. Casey went to see, and took him out for burgers afterwards.
“It’s really deep, Dad,” Charlie explained with a furrowed brow. “It’s like, the Stage Manager is like the Puck of this play, really important to all the rest of the action.”
“I bet you’ll get it. That was a great audition, and you were a really good Puck.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Dad.”
Charlie picked the onions off his and presented them to Casey without comment. Casey kept himself from smiling as he accepted them and added them to his own burger.
Casey how somehow gotten onto telling Charlie about Danny’s segment on Barry Bonds, and that led to talking about role models.
Casey said, “I think it’s important to have role models, but it’s—sometimes it’s important to see that no one person can represent everything you think is good or want to be.”
Charlie nodded thoughtfully. “Never meet your heroes.” His hair was slicked back and he was wearing khakis. He looked like he was trying hard to look older than he was, and failing completely in every possible way.
“Well, you can meet them, but don’t expect them to be superhuman.”
Charlie dipped a French fry into the waxed paper cup of ketchup. “Danny called me yesterday. He told me to break a leg today. We didn’t talk for long, though. He was at work.”
“I’m glad he wished you luck.” Casey busied himself inspecting his bag of fries for any stray crispy bits. “He’s thinking he’ll probably move back to New York when his year in L.A. is done.”
“Dad…” Charlie looked up at him, naked hope in his face. “That’s really good, right?”
Casey coughed. “Well, I think so. But keep in mind that could still change, so try not to get your hopes up too high.”
Charlie actually glared at him. “Why do you always do that?”
“You take something good and then you—you say, but it’s not really that good. It’s stupid!” Charlie was flushing, angry and flustered. “You say don’t get my hopes up like I can just decide not to hope for something! I want Danny to come back. I want that to happen and you do, too, and I don’t know why you have to say ‘oh, but it might not happen’ and rain on it.”
“I…” Casey stared at Charlie blankly. “Do I do that a lot?”
“You do!” Charlie looked like he was on the verge of tears. “You always do. You rain all over everything. Oh, don’t be too excited about this, don’t be too happy about that, there’s something bad about it. Well, I don’t care! I’m excited for Danny to come back and hang out with us and I don’t care if you think that’s dumb. I’m going to be happy about something just because I can be even if it’s not guaranteed.”
Casey got up and moved to Charlie’s side of the booth. He pulled Charlie into a hug and squeezed—probably too tight—and said, “You know what? You’re a lot smarter than your old man. You’re right. Good things are worth being happy about.”
Charlie was blinking hard, and he wiped at one eye with the back of a hand, still glaring up at Casey out of the corners of his eyes while sniffling.
“And it’s okay to get mad, too. It’s okay to cry if you’re mad or you’re sad or anything else.” Casey hugged him again. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t cry.”
“Dad,” said Charlie, embarrassed all over again for some other opaque reason.
“Feelings aren’t embarrassing.” Casey ruffled Charlie’s hair. “And there isn’t a wrong way to feel things. As long as you’re kind to other people, you can feel however you want.”
“I know that,” muttered Charlie. He’d turned a mottled red.
“Good. I didn’t know that when I was your age, and I wish I had.”
“Do you want an ice cream sundae?”
Charlie perked up visibly, even though he was still red and crabby. “Really?”
It was a cheap way to get out of the conversation, but, to borrow a turn of phrase from Charlie, whatever. It worked. By the end of the sundae, Charlie was laughing again, excited about the play and a movie he was going to see with Lindon, and it was like the storm had blown over.
Casey looked at Charlie and, not for the first time, thought about how he’d been at Charlie’s age, and whether his own father had ever felt this combination of all-powerful love and desperate fear for his son’s future.
Casey, a few weeks later, was trying to read even though his stomach was churning with nerves. He was sitting in the back seat of a cab, staring down at something he’d underlined.
To be afraid is a priceless education, Lance Armstrong had written. Casey had, over the years, maintained something resembling agnosticism about Armstrong’s denials. Maybe he was doping, maybe he wasn’t. Casey hoped he wasn’t. Armstrong put on a hell of a show, either way. You couldn’t help but root for him.
To be afraid. To hang on to hope because it was the antidote to fear. That was the kind of thing Casey needed to hear at that moment, so even if it was coming from a liar, it was its own kind of truth.
“Here we are,” said the cab driver half a block away. Casey paid him in cash and got out, self-consciously tugging his hooded sweatshirt tighter around his face. He resolutely ignored the impulse to look both ways, because that screamed guilty conscience.
Danny’s building didn’t have a doorman. He pressed a button on the front panel.
“Come on up,” Danny’s voice said, crackling out of the speaker. The door buzzed and swung fractionally open for him. Casey took off his sunglasses, stepping carefully over the threshold.
Danny had always liked high places. The building was older, a little creaky. Full of character. Casey took the elevator, which seemed to take forever, and knocked on Danny’s door. He’d wondered what it was like—Danny’s place, in L.A., with an actual view—and Danny had tried to describe it to him on the phone, but he knew there was no comparison to actually seeing for himself.
When Danny opened the door, there was a disjointed second when Casey could only see him in pieces. An eye, half a mouth. And then there was Danny’s whole face. And the rest of him—a white t-shirt, jeans clinging loosely to his hips, bare feet on the wood floors.
Casey stood there like an idiot, gaping at Danny, before Danny burst out laughing at him and stood back to wave him in. “Come on!”
Casey had been, as he had admitted to Abby when she unerringly zeroed in on his darkest fears and probed them, secretly dreading that moment. Dreading the possibility that Danny was going to look at him and think, What did I do? Or that they’d be unshakably tense with the mutual knowledge that this kind of trip could get both of them fired with extreme prejudice. Or, worse, that Casey would look at Danny and not feel the same way. No amount of low-voiced late-night phone calls, not even finally programming his VCR so he could watch Danny’s show without losing sleep, was the same.
But here they were, and as the door clicked closed behind him Danny was smiling, flushed, an amber glass bottle dangling in his hand. “You want a beer? I can grab you—”
Casey cut him off by pulling him into an embrace. They drew back from the kiss after a minute to breathe, but Casey didn’t let go, both arms wrapped tightly around Danny. There was a faint murmur of music in the condo.
Danny sighed and turned his head to kiss Casey’s jaw. “Missed you.”
Casey had flattened his palms over Danny’s shoulder blades, feeling them shift as Danny moved for more kisses. “I assumed. I’m superlatively witty and devastatingly handsome.”
Danny laughed again. “You tool.”
“You’re gorgeous.” Casey chased Danny’s lips for a kiss, landing off-center. The cold of the beer bottle was penetrating where the glass rested against his hip. “When do I get to see you naked again?”
“I thought you could probably survive through lunch.”
“Hm,” said Casey with some disapproval. “I could, but I could also go rock-climbing, and I’m not convinced that’s the best course of action, either.” He went to cop a shameless feel, getting a good handful of Danny’s ass and squeezing.
“You are so corny.” But Danny’s breathing was going ragged. “I sincerely don’t understand how you ever got laid.”
“The kindness of strangers?”
“Oh, bite me.”
Casey had backed up against the wall, bringing Danny with him, and Danny’s hips were starting to move in little helpless jerks.
“Tennessee Williams not doing it for you? Should I aim for another playwright? Shall I compare thee—”
“So help me God, if you recite that sonnet—” Danny broke off with a gasp; Casey had abandoned poetry in favor of taking Danny’s earlobe into his mouth. “That’s—not fair.”
“Sue me. Want to get horizontal?”
“Most definitely.” Danny had a glassy look to him that Casey liked, very much, as he reached out blindly to set his beer down. Casey wrenched his sweatshirt off over his head on their way to the bedroom, Danny peeling frantically out of his t-shirt and jeans, and they were more or less naked by the time they tumbled onto the bed.
“Danny,” said Casey, a suspicion forming in his mind as he took in the blankets tucked so that you could bounce a quarter off them. “Did you hire a cleaning service?”
“Don’t give me any crap about it.” Danny was scratching Casey’s chest with his nails, and Casey’s back arched. “I was nervous.”
“I’m just making an observa—oh, oh,” said Casey as Danny shut him up, engulfing Casey’s cock in his mouth. “Jesus!” He slid one hand into Danny’s hair, and then, when Danny made a pleased noise, both. He tried, very, very hard, not to use Danny’s hair for leverage. Even when Danny took a deep breath and then slid his mouth all the way down Casey’s cock, and Casey couldn’t help coming, a blinding, beautiful pleasure.
“Casey,” said Danny carefully as Casey panted through the aftershocks, “did you ever—have you—”
Casey shook his head, sweaty hair sticking to his forehead. “You’re going to have to spell it out for me.”
Danny made a face. “Fine. Ever tried anal?”
“Oh.” Casey frowned into space. “A couple of times. It was—nice.”
Danny took a deep breath. “I thought—if you were, uh, interested, you could start with—you could put a finger in my ass when you blew me, but, uh, no pressure.”
Casey raised his eyebrows. “That feels good?”
“So good,” said Danny fervently.
“Well, hell, why not.” Casey paused. “Is there—”
“Gloves. We use gloves. Also lube. The lube is very important.”
“Okay, that’s fine.”
“If you make any jokes about turn your head and cough—”
“I would never,” said Casey as grandly as if he hadn’t been about to make that joke.
“God,” muttered Danny, giving Casey’s ass cheek an exploratory smack, “it’s frankly unfair that your ass looks like this when you’re so shitty at going to the gym.”
“I’ll say.” Danny kissed him again, digging his fingers in to the muscles of Casey’s ass.
“Dana called it a bubble butt,” Casey added plaintively.
“What? What—I don’t want to know.”
“I fell on it.”
Danny snickered. “I can only imagine.”
“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” said Casey. “You show me where these gloves and lube live.”
Danny licked his lips. They were spit-slick, hypnotically shiny. “You, uh, you sure?”
So that was how he ended up knuckle-deep in Danny, painfully hard again even though there was no way he’d able to come and he was still way too sensitive, trying not to hump the sheets while listening to the noises Danny made, fucking up into Casey’s mouth and back onto his hand. Danny finally came, his whole body jerking over and over again, until he subsided, panting and sweating and a complete wreck.
Casey reluctantly pulled his fingers out and snapped off the glove, shooting it unerringly into the trash, and rested his head on Danny’s hip. “Three-pointer. That looked… fun.”
“Stop fishing,” Danny wheezed. “It doesn’t become you. Also, that’s a one-pointer at best.”
“I’m saying, I might want to try that.”
Danny lifted his head to stare at him for a second before letting it thump back to the bed. “I think you might find that decision rewarding.”
“You’re certainly making it look rewarding.” And sound. Danny had been quiet in Casey’s condo in Manhattan, but he’d been getting louder and louder until he was nearly yelling on Casey’s fingers.
Danny shrugged. “Not everyone likes it. I like it a lot.”
“God, I want to like it that much.”
“You might. Won’t know until we try.”
Casey’s dick had subsided again. Which was just as well; if he was going to be that sexually active at his age, he should probably get back into racquetball again or something. He didn’t want to have a heart attack in flagrante delicto.
As they lay on the bed, the music permeated Casey’s awareness. He tilted his head, listening for the tune, trying to place it. “Wait. Is this The Cure?”
“Shut up,” muttered Danny.
“No, really. We fucked to The Cure? What decade is this?”
“Big words from Mr. Starland Vocal Band. Not to suggest you aren’t also familiar with the collected works of Journey. More Earth, Wind, and Fire?”
“I know more recent music! I listen to the radio. It’s mostly terrible.”
“It’s…” Danny made a rueful face. “This album always reminds me of you.”
“What, really?” Casey propped himself up.
“I got it around the time we met. I was listening to it a lot when I—well.”
“When you—” Casey ran his hand over Danny’s thigh. “That long?” he asked quietly.
Danny laughed painfully. “I knew it was stupid. You were getting married.”
“Which turned out to be infinitely more stupid.” Casey kissed Danny’s hip bone. “I should have listened to this album.”
“We wouldn’t have worked.”
Casey looked up, surprised, at the pensive note in Danny’s voice. “What?”
Danny glanced down to meet his eyes, and then back up at the ceiling. “We were different people. I was still—so wrapped up, so fucked up, about Sam. And you were—God, I’m sorry to say this, but kind of a jackass.”
“I’m just as much a jackass now as I ever was.”
“See, that’s the thing. You aren’t. You’ve—I didn’t know, when I started seeing Abby, whether I believed that people could change. I thought I was doomed. Fucked for life. Always going to be worthless. And—it’s been three years. And I’m not. I don’t feel fucked.”
“Well, then I didn’t do my job,” said Casey. Danny smacked him lightly on the head.
“Shut up. We’re having a moment.”
“I know. I—you’re right, I think. I don’t think I knew how to—would have known how to love you.”
“Here’s to therapy.”
“Abby, our inadvertent matchmaker.”
“I can’t believe she had to listen to you complain about how I was the picture of heterosexuality.” Danny’s lips twitched. “Unobtainable. Definitely not at all interested in you, personally.”
“That’s right, laugh it up.”
“I will continue laughing it up indefinitely.”
“I’m going to vote for a nap and then dinner.”
“That’s fine. I made a casserole. It’s on the counter.”
“You hate casserole.”
“I do not hate casserole,” Danny said solemnly.
“Are you learning to make casserole to court me?”
Danny was losing the fight to keep from smiling. “I will deny any such thing.”
Casey ran his hand over Danny’s hip, his stomach, up to his ribs. “I’ll never tell anyone that you’re such a softie at heart.”
“Nothing says romance like a can of cream of mushroom soup.”
“You didn’t forget the fried onion bits?”
Dan heaved a mighty sigh. “May my grandmother forgive me, I did not forget the fried onion bits.”
“It needs to go in the fridge if we’re not going to eat it now.”
“Hey, maybe you aren’t going to eat it now. I’m starving.”
Casey sat up, feeling the less-used muscles in his back protest. “Now that you’re talking about it, I’m hungry, too.”
“There you go. I’m a genius.”
“Get me a plate?”
Danny eased up to sit. “Yeah.”
They took turns in the bathroom, and Casey was channel-surfing when Danny came back (wearing underwear, which seemed unfair) with two plates and a couple of unopened beers.
“Easier to carry,” said Danny, dropping one for Casey to pick up. Casey tugged the blanket over his lap to protect his skin from the heat of the plate; it seeped through slowly, half-moons of warmth over his thighs.
“No complaints here.” Casey stabbed a forkful of casserole. It steamed once he broke through the crust, which was a good sign, although the sauce was distressingly thin.
Danny was watching him sidelong.
Casey smiled at him. “It’s good.” (It was only a slight exaggeration.)
“Yeah?” Some of the tension around his mouth eased. “Honestly, I grabbed a cookbook from a used book store that had a picture of Betty Crocker on the front and was published in 1957. I figured that would be about your speed.”
“Ouch!” Casey was laughing. “But accurate.”
“You want to do the normal chit-chat now? How was the flight?”
“Sure, why not. The flight was fine.” (It had, in point of fact, included a pair of ten-year-olds three rows behind Casey arguing for the better part of four hours about whether Batman or the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles would win in a fight. Casey had, to his immense distress, developed strong opinions on the topic. He would have preferred not to disclose this fact, and so the flight remained “fine.”)
Casey glanced over to see that Danny wasn’t paying any attention to the television; Danny’s gaze was focused on him, a half-smile on his mouth. They were both sitting cross-legged, and Casey could feel Danny’s attention like the warmth of a fire. He ducked his head for another bite of pretty decent tuna casserole. There were even peas.
“How’s the show going?” Casey asked after he swallowed.
“It’s good. I’ve been having to write more. J.J. is a complete wreck, he’s not getting any sleep. It’s cute that he and Sandy are trying to split the nights evenly, but apparently Jayden thinks bottles are an inferior boob substitute, so J.J.’s been jumping through hoops trying to figure out how to get him to sleep.”
“Can’t blame him. Anyway, Jayden will sleep eventually, and he’ll get used to it. It won’t kill him.”
“Yeah.” Danny grinned, staring off into the distance. The curtains were drawn. Danny, like Casey, favored blackout curtains that let them sleep regardless of whatever the daylight was doing outside. His guitar rested in its stand under a framed poster for a band Casey didn’t recognize. “I remember when you had Charlie. You looked like you got hit by a train for months.”
“Only months? It felt like years.”
“Makeup patched you up all right. Spackled right over those dark circles.”
“He was so glad you came for his play and called him about the audition.” Casey found himself staring intently at a noodle, trying to coax it onto his fork without actually stabbing it. “He’s—he missed you.”
Danny’s mouth quirked sadly again. “I know.”
“Next time I have him for a day, we’ll call. You can catch up.”
“That would be great.”
“He got the part, too.”
“Of course he did. Those other kids are so bad compared to him.”
“Danny…” Casey set his fork down. Danny had gone rigid and watchful next to him. “I don’t want to keep this from Charlie.”
He looked up to see that Danny was blinking at him expressionlessly. “Well,” said Danny, “I would at least want to wait until he’s old enough to understand what a secret is, and how those are kept.”
“He’s—Danny, he’s turning twelve in May. How old do you think he needs to be?”
“I don’t know. Thirteen? Fifteen? This has major repercussions and as much as I love Charlie—which is a lot, don’t ever doubt that—keeping a secret is a big deal. It’s a lot to put on a kid.”
Casey pushed a noodle around the plate. “I hadn’t… thought of it like that.”
“I know.” Danny sighed quietly. “You’ve always been very—you get an idea and you decide it’s the right way, it’s the right thing, and you go do it, and sometimes that works out for you and sometimes…”
“You’re hip-deep in pie.” Casey’s plate was mostly empty.
“And that’s fine when you’re the one in your own mess, but this could be messy for all of us. You, me, Lisa, Charlie. Think about Dana and Natalie if this blows up. Think about Bobbi.”
They were silent, contemplating that.
They’d talked on the phone since Casey’s ill-advised cross-country jaunt to the gallery showing. They’d covered topics both serious and frivolous. (And hotly debated which topics fell into which category. Casey could not have given less of a fuck about the Cheltenham steeplechase, and Danny would not let it go.)
They hadn’t covered much in the way of details, though. As if they’d break the spell, the fragile peace they’d found in those bedroom hours. Anything too concrete would dump them back in reality, where Casey hadn’t shaved his stubble and had worn a baseball cap and a dark pair of wraparound sunglasses to avoid being recognized on the flight.
“When are you moving back?” asked Casey.
Danny got up, reaching out for Casey’s plate. Casey handed it to him on autopilot and then got up to follow him to the kitchen, tugging on a pair of sweats as he went. “My contract is up on the last of May. I was thinking I’d get a realtor to find me something in Manhattan.”
“Sure.” Casey cracked open the dishwasher as Danny passed him the plates. Sometimes he forgot that not every kitchen was his grandmother’s, and he didn’t have to towel-dry a plate while listening to light gossip.
“On the other hand, I don’t…” Danny frowned into space. “I don’t necessarily want there to be a realtor who knows that my biggest request was to be in walking distance of your place.”
Danny looked up. Casey was smiling at him.
“What?” asked Danny, on the verge of defensive.
“I wasn’t sure where you were going to try to find a place.”
“Best choice is probably in your building, if I can swing it.” Danny shrugged uncomfortably, leaning back against the counter. “It’s a big deal, though. I don’t know how I explain that one.”
“It’s a good building, you liked my place, one of the condos just happened to come open at a great price at the right time.”
“Yeah.” Danny exhaled through his teeth. “Still a little much. But I don’t want to have to be going through public spaces all the time to see you.”
“If this…” Danny turned and braced his hands on the counter, closing his eyes. “If this goes bad, it’s going to go really bad, Case. Me living in your building? Everything else we can work around. We won’t be working at the same show anymore, we can hang out with different people, but…”
“Hey,” murmured Casey. He stepped up behind Danny and put his hand on Danny’s hip. “I—it’s not, okay? It doesn’t have to go bad.”
“I understand that you think that.” There was a thread of anger in Danny’s voice. “I understand why you have to think that. But I don’t have the luxury of your optimism. I need to be realistic about the fact that we have—we have had fights before and we will again, and there are going to be times where we want space, and if I’m running into you every morning in the lobby it’s going to be a real problem.” Casey opened his mouth to protest; Danny talked over him. “I know, okay, but think about it. Think about seeing Lisa every single day when you just want to go home.”
“I did that.” Casey’s mouth set in a hard line. “I did that for a long time before the divorce.”
“And it sucks, right?”
“But—and this is the part I want you to focus on, okay? Hear me?—but I am still going to try to get a place in your building.”
Casey considered that, turning it around to examine it in his mind, checking all the angles. He felt a smile starting to creep across his face, small and rueful, but a smile. “Because you’re going to be optimistic?”
“Stupidly optimistic.” Danny blew out a breath. “I’ve watched you attempt to navigate human relationships.”
“And yet.” Casey wrapped his other arm around Danny’s chest, pulling Danny back against him.
Danny sighed and leaned into him. “You’re barely taller than me.”
“Two inches is a respectable margin.”
“This doesn’t mean you get to be the man here.”
“I would never have suggested such a thing.”
“I never know. You’re full of antiquated ideas about human sexuality.”
“I have, however, come to grips with the idea that we’re both men. That much, I have assimilated.”
Danny gave a short, choked-off laugh. “Sometimes I freak out when I think about moving back.”
“Because of me?” The thought gave Casey an uncomfortable pang. What was therapy good for if you couldn’t stop being the bad guy?
“Because of everything. I’m looking for a new place to live, I don’t have a job lined up, and yeah, this—” Danny gestured back over his shoulder towards Casey—“is kind of a big deal.”
“You’re going to need a new therapist, too.”
“I’m keeping Abby.”
“You can’t keep Abby! She was mine first.”
“She was, but she’s been mine more recently. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
“You are ridiculous,” Danny enunciated clearly and crisply in his on-air voice, which meant he wasn’t mad anymore.
“Plus, she didn’t suggest meds, right? Maybe she’s incompetent. Maybe you don’t want her back.”
“You know therapy doesn’t have to be something you do forever. When you get up to speed you could stop going and I could have her back.”
“Oh, you want me to stop going to therapy?” Casey started to laugh. “You think I’m going to be such an amazing significant other that I will never need therapy again, ever?”
“…Fine. You can keep her.”
“She’d be so pissed that we’re talking about her like this.”
“You can tell her all about it at your next appointment.”
Casey kissed the back of Danny’s ear. He’d missed everything about this, about being serious with someone: the easy tenderness, the sense of being known.
“I’ve got sixteen more hours before I have to get back on a plane.” Casey breathed hotly against Danny’s neck. “We should make the most of this time. Really take advantage of it. We should…”
Danny, who had seen enough of Casey’s modus operandi over the years to have some idea of what came next, said, “Don’t even say it.”
“…watch ESPN and make fun of their stupid haircuts.”
“I want a divorce. I’m moving out. You can take the East Coast.”
After dinner, they sat on Danny’s deck. (“Deck” was a generous description. It was a patio at best, although it did have wooden privacy walls, which Casey appreciated.)
By mutual unspoken agreement, they’d left the lights off, so it was just them and the water. The ocean’s volume was muted by distance, but Casey could still hear its rhythm. Long, slow, rolling waves, over and over.
“This is nice.” Casey gestured out at the view with his beer.
“Told you.” Danny had a bag of microwave popcorn in his lap, which he was mostly ignoring.
The lights in the distance glittered over the black waves.
“You can’t ask Charlie to keep it secret from Lisa,” said Danny abruptly. “That’s too much. So you can’t tell Charlie until or unless you’re ready for Lisa to know about it.”
“Hm.” Casey took a sip. “I wonder.”
“How much she already suspects.”
Danny gave a brittle laugh. “Oh, she suspects plenty. I wasn’t subtle, Casey, especially early on.”
“Your impression doesn’t count. We’ve established this. You have never recognized someone hitting on you outside the context of them walking up to you and asking for your number in a bar.”
“That’s by far the most common—”
“Casey, you’re a moron and Lisa, at least with respect to picking up on interpersonal cues, isn’t.”
“Does she know you dated—?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Did she ever say anything to you about it?”
“Not until Charlie’s play.”
“What, really? What did she say?”
“When I went to drop him off…” Danny took a drink. Stalling, Casey thought. “She came out to the car and sent him in and then she said, ‘Dan, if you’re going to be involved in his life, you can’t just come and go. He needs stability.’”
“She said that?”
“She did indeed say that.”
“She said that.”
“We’ve covered this.”
“What did you say?”
“I stood there with my mouth open like a goldfish for about a thousand years, and then I said, ‘Okay.’”
“You didn’t tell me.”
Danny barked a laugh. “Well, what does that sound like to you?”
“Like she suspects… a lot.”
“Something very close to the truth. Or the truth as it stands now, which was not, I may point out, the truth then.”
“So you didn’t want me to know—”
“That I’m Charlie’s stepmom? God, no.”
Casey burst out laughing. He couldn’t help it; it had been a long day, a long couple of months. “Danny!”
“It’s true. If this were a soap opera she’d have been waiting for me wearing furs and diamonds, and she would have threatened to have me killed.”
“Give her some credit.”
“Never.” Danny pointed his beer bottle at Casey. “You can’t make me.”
“Very well.” Casey leaned back in his deck chair. There was just room for two of them, angled towards each other and out towards the sea. He stretched out his leg and poked Danny in the thigh with his toes.
Without looking away from the view, Danny dropped his hand to pat Casey’s foot and left it there, rubbing Casey’s ankle with his thumb.
“What did we even do?” asked Casey. He kept his voice low; on some level, he might have been hoping that Danny would miss the question. All those years, and this in between them, the silent reality of what they were. “What did we talk about?”
“Before?” Danny shrugged. He didn’t need to clarify before what. “Anything. Everything. Sports, politics.”
“We didn’t talk about sex.”
“Not much. You’d clam up. Remember when I wanted to hear about Sally?”
“You would confirm that you slept with her. That was about it.”
“I don’t believe in kissing and telling,” Casey said, and didn’t register how prim he sounded until it was too late.
Danny cracked up and threw a piece of popcorn at Casey. “Don’t Kiss, Don’t Tell, right?”
“That is not an entirely accurate description of my sex life since 1984, but it’s… not too far off.”
“You’re such an idiot.” He could hear the smile in Danny’s voice. “Want to make out?”
He was up on his feet and wrestling with the catch on the door before Danny had finished the sentence, and Danny dissolved into laughter again.
They napped a little before Casey had to leave for the airport. Danny drove him, that time. It was an hour where calling a car would have attracted attention.
Casey watched the streetlights cutting across Danny’s face. Light, dark, light, dark. Danny got withdrawn, quiet and morose, when it was time to say goodbye; he now had a library of two visits on which to base that observation.
There wasn’t anything comforting to say.
Casey had left his sunglasses off on the grounds that he wasn’t going to reenact a one-hit wonder from the 1980s, and that had segued into a spirited argument about the merits of Flashdance.
“Are you going to tell your publicist?” asked Casey. “So they’re prepared if it comes up?”
“Maybe after I move back.” Danny’s shoulder hunched up further around his ears. “Not yet.”
“I was thinking of getting a publicist. So I know what’s out there about me.”
“Not a bad idea.”
“Been thinking about writing.” It was easier to say in that liminal space, the jet-lagged L.A. night, with incongruous palm trees when New York was still shivering in a chilly spring.
“Oh, yeah? What?”
“A book, if I’m feeling ambitious. How sports reporting has changed over time. ESPN came in and completely changed the game. I’d like to write about what that does to the journalistic landscape.”
“You’ve always been ambitious. That sounds really interesting.”
“Good, because I’m probably going to make you read it before anyone else sees it. Since you’re a sports expert and everything.”
Danny glanced over at him quickly and gave him a fleeting smile. “I like an exclusive.”
“Casey…” Danny licked his lips. “I’m freaking out again.”
“What can I do?”
Danny put his right hand down on the seat between them, and Casey took it in his left immediately, with a sense of deep gratitude; with the sense that, touching, they would know things that didn’t need or couldn’t use words.
“It sounds like you’re feeling pretty good about Danny moving in to your building.”
“I am, yeah.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
Casey shifted uncomfortably, uncrossing his legs. “We’ll… work it out.”
“What kinds of things are you still worried about with that relationship?”
He burst out laughing. “Everything? Jesus, Abby.”
“I’m not convinced that’s true.”
“What do you mean? Of course it’s true.”
“Do you think you’re going to have a lasting relationship?”
“I sure as hell hope so.”
“Do you think you will?”
He stared down at his hands; up at the bookshelf; anywhere but at her. Finally, he said, “Yeah.”
“Why is that?” She leaned forward. “What gives you confidence?”
“Because I want this to work. I’m—I’ve changed, I’m not the same as I was back when—apparently when we were falling in love and I missed it.”
“Casey.” Abby smiled at him with a hint of rebuke in it. “You were struggling, and for the record you still are struggling and probably always will struggle, with the legacy of an upbringing that left you without a vocabulary for your emotional experience and with the clear message that men don’t have emotional lives.” Her voice gentled. “Don’t sell yourself short, here.”
“Do you do couples counseling? Because I think—”
“No. It’s a different area and I don’t specialize in it. I can recommend some therapists who are familiar with same-sex couples, if that’s—”
“God, no. It’s hard enough to talk to you about this and you had front-row seats for the whole trip.”
Abby scribbled something on her legal pad. She hardly ever wrote during their sessions anymore. “What else, Casey?”
“What else makes you think this will last?”
“We’ve been friends for over a decade. We’ve had blow-out fights before. We came back from that.”
“So you already know the relationship has the potential to be resilient.”
“Yes, exactly. Resilient.”
“That’s a positive. Can you name some more?”
“We have a lot in common—I mean, that goes with having such a long history. He knows what I’m like, I know what he’s like. Nothing’s going to come as a huge shock.”
“Shared experiences do help.”
“Are you—hey. You’re encouraging me?”
“I’m helping you see the strengths in your relationship. It can be easy, especially in a therapeutic setting, to focus on the negatives. And while there are certainly challenges involved in any long-term relationship, it’s important not to overlook why these relationships are worthwhile in the first place.”
Bobbi jabbed Casey sharply in the ribs with her elbow when she sat back down on her couch.
“Ow!” He rubbed his side.
“Don’t sit in my spot and I won’t elbow you, Casey, it’s simple math.”
“How was I supposed to know this was your spot?”
“You know now, and yet you’re not moving.”
“Fine! Fine.” He shifted down a cushion. Dana would have to live with being displaced when she came back from the bathroom.
That left him sitting between Bobbi and Natalie. It was something of a ridiculous line-up, with him being a head taller than either of them, but Natalie was two fingers into the three fingers of Scotch Bobbi had just handed her and showed no signs of slowing down.
“Whoa, Natalie,” he said, “that’s meant to be sipped.”
“When I need your advice, Casey, rest assured that I will ask for it.” Natalie tossed the rest back.
“Yeah, Casey,” said Dana, emerging from the bathroom with her hair tumbling down around her shoulders—she’d had it up all day. “We aren’t constantly in need of your guidance.”
“Now this really feels like Girls’ Night,” Casey said to Bobbi earnestly.
“Again I ask you, does it matter?”
“And again I say it does not.” He shrugged and sipped his own Scotch the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Natalie held her empty tumbler out to Bobbi, raising her eyebrows in a silent plea. Bobbi sighed heavily and got up. “You’re lucky you’ve got those Bambi eyes,” Bobbi called over her shoulder. “That’s expensive liquor you’re drinking like water.”
“My eyes are second only to my ass!” Natalie shouted back.
Bobbi lived in a neat, trim little condo, emphasis on little, not far from Casey’s. She was humming to herself in the kitchen; Alyson wasn’t joining them, she’d said, because this was a strictly no-significant-others kind of event. (“You can’t complain about your girl at Girls’ Night if she’s at Girls’ Night, and sometimes you need to complain about your girl,” Natalie had said to him very seriously. Casey had inquired as to when exactly Natalie had learned that Alyson was Bobbi’s girl, and been told, “Once again, Casey, you know nothing. I see and hear all.”)
“It’s a very nice ass, Natalie,” Casey said.
Dana leaned across the coffee table—she’d settled on the floor on the other side—and smacked him. “You don’t get to comment on Natalie’s ass!”
“Ow! Why not? You do!”
“I don’t want to sleep with Natalie! No offense, Natalie. You’re very attractive. If I were into women at all, I would absolutely want to sleep with you.”
“None taken. Thank you, Dana.”
“I don’t want to sleep with Natalie,” protested Casey. “I mean, mostly.”
“Mostly?” Dana glared at him. “Mostly. Hah. Just like a man.”
“I didn’t spontaneously stop liking women when I realized—” He cut himself off. “Anyway, I can still recognize a nice ass when I see it!”
“When you realized what?” asked Dana.
Natalie covered her face with hands. “Oh, no.”
“She didn’t tell you?” asked Casey.
“What?” Dana repeated, with more urgency.
“I assumed she’d told you.”
Natalie heaved a huge sigh. “Dana, listen to me, and then digest this information without losing your mind. Casey realized he was bisexual and now he’s dating Danny. It’s hush-hush, and therefore you will need to hush about it.”
“WHAT?” bellowed Dana at a volume that startled a pigeon that had been shuffling along Bobbi’s living room window ledge.
“I didn’t know you didn’t know,” Casey said to Dana. “Bobbi knew, and Natalie knew, so I assumed you knew.”
“I wasn’t telling her,” said Natalie, aggrieved. “She needs handling with being on the receiving end of this kind of information.”
“Did I make you gay?” asked Dana in disbelief. Casey flung his arms into the air, spilling a goodly measure of his very nice Scotch in the process.
“For one thing, I’m not gay, Natalie just told you I’m bisexual, and for another thing, that is such an insensitive, homophobic—”
“I told you she needs handling!” hissed Natalie.
“You’re ruining Girls’ Night!” shouted Dana.
Casey said, “Oh, I’m ruining—”
“Love really can’t change a man,” Bobbi muttered under her breath, and got up to get herself another serving of Scotch.
Within about an hour they’d hashed things out to Dana’s and Casey’s satisfaction. They’d also moved on to the tequila.
In the morning Casey felt like he’d died and gone to Hell, but to be fair, that was how many if not most evenings out with Dana had eventually gone, and at least this time there had been tears and reconciliation.
(Natalie actually felt bad for having subjected him to Dana’s unthinking, knee-jerk insensitivity, and while it didn’t last long, having Natalie on his side gave him an unholy advantage in pranking Jeremy. Tales would be told of his deeds and valor for years to come.)
Halfway through April, Danny called him. And when Casey didn’t pick up, called him another six times in ten minutes.
“Jesus Christ,” said Casey when Danny picked up, “I was over in Editing. What’s the big deal?”
“I got it, Casey.”
“The condo. The condo in your building.”
Casey sat down. Unfortunately, he wasn’t standing by his chair at the time, so he bounced off the edge of his desk on his way to the floor, but he decided to make the best of the situation by leaning his back against his desk and taking a few deep breaths.
“Are you—this is good, right?” Danny sounded anxious. “It better be good. I closed on it.”
“Are you kidding me? It’s fantastic.” Casey’s heart was pounding. He felt light-headed and there was a smile on his face that was so wide it actually hurt.
“Glad doesn’t begin to cover it. I’m—I’m jubilant, I’m ecstatic, I’m—”
“You can stop before you strain something!” Danny was laughing, now. “The timing’s not perfect, but this was the only unit the agent expected to go up for sale before October, so I thought, what the hell.”
“You didn’t warn me?”
“I didn’t want to get your hopes up if it fell through. It’s good real estate, you know. And I had that nest egg from bailing on the dot-com bubble early.” Danny had gotten uncomfortable with how fast his stocks had climbed and sold about three weeks before everything went to hell. Casey had not, and had lost the annual difference in their salary over it.
“Yeah, it’s an investment—holy Christ, Danny, I can’t wait. I can’t fucking wait.”
“I know.” He could hear the smile in Danny’s voice. “Me, too.”
“Are you, uh, how’s the job stuff going?”
Danny groaned. “Don’t remind me. I have an interview with ABC in a week.”
“Wait, does that mean—”
“I’m flying out on Thursday.”
“Shit.” Casey was doing the math in his head, but he already knew the answer. “That’s not my day off.”
“I know. I’m taking—I’m taking a little extra time so I can hang out with you after work.” Danny chuckled. “How about not with the whole pack of girls, this time.”
“Don’t tell them you think they travel in a pack. They’ll hunt and eat you.”
“Sounds about right.”
“Anyway, I know it’s not…” Danny paused. “Not enough. But it’ll be good.”
“It will definitely be good to see you.” Casey could hear how warm his voice sounded. There had been a time when he would have tried to dial it back. Maybe unconsciously, but he would have. He counted it as a small but tangible victory that this time he didn’t.
Danny laughed, a little breathless. “You’re killing me here.”
“Hey, if either one of us is too sexy for their own good—you’re right, it’s definitely me. I’m gunning for People’s Sexiest Man of the Year.”
“I’m going to hit you with a pillow when I come out there. Fair warning.”
“Consider me warned.”
“I have to get back to work, but I wanted to tell you.”
“I’m happy you did. Really, really happy. You closed? There’s no monkey wrench in the works?”
“Not unless there are literal monkeys that show up.”
“I think we’re safe from that, assuming the inspector did his job.”
“Then it’s pretty much a done deal.”
After they hung up, Casey drew his knees to his chest and rested his forehead on them, looping his arms loosely around his legs. He did have more words, thank you very much, Abby: he had euphoric and elated and joyful. And maybe he had nervous, too, but that was fine. He’d learned to rewire that, to some extent. To think nervous but choose excited.
And there had been a time when he would have had news of this magnitude, this enormity, and he would have had to sit on it alone.
The realization this wasn’t that time galvanized him. He got to his feet, unsteady, and went to Bobbi’s office.
She looked up as he came in. She raised her eyebrows. “Okay, what happened? Did Jerry Falwell finally slip on a banana peel and break his neck?”
“Better,” he said, and told her about the condo. She punched him in the shoulder hard enough to leave a bruise and insisted on taking him out for drinks that night.
Danny didn’t come to meet him at the studio Thursday night. He checked in with Casey before coming to Casey’s condo, to make sure Casey was there.
When Danny walked in the door, Casey could barely get it shut behind him before Danny was all over Casey, running his fingers over Casey’s face, pulling him into a deep, hard kiss.
“I bought a condo,” said Danny to Casey’s collarbone before he kissed it.
“I know.” Casey dug his fingers into Danny’s hair, kissing the top of his head, smelling his shampoo.
“You better appreciate this.”
“I do,” said Casey, running his hands down Danny’s back. Danny came back to his mouth for a kiss. “God, believe me. I do.”
“L.A. has sun, you know. I’m going to miss that in December.”
“I’ll make it up to you. I’ll take you to Bora Bora.”
“You will not,” said Danny, but he was laughing. “Did you watch that episode of Frasier again?”
“Maybe I just like saying Bora Bora. It has a certain ring.”
“Shut up and make out with me, you huge moron.”
They were full-length on the couch—Danny breathing hard, slowly writhing above Casey—when Casey said, “Maybe you should fuck me.”
“I, uh,” said Danny blankly. “I was thinking there would be, you know, a learning curve there. Stages. A gradual progression.”
“People have been doing this since at a bare minimum the Greeks, Danny, I can’t imagine it’s that hard.” Casey sighed as Danny cracked up. “Yes, I said the word hard. Let’s all take a moment to laugh about that.”
“Thanks for the invitation, because I was planning to anyway.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to fuck me?”
“Casey, Casey, Casey.” Danny was chuckling, shaking his head. Casey hadn’t wanted to murder him this much in months. “Of course I want to fuck you, but I’d like to make it the kind of experience you want to repeat, and that means working you up to it. Slowly.”
“You’re a buzzkill. I’m trying to set a mood here—”
“With talk of Bora Bora? Talk is cheap, fly me there and we’ll see—”
“Oh, you think I’m kidding—”
“I could finger you,” said Danny.
“Bed would be best.”
Danny, it turned out, had brought lube and gloves.
“You’re some kind of hedonist, aren’t you?” asked Casey, trying not to get nervous. Danny was kissing his way up Casey’s thigh, running his hand over Casey’s other leg, in what was probably a bid to get Casey’s tense muscles to relax.
“I don’t have to be a hedonist to have had more varied sexual experiences than you. I had a huge head-start while you were busy being married, for one thing.”
“Fine,” Casey muttered gracelessly and then Danny licked Casey’s cock, which was not suffering from Casey’s more generalized qualms. Casey gasped, legs sagging open, and Danny gave him a few minutes where he just sucked cock before letting his thumb graze Casey’s hole. Casey twitched, but when nothing hurt, he relaxed; after a minute, Danny started moving his thumb in small circles.
Casey couldn’t have said, later, when it went from a vague awareness that Danny’s fingers were there to trying like hell to get more of them into his ass, but from the way he came, he hadn’t discovered any objections to it on anything other than principle, and principle died screaming.
After Casey came, bucking into Danny’s mouth, shouting, Danny knelt up and said breathlessly, “Oh, God, oh,” and jerked himself off over Casey’s stomach and softening cock in a couple of quick strokes.
“Hey,” wheezed Casey, “I was going to—going to get around to that.”
Danny had already collapsed onto him, burying his face in Casey’s shoulder. “Not fast enough.”
“I’m having an afterglow here, and you’re ruining it by talking.”
“That’s what I do.”
“You’re right. I should have thought this through before buying a fucking condo to quasi-marry you after the world’s worst proposal.”
“No, no, you’re right, it could have been worse. It could have been on a Jumbotron, that would have been a much more spectacular mistake.”
Casey shoved at Danny’s shoulder half-heartedly. “It was a grand romantic gesture. Plenty of people would love to be on the receiving end of a gesture like that.”
“Those people don’t get panic attacks, Case.” Danny huffed into his hair.
“How was the interview?”
Casey knew as soon as he said it that he’d asked the wrong question at the wrong time; Danny went tense, rolling off him, looking anywhere but at Casey.
“Uh,” said Casey.
“It was fine.”
“Okay?” Casey said cautiously.
Danny blew out a breath. “I don’t… I don’t think it’s going to be a good fit. I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“That’s fair. Interviews go both ways.”
“It’s more…” Danny hissed through his teeth, sounding frustrated. “The ABC job is mostly writing. Not a lot of airtime. I want to be on television. I don’t want to want that, but I do.”
“Why… don’t you want to want that?” Casey had the feeling he had entered an unposted minefield, and it was unpleasantly reminiscent of the big fights with Lisa.
“Because it’s superficial and juvenile and I feel like I should be past that.”
“What—superficial?” Casey was bewildered. “I love being on television. You think I’m juvenile?”
“No, no, no.” Danny grimaced, staring up at the ceiling. “I think you’re a great fit for television. I think you like a lot of things about being on television. I think I like being on television because I want strangers to love me.”
“It’s something Abby said, a long time ago. And I think she was right. That I feel like—if people see me on the screen they can love me without knowing me. I’m afraid…” Danny heaved an enormous sigh. “I’m afraid if people know me they won’t… think I’m worth knowing, anymore.”
Casey sat up, staring down at Danny in disbelief; Danny continued to stare at the ceiling adamantly.
“You know that’s not true.” Casey shook his head. “I know you—I think I know you better than anyone—and you’re, I mean, for God’s sake.”
Danny finally met his eyes, cocking one eyebrow in a question, a small self-mocking smile on his mouth.
Use your words, Abby said in his head. Without them, no one’s going to know what you’re thinking.
Would it be more comfortable if he didn’t know how you felt, what you really think? Is that why you don’t want to find the words? Would you prefer that he took on all the vulnerability, and you shared none of it?
“You’re incredible.” Casey took a deep breath and set his jaw. “You’re brilliant and funny and caring and kind. You go out of your way for people. You’re a good person and you deserve good things. You’re an exceptional writer and anchor and you should do whatever you want to do, because you can, because you’re coming off a great run in California and this is a good time to negotiate. While it’s still on their minds that you perform like that, on your own, without anyone propping you up.”
Danny was blinking by the time he finished, eyes suspiciously bright.
“Geez,” Danny said, “just get a Hallmark card next time.”
Casey flopped back down, jostling Danny. “Here I am, wearing my heart on my sleeve—”
“I know.” Danny rolled over quickly, going up onto one elbow, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Casey’s mouth. “I know.”
“So if not ABC, then who?”
“Ugh.” Danny ground the heel of his hand into his eye. “I hate to say this, but there’s been an offer…”
“If it’s reality television—”
“It isn’t! It isn’t.”
“It’s CNN,” said Danny, making a face. “It’s very serious news. Except it isn’t.”
“CNN? What the hell!”
“It’s a show—they’re doing profiles, that kind of thing. They say I seem empathetic and test well with women across all demographics.” Danny laughed. “Oh, the irony.”
“Do you want it?”
Danny groaned, pulling his pillow over his face. “I think I do,” he said from under it, muffled. “It’s awful.”
“Well, hey, come on. Having something you want is a lot better than not, right? I think that’s how this works.”
“Casey.” Danny took the pillow back off his face and looked at Casey. The bruised look in the hollows of his eyes was back. It made him seem tragic. Danny had always had a good face for a tragic hero. “If this goes well… this could be a stepping stone for me to something really big.”
“You can worry about that later. For now, worry about what sounds good next.”
“Stop being logical!” Danny smacked him in the face with the pillow, which led to a moment’s tussling, which inevitably led to Danny blowing raspberries on Casey’s side while Casey struggled and laughed.
When they settled down again, Danny said, very quietly, “I’m worried I won’t be good enough, and everyone will know I’m a fraud.”
Which hadn’t even occurred to Casey. “That won’t happen,” he said at once, with absolute confidence.
Danny looked at him. “Yeah?”
Danny kissed him, hard, sweetly.
Danny called him when he got in.
“’Lo?” Casey mumbled into the receiver.
“Hey,” said Danny, his voice so fond that Casey found himself smiling without meaning to.
“All the way back at my condo.”
“Good.” Casey stretched. “How’s the view?”
“Spectacular as always. I’m going to miss this view.” Danny did sound a little wistful.
Casey swallowed around the fear in his throat. “Manhattan’s skyline is world-renowned, you know.”
“I didn’t say I was going to miss it enough to regret leaving. I miss New York.”
“Good.” Casey yawned, listening to his jaw crack. “Any more interviews? Coming back again soon?”
“Not next week, anyway. Maybe the week after that.”
“I miss you,” Casey mumbled. “Also the orgasms. But mostly you.”
Danny burst into laughter, bright and real. “Same to you.”
“I’m going to another thing with Bobbi. You going to lose your shit at me about it?”
“No,” said Danny, laughter slipping away. He sighed. “It doesn’t—doesn’t hurt us, does it, for you two to be seen together.”
“No. And I forgot to say, I talked to a publicist.”
“My old firm?”
“No, somebody Isaac recommended.”
“So just… heads up. There might be more stories coming out about me.”
“Vague on your personal life, I hope.”
“Very vague. Very, very vague.”
“Good.” Danny took a shuddering breath. “I don’t know—part of what gets me is, how long do we do this for? How long do you think we can keep this up?”
“Hey, there were still people who didn’t know about Liberace when he died. We’ve got some wiggle room.”
Danny snorted. “Oh, thanks. Thank you very much.”
“I’m just saying.”
They were silent for a moment, and then Danny sighed. “I should let you sleep.”
“Probably. I—hey, remember how I said I was thinking about writing?”
“I’ve got about fifty words and they all suck.”
“Keep at it, champ.” Danny did his best Little League coach voice. “You’ve got to get out there and give it a hundred and ten percent—”
“Oh, knock it off,” said Casey, but he was trying not to laugh.
“Seriously, though, I think it’s going to be great.” Danny sounded sincere. “You have to start somewhere and you’ll get more comfortable with it as you go.”
“I’ll read you—” Casey yawned again. “I’ll read it to you sometime.”
“That would be good.” Danny’s voice was warm.
“Casey,” said Abby, “this is up to you, but I want you to consider whether you still want to have sessions weekly.”
“Therapy doesn’t need to be a perpetual process. A lot of people find that they make substantial progress within a few months, and there’s something of a point of diminishing returns.”
“And you think I’m there?”
“Do you think you are?”
Casey leaned back, staring sightlessly into the distance. He thought about it furiously—how had he been? How was he doing? And the fact that he could do that, that he could scan through his issues, which he’d stacked on a shelf in his mind and labeled neatly, Daddy Issues, Issues with Being a Dad, Relationship (Marriage?), Work—and assess them was really something, wasn’t it.
“Maybe,” he said slowly. “Let me think about it. Would I still come in at all?”
“You certainly could. We could go to every other week or monthly, initially, to see how it goes. Booster sessions.”
“That might not be a bad idea. Danny’s moving back in a couple of weeks.” Saying it out loud brought him a particular frisson of joy. “God only knows what I’ll find to screw up once we’re in the same city. Ow!”
Abby had snapped a rubber band across the room at him, and it had hit him on the arm. He glowered at her.
“What’s that an example of, Casey?”
He rolled his eyes. “Negative self-talk.”
“And what’s the rule about negative self-talk?”
“Not in your office.”
“There you go.” She folded her hands in front of her on her yellow legal pad. “You’re welcome.”
“You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?”
“I have heard it more than once. Therapy isn’t supposed to feel good, Casey, and the fact that you’ve come from snarling at me like an animal caught in a trap to slinging me a little good-natured shit here and there is pretty significant.”
He smiled lopsidedly at her. “You’re a pain in the ass, but you’re also a hell of a therapist.”
“I know.” She smiled back at him and waved the legal pad. “Got a degree just for that.”
“Monthly? Monthly might be good. Also, with Danny moving back, could you recommend someone for him?”
She nodded. “I’ll give you some names.”
Danny signed the contract for the show on CNN at the end of the first week of May.
He called Casey after he faxed it back, talking in a rapid-fire stream of self-doubt about the vagaries of personality profiles and manufactured news. “Did I just make the biggest mistake of my career?” he said, half-hysterical. “I don’t even know! God!”
“Great, thanks, that is just super helpful advice, Casey, I hadn’t even considered breathing,” Danny replied tartly, but he managed the whole thing in one breath, so Casey called it a win.
“That’s what I’m here for. I’m a dispenser of wisdom.”
“Language, Danny, wouldn’t want to set a bad example.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing a weekend show. What am I even going to do with the rest of my time?”
“You’ll need a hobby. Knitting, perhaps.”
“Just for that you’re getting an afghan for your birthday.”
“I’ll settle for the pleasure of your company.”
“Hey, somebody at CNN offered me some tickets for a musical in June when I get here. Welcome present, I guess? Four tickets. I was thinking you, me, Charlie, and Bobbi.”
“That sounds great. He’s been itching to go to basically anything on a stage lately. Which musical is it? He saw Lion King, Dana took him and I guess he loved it.”
“The Producers. I know it’s kind of grown-up for him, but—”
“Is it like the movie?”
“I heard there were some changes but it’s pretty similar.”
“I’ll talk to Lisa, but it should be fine.”
“They said it’s apparently the hot ticket for Broadway this season.”
“This is the problem with going to a non-sports show. They don’t understand what would actually be classified as a hot ticket among aficionados of sport.”
“Aficionados of sport? Casey, you need some kind of built-in quality assurance process to keep you from saying things like that.”
“Do you want to make that his birthday present from you this year?”
Danny audibly hesitated. “Actually…”
“Am I going to like this?”
“You know he’s been getting into Shakespeare, right?”
“Like I could miss it. He’s got opinions on every adaptation of Midsummer Night’s Dream on tape and he’s moving on to Romeo and Juliet. I’m concerned that he may develop some kind of need to write poetry.”
“I’m not surprised your offspring is getting obsessive about a hobby. And hey, writing terrible poetry is a time-honored teenaged occupation. It’s right up there with wearing terrible clothes. He has to rebel somehow.”
“He’s not a teenager yet. I have time.”
“Less than you think. But he saw the Midsummer Night’s Dream movie from last year, right?”
“Year before, but yeah. Kevin Kline?”
“That one. Well, I was at this trendy new restaurant last week, ninety percent of what they serve is wheat grass based, I don’t know why anyone eats there except my publicist said—”
“I ran into Stanley Tucci and got his autograph for Charlie.”
“I know he played Puck! You ran into Charlie’s favorite Puck? At a juice bar?”
“They do more than juice!”
“I—okay, I have to admit that I’m experiencing some jealousy. Lisa and I are getting him a PlayStation.”
“He’ll love that! He’s been wanting one.”
“But a personalized autograph from Stanley Tucci is probably going to make his head explode.”
“It’s actually—he wrote a longer note. More like a brief letter.”
“Danny. He’s going to flip. It’s perfect.”
“You think so? I could still get him, I don’t know, a guitar or something.”
“He continues to work on the bagpipes, God help me.”
“My deepest condolences.”
“He told me he wants to get a kilt.” Casey sighed, putting a hand to his forehead. “And he wants to go to band camp. He’s never going to be cool, is he?”
“Like you have room to talk, you were never cool. He wants a kilt? You’re not even Irish.”
“It’s a Scottish thing.”
“The important thing here is that Charlie is going to bravely uphold the family tradition of being a weird, nerdy, introverted kid.”
“I was cool! I was an athlete.”
“Casey,” said Danny patiently, “you were in gymnastics. You did spelling bees.”
“Shut up.” Casey was grinning. “I was cool enough, I didn’t need sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.”
Danny was quiet for a minute.
“Shit. Sorry.” Casey winced as he realized what he’d said. “I didn’t mean—”
“No, it’s fine.” Danny sounded distant. “I was—being cool came with a price tag, you know? I’ve thought about it a lot. If I hadn’t been cool, maybe Sam wouldn’t—but my therapist says that what-ifs are poisonous.”
“Lots of kids have big brothers who aren’t perfect. You and Sam got unlucky.”
“Yeah.” Danny sighed. “Yeah, we did.”
“You got Charlie something he’s going to treasure. Hell, maybe when you move back you can help him be cooler in, you know, healthy and constructive ways.”
“Are there healthy and constructive ways to be cool?”
“You can teach him the guitar. Distract him from the motherfucking bagpipes.”
Danny laughed. “I can try, but the song of his Scottish blood may be too much for him to bear. He may have to pursue that. He may need a kilt and a, what’s the thing, sporran, and one of those feathery—”
“Absolutely not, if I have to listen to the first four notes of Amazing Grace one more time—”
“You have to support his artistic endeavors, Casey, he’s a talented and sensitive kid—”
“It sounds like he’s murdering a bag full of whales—”
Danny cracked up for real, laughing hard into the phone so that the edges buzzed with static.
Charlie’s birthday was on May 22nd, which was a Tuesday, so they celebrated the weekend before. It started off with dinner and cake and went on to a sleepover, in the confines of Lisa’s condo, over which Casey had expressed some concern for the sake of her sanity and she had smiled; it hadn’t reached her eyes. “We’ll survive,” she said. “Probably.”
(Charlie had picked the cake flavor—German chocolate. Lisa had wrinkled her nose. Casey thought, watching them talk as he picked up Charlie for his day that week, that he had possibly been unjust to Dana on the subject of cake selection; maybe it had only been Lisa, after all, who loved angelfood cake and strawberry shortcake in the summer. They’re low-fat, she’d said with a smile. If I’m going to be your trophy wife, I can’t let myself go, can I? And they’d laughed. He wondered now if he should have laughed.
When they’d gone to the state fair in college he’d thought it was charming, the way she’d get jam at the corner of her mouth, and he’d kissed it off. After the divorce he hadn’t been able to stomach strawberry shortcake for months. Years.)
Casey was there for the dinner. Lisa was being scrupulously polite, obviously stressed as she shuttled child after child from the front door to the living room. There was a welter of balloons on strings already, a long folding plastic table neatly set for the dinner. Parents kept murmuring cheerfully—no wonder, they weren’t going to lose a night’s sleep to the raucous laughter and muffled thumps—and the kids half-shrieked as they streamed into the condo. Charlie was bright-eyed and enthusiastic. Casey hovered awkwardly in the background, clutching his plastic cup of Coke like a talisman and trying not to trip over anyone who hadn’t started a growth spurt yet. At least he could lend some depth and gravity to the singing.
When they started in on presents, mouths sticky with frosting, Charlie opened the gifts from guests first. There were plenty of books, some board games. Some action figures that were maybe a little young for Charlie, but he seemed to like them. Finally he opened the PlayStation and a cheer went up. (Casey thought that some of it was politeness; other kids had gotten theirs for Christmas. Charlie was behind the times. Nothing good could come of having the latest gadget the second it was out, and besides, video games wouldn’t make Charlie less of a nerd.)
Afterwards, Casey picked his way to Lisa’s side. “I thought Danny sent something,” he murmured to her.
“Hm? Oh, he did. Marvin! Careful of that lamp. He wanted to wait and open it on his real birthday.”
“Casey…” Lisa wasn’t looking at him, instead staring out at the room full of middle schoolers. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m glad, too.” Her comment could have stung. He tried not to let it. He hadn’t completely missed Charlie’s eleventh birthday, but it had been more of a fly-by. He hadn’t taken the whole night off. Charlie had looked disappointed.
“He missed you,” she said softly. “After the divorce.”
Casey had to take a breath. “Before the divorce.”
“Yeah.” She fiddled with her ponytail, which had already been immaculate. “Then, too.”
“I wasn’t… brought up with the best ideas about what sons needed from fathers.” He joined her in surveying the room rather than making eye contact. “I’m trying to do better.”
“Your dad was no picnic.” Lisa snorted. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“Thanks,” he said, surprising himself with the sentiment.
She shrugged. “I’m really glad you’re… keeping up with this. I wasn’t sure you would.”
“He’s my son.” Casey watched Charlie laughing uproariously with two of the kids he recognized from the play. There were braces flashing in the light. “For a while I got so wrapped up in—I don’t know. Thinking I wasn’t supposed to feel—but Abby… Without Abby, I don’t think I would have known what was wrong.”
“She’s been good for you.” Lisa nodded slightly. “I appreciate that.”
Someone shrieked as an improvised stepstool in an indecipherable game collapsed and a small black-haired boy tumbled onto his butt, and there was a huge wave of laughter.
“I should go soon.” Casey made a face. “I think we’ve moved on to the portion of the evening where Dad’s going to be more of a drag than anything.”
“Make sure you say goodbye.”
“I will, Lisa,” he said with some asperity. She rolled her eyes. That was more like them.
Charlie gave him a very tight hug, squeezing as hard as he could, and whispered, “Thanks for the PlayStation, Dad, it’s great.”
Casey ruffled Charlie’s hair and smiled down at him. “Thanks for inviting me. I bet you and the guys are going to have a great time.”
“Yeah, we’re going to watch Toy Story and Toy Story 2! It’s going to be great!”
“That sounds great.” He kissed the top of Charlie’s head.
“Daaaaaad!” Charlie protested.
“Oh, sorry. I’ll try to keep in mind that you’re too old for that.” Casey grinned at him and stuck out his hand. “Shake on it?”
Charlie solemnly shook his hand and nodded.
Casey knew when Charlie opened Danny’s present (Danny had, he told Casey, had the note framed, for posterity) because Charlie called Casey and proceeded to tell him about it, at length and extremely loudly.
Casey couldn’t help smiling.
“Did you call Danny to say thank you?”
“Not yet but I’m going to next!”
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”
“You need movers, you said. It’ll be easier, you said.”
“I was right, might I point out.”
“Easier! What’s easier about rooting through eight million boxes looking for all of my stuff?” Danny’s head disappeared behind another stack of cardboard. “And who even knows what survived the journey intact. If I’d been in charge—”
“Yeah, you weren’t.” Casey rolled his shoulders. They were a solid ten hours into unpacking, and Casey was feeling the burn. The clothes washer was going, the dishwasher was going, they hadn’t eaten, and he was way too old for this.
Danny had gotten into town a day ahead of his stuff, accidentally-on-purpose, and stayed at Casey’s the night before. Casey had kept it vague about when Danny was flying in, despite Natalie’s forlorn desire to throw him some kind of party. (“You could do a housewarming,” he’d suggested, and she’d brightened right up, so he had to expect that at some point in the near future Dan was going to be ticked at him.)
They had roughly half the kitchen unpacked, most of the office (the bookshelves still needed organizing; haphazard stacks sat sideways, driving Casey slowly insane), and the bathroom had been easy. The bed and mattress still needed sheets, blankets, and pillows. Danny’s fridge had some rudimentary necessities, thanks to Casey’s foresight (“you are so anal retentive,” Danny had marveled, “you think I can’t get food in Manhattan any time I want it?”). There was a television set up in the living room. The condo was close to, but not perfectly, a mirror-image of Casey’s, and two floors below him. It was very conveniently located right next to the stairwell, so they wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time in the halls going back and forth between their condos.
Casey sighed, opening another box. “I don’t know why you didn’t label these more clearly—”
He stopped, staring down.
It took a minute for Danny to notice. Danny looked up at him from the floor in front of the couch. “What is it?”
Casey lifted out a glass case. Inside was a bubble-wrapped ball.
“Oh.” Danny’s mouth did half a dozen different things at once: smile, wince, tighten—“The hundredth show ball.”
“The passive-aggressive ball,” murmured Casey, pulling the masking tape off the glass slowly. “The ball I spent way too much time finding because it had to be a lefty, it had to be Preacher Roe, because—you know why?”
“Old Number 28 has hit a home run, and we'll never hear the end of it.” Casey peeled the first layer of bubble wrap off the ball. “That’s—that’s how I was feeling.”
“It was about the Dodgers.”
“It was.” Casey shook his head, getting the ball free of the bubble wrap and setting it gently into its place on the stand. “I—God, I was being a dick.”
A smile flitted over Danny’s face. “Because you missed me so terribly.”
“It doesn’t excuse—” Casey started hotly, and then stopped himself, staring at the battered old baseball as he set it on the coffee table. “You know. I know.”
“Good. A lecture from you about expressing feelings would be too much to take right now.” Danny wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “I am so hungry. I can’t remember ever not being hungry.”
“Want a hot dog?”
“It doesn’t have to be hot dogs, that’s just what’s in your fridge. And you can eat them off paper towels.”
“Hot dogs are fine.”
Casey came back with two hot dogs and two beers. Danny’s expression morphed into gratitude as he took one of each. He drank from the bottle in a long, desperate pull.
“I think it belongs in the study,” said Casey.
“Unless you don’t want to see it. It can go—you’ll probably need to put some stuff in storage.”
“No,” said Danny, watching him closely. “It can live in the den. Any particular reason why?”
Casey shrugged. “It’s a reminder.”
“That I can be a jackass.”
“An intense, dedicated, devoted jackass.” Danny saluted him with his bottle. “Works for me.”
They admitted defeat after eating and hunted down the sheets for the bed. Danny pressed his lips together as he tucked in the corners, and Casey thought, God, I’ve missed him.
They stood back to survey the finished product.
“You want to stay over?” asked Danny.
Casey stripped out of his clothes, but by the time he’d crawled under the blanket, Danny was already snoring—jet-lagged and loose-limbed, mouth slack.
He watched Danny breathe in the light of the alarm clock’s bright red numbers until sleep came to him.
He woke up at some point in the middle of the night. The bed next to him was empty; Danny’s footsteps in the hallway told him why.
Danny eased back into bed carefully. Probably trying not to wake him. Casey rolled over and put an arm loosely over Danny’s hip.
“Sorry,” breathed Danny.
“’S fine.” Casey yawned. “C’mere.”
Danny made a vague noise and scooted back against him. The thing about having gotten several hours of sleep—about sleeping in an unfamiliar condo, an odd echo of his own but still unmistakably different—was that he had a hard time falling back asleep. Danny’s breathing evened out into soft snores, but Casey had a snatch of some song playing over and over again in his head. He didn’t recognize it, and the words were strange. It looks like it’s haunted, with the windows all cracked. There were birds in the chimney and an old chest of drawers.
He gave up on trying to place it. His mind was starting to wander, getting fuzzy in that way that preceded sleep.
He knew the warmth of Danny’s body against his would get to be too much. They’d end up with space between them on the bed, but it would be fine.
Abby, he thought, it’s going to be fine, and felt giddy.
In the morning, Danny yelled from the kitchen, “Grape Nuts? You thought I wanted Grape Nuts?”
“You need fiber!” Casey shouted from the bathroom around his toothbrush. He’d brought a spare over in his first box of stuff for Danny. “You’re over thirty, you have to take care of your health.”
“This is your midlife crisis talking!”
Casey finished brushing his teeth and spit. When he walked into the kitchen the Grape Nuts were sitting in ostentatious isolation on the corner of the kitchen bar closest to the front door.
“You can take those right back with you,” said Danny grimly from where he was scrambling eggs.
“Fiiiiiiber,” Casey said under his breath. Having a twelve-year-old meant that certain mannerisms were bound to enter his repertoire, however unfortunate that might be.
He pulled up one of the stools at the bar and leaned his elbows on the counter, watching Danny cooking.
“You could make yourself useful, make up some juice.” Danny jerked his head at the freezer. “I saw the cans and I’ve got a pitcher in the dishwasher.”
“Me? Useful? That doesn’t sound right.” Casey got back off the stool and went to step carefully around Danny in the narrow space of the kitchen. He found himself humming the barely-a-song from the night before.
He became aware of Danny’s stillness gradually, and turned to see Danny watching him with a faintly stunned expression.
“What?” he asked defensively.
“That’s—are you singing ‘House Where Nobody Lives’?”
“Am I? It was stuck in my head last night.”
“That’s the one from Mule Variations. He played it when we saw him. It goes—” Danny hesitated, and then, still a little off-key, sang, “Without love it ain’t nothin’ but a house, a house where nobody lives.”
“That’s the one.” Casey stirred the juice concentrate into the water harder than he needed to.
“How very apropos.”
Casey looked up sharply to see if Danny was making fun of him, but Danny was staring down at the eggs with a smile playing around his lips, looking contemplative.
They picked up Bobbi in a town car, a small but entertaining expense. She smirked at Casey as he helped her into it. She’d gone all out, looking stunning in a sequined dress, and she tugged appreciatively on Casey’s tie as he settled in across from her. “You always look so nice in a suit.”
“Watch the hands,” said Danny with the ghost of a smile.
“Isn’t that my line? I’m basically your chaperone, right?” She winked at him, and he thawed a little more, relaxing enough to really smile at her.
They picked up Charlie at his school—he’d stayed late for rehearsal anyway, and he bubbled over with stories about it on their way to the theater. He was wide-eyed on the way in to the show. Casey couldn’t blame him. The theater was huge compared to the auditorium at Charlie’s school, and the people all around him were dressed to the nines, glittering in the seats as they shifted and rustled.
Danny, on Charlie’s other side, was listening carefully to Charlie’s stories when the lights went down.
When the swishy director showed up on stage, Casey flinched; he’d forgotten how much of the humor in The Producers was about characters being gay. He managed to hold still for the exaggerated limp wrists and drawls of Springtime for Hitler, and when the show finally ended and the house lights came up, he let out a sigh of relief.
Which lasted until he saw Charlie’s face: drawn, pale, with a tense mouth. Oh, God, he thought, and hustled to get them out the door as soon as possible.
“Dad!” Charlie burst out the second they were out the doors. “That? That’s the, the new hit show? That was a movie? What’s wrong with people?”
“Well, uh,” said Casey, profoundly at sea.
“Taxi!” bellowed Danny, summoning one apparently with the power of his mind. The four of them shoved in, Bobbi taking the front seat.
Bobbi immediately gave her address and started to chat up the driver brightly and very loudly, to Casey’s deep relief. Charlie, sitting between Danny and Casey, was beet-red, eyes shining with unshed tears.
“What’s the matter?” asked Danny softly, putting a hand on Charlie’s shoulder.
Charlie choked out, “All the, all those awful jokes about the—about men, about Hitler being—it’s not funny, it’s not! Why would you take me to that?” he demanded of Casey, a tear breaking free. “Why would you think I would laugh at people being gay?”
“Charlie,” said Danny, who had gone equally pale over his shoulder.
“You think I don’t know? I’m not stupid, Dad!” Charlie scrubbed at his eyes with his hands. “I don’t know why you would think I’d want to see that. You’re not like that.”
“Charlie,” said Casey, full of something that was instantly recognizable as fear, “I hadn’t seen the movie in a long, long time, and I’d forgotten what those parts were like. I’m sorry.”
“How could you forget?” Charlie was in agony, scandalized. “Those jokes are so mean! I hate it, I hate it!”
“They are mean.” Casey shook his head. “There were a lot of jokes like that when I was growing up.”
“Is that why you don’t tell anyone?” asked Charlie.
Casey put his hand over his face. He felt like he thought he might in the event of a heart attack. “There are a lot of reasons why I don’t tell people things about my private life, buddy. One of them is that most people think jokes like that are more funny than mean.”
“They’re wrong.” Charlie pressed his lips together tightly, but they still wobbled. “They’re assholes.”
“Charlie!” said Danny sharply behind him.
“I’m right!” Charlie yelled, turning back to face Danny. “I’m right and you know it!”
“Being right doesn’t mean you get to use that kind of language,” said Casey grimly. Oh, God, dropping him off at Lisa’s was going to be hell.
“Case,” said Danny, “let’s take him back to your place and have a talk about this before you take him to Lisa’s.”
“That’s a good idea. Charlie, can you focus on being able to talk more calmly before we get back to my place?”
Charlie clamped his mouth shut and glared at Casey through wet eyes.
“Charlie.” Danny put his hand on Charlie’s shoulder and said in a low, urgent voice, “Sometimes I feel like you look right now, and you know what I do then?”
Charlie said nothing, still glowering, but Danny seemed to have his attention.
“I think about how I’m breathing. I pay attention to it and I count when I breathe in and I count when I breathe out. If I’m breathing really fast I try to slow it down. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth.”
Danny’s voice was soothing all on its own, a kind of hypnotic rhythm; by the time Danny had gotten through counting breaths and half a dozen other relaxation techniques with Charlie, they’d dropped Bobbi off and gotten to Danny and Casey’s building.
Casey paid the taxi driver, and Charlie shuffled out of the cab behind him, tear-stained but calmer.
They took the elevator up to Casey’s condo with Danny making small, inane comments to Charlie. “Did you know the first musical I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera? I was a little older than you are now.”
Once they got in, Casey took Danny’s and Charlie’s coats and got them each a ginger ale from the refrigerator, Danny and Charlie settling down onto the couch. When Casey came back out, he sat in the armchair and turned to face Charlie.
“Okay.” Casey took a deep breath. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Charlie rubbed at his eyes, taking a sip of ginger ale. He looked abashed. “It wasn’t a very good musical.”
“What bothered you about it?”
“There were all of those jokes! All of those stupid, horrible jokes about gay guys.”
“Charlie, can you tell me what being gay means?”
“Guys who date guys.” Charlie made a face. “Nathan Lane is gay, Dad, I saw it when I looked up about the musical online.”
“Uh.” That was certainly true. “So, yeah, sometimes guys who date guys are gay.” Casey could feel himself floundering.
Danny said, “Sometimes guys who date guys also still date women.”
Charlie craned his neck around to look up at Danny. “Like Dad and Bobbi?”
“Oh, Jesus Lord,” Casey heard himself say.
Charlie whipped back around to stare at him.
“No,” said Casey heavily. “No, I’m not dating Bobbi. What Danny is saying is that there are people who could date either men or women, not necessarily both at the same time.”
“Okay.” Charlie frowned. “The musical was still really mean.”
“It was. You’re absolutely right about that.”
“I love you no matter what.” Charlie was folding his arms and starting to look like a thundercloud again. “I don’t care who you date.”
“That’s good,” said Casey, feeling somewhat faint. Danny was very clearly starting to see the inherent humor of the situation, his lips quivering with suppressed laughter.
“Fuck the Republicans,” added Charlie.
“CHARLIE!” Casey roared, perfectly in sync with Danny’s more scandalized “Charlie!”
“I’m not taking it back!” Charlie shouted and leapt off the couch. “Fuck the Republicans and fuck Bush!” He ran into the bathroom and slammed the door, locking it.
Casey lunged off the chair as Danny dissolved into hysterical laughter. “Oh, my God,” gasped Danny. “He is so your kid.”
“Charles Martin McCall you get out here right now!”
“No!” shouted Charlie, muffled by the bathroom door.
“I am not kidding, young man, that kind of language—” Casey stopped and took a deep breath, and then several more. “Charlie,” he said, at a more normal volume. “You’re upset. That’s okay. It’s not okay to use being upset as an excuse to break the rules you know you need to follow.”
After a very long moment, the door cracked open and Charlie emerged, looking mutinous.
“I’m glad you’ll still love me no matter what,” said Casey. “Can I ask what brought this on?”
“Danny just came back,” Charlie said to Casey, half-pleading. “Don’t make him go away again.”
Casey put his back against the wall and slowly slid down it until he could sit on the floor. Danny was stifling giggles in the living room.
“I’m going to try very hard not to,” Casey said to Charlie. “Are you worried it’s going to be like me and your mom?”
Charlie nodded, pressing his lips together again until they were bloodless.
Casey sighed, opening his arms. Charlie went to him like a shot for a hug.
“I think this time it’s going to go better,” Casey said. Charlie hiccupped.
“You c-can’t get married.”
“So we can’t get divorced,” Casey said to Charlie very seriously. Charlie rolled his eyes, a welcome bit of normalcy.
“Come on, Dad, you know that’s not what I mean.”
“It’s—hard to explain, but I do think this is going to be better than me and your mom, okay?” Casey pulled him in for another hug. “I’m going to try very hard. And things with me and your mom weren’t all bad. We had a lot of good times, even if you didn’t get to see all of them. And we had you, and that was the best thing that ever happened for me.”
Charlie sniffed hard.
“I really am sorry we took you to that show. It’s been such a long time since I saw it, I forgot it was so mean, and I didn’t think about it making you sad. You want some ginger ale?”
Danny, mercifully, had turned on the television across from the couch and found a rerun of Friends that had some good slapstick gags.
“Oh, I like the duck!” said Charlie, settling in, eyes already brighter as he reached for his ginger ale.
“You can watch the rest of this episode, and then we have to take you back to your mom.” Casey sucked in a breath. “You—I want you to know that your mom and I haven’t talked about this, and I would rather talk to her about it myself.”
Charlie shot him a withering look. “She knows, Dad.”
“That may be.” Casey was clinging to the last shreds of his dignity as Danny’s eyes got wide. “But we haven’t talked about it, and I mean it. I’d like to talk to her about it. Would you do me a favor and not talk to her about it?”
“Fine,” muttered Charlie, slouching in his seat. “And don’t worry, it’s not like I’m going to tell anyone else about it. I’m not dumb.”
“No, I know that.” Casey picked up his own can of ginger ale automatically and popped the tab. He took a drink to buy himself a moment. “I appreciate you being considerate about that.”
“If people think that,” Charlie mumbled angrily, “no wonder nobody wants people to know.”
“Casey,” said Danny, “can you give us a minute?”
“Oh. Uh, sure.” Casey stepped into the bedroom, puzzled. He shamelessly put his ear against the door and listened.
“—okay with you?”
“Yeah,” said Charlie emphatically. “You like him even though he’s a dweeb, right?”
“Yes,” said Danny solemnly. “He’s a huge dweeb, but I like him a lot.”
“There you go.” Charlie sounded satisfied.
Casey stepped back out into the hallway just in time to hear, “You’re not dating any women, though, right?”
“No.” Danny sounded like he was strangling. “No, just your dad.”
Casey silently banged his head against the wall a time or two before reemerging to join them. Charlie was drinking his ginger ale again.
They were halfway through another scene with the duck when Charlie suddenly said, “Is Bobbi a lesbian?”
Casey sprayed the coffee table with a mouthful of ginger ale. Danny laughed maniacally.
“Where did you hear about lesbians?” asked Casey in despair.
“Ellen, Dad.” Charlie sounded long-suffering at his father’s complete stupidity. “Everybody knows about lesbians now.”
Danny slid off the couch laughing. Casey pointed menacingly at him. “Not a word!”
“No… words… suffice,” drifted up from the floor.
“You have to ask people about themselves, you shouldn’t ask them about anybody else,” Casey said, which he thought counted as remarkably cogent parenting given the circumstances.
“Oh.” Charlie digested that. “Dad, are you gay?”
Casey dredged up the dogged willpower that had once let him compete on a sprained ankle. “I’m not gay. I loved your mother very much. I’m—do you know the word bisexual?”
Charlie frowned. “Not really?”
“It means people who date men and women.” He hastily added, “Not always at the same time.”
“Oh.” Charlie glanced over at Danny. “Are you bisexual, too?”
“Yes,” said Danny, who still had not seen fit to get back up on the couch.
And that was that. Charlie finally stopped asking questions, finished watching his episode of Friends, and Casey drove him back to Lisa’s.
“Sorry we ran late,” he said to Lisa as she frowned at him. “We ran into some tough questions about the material.”
“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I think it was a little adult for him after all. I’m sorry.”
“He knows about Hitler, Casey.”
“I know. I’ll… We should talk soon. I’ll call tomorrow and we can figure out a good time.”
Both eyebrows went up. “I see.”
“God, I hope not,” he muttered and palmed his face. “Look, we’ve got a very bright kid, and he’s too sharp for his own good.”
“You’re telling me,” she said, resigned.
They looked at each other for a moment.
“Anyway,” said Casey, “he might need some space tonight.”
“That’s fine. He did his homework ahead so he could just enjoy the play tonight.”
When he got home, Danny was waiting for him. As soon as he walked in the door, Danny started laughing.
“Oh, my God.” Casey sat down heavily in the armchair again. “Jesus Christ.”
“If there was ever any doubt about his paternity, he just laid it to rest with a hissy fit the likes of which I have only ever seen you throw. And Ellen! Ellen!” Danny cracked up all over again.
“So much for secrets.”
“Yeah, seems like you’re not going to have a lot of luck keeping things from him.”
“He stopped believing in Santa at three and a half. He’s always been precocious.”
“He’s going to be a theater kid. He should learn about queer people sooner rather than later.”
Casey groaned, long and wordlessly, and slumped back on the couch. “I am exhausted.”
“You want a beer?”
“I need about five beers, and I need them an hour ago.”
Danny got up and came back with two, open and wonderfully cool. Casey pressed the bottle against his face.
“I might be dying,” said Casey. “What does an aneurysm feel like?”
“Look at it this way, you’ll have great material for his wedding toast.”
“Yeah.” Danny grinned at him crookedly. “But you love me, so what does that make you?”
“God help me, I do.” Casey took a long pull off his beer. “Stay tonight?”
“I have to make sure this aneurysm doesn’t kill you.”
“That’s the kind of tender loving care I’m talking about.”
“He’s twelve, what’s he going to be like when he’s a teenager?”
“Let’s not think about that right this minute.” Casey took another hasty drink.
Danny waited a whole five minutes before saying, “So did that whole thing kill the mood, or do I still have a shot at getting lucky tonight?”
He had to duck the couch cushion Casey lobbed at him.
(Casey at least made him wait another hour.)
At his next visit with Abby, he told her the whole thing, and he frankly found the way she leaned back and laughed until she cried a little insulting.
It was pretty funny, though.
I really, really wanted to write a story about Sports Night where I could plausibly imagine the characters getting to a happy ending despite the flaws in themselves and the world they live in. It's hard. It's much easier to stay an angry, fucked-up man for your entire life than it is to learn how to be better. I started out this story with the idea for a funny backwards conceit--what if Casey went to Abby?--and then it spiraled out of control because I realized I had so much to say about toxic masculinity and what it does to the lives of men (and women, who universally live in close proximity to it). This is a story about love, both romantic and familial, but it's first and foremost a story about figuring out how to be someone who can love and be loved without feeling entitled, without being petulant and destructive. Lasting relationships can look a lot of different ways, but there are some key commonalities. Contempt is the single biggest predictor of divorce. You have to be able to respect the person you're with, and they have to be able to respect you. Toxic masculinity makes demonstrating that respect very difficult, particularly when it concerns emotionality, which is seen as inherently feminine but is actually a fucking necessity for life.
Toxic masculinity says the only way to feel close to someone is sex, which makes friendships with women intrinsically suspect and undermines relationships between men and their children. Toxic masculinity has no room for queer love, either between men or between women (and certainly not anyone who doesn't fit the cis gender binary), and that rigidity makes it weak and unsustainable. This story was about burning it to the ground in order to be happy. Being happy is the only end goal that matters; everything else is a bad proxy. Getting away from toxic masculinity is work, and no one can do it but the man in question, and Casey had to want to change and be willing to put in the effort.
A couple of other things: first, I have enough a background in psychology to know that how Aaron Sorkin writes therapists is not how a therapist would write therapists. Abby in this story is therefore a blend of Abby as written by Sorkin, and Abby as a competent, qualified therapist. Should she have taken on Casey? Probably not. Would she have been reprimanded for it? Probably not.
Second, there are a lot of people who have had experiences they didn't have vocabulary for. I've intentionally written Casey as demisexual in an era before that was a thing.
Third, Preacher Roe was HILARIOUS. Somebody asked him the secret to his longevity as an athlete and he said, "Clean livin' and the spitball." You're welcome.
Fourth, feedback in this little-tended, neglected fandom is more precious than gold. If you like this story, please, please tell me. I'm not above begging.
(Fifth: It is my firm belief that Casey ended up getting that work of art from Iris, and Danny was like "Really? It's... it's modern art and it also commemorates that time you lost your fucking mind," and Casey was like "It's nice. I like it. I'm putting it up in the living room." And then fell off yet another thing that was not a stepstool that he was using as a stepstool.)