Richard’s eyes burn as they study the figures on the monitor in front of him. He’s been staring at the spreadsheet simply titled “63” for what feels like hours. There’s a mistake in here somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding the needle in the haystack. He’s decided to blame the interns responsible for filing and recording the accounts payable invoices for his current plight. If they could do everything properly the first time, then he wouldn’t be in this mess.
He sighs and twists in his chair, cracking his back in the process. As soon as he finishes up here, he can call it a night. He’s been putting in more than his fair share of extra hours recently — the amount of files he’s had to back up and print out multiple copies of in preparation for Y2K is frankly ridiculous — and it’s a Friday. He’s sure no one will mind if he leaves an hour or two early.
Rich leans forward and reimmerses himself in his work. In fact, he’s so engrossed in the numbers in front of him, his brain doesn’t register the footsteps approaching his cubicle. Rich pauses his scrolling and scans the rows and columns of his spreadsheet. He’s fairly sure the problem is somewhere in this section, now if he could just find it…
“Ah, you got your figures all switched around there. The Manford and Lewis accounts have their September 28th debit transaction amounts swapped.” The voice is familiar, and even without having heard it in ten years, Richard can place it immediately.
Richard whips around in his chair, wasting no time confirming his suspicions. Before him stands Larry Wilson, his former coworker and best friend. The first thing he notices is just how much more tired the man looks. Sure, he’s still wearing his same signature dopey smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes in quite the same way Richard remembers. The dark circles certainly aren’t helping things either. His relaxed posture, instead of exuding confidence, as it did in the past, now comes off as forced.
Richard finally notices the hand extended to him and becomes aware of the fact he’s still sitting while Larry awkwardly shifts from foot to foot. He quickly rectifies this and slips his hand into his old friend’s for a firm handshake. He’s still a bit shocked if he’s being honest. Of all the people he was expecting to see today, Larry Wilson was certainly not on the list.
“How did you get back here?” Rich is aware that’s probably not the first thing he should be saying to a man he hasn’t seen in a decade, but it’s a valid question nonetheless. The accounting department of Jimmy’s law firm is stuck all the way in the back of the office. Normally their secretary is pretty good about keeping potential clients corralled in the lobby and consulting rooms.
“Ran into Jimmy on the way in.” Larry slides his hands into the pockets of his pants, trying to feign casualness. Rich recognizes the action for what it is though: a nervous habit. “He told me I’d probably find you back here.”
“Well, he was right.”
“Isn’t he always, though?”
“You can say that again.” Rich chuckles.
Back when they were coworkers, this would be where Larry would jump in with a story ranging anywhere from what he dreamed about last night to his recent sexploits, successful or otherwise. Anything to keep the quiet at bay, really. The word “silence” is one Richard has never associated with Larry, and so as it stretches between them it only serves to prove the overall weirdness of the situation. To have Larry seemingly struggling for words is not only awkward, but also fairly unsettling if he’s being honest. It’s almost like some fundamental law of nature is being broken the longer he keeps his mouth shut.
“Is there something I can help you with, Larry?” Rich asks. Larry startles slightly at the noise before regaining his composure. He raises his hand as if to run it through his hair, but stops short and instead rests it on the back of his neck.
“I just… Can we talk? I know having a conversation cramped up in your cubicle isn’t exactly ideal, but…”
“I was just about to head out, actually.” Rich replies, and then, after a second of hesitation adds, “I was thinking about heading down to Moe’s Cafe if you wanted to join me?”
Larry’s eyes light up at the opening, and even his attempt at a nonchalant “Sure, I could eat” does nothing to dim the bit of hope. If Richard had to hazard a guess, he’d say that the other man was expecting way worse from this meeting. Their conversation is just starting, however, and so there’s definitely still room for disappointment.
Rich saves his work, rechecks to make sure all his files are in their proper location, and shuts down his PC. He packs his briefcase — a leather thing way nicer than anything he’d ever be able to afford on his limited budget, gifted to him by Laura on his last birthday —a nd shrugs on his overcoat. Larry is silent as he follows him out of the building and onto the street.
The five minute walk over to the cafe is ultimately uneventful. The two dutifully move with the flow of the crowd, only breaking pace to shuffle off towards the proper storefront. Only one woman glares at the duo as the shoulder through the mass of people, so overall Richard would call the endeavor a success.
Before long, they have both ordered their food and are sitting at a small table toward the back of the cafe. There aren’t many patrons here to begin with, but Richard has sneaking suspicion this will be a conversation best kept discreet. Or as discreet as one can get while meeting in public in New York City.
Larry takes a sip of his coffee before starting off.
“So, how have things been?”
The question almost makes Rich want to burst out laughing because where the fuck does he even start? Does Larry want him to start from before or after he officially got acquitted? Before or after he switched his phone number for the third time to finally get away from overzealous reporters? Before or after his long run of therapy sessions so he could finally stop be scared of a sun god that both of them had made up in the first place?
He decides on none of those and opts for the more polite, socially acceptable response.
“They’ve been going well. I mean, you already know that I’m working over at Jimmy’s now, putting my accounting degree to good use. I’ve been taking a few night classes too, working toward becoming a paralegal. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be certified by next June.”
“That’s great, Rich.” A small, sincere smile graces Larry’s face. “I mean it. It’s awesome to hear you’re doing well.”
“Thanks. I feel like things are finally starting to fall into place. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this kind of stability.” Even without being explicit, it’s clear both men understand the implied timeframe of ‘a while.’ Ever since what the media referred to as the “Cosmic Cult Case.” life’s been one hell of a crazy ride and definitely not in a fun way.
“I’m happy to hear that. Got any girlfriends I oughta know about?”
“Nah, you know I’m not really good with that kind of stuff.”
“What about Laura? I remember her being really into you when we dove into Rachel’s swimming pool-” Larry cuts himself off, as if he’s committed some horrible taboo by directly referencing anything from their excursion in the Hamptons. To be fair though, just the mention of Rachel’s name makes Richard stiffen. He attempts to hide his reaction with a forced smile, though he’s not sure if the action is ultimately successful. For all he knows, it might just serve to make him look more uncomfortable.
“I’m lucky I’m even allowed to still talk to Laura. Between her overprotective father and my… less than stellar reputation with the public, I’d never be allowed to date her. Besides, Laura’s still like 50% sure I’m gay. No amount of explanation can really convince her at this point.” Richard absently stirs at his coffee and directs his attention towards his cup instead of the man in front of him. “She’s been a great help with everything though. Without her and Jimmy…” He allows the sentence to trail off, letting Larry fill in the blanks for himself.
“What about Gwen?” Richard is taken aback for a second, but quickly recovers.
“What about her?”
“Do you talk to her?”
Richard exhales, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. “Sometimes. Not really. Only if I run into her at the community center.”
“What are you doing down at the community center?”
“They have some support groups. I like to help out.” He keeps his words vague, shrugging off the quizzical look being levelled at him. He could tell tell Larry about how he helps out other people trying to get clean just like he was six or seven years back. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s rewarding to feel like he’s actually making a difference in people’s lives. His volunteer work is personal though, and so he keeps quiet. Besides, he knows that the old Larry at least would laugh at him for such efforts; even if his former friend has turned over a new leaf, he still doesn’t want to risk souring the mood.
“Between that, work, and classes you must keep pretty busy.”
“You can say that again. Sometimes I feel like I don’t even have time to breathe.”
“Is that why you didn’t visit, then?” The question catches Richard off guard. Larry’s tone remains even, but it’s obvious the question has been eating at him for a while. He can’t quite keep all the hurt from his eyes as he searches Richard’s expression.
“You never visited. Even after I was released at the beginning of last year, you never even tried to contact me. Was it because you couldn’t find the time?”
Shame washes over Richard, because, well, he’s right. He hadn’t gone to visit Larry. Ever since that plea bargain was offered and they made their different decisions, with Larry rolling over and Richard deciding to fight for his freedom, he hasn’t seen the other man. Sure, he’d thought about meeting with his old best friend, more times than he can count really, but he never followed through with it. He spent so much energy, so many hours trying to convince everyone of his innocence. Despite his “not guilty” verdict though, it wasn’t uncommon to find public officials or op-ed articles crying about how his trial was a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
After a couple years of declining interviews, trying to keep a low profile, and even contemplating legally changing his name, attention finally started to die down. Richard could finally stop living in the shadow of that weekend at Bernie’s. If he were to go and visit Larry and the press got wind of it… Well, he’d have been back to square one, all his hard work straight down the drain.
“You didn’t see it, Larry. Everyone thought I killed Bernie and embezzled that money. Everyone. In the court of public opinion I was just as guilty as you, except I was even more of a scumbag. You at least served some time while I was getting off scot free for everything I supposedly did. If I visited you, I’d basically be rubbing my ‘involvement’ right in their faces.” Larry nods absently, picking at his sandwich and refusing to make eye contact. There’s a beat before he responds.
“What about after? You must have known I was being released,” Richard hadn’t, but Larry doesn’t need to know that. “You could have called.”
“With what number? It’s not like your old phone was still in service.”
“I guess that’s true.” Larry continues tearing off pieces of his sandwich. It’s a bit of a pathetic sight if he’s being honest. Somewhere, a small bubble of rage wells up from his stomach and flows through him. How dare Larry try to make him feel guilty about this when he had as much autonomy and control over the situation as he did.
“What about you?” Richard snaps, not quite getting his anger under control before he speaks like he had intended. “If you really wanted to talk to me so bad you could have found me earlier.”
There’s a long pause. Richard is almost positive that he’s not even going to get an answer, that he was way too harsh, before Larry starts. His words come slowly, as if he’s fighting to force them out.
“I figured you wouldn’t want to see me. Everything that happened that night was my fault. If we hadn’t thought we were gods, if I hadn’t let the sun god become its own entity, then everything could have been so much simpler.” That’s certainly an understatement. The fact that Larry and Richard started a cult certainly didn’t do them any favors with the investigation team nor the public. “Just… goddammit, I hate that I completely fucked everything up.”
Guilt is clearly clouding Larry’s mind, though. Richard doesn’t delude himself about his role in the duo’s bad decisions that night. They both erased that phone recording. They both stayed on the island despite multiple chances to leave. They both put the pursuit of partying and youth before thoughts of morality. Additionally, half of Paulie’s death can directly be traced back to him. If Larry was the one who got Tina to pull the trigger, Rich was the one who implanted the command to begin with.
“Hey, look at me.” Larry obeys the command, but his expression is still full or self loathing. “ We fucked everything up. Both of us. Partners in crime, both literally and figuratively.”
That gets a grin out of Larry before he quickly smothers it. “Dude, you can’t joke about that. It’s not funny.”
“I’ve heard joking about traumatic experiences is a common coping method. I’m deciding to use it now.” Larry rolls his eyes at the words. “Besides, you have to admit it was pretty clever.”
“Eh, I’ve heard better wordplay.”
“Hmmm, yeah I guess it was pretty low hanging fruit.” Richard chuckles softly, “Still better than what you could come up with though.”
“You wish. I’ve written better sentences in my sleep.” Larry retorts, sparking a small bickering match that ultimately ends with Richard conceding defeat.
The two continue to eat and transition into more casual conversation, the awkward atmosphere still present but not as oppressive as it has been. It’s pretty hard to be weird when both of you are complaining about the most recent Mets game, he supposes. At some point Larry spills his coffee all over his slacks and Richard can’t help but snort in laughter. Some things never change. As Larry cleans himself up, Richard watches in amusement. The stains will be a bitch to get out, but not impossible as long as he puts in the time and effort.
“I think that’s my cue to get going. If I stay here any longer, these pants will never be able to see the light of day again.” Larry stands and begins to gather his things, leaving behind a plate with a few bites still left on it. Rich stands to meet him, not wanting to be left sitting awkwardly as they say their goodbyes. “This was nice, though.”
“Yeah, it was.” Richard agrees out of some mixture of politeness and actual enjoyment for the past half hour or so.
“We should do it again sometime. Maybe go out for a couple of drinks.” And that’s when a sinking feeling hits his stomach. He’s still not sure how he feels being around his old best friend quite yet. Sure, these past thirty minutes have been fine, but there’s no guarantee that everything will go this smoothly next time. For all he knows, this meeting could be the exception to the larger, cosmic rule that things are forever destined to be strained between the two of them.
“Oh… I don’t really know. I’m so busy…”
“I understand. I don’t need an answer right now or anything. Just know that I’ll be over at Jerry’s at 8 o’clock this Sunday. I heard they got some two for one deals going on or something. Figured we could maybe split the price of some drinks fifty-one, forty-nine, for old time’s sake.”
“You know which way.” Larry smirks and Rich can’t help the small grin that forces its way onto his own face. The other man raises his hand in farewell and turns to leave. Richard watches as Larry exits and bobs down the street, weaving his way through the crowd. He continues to stare, even long after he loses him in the New York throng.
As hesitant as he is about the whole ordeal, Richard thinks he might just have to take him up on that offer.