“What the hell is this supposed to be?” Mary asks.
It's half an hour into the art show opening and she's on her third glass of wine.
“Chromolume number 4,” Charley says, reading from the gallery flyer.
“I know what it's called,” she says, rolling her eyes. “What is it?”
Charley can't help her there. Even Oliver's friend Dennis, who dragged them to the show in the first place, couldn't explain what it was about. He'd just mumbled something about color and light, which Charley could have worked out from the name.
Dennis is by way of being a nerd, and electronics are his passion, but he can't keep up with George. Apparently George keeps building these machines, and each time they get more complicated. Also, Oliver says, they fuse the circuit-boards, and Dennis hates when that happens. Any day now he's going to pack it all in and go back to NASA for a quiet life.
“Hi, Oliver, thanks for coming,” says a short, bearded man who Charley thinks must be George. He doesn't look much like his publicity pictures, but who does?
“Hi, George!” Oliver says. “This is Charley – you know, Charley Kringas – and Mary Flynn.”
“Mr Kringas,” George says, shaking Charley's hand.
“Charley, please,” Charley says.
“Charley,” George says, beaming. “It's good to meet you. I loved Pretty Politics. Are you working on something new?”
It's the question Charley used to dread, but not any more.
“Oliver and I have a new show workshopping at Playwrights Horizons next month,” he says. He knows he's grinning like a fool but he can't help it; it's really happening, the thing he thought he'd lost forever when he lost Frank.
“Jesus, you look as if you've just had pups,” Mary says, a mixture of fond and disgusted.
“Are you calling my writing partner a bitch, Mary Flynn?” Oliver says, mock-indignant.
“Oh, you,” Mary says. “You're as bad as he is.”
She and Oliver get on better than Charley ever thought they would, but there's a shade of real envy there along with the joking. Charley knows she's still not writing. He remembers what that felt like, and on impulse he gives her a hug. She thumps him on the shoulder, a bit too hard, and he lets go again.
“What's the show about?” George asks.
“Friendship,” Charley says, because there isn't an easy way to describe it.
“Twos and threes,” Oliver says, with his broadest crooked grin.
Mary looks sharply at Charley, as if she thinks it's going to be about the three of them, her and Charley and Frank. He can't imagine how you'd ever tell that story.
“It's about couples,” he says. “Lots of couples and their one single friend, outside it all looking in.”
“Single friend's a hell of a part,” Oliver says feelingly. “He's in every scene, almost.”
“What's it called?” George asks.
“Good And Crazy People,” Charley says. He's still not sure about the title, but then he never is. “I can send you a ticket if you'd like to see it.”
“I'd love to,” George says, sounding like he actually means it. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to send Frank one?” Mary blurts out, as if she can't help it.
George looks taken aback and slightly embarrassed. It's obvious from Mary's tone that there's something awkward going on here; he must be wondering what he's stumbled into.
“Franklin Shepard,” Charley says, managing not to add Inc. “He and I and Mary used to be friends.” Here's to us, who's like us? Damn few.
“So will you?” Mary insists. She's obviously not going to let it drop.
Charley hadn't thought about it. It doesn't seem very likely that Frank would come.
“I might,” he says. “Sure, why not?”
Once upon a time he'd have had a million reasons why not, or just the one big one: we're not that kind of close any more. Now he thinks, what's the worst that can happen?
Oliver looks nervous – understandably so, at the thought of having one of his musical heroes in the audience for a show he's written with the hero's ex-partner.
“Fun for you,” Mary says to him, with that edge in her voice again.
“Oh, sure,” Oliver says. “I'll be the one vomiting in the alleyway before the show.”
“Not during?” George asks, with a sympathetic smile.
Oliver shakes his head. “Busy,” he says, and grins again.
Charley looks at him affectionately. “When he's at the piano, the roof could fall in and he wouldn't notice,” he says.
“My studio actually did catch fire once,” George says. “If Elaine, my wife – ex-wife – hadn't dragged me out of there, I'd have been burned to a crisp.”
“Artists shouldn't marry,” Mary says, making a face.
“You're right,” George says. “It's a tough job, being married to any of us.”
Charley's heard it all before, about being married to your work, though that's not what broke him and Evelyn up in the end. Evelyn's finally found someone who's there for her, who really sees her and the kids. Charley was sad about it, of course, but he'd be lying if he said he wasn't relieved as well. He may have failed as a husband and father, but it's somebody else's turn now, while he gets to work out what he's going to do when he grows up.
“I'm never getting married,” Oliver says.
Charley's not sure if he means to a woman, which seems obvious when you know the kid, or whether getting married just means settling down. It's not as if gay marriage is ever likely to be an option.
“You're too young to be thinking about that,” he says.
“You and Evelyn were practically babies,” Mary says.
She sounds almost tearful, though it's not like her to be sentimental about marriage. Maybe it's the idea of change that's getting to her; she always did want everything to stay like it was.
“Practically babies,” Charley agrees. “And look how that turned out.”
George grimaces. “You too?”
“Getting divorced, yeah,” Charley says.
“You two should go have a drink and compare notes,” Mary says sarcastically.
“Good idea,” Charley says, though he knows she's not serious.
“Great idea,” George says. “I know a little bar a couple of blocks from here.”
Once upon a time Charley would have had to say no, and get the train home to New Rochelle. Now the house is sold and he has an apartment in the West 70s. Who wants to live in New York? ... Suddenly I do!
George goes to say goodbye nicely to a bunch of people who look like they have money for art, and Charley buttons his coat and knots his scarf against the chill spring night.
“You're really going?” Mary says.
“Looks like it,” he says. “See you soon, OK? Oliver, see you tomorrow.”
“Right,” Oliver says. “Don't do anything I wouldn't do.”
That certainly gives Charley plenty of latitude.
“You want me to send Frank a ticket?” Charley says to Mary. “I'll do it, on one condition. You have to write something new. A chapter, a thousand words, a hundred even. But something.”
“I'm calling your bluff, Charley,” she says shakily. “Let's see how tough you really are.”
He thinks maybe it's the other way round, or maybe they're both calling each other's bluff, but it doesn't matter. He's mourned that friendship with Frank long enough. Sooner or later you've got to move on.
Charley hugs Mary tight and kisses her goodbye. He says goodnight to Oliver, pushes the heavy glass door open and goes out into the night with George to have that drink.