Tuesday, December 21, 2010

COMMON GROUND "The Toilet Seat" - Part 1

Nicholas felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He took it out and looked at the Caller ID. He was hoping it was Spencer calling to tell him they had reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury for tonight. It wasn't. The Caller ID showed that it was his roommate, Miller.


"Hey, where are you?" Miller sounded a bit agitated on the other end of the phone.

"I'm on my way home, why? (beat) “Is something wrong? You sound weird."

"I'm fine. Something's up with Max. He just called and wants us to meet him at McKenna's. I'm here already. Can you meet us?"

"Sure. I'm on Tremont already. I'll hop in a cab and meet you there in a few minutes."

"Great. I'll see you in a few," said Miller, relieved that Nicholas was going to join him for whatever Max had to tell them.

"Hey," Nicholas stopped Miller from hanging up. "Is he alright?"

"I don't really know," Miller responded. "He sounded upset. He wouldn't tell me anything. He just said that he wanted to talk to both of us in person."

"Okay. I'll see ya there."

They both hung up their phones. Nicholas stepped to the curb and put his hand up to hail a cab. Miller, already at McKenna's, motioned for the waitress so he could order a drink.

McKenna's is a local spot that Miller, Nicholas and Max have been patronizing since their college years. They’d been out of college for four years now and had first discovered the place during their junior year. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall; dimly lit and made even darker by the paneled walls. It didn’t hold that many people, and it was always crowded, but there always seemed to be room for the three of them when they showed up. The place served great burgers, a wide selection of beers and made a fantastic margarita.

Miller was thinking about the night they’d happened upon the place. They had just ended a study session and were looking for somewhere to have a drink. After all those Urban Legends they needed to chill and get their minds out of Spookville and back to reality. An adult beverage seemed like the perfect antidote to their Pop-Rocks-in-Coke overload. They saw the green neon light that spelled out the name McKenna’s and decided to push the battered wooden door open. They walked into an evening of $1 margaritas and cemented a friendship stronger than the story of the bloody hook on the car door handle. They would continue their love affair with McKenna’s and margaritas every Wednesday night until they graduated.

"Hi, Jillian," Miller said to the waitress as she approached his table. After all the Wednesday night's the three of them had spent in McKenna's, they were on a first name basis with most of the staff. Jillian was their favorite. They always tried to get into her section.

"Hi, Miller." She looked at him a little confused as she set a bowl of fried pickle chips down on his table. "I'm going out on a limb here, but is this going to be a table for 3?"

"I don't know whether to smile or hang my head in shame, but the answer is yes. Nicholas and Max should be here any minute." He did go ahead with the smile. He saw Nicholas walk into the restaurant as he did so. "Actually, there's Nicholas right now. Nicholas." Miller said as he motioned to get Nicholas's attention.

Nicholas waved as he made his way across the room to the table doing his best to avoid hitting people with his two shopping bags.

"I was so hoping when you called that you were Spencer telling me he had gotten us reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury, but alas it wasn't.” He put his bags down. “Hey." Miller stood up and the two of them greeted one another with a hug. "Hi, Jillian." Nicholas said as he sat down.

"Hi, Nick." Jillian was just as cute as she could be. She had curly brown hair and great big smile that would put the grouchiest person at ease. She was an aspiring actress. Nicholas didn't mind that she called him Nick. It made them seem like old friends. Of course his old friends called him Nicholas, but he didn’t mind her shortened version.

"I think I'm going to go ahead and order a round of margaritas for the table." Miller was chomping at the bit to get a drink in his body.

"And some water,” added Nicholas. The most conservative of the three of them was already looking to prevent the next morning's hangover.

"Great. I'll be right back."

The two of them watched Jillian and her perky demeanor walk to the bar then Nicholas turned to Miller.

“Okay, so what’s up?” Nicholas asked as he started to eat the fried dill pickle chips. “I tried to call Max after we hung up, but it just went to voicemail.” He put another couple of pickle chips into his mouth. Nicholas is a nervous eater. Sometimes he forgets that he used to be a fat child.

“I really don’t know.” Miller responded as he watched the nervous ritual beginning. “He didn’t tell me any more than I told you.”

“Well.” Nicholas paused for thought. “He could have gotten fired or he could be quitting his job.” Pause for a couple of pickle chips. “You don’t think that he and Meghan might be moving do you?”

Meghan is Max’s wife. He’s been married about three years. Max met her while attending BU, so Miller and Nicholas have known her for a long time as well.

“Every time I’ve talked to her lately she seems unhappy here,” Nicholas continued while turning to look for Jillian and the drink he didn’t realize he needed.

“Well, he’s not always happy here either, but I can’t really see him leaving.” Miller joined the look out for their missing drinks. Then he spotted something he didn’t expect, or want, to see. “Great!” His face melted to the floor with an eye roll.

“What,” asked Nicholas picking up another pickle chip, looking at it before putting it in his mouth and then thinking better of it and putting it back in the bowl.

“Remember that guy that I hooked up with last week?”

Nicholas searched his brain for the right answer.

“The one that was trying to turn me on while I was on the phone with my mom?” Miller waited for the light to click on in Nicholas’s memory but the curtains behind that window remained dark. “Mr. Softie?”

Nicholas audibly gasped as the story came flooding back to him. A grin threatened to consume his whole face. “Uh huh,” he said, leaning forward, unable to contain his laughter. “Is he here?”

“He just walked in.”

Nicholas started turning in his seat to try and figure out who it was.

“Don’t turn around.” Miller was not really as incensed as he was acting. Nicholas sat back in the chair, trying in vain to remove the grin from his face. He couldn’t help indulging in the fact that this man was right behind him and that it was making Miller completely uncomfortable. Of course he didn’t really want Miller to be uncomfortable, but when friends are as close as the two of them, it becomes quite amusing to watch the other squirm.

“I never wanted to see him again, let alone say hello.” Miller was shaking his head in frustration. He pulled his Dolce & Gabbana shades out of his Marc Jacobs bag and put them on. Of course his incognito move did nothing but draw attention to him. “You know, he was completely as ease with his inabilities. Said he’d email me when he left like I had had a great time.” The light that Miller had been waiting to switch on in Nicholas’s head just went off in his own.

“He never saw you.” (beat) “Act like you’re my date.” Miller reached his hand to Nicholas. Nicholas stared at Miller’s hand blankly. “Hold my hand.” Miller said in a tone that fairly screamed don’t be an idiot, help me.

Max had arrived at McKenna’s unbeknownst to either of his two best friends. He spotted them from the “wait to be seated” stand and motioned to an approaching waitress that he was meeting people. He reached the table as Nicholas was taking Miller’s hand into his own.

“Is there something you two want to tell me?” Max said as he sat down at the table.

Miller jumped at the sound of the familiar voice coming from a body he hadn’t seen approach. He removed the sunglasses and put them inside their case and back in his bag.

“Nothing other than our margaritas are here,” said Miller, removing his hand from Nicholas’s as Jillian approached the table with her tray full of salty, wet, key lime pie-colored drinks.

“Here you go guys,” Jillian said as she put a glass in front of each of them. She also left menus at the fourth, unused spot at the table.

“Thanks, Jillian,” Max and Miller said at the same time. The only difference was Max winked at her as he said it. He was always flirting. Whether he knew it or not or cared, Miller had seen the wink. He rolled his eyes and smirked a little – mostly to himself – but didn’t miss a beat.

“Water,” said Nicholas. She acknowledged his request with a raised hand as she walked toward the bar. “How hard is it to remember water?”

“Margarita’s. Nice.” Miller looked at his glass as if it contained the elixir of life. “Here’s to you and here’s to me and if we ever disagree.” They clink their glasses together in the old college toast and begin to drink.

Miller and Nicholas are in the middle of a long draw on the golden-green liquid when Max flatly says, “I’m getting a divorce.” Before Miller and Nicholas even have a moment to finish swallowing, let alone react to his statement he continues with, “We are eating, aren’t we?”

The reaction to hearing the words that came out of Max’s mouth resulted in two drained margarita glasses being put down on the table.

“Well, I guess there’s no question about whether we have another round,” Miller said as he motioned to Jillian for another round.

“Was there ever a question?” Max responded to Miller’s statement.

“I have a question,” Nicholas said. “Divorced? What happened? You’ve only been married for three years.

There they were, three best friends, completely unique, sitting at a table in the restaurant they’d been coming to for years. Miller Reid, the aspiring writer managing a bookstore, wearing his trendy boots and requisite blue shirt to make his eyes pop; Nicholas Brown, the discontent travel agent flirting with grad school, in Banana Republic khakis and a J Crew button down; Max Peters, the personal trainer, conservative and fit in his Seven jeans and Timberlands. Two of them were shocked and one of them surprised. To an outsider they would appear to have nothing in common. That’s because an outsider isn’t looking past the packaging. They are judging the book by its cover. They can’t see that on the inside the three share a deep affection, fierce loyalty and overwhelming protection for each other.

“It can’t seem that out of the blue to you guys,” said Nicholas.

“It sort of is,” replied Miller, stunned that Max would think he or Nicholas would have seen a divorce in Max’s future. “I mean Nicholas was just saying that Meghan has seemed unhappy a lot lately, but come on.”

The delay in Max’s response was too long for Nicholas. “Max?”

Before Max could answer either of them Jillian was standing at their table with their second round of margaritas. Max downed his first so that he would be on the same playing field of inebriation as Miller and Nicholas. Nicholas had gone back to eating the pickles, now cold and soggy.

“Water.” Nicholas projected to Jillian’s back. He turned to Miller, prepared for a snarky comment, but it was Max who spoke.

“Okay, look. We have been having problems. I haven’t really talked to anyone about it but our therapist.”

“Therapist?” Nicholas shouted in a loud whisper then covering his mouth looked around to make sure he hadn’t aroused the curiously of diners at a nearby table.

“You and Meghan are in therapy?” asked Miller.

“We’re in therapy.” (beat) “C’mon guys, it’s not such a crazy concept. Couples do it all the time to try and save their marriages.”

Miller reacted to “Save their marriages” in shocked disbelief. He took a long drink from his second margarita.

“Save your marriage?” Miller questioned, his voice building in intensity. “Save your marriage. Let me get this straight.” Max started to say something, but Miller held up his hand, index finger extended. Max stopped before forming a word. “We’re your two best friends in the world and somehow you manage to keep from both of us that your marriage needs saving.” He took a deep breath and exhaled the words, “Oh My God.”

“Miller,” Nicholas said his tone part chastisement and part calming.

“I’m Sorry, Nicholas,” he said with a remorseful voice. “I’m sorry, Max, but you getting a divorce kinda breaks my heart.”

Max took a drink from his second margarita.

“It’s the toilet seat.” He said those words just as flat and free of inflection as when he’d said “I’m getting a divorce.”

No one had a chance to react because Jillian chose that moment to bring the water to the table.

“Do you guys want food?” Jillian asked in a perky voice waitresses, who want to be actresses but are working for your tips, use as she placed the glasses of water on the table.

All three of them broke from their intense moment of conversation to look at her. No one spoke for an awkward second until Nicholas interrupted the silence.

“Shots!” he said with the enthusiasm of someone with distraction on his mind.

“Tequila shots?” asked Jillian a little confused and a little concerned.

“It won’t clash with the margarita,” said Miller as he finished the rest of his second glass followed closely by Nicholas and Max.

As a befuddled Jillian walked away, Miller and Nicholas assumed a position of interrogation as they sat, arms crossed, staring at Max, waiting for answers.

“Oh, is it time for the third degree?” said Max as he realized he was being stared at.

As if someone watching their situation wanted to give Miller and Nicholas the blinding light that goes along with their interrogation pose, the lights in McKenna’s became alarmingly bright. Everyone in the restaurant reacted to the invasion of privacy as the light brightened every dust-filled corner.

“Now I need the sunglasses,” Miller said as he squinted.

“Sorry,” yelled Jillian from the other side of the bar. She had accidentally turned the dimmer up instead of down. As the lights dimmed to that intimate setting that everyone in a hole-in-the-wall bar really likes, Nicholas picked up his menu.

“Now I can’t even see what’s on this menu,” he said as he reached for the candle in the middle of the table. “It’s not as if I really need to look at it. I mean we’ve ordered here a hundred times.” He paused as if searching. “I think I’m gonna have…an explanation about the toilet.” The clever one had spoken and now closed his menu. “What about you, Miller?”

“I’ll have the same,” said the sarcastic one. “Max?”

“Do you know how lucky you are; the two of you living together?” Miller and Nicholas looked at each other then back to Max as they waited for him to expound upon his observation. “You never have to worry about it. If you want it up, you put it up. If you want it down, you put it down. Every time you go there’s a 50/50 chance it’s gonna be right. It’s like the lottery with better odds.”

“Hell, I sit most of the time anyway,” said Miller with the verve of someone teetering on the edge of a buzz. Max nodded at him as if to say, “I can see that.” Nicholas was aghast.

“Lazy,” said Nicholas upon hearing of Miller’s sitting for the first time.

“And?” retorted Miller.

“Shots,” said Jillian as she put her tray down on their food-empty table. Miller squinted at her and was just about to ask her how she picked her moments to revisit their table, but Max caught him off guard.

“Hooray,” said Max like a child. “Keep ‘em’ comin’ he said in an aside to Jillian.

“Okay boys,” said Jillian as she placed a shot glass in front of each of them. “Lick it, slam it, suck it.”

“Every last drop,” said Miller, his mind completely in the gutter.

“Trash,” said Nicholas as if he was seeing a whole new side to his friend.

“Ladies,” said Max, using a word that he knew would get their attention.

They both turned to him. He had his shot glass in the air. Miller and Nicholas raised theirs to meet his and clinked the glasses. They licked the salt, slammed the tequila and placed the lime in their mouths as quickly as possible. Nicholas grimaced, Miller shook his head and made and audible “phew” sound while Max said, “That’ll cure it.” They slammed the shot glasses down on the table as if to signify their manhood at having taken a shot.

“Can we get back to the toilet seat?” said Nicholas.

“Let me just say something here,” Miller started, then stopped. “Whew I am already drunk.”

The three of them started to laugh – loud. The caring about the other diners didn’t factor into this outburst. This one was already under the influence.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Year in 100 Words

What an amazing year I’ve had. I moved into a spacious, beautiful apartment in Astoria, bought some new furniture, cultivated relationships that had been on the periphery of my life, added important essays and fiction to the mix on my blog. I got new dishes, cookware, mixing bowls and started cooking. I bought a Christmas tree and a painting. I was inducted into the Local 751 Ticketsellers and Treasurers union. I took two trips to locales that had been on my list for years. I continue to be blessed with an amazing job, beautiful friends and a wonderful family. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 14

The lights suddenly flickered. The record stopped playing; Bing’s voice slow motioned to a stop. Silence filled the room. The air went still. It was eerie; a lack a noise one could feel. All the energy had evaporated. The air was heavy, unmoving. The lights somehow seemed brighter now than before the flicker. Jack watched as Genevieve’s body became tense. She was trance-like, staring off into space. Her focus was intense as if she was hearing something that the rest of them could not hear.

"It's time, Jack," she spoke in a sad voice, shaded with anticipation.

"Time for what, Miss Genevieve?" asked Jack, puzzled by her words and tone.

"For the real story, the last story, the honest truth."

Jack sat there looking at her. He didn't look at Henry or Kevin. He only stared at her. He had always thought she was honest. He was compelled to ask her what she could possibly mean.

“The truth? The last story? Wh-what does that mean?” he stammered over the words.

"I had been making that light go on and off for weeks. It took all the energy I could amass. No one ever paid attention until you saw it. You were so curious. That's what I was hoping for - someone's curiosity to get the better of them and win out over their fear and make them come inside. I needed someone to find me."

"I'm sorry you were so lonely, Miss Genevieve. I wish, more than you know, that I had known you were here." Jack replied.

Henry and Kevin were on the periphery of the situation. They weren't part of it. This was a conversation between Genevieve and Jack. They were just there. Not intruders, but not participants.

"You don't understand, Jack." She rose from the chair. It was the first time she had been out of the chair for one of their story sessions since the first time Jack had seen her at the window. She walked toward a door through an opening that led into a hallway. Her slow, controlled steps made her appear to be gliding. The door had always been visible, but closed. She opened the door and motioned for him to come to her.

At the doorway, Jack peered inside. He saw what appeared to be a withered body slumped over to the right in a chair, wearing the same peach-colored robe Genevieve always wore. He looked at Genevieve, standing next to him, his face twisted in confusion. The light struck something on the floor and it shimmered. The shimmer pulled Jack’s focus. It was Genevieve's ring. It was lying on the floor just below the right hand of the body. It had fallen off as the body slowly decomposed. Jack looked at Genevieve. He looked at her face then he looked down at her right hand. He saw the ring on her finger. He didn't understand. He started to speak, but she cut him off.

"I'm sorry if this frightens you and I'm sorry that you're confused, but I needed you, Jack.” She looked tormented. “You were the one who saw the light; the one who could see me." Her words were colored with anguish.

"See you? What do you mean?"

"Look closely, Jack," she suggested.

He looked at the body in the room. His breathing became faster and shallower.

"What are you saying?" his voice twisted with fear and anger. "Is that you in there? Are you saying you're-"

"Dead, Jack.” She paused. “I'm dead." The moment’s hesitation before she said the words "I'm dead" made their impact that much more devastating.

Jack backed out of the doorway without taking his eyes off of her. He felt as frightened as he had the night she was behind him at the window. He bumped into her chair as he backed further into the living room. Hitting the chair made him turn to see where he was. He caught sight of Henry and Kevin. Henry's face was blank with shock and Kevin's contorted in terror.

"I couldn't move on until someone found me. I was trapped here and restless. You were the person who saw the light. You were the person who came inside. You were the person who listened. You made it irresistible for me to leave.” She reached out to him. He leaned away from her. “No one had paid me that much attention in years.” She dropped her arm to her side. “I indulged myself for a few days. Forgive my selfishness.

"I left Hollywood 30 years ago, Jack. I have no children. My family is dead. Billy and Lana are dead. Tippi has had nothing to do with me for decades. I didn't make many friends, Jack. I worked. When parts were no longer being offered to me in Hollywood, I moved here to Astoralyn. I left everything I knew and locked myself in this house. I've been reclusive ever since. No one knows I'm here. No one knows I've died.

The clutter down stairs and the over stuffed apartment suddenly all made sense to Jack. It was everything she owned in her life. The pictures were all of her in various stages of her career. There were no pictures of family and no pictures were recent.

Jack felt sick to his stomach. Henry got up from the sofa followed by Kevin. The two of them started slowly toward the door. Henry never took his eyes from Genevieve even as he spoke to Jack.

"Come on, Jack. Let's get out of here." Henry was now standing at the door. Kevin had already exited the room in front of Henry. Jack could hear the sound of him running down the stairs, although he heard it as if he were under water. The same with Henry’s voice; it was distorted.

"Come on, Jack." Henry repeated at the door, anxious to get out of the room and down the stairs himself.

Jack barely heard himself say, "No."

"Jack," Henry yelled his name this time.

"I'm not going." Jack found his voice.

"Jack, come on bro. I don't want to leave you here," pleaded Henry.

"Just go." He didn't mean to but he yelled at Henry.

Henry stared at Jack for a moment before making the decision to leave his friend in the room with Genevieve. Jack held his eyes on Genevieve even as he heard the front door to 327 slam.

"Please don't be frightened anymore, Jack. I'm not going to hurt you. I know you don't understand any of this."

She began to cry. Jack watched her wondering how any of this was possible? How she could be alive, but not. How was she in the room? How was she able to cry?

"You see me, Jack. You – and your friends because of you – see me the way I looked the night I died. I was wearing this robe, sitting in my bedroom, listening to Bing Crosby on the record player. That's the reason the music is always playing when you come into the apartment. That's the reason for the robe. Things are as they were that night. I had a stroke, Jack, just like my mother." She looked at him with the saddest eyes. They were pleading with him for understanding. Her eyes were doing all the work. Even in death she was an actress.

"I wish I could wrap my mind around the fact that I've been listening to and talking to a dead woman for almost a week. How am I supposed to come to terms with that? Why couldn't you have just let me see the body the first night I was up here? Seeing a dead body would have been less traumatic than this. You have seeped into my life. I now have to figure out how to let you go."

"I've seeped into your life?” she was astonished at the statement, but understood it completely. “Yes, I suppose I have. Is that really such a bad thing, Jack?"

He didn't answer her.

"I hope you will always remember me and the stories I told you of my life. They were important stories chosen specifically. They were about family and dreams and friendship and love and about being true to yourself."

Jack's breathing returned to near normal, but he said nothing to her.

"Follow your dreams, Jack. Chase them if you have too until you catch them and make them real. Love yourself, Jack and don't be afraid to be who you are. Keep your friendship with Henry and Kevin alive and strong; friendships are a precious thing.”

Jack couldn’t help but think she was referring to her own of friendship with Tippi.

“When you leave here today read the verse in the Bible on the table downstairs. Read it again if you’ve already read it. We are no longer strangers and you showed me nothing but kindness. For that, I thank you, Jack.”

Her tears had stopped, but her breath quickened with a sharp intake.

"You have to go now, Jack." She stared at him intently as if to sear his image into her brain. "I think I'm frightened." She said the words with a breathy whisper.

Jack started to go to her, but she shook her head and motioned toward the door.

He did what he always did when he reached the door; he turned around to say goodbye. But she was gone. The room dissolved from the bright wash of pink to a lifeless gray before his eyes. It was cinematic – Technicolor gone awry. He looked around the room. Everything was old and dusty. Nothing looked as it had mere seconds ago. Her spirit was gone – from the house and the earth. It was that moment that the smell of death – the stench – hit his nostrils.

He willed himself to start running down the stairs. He just wanted to get away – away from her, the house, the junk, all of it. He ran past the table at the bottom of the stairs that held the Bible. He stopped and heard her words in his head, ‘When you leave here today read the verse in the Bible on the table downstairs.’ No matter how crazy this situation was, he enjoyed Genevieve and he had nothing to lose by reading the verse. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. She had quickly become more of a familiar than a stranger. She was a friend he looked forward to seeing. He wondered if she was indeed an angel. He started to cry wondering if he’d been kind enough.

It was as he walked beyond the front gate of 327 that he realized he was crying. He walked over to the curb and vomited. His knees went weak. He had to place his right hand on the bumper of the car parked in front of Genevieve’s house to keep from falling down as his knees buckled under him. His emotions had knotted his insides with pain. When he felt he could stand again, he did so without looking at the house; he looked toward home and began to walk, tears streaming down his face.

Henry and Kevin had not waited for him. He was alone. It was fitting, for he had been alone the first time he’d entered the house and now he was alone the last time he would exit the house. This was his journey. His friends had simply been witnesses to the dance.

His walk home was through the blurred haze of his tears. He was on autopilot. He didn’t even realize that he was at Henry’s house until Henry opened the door to see who had knocked. Jack stood there looking at Henry. Henry didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even find the words to ask Jack into his house. His heart broke as he saw Jack’s face streaming with tears, eyes revealing pain.

“Jack, I-”

Jack stepped forward and kissed Henry gently on the lips. Henry pushed him away. The push was a jolt of reality. Jack looked at Henry. What he had just done was ricocheting through his brain. He realized that by kissing Henry, he might have lost his best friend. He hadn’t meant to do it. He wasn’t thinking. The tears were rushing down his face. He backed away before turning to run to his own house.

He ran straight to his room. There was no one home so he didn’t bother to shut his door. He sat on the edge of his bed trying to process what had just happened. Genevieve turned out to be a spirit desperate for someone to set her free. How could that be? He had just kissed Henry and dreaded the consequences. What was I thinking? He got up from the bed and took the picture of him, Henry and Kevin from the entertainment center as well as a copy of Before Tomorrow Ends. He took them both with him as he sat back on the bed. Tears fell on the images as he cried for the loss he was feeling.

Genevieve had told him to be true to himself. Shock was the only reason he would have gone to Henry’s and kissed him. His brain was firing on all pistons now and he was miserable. If he had been thinking even remotely about what he was doing he never would have done it. He would have continued to be true to himself and his feelings behind the door of his room.

He felt the eyes of another person looking at him. He looked up and was startled to see Henry standing in his doorway. He was not going to shy away from Henry; he was going to face him like a man. He searched Henry’s eyes, his face, for any sign of anger as he walked into the room and toward him.

Henry stood in front of Jack and stared down into his eyes. Jack could tell that he was treading lightly. They were in a situation that was new for both of them. Henry put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack started to cry again. In the comforting presence of his best friend he felt safe enough to let go. Henry stepped forward and Jack hugged him around the waist. Henry didn’t back away. He hugged back. Then he did something that surprised them both; he pulled Jack’s head out of the hug, lifted his chin so they were looking at each other, bent down and returned the kiss.

It was Jack who moved away this time.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Isn’t this what you want?” Henry responded.

“I don’t know.” Jack was confused. He did want to kiss Henry; he had for a while. “You like girls.”

“You’re confused. I can see it on your face,” said Henry. “I’ve been afraid to tell you how I felt, Jack. I’m guessing you’ve been afraid too.”

Jack nodded his head, affirming Henry’s statement.

“The girls are what I’m supposed to do, not what I want to do. I’m attracted to girls, I’m just more attracted to…you.”

Henry leaned down to kiss Jack again. This time Jack didn’t push him away he embraced him. The kiss was at first awkward, but then gentle and passionate, their embrace strong. They hadn’t even begun to process the emotions they were feeling when Jack heard his mom come inside the house and yell to him that she was home.

The two of them ended their embrace. Jack wiped his tears and went out to greet his mom. Henry waited for him to return.

“I have to call 911," said Jack as he walked back into his bedroom. "I have to let someone know that Miss Genevieve is in 327.”

“What are you gonna say?” asked Henry.

Jack shrugged his shoulders “That there’s a bad smell coming from 327 Chesterfield Road. They’ll have to send someone to check it out won’t they?”

“I guess. I don’t know,” replied Henry.

“That’s all I can do. I can’t really say that I was inside the house and found a body otherwise I’m telling them that I broke in.” Jack’s voice was hoarse from crying. The evening had taken an emotional toll on him.

Jack reached for his backpack to get his BlackBerry®. Before dialing 911 he looked at Henry. Henry smiled his suave, crooked smile. Jack kissed Henry again then called the number.

When they heard the unmistakable siren of an ambulance drive past their street, Jack and Henry snuck out of the bedroom window in order to watch the scene. They crossed the street and slowly walked toward 327. As they approached they saw the black body bag being taken out of the house. Jack’s breath caught in his throat. Henry knew Jack’s heart was breaking. He took Jack’s hand in his own. They watched as the bag was loaded into the ambulance. Jack jumped when the doors were slammed shut. He couldn’t bear to move from the spot until the ambulance drove away and turned out of view onto another street.

Henry held Jack’s hand until they reached the bedroom window.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Henry letting go of Jack’s hand.

“Good night,” said Jack.

“Good night.”

Thursday – the morning after. Jack felt as if he had had an incredible dream. Then he remembered the truth; it hadn’t been a dream.

As he walked to school by himself that day he stopped in front of 327 and looked up at the house. He knew its secrets. The past week was a memory he would cherish and never take for granted. The gnarled tree had shed its leaves; they covered the sidewalk in a blanket of golden brown. The EMT’s had left the front gate slightly ajar after taking Genevieve away the night before. He latched it, pausing briefly to look at the middle window on the second floor.


There was nothing out of the ordinary between Jack and Henry that day at school. It was business as usual. There was, however, a gleam in Henry’s eye every time he looked at Jack. The kiss had not been a dream either. The two of them had not talked about it yet, nor had they told Kevin. They would tell Kevin though, and they would talk about Genevieve again. Right now, however, it was just after 3pm on Thursday afternoon and the three of them were walking home.

“Hey,” said Kevin. “I saw that blond chick in the hall again today.”

“Really,” replied Jack. “So she does exist.”

Henry chuckled at Jack’s sarcasm.

“Yep. And this time she actually smiled at me.”

Henry and Jack stole a glance at each other behind Kevin’s back then Henry lit a cigarette and inhaled.

“She smiled huh?” he said, exhaling the smoke. “Maybe next time you’ll get her name.”

“Maybe,” replied Kevin with a shrug and a smile as the three of them turned onto Westshire Street.

©2010 Michael Rohrer

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

327 Chesterfield Road - Part 13

“I was not one to attend many Hollywood parties,” Genevieve started. “Don’t misunderstand. I was invited to a great deal of them. I think the most exciting part was being invited, not the party itself. I was just a little self-conscious and less self-assured than I needed to be. I was never truly comfortable wrapped in the glamour of a night full of champagne and caviar. Beautiful people, draped in gorgeous clothes standing around a sparkling pool were enough to make me break out into hives. No, I enjoyed the invitations much more than I enjoyed actually attending.

“There was a party of note that I attended in Beverly Hills one summer evening that changed my life. I met the man that I would eventually marry. I also met two women that became fixtures in my life - one for a season and one for a lifetime.

“The party of which I speak took place almost two years after my arrival in Hollywood. I had played small roles in three films by that time. The studio was still molding me, but the leading lady roles I desired had yet to come. There was a protocol to when you could be handed the meaty roles. I was just biding my time. I wasn’t unhappy. I was working. I was in Hollywood chasing my dream and living comfortably. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had enough to allow me peace of mind.

“As I said, this particular party was held in Beverly Hills. I had not been to Beverly Hills at this point. As nervous as I was about the party, I was equally excited to see some of the mansions. I was just as star struck as any tourist might be upon a first visit. The studio was very keen on their players being photographed together anywhere that press photographers might be. A party full of beautiful people - Hollywood people - was just that kind of place. They would be waiting outside the gate for a chance to photograph the car as it drove by. If the circumstances were exactly right the flash bulb would illuminate the interior of the car and show who was inside. There was also the hope that if it was you, you might find yourself featured in the pages of Photoplay or Modern Screen. Any press was not good press in those days, but good press made people hungry for more of you.

“I arrived at the home of Mr. Goetz on the arm of Thomas Van Alden. He was a song and dance player at the time. He was very good looking. He had been hand picked for me by Mr. Goetz. Tommy and I were friends. We had known each other for about a year. We would have lunch together when we were both on the lot. The thing about Tommy was he was a homosexual. I knew it and so did the studio. In those days it was such taboo to be a homosexual. So in order to keep Tommy’s reputation from spreading to the gossip columns, the studio worked very hard to keep his personal life private and his public life adorned with beautiful women. I didn’t feel beautiful enough to be one of those women, but I liked Tommy an awful lot, so it was definitely more pleasure than work to attend a party on his arm. His popularity as a rising star didn’t hurt things for me either. It was good publicity for me to be photographed with him.

"I had been loaned a gorgeous ice blue gown by the studio. I felt like a princess while wearing it. It had a kind of draping at the top of the bodice and that draping carried over to the cap sleeves.” As Genevieve described the top of the dress she brought a hand up to her chest as if to feel the folds of the draping. She moved her hand gently to her shoulder as she mentioned the sleeves. “The bodice was very form fitting and belted at the waist.” She touched the place where the buckle would have been before placing her hands back in her lap. “The bottom part of the dress was full skirted down to mid calf. It was one of Mr. Christian Dior’s “cocktail dresses.” We used to call them “late afternoon” dresses, but this was just a little more formal so the designers of the time had to come up with a new name for it – naturally. Mr. Goetz had also personally secured me a pair of diamond drop earrings from Harry Winston.” She was so deep in that memory that Jack expected her to get up from her chair and walk around the room as if the party was still going on. When she realized she had stopped talking she looked at the three of them. “I doubt any of you care about that much detail of a dress, but it was beautiful. I had plenty of other beautiful dresses that I actually owned, but there was something special about that one.

“Walking into that party was like walking into a fairytale. It was the grandest house I had ever seen, let alone been inside. At this point in my career I still lived in an apartment. This was a palatial mansion with marble floors and a grand staircase.” She wanted them to be able to visualize what she was describing, but doubted that any of them had seen anything that magnificent. She then had an idea. If any of the three boys had been looking closely they would have seen the spark of it change the expression on her face. “It was like Norma Desmond’s mansion in Sunset Boulevard.” She lost herself in thought. “Gloria Swanson. What an actress. I wish I had known her.” She realized she had wondered down a side street in her thought and quickly made a u-turn to get back on track with her story. “You must recognize the title Sunset Boulevard, Jack?”

Jack nodded his head in response to her question.

“Then you have an idea of what I’m talking about. There were chandeliers and velvet curtains. There were vases full of fresh flowers everywhere. It was magnificent, overflowing with enchantment. Walking through an archway into another room transported one to another place. Each room was grandly decorated and felt like what I imagined a royal palace must look like, but we were just regular people, not royalty. I was afraid to touch anything. I couldn’t imagine the expense if I broke something. A borrowed dress, borrowed diamonds and a house full of expensive things certainly didn’t help to calm my nerves. I can recall it today as if I was inside of it only yesterday. I think the memory has always stayed with me because it was my first glimpse from the inside of true Hollywood glamour and wealth. I was envious of it all and I had the drive inside of me to work hard and achieve it myself. That was part of my,” she took a breath while searching for the correct word, “problem, if you will. I was uncomfortable at the parties because I was happier working than attending a party as myself. I enjoyed the work; the ability to hide behind the mask of the character I was playing. At a party I had to be myself. The more I worked and lost myself in a character, no matter how small the role, the more anxiety I felt just being myself. That anxiety never subsided and it’s the main reason I left Hollywood.

“I’m getting ahead of myself. Forgive me. Let me return to the scene of this party.”

As she sat there looking at the three boys hanging on her every word she realized that an apology was not necessary. They were a captive audience – her captive audience. They were there to listen to her, to share in a moment of her life. She smiled, swaying a little to the music, until Henry shifted on the sofa and his movement shifted her focus to the present.

“Tommy left me alone fairly soon after we entered the main room. He spotted a man with whom he had once had a love affair and dashed across the room to say hello. Life for a homosexual back then was different than it is today. It was a love gripped by secret.” Jack felt the insecurity of his feelings for Henry rise in his chest. He lowered his eyes from Genevieve to his hands nestled in his lap. He didn’t know if it was fear or shame that caused him to do it. “It’s a shame really,” Genevieve continued. “My homosexual friends were the kindest, sweetest men I’ve ever known.” Jack returned his gaze to her eyes.

“Once inside, there were no photographers so Tommy and I didn’t have to stay together. We just needed to leave together. Any other woman of my age would have found that moment of freedom exhilarating – working the room unfettered by the arm of a man. I was not one of those women. I made my way to a waiter and took a glass of champagne from his silver tray. I was hoping it would calm me down, but also afraid of drinking it too fast. Being intoxicated and nervous was not a place I wanted to find myself.

“I walked across the room and through a set of French doors and into a setting that took my breath away. It was the most gorgeous pool and grounds I had ever seen. Granted, I hadn’t seen much growing up in Paradise Falls, but still. I was in awe. The water in the pool was crystal clear. The reflection of the blue bottom making the water seem as if it too was blue. Isn’t it amazing how reflection tricks us into seeing something we want to see or believe we’re seeing? Anyway, There were pillars holding up arches at the far end of the pool. That’s where the bar was placed. There were palm trees all around the property, but especially around the pool area. The twilight sky was a lovely fade of pink to purple. There was a slight breeze blowing. I remember it because I was afraid it would undo my hair. I was just standing, marveling at the setting, astonished that I was actually standing in it – more astonished that I’d been invited to stand in it – when a man approached me. He said, ‘I noticed your glass was empty. Would you like another glass of champagne?' I turned to look at him. He was so handsome. He had dark hair and ice blue eyes. Yes, ice blue like my dress, but piercing in their intensity. I felt my face get hot. I must have been blushing three shades of red. He smiled at me; his perfect white teeth offset by his sun-bronzed skin. He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. He introduced himself as Billy Rogers. He was a director and slightly older than I was. He was so charming. I should have been a little more wary of him than I was, but he put me at ease. I agreed to that glass of champagne and by the end of the evening I had agreed to go on an actual date with him.” The boys watched her excitement grow. Jack leaned in as if to absorb her energy. “I’m jumping ahead again.”

“We sat on a couple of chairs off to the side of the pool where we could actually talk without too many people around us. I was sipping my champagne, but before I knew it, my glass was empty and he was motioning for a waiter to bring us two more glasses. We must have sat there for two hours. I was getting tired and really wanted to go home. We stood up in preparation to leave when I heard someone call his name. We both turned. It was a beautiful blond woman about my age waving and walking toward him. When she reached us she greeted Billy with a kiss on each cheek. She seemed so full of life and energy. She was the opposite me. She was that vivacious girl who could work the room while I stood against the wall wishing. Billy introduced her to me. That woman was Tippi Hedren. That was before she starred in The Birds of course.” She gave a nod to Kevin. He smiled back at her and nodded at her acknowledgment.

“Tip and I, that’s what I called her, Tip. Tip and I got along famously for a while. Even as I began to date Billy, it seemed what he and I had in common to talk about was Tip. She and I became fast friends where as Billy and I was a slow development. She was our icebreaker. It’s funny that he introduced us, but she was what always eased us into a conversation. I would tell him about our shopping sprees or afternoon teas. Sometimes Tip and I would go to the same audition. We never felt in competition with each other. We were just two girl friends at the same place at the same time for the same job. I think those were the stories Billy enjoyed the most.

“Tippi was a very good friend of mine – for a while.” The words “for a while” were tinged with sadness. Jack hoped for an explanation of the sadness.

“Things changed when she met Peter Griffith. I didn’t like him. It was a trust issue really. I had no reason not to, but I didn’t trust him. I had been raised to trust people until they gave me a reason not to, but with him I just felt in my bones that he was no good for Tip. I guess I thought our friendship was strong enough that I could tell her how I felt. It wasn’t. She loved him and what I said to her about him really hurt her feelings. She never forgave me and I lost the first real friend I ever had in Hollywood. I tried for a couple of years to get her take my calls or see me, but she wouldn’t. She and Peter divorced before she even made The Birds. She never reached out to me after the divorce. Maybe she was embarrassed. I don’t know. Missing her in my life got easier until one day the missing was almost nonexistent. Almost.”

“I forgot to tell you about Lana Turner.” She shook her head in disbelief at her own forgetfulness.

“As I was preparing to leave Mr. Goetz’s party I was searching for him and for Tommy. I wanted to thank Mr. Goetz for inviting me to his party and I wanted to tell Tommy I was ready to leave. I found Mr. Goetz first. He was talking to a blond woman. There were a lot of blonds in those days.” She said this very matter-of-factly as a comic with a dry sense of humor might say the punch line to his joke. “As I approached, he saw me, called out my name and motioned me into their conversation. The woman quickly turned to look at me. She was beautiful. Older than I and very glamorous. She had dazzling green eyes and full red lips. She was statuesque. I was, of course, at a loss for words. What kind of actress did I think I was going to be when I couldn’t talk to people? Oh well, I turned out to be a pretty good one if I do say so myself.” She smiled at the three of them. “Back to Lana. Mr. Goetz introduced us. He told her about the things I had been a part of at the studio. She seemed genuinely interested and thought I was delightful. You know I never did find Tommy. After meeting Lana I forgot to continue my search for him. When I went outside to get our car to take me home, he had left a note for me. It turns out that he and his ex left early. I guess you could say that I was the last thing on his mind that evening.

“You can imagine my surprise when Mr. Goetz called me the next day to say that Lana had requested that I screen test for a part in her next film The Bad and the Beautiful directed by Vincent Minnelli. I was over the moon. I did screen test for that film, but Mr. Minnelli wanted to go with a different actress for the role. That didn’t change anything for Lana though. She became a mentor to me. She and I didn’t do things together like Tip and I had, but she was always there if I needed to talk. She would listen and give advice. I adored her and she me.

“One of the best things that Lana ever did for me was introduce me to Douglas Sirk. Oh I thought he was a brilliant director. I loved his use of color and shadows. The saturation of vibrant colors in his films was kaleidoscopic for the eye. All those rich colors and textures from fabric to paint was a visual pastiche. His use of mirrors was so exciting. I love reflection shots in a film. I wanted to be part of one of his pictures. After the time that Lana had introduced us, there were three pictures he directed that I was perfect for. Well, perfect in my own mind. He didn’t see it that way I guess. I tested for him for the role of Kay Scott in All That Heaven Allows to no avail. Gloria Talbott got that role. I tested for him again for the role of vixen Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind. He gave that part to Dorothy Malone. I must admit she was perfect in the role. He liked me though because he kept asking me to come back and test for him. Imitation of Life was the third time I tested for him. Lana was actually starring in the film. It was for the role of Sarah Jane, a very light skinned black woman passing as white. Lana lobbied for him to cast me, but he felt that Susanna Kohner was a better fit for the role. I never took any of it personally and Lana didn’t take my not being cast as a personal affront against my skills. She had seen me work. She knew I was talented. It just wasn’t the right part at the right time. I did finally get my chance to work with Douglas. It was the picture he was directing after Imitation of Life. It was called A Complicated Endeavor. I was the supporting lead. I was playing one of two wealthy sisters who ran away from home to try and live life without their family’s money. The funny thing is the production ran out of money. It’s hard to believe that anything like that can happen, but it did. I think the studio just didn’t really care that much for the picture so they didn’t try to save it. We never finished it. My brief opportunity of working with Douglas turned out to be my last. He was so disenchanted with the studio and the film industry in America at the time, that he left the United States and filmmaking. Most of the world doesn’t remember how good he was.” She looked at Jack. “I bet you do, Jack. Do you know how good he was?”

“My favorite things about his movies are the exact same things you mentioned that you love. No one else was using his techniques. He was one-of-a-kind.” Jack’s confidence in his choice of words was apparent by the approving look he received from Genevieve. Jack was always one to be passionate about something that he truly loved and enjoyed. Old movies were something he was easily passionate about.

Genevieve looked down at her hands delicately perched in her lap. She looked at her right hand and knew exactly where to take her story.

“I should tell you that I married Billy. I loved him so. He proposed to me at Harry’s. I had told him the story of eating there my first night in Hollywood. He thought it would be the perfect, sentimental place to ask for my hand. He was right. You’ll remember, I hope, that I saw Joan Crawford there on that first night.” They all nodded their heads yes. “Well, on the night Billy proposed Elizabeth Taylor was there. She was already a star by this time and she knew Billy. She strolled right over to our table to say hello. He introduced me as his fiancĂ©. He hadn’t even asked me yet. I was completely caught off guard. He pulled the ring out at that moment. Elizabeth was so delighted by the inspired proposal that she motioned for the waiter to bring a bottle of the restaurant’s best champagne – on her. Billy was a wonderful man – exciting, spontaneous and never dull. He was my first lover.” She bluntly said the words without a second thought. It wasn’t until she noticed the look of surprise on the boys faces that she realized she might have embarrassed them.

“Did I embarrass you?” Genevieve asked.

“No ma’am,” Kevin answered. It was odd that the least talkative of the three of them was the only one to answer. Jack and Henry were just shaking their heads.

“Good. I should mind my manners though.” The twinkle in her eye was the same as you might expect from Santa Claus. There was no malice and no disrespect, just pure enjoyment.

“We lived happily for a few years, but things did start to sour for us. I was working a lot and that kept me away from home. He was not working as often and that made him antsy. He needed to work. He was kind of a workaholic. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He always had time for me and for us, but he needed to have a project. When one project was ending he needed to be part way into the next project.

He was approached about directing a film called The Key of Passage. The studio was also interested in me starring in the film. I think that’s the reason they approached him to direct it. I think they thought if he was directing I would be more willing to star in it. It was a bad script and turned out to be a forgettable film. The notices for me were good. The critics praised me for rising above my bad material. The notices for the film were bad and the blame was totally placed on him as the director. Neither of us should have chosen the project, but we did. The failure of the film put a strain on our marriage. We probably shouldn’t have worked together, but we did and we couldn’t go back to before. Our marriage never fully recovered. He wasn’t getting as many offers to direct as I was getting to act. We went through a period of separation and then decided it best if we divorced. It was a very difficult time for us, me especially. I couldn’t believe I was divorcing the man I now know was the love of my life. Again, I can’t go back to before. After our divorce was finalized an amazing thing happened. We became friends – good friends. It took both of us by surprise. That’s the reason I still wear this ring.” She held up her right hand to show the ring. It was the same ring Jack had noticed the first night he met her when she was holding the curtain to the side.

“The marriage that is signified may have ended, but the friendship that the ending begat was too important. The ring wasn’t tainted with bad memories. It became a symbol of undying love between two people better as friends than partners. I just moved it over to my right hand. It’s still a beautiful ring. What girl doesn’t want to wear diamonds?”

Jack sat there thinking about Genevieve and all the stories she had told them so far. She was smart, funny, a little sarcastic and always honest. She was more than just a lonely old lady; she was a former actress who had many stories to tell. She just needed somebody who would listen and he was glad to be one of those people.

©2010 Michael Rohrer