Authors: Mary Beth Keane
Their graduations fell on the same day, and both were relieved that they could put off facing each other’s families for just a little longer. George and Rosaleen came to see Peter graduate, and after the ceremony, when his friends and teammates were going out for one last round of parties, Peter told them all that he’d made plans with his uncle and would catch
them soon. He told George and Rosaleen that he was going out with his friends so they could have a nice lunch on their own. Instead, he walked two miles along the county road to a townie bar, where he planned on sitting alone all afternoon and watching the Yankee game. On the way there he passed an abandoned lemonade stand—a Fisher-Price register toppled over in the grass, one dollar bill still in the drawer.
Peter moved in with George and Rosaleen for the summer, and shaped for shifts with the ironworkers while he figured out what he should do. “It’s just temporary,” he must have said a dozen times around the apartment that first weekend, because eventually Rosaleen put her cool hand on his arm and told him to please not worry about it. His bedroom there smelled like potpourri and gave him a headache, even after he covered the bowl with a towel and placed it at the bottom of the narrow closet. George seemed more confused than disappointed that Peter had graduated without a plan. He said he liked the company when they hurried to his truck every morning, their lunch boxes in hand, but he would ask Peter to talk about the business classes he’d taken in college, as if to remind him of where his head should be.
On his first day back with the iron men, Peter looked around for his old friends. After a few days went by, he asked for them. The guy he asked seemed surprised that Peter didn’t already know that John Salvatore had gotten badly injured and probably wouldn’t work again. Peter wondered if he ever bought that house he’d had his eye on, if he’d ever married his girl. Turned out Jimmy McGree was there working beside Peter all week, only Peter hadn’t recognized him. He’d put on a lot of weight and his face was weather-beaten, haggard. He looked ten years older than Peter. Peter reintroduced himself one morning, reminded Jimmy that last time they spoke he was saving for a Camaro.
“Yeah, I remember you,” Jimmy said. “The boss’s son.”
“No, not his son. His nephew.”
“Let me ask you this, nephew. How many days did you have to shape before they let you on? I got a cousin, he’s been out there for weeks. He has a newborn at home. My brother shaped for a month before he got a day.”
Peter had done exactly what George told him to do. He’d lined up at the gate and when they called his name he’d stepped forward.
“Sorry,” Peter said, though he wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. He’d make over three hundred bucks that day, before taxes, and he needed the money badly. He couldn’t stay in George’s potpourri-infused room forever. Jimmy snickered but there was no joy in it. His teeth were sharp and stripped with brown and reminded Peter of a jackal.
George finally met Kate on the last day of August 1999, on the day she moved off campus, where she’d gotten free summer housing thanks to a tutoring job, and into an apartment she’d share with a few girlfriends. Peter had hoped they’d be living together by the fall, but he still didn’t know what he wanted to do, and a few of his teammates from Elliott were going in on a shitty apartment on Amsterdam and 103rd, so he agreed to live with them. It was Kate who told him to stay with his friends, have fun, between all of them the rent would be pretty cheap, but Peter suspected she also wanted him to get a place without her because she didn’t have the courage to face her parents. She’d told her father they were seeing each other years earlier, in a fit of fury, but as far as Peter could tell they’d never discussed it again. And Francis must not have told Kate’s sisters because, once, when Peter and Kate were juniors, he was staying with her at NYU for the weekend when Sara stopped by unannounced. “I brought you a burrito,” she said when Kate opened the door, and then she looked past Kate and saw Peter, who was sitting at Kate’s desk in mesh shorts and T-shirt. It was early November, and
Sara had just started a job on Bleecker Street, not far from Kate’s dorm. “Holy shit,” she said, visibly pale as she handed the takeout bag to Kate, and without another word she turned and left. Natalie called within the hour. Kate recognized her number on the caller ID and shrugged. “Better face the music,” she said to Peter, and picked up. She ushered him out of her room. “Get lost for an hour, will you?” she said, and leaned up to kiss him.
When he returned it was obvious she’d been crying but she assured him it was fine, they were fine, it would all be fine. After that, listening to Kate’s end of phone conversations with her sisters, he could tell that they asked about him, but Kate always kept it light.
Peter, for his part, was not all that eager to see Natalie and Sara, but if Kate wanted him to spend time with them then he would, and it would be okay. The person he most dreaded seeing was Francis Gleeson, and he’d surely have to if they moved in together.
When he discovered that Kate was looking into renting a U-Haul van, Peter offered up George’s truck, which he was sure he could borrow for a few hours on a Saturday. George didn’t mind Peter borrowing the truck, but he did mind Peter driving it. Peter had gotten his driver’s license in his senior year of college, and only then because his buddy on the track team had a little hatchback he kept at school and said Peter could borrow once in a while if he wanted to see Kate in New York without dealing with the bus.
“For who, did you say? You need the truck to help who?” George asked. He’d promised Rosaleen a set of shelves above the television and he’d just returned from the hardware store with two long pieces of oak, a pair of brackets. When Peter said Kate’s name, he could see the astonishment in George’s face.
“Of all the fish in the sea, Peter? Weren’t there pretty girls at that college?” He put the wood down, dropped the plastic hardware store bag on top. He screwed up his face like it was a physical process, a painful process, making sense of something that came as a surprise.
“Yes,” Peter said simply.
George nodded, gave the information a moment to breathe. He walked to the kitchen sink, and keeping his back to Peter, he poured a glass of water, drank it.
“I don’t like it. Something about it.”
“It’s just trouble. For no reason, you know?”
“This girl, that girl, literally any other girl, and it wouldn’t matter. There’s just one girl in the world who seems like a bad idea and it’s this one.”
“But why is it a bad idea?” There, he said it. His father had left. His mother was gone. And so, who would object? Her parents, probably, but that was for her to handle. And if he had a chance to speak to them, he felt certain he could convince them to come around. And if they didn’t come around, well, that was their problem. He and Kate had never done anything wrong. He was very sorry about what his mother had done, but surely Mr. Gleeson couldn’t really think any of it was Peter’s fault.
“Because . . .” George struggled but was determined. “Because it means that all that stuff, from years ago, it didn’t end back then. It’s still happening.”
Well, no, Peter thought, but he didn’t want to argue. Everything that happened had happened to their parents. Or at least, their parents were the agents of all that had happened. Or at least, their parents were the ones who could have stopped it from happening. Or . . . He got that choked-off feeling he always got whenever he thought about that night. If he’d never suggested to Kate that they should sneak out. If they hadn’t been caught. One thing leads to another which leads to another, yes, but who could have predicted that last fallen domino would skid so far from the neatly toppled row? Not the pair of teenagers, that was for sure. When he and Kate started seeing each other again, they decided that they’d leave all that baggage behind and start fresh. He was old enough
now to know what sustained him, and so was Kate. They were apart long enough to know the shape of each other’s absence.
“Well, all I know is this is the girl. I love her.”
George flipped the faucet on again with a flick of his wrist, refilled his glass. He gulped the water down like he’d been in the desert for weeks.
“You’re stubborn, Peter. You’re a great kid, but you’re stubborn.”
“I’m not a kid,” Peter said, though saying so made him feel like a kid.
“You love her. Okay. It’s a strong feeling, but think about it all the way through. What’s next? You’re going to marry this girl? Have kids with her? Your mother and Francis Gleeson are going to have the same grandbabies? They’re going to sit at the same table at the christening?”
“Huh?” Peter said. No one had said anything about babies, for God’s sake. He dreamed of sharing an apartment with Kate someday, coming home to her each evening and telling her about his day, hearing about hers, going to bed naked with the covers pulled up to their chins, feeling her warm skin next to his when he woke up every morning. But that could only happen after he decided what to do with his life.
George sighed. “I’ll drive,” he said. “I’m sure she could use another set of hands. And I guess I should meet her, right?”
Peter was nervous when they pulled up to Kate’s dorm, jittery all the way down to his bones, like he was in the track van, heading to states. Kate was wearing cutoffs, sneakers, clothes to lift and haul in. Her hair was piled at the top of her head, but he could see that she’d already sweat through the back of her T-shirt, a straight line down her spine. It was hot, and she’d schlepped a dozen boxes down from her dorm room even though he told her to wait until he got there.
“That her?” George said as they pulled up.
“Remember, she’s not expecting you,” Peter said. He could tell she hadn’t spotted him yet, didn’t know what kind of truck to look for.
George was wearing black shorts, a tight black tank top that pulled at his belly, bright white sneakers. He checked his teeth in the mirror and then winked at Peter. “How does my hair look?” he asked.
Peter watched Kate notice the man walking beside him. “George!” she said when they got close enough. “I’m so glad to meet you,” she said. She thanked him for coming, for lending both his truck and his muscle. George took her thanks in stride, and was more reserved than usual, though Kate wouldn’t know that. She asked if Peter had told him the details of the move they were about to embark on.
George glanced at Peter. “East Seventy-Ninth, right? At Second?”
“Did he mention anything else? No? Great. Let’s get going.”
It was a sixth floor walk-up, was the thing neither of them had mentioned to George. “Jesus H. Christ,” George said after the very first trip up the stairs, setting the first box down inside the apartment. “You couldn’t find a twelfth floor walk-up?”
“You’re fine,” Kate said. “Think of the powerful quads you’ll have when we’re through.”
George grinned and Peter felt the low-grade dread he’d been feeling since that morning begin to melt away.
Every trip they made up those stairs, the closer George and Kate seemed to get. Up and down they went, and the stairwell rang out with Kate’s voice chattering away, asking George questions about himself, what he thought about things: Monica Lewinsky, the Catholic Church, the euro. They took a break when they were more than halfway through, and George told Kate the meaning of each of his tattoos. He told her about Rosaleen, that he’d liked her for a long time before he asked her out.
When they were finally finished moving up all the stuff, the three of them sprawled across Kate’s new kitchen floor in exhausted silence. The apartment air felt stale. Already, Peter hated the idea of visiting Kate’s life and having her visit his.
“Who wants a beer?” Kate asked, without making a move to stand
up. George said he’d pass, he had sodas in his truck. Peter got up, opened the door of the fridge, and let the cold air wrap around him for a moment before removing the six-pack Kate’s roommates had left for them. He took one and downed it in two long sips before offering one to the others.
“Jeez,” Kate said, “leave some for the rest of us.”
“Yeah, really,” George said.
When Peter and George returned to the truck, they found a cop hassling a delivery boy who had someone’s takeout order dangling from the handlebar of his bike. The cop was huge, with arms so thick they strained the material of his uniform shirt. “Excuse us,” George said, stepping around them. He’d double-parked, left the hazards on, and the cop looked over at George as if to let him know that he’d noticed and could do something about it if he wanted to.
Once they were driving, George said that the problem with the cops today was that the job attracted a different kind of person than it used to. They still had great guys signing on—“and women,” he added—and one thing they did better than the old days was now they got people of every stripe and color, but there were too many young cops nowadays who were just after the power trip, carrying a gun. Maybe that’s why they didn’t get as much respect as they used to. In a just world, becoming a cop would be as prestigious a pursuit as becoming an investment banker. Or a doctor, even. Was there anything more important than keeping people safe? Being the one people turn to at their most desperate? And yet.
“You know what I saw the other day? On Broadway, by the Bowling Green station? There were like thirty City College students protesting. One girl had a sign that said ‘Fuck the Police.’ Did you see that? It was the Monday of the week we were down at the Standard and Poor’s
building for that job. A white girl. A woman, I mean. Probably came from New Canaan on the train that morning. Now you tell me what beef she might have with the police. You tell me who she’s going to call if some man pulls out his junk on the crosstown bus.”
Peter had seen the protesters, but hadn’t really thought about them. He wasn’t paying close enough attention, but George’s point seemed both solid and completely flawed.
“But the history of policing is also a history of protest,” Peter said. “I’m sure they were reacting to that cop who roughed up the kid in Bed-Stuy over the weekend. What was he? Thirteen? They could have killed him.”