When the Stars Come Out (5 page)

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
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maybe they were more alike than he liked to think.

When the laughter faded, Max said, “I updated my will—”

Noah stopped him. “We’re not talking about that.
probably outlive
. Let’s talk about something else. How has Tricia been holding up?”

Max shook his head. “It’s tough. She’s too young to . . .” He trailed off, realizing that the subject of Tricia’s age was a bit of a sore point for his son. “She’s doing all right. But why don’t you tell me what’s going on in your life. Are you still dating that architect?”

The architect would have been Harry. Noah and Harry had been

more than “dating,” and Max knew it, but he couldn’t quite find

the right words to advance a same-sex relationship to the next, more serious level.

And, in any event, Harry walked out of Noah’s life one year ear-

lier and was never heard from again, which was hard to do in

Washington, but he had managed it. After Harry was gone, Noah

didn’t mourn; and he also didn’t feel compelled to cry about it to 34

R o b B y r n e s

his family. He merely mentioned it during a phone call, almost as

an after-thought. The breakup had been dismissed with the briefest of mentions and Noah—as he always did—moved on with his life.

It was just one of those things that he had to put quickly and

silently in the past.

Although now, with his father seemingly not even remembering

the breakup, he wished he had made a slightly bigger deal over it.

“No. Harry and I split up.” He paused and added, “Quite some

time ago.”

“Sorry. He seemed like a nice guy.” When Noah didn’t reply, he

added, “Are you dating anyone now?”

“I’m taking a breather. There’s no rush, right?”

“Right.” There were a few moments of awkward silence until

Max understood that his son was saying nothing more on the sub-

ject, then he scrambled for a new topic. “So . . . back to your book.”

Noah sighed. “I can’t see how I can possibly finish it. No one will talk on the record, and when they do talk, they don’t say anything.

I wonder sometimes why they even bother talking to me.”

“Maybe they
talking to you. Maybe you’re just not listening.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You are the product of privilege, and you forget that some-

times. You’ve had a good life, but I’m not quite sure you appreciate exactly how good you’ve had it.” Blood was suddenly rushing to

Noah’s head, but he decided to give his father a free pass for his heart attack and held his tongue.

Max continued. “Seriously. You’ve always had money and a roof.

Don’t get me wrong; I was happy to provide them. And you were

also privileged to be born into a family that accepted you, gay and all. How old were you? Seventeen?”


“Twenty. Young. But you told me you were gay, and still you were

accepted and supported.” He waved a steady finger in Noah’s di-

rection. “Twenty years old, and you were out, gay, and proud, with the full support of your family and no financial worries. Do you

think that’s the way it happens for everyone?”

“No. I know that I had it easier than a lot of people. But if peo-

ple don’t come out—”

Max slumped back into the thin pillows, dismissing the argu-

ment before Noah had a chance to start it. “I know, I know. If peo-W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T


ple don’t come out, Bush and Cheney will think no one except for

you and Rosie O’Donnell are gay and they’ll put you in camps.

Blah, blah, blah.”

Blah, blah, blah
? Had his father, the famous lawyer and occasional social activist Max Abraham, really just dismissed his fears, diminishing them to three nonsense syllables? A Jew born at a time when millions of Jews were being exterminated in Nazi camps? A

man who lived through, and protested against, McCarthyism and

was the man who was telling him that he was unrealistic to expect gay men and lesbians to show their faces?

Noah suddenly wished they were still talking about Harry.

The silence following his comment lasted an uncomfortably long

time, before Max finally—and correctly—said, “I think I’ve pissed you off.”

“A little.”

“Eh, maybe it’s good to get pissed off sometimes. Right?” Noah

didn’t answer. “I’m sorry, but I’m a bit tired. I didn’t mean to cause a problem here. I was just trying to point out that it’s easier for some people—you, for example—to come out than it is for others.” Max looked at Noah and winked, and Noah thought,
Did he

wink? Yes, he winked!
Which just pissed him off even more.

“You’re a good boy,” Max said. “You’ve got passion, and—most

right. I hope you succeed. Just . . . try a little patience.”

Noah could understand why other lawyers ran when his father

walked into a room, because he was by turns frustrating, charming, infuriating, friendly, maddening, self-deprecating, and, finally . . .

well, he was Max Abraham. He did whatever he could to get your

goat, then embraced you before you could hate him. And then,

when all was forgiven, he would whip out the needle yet again.

In this case, though, Max Abraham was apparently going to wait

for the needle, because he went for the dodge . . . although it was an understandable dodge.

He yawned.

“I hate to end such an . . .
discussion on this note, but I’m getting tired, and I want to save some energy for Tricia. You

don’t mind?”

In fact, Noah was relieved. “No, I understand.”

“We’ll pick this up later, okay?”


R o b B y r n e s

“Okay.” Not that picking it up again was really necessary, but

Noah knew his father wouldn’t let the conversation end until he

had won the argument unequivocally. They had been down this

road before.

Back safely in the waiting room, Noah sent Tricia in, knowing

that Max needed to talk to a young person with a more pragmatic


And Noah wasn’t that young person. He was just his son.

Noah sat in the waiting room while Tricia visited, mostly because

he had nothing else to do at 1:30 in the afternoon in a city where he no longer lived. He made another feeble attempt to leaf through his notes, but, despite his father’s avid advocacy on their behalf, still couldn’t get inside the heads of the completelashuels.

Even as he stewed over his words, he knew he had to concede to

his father one point: Max Abraham, as well as Noah’s mother, had

made his coming-out process an easy one. Even in their liberal and generally secular precincts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the

family dynamics involved in announcing one was gay were usually

fraught with fear and loathing, both internal and external. But that wasn’t Noah’s experience. Maybe it was the innate decency of his

parents, he thought, or maybe it was their interactions with openly gay men and lesbians predating Stonewall. Or maybe it was the distance they placed in their relationship—even when Noah was a

child—that allowed his parents to step back and look at him not as the end product of their commingled DNA, but as just another person, the way they would have barely raised an eyebrow upon learn-

ing the same news about a neighbor’s child. Whatever, he thought;

the important thing was that after he gathered his courage and told his parents he was gay at twenty years of age, they had given him their support. The revelation didn’t necessarily make them any closer,

but it wasn’t awkward, and it didn’t drive them apart.

It just . . . was.

In that sense, Noah knew—once again—that he was privileged.

He wasn’t treated as an embarrassment, or even as the wayward son

who was dating someone his parents didn’t like. He was treated the same way he had always been treated, and while that also left someW H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T


thing to be desired, he had always believed that a person can’t miss something that they never had.

Still, he was perplexed. A lot of people faced bigger adversities

than the completelashuels. But the complicity of the complete-

lashuels in the great silence surrounding the lives of gay men and lesbians angered him. When they hid in their closets, and even

worked against their own interests, they made people like Noah do all the work. They could feel safe celebrating a Friday Happy Hour at

JR’s because he did their work for them, and helped free their lives in the hours they weren’t glued to both their desks and their self-denial.

In a sense, Noah felt he was working overtime to make their lives

easier. And while Max Abraham had a hardworking son, he didn’t

like working quite that hard.

He glanced at a clock on the generic white wall of the waiting

room and was surprised to see that a half hour had passed. Tricia

would be ending her visit soon, which meant that Noah would have

to prepare himself for an afternoon of strained small talk with his father’s trophy wife. In his head, he began preparing topics, a task complicated by the fact that he really didn’t know his stepmother

all that well. Max and Tricia had been married for five years, a period coinciding with his self-imposed exile in Washington. They

really hadn’t had time to bond in the interim. This, Noah sup-

posed, would have to be that time.

He ticked through possible small-talk topics in his head. Politics would be taboo, as would homosexuality. Family issues would also

be verboten; the last thing Tricia needed to hear was a litany of his problems with her husband. However,
family was an option; Noah knew little about them, except that they were all still living a remarkably unremarkable existence in Buffalo. Of course, he also

knew almost nothing about Buffalo, beyond snow, the Bills, and

chicken wings, so if they had to go in that direction, Tricia would have to carry the conversation.

Since Noah had little interest in interior design, gardening, and

social gossip—the usual interests of the Park Avenue Trophy Wife

crowd—those topics were out. Pop culture could kill an hour, he

thought, as long as she appreciated old movies and good theater.

And the conversation would come to an abrupt end if she men-

Mamma Mia
or any boy bands. That was for certain.


R o b B y r n e s

He sighed. It was going to be an afternoon spent in light con-

versation about growing up in Buffalo. There was no way around it.

The squeaking wheels of a gurney snapped him out of his

thoughts. Noah looked up to see the empty cot pass him, pushed

by a short, cute, and very blond nurse. And since the nurse was also male, he offered a smile and received one in return.

Too damn easy
, he thought, watching the nurse as he guided the gurney through the waiting room. The man gave him one last

glance and smile as he left, and Noah returned to the Tricia


It was not that Noah didn’t like Tricia. But his father was sixty-

four, she was thirty-eight, and Noah was thirty-four. To Noah, it

was . . . strange. Uncomfortable.

At least when his mother remarried she had the decency to

marry someone who was only a decade younger. Sixty-four related

to fifty-four much better than sixty-four related to thirty-eight. As the son who had to relate to all of those people, Noah considered

that an undeniable truth. A stepmother who was basically his own

age was just . . .

He looked again after the departed nurse, wondering if an after-

noon assignation would be appropriate while his father was in a

hospital bed, before deciding that, although it would be more fun

than forced conversation with Tricia, it would also be tacky.

Propriety was so unfair in this sort of circumstance.

Minutes later Tricia walked into the waiting room and, spotting

Noah, motioned for him to join her. Wordlessly, he obeyed.

They walked the few blocks from the hospital to Max and Tricia

Abraham’s Park Avenue apartment. The day was warm, the side-

walks were busy, and neither of them—lost in their own thoughts

and not quite sure how to relate to one another outside of pleasant smiles and banal observations about the weather or the traffic—

felt the need for conversation. When they reached the lobby of the white-brick building at the corner of East Seventy-third Street,

Tricia excused herself to get the mail, which was as close as they came to conversation. Then, envelopes in her hand, they ascended

in the elevator to the eleventh floor in silence.

Once inside the apartment, Noah dropped his bag in the foyer

and awkwardly followed Tricia as she walked room to room, dis-



tractedly straightening things that didn’t need straightening. It had been a while since he had been home, Noah realized, and—as he

had expected—Tricia had been busying herself redecorating.

Almost certainly through his father’s influence, there was now a lot of leather in the apartment: couch, armchairs . . . even the padding at the edges of a set of end tables. He felt it made the large living room seem more closed and intimate, although the light curtains

on the large south-facing windows and the tasteful use of flowers

were clearly Tricia’s efforts to soften the testosterone-driven room.

Tricia walked into the kitchen, all modern and metallic, filled

with appliances Noah couldn’t begin to identify, which uniformly

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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