Authors: Rob Byrnes
bore the logos of what appeared to be an array of German and
Swedish firms. It was only when she reached the refrigerator that
she finally asked him, “Are you going to follow me
for the next few days?”
He blushed. “Uh . . . I just thought you might need help.”
“What I need,” she said, opening up the refrigerator, “is a glass
of wine.” She took an uncorked white wine bottle from the shelf inside the door. “Care to join me?”
“Sure,” he said, impulsively trying to forge a bond with her even
though he really didn’t feel like having a drink, especially so early in the afternoon.
She poured two glasses, offered him one, and motioned to the
living room, where they sat an appropriate distance apart. She took the leather couch; he took one of the leather chairs.
“A lot of leather,” Noah said, stumbling in his effort to come up
with an ice-breaker.
“It was your father’s idea. Obviously. Although I’ve come to like
it. We bought the furniture last year, and I guess he was in a particularly masculine frame of mind. Take this leather, throw in a bunch of red meat, add a high-pressure legal practice, and I guess you’ve proven your manhood without having to embarrass yourself with a
mistress or a shiny red sports car.” She looked at Noah and smiled.
“You see? It was easier to get used to the leather than worry about the mistress.”
It had never before crossed his mind that Tricia had been his fa-
ther’s mistress before she was his wife. But now it had, and he
couldn’t shake the thought. He wished she hadn’t brought up his
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father’s apparent recent need to reaffirm his masculinity, because it made him realize that his father had had decades in which to go through several midlife crises.
“So how is your mother?” she asked, moving the topic of conver-
sation from one area of discomfort to another.
“Fine. She’s . . . fine.”
“I’ve always liked her.”
Noah twitched. Did his father’s third wife really just say some-
thing nice about his father’s first wife? How would they have even—?
“We were both on a benefit committee for the Whitney a few
years ago,” she said, anticipating his reaction and, in fact, seeming to enjoy it. “So how does she like living in Florida?”
“Fine.” He paused. “Just fine.”
Noah’s relationship with his mother was, if possible, even more
complex than his relationship with his father. Divorced from Max
just a few years after Noah was born, Frieda Feldman Abraham
took her substantial settlement and started life anew, reborn as an Upper West Side social activist. Even as he was unable to shed it, he knew that his resentment about having been given everything too
easily came directly from the mouth of his mother. While he never
disliked his mother for that, he always felt wary and guilty in her presence. And he also wasn’t sorry she had moved to Florida.
Also, he didn’t like the way she ate her salad. That poke-poke-
poking at each individual lettuce leaf made him want to scream
Noah shook his head. “It’s just sort of strange. I mean, my mother knowing my stepmother . . .”
Tricia wagged a finger in front of his face. “We’ve had this con-
versation before, haven’t we?”
It took Noah a few seconds to understand what she meant, but
then he remembered.
“Sorry. I mean, ‘my mother knowing my
“Much,” she said, offering no further information. Several times
in the past she had warned him away from the word “stepmother”
without explanation, and Noah now knew better than to ask. It was
her title, so she had the right to be called what she wanted to be called, even if Noah felt that calling her “his father’s wife” added even more distance to an already distant relationship.
They sat—uncomfortable among the leather-laden comfort—
W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T
for a long stretch of the mid-afternoon, vaguely looking out the
window at the sliver of blue between the buildings, sipping wine,
and wishing for easy conversation. Finally, Noah remembered his
“So your family . . . They’re in Buffalo?”
After a half hour or so listening to what he came to think of as
the Chronicles of Buffalo, conversation again wound down. Noah
excused himself and, finally collecting his bag from the foyer,
walked down a picture-lined hallway to the guest bedroom.
He was pleased to see that his former bedroom had not been
leatherized in the redecorating process. In fact, the room retained a number of distinctly feminine touches. It was light and airy, the walls a periwinkle blue and the furniture spare and unimposing.
He tossed his bag at the foot of the bed, then tossed himself on
top of the off-white comforter, where he tried unsuccessfully to
nap. He stayed there for a long time, wondering how he could es-
cape and where he could escape to.
A natural loner, Noah was not one of those people who prided
themselves on collecting large numbers of close friends. He had a
few friends—acquaintances, really—in Washington he could call
when he really needed to get out of the apartment, but otherwise
he was quite content to be on his own. His life had been quite similar when he lived in New York, but in the intervening years he had lost contact with his old crowd. He was now alone in Manhattan,
and unless he went out by himself, he would be a prisoner of Park
Avenue until it was time to go back to Washington and again face
the hopelessness of The Project.
There were always museums, movies, and theater, but he couldn’t
think of them as solitary activities. Like dining alone in a restaurant, Noah felt uncomfortable flying solo at venues where everyone else came in multiples. Wandering the city might kill some time,
but Noah had no great desire to wander.
He tossed and turned on the bed for what felt like quite a while
longer, mulling his undesirable options and weighing them against
the alternative, which was uncomfortable boredom. When he fi-
nally looked at the clock on the nightstand, only fifteen minutes
R o b B y r n e s
“Fuck,” he muttered to himself. It was going to be a long visit.
Even if he left the following day, it was going to be a long visit.
And because of those thoughts, he was actually grateful when he
heard Tricia knock lightly on the guest room door.
“Come in,” he called out, turning slightly to face her as she eased the door open.
“Are you as bored as I am?” she asked.
He blushed. Was it that obvious?
“Well . . . you know, it’s not my house, and I didn’t bring a book, so I’m sort of . . .” He smiled. “Yeah, I guess I’m a bit bored. Uh . . .
It was her turn to smile. “None taken. But I was thinking we
should do something.”
“Something . . . ? Something like what?”
She frowned. “Anything to get out of this house. I’ve barely had
a breath of fresh air since your father went into the hospital, and once he comes home . . . well, I might as well forget about having a life for a while.”
“But the doctors said he’ll be back to normal in no time.”
She blew a wisp of stray blond hair out of her eyes. “They always
say things like that, but it never quite works that way. Your father was lucky, but he’s still going to need some time to recuperate.
personality. If he were a laid-back, calm man, it would be a lot easier. But he’s going to have to make an effort to relax, and I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot of stress around here.”
“Hire him a nurse.”
She laughed. “I can’t even keep a cleaning lady. Five years of
marriage and not
has ever done a good enough job . . . according to him, that is. So let’s forget about getting a nurse, because I’ll be spending more time interviewing than he’ll be spending recuperating.”
Noah knew she spoke the truth. “So what do you want to do?” he
asked, vaguely fearing something worse than boredom.
“I was thinking a bar.”
That caught him by surprise. He thought she had been setting
him up for a long dinner at whichever Upper East Side bistro was
currently in vogue among the Park Avenue Trophy Wife set. Per-
haps the glass of wine early in the afternoon should have been a
warning to him. “His father’s wife” had, in the course of just a few W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T
hours, surprised him several times: she might have been a mistress, and she might be a lush. Noah decided that he should neither dismiss her nor underestimate her.
He glanced at the clock on his nightstand.
“It’s only four o’clock,” he announced. “Isn’t it a bit early?”
“Why, Noah! I didn’t know you were such a stick-in-the-mud!”
Tricia leaned against the door frame. “Never heard of Happy Hour?”
He was wary. “I’ve heard of it.”
“I want to go.” She affected a pout. “Take me out to Happy Hour.”
“You are a very strange stepmother.”
An index finger wagged in his direction. “Ah-ah!”
“Sorry. You are a very strange wife-of-my-father.”
To which, she said simply, “Thank you,” and—with a toss of her
hair—left to change into more appropriate attire.
People surprise you.
The ones you expect to be stuffy turn out to be down to earth.
The ones you think you’ll never see again become your best
friends. The ones you hate, you learn to love, and the ones you
love, well . . . maybe, maybe not.
When I first arrived in Hollywood I was twenty-three years old
and had never been west of Cincinnati. And yet for some reason
I was convinced that I could be an actor. After being cast in that school play when my knee injury kept me out of sports, I guess I
thought I was a natural.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one. After three months of wait-
ing tables to put bread on
table I met a casting agent who looked me over, said I had just the “naivety” he was looking for
to play a college kid in a movie he was casting.
I was fired two days into shooting. I guess he was wrong.
But right or wrong, that casting agent didn’t give up on me.
In fact, he went in a completely different direction, and one
week after I was fired he slipped me into a stylish crime drama
The Fresh Kill
. And a star was born, all because he had faith, and because he could see beyond that naïve twenty-three-year-old carrying trays and busing tables . . .
f Noah had any lingering doubts that their time together could
still turn into a trophy-wife bistro excursion, they evaporated when he met Tricia in the foyer fifteen minutes later. He had used the time to freshen up and change into something more respectable; she, however, had used the time to dress down, exchang-
ing the business casual attire she wore to the hospital for a casual jeans-and-top ensemble. And, in her designer jeans, he had to
admit, in a gay sort of way, that his father’s wife was kind of hot.
“So where do you want to go?” he asked. “I assume by the way
you’re dressed you want to mix with the masses this afternoon.”
the masses. I love being married to your father, and the way we live, but I’ll always be a girl from Buffalo.”
“Okay, Girl from Buffalo. Since you’re apparently keeping it real
this afternoon, where do you want to go?”
“Take me . . .” She paused and thought for a moment. “Take me
to one of your places.”
“Where do you go out when you’re in the city?”
That was a good question. It had been so long since he’d been
home that he struggled to recall the name of a bar. There was The
Penthouse on the Upper East Side, but that would be too snooty
for the dressed-down Tricia. There were the bars in Chelsea and
the West and East Villages, but it had been so long, he was drawing a blank on specific locations, and at the rate bars came and went, he doubted that many of them were still in business. And in any
event, all the bars he could think of—his old haunts—were gay,
which he didn’t think would hold much appeal for either of them.
“There are a few places,” he finally said. “But I can’t think of anywhere you’d be interested to go. Me, either, for that matter.”
“You’re such a snob. Do you think these bars are too downscale
“No. But all the ones that come to mind are . . . well, they’re definitely too, um,
“Perfect.” With that, she flung open the front door and they
were on their way.
W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T
They took the elevator back down to the immaculate, marbled
lobby, where the solicitous doorman—even in September remem-
bering that holiday bonuses were just a few months away—made a
point of inquiring about Mr. Abraham.
“He’ll be fine, Gustav,” said Tricia, flashing a smile that she
made sure also conveyed concern, lest the building staff start gossiping that she had poisoned him, as they had about Mrs. Jurgen in 5D when Mr. Jurgen suffered a stroke back in May. “But you’ll be
seeing a lot more of him for a while.”
“For a few months,” she said. “And if you know of any good
home health care aides, I’d appreciate it.”
Gustav, knowing the Abrahams’s track record with cleaning ladies,