When the Stars Come Out (7 page)

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
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nodded noncommittally, then turned his attention to a tiny, elderly woman entering the lobby, pasted on his bonus-worthy smile, and

said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Levy.”

The older woman nodded, then, seeing Tricia, stopped and said,

“I’m so sorry to hear about Max, dear. How is he?”

“He’ll be fine,” said Tricia, again employing her “not-guilty” smile.

“Maybe this is God’s way of telling him to slow down.”

“Do tell him that Arthur and I send our best wishes,” said Mrs.

Levy, speaking to Tricia but sizing up the good-looking young man

standing next to her . . . the young man whose hand the scan-

dalously young Mrs. Abraham was now taking in hers.

“I’ll do that,” said Tricia, watching with satisfaction as Mrs. Levy’s attention focused almost exclusively on her handclasp with Noah.

“Uh . . . yes, thank you.” Mrs. Levy finally broke her fascination with their hands and looked directly at Noah. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Muriel Levy. 10C.”

Noah was about to answer, but Tricia beat him to the punch.

“This is Noah. You’ll be seeing him around the building for the

next week or so.”

“I see.” Mrs. Levy knew that she was scowling, and, after silently reprimanding herself for her rudeness, forced a thin smile on her

face, which was deteriorating into a relief map despite the efforts of the best plastic surgeons in New York. “Very nice to meet you,


“Ma’am,” said Noah, nodding politely.

Mrs. Levy walked toward the elevators, hoping she wouldn’t burst


R o b B y r n e s

before she had the opportunity to discuss with her friends in the

building the good-looking, mysterious stranger whose visit with the very young Mrs. Abraham coincided with Mr. Abraham’s hospital-ization. And she was holding
his hand
! In
the lobby

At the same time, Tricia and Noah declined Gustav’s offer to get

them a cab, and walked together out onto the Park Avenue side-


“I don’t think she realizes that I’m Max’s son,” said Noah, when

they were out in the sunshine.

“I hope not,” said Tricia, straining her eyes north up Park

Avenue to see if any empty cabs were approaching.

“You’re not concerned about building gossip?”

Tricia smiled. “Not at all. I’ve been dealing with it since I mar-

ried your father. I think it’s funny.” She spotted a cab and stepped off the curb, hailing it from between two parked cars. “The building staff knows who you are, and that’s all that’s important. They’re the only ones who can cause real trouble. The rest of it . . . well, it’s funny.”

When the cab stopped, Noah opened the door, allowing Tricia

to get in first. He followed her into the backseat.

“So where to?” she asked, when they were strapped into the still-

idle cab. “Any brilliant thoughts yet?”

“Not yet.” He pointed south, where they could see thirty blocks

down the broad avenue to the MetLife Building. “Let’s just head


“Just drive south while we figure this out,” Tricia told the driver, and the cab lurched into “drive.”

“Sorry,” said Noah. “But I’m still drawing a blank here.”

“Well, at least we’re heading in the right direction. The pickings will be richer south of Park and Seventy-third.”


“I am just that in tune with gay culture.”

Noah laughed. “I guess you are.” He finally remembered the

name of a bar. “There’s a quiet place in Hell’s Kitchen . . . sort of a neighborhood bar, except gay . . .”

“These days in Hell’s Kitchen, that
a neighborhood bar.”

Noah shook his head. “You go away for a few years, and look at

how things change. Anyway, it’s called Bar 51. Want to try it?” She nodded, so Noah told the driver, “Fifty-first and Ninth.”



When the cab stopped twelve minutes later, Noah quickly spot-

ted the rainbow flag identifying Bar 51 a few storefronts off the intersection. Over his objection, Tricia paid the driver, and when

they walked through the front door at 5:00, they were customers

number five and six.

“I hope you weren’t expecting a wild Happy Hour,” said Noah,

as they ordered from the bartender.

“Happy Hour,” she said, “is what we make of it.”

And this is what they made of it: after one glass of wine, Tricia revealed herself to be a closet smoker; after two, she revealed herself to be a closet chain-smoker. And as the drinks flowed and cigarettes were smoked, she spent more and more time outside on the small

smoking porch in front of the bar, befriending the slowly growing

Happy Hour crowd.

And Noah kept tabs on her from his perch on the bar stool,

watching her through the front window and marveling at Tricia Abraham: possible mistress, potential lush, and now a definite smoker.

But while he kept tabs on her, it was still a solo activity. Noah sat alone, once again vaguely bored, but now at least surrounded by

people. It was not turning into an exciting experience, but he

thought it was still preferable to being trapped in that sterile apartment in that sterile Park Avenue co-op. Which to Noah made

Happy Hour at Bar 51 a very good thing.

At one point, and after a fifteen-minute absence on the porch,

Tricia reappeared and Noah ordered another round of drinks.

“You’re being very social tonight,” he said to her, while the bar-

tender filled their order.

“I’ve met some nice guys,” she replied. “See those four guys out

there?” She pointed out the front window where four men—still

dressed for work, and ranging, to Noah’s eyes, from their late-

twenties to mid-forties—dominated a table on the smoking porch.

“They call themselves ‘the Stooges.’”

“Uh . . . okay. As in ‘The Three Stooges’?”


“I guess that’s cool, but . . . there were three Stooges, and there are four guys out there.”

“Yeah. One of them has to be Shemp.”

“Uh . . . okay.”

“Shemp is single, you know.”


R o b B y r n e s

Noah sighed. “And which one is Shemp?” he asked, surveying

the men on the porch.

“The young cute one.”

“He’s young and cute,” said Noah. “You don’t need a boyfriend

when you’re young and cute.”

“Is that

Suddenly, Noah saw the turn the conversation was taking, and

he didn’t like it.

“Now, Tricia . . .”

“How long have you been single, Noah? Has it been a year since

you broke up with Harry?” Noah nodded. Tricia had obviously paid

more attention than his father. “Isn’t it time for you to get back into the game?”

“Is that why we’re out? Relationship counseling?”

She shook her head. “No, we’re out because I had to get out of

that apartment. The relationship counseling is . . . well, it’s one of those things I’m prone to do after four glasses of wine. But while we’re on the subject, would it be so horrible if you actually talked to someone? You’re throwing out very antisocial vibes.”

“I’m not antisocial.”

“Okay,” she said, realizing that she now had a fresh glass of wine waiting on the bar. “Let’s not go there. Let’s not even talk about sex.”

“I would prefer not to talk sex with my stepmother,” he agreed.

“With your
father’s wife
,” she corrected him. “Let’s talk about friends. Nonsexual friends . . . people you just hang out with. Where are they?”

“I don’t even live in New York anymore, so . . .”

“What about DC? Do you have a circle of friends there?” When

Noah didn’t answer, she said, “That’s what I thought. Ever since

Harry—maybe even before—you’ve carved out this solitary life for

yourself. Why is that? You’re good looking, smart, funny . . . you’ve got those cute dimples . . .”

“Tricia,” he said, involuntarily flashing his cute dimples. “Happy Hour is not the place for analysis.”

She blew the hair from her brow, sipped her drink, and said,

“You’re right. It’s just that I get concerned about you. You should have close friends. Like the Stooges. You shouldn’t be spending all your time alone.”



“Don’t be concerned,” said Noah. “I’m not throwing my life

away. I have friends, I have known love, and I also happen to be one of those people who
to be alone.”

“If you say so.”

“I say so. Isn’t it time for another cigarette break? Can’t you ha-rass Shemp out there and leave me alone?”

“What’s your type?” she asked. Looking around the bar, she

added, “What man here is the sort of guy you’re interested in?”

a Stooge . . .”

Tricia shook her head, muttered something that sounded to

Noah like “your loss,” and headed back to her new friends on the

tiny square of concrete outside the front door that passed as the

bar’s smoking lounge.

“Is your fag hag getting overly exuberant?” asked a voice behind

Noah. He spun in his stool to face a man in his forties, his head

shaved, sitting next to him at the bar.

“She’s not a fag hag. She’s my stepmother. Umm . . . my father’s


“I know what a stepmother is.”

“No, I meant . . . she prefers to be called ‘my father’s wife.’ I think she might have been scarred by Cinderella in her childhood.”



“Not really.”

And that, Noah thought, made two of them.

The man with the shaved head returned his attention to his

friends, leaving Noah’s eyes free to wander as he contemplated

rewriting Tricia’s role in his life. If asked, that was; he wouldn’t offer. “Just a friend” seemed like an easy enough explanation, although, in a pinch, he supposed “fag hag” would do. Especially

since that’s what people would assume anyway.

Or maybe those Stooges would adopt her, and she could be their

collective fag hag without the burden of a familial relationship. Yes, he thought, that might work.

She was right, of course.
right. He knew that. And the thought that the completelashuels were becoming the closest connections he had to intimate human contact sent a sudden chill up

his spine. He looked at the liquid remaining in his glass, consid-

ered it briefly, and downed it in one quick gulp.


R o b B y r n e s

“You’d better slow down,” said a man standing behind him. “Or

else you’re looking at a very short Happy Hour.”

Noah turned, expecting to see the man with the shaved head

again. Instead, he was greeted by the sight of . . .

Oh, hell, it was one of those tall, broad-shouldered Adonises.

The type they reserved the word “handsome” for. And a young one,

at that.

“I have it under control,” Noah said, trying to get a good look at the man without appearing to stare. He
to stare, but . . . no, that wouldn’t do. Noah was used to being the object of attention—

or at least, lust—and he was uncomfortable being on the other

side. Plus, he was deathly afraid he’d get caught looking.

The Adonis waved over Noah’s shoulder, attracting the immedi-

ate attention of the bartender. After placing his order, he spoke


“I’m sorry for crowding you.” His voice was a soft, mellow bari-

tone. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“No problem.” Noah turned again to take another look. He was

tall—over six feet, maybe six two—with broad shoulders, a thick

neck, and a handsome face framed by close-cropped light brown

hair. The stranger had been watching the bartender fill his order, but, sensing Noah’s eyes on him, he looked down at Noah. Noah’s

fears were realized—he had been caught in the act of staring—but

the man merely smiled.

Again, Noah’s instinct was to look away. But he fought it and

managed to smile back.

“Is it always this slow here at Happy Hour?” asked the stranger.

“Uh . . . I really don’t know. I’m not a regular.”

“Oh.” His eyes—brown, clear—returned to the bartender, who

was now bringing him his drink. The stranger excused himself again to Noah as he reached past him to pay for the drink, then once

more when he retrieved it from the bar. Noah felt a drop of con-

densation from the glass land on his pant leg, but didn’t complain.

And then, drink in hand, the stranger nodded at him, smiled

one more time, and slowly walked to the far end of the room.

Noah tried to think if he had been offered a conversational open-

ing he had bobbled, decided that there was none, further decided

that there was nothing he would have done about it anyway, and

signaled for the bartender.



Still . . .
. From a physical standpoint, the guy was perfection.

Oh, he might turn out to be a real asshole, but physically: perfection. And really, after months without much human contact, the

physical was all that was important at that moment.

After giving him the initial sexual impulse, though, Noah’s brain

went directly to rationalization mode.

He was with Tricia; it would be a bad thing to pick someone up

while he was out with his step—uh, his
father’s wife

And what if they clicked? He couldn’t abandon Tricia in the bar

to pursue a sexual conquest, and he certainly couldn’t take the

stranger back to the Park Avenue apartment. Even if Tricia was in-

clined to look the other way, Gustav and Mrs. Levy would certainly spin that into something tawdry. Tawdri

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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