When the Stars Come Out (8 page)

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
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And anyway, he could, indeed, be an asshole, which would make

the physical encounter even more meaningless.

And, finally, even if all those other factors had a green light, the stranger could be very bad at sex. Very,
very
bad at sex. In which case the encounter would be less than meaningless.

Not to mention, he didn’t seem interested in Noah at all. Yes, he

had smiled . . . but he had also walked away without a backward

glance. That was certainly an important factor.

Within thirty seconds, he had all but rationalized doing ab-

solutely nothing about the stranger. So a good-looking guy reached past him to order a drink; Noah decided it was not an encounter

worth noting. Even if the guy had handed him a phone number,

Noah wasn’t in the market. He had a book to write, and he wasn’t

even a New Yorker anymore. It wasn’t worth wasting any more

thought.

Still, he stole a glance to the other end of the room, where the

stranger stood quietly, back against the wall, in his tight jeans and loose-fitting shirt with light blue stripes. And he let out an involuntary sigh.

“And what have I missed?” asked Tricia, when she returned for a

refill.

“Absolutely nothing,” said Noah, fairly certain that he meant it.

They had another glass of wine, then decided it was time to leave

Bar 51. As they walked out into the unseasonably warm September

evening, Tricia stopped at the porch and waved to her new smoker

friends. “Bye, Stooges! It was nice meeting you.”

54

R o b B y r n e s

The Stooges, Shemp included, wished her safe travels and pro-

mised to get together again soon, but gave only the most perfunc-

tory good-byes to Noah.

“I see who the popular one is,” he said, as they walked down

Fifty-first Street.

“That’s because I put in an effort. Maybe if you went back there

and talked to them . . .”

“Sorry.” Noah rubbed his temple. “I’m just tired.”

Something made Noah stop when they reached the corner of

Ninth Avenue. He glanced back at the entrance to Bar 51, where

the rainbow flag flapped in the gentle breeze and the Four Stooges held court on the smoking porch.

And he saw the handsome stranger walk out of the bar . . . di-

rectly toward them.

“Who’s that?” asked Tricia, seeing him, too.

“I don’t know,” said Noah. “He came into the bar a while ago . . .”

“Did you talk to him?”

Noah sighed. “Not much.”

“He’s cute. He’s not too young for you, is he?”

“He’s not interested in me. Come on.” Noah took Tricia’s arm

and walked her to the curb, where he started searching for a cab.

As he stood at the curb, he felt compelled to take another back-

ward glance . . . and when he did, the stranger was passing right behind him.

“Have a good night,” he said, and he smiled as he walked

past.

“Uh . . . you, too,” Noah said softly.

“Hi!” Tricia shouted. The stranger glanced back over his shoul-

der and smiled broadly, but kept walking north up Ninth Avenue.

“Cute,” she said approvingly. “I think you’re wrong. I think he

likes you.”

“You’re drunk,” said Noah—not with condescension—as he took

her arm to steady her.

“I should hope so. Seven glasses of wine. And I’m such a little

thing . . .”

And then, with a particular elegance befitting a Park Avenue

Trophy Wife, she tripped on the curb and collapsed in a heap.

*

*

*

W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T

55

Cute guy
, thought Bart, as he walked up Ninth Avenue toward Lincoln Center, vaguely hoping he would encounter something interesting that would delay his return to Jon’s apartment on West

Sixty-fifth Street. Day Two of his vacation, like Day One, seemed to be ending far too early.

As he walked, he thought again about the man in the bar.

Although Bart tended to like men a bit older—those in their late

thirties or early forties were his ideal, and the man at Bar 51 was probably no older than his early thirties—he had the dark good

looks and slim physique he was instantly attracted to. And he was

so . . . handsome? No, handsome wasn’t really the right word. He

was
cute
. Yes, that was it.

Too bad he didn’t seem very interested in Bart. He had looked,

and he had smiled, but the minute Bart tried to talk to him, the

cute guy had shut down.

He didn’t understand that. New Yorkers could be such a strange

breed.

Fifteen minutes later, Bart reached the busy intersection where

Ninth Avenue—now Columbus Avenue—intersected with Broadway

and West Sixty-fifth Street. There had been no distractions, and, as he crossed with the light, he accepted the fact that he would be

spending another night chatting with Jon. He would have to make

the following day, the third of his vacation, count.

Maybe a museum, he thought, as he searched his pockets for the

key to Jon’s building. He would have to see how Thursday shaped

up.

Early the next morning Tricia and Noah learned that Max

Abraham’s doctors would only be keeping him in Lenox Hill until

the following day. Things were looking good—the heart attack had

resulted in minimal damage, and could be treated fairly easily—

but, still, it
was
a heart attack. As bad as they felt for him, they were both secretly grateful for their own selfish reasons. In Tricia’s case, she had an unforgiving hangover; in Noah’s, he wasn’t in the mood

to deal with his father.

While Tricia spent large parts of the day in bed, Noah alternated

between sitting in the guest room listening to music or wandering

the apartment, looking for something to occupy his time. By late

56

R o b B y r n e s

afternoon, he was once again feeling stir crazy and in need of fresh air, so he slipped out and took a brief walk around the neighborhood.

It was another pleasant day, and the walk was doing him a world

of good. As he wandered the quiet brownstone-lined blocks, Noah

pondered Tricia’s words. Was he
really
closing himself off from human contact? Had the dissolution of his relationship with Harry

really
led him to a self-imposed solitude? Or worse, had he always walled himself off like that? Was he destined to be a loner—and to be lonely—for the rest of his life?

Then again, what did Tricia really know about his life? Both she

and his father had made an effort to
not
get involved. It was one thing to know Noah was gay; quite another to know his partners, let alone his feelings about them. That could open themselves to all

kinds of unpleasant possibilities. They might even have to envision him naked, in the arms of another man.

It was, Noah assumed, easier for Tricia—not a blood relative, at

that—to drunkenly try to coax him into contact. It was quite an-

other to cross the invisible line the family had placed in their

relationships—the one that could not be crossed, because, like the edges of the flat earth in an early map, here be dragons.

Although he was breathing fresh air and clearing his head,

Noah was not taking in the scenery; not until he approached the

Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue and someone caught his

eye.

Was that . . . ?

It was. It was the stranger from Bar 51, getting into a cab in front of the museum. Noah quickened his pace, hoping to catch up with

the cab as it waited at the curb for a break in traffic.

Don’t be too obvious
, he told himself.
Walk quickly, but don’t run
.

The cab began to pull away, and Noah—despite his best inten-

tions—broke into a slow trot, drawing even with the vehicle mo-

ments before the driver punched the accelerator and sent it off

into the northbound traffic. He looked through the rear passenger

window . . . and there sat the stranger, looking back. A smile—of

recognition?—crossed his lips as the cab angled into the left-hand lanes. Noah slowed his pace and watched it turn left at Seventy-ninth Street, a full two blocks away by the time he saw it disappear.

As he walked home, Noah tried to convince himself it was fate.

W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T

57

When that didn’t work, he tried to convince himself it was just coincidence. That was slightly more plausible—even in a huge city

like New York, people ran into each other by chance—but he still

felt there was something more to it. Two sightings in less than 24

hours, in two different parts of the city . . .

For perhaps the first time ever, Noah wished he possessed a spir-

itual streak, because as implausible as fate seemed to him, he had reached the point where he needed to believe. In something . . .

anything . . .

On an impulse, he hailed a cab, telling the driver to take him to

Fifty-first and Ninth.

Bar 51 was crowded that early evening, its overflowing crowd

pushing out onto the small porch where the smokers congregated.

As Noah entered, the Four Stooges—anchoring their perch on the

porch—greeted him with brief hellos and inquiries after Tricia.

Noah felt slight regret that, up to that point, his father’s mother was a more popular figure in a gay bar than he was.

Inside, the stranger was nowhere to be seen. Noah felt himself

growing anxious as he scanned the room, hoping that he’d spot

him somewhere in the crowd, hidden behind other patrons. But,

no . . . Bar 51 was not that big of a place, and after four passes between the front door and the bathrooms at the rear of the bar, it

was clear that he wasn’t there.

But just in case he was en route—delayed in traffic, or what-

ever—Noah decided to stay for a drink. He made a mental note to

give the stranger twenty minutes. Any more than that, he told him-

self, would just mean Noah was being obsessive.

An hour later he left the bar. His only human contact was a

quick good-bye to the Four Stooges, and Noah’s promise to give

Tricia their best wishes.

Bart’s cab had been about to enter the Seventy-ninth Street

Transverse and cross Central Park when he had a sudden impulse

and changed his destination, telling the driver to take him not to Bar 51 in Hell’s Kitchen, but to The Penthouse, which was much

closer. The driver turned south on Fifth Avenue.

The car deposited him on Second Avenue in the lower East

Sixties fifteen minutes later, and he took an unhurried stroll to the 58

R o b B y r n e s

bar. It was still so early—almost
too
early—he was afraid he would be the only patron.

But even at that early hour of the late afternoon, the downstairs

bar was lined with men when Bart pushed open the door and en-

tered. Without more than the briefest scan of the customers, he

walked to the spiral staircase in the back of the room, only stopping when he saw it blocked by a velvet rope.

“Sorry,” the bartender called out to him. “We don’t open the up-

stairs until six o’clock, so . . . another hour.”

Bart turned and saw that the bartender was the same one who

had made him so uncomfortable a few nights earlier. Was it Pablo?

Paolo? He sighed and walked over to order a drink.

“It’s you again,” said Paolo, finally recognizing him in the dim

lighting. He tried to keep the judgment out of his voice.

“It’s me again,” Bart agreed.

Paolo eyed him suspiciously, still not quite certain what the kid

was up to, although he certainly had his suspicions. He was still

sporting the same preppy look he had sported two nights earlier.

Clearly, he was dressing to fit in—or rather not stand out—with

The Penthouse crowd.

“Still not going out in Chelsea?” he asked, keeping his voice low

to avoid being overheard by the other customers. Paolo didn’t want it getting around the bar that he was trying to shoo business away from The Penthouse.

“No,” said Bart, once again growing uncomfortable with Paolo’s

attention.
This guy never stops
, he thought. “I’d like a—”

“Scotch and soda. I remember.”

While Paolo made his drink, Bart took one of the last available

bar stools. The older man sitting next to him leered as he slid the stool tightly up to the bar, making no effort to hide his appreciation of Bart’s physical appearance.

When Paolo set the scotch and soda in front of Bart, the man,

never taking the leer off his face, set a twenty on the polished bar and loudly said, “That’s on me.”

Which made things even more uncomfortable for both Bart and

Paolo, albeit for two very different reasons.

“Okay, then,” said Paolo, gingerly lifting the twenty from the bar before walking off to the cash register.

“Uh . . . thanks,” said Bart. “But you really didn’t have to.”

W H E N T H E S T A R S C O M E O U T

59

“It’s my pleasure.” The man continued to unsubtly eye him as

Paolo returned with his change. “So do you have a name?”

“Bart.”

“Pleased to meet you, Bart. I’m Morris.”

“Nice to meet you.” Bart shifted slightly and saw that, once

again, Paolo had an eagle eye on him, watching his every move.

When was the bartender going to get the hint that Bart wasn’t in-

terested?

“So . . .” Morris dropped his voice to a level at which only people within ten feet could hear. “So what’s your story, Bart?”

BOOK: When the Stars Come Out
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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