Chapter One April 2011
It had been two years since I had spoken to him. As I walked into the midsize, but very quaint bookstore in Harlem I immediately knew why he chose it for one of his book signings. It had an old world charm to it, with tall wooden stacks that lined most of the floor, and the signing area consisting of a wooden table and chair. I could picture him combing through the stacks of books on a leisurely Tuesday afternoon, after getting coffee, during a stroll through the neighborhood.
I had kept up with his writing; with him, really. A good friend of mine had become an editor for a moderately successful publishing house, and he would always let me know if he was shopping something, and get me a galley to read. Through his writing I could tell how he was.
I stood by the door for a moment, not sure if I wanted to catch a glimpse of him before he spoke or after. People were milling around the displays full of his newest book, The Divorce Summer, which he had started writing when we were together. I had been able to read the book before it even hit the shelves. I was shocked and flattered that I had a place in it, at least I hoped the woman he wrote about was me. I walked gingerly around the store hugging my advanced copy, which at this point was worn from the turning of pages.
I heard, from the other end of the store, a muffled announcement introducing him to the crowd that had assembled in chairs to hear him read from the book and then wait in line to get his autograph. I was dressed simply, but I wanted to look good for him. Spring in New York can be beautiful, and I wanted to appear fresh and new, but also familiar to him. I wore a dress I had worn during our first getaway. A fabulous week we spent in Arizona taking in sculpture, paintings, and seeing some interesting theater at Arizona State where a dear friend of mine was Technical Director. I almost wore the dress I saw him in last, but I didn’t think I could stand to put that one on again. It stood in the closet staring me down that morning, yelling at me to be put on, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
As I heard his raspy baritone voice begin to read an excerpt from the pages he had so lovingly written, I was drawn toward the sound. As I had always been. Even after so much time apart, he still had the same effect on me. I prayed it would be the same with him. As I got closer I stopped at the edge of the stacks, just out of his line of sight, should he happen to look up. Then I smiled to myself, he wouldn’t look up, he probably hated every moment of this.
“You have to take the picture for your book jacket.”
“I hate having my picture taken.”
“They’ve picked out a wardrobe for me. What’s that about?”
“They want you to look good.”
“That may be futile.”
“I’ll be there, and I’ll have a whiskey waiting for you afterwards.”
I felt honored to be at the photo shoot for his jacket photo later that week. He felt fake and pretentious, and hated every minute. I ended up flashing him from behind the photographer to get the smile that finally won out. We laughed when several friends asked how the photographer had managed to get possibly the best picture out of him ever. It was our secret. Something we would become so good at during our time together. I suppose that’s what finally tore us apart. And it didn’t matter whose fault it was in the end; who had kept a secret first, or divulged information last. I was hoping the time elapsed had erased some of it, all of it.
My thoughts had taken up more time than I realized, and the clapping of the audience brought me back to real time. I heard an almost flippant, “Thanks.” come from him, and then the agent or whoever made an announcement that there was wine being served and then he would sign books. I stepped into the isle hoping to be inside a throng of people, but found myself in a barren patch of hard wood floor. Just as I was about to disappear into a small gathering of people, he saw me. There was barely a glance, and almost no recognition. I was frozen, terrified, and completely despondent in a matter of seconds. I did what he always told me to do in moments like this, “Keep breathing,” he would say. And as it went through my head I realized I hadn’t been, and let out my breath. I quickly made my way to the door, and escaped onto the street, and found a spot to have a cigarette. Still clutching the book for dear life, I sucked in the nicotine as if it was filling me with courage instead of carcinogens. I field stripped the butt, stamped out the ember with my platformed five-inch heel, and straightened myself to go back in.
As I stepped back in, thankfully, a tray of wine floated by and I grabbed a glass. It was red wine, but I didn’t care, I needed something to wet my mouth before I spoke to him, and the alcohol content couldn’t hurt either. I positioned myself at the back of the line, and inched my way up to the table, for him to sign my book. I peeked at him as I stood there. He looked good. His usual tall, slender self. A white button down shirt, that I was sure had a frayed collar, hidden under the very stylish black sport coat. Still no tie though. He had given up wearing those long ago, and it took something truly special to get him into one. His hair was a bit long, but it hadn’t gotten really hot yet to force him to cut it. My fingers could almost feel the silky salt and pepper hair flowing through them. All at once my hands were shaking. He had new glasses, but they framed his face well. And there was a bit, maybe a day’s growth of stubble. And I remembered how that felt on my face, my thighs. I was then immediately wet with arousal and sad at the same time. By the time I got to the table, he had settled into his routine. He didn’t look up, he simply asked,
“Who should I make it out to?” as he grabbed a new copy from the stack beside him. When I didn’t answer he looked up.
“Just sign your name on that one, so I can sell it on EBay. But this one,” I said as I handed him the book I had been clutching for almost an hour now, “This one, I’m hoping you’ll sign more personally for an old friend.”
“Hey,” he said as his eyebrows went up and a smile came across his face. His smile gave me leave to smile, as he rose from his seat and came around the table to hug me. He wrapped his arms around me, burying his head in my neck. It was so familiar, and I was already drunk on memories, I said,
“Missed you,” just as I used to when we would hug each other hello. Not skipping a beat he gave his familiar grunt of agreement in my ear before breaking the hug and stepping back to see me.
“How did you know?”
“I have sources.”
“You always did. Are you in town for a while?” he said making his way back to his seat.
“I’m living here now.”
“Well, then, that settles it, we have to go to dinner and catch up.”
“I’d love that.”
“Good. Can you wait til this nonsense is over?”
I reached for my advance copy, but he put his hand on it and slid it to the side,
“Not yet, I haven’t signed it,” he said giving me that Cheshire cat grin he was so famous for. I threw up my hands in surrender and stepped aside for the last ten people or so in line to have their moment with the famous writer.