THE wake was bad enough, but then I saw the one person in the world I least wanted to see. The one person I least expected to see. Adam Boughton. The one who left us. The one who got away.
I was at the wake to say good-bye to my old baseball coach. I hadn’t actually seen him in years, but he’d been such an important part of my adolescence that I felt I had to come pay my respects. Seeing him in the casket and seeing a bunch of old teammates had brought back a lot of memories. I spent the better part of an hour recounting games I hadn’t thought about in fifteen years, listening to others’ memories about the coach, and mourning both the man and that part of my childhood that I’d long since left behind. Someone even asked if I still played the game, and I struggled to think of the last time I’d picked up a bat and glove. How could that have been? There’d been a time in my life when I’d pretty much lived for baseball. Coach’s wife came up to me and told me she remembered me, she remembered all of us from that particular team, the last to win a state championship under Coach’s tutelage. It was a sad way to pass an afternoon.
Then I saw Adam. He stood looking ridiculously handsome in a black suit, his dark hair a little disheveled, his hands shoved in his pockets. He made an interesting contrast to the red frippery of Room B at the Hull Funeral Home. He didn’t seem to be looking anywhere in particular, just around at the other wake attendants, but then he turned his head and our eyes met. I froze.
“Oh, Jake,” Kyle said behind me. “Jakey. Jake-Jake. Earth to Jacob. Hello?”
It took some effort, but I managed to turn around and face Kyle. Brendan stood next to him, his eyebrows raised.
“You have a seizure?” Brendan asked.
“Adam,” I whispered.
Both of my friends looked over my shoulders and saw him. I didn’t see their reactions because I was too busy looking at my feet. Brendan patted my shoulder, but Kyle, being Kyle, pushed past me and held out his hand. “Well, if it isn’t Adam goddamn Boughton, right here in the flesh.”
I heard Kyle making loud conversation but didn’t listen to it. I looked at Brendan instead, who gave me a sympathetic smile. “Well, that was a little unexpected,” he said.
“Excuse me, I have to go vomit.”
I went to the men’s room and splashed some water on my face, hoping for a few minutes to gather my wits and make sense of Adam’s appearance and the cavalcade of things it made me feel. I looked at my reflection in the mirror, thinking I deserved some credit for not actually vomiting. And then, of course, who should walk in but Adam.
“Jakey,” he said.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Well.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned against the sink. “Don’t know if you remember, but Coach Lombard was my baseball coach too.”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic.”
“My mother called and told me he died, and I’m in Chicago on business anyway, so I figured I’d come by and pay my respects. I wasn’t sure if you would be here, but I thought you might be. With Ox and Longo in tow, of course. Nothing’s changed, I see.”
There was a part of me that wanted to have it out with him right there. To explain that Ox and Longo—Brendan and Kyle—had stuck by me when he hadn’t, that we’d remained friends through the years. That I was Kyle’s daughter’s godfather, that I’d been Brendan’s best man. That I was the one who had stayed. Adam had left. He’d left us. He’d left me.
Adam pulled his hands out of his pockets—hands with long, elegant fingers—and then he reached for his back pocket. He and I both knew that we were not going to have it out, not now, not like this. Not with Coach Lombard’s family within earshot, not when there were so many more important things to think about than a friendship that had been lost five years before.
He pulled a card out of his pocket. He grabbed a pen that had been left on the edge of the sink and then scribbled something on the back of the card. He handed it to me. “I’m in Chicago through the rest of the week. I’m staying at a hotel in the Loop. Stop by or give me a call. My cell phone number’s on there. We’ll talk.”
I looked at the card. One side proudly proclaimed his name as “Adam R. Boughton, CEO, Boughton Technologies.” On the other side, he’d written the name of a very pricey hotel and room number 1126.
“Or don’t. Worth a shot, right?”
I noticed all of a sudden that the act of him handing me the card had put us within a few inches of each other, and he was right there, his broad shoulders and strong chest looming, his tie a little loose at the neck, a couple of days’ worth of dark stubble standing out on his chin. He looked fantastic up close. Then I remembered who I was dealing with here, and I looked up at his eyes. His gaze was intense, focused unblinking on me.
“I like what you’ve done to your hair.” He reached up and flicked a lock that hung near my face.
I couldn’t speak. I looked at his mouth. He licked his lips. For a second I thought he would kiss me, but instead he let out a breath. He took a step back.
“Okay, Jakey. See ya around.”
Then he was gone.
A HALF hour later, after most of the crowd had dissipated from the wake, I found Brendan sitting on the granite steps in front of the funeral home, sipping a beer. I sat next to him.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked.
He pointed the neck of the bottle at the package store across the street. “Seemed like an appropriate occasion for drinking. You want one?”
He pulled another longneck out of the paper bag on the step below where he sat. He tossed me his keychain, which had a bottle opener dangling from it. I popped the top off mine and took a long drag before I handed him back his keychain.
“God, nothing like a funeral to remind you of your own mortality,” said Brendan. “When we were in high school, I thought Coach was invincible. I mean, he had a body like the Hulk. But cancer got him. Jesus.”
“I know. It’s pretty freaky. And I feel awful because I hadn’t even thought about him much in a couple of years, and now he’s just… gone.”
Brendan nodded and took a sip of his beer. He shot me a sidelong glance. “So Rosie.”
“You talk to him?”
Brendan nodded. “It’s a hell of a thing, him showing up here. Longo just swooped right in there and shook his hand like we’re all still best buds. Rosie looked like he didn’t know what to do about that.”
“Well, he came and found me. Said he’s staying at a hotel in the city on business for the rest of the week and that I should stop by so we can talk.”
“I know, right? But that’s what he said.”
Brendan picked up a bottle cap and hurled it toward the street. It landed in the middle of the row of hedges that lined the curb. “You gonna go?”
“No. I don’t have anything to say to him.”
“Sure you don’t.”
Kyle appeared before I could protest. He leaned against a column at the foot of the stairs and gestured for Brendan to give him a beer. “What an awful goddamn thing that’s happened. Can you even believe it? I just spent ten minutes reliving that play-off game we lost junior year with Hank Hernandez. It felt like that happened yesterday.”
“Aw, man, I remember that game,” said Brendan.
“Yeah, it was brutal.” Kyle turned to me. “So Rosie.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I hooked my thumb back toward the door of the funeral home. “We’re here because Coach died, not because Adam fucking Boughton decided to return to Glenview and grace us all with his presence.”
“Touchy,” Kyle said, holding up his free hand.
Brendan gazed out at the parking lot. “I should probably go,” he said. “I told Maggie I’d be home by six. She’s gonna wonder what happened to me.”
Kyle imitated the sound of a whip cracking.
“Oh, whatever,” Brendan said, standing. “Just ’cause you can’t get a girl to stay with you doesn’t mean those of us with successful marriages are whipped.”
Kyle laughed. He took Brendan’s place on the step beside me and threw an arm over my shoulders. “I sometimes think Jakey has the right idea. No guy would ever demand that you be home in time for dinner.”
I sipped my beer but didn’t respond.
“Of course, in exchange for no nagging, you’d have to suck dick,” Kyle said.
“Don’t you have a kid to go home to?” I asked him.
“She’s at Michelle’s, so no. I’m a free agent tonight, man. You wanna leave Ox to his ball and chain and go get wasted at Dickie’s? It’ll be just like old times.”
“Nah, that’s all right. I think I’ll just go home.”
“You want a ride to the train station?” asked Brendan.
“Yeah, that would be great.”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “You’re no fun anymore, Jakey.”
“I’m just tired. Today has been kind of draining, don’t you think? But if you want to go out tomorrow, I’m game.” I stood up and moved to follow Brendan to his car.
“Okay, tomorrow, then. I’ll come to you, we can go somewhere in the city. But no gay bars this time.”
I laughed despite myself. The last time we’d gone out, I’d taken Kyle to a gay bar in my neighborhood. Kyle’s sexuality was an open question, though he tended to end up in bed with women more often than not. I’d been sort of curious to see what would happen to him in a room full of men. As I’d suspected would happen, he’d eaten it up whenever a guy hit on him.
“Hey,” said Kyle, “I can’t help it if I’m irresistible to gay guys. Present company excluded, obviously.”
“It’s because I’ve known you since we were this tall.” I held my hand about three feet above the ground to demonstrate. “It’s made me immune to your charms, apparently.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Kyle stood and dusted off his pants with his hands. “Tomorrow, Jakey. You and I will tear through Chicago, leaving a trail of destruction and broken hearts in our wake. It will be glorious. You can come too, Ox, if your lady is willing to let you out of the cage.”
“Ha, ha.” Brendan pulled his keys back out of his pockets. “Let’s go, Jake. If I remember the schedule correctly, there’s a train in about twenty minutes.”
I gave Kyle the Standard, the elaborate handshake we’d crafted as kids. These days it was more out of habit than anything else, but it had come to mean a lot of things: “Hello,” “Good-bye,” “I love you.” Kyle surprised me by pulling me into a hug and giving me a mighty pat on the back.
“It was tough, saying bye to him,” Kyle said near my ear.
“Yeah.” I wasn’t sure if he meant Coach Lombard or Adam.
I’D HAD long hair the last time I’d seen Adam. I’d had shaggy hair through most of my teenage years, not for any specific reason other than that my mother hated it. I’d grown it even longer in college, mostly out of laziness, but then I’d dated a guy sophomore year who loved to run his hands through it, so it stayed. One of the last times I’d seen Adam before he skipped town, it had been a few inches past my shoulders, an insane, unruly blond mane. Adam had tugged on a stray curl and told me it looked ridiculous, but I could see the admiration in his eyes.
I’d cut it partly because I’d gotten sick of trying to comb it and partly because Adam liked it so much.
I ran a hand over my short hair as I let myself into my apartment on West Melrose, near Boystown. It felt like a cliché to have moved to the Gayborhood, but the apartment itself—the second floor of a lovely brick house owned by a middle-aged gay couple who were hardly ever home—was gorgeous. I’d fallen in love at first sight with the wood floors and the warm-colored walls and all the elaborate woodwork.
I dropped my keys on the table near the door and tossed my jacket over a kitchen chair before I fell onto the couch and rubbed my face. Adam, I thought. Oh, Adam.
Nothing needed to happen. I could have just not responded to his invitation and bided my time all week, and then he’d be gone, out of my city, out of my life again.
I took the card out of my pocket and turned it over. There was his handwriting, the same as I remembered it, effortlessly neat letters all in a straight line. Room 1126.
Fretting about it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I wondered if he even really wanted to talk or if he was just being polite.
Five years, it had been. Five years since I’d seen him. So much time and no time at all.
I tossed the card on the coffee table. I walked over to my kitchen and pulled a bottle of Wild Turkey out of the cabinet. I didn’t even like Wild Turkey, but it was Kyle’s liquor of choice; he must have left a bottle the last time I’d hosted a party. I poured a couple of fingers into a highball glass. Before I could take a sip, my phone buzzed in my pocket.
I thought for a moment that it might be Adam, even though I hadn’t given him my number. But no, the display said it was David.
“How are you?” he asked after we exchanged pleasantries.
David was pretty low on the list of people I wanted to talk to right then. Still, I felt like I owed him some honesty. “Well, I’ve been better. My high school baseball coach died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. That’s terrible. How are you doing?”
“I’m all right. It’s sad, but we hadn’t spoken in years.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.” I did not want to have a heart-to-heart conversation. I didn’t want David to comfort me. I probably should have, which only made me feel worse.
“I could come over,” he said.
Oh, boy. “No, that’s all right. I’ll be fine.”
“I know you will, but….” He sighed. “I know things between us are a little weird right now, but I am your friend.”
“I’d really rather be alone right now. The wake was today.”
“How did it go?”
“All right.” I wrestled with how much to tell him. I came down on the side of more. I figured I’d either piss him off enough to make him go away or I’d find out if he was really my friend. “I, uh…. Adam was there.”
“Adam.” He sounded displeased.
“Yeah, uh, he’s in town for business. I’m… I mean, I hadn’t seen him, not since he left. I only talked to him for, like, a couple of minutes.”
“Are you going to see him while he’s in town?”
“He invited me to, but probably not.”
There was a long pause. Then, “Why not?”
That was a surprise. I couldn’t imagine David being supportive of my meeting up with Adam. And how to even explain? Because Adam had left. Because Adam had looked so good, so tempting. Because the air still crackled between us whenever we got within a foot of each other. Because it was Adam. “Oh, well. You know,” I said.
David chuckled, but there wasn’t much mirth in it. “Jesus Christ, Jake.”
I didn’t know what to say.
The simple explanation was that David was an ex I’d run into a few weeks before the wake at my local watering hole, and we’d hooked up. The truth was that David had once meant a great deal to me, but now things were confused. Even though we’d slept together again a few times since running into each other, I had told him we were not getting back together, and he seemed okay with that. He was putting a solid effort into rekindling a friendship with me, though. I was still deciding if that was what I wanted.
David coughed and then said, “At least tell me where he’s staying so I can punch him in the face. He owes me one for ruining my relationship with you.”
“He didn’t…. You never even met Adam.”
“No, but I feel like I know him from all the time he spent in bed with us.”
I didn’t want to have this argument. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“How long have you been in love with him? Since, like, the tenth grade, right? Come on, I know this better than anyone. It’s Adam. It’s always been Adam. And he’s in town now and he said something to you, so you’re not going to see him?”
“It’s too late. After what he did, how can I even—”
“Maybe it is too late.” There was a whistling sound through the receiver, and I could picture David flaring his nostrils the way he did when he was angry or upset. “Maybe not, though.”
“I have to go.”
“Suit yourself. See you around.” He hung up.
I tossed the phone on the kitchen counter. Then I downed the glass of Wild Turkey in one long gulp.