One

 

 

SEVEN days before Christmas, Ben Walsh left his office in midtown Manhattan and began the trek across Forty-Fourth Street toward his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. He passed the St. James Theater, where American Idiot opened last spring. As the crowd began to gather for Thursday evening’s performance, Ben thought about his latest dilemma.

A week before Christmas, and he still hadn’t come up with a present for David, his boyfriend of seven weeks. David was hot, fun, and got along with his friends—Ben had no complaints. So why did he draw a blank every time he tried to think of a gift for him?

Ben had stayed late at the office again. He worked for Wilson & Mead, one of the top law firms in the city. When his iPhone vibrated in his pants pocket, he took it out and looked down at the screen. It was a text from Colin. He swiped the screen and read the text.

Meeting at M & J’s place. 8p. Bring David.

Ben looked at the time. Seven thirty. He hadn’t called David yet. Even though they had spent almost every night together since Thanksgiving, Ben didn’t want to presume. With a touch to his phone, Ben called David, who picked up after a couple of rings. Ben grinned when he heard the deep bass voice.

“Hey, stud. I was just thinking about you.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ben replied, running his fingers through his dark hair while he dodged around theatergoers. “Nasty thoughts, I hope.”

“A few.”

David was thirty-eight, about ten years older than Ben, and an airline pilot. A former military man, he had an effortless masculinity that everyone, including Ben, found sexy.

“Well, we’ve been summoned to Martin and Johnny’s tonight for a Christmas thing.”

“Don’t your friends ever plan ahead?” David teased.

“No, never. Sorry about that. This is my last weekend in town before I head home. I think they want to kick it off early.”

“Home? Oh, you mean back to Texas. You’ll be here for New Year’s Eve, though, right? I want to ring in 2011 with you.”

“Yeah, I’ll be here. Anyway, you up for a get-together tonight?”

“Of course. Definitely, I’m up for it.”

“Great.”

David sounded like guys do when they first start dating and don’t dare say, Look, I’m exhausted and have no patience for your friends tonight. Ben stopped at the corner of Eighth Avenue. Something shifted. He looked up, frantic. The traffic lights were malfunctioning.

He saw yellow followed by green.

Caution. Go.

Instead of yellow followed by red.

Caution. Stop.

Were the lights turning backward? He stepped off the curb but then pulled himself back, afraid.

“Hey, Ben, you there?”

David had asked him a question. He looked up again. The lights were functioning normally, so he crossed the street.

“Yeah, I’m here. Sorry, got distracted by the throng of Green Day fans. What was the question?”

“Do you want to stop by here first or meet there?”

“Meet there. Colin’s text said eight and I’m going to be late as it is.”

“No problem. I’ll see you there.”

“Okay, thanks. See you in a few.”

Ben tapped the red End button on his screen and pushed the phone back into his pocket. He could feel the cold wind start to whip through the street as he got closer to the Hudson. He hunched his shoulders toward his ears in an attempt to stay warm, but it wasn’t working. He looked up and saw purple skies. Snow, maybe? He felt something shift again, the same feeling. He looked at the traffic lights when he reached Ninth Avenue. Everything seemed normal. He swallowed hard, his mouth dry. He reached into his gym bag to pull out a half-empty bottle of sports drink and took a swig.

He felt his phone buzz in his pocket again. Probably Colin, wondering where he was. He took it out and looked at the screen. It was a 512 number, Austin’s area code, but he didn’t recognize it. He answered immediately.

“Ben Walsh.”

He took another swig of sports drink and then returned the plastic bottle to his bag. The wind blew harder now.

“Hello, Ben. This is Father Davenport. We’ve never met, but I’m the new priest at the University Catholic Center. I’m at Seton hospital.”

Ben stood at the intersection and put his finger into his left ear so he could hear better.

“Ben, there’s been an accident.”

“What kind of accident?”

“It’s your parents. They were coming home on the interstate and got hit by an eighteen… Ben, there’s no way to make this any easier. The doctors did everything they could but… it was too much. They didn’t make it, Ben. I’m so sorry, but your parents have passed. You should catch the next flight home. Your brothers need you.”

The sounds of the city receded into a cavernous silence. Ben glanced up. The lights were going backward again. He heard a voice in his head, his father’s voice, singing a song from when he was a little boy. Was it the Eagles? He was pretty sure it was the Eagles. “New York Minute.” That was the name of the song.

Blood rushed to Ben’s face and he had difficulty breathing. He could feel the earth inch forward even as he stood attached to the sidewalk. At some point he would know what to do, who to call, and where to go. Or maybe he would wake up and find that Father Davenport was just part of a really bad dream. A snowflake fell and landed on his nose. Soon the one flake turned into three, then ten, then ten thousand, until a blizzard of white engulfed him, chilling him to the bone. Through the swirl, Ben heard the disembodied voice of Father Davenport blasting its way through the tiny speaker of his phone.

“Are you there, Ben? Can you hear me? Ben? Ben?”