It all started when Harold called Philip a nigger-lover. Everyone gasped, but it had been said, and there wasn't any way the word could be taken back even if Harold had apologized for using it, but he did not.
Nor could his being drunk serve as an excuse.
In any case, when he used the phrase, he heard quotation marks around it, but to everyone else at the table, that intonational framing did not take the sting away, and everyone knew that Harold had never gotten over the anger he felt when he was jealous of Philip and Patrick.
"What did you say?" Philip said, rising from his chair and knocking a nearly empty wine glass over, staining the tablecloth but not breaking the glass.
No one moved to stand the glass upright or to attend to the stain.
"There's no need for me to repeat it. It wasn't a taunt, just a description," Harold responded, pleased with himself for making a sly distinction. "So sit down."
"A description of what?" Philip asked, not willing to let it go, and not sitting down, either. He was controlling himself mightily because he could not bear hearing Patrick spoken of with such contempt.
"Of what you showed you were when you moved out," Harold said, impelled by indignation he was proud of, disdainful of any restraint, sick of how people pretend to respect each other's feelings at the expense of truth and honesty. He pushed back his chair and got to his feet.
He could not remember exactly what he had just said, but he was aware that he had to stand his ground.
"Have you lost all your dignity?" Philip said quietly.
"Where do you get off talking about dignity?" Harold said, from across the table leaning into it. "After the way you have behaved towards me? You married Patrick before he died, didn't you? Pretty shrewd!"
"That's enough, Harold," Myron said, keenly aware that Philip was doing everything in his power to restrain himself, when not holding back would have been perfectly justifiable.
"You are going to tell me what is enough? You give him tea and sympathy and hope that maybe he'll be grateful and fuck you because you know that at your age nobody else will."
"I thought you were better," Myron said. "I am sorry," he said without condescension. "I was wrong."
He stood and turned to Philip, said to him and to the other guests around the table, "I am so sorry. If I had expected anything like this, I never would have..."
Philip moved away from the table and buttoned his jacket, which hung loose on his thin frame, and stepping behind Dirk's chair, took hold of Myron's shoulder. "Don't," he said. "You meant well, I know. You believe in grace and reconciliation. I am a little bit more realistic than that. I don't go to your church, but I honor the standard you try to uphold."
"What the fuck a way to talk is that?" Harold persisted, unable to let go, spoiling for a fight, aching to feel the explosive blows of words and fists pound his wanting flesh.
Nick looked at Myron and went for Harold's coat.
"Come on," he said. "Let's get you a cab."
"I don't need a cab. I don't want a cab. I'm not ready to go until this thing is settled."
"There's nothing to settle," Nick said, "and if there were, now is not the time, here is not the place, and you are in no condition to do anything but go home and get into bed."
"With you?" Harold said.
"No, not with me."
"Come on," Nick said, steering Harold out of the apartment.
"Are you fucking throwing me out?"
"I'm going outside with you to get you safely into a taxi and make sure the driver knows exactly where to take you."
"And that's it. Then you gotten rid of me."
"I'm not trying to get rid of you. I will talk on the phone with you in the morning, but not too early, around eleven."
Nick took the taxi driver's mobile number and gave his own cell phone number, too, told him Harold's address, and prepaid him, tendering him fifty dollars for a trip that would cost something like twenty.
"See that he gets safely inside, please."
"He's not so good for drink," the driver said. "I can see that. I'll get him home in one piece."
He turned around to Harold in the back seat and winked with an innocent smile at him.
"Thanks," Nick said, squeezing his shoulder and feeling its muscularity.
The driver threw his head back in acknowledgement of his responsibility and then turned his attention to the wheel. Nick backed away from the cab, giving a farewell salute to Harold.
"Is this all you do?" Harold said to the driver as the cab made its way from Washington Heights to the Bowery.
"What do you mean?" the driver asked.
"I mean," said Harold, "do you do anything besides drive a cab?"
"Yeah," said the driver.
"What?" Harold said.
"I go to school."
"At your age?" Harold said doubtfully.
"Graduate school," said the driver.
"What do you study?" Harold asked.
"Psychology," the driver said.
"You gonna be a shrink?" Harold asked.
"You can call it that," the driver laughed.
"I don't like them," Harold said.
"Shrinks," Harold said. "They make up your life story from the things you say and then tell you back their version and call you crazy if you don't buy it. I don't need that."
"What do you need?" the driver asked.
"What do you have to give?"
"Me?" the driver answered, "Nothing."
"Just like everybody else," Harold said.
Once Harold was gone, Philip could fall apart.
"I'm sorry," Myron said again.
"Stop saying that," Philip said. "You couldn't know."
Myron gave out a long breath and held his tongue.
"I have nothing to explain," Philip said, through tears.
"Nobody thinks you have. I don't."
"People become different at the end of their lives," Philip said, referring to Patrick, "in ways you would never expect. Something essential comes out. It shows itself, openly, shows itself, finally. He didn't have to keep running."
He waited and blotted his eyes.
"Patrick was a beautiful boy," he went on, "in need. He spent most of his life denying that he needed anything. He controlled everything he could, and he liked it when people with needs came to him and needed him. It was then that he knew that he didn't need them. It made him feel good. It made him feel safe for that moment. But that was only who he was trying to be when he could not accept who he was. But when he did, he was all sweetness."
"And what is Harold?" Dirk said.
"He's terribly male-identified even if it is as an unsuccessful male."
"It's no excuse," Dirk said.
"He does not need an excuse. It's the way he is," Philip explained.
"You're very generous," Myron said, and added, as if on tip-toes, "but that does not change it for you."
"It hurts me, but I'll get over it. It isn't very important. What's important is keeping as a treasure the reality of what went on with Patrick and me, how we changed and who we became."
Nick and Myron invited Philip to stay the night.
"Thanks," he said, "but I'll get in a cab with Dirk. If that's ok," he said turning to Dirk.
Dirk nodded and they left.
Harold was abrupt when he spoke to Nick late Saturday morning. He did not want to say anything about getting into a cab -- that would lead to some remark about the cab driver, and then one thing would lead to another.
The driver...he had gotten out of the cab and held the door open for Harold and with his free hand helped him out of the cab. And Harold fell against him and looking up said, "Stay, I want to gaze at you and touch you."
"Not tonight," said the driver and moved back, a friendly smile sitting on his lips, his eyes bright, an irresistibly appealing young man.
With a swift lunge, Harold brought his mouth to the driver's and tried to kiss him.
"Come on, man. I said no. I got to work and you got to go inside and go to bed. You can do that. You're not so drunk anymore."
"I was never drunk," Harold said, imitating the way a comedian playing a drunk would say it. "I was only undercover plotting how I could seduce you."
Fortunately, Rowan, who had a few rooms on the ground floor came out onto the stoop just then Nick having phoned him right after he had gotten Harold into the cab and took Harold up to his apartment.
Upon being parted from the driver, Harold reached into an inner pocket and gave the driver his card and said, "In case you're ever in the mood to beat me up a little."
The driver took the card.
"I'll think about it," he said chuckling in good-natured placation, and walked back to his cab by the side of the curb.
"I have a lot of guys fighting over me tonight," Harold said with a creepy laugh, "but none of them is worthy of me," he said pulling off his tie.
"You need to sleep," Rowan said, kindly.
"You don't know what the fuck I need," Harold said.
"You're probably right," Rowan said, a tinge of sadness in his voice. "Here, drink this."
"Ugh," Harold said after swallowing the sedative Rowan gave him.
"You're ok now?" Nick said, leaning against the parapet on the terrace, a mug of coffee in the hand not holding the phone to his ear, and surveying the Hudson River stretching away westward.
"Why should I be ok?" Harold said. "What's so good? Maybe it's good for you."
"Harold," Nick said, and waited.
"I could never understand how Philip could leave me for that black kid. It felt so irresponsible," Harold said in a low, flat voice.
"He wasn't a kid," Nick said.
"He was in his late thirties," Harold said, as if proving something, "and just about a billionaire, building cell-phone towers all over the world. He wore smart clothes, sleek boots, and expensive shades, and he flew first class or in private planes. And he was a ball-busting bastard. So what? And then he gets sick in Africa. It's poetic justice. And just before he dies Philip marries him in Connecticut. It all makes sense now. What a mercenary bastard. I never would have believed it."
"Philip is not a mercenary bastard," Nick said gently. "It would make it easier for you if he were. You could understand it better. You got hurt and the pain won't go away, and you won't let it."
"So it's my fault."
"I didn't say that," Nick said. "It is how it is, and I wish I could make it better."
"Thanks for nothing," Harold said and disconnected the call with the push of his thumb.
Philip went to the closet where he kept some of Patrick's notebooks and newspaper accounts of his death: obituaries, in memoriams.
"It isn't him," he said to Dirk, who had pulled off his boots and socks and was sprawled on the couch drinking a martini in an old-fashion glass.
"It was what he once tried to make himself, but in the end, he knew it was false. It wasn't him. But it was better than that because the happiness he had never known before flooded over him. He didn't care about protecting himself anymore and, I swear, it was like the sunshine. He had more life energy in the months that preceded his death than he'd had throughout his life."
Philip took a swallow of his drink.
Dirk put his drink down, got up from the couch, and stood in front of him. Philip smiled. Dirk put his arms around Philip's waist. You've been sad, haven't you?
Philip kissed him full of need.
Dirk returned his kiss, accepting his need, embracing it like the precious thing it was, a portal opening onto humanity.