Saturday, June 26, 2004

Chapter Three: The wine

No one locked their doors in The Colony. So Danny didn't hear Jeff enter. She was also used to Lissy's deep bark announcing visitors. Now Lissy and her protective bulk resided in Robert Jr.'s house. Her former dog lived in her former house with her soon to be former husband. There was a kind of poetry to that.

Danny was looking out the front window at the descending sun. This view hadn't changed in all the years she spent in this house. The view looked across the river at the lowrises of 160th street in Manhattan. You saw as the sun in the reflection of those windows, which allowed you to see the sunset itself. The wine bottle was half empty now. And the aromas from the bubbling pot of puttanesca sauce dominated the tiny house.

Jeff walked up behind Danny and kissed her on her check. She didn't startle at all, and just held his hand as she continued to watch the sun's reflections. Jeff took one look at the wine bottle and laughed.

"I see you started without me."

Danny looked up and laughed too. "I'm my best company now most of the time," she responded. Jeff's cheerful tone was always infectious, and Danny like everyone else felt better when Jeff was around. Everyone liked Jeff. Well, almost everyone. Robert Jr. never got along with Jeff and vice versa. They both had a million reasons for their not liking the other, but Danny never thought is was anything but jealousy on Robert Jr.'s part and possessiveness on Jeff's.

In many ways their not getting along put pressure on Danny. It was always tense when Jeff used to come over. And she knew that hours would be spent defending each to the other. But in some ways it had been a blessing. When Danny left Robert Jr., there was no question of Jeff's loyalty. He was one of the few people left, now that her father was gone, that remembered the real Danny. The Danny before the Oribe haircut and Prada handbags. The Danny who preferred her old battered jeans, flip flops and her hair in a ponytail.

Jeff poured himself a glass of wine and walked over to the stove. He inhaled deeply and sighed.

"Your mom made the best puttanesca sauce on earth! Even yours isn't bad." he teased Danny. "Did I ever tell you what the name means?"

Danny shook her head, and waited for the historical fact that Jeff was going to share whether she liked it or not. As a librarian, he knew everything. And as her friend, he knew when she needed distractions.

"It stands for "prostitute." It was named for the prostitutes in Italy who prepared this after a long night on the streets."

"Oh, great!" moaned Danny. "Not very relevant in my case. I haven't had sex in almost a year. Maybe I should have made Fettucini Alfredo instead." And she punched Jeff as he doubled over with laughter.

"Join the club," he managed to get out through his laughter. "Ever since Richard left, the most intimacy I have had is with a good book or watching Oprah." He refilled Danny's glass, lifted his own and offered a toast. "To love!"

Danny drank and watched Jeff over the rim of her glass. She knew Jeff too well. "Jeff, how are you doing? Have you heard from Richard at all? Maybe it's time to start getting out again."

Jeff reached out and hugged Danny. "Enough maudlin talk. Let's eat!" While they worked as a well-oiled machine to get the pasta cooked and drained and the garlic bread toasted and the salad tossed, neither of them said a word. By now, Danny had opened a second bottle of wine, and by the end of dinner they were on their third.

Both sat at the table they had pulled up in front of the big picture window. The sun was long gone and now the lights of the city were their stars. Boats moved slowly up and down the river, and music played softly in the background. Neither needed to say very much. They knew everything there was to know about each other and felt good just being together.

Danny remembered the summer that Jeff first told her he was gay. At first she was surprised. She always thought that he had been in love with her. And she had been right. He had. Just not in the way Danny had expected. She was sad at first, thinking about all he would miss and how hard things would be, especially in The Colony. But she had forgotten that The Colony knew all. Danny, as with Robert Jr.'s infidelity, was the last to know.

Later Danny learned to be grateful for Jeff's sexual preferences. She would never have to share his affection with another woman who might not understand their friendship. Jeff's boyfriends became part of the club. And all accepted Danny easily.

Yet none had touched Jeff's heart as deeply as Richard had. Their break-up when Richard had been transferred to London was devastating on both of them. They knew better than to try and maintain a long distance romance and Jeff couldn't move to London. His job as Assistant Head Librarian at NYU's law school was too important. In two years, when the head libarian retires, Jeff will step up to her position. That would make him the youngest head librarian for a major law school in the United States. Even so, Jeff had almost given this up to be with Richard. Richard was the one who had refused this sacrifice. And the inevitable good-byes were made and Jeff hasn't been his normal cheerful self since.

He and Richard chatted online and IMed frequently. But it wasn't the same. Even though they shared a love of computers and the Internet and belonged to the same ethical hackers club it wasn't enough. To coax him over the "pond" Richard promised to buy Jeff tickets to the East End theater box office smash and fish and chips from the Seashells afterwards. But Jeff didn't want to see Rciahrd again only to have ot leave him a few days later. It had hurt too much. And Jeff wasn't ready for more hurt. He dragged himself back to the present and this little room, in the little house overlooking the enormous view.

Both had tilted their chairs back , precariously, their shoes kicked aside and their bare feet on the edge of the small table. Danny was wiggling her toes to the music and Jeff was watching her. "You could use a toe ring and a pedicure," he said unceremoneously. She wiggled her toes for emphasis and grinned.

"I'll get a pedicure and a toe ring when I find someone to help me get over Robert Jr."

With that said, she stared out the window again and became pensive. "Jeff, do you think I will ever get over him? Do you think that this hurt will ever stop?" Jeff didn't answer her excect to put his foot up again hers. It was an intimate move and the touch of someone else, even her dear friend Jeff, made her feel better.

"I remember when I first met Richard. He walked into the law libary in a Columbia law school sweatshirt. When he came up to the desk to ask a question I teased him about that sweatshirt. I told him Columbia shirts weren't allowed at NYU. He had laughed and said that it was okay, he had gone to Yale. Touche! We went for coffee and spent the next three years together. I hope there is live after love." Jeff looked off at the river as well. The silence spread. A dog barked down the lane, a car door slammed at the [commons] and Mrs. Jacobs was calling her cats. The music stopped and the candles had burned down. It was time for Jeff to go.

Danny was the first to move. "I have lots of puttanesca sauce left, if you want me to pack it up." She put her chair back in the dining area and began to clear the table. She was wobbly on her feet and held into the edge of the table to steady herself. The third bottle of wine was finished and both wine glasses as well. "I don't think I have had this much to drink in years. You're not going to drive home in your condition, are you?" Jeff shuffled his chair back and stood with enormous effort.

"No, I'll stay with Aunt Dolores tonight. By the way, the computer is finished. I'll bring it in and set it up before I go." As he lifted the computer from where he had placed it at the front door, Danny thought about how surprised and excited Robby will be when he sees it on Sunday. It may not be new and fancy, but with Jeff's help is was powerful and fast. And he had loaded it with every program and game Robby could have wanted. A computer and Internet access was the one thing Robby had missed from his father's house. But Robert Jr. had insisted that the computer remain there, to help convince Robby to visit more often.

Danny watched quietly as Jeff set it up expertly, even though he was pretty drunk. When he was done he stood up and spread his arms expansively. "Ta Da!!! For the young prince."

Jeff's joy at being able to help give Robby something this special was apparent. He was Robby's godfather. Robert Jr. only allowed this because he was Protestant and Protestants didn't have godparents. Danny was Catholic and godparents were very important.

When Danny had first mentioned that she needed a computer and Internet access for Robby, Jeff had approached Judge Ricci (Robby's godmother). Danny's mother and the Judge had been best friends when they were growing up here in Edgewater. And Danny now worked part-time for the Judge while awaiting the start of NYU law school in the Fall. Judge Ricci loved Danny and Robby enough that she would have bought a computer just to make them happy. But Jeff found an old abandoned one in the back of her office and together with his Internet buddies fixed it up, beefed it up and created a special machine just for Robby.

Jeff gave Danny a long hug and left for Aunt Dolores's house on the next lane. He called when he arrived to let her know he had arrived safely. The Danny sat down at the computer with a hot cup of strong coffee and turned it on.

to be continued...