Special Report blazed across the television screen, and the cartoon was instantly replaced by another news reporter standing in front of Pier 70. The bold title plastered across the screen read Prostitution Ring Widens. Daisy popped up from her perch beside Peter’s head and started barking incessantly, startling him out of the heavy slumber he’d fallen back into when Grace went upstairs. He knocked Daisy off the couch cushion, and she didn’t skip a beat as she jumped back into his lap with her eyes fixated on the foyer, yapping.
Peter swatted Daisy off the sofa again just as the doorbell chimed. She let out a yip of resentment. “Grace, can you get that?” he yelled.
Everyone in investment banking with well-preserved wives, 2.5 children, Pacific Heights mansions, and 1/5 fractional NetJet shares sleeps around outside their perfect marriages. His own father, for God’s sake, had had a long-term mistress his mother knew about fully, but ignored. Goddammit, the fact that my mother had the wisdom to turn a blind eye is what kept their marriage together. Well, until she went into rehab.
“I’m coming,” he said in reaction to the front doorbell ringing again.
Peter clicked off the news report and began to hoist himself up from the couch, but sank back down. The room was spinning. He glanced over at the half-empty crystal decanter of Louis XIII next to the sofa. Well, there went a thousand bucks worth of cognac.
The doorbell rang again.
Steadying himself on the armrest, he heaved himself all the way up this time and meandered as fast as he could to the foyer. Blinded by the bright early afternoon sun as he opened the door, Peter raised his arm to shield his eyes from the glare. A mass of auburn hair shone like flames in the sunlight.
“I forgot my key,” said a voice that alternated almost by syllable between husky and high-pitched. At about Grace’s height –five-foot-six, Nick shoved past his father. “Jeez, Dad, did you get into a fight?”
“With a bottle of whiskey?” asked Grace’s mother as she waved her left hand back and forth in front of her nose.
“Thanks. Good to see you, too, Marie. Where’s George?”
“He’s in the car. We’re picking up a few things for Nick,” said Marie. She was even frailer than the last time Peter had seen her. At only five-foot-two, she wasn’t an ounce over 100 pounds.
“Great, come on in.”
“Thank you. I’ll wait with George in the car, although I appreciate your offer.” Marie turned around and, holding the railing tightly, proceeded down the five stairs from the brick porch to the twenty-foot walkway that led her back to the station wagon. In the front passenger seat, her husband of fifty years, Grace’s father, was puzzling through the New York Times crossword.
“Wait, Marie?” Peter hesitated as she turned around. “Look, I don’t know what you’ve been told, but this is ridiculous. Grace has gone off the deep end this time and…”
“She told us what happened at the airport, Peter. She needs some distance. You need to give her time.”
“Where’d she go?” asked Peter.
“To a spa,” said Marie before turning to walk back to the car.
Peter’s shoulders fell as he shut the door.
Over the years, Peter had grown to love Marie and George as much as he did his own parents, especially since he rarely made it down to his mother’s home in Palm Springs. She’d fallen in love with the dry desert air and what it did for her senses, moving there permanently after two stints at Betty Ford.
“Dad, you look like a homeless bum.” Nick bee-lined to the stairs.
“I do need a haircut, huh?” Peter studied his reflection in the foyer mirror again. “Guess I dropped off on the sofa last night with the same clothes on from Hong Kong.”
Nick started up the staircase.
“Hey, Nick, can we go into the kitchen and talk for a few minutes? I could use some coffee.”
Nick minded his father and followed Peter through the butler’s pantry and into the kitchen. Beside the sink, the coffee maker gazed defiantly at Peter. He inspected it without a clue as to what to do. Grace always handled the coffee-making detail.
Observing his father helplessly prodding the machine, Nick grabbed a bag of coffee beans from the refrigerator, buzzed them in the grinder, and loaded the machine. Peter watched in silent awe as the coffee began dripping into the cup.
“So, Dad, you’re, like, completely helpless without Mom, aren’t you?” Nick handed his father a cup of steaming coffee. “Do you know how to add the cream?” Nick pointed at the fridge.
“Look, son…” Peter sipped it black rather than divulging that he wasn’t sure if there was some trick to adding the cream through the coffeemaker or if he should just use the container of Half and Half in the refrigerator. “…Your mother and I have been going through some … delicate times. And with this woman…” Peter stopped to catch his thoughts as he pulled out one of the barstools from under the kitchen island.
“Woman?” asked Nick. “She’s my—” But Peter cut him off.
“Practically your age? No. Sam is not a child, Nick—she’s twenty-eight. That’s only a couple years younger than your mother was when we got married.” Nick’s jaw dropped. “It wasn’t what it seemed. I am not having an affair, per se, I swear.”
“Sometimes when two people are in the office together, it can get … complicated.”
“She works for you.”
“Honestly, I don’t know why both she and your mother came to the airport. It’s really ridiculous.”
“She and Mom at the airport? So, you’re having an affair … with a younger woman … from your work? Are you kidding me, Dad?”
“No.” His head pounding, Peter edged toward Nick and curved his arms around his son in an uncomfortable embrace.
“Are you getting divorced?”
“Your mom and I will try to work it out. I am committed, Nick.”
Nick pushed his father away. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Hey, no swearing,” said Peter. “What happened to my sweet little boy who I used to throw the ball with?”
“You haven’t thrown a ball with me since I was in third grade.”
Peter paused for a moment, trying to calculate his son’s age. Peter had started at the firm, Barrett Investment Partners—or BIP, as most people called it—when Nick was in preschool. He’d been there ten years. “You’re almost in high school.”
“Thanks for paying super-close attention.”
“Hey, I’m still your father, and you need to treat me with respect. I want what’s best for you.”
“Do they teach you that in Divorce for Dummies?” asked Nick. “Are you moving out?”
“We haven’t gotten that far. I’m sure you can stay here.”
“So Mom gets the house?”
“Jeez, I don’t know! Please. You are my number one priority.”
“If I were your number one priority, you’d have come home,” screamed Nick, “instead of stuffing some chick old enough to be my sister behind Mom’s back!”
“You really need to calm down, son. I’m here for you.”
“So let me get this straight. If you have a business trip, say to Singapore, you’ll cancel and come to my piano recital?”
“Of course! I’ll always be here for you.... Well, I mean, I would want to…”
“See, it’s all bullshit!” With that, his son stomped out, and his footsteps could be heard running up the staircase.
Peter’s slump drooped into a full-on hunch. Falling into the same leather lounge chair Grace had sat in earlier, he scanned the wall that was filled with photos of the three of them—Grace, Nick and Peter. On the corkboard above the kitchen desk hung various invitations for upcoming social events, on which Grace had handwritten indications of RSVPs. When did it go so wrong?
Hearing his son’s angry clomping down the stairs, Peter jumped up to meet Nick in the foyer. “I’m going to stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s until Mom comes home,” whispered Nick without turning to face his father. “Remember to walk Daisy and put her in her crate at night so she doesn’t pee all over the house.”
I wondered what that smell was. “Hey, maybe we could get together tomorrow. Go biking to the ocean.”
Already on the front doorstep, Nick looked at his father. “Bingo, Dad. My bike. Stolen. Last summer. You were going to get me that custom Fuji next time in Tokyo. I can’t anyway—I’ve got my SSAT test next weekend and I’ve got to study.” Racing down the front steps, Nick ran the length of the walkway to the waiting car.
Turn around and say goodbye to me, Nick. Please.
George had stepped out to open the back door, and Nick clambered in without turning back. As George closed the rear door, he glanced up at the house and gave Peter a quick salute and a halfhearted smile. Even in the worst of times, George could show nothing less than true kindness. Peter wished his own father had been more like George.
The station wagon pulled away.
Peter slammed the door with a loud thud. The price of infidelity, no matter how singular, on that day had revealed itself.
Walking back into the kitchen, he sat down at the table and, resting his elbows on the marble surface, he dropped his face into his hands. For the first time since Grace’s sister, Nicole, had died tragically fifteen years ago, it took all his testosterone to keep from crying. Staring fixedly at the table, he saw the envelope with his name on it directly in front of him.
When I came to say goodbye, you were passed out on the couch. Not wanting to interrupt your needed sleep, I am leaving you this note instead.
I’m angry and hurt and I feel betrayed. All I wanted when I came home this morning was a simple apology and the answer to the question why? It wouldn’t have cost you anything, maybe just a pound of pride, and we both know the value you put on that!
I don’t think these last two years of therapy have really helped us. When I asked you last week if you still loved me, you said yes, but there was a noticeable pause beforehand, and you never looked me in the eye. I know you’re going to say that’s ‘paranoid’ of me (your favorite emotion to accuse me of) but I know it’s true.
I’m going to a spa for a few days that Brett recommended. I want to get my thoughts together, and then we’ll see where this goes.