As I came in out of the cold evening, Mr. Freileg met me at the door. He was dressed all in black, like an actor, and his thin grey hair was grown long.
"Peter," he said, shaking my hand. "Where are your mom and dad?"
"On the island," I said. “Spur of the moment.”
"Well, it's nice to have you anyway, Peter.” He punched me on the shoulder. “Go say hello to everyone."
There were seventeen people in the living room, wearing skirts and sweaters, beads and digital watches. They drank and smiled. I nudged through them, nodding, and found a spot on the edge of the sofa. It was a law firm party, all the old partners and their wives who were sort of like my relatives - my dad had been a partner since I was four or five. After a minute Mr. Freileg came in from the kitchen and handed me down a wet glass of beer.
"That ought to tide you over," he said. "Then I’ll get started on the martinis."
I sat and drank, and after an hour Mr. MacKenzie's son Gabriel came in, drifting through the crowd of guests and turning the rings on his fingers. He stood near the coffee table and I got up and went over to him, lifting my martini glass in his face.
"Happy New Year, Gabriel."
"It's not fucking New Year," he said. "Why am I even here? I don't drink. Everybody knows I don't drink. I don't drink."
"So, what did you do at New Year's?"
"I sat in my hotel room alone, waiting for Gretta to call me. It was a great evening."
"Jeez. When was the last time you saw her?"
"Well, in Cairo. In November."
"But I thought you went to Bangkok-”
"Went to Bangkok? I fucking lived there for three years, in that shit-”
"Gabriel," Mr. Freileg said. "Go in the kitchen and get a drink."
"He was provoking me."
"Go to the kitchen and get a drink."
"Henry, you can go screw," Gabriel said, and he went to my spot on the sofa and threw himself down. I prodded at the olive in my empty glass.
"How was that?" asked Mr. Freileg.
"Syrupy," I said.
"I'll mix you another. You mind the door."
Cold air blew in through the crack under the door and I played at blocking it with my foot until people started knocking.
"Well here you are like you own the place," said Mr. Avery, and handed me his overcoat.
"Said he'd write me into his will."
"Oh, Henry's good as his word, he is, good as his word." He smoothed down his wisps of hair. "Hey," he said, leaning into me, "any of that Laphroaig here?"
"Dick!" said Mr. Freileg. "Where's Michelle?"
"Parking the car."
After they’d gone to the kitchen Mrs. Avery came in. She wore a black vinyl raincoat and white make-up over her eyes. She was probably about forty-five, a bit younger than Mr. Avery.
"Peter," she said, "why are they making you stand here? Where is Henry, does he know you're standing here?"
"He's getting me another drink."
"Well here, take my coat." She turned around and I slid it off her shoulders. "Do you like this dress?"
I brushed the skin on her shoulder with the back of my hand.
"You’re adorable," she said. "I'll get you a drink. Don't you go anywhere."
She waved at someone and tip-toed away, and I watched her behind.
I went out into the front yard to see that there weren't any cars pulling up. I let my breath out slowly in the cold air. Dragon breath. Then I went back into the sweaty house. There was a space on the sofa next to Gabriel MacKenzie.
"Hello," I said.
Gabriel said nothing.
"You, uh, going back to Cairo before long?"
"Let me tell you about Cairo. Everything is very dirty and old. Everywhere you go it's noisy. It stinks everywhere. It's horrible. But in the south of the city there is a cafe so perfect and an owner who speaks such perfect English I could kiss him, and he has two daughters who wheel out your coffee on a silver trolley. And he just-”
"Gabriel, you must need a drink," said Mr. Freileg. He held out a martini.
"I've told you, you know I don't drink."
"That's supposed to be my martini."
"So it is," said Mr. Freileg, and he handed it to me. He sat down on the coffee table with half of his ass on a copy of North American Vineyards. He smiled at Gabriel and I and rubbed his hands together.
"Astounding. I remember the Christmas party the year we had it, where was it? The Village Green Inn. And Marty Thompson was Santa. And Gabriel. You got some present from your mother and just about had a fit. Oh Lord, did we laugh. What was that present?"
"You think I remember?" said Gabriel.
"It was a book of Porsches," I said. "You opened it and said, 'Oh mother, my Porsche book, how wonderful,' and my sisters pretended to puke."
"Where are your sisters?" said Mr. Freileg.
"Back east," I said.
"Excuse me," said Gabriel, and he got up. "May I use your phone?"
"Feel free," said Mr. Freileg.
"Long distance." He went up the stairs.
"Go right ahead."
I slurped my martini. I felt that beer in my bladder.
Mr. Blanc waddled in from the dining room, his oxygen bag under his arm. He fell down into Gabriel's spot on the couch and sat there eyeing Mr. Freileg and then eyeing me, all the time sucking at his strawberry margarita. The glass was suddenly empty and the straw made a farting sound. People turned around. He reached to put his glass on the coffee table but couldn't reach. Mr. Freileg took it. Mr. Blanc pushed his glasses up onto his forehead, wiped at his eyes with his thumb and let the glasses fall back into place.
"So, kiddo. I see you're still chums with MacKenzie's boy. He's a strange boy, though, isn't he? Strange effeminate boy."
"George," said Mr. Freileg.
"I insult you?" He prodded me in the knee.
"Not at all," I said. "I don't like the guy. He thinks he's the greatest. But the guy's a loser."
"What's he been doing?"
"He starts bawling about one thing or the other, and wearing about fifty little rings." I set down my martini glass. "He's always given me the creeps. There's not one thing he's got I couldn't have, that’s for sure."
“I don't like him either,” said Mr. Blanc. “You speak your mind, don't you?"
"What have you been up to lately?" asked Mr. Freileg.
"Just putting in time at the arcade."
"You manager of that place?" asked Mr. Blanc.
"Huh. No, not yet."
"Thought you'd be manager of the place, for Christ's sake."
"Other people have seniority."
"That is bullshit. You want to manage the place, you go ahead and manage it. Don't let any of them assholes stand in your way. Be a great job for you."
"George, have you ever been into one of these arcades?" asked Mr. Freileg.
"Pinball," said Mr. Blanc.
Mr. Freileg and I glanced at each other. "Basically," I said.
Mrs. Avery came in from the dining room, smiling at me. She had a glass of red wine in each hand, and as she cut through a group of people, whispering excuse me, one of her heels snagged in the carpet and she bumped against Dominic Simmons, spun around and hit the ground, just missing the coffee table. One glass fell on the carpet beside her and the other hit the wall just above old Mr. Blanc, spraying wine across the back of his head. He turned around slowly and inspected the wall.
"Michelle?" Mr. Freileg jumped up. "What the hell you doing on the floor?"
"I was trying," she said, and pulled herself up, "to bring Peter a drink before he disappears again."
Mrs. Freileg and Mr. Avery came in with rags and a dustpan.
"Well he's not going anywhere," said Mr. Freileg.
"Peter's a hometown boy," said Mr. Avery.
"But aren't you going off to the Middle East or somewhere?"
"That's that Gabriel MacKenzie," shouted Mr. Blanc. "Cairo. He's in Cairo."
"Michelle, I told you I meant Gabriel," said Mrs. Freileg. "Peter's here in town."
"And Gabriel has the fiancee?"
"Yeah," I said. "That's Gabriel."
"Oh," said Mrs. Avery. "I'm sorry Peter." Then she touched another woman's hand and they hurried out of the room.
Mr. Freileg wiped the wall down behind Mr.Blanc. I went upstairs to go to the bathroom.
The door to the Freilegs’ bedroom was open a crack. All I could see through the crack was the closet door, but that had a mirror on it and in the mirror I could see the back of Gabriel on the edge of the bed, talking on the telephone.
"No. Flight’s the twenty-eighth. Yeah, six-thirty. We'll need a reservation, God, I can't wait. Every restaurant here is. Sweets. No, that's alright. I said apology accepted. It's okay! You want? Okay. Okay."
He turned around and glanced in the mirror. Our eyes nearly met and I backed out of the way. He hadn't seen me. I was breathing fast. All I could see in the reflection now was the lamp on the bedside table.
Gabriel started to sing. He wasn't very good.
Down along the cove
We walk together hand in hand
Everybody watching us go by
Knows we're in love, yes they
And he kept on singing like that, more whining than singing. I went into the bathroom and shut the door and pissed and pissed and pissed.
Adam Lewis Schroeder has taken it all back.