copyright 2012 by Lewis DeSimone
They had all spent most of the afternoon speculating about Edward’s new beau, none of them knowing quite what to expect. Information from the horse’s mouth had so far been scant. Not that it would have helped: each of Edward’s lovers brought a unique set of eccentricities, presenting a puzzle for his friends to solve. Just when Bill thought he had gotten a handle on the latest, he would inevitably vanish, relegated to a minor chapter as Edward prepared for the next victim. But this one, Edward said, was different: Robert would be around for a while.
They all pricked up their ears at the sound of Edward’s familiar voice. “Ciao belli,” he called out, mounting the stairs.
Bill saw his hair first—waves of dark brown reflecting the last rays of the sun. Hand on the rail, Edward took the last few steps quickly—energetically, as though ending a sprint—and planted himself firmly on the deck, green eyes gleaming above cheeks pink with excitement. He slapped at his chinos to get rid of the sand that had flown at him in the thirty seconds since he’d parked the car, and looked back toward the steps as though to will Robert up with his eyes.
At first glance, it looked like Greg had won the pool. He’d been betting on the strong silent type (“Nerd, you mean,” Harlan had quipped, squeezing lime juice into the blender); Edward, Greg said, was due for a stabilizing influence. (“The pot calling the kettle fuchsia,” Kyle threw in.) Robert—that’s practically all Edward had told them, his name—rose from the stairs like an especially slow jack-in-the-box. A sudden breeze blew off the ocean, tossing a splash of chestnut hair across his eyes. He ducked his head shyly, letting his eyes linger on the floor for a moment as if to draw breath before facing the inquisition.
When Edward began the introductions, Robert recovered and shook everyone’s hand in turn, repeating each name—“Hello, Harlan,” “Nice to meet you, Bill”—the textbook trick for remembering. Only up close could Bill read the color of his eyes—a cool hazel, glowing gold in the light. His lips parted only slightly when he smiled, as if he were ashamed of his teeth. The smile hardly put a dent in his pale skin. Twenty-five at best, Bill thought. Edward had a decade on him.
The formalities over, they all sat back and negotiated the silence. Edward, of course, saved the day. “The roses out front are doing great, Bill,” he said. “Where’d you get the green thumb?”
“Thanks. It’s news to me, too.” Bill had had the place for a year now, but he was still amazed by his abilities as a homemaker.
Edward tapped his foot against the wide planks of the deck. “I see this is holding up pretty well,” he said.
“Yes. It survived the winter.”
Edward turned to Robert. “I spent half of last summer building this thing. Every weekend.”
Harlan, sitting under the eaves, lifted his glass into the twilight. “If it weren’t for you, Edward, we’d all be sitting with our asses in the sand.” Kyle nudged him hard and moved his chair, avoiding guilt by association. He crossed thin arms before his chest, knobby elbows poking out beneath the sleeves of a pale green polo shirt.
Edward noisily repositioned himself in his chair. “We have quite a party here today,” he said, stroking the short strands of his beard. It was perfectly sculpted, framing his face, crisply trimmed off the throat. “Is there room for everyone?”
“No problem,” Bill told him. “I’ve got it all figured out—as long as Harlan doesn’t mind sleeping on the couch.”
“Oh, we don’t have to worry about Harlan,” Greg said. “Couch, floor, men’s room at the bus station. He’ll be fine.”
Everyone laughed—even Harlan, whose sex life had become a standard joke by now. Playing along, he ran to the edge of the deck and pointed across the harbor, in the direction of Herring Cove Beach. His voice quavered; he was famous for his Katharine Hepburn. “The dunes, Norman, the dunes!”
They all told Harlan he was living in the seventies (which he’d always regretted missing); he told them they weren’t living at all. He cultivated his reputation, but Bill suspected that the truth couldn’t possibly be as bad as their imaginings. Sometimes he wondered which was more perverse—Harlan’s fantasy life, or everyone else’s need to believe in it, to live vicariously through him.