Parson’s at Logan Square opened at eleven in the morning that Thursday afternoon, the same hour it always did. The rain had mostly cleared up by around nine or so, though the grey clouds lingered, and so they set up the patio with its tables and long benches and the red and white striped umbrellas. It was a breezy day, and it was mild for June but of course that was on account of the rain.
They got the usual traffic for the lunch hours, office workers and some guys in construction working on the renovations in that building up the block, tourists, a bachelorette party that had just flown in to Chicago that morning. The women took a table on the patio. Some of the clouds had moved on. The bride to be wore false flowers, pink ones with wide petals, woven into her ‘fro. The waitress working the patio laughed with the group as she took their drink orders.
A little bit after one o’clock a man with a cane came into the restaurant proper. The waitress was coming out with the tray of glasses, two waters and three mixed drinks and a coke. She held the door open for him with her back against the bar. The man’s jaw tensed but he ducked his head as if to say thanks. The cane clicked on the polished stone floor. He walked with a limp, his left leg stiff. The waitress let the door close and bore the drinks to the laughing women, who greeted her with cheer. She was thinking of the man’s eyes, dark as they were and under a sharp brow.
“Fish fry’s good,” said one of the women. She’d the native accent. Chicago girl, East side. “But I forgot, you don’t eat fish.”
“I eat fish, I just don’t like them.”
“She’s like those vegetarians that don’t eat fish, but in reverse.”
“Well, I’m getting shrimp. Y’all are welcome to join me.”
“No way you’d eat a pound of shrimp all yourself.”
“You don’t know what I be doing with a pound of shrimp.”
“A month before the wedding, too, you still gonna smell like shrimp.”
They laughed, the bride loudest, brightest. She’d the glow of love around her. It made her eyes soft and the curve of her mouth sweet. The women agreed on a round of mimosas before they’d order.
The man came out to the patio with a menu in his right hand. He took a seat at a table one over from the bachelorette party. He’d worn a light, blue floral shirt, very thin, over a white wifebeater, and wide-legged trousers, black. When he sat on the bench at the edge, he tugged at the left knee of his trousers. His leg jutted out some in front of him, his knee bent but not neatly. He had a metal girder leg brace on under the trousers.
The waitress turned to another page on her pad of orders. “Hey, I’m Katie. You doing all right today?”
“I’m fine.” He spoke abruptly. The man laid his cane out across the bench beside him. Then his mouth twisted. “Um. Thank you.”
She didn’t take it personal. “Just you today? Or are we waiting for someone?”
“He’ll be here soon. Can I get two waters? And a mimosa.”
“Sure thing. Guy you’re waiting for want anything to drink?”
“He’ll order when he gets here.”
She nodded and flashed him a smile, gave the usual script: if you need anything, just let me know, I’ll be right back with those waters. And a mimosa. The man gave her a smile, a pinched thing without much lip. His right leg was bouncing.
The bridesmaids chattered. The sun came hotly out from behind a cloud. The man sipped at his mimosa. He’d his phone out. Periodically he tapped at the screen to check the time.
Another man came jogging up the block. He had on orange-framed glasses and a black t-shirt with a yellow print of two hands limply hanging around BEV-RAGE AND THE DRINKS.
“Sorry I’m late!” He lobbed this as he took the ramp to the patio at a clip. “I was like hey, assholes, I gotta get out of here, can we wrap this up,” he said as he collapsed on the bench opposite the man with the cane, “but they wouldn’t finish the fucking orgy without me and I was like Jesus, fine, this is the last time I negotiate with you freaks at Break Out.”
“Watch your fucking mouth, Rich, you know there’s rules about talking in public?”
Rich propped his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands. “Hi, Eddie,” he said. “You’re looking so handsome, Eddie. I can see your laugh lines, Eddie.”
“You’re why we have leash laws,” said Eddie around his mimosa.
“You’re why we have rabies. Hey, no drink?”
“Order your own.” He slapped the menu at Rich. “I wasn’t going to order something only to have you run your mouth about the hops.”
“How do you care so much about nutritional health and still know nothing about beer?”
“Beer has no nutritional value. Wine—”
“Drinking a beer is the same as eating toast.”
“That’s not true. That is categorically not true.”
“It’s all about balance, man. Have a beer for lunch, skip the entire baguette at dinner.”
Eddie was laughing. “You’re such an asshole. You’ll eat the baguette anyway.”
“Yeah, ‘cause it tastes good! It feels good in my body! Look at this thing.” He stood and framed the soft slope of belly under his t-shirt with his hands. “Look at my bread gut. I’m just embracing it, Eds. This is me now.”
Eddie drank from his water. “You don’t have to make fun of yourself.”
“Who am I making fun of?” Rich sat down again. He smiled at the waitress. “Yeah, can I get the Stiegl-Radler? Yeah, the grapefruit. Awesome. You’re kickass.”
She laughed. Eddie held the glass of water to his lips. His eyelids flickered to and fro. As he rubbed his thumb along the glass he made smears through the condensation. Ice clicked. He’d set the glass down.
The women welcomed the waitress back. She’d brought them the shrimp and the burgers. The fish fry would be out soon. More mimosas?
“It’s just, there’s no reason for you to make a joke about it.”
He gestured with the glass of water. “Your body.”
“Ahh, c’mon, it wasn’t even that good a joke. Real shitty play on words.”
“No, I’m being serious about this. There’s nothing wrong with the way you look or, or how your body works.”
“Okay, yesterday you said I looked like Orange Bird with the glasses—”
“Because they’re creamsicle-colored.”
“‘I have a dream-sicle!’ What, you’ve never seen that before? Really? That was like the funniest shit on the internet in 2004.”
“And this isn’t about your glasses. Don’t make this about your glasses. It pisses me off when you do this, when you try to distract me.”
“Well, Eddie, I tell you what,” said Richie, “I didn’t really want to talk about your fucked up leg.”
Eddie put the glass back down, again. He said, “We’re not talking about my leg.”
“Yeah, we are.”
Richie took his own glass of water. He gulped from it. Eddie tore strips from his napkin and looked at Richie’s fingers, curled around the glass.
“That’s what you’re talking about.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” said Eddie.
“Sure it is. Why the hell else are we talking about my body if we’re not talking about you?”
“Why does it have to be about me? Why can’t it be about you for once?”
“Literally nobody has said that to me before,” said Richie. “Fine. What do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know what you want me to want to talk about.”
“Jesus, Eds. Just talk about whatever you want to talk about.”
“Well, what do you want to talk about?”
Richie threw his hands in the air. The waitress returned. Were they ready to order? Eddie ordered the fried cauliflower basket. Richie said, “Yeah, hey, Kate. Can I get the chicken sandwich? Demon-style.” She took the menu.
The men sat together. Eddie picked at his trousers leg, smoothing out the fold. Between his hands, Richie rolled the can of Stiegl-Radler. His palms damped.
“What time you heading out?”
“My flight’s at ten,” said Eddie, “so I should be at the airport by six.”
“You got pre-check, right? So why d’you have to be there so early?”
“That’s not a guarantee. They can bump you from pre-check if they want. It’s about being prepared, Richie.”
“Yeah, sure. Yeah. Okay. That makes sense.”
He popped the tab. The beer fizzed.
“What is that?”
“Wanna try it?”
“I don’t drink beer.”
“It’s not really like beer. It’s sweet. It’s like soda. C’mon, take a sip. They’ll still let you on the plane.”
He held the can out to Eddie. Eddie looked at it. His shoulder rose then fell. He leaned forward, delicate-like, and Richie tipped the can and he took a little sip from it like that. Eddie sat back.
“That isn’t like soda. That’s just soda.”
“Three point five alcohol content, baby.”
“How do you even have tooth enamel after drinking that?”
“That’s the Rich Tozier secret. See these pearly whites? All dentures.”
“There you go again,” said Eddie.
Richie set his jaw. His beard, mostly black, some brown, some grey, softened the gesture.
“Excuse me,” said one of the women from the other table. “Are you— I’m so sorry,” she said to Eddie. “But are you Rich Tozier? Right?” To the rest of the table she said, “He’s in New Block, you know, on Fox? With Kerry Washington?”
“Ah, shit, you got me,” said Richie. “I told you to bring the Marx masks, Eds. Yeah, I’m Tozier. Hey. Nice to meet you.”
He rose. Laughter rang across the patio. They exchanged handshakes. He posed for a photo with the bride.
“So you’re getting married in town?”
“My fiance’s from Chicago, yeah, so um, we thought we’d do it here. In July, yeah!”
“It’s gonna be hot as hell. Hope you’re not doing it by the water.”
“We’re actually going to be doing it at this old theatre, the Uptown?”
“Oh, no kidding! That’s a great place.”
More laughter at this. Richie’s laugh stood out. Eddie finished his mimosa. He made a fist and pounded lightly at his left thigh. As he did this he looked at Richie, neck clean-shaven, beard trimmed, his cheeks creasing as he smiled for another photograph with the bridesmaids. The breeze picked up. His hair fluttered.
The waitress returned with their lunch. “Richie,” Eddie called. He made his apologies and gave the bride a hug, one-armed.
“You’re lucky,” he told her. “Being in love.”
Wordless Eddie pushed the basket of chicken and fries to Richie.
“For leaving you alone.”
“It’s your job.”
“You can get mad at me for that.”
“For leaving you behind.”
Eddie said, “Richie,” chiding. He picked up a head of fried cauliflower and broke off a branch to eat. “You didn’t leave me behind.”
Richie sat. He took the sandwich to fill his hands.
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “Leave you behind.”
“Shut up and eat your lunch, Rich Tozier from New Block,” said Eddie. “I’m not paying for you to talk.”
They ate in a stillness. Eddie tilted his chin up, to look around the umbrella and to the bluing sky. The wind made the loosely cut material of his shirt tremble. His arms were ripcord strong and showed brown under the sleeves. He did regular exercises to ensure the left arm did not bulk more than the right. Richie licked sauce from his fingers.
“You planning on coming back out here?”
Eddie had closed his eyes. His eyelashes were fine and dark against his cheeks. The left cheek had a faint scarline across it.
“Probably,” he said. “Since I’m the north central guy now.”
“Cool. Hey, so I'm doing some shows in the south next month, uh, I'll be seeing Stan and Patty about the third week of July. Then I’ll be doing some shows in New York in August…”
“Yeah. You can stay with me if you want. Save some hotel expenses.”
“Or I could put you up at the Four Seasons. You could even order room service. Eat in the hot tub.”
Eddie smiled. It made his face, so leanly drawn, seem sweet.
“Sure, if you want cramps.”
Richie sucked harissa aioli sauce from a fry then popped the fry in his mouth. The chili tang lingered on his tongue. Putting on a bored teenager’s voice he said, “Whatever, I don’t know your life.”
Eddie laughed. He said, “You know pretty much everything.”
“I can read you like an open book, Kaspbrak.” He swirled another fry in the sauce. “Hey, I can’t believe I never asked, but, uh, how’s it going with Hugh?”
“I’ve been in Chicago three days, Rich.”
Rich looked at the basket of fries. He picked through them, testing for the soft joints.
“Three days, huh. Felt like a couple years with you hogging the bathroom.”
“It’s fine,” said Eddie. “Everything’s fine. It’s going great.”
“That’s great,” said Richie. “Yeah, that’s. That’s really great to hear. I’m glad you guys are doing. Great.”
Eddie hummed. Methodically Richie worked through the fries. He didn’t ask if Hugh had moved in. Almost certainly Eddie wouldn’t have offered to let Richie crash at his apartment if he was living with Hugh. In August Richie would have two shows in New York City. It was halfway through June now.
“I’ve been thinking about getting a dog.”
“If you say a Pomeranian I’ll throw up right here.”
“No, idiot, a service dog.”
Richie lowered his greased fingers. He might have asked an idiot question then like do you need one but he did not ask that and so perhaps the man with the leg brace felt merciful towards him for it.
“Oh, yeah,” said Richie, “then maybe you’ll stop knocking shit over.”
“Mister Kaspbrak, such language.”
“Fuck your Southern belle.”
“Oh, please, Mister Kaspbrak, if my mother should hear!”
He laughed and his laugh was a rowdy, flyaway thing. That was how Eddie laughed. If you heard him laugh like that, then you would fall in love with him. Maybe some of the bridesmaids at that table fell in love with Eddie, or the man on the sidewalk who was hurrying by with a satchel tucked up under his arm felt his heart twinge. These were all things that could happen.
“There’s a really good organization in upstate New York that I’m gonna reach out to.”
“How long do they train them for?”
“A year. And they start when the dogs are puppies too so they learn faster.”
“Please tell me what kind of dog. I want to imagine this. Do not say Pomeranian.”
“How would a Pomeranian take my weight if my leg buckles?”
“Badly,” said Richie. He slapped his hands together and made a pancake splat sound with his mouth.
Eddie snorted into his water. “They’re Labradors, dumbass.”
“Brown or yellow?”
“Does it matter?”
“Bill would paint me a word picture.”
“Bill isn’t a fucking cripple.”
“I don’t think you can say that.”
“Of course I can say it, I’m the guy with the fucking wheelchair.”
“You keep talking about this chair but I haven’t seen it.”
“I’m not bringing the chair on an airplane,” said Eddie. “They break wheelchairs, Rich, and I didn’t pay through the nose for that thing just so some guy who only gets minimum wage to snap it in half trying to shove it into cargo.”
“Wedging it between a steel drum set a suitcase full of gold bouillon,” Richie agreed. “Well, hey, you can show me the hot ride when I fly in to the big apple. Let me take the wheels for a spin.”
“I didn’t pay through the nose for that thing just so some idiot I know can snap it in half trying to ride it down the stairs.”
Richie was laughing too hard to listen. After a moment of fixed glowering, Eddie grinned. They finished their waters. Richie nursed his sweet-scented beer. The waitress took their baskets. Did they want any dessert?
Richie checked his watch. “It’s almost three, Eddie. Did you check out of the hotel yet?” It was a stupid question to ask.
Eddie said, “What do you have for the Bang Bang Pie?”
“We’ve got key lime, the triple berry, and the bourbon turtle.”
“I’ll take a slice of the bourbon turtle.”
“You got it. You guys splitting the check today?”
Richie turned toward her but Eddie cut in again. “No, just one check. I’ll cover it.” He smiled sidelong at Richie. This particular smile made a lean knife of his mouth.
“Look at you, Daddy Warbucks. And here I thought was the man with the heavy wallet chain.”
“Of course you had a wallet chain.”
Richie adjusted his orange glasses. “It’s called fashion, Eddie m’boy.”
She brought out the slice of pie on a little ceramic plate with two forks stuck in the top like flags. Eddie eyed the size of the pie.
“I’ll get the check in a minute.”
The bachelorette party ordered dessert as well. Richie took one of the forks. They divvied up the pie bite by bite.
“Lucky you aren’t allergic to nuts.”
“Shut up, Trashmouth.”
“I saw you pecan-ing these nuts in the bathroom.”
“Get your fork out of my pie.”
“Aw, Eddie, my love,” said Richie, “caramel-t you see what you do to me?”
“That didn’t even make sense,” said Eddie.
“You’re not paying me to talk.”
“I’m not paying you to eat either.”
“These are my volunteer hours.”
Eddie sucked graham cracker crumbs and the dough-like pie filling from the fork tines. Looking intently at the slice of pie, Richie stuffed another leaning forkful into his mouth.
“I broke up with Hugh,” said Eddie.
The fork was warm in Richie’s hand the way metal got warm when you held it. He had caramel sticking to the corner of his mouth. Probably he had graham cracker crumbs in his beard too just from the eating.
“You said you were great,” said Richie.
“I am,” said Eddie.
“I thought, with Hugh.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“We only dated for a few months,” said Eddie.
“You should have said something.”
“You didn’t ask. You didn’t ask about Hugh.”
Richie said, “You could have said something.”
“I didn’t want to ruin the visit,” said Eddie.
Richie said, “Why would it ruin the visit?”
“I don’t know, Rich,” Eddie said. He rubbed at his eye with the side of his thumb. His left hand was on the table, his fingers spread out in straight lines. “I don’t know why it would ruin the visit.”
The waitress was bringing the check. Eddie gave her his card. She took it and smiled and left. The bride and her friends were still laughing. The afternoon was a merry one. They had the whole of the weekend in front of them.
Eddie said, “I have to check out of the hotel.”
“Don’t they make you do that in the morning?”
“The company paid for another night.”
“But you’re leaving tonight.”
“It was the best flight. I don’t want this to be weird between us,” said Eddie.
“It’s not weird between us,” said Richie. “I just don’t know why you wouldn’t tell me.”
“Well, why would I tell you?”
“You told me when you were divorcing Myra.”
“Yeah, I did,” said Eddie. “I remember. I was there, Richie.”
“So why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“She’s bringing the receipt.”
Richie scrounged for his wallet as Eddie signed off on the carbon copies and wrote in an ample tip.
“Here—” Richie handed her a $20, folded in half, warm from sitting in his back pocket with everything else in his wallet.
“Thank you. You guys take your time. We’re not expecting a rush any time soon.”
“I have to pack up, Richie,” said Eddie, in a low tone like an apology. “And I have to turn in the rental.” He made to rise, his left hand splaying across the table as he reached with the right hand for the cane.
Richie grabbed Eddie’s wrist. His big hand encircled the tensed joint. Eddie looked at him. The wind had blown his filmy shirt so the material was flat on his right side, billowing cloud-like from the left side of him.
“What are you gonna name the dog?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“I like Charles Bark-ley,” said Richie. “Or Virginia Woof.”
“Why wouldn’t I just go with Virginia Woolf?”
“Because I put in a lot of work to come up with Virginia Woof.”
“You didn’t put in any work,” said Eddie. “You just made that up right now. Richie, I need my fucking cane.”
Richie let go of his wrist. Eddie, wobbling, passed the cane to his left hand and leveraged off the bench. He tipped heavily to the side and then, slowly, he straightened.
“I’ll text you when I get in to Newark.”
Richie said, “What if I went with you?”
Eddie stood there before him with the wind tousling his dark hair and his eyes thickly lashed and huge and black. He’d creases in his brow. He’d creases in his trousers too.
He said, “What?”
“What if I went with you?” said Richie. “To New York? I could still buy a ticket.”
“The plane’s booked.”
“Then I’ll get the next flight.”
“Richie, why would you go with me?” said Eddie. “You have that festival next week, and—”
“I love you,” said Richie.
Eddie looked at him. Richie looked back. Eddie said, “Richie.”
Richie said again, “I love you, Eddie. I’m not just saying this because you broke up with Hugh. Although that’s why I’m saying it. I mean, I fucking hated that guy.”
“I didn’t really like him either,” said Eddie. “That’s why I broke up with him.”
“Can we stop talking about Hugh,” said Richie. “I don’t wanna talk about Hugh.”
“What do you wanna talk about, Richie?”
“Maybe the fact that I’m so fucking in love with you it makes me feel like an ape,” said Richie. “I feel like a god damn gorilla.”
“No. I love you.”
“You sound like a moron.”
“I know,” said Richie, “and I love you. Are you laughing at me?”
“I’m not laughing at you.”
“You’re laughing at me. You’re laughing at my feelings.”
“I’m not laughing at your feelings, you dumbfuck.”
Richie rose from the table. He said, “Eddie, can I hold you?”
Eddie said, “I don’t know, Richie, can you?”
Mindful of the cane and the brace hidden beneath the leg of Eddie’s black cotton trousers, Richie reached his arms around Eddie. Eddie fitted to him like one piece of a puzzle to another, with a quiet decisive sort of click.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” said Eddie.
“I didn’t want to ruin anything,” said Richie.
“Richie,” whispered Eddie. “Richie. I have to tell you something.”
“Did you break up with Hugh?”
“Fuck Hugh,” said Eddie. “I don’t give a shit about Hugh. Richie, I broke up with Hugh because I’m in love with you.”
“Oh,” said Richie.
“Don’t,” said Eddie.
“Eddie Kaspbrak’s in love with me!” Richie yelled.
Eddie stabbed him in the shin with his cane. It was too late. The bride and her friends were cheering. Eddie darkened. Richie gave a tiny half-wave to the table of celebrating women and hoped he would not soon see recounting of this in the media. This was not normally the sort of thing that Richie Tozier, only out for two and a half years, would shout to the world. Perhaps this was a time for bravery.
“Fuck,” said Richie, “I’m glad you didn’t bring the wheelchair.”
“I’d love to run you over.”
“I know you would, you feral turd-weasel,” Richie said. He leaned away only to cup Eddie’s face in his hands. His fingertips brushed at Eddie’s temples. The sun beat harshly against his nape.
“Are you sure?”
Eddie’s lashes fell on his cheeks. Richie thought of kissing each lash. He thought of kissing each freckle hidden somewhere under all that sun-browned skin. These were the sorts of things Richie thought as Eddie adjusted his balanced so he might lean closer to Richie.
His eyelashes rose. He looked with those dark eyes at Richie. “Come with me to New York,” he said.
“Okay,” said Richie.
A puzzled sort of smile moved across Eddie’s thin lips. Something in his face made it sweet, made it so sweet, made it the sweetest thing you could have ever seen. Something in his face made his eyes so soft.
“You love me,” said Eddie.
“I love you,” said Richie.
“And I love you,” said Eddie.
“You love me,” said Richie.
“Yeah, Rich,” said Eddie, “what else have we been talking about?”