The Falling – Chapter Twenty-Four

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: The Temple Bar – NoHo

Every Halloween the Empire State Building is lit orange in celebration. On that night, the night of the falling, the skyscraper’s lights blended almost seamlessly into the red-brown glow of the evening sky. The cloud cover was so low that the lights of Times Square could be seen from just about anywhere in the city; all of Manhattan was captured within its glow. It was as if a higher power had been watching New York that evening, waiting, preparing for something important to happen.

The Temple Bar was one of those special places in the city that was all about wistful memories and nostalgic visits. With its plain green awning and thick-curtained windows, the nondescript bar had a way of luring accidental first time patrons through its doors. And those who returned always did so for no other reason than to reminisce about the first time. Perhaps then it was only fitting that the four of them agreed to meet there that evening.

Eleven years before, they had slept on the train all the way from Seattle to New York, arriving in Manhattan in the very early morning. Tommy whizzed them around the city all day before finally coming to a stop outside the Temple Bar on Lafayette. Tommy, Kate and Jesse had each returned at some point since then, all three with a first date on three separate occasions. The bar had not changed much over the years, still offering plush seats at mahogany tables next to red velvet curtains and dim lighting. It boasted a magnificent oak bar that served up an impressive array of international vodkas and romantic cocktails to a bevy of haute-couture consumers. But for all of its sophistication, the Temple Bar still had the slight odor of sordid debauchery.

Surprisingly, there were only a handful of costumed patrons that night, as though Halloween had not yet stumbled upon the Temple Bar. Aside from some suggestively-clad wait staff, Jesse and Kate were the only ones dressed for the occasion; Jesse in his newly-purchased Midtown Minder getup (with the addition of a pair of tennis shorts over his suit, as he was self-conscious about its tight-fitting crotch) and Kate in her puke-green hospital scrubs. The two of them had just ordered more drinks when Tommy entered.

“Ho! Manhattanites!” he yelled, not the least bit aware that he was only mimicking Patrick’s entrance from two weeks before. Tommy was wearing a giant, foam Empire State Building costume, so bulky he had to duck through the doorway and maneuver judiciously around the tables. He tried to sit down, but failed to do so; Tommy chose to lean against the wall instead. The tip of the costume’s spire tangled with the hanging light fixtures, but Tommy still refused to remove the hat, and he called to the waitress for a Whiskey Sour even though he’d already spent the majority of his afternoon drinking.

Kate and Jesse were astounded by the preposterous choice of attire, and yet nothing else could possibly have suited Tommy any better. “Where do you even find something like that?” Kate asked, trying not to laugh.

“We found it in a costume shop Downtown,” Tommy said. His breath reeked of alcohol but there was also a smoky smell that clung to him. “Rachel was going to dress as King Kong and I was going to be the Empire State Building.”

Jesse had to ask, “Shouldn’t you have been King Kong?”

“Are you kidding me? I’m not putting on a monkey suit. There’s a stigma attached to men in monkey suits.”

“Right,” Kate agreed half-heartedly. “It’s much less reprehensible for a woman to wear a monkey suit, isn’t it?”

But Tommy had no answer for her; he was already wondering what was taking the waitress so long.

Tommy’s costume had been sitting in his closet since he bought it a month before, and the foam absorbed much of the smoke that had come in through the vents during the fire. Kate twisted her nose when she finally figured out the source of the smell. “You stink,” was all she said to him.

Tommy looked over Kate’s uniform, recollecting the story of Gene’s one peculiar sex fetish. “I don’t even want to know where that costume’s been.”

“I didn’t have time to find anything else,” she admitted, smelling her own collar for precautionary purposes.

The waitress delivered their drinks; a Mint Julep for Kate, Tommy’s Whiskey Sour and another water for Jesse. She also handed them a complementary bowl of popcorn with what appeared to be dried beets and carrots mixed in. Tommy shook the contents around to get a better look. “Jesus,” he winced. Dissatisfied, he slid the bowl across the table towards Jesse, but Jesse also refused. “What’s the matter Jess? You’re always the first to eat crap like this.”

Jesse gulped down his glass of water. “I think I ate something bad earlier,” he told them. He’d felt terrible all afternoon, ever since he decided to open the can of Time Travel Juice. He didn’t know what it was that was really in that can, but he finished every last drop of it. The liquid had a disconcerting taste, like pickled ginger or an unripe banana or licking a rusty pipe. Worst of all, there had not yet been a single hint of any temporal variation; a dark grey cloud remained hanging just above them all.

“I’ve told you before, Jess. That Wing King shit is gonna kill you.”

“I know Kate.” Jesse flagged the waitress for one more water. “But the worst habits are the hardest ones to break, aren’t they?”

Whether Jesse meant to imply something about Kate’s marriage was unknown, but Tommy certainly didn’t want to miss an opportunity to follow up with her about the proposed events from the day before. “How’d the stalking go yesterday, detective? You get any hard evidence?”

“I decided against it,” she said. “You were right. It was an incredibly stupid idea. How about you, Tommy? How far down the list of girlfriends did you get?”

Defensively, Tommy dug his hand into the popcorn and swallowed a mouthful. “You were right too,” he said. “I couldn’t have come up with a worse idea.” He wasn’t lying; he just wasn’t revealing the whole truth. And fortunately, neither of his friends cared enough to ask any more questions anyway.

Jesse excused himself to use the washroom while Tommy rooted through the bowl. He began picking out the vegetables and just shoveling those into his mouth. Kate tried to stare as far away as possible and slowly tore a napkin apart into ever-smaller pieces. She didn’t recognize the music playing, but it certainly seemed like the saddest tune ever. Her shoulders went weak. She closed her eyes for only a moment before Tommy interrupted. “What the hell?” he asked.

“Hmm?”

“I can tell when something’s up with you Kate. And something is definitely up.”

Kate’s lips parted, but no words came out.

“What’s going on?” Tommy asked.

She looked around her cautiously, as though anyone else might have cared enough to be listening in. Every mistake she’d ever made in her life came flooding back into her memory, but Kate knew even before she uttered the words that this was by far the worst one of all: “I slept with Patrick last night.”

Tommy wanted to feel overwhelmed; he wanted to have a reaction that would go down as history’s all-time greatest reaction. He wasn’t sure what that response would have been, but it certainly wasn’t what he gave up instead: staring blankly at Kate as she revealed the most awful of things. He didn’t even spit the dried carrot out of his mouth; it just hung limply from his lips. The reappearance of Patrick Kohn had infected so much already, crept so far into Manhattan’s veins, that Tommy had simply reached the point where he was no longer affected by the man’s presence.

Tommy’s reaction was not what Kate had expected either, and it certainly wasn’t helped by the absurd costume he was wearing. “Tommy? Did you hear what I just said?”

Mince Wilson’s earlier admission that Patrick Kohn was essentially responsible for the end of her relationship with Tommy had left a bad taste lingering in his mouth. He hadn’t left his apartment all day, hadn’t spoken with anyone at all until coming to the Temple Bar. He thought about what he should do next, but failed to come to any reasonable conclusion. Quite simply, Thomas Mueller was not the same man he had been two weeks before. Before Patrick’s return to New York. Prior to that letter showing up in his mailbox. The tip of Tommy’s costume intertwined with the light fixture again. Finally, he gave in and moved out of the way. “Why would you do that?” he responded at last.

And Kate almost answered him too, but noticed the Midtown Minder was on his way back to the table. “I can’t get into it right now. Just don’t tell Jess, okay? I think it would only confuse him.”

“Sure.”

“I mean it Tommy.”

“You betch’ya.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Jesse asked.

“Kate slept with Patrick!” Tommy blurted out.

“What?!?”

Kate punched Tommy in the chest, but the foam skyscraper absorbed the impact. “I hope a pigeon shits on your fucking costume,” she grumbled.

Jesse tried to process the information. “That’s awesome,” he said. “So does this mean you guys are getting back together?”

“No, it does not,” Kate responded with her mouth pressed into the glass of bourbon.

“And what about Gene?” Jesse persisted. “Where is Patrick, anyway? Does Sheldon know?”

Kate turned directly to Tommy. “See? This is what I was worried about.”

“Come on Kate,” Tommy insisted. “Jess is a grown man, not a dog. He can handle it.”

“Just please do not say anything to Patrick when he gets here, okay?”

Tommy asked, “But what are you going to say to him?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Well, you’d better decide fast,” Jesse said. Patrick was at the entrance, trying to find his friends. He was wearing a big frog costume, complete with flippers and bulging eyes on the top of his head. Jesse waved an arm to get his attention and soon they were all reunited: the Frog, the Nurse, the Superhero and the Skyscraper.

Tommy was perplexed by the costume selection. “What the fuck is that?”

“I’m a frog. I wear this every Halloween.”

“It looks like a gecko.”

“Trust me. It’s a frog.” Patrick took a good look around him. He could barely remember ever being in the Temple Bar, but he knew for sure that it was still the same. There was a scent; maybe it was the velvet curtains, but it brought him right back to when they were just kids. When the four of them were so young and so full of dreams and felt as though greatness was nothing more than a simple matter of destiny. But then they had to grow up and figure everything out on their own. Each of them had picked up on that smell when they first arrived that night, but Patrick was the only one of them who could properly place the feeling.

“Where’s Sheldon?” Jesse asked.

“He’s at home.” Patrick ordered a beer from the closest waitress. “The woman next door to me is watching him.”

Tommy, Kate and Jesse all looked at one another. Did Patrick really just leave his son with a stranger? Had he always been so gullible?

“Relax guys. She’s got two kids of her own. Her husband helped me move in too. They’re great people. We took all the kids out trick-or-treating tonight. Hey, is it just me, or do people not give out as much candy as they used to?”

“It’s a New York thing,” Jesse said. “The health conscious parents were worried about all the candy and artificial ingredients so they started handing out rice crackers and sunflower seeds. Then the kids stopped trick-or-treating because they didn’t want any of that healthy crap, and now half the city doesn’t bother to hand out anything at all.”

“It’s cyclical,” Tommy added. “But I just go to Kate’s place for candy since Gene’s always got the best.”

Kate had been noticeably quiet since Patrick arrived. She had an aloof look about her, and all three men knew what it meant. Even the waitress noticed as she placed Patrick’s beer on the table. Patrick asked, “Guys, do you mind if Kate and I talk in private?”

Tommy was quick to remove himself from the table; the truth was that he needed some fresh air anyway, his own space away from Patrick. Jesse pecked Kate on the cheek before following Tommy outside onto Lafayette Street.

Patrick sat across from Kate, his rubber frog suit made a farting noise as it rubbed on the plush seat, but neither of them laughed. Reaching into the neck opening with his gloved fingers, Patrick pulled the famous letter out from somewhere deep inside. He laid it flat on the table, presenting Kate’s miserable printing to her. “Listen, I know we probably made a mistake last night. But please don’t say you’re sorry Kate.”

“Why can’t I apologize?”

“Because there’s nothing to be sorry for. Especially not for something so silly.”

“Silly?”

“Saying you’re still the same person you used to be.”

“Oh. I thought you were talking about the sex,” she said. “But I am the same person I was. It’s why things didn’t work out for us years ago and it’s the same reason it wouldn’t work now.”

“You’ve got it all backwards Kate,” he said. “It’s impossible for somebody to go through life unchanged. Especially here in Manhattan. I was only here for a short time but it sure as hell transformed me. I just don’t want either of us to get the wrong idea.”

Kate only wanted to tell him that she agreed, but she was finding it hard to say. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. And Patrick had already run out of words too. He knew there was more that needed to be said, but he was stumped as to how he might say it. He had convinced himself in the morning that he was so quick to return to Kate because it was the easiest way to numb the pain of losing Natasha. So why couldn’t he say that? That same sad song was still playing in the background and Patrick’s beer was already empty.

Taking the wrinkled paper back into his hands, Patrick turned it over to see the dutifully typed letter he had sent to Tommy just a few weeks before. He remembered how nervous he was as he sat down to type it. And he’d torn up eight previous drafts before settling on just the right words. Even if they had moved on or even forgotten him entirely, time had not eroded Patrick’s feelings towards his friends. For every moment he experienced, good or bad, he wished they had been there with him. For every dream he had, he hoped they could have been a part of it.

But every dream that is lost is only replaced by something unexpected along the way. Inevitably, every letter that is not sent is still somehow answered. Every moment that passes by comes back eventually. Patrick understood all of this when he woke that morning to find Kate’s message scribbled on the back of his own.

Kate hadn’t noticed until then that there was a floor-length mirror beside her. She considered her own reflection for a moment before finally asking, “Were you ever afraid of anything when you were younger?”

Patrick thought about the question. “I don’t think so. When we were kids, we never wanted to be afraid of anything, did we? That’s why we did whatever we wanted.” He spun the empty beer glass in slow circles on the table top. “But now that I’m older, I realize there’s a limitless supply of things to be scared of. There’s so much more to worry about, isn’t there?”

“Yeah,” Kate agreed. “I guess that makes sense. But there was one thing that always scared me.”

“What’s that?”

“Falling in love.”

“I don’t understand. How is falling in love with someone a bad thing?”

Kate thought about her next words carefully. It was not easy for her to be so vulnerable. “People always talk about not wanting to die alone. Like it would be the worst thing in the world. But what about the people who love them? What could be worse than loving someone for years and years and then suddenly they’re not there anymore? And what if they’re so old that there’s no time left over to move on? I can’t imagine anything worse than that.”

Patrick was confused. “You’re saying it would be better to die alone, rather than hurt someone so badly? What about Gene? Why did you marry him?”

“I think maybe I always knew that it would never work out with Gene.”

“Kate, why are you telling me all this?”

“Don’t you see Patrick? When we came to New York I knew I was falling in love with you. I knew it more and more every day. That’s when I started getting scared about being with you forever. But then you left. You just disappeared that morning, leaving nothing but that letter behind. And I felt so relieved. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to go through all of that with you.”

“You were happy?”

“Sometimes I’m happiest when I’m at my saddest, if that makes any sense at all.”

“Yeah.” Patrick sat back his seat. His frog suit squeaked on the chair again. “Yeah, I think it does make sense.” He handed Kate a clean cocktail napkin and she wiped her eyes.

“Thanks for coming back Patrick,” she said with a smile.

~~~~~

There was a hazy fog over Manhattan. Where only minutes ago it was licking the tips of skyscrapers, the fog was now creeping ever closer to the streets below, engulfing anything and everything it could. The orange glow from the Empire State Building was gone, already consumed by the night’s malignant cloud. To Tommy it felt like the island was becoming ever smaller. Buildings that stood only blocks away had vanished from sight. But taxis still patrolled the streets as though nothing was the matter. Businesses continued to pile their garbage along the sidewalk assuming it would be collected as always the next day. People remained lined up at the hot dog cart; the only need they had to fulfill was that of hunger. So why was the miasmic haze making Tommy feel so uneasy?

Some drunken college kids mocked the costumes Tommy and Jesse wore as they stumbled along Lafayette Street. One of them commented on the Empire State Building suit, and failed in his attempt at some sort of erection pun. It confused Tommy more than anything and he felt ashamed of the city’s education system, how it was wasted on such witlessness. The best costumes the kids could muster were fright wigs and eye patches.

Tommy tried to sit down on the curb beside Jesse, but he found that simply lying on his back was much easier. At least the foam helped make the cold, hard sidewalk that much more comfortable. He persisted to fixate on only one thing: maybe his apartment was not intentionally set on fire after all; maybe the warehouse was not a front for some elaborate revenge plot; and maybe Natasha Seward really did have a tumor on her brain. But Patrick Kohn’s presence still continued to prove Manhattan was far better off without him.

“Don’t let Patrick bother you so much, Tommy,” Jesse said to him. He had his head between his knees, nursing his sore stomach, but he still knew what thoughts Tommy was preoccupied with. “Don’t let it consume you.”

Tommy unremittingly stared up into the dark clouds. He knew Jesse was right, but he was too impossibly stubborn to change even his own mind.

“Patrick was right,” Jesse continued. “We all fall, don’t we? I tried to be strong enough to get past it, but I’m not.” He dipped his boot into a mound of dead grey snow, one of the last remnants from the storm. It broke apart easily, quickly disappearing altogether beneath his foot. The Time Travel Juice inside his stomach bubbled and churned. “In a moment of weakness, I thought I’d found the solution to all of it yesterday. I was going to make all of us better again. I was going to fix John and Edie. Natasha. Even your brother. I thought I could maybe bring Rachel back too.” He sighed deeply, but mostly for effect. “Why do we have to grow up and go through all of this shit? I mean, what’s really the point?”

Tommy wanted to admit that he didn’t know what the point was. He wanted to acknowledge his own mistakes and all the negativity he harbored. But then he realized he had never once done so before, and he finally grasped just how hard it is to actually admit it to someone.

And just as Tommy recalled what the tattooed girl had said to him in the coffee shop, Jesse recalled what Sharona had told him on that Greenwich Village sidewalk, only a few blocks from where he sat now.

She told Jesse that nobody’s problems are so incredibly special. She said that everyone’s heart breaks at some point; everyone will make the wrong decision eventually. And she told Tommy that if he only ever did one thing, he needed to make sure he treated his friends right.

“I wish I could change everything back to the way it was,” Jesse said. “But that wouldn’t be fair to the way things are now.” He looked over at Tommy who was still stuck on his back, a fallen Empire State Building. “You know, that costume really is ridiculous,” he laughed.

“I think I’ve had way too much to drink today.” Jesse helped Tommy up and they went back inside the Temple Bar just before the fog touched the sidewalk.

Breathe out.

~~~~~

Tommy stopped by the bar for another drink before heading to the bathroom, and then once more on his way back to the table. He must have knocked into every person along the way. When he got back to the table Kate and Jesse and Patrick were all laughing. It was good to see smiles on their faces, especially after everything that had gone down over the past week. Patrick was telling them about earlier that morning and his poor attempts to explain to Sheldon why Kate had stayed the night. “I can’t believe how many times Natasha and I had to lie to that poor kid,” he said. “Sheldon’s just got a knack for walking in at all the wrong times.”

“Maybe that’s why he’s so suspicious of you,” Tommy slurred. He was sober enough to know it was the wrong time and place to go into detail about the boy’s farfetched murder theories, but he was just drunk enough that he couldn’t help himself.

“Tommy, why don’t you sit down?” Kate suggested.

“I’ll tell you why. Because my ass is the size of a city block!” he said. “I could barely even fit in the stall to relieve myself.” Tommy leaned in closer to Patrick, a little too close for both their likings. “Do you know what the bathrooms in this place could use?”

“What that?” Patrick asked, trying to push himself away.

“A nice, sparkly HyGenieSeat-3000! I gotta hand to you Patrick, those things work like a dream!”

Patrick glared at Tommy, unsure of what he should suspect.

“We installed one at Jesse’s place. I never thought I’d be a bidet man, but that shit’s pretty great.”

Patrick turned to Jesse, then back at Tommy. “The peculiar thing about that break-in at my warehouse two nights ago was there had only been one item stolen. We did an inventory check and the only thing missing was one HyGenieSeat-3000.”

“Well, it’s kind of a funny story actually,” Tommy began. Kate and Jesse fell uncomfortably silent, since they had assumed their humiliating adventure into Jersey City two nights before would remain a secret between the three of them. But Tommy was far too inebriated to keep the lid on anything that night. He confessed to Patrick that it was his own idea to break into the warehouse. But only because he thought Patrick had killed his wife and that he would be coming after them next. And then there was the apartment fire. And Sheldon’s suspicions. And of course the fat man on the street with the sandwich. And then there was the bad review of his novel, which didn’t necessarily have anything to with Patrick, but there was still a chance it might have. The more Tommy came clean, the more he found himself questioning everything all over again.

Patrick couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What the hell is wrong with you, Tom?” He raised his normally tepid voice louder. “Is this how you treat your friends? It’s no wonder your girlfriend left you.”

Heads in the bar began to turn their way. Kate thought the music had become noticeably sadder. Everything slowed down around Jesse. They both sat, staring blankly at the two men. They knew nothing could be said at that point that would make any difference. At some point, everybody falls.

“You’re one to talk,” Tommy responded. “How do you treat your friends? You abandoned us! I was just waiting there with my tennis racket. I didn’t even have any balls because you said you’d bring them.”

“What is with you and that tennis match? Let it go Tom.”

“You and I bought Rangers season tickets too. They were in Section Fifty! Section Fifty!! I had to sell my stereo so I could afford them. But then you were gone and I had to trade them in for some crap-ass nose bleeders.”

“That’s so petty Tom. What, are you going to accuse me of stealing toilet paper from you as well?”

“Ah ha! I knew that was you!”

“Have you been harboring all of this since the day I left? I can’t believe you would actually accuse me of hurting somebody. Especially Natasha.”

Tommy was almost running out of things to say. Almost. “And goddammit, frogs are lame, dude.”

“Yeah, it’s much more awesome to be walking around in a giant foam skyscraper, isn’t it? Get over it Tom. Just get over this city already. It’s not so fucking great.”

The last head in the Temple Bar turned, as though sensing what would come next. “What did you say?” Tommy asked, pointing a shaky finger in his friend’s face.

But Patrick had enough. He swatted Tommy’s hand away and got up from the table. “This obsession you have with New York and who’s worthy enough to set foot on its sidewalks…get the hell over it.” He turned away from Tommy and only took one step before he was pushed from behind. He only brushed against a nearby table, but it was still enough force to knock over a few glasses.

“Tommy!” Kate yelped. She tried to free herself from the table, but Jesse was in her way, still zoning out. Patrick tried to hold Tommy back but it was no use. Tommy pushed him into the table again. Something smashed onto the floor.

Jesse watched the half-assed attempt at a fight. Patrick had always avoided confrontation; he didn’t know the first thing to do in a fight. Truthfully, he still hadn’t realized he was even in a fight. Tommy on the other hand was simply too drunk to register what he was doing anymore. Amid the chaotic scuffle, Jesse was recollecting the night of his art show, when he and John Galloway had fought with one another. He couldn’t help himself from pretending Patrick’s frog costume was more like Godzilla, trying to destroy the city. Battling with a human skyscraper. He had to admit, it was a pretty cool visual. When Kate spotted the smile on Jesse’s face, she slapped the Midtown Minder on the back of the head, snapping him out of it.

Somehow, Patrick succeeded in wrestling Tommy onto the floor. Caught like a turtle on his back, Tommy flailed his arms and legs without much result. The top of his costume, the tip of the skyscraper, had flown free. He managed to sit up for only a moment before Patrick established the opportunity to land a solid punch. He accidentally hit Tommy square in the jaw, and Tommy’s head hit the wall hard.

And that’s when everything began to…

fade…

to…

blank…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEXT CHAPTER

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