PART V – Epilogue
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: Riverside Park – Upper West Side
ONE WEEK LATER.
Undoubtedly, it had been the longest tennis match in the history of man. Between the time the match begun and the time it ended, Patrick Kohn had seen the sun rise and set in a dozen different countries. He had married, honeymooned in Venice, and watched as his wife suffered through two miscarriages before they finally had a son to call their own. He worked as a shoe salesman, a limousine driver and an investments advisor. He bought a house in Seattle. He was involved in three car accidents, two of which were his own fault. He set up a model train set in his garage. He read forty-three books, most of which had been adapted into movies he’d already seen. He put on thirty-eight pounds. He’d been the victim of both mail fraud and a bomb threat. He found fifty bucks on the bus but it had blown out the window when he opened his wallet, along with another fifty he was saving for a haircut. He watched his wife die from a brain tumor. He sold his house in Seattle and bought an apartment in Brooklyn. He made friends and lost friends and found friends again.
In the time between his first serve and his last, Thomas Mueller had written six novels and had articles published in every major American literary magazine. He dated and/or slept with thirty-one different women and saw his favorite hockey team win one championship. He grew two inches. He walked every single street in Manhattan and he had been to Staten Island one time on a dare. He played the New York lottery once and won sixteen dollars, spending all of it on chocolate milk at the CKY Grocery. He discovered he wasn’t the man he thought he was. He loved friends and hurt friends and found friends all over again.
It took Patrick ten years, four months, seven days, one hour and thirty-three minutes to defeat Tommy, but he had finally done it. The two men sat together on a courtside bench, guzzling water and catching their breath.
“I didn’t think I would ever beat you,” Patrick said. “I thought you had me there.”
“I had you ten years ago, but I guess you’ve learned a few tricks since then. That’s quite the backhand you’ve got now.” Tommy wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his Rangers sweater. Even though it was a crisp November morning, he still should have known better than to wear a hockey jersey for a game of tennis. But Tommy didn’t care about a sweat-stained sweater and he didn’t care about losing the match to Patrick. He had only suggested they meet that morning at the once-familiar Riverside Park tennis courts for one reason: to apologize. “Listen Patrick,” he said slowly with a lump in his throat. Tommy knew that the only way he was going to say it was to just let the words thump against his teeth and stumble out of his mouth. “I’m really sorry for everything that happened.”
The only reason Patrick had agreed to play tennis that morning was so he could accept Tommy’s apology. Still, he let his friend carry on a little longer first.
Tommy continued. “I know I can be a big, mulish idiot sometimes, but I had no reason to treat you the way I did. The truth is I realize now that all the shit that happened in the past few weeks was only inevitable. You were wrong when you told me about the falling. Because the reality is that I had already fallen. It was ten years ago when you left us all.”
“That’s not true Tom,” Patrick finally said.
“Sure it is. For me, it was worse than when my brother died because I replaced him with you, but when you left there was only a void.”
Patrick still couldn’t shake from his memory the image of the boy with his head buried in the school locker. That was the first time he’d met him. Thomas Mueller did not cry often, but he had never been very good at hiding his tears. “But that was such a long time ago, Tom.”
“Don’t we all hold onto things a little longer than we should sometimes?” Patrick knew it was true but he still did not have an answer. “Why’d you come to New York with us if you couldn’t stay forever? Sometimes I felt like it would’ve been easier if I had left first. Not that that would ever happen.”
Finally, Patrick considered the mistakes he made years ago, the same ones that had obviously hurt Tommy so much. “When we’re young, I guess we don’t think things will matter as much as they do. All the small, selfish crimes we commit. The microscopic damages are never quite so insignificant.”
Mince Wilson had said the same thing to Tommy, only using very different words. It’s entirely possible that Keekee Kaufman and all the rest would’ve agreed upon the inevitability of Tommy’s needs surpassing their own. Certainly Rachel would too.
After a long moment Tommy said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should say to Rachel.”
“What have you come up with so far?”
“I thought I’d tell her that even if everyone everywhere left everyone else forever, I’d still never leave her.” Patrick turned his nose up as if there was an unpleasant smell in the air. “No good?”
“Tom, that’s awful. That’s like a line from a movie.”
“I’ve got more. You’ve just got to let me get warmed up first. Here we go, how about this: You’ll always be the same old someone that I knew. Won’t you believe in me like I believe in you?”
“What’s that from?”
“It’s Billy Joel.”
“Come on Tom, you’re a writer! Have you told her you love her?”
“Not in so many words.”
“It’s only three words Tom. And if you really mean them, they’re pretty darn good ones. I’d suggest starting with that and seeing where it takes you.”
Tommy realized that if he had the same talk with Kate or Jesse they probably would have given him similar advice. Either that, or just told him to shut up and be a man. But Patrick Kohn always had a way of making everything seem possible. It was the same as when he pulled Thomas Mueller’s head out of that locker in the ninth grade and it was the same as when he said he’d go anywhere with Tommy, even when he knew Tommy’s version of anywhere would only ever be New York.
“I’m glad you’re home Patrick,” Tommy said. He held his hand out and the two men finally shook.
Patrick took a moment to admire the Upper West Side apartments peeking out from just behind the trees. It was quiet enough to hear the Hudson River to the west. “Me too,” he said.