CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: Kate & Gene’s Brownstone – Upper West Side
In the two weeks since she scratched Chapter One onto the first page of her blank journal, Kate had almost filled the entire book. Sure, some pages were crumpled at the foot of her desk, torn out of futility and some fat black X’s were marked across them, but she had tenaciously scribbled nearly one hundred and seventy-five pages of quality fiction. Unlike Paper Fences before it, this still unnamed new novel had direction, structure and raw emotion. She was actually proud of what she’d created and was genuinely looking forward to writing more. Her characters excited her, and her scenes made her want to experience them first hand. A few times now, her eyes watered up and her vision blurred; but she loved that feeling of tearing open her own soul and transplanting the meat of herself into the page. And the best part was that she could not even feel her cramped hand or lower back anymore.
Since walking away from Pendulum Publishing, Kate had only left her desk for sleep (sometimes in bed with Gene, but just as often on the couch), meals at the coffee shop (perhaps with another trip or two to the McDonald’s for cheeseburgers. Who was counting?) and for the one disappointing adventure to New Jersey with Tommy and Jesse. She opted against donning her trench coat and following Gene on his lunch break that afternoon. Tommy was right; it really was a horrible idea. On the other hand, she knew that Tommy would still have gone through with his own asinine plan of self-discovery; as good as he was at dispensing friendly advice, he was never one to listen to any of it himself. The man was simply too bull-headed.
The box of personal items from work was still sitting on the floor below her desk. She hadn’t yet decided what she would throw away and what she would keep, but Kate was leaning towards the former for all of it. The longer you keep something the harder it is to remove from your life, no matter how important the item in question actually is. The cereal bowl on her desktop was beginning to smell. There was a cupboard full of clean bowls in the kitchen, but Kate continued to refill the same one. Now it was sticky with dried milk and sugary crumbs. She reached for the bottle of wine in front of her, but realized it had been emptied hours ago. There was something about the combination of Frankenberry cereal and elderberry wine that not only sounded great together but also created an incomparable flavor magic.
There was the muffled sounds of footsteps outside. A child’s curious voice. Kate tried to peer out her basement window, but all she could see was the darkened street and her own clouded mannequin eyes looking back at her. Her head was heavy. Perhaps she’d been awake for too long now, or needed something other than wine in her stomach.
The footsteps came closer, crunching through the snow and up the front steps of the brownstone. The doorbell chimed, but Kate did not move. Gene was upstairs somewhere so surely he would answer it. After a moment’s pause, Gene yelled for her to please get the door. The man was such an introvert that he would never bark orders at anyone, so it could only mean he had not been sleeping much himself lately. He understood that Kate’s writing was important to her, but the truth was that he also missed the warmth of another body in their bed.
The doorbell rang again, and this time Kate called up to her husband. She knew that he would always cave in first, which was part of the reason why she was still refusing to admit defeat in their marriage; he was sure to break soon. And hopefully any time now.
From her office below the front stoop, Kate heard Gene’s ratty slippers shuffling towards the door. There was some stifled chatter, but she could not make out a word of it. “Katherine!” he called. “You’ve got visitors.”
Without too much hesitation, she trudged upstairs, and was surprised to see Patrick and Sheldon. Halloween was still a day away, but Sheldon was wearing his costume again, and he was munching on a miniature Three Musketeers bar. Gene Schneider loved Halloween so much that he’d had a bowl of candy bars at the front door for well over a week now. He loved candy. He never had a single cavity in his life and he would mention it at the office any chance he got. When he was a boy, he was not allowed to go out trick-or-treating; instead, he and his brother got to stay home in their Mickey and Minnie costumes watching Charlie Brown and eating boxes of raisins.
“Hey Fart Tart,” Patrick said. It had not occurred to him that it may have been inappropriate to call Kate by her old nickname in front of her husband.
“What are you guys doing here?” she asked, her eyes adjusting to the light.
“We were just at the coffee shop for dinner. I hoped I’d see one of you there. I called Tommy but he told me he was busy and that I should come here.”
“Of course he did.” Kate wasn’t sure if introductions had already been made so she familiarized the three of them with one another.
“Kate’s never mentioned you before,” Gene stated sullenly. He turned to his wife. “I thought it was only the three of you that came here from Seattle?”
But she no longer knew what information had been shared about whatever moment in her past, so she had nothing to say in response.
There was an awkward silence for a moment and whether Sheldon had noticed it or not, he was generous enough to break it. “Thank you for the chocolate,” he said to Gene, holding the empty wrapper out in his hand.
Gene was appreciative of the gratitude. “You know, the day after Halloween last year I had two separate patients who both needed oral surgery from razor blade injuries.”
Sheldon dropped the wrapper onto the hardwood floor. It seemed to hit harder than it should have.
“Gene!” Kate snapped. “Why would you say something like that? You’re going to scare the poor kid.”
“I was only being precautionary. You need to watch what people in this city are handing out to kids.”
“That’s good to know,” Patrick interjected. “Thanks for the heads up Gene.”
Gene was content that at least somebody found his cautions helpful. “Do you know that I’ve never had a cavity?”
Kate picked the wrapper up from off the floor. “Would you two like to come downstairs? I was just finishing up for the night.” Patrick and Sheldon followed Kate to her office while Gene returned to wherever he had been to do whatever it was he’d been doing. As casually as she could, Kate asked Patrick what had come from his trip to New Jersey earlier that afternoon. He only said that there didn’t appear to be anything stolen and that the Jersey City police weren’t going to pursue it any further, only suggesting that Titanic Utilities invest in better security.
The office was dark since Kate didn’t like working with more light than her tiny lamp provided. She knew she would probably pay for it with some corrective eyewear before too long. Patrick and Sheldon both scrunched their noses as they entered. “It smells in here,” they noted simultaneously.
Kate was not easily embarrassed, and she only displayed minimal signs towards their reactions. “I suppose I’ve been holed up in here for a bit too long. Sorry. I could crack the window but it’s hard to do any constructive writing in my parka,” she joked.
Sheldon reached for one of the Spider-Man comics from the box under the desk.
“What’s with the comic books?” Patrick asked. “Are they for when Jesse comes over?”
Kate slid the book out of the boy’s hands and turned it over to present the GAP ad on the back cover. Patrick recognized the model immediately because it was exactly what Kate had looked like when he had left New York so long ago. It was the same way she looked in his memory for the next decade, until he returned. Still, his jaw dropped. “Holy—“ he started. “What are you doing on the back of that comic?”
Kate handed it back Sheldon, who could care less about an advertisement for denim overalls. He sat down on the big reading chair in the corner of the room and immediately began analyzing the story inside. “It’s not easy being a starving student in this city. I took whatever work I could get, and now I’m immortalized on the back of these funny books. Do you know that they wouldn’t even let us keep the clothes?”
“That’s a shame,” Patrick noted. He sat down in Kate’s writing chair and let out a long breath. “Sometimes I wondered about the things I might’ve missed when I left you guys. Things like that GAP ad. Or even your wedding or Jesse’s art show. And all of Tommy’s success.” He ran the palm of his hand over the rough surface of the desk. His wedding ring scratched roughly along the wood but it didn’t leave a mark. “It must have all been really great.”
Kate didn’t need long to think about it. “It was. There were so many remarkable things I’ve experienced.” She rubbed the nape of her neck as if trying to coax the memories out. “But you missed a lot of really crappy times too. I mean, New York is where I really grew up, not Seattle. Tommy and Jess and I were there for each other when we went through everything; but I still caught myself thinking it would’ve been nice if you’d been there for me too. It was hard for me to believe you were gone. You were here for too short a time to actually be gone.” Kate turned to the window. She noticed the snow had begun to fall again on 107th Street. The tiniest of flakes, like the first few stars beyond the sunset, danced beneath the street light. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I think I’ve been drinking too much wine.”
“It’s okay,” Patrick told her.
“No. No it’s not. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about everything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, well…it’s true that I missed you sometimes Patrick. But mostly I never thought about you at all. God, there were so many other horrible relationships though, you wouldn’t believe.”
“I’d only been in one,” Patrick said. “I mean, I left because I finally realized I still loved Natasha. And then we got married. And then…” His thoughts drifted away a little, but Kate knew exactly where they had gone. “Well, I wouldn’t know how to start over with someone new now.”
“While I only know all too well,” Kate said.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“No. I know. But it’s true.” She looked out the window again, but the snow had already stopped. Like it wanted to happen but decided against it.
On the chair, Sheldon continued to flip the pages. He was careful with the book, knowing how to treat objects that belonged to other people. He wondered why the pages of the comic book in his hands were glossy, while the ones at Midtown Comics were rough, like paper was supposed to be. He didn’t care at all about whatever the adults were discussing.
Kate said, “I’ve dated more weirdoes than I care to remember. The strangest always seemed to be from Staten Island. The coolest guy I ever dated was a bus driver of all things. I dated a baseball player and a hockey player, but both in the off-season when there weren’t as many of the perks to dating baseball and hockey players. So no road trips with the team or tickets for box seats. Did you know in the off-season these guys just like to sit around and do nothing all day? And then there was the museum guy.”
Kate explained how she went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day and met a man while looking at the pre-historic cave paintings. They talked for a while, and when they realized they were both visiting the museum alone they decided to continue on together. They breezed through the Chinese earthenware and Minoan Terracotta together before he kissed her in front of the headless Aphrodite statue. There was some extremely covert sex inside the Dendur Temple before an argument whilst surrounded by the armada of armored knights on horses. From there, they split up only to meet again in front of Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. They shared another half hour or so together, before calling it quits amidst a collection of Salvador Dalis.
“That’s really horrific,” Patrick said, keeping an eye on his son to make sure the boy did not hear too much detail. But Sheldon was still immersed in the comic book.
“It was. That relationship only lasted one day yet it was spread across the entire history of mankind. But no matter how good or how bad a relationship is, it seems that the letting go is always the hardest part.” Or as Tommy had told her that morning in the coffee shop, ending a relationship is always tougher than starting a new one. It was almost the same thing.
“I think you might be right, Fart Tart.”
“I can’t believe you’re still calling me that,” Kate said. “I don’t think I ever knew what it meant.”
Patrick thought about it for a moment. He never really considered where the nickname came from. He called her that back in high school, but couldn’t remember why. “There’s not really a reason I can think of. I don’t recall how it started.”
Sheldon broke the awkward pause by getting up from his seat. He returned the book to the box and asked if he could use the bathroom. Kate led him around the corner. When she returned to the office, Patrick was digging around in the box himself. He held up a package of Nicorette, wondering why she had it. “You smoke?”
“No. I just like the gum. Actually, I don’t even enjoy it anymore but now I’m addicted to the stuff.”
“That’s ironic,” Patrick noted. And then he admitted, “I only smoke when I’m stressed out. Natasha always used to tell me not to worry so much because the more I worried the more likely it was that I would develop lung cancer.”
“That’s funny. She sounds like she was full of helpful advice.”
“She was. She picked me up whenever I was feeling lost. And she always knew the right things to say to Sheldon when I had no idea. I still don’t know what I should be saying to him sometimes. But I don’t feel like I changed as much in the last ten years as I did when I was with you Kate. So much of who I am today is because of the time I spent with you.”
“That’s because we’re so much easier to change when we’re young. The littlest of things affected us so much more back then.”
“I guess so.” Patrick dropped the Nicorette back into the box. “I guess that’s why I left when I did. Maybe I was just being overly-dramatic. Maybe I should have stayed in New York. But I do know that I could not have loved Natasha as much as I did if you and I hadn’t made the mistakes we had.”
“Love is what happens after you’ve had your heart broken,” Kate said. She sounded like she was quoting a famous line.
“What’s that from?” Patrick asked.
“That’s something I wrote in my book.” Kate reached for the journal on the desktop; she knew exactly what page to flip to and held the open book up for him. Her left-handed printing was easy to read. The line stood out like it was the only one on the page. “What it means is you can never know what love really feels like until you’ve been hurt by someone.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
Kate snapped the book shut and sat on the edge of her desk. “You and I could never have been in love since we were each other’s first real relationship. We didn’t know anything about love. I’m still not sure if I do.”
Patrick took the journal and turned a few pages as he listened. He didn’t know if he completely agreed with what Kate was saying; he thought he did love her years ago, but he could have been wrong. All he knew at the time he left New York was that he loved Natasha Seward more than he loved Kate Prince. Of course it wasn’t fair to Kate, but an impartial love is inconceivable. “I can’t believe you wrote all of this,” he said. “It’s really good, you know?”
“It’s about friends who lose their way,” she told him, even though Patrick had not asked about the premise of the novel. “It’s about a letter that sparks a chain reaction amongst them all. And how they deal with the ever-changing feelings they have for one another.”
Patrick didn’t want to acknowledge the all-too-obvious similarities, so he didn’t. He carefully turned the pages, reading sentences at random. “It’s beautiful Kate. I can’t wait to read it when you’re finished.”
Kate wanted to finish the book; she wanted it more than anything. But as soon as Patrick said the words she found herself afraid that she never would. She was afraid it would never end, just like Paper Fences. The incomplete sequel to the unfinished debut. All her life, Kate had continuously built towards the future, but she found herself uncomfortable and unmotivated whenever that future inevitably became the present. She hoped that her procrastination would put itself off for just a while longer. Long enough for her to simply be happy.
“Thanks Patrick,” was what Kate said instead of showing any weakness. The snow had decided to come down again, and it was falling fast. The wind blowing from the tips of Midtown’s skyscrapers was directing all of the snow towards that single, lonely window. It was piling up, trying its best to keep Kate and Patrick trapped inside with one another.
“Shit,” Patrick said when he heard the heavy flakes patter on the glass like tiny hands clapping. “I think we’d better be going. Sheldon and I have to get back to Brooklyn before it gets even uglier out there.”
When Sheldon emerged from the bathroom, the trio went back upstairs. Patrick thanked Kate for letting him read her work and Sheldon said thank you again for the chocolate bar. As they said their goodbyes, Gene called for Kate from another room, claiming to have a question for her that required an immediate answer. Kate knew the tone, and excused herself from the entranceway, promising to be right back.
Patrick and Sheldon waited, but soon could not help but overhear Kate and Gene arguing about something to do with inviting people over for dinner on the weekend. Patrick did not know if Kate was being selfish for wanting the time to write or if Gene’s friends were really as horrible as she had made them out to be. Either way though, he knew that Kate did not love her husband like she used to, if she ever had at all. Patrick Kohn was never very good at putting pieces together; he’d always been much more proficient at taking them apart. But he managed to pluck that much from his earlier conversation with Kate. She said she had too much to drink, but there was still something obvious in her words. They stepped outside and Patrick closed the door behind them quickly so as not to let the flurry of snow inside.
“What are they fighting about?” Sheldon asked his father.
Patrick knew that Natasha would have had just the right answer for the boy, but he didn’t know what to say. So he didn’t say anything. The snow was quiet enough that he could still hear the stifled shouting from the other side of the door. Patrick thought about the phone call he made to Kate after he’d said goodbye to New York so long ago. He knew it would be much easier to make that call from twenty-five hundred miles away than have to explain his actions in person. Kate’s fiery temper was intimidating, and was only further exacerbated by alcohol. Tommy had no problem matching her intensity and if needed, Jesse probably could too, but Patrick had never learned how to handle a confrontation. He said nothing except, “Come on Sheldon. Maybe we should just leave them alone.”
They had made it only as far as the bottom step before the door behind them opened again. Patrick’s first thought was that he had not closed it all the way, but Kate was at the top of the stairs. “Hold on guys.” She already had her coat on. “I’m sorry about that,” she said, joining them out on the sidewalk.
Patrick wasn’t sure who was coming and who was going. And Kate wasn’t giving any indication of where she was headed. “Are you okay?” he asked her.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Do you guys want to go grab some cheeseburgers?”
“Cheeseburgers? At this time of night?”
“The McDonald’s is just around the corner,” she said, obliviously pointing in the exact opposite direction. It wasn’t as if they could follow her shivering finger anyway.
“I’ve never been to McDonald’s,” Sheldon said, looking up to his father with big eyes.
“His mother never let him eat fast food,” Patrick confessed to Kate, as though he needed to apologize.
“It’s just fast food,” Kate said. “It’s not plutonium. Come on, let’s go.”
Patrick and Sheldon were in no position to argue the matter any further, and the three of them hurried down Broadway through the evening’s sudden snowstorm.
She knew as soon as she awoke that it had been a mistake. Kate thought about leaving a note behind, maybe calling him when she got back to the Upper West Side, but was sickened by the idea of having to come full-circle with Patrick Kohn. She sat up and immediately felt light-headed. Sliding her legs out from the sheets, she was surprised to find the floor was closer than she expected. There was no bed frame, only a mattress. And there were only a few boxes in the bedroom, or whatever room it was supposed to be. There was a sink on the wall, but it certainly wasn’t a kitchen.
Kate peered out the window. There was no snow on India Street, not even a slushy puddle. It was as though Brooklyn existed in an entirely different realm than Manhattan. Maybe a whole other time period. She put her clothes back on as quickly and as silently as she could.
Kate was aware that she shouldn’t, but still knew she would tell Tommy and Jesse that she slept with Patrick. Tommy’s reaction would be a self-righteous one, while Jesse would only be connecting the dots towards the inevitability of their reunion. “You guys are just like Ross and Rachel,” he would no doubt say. Ugh.
Trying to piece the previous night together, Kate could not reach any sort of reasonable conclusion for why what happened had happened. However, she did not overlook the irony in the fact that she usually found herself at the McDonald’s after making mistakes, not before. Still, it was not much consolation.
Behind her, Patrick began to stir. Kate did not turn around, hoping he would be man enough to say something first instead. When he started snoring again she knew her stance was a futile one. She wanted to imagine that being with Patrick felt just like it used to feel, but it didn’t feel that way at all.
She sat on the hardwood floor and dug through her handbag. Aside from money, the only paper she found was the letter. The very same letter Patrick had mailed to Tommy. She knew she had held on to it for a reason. On the back of the letter, in her muddled right-handed printing, Kate wrote:
I’m sorry I’m still the same person I used to be.