Part 1: Going To New York

Suzanne: Meeting Kerry

Annie Baxter was not a morning person so I took no offense when her response to my waking her with a nudge was a petulant “WHAT?” I’d just pulled into a rest stop along I-80 about 50 miles east of our home in the Bay Area. “Get me a coffee and I’ll be good,” she added apologetically.

She was my longest and best friend, and we were driving to New York for the first time. She was going to business school at Columbia and I was beginning at its law school. We’d grown up in Mill Valley, a northern suburb of San Francisco, and she was a Berkeley grad. I’d gone to Stanford.

My name is Suzanne Nelson. I am of average height with long dark-brown hair and a bit on the thin side and were you to ask me to tell you something particular about myself it would be that I was a pretty decent runner, good enough to run on Stanford’s women’s cross-country and track teams but nowhere good enough to think of seeking a pro contract. I was also realistic and confident enough to avoid the eating disorders that too many of my classmates fought through.

My mother did a lot of charitable work, and my father was a lawyer, a partner in one of Silicon Valley’s preferred law firms, and that—and perhaps a desire to delay when I had to get a real job—led me to apply to law school. While I did not get into Harvard or Yale, I picked Columbia over Stanford so I could have an adventure in New York, across the country from where I’d lived my entire first twenty-two years. And there were unspoken reasons I did not want to remain in California.

Hence my getting coffee for Annie early on August 16, 2016 at a rest stop on I-80 about 50 miles east of San Francisco.

Why were we driving? And what were we to do with a car in Manhattan? Well, it was easier for Annie and me to bring our stuff and, as to the particulars, my Aunt Mary lived in Yonkers, near Sarah Lawrence College, and offered her driveway as a place to park my hand-me-down tan Camry. Since Yonkers is just north of the City, the car’d be close enough for occasional weekend trips. I’d never been to New York—nor had Annie—and having the car would help us explore.

I didn’t tell my parents where I’d be parking it. They thought it was at a friend-of-a-teammate’s house, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the drive.

Annie and I used a system: Alternating ninety-minute shifts driving with a half-hour break after we each did two stints. Then stop for the night at a motel near I-80—we’d be on that road all the way until we were about to cross into Manhattan—after the clock hit 9 p.m. With just under 3,000 miles to cover, we figured it’d take us about four or five days. Annie was the only person I could do such a thing with although even that was strained by the third day. By then even we had run out of things to talk about and we each kind of dwelled in our own worlds, listening to random music and podcasts. This changed when we were about halfway across New Jersey. Then the excitement rebuilt.

I was driving the final stretch. Over the George Washington Bridge, down to 96th Street, south on Central Park West, and a right on West 87th Street. We were suddenly actually in a place I’d seen a million times on TV and in movies. Corny I know, but undeniable. And the Park was right there.

As I double-parked in front of number 17, an attractive woman, mid-fifties, wearing khaki shorts and a pink polo shirt, about my height but not as slim, with mid-length dark hair, rose from the stoop, waited for us, and gave me a tight hug when I reached the sidewalk.

This was my Aunt Mary. I had not seen her in almost six years. I’d texted her when we were about an hour outside the City. She had the keys for Apartment 2A, our Apartment, a furnished two-bedroom in a brownstone. Annie and I had lucked out in finding the place, through my Aunt’s efforts. The three of us brought our stuff upstairs and I took the train and subway back after I went with Aunt Mary to drop the car off at her place, with Annie staying to start organizing what we had. Pizza and beer for our first dinner.

Now, a bit over a week later, Annie and I were moved in and I was sitting in the back row of a large semi-circular classroom at Columbia Law School staring at the neck and left ear of the woman sitting in front of me. It was Wednesday, August 31, and my third day of school.

I knew that one of the things you want to do when you start law school is get into a study group. It’s an informal group of four or five classmates who go over course material and prepare for exams together. I knew no one. There seemed to be networks of Ivy League and Little Ivy League and Seven Sister students but I didn’t recognize anyone from Stanford. The brunette I was staring at and who was making it hard for me to focus also looked to be friendless, and her Columbia backpack was too new to have seen any duty in college. I figured it was a recent acquisition and that she was not among the undergrad Ivy Leaguers.

As she stood when class was over I reached over the long desk that separated us, hoping she had not been taken. She turned and her initial surprise turned into a smile as she said, “Hi.”

“Can I have a word?” My god that was too formal. I sounded like the principal. After she said “sure” we met at the aisle and found a quiet spot in the hallway, away from the din of all the other conversations that echoed through the low-ceilinged hall.

“Are you in a study group?”

“Sorry?”

“A study group. You looked like me, another lost soul who didn’t know anyone else here and you look smart so I thought I’d ask.”

“I look sharp?” she replied, “You mean like from the cover of Vogue?” running her hands down her front to display her t-shirt and faded jeans, and she smiled and I knew I needed to be in her study group. And she gave me a mock slap when I replied, “Well, maybe T-Shirt Illustrated.” Turning serious she said, “not yet but I don’t live on campus so I don’t know if I can find one that works.”

“I’m Suzanne Nelson, I’m from California, and I don’t live on campus either.”

“Kerry Neally. Looks like we’re in the same group. But when I said off-campus I meant I live at home in the suburbs with my Mom and commute into school each morning.”

She seemed embarrassed, especially when she added, “my Mom insists that I use this lame Columbia backpack.”

“At least you have a Mom that cares,” I said quietly without thinking but recovered with “I’m sure we could work something out. Lunch?”

Kerry: Meeting Suzanne

I noticed her at orientation and now I was sitting across from her having a burger and fries at a coffee shop on Amsterdam Avenue, a few blocks north of the law school, itself a relatively modern building at Amsterdam and 116th Street, to the eastern edge of the Columbia campus. She had a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake, which was strange because she looked like she never ate anything but salad. It would be a while before I confessed to her that I sat where I did in class to be near her; there was something about her that caused me to want to be near her.

Over lunch I gave her my mini-bio. Grew up in Tuckahoe, just north of the City—at this she interrupted and said her Aunt lives just north of the City and we established that in fact her Aunt lived a couple of miles from me—and still live in the house with my Mom. My Dad died when I was sixteen, and my Mom never remarried. I am an only child but have plenty of cousins in the area. I went to Fordham in the Bronx, and I did well enough to get into Columbia Law. No boyfriend since I broke up with Steven when I was a senior at Fordham; he was a junior who returned to a high-school friend over the Christmas break. And not many boyfriends before that. I said my plan was to take the train in every morning since it took less than an hour and I could stay with my Mom and save a ton of money.

Much as I felt comfortable with her that first day, I was not comfortable enough, or brave enough, to fill in many of the details. Those details, which she’d come to learn over time, were as follows. My parents met in Brooklyn before it was “Brooklyn” and moved to the suburbs when they married. Both were alcoholics. Booze killed my Dad in 2010. I was a junior in high school. He simply wasted away and then was gone. My Mom never recovered. She was still young and very pretty but I don’t think she once went out for dinner with another man nor did she develop relationships with other woman, never even going out shopping or to dinner. Instead she devoted herself to me, her only child, to keeping off the booze, and to her job at a small bank in White Plains, the business center about 30 miles north of midtown. Her last drink was a gin-and-tonic she nursed in the hours after everyone but me had gone on the day of her husband’s funeral. She just stopped.

My Dad, Michael, worked for an insurance company in the City. My parents did well enough that we had a four-bedroom colonial on a hill just above the train station. I walked to my Catholic grammar school in my uniform and took the train each day to my Catholic high school in the Bronx, also in my uniform. I was one of the top three or four students in high school, working on the Yearbook and in the drama club and participated in the outreach programs the school sponsored for low-income kids in the neighborhood.

I was named for the County in southwest Ireland where my parents spent part of their honeymoon and, as I said, I am an only child.

Exploring my college options, I did not want to be too far from my Mom and I did not want to be in a large university. I enrolled at Fordham University. It’s a Jesuit college in the Bronx, and I took the train to the Fordham stop each morning. I was a Political Science major, not sure of what I planned on doing after graduation so like a lot of people I decided to go to law school.

Socially, not a lot was going on. It didn’t help that I commuted and I only had a few friends with whom I’d eat, especially in the nearby Italian neighborhood, and study and go to parties. Over time I sort of drifted away from my high school friends.

On the romance front, not much to report either. In college, I went out with a few guys and I met my first steady boyfriend early in senior year. Steven was one year behind me in school. He lived on campus and we started hanging out together in early October. He was from Chicago, and I liked him quite a bit and so did my Mom after I brought him to my uncle’s house for Thanksgiving.

I was so very happy with him and I lost my virginity in his dorm room on the Friday before Christmas break. He was more experienced than I was—who wouldn’t be?—and he was gentle and kind and I was in love.

Now I had had plenty of hot-and-heavy sessions with other boys before Steven, always “Steven,” in high school and college, but never felt the desire to do anything more than kiss and fondle any of them. I very much desired to do more with Steven who, as I say, was a kind and gentle lover. And, as I say, I was in love.

He, though, apparently was not. On a Friday night in early February I had planned on staying with him. He got up to go the bathroom after we’d made love. His phone vibrated and I saw it was “Erica.” It was after 11. When he came back I said, “you just got a call from Erica.” He stopped. “Why the fuck were you looking at my phone?” I’d never heard him curse before and I felt like I’d been slapped. “It’s after 11. Your phone vibrated and I saw who was calling. I just wanted to tell you in case it’s important” “Sorry,” he said, which led me to ask, “Who is Erica, calling after 11?” I mean I wouldn’t have asked except for the way he reacted.

Steven sat next to me, wearing only a towel and me naked below the sheet. “OK. Erica was, . . . is a friend from high school. I saw her last Summer and we got to know one another a bit, before I met you . . .”—now I was staring at him and reaching for my bra and panties—”and I ran into her in town during the break when I was hanging with my friends and we kind of got together after Christmas.” He took a breath. “And I went out with her for New Year’s and we were both a little drunk and I slept with her. And then I slept with her again when we were both sober.” Silence as I waited, putting on my bra.

“She goes to Penn and I told her that I’d take the train down to see her. I assume that’s what she’s calling about. I never mentioned you.” He got up and tightened the towel and I put my panties on under the sheet. At least he had the decency to turn when I put on my shirt and jeans and shoes.

Smart and clever and hurt as I was, all I could say as I headed to the door after grabbing my bag from the floor was, “I always knew I wasn’t your first and now I know I won’t be your last” and then I was gone, catching the final train of the day—now early Saturday morning—home and promptly waking my Mom, us sharing a hot chocolate as I cried. She let me cry, said she was there for me, and tucked me into bed. She never pushed me about Steven and if he was mentioned again, it was only in passing.

Steven was puppy-eyed for a while when I saw him on campus but after a few weeks I had pretty much erased him as anyone but just another student and spent more time with my other friends for my final semester. And, as I say, my Mom didn’t dwell on it. Plus, I was moving on more generally. I had done well on the LSATs and my college grades were good. Although I did not get into Harvard or Yale, Columbia was a yes, which was perfect. Great school and I could commute in under an hour. I could stay with my Mom.

So August 31 was the third day in which I took the 8:13 to Harlem-125th Street and the M60 bus to Amsterdam Avenue and 120th Street and the first day in which I was sitting in a coffee shop on Amsterdam having lunch with Suzanne Nelson. I immediately called her Suze. She seemed to like that; no one else called her that.

Suze: Meeting Mary

Kerry and I got three other first-years to join our study group. Mike and Bill had gone to Penn together and Marie was a Vassar grad. We met them chatting in the hall after Legal Method on Thursday and agreed to an every-other-week schedule to start, alternating between Mike’s and Marie’s dorm rooms after class on Wednesdays. We all had the same course load and schedule and figured we could up the frequency as we got deeper into the term.

Kerry and I took to having our brown-bag lunches together each day and we sat next to one another in each of our classes. Between classes, we’d quietly prepare for the next one in the library or outside on a campus bench. After each day’s final class, I’d head down to my Apartment on 87th Street, usually taking the bus but walking when the weather was nice, and she’d hop the bus to 125th Street for her twenty-minute train ride home.

At the same time, Annie and I tried to get the car every two or three weeks, and we’d head up north through farmland surprisingly close to the City and reminiscent of drives back home. For her part, Annie was loving business school, not least because classmates seemed to find her California disposition and blondeness alluring. More important, she was challenged yet comfortable with the class material. We often walked or took the bus to school—about a mile-and-a-half—together.

We both knew, though, that we were changing. It was not just that I had thrown myself into my work. More, it was that I was throwing myself into my friendship with Kerry. Annie knew more about me in some respects than I think I knew myself and never then and never since did she give me a hint of jealousy that Kerry was replacing her as my best friend and in fact I don’t think Annie ever felt the slightest tinge of jealousy, which was another reason I loved her so much.

By mid-October, I felt comfortable enough with Kerry to talk a bit more about Mary, my Aunt. Kerry knew about Aunt Mary because she knew that that’s where I parked my car. She and my father were my paternal grandparents’ only children. My grandpa was a lawyer too and my grandma was a housewife. They also lived in Mill Valley, in a large house off Blithedale. It was far too big for the four of them, but my father’s birth had been difficult, and my grandma never got the big family she wanted. There was a lot of empty space in that house. My father’s parents died in a car accident shortly after I was born, and that old, big house was sold. Growing up, my father sometimes took a detour to drive past it, slowing a bit without saying anything. When he spoke about them at all, it was to say that “They are in a better place.”

When my father was in high school, so I was told when I was in high school, my Aunt moved to New York. I didn’t know my father had a sister until then. She was, again I was told, a “free spirit” who had turned that spirit into paying jobs as a journalist and short-story writer, with bylines in Time and other magazines and a number of short stories in The New Yorker.

So, I knew of her existence but I’m ashamed to say that I made no effort to contact her. Here was my father’s only sibling, the only living member of his family, and for all intents and purposes he was an only child. And I never thought to ask about her or to find out what her phone number was. Or anything.

Then I met her at Thanksgiving in 2010, a couple of years after I learned of her, and had my first talk with her at lunch in town the next day, which turned into the most wonderful meal I ever had, for a few years at least. And when I told her how horrible I felt for how I treated her—or actually didn’t treat her—she waved it off, saying, “Think of it as having suddenly discovered a long-lost relative. Living in New York.” And I laughed with her. “I don’t have loads of money, though, so don’t expect to suddenly learn that you’ve inherited a boatload of cash. Plus, I have two boys.”

That stopped me cold. I have cousins on my father’s side? There were plenty on my mother’s since she had two brothers and two sisters and they were all married and had kids and we’d see them at Christmas and on birthdays and we always had fun together. But, as I said, my father was like an only child. We were the poster family for happy Catholic extended family in Marin County. And my Aunt Mary was the black sheep, hidden away in New York.

I saw that she didn’t wear a wedding band and when she noticed she told me that she was gay and had been living with her Betty for nearly ten years. Betty, a psychologist, was married—in those days a woman could only marry a man—and had two boys before her amicable divorce. The kids had been largely raised by Betty and my Aunt with, as I say, amicable visits from their dad, Gerard.

All of this is background of course. Once I got over the initial shock of learning at the lunch that there was a gay woman in my own family, I felt like I had known Aunt Mary forever. She was very careful to avoid any suggestion that anything that my mother or father did to her or to me was wrong, dismissing it as “That’s just who they are.” She added, “sometimes my brother, your father, has his head up his ass. The only regret I have is that I’m only meeting you now.”

From that point on we spoke regularly. My folks didn’t like it, but they tolerated it. I soon was in college for god’s sake. When I decided to go to New York for law school, it was in part with the guidance of Aunt Mary. I would never quite be alone, and that helped with my nervousness.

 And there she was as I pulled up outside my new home on 87th Street. This was only the third time I had seen this woman, but I had long since felt that I had always known her. Now I could see her every few weeks when Annie and I took the Subway and then the train to Bronxville, the stop less than a mile from her home.

Kerry: School Days

It’s funny. Columbia is very competitive. But I never feel that I am competing with anyone but myself. We are all in a super-intense environment but we are all in it together. People, strangers, started coming to me after class and asking questions. I had no idea why. I had gotten through being called on—professors used the seating chart to select an unsuspecting student for a question about a case, the damn Socratic method long used to make us “think like a lawyer”—and once that happened you didn’t have to worry about it again for the rest of the term. I was doing the prescribed reading of fifteen pages of our casebooks—each chiefly containing court opinions—a night. It was far different from college lectures. We read a case and the professor asks about the principle it articulated, drawing out our answers so that we understood, we hoped, the point.

Then the exams. This too is different. Most are open book. You can bring whatever you wanted to. Books, notes, rosary beads. Which sounds great until you realize that everyone else can bring their own things in. Because we aren’t being tested on facts like when was the Battle of Gettysburg or what was the meaning of a passage from “Pride and Prejudice.” You get a fact pattern and need to explore all of the relevant legal issues that arise. There are rarely right answers. It’s all on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand stuff.

Putting all of this together meant that preparation was crucial, and that was the point of the study group. Work together on course outlines and go over the principles again and again. Sure, there were pre-packaged outlines built around a particular casebook. But I didn’t trust them or myself. I had to do my own outline. And so I did and I shared it with the others in the group, as they shared what they had done.

  • Suzanne: A Drive in the Country and Meeting Eileen

On the first Saturday in November, Annie and I picked up the car and drove to Beacon, one of those Brooklyn-on-the-Hudson towns you read about in The Times. And we had fun wandering about.

While we sat at an outdoor table finishing our lunches—salad for Annie, a burger for me—Kerry texted:

{Kerry: Hey. Are you on the road today?}

{Suze: Yeah. Annie and I are just finishing lunch in Beacon. What’s up?}

{Kerry: Nada. Just bored. I always get depressed when I remember we’re gonna change the clocks and it gets dark early.}

{Suze: Think of how we California sun-worshippers feel!}

{Kerry: Bullshit. You come from San Francisco and wouldn’t know the sun if it slapped you across the face.}

{Suze: LOL. Gotta go. Annie is getting jealous.}

What? Am I flirting?

{Kerry: Good thing you don’t have pictures of me to show her. Then she’d really be jealous!!}

{Suze: How do you know I don’t????}

{Suze: Don’t worry. I haven’t shown them to her. . . . She’s already steaming.}

{Suze: LMAO. Kidding! She’s just pissed that I’m ignoring her. See you Monday.}

OK. Not flirting.

“What was that about?” Annie asked. “You were texting like it was with George Clooney and hiding it like I was Amal.”

“Just Kerry.”

Annie and I finished our lunches and coffees and wandered through a few shops and a gallery before getting the Camry and heading home. It was a beautiful drive down the parkway even if the peak leaf-changing had passed. As on our trip from California, Annie and I shared driving duties—it was nice for both of us to get a chance to drive and feel free of the restraints of the City—and she was driving. I asked whether she’d like to meet Kerry.

“I imagine I’ll meet her one of these days,” she said, glancing over from the driver’s seat. My bare feet were gripping the dashboard just above the Camry’s glove compartment as I looked at the wooded area passing by. Without looking at Annie I said, “We’ll be nearly right next door when we bring the car back. She sounds lonely. I’ll see if she’s around.” Annie told me to go ahead.

{Suze: Hey. I’m bringing the car back to my Aunt. You want us to stop by before we do. You can meet Annie and she can tell you the deepest secrets of my life???}

I waited for about ten minutes, bouncing the phone lightly between my hands.

{Kerry: I could really use a break. I’m tired of outlining poor Mrs. Palsgraf and wondering what that guy was doing carrying a box of dynamite. Do you have the address?}

{Suze: No.}

She texted it to me and I plugged it into my phone.

{Suze: Got it. Thanks. We’re about 20 minutes away. Does that work?}

{Kerry: See you then!!!!}

I gave my Aunt a quick call, telling her we were stopping at a friend’s house nearby and that I’d let her know when I would be dropping the car off.

Kerry’s Mom answered the door. She was stunning. About my height, 5’7”, and wonderfully curved. She had fair skin and amber hair, which she kept above her shoulders. That hair had a slight wave to it and seemed to frame her high cheekbones and round face. With eyes that were blue but not cut-like-a-diamond blue. Quiet, restful blue that I could imagine turning into something very treacherous. And that’s just what I got in a single glance.

She had, perhaps, spent a little too much time in the Sun when she was young—and she was hardly old when I met her, no more than her late 40s—and there were some wrinkles beside those eyes and on her neck. For some reason I noticed her neck. And I remembered how I admired Kerry’s that day I introduced myself to her.

Her Mom was wearing a nice yellow shirt without a collar, blue jeans, and a pair of Asics trainers. No jewelry other than what I recognized as a runner’s watch. She paused for a moment upon seeing me and after asking who was Suzanne and who was Annie she hugged each of us and led us in. Annie and I in turn said, “Hello Mrs. Neally,” and she said, “Please don’t remind me that I’ve gotten old. Call me Eileen. I guess I should be glad that you didn’t call me ‘Ma’am.’”

She was no “Ma’am.”

Kerry’s house sat on a small lot, close to its neighbors. It had a brick-facing, and when we entered the dining room was to the left and the living room to the right and a staircase to the second floor in the middle. It was nicely decorated and maintained but in something of a time warp. But it was a home in which people lived and after glancing around I told Mrs. Neally—it would take a while before I could bring myself to call her “Eileen”—that I loved it. Unlike my much larger house in California, it had life and unlike my house in California it was a home.

Kerry came in and asked us what we wanted to drink and the four of us went into the kitchen. I’d had enough coffee for the day and don’t drink soda so I was glad to get an iced tea, with Mrs. Neally insisting on cutting a slice of lemon for it and for Annie’s.

Mrs. Neally laughed. “Do you know that old New Yorker cover, the one with the map looking west and everything west of the Hudson sort of disappears?” After we nodded, she continued. “That’s pretty much my world and I hate to admit my view of the rest of the world. I always wanted to go to California, and San Francisco in particular, but it never happened.”

Annie piped in, “Suzanne and I loved growing up there but, let’s face it, it was kind of boring compared to what we imagined the real world looked like.” Kerry interrupted by saying “You do realize that a lot of shows set in New York were filmed in Toronto don’t you?” to which Annie mockingly responded, “What? And are you telling me that Harry never met Sally?,” which she said while glancing at me.

I called her a dork. “It’s like Annie’s favorite movie. She brought it up while we were driving here since we too were making the life-altering change of moving to New York. She even displayed her mock-orgasm skills somewhere in . . ..” I stopped, blushing as I realized that Kerry’s Mom was standing there, and switched to saying, “Anyway, believe me, any illusions or delusions we had about New York vanished about thirty-six hours after we rode into town. But, yeah, you should visit San Francisco at least once. LA? Not so much.”

Kerry interrupted this love fest by offering to show Annie and me what she called her “Cave,” which turned out to be in the basement. She had carved out a space for a desk and a bookcase, and a computer sat on the former and her case books in the latter.

Suddenly Annie said, “This is bullshit.” I was stunned and Kerry looked like she’d been slapped. Annie smiled, “Kerry, you can’t work in these conditions. The Department of Labor would shut you down if they saw it.” Kerry looked and I definitely was puzzled. WTF?

“You lawyer wannabes are clueless,” Annie said. “It’d take us like an hour to move stuff around down here—tell me Kerry if I’m overstepping—so that you can work without feeling that the fucking walls are moving in on you.”

Kerry called up to her Mom. “Mom.” Getting no response, she went up a few steps and shouted “MOM!” and when her mother got to the top of the steps Kerry said, “these California girls think they can do something about my Cave. They want to know if there is any stuff down here that we can just get rid of.”

She came down and said, “Well I have been after your uncles. We can put some of this stuff into the garage so I can see it and decide what needs keeping and what needs not-keeping so that’s fine with me. But honey I don’t want your friends to do it. They look tired.” And pointing at me she said, “And Suzanne here doesn’t look like she could carry a cup of Starbucks,” to which I responded, “Hey, I’m a lot stronger than I look. I’ll have you know . . .” at which Eileen—that wasn’t so hard now that she suddenly seemed so approachable—laughed, “I’d be surprised if you could lift a pencil but I’m willing to live and learn just how strong you are.”

Kerry looked at her Mom who she’d apparently never seen so animated and Annie said, “Get a room” to which Kerry said, “I thought that’s what we trying to do.” It was left to me to be the voice of reason. “Guys, guys. Let’s figure this out. What can we move and how are we gonna move it?”

The next two hours passed faster than any two had passed since I’d left home. This was happening a lot with Kerry. At about five I called my Aunt to give her an update on what we were doing and when we expected to drop the car off. When Eileen asked who I called, I said, “My long-lost aunt. She lives over near Sarah Lawrence and I keep my car there. I try to go for a drive once or twice a month or so to clear out some of the cobwebs.”

By then we had moved several pieces of not-too-heavy furniture and maybe twenty boxes of papers into the back and around to the garage. We could actually see the floor and there was a clear path to the basement’s sole window. We decided that an oriental carpet and some new lights would liven up the place. At least it wouldn’t be such a cave anymore and Kerry might find it less stressful to study down there.

When we all walked upstairs, Kerry’s Mom asked if she could get us anything. After we all said water would be good, and after she handed glasses around she looked at me and said, “Suzanne, I do apologize. It seems you’re a lot stronger than I gave you credit for.” She drew it out.

Kerry: Suze’s Aunt

Holy Fuck. Was my Mom flirting with my best friend?

A couple of things to unpack there.

First, yeah, Suze was my best friend. But I wasn’t hers. She had tons of other friends, including Annie, who I liked, and others she knew from California. I didn’t care. We sat together in class and went to our study group together. Between classes, and because neither of us had a dorm room to head to, we’d sit silently next to one another in the library or on a bench on Morningside Drive preparing for our next class. (Morningside Drive runs along the eastern edge of Columbia—the Hudson River is its western border—and there is a sharp drop, almost a cliff, to get to Harlem itself. Hence the area’s name, Morningside Heights.) It wasn’t like we did everything together. I mean, she went out for a run on her own three or four times a week and I always took the train home before seven. But we did speak almost every night.

She was smart, of course, and she didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She had, as Jane Austen observed of Anne Elliot, “elegance of mind and sweetness of character.” While some assholes would view a professor grilling a student the way a Roman viewed a lion approaching a Christian, hoping for the latter’s painful demise, you could sense Suze cringing and quietly giving a sigh of relief when the student survived or a frown when she didn’t. Doing, thinking, anything else simply would not occur to her.

I sometimes embarrassed myself when I wasn’t as sympathetic or empathetic as she expected me to be. I soon realized that she was uncomfortable when I sprinkled obscenities in my sentences, and I tried to cut down on it because it made her uncomfortable, as it did my Mom. I took all of this as a sign that she had great expectations for me and I got angry with myself when I felt I disappointed her. And next to my Mom she was suddenly the last person I could ever want to disappoint.

When Suze came by my house, she was not dressed as I was used to, trading in her t-shirt, jeans, and trainers for loose black-slacks with a white belt, a red blouse buttoned to the collar, a light blazer, and pumps with two-inch heels. Annie, who I’d never met, was similarly dressed and, as I said, I liked her. The two of them oozed having spent a fun girls-day-out.

Which brings me back to my Mom and her flirting. She had been alone and lonely for so long that I know her wordplay was unintentional. She’d NEVER said anything to anyone, as far as I knew, that had the slightest tinge of want or attraction. I’d have noticed. So with Suze it was something that flowed naturally from her, without conscious thought or ulterior intent. It somehow made her more human to me, more womanly. But Suze was my best friend. It was something I would watch, but would, could, do nothing about.

When Suze called her Aunt to say she was bringing the car over, her Aunt invited us all, my Mom included, to her place. Suze and Annie hopped in the Camry and after we cleaned up a bit my Mom and I drove over in our Outback. And Aunt Mary—who insisted that I call her “Mary,” which I easily did—gave me a huge hug when we arrived. “Finally, I get to meet the beautiful, brilliant Kerry.” I blushed and shot a glare at Suze, then Mary gave my Mom a hug saying, “and I see where she got it from,” and now my Mom was blushing. At which point Mary’s partner Betty gave Mary a slap and my still-smiling Mom a brief hug.

They ordered pizza and wine—my Mom discretely sticking with water—and it was an easy, relaxed girls-night-in. Too quickly we saw that it was dark and we didn’t realize it was late until Annie suggested it was time to go. We said our goodbyes, dropped Suze and Annie at the station, and headed home.

“That was nice,” my Mom said when she sat down with me before I headed back down to the Cave. “I can see why you, er, like Suze so much. She’s like the sweet daughter I never had.” I hit her with a towel, “MOM!” She laughed, “You know I love you honey, but sweetness has never been your strong suit.” “True” was my lame comeback.

She paused. “Mary invited me to stop by her place. Do you think I should? She’s so near and she could be the saucy sister I never had.”

“She is saucy, and I liked her. But I have to tell you some things about her. You can’t tell Suze that I told this to you and you can’t tell anyone else what I’m going to say, but I should give you some background.”

She promised to keep it to herself.

“Suze says her father, who she always refers to as ‘my father’ and she always calls her mom her ‘mother,’ sometimes acts as if he were an only child. When she grew up, there were no pictures of Mary on the mantel although there were of her father and her grandparents. Only when she was in her teens did she learn that her father had, has, a sister and that she has an aunt. Suze’s folks are hard-core Catholics. They also grew up outside of San Francisco and from what I can piece together from what Suze told me, at some point Mary was spending lots of time in the City. She was a good student and went to Berkeley. She insisted that she wanted to live on campus, and her folks were doing well and they had no problem paying her tuition and room-and-board.

“Unfortunately—and Suze is vague on the details—her grandmother showed up at Mary’s dorm room when Mary was not alone. And not with her assigned roommate. Mary was just in a robe when she opened the door. It took a moment for Mary’s mother to figure out what was happening, seeing a strange woman in a robe trying to disappear into the background, but as soon as she did, she turned and walked away. According to Suze, Mary’s mother never saw her again.

“It was the fall semester of Mary’s sophomore year, and when she got back from class the next day there was a hand-delivered letter, more a notice really, under her door. Mary was advised that ‘your father’—the fucking thing, sorry, was written in the third-person—was exercising his right to cease providing financial support to ‘his daughter,’ that because tuition, etc. had been paid for the balance of the fall semester she could continue going to classes and taking her exams and residing in the dorm but that effective with the final day of the fall semester all financial obligations would be hers and hers alone.

“She never saw her father again. Both of those grandparents died in a car crash when Suze was little.”

My Mom reached over to touch my hand as my eyes were beginning to water.

“Suze’s father was still in high school when all of this happened. Mary didn’t think he knew any of what was going on, at least at the time. Their parents would never breathe a word of it to anyone. She had a few thousand dollars in a bank account, money she’d earned over the prior Summer. She’d managed to avoid spending too much of it when school began. In December she bought one of those Amtrak excursion tickets, and after she finished her finals and had to move out of her dorm, she packed what she could into a suitcase, went to Union Station or whatever it’s called in San Francisco, and took a train that got her to New York via Chicago. Right before Christmas.

“She didn’t know anyone in New York. But the girl she was with when her mother stopped by, who was just a one-day fling that changed Mary’s life in an unexpected way, had a cousin who lived in the Village. The cousin, a guy, spoke to Mary before she left and told her that she could stay with him for a few nights and that he could probably hook her up with a job at a bar or restaurant around NYU and perhaps with someone who had some space she could rent.”

My Mom’s eyes were starting to water a bit too.

“So, Mary took the train to New York and to the Village and to NYU. I don’t know the details, and perhaps she’ll share them with you, but yada yada yada she ended up meeting someone, a woman, at NYU. That would be Betty, who you just met. They had a bit of a thing for a few months but Betty ended up marrying a guy, Gerry, she knew from home on the Island and they had a couple of boys before Betty realized that she was gay, that her marriage was loveless, and that no one made her feel complete the way Mary had years before.”

I took a breath.

“Betty tracked Mary down, hoped she was still available and interested and, yada yada yada, after a divorce Mary, Betty, and the two kids moved to Yonkers and, as I understand it from Suze, they’re vaguely talking about getting married one of these days.”

I stopped.

“And the kids?”

“She said that one works in DC and the other is a student up in Boston, I think a junior at Boston College.”

My Mom took a breath. “What about Suzanne’s father, Mary’s brother?”

“Oh, I skipped over that. It’s actually really important. According to Suze, and I think she only recently got this from her Aunt, after she came to New York Mary tried to get what information she could about her brother, who was still in high school outside of San Francisco. Remember, this was the pre-Facebook era so that was pretty tough. But she figured that he probably followed their father to Stanford. When her brother would have been a sophomore she wrote him a letter simply addressed to him care of Stanford University, etc. A week or two later she received a large envelope without a return address. Inside was her letter—she had put her name and return address on the envelope. It was unopened and written across the back of the envelope, in all caps, was ‘DO NOT CONTACT THIS PERSON AGAIN.’

“And that was it. She sent a letter to her brother’s law firm about a decade later but never heard back. I guess Catholics can be just as fucked up as Evangelicals.” My Mom did not approve of that language and gave me a hint of a glare. “Sorry.”

“There was one attempt at reconciliation. Mary was invited to Suze’s house for Thanksgiving six or seven years ago. That’s when she actually met Mary. Suze overheard her parents making it clear that a future invitation would never be extended, but she and her Aunt had lunch the next day alone and immediately connected with one other. They’ve been communicating, largely behind her parents’ back, ever since and it was Mary who got Suze her Apartment.”

And with that I exhausted my knowledge of Mary’s history and felt that my Mom knew enough to decide, or at least start to decide, how far a friendship with Suze’s Aunt might go.

Suze: Eileen Neally

“Maybe she’ll adopt you.” It was Annie repeating a comment she’d often made at home when I reported on yet another day of iciness in my own parents’ presence, in contrast to the ease I always enjoyed with Annie’s folks. But when Annie said it in reference to Kerry’s Mom as we walked from the Subway on the last leg of our trip home after finishing the day with Kerry and her Mom, it took a beat longer than it used to for me to respond with “I wish.”

The thought was different, the idea of being with Kerry and her Mom, from when it was just the prospect of hanging out with Annie and her folks. I realized that Kerry had become my best friend, displacing Annie in that role, and was something more as well. I also had, though, a strange attraction to Eileen.

While I was processing this and a few days after our Saturday adventure at Kerry’s place, I got a call from my Aunt.

“Baby”—that’s what she calls me—”I just received a call from Kerry’s Mom. Do you know anything about that?”

“A little.”

Kerry told me that she had given her Mom much of my Aunt’s backstory when her Mom told her that she planned on getting together with Aunt Mary. So I felt it appropriate to explain to my Aunt in broad strokes Kerry’s and her Mom’s situation, that Kerry’s Mom was a widow and recovering alcoholic and had been completely under the radar with anyone since her husband died six or seven years ago. According to Kerry, Eileen’s last drink was a G-and-T on the day of the funeral and she was an AA regular for a while. I said “whatever you do do not let her know that you know any of this. I’m just giving you some background. Don’t worry if you have wine or something because she’s OK with it—remember we had wine when they came over on Saturday—but I think it’s something you should know if a friendship develops.”

I don’t know whether I should have told her any of this. It kind of came out because it was what I immediately thought of when I thought of Eileen, almost like her being gorgeous popped into my brain when I thought of her. I mean, I knew she was lonely and had no idea about how wonderful I found her, but for some reason my knowing about her drinking made her even more wonderfully human.

And when I hit END on my phone after telling my Aunt that I thought it would be great for Eileen and for Mary, and Betty and their kids, to see Eileen, I lowered my hand holding the phone and blindly looked ahead of me and thought again about Eileen. And then I thought about the fact that I was thinking about Eileen.

Kerry: Thanksgiving 2016, in Yonkers

By mid-November I started to feel comfortable in school. Doubts about whether I deserved to be there had washed away as I found the material challenging but also interesting and in my comfort zone. Other students would ask for my spin about cases—remember, classes were all about cases—after class was over, and Suze engaged with them too. We got through midterms, and work on our course outlines was going well for pre-Christmas finals.

Rather than heading up to Connecticut to be with my Aunt and Uncle in Fairfield for Thanksgiving, we stayed close to home, joining Suze—Annie was with a classmate in Jersey—and her Aunt’s family in Yonkers. Which is how I met Peter and Michael. They spent alternate holidays with Betty, their birth mother, and Gerry, their dad, who now lived in Baltimore with his second wife, and this was the year to be in New York. Peter was the older and Michael the one at BC.

Suze and I took a stroll after dinner and she told me that this was the first time she’d ever felt that she was at a family Thanksgiving. I put my arm around her waist and she did the same to me as we walked on the street. It was quiet, with no traffic, and well lit. “And,” she said after a pause, “I also felt, and I think my Aunt and Betty felt, that you and your Mom are part of our family.”

I knew that my Mom had spent a lot of time with Mary and Betty in the short time since they met and they acted like sisters when they were preparing dinner.

“You know, I can’t recall when I last saw my Mom as alive as she was today. I’m real happy about that, but I draw the line if she starts asking for group hugs.”

She tightened her grip for a moment, and we continued in silence. When we got back to the house, everyone was lethargic and Mom and I bid everyone a good night, leaving with various left-overs from dinner and dessert.

Since she stayed at her Aunt’s, Suze came to my place on Friday and again on Saturday. I grabbed things from the Cave and we spread our stuff out on the coffee table in the living room. We, together and separately, engaged in hours of studying, our joint silences interrupted periodically when I would ask her about a case or she did the same to me and by my Mom bringing us, yes, turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce she had taken home from Mary’s at about one each day and fresh coffee every few hours.

Suze and I decided to take a break with a dinner in town on Saturday, and we agreed not to speak of class or the law while we were out. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I remember how relaxed and pleasant the night was even after she dropped me off and headed to her Aunt’s. And I remember that she paused a moment before putting the Camry in gear to leave after saying “good night.”

Suze: End-of-Term

I didn’t know what I wanted to say but I knew that I wanted to say it and that I couldn’t say it. So, Kerry closed the Camry’s door and walked up the path to her house. I drove back to my Aunt’s and took the train into the City the next morning after I went for a run in the hills around Sarah Lawrence and on the Bronx River Path. When I entered the Apartment, it struck me that I was quite different from what I was when I left it only a few days before.

I’d never had a Thanksgiving like this. It was usually an almost formal event with my father in a suit and my mother in a dress and me and my brother, Eric, uncomfortable in the long silences. My mother, unlike my father (or so I thought), had siblings but after we had gone to my Aunt Debbie and Uncle William’s house when I was in high school, with a house full of kids of varying ages and sizes, our Thanksgiving contacts with others were via the phone, although I spent each of the breaks from Stanford going out for runs with former teammates and hanging out with neighborhood friends, like Annie.

Now there were the hours and hours I spent just with Kerry and especially our “date,” which I felt our dinner on Saturday amounted to. I realized that any attraction I felt towards Eileen was attraction I felt for Kerry.

I knew I was gay. I knew when I was in high school. Not that I ever acted on it. I just enjoyed the way girls, and especially not the tall, sleek distances runners with whom I spent so much time, looked. I saw nothing of interest in the boys in my classes. And my regular porn habits—severely restricted while home—always tended to the lesbian. If I ever viewed straight porn it was once or twice to see what it was about and it was never repeated.

I told no one. Not even Annie who, I knew when I was in high school, was definitely not gay, a view that did not waiver for a moment since. Indeed, a disproportionate amount of time I spent with Annie included the ups and downs, and sideways, of her long- and short-term relationships with boys and, eventually, men. I figured that she didn’t try to draw me out about my own exploits because, first, she knew I didn’t have any and, second, she figured I was shy and otherwise engaged. Indeed, it’s not like I did anything with females of the species. And I was never attracted to her, much as she was the classic California blonde. In retrospect, though, I think that while I never told Annie, she might have figured it out and was waiting for me to actually tell her. I loved that about her. And in fact, I never did anything about it. I kept my desires under wraps. I had plenty of friends and that is all I wanted or needed at the time.

Suddenly I had a friend in Kerry and suddenly I knew that I wanted and needed more with her. But I was disciplined enough to realize that I could do nothing about it just yet (if ever) and I was able to compartmentalize enough to put that aside while I prepared for my exams. Plus everything I knew told me she was straight.

And so Kerry and I and the others in the study group met on campus each day between when classes ended and exams began. It was the most intense mental period I’d ever experienced and one course and one outline bled into another in an eruption of thought. When we took the last exam, the five of us went to a pizzeria on Broadway where we wolfed down a few pies and a few pitchers of beer and caught our breaths for the first time since we had started in August.

We then scattered.

Kerry: The Apartment

While I was confident that I had done well, I wasn’t sure that I had done well. I thought I had picked up all of the issues in the exams but then groaned when a classmate mentioned as we mingled in the hall seeing one that I missed. What was done was done, though, and time to move on and savor the holiday, having survived this next rite-of-passage as an aspiring attorney.

I was a little blitzed when I walked into the house, having had a fair share of the beers we shared with the pizza. My Mom was still at work, and it was a few days before Christmas. I had taken a break the prior Sunday to go with her to pick up a tree and a wreath, and the tree stood decorated in the living room, my Mom having taken care of that and the wreath that was on the front door. I don’t know how she did it.

Of course, Suze was invited to Christmas dinner. She told me at one study session that she’d decided not to go home for the break. She told her mother that she’d decided to take advantage of just being in New York for a while without the pressure of schoolwork and, she told me, her mother got decidedly cold when she, Suze, said she had catching up with her Aunt Mary.

They—Suze, Mary, and Betty (Peter and Michael being with their dad)—came to our house for Christmas dinner and presents. My Mom put her face in her hands when I opened something from Suze that turned out to be a COLUMBIA sweatshirt and she said, “You can wear that with the backpack your Mom makes you carry to school.” I threw the shirt at her. But she also gave me a pair of emerald earrings she got from a second-hand shop she visited with Annie in Beacon which I immediately put on my ears, and I gave her a Hermes scarf that I picked up at a consignment shop in town and she delicately wrapped around her neck.

After Christmas, though, Suze stopped answering my calls and responded to my texts with {Suze: Just taking care of some stuff. CU soon}, and when I called Mary about it, she said that Suze was back in the City and was ghosting her too. Neither of us understood why.

Then:

{Kerry: Happy New Year’s. xo}

Followed ten minutes later with:

{Suze: And to you.}

And then no response to my immediate:

{Kerry: See ya soon??}

until January 2:

 {Suze: Sorry Kerry, I’m coming down with something.}

Something was majorly wrong. She didn’t pick up when I called or get back to my voicemails. So on January 3 I just drove down and after twenty minutes was able to find a parking spot a few blocks from Suze’s Apartment. I knew Annie was not around since Suze told me she had gone home for the holiday. Amazingly enough, this would be my first visit to the Apartment. But I thought to back in November: “you ambushed me at my place and I can do the same to you.”

I pushed the buzzer in the building’s tiny foyer and when a very-healthy sounding Suze asked “Yes?” I told her, “It’s me, let me up.” To which she said, “I don’t think it’s you. You would have said ‘it is I.’” and a pause. “Look, Kerry, I really don’t feel well.” Her voice had changed. Now it was husky. In a bad way. I said, “Suze, I drove all the way down here, wandered the streets for ages to find a place to park, to speak to you. Let me up.” I heard the buzzer and pushed the door open. I climbed the flight to her second-floor Apartment. Her door was ajar.

As I said, I’d never been there. It was big. Not “Friends” big, more like Meg-Ryan’s-place-in-”You’ve Got Mail” big. There was a nice living room with a curved window overlooking the street and a small kitchen. And two bedrooms off the hall heading to the back. Suze was sitting in the middle the sofa, and I sat in one of the chairs across the coffee table.

“I really don’t feel well” she said. She didn’t look well, paler than I was used to.

“Suze, tell me what’s going on. You look kind of drowned out but I don’t think it’s physical. Talk to me.”

“You’re the last person I can talk to.”

That hurt and I think she saw me wince.

“No, no, no. It’s not you.”

“Then what is it?”

She paused, took a breath, and after a moment’s thought her eyes became steely. Staring at me she said, “I’m gay.”

I’ve always hated myself for this, but all I could say, at least all I DID say was, “You can’t be” and, worse, I shook my head and covered my eyes. “I thought we were friends. . . . You can’t be like that.”

When I looked again her eyes were blank. I wasn’t ready for what she said and I don’t know why I said what I said, but to her was I no better than her father?

She got up. Walked to the door. Opening it she was direct: “Just fucking leave.”

And I did.

Suze: Two Seconds

Bitch.

I’d bared my soul to this woman. I had never told anyone, not even my Aunt, not even Annie, that I was gay. I didn’t know whether I would ever tell anyone else except maybe someone else I fell for in some sleezy lesbian dive. I needed to come out to her and it revolted her. I revolted her. Not only would I not learn whether she had any feelings for me, I found that her only feeling when I exposed myself to her was repulsion.

I ignored her calls and didn’t respond to her texts. Kerry hadn’t told my Aunt because when Aunt Mary called she didn’t say anything about it and I got away with telling her that I was too busy preparing for the Spring Term to focus on anything else. That was not true. I wouldn’t have to think about school until late January when classes resumed.

I did speak to Annie. She sensed that something was off but didn’t push it. Even when she came back from Mill Valley she knew enough to give me space, although she did drag me out to a few get-togethers with her friends. At that point, I didn’t think I had any friends of my own.

Given the drop-off in my course-load after first term, I started running more in the Park; it was all of 100 yards from my front door. Even when it snowed heavily, the Park Drive was cleared within a day, and in January I did at least one six-mile loop each morning at about nine and longer ones on the week-ends.

I’d never been a big Facebook user but I deleted my account, doubting that any of my “Facebook friends” would notice. I didn’t have a lot of non-Facebook friends so save for Annie I was lonely. She knew that I was cratering and tried to get me to go out with her on week-ends, but I always bowed out, pleading school work. I never mentioned Kerry.

No matter what I was doing, I was thinking of Kerry. I knew she wanted to apologize and I knew I would have to deal with her when classes began, but I was gutted. I wouldn’t listen. Fucking child. I was just a fucking, spoiled child.

Kerry: Conflicts

I said that Suze did not have a mean bone in her body and that that’s one of the things I loved—yes I use that word—about her. But sometimes I thought I had been premature in my assessment. I fucked up, OK. She came out to me and afterwards I realized that she probably had not come out to anyone before and might not ever again. And what if she wanted me?

I, in that one, most important moment of my life, failed. I failed her and I failed myself. I’m not an idiot and I knew there were plenty of gay people around. Hell, I had often met and had dinner with Mary and Betty, a lesbian couple with kids.

And yet.

I had “just met” them. They weren’t my friends. They weren’t my best friend. I wasn’t their best friend and I knew that that’s what I was to Suze. I reacted and I reacted badly. The most-important moment of my life and I reacted badly.

She ignored my calls and my texts and was gone—pfft!—from Facebook. I knew some of what was happening to her since we were in the same classes again, but we no longer sat together. She was cold to everyone else and frigid to me, waiting until I was up and gone before she stood to leave the classroom. I would stand a discrete distance away from the door to watch her leave, but she was always stoic, always silent as she left the building or headed up to the library.

I rarely went to the library between classes, fearing I’d make her uncomfortable. It was just so fucked up. And I hadn’t even addressed my own feelings for her.

Suze: The Armory

Out of the blue in late January I got a call from Patsy Davis. She ran for Washington and we’d chat after Pac-12 meets. I liked her. She was tall and slim and had ink-blank hair. I don’t know how she tracked me down. Probably some super-secret network of post-grad runners.

Patsy asked if I was still running. She was doing some film thing at NYU and had hooked up with a local elite women’s club. “They have these crazy all-comers meets at the Armory on Thursday nights. No pressure but lots of fun. If you can handle the dry air.” The Armory has a high-tech banked indoor track. It was actually an old armory and I’d heard that where the track was used to be where they stored jeeps and stuff. It was across from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital off Broadway and 168th Street.

I told Patsy that I was so focused on law school—”some of us go to a real school you know,” I said to her—that I only ran a few times a week, including on a treadmill, and had not done speed work since my last semester at Stanford.

“No one cares,” she responded. “As long as you don’t get lapped on a 200-meter track, you can only embarrass yourself so much.”

So that’s why I was sitting on the 1 Train heading up Broadway. I had my spikes, scarlet Stanford-singlet, and loads of nerves. I hate racing but love it when I’m finished.

Patsy assured me that she would be there, and when I walked up to the track I saw her. She was wearing black boyshorts and a white singlet with a red Mercury logo. Yeah, she was running for an elite club and she looked taller than she had at Washington, with her hair much shorter than it had been when she wore it in a pony-tail during races.

She gave me a hug and pulled me over to some teammates. Like a college team, they came in all shapes and sizes and they all looked slim and, more to the point, fast. After consulting with them, I elected to run the 1500. And I died. I wasn’t lapped and I wasn’t DFL, i.e., dead fucking last. But I died. I hacked my way through the entire final lap, collapsing to the infield afterward. I felt I had embarrassed my singlet but at that point I only wanted water to moisten my dry mouth.

I was happy. Rusty, but happy.

Kerry: Coffee with Mary & Betty

I landed a Summer associate position with a large midtown firm. Four of my classmates would be there too, although I did not know any of them well. I figured I would by the end of the Summer. I’d again be commuting from Tuckahoe each morning.

Steven, my boyfriend from Fordham, called me in early February, asking if we could meet for dinner. I begged off, figuring something had happened over Christmas with his hometown girlfriend, Erica, and he was trying to reconnect with me. But while he was fun and I used to enjoy being in his company, and thought I loved him, going out with him didn’t seem right. Nor, I had to admit, did I have an interest in going out with any of the guys I knew at school. January and February passed very slowly and it was a relief to resume classes.

In mid-March, I was window-shopping in Bronxville and ran into Mary and Betty. After I said hello, how are you, etc., I tried to leave. Betty asked me to sit down with them for a coffee. So, we went to the small non-Starbucks coffee place in town. Betty cut right to the chase. “What happened between you and Suzanne?” I paused and sipped my coffee.

“I disappointed us.”

I didn’t know what else I could say. It was not for me to out her to anyone, even her lesbian Aunt and her partner. Especially them because if she hadn’t told them there must have been a good reason. I mean, I know I was the only person to whom Suze had come out to. She hadn’t told me that but I just knew it. I just knew it because I knew her. And I knew that.

“I can’t say how. I can only say that I disappointed her and I disappointed myself.” I teared. “It was two fucking seconds and I revealed to her and to me how much of a shit I am.”

Mary laughed. My head shot up and I glared at her. “She’s your niece. How can you be so glib, so cruel?”

Betty reached for my wrist. “Mary is never cruel. She can be glib. But she’s never cruel. I think Suzanne gets that from her.”

Mary reached over and touched my other hand.

“It was a nervous laugh. My brother, Suzanne’s father,” she began, “is often cruel and he doesn’t have the humor to be glib. It took me a long time to forgive him for returning that letter I sent to him back with that ‘Do not contact this person again’ crap.”

She saw my puzzled look. “Suzanne asked me if she could tell you that story and the other things about me and I said I have no secrets. She told me that she wanted you to understand how screwed up her family is and, I guess, to give you the sense that she is not like that.”

I nodded.

“I mean, her father was at Stanford and I thought he was able to think for himself. I thought he would realize that I was trying to avoid putting him between me and our parents. But he didn’t even open up the letter. He knew it was from his only sister and he didn’t open the letter.

“They say like marries like”—I noticed her smile at Betty, who said, “at least eventually”—”and that’s what he did. Nice Catholic wedding—I wasn’t invited of course and saw the notice in the Chronicle—with a white gown and limos and rice and all. I was truly happy in my own life here in New York, except for my pining for Betty here. I knew whether I liked it or not there was zero chance to create a relationship with them, Suzanne’s parents.”

We all paused and sipped our coffees, catching our breaths.

Mary resumed. “In 2010 I received an invitation to Thanksgiving at his house. It was clear that it was just for me. No ‘plus one.’ I still don’t know why it was sent. I had not received anything from him. Ever.

“Anyway, I arranged to get a gig writing a think piece out there and went to the dinner. An invitation to stay was never extended, and I wouldn’t have accepted it anyway.”

Another sip.

“That’s when I met Suzanne.”

Suzanne: New Things/New Focus

For the Spring, I decided to focus on school and running. And Kerry? Well, I decided to focus on school and running.

Kerry: Mary’s Version

A few weeks after I had coffee with Mary and Betty, I sat on the 8:13. Tuckahoe and Bronxville, the stop closest to the part of Yonkers near Sarah Lawrence where Mary and Betty lived, were on Metro North Harlem Line and the final two stops heading into the City were Harlem-125th Street and Grand Central. I normally stood. Figuring others could use a seat more than I did and that my trip to 125th Street wasn’t as long as theirs.

I thought of what Mary told me about Suzanne. Suzanne was sixteen when they met on that Thanksgiving. It was the only Thanksgiving she’d spent with her niece until the one we’d just shared. She loved her niece immediately. She had a good soul and jumped in to quell anything that threatened to expose the rift between her parents on the one hand and her Aunt on the other. With just her fifteen-year-old’s glance she made it clear that nothing would be tolerated.

Unfortunately, the restraint did not carry over once the dishes were cleared and the dessert eaten. Suzanne overheard her father, her upstanding, every-Sunday-Mass-going father, tell her mother in the kitchen, “I will not allow her to do to Suzanne what she did to herself. I’m not giving her another chance,” and her mother agreed, “I don’t know why you thought it would be a good idea to ask that bitch here.” Mary said that she heard it too.

It broke Suzanne’s heart and, Mary said, she hoped it would have a chance to recover. She decided to lay low and not put Suzanne in the middle. There would be no middle. She knew Suzanne was smart and, more important, would grow into her own woman. As she had.

So back in 2010 Mary arranged to meet with Suzanne for lunch the day after Thanksgiving. At the end of their talk, Mary told her that she had to leave, and assured her of her love, and promised she would greet her with open arms if Suzanne ever sought her out. As she left, she kissed Suzanne on the forehead and whispered, “I know you are not of their world.” And she left and did not see her niece for nearly seven years.

They spoke often, though, especially when Suzanne was at Stanford. Mary told of watching her in cross-country and track meets online. When it was time for law school, Mary hoped that Suzanne would take the opportunity to leave the West Coast, at least for a bit, and that she’d end up in the Northeast. She was perversely happy that Yale and especially Harvard, way up in Cambridge, rejected her niece and overjoyed that she was heading to Columbia.

Mary cried when she told me of seeing the grown-up Suzanne double parking her Camry outside her new Apartment, which Mary had arranged for Suzanne and Annie. (She left it at that, not explaining how it came to be, although in fact she had used one of Annie’s cousins as a strawman so Suze’s father wouldn’t know.)

Free of her parents, Mary saw how happy Suzanne had become by Labor Day, two weeks after starting school. I told them that she had approached me not long before and how we were great friends by Labor Day.

Suzanne: Changes

With the arrival of Spring and the receipt of my first-term grades, in which I got two As and two Bs—which I figured put me in the top quarter of my class—I felt more comfortable at school, comfortable enough that I was running every day. Generally, I was still doing a six-mile loop of Central Park when I returned from class and tried to go out with Patsy’s club for a long run on either Saturday or Sunday. I even hopped into some roadraces, wearing my Stanford singlet for the first couple but the AC’s from that point on.

We of course saw runners from other clubs and, as with college, we competed against them but enjoyed the camaraderie we shared in the aftermath of races, often doing warm-downs in a big, relaxed group of girls we had just gone to war against, BSing and gabbing as we floated along the Park’s Bridle Path. It was an incredible community, shared at the once-a-month big races held in the City, and I found myself moving higher up in the races I ran as more of the rust was scraped away.

School was good. Running was good. I could have been happier.

Patsy was gay and I figured some of my other teammates were and so, of course, were the members of the gay-centric club. But no one gave a crap about that. We were all just runners, and that bound us together. There were members of other clubs that I hoped were gay. No one knew, although some may have thought they knew, my orientation. I had never had the nerve to approach anyone. As in college, we hung out in a pack, although members of it were regularly disappearing to spend more time with significant others, straight and gay.

When I returned from a post-class run, after I had showered and eaten, I could no longer ignore it.

I thought back to the Fall when Annie and I had invited ourselves to Kerry’s place. I met Eileen. She had flirted with me that first time, although it was something she never repeated. But that simple, probably unintentional flirtation affected me in a way that I had never before been affected. It wasn’t, I knew but hadn’t admitted, because of her. It was her daughter, and after Christmas I needed to figure out what, if anything, I was going to do about it. So, I cloistered myself, panicking. And then she’d shown up at my building. I knew when she sat down and asked me what was wrong—I know that’s not the right word—I had to tell her. But before I could tell her about her I told her about me and when I did she was gone. They talk about the Big Bang and how everything changed in a tiny tiny fraction of a second. For me, it took much longer for everything to change. About two seconds. Two fucking seconds.

I thought that she was a bitch for what she had done, but I realized that it was me, not her. And I lacked the courage to do anything about it. I saw her all of the time when we were back at school but I had used up all my courage to come out to her and I didn’t know where I could get any more. Every time I saw her, I couldn’t defeat my stubbornness.

I found my mind drifting more and more to California. Whatever the turbulence I now felt in New York, California did not feel like it was “home” to me anymore. I came east to see a part of the world with which I was unfamiliar and to re-connect with my Aunt Mary. California, though, was where I was born and where I was raised and I expected that I would head back there after my three years at Columbia. Thus I’d gotten myself a Summer associate position at a large San Francisco firm—not my father’s—as a step in preparing for my legal career.

In the normal course of events, law students line up Summer associate positions at big firms, which try to get top students to sign up for starting their careers there, students who when they become associates can be billed out at high hourly-rates and who can be worked very hard with the carrot of partnership dangling in front of them. I would travel this well-trod path.

Having cut myself from Kerry and to some extent (and as a result of what was going on in my head about Kerry) Mary and Annie, I had a good amount of time to consider what I was doing and where I was going. I had been on autopilot and meeting everyone else’s expectations for a long time and was tired of it all.

In mid-April, I took the train to see Aunt Mary. It was a nice Saturday and I had gotten in a 10-mile run with some teammates in the morning. Aunt Mary and I met in Bronxville for lunch, at a small place near the hospital, a table by the window. And it all came out. The literal coming-out moment but what happened with Kerry and my building resentment toward my father and my concerns about my future.

We were in a public place and I was able to prevent my moistened eyes from tearing. She reached for my left hand.

“We’re very alike, you and I,” she said kindly. She always spoke to me kindly. “Now that you’ve filled in a few pieces, I see that more than ever. Smart. Gay. Coming to New York for a new life.”

She was underappreciating what she went through to get to New York, thrown out right before Christmas with no contacts, and I started to remind of how easy I’ve had it when she stopped me.

“Baby, it’s not a contest. We’re alike but we are not the same. I made my choices. You have to make yours. I cannot tell you what to do about your parents. I can’t tell you what to do about Kerry. All I can do is assure you that whatever you want will have my full support. I’ll do anything I can do to help you with your choice. Betty too. You know that.”

I admitted that I did and felt that I was unfair to them both for keeping things from them. And after a “I promise to let you know what I’m doing and where my head’s at” the conversation turned to her describing in great detail—she is a writer after all—her early days in the Village and some of her more interesting assignments over the years.

She walked home after seeing me off on the platform for my train ride back to the City and I truly felt the guilt of not having shared what I had withheld from her for too long. The one thing I made her promise is that she would not tell Eileen what I told her. Whatever was to be done about Kerry was something that I had to figure out and I had not yet done that and, in fact, would not do that for a while. But I also wanted no one else to know what I decided more generally.

The strange thing is that she did not speak in specifics, she did not say that I should do this or I should do that. What she did is instill confidence that whatever I decided to do not only would have her support but that it would be the right thing to do. For me.

And over the next few weeks as I prepared for my final exams I made a major decision, two actually.

New York had become my home. I did not know what would happen with Kerry, but I did know that I wasn’t heading west anytime soon.

On a Monday afternoon two weeks after our lunch, morning in San Francisco, I called the firm where I was to work. I explained to the hiring coordinator that for personal reasons I wouldn’t be able to be in California for the Summer, and he was very nice and told me that the firm would keep the spot open if things changed.

On Tuesday, I tracked down one of my Teaching Assistants—third years who, with one other, shepherd a small group of first years through the year, especially in preparing for initial exams—and we sat out on the bridge across Amsterdam that connects the law school to the main part of the University (with its traditional buildings). I told her that for personal reasons I decided not to go to San Francisco for the Summer and had backed out of my job there. Swearing her to secrecy, I told her that I was also considering leaving school for a year and asked if she knew where I could get a full-time job.

To say she was surprised would be an understatement. She and our other TA had gotten to know all of us, including Kerry, and genuinely cared for us. After our finals in December we’d had a party at her apartment on West 72nd Street. After I assured her that there were some things, including financial things, that I had to work through, she promised to look into some options and get back to me. She gave me a hug as she left.

I should say something about the “financial things” I mentioned. My parents were paying half of my tuition and my portion of the rent on the Apartment. I insisted that the money be a loan, and signed a zero-interest promissory note. The balance of my tuition and a stipend for living expenses came via a student loan, which did not have a zero-interest promissory note.

Things were building for a while. It began long ago, when my father disavowed his sister. Then when how they, my mother and my father, treated her on Thanksgiving in 2010. It had been smoldering within me ever since, and much as Mary told me to let bygones be bygones, I could not let it go. And now looking at how comfortable I felt in New York, especially with Mary, I wanted to stay and I understood that part of staying meant separating myself from the financial tangles I had with my parents, and I was increasingly viewing it as blood money. I would not take their money. I couldn’t afford to repay what I already received yet, but I would not add to my debt to them.

Which is why I couldn’t afford to pay for school. Perhaps I could later work out a financial arrangement so I went to the Administration. After explaining matters, focusing on the financial, I was allowed to withdraw for second year and would (assuming my first-year grades were good enough, which I knew they would be) be allowed to re-enroll in September 2018.

On Friday—this was all happening lightning fast—I left school at noon and took the 1 train to midtown. I met with a partner at a midsized law firm, Sullivan & Wilson. My TA had set the interview up for me. The partner, Carol Wright, was kind and understanding and immediately offered me a job as a paralegal. We both knew that she was getting a great deal, and I think she jumped at the chance to snag me. I would start a week after exams.

And on Saturday, now in early May, I went up to Yonkers again and sat down with Mary in her living room and told her. I don’t know that she was happy about it. I do think she understood and, as she promised three weeks earlier, she told me she would support me in any way she could, including allowing me to move in to her house come September when I would have to give up the Apartment.

All of these changes were more than enough for me. I got into compartmentalize mode and focused on school, even if it might be my final term.

Kerry: Moot Court

Things were super busy. In particular I had to prepare for moot court. It’s a rite-of-passage. Teams of two first-years—I signed up with Marie from our study group—get a package of materials and have to write a brief for one side or the other, with each side having two issues. Then you go before a panel of three alums and argue an appeal. It’s the first real-world test we get although it’s moot, not real.

As to Suzanne, I didn’t know what to do. Short of dropping a brick on her head, I couldn’t get her attention. I felt like such a dick, but I’d tried.

Suzanne: Running with Patsy

Kerry had moved on. We were, I knew, in a state of perpetual estrangement. If she even noticed me it was only in passing and would hang with Marie, her moot-court partner, and Mike and Bill from the study group. My moot-court partner was a guy named Patrick, who sat next to me in our Property class. He was nice and relaxed and I enjoyed working with him. And I enjoyed drafting my moot-court brief and doing my argument.

Outside of school, Patsy had become a good friend. She loved telling, and I’m afraid I loved hearing, her tales of dating woes. “Everyone thinks I’m this badass butch,” she told me more than once, “but I can’t just point to someone and say ‘here, now.’ I’m so misunderstood.” But of course she was that type of badass butch but I think she felt that it was a role thrust upon her that she was tired of and just wanted to find her “her,” whoever that might be.

She figured that someone was missing from my life. I never went out on a date, or at least never told her that I had gone out on a date, and the girls in our group were not shy about sharing-too-much. It’s part of what made them so much fun to run with.

In June, about a month after first year ended, though, Patsy and I were doing a couple of Central Park loops at a conversational pace. After thinking about it for the first seven or so of the twelve miles we planned and as we were passing the Sheep Meadow I simply said, “I’m gay.” Patsy said, “No shit.” To my “I’ve only told that to two other people, including my gay Aunt,” she told me to calm down.

“Look,” she said. “First, to be clear, I don’t care one way or the other. I don’t think anyone we run with cares. I mean do you care about anyone else’s quote-unquote orientation?”

I said, “I haven’t given it a thought. We’re just a bunch of hot, fast, good-looking girls. But, you know, I’ve never really looked.”

“Well,” she laughed, “some of them have looked at you but I’m not saying who. Think of it as a way to keep your get-away speed up.” I slapped her left wrist.

“Just kidding,” she said, none too convincingly.

“But, Suzanne, while I’ve never given it a ton of thought, you’ve always seemed gay. But my gaydar is wrong as often as it is right. What I need to know is why you’re telling me this now.”

We were approaching the southern edge of the Park, gliding along in our own cocoon. Although we were going at an easy pace for us, except for the guy or occasional girl passing us in super-smooth cruise-mode we were passing tons of people. The Park Drive narrows briefly so we had to concentrate to get around the slower runners and the walkers. Once we had cleared that we resumed our talk.

“I fell in love and I fucked it up.”

“Talk to me.”

And over the next half-mile I told Patsy about Kerry. How it was her mother that got it started. I explained that her Mom had, probably unconsciously, flirted with me and how gorgeous she was. That it was like she was channeling her daughter because her daughter didn’t know enough to do it herself.

Sometimes when you run your brain starts to frazzle. It doesn’t happen often but in a matter of strides you can go from a relaxed run to just shutting down and suddenly you can’t run and talk at the same time. It’s entirely a mental thing. It was happening to me. I touched Patsy’s wrist as we approached the Lakehouse, and we pulled off to the side, dodging a pair of camera-wielding tourists as we did so.

When we stopped she gave me a hug.

“I met her during my first week of school. You know that I, unlike you,” I smirked, “am not one to walk up to a stranger to introduce myself.” She attempted to deny this and I ignored her. “I’ve done it once and it was to her. While I was lonely, it wasn’t like I was grasping at anyone to be my friend. Suddenly she was my friend. We hung around all the time at school.

“Months later I sort of invited myself to her house. She lives in the burbs with her Mom and actually takes the train in every day to school. She’s smart, very pretty, and, I dunno, comfortable.”

We were now sitting on a wall off the Drive. “When Annie and I, you know, my roomie from home, stopped by at Kerry’s, I met her mother. Seriously, Pats, the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. And I come from California.”

“Washington doesn’t just grow great looking apples,” she countered to my thrust.

“Seriously. She’s a MILF to the hundred power. She’s been a widow for a while. Kerry had told me her story.”

Patsy, having made a mental note that she had to meet this woman, interrupted. “I’m starting to get a bit chilled here.” It was still Spring and the warm we felt during our run was rapidly fading. “Let’s just jog for a bit.”

We started up again. “Anyway,” I continued, “she was looking at me, Kerry was looking at her and I swear to god it was like one of those Star Trek episodes where some alien is channeling his thoughts through, like some other, but possessed alien and Troi’s boobs start shaking.”

“You are such a geek,” Patsy said. “At least you didn’t go back to Kirk.”

“Stop. I need you.”

“Sorry.”

I resumed. “Anyway, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve never kissed a girl although I’d long wanted to and now I knew that there was one girl I needed to kiss. And I knew enough about her to know, or at least think, that she was straight. Unlike you, I don’t have any gaydar, working or otherwise.”

“And when you hit on her she backed away like you had the plague?” Patsy asked. “Been there, done that.”

“No,” I said, my arms flailing about as we jogged up Cat Hill—a sculpture of a crouching cougar menaces those who pass. “It never got that far. I told her I was gay because I wanted to see her reaction to that before I did anything else. And that’s when she looked at me like I had the plague. She gave me a disgusted I-thought-you-were-normal look and without thinking I threw her out.

“I wouldn’t let her apologize. I saw her all the time in school but didn’t speak to her and avoided her whenever possible and I’m miserable. Miserable.”

“I’m sorry Suzanne.” And she stopped us, pulling me off the Drive again. We were now across the Park Drive from the Metropolitan Museum.

“It’s not just gays. Whenever anyone offers her heart to another person she exposes her essence and sometimes, you know, it’s unrequited and all you can do is try to place it back into where it belongs and hope that you get the chance to offer it to someone else down the road. Look, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never taken mine out of its slot in my chest and that’s in part because I don’t want to have to put it back. It’s safer that way but, you know, that’s not what it’s there for.”

She hugged me again and into my ear she whispered, “And I think this is something no one can tell you about except yourself.” Backing away but holding my upper arms she finished with, “but, babe, you have a lot of people who love you. You’d be surprised how many of our gang care deeply for you as a friend as they know you do for them. And talk to your Aunt. We all love you.

“Even if you’re going to be a lawyer who will literally cut out our hearts for an hourly fee. Now go home and fail the Bar Exam.”

“I have a process server with your name baby so you better make sure you keep fast enough to get away,” I called to her as she headed up the Drive to resume her run. She knew I was too spent to do anything but jog home across the Park.

Kerry: Summertime

In the Summer I learned that I made Law Review. My grades and writing sample were good enough. I saw the list of the others but the one name I hoped yet feared to see was not on it. I had hoped that Suzanne—I couldn’t call her “Suze” after what I had done to her—had done well enough too, but apparently she hadn’t.

Back to me. Something was simmering just below the surface of my psyche every day. I could keep it dampened in school but being a Summer associate meant the chance to do a good deal of socializing. The firm tried to give some semblance of the servitude that would be expected of me were I to become a real Big Law associate but also wanted to keep its prized recruits happy with large and regular doses of entertainment. Mets games. (Yeah!) Yankee games. (Boo!) Cruises in New York Harbor. Exclusive showings at the Met. Mozart at the other Met. Billy Joel tickets. (Ugh!) And lots of cocktail parties. It truly is like one of those movies in which an average guy gets seduced by drop-dead gorgeous blonde who turns into Lucifer as soon as there’s a signature on the dotted line.

I met a lot of nice people at these events. I still felt a bit outclassed with my non-Ivy pedigree and I was shy by nature. Some, I thought, might become friends and some connections worth developing but no more than that, including the men, real associates and a couple of partners among them, who asked me on dates. I wasn’t tempted by any of them and some were really nice and really smart and really handsome. No. No. No.

Then in August, after I left a partner’s apartment after a cocktail party on the Upper East Side and was Ubering to 125th Street for my train, I thought about the contrast between meeting these people at cocktail parties and meeting Suzanne in Legal Method. I remembered that I was shy and felt even more outclassed then and that she was really nice and really smart and really pretty, beautiful actually, and it was yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I wanted more dates with her, although she did not call it that but that’s what our just being-close-to-one-another-doing-our-own-things was.

Later that month I was at school for some Law Review prep work and finished early. I decided to enjoy a walk down to 87th Street. It was a sunny Saturday and hot-and-humid. I wore a Grateful Dead t-shirt, shorts, and trainers, and with now-battered Columbia backpack, of which I had become quite fond, over my right shoulder.

Suzanne was home, in San Francisco, doing her Summer stint at a firm there. I hadn’t spoken to Mary in months, not since I had run into her and Betty and had that long coffee in town. They both asked me as I finished up there to be patient. I knew that was all I could do. She was worth waiting for.

Nor had my Mom, who went with Mary and Betty a fair amount, said a thing about Suzanne.

Now I sat on Suzanne’s stoop. I hadn’t been there since that horrible January day. I don’t know why, but I sat on her stoop. I was sweaty and needed the break. I plopped my backpack next to me and took a sip from the water bottle it carried, then holding the bottle lightly in my hands as I thought. I thought about her a lot. In some ways she was my only friend and now I had nothing but acquaintances. Classmates who were Summer associates with me. Michael, Bill, and Marie, the other members of the study group, which had, without Suzanne, carried through the Spring semester and proven its worth by having each of its members achieving Stone Scholar status for the year. We all missed her, but she kept her distance from them as well. I thought of her when I found that out because I didn’t know whether she was also a Stone Scholar.

So, I sat on her stoop for about half-an-hour and then slowly rose and grabbed my backpack, hoisting it over my right shoulder. I had not thought of her and just of her this intensely for a long time; I almost always did before drifting to sleep. I was now very, very tired and I got on the C Train to 125th where I changed to the M60 bus, my usual bus, to the Metro North Station for the train ride home. And I almost but didn’t cry. Until I got home when the tears flowed and my Mom hugged me tightly as I told her how I had screwed everything up.

Suzanne: Trapped

Shit. It’s her. She has the stupid backpack that her Mom’s so proud to see. I want to meet Patsy for a run but she’s sitting on the stoop.

I sent a text:

{Suze: Patsy. Something’s come up. I’m stuck in my apartment. Go without me. S.}

I loved her but I didn’t know if I could trust her let alone whether she could ever love me as anything but a friend. If I went to her, I was afraid the dream of our becoming lovers and more would evaporate and I wouldn’t have anything with her.

Kerry: “You’re Not in California?”

My phone rang. I was taking a nap after walking and concentrating so much. And crying so much. More than anything, the concentrated thoughts of her wore me down.

It was Suzanne. My stomach churned. She hadn’t called me since, well, the last day I had been at, and actually in, her Apartment. She was in San Francisco so I wondered why.

“Hello.”

“I saw you.”

“What??”

“Why did you come to my Apartment?”

“Wait. Aren’t you in San Francisco?”

“No. I never went.”

She’d been in New York the whole time. She was a half-an-hour away the whole time.

“Why didn’t you?”

“Not now. I have to see you. I’ve hated myself since . . . well, you know. I need to tell you something and I don’t care what happens when I do. Can I come up to see you tomorrow?”

“I need to speak to you too. I can drive down and meet you now.”

“It’s too late.”

I sighed.

She quickly said, “No. No. At least I hope not. It’s too late for meeting tonight. I don’t want to hurry it. I can’t hurry it.”

“Take the train to Bronxville. Just text me the time. I’ll meet you and we can walk over to the Lake, sit down, and, well, talk.”

“I’d like that.”

“And Suze.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll get your coffee beforehand. I know how you take it. Or at least how you used to take it.”

“That hasn’t changed. I . . . I’ll see you tomorrow. Sleep well.”

“For a change I just might.” I didn’t mean to say that last bit. It popped out. But I didn’t care if I was sharing too much. With Suze.

Suzanne: Rolling the Dice

I don’t know how it was for Kerry but I hardly slept at all. When I saw her on the stoop I could have run down to her. I hadn’t seen her since the last day of exams months before. I had immediately walked home, ignoring all of the post-exam celebrations the school set up for us.

Kerry would only have been on the stoop, thinking I was in California, if she was still thinking about me seven months after everything had gone to pieces. But I couldn’t run down. I thought of her all the time, at least all the time I could afford to spend on stuff that was not school- or work- or running-related. I had done a good job of just shutting it out completely except for that conversation I had in June with Patsy and the sit-downs with Mary.

I couldn’t run down because I had no idea what I would say to her. And I was afraid that whatever hope I had would be forever dashed, that she would make it clear that she was straight and that I repulsed her because I was not straight. But when I finally put it to myself like that, when I had finally examined precisely what she thought of me, I realized that I would never repulse her. I knew her well enough that she was a person who would never reject someone for simply who she was because that was not who she was.

Why hadn’t I realized that? She may be straight and perhaps we could be nothing more than friends, even best friends. But if that were the case, it would be less than I hoped for yet so much more than I had right now. I was so lonely and I told myself that I could be happy if she was again my friend and nothing more.

I texted Patsy:

{Suze: Pats. No can do tomorrow’s run. She wants to see me.}

My phone rang within a minute.

“Talk to me.”

I took a breath. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Kerry, the girl I spoke to you about.”

“I figured that’s who you mean.”

“Well, she came by my place today. She thought I was in San Francisco and just sat on my stoop. A few hours after she’d gone I mustered the courage to call her and probably told her more than I should have. I don’t care. I said I needed to see her. Pats, I really need to just see her.

“I’m taking the train up to Westchester in the morning. I’ll tell you how it goes.”

“Suzanne, I love you. She probably loves you even more. However it goes, make sure you understand that and that she understands how much you love her. Suzanne, you may end up as friends.”

“I want to be more than—”

“Suzanne, I know that. I’m just saying that this is one of those half-a-loaf things. If that’s all you can get from her, savor it.”

“Fuck.”

I hadn’t slept well. I had felt pressure in school and in sport and hadn’t slept well before those events. But I always done well in those events. Still, they were nothing compared to this.

Kerry: Sleepless in Tuckahoe

I was wrong. I hadn’t slept well. At 6:30 I gave up and after going to the bathroom went down to the kitchen in shorts and t-shirt and mindlessly navigated my tablet.

I was scared but I needed to get my thoughts together. I hadn’t told my Mom that Suzanne was coming. My moods being so all over the place over the last months meant, though, that she had no clue about where I was from one moment to the next. She tried to speak to me a few times, asking why I wasn’t talking about or hanging with Suzanne any more. But she seemed satisfied when I told her that she was trying to get back into serious running while handling her law-school load and then that she was in San Francisco.

I think Mom knew better but she didn’t push it. I know she was chatting with Mary pretty regularly, and I had no idea what Mary knew, if anything. But my Mom was careful to say nothing and for all I knew she had advanced her initial flirting with Suzanne and that they were having regular liaisons while I was in class. Which, of course, made no sense since I was in all of Suzanne’s classes and knew that she was too focused on work to think of anything even semi-romantic. Plus my Mom had changed a lot since she had become friends with Mary and Betty and I feared I had screwed that up as well.

All of my thoughts and memories of Suzanne danced in my head when I received the texts.

{Suze: Train arrives at 8:22. I’m in the last car.}

{Suze: I need my caffeine. I didn’t sleep. xo.}

{Suze: I just hope that I don’t sleep through the Station. LOL.}

{Kerry: I’ll be there with the coffee.}

Suzanne: A Slip-Up

I didn’t mean to type the “xo” but it was gone. It probably didn’t matter, but I didn’t want to scare her off. So I sent a follow-up text, hoping she wouldn’t pick that up.

Kerry: The Train, The Train

I was awake enough to notice the “xo.” She’d never included that in a text. When she sent another text a second later, I knew that she was trying to cover it up, the old flood-the-zone trick. It calmed me down, the “xo.” She may not have meant for me to see it, but she would never text something that she did not mean.

I didn’t have much time. I had been sitting in the kitchen waiting for her text for forty-five minutes. I tried to play it cool when my Mom walked in to get coffee and because, as I said, I was all over the place with her she didn’t bother to ask. I did ask if I could use the car. After a moment’s pause, she said it was fine. She smiled when she did.

So I was able to get out of the house in less than a minute from the first of the texts. Just before eight. I was parked at the station by 8:05 and had two large coffees, one black (hers) and one with lots of milk (mine), in my hands, sitting on a bench on the platform by 8:15. Because the tracks curve south of the station, you don’t see a train’s lights until it is almost upon you. I stared past the yoga studio to where the tracks disappeared to the right.

Finally, the lights appeared. After sitting in the kitchen for a while I had changed into tight jeans and a red blouse and flats instead of my normal shorts, t-shirt, and trainers. And the emerald earrings. For her. It was a six-car train. I had to walk to reach the last one. Before I got there she exited. She headed toward me. She wore khaki shorts, a red polo shirt, and flats with her hair pulled into a pony tail. As she neared me, me holding a coffee in each hand, I said, “Suze I am so . . .” and she put her hand up.

She just stopped in front of me with her hand up and said simply, “I love you.”

I stared and she continued. “Baby. I know you’re sorry and you have to know that I’m just as sorry. I don’t think I made it to last Labor Day before falling in love with you.” She flicked her open hand at me and said, “Shush.”

“I know you love me even if it is not the same. If that’s who you are I know I can’t change it and I won’t try.”

Again with the “Shush.”

“Having you again as a friend, maybe again as a best friend, is enough for me. I want more and there may be times that I need more, but that’s enough for me. Now give me my fucking coffee.”

She knew I’d smile at the “fucking” and I did. I handed her her coffee—remembering that she took it black was not too difficult. We then walked—after they’d brushed against each other lightly several times, one of us, I don’t know who, took the other’s hand and so holding hands we went under the tracks, past the hospital, and to the Lake—which is not really a lake but an expanse in the Bronx River with wooden bridges on either end—sitting down on a bench. Runners and strollers passed and I remembered that however fast she was she never disparaged another runner just as she never disparaged anyone else. And it was one of those things that I loved about her. Yes, loved.

A trio of geese splattered onto the water, disturbing a lazing swan, and we heard a few cars pass by on the parkway behind us.

Suzanne: The Lake

It was nice. I’d never sat by this Lake before although I’d run by it plenty of times. It was peaceful and my Aunt lived half-a-mile away. I could run there in three minutes. And I could run, I realized, to Kerry’s house in under five. This is how runners measure distances.

We were both quiet. I knew that she was processing what I told her. On the train I realized that what I had to say had to be the first thing I did say. I knew that her first words would be an apology. I watched her all semester and I knew—saw—how sorry she was. She didn’t need to tell me. Or remind me that in my stubbornness and victimhood I refused to give her the chance to articulate it to me.

I also knew that I needed her to know how sorry I was. Yes, it was her horrible two-seconds but the countless horrible seconds that came after were as much my responsibility as hers. More. When I knew how close we were how could I have just sprung that on her and worse how could I have thrown her out of my Apartment and refused to let her come back to me? Every single class we had together, refusing to let her come back to me.

I was selfish. I could throw myself into other stuff—school, running—but I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, throw myself at her. I don’t mean in some act of desperation. I just mean tell her what I told her on the station platform. I love you and will accept your love in whatever form you have it in you to give it to me. Whatever form.

When, yesterday, she came back, knowing I wasn’t there and afraid to come when I was, I knew I had to take the chance of telling her.

And so we sat on the park bench in our own thoughts, sipping now and then from our cups. After about five minutes, and after a mom and dad had gone past with one toddler in a stroller and another on the dad’s shoulders, I felt her right hand on my left, a finger, perhaps unconsciously, rubbing my ring finger.

Kerry: A Family

As I watched the anonymous family pass I thought of my family and my parent’s troubled relationship and of Suze’s family and her unhappy relationship with her parents. I admitted, as I had long known, that I would never have an unhappy moment in whatever relationship I had with her.

I reached over to touch her left hand. Without thinking I ran my finger along her ring finger and smiled. I don’t know if she noticed.

Without looking at her: “We both fucked up. And we both paid for it. I lost seven months of being with you and, let’s face it, you lost seven months of being with me.”

Now it was my turn to “Shush.”

“I listened to you now you listen to me.” That shut her up.

“I love you. I noticed you in Legal Method. On day one. You sat in the last row and I couldn’t find a seat in which you were in my line-of-sight. Same on Tuesday, but on Wednesday I saw an empty seat right in front of you. I took it and I took it because of where you were. I just wanted to be near you. I still don’t know why. So when you asked me to be in a study group with you, I couldn’t believe it. I was just looking for a friend. And, well, I wasn’t ready for anything else.”

I still don’t know when I became ready. I had one serious relationship, with Steven, which ended badly. Was I straight? I had gone out with a few boys, not quite men, and enjoyed it well enough. But I never felt that I needed a man. I was still almost a virgin for god’s sake. A twenty-three-year-old almost virgin! It never bothered me. It just was.

I didn’t ogle girls. I noticed pretty ones and thought of how I would look in this or that outfit and had fun in trips to the Mall with friends and my Mom, trying on stuff and thumbs-upping/thumbs-downing what they tried on. But, you know, I never ached to be with a woman either.

I was hopeless but I didn’t feel incomplete. I was busy with other things, real things. There’d be time enough once my career was blooming to take the long view. And my Mom never pushed me. She well knew the pitfalls of a rocky marriage. I mean, she told me that it had not always been bad but that it was a gradual thing and suddenly the both of them realized that it had become bad and would never get better. So, the booze was their shared pain-killer until she was faced with using it alone and decided she wouldn’t, couldn’t do that.

She hadn’t completely recovered. Her social interactions were non-existent, at least until she met Mary and Betty and started coming out of her self-imposed exile. But social interaction opportunities were few and far between for a forty-eight-year-old widow in the suburbs.

I knew I loved Suze with all my heart the moment my foot crossed the doorway in January after she threw me out of her Apartment and I knew that I had loved her long before. And when she ignored my efforts at apologizing, my stubbornness overcame my heart and I thought I could get on with my life. It was a miserable seven months and every single social-interaction I had during that dark period was empty.

I figured that she had thought long and hard about what she would say to me today, and I had done the same. She batted away my “I’m sorry” before I could even get it out, and that was a relief because my saying it would mean nothing if she didn’t feel my regret without me uttering a word about it, if she didn’t get that how she heard what I said was not what I meant or what I was. I knew I did not have to say it.

Now it was my turn and try as I might the words had not crystallized. I’m going to be a lawyer but the words wouldn’t crystallize. And I needed them to.

Except I didn’t.

As I sat there watching that family walk away on the path that circled the Lake I understood that I did not have to explain anything to this woman. I just had to tell her that she was everything to me and I knew I could say that because that’s what she was. Everything.

When I lifted her left hand I felt her tense, fearing I might be pulling away. But her shoulders relaxed—I still had not looked at her—when I pulled the hand to my lips and gave it a gentle kiss. I then put her palm against the right side of my neck and bent my head over it, nuzzling her.

Needing to free my head to speak, I moved it back and gave her hand another kiss. I finished:

“I love you. I probably fell in love with you when you touched me to introduce yourself, a year ago. I didn’t understand it and I’m not going to try to. It just is. That’s what matters.”

Now I was looking at her and she at me. She took my cup from me and put it, with hers, on the ground. She stood and I did too, never releasing her hand. I melted as she reached around to grab my now empty right hand with her left and pulled squarely in front of her.

Suze: First Kiss

Just after New Year’s I told her I was gay. Now I was afraid to tell her that I had never kissed a girl. I mean, I knew I was gay because I’d always wanted to kiss a girl but had never had the chance or inclination. But I knew that I never wanted to kiss a boy.

So, I knew I was gay, and the never-been-kissed thing just popped out.

“That makes two of us,” she smiled. And that was the last moment when it would be true of either of us.

Kerry: Bombshell

Since we were standing right by the path that circled the Lake, our first kiss was brief and somewhat chaste but it was immensely satisfying, even if it triggered a desire for more in every nook and cranny of my being. But it was left as brief-and-chaste as we held hands and began to walk back to the station to pick up my car. We had the wherewithal to bring the cups and throw the now-cold coffee away as we left the Lake.

“I dropped out of school.” She said it quietly.

I was stunned, and before I could say anything she continued,

“And I’m giving up the Apartment.”

We stopped and I looked at her. My jaw must have dropped to the street because she touched my cheek and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not leaving New York.”

We resumed our walk.

“I couldn’t take their money anymore. The school said I could come back next Fall if I want, and that’s what I plan to do. But I need to get certain things in order before I do.”

This was too much, and we found another bench.

I explained how I came to the decision. How I felt the way Aunt Mary had been treated was unforgiveable, without even considering how their attitude toward her would be their attitude toward me.

“I once asked my father about Mary and how he treated her, how he and my mother ostracized her. You know what? Not only did he express no regrets, he insisted that it was the proper . . . no that it was the ‘only’ thing that he could do. He was pleased with himself for sacrificing his sister to what he thought was a higher good. And, Kerry, he’d think the same thing about me. So would my mother. It’s part of who they are, this evil.”

Throw that in with the fact that I had done what was expected of me for too long because what was expected of me was not me. So giving up their money meant I had to give up, at least for a bit, going to law school.

“Anyway. I had a partial athletic scholarship at Stanford and my parents paid the rest. And I took out a loan for half my Columbia tuition and they paid the rest as well as for my share of rent. But I gave them a note—I insisted on this—for every penny that they advanced. I can’t take their money, even as a no-interest loan, anymore.

“And with all that going down and, well, how I screwed up with you, us, in the Spring term I was not in a good place to start second year when I was supposed to. So, I didn’t try for Law Review.”

This stopped me. “I didn’t see that you had made it but I had no idea you hadn’t tried.”

“Hah. My grades were actually really good but I didn’t think I’d be around in the Fall and didn’t want the pressure so I didn’t try.”

“I so wanted to be with you on it,” I said. “Even if we weren’t talking and it was a torture, I wanted to be with you.”

“I know. It just . . .. It’s done and as I said I’m not going to be in school anyway.”

Another deep breath.

“I had a coming out with a friend during a run in June. Just the two of us, and I was right in thinking she was gay. It all came out. You all came out. I mean my thoughts of you, good and bad.

“Aunt Mary knew what was going on. I had a bunch of discussions with her, but I swore her to secrecy with your Mom. And I stayed at her house every once in a while.” She lifted her head to look at me. “It’s funny. I remember lying in the bed in Peter’s old room and wondering what you were doing at that exact moment. Cause I figured you were just up the road and I wondered whether my thoughts of you would somehow make their way into your dream.”

And I laughed. “Wonder no more. You were probably in my dreams that night because you were in my dreams most nights. I used to lie in bed thinking you were three hours behind us, having dinner or going to some stupid cocktail thing for Summer associates, one of those horrible partner cocktail parties in an ostentatious apartment with a great view.”

Now she laughed. “Except I wasn’t at anyone’s ostentatious apartment.”

“I didn’t know that did I?

“Stop. We’re wandering here. Before getting back to your parents, what the fuck happened and why were you in your Apartment when I showed up?”

“Would you have tried to come up if you knew I was there?”

“Good god no. I was only there because I knew, or at least thought I knew, that you weren’t.”

I told her about backing out of the San Francisco Summer gig and getting a paralegal job though one of our TA’s contacts.

“Wow” was all I could say.

Another deep breath and . . . “It pays the bills. And I enjoy the work and the people there. It’s like the anti-Big Law firm.

“Anyway, my Aunt and Betty said I could stay at their place. I think they’d like to have me around and I’ve come to like the area. Annie found a new roommate who moves in after Labor Day. She, the roomie, has a real job so Annie’s happy. So, I’m in the process of getting my stuff together.

“I guess we’ll be neighbors.”

“I guess we will. We can play Bingo together on Wednesday nights at St. Joe’s.”

At that she gave me a little shove and we got up to go to the car.

Suze: Kerry’s Place

She took it better than I had expected her to, my whole dropping-out thing. I think she knew it was a lot and wanted to let me stay in my space for a bit. As we walked, the hospital to our right, I asked what we would tell her Mom. 

“I don’t know. I think we just need to let it flow. Letting it flow seems to be working for us. It’s the not-letting-it-flow that’s been our problem.”

I gave her hand a squeeze and said, “Let me tell Mary now. She didn’t know what I was doing today, but I’ve spoken to her about you in . . . this way and she gave me the whole follow-your-heart speech. It worked pretty well.” And she gave my hand a squeeze.

When a somewhat groggy Aunt—it was barely nine—answered she quickly woke up and I gave her a summary, that I was with, and by “with” I mean with, Kerry and she took it “better than well” and we were heading over to her Mom’s as a couple.

“How do you think she’ll take it?” This was me.

“I’m pretty sure she’ll be really, really happy. She is really very sweet and loves you both and I can’t see her doing anything else. But people can surprise you, so just be there for Kerry no matter how it goes.”

I told Kerry what Aunt Mary said and we, quietly, drove to her house.

Kerry: Getting Home

My Mom jumped up from the sofa, putting The Sunday Times section she was reading and the cup she was holding on the coffee table when she saw us enter. When she understood that I was with Suzanne, who she hadn’t seen since Christmas, and that we held one another’s hands, she rushed over, practically upsetting a chair, and with surely one of the largest smiles I’d ever seen on her face, perhaps larger than she’d ever directed towards me, she grabbed my Suze and hugged her and starting crying.

I realized that all my worries about what I needed to say to her were of no import; I didn’t need to say anything.

“Oh, Suzanne, you don’t know how much I’ve missed you.” At another time and in another place this might have offended me, her only child, but this was not some other time or some other place. Today and here it warmed my every fiber.

Wiping her tears, she directed us to the sofa and ordered us to report on what the hell was going on. 

And after we told her, and observing our nervousness, she grabbed The Times and her coffee and said that she has some errands to run and brought them into the kitchen. Upon her return—neither Suze nor I moved in her absence—she told us that she’d be out until one. She said “until one” twice. And being that she was already dressed, she took the keys from me, gave me a kiss, gave my Suze a kiss (and a whisper), and was gone.

Suze: A Walk

Kerry and I were speechless because Kerry and I were alone. I told Kerry that her Mom had whispered “never leave again.”

I gave my Aunt a quick call to fill her in, and she ended by saying that Eileen was on her other line. Not a surprise there.

After reporting this to Kerry, I told her that I was hungry, not having eaten much since I saw her on my stoop, and she, admitting that the same was true for her, we scavenged some stuff in the kitchen—quick scrambled eggs and toast with more coffee—and as we sat in the kitchen eating, she asked me, “What now?” and I answered, “your guess is as good as mine.” I think we each expected that the other wanted to rush upstairs and, well, finally do it. I wasn’t sure that that’s what I wanted to do. 

“Ker, would it be OK if we went for a walk? I just want, you know, to be with you as your girlfriend and hold hands and—”

“Oh my god, Suze, you’re reading my mind. I’m so nervous that I’d just like to walk with my love”—a Cupidian arrow right through my heart—“and enjoy it.”

Ten minutes later, we were walking along narrow, winding backstreets as we crossed from Tuckahoe into Bronxville. She and I had our long walk on Thanksgiving in her Aunt’s neighborhood, but this was our first walk in hers. She opened up more about having grown up there, remembering little anecdotes about childhood stuff—“I remember we’d always trick-or-treat on this street for Halloween”; “my Mom had me practice parallel parking in front of this house”; “Oh my god, the kid who lived here once gave me a kiss at recess and then ran away, I wonder if he remembers”—and these innocent reminisces made me feel even closer to my love.

I wondered whether I would ever share such innocent but monumental memories on my side someday, walking near where I was raised.

Kerry: Heading Home Again

She was in flats and I was in trainers but in my defense she was in much better shape than me so I was the one who started to fade after we walked up-and-down these small hills, some on streets still paved in paving stones—a tradition not likely to be changed—and stopped to say hello to other strollers, particularly those with dogs, for what seemed like hours physically but seconds emotionally. We sat down on a small stone wall in front of someone’s house. We neglected to bring water so we were both parched. It was a bit of a struggle, for me at least, to get all the way home and when we did, we headed straight for the kitchen for water and she saw an unopened bag of potato chips and asked if she could have some and proceeded to devour them. 

Our window of opportunity was closing; my Mom would not be long in getting home and I knew we would want to be long in making love so after Suze said it was OK I called my Mom and told her that we were at the house, that all we had done was go for a walk, and that the coast was clear. She relayed each of these bits of information as she received them and I knew she was with Mary and Betty.

“Is it OK if we come over?”, she asked, the “we” including her compadres and I said “Sure, the more the merrier.”

I grabbed a yogurt and Suze picked up an apple to go with her chips as we awaited the three women.

Kerry: First Kiss!

I think my Mom and Mary were surprised that all Suze and I had done was go for a walk, but I think they understood. The two disappeared with Betty into the kitchen for a few minutes, and when they returned my Mom announced that she was going to a movie with her friends and would not be back until after six. Again she said it twice, “I won’t be back until after six.” Then she looked for a nod, and I have her “you won’t be back till after six, I think we got it.” It was like a vaudeville routine if vaudeville routines were what I thought they were.

“Just so you do. After six.” and she gave out a little laugh before turning to the others and saying, “OK girls, let’s go.” and they were gone.

Now, as it had been several hours ago, Suze and I were alone in my house and we were again nervous. I knew I was and I’m pretty sure Suze was as well. I stepped up to her and placed my arms around her and she leaned towards me and I tilted my head slightly to the right and she closed her eyes and I kissed her and in a fraction of a second she kissed me too and then I opened her lips with my tongue and I heard her moan and then she heard me moan. I pulled back. 

“I’m ready and I really, really want you.” 

Suze: Making Love

We’d kissed by the Lake a few hours before and again when we stopped now-and-then during our walk but those were mere pecks compared to the tsunami unleased on us. They say, or so I’ve heard in some of the stories I’ve read, and re-read, that there can be magic in a first kiss. And our “first kiss,” down by the Lake, had a hint of magic. This was different, as if Hermione cast a spell that forever bound two people to one another; hell, even a shot from Ron would have secured that result for us.

I was in an altered state, truly altered from what I had been less than twelve hours before, and still do not know how I ended up lying naked in Kerry’s sole twin bed with my eyes feasting on her nakedness lying beside me, facing each other. She reached for my small right tit—these happenings are burnt into my brain and my soul and these will always be remembered by me—and then she moved her mouth to it and my eyes closed as she sucked on it. On me. 

Kerry: Making Love

It was so perfect that I was drawn to its nipple. I sucked on it and ran my tongue around it before lightly (I hoped) biting it and the sound that it generated was mixture of small pain and large pleasure as I felt both of her hands securing my head to her chest. “Oh god Ker, oh my god” and I knew I could do this one thing, this one simple thing, forever and it would not be long enough. Until those hands pushed me back and she forced me to replace her right tit with her left, equally perfect one.

Then her hands released me but her nipple did not as I continued savoring it, feeling her hands—she had pushed her right arm below my side—ranging all over my back until suddenly she pulled her tit away and flipped me onto my back and she, my love, was above me, her hands on either side of me and her head above mine, her tortoise-shell eyes as clear and sharp and needy as any eyes can ever have been. And suddenly that was gone too as her tongue was exploring my mouth. She then slid to the right of me, not so easily done given the narrowness of the bed—for a moment I thought she’d go over the edge—and ran her right arm across my own tits and down my stomach and she paused until hearing me say—beg—then continued until her fingers brushed through my hair and her middle one found and plowed through my folds until it reached my hole, my whole, and after another pause and another begging and entered me and I was lost to her forever.

Suze: Sleep, Interrupted

Kerry’s Mom was as discrete as possible. We forgot to set the alarm. Oddly, I felt no embarrassment and I grabbed Kerry’s arm as she tried to pull it away from me to grab a sheet for coverage.

“We overslept,” was all I could say, and Kerry nodded. “Yes,” her Mom noted, “I can see. It’s 6:20 guys,” and with that she was gone.

Kerry and I burst out laughing and she blamed me for not setting the alarm to which I pointed out, “It is your house you know.”

This was the happiest moment of my life and I did not want to leave so I pulled her left arm around me and we lay like that for ten minutes before she said, “Get up. I have to pee.” So did I, so I ran to the bathroom first, did what I had to do, and searched from my clothing in her room as she did the same.

Her hair was a mess when she came back, as I’m sure mine was, and she gave me a peck on the lips.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

We were starving and ate warmed chicken and drank cold milk before I said goodbye to Eileen—another hug and kiss—and Kerry took me home. By which I mean my Aunt’s house since I suddenly had two homes. And, of course, shared kisses and “I love you”s before I left the car.

And I thought of those words as I drifted off to sleep at my Aunt’s, words that I had not dared hoped to hear as I took the train up that morning.

Kerry: A New Routine

Suze slept at her Aunt’s on Sunday and I met her at the Bronxville platform the next morning so we could go into the City together. We found two seats in the second car and just chatted until we got to Grand Central. We walked up a few blocks on Fifth Avenue, and exchanged one last kiss for the day and she headed to Sullivan & Wilson, where she was paralegalling, and I headed a bit to the north to my Big Law firm, where I was Summer associating. At work, I was bursting to tell someone, but I decided to keep it as my secret.

I spoke to Suze at lunch and again at night, and that was our practice during the week. She was spending her final stretch in the Apartment so we did not see each other again until Saturday morning, when she took the train up and I met her at the Tuckahoe Station. We walked up the hill to my house and were surprised to see Mary’s car in the driveway. After we looked at one another and shrugged we headed in, where we found my Mom standing and Mary sitting on a chair in the living room. We again looked at one another. Eileen said, “sit” and pointed to the sofa.

Now what had we done?

Suze: Sleeping Arrangements

Kerry and I were uncomfortable but we sat, our legs touching, hands holding.

“We have a problem,” my Aunt began, after Eileen sat in the chair next to her. We looked from her to Eileen, who had a similarly serious countenance.

“At the end of the month, Suzanne, my Baby here, is moving to Yonkers and you, Kerry, will be here. You guys need to talk to each other about your sleeping arrangements.”

Kerry and I stopped holding our breaths. This is something we hadn’t given a thought to. Our new relationship was less than a week old, although, granted, it did have quite a gestation period.

Eileen continued. “I, er, we think we should all go with the original plan, Suzanne at Mary’s, Kerry here. There may be a time when an adjustment is required, and I really hope it’ll be sooner rather than later, but for now there may be some, well, technical difficulties with regard to . . . sex.”

She was red and I wondered whether she’d ever had The Talk with Kerry. All my mother had ever said was that “making love is a beautiful and wonderful thing not to be taken lightly and not to be taken until you are married.” I was sixteen and that’s the last she ever said on the subject. But, as I said earlier, I had some video instruction.

My Aunt jumped in. “You are both adults and we are having this discussion not because you’re our little girls,” to which Eileen interjected, “although you are,” which drew a half-hearted rebuke from Mary, who continued, “but because you are living in our houses, by which I mean you are physically living in our houses and we need to talk about how all of us are comfortable about you having sex.”

She realized that that had not gone out the way she meant it to. “I mean, I’m just talking about the logistics.”

I looked at Kerry and she at me and she turned to them and deadpanned “are we now having the birds and the bees conversation? Are we going to get to the part about how-to-use-a-condom?”

Which set everyone off until Eileen said, “I know I can speak for me and I think I can speak for Mary and Betty, but the bottom line is that you both should be free to do whatever you want in either of our houses and you do not have to feel like you’re some high-school kids sneaking around when you do. All we ask, and again I think I’m speaking for Mary and Betty here too, is that you keep it down.”

Kerry stared at her mother and I stared at Kerry staring at her mother, whispering, “if you needed your Mom’s blessing I do believe you just got it.” And hysterics again filled the room.

After a pause, Eileen said, “seriously girls. We know you need quiet”—to which Mary couldn’t resist adding, “or not so quiet”—”time today. Mary, Betty, and I are going up to the Westchester and I’m having lunch with them. I won’t be back until after four. Suzanne, this house is, and always will be, yours. You are always welcome here. And in whatever room my daughter wishes to, er, take you.”

My Aunt threw up her hands and with an “Enough, we’re outta here” she and Kerry’s Mom were gone.

We took advantage of their absences and when the three of them returned Kerry and I were sitting in the living room reading with no trace anywhere in the house of how we took advantage of their absences.

Kerry: The 8:13 into the City

It was mid-November and school had begun for me and work continued for Suze. I had gotten a Queen-sized bed around Labor Day but she was still at her Aunt’s and I was still at my Mom’s during the week. Neither of us was ready to move in together because, well, there was her Aunt’s house and there was my Mom’s house. But it worked.

For weekday mornings, she and I developed our routine. I took the 8:13 train from Tuckahoe, positioning myself to where the first door of the third car would open. (Commuters learn how to do this.) Since during rush hour my stop was only the second one for the train, the car was not crowded and I sat at the window in the third row on the right side of the train’s center, putting my now-treasured Columbia backpack on the empty middle seat. The woman who took the aisle seat each day, who we learned was Jane Elliot, smiled and said “good morning” and I responded in kind.

Then the train continued the short distance—less than three minutes—to Bronxville. As it did I glanced past the Lake to where we sat that Sunday morning, that wonderful Sunday, in August. I watched as the train passed the bench. In Bronxville, Suze got on-board, she, too, having positioned herself precisely so that she came through the same door that I had. She’d look to her left and her eyes and mouth would brighten when she saw me. And she sat after Jane Elliot rose to let her by and I lifted my backpack. We’d exchange “good morning my love”s and hold hands as the train headed into the City. We wouldn’t speak much, mostly just random gossip—we spoke all the time late in the day when we were almost always together—and I’d glance out the window or read The Times on my tablet and she’d nestle her head against my shoulder, sometimes reading The New Yorker, as we held hands on my lap.

As we approached 125th Street, we got up, smiled and said “thank you” to Jane Elliot, and I got off to go to school and Suze continued on to Grand Central to work.

And every morning, I need add, after Suze said, “good morning my love” and I said, “good morning my love,” she asked, “today?” and every morning I replied, “not today.”

And now it was, as I say, mid-November, Thanksgiving approaching. I said hello to Jane Elliot and took my seat by the window as I did each morning. Glanced at the bench when it came into view. The train eased into Bronxville. Suze was the third person to come through the door, and she beamed at me and me at her as she moved towards me. She said good morning and thank you to Jane Elliot, getting up so Suze could take the middle seat, and my Suze sat. She looked at me, gave me a kiss, and said, “good morning my love.” She waited for me to say the same thing to her and I did.

“Today?”

“Today.”

She sat up quickly. I opened the box I held in my right hand and took my Mom’s resized engagement ring. Suze said, “yes.” I slipped it on the third finger of her left hand, the finger I caressed on that park bench months earlier. She looked at it and told me she had loved me for so long and I told her the same. Then, as always, we quietly sat as we went to the City.

As the train slowed into 125th Street, Suze said “excuse me” to Jane Elliot, who got up. Suze said “thank you” as did I. And as we passed, she whispered, “Congratulations. I am so happy for you both.”

And I got off to go to school and my Suze continued on to Grand Central to work.