But he headed out on Sunday
Said he'd come home Monday
I stayed up waiting
Anticipating and pacing
But he was chasing paper
Caught up in the game
That was the last I heard
"Cranberry soda, please," Kevin said, lowering his shades to nod up at the waitress. "Hold the lemon."
"Yes, Mr. Price." The girl made a quick mark on her pad, ponytail whirling as she turned her head. "And for you, sir?"
"Just an ice water, please," Leo McKinley smiled. "And – sorry – do you think I could get a straw, too?"
"Certainly, sir. I'll be by with your drinks in just a moment."
Kevin reclined in his chair, balancing the menu between his lap and the table. In his periphery, he could make out Lionel, arms folded, staring around at the restaurant's lavish decor. The awe in his eyes was a familiar gleam.
"You ever been here before?" Kevin asked. Lionel drew his eyes down from the chandelier, shrugging with a nonchalance that betrayed his nervousness.
"I don't know." He furrowed his brow. "Or maybe I just don't remember. Seems like I haven't been in Salt Lake in ages."
Kevin grinned, gesturing up at the vaulted ceiling. "Buddy of mine owns this place – Severn Clark, he's been in hospitality here in Salt Lake as long as anybody. Worked with me to rebuild Funderland from the ground up. We just opened a new bandshell facility and we're already looking at expand throughout the corridor and put up a park in Boise. We've been talking to our backers and there's huge potential for a very receptive..."
"Kevin Price," Lionel laughed, shaking his head. "Still the world's most unironic surname."
"Hey, now," Kevin chuckled, pointing a finger across the table. "I still tithe ten percent."
"Oh, I know. I'm on your payroll, remember? Come on, we have every other day of the week to talk business. I haven't seen you in twenty years. How-"
"Excuse me, sirs, I have one cranberry soda, no lemon..." The waitress interrupted Lionel, setting two cold glasses on the table. "And there's one ice water, with your straw, sir."
"Thank you," McKinley nodded.
"May I suggest one of our appetizers this afternoon?"
"I... I think we're all right." Kevin glanced across the table, took McKinley's affirmative nod. "Sirloin steak, medium rare."
"Certainly, Mr. Price. And for your guest?"
McKinley was leaning over the menu, his brow furrowed. "Um... I guess I'll take the spinach salad please, thank you."
"Will that be all, sir?"
"Now, hold on one second." Kevin leaned across the table, taking hold of his drink. "Leo, are you sure you just want a salad?"
"Kevin, honestly, I'm fine."
"You should at least try their lobster. They do a superb seafood platter here. You know what they say, right? You can order lobster at a steakhouse, but never order steak at a lobster shack."
"Kevin, I – I'm, uh, I'm..." Lionel stammered. "Look, I'm vegan. The spinach salad is... it's wonderful, thank you."
A breathy laugh of disbelief practically fell out of Kevin's open mouth as he glanced from McKinley to the waitress, who was nervously chewing on her bottom lip. "You're vegan?"
Kevin stared, slackjawed, at his friend. The waitress chewed on her pencil, nervously glancing from Kevin to Lionel. "We... we have a few vegan options..."
"Lionel," Kevin interrupted her, "Why on God's green earth did you let me take you to a steakhouse?"
Lionel opened and closed his mouth, starting and stopping in a futile attempt to answer. He looked up to meet Kevin's gaze, pursed his lips together, and then burst out into hysterical laughter. Kevin brought a hand up to his own mouth to keep from laughing – at McKinley, at the situation, he wasn't sure – but within seconds, his shoulders were shaking with uncontained laughter. The waitress looked baffled.
"...So, that's a sirloin steak and a spinach salad?"
"Medium rare," Kevin gasped. "With mashed potatoes and... butter, wait, I don't want to offend the vegan..."
"Well, heck, Kevin, what else do you do when you live in Los Angeles for twenty years? You embrace every dietary fad that comes along, you take up imported physical activites."
"Wait, you don't mean..."
"Yoga practice, Kevin, and flaxseed-infused tea," McKinley chuckled, coughing into his fist. "Carob. Omega-3 enhanced organic grapefruit juice. Dabbling in Eastern mysticism. It's all part of the California dream."
The waitress had left them to their banter. Kevin reached into the pocket of his suit, still laughing
"You want to know what I did for twenty years?" Kevin said, reaching into his pocket. He withdrew his wallet and threw it across the table. McKinley fumbled for it in the air, then gripped it between his thumb and forefinger, grinning at Kevin.
"After all this time, you're still trying to buy my friendship," McKinley sighed, shaking his head. "You know, it isn't that easy. I have class. I am a refined gentlemen, Kevin Price."
"No, you're a California cliche," he answered. "Better – you're vegan."
McKinley laughed, dropping the wallet on the table. "Okay, so for the past twenty years you went to Marriott, majored in finance, and launched the most profitable family entertainment chain in the Mormon corridor."
"You know, I didn't huck my wallet at you so you could admire my career." Kevin took a long, slow sip of his soda. "There are pictures inside. Kids. My kids."
"Oh, your kids," McKinley said. He pulled a tab, flipping through the various leather folds. "Oh, they're adorable – there's George, and that's little Andrew, what a charmer, and that must be Alexander..."
Kevin rolled his eyes. "Oh, drop it."
"Sure thing, Mr. Price."
"I missed you," McKinley said. He raised a napkin to the corner of his mouth, dabbing away a bit of moisture, then lay the napkin in his lap. Price watched, suddenly restless. How was he supposed to counter that? Yeah, missed you too. Missed you while I was raising four kids and you were running around the city of angels converting to Buddhism and yoga and soy products.
"You know, I think..." he began, searching for words. "I think you've changed a lot."
"Oh, yes, definitely," McKinley said, quickly looking up from adjusting his napkin. "You haven't changed one bit."
"Still busy. Too busy."
"I thrive on busy."
Lionel nodded in assent. "I know you do. Tell me about your kids. Who's this little guy?"
Price craned his head, squinting at the tiny portrait. "Oh, that's Jack. Well, John, actually. He just turned two."
"And this one is...?"
"Oh, that's my oldest, he's Matt. He's starting sophomore year in the fall. Already thinking about college and the SAT – it makes my head spin. I don't know how he does it all."
"Is he gonna go to BYU?"
"I've got a feeling he's got his eye on some places out of state."
"You don't say?" Lionel grinned. "Where does he really want to go?"
"Now that you mention it, he won't shut up about California."
"Really? Anywhere in particular?"
"Claremont McKenna ring any bells?"
"Yeah, yeah. Oh, so he's a little politician, huh? Future president."
"A little bit. He's hoping to do a mission in China, you know, take a page out of Huntsman's book."
"Does he speak Chinese?"
"About as well as you and I speak Swahili."
"You don't remember your Swahili?" McKinley feigned shock.
"Nope, but I picked up sign language."
Kevin nodded. "Mark – the, uh, the kid in the middle there..."
"Yeah. He's hearing-impaired. Bad bout of meningitis when he was six, and he's had to use a hearing aid ever since. It's easier for him if we can just, you know, sign to him. Especially when we're out running errands, right? We don't have to ask the check-out girl or the soccer coach to repeat everything twice."
"Nice." McKinley closed the wallet, sliding it across the table. "I always knew you'd be a good dad."
Kevin nearly choked on his soda. No. No, not now. Now was not the right time to remember twenty-year-old pillow talk. These were the thoughts he returned to late at night and late in the morning, when he had the bed to himself, before his Blackberry flickered to life and the house was loud with rambunctious kids. Did McKinley ever worry about noisy toddlers? Had he ever changed a diaper? Did he even have a family?
"How's your wife?"
Kevin drew in a deep breath. He jerked his head upward, trying to look McKinley in the eye. He couldn't do it.
"We have one spinach salad, and here's your sirloin steak, Mr. Price. Medium-rare, as you requested. Can I offer you any fresh pepper?"
He was aware that he was catatonic, and somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind he was pushing himself to answer yes, to nod politely and grin at the waitress. He didn't respond. Couldn't. It was as though he was incapacitated.
"I, uh, I don't think he wants any pepper. Thanks."
A few moments passed. When he felt McKinley's hand on his forearm, he jerked back reflexively.
He stood up abruptly, pushed in his chair, and swivelled on his heel. If he could just find the men's room, he thought to himself, and splash some cold water on his face, and take a few deep breaths, he would be all right. He would be fine.
McKinley didn't even wait for the door to slam shut before he started kissing Kevin. He shoved him up against the door, switched the lock shut, pressed their bodies together. Kevin barely even breathed between kisses, dizzy with lust. He let his body go limp against the door, let McKinley fumble around at the clasp of his zipper.
It occurred to him as McKinley was planting kisses down his chest that they might get caught. His untouched sirloin steak was getting cold at their table. His Blackberry would be going off in the pocket of the jacket he'd slung over his chair. But there were fingers undoing his belt buckle, yanking down his zipper, palming him through his briefs. Nothing else mattered.
He buried his hands in McKinley's red hair, gripping thatches of it with all his might to keep himself from crying out. As hard as he tried, a breathy moan escaped from the back of his throat. He screwed his eyes shut, tilting his head against the door as he heard McKinley laugh in his lap.
"You missed me," McKinley whispered. Kevin didn't look down; he didn't even open his eyes. He just nodded and let out another halted breath.
"You want me, right?"
"I needed you," he whispered. "And I couldn't... could never... have you..."
"Kevin," McKinley moaned. "Kevin, you have me. Right now. You have me. I'm all yours. Come on, Kevin. Kevin!"
He opened his eyes.
A quick glance at the clock told him it was 3:04 AM. He could feel the extra weight in bed next to him, and hear her soft, easy breathing. Trying not to make a sound, he slid his fingers past the waistband of his pajama pants. He cringed.
Kevin padded softly to the bathroom and slowly opened and closed the door. Within moments, he was under a stream of freezing water, pouring soap into a washcloth, and scrubbing at his hips. How embarrassing. He hadn't even touched McKinley at lunch, and he still couldn't keep his dreams from going to inappropriate places. He would give anything, anything, not to think these thoughts, not to answer for stained sheets and late-night cold showers. How lewd. How wrong. How unspeakably vulgar.
When he walked back into the bedroom, toweling himself off, he caught a glimpse of his wife, fast asleep – or perhaps just pretending to be. She slept with her back to him, her knees tucked up to her chin, her arms wrapped around her body.
As he turned to the closet to pick up a fresh pair of pajamas, the realization struck him: he and Helen were broken beyond repair.