Welcome to Tim Titan’s dramatic life. At eighteen he commits a horrible crime at a party but gets off because of his affluent father. Although free, Tim carries this obscene crime through his life.
Because of this, Tim ends up on Pittsburgh’s city streets and barely survives. Bookstore owner Poe Adams hires him and Tim begins to understand responsibility. He lives beneath the bookstore in a small apartment. While at work he meets Tarek Cole. The men become inseparable as friends, but only as friends. Tim begins to question if he wants more with Tarek; something he might never have.
An older and wiser Tim is invited to take a weekend trip to New York City to visit an old friend and he invites Tarek to join him. On their long drive Tim wonders if it’s time to take their relationship to the next level. Should the two become lovers or stay friends?
Birthday wishes sometimes don’t happen. Such is the case tonight. Oh well. Better luck for me next year on my birthday celebration.
What does happen: Tarek finds me among the partiers and says, “Come with me. I will not take no for an answer.” He leads me to the Thriller/Mystery section. Here we are next to the many James Patterson books, both hard- and paperbacks. Too many to count. The air smells stagnant and musty in this section of the story. Poe’s mentioned this detail before, with, “We need a humidifier between Agatha Christie and Rex Stout.” Between DJ chosen songs I hear the partygoers in the distant: a few are laughing; someone inquires about my whereabouts; champagne glasses clink together; Poe calls out my name, looking for me.
Tarek cups his hands over my hands. “Ignore them for a second or two. This is about you and me.”
I don’t know what to tell him and nervously (and simply) say, “Okay.”
He squeezes my hands. “Don’t read into this.”
“Read into what?”
“Happy birthday, Tim Titan.” He kisses me on my right cheek. It is a delicate kiss. Soft and smooth. Somewhat languid and simple. Enjoyable for me, but nothing spectacular and earthshaking. Nothing life-changing or atom-splitting. Just nice. Gentlemanly.
I do lose my balance. Not from his kiss, though. Just because I’m clumsy and dizzy because of the semi-darkness around us. I step backwards, into the shelves of Patterson. My hands fall free from his and one of my elbows clips a shelf behind me. The shelf and dozen or more books fall and crash to the floor around our feet. I’m sure they are Alex Cross copies: Cat and Mouse, London Bridges, Four Blind Mice, Cross Country, Roses are Red, Double Cross, and others.
Bang! Clank! Bang!
I do the same.
He asks, “Are you okay?”
“Fine. I’m just a clumsy guy sometimes.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t the kiss?”
“Did you want it to be the kiss?”
“Not this time. Maybe someday.”
It’s a fair enough answer. Honestly, I expect nothing else since we are only friends. Truth: we are better off alone; single men in the world of so many couples. Neither of us is strong enough to fall in love or be anything more than a relationship of friendship, particularly with each other. More truth: some people need friendship to survive on, not romance. Perhaps this is how we manage on a day by day basis with each other, getting through life. Simple friendship tied together. I imagine. And he probably does too. Not that I know for a fact.
“Let me gather up the books and shelf,” he says.
I tell him, “I’ll clean this mess up tomorrow. No worries.”
“As you wish.”
I want to know something important and ask, “Your grandfather ... How is the cancer going?”
“Eating him alive. I don’t foresee him being with us much longer.”
“I’m sorry. It’s so sad and heartbreaking.”
“I’m here for you.”
He kisses my cheek again. “Forget this kind of talk. This party is about you. Only you, Tim. It’s about celebration.”
“But your grandfather,” I whisper.
He slips fingertips over my lips. “No buts.”
Poe finds us in the fractional darkness, among the clutter around our feet. “Gentlemen, what’s going on here? Should I know? Should I not know? I’m sure it’s none of my business. I do know that some of the guests are looking for you, Tim. After all, you are the birthday boy. You have a responsibility to be present at your own party. Perhaps you can follow me and be with your celebrators. What do you say?”
I agree with him.
And Tarek also agrees. He snags my right hand within his own, as if he owns me, provides it with a light squeeze and cushiony feel. Again, I follow him, returning to the party, the guests, the cake, the many gifts to open, to laughter, drinking, dancing, some karaoke with him ... Tarek, my friend, my true friend, until he eventually leaves the celebratory gathering, gifting me two things that I will not understand in full for a very, very long time: his strange kiss and the words ... This is about you and me.