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    Geron Kees
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The Thief of Small Things - 5. Chapter 5

"You know a lot about the city for a guy that grew up in the burbs."
I was kicked back on my bed, one arm thrown over my head, the phone captured against my ear. "I've been here so many times, I almost feel like I live here. My granddad has taken me to most of the cool places. He's lived in this building longer than I've been around."

"That place is a ritzy looking dump. I didn't know cooking paid so well."

I could tell by the tone of Mark's voice that he was mostly kidding, and I laughed. "I guess it does when you get up to a certain level. But granddad just told me that if he had to buy into this place now, he couldn't afford it. Things were a lot cheaper around here thirty years ago."

"I was kidding," Mark confirmed. "It does look like a nice place, though."

"It is. It's old fashioned, but in a really cool way. And the condos, at least, are in beautiful condition. They were restored right before granddad moved in, and he keeps things nice."

"I'd love to see it sometime, hint, hint."

I closed my eyes and smiled. "I'd love to have you here sometime."

He laughed. "If I was a little more of a pervert, I could take that two ways."

I laughed, too. "Are you a pervert?"

"Is that what you want? I can give it a good try, at least."

"Yeah? You have experience?"

"No. But I learn fast."

I had a feeling he did, too. "I'll keep that in mind."

There was a moment of silence, and then I heard Mark sigh. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Yes."

"What are you looking for? You know...in a guy?"

I knew what he meant right away, but I also knew I didn't have an answer. Or not a good one, anyway.

But while I was trying to think of an acceptable answer, my mouth came up with one for me. "I'd want to find that special guy to be with. You know, like long term?"

"Yes. I do know. But...would you be around for that?"

There was the question, the one that pained me so. "I'm here for two weeks, while my folks work out some sort of arrangement. I come to visit granddad as often as I can, but --" I went silent, and the pause lasted longer than I wanted it to.

"But?" he finally prodded.

"But I don't live here," I finished. "I wish I did now, but I don't."

He was silent a moment, too. But then: "That's not as big a problem as you think. You don't live that far away, do you?"

"About a half-hour drive, on a good day."

"That's not far at all. People have relationships all the time and are separated by more distance than that. They just get together when they can."

I immediately thought of granddad's relationship with Sid. The Village wasn't that far away from The Boltfort at all, but it was far enough to keep them separate most days. Granddad and his boyfriend each had their own lives, and just saw each other as they could. And they seemed to like that, and to enjoy the time they did spend together. And I was sure that granddad loved Sid, and that Sid returned that affection. Neither struck me as the sort to do things like that halfway.

But could I do something like that? I wanted more than a long-distance relationship now, but could something like that at least be a start?

"Sometimes you take less now to get more later," Mark said, mirroring my own thoughts.

It was a sweetly hopeful statement, and I smiled, and then laughed, suddenly deciding. "I could do it. It would take someone special, though. Someone who would want to do that sort of a thing with me."

"I'm special. Or, so I've been told."

"I think so, too," my mouth said for me. I felt my cheeks get warm, but I was not about to retract that statement.

"So you like me enough to give it a try?"

"Yes." There was no doubt in my mind at all.

"You like me enough to accept me as I am?"

I faked a gasp. "You mean you're not perfect?"

He laughed, and I could almost feel him relax. "Not yet. I'm working on it, though." I could hear him exhale, sounding somehow relieved. "I don't want to be pushy. I just want to know that I'm not...I just want to know that you're interested."

"I'm Interested," I said softly. "Very interested."

That seemed to be the right thing to say.

"Then, as my dad used to say, it's just a matter of the details."

I smiled. "I like your dad already. What does he do?"

The phone went silent a moment, and I was just wondering if I'd made a mistake in asking, when I heard Mark give a soft sigh. "Nothing, now. He's dead."

I closed my eyes, sensing his pain. "I'm sorry," I whispered.

"Oh, I'm used to it. It's not a big deal."

"That must have been hard," I said, thinking of my own dad. "And on your mom, too," I added, absently.

Again the phone was silent, and the sinking feeling came over me again.

"Well, she's dead, too. They were both in the same car. It went off a bridge in icy weather and the car sank in the water. At least it was quick."

Shit. I sure knew how to put my foot in it. "I just...I can't seem to say the right thing. I'm so sorry, Mark."

I heard him laugh softly then. "It's not your fault. How could you know? And it's been a year now, and I've had time to get over it."

I didn't think that was something someone could ever get over.

I didn't realize I'd said that out loud until I heard him grunt. "Well, you do get past the first part, where you think it hurts more than you can stand. Then it's just a matter of living with it. So, I'm living with it."

I was almost afraid to say anything else, and I guess I took too long to respond.

"It's really okay, David. Really. You didn't know, and it's not like you did anything on purpose. So relax, okay?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry, though. I just...I didn't mean to remind you."

"You didn't. It's not like I've forgotten. I think of them every day. But they're gone, and now I just have their memories. Better that, than nothing at all."

I blew out an exasperated breath. "Um...is it safe to ask who you live with now?"

He laughed, and I sensed that his good cheer had returned. "I don't live with anyone. I mean, I live by myself. I'm eighteen, so I can do what I want."

My mouth dropped open at that, both at the fact that he must be a whole year older than I was, and that he lived all by himself in the city. That took a moment to sink in; but then another thought hit me: this was Manhattan. Apartments here cost through the roof, when you could even find one! And West 64th Street was definitely no exception. The whole west side was ritzy as hell. How could a kid afford to live here alone?

Caution set in then. To ask too much might be prying, and I didn't want to do that. I'd already unwittingly stepped on some toes with my careless tread, and I didn't want to make things worse by setting off any landmines next.

He laughed. "You worry too much. It's safe to ask me stuff. You were thinking I must be rich or something, to live in Manhattan all by myself."

I gasped at that, but then had to laugh. "You're a mind reader, too?"

"All part of the show, son." I could almost see his smile. "My parents left me some money. And I have a job in a restaurant, like your granddad."

I was stunned all over again. "You're a chef?"

His laugh made me smile this time. "No. I wait tables. With tips, I make enough to pay half my rent. The rest comes out of my trust fund."

I whistled. "Wow." A new thought struck me then: "Shouldn't you be at work?"

"Normally, I work three to eleven, but I'm off Wednesdays and Thursdays. Good thing, too, or we might not have met today."

I shook my head, realizing that life was a lot harder for Mark than it was for me. He was only a year older, but the weight of his entire world was on his shoulders. And I had been feeling sorry for myself that my folks were splitting up and that my life had to change a little! It certainly altered my perspective on things.

"I'm impressed," I told him. "I don't know that I could live alone like you do. I don't know that...that I could depend on myself like that."

"I didn't know it either, until I did it. It just happened."

"Yeah." I considered that. "Hell, there's got to be cheaper places to live, though. Have you thought about that?"

"Every day. But I grew up around here, and I love the area. I was living in Massachusetts when my parents died. I didn't want to be there in the first place, so I came back here first chance I got. And here is where I want to stay, too."

That seemed a tough choice. "That's great, if you can do it."

"Yeah."

I couldn't miss the note of regret there. Was he having problems keeping up? When we had finished the catacomb tour earlier and decided to have lunch, Mark had seemed like he had no money to pay for it. I hadn't thought that much of that then, but in light of what I knew now, it seemed reasonable to think things might be tight for my new friend. It made me feel badly to think of him on his own in the city, and scarcely making enough money to eat.

"I wish I could help," I said quietly.

Mark made a light sound, maybe a small laugh. "That's sweet. But I knew that about you, right away."

"What? That I wanted to help?"

"No. That you were sweet."

That made me laugh. "Funny, that I felt the same thing about you."

There was a short pause before he continued. "I was attracted to you the moment I saw you."

It was almost whispered, like a confession. But I understood what he meant, and why he said it the way he did. I had been attracted to him immediately, too, and I was just afraid that it would all be wasted by the differences in where our lives were going. I felt a new determination then, not to let that happen.

"I felt the same way, Mark. Exactly the same."

He laughed, sounding relieved. "So what do we do now?"

"Well...you're off tomorrow, right?"

"Uh huh."

I smiled. "My grandfather leaves at four to go to work. You could come by, and I could cook dinner for you."

He gave a delighted little laugh. "You cook, too?"

"Sure. I've learned a lot from helping my granddad. I'll see what's in the kitchen and think of something good to make."

"I don't want you to make a huge, complicated dinner just because of me."

"Okay, I'll make us a smaller, delicious dinner. What do you like? I mean, besides omelet?"

We talked about it some more, enough to give me some ideas. "Okay. I'll surprise you."

He sighed. "I'm really looking forward to it now. So you want me to come at four?"

"You can come earlier, if you want. I just mean my granddad doesn't leave until four."

"I like your granddad. He won't mind me visiting?"

I remembered granddad's smiles directed at us earlier. "I'm sure he won't."

"Then how about one o'clock? That will give us time to hang out a little. And I can help you with the food."

I was sure that granddad would not mind Mark coming over, but I intended to ask him before I went to bed. "That sounds great."

"Cool. Um...how do I get in? I saw a keypad at the door."

Oh. I thought fast, and then laughed. "Call me a few minutes before you get here, and I'll come down to the lobby and let you in."

He gave a long - and, I thought, happy - sigh. "Okay. I can hardly wait."

I smiled at that, and breathed easier. Could this be as simple as it seemed so far? Could we really make something of this? The idea that I had just met this guy and was already planning a future with him would have stunned me only a few days before.

But that was a few days before.

We talked another hour, until it started to get late. I learned more about Mark, and in so doing, felt even closer to him than before. It was like there was this secret, invisible pipeline between us now, through which flowed marvelous and wonderful things. I laughed more in that hour - felt better in that hour - than I had in a very long time.

I wanted to talk to granddad before he went to bed, and finally had to end the call. I did that simply by telling Mark I needed to talk to granddad before he hit the sack. He sighed, said he could probably make it to one o'clock the next day without hearing my voice, and we said our goodbyes.

As soon as we disconnected, I felt the loss of his presence, and I knew then that it would be a lot more than having my feelings hurt if this relationship didn't pan out. Can you fall in love with someone in a single day? Is it possible for two people to meet, and know right away that they were meant to be together? I hadn't felt this way with either of the guys I had hoped to be with before. I had liked them both, and maybe had a little bit of the hots for them, but I hadn't felt the nearly overwhelming sense of needing to be with them that I was feeling now with Mark.

I put the phone on the nightstand, and went to find granddad. He was sitting in the recliner in the living room, a real paper book in his hand, his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

"What are you reading?" I bent down to try to see the cover of the book, and he held it up so I could get a look. It was called Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. "Any good?"

He smiled. "It has it's moments. How's Mark?"

I laughed. "Fine. Great. Wonderful."

He nodded. "I had the idea that the two of you were sparking a little."

I felt slightly embarrassed. "It's that obvious?"

"Oh, yes. I sparked with Sid, so I recognize it when I see it." He eyed me more closely then. "I'm happy for you. But have you considered the difficulties of having a relationship?"

"You mean that he'll be in the city, and I won't? Yes. It seems hard to deal with now, but we're hoping it will work out."

Granddad sighed. "Ah, the innocence of youth."

That was slightly deflating. "Are you saying it won't work?"

He looked surprised. "Not at all. I'm just hoping you're prepared for it to be hard going. You're both still young and dependent on others."

"I'm dependent, but he's not," I countered. "He's eighteen, and he already lives alone."

Granddad's eyes narrowed. "I thought he said he lived off West 64th Street?"

"He does. He has his own apartment."

Now granddad actually looked surprised. "Over there? He must come from money."

I related the sad story of the deaths of Mark's parents, and how they had left him a trust fund, and how he worked waiting tables to pay half his rent, and the fund paid the other half.

Granddad looked skeptical. "That's a hell of an arrangement. It would make more sense to move out of Manhattan, at least, and save himself a lot of money."

I shrugged. "He said he loves it here."

Granddad's expression softened, and he smiled. "That I can understand." He gave out an almost sigh. "But I think the first thing you ought to do is talk to Mark and see if you can get him to move closer to your dad's house. Since he's on his own it shouldn't be that hard. And it would be better for both of you."

"He probably has a lease," I said.

"He probably does. But it will run out eventually, and then he can move."

I frowned. "Is there a problem with him living in Manhattan?"

Granddad tugged at one ear lobe and shook his head. "No. It's just so expensive. A studio apartment over that way probably costs at least three-thousand a month."

I gasped at that, and he nodded. "See? He could get a bigger apartment out your way for half of that, or even less. I'm just thinking of his future, and yours. Unless he has a hell of a trust fund, it will eventually run out."

I licked my lips, feeling worried for Mark now. "Maybe it was a lot of money."

"Maybe. But if it was a few million or something, why wait tables to pay half the rent? He has to be looking at a finite amount that won't last him forever."

I hadn't considered that it might not be a simple thing. "I can't just ask him about his finances. I mean, we just met."

Granddad smiled. "I know. Believe me, I know how it is. On the one hand, you feel like you've known him forever; and on the other, you've just met."

That was it, exactly.

"So, what's his last name?" granddad asked next, smiling.

My mouth fell open. "Oh, crap! I don't even know!"

He laughed. "Well, I can't say I haven't been there, too." His eyes twinkled at me. "Maybe you want to ask him when you see him tomorrow, huh?"

I felt surprise come over me. "How'd you know I'd be seeing him tomorrow?"

He rolled his eyes. "You're not?"

"No...I am. I just...how'd you know?"

Granddad put his hand on my shoulder, and rocked me gently. I could feel the affection in the gesture, and smiled.

"Sparks often lead to fire, son. I can already smell the smoke between you two."

My face got warm, but I grinned. "I invited him over tomorrow afternoon. I said I'd cook dinner for him. Is it okay?"

"Ooh. The direct appeal to his stomach. I like it!"

We both laughed.

"It's okay?" I repeated.

"Sure. Do you have any idea what he likes?"

"We talked a little about it. His tastes are pretty simple. I almost got the impression he's been living on spaghetti and fried chicken for a while."

Granddad laughed. "Oh, brother! Well, you could whip up a couple of small, personal pizzas, one for each of you. I have some glorious recipes you can look at." He smacked his lips. "I promise they'll be good!"

He put his book down and got up, and led me to the kitchen. There was a small bookcase to one side of the room, filled with cookbooks. He bent down, searched a shelf, and came up with one of them in his hand. "This book is by a fellow named Dante, who I actually knew in my youth." He smiled. "He really knew how to cook." And then he winked. "He made good food, too."

I looked at a few of the recipes, and whistled. "These are pretty involved, and I'm an amateur. I think I need something that's a little easier to make."

Granddad tapped the side of his head with his fingertips, and took the book back. "What was I thinking?" He put the book back on the shelf, nodded to himself, and pulled out a spiral-bound notebook.

"These are some of my own notes. A collection of quick but tasty recipes, and they're all pretty easy. There are several for pizza here."

I looked at a few, and nodded. "This is more like my speed. Thanks."

He smiled. "Nothing appeals to the heart quite the same as a pleasantly full stomach."

I knew he was only partly serious, and that what he wanted was for my evening with Mark to be a success. I saw the happiness he seemed to be feeling for me, and it made me frown, doubts suddenly crowding into my mind. "You don't think this is all happening kind of fast? I mean...I just met Mark."

His smile dwindled, and he nodded. "If your father knew you were already planning a life with this guy, he'd probably be horrified." He sighed. "You're only young one time, David. That's the time of your life where you can explore, and take chances...and make mistakes. You will find, as you get older, that you are a lot more careful with everything in your life. You will be much less likely to take a chance, much less willing to make mistakes. And in so doing, you might miss out on something important." He shook his head. "I don't want that to happen to you here."

I smiled. "You think he's worth it, huh?"

"I have a good feeling about him. He intrigues me, too, for some reason. But, yes. He's worth it." He leaned forward, his eyes searching mine. "If I had not taken a chance, I would not be with Sid now."

I nodded at that. "I never did know exactly how you guys met."

"I'll tell you sometime." He laughed then. "You'll think I was reckless and crazy."

I had to laugh at the very idea. But he seemed to mean it, and his enthusiasm for me and Mark seemed clear. "Okay."

"Good. Now let's look at what we have here so that I can answer any questions you might have."

He took the notebook from me and opened it on the kitchen table, and flipped through the pages. I went to stand next to him, and soon we were engrossed in finding just the right pizza recipe for a very special guy.

Copyright © 2020 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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28 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

ah, if pizza be the food of love...🍕🍕 (not to forget the forest fruit bash! 🙂)

 

Pizza IS a love food! I sure know that I ate a fair amount of the stuff with my special someone in my teen years! :)

 

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17 minutes ago, Headstall said:

When it feels right, however fast, you have to explore it. I like these two. I'll keep my speculation about the thief of small things to myself, but there are some more questions to consider. I'm loving this, Geron, and... I'm caught up! For now. Cheers! Gary.

I was never one to waste time as a teen. if I felt I liked someone, I let them know, and if I got the same feeling in return...

I had a friend who was straight, and who always seemed to be connecting with nice girls, but he always doubted his senses about it, and was hesitant to act. I used to tell him flat out, "She likes you. Go for it." But he was just never certain, and the doubt killed it every time. Teen girls are not known for their patience.

He did finally marry at 34, and is pretty happy today, so maybe it was meant to be that way for him.

But I am happy, too, and I didn't wait! :)

 

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So has Mark figured out a way to live inside the building with no one realizing he’s there? Sampling food from different apartments/condos in small amounts so they’ll be less noticed? Among residents wealthy enough not to be too disadvantaged by the thefts?

I’d been leaning towards Mark being a waiter at a restaurant that granddad had checked out. But things don’t seem to be fitting together in that direction. Now I’m wondering if he’s even a waiter at all!

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I do some of my most interesting thinking while riding the Harley or showering. I just took a shower. (Not sure why since I've taken a total of 30 steps today)

Mark's parents supposedly died while he was living in Massachusetts. The previous maintenance man moved to Boston or Cambridge. The building provides housing for the maintenance man and his family. Coincidence? I think not.

What was the previous maintenance guy's last name again? Let's ask Grandpa, I'm sure he'll remember the entire family.

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Mark has such a sad story, lets hope he isn't using David as a cure for loneliness...it doesn't seem like it so far at least.
Pizza is a very contentious food in my opinion, toppings are likely to form intense feelings: you hate one, love others...what if their toppings aren't compatible?  I mean, anchovies?  Really?  Barf city!  I'm fairly pedestrian in my likings: pepperoni, extra cheese, Italian sausage...veggies, onions, mushrooms or such like are anathema to me.  Two of my best friends have entirely different likes: one hates cheese an peels it off, the other won't eat tomatoes.

On to the next chapter....

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9 hours ago, mfa607 said:

Definitely more to Mark’s story! Thank you! Great chapter!

Thank you.

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8 hours ago, droughtquake said:

So has Mark figured out a way to live inside the building with no one realizing he’s there? Sampling food from different apartments/condos in small amounts so they’ll be less noticed? Among residents wealthy enough not to be too disadvantaged by the thefts?

I’d been leaning towards Mark being a waiter at a restaurant that granddad had checked out. But things don’t seem to be fitting together in that direction. Now I’m wondering if he’s even a waiter at all!

You and Carlos Hazday should get together and compare notes! :)

 

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6 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

I do some of my most interesting thinking while riding the Harley or showering. I just took a shower. (Not sure why since I've taken a total of 30 steps today)

Mark's parents supposedly died while he was living in Massachusetts. The previous maintenance man moved to Boston or Cambridge. The building provides housing for the maintenance man and his family. Coincidence? I think not.

What was the previous maintenance guy's last name again? Let's ask Grandpa, I'm sure he'll remember the entire family.

Well, I always did say this story was not supposed to be a mystery.:)

 

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2 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Mark has such a sad story, lets hope he isn't using David as a cure for loneliness...it doesn't seem like it so far at least.
Pizza is a very contentious food in my opinion, toppings are likely to form intense feelings: you hate one, love others...what if their toppings aren't compatible?  I mean, anchovies?  Really?  Barf city!  I'm fairly pedestrian in my likings: pepperoni, extra cheese, Italian sausage...veggies, onions, mushrooms or such like are anathema to me.  Two of my best friends have entirely different likes: one hates cheese an peels it off, the other won't eat tomatoes.

On to the next chapter....

A pizza comment! Much better! Thank you! :)

 

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2 hours ago, ColumbusGuy said:

Pizza is a very contentious food in my opinion, toppings are likely to form intense feelings: you hate one, love others...what if their toppings aren't compatible?  I mean, anchovies?  Really?  Barf city!  I'm fairly pedestrian in my likings: pepperoni, extra cheese, Italian sausage...veggies, onions, mushrooms or such like are anathema to me.  Two of my best friends have entirely different likes: one hates cheese an peels it off, the other won't eat tomatoes.

I once worked with an older woman who scraped the topping off the pizza and left the crust completely untouched! Jimmy Kimmel hates pineapple on pizza. And some people hate Chicago Stuffed Pizza (or think it’s the same as deep dish). My best friend loves double pesto, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts on his Chicago Stuffed Pizza.
;–)

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