The light bulb flickered in the dark stairwell as Davis made his way down the steps from his loft apartment on the third floor to his business, housed on the first. He made a mental note to change the bulb later that night on his way back upstairs. He turned the deadbolt on the door and walked into the hallway at the back of his store, Aesthetic Artifacts, an architectural remnant and restoration business. He closed the door behind him and flipped the switches on the wall as six globe lights dangling from the ceiling flooded the showroom with light. He breathed in the scent of musty old millwork mixed with Murphy Oil Soap, varnish, and mineral spirits. Comforted by the familiarity, he smiled.
Davis was terminally tangled up in the same old routines. For the past two years he'd spent New Year's Eve at home ... alone. He'd long since stopped getting invitations to parties, to go out to bars, or out to dinner with friends--not because he was disliked or socially inept, but because he'd always seemed to decline those invitations. He hated bars, hated being groped by complete strangers, preferred to stay at home, relaxing in front of his flat screen watching old black-and-white movies. The truth was, the only time he felt truly lonely was when he was out socializing with others. It seemed to make him more acutely aware of the fact that he wasn't with the one he loved.
He entered his small office across from the showroom and flicked on the light. The walls were covered with framed newspaper articles and photos of historic homes in successive stages of restoration. The largest of the framed headlines read LOCAL PRESERVATIONIST LENDS EXPERTISE IN RESTORATION OF HISTORIC MISSOURI HOTEL. An antique drafting table sat against the wall on his right, piled high with architectural drawings and blueprints. Reaching, he pulled a chain that turned on the table lamp atop his mahogany desk and placed his large mug of steaming coffee next to a local magazine. The cover had a picture of him captioned DAVIS ANDREWS: LIVING IN THE PAST.
Davis looked out through the glass window separating his office from the main part of the store. Sunlight poured in through the large plate-glass windows at the front of the three-story downtown building. Noticing the time, he grabbed up his coffee and headed back out into the hall. He walked down an aisle in the main room of the store, listening to the wood floors creak under his feet, passing salvaged columns, pieces of building facades, fireplace mantels, and rows of huge, ornately carved antique doors. He unlocked the front door and turned, heading back down a second aisle, making his way toward the back of the store. He passed the stacks of old milled crown and baseboard moldings stacked along the far wall and reached the counter, where he started the CD player. He turned, walking up to the enormous gilded plaster mirror frame and inspected the molded sections of the leaf pattern he'd created the day before to patch pieces broken off at some point in its history.
Davis was dressed in a pair of old, beat-up khaki coveralls covered in chemical and paint stains, along with a white T-shirt that looked to be in about the same condition of wear and tear. His brown leather work boots were worn, the ends of their laces frayed.
He looked like the contents of his store. At first glance they were disheveled and in desperate need of care and attention, but the well-trained eye could spot the beauty that lay beneath, just waiting to be revived. Davis was still in great physical condition at the ripe old age of twenty-eight. But his dirty blond hair looked ratty and way overdue for a cut, and he was beginning to get dark circles under his eyes, which looked worse considering the natural paleness of his skin. His thin, just-under-six-feet frame was toned, with long legs and arms. His hands and fingers were rough, worn, dry--stained by chemicals and varnish.
Nineteen-forties big band music poured out of the speakers as Davis took up a brush, gently pressing the sheet of gold leaf over a patched section of the frame. He blew gently over the area as the tiny leftover pieces of gold flew off, floating to the floor around his feet. He stepped back, checking his progress and expertly did a three- or four-step Fred Astaire-style dance move.
Behind him, a waifish woman quietly walked through the front door of the store and placed two suitcases on the floor. Her tiny frame was pumped up several inches by the high heels she wore. She was well put together, wearing formfitting black slacks, a red linen shirt, and a cropped black jacket. Her wild, manufactured mane of curly blonde hair rained down over her shoulders, and she wore just enough jewelry to be noticeable without seeming tacky or over-the-top. She smiled as Davis looked up, freezing in his tracks.
"Davie," she said, cocking her head to one side. "Davie Unwavie. How's my favorite root-bound homo?"
"Holy shit, Deseree," Davis said, smiling uncontrollably. "I thought I was hallucinating."
Davis ran to her and tossed his arms around her, nearly knocking her over. "Whoa," Deseree said, squeezing him tightly. "Somebody's been eating his Wheaties."
"Somebody hasn't returned my phone calls for the last three months," Davis scolded as he pulled away to look her over, remembering how much the clothes she designed, loaded with taste and drama, resembled her personality.
"I'm sorry I haven't called," she said. "It's been hell putting together my collection for the nationwide release. I've been working like a demon to finish in time for the show last week at Bryant Park ... which was complete insanity, by the way."
"I was beginning to get worried. I thought maybe you'd been devoured by a rogue pack of starving supermodels."
"Well, I'm here now." Deseree looked over her oldest and very best friend. And, that was the truth. In university, Davis's roommate Tim, and Deseree's roommate Cindy, were fucking like rabbits every night, whether or not anyone else was in the room. Needless to say, Deseree was appalled and Davis, with his fresh-off-the-farm innocence, didn't know how to handle it. Deseree suggested Cindy and Davis swap roomies. In the end, Davis and Deseree had lasted longer than Tim and Cindy.
"Who knew becoming a household name would require so much work?" Her eyes wandered around the store as she placed her hands on her hips. "Wow, this is quite an operation that you have here, Davie! I never realized."
"I've missed your face," he said, looking down at her suitcases. "You do realize it's been well over a year ... You should have told me you were coming."
"I guess I didn't know," she said, smiling up at him.
"Is everything okay?" Davis asked, placing a hand on her arm and looking over her face. Her normally bubbly confidence was tinged with a slight edge of uneasiness.
She looked up at him for a moment and opened her mouth to speak as the phone started to ring.
"Hold that thought." He turned and jogged to the back of the store where he picked up the cordless phone off the glass display case. On the other end of the line a familiar voice said, "Hello, monkey face."
"Jack..." Davis hesitated, startled at hearing the voice of his first and only love.
"Davis," Jack's voice called through the phone.
"Yeah ... I'm here."
Deseree whispered for him to say hi to Jack for her, and Davis watched as she smiled and began meandering about the store.
"I have some news, and, well, I hope you'll be excited for me."
A new part in a play, Davis thought. "You know I never wish anything but the best for you, Jack."
"I came home to visit Mom a couple weeks ago and, well..." Jack continued.
Davis put his hand over the phone and whispered to Deseree, "Jack's in a new play."
Deseree giggled as she ran her fingers over the gilded plaster mirror frame Davis had been working on. She looked back up at Davis. "I totally want this."
"I met someone," Jack said.
Davis stopped smiling and removed his hand from the mouthpiece. "I'm sorry ... what?"
"I know this is going to sound crazy, but we've been inseparable since we met, and well ... we've decided to get married."
"What do you mean?" Davis asked, his head beginning to swim. He was having trouble catching his breath. "Who is this person? Does Candace know about this?"
"Of course. She introduced us. His name is Tadd Austin; he's an architect here in Chicago. Davis, you're just gonna love him."
"He's moving to New York to be with you?"
Deseree poked around the store, quietly trying to eavesdrop.
"I'm moving back to Chicago, Davis. Mom's really excited, and I was hoping you could fly up on Thursday. It's going to be like this three-day extravaganza."
"This Thursday?" Davis placed an arm on the countertop to brace himself. "You're getting married this coming weekend?"
Deseree turned sharply, losing her balance as her heel caught in a notch in the wood floor. She flailed her arms out in an attempt to balance herself and fell back into a fluted column before landing on the floor.
"Please tell me you can make it, Davis. 'Cause if you weren't here ... I don't know, it just wouldn't feel right."
Deseree scrambled off the floor as the column toppled, slamming into a door that fell into a large box of doorknobs. They spilled onto the floor, scattering like balls on a pool table.
"I don't know if I can come." Davis paced, unaware of Deseree and the carnage around him. "Deseree is visiting, and--"
"Great! I need as many friends around me as I can get. Most of the people coming are friends of either Tadd or Mom. I'll book a flight for the two of you."
"Okay," Davis said, "but Jack..."
"It's been forever. I'll e-mail you the flight info. Davis, I can't wait to see you. Gotta run."
Davis heard the click on the other end of the line. Frozen in place, he slowly pulled the phone away from his ear and turned to look at Deseree in shock, mouth agape.
Deseree stared back at him, unsure of what to say.
After a long silence she said, "Okay, maybe this is a good thing. Closure, this will help you move on."
"A good thing!" Davis finally replied, placing a hand on his forehead. "Closure!"
"Or not," Deseree said, dusting off her pants.
Davis slammed the phone down onto the counter and stormed about the room, seemingly unaware that he was kicking the doorknobs.
"Married!" Davis finally screamed, causing Deseree to jump. "He can't do that ... it's not even legal. And what the fuck kind of name is Tadd Austin? More like Toad Ass-ton."
Deseree started to giggle.
"This isn't funny, Des." He shot her an irritated look as he flung his hands into the air. "He's supposed to marry me! We were together for four goddamn years!"
"Davis." Deseree tried to soothe him. "You haven't been together for almost six years. What did you expect?"
"That we would find our way back to each other." Tears began to well up in his eyes. "We're still in love."
"You mean you're still in love," Deseree corrected gently, reaching out to take his hand.
"We belong together," he said, jerking away from her. "I know he still loves me. He still calls ... He has to love me."
"Maybe you two just aren't meant to be, Davis."
Davis stopped pacing and surveyed the room as if trying to find a place to hide from her words. She walked to him and placed her hands on his arms.
"When did you become so negative?" he asked.
"You've got to be kidding me," she said as he jerked away from her.
"You're not helping here."
"All I'm saying is that maybe you aren't being very realistic."
"I can't let some Toad hop in and take Jack away from me," Davis said, sitting down on a step to a raised platform filled with rows of doors. "Two weeks, Des ... That's all they've had together."
Deseree let out a sigh and sat on the step next to him.
"Toad can't possibly know how wonderful Jack is," he said, resting his head in his hands. "The way the hair around his temples curls when he sweats, and how his eyes seem to be able to smile on their own. That he isn't afraid to stand up and defend himself, or anyone else who's being bullied. His cute little clean teeth dance."
Deseree put her arm around him as Davis seemed to suddenly notice the doorknobs.
"What the hell happened here?"
"His ... what dance?" Deseree asked, changing the subject.
"He has this little dance he does when he's finished brushing his teeth," Davis said, smiling as he reached down and picked up a glass doorknob. "Something he and Candace used to do when he was little." He turned the knob in his hand as light caught the reflection of the glass. Davis let out a defeated sigh as Deseree placed her head on his shoulder. She ran her hand over his back, and Davis felt a tear begin to run down his cheek as the thought of Jack being with someone else started to sink in.
"I can't lose him, Des. He's making a mistake. He means everything to me."
"You mean you're actually going to go?" Deseree asked as Davis stood. She got up next to him.
"Oh my God." He pointed to his reflection in the mirror of an antique fireplace mantel. As if seeing himself for the first time, he added, "Have you seen this?"
"It's not that bad," Deseree answered, crinkling up her face.
"Are you on crack?" He began to hyperventilate. "I look like ... like a heterosexual! I can't go to Chicago looking like this!"
Davis took off running toward the back of the store and threw open the door to the stairwell. He let out a shriek and ran up the stairs. Deseree looked around helplessly. She dashed back to the front door, flipped the CLOSED sign to face the window, locked the door, and took off up the stairs after Davis.