25 December 2008
Cameron Frye's first thought when he heard his father had died was, "That prick." It wasn't just that Morris had died leaving their always-difficult relationship permanently without resolution, that now he'd never get his fucking act together enough to know what was important, because the chances of that had always been slim to none. No, Cameron's more immediate irritation was that the bastard had died just before Christmas, completely fucking with his plans to go to Ibiza with friends. The thought that they were having the sun and fun vacation he should have had just made the Chicago snow that much colder.
His father had left instructions for a perfectly tasteful memorial, where his colleagues and golfing buddies told perfectly appropriate stories and any number of former girlfriends took the opportunity to buy a smart new black dress, the more dramatic ones adding a fashionable hat. A few people were upset here and there, a couple of men who'd found some kind of friendship with Morris, and Cameron couldn't help but be glad that there was some genuine emotion being expressed at this farce of a funeral. His mother had called a few times, but he was glad he'd told her to stay in London because with all the girlfriends swanning around an ex-wife would have been de trop. Ferris came to hold his hand and share his ambivalence but while he was supportive and understanding he was also a family man and needed to be back in New York for Christmas Day with Sloane and the kids.
So the 25th found Cameron preparing the house according to Morris's directions, because of course the man had definite ideas about the future of his possessions. Cam didn't need to do any actual packing, thank goodness—there were people for that, Morris's administrative assistant and the charity and auction house people. He didn't even have to sort, as Morris was nothing if not meticulously organized. But he still went through it all to make sure, taking for himself only his grandfather's watch, some good booze, and a few books.
The wedding china had long since been packed away into acid-free boxes in the attic, but just looking at the pattern brought back two memories—one, that silly dinner party he and his first boyfriend had thrown, where they'd served fast food and pop on the china and crystal; two, the night his mother had thrown the large platter at his father's head during one of their more elaborate arguments, a year or so before she finally gave up on the man and the marriage. Cameron made a note to replace the platter so the china could be sold as a complete set.
That night Cameron made himself dinner out of the various food baskets people had sent, cracked open his father's 20-year-aged scotch, and watched old holiday movies on cable until he finally passed out around 2am.
He woke the next morning with a start. The smell of perfectly laundered sheets brought him back to his high school days and he was disoriented, grabbing wildly for his glasses. He briefly wondered if he was having one of those back-in-high-school dreams before reality came crashing in and he wasn't sure if it was better or worse that it was a welcome reality. At least it didn't bring a hangover with it, and after a shower and a look around he realized he needed to get out of the goddamned house. One more day, and then he'd be able to hand everything off to Morris's admin and go back to his regular life.
Coffee and wifi can do wonders for bringing a man back to the present, especially a very good cappuccino at the local non-chain coffee place and a good op-ed at the Huffington Post. But maybe it was because the past felt so close that he recognized the man at the counter, though the hat he was wearing probably helped.
The man turned and walked over. "Cameron? How are you man?" he asked, shaking his hand.
"Good, good," he said, grinning. "Come sit."
Phil put his bag down, went back to get his latte, then settled in the cushy chair next to Cameron's.
"Say, do people still call you 'Duckie'?" Cameron asked. "Or is it all 'Phil' now?"
"You know," he said, doffing his hat and shrugging off his coat, "friends usually call me 'Duckie' as soon as they hear the name. I'm not that fond of the name 'Phil' either, to be honest, so I just use it professionally. And with strangers."
"Good," Cameron said, smiling. "I always thought 'Duckie' suited you."
Duckie grinned back, still all cheeks and teeth, and ducked his head a little. "Thanks."
"So, home for the holidays?" Cameron asked.
"In a manner of speaking," Duckie said. "My folks live in Florida now, but I'm staying with—you remember my friend Andie."
"She married a local boy, had some kids."
Cameron squinted, thinking. "That guy Blane?" he asked.
"No, no," Duckie said. "Steff."
"Seriously?" Cameron asked, sitting back in his chair.
"Well, apparently you can grow out of being an asshole, but not out of being boring." Duckie threw up his hands, shrugging.
Cameron chuckled. "So what are you up to, man?"
"I live in LA and I'm a music coordinator for movies and TV. You know, picking songs for the soundtrack, finding composers, all that."
"Wow, that's a great match for you."
"Yeah. One of those mix tapes I made got into the right hands. Can't say it's not a great gig—I get all these records even before they're released. Learned a ton about music I never would have listened to in high school." Duckie shifted in his seat slightly, twisting more toward Cameron. "And you?"
Cameron spun his blackberry in his hand. "I'm a political consultant," he said. "Worked in New York for a while, on Hillary's first campaign for Senate, then the Kerry '04 campaign." He took a swallow of his cappuccino, because memories of that disappointment still made him shudder. "Back to Hillary in '06, and after that I ended up at the DNC. Helped out Obama, with my Chicago connections and all, and now I'm taking some time off to figure out what to do next."
"Wow," Duckie said. "What got you into that?"
"Well, I started out volunteering for Gary Hart in college and the whole thing snowballed. Turns out I have a talent for managing big personalities and convincing them that one thing or another is such a good idea it had to have been theirs in the first place."
Duckie laughed. "I think I know how you developed that talent."
Cameron smiled, feeling a little sheepish, and saw a familiar glint in Duckie's eye though it was gone in a flash. "Yeah, you'd be right about that," he said.
"And how is Ferris?" Duckie asked.
"Oh he's fine. He's a management consultant, one of those 'change agents' who gets people to 'think outside the box.'"
Duckie made a face. "God, he doesn't talk like that, does he?"
"No, no, only when he's pitching. But he's really good at it, at getting people up off their ass."
"I bet he is."
"Anyway," Cameron continued, "he lives in downtown Manhattan with Sloane and their kids. Saw a lot of them when I was living there. Still do, when I can."
Duckie nodded. "Sounds like we both stayed in touch with our best friends."
"Too good to lose," Cameron said. "Sure I know a bunch of politicos, but with all the travel I haven't been able to put down a lot of roots."
"Yeah," Duckie said, nodding. "LA's kinda cold, you know? My friends are the same bunch of college buddies I knew when I first got out there."
Cameron couldn't stop himself from asking, "No significant other?"
"Not for a while now, no," Duckie admitted. "You?"
Cameron shook his head. "But, you know, I've got Ferris."
"Yeah, friends help," Duckie said. He glanced down at his iPhone. "Speaking of which, I should be getting back," he said.
Cameron looked at his own phone and saw that it was nearly noon. He looked up and maybe it was that little edge of loneliness coming from Duckie, so like his own, or maybe just the prospect of another day in an empty house that made him suddenly bold. "Say, are you doing anything for dinner tonight?" he asked.
Duckie cocked his head and smiled. "I guess I am now. What did you have in mind?"
"Something nice. I admit, when I'm not in the middle of a campaign I'm kind of a foodie."
"Sounds great to me," Duckie replied, "but are you sure you can get into one of those places on the Friday night of Christmas week at such short notice."
He grinned. "Trust me," he said. "There are ways."
They exchanged contact info and Duckie was on his way. Cameron stayed through another coffee before grabbing lunch at a local diner, but having evening plans made the prospect of being in the house for the afternoon just a little bit better.
By the time they were halfway through dinner it was obvious even to Cameron, who admittedly could be more than a little oblivious, that Duckie was coming home with him. They were in his rental, a maroon Chevy Malibu, and Cameron thought briefly about how many goddamned rented Chevy Malibus he'd driven in the past fifteen or so years, and whether not owning a car was some signifier of immaturity. Well, thanks to Morris he technically owned two cars and a house now, though he wasn't sure he felt more grown up now than he had a week ago.
He parked in the garage and as they got out Duckie said, "So is that the car?"
Cameron looked over to the red sports car. "Yeah," he replied. "Took him about five years, but Morris fixed her back up. Yes he did." He walked quickly into the house, turning on lights for Duckie, and heading directly for the bar in the corner of the living room. "How about a nightcap? Scotch sound good?"
"Nightcap?" Duckie asked. "What is this, Mad Men?"
He shrugged. "Ice? Water? There's seltzer," he said, pointing at the old-fashioned seltzer bottle.
"Ice is good," Duckie said, looking around the room. "So, I'm guessing Morris isn't here?" he asked.
"Nope," Cameron said. At dinner he'd told Duckie of his parents' split and his mom's remarriage and move to London, but had remained silent on his father. This wasn't unusual; Duckie had been around when Cameron's interactions with Morris were at an all-time low. But he'd evaded the question about why he was in town with a simple "family business" and moved smoothly to another story.
Duckie noticeably relaxed, hearing that Morris wasn't going to come walking in the door at any minute, and while Cameron couldn't blame him, it made him a little sad. "So is he on some cool trip or something?"
And that was like Morris, to find a trip cooler than spending a holiday with his kid, but the thought made Cameron laugh. "Cool trip, yeah," he said, handing Duckie his drink. "Cool trip six feet under, and probably further down than that." He looked up at Duckie. "He died last week. Funeral was on the 23rd."
Duckie's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, God, Cameron, I'm so—"
"No," Cameron said, holding up a hand. "God, don't say that. That's why I didn't say anything before. I don't know how to answer it because I'm not, not at all. The whole thing makes me feel like an asshole."
"So you two never—"
"Nope," Cameron said. "We didn't."
Duckie nodded. "Well, I am sorry about that, Cameron. I'm really sorry."
"Thanks," Cameron said, and cleared his throat because he really didn't want to shed a single tear over that goddamned bastard. He held up his glass. "To better times."
"I'll drink to that," Duckie said.
They clinked glasses, keeping their eyes on each other as they took a long drink.
"Good stuff," Duckie said.
"Yeah, all his stuff is good," Cameron replied.
"So," Duckie said, "are you keeping the house?"
"God, no," he said. "Cold, impractical—with all this glass the heating bill is insane—and I'm never in Chicago anyway. No, the Christie's people are coming in the morning to tag all the art and antiques and china and what not, and the charity people will take the clothing and the stuff in the kitchen, and I'll sell the house and the cars. I'll be able to leave tomorrow night; I can deal with the rest over the phone."
"Good, that's good," Duckie said. "You can go back to your life."
"Yeah," Cameron said, and did not add, "such as it is." He took another swig of scotch, let it roll around in his mouth for a bit before swallowing. "He didn't die here, if that makes it less creepy. Had a heart attack at a job site."
"I've been in houses where people have died before," Duckie said. "Doesn't bother me."
"Good," Cameron said. He bit his lip. "Look, I'm sleeping in my old bed anyway, and the thread count on the sheets is obscenely high. I know some things are different …" he trailed off, running a hand self-consciously through his now mostly-grey hair, and smiled a little.
Duckie was somehow closer, staring and shaking his head. "But your eyes are still so blue," he whispered, and then they were kissing, glasses set down on the counter. "Come on," he said, taking Cameron's hand. "Let's check out those sheets."
"Like riding a bike, huh?" Cameron asked, a little breathless.
"I don't remember our being that good at bike riding before," Duckie replied. "Damn."
"Well, stands to reason we'd learn something in the course of twenty-two years."
Duckie made a face. "Ugh, don't remind me."
"We were very young then," Cameron said. "We're still kinda young now, actually."
"I suppose we are," Duckie said. He was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Leaving tomorrow, huh?"
"Yeah," Cameron replied. "You?"
"Sunday. Gotta get back for New Year's."
"Oh," Cameron said. "Party to go to?"
"Party to give," Duckie said. "But I don't have a date. Haven't had one in a couple of years, actually. You?"
"I was supposed to be in Spain before all this happened," Cameron admitted. "But now I don't have any plans."
Duckie smiled. "God, we're so cliche, there's even a song."
He cleared his throat, then softly sang: "Maybe it's much too early in the game, still I thought I'd ask you just the same. What are you doing New Year's, New Year's Eve?"
"I'm going to a party in LA," Cameron said, and kissed him. "And after that, well, I hear that there's a gubernatorial race in California in 2010." He smiled.
"And before that there's always No on Prop 8," Duckie replied.
"You know, I only ever fantasized about marrying one boy," Cameron said.
Cameron smiled, a little embarrassed. "Yeah. First love, you know how that is," he said.
"Yeah, I do," he said. "So, 2010. That's plenty of time to see where this goes."
"Plenty," Cameron agreed. He looked over at the clock, then turned back, grinning. "There's even plenty of time tonight."
"Well, let's not waste any of it," Duckie said with a laugh.
Cameron's last coherent thought as Duckie ducked under the covers was that the holiday hadn't been a total loss, after all.