Nathan's Mercedes was parked in the driveway along with the other guests cars. Harold eased his Lincoln behind it and cut the engine. Apparently the Ingrams were still working on their “issues”, as Olivia had put it, separately. Steeling himself, Harold climbed out of his car and walked the curve of the drive up to the front door.
Olivia greeted him with a warm smile and waved him inside. “I'm glad you made it, Harold.” She slipped her arm through his and turned them towards the living room. “Will was afraid you'd miss the whole thing.”
“Not a chance.” Will Ingram was shipping out for a year abroad to Angola and Harold was every bit the proud uncle over the young man's accomplishments. He was taking the year off from his medical studies to travel the world and, Will had confided to Harold, to escape the growing tension at home between his parents.
The fighting had gone on for months. The marriage Harold thought would never last, but had held strong for 20 years now, was crumbling under the weight of Nathan's late nights in the lab building the Machine.
Harold had spent so many of those early days being envious of Olivia. Of the fact that she won Nathan. Like it was a contest of some sort. But the truth was, Nathan wasn't one to give up his toys. He didn't give up Harold after the wedding and before long Will came along, healthy, fat and perfect. And Harold, slowly by, became a part of the family, and slowly by, he fell in love with Olivia too.
Now she and Nathan were falling apart and it didn't feel nearly as good as Harold used to imagine it would.
The party was strained, Nathan and Olivia avoiding each other the entire afternoon. Harold easily slipped back into the role of go-between, filling the missing role for each of the personal dramas playing out in their opposite corners of the living room.
“I'm thinking of a nice vacation away after Will goes, some place warm.” Olivia said to Harold as she passed him an empty ice bucket.
“I thought about it. Then I thought about every divorcee I've ever known who went to France to recover. Fun while it lasts, until they fall in love with their gigolo.”
Harold shoved the ice scoop back into the chest and handed Olivia the filled bucket. “So this is it? There's no place to go with the therapy?”
“Not this time. There's no sense in prolonging it, you know?” She glanced across the room to Nathan and Will and a small group of Will's friends cleaning up the wrapping paper from his going away gifts. “We did one great thing together though.”
Harold wanted to jump in and tell her just how good she'd been for Nathan.
“Listen,” he said instead, “if you need anything, let me know.”
“I won't do that to you, Harold. He's going to need you.”
“And I'll be there for him. But after all this time, you know you can call, okay?”
“You're a good friend, Harold. Thank you.”
Not really. Good friends don't keep score cards detailing just who had Nathan first.
After the party Harold followed Nathan back to his loft in the city. “It's been three weeks already. Humor me, come over and see the place,” he'd said as they walked back to their cars.
“Maybe this weekend? Nathan, things are just getting exciting with these new algorithms.”
“Please? Will that do it? Would you please fucking take the night off and come over to see the loft? There's a pool. And I don't want to drink alone tonight.”
So Harold followed him back to his bachelor's loft in the city because he never learned how to say No when it came to Nathan Ingram.
They'd broken things off, the first time, after the wedding, for nearly a month. Olivia stepped in that time.
“He's here every night. Just when I get Will to bed, Nathan comes home. I need my space, Harold. He's miserable. Sort it out.”
They broke things off the second time after Will started to talk. After Will learned his second word, nestled in Harold's arms, while Nathan was in Frankfurt brokering a deal that would make them their first million.
The third time, they were apart for over a year. Will was in high school. Olivia had discovered the ladies lunch. And, at some point, Harold started thinking about his future.
The Machine brought them back together. Harold and Nathan were meant to be professional partners. After twenty odd years they'd perfected their synch. IFT was revolutionizing the silicon age, fueled by his engineering prowess – by then, Harold had learned to accept his gifts for what they were– and the absolute panache of Nathan's business savvy.
They parked underground and Nathan punched in the code for the private elevator.
“A bit obvious wouldn't you say?”
“There are only seven other people who would try that combination of numbers.” The elevator opened up to a short hall that led to the entry to the living space. “And of those seven,” Nathan said, working his key in the lock, “you're the only one I'd ever invite over for drinks.”
Nathan pushed the door open to the loft, revealing a wide expanse of clean lines and grand spills of natural light. “Wood burning fireplace, movie room with a motorized screen. One flight up is the master suite.” Nathan rattled off the Realtor spiel as he led Harold through the space then up the five flight spiral staircase to the rooftop terrace.
“This is ridiculous.” Harold said, turning a slow circle, taking in the panorama of New York City painted in the dying afternoon sunlight.
“It is,” Nathan said as he eased into one of the canvas chairs. He watched Harold walk to the edge of the terrace, with it's southerly view, a smile on his lips. “But you like it?”
“I do.” Harold's eyes lingered for a moment on the beautiful view before he pulled back from the wall and walked back to Nathan. “But you can't stay here.”
“I can't go home.”
“So, facing a multi-million dollar divorce, you thought this was a good investment?”
“We already laid out most of the terms in the settlement agreement. Turns out Olivia is more interested in her freedom than she is in my money.”
“It's fine. She's right. You were right. I'm a terrible husband.”
“You tried. She always gave you credit for that.”
“You and Olivia have discussed this? My failings as a husband?”
Harold shrugged. “The topic came up.”
“Jesus, Harold! Et tu?”
“What? Twenty-fours years, Nathan – what else did you think Olivia and I talked about?”
Nathan pushed up from the chair to guide them back inside. “You know.... you don't have to pick sides. You and Olivia can still... hang out, or whatever it was you did.”
“With Will striking out on his own, Olivia will probably want to move on with her life.”
“So this means you're getting divorced too.” Nathan muttered as they stood at the top of the stairs. “Fuck it all, Harold. I'm really sorry.”
“Stop it, Nathan. I never expected you. Or Olivia and Will. Generally speaking, it's not ...ideal for someone in my position to pick up a family by proxy. Besides, any friendship I have with your ex-wife is bound to fall apart without you as a buffer.” Harold paused on the steps. “What would we have to talk about?”
They laughed together, the sound echoing off the bare brick then dying away.
“We could always stop,” Harold said as he stepped off the stairs. “Maybe the Machine isn't worth this.”
“That would just be a band-aid at this point. Olivia and I have been moving in opposite directions for years now and we're past the point of stopping.”
“What can I do?” Harold asked. They crossed the open industrial kitchen towards the wide, half-circle window in the unexplored office.
“Remember when you complained that you hardly ever get out to run anymore?”
“Yes,” Harold answered slowly.
“Well, I was thinking, maybe, I could offer you something better.”
Harold arched his brow. The front half of the home office was lined with books. Turning the corner, a long conference table took up the main body of the room. As impressive as the layout was, it was the light reflecting off the surface of the swimming pool in the space beyond the office that caught Harold's attention.
“Heated?” Harold stepped past Nathan and took the steps down to the water's edge.
“Of course.” Nathan joined him in the pool room, following behind as Harold walked the length. “Forty foot long, twelve across, eight deep. Surround sound. Adjustable lighting.”
Harold knelt at the edge and dragged his hand through the water. “Wouldn't it have been easier to buy a Ferrari?”
“You don't burn many calories in a sports car.”
“Right. I don't see how you expect me to trot it over here for a swim if I'm already too time crunched to run.” Harold sat on his haunches and looked over the smooth lanes.
“So, stay,” Nathan murmured.
Harold rose to his feet, facing the pool, Nathan behind him. “We can't go back to the old MIT days.”
“Listen,” Nathan rested his hands on Harold's shoulders. “I know you like your privacy, and I'm not asking you to move in. Just, stay for a few days.”
Harold stepped back into Nathan's arms. “Why do you do this to me? Every time.”
“Because I don't know any other way,” Nathan said, wrapping himself around Harold.
Harold covered Nathan's hands with his and nodded. He still envied Olivia. She eventually learned how to say No.