January 11, 2016
Em: have you seen him yet?
Anna: No. I didn't forget, chill.
Em: just... time sensitive
Anna: Chocolate is not time-sensitive.
Em: birthdays are time sensitive don't make me go there
Anna: Okay, okay! I am on my way.
Anna tapped on Chernow's office door. "Hello?"
Alex opened the door. "Ms. Harris! Can I be of service? Chernow won't be in until this afternoon, but I've been..." He'd already turned his back and gone back to the desk, monologuing about his current task.
"I'm actually here for you, Alex."
He looked up, guarded.
She held out the garishly wrapped box. "Happy birthday, from me and Emily. Mostly Emily, if you do thank you notes, or if you need someone to blame for the star-spangled wrapping paper."
He blinked, then stood up from the desk to face her, taking the box with a careful formality that made Anna feel like she’d done something a lot fancier than sticking a self-adhesive bow to some drugstore wrapping paper. "Thank you." He removed the frilly ribbon and started exploring the seams and tape with his fingers.
Anna had the surreal realization that, trivial as it was, she was watching him do something modern for the very first time. "Tearing the paper's fine, it's disposable."
He nodded and ripped it open to reveal the box of Faces of the Founding Fathers chocolates. He stared at it for a moment, then sat down in his chair, laughing helplessly.
"Thank you," he managed, "and thank Emily. Would you like one? I reserve the right to bite Jefferson in half, but the others are fair game."
"Nah, I'm good. I gotta get back to work. You have a good day."
"And you as well, Anna."
As Anna had already closed the door, she didn't see that when Alex lifted the lid on the chocolate box, one of Emily's business cards fluttered out. The email address was circled twice, and on the back was scrawled, Check @nypost on Twitter today!!!
New York Post (@nypost)
Happy 261st birthday #AlexanderHamilton! If you were here today, we'd invite you into the office to criticize what we've done with your paper.
Ron Chernow was an hour later to Columbia than he'd planned, which made it doubly surprising that Hamilton wasn't hunched over the spare laptop, which Ron should just admit had permanently become Hamilton's laptop. Two thirty in the afternoon, and there was a note, written in ballpoint on the back of some truly hideous flag-based wrapping paper: I have accepted a lunch invitation. Please avail yourself of either John Jay or Ben Franklin, as the mood takes you.
He considered the box of chocolate heads, choosing John Jay on the basis of obscurity. Apparently someone else had remembered the date, almost certainly Harris. That was a relief. Hamilton had been significantly easier to deal with since she started splitting his attention.
Just as he'd finished checking his email and really gotten his thoughts in order, the office door banged open. Hamilton came in at speed, shedding winter layers, his face pink with cold. "Chernow! I hope your day is proceeding as delightfully as mine."
"Well, almost any day can be improved by surprise chocolate," Ron said. "But no one took me out for lunch."
Hamilton's grin was downright fiendish. He closed the door behind himself and spoke quietly. "Nor, I suspect, were you allowed to walk wraith-like through the hallowed and sordid halls of the New York Post."
Ron never really got used to the adrenaline bursts inherent in these conversations. "You didn't try to start anything, I hope."
"Of course not. Though when the managing editor swung first, you can hardly fault me for defending myself. And so many people wanted autographs! Good lord, I thought I would be struck blind by camera flashes."
Ron stopped breathing.
Hamilton started laughing so hard, he wheezed. "Your face... I called no attention to myself. I gave Ms. Harris's enchanting wife a hypothetical birthday interview with the ghost of Hamilton, and she filled my cup often enough to ensure I would speak freely. A victory for all concerned."
Okay, that was a good one. It might have taken a year off Ron's life, but it was worth it to see Hamilton smiling in unadulterated joy.
"But I am indiscreet," Hamilton said, sitting down and settling a little. "No one can know of our tryst until Ms. Sabio has told Ms. Harris, preserving marital tranquility. I must bind you to silence, Chernow."
"I won't tell a soul," Ron said. "I got you something as well." He pulled the box from his coat pocket. "Not as impressive as a tour of the New York Post, but..."
He hadn't bothered wrapping it. A quality fountain pen case stood on its own. Hamilton took his time examining the pen, weighing it in his hand and peering at the gold inlay.
"Ballpoints are less fussy, but you have to bear down more, and I've seen how your hand cramps up. This should be closer to what you're used to. Go ahead, it's already loaded."
After a few practice strokes at different angles, Hamilton dashed off three continuous lines without pause, then nodded, satisfied. "An elegant instrument. And a luxurious one. Thank you."
"Here's a month of fresh cartridges as well. Some people fuss around with refillable cartridges and special inks, but I figured you'd be more interested in efficiency."
"An embarrassment of riches." Hamilton was still smiling. It was probably the longest Ron had seen him smile at once. "Chernow, thank you. For everything. You have given me a place here, in more ways than one. It's a debt I can't repay."
"Hey, you made my career. I call it even." Ron braced himself for the second half. "There is one other thing." He produced the folded sheet of printer paper, but didn't hand it over yet. "You're no doubt aware Graham Windham accepts donations."
Hamilton went still at the name of his wife's charity. There were things they never discussed with each other, and this grief was one of them. "Yes."
"They have a program where a $25 donation buys a gift card, basically cash, so a child or family can buy a present directly, instead of having to tell a charity what they want. It's not a showstopper or anything, but the donation is in your name. I put you down for eight of them." He handed over the paper.
Hamilton took it but didn't open it, still holding his new fountain pen. He nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it and just nodded again. He didn't look Ron in the eye.
Ron chickened out. "I, uh, forgot to get coffee earlier. I'll be a few minutes. Happy birthday, Hamilton."
By the time Ron got back from an extended coffee break, Hamilton had composed himself, reopened his laptop, and covered at least a full page with his new pen.
Jessica Lozano: Is he there yet?
Ichabod Crane: Miss Jessica, as I said before, his arrival home keeps no fixed schedule. I assure you, you will hear from me when he sees fit to appear. Yr srvt, IC
Jessica Lozano: But you'll have an estimate when he gets on the train. *big hopeful eyes*
Ichabod Crane: I have checked. He is expected home in perhaps an hour. Why is it so pressing that you call on him tonight, and with such secrecy? Yr srvt, IC
Jessica Lozano: You seriously don't know? You are the worst at housemate.
Ichabod Crane: A baseless accusation. You can't fathom the patience required to share lodgings with your illustrious hero. Yr srvt, IC
Jessica Lozano: w/e I'm coming over in 45 to meet him.
Ichabod's young friend Jessica brought with her a cloth shopping bag and a large flat board or sign, a yard long and almost as tall. The board was obscured by a tissue of vividly blue paper, thin enough to crinkle loudly when she leaned it against the wall, and adorned by a bow of silver ribbons. Ichabod tried to look in the bag, but Jessica was adamant. "Nope! No peeking."
"May I offer you some water?"
"Yes, please!" She accepted her glass of water with excessive good humor. "Thank you, sir."
"Now you are mocking me, Miss Jessica."
"No! It's fun. Gives me a chance to practice my manners."
Abbie came downstairs. "Did I hear the door? Oh, hi, Jessie. You, uh, just dropped by?"
"I'm here to see Mr. Hamilton." Jessica fidgeted with her elastic bracelet. Ichabod still didn't know the cause of her agitation, but then, Jessica seemed almost constantly agitated. It might be an artifact of youth, or she might turn out, he shuddered to think, like Hamilton, perpetually moving unless collapsed.
Abbie looked around, assessing the situation. "Is it his birthday or something?"
"Yes!" Jessica leaped to her feet, almost spilling her water. "Mr. Crane didn't even know! How do you not know each other's birthdays? How do you not know Alexander Hamilton's birthday? God, you are all so old. No offense."
Abbie crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. Ichabod had been on the receiving end of that eyebrow often enough to recognize danger. A diversion would be safest. He said, "These are gifts?"
"Duh. Yes, they're gifts. In the future we give each other gifts on our birthdays."
Two could play at this game. "And yet, I received nothing from you for my last birthday, or the one before."
Jessica said, "I don't live with you. And your birthday's not on Wikipedia."
A key clicked in the front door lock. Everyone paused. Hamilton came in without ceremony. He looked tired, but the lines in his face were softer than usual, showing a rare, honest smile. "Ah, Jessica," he said. "I wondered if I might see you today."
"Happy birthday, Mr. Hamilton!" she crowed. She leaped toward him with her arms out, then paused. "Do you hug?"
"Today, I believe I do." Hamilton rocked back under the force of Jessica's embrace, then put his arms around her, one hand on her hair, and sighed. "Thank you."
Jessica stepped back. "I got you stuff."
"Really?" Hamilton shammed surprise. "My goodness. If I might remove my coat first?"
Ichabod went to put the kettle on. He might not know his friend's birthday, but he knew Hamilton invariably came home chilled to the bone.
When he returned with a steaming mug of peppermint tea, Hamilton was admiring a card with a cartoon of a dinosaur, inscribed with the words TODAY YOU ARE 6 in red. Jessica had added numbers in black ink to either side so it read TODAY YOU ARE 261. Ichabod took his turn inspecting the card. "Most creative."
Hamilton gratefully accepted the mug. "Ahhh. My thanks. And look, Jessica has given me peppermint drinking chocolate."
"It's the best," Jessica said. "Okay, this one next." She picked up the mysterious board. "Um. It's not supposed to be serious. Just so we're clear."
Hamilton tore the blue paper aside to reveal... his face. Many copies of his face, perhaps every portrait that had ever been done of him and some of the statues as well, pasted together to cover a sheet of thick cardboard and varnished to a shine. Photographs of flowers had been pasted onto some of them, wreathing his hair in laurel and roses, and words like WOW and what a babe punctuated the composition in colorful hearts.
Abbie made a choked sound. Ichabod just stared, struggling to fathom it. Hamilton looked at it closely, rubbing the varnish with a fingertip, then said, voice unsteady with laughter, "I have never seen its like. A masterpiece of flattery. Thank you, child. I shall hang it in my room at once."
Jessica squealed. Abbie doubled over, overcome by laughter. Ichabod said, "You'll what? It's my room too."
Abbie said, "It's my guest room, and it's going up."
When they had all stopped giggling, Jessica said, "Okay, one more. And the wrapping on this one is also a present." She produced a blue cloth bundle, almost the same shade as the paper on the horrific shrine to Hamilton's vanity.
As he unfolded the cloth, she kept talking nervously. "Because there's the blue coat you always wear on Saturdays at the library and it's obviously your favorite and I figured you could never have too many accessories, so —"
"Jessica," Hamilton said.
While she was making unintelligible sounds, he finished unfolding a royal blue scarf of fine wool. Ichabod leaned in despite himself to feel the fabric. It revealed a blue-black hat with a shaped crown and sharp brim, perfectly suited to match the scarf and, yes, Hamilton's favorite coat.
Hamilton placed the hat on his head. To the best of Ichabod's limited instinct for modern fashion, it flattered him.
Abbie whistled. "Damn. Where'd you find that?"
"I made it," Jessica said in a small voice. "My cousin's training to be a milliner and she already had the stuff and designed the hat block for herself and mostly it just takes boiling water and about two days of pounding on wet wool and my cousin fixing it when I didn't know what I was doing. Do... Do you like it?"
"I love it." Hamilton stood to admire himself in the hall mirror. "It's extraordinary craftsmanship, mindful of my tastes, and betrays a most generous spirit. Thank you. But how did you know my hat size?"
"Uh. Remember when I offered to watch your stuff? Including your cap? Like ten times?"
"I suppose that would have been ample opportunity, yes." He stooped in the hallway to open his satchel and pull out a broad, flat box. "I have a present for you, Jessica, but you must promise to eat it."
Jessica narrowed her eyes. "If it's safe to eat, I promise to eat it."
"Good girl." He set the box on the table. It read Faces of the Founding Fathers across it and seemed to be... chocolates. Shaped chocolates. "There's one left."
"Oh my god," Jessica said.
"My tendency toward self-destruction doesn't quite extend to eating my own head."
"Can I, uh, I promise to eat it, but can I take it home and, like, stare at it first?"
"There's no rush," Hamilton said. "Can I offer you some drinking chocolate?"
Jessica hesitated. "I'm already out pretty late. Next Saturday? After the library."
"I'll add you to my calendar." Hamilton offered his hand. Jessica took it and stood, in a passable parody of good manners. "Until then, Miss Jessica."
Abbie said, "Jessie, do you want a ride home? It is pretty late."
"It's not far, and I've gotta run off some of this energy. But thanks!"
"Okay. Be safe."
After a chorus of farewells, the youthful whirlwind departed. Hamilton studied himself in the mirror once more, then hung his new hat neatly on a hook.
Abbie said, "I don't have any cake, but I've got your choice of beer, scotch, or tequila."
Ichabod fetched glasses. The three of them settled in around the table. Hamilton held his glass in the air, considering, then said, "To good friends, and to good days."
Ichabod looked again at the profusion of Hamilton's portraits. "Are you really going to hang that thing in our room?"