Looking out of my office window over the darkening New York City skyline, I could see my reflection in the wall of glass before me. Beyond the expensive suit and shoes, there was grey hair at my temples, my once-black hair was now salt and pepper, and there were creases at the corners of my eyes.
Forty-four years old. Forty-four. How did that happen?
It seemed like I’d missed half of my life. In many ways I had.
The light on the intercom flashed. “Mr Elkin?”
My receptionist was fifteen years older than me and had been my receptionist for ten years, since the day I’d started at the firm, and yet she never faltered in her professional etiquette.
“Ryan is on line two. Would you prefer I take a message?”
“No, it’s fine,” I told her. “I’ll take it.” I pressed the speaker button. “Ryan?”
“Hey, Dad, yeah, it’s me.”
“Anything wrong?” I asked. It was unusual for him to call the office. “Still coming for dinner?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s all good. Just about dinner,” he hedged, “I was just wondering if you’d mind if I brought someone?”
This surprised me. Since his mother and I had separated, it’d taken a while for things to get back to normal between us.
“Yes, of course, that’s fine,” I told him. “Someone special?”
“Oh no, nothing like that,” he said with a laugh. I could hear muffled voices in the background. “Just ran into an old buddy from school. He just got into town, he’s by himself and I told him he could have dinner with us.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” I said. Ryan was very social, and growing up, he had forever had a crew of friends who lived at our place as much as their own. I’d quite often get home late to a den of high-school kids pretending to be asleep. I looked at my watch. “See you soon.”
I disconnected the call, and pressed Jennifer’s line. “Can you please order dinner for three to be delivered to my home address?”
“Certainly,” she replied. “Thai? Italian? Japanese?”
There was a soft click in my ear and I went back to staring at the evening skyline for another half an hour, before packing my laptop into my satchel and walking out of the door. Jennifer gave me a polite smile. “Japanese, delivered to your door at seven-thirty.”
I smiled warmly at her. “Thank you, Jennifer.”
“Have a good weekend, Mr Elkin,” she said, knowing I’d be working all weekend. I worked most weekends. “I’ve taken the liberty to have lunch ordered for you tomorrow. Security will bring it up.”
“Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
She smiled proudly. “Have a good evening, Mr Elkin. Give Ryan my best.”
I took the elevator from the top floor of executive offices down to the executive marble lobby, walked a block to the executive marble lobby of my apartment building, took the elevator to the executive suite on the top floor.
Expensive. Polished. Predictable.
Those three words just about summed me up.
I’d been preoccupied lately, unsettled and lacking something. I’d quite often catch myself staring out the window for some lengths of time, not able to recall a single thought. Maybe I needed a vacation. Maybe I’d take one after this next big contract was done.
I loved my job as an architect. Loved it. I loved the lines in structure, the quiet confidence in well-built, historical buildings, and I loved the superiority and functionality of modern design.
I loved my apartment, had some good friends and I even had an amicable relationship with my ex-wife, all things considered. My relationship with my son was better, good even. We’d had a rough patch when his mother and I first separated five years ago, but now at twenty-two years of age, he could see all sides of the situation and had made peace with it. With me.
I’d changed into jeans and a button-down shirt and poured my first glass of wine when there was a knock at the door. I checked my watch, and knowing the doorman would have sent Ryan straight up, I called out, “It’s unlocked.”
“Hey, Dad,” Ryan called from the door. I could hear him mumble something else and I remembered he was bringing company. My top-floor apartment was a large, open floor bachelor pad and the kitchen ran along the inside wall, out of line of sight from the front door.
“In the kitchen,” I called out. “You boys want a drink?”
Ryan walked in, followed by a face I didn’t recognise at first. “Dad, do you remember Cooper Jones?” Ryan asked, by way of introduction. “We went to high school together.”
The name yes, but he didn’t look a thing like I remembered. Gone was the gangly, awkward teenager, replaced by a fit-looking young man. He had messy short brown hair, a wide smile and mischief in his hazel eyes.
“Yes, I remember,” I said, extending my hand for him to shake. “You just grew up.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “That’s what happens, Dad, when you don’t see someone for five years.”
Cooper shook my hand firmly. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
“Can I get you boys a drink?” I asked again. “Dinner will be here in about half an hour.”
I had my wine, they opted for a beer, and Ryan told me how Cooper’s family had moved to Chicago and how he’d lost touch with him through college, but Cooper had come to New York City for the summer. He’d literally checked into his room and gone in search for something to eat when he ran into Ryan on the street who then pulled out his phone and called me to see if he could tag along for dinner.
“Hope you don’t mind,” Cooper said with a smile. “I was only going to grab something passable as food from a 7-11 or something.”
My nose scrunched up at the thought and Cooper laughed, telling me, “That’s the same reaction Ryan had.”
Dinner arrived and as we ate, the two boys talked about people they knew. Although the conversation almost excluded me, I didn’t mind. It was good to see Ryan laugh, and their college stories were rather funny. Very different from me when I was twenty-two, that was certain.
Ryan looked at me. “You’re quiet tonight, Dad.” He pulled at the label on his beer. “How’s things?”
I think he wanted to know how things were with Peter, but didn’t want to ask outright in front of company. “Good,” I said, not about to say I was single again, after I told Peter I wasn’t interested. “Work’s been busy.”
I think he took the message, because he gave a nod and went back to picking at his beer label.
Changing the subject, I looked to Cooper. “So, what brings you back to New York?”
“I have a summer internship,” he said. He was just about to speak again, but was interrupted by Ryan’s ringing phone.
“Hey,” Ryan said loudly into his phone. “Hell yes, I’ll be there. I’m bringing an old friend of mine who just got into town… Okay, see ya soon.” Ryan clicked off the call and looked at Cooper. “Man, you have to come out with me tonight. We got tickets to the hottest new club.”
Cooper shrugged and grinned. “Um, sure.”
Ryan looked at me, somewhat apologetically. “Sorry, we’ll need to cut it short tonight. Hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind at all,” I told him. And I didn’t. Hell, at twenty-two I’d been married, with a baby on the way and a house in the ’burbs. It wasn’t until I’d almost hit forty that I’d realised what I’d missed out on, what I’d spent twenty-five years hiding…
“Go out, have a great time,” I told them. “Be careful. And if you need a place to crash in the City, there’s always here.”
“Thanks,” Ryan said with a genuine, appreciative smile. But then his brow creased. “You sure you don’t mind?”
“Mind?” I scoffed. “I’m jealous!”
He laughed, though I doubted he knew the underlying truth to my words. I was jealous. I was jealous he had a social life, I was jealous he still had his youth, without the weight of mistakes and life wearing him down.
They left to spend their Friday night out doing God knew what while I tidied up after dinner, sat down with a glass of wine and opened my laptop, spending my Friday night working.
* * * *
I was in the office on Monday early, like always, and had forgotten about the intake of interns, until Jennifer buzzed me on the intercom. I looked up from the job specifications. “Yes, Jennifer.”
“Sorry to interrupt, Mr Elkin,” she said. “If I could trouble you at my desk for a moment.”
The only time Jennifer ever asked me to come to her desk was when she wanted me to have a visual of a client, or opposition, before I met them. “Sure,” I told her.
Jennifer’s desk ran along the left-hand side of my double doors, which ensured no one got to see me without checking in with her first. I opened the door and she handed me a file, which I opened. “Interns,” she said quietly. “There are three to choose from, that’s them over there.” She looked pointedly toward the waiting room without moving her head.
I looked over to see two young men and one woman, all keen to impress and impeccably dressed. Usually the four executive senior partners got to choose from the top four candidates, so I knew any of the three remaining candidates were good. I read through the very brief credential lists first, not even looking at names or gender. I just wanted talent.
Academically, they were all relatively evenly matched, but it was then a name stood out. I glanced over at the suited man who I hadn’t even recognised as the kid who had dinner in my apartment just three nights ago.
He looked different. Gone was the backpacker look, gone was the kid who drank beer and talked about drunken antics with my son.
In his place was a professional, serious man, dressed in a well-tailored suit.
Without another thought, without any thought, I looked at Jennifer, handed her the file and said two words that would change my life.
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