Chapter no 15

A Little Life

THE WOMANS NAME is Claudine and she is a friend of a friend of an acquaintance, a jewelry designer, which is something of a deviation for him, as he usually only sleeps with people in the industry, who are more accustomed to, more forgiving of, temporary arrangements.

She is thirty-three, with long dark hair that lightens at its tips, and

very small hands, hands like a child’s, on which she wears rings that she has made, dark with gold and glinting with stones; before they have sex, she takes them off last, as if these rings, not her underwear, are what conceal the most private parts of her.

They have been sleeping together—not seeing each other, because he sees no one—for almost two months, which again is a deviation for him, and he knows he will have to end it soon. He had told her when they had begun that it was only sex, that he was in love with someone else, and that he couldn’t spend the night, not ever, and she had seemed fine with that; she had said she was fine with it, anyway, and that she was in love with someone else herself. But he has seen no evidence of another man in her apartment, and whenever he texts, she is always available. Another warning sign: he will have to end it.

Now he kisses her on her forehead, sits up. “I have to go,” he says. “No,” she says. “Stay. Just a little longer.”

“I can’t,” he says.

“Five minutes,” she says.

“Five,” he agrees, and lies back down. But after five minutes he kisses her again on the side of the face. “I really do have to go,” he tells her, and she makes a noise, one of protest and resignation, and turns over onto her side.

He goes to her bathroom, showers and rinses out his mouth, comes back and kisses her again. “I’ll text you,” he says, disgusted by how he has been reduced to a vocabulary consisting almost entirely of clichés. “Thank you for letting me come over.”

At home, he walks silently through the darkened apartment, and in the bedroom he takes off his clothes, gets into bed with a groan, rolls over and wraps his arms around Jude, who wakes and turns to him. “Willem,” he says, “you’re home,” and Willem kisses him to cover the guilt and sorrow he always feels when he hears the relief and

happiness in Jude’s voice.

“Of course,” he says. He always comes home; he has never not. “I’m sorry it’s so late.”

It is a hot night, humid and still, and yet he presses against Jude as if he is trying to warm himself, threading their legs together. Tomorrow, he tells himself, he will end it with Claudine.

They have never discussed it, but he knows Jude knows he is having sex with other people. He has even given Willem his permission. This was after that terrible Thanksgiving, when after years of obfuscation, Jude was revealed to him completely, the shreds of cloud that had always obscured him from view abruptly wiped away. For many days, he hadn’t known what to do (other than run back into therapy himself; he had called his shrink the day after Jude had made his first appointment with Dr. Loehmann), and whenever he looked at Jude, scraps of his narrative would return to him, and he would study him covertly, wondering how he had gotten from where he had been to where he was, wondering how he had become the person he had when everything in his life had argued that he shouldn’t be. The awe he had felt for him, then, the despair and horror, was something one felt for idols, not for other humans, at least no other humans he knew. “I know how you feel, Willem,” Andy had said in one of their secret conversations, “but he doesn’t want you to admire him; he wants you to see him as he is. He wants you to tell him that his life, as inconceivable as it is, is still a life.” He paused. “Do you know what I


“I do know,” he said.

In the first bleary days after Jude’s story, he could feel Jude being very quiet around him, as if he was trying not to call attention to himself, as if he didn’t want to remind Willem of what he now knew. One night a week or so later, they were eating a muted dinner at the apartment, and Jude had said, softly, “You can’t even look at me anymore.” He had looked up then and had seen his pale, frightened face, and had dragged his chair close to Jude’s and sat there, looking at him.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’m afraid I’m going to say something stupid.”

“Willem,” Jude said, and was quiet. “I think I turned out pretty normal, all things considered, don’t you?” and Willem had heard the strain, and the hope, in his voice.

“No,” he said, and Jude winced. “I think you turned out

extraordinary, all things considered or not,” and finally, Jude smiled.

That night, they had discussed what they were going to do. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me,” he began, and when he saw how relieved Jude was, he cursed himself for not making it clearer earlier that he was going to stay. Then he gathered himself and they talked about physical matters: how far he could go, what Jude didn’t want to do.

“We can do whatever you want, Willem,” Jude said. “But you don’t like it,” he’d said.

“But I owe it to you,” Jude had said.

“No,” he told him. “It shouldn’t feel like something you owe me; and besides, you don’t owe it to me.” He stopped. “If it’s not arousing for you, it’s not for me, either,” he added, although, to his shame, he did still want to have sex with Jude. He wouldn’t, not anymore, not if Jude didn’t want to, but it didn’t mean he would be able to suddenly stop craving it.

“But you’ve sacrificed so much to be with me,” Jude said after a silence.

“Like what?” he asked, curious.

“Normalcy,” Jude said. “Social acceptability. Ease of life. Coffee, even. I can’t add sex to that list.”

They had talked and talked, and he had finally managed to convince him, had managed to get Jude to define what he actually liked. (It hadn’t been much.) “But what are you going to do?” Jude asked him.

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” he said, not really knowing himself.

“You know, Willem,” Jude had said, “you should obviously sleep with whomever you want. I just”—he fumbled—“I know this is selfish, but I just don’t want to hear about it.”

“It’s not selfish,” he said, reaching across the bed for him. “And I wouldn’t do that, not ever.”

That was eight months ago, and in those eight months, things had gotten better: not, Willem thought, his former version of better, in which he pretended everything was fine and ignored all inconvenient evidence or suspicions that suggested otherwise, but actually better. He could tell Jude really was more relaxed: he was less inhibited physically, he was more affectionate, and he was both of those things because he knew that Willem had released him from what he thought were his obligations. He was cutting himself far less frequently. Now he didn’t need Harold or Andy to confirm for him that Jude was

better: now he knew it to be true. The only difficulty was that he did still desire Jude, and at times he had to remind himself not to go any further, that he was getting close to the boundaries of what Jude could tolerate, and he would make himself stop. In those moments he would be angry, not at Jude or even at himself—he had never felt guilty about wanting to have sex, and he didn’t feel guilty about wanting to have it now—but at life, at how it had conspired to make Jude afraid of something that he had always associated with nothing but pleasure.

He was careful about who he chose to sleep with: he picked people (women, really: they had almost all been women) who he either sensed or knew, from previous experience, were truly only interested in him for sex and were going to be discreet. Often, they were confused, and he didn’t blame them. “Aren’t you in a relationship with a man?” they would ask, and he would tell them that he was, but that they had an open relationship. “So are you not really gay?” they would ask, and he would say, “No, not fundamentally.” The younger women were more accepting of this: they’d had boyfriends (or had boyfriends) who had slept with other men as well; they had slept with other women. “Oh,” they’d say, and that would usually be it—if they had other concerns, other questions, they didn’t ask. These younger women—actresses, makeup assistants, costume assistants—also didn’t want a relationship with him; often, they didn’t want a relationship at all. Sometimes the women asked him questions about Jude—how they had met, what he was like—and he answered them, and felt wistful, and missed him.

But he was vigilant about not letting this life intrude on his life at

home. Once there had been a blind item in a gossip column— forwarded to him by Kit—that was clearly about him, and after debating whether to say something to Jude or not, he had in the end decided not to; Jude would never see the story, and there was no reason to make what Jude knew was happening in theory something he was forced to confront in reality.

JB, however, had seen the item (he supposed other people he knew had seen it as well, but JB was the only one to actually mention it to him), and had asked him if it was true. “I didn’t know you guys had an open relationship,” he said, more curious than accusatory.

“Oh yeah,” he said, casually. “Right from the start.”

It saddened him, of course, that his sex life and his home life should have to be two distinct realms, but he was old enough now to know

that within every relationship was something unfulfilled and disappointing, something that had to be sought elsewhere. His friend Roman, for example, was married to a woman who, while beautiful and loyal, was famously unintelligent: she didn’t understand the films Roman was in, and when you talked to her, you found yourself consciously recalibrating the velocity and complexity and content of your conversation, because she so often looked confused when the talk turned to politics, or finance, or literature, or art, or food, or architecture, or the environment. He knew that Roman was aware of this deficiency, in both Lisa and in his relationship. “Ah, well,” he had once said to Willem, unprompted, “if I want good conversation, I can talk to my friends, right?” Roman had been among the first of his friends to get married, and at the time, he had been fascinated by and disbelieving of his choice. But now he knew: you always sacrificed something. The question was what you sacrificed. He knew that to some people—JB; Roman, probably—his own sacrifice would be unthinkable. It would have been once to him as well.

He thought frequently these days of a play he had done in graduate

school, by a beetley, plodding woman in the playwriting division who had gone on to have great success as a writer of spy movies but who in graduate school had tried to write Pinteresque dramas about unhappy married couples. If This Were a Movie was about an unhappy married couple—he was a professor of classical music; she was a librettist—who lived in New York. Because the couple was in their forties (at the time, a gray-colored land, impossibly far and unimaginably grim), they were devoid of humor and in a constant state of yearning for their younger selves, back when life had actually seemed so full of promise and hope, back when they had been romantic, back when life itself had been a romance. He had played the husband, and while he had long ago realized that it had been, really, an awful play (it had included lines like “This isn’t Tosca, you know! This is life!”), he had never forgotten the final monologue he had delivered in the second act, when the wife announces that she wants to leave, that she doesn’t feel fulfilled in their marriage, that she’s convinced that someone better awaits her:

SETH: But don’t you understand, Amy? You’re wrong. Relationships never provide you with everything. They provide you with some things. You take all the things you want from a person—sexual chemistry, let’s say, or good conversation, or

financial support, or intellectual compatibility, or niceness, or loyalty—and you get to pick three of those things. Three—that’s it. Maybe four, if you’re very lucky. The rest you have to look for elsewhere. It’s only in the movies that you find someone who gives you all of those things. But this isn’t the movies. In the real world, you have to identify which three qualities you want to spend the rest of your life with, and then you look for those qualities in another person. That’s real life. Don’t you see it’s a trap? If you keep trying to find everything, you’ll wind up with nothing.

AMY: [crying] So what did you pick?

SETH: I don’t know. [beat] I don’t know.

At the time, he hadn’t believed these words, because at the time, everything really did seem possible: he was twenty-three, and everyone was young and attractive and smart and glamorous. Everyone thought they would be friends for decades, forever. But for most people, of course, that hadn’t happened. As you got older, you realized that the qualities you valued in the people you slept with or dated weren’t necessarily the ones you wanted to live with, or be with, or plod through your days with. If you were smart, and if you were lucky, you learned this and accepted this. You figured out what was most important to you and you looked for it, and you learned to be realistic. They all chose differently: Roman had chosen beauty, sweetness, pliability; Malcolm, he thought, had chosen reliability, and competence (Sophie was intimidatingly efficient), and aesthetic compatibility. And he? He had chosen friendship. Conversation. Kindness. Intelligence. When he was in his thirties, he had looked at certain people’s relationships and asked the question that had (and continued to) fuel countless dinner-party conversations: What’s going on there? Now, though, as an almost-forty-eight-year-old, he saw people’s relationships as reflections of their keenest yet most inarticulable desires, their hopes and insecurities taking shape physically, in the form of another person. Now he looked at couples— in restaurants, on the street, at parties—and wondered: Why are you together? What did you identify as essential to you? What’s missing in you that you want someone else to provide? He now viewed a successful relationship as one in which both people had recognized the best of what the other person had to offer and had chosen to value it as well.

And perhaps not coincidentally, he also found himself doubting therapy—its promises, its premises—for the first time. He had never before questioned that therapy was, at worst, a benign treatment: when he was younger, he had even considered it a form of luxury, this right to speak about his life, essentially uninterrupted, for fifty minutes proof that he had somehow become someone whose life deserved such lengthy consideration, such an indulgent listener. But now, he was conscious of his own impatience with what he had begun to see as the sinister pedantry of therapy, its suggestion that life was somehow reparable, that there existed a societal norm and that the patient was being guided toward conforming to it.

“You seem to be holding back, Willem,” said Idriss—his shrink now for years—and he was quiet. Therapy, therapists, promised a rigorous lack of judgment (but wasn’t that an impossibility, to talk to a person and not be judged?), and yet behind every question was a nudge, one that pushed you gently but inexorably toward a recognition of some flaw, toward solving a problem you hadn’t known existed. Over the years, he’d had friends who had been convinced that their childhoods were happy, that their parents were basically loving, until therapy had awakened them to the fact that they had not been, that they were not. He didn’t want that to happen to him; he didn’t want to be told that his contentment wasn’t contentment after all but delusion.

“And how do you feel about the fact that Jude doesn’t ever want to have sex?” Idriss had asked.

“I don’t know,” he’d said. But he did know, and he said it: “I wish he wanted to, for his sake. I feel sad that he’s missing one of life’s greatest experiences. But I think he’s earned the right not to.” Across from him, Idriss was silent. The truth was, he didn’t want Idriss to try to diagnose what was wrong with his relationship. He didn’t want to be told how to repair it. He didn’t want to try to make Jude, or himself, do something neither of them wanted to because they were supposed to. Their relationship was, he felt, singular but workable: he didn’t want to be taught otherwise. He sometimes wondered if it was simple lack of creativity—his and Jude’s—that had made them both think that their relationship had to include sex at all. But it had seemed, then, the only way to express a deeper level of feeling. The word “friend” was so vague, so undescriptive and unsatisfying—how could he use the same term to describe what Jude was to him that he used for India or the Henry Youngs? And so they had chosen another, more familiar form of relationship, one that hadn’t worked. But now

they were inventing their own type of relationship, one that wasn’t officially recognized by history or immortalized in poetry or song, but which felt truer and less constraining.

He didn’t, however, mention his growing skepticism about therapy to Jude, because some part of him did still believe in it for people who were truly ill, and Jude—he was finally able to admit to himself—was truly ill. He knew that Jude hated going to the therapist; after the first few sessions he had come home so quiet, so withdrawn, that Willem had to remind himself that he was making Jude go for his own good.

Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer. “How’s it been with Dr. Loehmann?” he asked one night about a month after Jude had begun.

Jude sighed. “Willem,” he said, “how much longer do you want me to go?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought about it.”

Jude had studied him. “So you were thinking I’d go forever,” he said.

“Well,” he said. (He actually had been thinking that.) “Is it really so awful?” He paused. “Is it Loehmann? Should we get you someone else?”

“No, it’s not Loehmann,” Jude said. “It’s the process itself.”

He sighed, too. “Look,” he said. “I know this is hard for you. I know it is. But—give it a year, Jude, okay? A year. And try hard. And then we’ll see.” Jude had promised.

And then in the spring he had been away, filming, and he and Jude had been talking one night when Jude said, “Willem, in the interest of full disclosure, I have something I have to tell you.”

“Okay,” he said, gripping the phone tighter. He had been in London, shooting Henry & Edith. He was playing—twelve years too early and sixty pounds too thin, Kit pointed out, but who was counting?—Henry James, at the beginning of his friendship with Edith Wharton. The film was actually something of a road-trip movie, shot mostly in France and southern England, and he was working his way through his final scenes.

“I’m not proud of this,” he heard Jude say. “But I’ve missed my last four sessions with Dr. Loehmann. Or rather—I’ve been going, but not going.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, I go,” Jude said, “but then—then I sit outside in the car and read through the session, and then when the session’s over, I drive back to the office.”

He was quiet, and so was Jude, and then they both started laughing. “What’re you reading?” he asked when he could finally speak again.

“On Narcissism,” Jude admitted, and they both started laughing again, so hard that Willem had to sit down.

“Jude—” he began at last, and Jude interrupted him. “I know, Willem,” he said, “I know. I’ll go back. It was stupid. I just couldn’t bring myself to go in these past few times; I’m not sure why.”

When he hung up, he was still smiling, and when he heard Idriss’s voice in his head—“And Willem, what do you think about the fact that Jude isn’t going when he said he would?”—he waved his hand before his face, as if fanning the words away. Jude’s lying; his own self-deceptions—both, he realized, were forms of self-protection, practiced since childhood, habits that had helped them make the world into something more digestible than it sometimes was. But now Jude was trying to lie less, and he was trying to accept that there were certain things that would never conform to his idea of how life should be, no matter how intensely he hoped or pretended they might. And so really, he knew that therapy would be of limited use to Jude. He knew Jude would keep cutting himself. He knew he would never be able to cure him. The person he loved was sick, and would always be sick, and his responsibility was not to make him better but to make him less sick. He was never to make Idriss understand this shift in perspective; sometimes, he could hardly understand it himself.

That night he’d had a woman over, the deputy production designer,

and as they lay there, he answered all the same questions: he explained how he had met Jude; he explained who he was, or at least the version of who he was that he had created for answers such as these.

“This is a lovely space,” said Isabel, and he glanced at her, a little suspiciously; JB, upon seeing the flat, had said it looked like it had been raped by the Grand Bazaar, and Isabel, he had heard the director of photography proclaim, had excellent taste. “Really,” she said, seeing his face. “It’s pretty.”

“Thanks,” he said. He owned the flat—he and Jude. They had bought it only two months ago, when it had become evident that both of them would be doing more work in London. He had been in charge of finding something, and because it had been his responsibility, he had deliberately chosen quiet, deeply dull Marylebone—not for its sober prettiness or convenience but because of the neighborhood’s

surplus of doctors. “Ah,” Jude had said, studying the directory of the building’s tenants as they waited for the estate agent to show them the apartment Willem had settled on, “look at what’s downstairs from the unit: an orthopedic surgeon’s clinic.” He looked at Willem, raised an eyebrow. “That’s an interesting coincidence, isn’t it?”

He had smiled. “Isn’t it?” he asked. But beneath their joking was something that neither of them had been able to discuss, not just in their relationship but almost in their friendship as a whole—that at some point, they didn’t know when but that it would happen, Jude would get worse. What that might mean, specifically, Willem wasn’t certain, but as part of his new dedication to honesty, he was trying to prepare himself, themselves, for a future he couldn’t predict, for a future in which Jude might not be able to walk, might not be able to stand. And so finally, the fourth-floor Harley Street space had been the only possible option; of all the flats he had seen, this had been the one that had best approximated Greene Street: a single-story apartment with large doors and wide hallways, big square rooms, and bathrooms that could be converted to accommodate a wheelchair (the downstairs orthopedist’s office had been the final, unignorable argument that this apartment should be theirs). They bought the flat; he had moved into it all the rugs and lamps and blankets that he had spent his working life accumulating and that had been packed in boxes in the Greene Street basement; and before he returned to New York after the shoot ended, one of Malcolm’s young former associates who had moved back to London to work in Bellcast’s satellite office would begin renovating it.

Oh, he thought whenever he looked at the plans for Harley Street, it

was so difficult, it was so sad sometimes, living in reality. He had been reminded of this the last time he had met with the architect, when he had asked Vikram why they weren’t retaining the old wood-framed windows in the kitchen that overlooked the brick patio, with its views of the rooftops of Weymouth Mews beyond it. “Shouldn’t we keep them?” he’d wondered. “They’re so beautiful.”

“They are beautiful,” Vikram agreed, “but these windows are actually very difficult to open from a sitting position—they demand a good amount of lift from the legs.” He realized then that Vikram had taken seriously what he had instructed him to do in their initial conversation: to assume that eventually one of the people who lived in the apartment might have a very limited range of motion.

“Oh,” he’d said, and had blinked his eyes, rapidly. “Right. Thanks.


“Of course,” Vikram had said. “I promise you, Willem, it’s going to feel like home for both of you.” He had a soft, gentle voice, and Willem had been unsure whether the sorrow he had felt in that moment was from the kindness of what Vikram said, or the kindness with which he said it.

He remembers this now, back in New York. It is the end of July; he has convinced Jude to take a day off, and they have driven to their house upstate. For weeks, Jude had been tired and unusually weak, but then, suddenly, he hadn’t been, and it was on days like this—the sky above them vivid with blue, the air hot and dry, the fields around their house buttery with clumps of yarrow and cowslip, the stones around the pool cool beneath his feet, Jude singing to himself in the kitchen as he made lemonade for Julia and Harold, who had come to stay with them—that Willem found himself slipping back into his old habit of pretending. On these days, he succumbed to a sort of enchantment, a state in which his life seemed both unimprovable and, paradoxically, perfectly fixable: Of course Jude wouldn’t get worse. Of course he could be repaired. Of course Willem would be the person to repair him. Of course this was possible; of course this was probable. Days like this seemed to have no nights, and if there were no nights, there was no cutting, there was no sadness, there was nothing to dismay.

“You’re dreaming of miracles, Willem,” Idriss would say if he knew

what he was thinking, and he knew he was. But then again, he would think, what about his life—and about Jude’s life, too—wasn’t it a miracle? He should have stayed in Wyoming, he should have been a ranch hand himself. Jude should have wound up—where? In prison, or in a hospital, or dead, or worse. But they hadn’t. Wasn’t it a miracle that someone who was basically unexceptional could live a life in which he made millions pretending to be other people, that in that life that person would fly from city to city, would spend his days having his every need fulfilled, working in artificial contexts in which he was treated like the potentate of a small, corrupt country? Wasn’t it a miracle to be adopted at thirty, to find people who loved you so much that they wanted to call you their own? Wasn’t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable? Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn’t this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle? And so who could blame him for hoping for one more,

for hoping that despite knowing better, that despite biology, and time, and history, that they would be the exception, that what happened to other people with Jude’s sort of injury wouldn’t happen to him, that even with all that Jude had overcome, he might overcome just one more thing?

He is sitting by the pool and talking to Harold and Julia when abruptly, he feels that strange hollowing in his stomach that he occasionally experiences even when he and Jude are in the same house: the sensation of missing him, an odd sharp desire to see him. And although he would never say it to him, this is the way in which Jude reminds him of Hemming—that awareness that sometimes touches him, as lightly as wings, that the people he loves are more temporal, somehow, than others, that he has borrowed them, and that someday they will be reclaimed from him. “Don’t go,” he had told Hemming in their phone calls, back when Hemming was dying. “Don’t leave me, Hemming,” even though the nurses who were holding the receiver to Hemming’s ear hundreds of miles away had instructed him to tell Hemming exactly the opposite: that it was all right for him to leave; that Willem was releasing him. But he couldn’t.

And he hadn’t been able to either when Jude was in the hospital, so

delirious from the drugs that his eyes had skittered back and forth with a rapidity that had frightened him almost more than anything else. “Let me go, Willem,” Jude had begged him then, “let me go.”

“I can’t, Jude,” he had cried. “I can’t do that.”

Now he shakes his head to clear the memory. “I’m going to go check on him,” he tells Harold and Julia, but then he hears the glass door slide open, and all three of them turn and look up the sloping hill to see Jude holding a tray of drinks, and all three of them stand to go help him. But there is a moment before they begin heading uphill and Jude begins walking toward them in which they all hold their positions, and it reminds him of a set, in which every scene can be redone, every mistake can be corrected, every sorrow reshot. And in that moment, they are on one edge of the frame, and Jude is on the other, but they are all smiling at one another, and the world seems to hold nothing but sweetness.



The last time in his life he would walk on his own—really walk: not just edging along the wall from one room to the next; not shuffling down the hallways of Rosen Pritchard; not inching his way through

the lobby to the garage, sinking into the car seat with a groan of relief

—had been their Christmas vacation. He was forty-six. They were in Bhutan: a good choice, he would later realize, for his final sustained spell of walking (although of course he hadn’t known that at the time), because it was a country in which everyone walked. The people they met there, including an old acquaintance of theirs from college, Karma, who was now the minister of forestry, spoke of walking not in terms of kilometers but in terms of hours. “Oh yes,” Karma had said, “when my father was growing up, he used to walk four hours to visit his aunt on the weekends. And then he would walk four hours back home.” He and Willem had marveled at this, although later, they had also agreed: the countryside was so pretty, a series of swooping, treed parabolas, the sky above a thin clear blue, that time spent walking here must move more quickly and pleasantly than time spent walking anywhere else.

He hadn’t felt at his best on that trip, although at least he was

mobile. In the months before, he had been feeling weaker, but not in any truly specifiable way, not in any way that seemed to suggest some greater problem. He simply lost energy faster; he was achey instead of sore, a dull, constant thud of pain that followed him into sleep and was there to greet him when he woke. It was the difference, he told Andy, between a month speckled by thundershowers and a month in which it rained daily: not heavily but ceaselessly, a kind of dreary, enervating discomfort. In October, he’d had to use his wheelchair every day, which had been the most consecutive days he had ever been dependent on it. In November, although he had been well enough to make Thanksgiving dinner at Harold’s, he had been in too much pain to actually sit at the table to eat it, and he had spent the evening in his bedroom, lying as still as he could, semi-aware of Harold and Willem and Julia coming in to check on him, semi-aware of his apologizing for ruining the holiday for them, semi-aware of the muted conversation among the three of them and Laurence and Gillian, James and Carey, that he half heard coming from the dining room. After that, Willem had wanted to cancel their trip, but he had insisted, and he was glad he had—for he felt there was something restorative about the beauty of the landscape, about the cleanliness and quiet of the mountains, about getting to see Willem surrounded by streams and trees, which was always where he looked most comfortable.

It was a good vacation, but by the end, he was ready to leave. One

of the reasons he had been able to convince Willem that they could go on this trip at all was because his friend Elijah, who now ran a hedge fund that he represented, was going on holiday to Nepal with his family, and they caught flights both from and back to New York on his plane. He had worried that Elijah might be in a talkative mood, but he hadn’t been, and he had slept, gratefully, almost the entire way home, his feet and back blazing with pain.

The day after they returned to Greene Street he couldn’t lift himself out of bed. He was in such distress that his body seemed to be one long exposed nerve, frayed at either end; he had the sense that if he were to be touched with a drop of water, his entire being would sizzle and hiss in response. He was rarely so exhausted, so sore that he couldn’t even sit up, and he could tell that Willem—around whom he made a particular effort, so he wouldn’t worry—was alarmed, and he had to plead with him not to call Andy. “All right,” Willem had said, reluctantly, “but if you’re not better by tomorrow, I’m calling him.” He nodded, and Willem sighed. “Dammit, Jude,” he said, “I knew we shouldn’t’ve gone.”

But the next day, he was better: better enough to get out of bed, at least. He couldn’t walk; all day, his legs and feet and back felt as if they were being driven through with iron bolts, but he made himself smile and talk and move about, though when Willem left the room or turned away from him, he could feel his face drooping with fatigue.

And then that was how it was, and they both grew used to it: although he now needed his wheelchair daily, he tried to walk every day for as much as he could, even if it was just to the bathroom, and he was careful about conserving his energy. When he was cooking, he made certain he had everything assembled on the counter in front of him before he started so he wouldn’t have to keep going back and forth to the refrigerator; he turned down invitations to dinners, parties, openings, fund-raisers, telling people, telling Willem that he had too much work to attend them, but really he came home and wheeled his way slowly across the apartment, the punishingly large apartment, stopping to rest when he needed to, dozing in bed so he’d have enough life in him to talk to Willem when he returned.

At the end of January he finally went to see Andy, who listened to him and then examined him, carefully. “There’s nothing wrong with you, as such,” he said when he was finished. “You’re just getting older.”

“Oh,” he said, and they were both quiet, for what was there for

them to say? “Well,” he said, at last, “maybe I’ll get so weak that I’ll be able to convince Willem I don’t have the energy to go to Loehmann any longer,” because one night that fall he had—stupidly, drunkenly, romantically even—promised Willem he’d see Dr. Loehmann for another nine months.

Andy had sighed but had smiled, too. “You’re such a brat,” he said.

Now, though, he thinks back on this period fondly, for in every other way that mattered, that winter was a glorious time. In December, Willem had been nominated for a major award for his work in The Poisoned Apple; in January, he won it. Then he was nominated again, for an even bigger and more prestigious award, and again, he won. He had been in London on business the night Willem won, but had set his alarm for two a.m. so he could wake and watch the ceremony online; when Willem’s name was called, he shouted out loud, watched Willem, beaming, kiss Julia—whom he had brought as his date—and bound up the stairs to the stage, listened as he thanked the filmmakers, the studio, Emil, Kit, Alan Turing himself, Roman and Cressy and Richard and Malcolm and JB, and “my in-laws, Julia Altman and Harold Stein, for always making me feel like I was their son as well, and, finally and most important, Jude St. Francis, my best friend and the love of my life, for everything.” He’d had to stop himself from crying then, and when he got through to Willem half an hour later, he had to stop himself again. “I’m so proud of you, Willem,” he said. “I knew you would win, I knew it.”

“You always think that,” Willem laughed, and he laughed too,

because Willem was right: he always did. He always thought Willem deserved to win awards for whatever he was nominated for; on the occasions he didn’t, he was genuinely perplexed—politics and preferences aside, how could the judges, the voters, deny what was so obviously a superior performance, a superior actor, a superior person? In his meetings the next morning—in which he had to stop himself from not crying, but smiling, dopily and incessantly—his colleagues congratulated him and asked him again why he hadn’t gone to the ceremony, and he had shaken his head. “Those things aren’t for me,” he said, and they weren’t; of all the awards shows, all the premieres, all the parties that Willem went to for work, he had attended only two or three. This past year, when Willem was being interviewed by a serious, literary magazine for a long profile, he vanished whenever he knew the writer would be present. He knew Willem wasn’t offended by this, that he attributed his scarcity to his sense of privacy. And

while this was true, it wasn’t the only reason.

Once, shortly after they had become a couple, there had been a picture of them that had run with a Times story about Willem and the first installment he had completed in a spy movie trilogy. The photo had been taken at the opening of JB’s fifth, long-delayed show, “Frog and Toad,” which had been exclusively images of the two of them, but very blurred, and much more abstract than JB’s previous work. (They hadn’t quite known what to think of the series title, though JB had claimed it was affectionate. “Arnold Lobel?” he had screeched at them when they asked him about it. “Hello?!” But neither he nor Willem had read Lobel’s books as children, and they’d had to go out and buy them to make sense of the reference.) Curiously, it had been this show, even more than the initial New York magazine story about Willem’s new life, that had made their relationship real for their colleagues and peers, despite the fact that most of the paintings had been made from photographs taken before they had become a couple.

It was also this show that would mark, as JB later said, his

ascendancy: they knew that despite his sales, his reviews, his fellowships and accolades, he was tormented that Richard had had a mid-career museum retrospective (as had Asian Henry Young), and he hadn’t. But after “Frog and Toad,” something shifted for JB, the way that The Sycamore Court had shifted things for Willem, the way that the Doha museum had shifted things for Malcolm, even the way—if he was to be boastful—that the Malgrave and Baskett suit had shifted things for him. It was only when he stepped outside his firmament of friends that he realized that that shift, that shift they had all hoped for and received, was rarer and more precious than they even knew. Of all of them, only JB had been certain that he deserved that shift, that it was absolutely going to happen for him; he and Malcolm and Willem had had no such certainty, and so when it was given to them, they were befuddled. But although JB had had to wait the longest for his life to change, he was calm when it finally did—something in him seemed to become defanged; he became, for the first time since they had known him, mellowed, and the constant prickly humor that fizzed off of him like static was demagnetized and quieted. He was glad for JB; he was glad he now had the kind of recognition he wanted, the kind of recognition he thought JB should have received after “Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days.”

“The question is which one of us is the frog and which is the toad,”

Willem had said after they’d first seen the show, in JB’s studio, and

read the kindhearted books to each other late that night, laughing helplessly as they did.

He’d smiled; they had been lying in bed. “Obviously, I’m the toad,” he said.

“No,” Willem said, “I think you’re the frog; your eyes are the same color as his skin.”

Willem sounded so serious that he grinned. “That’s your evidence?” he asked. “And so what do you have in common with the toad?”

“I think I actually have a jacket like the one he has,” Willem said, and they began laughing again.

But really, he knew: he was the toad, and seeing the picture in the Times of the two of them together had reminded him of this. He wasn’t so bothered by this for his own sake—he was trying to care less about his own anxieties—but for Willem’s, because he was aware of how mismatched, how distorted a couple they made, and he was embarrassed for him, and worried that his mere presence might be somehow harmful to Willem. And so he tried to stay away from him in public. He had always thought that Willem was capable of making him better, but over the years he feared: If Willem could make him better, didn’t that also mean that he could make Willem sick? And in the same way, if Willem could make him into someone less difficult to regard, couldn’t he also make Willem into something ugly? He knew this wasn’t logical, but he thought it anyway, and sometimes as they were getting ready to go out, he glimpsed himself in the bathroom mirror, his stupid, pleased expression, as absurd and grotesque as a monkey dressed in expensive clothes, and would want to punch the glass with his fist.

But the other reason he was worried about being seen with Willem

was because of the exposure it entailed. Ever since his first day of college, he had feared that someday someone from his past—a client; one of the boys from the home—would try to contact him, would try to extort something from him for their silence. “No one will, Jude,” Ana had assured him. “I promise. To do so would be to admit how they know you.” But he was always afraid, and over the years, there had been a few ghosts who had announced themselves. The first arrived shortly after he’d started at Rosen Pritchard: just a postcard, from someone who claimed he had known him from the home— someone with the unhelpfully indistinct name of Rob Wilson, someone he didn’t remember—and for a week, he had panicked, barely able to sleep, his mind scrolling through scenarios that seemed

as terrifying as they were inevitable. What if this Rob Wilson contacted Harold, contacted his colleagues at the firm, and told them who he was, told them about the things he had done? But he made himself not react, not do what he wanted to do—write a near-hysterical cease-and-desist letter that would prove nothing but his own existence, and the existence of his past—and he never heard from Rob Wilson again.

But after a few pictures of him with Willem had appeared in the press, he received two more letters and an e-mail, all sent to his work. One of the letters and the e-mail were again from men who claimed they had been at the home with him, but once again, he hadn’t recognized their names, and he never responded, and they never contacted him again. But the second letter had contained a copy of a photograph, black-and-white, of an undressed boy on a bed, and of such low quality that he couldn’t tell if it was him or not. And with this letter, he had done what he had been told to do all those years ago, when he was a child in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, should any of the clients figure out who he was and try to establish communication with him: he had put the letter in an envelope and had sent it to the FBI. They always knew where he was, that office, and every four or five years an agent would appear at his workplace to show him pictures, to ask him if he remembered one man or another, men who were decades later still being uncovered as Dr. Traylor’s, Brother Luke’s, friends and fellow criminals. He rarely had advance warning before these visits, and over the years he had learned what he needed to do in the days afterward in order to neutralize them, how he needed to surround himself with people, with events, with noise and clamor, with evidence of the life he now inhabited.

In this period, the one in which he had received and disposed of the

letter, he had felt vividly ashamed and intensely alone—this had been before he had told Willem about his childhood, and he had never given Andy enough context so that he would appreciate the terror that he was experiencing—and after, he had finally made himself hire an investigative agency (though not the one that Rosen Pritchard used) to uncover everything they could about him. The investigation had taken a month, but at its end, there was nothing conclusive, or at least nothing that could conclusively identify him as who he had been. It was only then that he allowed himself to relax, to believe, finally, that Ana had been right, to accept that, for the most part, his past had

been erased so completely that it was as if it had never existed. The people who knew the most about it, who had witnessed and made it— Brother Luke; Dr. Traylor; even Ana—were dead, and the dead can speak to no one. You’re safe, he would remind himself. And although he was, it didn’t mean he wasn’t still cautious; it didn’t mean that he should want to have his photograph in magazines and newspapers.

He accepted that this was what his life with Willem would be, of course, but sometimes he wished it could be different, that he could be less circumspect about claiming Willem in public the way Willem had claimed him. In idle moments, he played the clip of Willem making his speech over and over, feeling that same giddiness he had when Harold had first named him as his son to another person. This has really happened, he had thought at the time. This isn’t something I’ve made up. And now, the same delirium: he really was Willem’s. He had said so himself.

In March, at the end of awards season, he and Richard had thrown Willem a party at Greene Street. A large shipment of carved-teak doorways and benches had just been moved out of the fifth floor, and Richard had strung the ceiling with ropes of lights and had lined every wall with glass jars containing candles. Richard’s studio manager had brought two of their largest worktables upstairs, and he had called the caterers and a bartender. They had invited everyone they could think of: all of their friends in common, and all of Willem’s as well. Harold and Julia, James and Carey, Laurence and Gillian, Lionel and Sinclair had come down from Boston; Kit had come out from L.A., Carolina from Yountville, Phaedra and Citizen from Paris, Willem’s friends Cressy and Susannah from London, Miguel from Madrid. He made himself stand and walk through that party, at which people he knew only from Willem’s stories—directors and actors and playwrights—approached him and said they’d been hearing about him for years, and that it was so nice to finally meet him, that they’d been thinking that Willem had invented him, and although he had laughed, he had been sad as well, as if he should have ignored his fears and involved himself more in Willem’s life.

So many people there hadn’t seen one another in so many years

that it was a very busy party, the kind of party they had gone to when they were young, with people shouting at one another over the music that one of Richard’s assistants, an amateur DJ, was playing, and a few hours into it he was exhausted, and leaned against the northern wall of the space to watch everyone dance. In the middle of the scrum

he could see Willem dancing with Julia, and he smiled, watching them, before noticing that Harold was standing on the other side of the room, watching them as well, smiling as well. Harold saw him, then, and raised his glass to him, and he raised his in return, and then watched as Harold worked his way toward him.

“Good party,” Harold shouted into his ear.

“It’s mostly Richard’s doing,” he shouted back, but as he was about to say something else, the music became louder, and he and Harold looked at each other and laughed and shrugged. For a while they simply stood, both of them smiling, watching the dancers heave and blur before them. He was tired, he was in pain, but it didn’t matter; his tiredness felt like something sweet and warm, his pain was familiar and expected, and in those moments he was aware that he was capable of joyfulness, that life was honeyed. Then the music turned, grew dreamy and slow, and Harold yelled that he was going to reclaim Julia from Willem’s clutches.

“Go,” he told him, but before Harold left him, something made him reach out and put his arms around him, which was the first time he had voluntarily touched Harold since the incident with Caleb. He could see that Harold was stunned, and then delighted, and he felt guilt course through him, and moved away as quickly as he could, shooing Harold onto the dance floor as he did.

There was a nest of cotton-stuffed burlap sacks in one of the corners, which Richard had put down for people to lounge against, and he was headed toward them when Willem appeared, and grabbed his hand. “Come dance with me,” he said.

“Willem,” he admonished him, smiling, “you know I can’t dance.” Willem looked at him then, appraisingly. “Come with me,” he said,

and he followed Willem toward the east end of the loft, and to the bathroom, where Willem pulled him inside and closed and locked the door behind them, placing his drink on the edge of the sink. They could still hear the music—a song that had been popular when they were in college, embarrassing and yet somehow moving in its unapologetic sentimentalism, in its syrup and sincerity—but in the bathroom it was dampened, as if it was being piped in from some far-off valley. “Put your arms around me,” Willem told him, and he did. “Move your right foot back when I move my left one toward it,” he said next, and he did.

For a while they moved slowly and clumsily, looking at each other, silent. “See?” Willem said, quietly. “You’re dancing.”

“I’m not good at it,” he mumbled, embarrassed.

“You’re perfect at it,” Willem said, and although his feet were by this point so sore that he was beginning to perspire from the discipline it was taking not to scream, he kept moving, but so minimally that toward the end of the song they were only swaying, their feet not leaving the ground, Willem holding him so he wouldn’t fall.

When they emerged from the bathroom, there was a whooping from the groups of people nearest to them, and he blushed—the last, the final, time he’d had sex with Willem had been almost sixteen months ago—but Willem grinned and raised his arm as if he was a prizefighter who had just won a bout.

And then it was April, and his forty-seventh birthday, and then it was May, and he developed a wound on each calf, and Willem left for Istanbul to shoot the second installment in his spy trilogy. He had told Willem about the wounds—he was trying to tell him things as they happened, even things he didn’t consider that important—and Willem had been upset.

But he hadn’t been concerned. How many of these wounds had he had over the years? Tens; dozens. The only thing that had changed was the amount of time he spent trying to resolve them. Now he went to Andy’s office twice a week—every Tuesday lunchtime and Friday evening—once for debriding and once for a wound vacuum treatment, which Andy’s nurse performed. Andy had always thought that his skin was too fragile for that treatment, in which a piece of sterile foam was fitted above the open sore and a nozzle moved above it that sucked the dead and dying tissues into the foam like a sponge, but in recent years he had tolerated it well, and it had proven more successful than simply debriding alone.

As he had grown older, the wounds—their frequency, their severity, their size, the level of discomfort that attended them—had grown steadily worse. Long gone, decades gone, were the days in which he was able to walk any great distance when he had them. (The memory of strolling from Chinatown to the Upper East Side—albeit painfully— with one of these wounds was so strange and remote that it didn’t even seem to belong to him, but to somebody else.) When he was younger, it might take a few weeks for one to heal. But now it took months. Of all the things that were wrong with him, he was the most dispassionate about these sores; and yet he was never able to accustom himself to their very appearance. And although of course he wasn’t scared of blood, the sight of pus, of rot, of his body’s desperate

attempt to heal itself by trying to kill part of itself still unsettled him even all these years later.

By the time Willem came home for good, he wasn’t better. There were now four wounds on his calves, the most he had ever had at one time, and although he was still trying to walk daily, it was sometimes difficult enough to simply stand, and he was vigilant about parsing his efforts, about determining when he was trying to walk because he thought he could, and when he was trying to walk to prove to himself that he was still capable of it. He could feel he had lost weight, he could feel he had gotten weaker—he could no longer even swim every morning—but he knew it for sure once he saw Willem’s face. “Judy,” Willem had said, quietly, and had knelt next to him on the sofa. “I wish you had told me.” But in a funny way, there had been nothing to tell: this was who he was. And besides his legs, his feet, his back, he felt fine. He felt—though he hesitated to say this about himself: it seemed so bold a statement—mentally healthy. He was back to cutting himself only once a week. He heard himself whistling as he removed his pants at night, examining the area around the bandages to make sure none of them were leaking fluids. People got used to anything their bodies gave them; he was no exception. If your body was well, you expected it to perform for you, excellently, consistently. If your body was not, your expectations were different. Or this, at least, was what he was trying to accept.

Shortly after he returned at the end of July, Willem gave him

permission to terminate his mostly silent relationship with Dr. Loehmann—but only because he genuinely didn’t have the time any longer. Four hours of his week were now spent at doctors’ offices— two with Andy, two with Loehmann—and he needed to reclaim two of those hours so he could go twice a week to the hospital, where he took off his pants and flipped his tie over his shoulder and was slid into a hyperbaric chamber, a glass coffin where he lay and did work and hoped that the concentrated oxygen that was being piped in all around him might help hasten his healing. He had felt guilty about his eighteen months with Dr. Loehmann, in which he had revealed almost nothing, had spent most of his time childishly protecting his privacy, trying not to say anything, wasting both his and the doctor’s time. But one of the few subjects they had discussed was his legs—not how they had been damaged but the logistics of caring for them—and in his final session, Dr. Loehmann had asked what would happen if he didn’t get better.

“Amputation, I guess,” he had said, trying to sound casual, although of course he wasn’t casual, and there was nothing to guess: he knew that as surely as he would someday die, he would do so without his legs. He just had to hope it wouldn’t be soon. Please, he would sometimes beg his legs as he lay in the glass chamber. Please. Give me just a few more years. Give me another decade. Let me get through my forties, my fifties, intact. I’ll take care of you, I promise.

By late summer, his new bout of sicknesses, of treatments had become so commonplace to him that he hadn’t realized how affected Willem might be by them. Early that August, they were discussing what to do (something? nothing?) for Willem’s forty-ninth birthday, and Willem had said he thought they should just do something low-key this year.

“Well, we’ll do something big next year, for your fiftieth,” he said. “If I’m still alive by then, that is,” and it wasn’t until he heard Willem’s silence that he had looked up from the stove and seen Willem’s expression and had recognized his mistake. “Willem, I’m sorry,” he said, turning off the burner and making his slow, painful way over to him. “I’m sorry.”

“You can’t joke like that, Jude,” Willem said, and he put his arms around him.

“I know,” he said. “Forgive me. I was being stupid. Of course I’m going to be around next year.”

“And for many years to come.” “And for many years to come.”

Now it is September, and he is lying on the examining table in Andy’s office, his wounds uncovered and still split open like pomegranates, and at nights he is lying in bed next to Willem. He is often conscious of the unlikeliness of their relationship, and often guilty at his unwillingness to fulfill one of the core duties of couplehood. Every once in a while, he thinks he will try again, and then, just as he is trying to say the words to Willem, he stops, and another opportunity quietly slides away. But his guilt, as great as it is, cannot overwhelm his sense of relief, nor his sense of gratitude: that he should have been able to keep Willem despite his inabilities is a miracle, and he tries, in every other way he can, to always communicate to Willem how thankful he is.

He wakes one night sweating so profusely that the sheets beneath him feel as if they’ve been dragged through a puddle, and in his haze, he stands before he realizes he can’t, and falls. Willem wakes, then,

and fetches him the thermometer, standing over him as he holds it under his tongue. “One hundred and two,” he says, examining it, and places his palm on his forehead. “But you’re freezing.” He looks at him, worried. “I’m going to call Andy.”

“Don’t call Andy,” he says, and despite the fever, the chills, the sweating, he feels normal; he doesn’t feel sick. “I just need some aspirin.” So Willem gets it, brings him a shirt, strips and remakes the bed, and they fall asleep again, Willem wrapped around him.

The next night he wakes again with a fever, again with chills, again with sweating. “There’s something going around the office,” he tells Willem this time. “Some forty-eight-hour bug. I must’ve caught it.” Again he takes aspirin; again it helps; again he goes back to sleep.

The day after that is a Friday and he goes to Andy to have his wounds cleaned, but he doesn’t mention the fever, which disappears by daylight. That night Willem is away, having dinner with Roman, and he goes to bed early, swallowing some aspirin before he does. He sleeps so deeply that he doesn’t even hear Willem come in, but when he wakes the following morning, he is so sweaty that it looks as if he’s been standing under the shower, and his limbs are numb and shaky. Beside him, Willem gently snores, and he sits, slowly, running his hands through his wet hair.

He really is better that Saturday. He goes to work. Willem goes to meet a director for lunch. Before he leaves the offices for the evening, he texts Willem and tells him to ask Richard and India if they want to meet for sushi on the Upper East Side, at a little restaurant he and Andy sometimes go to after their appointments. He and Willem have two favorite sushi places near Greene Street, but both of them have flights of descending stairs, and so they have been unable to go for months because the steps are too difficult for him. That night he eats well, and even as the fatigue punches him midway through the meal, he is conscious that he is enjoying himself, that he is grateful to be in this small, warm place, with its yellow-lit lanterns above him and the wooden geta-like slab atop which are laid tongues of mackerel sashimi—Willem’s favorite—before him. At one point he leans against Willem’s side, from exhaustion and affection, but isn’t even aware he’s done so until he feels Willem move his arm and put it around him.

Later, he wakes in their bed, disoriented, and sees Harold sitting

next to him, staring at him. “Harold,” he says, “what’re you doing here?” But Harold doesn’t speak, just lunges at him, and he realizes with a sickening lurch that Harold is trying to take his clothes off. No,

he tells himself. Not Harold. This can’t be. This is one of his deepest, ugliest, most secret fears, and now it is coming true. But then his old instincts awaken: Harold is another client, and he will fight him away. He yells, then, twisting himself, pinwheeling his arms and what he can of his legs, trying to intimidate, to fluster this silent, determined Harold before him, screaming for Brother Luke’s help.

And then, suddenly, Harold vanishes and is replaced by Willem, his face near his, saying something he can’t understand. But behind Willem’s head he sees Harold’s again, his strange, grim expression, and he resumes his fight. Above him, he can hear words, can hear that Willem is talking to someone, can register, even through his own fright, Willem’s fright as well. “Willem,” he calls out. “He’s trying to hurt me; don’t let him hurt me, Willem. Help me. Help me. Help me— please.” Then there is nothing—a stretch of blackened time—and when he wakes again, he is in the hospital. “Willem,” he announces to the room, and there, immediately, is Willem, sitting at the edge of his bed, taking his hand. There is a length of plastic tubing snaking out of the back of this hand, and out of the other as well. “Careful,” Willem tells him, “the IVs.”

For a while they are silent, and Willem strokes his forehead. “He

was trying to attack me,” he finally confesses to Willem, stumbling as he speaks. “I never thought Harold would do that to me, not ever.”

He can see Willem stiffen. “No, Jude,” he says. “Harold wasn’t there. You were delirious from the fever; it didn’t happen.”

He is relieved and terrified to hear this. Relieved to hear that it wasn’t true; terrified because it seemed so real, so actual. Terrified because what does it say about him, about how he thinks and what his fears are, that he should even imagine this about Harold? How cruel can his own mind be to try to convince him to turn against someone he has struggled so hard to trust, someone who has only ever shown him kindness? He can feel tears in his eyes, but he has to ask Willem: “He wouldn’t do that to me, would he, Willem?”

“No,” says Willem, and his voice is strained. “Never, Jude. Harold would never, ever do that to you, not for anything.”

When he wakes again, he realizes he doesn’t know what day it is, and when Willem tells him it’s Monday, he panics. “Work,” he says, “I have to go.”

“No fucking way,” Willem says, sharply. “I called them, Jude. You’re not going anywhere, not until Andy figures out what’s going on.”

Harold and Julia arrive later, and he makes himself return Harold’s embrace, although he cannot look at him. Over Harold’s shoulder, he sees Willem, who nods at him reassuringly.

They are all together when Andy comes in. “Osteomyelitis,” he says to him, quietly. “A bone infection.” He explains what will happen: he will have to stay in the hospital for at least a week—“A week!” he exclaims, and the four of them start shouting at him before he has a chance to protest further—or possibly two, until they get the fever under control. The antibiotics will be dispensed through a central line, but the remaining ten to eleven weeks of treatment will be given to him on an outpatient basis. Every day, a nurse will come administer the IV drip: the treatment will take an hour, and he is not to miss a single one of these. When he tries, again, to protest, Andy stops him. “Jude,” he says. “This is serious. I mean it. I don’t fucking care about Rosen Pritchard. You want to keep your legs, you do this and you follow my instructions, do you understand me?”

Around him, the others are silent. “Yes,” he says, at last.

A nurse comes to prep him so Andy can administer the central venous catheter, which will be inserted into the subclavian vein, directly beneath his right collarbone. “This is a tricky vein to access because it’s so deep,” the nurse says, pulling down the neck of his gown and cleaning a square of his skin. “But you’re lucky to have Dr. Contractor. He’s very good with needles; he never misses.” He isn’t worried, but he knows Willem is, and he holds Willem’s hand as Andy first pierces his skin with the cold metal needle and then threads the coil of guide wire into him. “Don’t look,” he tells Willem. “It’s okay.” And so Willem stares instead at his face, which he tries to keep still and composed until Andy is finished and is taping the catheter’s length of slender plastic tubing to his chest.

He sleeps. He had thought he might be able to work from the hospital, but he is more exhausted than he thought he would be, cloudier, and after talking to the chairs of the various committees and some of his colleagues, he doesn’t have the strength to do anything else.

Harold and Julia leave—they have classes and office hours—but except for Richard and a few people from work, they don’t tell anyone he’s hospitalized; he won’t be there for long, and Willem has decided he needs sleep more than he needs visitors. He is still febrile, but less so, and there have been no further episodes of delirium. And strangely, for all that is happening, he feels, if not optimistic, then at

least calm. Everyone around him is so sober, so thin-lipped, that he feels determined to defy them somehow, to defy the severity of the situation they keep telling him he’s in.

He can’t remember when he and Willem started referring to the hospital as the Hotel Contractor, in honor of Andy, but it seems they always have. “Watch out,” Willem would say to him even back at Lispenard Street, when he was hacking at a piece of steak some enraptured sous-chef at Ortolan had sneaked Willem at the end of his shift, “that cleaver’s really sharp, and if you chop off a thumb, we’ll have to go to the Hotel Contractor.” Or once, when he was hospitalized for a skin infection, he had sent Willem (away somewhere, shooting) a text reading “At Hotel Contractor. Not a big deal, but didn’t want you to hear through M or JB.” Now, though, when he tries to make Hotel Contractor jokes—complaining about the Hotel’s increasingly poor food and beverage services; about its poor quality of linens—Willem doesn’t respond.

“This isn’t funny, Jude,” he snaps on Friday evening, as they wait

for Harold and Julia to arrive with dinner. “I wish you’d fucking stop kidding around.” He is quiet then, and they look at each other. “I was so scared,” Willem says, in a low voice. “You were so sick and I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was so scared.”

“Willem,” he says, gently, “I know. I’m so grateful for you.” He hurries on before Willem can tell him he doesn’t need him to be grateful, he needs him to take the situation seriously. “I’m going to listen to Andy, I promise. I promise you I’m taking this seriously. And I promise you I’m not in any discomfort. I feel fine. It’s going to be fine.”

After ten days, Andy is satisfied that the fever has been eliminated, and he is discharged and sent home for two days to rest; he is back at the office on Friday. He had always resisted having a driver—he liked to drive himself; he liked the independence, the solitude—but now Willem’s assistant has hired a driver for him, a small, serious man named Mr. Ahmed, and on his way to and from the office, he sleeps. Mr. Ahmed also picks up his nurse, a woman named Patrizia who rarely speaks but is very gentle, and every day at one p.m., she meets him at Rosen Pritchard. His office there is all glass and looks out onto the floor, and he lowers the shades for privacy and takes off his jacket and tie and shirt, and lies down on the sofa in his undershirt and covers himself with a blanket, and Patrizia cleans the catheter and checks the skin around it to make sure there are no signs of infection

—no swelling, no redness—and then inserts the IV and waits as the medicine drips into the catheter and slides into his veins. As they wait, he works and she reads a nursing journal or knits. Soon this too becomes normal: every Friday he sees Andy, who debrides his wounds and then examines him, sending him to the hospital after their session for X-rays so he can track the infection and make sure it isn’t spreading.

They cannot go away on the weekends because he needs to have his treatment, but in early October, after four weeks of antibiotics, Andy announces that he’s been talking to Willem, and if he doesn’t mind, he and Jane are going to come up to stay with them in Garrison for the weekend, and he’ll administer the drip himself.

It is wonderful, and rare, being out of the city, being back at their house, and the four of them enjoy one another’s company. He even feels well enough to give Andy an abbreviated tour of the property, which Andy has visited only in springtime or summer, but which is different in autumn: raw, sad, lovely, the barn’s roof plastered with fallen yellow gingko leaves that make it look as if it’s been laid with sheets of gold leaf.

Over dinner that Saturday night, Andy asks him, “You do realize we’ve now known each other for thirty years, right?”

“I do,” he smiles. He has in fact bought Andy something—a safari vacation for him and his family, to go on whenever he wants—for their anniversary, although he hasn’t told him about it yet.

“Thirty years of being disobeyed,” Andy moans, and the rest of them laugh. “Thirty years of dispensing priceless medical advice gleaned from years of experience and training at top institutions, only to have it ignored by a corporate litigator, who’s decided his understanding of human biology is superior to my own.”

After they’ve stopped laughing, Jane says, “But you know, Andy, if it weren’t for Jude, I never would have married you.” To him, she says, “In medical school, I always thought Andy was sort of a self-absorbed douche bag, Jude; he was so arrogant, so borderline callow”—“What!” Andy says, feigning injury—“that I assumed he was going to be one of those typical surgeons—you know, ‘not always right, but always certain.’ But then I heard him talk about you, how much he loved and respected you, and I thought there might be something more to him. And I was right.”

“You were,” he tells her, after they all laugh again. “You were right,” and they all look at Andy, who gets embarrassed and pours

himself another glass of wine.

The week after that, Willem begins rehearsals for his new film. A month ago, when he got sick, he had backed out of the project, and then it had been delayed to wait for him, and now things are stable enough that he has signed on again. He doesn’t understand why Willem had backed out in the first place—the film is a remake of Desperate Characters, and most of the filming will be done just across the river, in Brooklyn Heights—but he is relieved to have Willem at work again and not hovering over him, looking worried and asking him if he’s sure he has the energy to do any of the very basic things (going to the grocery store; making a meal; staying late at work) that he wants to do.

In early November he goes back into the hospital with another fever, but only stays for two nights before he’s released again. Patrizia draws his blood every week, but Andy has told him that he’ll have to be patient; bone infections take a long time to eradicate, and he probably won’t have a sense of whether he’s been healed for good or not until the end of the twelve-week cycle. But otherwise, everything trudges on: He goes to work. He goes to have his treatments in the hyperbaric chamber. He goes to have his wounds vacuum-treated. He goes to have them debrided. One of the side effects from the antibiotics is diarrhea; another is nausea. He is losing weight at a rate even he can tell is problematic; he has eight of his shirts and two of his suits retailored. Andy prescribes him high-calorie drinks meant for malnourished children, and he swallows them five times a day, gulping water afterward to erase their chalky, tongue-coating flavor. Except for the hours he keeps at the office, he is conscious of being more obedient than he ever has been, of heeding every one of Andy’s warnings, of following his every piece of advice. He is still trying not to think of how this episode might end, trying not to worry himself, but in dark, quiet moments, he replays what Andy said to him on one of his recent checkups: “Heart: perfect. Lungs: perfect. Vision, hearing, cholesterol, prostate, blood sugar, blood pressure, lipids, kidney function, liver function, thyroid function: all perfect. Your body’s equipped to work as hard as it can for you, Jude; make sure you let it.” He knows that isn’t the complete measure of who he is— circulation, for example: not perfect; reflexes: not perfect; anything south of his groin: compromised—but he tries to take comfort in Andy’s reassurances, to remind himself that things could be worse, that he is, essentially, still a healthy person, still a lucky person.

Late November. Willem finishes Desperate Characters. They have Thanksgiving at Harold and Julia’s uptown, and although they have been coming into the city every other weekend to see him, he can sense them both trying very hard not to say anything about his appearance, not to bother him about how little he’s eating at dinner. Thanksgiving week also marks his final week of antibiotic treatments, and he submits to another round of blood work and X-rays before Andy tells him he can stop. He says goodbye to Patrizia for what he hopes is the last time; he gives her a gift to thank her for her care.

Although his wounds have shrunk, they haven’t shrunk as much as Andy had hoped, and on his recommendation, they stay in Garrison for Christmas. They promise Andy it will be a quiet week; everyone else will be out of town anyway, so it will be only the two of them and Harold and Julia.

“Your two goals are: sleeping and eating,” says Andy, who is going to visit Beckett in San Francisco for the holidays. “I want to see you five pounds heavier by the first Friday in January.”

“Five pounds is a lot,” he says.

“Five,” Andy repeats. “And then ideally, fifteen more after that.”

On Christmas itself, a year to the day he and Willem had walked along the spine of a low, wavy mountainside in Punakha, one that took them behind the king’s hunting lodge, a simple wooden structure that looked like it might be full of Chaucerian pilgrims, not the royal family, he tells Harold he wants to take a walk. Julia and Willem have gone horseback riding at an acquaintance’s nearby ranch, and he is feeling stronger than he has in a long time.

“I don’t know, Jude,” says Harold, warily.

“Come on, Harold,” he says. “Just to the first bench.” Malcolm has placed three benches along the path he has hacked through the forest to the house’s rear; one is located about a third of a way around the lake; the second at the halfway point; and the third at the two-thirds point. “We’ll go slowly, and I’ll take my cane.” It has been years since he has had to use a cane—not since he was a teenager—but now he needs it for any distance longer than fifty yards or so. Finally, Harold agrees, and he grabs his scarf and coat before Harold can change his mind.

Once they are outdoors, his euphoria increases. He loves this house: he loves how it looks, he loves its quiet, and most of all, he loves that it is his and Willem’s, as far from Lispenard Street as imaginable, but as much theirs as that place was, something they made together and

share. The house, which faces a second, different forest, is a series of glass cubes, and preceding it is a long driveway that switchbacks through the woods, so at certain angles you can see only swatches of it, and at other angles it disappears completely. At night, when it is lit, it glows like a lantern, which was what Malcolm had named it in his monograph: Lantern House. The back of the house looks out onto a wide lawn and beyond it, a lake. At the bottom of the lawn is a pool, which is lined with slabs of slate so that the water is always cold and clear, even on the hottest days, and in the barn there is an indoor pool and a living room; every wall of the barn can be lifted up and away from the structure, so that the entire interior is exposed to the outdoors, to the tree peonies and lilac bushes that bloom around it in the early spring; to the panicles of wisteria that drip from its roof in the early summer. To the right of the house is a field that paints itself red with poppies in July; to the left is another through which he and Willem scattered thousands of wildflower seeds: cosmos and daisies and foxglove and Queen Anne’s lace. One weekend shortly after they had moved in, they spent two days making their way through the forests before and behind the house, planting lilies of the valley near the mossy hillocks around the oak and elm trees, and sowing mint seeds throughout. They knew Malcolm didn’t approve of their landscaping efforts—he thought them sentimental and trite—and although they knew Malcolm was probably right, they also didn’t really care. In spring and summer, when the air was fragrant, they often thought of Lispenard Street, its aggressive ugliness, and of how then they wouldn’t even have had the visual imagination to conjure a place like this, where the beauty was so uncomplicated, so undeniable that it seemed at times an illusion.

He and Harold set off toward the forest, where the rough walkway

means that it is easier for him to navigate than it had been when construction began. Even so, he has to concentrate, for the path is only cleared once a season, and in the months between it becomes cluttered with saplings and ferns and twigs and tree matter.

They aren’t quite halfway to the first bench when he knows he has made a mistake. His legs began throbbing as soon as they finished walking down the lawn, and now his feet are throbbing as well, and each step is agonizing. But he doesn’t say anything, just grips his cane more tightly, trying to re-center the discomfort, and pushes forward, clenching his teeth and squaring his jaw. By the time they reach the bench—really, a dark-gray limestone boulder—he is dizzy, and they

sit for a long time, talking and looking out onto the lake, which is silvery in the cold air.

“It’s chilly,” Harold says eventually, and it is; he can feel the cool of the stone through his pants. “We should get you back to the house.”

“Okay,” he swallows, and stands, and immediately, he feels a hot stake of pain being thrust upward through his feet and gasps, but Harold doesn’t notice.

They are only thirty steps into the forest when he stops Harold. “Harold,” he says, “I need—I need—” But he can’t finish.

“Jude,” Harold says, and he can tell Harold is worried. He takes his left arm, slings it around his neck, and holds his hand in his own. “Lean on me as much as you can,” Harold says, putting his other arm around his waist, and he nods. “Ready?” He nods again.

He’s able to take twenty more steps—such slow steps, his feet tangling in the mulch—before he simply can’t move any more. “I can’t, Harold,” he says, and by this time he can barely speak, the pain is so extreme, so unlike anything he has felt in such a long time. Not since he was in the hospital in Philadelphia have his legs, his back, his feet hurt so profoundly, and he lets go of Harold and falls to the forest floor.

“Oh god, Jude,” Harold says, and bends over him, helping him to sit up against a tree, and he thinks how stupid, how selfish, he is. Harold is seventy-two. He should not be asking a seventy-two-year-old man, even an admirably healthy seventy-two-year-old man, for physical assistance. He cannot open his eyes because the world is torquing itself around him, but he hears Harold take out his phone, hears him try to call Willem, but the forest is so dense that the reception is poor, and Harold curses. “Jude,” he hears Harold say, but his voice is very faint, “I’m going to have to go back to the house and get your wheelchair. I’m so sorry. I’m going to be right back.” He nods, barely, and feels Harold button his coat closed, feels him push his hands into his coat’s pockets, feels him wrap something around his legs— Harold’s own coat, he realizes. “I’ll be right back,” Harold says. “I’ll be right back.” He hears Harold’s feet running away from him, the crunch of the sticks and leaves as they snap and crumple beneath him. He turns his head to the side and the ground beneath him shifts, dangerously, and he vomits, coughing up everything he has eaten that day, feels it slide off of his lips and drool down his cheek. Then he feels a bit better, and he leans his head against the tree again. He is reminded of his time in the forest when he was running away from

the home, how he had hoped the trees might protect him, and now he hopes for it again. He takes his hand out of his pocket, feels for his cane, and squeezes it as hard as he can. Behind his eyelids, bright spangled drops of light burst into confetti, and then blink out into oily smears. He concentrates on the sound of his breath, and on his legs, which he imagines as large lumpen shards of wood into which have been drilled dozens of long metal screws, each as thick as a thumb. He pictures the screws being drawn out in reverse, each one rotating slowly out of him and landing with a ringing clang on a cement floor. He vomits again. He is so cold. He can feel himself begin to spasm.

And then he hears someone running toward him, and he can smell it is Willem—his sweet sandalwood scent—before he hears his voice. Willem gathers him, and when he lifts him, everything sways again, and he thinks he is going to be sick, but he isn’t, and he puts his right arm around Willem’s neck and turns his vomity face into his shoulder and lets himself be carried. He can hear Willem panting—he may weigh less than Willem, but they are still the same height, and he knows how unwieldy he must be, his cane, still in his hand, banging against Willem’s thighs, his calves knocking against Willem’s rib cage

—and is grateful when he feels himself being lowered into his chair, hears Willem’s and Harold’s voices above him. He bends over, resting his forehead on his knees, and is pushed back out of the forest and up the hill to the house, and once inside, he is lifted into bed. Someone takes off his shoes, and he screams out and is apologized to; someones wipes his face; someone wraps his hands around a hot-water bottle; someone wraps his legs with blankets. Above him, he can hear Willem being angry—“Why did you fucking go along with this? You know he can’t fucking do this!”—and Harold’s apologetic, miserable replies: “I know, Willem. I’m so sorry. It was moronic. But he wanted to go so badly.” He tries to speak, to defend Harold, to tell Willem it was his fault, that he made Harold come with him, but he can’t.

“Open your mouth,” Willem says, and he feels a pill, bitter as metal, being placed on his tongue. He feels a glass of water being tipped toward his lips. “Swallow,” Willem says, and he does, and soon after, the world ceases to exist.

When he wakes, he turns and sees Willem in bed with him, staring at him. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers, but Willem doesn’t say anything. He reaches over and runs his hand through Willem’s hair. “Willem,” he says, “it wasn’t Harold’s fault. I made him do it.”

Willem snorts. “Obviously,” he says. “But he still shouldn’t have

agreed to it.”

They are quiet for a long time, and he thinks of what he needs to say, what he has always thought but never articulated. “I know this is going to sound illogical to you,” he tells Willem, who looks back at him. “But even all these years later, I still can’t think of myself as disabled. I mean—I know I am. I know I am. I have been for twice as long as I haven’t been. It’s the only way you’ve known me: as someone who—who needs help. But I remember myself as someone who used to be able to walk whenever he wanted to, as someone who used to be able to run.

“I think every person who becomes disabled thinks they were robbed of something. But I suppose I’ve always felt that—that if I acknowledge that I am disabled, then I’ll have conceded to Dr. Traylor, then I’ll have let Dr. Traylor determine the shape of my life. And so I pretend I’m not; I pretend I am who I was before I met him. And I know it’s not logical or practical. But mostly, I’m sorry because

—because I know it’s selfish. I know my pretending has consequences for you. So—I’m going to stop.” He takes a breath, closes and opens his eyes. “I’m disabled,” he says. “I’m handicapped.” And as foolish as it is—he is forty-seven, after all; he has had thirty-two years to admit this to himself—he feels himself about to cry.

“Oh, Jude,” says Willem, and pulls him toward him. “I know you’re sorry. I know this is hard. I understand why you’ve never wanted to admit it; I do. I just worry about you; I sometimes think I care more about your being alive than you do.”

He shivers, hearing this. “No, Willem,” he says. “I mean—maybe, at one point. But not now.”

“Then prove it to me,” Willem says, after a silence. “I will,” he says.

January; February. He is busier than he has ever been. Willem is rehearsing a play. March: Two new wounds open up, both on his right leg. Now the pain is excruciating; now he never leaves his wheelchair except to shower and go to the bathroom and dress and undress. It has been a year, more, since he has had a reprieve from the pain in his feet. And yet every morning when he wakes, he places them on the floor and is, for a second, hopeful. Maybe today he will feel better. Maybe today the pain will have abated. But he never does; it never does. And still he hopes. April: His birthday. The play’s run begins. May: Back come the night sweats, the fever, the shaking, the chills, the delirium. Back he goes to the Hotel Contractor. Back goes the

catheter, this time into the left side of his chest. But there is a change this time: this time the bacteria is different; this time, he will need an antibiotic drip every eight hours, not every twenty-four. Back comes Patrizia, now two times a day: at six a.m., at Greene Street; at two

p.m. at Rosen Pritchard; and at ten p.m. again at Greene Street, a night nurse, Yasmin. For the first time in their friendship, he sees only one performance of Willem’s play: his days are so segmented, so controlled by his medication, that he is simply unable to go a second time. For the first time since this cycle began a year ago, he feels himself tumbling toward despair; he feels himself giving up. He has to remind himself he must prove to Willem that he wants to remain alive, when all he really wants to do is stop. Not because he is depressed, but because he is exhausted. At the conclusion of one appointment, Andy looks at him with a strange expression and tells him that he’s not sure if he’s realized, but it’s been a month since he last cut himself, and he thinks about this. Andy is right. He has been too tired, too consumed to think about cutting.

“Well,” Andy says. “I’m glad. But I’m sorry this is why you’ve

stopped, Jude.”

“I am, too,” he says. They are both quiet, both, he fears, nostalgic for the days when cutting was his most serious problem.

Now it is June, now it is July. The wounds on his legs—the old ones, which he has had for more than a year, and the more recent ones, which he has had since March—have not healed. They have barely diminished. And it is then, just after the Fourth of July weekend, just after Willem’s run ends, that Andy asks if he can come talk to him and Willem. And because he knows what Andy is going to say, he lies and says that Willem is busy, that Willem doesn’t have the time, as if by delaying the conversation, he might delay his future as well, but early one Saturday evening he comes home from the office and there they are in the apartment, waiting for him.

The speech is what he expects. Andy recommends—he strongly recommends—amputation. Andy is gentle, very gentle, but he can tell, from how rehearsed his delivery is, from how formal he is, that he is nervous.

“We always knew this day would come,” Andy begins, “but that doesn’t make it any easier. Jude, only you know how much pain, how much inconvenience, you can tolerate. I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that you’ve gone on far longer than most people would. I can tell you you’ve been extraordinarily courageous—don’t make that face:

you have been; you are—and I can tell you that I can’t imagine what you’ve been suffering.

“But all of that aside—even if you feel you have the wherewithal to keep going—there are some realities to consider here. The treatments aren’t working. The wounds aren’t healing. The fact that you’ve had two bone infections in less than a year is alarming to me. I’m worried you’re going to develop an allergy to one of the antibiotics, and then we’ll be really, really fucked. And even if you don’t, you’re not tolerating the drugs as well as I’d hoped you would: you’ve lost way too much weight, a troubling amount of weight, and every time I see you, you’ve gotten a little weaker.

“The tissue in your upper legs seems to be healthy enough that I’m pretty certain we’ll be able to spare both knees. And Jude, I promise you that your quality of life will improve instantly if we amputate. There won’t be any more pain in your feet. You’ve never had a wound on your thighs, and I don’t think there’s any immediate fear you will. The prosthetics available now are so infinitely superior than what they were even ten years ago that honestly, your gait will probably be better, more natural, with them than it is with your actual legs. The surgery is very straightforward—just four hours or so—and I’ll do it myself. And the inpatient recovery is brief: less than a week in the hospital, and we’ll fit you with temporary prostheses immediately.”

Andy stops, placing his hands on his knees, and looks at them. For a long while, none of them speaks, and then Willem begins to ask questions, smart questions, questions he should be asking: How long is the outpatient recovery period? What kind of physical therapy would he be doing? What are the risks associated with the surgery? He half listens to the responses, which he already knows, more or less, having researched these very questions, this very scenario, every year since Andy had first suggested it to him, seventeen years ago.

Finally, he interrupts them. “What happens if I say no?” he asks, and he can see the dismay move across both of their faces.

“If you say no, we’ll keep pushing forward with everything we’ve been doing and hope it works eventually,” Andy says. “But Jude, it’s always better to have an amputation when you get to decide to have it, not when you’re forced to have it.” He pauses. “If you get a blood infection, if you develop sepsis, then we will have to amputate, and I won’t be able to guarantee that you’ll keep the knees. I won’t be able to guarantee that you won’t lose some other extremity—a finger; a hand—that the infection won’t spread far beyond your lower legs.”

“But you can’t guarantee me that I’ll even keep the knees this time,” he says, petulant. “You can’t guarantee I won’t develop sepsis in the future.”

“No,” Andy admits. “But as I said, I think there’s a very good chance you will keep them. And I think if we remove this part of your body that’s so gravely infected that it’ll help prevent further disease.”

They are all quiet again. “This sounds like a choice that isn’t a choice,” he mutters.

Andy sighs. “As I said, Jude,” he says, “it is a choice. It’s your choice. You don’t have to make it tomorrow, or even this week. But I want you to think about it, carefully.”

He leaves, and he and Willem are left alone. “Do we have to talk about it now?” he asks, when he can finally look at Willem, and Willem shakes his head. Outside the sky is turning rose-colored; the sunset will be long and beautiful. But he doesn’t want beauty. He wishes, suddenly, that he could swim, but he hasn’t swum since the first bone infection. He hasn’t done anything. He hasn’t gone anywhere. He has had to turn his London clients over to a colleague, because his IV has tethered him to New York. His muscles have disappeared: he is soft flesh on bone; he moves like an old man. “I’m going to bed,” he tells Willem, and when Willem says, quietly, “Yasmin’s coming in a couple of hours,” he wants to cry. “Right,” he says, to the floor. “Well. I’m going to take a nap, then. I’ll wake up for Yasmin.”

That night, after Yasmin has left, he cuts himself for the first time in

a long time; he watches the blood weep across the marble and into the drain. He knows how irrational it seems, his desire to keep his legs, his legs that have caused him so many problems, that have cost him how many hours, how much money, how much pain to maintain? But still: They are his. They are his legs. They are him. How can he willingly cut away a part of himself? He knows that he has already cut away so much of himself over the years: flesh, skin, scars. But somehow this is different. If he sacrifices his legs, he will be admitting to Dr. Traylor that he has won; he will be surrendering to him, to that night in the field with the car.

And it is also different because he knows that once he loses them, he will no longer be able to pretend. He will no longer be able to pretend that someday he will walk again, that someday he will be better. He will no longer be able to pretend that he isn’t disabled. Up, once more, will go his freak-show factor. He will be someone who is

defined, first and always, by what he is missing.

And he is tired. He doesn’t want to have to learn how to walk again. He doesn’t want to work at regaining weight he knows he will lose, weight on top of the weight he has struggled to replace from the first bone infection, weight that he has re-lost with the second. He doesn’t want to go back into the hospital, he doesn’t want to wake disoriented and confused, he doesn’t want to be visited by night terrors, he doesn’t want to explain to his colleagues that he is sick yet again, he doesn’t want the months and months of being weak, of fighting to regain his equilibrium. He doesn’t want Willem to see him without his legs, he doesn’t want to give him one more challenge, one more grotesquerie to overcome. He wants to be normal, he has only ever wanted to be normal, and yet with each year, he moves further and further from normalcy. He knows it is fallacious to think of the mind and the body as two separate, competing entities, but he cannot help it. He doesn’t want his body to win one more battle, to make the decision for him, to make him feel so helpless. He doesn’t want to be dependent on Willem, to have to ask him to lift him in and out of bed because his arms will be too useless and watery, to help him use the bathroom, to see the remains of his legs rounded into stumps. He had always assumed that there would be some sort of warning before this point, that his body would alert him before it became seriously worse. He knows, he does, that this past year and a half was his warning—a long, slow, consistent, unignorable warning—but he has chosen, in his arrogance and stupid hope, not to see it for what it is. He has chosen to believe that because he had always recovered, that he would once again, one more time. He has given himself the privilege of assuming that his chances are limitless.

Three nights later he wakes again with a fever; again he goes into

the hospital; again he is discharged. This fever has been caused by an infection around his catheter, which is removed. A new one is inserted into his internal jugular vein, where it forms a bulge that not even his shirt collars can wholly camouflage.

His first night back home, he is coasting through his dreams when he opens his eyes and sees that Willem isn’t in bed next to him, and he works himself into his wheelchair and glides out of the room.

He sees Willem before Willem sees him; he is sitting at the dining table, the light on above him, his back to the bookcases, staring out into the room. There is a glass of water before him, and his elbow is resting on the table, his hand supporting his chin. He looks at Willem

and sees how exhausted he is, how old, his bright hair gone whitish. He has known Willem for so long, has looked at his face so many times, that he is never able to see him anew: his face is better known to him than his own. He knows its every expression. He knows what Willem’s different smiles mean; when he is watching him being interviewed on television, he can always tell when he is smiling because he’s truly amused and when he is smiling to be polite. He knows which of his teeth are capped, and he knows which ones Kit made him straighten when it was clear that he was going to be a star, when it was clear that he wouldn’t just be in plays and independent films but would have a different kind of career, a different kind of life. But now he looks at Willem, at his face that is still so handsome but also so tired, the kind of tiredness he thought only he was feeling, and realizes that Willem is feeling it as well, that his life—Willem’s life with him—has become a sort of drudgery, a slog of illnesses and hospital visits and fear, and he knows what he will do, what he has to do.

“Willem,” he says, and watches Willem jerk out of his trance and

look at him.

“Jude,” Willem says. “What’s wrong? Are you feeling sick? Why are you out of bed?”

“I’m going to do it,” he says, and he thinks that they are like two actors on a stage, talking to each other across a great distance, and he wheels himself close to him. “I’m going to do it,” he repeats, and Willem nods, and then they lean their foreheads into each other’s, and both of them start crying. “I’m sorry,” he tells Willem, and Willem shakes his head, his forehead rubbing against his.

“I’m sorry,” Willem tells him back. “I’m sorry, Jude. I’m so sorry.” “I know,” he says, and he does.

The next day he calls Andy, who is relieved but also muted, as if out of respect to him. Things move briskly after that. They pick a date: the first date Andy proposes is Willem’s birthday, and even though he and Willem have agreed that they’ll celebrate Willem’s fiftieth birthday once he’s better, he doesn’t want to have the surgery on the actual day. So instead he’ll have it at the end of August, the week before Labor Day, the week before they usually go to Truro. In the next management committee meeting, he makes a brief announcement, explaining that this is a voluntary operation, that he’ll only be out of the office for a week, ten days at the most, that it isn’t a big deal, that he’ll be fine. Then he announces it to his department; he

normally wouldn’t, he tells them, but he doesn’t want their clients to worry, he doesn’t want them to think that it’s something more serious than it is, he doesn’t want to be the subject of rumors and chatter (although he knows he will be). He reveals so little about himself at work that whenever he does, he can see people sit up and lean forward in their seats, can almost see their ears lift a little higher. He has met all of their wives and husbands and girlfriends and boyfriends, but they have never met Willem. He has never invited Willem to one of the company’s retreats, to their annual holiday parties, to their annual summer picnics. “You’d hate them,” he tells Willem, although he knows that isn’t really the case: Willem can have a good time anywhere. “Believe me.” And Willem has always shrugged. “I’d love to come,” he has always said, but he has never let him. He has always told himself that he is protecting Willem from a series of events that he would surely find tedious, but he has never considered that Willem might be hurt by his refusal to include him, might actually want to be a part of his life beyond Greene Street and their friends. He flushes now, realizing this.

“Any questions?” he asks, not really expecting any, when he sees

one of the younger partners, a callous but scarily effective man named Gabe Freston, raise his hand. “Freston?” he says.

“I just wanted to say that I’m really sorry, Jude,” says Freston, and around him, everyone murmurs their agreement.

He wants to make the moment light, to say—because it is true

—“That’s the first time I’ve heard you be so sincere since I told you what your bonus would be last year, Freston,” but he doesn’t, just takes a deep breath. “Thank you, Gabe,” he says. “Thanks, all of you. Now everyone—back to work,” and they scatter.

The surgery will be on a Monday, and although he stays at the office late on Friday, he doesn’t go in on Saturday. That afternoon, he packs a bag for the hospital; that evening, he and Willem have dinner at the tiny sushi place where they first celebrated the Last Supper. His final sessions with Patrizia and Yasmin had been on Thursday; Andy calls early on Saturday to tell him that he has the X-rays back, and that although the infection hasn’t budged, it also hasn’t spread. “Obviously, it won’t be a problem after Monday,” he says, and he swallows, hard, just as he had when Andy had said earlier that week, “You won’t have this foot pain after next Monday.” He remembers then that it is not the problem that is being eradicated; it is the source of the problem that is being eradicated. One is not the same as the

other, but he supposes he has to be grateful, finally, for eradication, however it is delivered.

He eats his final meal on Sunday at seven p.m.; the surgery is at eight the next morning, and so he is to have no more food, no more medication, nothing to drink, for the rest of the night.

An hour later, he and Willem descend in the elevator to the ground floor, for his last walk on his own legs. He has made Willem promise him this walk, and even before they begin—they will go south on Greene one block to Grand, then west just another block to Wooster, then up Wooster four blocks to Houston, then back east to Greene and south to their apartment—he isn’t sure he’ll be able to finish. Above them, the sky is the color of bruises, and he remembers, suddenly, being forced out onto the street, naked, by Caleb.

He lifts up his left leg and begins. Down the quiet street they walk, and at Grand, as they are turning right, he takes Willem’s hand, which he never does in public, but now he holds it close, and they turn right again and begin moving up Wooster.

He had wanted so badly to complete this circuit, but perversely, his inability to do so—at Spring, still two blocks south of Houston, Willem glances at him and, without even asking, starts walking him back east to Greene Street—reassures him: he is making the right decision. He has pressed up against the inevitable, and he has made the only choice he could make, not just for Willem’s sake, but for his own. The walk has been almost unbearable, and when he gets back to the apartment, he is surprised to feel that his face is wet with tears.

The next morning, Harold and Julia meet them at the hospital, looking gray and frightened. He can tell they are trying to remain stoic for him; he hugs and kisses them both, assures them he’ll be fine, that there’s nothing to worry about. He is taken away to be prepped. Since the injury, the hair on his legs has always grown unevenly, around and between the scars, but now he is shaved clean above and below his kneecaps. Andy comes in, holds his face in his hands, and kisses him on his forehead. He doesn’t say anything, just takes out a marker and draws a series of dashes, like Morse code signals, in inverted arcs a few inches below the bottoms of both knees, then tells him he’ll be back, but that he’ll send Willem in.

Willem comes over and sits on the edge of his bed, and they hold each other’s hands in silence. He is about to say something, make some stupid joke, when Willem begins to cry, and not just cry, but keen, bending over and moaning, sobbing like he has never seen

anyone sob. “Willem,” he says, desperately, “Willem, don’t cry: I’m going to be fine. I really am. Don’t cry. Willem, don’t cry.” He sits up in the bed, wraps his arms around Willem. “Oh, Willem,” he sighs, near tears himself. “Willem, I’m going to be okay. I promise you.” But he can’t soothe him, and Willem cries and cries.

He senses that Willem is trying to say something, and he rubs his back, asking him to repeat himself. “Don’t go,” he hears Willem say. “Don’t leave me.”

“I promise I won’t,” he says. “I promise. Willem—it’s an easy surgery. You know I have to come out on the other side so Andy can lecture me some more, right?”

It is then that Andy walks in. “Ready, campers?” he asks, and then he sees and hears Willem. “Oh god,” he says, and he comes over, joins their huddle. “Willem,” he says, “I promise I’ll take care of him like he’s my own, you know that, right? You know I won’t let anything happen to him?”

“I know,” they hear Willem gulp, at last. “I know, I know.”

Finally, they are able to calm Willem down, who apologizes and wipes at his eyes. “I’m sorry,” Willem says, but he shakes his head, and pulls on Willem’s hand until he brings his face to his own, kisses him goodbye. “Don’t be,” he tells him.

Outside the operating room, Andy brings his head down to his, and kisses him again, this time on his cheek. “I’m not going to be able to touch you after this,” he says. “I’ll be sterile.” The two of them grin, suddenly, and Andy shakes his head. “Aren’t you getting a little old for this kind of puerile humor?” he asks.

“Aren’t you?” he asks. “You’re almost sixty.” “Never.”

Then they are in the operating room, and he is gazing at the bright white disk of light above him. “Hello, Jude,” says a voice behind him, and he sees it’s the anesthesiologist, a friend of Andy’s named Ignatius Mba, whom he’s met before at one of Andy and Jane’s dinner parties.

“Hi, Ignatius,” he says.

“Count backward from ten for me,” says Ignatius, and he begins to, but after seven, he is unable to count any further; the last thing he feels is a tingling in his right toes.

Three months later. It is Thanksgiving again, and they are having it at Greene Street. Willem and Richard have cooked everything, arranged everything, while he slept. His recovery has been harder and more complicated than anticipated, and he has contracted infections,

twice. For a while he was on a feeding tube. But Andy was right: he has kept both knees. In the hospital, he would wake, telling Harold and Julia, telling Willem, that it felt like there was an elephant sitting on his feet, rocking back and forth on its rump until his bones turned into cracker dust, into something finer than ash. But they never told him that he was imagining this; they only told him that the nurse had just added a painkiller to his IV drip for this very purpose, and that he would be feeling better soon. Now he has these phantom pains less and less frequently, but they haven’t disappeared entirely. And he is still very tired, he is still very weak, and so Richard has placed a mauve velvet wingback chair on casters—one that India sometimes uses for sittings—for him at the head of the table, so he can lean his head against its wings when he feels depleted.

That dinner is Richard and India, Harold and Julia, Malcolm and

Sophie, JB and his mother, and Andy and Jane, whose children are visiting Andy’s brother in San Francisco. He starts to give a toast, thanking everyone for everything they have given him and done for him, but before he gets to the person he wants to thank most— Willem, sitting to his right—he finds he cannot continue, and he looks up from his paper at his friends and sees that they are all going to cry, and so he stops.

He is enjoying the dinner, amused even by how people keep adding scoops of different food to his plate, even though he hasn’t eaten much of his first serving, but he is so sleepy, and eventually he burrows back into the chair and closes his eyes, smiling as he listens to the familiar conversation, the familiar voices, fill the air around him.

Eventually Willem notices that he is falling asleep, and he hears him stand. “Okay,” he says, “time for your diva exit,” and turns the chair from the table and begins pushing it away toward their bedroom, and he uses the last of his strength to answer everyone’s laughter, their song of goodbyes, to peek out around the wing of the chair and smile at them, letting his fingers trail behind him in an airy, theatrical wave. “Stay,” he calls out as he is taken from them. “Please stay. Please stay and give Willem some decent conversation,” and they agree they will; it isn’t even seven, after all—they have hours and hours. “I love you,” he calls to them, and they shout it back at him, all of them at once, although even in their chorus, he can still distinguish each individual voice.

At the doorway to their bedroom, Willem lifts him—he has lost so

much weight, and without his prostheses is so less storklike a form, that now even Julia can lift him—and carries him to their bed, helps him undress, helps him remove his temporary prostheses, folds the covers back over him. He pours him a glass of water, hands him his pills: an antibiotic, a fistful of vitamins. He swallows them all as Willem watches, and then for a while Willem sits on the bed next to him, not touching him, but simply near.

“Promise me you’ll go out there and stay up late,” he tells Willem, and Willem shrugs.

“Maybe I’ll just stay here with you,” he says. “They seem to be having a fine time without me.” And sure enough, there is a burst of laughter from the dining room, and they look at each other and smile. “No,” he says, “promise me,” and finally, Willem does. “Thank you,

Willem,” he says, inadequately, his eyes closing. “This was a good day.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” he hears Willem say, and then he begins to say something else, but he doesn’t hear it because he has fallen asleep.

That night his dreams wake him. It is one of the side effects of the particular antibiotic he is on, these dreams, and this time, they are worse than ever. Night after night, he dreams. He dreams that he is in the motel rooms, that he is in Dr. Traylor’s house. He dreams that he is still fifteen, that the previous thirty-three years haven’t even happened. He dreams of specific clients, specific incidents, of things he hadn’t even known he remembered. He dreams that he has become Brother Luke himself. He dreams, again and again, that Harold is Dr. Traylor, and when he wakes, he feels ashamed for attributing such behavior to Harold, even in his subconscious, and at the same time fearful that the dream might be real after all, and he has to remind himself of Willem’s promise: Never, ever, Jude. He would never do that to you, not for anything.

Sometimes the dreams are so vivid, so real, that it takes minutes, an

hour for him to return to his life, for him to convince himself that the life of his consciousness is in fact real life, his real life. Sometimes he wakes so far from himself that he can’t even remember who he is. “Where am I?” he asks, desperate, and then, “Who am I? Who am I?”

And then he hears, so close to his ear that it is as if the voice is originating inside his own head, Willem’s whispered incantation. “You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy

Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs.

“You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen.

“You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way.

“You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it.

“You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again.

“You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.”

On and on Willem talks, chanting him back to himself, and in the daytime—sometimes days later—he remembers pieces of what Willem has said and holds them close to him, as much as for what he said as for what he didn’t, for how he hadn’t defined him.

But in the nighttime he is too terrified, he is too lost to recognize this. His panic is too real, too consuming. “And who are you?” he asks, looking at the man who is holding him, who is describing someone he doesn’t recognize, someone who seems to have so much, someone who seems like such an enviable, beloved person. “Who are you?”

The man has an answer to this question as well. “I’m Willem Ragnarsson,” he says. “And I will never let you go.”



“I’m going,” he tells Jude, but then he doesn’t move. A dragonfly, as shiny as a scarab, hums above them. “I’m going,” he repeats, but he still doesn’t move, and it is only the third time he says it that he’s finally able to stand up from the lounge chair, drunk on the hot air, and shove his feet back into his loafers.

“Limes,” says Jude, looking up at him and shielding his eyes against the sun.

“Right,” he says, and bends down, takes Jude’s sunglasses off him, kisses him on his eyelids, and replaces his glasses. Summer, JB has

always said, is Jude’s season: his skin darkens and his hair lightens to almost the same shade, making his eyes turn an unnatural green, and Willem has to keep himself from touching him too much. “I’ll be back in a little while.”

He trudges up the hill to the house, yawning, places his glass of half-melted ice and tea in the sink, and crunches down the pebbled driveway to the car. It is one of those summer days when the air is so hot, so dry, so still, the sun overhead so white, that one doesn’t so much see one’s surroundings as hear and smell and taste them: the lawn-mower buzz of the bees and locusts, the faint peppery scent of the sunflowers, the oddly mineral flavor the heat leaves on the tongue, as if he’s just sucked on stones. The heat is enervating, but not in an oppressive way, only in a way that makes them both sleepy and defenseless, in a way that makes torpor not just acceptable but necessary. When it is hot like this they lie by the pool for hours, not eating but drinking—pitchers of iced mint tea for breakfast, liters of lemonade for lunch, bottles of Aligoté for dinner—and they leave the house’s every window, every door open, the ceiling fans spinning, so that at night, when they finally seal it shut, they trap within it the fragrance of meadows and trees.

It is the Saturday before Labor Day, and they would normally be in

Truro, but this year they have rented Harold and Julia a house outside Aix-en-Provence for the entire summer, and the two of them are spending the holiday in Garrison instead. Harold and Julia will arrive

—maybe with Laurence and Gillian, maybe not—tomorrow, but today Willem is picking up Malcolm and Sophie and JB and his on-again, off-again boyfriend Fredrik from the train station. They’ve seen very little of their friends for months now: JB has been on a fellowship in Italy for the past six months, and Malcolm and Sophie have been so busy with the construction of a new ceramics museum in Shanghai that the last time they saw them all was in April, in Paris—he was filming there, and Jude had come in from London, where he was working, and JB in from Rome, and Malcolm and Sophie had laid over for a couple of days on their way back to New York.

Almost every summer he thinks: This is the best summer. But this summer, he knows, really is the best. And not just the summer: the spring, the winter, the fall. As he gets older, he is given, increasingly, to thinking of his life as a series of retrospectives, assessing each season as it passes as if it’s a vintage of wine, dividing years he’s just lived into historical eras: The Ambitious Years. The Insecure Years.

The Glory Years. The Delusional Years. The Hopeful Years.

Jude had smiled when he told him this. “And what era are we in now?” he asked, and Willem had smiled back at him. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t come up with a name for it yet.”

But they both agreed that they had at least exited The Awful Years. Two years ago, he had spent this very weekend—Labor Day weekend

—in a hospital on the Upper East Side, staring out the window with a hatred so intense it nauseated him at the orderlies and nurses and doctors in their jade-green pajamas congregating outside the building, eating and smoking and talking on their phones as if nothing were wrong, as if above them weren’t people in various stages of dying, including his own person, who was at that moment in a medically induced coma, his skin prickling with fever, who had last opened his eyes four days ago, the day after he had gotten out of surgery.

“He’s going to be fine, Willem,” Harold kept babbling at him, Harold who was in general even more of a worrier than Willem himself had become. “He’s going to be fine. Andy said so.” On and on Harold went, parroting back to Willem everything that he had already heard Andy say, until finally he had snapped at him, “Jesus, Harold, give it a fucking break. Do you believe everything Andy says? Does he look like he’s getting better? Does he look like he’s going to be fine?” And then he had seen Harold’s face change, his expression of pleading, frantic desperation, the face of an old, hopeful man, and he had been punched with remorse and had gone over and held him. “I’m sorry,” he said to Harold, Harold who had already lost one son, who was trying to reassure himself that he wouldn’t lose another. “I’m sorry, Harold, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I’m being an asshole.”

“You’re not an asshole, Willem,” Harold had said. “But you can’t

tell me he’s not going to get better. You can’t tell me that.”

“I know,” he said. “Of course he’s going to get better,” he said, sounding like Harold, Harold echoing Harold to Harold. “Of course he is.” But inside of him, he felt the beetley scrabble of fear: of course there was no of course. There never had been. Of course had vanished eighteen months ago. Of course had left their lives forever.

He had always been an optimist, and yet in those months, his optimism deserted him. He had canceled all of his projects for the rest of the year, but as the fall dragged on, he wished he had them; he wished he had something to distract himself. By the end of September, Jude was out of the hospital, and yet he was so thin, so frail, that Willem had been scared to touch him, scared to even look at him,

scared to see the way that his cheekbones were now so pronounced that they cast permanent shadows around his mouth, scared to see the way he could watch Jude’s pulse beating in the scooped-out hollow of his throat, as if there was something living inside of him that was trying to kick its way out. He could feel Jude trying to comfort him, trying to make jokes, and that made him even more scared. On the few occasions he left the apartment—“You have to,” Richard had told him, flatly, “you’re going to go crazy otherwise, Willem”—he was tempted to turn his phone off, because every time it chirped and he saw it was Richard (or Malcolm, or Harold, or Julia, or JB, or Andy, or the Henry Youngs, or Rhodes, or Elijah, or India, or Sophie, or Lucien, or whoever was sitting with Jude for the hour or so that he was distractedly wandering the streets or working out downstairs or, a few times, trying to lie still through a massage or sit through lunch with Roman or Miguel), he would tell himself, This is it. He’s dying. He’s dead, and he would wait a second, another second, before answering the phone and hearing that the call was only a status report: That Jude had eaten a meal. That he hadn’t. That he was sleeping. That he seemed nauseated. Finally he had to tell them: Don’t call me unless it’s serious. I don’t care if you have questions and calling’s faster; you have to text me. If you call me, I’ll think the worst. For the first time in his life, he understood, viscerally, what it meant when people said their hearts were in their throats, although it wasn’t just his heart he could feel but all his organs thrusting upward, trying to exit him through his mouth, his innards scrambled with anxiety.

People always spoke of healing as if it were predictable and

progressive, a decisive diagonal line pointing from the lower left-hand corner of a graph to the upper right. But Hemming’s healing—which hadn’t ended with his healing at all—hadn’t been like that, and Jude’s hadn’t either: theirs were a mountain range of peaks and trenches, and in the middle of October, after Jude had gone back to work (still scarily thin, still scarily weak), there had been a night when he had woken with a fever so high that he had started seizing, and Willem had been certain that this was the moment, that this was the end. He had realized then that despite his fear, he had never really prepared himself, that he had never really thought of what it would mean, and although he wasn’t a bargainer by nature, he bargained now, with someone or something he didn’t even know he believed in. He promised more patience, more gratitude, less swearing, less vanity,

less sex, less indulgence, less complaining, less self-absorption, less selfishness, less fearfulness. When Jude had lived, Willem’s relief had been so total, so punishing, that he had collapsed, and Andy had prescribed him an antianxiety pill and sent him up to Garrison for the weekend with JB for company, leaving Jude in his and Richard’s care. He had always thought that unlike Jude, he had known how to accept help when it was offered, but he had forgotten this skill at the most crucial time, and he was glad and grateful that his friends had made the effort to remind him.

By Thanksgiving, things had become—if not good, then they had at least stopped being bad, which they accepted as the same thing. But it was only in retrospect that they had been able to recognize it as a sort of fulcrum, as the period in which there were first days, and then weeks, and then an entire month in which nothing got worse, in which they regained the trick of waking each day with not dread but with purpose, in which they were finally, cautiously, able to talk about the future, to worry not just about making it successfully through the day but into days they couldn’t yet imagine. It was only then that they were able to talk about what needed to be done, only then that Andy began making serious schedules—schedules with goals set one month, two months, six months away—that tracked how much weight he wanted Jude to gain, and when he would be fitted with his permanent prostheses, and when he wanted him to take his first steps, and when he wanted to see him walking again. Once again, they rejoined the slipstream of life; once again, they learned to obey the calendar. By February Willem was reading scripts again. By April, and his forty-ninth birthday, Jude was walking again—slowly, inelegantly, but walking—and looking once again like a normal person. By Willem’s birthday that August, almost a year after his surgery, his walk was, as Andy had predicted, better—silkier, more confident—than it had been with his own legs, and he looked, once again, better than a normal person: he looked like himself again.

“We still haven’t had your fiftieth birthday blowout,” Jude had

reminded him over his fifty-first birthday dinner—his birthday dinner that Jude had made, standing by himself at the stove for hours, displaying no apparent signs of fatigue—and Willem had smiled.

“This is all I want,” he’d said, and he meant it. It felt silly to compare his experience of such a depleting, brutal two years to Jude’s own experience, and yet he felt transformed by them. It was as if his despair had given rise to a sense of invincibility; he felt that

everything extraneous and soft had been burned off of him and he was left as an exposed steel core, indestructible and yet pliant, able to withstand anything.

They spent his birthday in Garrison, just the two of them, and that night, after dinner, they went down to the lake, and he took off his clothes and jumped off the dock into the water, which smelled and looked like a great pool of tea. “Come in,” he told Jude, and then, when he hesitated, “As the birthday boy, I command it.” And Jude had slowly undressed, and taken off his prostheses, and then had finally pushed off the edge of the dock with his hands, and Willem had caught him. As Jude had gotten physically healthier, he had also grown more and more self-conscious about his body, and Willem knew, from how withdrawn Jude would become at times, from how carefully he shielded himself when he was taking off or putting on his legs, how much he struggled with accepting how he now appeared. When he had been weaker, he had let Willem help undress him, but now that he was stronger, Willem saw him unclothed only in glimpses, only by accident. But he had decided to view Jude’s self-consciousness as a certain kind of healthiness, for it was at least proof of his physical strength, proof that he was able to get in and out of the shower by himself, to climb in and out of bed by himself—things he’d had to relearn how to do, things he once hadn’t had the energy to do on his own.

Now they drifted through the lake, swimming or clinging to each

other in silence, and after Willem got out, Jude did as well, heaving himself onto the deck with his arms, and they sat there for a while in the soft summer air, both of them naked, both of them staring at the tapered ends of Jude’s legs. It was the first time he had seen Jude naked in months, and he hadn’t known what to say, and in the end had simply put his arm around him and pulled him close, and that had (he thought) been the right thing to say after all.

He was still frightened, intermittently. In September, a few weeks before he left for his first project in more than a year, Jude had woken again with a fever, and this time, he didn’t ask Willem not to call Andy, and Willem didn’t ask him for permission to do so. They had gone directly to Andy’s office, and Andy had ordered X-rays, blood work, everything, and they had waited there, each of them lying on the bed in a different examining room, until the radiologist had called and said that there was no sign of any bone infection, and the lab had called and said that there was nothing wrong.

“Rhinopharyngitis,” Andy had said to them, smiling. “The common cold.” But he had rested his hand on the back of Jude’s head, and they had all been relieved. How fast, how distressingly fast, had their instinct for fear been reawakened, the fear itself a virus that lay dormant but that they would never be able to permanently dispel. Joyfulness, abandon: they had had to relearn those, they had had to re-earn them. But they would never have to relearn fear; it would live within the three of them, a shared disease, a shimmery strand that had woven itself through their DNA.

And so off he went to Spain, to Galicia, to film. For as long as he had known him, Jude had wanted to someday walk the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrimage route that ended in Galicia. “We’ll start at the Aspe Pass in the Pyrenees,” Jude had said (this was before either of them had ever even been to France), “and we’ll walk west. It’ll take weeks! Every night we’ll stay in these communal pilgrim hostels I’ve read about and we’ll survive on black bread with caraway seeds and yogurt and cucumbers.”

“I don’t know,” he said, although back then he had thought less of Jude’s limitations—he was too young at the time, they both were, to truly believe that Jude might have limitations—and more of himself. “That sounds kind of exhausting, Judy.”

“Then I’ll carry you,” Jude had said promptly, and Willem had smiled. “Or we’ll get a donkey, and he’ll carry you. But really, Willem, the point is to walk the road, not ride it.”

As they grew older, as it became clearer and clearer that this dream of Jude’s would forever remain simply that, their fantasies of the Camino became more elaborate. “Here’s the pitch,” Jude would say. “Four strangers—a Chinese Daoist nun coming to terms with her sexuality; a recently released British convict who writes poetry; a Kazakhstani former arms dealer grieving his wife’s death; and a handsome and sensitive but troubled American college dropout— that’s you, Willem—meet along the Camino and develop friendships of a lifetime. You’ll shoot in real time, so the shoot will only last as long as the walk does. And you’ll have to walk the entire time.”

By this time, he would always be laughing. “What happens in the end?” he asked.

“The Daoist nun ends up falling in love with an ex–Israeli Army officer she meets along the way, and the two of them return to Tel Aviv to open a lesbian bar called Radclyffe’s. The convict and the arms dealer end up together. And your character will meet some

virginal but, it turns out, secretly slutty Swedish girl along the route and open a high-end B&B in the Pyrenees, and every year, the original group will gather there for a reunion.”

“What’s the movie called?” he asked, grinning.

Jude thought. “Santiago Blues,” he said, and Willem laughed again.

Ever since, they had referred in passing to Santiago Blues, whose cast morphed to accommodate him as he grew older, but whose premise and location never did. “How’s the script?” Jude would ask him whenever something new came in, and he would sigh. “Okay,” he would say. “Not Santiago Blues good, but okay.”

And then, shortly after that pivotal Thanksgiving, Kit, whom Willem had at one point told of his and Jude’s interest in the Camino, had sent him a script with a note that read only “Santiago Blues!” And while it wasn’t exactly Santiago Blues—thank god, he and Jude agreed, it was far better—it was in fact set on the Camino, it would in fact be shot partly in real time, and it did in fact begin in the Pyrenees, at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and ended in Santiago de Compostela. The Stars Over St. James followed two men, both named Paul, both of whom would be played by the same actor: the first was a sixteenth-century French monk traveling the route from Wittenberg on the eve of the Protestant Reformation; the second was a contemporary-day pastor from a small American town who was beginning to question his own faith. Aside from a few minor characters, who would drift in and out of the two Pauls’ lives, his would be the only role.

He gave Jude the script to read, and after he finished, Jude had

sighed. “Brilliant,” he said, sadly. “I wish I could come on this with you, Willem.”

“I wish you could, too,” he said, quietly. He wished Jude had easier dreams for himself, dreams he could accomplish, dreams Willem could help him accomplish. But Jude’s dreams were always about movement: they were about walking impossible distances or traversing impossible terrains. And although he could walk now, and although he felt less of it than Willem could remember him feeling for years, he would, they knew, never live a life without pain. The impossible would remain the impossible.

He had dinner with the Spanish director, Emanuel, who was young but already highly acclaimed and who, despite the complexity and melancholy of his script, was buoyant and bright, and kept repeating his astonishment that he, Willem, was going to be in his film, that it

was his dream to work with him. He, in turn, told Emanuel of Santiago Blues (Emanuel had laughed when Willem described the plot. “Not bad!” he said, and Willem had laughed, too. “It’s supposed to be bad!” he corrected Emanuel). He told him about how Jude had always wanted to walk this path; how humbled he was that he would get to do it for him.

“Ah,” Emanuel said, teasingly. “I think this is the man for whom you ruined your career, am I right?”

He had smiled back. “Yes,” he said. “That’s him.”

The days on The Stars Over St. James were very long and, as Jude had promised, there was lots of walking (and a caravan of slow-moving trailers instead of donkeys). The cell-phone reception was patchy in parts, and so he would instead write Jude messages, which seemed more appropriate anyway, more pilgrim-like, and in the morning, he sent him pictures of his breakfast (black bread with caraway seeds, yogurt, cucumbers) and of the stretch of road he would walk that day. Much of the road cut through busy towns, and so in places they were rerouted into the countryside. Each day, he chose a few white pebbles from the side of the road and put them in a jar to take home; at night, he sat in his hotel room with his feet wrapped in hot towels.

They finished filming two weeks before Christmas, and he flew to London for meetings, and then back to Madrid to meet Jude, where they rented a car and drove south, through Andalusia. In a town on a cliff high above the sea they stopped to meet Asian Henry Young, whom they watched trudging uphill, waving at them with both arms when he saw them, and finishing the last hundred yards in a sprint. “Thank god you’re giving me an excuse to get the fuck out of that house,” he said. Henry had been living for the past month at an artists’ residency down the hill, in a valley filled with orange trees, but unusually for him, he hated the other six people at the colony, and as they ate dishes of orange rounds floating in a liqueur of their own juice and topped with cinnamon and pulverized cloves and almonds, they laughed at Henry’s stories about his fellow artists. Later, after telling him goodbye and that they’d see him next month in New York, they walked slowly together through the medieval town, whose every structure was a glittering white salt cube, and where striped cats lay in the streets and flicked the tips of their tails as people with wheel carts ground slowly around them.

The next evening, outside Granada, Jude said he had a surprise for

him, and they got into the car that was waiting for them in front of the restaurant, Jude with the brown envelope he’d kept by his side all through dinner.

“Where’re we going?” he asked. “What’s in the envelope?” “You’ll see,” Jude said.

Up and downhill they swooped, until the car stopped before the arched entryway to the Alhambra, where Jude handed the guard a letter, which the guard studied and then nodded at, and the car slid through the doorway and stopped and the two of them got out and stood there in the quiet courtyard.

“Yours,” Jude said, shyly, nodding at the buildings and gardens below. “For the next three hours, anyway,” and then, when Willem couldn’t say anything, he continued, quietly, “Do you remember?”

He nodded, barely. “Of course,” he said, just as quietly. This was always how their own trip on the Camino was supposed to end: with a train ride south to visit the Alhambra. And over the years, even as he knew their walk would never happen, he had never gone to the Alhambra, had never taken a day at the end of one shoot or another and come, because he was waiting for Jude to do it with him.

“One of my clients,” Jude said, before he could ask. “You defend someone, and their godfather turns out to be the Spanish minister of culture, who lets you make a generous donation to the Alhambra’s maintenance fund for the privilege of seeing it alone.” He grinned at Willem. “I told you I’d do something for your fiftieth—albeit a year and a half later.” He placed his hand on Willem’s arm. “Willem, don’t cry.”

“I’m not going to,” he said. “I can do other things in life besides cry, you know,” although he was no longer sure that was even true.

He opened the envelope that Jude handed him, and inside there was a package, and he undid the ribbon and tore the paper away and found a handmade book, organized by chapters—“The Alcazaba”; “The Lion Palace”; “The Gardens”; “Generalife”—each with pages of handwritten notes by Malcolm, who had written his thesis on the Alhambra and who had visited it every year since he was nine. Between each chapter was a drawing of one of the complex’s details— a jasmine bush blooming with small white flowers, a stone façade stippled with cobalt tilework—tipped into the pages, each dedicated to him and signed by someone they knew: Richard; JB; India; Asian Henry Young; Ali. Now he really did begin to cry, smiling and crying, until Jude told him that they had better get moving, that they

couldn’t spend their entire time at the entryway, crying, and he grabbed him and kissed him, not caring about the silent, black-clad guards behind them. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Off they moved through the silent night, Jude’s flashlight bouncing a line of light before them. Into palaces they walked, where the marble was so old that the structure appeared to be carved from soft white butter, and into reception halls with vaulted ceilings so high that birds arced soundlessly through the space, and with windows so symmetrical and perfectly placed that the room was bright with moonlight. As they walked, they stopped to consult Malcolm’s notes, to examine details they would have missed had they not been alerted to them, to realize that they were standing in the room where, a thousand years ago, more, a sultan would have dictated his correspondence. They studied the illustrations, matching the images to what they saw before them. Facing each of their friends’ drawings was a note each had written explaining when they had first seen the Alhambra, and why they had chosen to draw what they had. They had that feeling, the same one they had often had as young men, that everyone they knew had seen so much of the world and that they hadn’t, and although they knew this was no longer true, they still felt that same sense of awe at their friends’ lives, at how much they had done and experienced, at how well they knew to appreciate it, at how talented they were at recording it. In the gardens of the Generalife section, they walked into a room that had been cut into a labyrinth hedgerow of cypresses, and he began to kiss Jude, more insistently than he had allowed himself to do in a long time, even though they could hear, faintly, one of the guard’s shoes tapping along the stone walkway.

Back in the hotel room they continued, and he heard himself

thinking that in the movie version of this night, they would be having sex now, and he was almost, almost about to say this out loud, when he remembered himself, and stopped, pulling back from Jude as he did. But it was as if he had spoken anyway, because for a while they were silent, staring at each other, and then Jude said, quietly, “Willem, we can if you want to.”

“Do you want to?” he asked, finally.

“Sure,” Jude said, but Willem could tell, by the way he had looked down and the slight catch in his voice, that he was lying.

For a second he thought he would pretend, that he would allow

himself to be convinced that Jude was telling him the truth. But he couldn’t. And so “No,” he said, and rolled off of him. “I think this has been enough excitement for one evening.” Next to him, he heard Jude exhale, and as he fell asleep, heard him whisper, “I’m sorry, Willem,” and he tried to tell Jude that he understood, but by this time he was more unconscious than not and couldn’t speak the words.

But that was that period’s only sadness, and the source of their sadnesses were different: For Jude, he knew, the sadness rose from a sense of failure, a certainty—one Willem was never able to displace— that he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations. For him, the sadness was for Jude himself. Occasionally Willem allowed himself to wonder what Jude’s life would have been like if sex had been something he had been left to discover, rather than forced to learn—but it was not a helpful line of thought, and it made him too upset. And so he tried not to consider it. But it was always there, running through their friendship, their lives, like a vein of turquoise forking through stone.

In the meantime, though, there was normalcy, routine, both of which were better than sex or excitement. There was the realization that Jude had walked—slowly, but assuredly—for almost three straight hours that night. There was, back in New York, their lives, the things they used to do, resuming because Jude now had the energy to do so, because he could now stay awake through a play or an opera or a dinner, because he could climb the stairs to reach Malcolm’s front door in Cobble Hill, could walk down the pitched sidewalk to reach JB’s building in Vinegar Hill. There was the comfort of hearing Jude’s alarm blip at five thirty, of hearing him set off for his morning swim, the relief of looking into a box on the kitchen counter and seeing it was full of medical supplies—extra packets of catheter tubing and sterile gauze patches and leftover high-calorie protein drinks that Andy had only recently said Jude could stop ingesting—that Jude would return to Andy, who would donate them to the hospital. In moments he would remember how two years ago from this very date, he would come home from the theater to find Jude in bed asleep, so fragile that it seemed at times that the catheter under his shirt was actually an artery, that he was being steadily and irreversibly whittled down to only nerves and vessels and bone. Sometimes he would think of those moments and feel a sort of disorientation: Was that them, really, those people back then? Where had those people gone? Would they reappear? Or were they now other people entirely? And then he would imagine that those people weren’t so much gone as they were

within them, waiting to bob back up to the surface, to reclaim their bodies and minds; they were identities now in remission, but they would always be with them.

Sickness had visited them recently enough so that they still remembered to be grateful for every day that passed so uneventfully, even as they grew to expect them. The first time Willem saw Jude in his wheelchair in months, saw him leave the sofa when they were watching a movie because he was having an episode and wanted to be alone, he had been disquieted, and he’d had to make himself remember that this, too, was who Jude was: he was someone whose body betrayed him, and he always would be. The surgery hadn’t changed this after all—it had changed Willem’s reaction to it. And when he realized that Jude was cutting himself again—not frequently, but regularly—he had to remind himself that, once again, this was who Jude was, and that the surgery hadn’t changed this, either.

Still, “Maybe we should call these The Happy Years,” he told Jude one morning. It was February, it was snowing, and they were lying in bed, which they now did until late every Sunday morning.

“I don’t know,” Jude said, and although he could only see the edge of his face, Willem could tell he was smiling. “Isn’t that tempting fate a little? We’ll call it that and then both of my arms will fall off. Also, that name’s taken already.”

And it was—it was the title of Willem’s next project, in fact, the one he would be leaving for in just a week: six weeks of rehearsals, followed by eleven weeks of filming. But it wasn’t the original title. The original title had been The Dancer on the Stage, but Kit had just told him that the producers had changed it to The Happy Years.

He hadn’t liked this new title. “It’s so cynical,” he told Jude, after complaining first to Kit and then to the director. “There’s something so curdled and ironic about it.” This had been a few nights ago; they had been lying on the sofa after his daily, thoroughly draining ballet class, and Jude was massaging his feet. He would be playing Rudolf Nureyev in the final years of his life, from his appointment as the ballet director of the Paris Opéra in nineteen-eighty-three, through his HIV diagnosis, and until he first noticed the symptoms of his disease, a year before he actually died.

“I know what you mean,” Jude had said after he had finally finished ranting. “But maybe they really were the happy years for him. He was free; he had a job he loved; he was mentoring young dancers; he had turned around an entire company. He was doing some

of his greatest choreography. He and that Danish dancer—” “Erik Bruhn.”

“Right. He and Bruhn were still together, at least for a little while longer. He had experienced everything he had probably never dreamed he would have as a younger man, and he was still young enough to enjoy it all: money and renown and artistic freedom. Love. Friendship.” He dug his knuckles into Willem’s sole, and Willem winced. “That sounds like a happy life to me.”

They were both quiet for a while. “But he was sick,” Willem said, at last.

“Not then,” Jude reminded him. “Not actively, at least.” “No, maybe not,” he said. “But he was dying.”

Jude had smiled at him. “Oh, dying,” he said dismissively. “We’re all dying. He just knew his death would come sooner than he had planned. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t happy years, that it wasn’t a happy life.”

He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.

But he didn’t say this, of course, just sat up and grabbed Jude’s face and kissed him and then fell back against the pillows. “How’d you get so smart?” he asked Jude, and Jude grinned at him.

“Too hard?” he asked in response, still kneading Willem’s foot. “Not hard enough.”

Now he turned Jude around to face him in bed. “I think we have to stick with The Happy Years,” he told him. “We’ll just have to risk your arms falling off,” and Jude laughed.

The next week, he left for Paris. It was one of the most difficult shoots he’d ever done; he had a double, an actual dancer, for the more elaborate sequences, but he did some of his own dancing as well, and there were days—days spent lifting real ballerinas into the air, marveling at how dense, how ropy with muscle they were—that were so exhausting that by the evening he had only the energy to drop

himself into the bathtub and then lift himself out of it. In the past few years, he had found himself subconsciously drawn to ever-more physical roles, and he was always astonished by, and appreciative of, how heroically his body met its every demand. He had been given a new awareness of it, and now, as he stretched his arms behind him as he leaped, he could feel how every sore muscle came alive for him, how it allowed him to do whatever he wanted, how nothing within him ever broke, how it indulged him every time. He knew he wasn’t alone in feeling this, this gratitude: when they visited Cambridge, he and Harold would play tennis every day, and he knew without them ever discussing it how grateful they had both become for their own bodies, how much the act of smacking heavily, unthinkingly across the court to lunge for a ball had come to mean to them both.

Jude came to visit him in Paris at the end of April, and although

Willem had promised him that he wouldn’t do anything elaborate for his fiftieth birthday, he had arranged a surprise dinner anyway, and in addition to JB and Malcolm and Sophie, Richard and Elijah and Rhodes and Andy and Black Henry Young and Harold and Julia had all come over, along with Phaedra and Citizen, who had helped him with the planning. The next day Jude had come to watch him on set, one of the very few times he had ever done so. The scene they were working on that morning was one in which Nureyev was trying to correct a young dancer’s cabriole, and after instructing him again and again, finally demonstrates how to do it; but in an earlier scene, one they hadn’t yet shot but that would directly precede this one, he has just been diagnosed with HIV, and as he jumps, scissoring his legs, he falls, and the studio goes quiet around him. The scene ended on his face, a moment in which he had to convey Nureyev’s sudden recognition that he understood how he would die and then, just a second later, his decision to ignore that understanding.

They shot take after take of this scene, and after each take, Willem

would have to step away and wait until he could breathe normally again, and hair and makeup would flutter around him, blotting the sweat from his face and neck, and when he was ready, back to his mark he would step. By the time the director was satisfied, he was panting but satisfied as well.

“Sorry,” he apologized, going over to Jude at last. “The tedium of filmmaking.”

“No, Willem,” Jude said. “It was amazing. You were so beautiful out there.” He looked tentative for a moment. “I almost couldn’t believe it

was you.”

He took Jude’s hand and clasped it in his, which he knew was the most affection Jude would tolerate in public. But he never knew how Jude felt about witnessing such displays of physicality. The previous spring, during one of his breakups with Fredrik, JB had dated a principal in a well-known modern dance company, and they had all gone to see his performance. During Josiah’s solo, he had glanced over at Jude and had seen that he was leaning forward slightly, resting his chin in his hand, and watching the stage so intently that when Willem put his hand on his back, he startled. “Sorry,” Willem had whispered. Later, in bed, Jude had been very quiet, and he had wondered what he was thinking: Was he upset? Wistful? Sorrowful? But it had seemed unkind to ask Jude to say aloud what he might not have been able to articulate to himself, and so he hadn’t.

It was the middle of June by the time he returned to New York, and

in bed Jude had looked at him, closely. “You have a ballet dancer’s body now,” he said, and the next day, he’d examined himself in the mirror and realized that Jude was correct. Later that week, they had dinner on the roof, which they and Richard and India had finally renovated, and which Richard and Jude had planted with grasses and fruit trees, and he had shown them some of what he’d learned, feeling his self-consciousness change to giddiness as he jetéed across the decked surface, his friends applauding behind him, the sun bleeding into nighttime above them.

“Another hidden talent,” Richard had said afterward, and had smiled at him.

“I know,” Jude had said, smiling at him, too. “Willem is full of surprises, even all these years later.”

But they were all full of surprises, he had come to learn. When they were young, they had only their secrets to give one another: confessions were currency, and divulgences were a form of intimacy. Withholding the details of your life from your friends was considered first a sort of mystery and then a kind of stinginess, one that it was understood would preclude true friendship. “There’s something you’re not telling me, Willem,” JB would occasionally accuse him, and, “Are you keeping secrets from me? Don’t you trust me? I thought we were close.”

“We are, JB,” he’d said. “And I’m not keeping anything from you.” And he hadn’t been: there was nothing to keep. Of all of them, only Jude had secrets, real secrets, and while Willem had in the past been

frustrated by what had seemed his unwillingness to reveal them, he had never felt that they weren’t close because of that; it had never impaired his ability to love him. It had been a difficult lesson for him to accept, this idea that he would never fully possess Jude, that he would love someone who would remain unknowable and inaccessible to him in fundamental ways.

And yet Jude was still being discovered by him, even thirty-four years after they had met, and he was still fascinated by what he saw. That July, for the first time, he invited him to Rosen Pritchard’s annual summer barbeque. “You don’t have to come, Willem,” Jude had added immediately after asking him. “It’s going to be really, really boring.”

“I doubt that,” he said. “And I’m coming.”

The picnic was held on the grounds of a large old mansion on the Hudson, a more polished cousin of the house in which he had shot Uncle Vanya, and the entire firm—partners, associates, staff, and their families—had been invited. As they walked down the clover-thick back lawn toward the gathering, he had felt abruptly and unusually shy, keenly aware that he was an interloper, and when Jude was just minutes later plucked away from him by the firm’s chairman, who said he had some business he needed to discuss, quickly but urgently, he had to resist actually reaching out for Jude, who turned and gave him an apologetic smile and held up his hand—Five minutes—as he left.

So he was grateful for the sudden presence of Sanjay, one of the very few colleagues of Jude’s he had met, and who had the year before joined him as co-chair of his department so Jude could concentrate on bringing in new business while Sanjay handled the administrative and managerial details. He and Sanjay remained at the top of the hill, looking at the crowd beneath them, Sanjay pointing out to him various associates and young partners whom he and Jude hated. (Some of these doomed lawyers would turn and see Sanjay looking in their direction and Sanjay would wave back at them, cheerfully, muttering dark things about their lack of competence and resourcefulness to Willem as he did.) He began noticing that people were glancing up at him and then looking away, and one woman, who had been walking uphill, had ungracefully veered off in the opposite direction after noticing him standing there.

“I can see I’m a big hit here,” he joked to Sanjay, who smiled back

at him.

“They’re not intimidated by you, Willem,” he said. “They’re intimidated by Jude.” He grinned. “Okay, and by you as well.”

Finally, Jude was returned to him, and they stood talking to the chairman (“I’m a big fan”) and Sanjay for a while before moving down the hill, where Jude introduced him to some of the people he’d heard about over the years. One of the paralegals asked to take a picture with him, and after he had, other people asked as well, and when Jude was pulled away from him again, he found himself listening to one of the partners in the tax department, who began describing to him his own stunt sequences from the second of his spy movies. At one point during Isaac’s monologue he had looked across the lawn and had caught Jude’s eye, who mouthed his apologies, and he had shaken his head and grinned back at him, but then had tugged on his left ear—their old signal—and although he hadn’t expected it, when he had looked over again, it was to see Jude marching toward him.

“Sorry, Isaac,” he’d said, firmly, “I’ve got to borrow Willem for a

while,” and off he had pulled him. “I’m really sorry, Willem,” he whispered as they moved away, “the social ineptitude on display is particularly bad today; are you feeling like a panda at the zoo? On the other hand, I did tell you it was going to be awful. We can go in ten minutes, I promise.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I’m enjoying myself.” He always found it revealing to witness Jude in this other life of his, around the people who owned him for more hours a day than Willem himself did. Earlier, he had watched as Jude walked toward a group of young associates who were braying loudly over something on one of their phones. But when they saw Jude approaching them, they had nudged one another and grown silent and polite, greeting him with a heartiness so robust and obvious that Willem had cringed, and only once Jude had passed them did they huddle over the phone again, but more quietly this time.

By the time Jude was taken away from him a third time, he was feeling confident enough to begin introducing himself to the small pack of people who orbited him in a loose ring, smiling in his direction. He met a tall Asian woman named Clarissa whom he remembered Jude speaking about approvingly. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about you,” he said, and Clarissa’s face changed into a radiant, relieved smile. “Jude’s talked about me?” she asked. He met an associate whose name he couldn’t remember who told him that

Black Mercury 3081 had been the first R-rated movie he had ever seen, which made him feel tremendously old. He met another associate in Jude’s department who said that he’d taken two classes with Harold in law school and wondered what Harold was like, really. He met Jude’s secretaries’ children, and Sanjay’s son, and dozens of other people, a few of whom he had heard about by name but most of whom he hadn’t.

It was a hot, breezeless, brilliant day, and although he had drunk steadily all afternoon—limonata, water, prosecco, iced tea—it had been such a busy gathering that by the time they left, two hours later, neither of them had actually had the opportunity to eat anything, and they stopped at a farm stand to buy corn so they could grill it with zucchini and tomatoes from their garden up at the house.

“I learned a lot about you today,” he told Jude as they ate their dinner under the dark blue sky. “I learned that most of the firm is terrified of you and think that if they kiss up to me, I might put in a good word with you. I learned that I’m even older than I had realized. I learned that you’re right: you do work with a bunch of nerds.”

Jude had been smiling, but now he laughed. “See?” he asked. “I told you, Willem.”

“But I had a great time,” he said. “I did! I want to come again. But next time I think we should invite JB, and blow Rosen Pritchard’s collective mind,” and Jude had laughed again.

That had been almost two months ago, and since then, he has spent most of his time at Lantern House. As an early fifty-second birthday present, he’d asked Jude to take off every Saturday for the rest of the summer, and Jude has: every Friday he drives up to the house; every Monday morning, he drives back to the city. Because Jude would have the car during the week, he’d rented—partly as a joke, though he was secretly enjoying driving around in it—a convertible, in an alarming color that Jude referred to as “harlot red.” During the weekdays, he reads and swims and cooks and sleeps; he has a very busy autumn coming up, and he knows from how replenished and calm he feels that he’ll be ready.

At the grocery store he fills a paper bag with limes, and then a second one with lemons, buys some extra seltzer water, and drives to the train station, where he waits, leaning his head on the seat and closing his eyes until he hears Malcolm calling his name and sits up.

“JB didn’t come,” Malcolm says, sounding annoyed, as Willem kisses him and Sophie hello. “He and Fredrik broke up—maybe—this

morning. But maybe they didn’t, because he said he was going to come up tomorrow. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on.”

He groans. “I’ll call him from the house,” he says. “Hi, Soph. Have you guys eaten lunch yet? We can start cooking as soon as we get back.”

They haven’t, so he calls Jude to tell him he can start boiling the water for the pasta, but Jude’s already begun. “I got the limes,” he tells him. “And JB’s not coming until tomorrow; some difficulty with Fredrik that Mal couldn’t quite follow. Do you want to call him and find out what’s happening?”

He loads his friends’ bags into the backseat, and Malcolm gets in, glancing at the car’s trunk as he does. “Interesting color,” he says.

“Thanks,” he says. “It’s called ‘harlot red.’ ” “Really?”

Malcolm’s persistent credulity makes him grin. “Yes,” he says. “Ready, guys?”

As he drives, they talk about how long it’s been since they’ve seen one another, about how glad Sophie and Malcolm are to be home, about Malcolm’s disastrous driving lessons, about how perfect the weather is, how sweet and haylike the air smells. The best summer, he thinks again.

It is a thirty-minute drive back to the house from the station, a little faster if he hurries, but he doesn’t hurry, because the drive itself is pretty. And when he crosses the final large intersection, he doesn’t even see the truck coming toward him, barreling into traffic against the light, and by the time he feels it, a tremendous crush crumpling the passenger-seat side of the car, where Sophie is sitting next to him, he is already aloft, being ejected into the air. “No!” he shouts, or thinks he does, and then, in an instant, he sees a flash of Jude’s face: just his face, his expression still unresolved, torn from his body and suspended against a black sky. His ears, his head, fill with the roar of pleating metal, of exploding glass, of his own useless howls.

But his final thoughts are not of Jude, but of Hemming. He sees the house he lived in as a child and, sitting in his wheelchair in the center of the lawn, just before it slopes down toward the stables, Hemming, staring at him with a steady, constant gaze, the kind he was never able to give him in life.

He is at the end of their driveway, where the dirt road meets the asphalt, and seeing Hemming, he is overcome with longing. “Hemming!” he shouts, and then, nonsensically, “Wait for me!” And

he begins to run toward his brother, so fast that after a while, he can’t even feel his feet strike the ground beneath him.

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