“No, where was it?”
“At the entrance to the labyrinth. It’s for you. I dedicated it to you, and I’ve been trying to reach you. I wanted you to be my special guest for tonight, but no one could find you.” She smiles. “You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”
My heart is going so fast, the room threatening to spin, and then Ryan Holder is standing next to Daniela with his arm around her. He’s wearing a tweed jacket, his hair is graying, and he’s paler and less fit than the last time I saw him, which was impossibly at Village Tap last night at his celebration for winning the Pavia Prize.
“Well, well,” Ryan says, shaking my hand. “Mr. Pavia. The man himself.”
Daniela says, “Guys, I have to go be polite and mingle, but, Jason, I’m having a secret get-together at my apartment after this. You’ll come?”
“I’d love to.”
As I watch Daniela vanish into the crowd, Ryan says, “Want to get a drink?”
The gallery has pulled out all the stops—tuxedoed waiters carrying trays of appetizers and Champagne, and a cash bar on the far side of the room under a triptych of Daniela self-portraits.
As the barkeep pours our whiskies—Macallan 12s—into plastic cups, Ryan says, “I know you’re doing just fine, but I got these.”
It’s so strange—he carries none of the arrogance and swagger of the man I saw holding court last night at my local bar.
We take our Scotches and find a quiet corner away from the mob surrounding Daniela.
As we stand there watching the room fill with more and more people emerging from the labyrinth, I ask, “So what have you been up to? I feel like I lost track of your trajectory.”
“I moved over to U Chicago.”
“Congrats. So you’re teaching?”
“Cellular and molecular neuroscience. I’ve been pursuing some pretty cool research as well, involving the prefrontal cortex.”
Ryan leans in close. “All seriousness, the rumor mill has been crazy. The whole community’s talking. People saying”—he lowers his voice—“that you cracked up and lost your mind. That you’re in a rubber room somewhere. That you’re dead.”
“Here I am. Lucid, warm, and breathing.”
“So that compound I built for you…it worked out, I assume?”
I just stare at him, no idea what he’s talking about, and when I don’t provide an immediate answer, he says, “Right, I get it. They’ve got you buried under a mountain of NDAs.”
I sip my drink. I’m still hungry, and the alcohol is traveling too fast to my head. When the next waiter passes within range, I grab three mini-quiches off the silver tray.
Whatever is bugging him, Ryan can’t let it go.
“Look, I don’t mean to bitch,” he says, “but I just feel like I did a lot of work for you and Velocity in the dark. You and I go way back, and I get that you’re in a different place in your career, but I don’t know…I think you got what you wanted from me and…”
“You could’ve shown your old college roommate a little more respect is all I’m saying.”
“What compound are you talking about?”
He looks at me with thinly veiled contempt. “Fuck you.”
We stand silently on the outskirts as the room grows dense with people.
“So are you two together?” I ask. “You and Daniela?”
“Sort of,” he says.
“What does that mean?”
“We’ve been seeing each other for a little while.”
“You always had a thing for her, didn’t you?”
He just smirks.
Scanning the crowd, I find Daniela. She’s poised and in the moment, surrounded by reporters with notepads flipped open, scribbling furiously as she speaks.
“And how’s it going?” I ask, though I’m not sure I really want the answer. “You and my…and Daniela.”
“Amazing. She’s the woman of my dreams.”
He smiles enigmatically, and for three seconds, I want to murder him.
At one in the morning, I’m sitting on a sofa at Daniela’s place, watching as she sees the last of her guests to the door. These past few hours have been a challenge—trying to hold semicoherent conversations with Daniela’s art friends while biding my time to get an actual moment alone with her. Apparently, that moment will continue to elude me: Ryan Holder, the man who’s sleeping with my wife, is still here, and as he collapses into a leather chair across from me, I get the sense that he’s settling in, possibly for the night.
From a heavy rocks glass, I sip the dregs of a single malt, not drunk but good and goddamn buzzed, the alcohol serving as a nice buffer between my psyche and this rabbit hole I’ve fallen down.
This wonderland purporting to be my life.
I wonder if Daniela wants me to leave. If I’m that oblivious, last-remaining guest who doesn’t realize when he’s outstayed his welcome.
She shuts the door and hooks the chain.
Kicking off her heels, she stumbles over to the sofa and crashes down onto the cushions with, “What a night.”
She opens the drawer to the end table beside the couch and pulls out a lighter and a stained-glass pipe.
Daniela quit weed when she became pregnant with Charlie and never took it up again. I watch her take a hit and then offer me the pipe, and because this night can’t get any stranger, why not?
Soon we’re all stoned and sitting in the softly humming silence of the spacious loft whose walls are covered in a vast, eclectic array of art.
Daniela has the blinds swept back from the huge, south-facing window that serves as the backdrop to the living room, the downtown a twinkling spectacle beyond the glass.
Ryan passes the pipe to Daniela, and as she begins to repack the bowl, my old roommate slumps back in the chair and stares at the ceiling. The way he keeps licking the front of his teeth makes me smile, because it was always his weed tic, even from back in our grad-school days.
I look through that window at all the lights and ask, “How well do you two know me?”
That seems to catch their attention.
Daniela sets the pipe on the table and turns on the sofa so she’s facing me, her knees drawn into her chest.