Jeremy Thrane
and I had a peculiar effect on each other, something that happened all too often in these gay-man-straight-single-woman alliances, as if the ghost of Tennessee Williams hung over our conversations: I found myself playing up my homosexual mannerisms around her, just as I had the feeling I provoked her into acting more affectedly southern than she normally would have. “Okay, I’m going in. Watch my back.”
    “You’re covered,” she said in a cloak-and-dagger undertone.
    I entered the men’s room with a bright smile. “How are you, Phil,” I said, trying to sound jovial. I assumed the stance right next to him at the bank of urinals. I hoped I’d be able to pee under these circumstances.
    “How’s everything, Jeremy,” said Phil in a blandly friendly tone that left me just as uncertain as I’d been a minute ago.
    “Okay.” My gaze flicked uncontrollably over to Phil’s penis, which turned out to be as thick, yellowish, and unprepossessing as the rest of him. If Phil was aware that I’d peeked, he didn’t show it. I’d run into Phil for years at various parties and bars; we had several friends in common,but I knew next to nothing about him. He was a master of the smoke screen, betraying evidence of neither a personal life nor emotions. This colossally impenetrable sangfroid was one reason why people rarely noticed him until his flashbulb had gone off in their faces.
    “The food wasn’t too great today,” I was saying now. “Felicia barely touched her soup.”
    Phil said without affect, “She’s such a beautiful girl.”
    Then I heard myself saying something that made my ears blanch, something that went against everything I professed to believe. “She’s Ted’s ex-girlfriend,” I said in a voice so palpably flat, the words didn’t even bounce off the tiles, they fell to the bottom of the urinal and stayed there. “They dated for a while at Yale.”
    Phil gave his turnip-colored stub a waggle and put it away. “Well, maybe they’ll get a new cook,” he said as he scrubbed his hands at the sink.
    “Let’s hope so,” I said as he headed for the door. I ran scalding water over my hands until I was certain that Phil and Gary were now standing the requisite two feet apart in the elevator on their way back up to
Downtown
’s offices. Then I walked briskly back to the table, where Felicia sat tapping a cigarette against the tabletop, looking at her watch.
    “What happened to you?” she asked unhappily; I knew this mood all too well and was used to treating her like a soap bubble when it came over her. “I was afraid you’d hanged yourself with your belt from the light fixture.”
    “Why would I hang myself?” I asked as I handed the waiter the platinum Amex Ted had given me. “I never wear a belt.”
    She rolled the cigarette against her bottom lip, looking sideways.
    “What happened?” I said, my gorge rising.
    She sighed, then leaned her head back and gently dandled the spoon in her soup, which no one had bothered to remove yet.
    “Tell me,” I snapped.
    She looked at me then. In her eyes was the infinite, fathomless sorrow of old idle hand-me-down money weary with the strain of reacclimatizing to each successive generation of antebellum decline. “Phil’s friend came up to me and asked was I from South Carolina and I said yes, I am. He changed his name, that’s how come I never realized who he was.He used to be
Carstairs
O’Nan until his old granddad Carstairs the First cut him out of his will. I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help it, his granddaddy and mine are actually old—”
    “All right,” I said witheringly. “What did he say?”
    “He said he was looking forward to the premiere,” she said. “And then he asked if you were talking about Ted just now, and I said no, of course not.” Cradled in the hollow of her neck was an emerald on a short gold chain, a louche, cold, deadly green stone that jumped slightly with each beat of her pulse.
    “Fuck,” I spat at her. The

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