The Thief of Small Things

by Geron Kees

© 2020 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation.

"It's just for a couple of weeks, David. Until your mom and I sort some things out."

I looked down at the suitcase I carried, and nodded for the tenth time. That this was even harder on dad than it was on me seemed plain. That didn't keep me from feeling sorry for myself, nor wishing that things could be different.

"I thought you liked staying with your granddad," he went on, his own nerves showing now in the slightly ragged edge to his voice. "I know he's looking forward to having you here."

"I do." I didn't want to make it any harder on him than it already was. "I'll be fine."

"It's just for a couple of weeks," he repeated. "Once mom and I figure out a few things, you can come back to the house with me."

"I don't want to go with mom," I said, turning to look at him. "I can't stand that jerk she's running around with. Promise me I can stay with you."

He sighed. "You're seventeen now, son. Old enough to choose. My lawyer said the judge will ask you where you want to be. Who you want to live with. Just tell him that, and everything will be okay."

I nodded. That was still a ways off yet. Mom wanted me with her, in the big new house she shared with Edward in Westchester. But Edward just as obviously didn't want me there, and the feeling was mutual. It was his fault that mom and dad were divorcing, and I hated the bastard with every fiber of my being. I had already decided I would not stay if I was made to go there, no way in hell. But dad said that wouldn't happen, and I trusted him on that so far.

The elevator emitted little groans as it rose, as if trying to make it to the top floor of the building was going to be too much work for it to bear. Yet the ascent was smooth and comfortable, the sounds more of an aside to the trip than any real indication of its efficiency. The sturdy cage was actually a beautiful piece of work, wrought iron with gold trim inside a similar latticework frame that kept it aligned as it ascended between floors. You didn't see something like this every day, that was for sure. The car had been designed in a time when things like elevators were as much artwork as they were practical machines, and in fact, the entire building was cast in a similar antique mold. The Boltfort's interiors were plush and impressive; its exterior adorned and gilded; its peak a series of gabled, steep roofs covered in dormers, niches, spandrels, and balustrades, all ornately finished and lavishly fitted, an homage to the ostentatious lifestyles of the sort of folk that had once called the place home.

But like so many of the more luxurious residences in this part of the city, time had passed this one by. Once the abode of the urban elite, today The Boltfort was now home to some of the city's more able middle-class earners, sharing a mix of lower level apartments and upper level condos. It was the scale of what comprised wealth that had changed during the building's lifetime, and which had lowered The Boltfort's status. The fabulously rich these days wanted more than the hundred year-old building could offer, and while The Boltfort had been refurbished several times over the years, and was still lovingly kept by the owners and residents, it was plain that the once illustrious structure was now in the elder years of its life. Short of a complete gutting, it was in as good a shape as one could expect, though there were little things - the weatherings of time, one might say - that had been overlooked, or were still unaddressed. And so the elevators squeaked and rattled a bit, the plumbing in the bathrooms sometimes groaned a little, and the doors between rooms might stick momentarily in their frames.

But these were just tiny spots of tarnish on an otherwise lovely facade. You could still easily see what the place had once been in its heyday, with its crystal doorknobs and high ceilings, its fabulous, jeweled light fixtures, and its handsome linen wallpaper still snug against the plaster walls, faded a bit, but still proud and determined to be a fitting companion to the paneled wainscoting below. There were back entrances into the kitchens of each unit from small hallways serviced by staircases, once the only way that deliveries and service people were allowed inside. The front doors of the apartments and condos exited into grander halls lined with candelabra light fixtures of age-browned brass, and surfaced with dark hardwood floors that had somehow shrugged off a century of abuse by footwear and still held their shine. There was a grandness to the place that even time could not totally extinguish, and it was clean and orderly, and always seemed welcoming.

I'd fallen in love with the place as a kid, loved visiting my father's father, who was a chef at an upscale local restaurant, and who prepared the most amazing dishes for our visits. Dishes that I secretly compared to my mom's much less competent cooking, and hugely missed each time we went back home. Meals at granddad's were just one facet of the gem that was a visit to the old Boltfort. The building itself was part of the fun, a place unlike any I knew anywhere else in my life. The creaky elevators had always thrilled me, especially going down, jerking into motion and then giving you the feeling that the floor was dropping from beneath your feet, before steadying and doing the jobs they were meant to perform. My mom hated them, and my dad smiled at them, and I just loved them. One more reason to look forward to coming to see granddad.

Those were my own glory years, the years when mom and dad had seemed happy together, and the future had appeared a seamless pathway to better things. As I got older and busier with life and school, the visits to granddad grew fewer and farther between; but I still enjoyed them, and I really thought that life of mine would never really end.

I guess we all have to grow up sometime.

Dad put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. "Things will be okay. Trust me."

I did trust him. Dad had always made it clear that he meant the best for me, and a lifetime of trust could not be damaged by a few months of pain. I managed a smile. "Love you, dad."

He sighed, and visibly relaxed. "I love you too, David."

There was a last clang and rumble, and the elevator jerked to a stop, then settled back a bit so that the floor of the car was level with the floor of the hallway outside. A bell dinged, and dad pulled aside the inner cage door, and then the outer cage door, and we stepped into the hall. It had been months since I had been here - Christmas, back in December - but I was not in the least surprised to find that not one thing seemed to have changed in the interim. That was one of the coolest things about The Boltfort, that time seemed to have exhausted itself here, and could do no more to fade what luxury remained.

As if to counter that thought, one of the candelabras midway down the hallway blinked, and a bulb went out. I laughed at that, and then smiled at dad when he turned quizzical eyes upon me.

"I was just thinking how much I love this old building," I told him, suddenly feeling more cheerful. "It hasn't really changed much since I was a kid."

He smiled, and glanced around the hallway. "I've got news for you, son. It hasn't changed much since I was a kid, either."

We started off down the hallway. "Granddad has lived here that long?" I winked at him as I said it, just to let him know I was kidding.

He laughed. "Thirty-one years, I think. He moved in here after he and mom divorced." He shrugged. "After she found out he was gay."

I nodded, but didn't say anything more about that. I'd heard all the stories, and more than once. Being gay must have been awful back then, when you had to hide it and pretend you liked girls, even marry them, and have kids with them. Not like it was now, where you could pretty much say who you were and most people could live with it, or at least not bother you about it.

I had come out myself just last year, and found that dad was good with it, and granddad even better with it. How could he feel otherwise? Mom had not been happy, but she had gotten over it. Edward, on the other hand, had made it clear he despised me, both as my father's son, and for what I was: different from him.


Screw him. I had no desire to be like Edward. He was a complete prick, concerned only with money and image, and lived in a world where people were adornments to the properties he owned. I was pretty sure that Mom would find out the hard way that she had made a terrible mistake in falling for this guy, but the damage was already done, and the clock could never be turned back. Dad wouldn't take her back on a bet, I already knew that. And I could not go back to the way things had been, either. That world was over, that reality broken forever.

"You were ten when your parents divorced. That must have been hard."

"It was." Dad just nodded, but I could feel the pain in those words. It sounded a lot like what I was feeling myself.

That actually made me feel better, in a way. Dad had been younger than I was now when his parents had divorced, and he had made it just fine in life. So there was a future, and it could still be a good one. You just had to get there, first.

Granddad lived on the top floor of The Bolfort, in a condo he owned outright now. He made pretty good money as a chef, and he was not bashful about having a good time with it. He had a boyfriend, Sid, who was two years younger than he was, but the two had an odd relationship, and didn't live together. Sid owned a club in The Village, was a happy-go-lucky sort, and seemed just to want to have a good time with someone he was fond of, a frame of mind that Granddad had surprisingly been easy to echo. I'd seen Sid a half-dozen times, and liked him, and he and Granddad did seem happy together. That was all that really mattered, right?

And it was more than I had. I'd fumbled around twice with other guys, only to have those relationships quickly fall apart. One was scared of what his Italian family would think of him being gay, and the other had turned out to be bi, and had fallen for a girl in - of all places - our biology class at school. My feelings were hurt both times, but I was not torn to pieces by it, because neither of those relationships had more than started before they were over. I'd barely had time to understand my liking for these guys, let alone fall in love with either of them.

"That will come, someday," Granddad had said, a little wistfully, when I'd told him about those two boys. "You'll find that guys come and go in your life, until you meet the right one. It's just like being straight, David. You test the waters, until you find the fish that bites. And even then you still have to find the one you want to keep."

I'd smiled at that, and felt better, which was all I'd really wanted out of the conversation, anyway. A little reassurance that there would probably be something more later on.

We arrived at the double doors to granddad's condo, and I set my suitcase down and reached out and pushed in the brass knob set in the wall beside the right door. It resisted a moment, then settled into the wall with a faint thunk, and we could hear a bell ringing within. That was soon followed by the sound of the deadbolt being thrown, and the door opened to reveal granddad.

He was tall, like my dad, at just over six feet in height. I was still four inches shorter than both of them, but held out hope for a greater height, as dad said he hadn't realized his full height until he was almost nineteen. Granddad was sixty-four, but still had a full head of dark brown hair, graying at the temples. He was a nice looking guy, with the Henderson blue eyes we all had, but his appearance was made slightly comical just now by the sky blue bathrobe with fuzzy white trim he had belted around himself, and the fluffy white slippers he wore on his feet.

"Robert! David!" He opened his arms, and dad and I both stepped into them at the same time. We laughed at the group hug; and then we were whisked inside and the door closed behind us. I set my suitcase down inside the door, and looked around.

Granddad looked happy to see us. "I'm not dressed yet, but you can see that. I don't go in until four, remember, and I hate being all dressed for the street when I'm just lounging around the house. Do either of you want something to drink? I just made up a batch of forest fruit bash."

I grinned, used to these changes in direction, and finding it relaxing now that I was actually here. Granddad was always fun to be around.

"That's the stuff with the berries?" I asked.

"Blended strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, with mixed berry juice, over ice. You liked it last time you were here."

"I'll take some."

"Me, too," dad said. "I make that at home now and then, but your recipe has something mine is lacking, I think."

"It's all in the fingers," granddad said, holding up a hand and wiggling his. He laughed and turned away from us, and waved the other hand at us to follow. "The kitchen is a little messy, so just ignore it, please."

Dad and I glanced at each other, smiling. Granddad's idea of messy and ours were two completely different things.

We followed him down the hallway. I glanced into the living room as we passed, found it alight from the late-morning sun that poured in through the large, multi-paned picture windows set side-by-side in the outer wall. No tiny casement windows for this place. Every room had large windows, meant to bring the outdoors inside, and each offering a still stunning view of the city, all the way down West 72nd Street to the distant park.

The living room was neat and clean, just as I expected. I'd learned a long time back that there are two sorts of people in this world: those that leave things where they last used them, and those that put things away. The first sort tended to have messy, lived-in looking homes, while the latter had neat and tidy places that always seemed clean. There were extremes of the two: outright slobs like my buddy Max Cowper, whose room looked like a testing site for government secret weapons; and my mom, who wanted things so clean they were sterile, with nothing out of place, and nothing to be touched. Nothing to be enjoyed, if it also had to be handled. Just like our lives with her.

Both extremes could be pleasant, or they could be annoying. Max's room was fun, in a treasure hunt sort of way; while mom's house was not fun, being a kind of break-it, you-bought-it reality that had strained both dad and me until it had all finally shattered. In this case, she had finally broken all our lives with her obsessiveness, her desire to have but not touch, and her need to be with someone that would own her instead of love her. Someone that was not dad.

I didn't hate her for it, but I had found that I had never felt the same affection for her that I felt for dad. It was easy to let her go, to let her make a new life with Edward. I wanted to keep what I had, and that meant staying with dad, in his world, which was fairly tidy, but which was also allowed to be messy if it also meant being fun.

I smiled again as we entered the kitchen. It was clean and orderly, and the 'mess' was a pitcher of forest fruit bash on the island countertop and three glasses standing nearby, one half full and obviously in use. Granddad picked that one up and sipped it, and smiled at us. "Pour and enjoy, guys."

Dad laughed, and poured a glass for me, and one for himself. "Grab one, David."

Granddad watched us, his eyes bright. I was used to this assessment, where he tried to gauge our moods by how we looked. So I'm sure he could see that dad and I were in a good place together, and that there was no need of any fence mending there.

"So," he finally said, looking satisfied. "Two weeks in the city, huh, David? I hope you're expecting it to be fun."

"It always is," I returned, smiling.

Granddad looked pleased at that, and nodded. "Just remember that I have to work five nights a week, and that I get in late. I'll make as much time for us to do some things together as I can, though. I'm looking forward to this visit, too."

Granddad was one who always laid out what few rules there were. These were easy to understand. He was off Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and worked the rest of the week. He went in at four in the afternoon, and wasn't done until well after midnight. He would need to sleep late, and I would have to respect that. I would, certainly. And, I would be expected to keep myself amused when he was gone, something I was also good at and felt would not be a problem.

"I brought my tablet in my suitcase," I said, looking back the way we'd come. "I loaded it up with ebooks to read, so I'll be fine."

Granddad pursed his lips. "No wandering around the city without me, okay?"

That I also understood. I was a child of the suburbs, and the city was no place for a newbie to roam alone. It was too easy to get into trouble with people here if you didn't know the ropes.

"I promise not to get mugged, unless it's by one of your neighbors."

He laughed at that. "You'll need to go down about five floors to find a mugger, I think. Everyone up here is an owner, and the only muggers allowed are the tax people. And there is some stiff resistance to them, even."

He shifted his gaze to dad. "I take it you won't be staying long?"

He sighed. "I can't. I have to get back to the office."

Dad had taken the morning off to bring me here. And granddad was also one who viewed his job as a duty as well as a pleasure, and just nodded. "Keep me in the loop on what's happening with Kari."

He said my mom's name with a faint air of distaste, but I couldn't hold it against him. Granddad had always been accepting of mom, and he viewed her wanderings with Edward as a betrayal of both dad and me. He had always been faithful to grandma, and she to him, until he had finally told her about himself. It had been grandma who had ended their marriage, not granddad.

Dad just nodded, and took a sip of his drink.

"There's clean sheets on the guest bed," granddad told me. "And I dusted in there, too. You know how the city is."

Dad smiled at me over the rim of his glass, his humor plain. He'd learned to be neat and clean from his dad, but he'd also learned to have fun from him, too.

The three of us walked around the condo, looking at everything almost as if for the first time, even though we'd seen most of it before. It was a big place, with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a living room, a den, a dining room, and a library. Granddad had a lot of friends, and a lot of admirers who loved his cooking, and he seemed to collect gifts of appreciation like most people collected bills. He also loved art of the kind that stood upon tables and shelves - statuary mostly, small renditions of animals and plants and people, and intriguing trinkets of all kinds. Everywhere we went the old, familiar furniture seemed to sport some new and enchanting feast for the eyes, placed carefully among those items that had found homes in the years before. There was a lot of it, but it was not too much at all, and granddad had a flair for combining things in ways that made one smile.

We finished our drinks, and headed back to the kitchen. Dad went straight to the sink and rinsed out his glass, and placed it into the dishwasher. I handed him mine, and it found a spot next to his.

Granddad smiled at that. "You're such a clean freak, son."

Dad's eyes widened, and he laughed. "Uh, okay. I wonder where I got that?"

Granddad made a show of looking astonished, and turned his eyes to me. "Whatever can he mean by that?"

We all laughed. There hadn't been a slob in the Henderson family in living memory.

Dad turned to me then. "I'd better get going."

The humor died away, and I nodded. I stepped close to him, and hugged him, felt his arms go around me and hold me tightly. "It'll all work out," he said again, softly. "Just be patient."

I nodded, and looked up at him. "When will you be back?"

He frowned. "Definitely by the weekend. Earlier, if I can manage it."

"Okay. Call me when you can."

He nodded, released me and turned to his dad. Granddad set down his glass and gave dad a warm hug. They clapped each other on the back a few times, and granddad kissed dad's cheek. "Don't worry about a thing, Robert. Just get done the things you need to get done."

"I will." Dad smiled at me again. "Walk me to the door, huh?"

We went back down the front hall, exchanged a last hug, and then I let him out. I stood in the doorway and watched until he got on the elevator and it started down. He gave me a last wave through the wrought iron, and then the elevator car was gone.

"It will be nice having company," granddad said, just behind me.

I turned, and closed the door. "If I can't be at home, I'd rather be here than anywhere else."

He sighed. "That's a sweet thing to say. Come on back to the living room and we'll sit and talk a little. Then I'll need to get ready to go to the restaurant."

I nodded, picked up my suitcase, and followed him.

I read somewhere once about 'the roar of the city'. There's some truth to that statement, if you happen to be standing on a sidewalk by one of the busier streets. New York is a busy place, congested with cars, and even more so with people. At street level it can be a little overwhelming, even.

But twelve floors up there is more in the way of peace. The Boltfort was an air-conditioned building, now. But when it had first been built that luxury was still new, and it was some years until the place was retrofitted to accommodate the technology. The original windows included sections that actually opened, with real screens in them, and that novelty had been retained even after the air-conditioning had been set in place.

So even though it was summer, and hot outside, I had opened the screened section in my bedroom window part way, feeling that somehow this would bring the outside world a little closer. It was almost too quiet here, the faint ticking of the pendulum clock in the living room being the only sound I could hear. That, and an occasional soft purr as the air conditioning started were my only company. With the screen open I could at least hear some faint echo of what was going on below.

Granddad had left just before four, looking in on me and dropping a small note card on the dresser near the door. "I usually leave my cell in a drawer in the kitchen," he told me, smiling. "If there's a reason you need to talk that can't wait, call this number and tell them who you are. Someone will come to the kitchen and let me know, and I'll call you. Okay?"

I told him I'd be fine, and held up my tablet, on which I had the newest book in the fantasy series I was reading. "I'll probably still be reading when you get back."

He smiled, said there was plenty to eat in the kitchen, and to help myself. "Fresh loaf of bread in the breadbox, and some sliced roast beef and cheeses in the fridge, if you fancy a sandwich." He grinned. "Otherwise, you'll have to cook."

I laughed at that. I could fend for myself pretty well in that area. I had not been helping granddad with food all these years without learning a few of his tricks.

And then he was gone. For the next half hour or so I simply read, immersed in my book. But then I began to notice the silence again; not just that it was there, but how deep it was. Other than the clock, there was not a single sound to be heard. That put me in mind of the fact that I was alone, and that granddad was by now some miles away, and dad even father away than that. No one here at all but me, and a city full of complete strangers.

I've never been afraid of being alone, and I didn't think I was afraid of it now. It was just that this was somehow a different sort of aloneness than I had ever experienced before. I realized then that I'd never been left alone in granddad's place until now. There was something uncertain about it, something almost eerie. I got up off the bed and opened the screen in the window a little wider, and was rewarded with the faint sound of cars moving below. I smiled at that, and turned to go back to the bed.

I heard a small sound then, out in the hallway, which drew my gaze to the doorway. For a just a second, I felt my heart pound in my chest. There was a very faint shadow on the far wall of the hallway, as if someone was standing just out of sight there.

"Granddad? Did you come back for something?" It was out of my mouth before I could stop it.

The shadow withdrew, and I heard another small sound. I could scarcely breathe for a second...and then I was running for the door. I emerged into the hallway and turned, but there was nothing there. A faint motion further on pulled at my eye, and I thought I saw the door into the big walk-in hallway closet close a last bare inch.

For a second I couldn't move. I stared at that distant door, not even sure now that I had really seen what I thought I had seen. But then a new sound came to me, very faint, one that I couldn't identify at all. It was odd, almost like the cry of a large bird. But it seemed to be within the closet, and that prodded me into action.

I ran down the hallway, knowing even as I moved that I was not acting smartly. If there was an intruder here, to confront him would be dangerous. But I was following instinct now, not reason, and when I reached the door I grabbed the knob and threw it open...

There was nothing there.

I reached out and flicked the switch by the door, and the big closet was suddenly illuminated from within. It was a rectangular area, twice as deep as it was wide, with shelves all the way around it at head level, and rods beneath the shelves on which clothing hung from hangers. Most of the clothing hung well above the floor, and I could see wall all the way around the closet. No place to run, no place to hide. The shelves had shoe boxes and hats on them, for the most part; certainly nothing behind which someone could hide.

I leaned into the doorway and looked above the door. Nothing. I stepped into the closet, pulled the clothing aside, looked behind everything. Again, nothing.

I smiled then, and then I laughed. I had imagined it. I had let the sudden feeling of being alone get to me, and I had imagined it all. Man! When I let loose of reality, I did it all the way!

I gave the interior of the closet a last look, then backed out, turned off the light, and closed the door. I realized then that I still had the tablet in one hand, and glanced down at it. That's what you get when you read about sorcerer-knights, orcs, and demons.

Goblins in the closet.

I looked both ways down the hallway, and walked on down to the kitchen. I was aware now that I was hungry. But first I went into the living room and turned on the TV, found a station with a lot of talking, and turned the volume up loud enough that I would be able to hear the voices of the commentators from the kitchen. I set the tablet on the coffee table, and headed back to the kitchen.

A sandwich would be good about now, I decided. I looked in the fridge, found the roast beef and the cheeses granddad had mentioned, as well as some tomatoes, onions, and Romaine lettuce. The bread box yielded a box of soft bagels and a half a loaf of twelve-grain bread, and I got out two slices of the bread, found a small plate, and proceeded to make myself a sandwich. The steady drone of the newsmen's voices were a relaxing background noise - relaxing, and reassuring - and when I finished making the sandwich I cleaned up after myself, and got another glass of forest fruit bash.

I carried everything back to the living room, sat in front of the coffee table, and made myself at home just as granddad would want me to. I turned down the TV a little, picked up the sandwich, and held it over the plate as I bit into it. Mmm!

And then I went back to the world of orcs and demons, and forgot all about the goblin in the closet.


I felt a nudge, and opened my eyes. "What?"

Granddad looked down at me, smiling. "It's after one in the morning, son. Why don't you go to bed?"

I looked around the living room. The TV had been turned off. My plate and glass were still on the table, and my tablet lay next to them. It had gone to sleep, as apparently, so had I.

"It's that late?"

"Uh huh." He laughed. "You certainly looked comfortable. I almost let you sleep. But I think you'll feel better in the morning if you sleep in the bed."

I sat up and stretched. "Wow. I don't even remember falling asleep."

"It was a long day for you. Did you mind being here by yourself?"

I considered telling him about the freaky incident with the shadow in the hallway and the closet door, but then decided against it. No use having him think I couldn't stay by myself. It was just a little bit of nerves over everything that was going on with mom and dad, and being away from home and my friends. Granddad had a life of his own, and a job, and stuff to do. I didn't want to be a burden to him.

"Nah. It's quieter than I remembered it being, but I'll get used to it."

He smiled. "It's one of the things I like about living up high. Noise travels, but up this high there's enough of a consistent breeze to blow a lot of it away."

"I guess. It's not any quieter than our house. I just didn't expect it here in the city."

Granddad reached out and patted a wall. "They built them good back in the old days. This place was intended for the monied class. The builder paid attention to soundproofing. I've never once even heard my neighbors."

I stood, and picked up the plate and the glass. "I'll put these in the dishwasher."

Granddad smiled at me, and accompanied me to the kitchen. "You found the roast beef and cheeses?"

I rinsed the dishes, and put them in the dishwasher. "Yep. It was really good. Thanks."

He looked pleased.

I must have left the door of the breadbox open, as he moved then to close it. "Wow. You did like it. The bread, too, I see. You had several sandwiches?"

It wasn't an accusation, but a pleased question, as if he was happy that I had enjoyed the food.

But I had only had the one sandwich. "No, just one."

He looked at me, and frowned. "Just one?"


The frown deepened, and he turned back to the breadbox. "That was a new loaf of bread. I thought."

I shrugged. "It was half gone when I got to it."

He nodded, and closed the breadbox door.

I sensed then that something was wrong, and asked him what it was.

He smiled again. "Nothing. I'm getting forgetful in my old age, I think." He patted his stomach, which was still almost as flat as a board. "I'll get fat if I don't pay attention to how much I'm eating."

He turned then, and put an arm around my shoulders, and urged me back towards the living room. "Get your tablet, David. And then I say we both should get to our beds."

We exchanged a good night hug, and granddad walked me down the hallway. "It's fun having you visit. I don't see Sid enough during the week, and it gets a little lonely here. It will be nice to know that someone is just down the hall."

The feeling was mutual, and I said so. I have never been a guy who gets the creeps, but the idea of being alone all night did not appeal to me just now. "G'night, granddad."

He squeezed me a last time. "Goodnight, David. I'll probably sleep later than you." It was a gentle hint to be quiet when I got up.

I smiled at him. "I won't wake you." Each bedroom had its own bath, so I could shower without disturbing him. The way this place was built, he'd never know I was here.

We parted, and I went into my room and shut the door. It was a comfortable room, and made even more so now that granddad was home. The silence seemed to have gone away completely.

I noticed I'd left the window open, and went to close it. I stood there a moment, looking out at the lights of the city. They were everywhere, and for each one I figured there were one or more people associated with the glow. The Boltfort had been a tall building in its day at twelve floors, but now it was a pygmy among giants. The lights beyond the glass were above me, below me, and in every direction I looked. People, everywhere.

So it was kind of amazing that you could live in a place with millions of other people all around you, and still feel alone.

I drew the curtains, and got my suitcase and took out my clothing and put it in the drawers of the dresser. I'd only brought enough for about four days, because granddad had a washer and dryer in a closet by the kitchen. I'd been doing my own wash at home for years, and was used to that, too.

I brushed my teeth in the bathroom, watching myself in the mirror. I'd long ago determined that I was not hard to look at. Brown hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones, nice smile. Dad's side of the family was nice looking as a rule, and I had been lucky to inherit that. I wasn't heartthrob material, but I was nice enough looking that girls had chased me, and that I had attracted at least two other guys, even if they had not had the will to follow through with a relationship.

So there had to be some nice guy out there, somewhere, that would eventually smile at me, and want to get a little closer. Right? I sighed. Finding someone wasn't that hard. Like granddad had said, you drop your line in the water, and you see what bites. I'd had a couple of bites already, and there would surely be more to come.

But finding the fish you wanted to keep...that was another story. So far, that had not happened to me. There had to be someone special out there. Someone I could fall in love with. All I had to do was find him.

I rinsed, and then got undressed for bed. Even though I'd already slept a little, I found I was not especially tired right now. So I plugged the tablet in to charge, and got into bed with it.

Maybe slaying another demon or two would put me in the mood for sleep.

I'd forgotten that granddad was off the next day, so he was in no hurry to get up the next morning. By the time he came into the living room I was showered, fed, and two hours into the next book in the fantasy series. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the sunlight streamed in through the dining room windows and spilled across the carpet to land at my feet.

Granddad was in his blue bathrobe and fluffy slippers, and I had to smile.

He smiled back. "What? It's that funny?"

I shook my head. "It's look so relaxed."

"That's my intention, I can assure you. You ate?"

"Uh huh. I'd have waited, but you didn't say to."

"No, that's fine. I could have slept until noon, for all you knew." He scratched at the stubble on his chin, and examined the ceiling. "Now what do I feel like for breakfast?"

Soon, some very enticing aromas filled the living room, and I had to put down the tablet and go and see what was making in the kitchen.

Granddad smiled when I appeared. "Cinnamon polenta pancakes with strawberries, and scrambled eggs with Parmesan, chives, and basil. Are you still hungry?"

I didn't want to make him share his breakfast. "I had a bowl of oatmeal earlier."

"Ick. Peasant food. You should try some of this." He winked. "I made enough for two."

I laughed. "Okay."

We sat and ate together. "So, what shall we do today?" he asked. "Feel like the park?"

Central Park was always interesting, especially in the summer. It was only three blocks away, about a five-minute walk. There was a lot to do there, an easy afternoon's worth of fun.

"Sure. It's been a while since I've been."

"It's mostly the same. But it's a nice walk, and it's pretty outside. Just dress for the heat, because it's going to be a hot one."

After we ate we cleaned up, and I went to my room to change. I powered down the tablet and tossed it on the bed, and put on a pair of blue shorts and a light-colored tee-shirt. A quick two-minutes to brush my teeth and grab my phone, my wallet, and my sunglasses, and I was ready to go.

I met granddad at the front door. He was also dressed in shorts, a saffron yellow in color, but the kind you wore a belt with. He wore a white polo shirt above, and a tan Fedora above his sunglasses. He looked kind of classy, I thought, and not at all gay. Well, not totally gay.

We took the elevator to the street, and again I thrilled at the sensation of momentary weightlessness as the elevator descended. Granddad laughed when I mentioned it, saying he hardly noticed it anymore. I liked the way it evened out midway down, so that when you got to the bottom there was no severe feeling of deceleration. I've been on modern elevators that almost make you stagger when they stop.

Because it was midday now, the sidewalks were reasonable for traffic. If you got out on them early, the joke was, you could be swept along for blocks, and end up well past were you intended to go. I was put in mind of one of granddad's jokes, about the little old lady who stepped out onto the sidewalk one morning to go to the hairdresser, one block away, and wound up in the Bronx. 'My feet never once touched the ground!', she had exclaimed.

But it wasn't bad now at all, and we made good time down West 72nd street, eventually arriving at where The Dakota stood just across the street from the park. This was a special place for granddad. Here, I knew, forty years before, John Lennon, one of the Beatles, had been killed outside the front door by a deranged fan. I knew this because granddad was a fan, too, and every time we passed that apartment building, he would say, "Rest in peace, John."

He said it again this time, and I looked over at the huge building. In a way, it reminded me of The Boltfort, looking as if the same architect might have designed both buildings. They both had the look of a castle of old, one you might see in a creepy Dracula movie or something. Yet neither building was ugly, or frightful; they just looked born of another world, and another time.

Which, I guess, they were. The Dakota was a shorter building than The Boltfort, but just as big around. And just as cool, in it's own kind of eerie way.

"That's an expensive place to live, isn't it?" I asked, as we crossed Central Park West and entered Terrace Drive.

Granddad laughed at that. "You better believe it. I think the last apartment there to come up for sale a few years back went for twelve and half million."

I almost stumbled. "Dollars?"

It was a dumb question, and I snorted at myself for even asking it.

But granddad only smiled. "Yep."

Wow. "Stuff costs that much around here?"

"Near the park, definitely."

I grinned at him. "So you're rich? I never knew that."

He laughed. "I'm comfortable, but I am not rich. One of the things you learn about city real estate is that a few blocks make a big difference. The last condo to go for sale on the floor below mine brought a shade over one and a half million. I think that was two years ago."

I whistled. "So you're a millionaire. That's cool!"

He turned smiling eyes upon me. "Maybe on paper. I paid one hundred-fifty thousand for my place, thirty-one years ago. If I wanted to buy it now, I couldn't afford it."

We crossed the bridle path, reached an intersection, and cut left to go around to Strawberry Fields, the monument to John Lennon. Granddad liked to stop at the mosaic there, where he would stand quietly a moment, nod his head, and then move on. This John Lennon guy must have made quite an impact on him when he was young. I had heard some of the man's music, and it was interesting and heartfelt, but it just didn't appeal to me like it must have to granddad. It seemed so old.

"It was as much the times as the music," granddad had said once, sighing. "You had to be there to understand."

We stopped at the mosaic, where I stood quietly while granddad communed with the Imagine symbol; and then we moved on. He was always quiet after that experience, and it took me a few minutes to coax him back.

"So, what do you feel like?" he eventually asked, smiling once again.

There's a lot to do in the park. There's the lake, of course, where you can get a rowboat or a gondola and take a leisurely cruise. Or, you can fish for bass right off the shore, as long as you put back what you catch. You can go to the Belvedere Castle and stand at the stone parapets and see out over the Great Lawn to the north, or the Ramble to the south. Close by to that, in the evenings, there's an open-air round with seating, where they have Shakespeare in the Park. I had seen a performance once, a showing of As You Like It, and been surprised that I enjoyed it. I'm more into George R.R. than I am William, you know?

In the other direction, the Summer Stage at Rumsey Field had evening concerts of all kinds, from rock to jazz to hip-hop. I'd seen a few interesting performances there, too. But those were evening things. We needed something to do right now.

Actually, just walking was fun. There were people everywhere, and all sorts of stuff to see. The Conservatory Gardens, Cleopatra's Needle, the Bethesda Terrace Arcade. The Literary Walk, with statues of Shakepeare, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Fitz-Green Halleck (there's also one of Christopher Columbus, but don't ask me why). The Swedish Marionette Theater; the transplanted Coney Island Carousel, with its fine old riding horses; and Cherry Hill, a nice place by the water to sit and enjoy the day. And you could make a wish at the Bethesda Fountain, and perhaps it would come true.

But —

"I don't know. I don't feel like anything special. Let's just walk for now."

"Fine by me. Come on."

One thing I seldom fail to notice are gay couples. They're not everywhere in the park, but they are there, and they are just being themselves and no one is taking notice. There was a couple by the water, shirts off, one with a radio controller in his hands, while a small boat moved about offshore. They were laughing and full of smiles, both for what they were doing, and for each other. Happy.

Granddad noticed them as well. "Pretty day," he said, smiling. "I wish Sid was with us. He loves the park, too.

I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. We walked on, just enjoying the day like everyone else around us was doing. It was warm out, but not terribly so, and surely not warm enough to keep people at home.

The park has gotten a lot of bad play in the movies, which often show it as a mugger's paradise, and with everything from demons to axe murder's hiding down its many paths. Anyone that actually lives nearby the park will smile at that nonsense. The truth is that the park is as safe as any of the nearby neighborhoods. It opens at 6:00 AM and closes at 1:00 AM, and in warm weather the place is full of people for most of those hours.

Would I want to be alone in the park at one in the morning? Not really. I wouldn't want to be out on most of the city streets at that hour, either. But there were evening performances in the park all summer long, and things to do aplenty, and as long as people were there the place was as safe as any other park, anywhere else.

We visited Cherry Hill, and the Bethesda Terrace, then walked around to Pilgrim Hill and cut north there and passed Cedar Hill and the Cleopatra Obelisk, looked over the backside of the Metropolitan Museum of art, then cut over to the Great Lawn and walked among the people there. It was a great place to sit and talk and absorb some sun, and a lot of people brought beach towels or blankets and made a relaxing afternoon of it.

Central Park seems large, but it really isn't. It's a half mile across and two and a half miles long. You can visit just about every part of it in an afternoon, if you keep moving. We pretty much did that, talking the whole time, and just enjoying the crowds of people around us. There was plenty of eye candy there: shirtless guys walking dogs, laying on towels, sailing toy boats, throwing frisbees or balls, running, jogging, or just sitting and watching. Laughing, smiling, looking happy. I made eye contact with a few, and received a couple of smiles that made me wonder. And that made me a little sad.

A smile can suggest many things. I really didn't know what I was seeing, and it didn't really matter. I was here for two weeks, probably, and then it would be back to the burbs. Anyone I met here would be left behind, so what was the point of wishing for more?

The afternoon passed pleasantly, and we eventually found ourselves back around by Sheep Meadow and Mineral Springs, and just a short walk from where we had entered the park.

"I think that's enough for me," granddad said then. "I'm getting hungry."

"Yeah." I grasped the front of my tee-shirt and waved it, letting a little air inside. "I could use a shower, too."

"Amen to that." Granddad smiled, and pointed ahead. "We can cut through here and hit West 72nd. After we get home and get cleaned up, you can help me fix dinner."

That was always fun, and I smiled. "What have you got in mind?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Something Italian?" He laughed. "Or maybe Mexican?"

Granddad made wraps that were a beast! "Um...Mexican sounds good."

"I thought it might. Well, come on then."

We made it back to Terrace Drive, and exited the park. Granddad again offered his wish to John Lennon to rest in peace as we passed The Dakota, and then the pointed roofs of The Boltfort finally came into view.

"No place like home," granddad said, smiling at the place. "Such as it is." He examined the exterior of the building as we mounted the front steps, and shook his head. "The place has been let go a little lately, I think. Used to be, all that stonework around the entry was kept clean and bright."

"What happened to it?" I asked.

"Well...nothing happened to it. It just gets dirty. City air is notoriously dusty. The new maintenance man just doesn't do anything about it."

I examined the intricate stonework, and could see the blackened lines, and grit in the mortared areas. "A quick pressure wash would clean it right up."

"I know. The old maintenance guy did it regularly. The new one, Mr. Santini, sucks lemons."

I laughed at that. "Maybe you should tell him."

"Maybe I should. Wouldn't do any good, though. He's one of those people that seems to grimace every time you ask them to do their job."

Granddad entered his code, and we stepped into the building, passed through the art deco foyer, and reached the elevator.

"What happened to the old maintenance guy?" I asked.

"Huh? Oh...he moved on, about a year and a half ago. He was offered a good job in Boston or Cambridge, or someplace like that, and he and his family left. You know there's an apartment on the first floor in back, for the maintenance person? It's small, but it goes with the job, and it's a hell of a nice perk. So they had a pile of applications for the open position. Why they settled on this knucklehead is beyond me." Granddad scrunched up his face and shook his head, and offered up his great Bugs Bunny imitation. "Aah, what a maroon!"

We laughed, and headed up to the top floor. Granddad let us into the condo, and I sighed as the cooler air moved over me. "That's more like it."

"Go get cleaned up, and I'll meet you in the kitchen in fifteen minutes, okay?"

I nodded, and headed back to my room. I put my cell and wallet on the nightstand next to my tablet, sat down, took one shoe off, and was just untying the second one when I froze. My eyes jerked back to the nightstand, and all I could do was stare.

My tablet lay there, looking perfectly innocent. Except that I had not left it there before leaving. I had left it on the bed. I continued to stare at it, reviewing in my mind what I had done earlier in the day. I had tossed the tablet on the bed, changed, brushed my teeth, and...left. I had not touched the tablet again.

So how did it get to the nightstand?

A creeping sensation came over me then, and I looked all around the room before bringing my eyes back to the tablet. Could I be wrong? I closed my eyes, and thought I had left the tablet on the bed.

I jumped up and kicked off the other shoe, and went down the hall to granddad's room. I was just about to knock when I heard his shower start up. He wouldn't hear me now, and I didn't want to get him out of the shower, anyway. I went back to my room and sat on the bed.

A new thought came then. Hey...maybe Sid had come by while we were gone? He might have come in, walked around, saw nobody was at home...but that didn't sound right, either. He'd just have called granddad to see what was up. It couldn't have been him, and I shook my head.

Someone else had been here. I remembered back to the day before, when I had sensed someone in the hall, but no one had been there. Jesus. Was the place haunted?

But I didn't believe in that sort of stuff. I guess me not believing didn't mean it couldn't happen, but I have never felt that any of that sort of ghost stuff could be true. If there were really ghosts, everyone would know about them. That was just the way the world worked. Secrets were terribly hard to hide for very long. If Bigfoot and flying saucers really existed, we'd know. And the same with ghosts.

So what was happening? Someone was getting inside the condo, that's what. A real, live person, and a sneaky one, too.

I got up again, and went down the hallway to the closet, and opened the door. I hit the light switch, and went inside. Once again I looked over the shelves, the wall, and all the stuff there. Then I stepped back and peered up at the ceiling, shading my eyes from the light. The ceiling here was paneled just like the ceilings in the rest of the condo, a series of foot-square carved wooden tiles painted white like the rest of the closet. It looked quite unremarkable.

I got down on my hands and knees and circled the closet, tapping on the wall, and giving it a push every couple of feet, memories of secret panels from every mystery movie I'd ever seen parading through my mind. The wall sounded the same in each spot, and no section of it felt any less sturdy than the rest. I arrived back at the door, and sighed.


I felt stupid then, and got to my feet. I turned off the light and closed the door, and went back to my room. I heard the shower go off in granddad's room then, and decided that this mystery could wait a few minutes. I closed my bedroom door, went to the bathroom, yanked off my clothes, and jumped into the shower. I was lathered and rinsed in a long minute, and just toweling off when I heard granddad go by the bedroom door.

"Heading for the kitchen. See you in a few minutes."

I had to smile at that. Granddad had lived in this condo for over thirty years. If it was haunted, he'd know. If it had sneaky burglars creeping in, he'd know. Now I doubted what I had done earlier, no matter how clear the memory was in my mind. I must have absently picked up the tablet and put it on the nightstand before leaving. I must have!

Then why was I so certain I hadn't? Damn!

It only took me a moment to get dressed, and then I was on my way to the kitchen. Granddad had already spread out dishes on the countertop. He was quick, I had to give him that. There were cherry tomatoes, a red onion, several cloves of garlic, an avocado, and a mango on the cutting board. He turned to smile at me, and waved a hand at the knife rack. "Want to do the honors?"

I diced onions and garlic and tomatoes, while granddad shredded lettuce, and grilled slices of chicken breast on the countertop grill. We talked, and had a good time. And all the while, I couldn't quite get away from the weird things that had happened earlier.

We got to talking about The Boltfort, and how old it was. Granddad had a lot of stories to tell about the place, that was for sure. A lot had happened here in his own thirty-one years as a resident, and he was also very up on things that had happened in the past.

It was an impulse that made me say it. "Have you ever heard any stories about the building being haunted?"

He had peeled the mango, and was slicing it. He paused, and smiled at me. "You're the third person to ask me that question in a week."

I blinked at him. "Really?"

"Uh huh. Mrs. Simmons, across the hall, asked me that question the morning of the day before you got here. Sunday. She usually keeps to herself, but when I was getting the paper, she was standing at her door. She asked me if any weird things had been happening at my place."

I licked my lips. "Have they?"

Granddad cocked his head at me. "No. I"

The way he said it kind of stunned me. "You don't sound very certain."

He laughed then. "Davy, I might be the youngest person living on this floor. Once you get to be my age, you are not so surprised to find that you remembered something wrong, or forgot you did something. So It doesn't really surprise me that Mrs. Simmons, who is ten years older than me, might do the same."

That jarred a memory, and I looked over at the bread box. "Like thinking you had a whole loaf of bread, when it was only a half?"

"Exactly. It's not the first time I've misremembered something, and it won't be the last."

That was sort of astonishing. "You've done that before?"

"A few times. Mostly food-related things, so I know it's just me. I eat more of something than I thought I did, or forgot something at the store that I thought I bought. Just small things, really."

My throat suddenly felt a little dry. "What did Mrs. Simmons say was happening at her place?"

He grinned. "She thought ghosts were eating her breakfast cereal. And always moving the remote control for her TV. And using her shower, even."

I cleared my throat, the onions maybe getting to me now. "Has she...has she seen any ghosts?"

"No. It always seems to happen when she's out, she said. Her sister lives somewhere across town, and is in a wheelchair. Mrs. Simmons goes most days to visit her and help with her needs. She said she has come home to find the TV remote moved from where she keeps it, or things changed in her kitchen."


Granddad sighed. "I get that Mrs. Simmons is a little anal. Or maybe a lot. She says she puts things in exactly the same place all the time, and notes how much of things she has left so that she can shop for herself while shopping for her sister. She thinks her food is being eaten by ghosts, but most definitely her breakfast cereal. She apparently keeps it in a big clear plastic container with gradations on it - you know, like a measuring cup has? - and she says the cereal level goes down while she's gone."

That did sound a little nutty. Granddad apparently saw that opinion in my eyes, and laughed again. "Son, you just don't know what it's like getting older. Your brain starts to play little tricks on you, and you just have to laugh at them if you see them. Some people don't even see them and understand them as age-related. They think other things are going on. Like Mrs. Simmons, I think."

I relaxed a little. "You think she's a little nuts?"

"No. Just old. And way too serious for her own good." He leaned towards me. "And maybe has a touch of dementia. She's known me for twenty-three years, but in the last few she has started calling me Carl."

I smiled. "Your name is Craig."

"You know that, and I know that, but —" he simply let the rest of it hang, and I nodded.

"So she's a little out there."

He sighed. "She's seventy-five, is all."

"Who was the other person who asked you?"

He frowned then. "That was Mike Donovan, down the hall. He's a couple of years older than I am, but always struck me as very together. He said some of the same things that Mrs. Simmons said. Only he laughed about them, saying he never thought he'd lose his marbles the moment he retired."

"He retired?"

"About a month ago. He went from never being home to being home most days. He says it's like that when he goes out and comes back sometimes, it feels like someone has been in his condo while he was gone."

"Really?" I frowned at that. "And his food is being eaten, too?"

"No, he didn't say that. But he did sometimes feel like things had been moved - just small things - but that he couldn't be sure. What he was feeling lately was that someone had been there while he was gone. Just a kind of weird feeling he had." Granddad shrugged. "He was chalking it up to jitters over retiring and being home so much. A sudden big change in your life can do that to you."

How well I knew that!

Granddad narrowed his eyes at me then. "Are you saying you feel like my place is haunted?"

Was I? "" But I decided to confess. I needed another opinion, one I could trust. "It's just...when we went to the park, I left my tablet on the bed. When I came back, it was on the nightstand."

I thought he would laugh at that, but he didn't. "Hmm. Are you sure?"

"I think so. It hit me like a brick that it had been moved. I've never had that happen before."

Granddad looked thoughtful then. "I don't see how anyone could get in here. You need a pass code to get in the front door, and there are cameras in the lobby, even if you can't see them. And some on each floor. Anyone coming in any of the entrances, or coming up the elevator, will be seen by the duty clerk in the office. There are good locks on all the doors, too. It would take someone really good to get in here without being caught."

"You don't have a security system though, do you?"

"No. The security is on the building. There has never been any need for the condos to have them, too."

I pointed at the rear door of the kitchen. "What about the back stairs?"

He looked at the door, too. "I don't think there's cameras there, but that's because the door at the bottom is never unlocked. It's a big, solid steel door, with no knob or anything on the outside. The stairs serve as a fire escape now. You can go out that way in an emergency, but you can't get inside." He shook his head. "Besides, there are three deadbolts on my rear door, and it's steel in a steel frame. Nobody is going to force their way in there."

I walked over to look at it, just to be sure. There were three deadbolts, just like granddad said. I grasped the knob and jiggled it, and the door felt truly immobile. No one was getting in there without a torch and a hell of a lot of noise.

I turned, and granddad was watching me. "You're really spooked, aren't you?"

I decided to come clean. I told him about sensing someone in the hallway, but that no one had been there when I looked. And thinking I saw the hallway closet door close, but finding no one inside when I opened it. And hearing the odd noise, like the call of some big bird.

He looked surprised at that last one. "Like a big hawk or something?"

I nodded. "You've heard it?"

"Uh huh. A couple of times. Always when I'm just getting home, coming in the front door. I just thought it was coming from somewhere else in the building. Maybe from the air-conditioning on the roof or something. The soundproofing's good, but nothing is perfect."

I stared at him. That he had heard that same sound as I had changed everything. That I had not imagined the sound might mean that I had not imagined any of it.

"What about other people on this floor? No one else has said anything?"

Granddad rolled one shoulder kind of helplessly. "I don't talk to everyone. I don't even know everyone. There are eight condos on this floor, with just the elevator as common ground, The floor is split into four quarters. I know Mrs. Simmons pretty well, and Mike Donovan in the other hall, and a few others here and there. But not everyone. It's just like any neighborhood, David. Some people you know to talk to, others you just wave at in passing."

I thought about my own neighborhood back home, and had to agree. "So then you don't know the people on the other floors, either?"

"A few, here and there, like I said. I see quite a few of them in the elevator. But none of them have said anything unusual lately."

"So just people on this floor."

He gave out a small grunt. "Yes. But these are also the people most likely to confide in me. So you can't go by that."

I closed my eyes a moment, and shook my head. "I don't believe in ghosts."

"I don't, either."

I opened my eyes. "So what do you think is going on?"

He made an uncertain face. "I didn't think anything was going on, until now, and I'm not even certain now."

"I don't think I imagined that stuff," I said.

He considered that, and then nodded. "No. And I don't think I imagined hearing that sound, either." He looked around the kitchen and nodded again. "Or maybe some of the other things that have happened around here." He gave a little sigh, and turned the chicken breast strips on the grill, then turned off the flame. We both remained silent as we finished up preparing the wraps.

He picked up one of the bowls he had set aside. I knew it contained a little salad dressing, a tablespoon of lime juice, a teaspoon of chopped cilantro, and a couple of pinches of ground cumin. He set the bowl by the still warm grill, and I helped him lay out the whole wheat tortillas.

Onto them we arranged the shredded lettuce, the slices of mango and avocado, and the diced onion, garlic, and tomato. To that was added strips of the hot grilled chicken breast, and then we drizzled the mixture from the now warm bowl onto all of that. We made two wraps apiece, and went to put the dishes on the table. Granddad poured us each a glass of forest fruit bash, and we sat to eat.

"I have to say I have no idea how to proceed," he confessed, after we had each taken a bite. The wraps were wonderful, as always, but not the chief thing on my mind just now.

"I don't either."

He smiled then. "I can get a few motion sensitive cameras, and we'll place them so they watch the hallway. One at each end will cover all the bedrooms."

I looked around us. "And one for the kitchen, too?"

"Okay. And one for the kitchen."

"Where can we get them?"

He laughed. "I have no idea. I can order them online and have them shipped overnight, I suppose." One eyebrow went up then. "Or maybe two-day priority mail. Overnight costs an arm and a leg."

I nodded. That would do. Whatever was going on around here, it had been happening for a while now. Another day or two of waiting couldn't hurt.

I suddenly realized how tight my shoulders felt, and sighed and let them drop and relax. Then I took another bite of my wrap, and smiled. "Well, the food is great, as always."

Granddad looked pleased.

We watched a little TV that evening, and it did take my mind off the odd events of the last two days. Granddad had eclectic tastes, and we watched an adventure movie, and then one about a family in an old house where strange things were going on. Both met my criteria for oldies but goodies, and they were a lot of fun. But the second movie, especially, filled my mind with ideas about secret passages and underground tunnels, and I was reminded of some of granddad's stories about the New York underground, almost another world that existed below the streets, comprised of ancient access tunnels, drainage channels, and abandoned subway lines, in which supposedly roamed the lost ones of the city.

The Boltfort was an old building - more than a hundred years old - and the idea that it was a part of the times when some of this strange underground had come into being intrigued me. The ideas on how things should be were different back then, and society more stratified than it was now. There were things built into the buildings and artifacts of those times that you just wouldn't see today.

The back stairs to the kitchen, for instance, led to the back doors of each apartment or condo on each floor, and nowhere else. They were also isolated by quarters, with the back stairs for one quarter of the building serving those two units on each floor, and having no access to the other quarters. You couldn't actually enter the building from the back stairs, unless you went through one of the residences, or through the one door in each quarter, on each floor, that let into the residential hallway. But those steel doors weren't something you would get through without a ring of keys, and without passing under the watchful eyes of a camera or two. This design had originally been to keep delivery people and service people from gaining access to the building proper. It suggested a different mindset than any I was really used to, and it made me wonder what other eccentricities might have been built into The Boltfort that people today might not be aware of.

In a way, it was kind of exciting. I mentioned my thoughts to granddad after the second movie was over, and he smiled. "Wouldn't surprise me at all to think there might be secret passages in this building. But I kind of doubt there are. The place has been renovated several times, the last major overhaul occurring right before I bought in. There have been little ones since, and contractors and inspectors all through the building. A lot of people have looked over the filed plans to this place, and I think anything secret would have been found." He grinned then. "But it's a cool thought, anyway."

That did a bit to squash my imagination, and all I could do was sigh. It continued to amaze me how vivid the couple of odd experiences I'd had seemed at the time, and how pale they had become just a few hours later, with doubt at what I had seen or felt creeping in and making me wonder if I wasn't really imagining the whole thing after all. That was my sense of reality stepping in, I guess. I just couldn't believe that the building was haunted, or that mysterious intruders could come and go as they wished without anyone seeing them.

It just didn't seem real.

"You think it's just my imagination?" I asked, feeling a little stupid now. "The stuff we've been talking about?"

Granddad watched me a moment, and then shook his head. "No. I've lived here a long time, but it's only in the past few months that I have felt really forgetful due to things being missing or less than I thought I had in the kitchen. I wouldn't notice if the TV remote had been moved like Mrs. Simmons might, but I have occasionally come home at night and heard that weird noise, and —"

He frowned, thinking. "Hmm. I came home one night and went to shower, and found I had no soap in my bathroom. You know, just a tiny piece left?" He smiled. "I usually keep extra bars in the cabinet under the sink, but I was all out. So I walked down to the spare bedroom to get one from under the sink in the bathroom there, and when I went in, I noticed that the shower curtain was drawn back and the bathtub was wet. That the water had been run."

"And you hadn't used it? What about Sid?"

"No. When he stays over, he uses my shower." Granddad smiled. "You know."

I smiled, too.

"Anyway, while I was standing there, a couple of drops rained down from the shower head. I checked the faucets, and the cold one wasn't turned completely off, and the shower faucet had been left on. So I assumed it had just been dripping, and that was why the tub was wet. But no one had used that tub in some time, so it kind of mystified me."

"It would have made me wonder, too."

He waved a hand. "Yeah, but that sort of stuff goes out of your mind pretty quickly. I guess I just forgot about it, until now. In the light of other events, the incident gains some new meaning."

"Uh huh. Especially as your neighbor said her shower had been used, too."

He frowned, and nodded.

I had to smile. "I can't imagine someone breaking in just to take a shower. Certainly not a spirit or ghost of some kind."

"It is a little hard to believe. But this is the city. Hard to believe stuff happens every damn day."

We straightened up the living room, and headed for our bedrooms.

"Tomorrow is my last day off this week," granddad said, as we paused at my bedroom door. "Any ideas for what you'd like to do?"

"Not really. I'll think about it before bed, though."

He gave me a quick hug, and smiled. "Sleep tight. Don't worry about this stuff, okay? If something is really going on, it's been going on for some time. No one has seen the ghost, or whatever, and no one has been harmed in any way. He only seems to visit when no one is home."

I frowned at that. "What about me seeing the shadow in the hallway?"

"I've been considering that. It happened after I left for work, remember? Say there really is someone sneaking in here. They'd know my schedule by now. Maybe they just didn't know you were here."

That was an interesting point. "Maybe. But if someone came in a second time and moved my tablet, they'd have had to know we went out."

"Maybe they have a way of knowing when we leave. I don't know. We're still at the maybe stage of all this."

A new thought came to me. "Maybe they can hear us? What we say?"

"We just don't know." Granddad patted my shoulder. "That's enough for tonight. Go to bed, and relax. We can talk more in the morning."

"Well —" I began, but then bit off what I was going to say and turned to go into the room.

"Wait." Granddad reached out and stopped me. "Don't go to sleep with anything unresolved on your mind. What were you going to say?"

I shrugged, the idea only half-formed. "I was wondering if maybe we should call the cops?"

Granddad's eyes widened, and then he laughed. "Bite your tongue, boy. I am not about to call the city's finest and say I have a ghost eating my bread when I'm not looking."

That made me laugh, too. "I guess it would sound a little nuts if put that way. I just thought...maybe if they came and looked around, it would scare away our uninvited guest."

"It might. But I can't see them being happy with us for reporting an invisible intruder with no real evidence to support the claim. They might show up, but they'd probably bring a couple of burly young gentlemen in white coats, too." He smiled then. "Although that might be more fun than it sounds."

I laughed. "It was just an idea."

"It was good one, but I think the timing is wrong. Let's wait until we can show them something more concrete, okay?"

I nodded, and we went our separate ways. I closed the door to my room, but didn't lock it. I wanted granddad to be able to get in if he needed to do so.

I climbed into bed, and tried to read some more of my book, but I was just too distracted. Talk about a mystery! And this one just kept getting better. So I turned off the light, and told myself to go to sleep.

I had left the curtains partly open, which let in some of the city lights, which made the room dim instead of dark. That made me feel more comfortable. As an afterthought, I got back out of bed and took a length of dental floss from the bathroom and looped it over my doorknob, and tied a ballpoint pen to the other end of it. If the door was opened, it would hopefully make enough of a rattle to wake me.

I turned off the light again, and made myself comfortable in the bed, but I was sure that with all the stuff I had on my mind, sleep would be slow to come.

I was wrong.

In the morning, the first thing we did was go on granddad's laptop and find some cameras to buy. The four we bought were small, unobtrusive, that ran on batteries and could be placed just about anywhere. They connected by wi-fi to a small box that plugged into a USB port and which, along with some software that came with the package, managed the streams from each camera, to be recorded on the hard drive. The cameras stayed dormant unless something moving set them off, so that they wouldn't be storage or power hogs.

Granddad was right: overnight shipping cost a pretty penny, so we settled on two-day express at one third of the cost. Once the cameras arrived, we'd figure out where to hide them. There were plenty of places among the statues and knickknacks where the tiny eyes could keep a watch on things.

Over a late breakfast, we discussed what to do with the day. A city like New York has a lot of attractions, but most all of them require some traveling about, either on foot, by cab, or by subway. And some things are just not available in the middle of the week, being reserved for weekends, when more people had the days off.

There was also the fact that I was not new to the city, and had seen an awful lot of what it had to offer. The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, most of the tours, most of the cool buildings, and most of what granddad called 'the sucker stuff'. These were things that could be fun, but which were fairly expensive, and which you could do mostly on your own for free. Like the Central Park Tour, a 45-minute ride around the park in a horse-drawn carriage. You could do the same thing on a bicycle for the price of a little physical energy, and while you didn't get the charm of the clip-clop, clip-clop, you saved a pretty good chunk of change that could be used for something else.

"It's probably fun if you're with a special someone," granddad had said, a little wistfully. "Romantic, even. Maybe just after sunset on a cool spring evening." But then he laughed. "But for you and me it would just be sightseeing."

We'd just about decided to go back to the park when granddad smiled. "I know something we could do. And it would be in keeping with the weird things that have been going on here."

That intrigued me right off. "What?"

"We could go to church."

I think I gaped at him, because his eyes filled with laughter.

"Church," I repeated, a little disbelievingly.

"Well, not just any church. I was thinking about The Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. They have a tour of the catacombs underneath that's pretty cool, actually." He grinned. "It's a candlelight tour."

I considered that. "That's a pretty famous place, isn't it?"

"Well...I think you're thinking of St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown. The one with the huge twin spires. That's the one that's more widely known. This is St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, in lower Manhattan."

"Oh." I smiled. "Catacombs?"

"Yep. People are actually interred there. It's not terribly creepy, but it's interesting, for sure. The candlelight gives it a kind of eerie quality that seems in keeping with everything else that's been happening. And the church itself is quite beautiful and interesting, too."

"Could we get in? I mean, last minute and all?" I knew how such things were in the city. People booked ahead for weeks or months at a time.

Granddad turned and looked at the clock on the wall. "As I remember, the next tour would be at one o'clock. When I went, they just said to show up by 12:30, and everyone would probably be accommodated. It's just not that busy during the week, and walk ups are fine."

It wasn't even eleven yet. "Where do we have to go?"

He smiled. "It's a few blocks south and east of The Village. A little beyond Washington Square Park. It's not terribly far."

I shrugged. "If you think it's fun, I'm sure I will, too. I'm game."

We finished eating, straightened up the table and the counter, and went to get dressed. This time I made a careful note of where I left everything in my room, so that I could be certain if anything was moved. I was just glad it wasn't my own bedroom at home, which had too much stuff in it to keep track of. I had only brought a few things with me here, so I had a reasonable hope of noticing if anything was disturbed while we were out.

Granddad called a cab, and about noon we took a fifteen-minute trip through traffic and were deposited on Prince Street, at the tour agency's visitor's kiosk. It was just a small canopy labeled 'Catacombs By Candlelight', but there were about a half-dozen people there already, talking to a man who introduced himself as the guide. While the guide was handing out the basics on what to expect, I gave our group a casual examination, on the theory that it's always wise to know who you're going to be groping about in the dark with.

There were two old ladies, obviously together, happily smiling, one holding a small camera at the ready. They had an out-of-town look to them that couldn't be missed. There was a man and woman with a young girl with them, dressed like they were heading for the park, and just as obviously city folk. I figured them to be a married couple. The girl was maybe eight years old, and already looked bored without having even set foot inside the church.

There was another man, maybe granddad's age, but bald on top with gray to the sides, who was reading a book while the guide spoke. The last member of our group was also male, but had his back to me. But he was wearing a pair of nice cargo shorts and a tee-shirt, and running shoes, had very appealing legs, and I could see sunglasses pushed back up into his thick, curly blond hair. Even as I made my inspection he turned and our eyes touched, and I felt a small tingle of shock at the contact.

He was young, like my age. His eyes were a fierce green, and when they met mine, they widened a little, and he smiled. Wow! The guy was cute. Maybe not gorgeous, but certainly worth looking at. I found myself smiling in return, and that only seemed to please him. He nodded, and then turned to listen to what the guide was saying. I did, too, not wanting to seem to be gawking, but I watched the guy out of the side of my eye, and noticed that he seemed to be doing the same to me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned to find granddad smiling at me. "Aren't you glad you came?"

Somehow, I knew he had noticed me and the blond guy trading looks. Granddad didn't miss a lot, especially when it came to guys. I tried not to grin like an idiot, and nodded. He squeezed my shoulder another time, and then went back to listening to the guide. But his smile stayed in place.

And then we were off. The first part of the tour was a look inside the church, which was very beautiful. Some scenes in the old movie, The Godfather, had been filmed in the basilica. I'd never seen the film, but granddad had, and he said he remembered the scenes in the church. There was a pretty awesome old pipe organ there, built in 1868, and we got to look inside at the guts, which I thought was pretty cool. There was a huge wheel that someone had once had to turn to power the original organ, before electricity came into use. I tried to imagine that job, continually turning the big wheel through a long Sunday of multiple services. It had probably produced big arms and a strong back, and only paid enough to replenish the calories burned.

I couldn't help turning every now and then to see where the blond guy was standing, and a few times I found him looking my way. He smiled, I smiled, and I felt a little stupid while enjoying the hell out of the whole thing. I missed a lot of what the guide said, but I just couldn't help it.

Next came the walk down to the catacombs, which were behind large wooden doors banded with iron. They looked like castle doors taken right out of one of my fantasy novels, and I felt a kind of delicious chill as we passed through them. The catacombs themselves were lit in red, with small yellow accent lights before each crypt. There was a timeless sense to the place, and a solemn one as well. We were each given a small light, which we could use to look more closely at the plaques on each vault. It wasn't a real candle like I'd been expecting, but it was easy to see why they did it this way. Real candles blew out, and of course they could start fires. The effect of the small lights was close enough not to matter.

A couple of times I found myself standing near the blond guy, who seemed to be doing his best to look at the vaults and not me. But his eyes kept straying, and he kept smiling, easy enough to see even in the poor light. I was becoming slightly enchanted by his presence, and wondering what to do next. Should I talk to him? Maybe ask what he thought of the tour?

He solved my dilemma for me. I was looking at the plaque on a vault that held the name of someone who had died a century before I was born when I turned my head, and there he was beside me.

"Kind of weird, to think there's a person behind there, huh?"

I swallowed, and nodded. "Um, yeah. Especially one who died so long ago." I looked around at the dimly-lit chamber, and gave a little shudder. "I was just thinking that I'd rather be buried out in the sunlight, myself."

He crinkled his nose. "I don't really want to be buried at all. I don't like the idea of being in the ground, all covered up."

I gave a little smile. "I don't think you'd know?"

His eyes settled on me, and he smiled. "I guess not. Hi."

I smiled back. "Hi."

"I'm Mark," he said, sticking out a hand.

"David." I clasped his hand and gave it a quick shake, not missing at all the brief thrill that ran throughout my body at the touch.

He leaned closer. "Who's that you're with?"

"My granddad. It was his idea to take the tour."

Mark smiled. "Yeah? I owe him one, then."

I grinned at that, feeling a little stupid, but also pleased. He seemed to be saying that he was happy it worked out that way, so that we could meet.

" come here often?" It was a stupid line from the movies, but I was kidding, and he saw that right away.

"Only when there's something to see."

I laughed, delighted that we were playing this game. It was fun, and thrilling, too. "No, really. Is this your first time here?"

"Yeah. I was just bored today, and looking for something to do. I heard someone mention this place, and here I am."

"Cool so far, huh?"

"Definitely." He smiled at me, and I could see a little bit of nerves in his eyes, and I guessed that he wasn't exactly a pro at this meeting guys stuff, either. That made me feel better, and allowed me to relax.

"You're a city guy," I said. "I can tell."

He nodded. "What about you?"

"Burbs. I live with my dad. My folks are separated."

"Sorry." He looked sad a moment then, but immediately brightened. "Let's keep walking. We're being left behind."

We rejoined granddad, and I introduced them. They shook hands, and granddad smiled at me. "You find the most interesting things in the dark, sometimes."

Mark and I both laughed, and I could tell he was delighted at the comment.

The rest of the tour was kind of a blur for me, spent mostly talking with Mark as we walked along. He was interesting and smart, and I felt at ease with him right away. That I sensed he felt the same way with me was just plain amazing. I liked him immediately, and was very aware of him as he moved along next to me. He was an inch taller than me, but otherwise we were very close in size, and a few times our arms brushed together, and neither of us moved away. I could also sense granddad, being unobtrusive nearby, but also that he seemed happy for me, even if he knew this could only be for a day.

That thought was sobering. Only a day. Soon the tour would be over, and Mark would go his way, and I would go mine.

But...I was here for two weeks. It might be fun to share the time with someone while granddad was at work. Mark had to live somewhere fairly close, or he wouldn't be here now. Was it possible we could make this last longer than a day?

Maybe granddad was thinking the same thing, after all. We finally returned to where we had begun, and our group began to disperse.

Mark looked at me, winced, and scratched his head. "I had a good time."

I nodded. "Me, too."

Granddad looked at each of us, and gave a little sigh. "I'm hungry. There are a couple of little places around here that have pretty good food. What do you guys say?"

Mark looked uncertain, and patted his back pocket. "Um...I really didn't think about eating. I'm not sure I have enough cash for that."

"My treat," granddad added, smiling at me.

Mark looked like he hated the idea of taking someone's money; but then his eyes found me, and he smiled. "That's really nice of you. Sure, if it's okay with David."

"Hey, I'm great with it!" I said, trying play down my eagerness. But I think he saw it, anyway, and I could see it made him happy.

We walked down the block to a small hole-in-the-wall place, but granddad said the food was good, and when we went inside, it was clean and bright. And fairly crowded, actually, another sign that the food was good. We were shown to a table, and sat down.

"I never noticed this place before," Mark said. "How'd you find it?"

Granddad gave a small smile. "Oh, I hear things."

"He's a chef," I explained, at Mark's slightly confused look. "At Ludie's, uptown."

Mark's eyebrows did a bounce. "Really? That's a pretty hot place."

I nodded, and patted granddad's arm. "Here's why. He's the head chef."

Mark looked impressed, but I suddenly had the feeling he was not all that surprised. "That's very cool. Food is...well, cool."

He seemed suddenly a little nervous, and granddad filled the void by nodding. "I think so. Everyone has to eat. Might as well make it worth the effort."

Mark relaxed again, and granddad eyed him a moment, but didn't say more. We dived into our menus, and I immediately noted the prices. Mark did, too, and looked a little pale.

"This place isn't cheap," I said then, for the both of us.

Granddad laughed. "Good is seldom cheap. Don't worry about it. I'll put it on the company card. Ludie gives me a little extra each month to try the competition when I'm out, to compare and test, and to steal the best, borrow select offerings...when I find them. That sort of thing. Look at it as a business expense."

That put me at ease, and Mark looked relieved. He smiled then. "I may still need you to translate, though."

Granddad helped us select. Mark and I decided we liked the same salad, arugula with warm roasted pears, toasted walnuts, shaved Parmesan, and a white balsamic vinaigrette, dotted with grilled baby shrimp. Granddad selected one with roasted ruby beets, Cara Cara oranges and a goat cheese fritter, over arugula, with blood orange shallot vinaigrette. He also chose the grilled Atlantic salmon with lemon risotto, Swiss chard, and hollandaise sauce.

I thought the spaghetti looked good. It came with roasted veal meatballs, San Marzano tomato, and basil. Mark chose what I would have called a breakfast dish: an omelet made with spicy sausage, Holland peppers, Vidalia onions, goat cheese, grated Parmesan, and fresh herbs.

The salads came first, and were excellent. The main courses, when they arrived, had me gawking. "I hope I can eat all that."

"I predict you will, even if it makes you uncomfortable," Granddad said, smiling.

He was right. The food was magnificent, and when I at last sat back, I was stuffed. "Man. I love Italian."

"I know. " Granddad took a last bite of his own, and then patted his mouth carefully with the linen serviette. "That's why I picked this place."

"It was awfully good," Mark said, sighing. "Best meal I've had in...well, a long time. I really want to say thanks."

"It was my pleasure." Granddad looked happy, himself. "It's one of the reasons I do what I do. Even the crankiest person on earth can smile after a good meal."

We decided to walk home. It wasn't that far, really, and granddad figured it would take us about a half hour or so, including what he called 'dawdling time'. Mark said he lived off Westend Avenue, down at West 64th street, which was some distance south of where The Boltfort stood, but which could be gotten to by heading in the same direction, and so he walked along with us. I was so glad of that, because it frightened me now to think this sweet guy was going to walk right out of my life in a matter of minutes.

It was another warm day, but there was a hint of a breeze, enough to take the burning edge off the afternoon, and we kept a moderate pace, talking all the way. It was one of the most enjoyable half hours I'd had in a long time, certainly since all the stuff with mom and dad and Edward had started. I felt relaxed and happy, and I didn't want it to end.

But all too soon, The Boltfort loomed ahead of us. I felt a hollow feeling in my stomach as we walked up to the front entrance. I didn't want to part with Mark. But even the afternoon sun seemed to know that here was the point where it all ended, and dived behind a cloud for cover.

"It was awfully nice to meet you, Mark," granddad said, extending his hand. "I'm going on into the lobby while you two talk."

They shook, and granddad smiled, first at Mark, and then at me. "I'll be inside."

I nodded, and he went on into the lobby.

"I really like your grandfather," Mark said, giving a little sigh. "He's cool. He seems to know a lot about a lot of things." He smiled. "He dresses nice, too."

We looked at each other in silence a moment, and there was a lot I wanted to say, but I just couldn't find my voice. Mark pulled out his cell phone and looked at the screen. "Well, I guess I'd better get going." He licked his lips then, and leaned closer. "Can I have your number?"

I was stunned, and then thrilled. "Yes. Can I have yours?"

He grinned. "Hell, yeah."

I grabbed my phone from my pocket, and we made the exchange. I was elated, knowing this meant that the day would not end yet, not here, not now. "Is there a good time to call you?"

He shrugged. "I'm home all evening. Some company would be nice, even if it's just your voice on the phone."

I nodded. "Okay."

Mark turned and looked towards the lobby, then returned his eyes to me. "I have to your he —?"

"Gay?" I supplied, seeing he was stuck. "Uh huh."

He nodded. ""

"Uh huh. Is that okay?"

His face bloomed into a smile. "Yeah. Misery loves company, you know."

I could barely contain myself. "So you're —"

He laughed. "Miserable? Yeah."

I closed my eyes a moment, wondering if this was just too good to be true. This kind of luck just didn't happen to me!

I opened my eyes, and sighed. "I'll call you later, okay?"

He bit his lip a moment, and I got the most surprising impression that he was going to say no. But his gaze held on mine, and the sudden intensity in his face melted away, and he smiled. "Can't wait." He canted his head towards the door of The Boltfort. "Better go on in. Thank your granddad again for the lunch, okay?"

"I will."

He nodded, smiled a last time, and headed off up the walk. I watched for a moment to see if he would look back, and he did. He laughed when he saw me standing there, and waved. I waved, and watched until he was out of sight.

Granddad was sitting in a chair in the lobby, and smiled when I came in. I went and sat next to him, and sighed.

"I take that to mean you got his phone number," granddad said, laughing.

I smiled at him. "Yeah. I gave him mine, too."

He nodded. "I like him. He reminds me of someone, but I don't know who."

I could see Mark's face in my mind, and nodded. "He's cute. And I love his personality."

"He's very likable," granddad agreed. "And there seems to be a lot going on inside his head." He turned and looked towards the outer doorway. "He's very...comfortable, too. I almost had the impression I'd met him before."

I smiled at that. "He's very easy to like. And fun to be with."

Granddad turned his gaze back to me, and patted my arm. "Let's go on upstairs. I feel a need for a shower after that long walk."

We rode the elevator up to the top floor, and went inside the condo. I listened as we closed the front doors, to see if I heard that strange bird call sound; but nothing came to my ears.

Granddad saw me listening, and smiled. "I was doing the same thing."

I closed my bedroom door, kicked my shoes off, and got undressed. I could still see Mark's smile in my mind's eye, and I had to wonder then what it would have been like to kiss that smile. That led to other thoughts, other imaginings; and soon I had to close my eyes and try to relax beneath the warm flow of the shower. I was going too fast, and I was bound to get my feelings hurt if I didn't be reasonable. I was here for two weeks, and nothing much could happen in two weeks. I kept telling myself that there was just no way this could work as a real relationship, that I should just relax, enjoy Mark's company while I was here, and then move on. Right?

I would need to let him know right away that my stay in the city was temporary. It was only fair, after all. It would be nice to have a friend while I was here, someone to talk to, maybe hang out with while granddad was working. Someone that was on the same channel that I was.

Almost, I convinced myself. I managed to sit on some of the excitement I was feeling, some of the hope. Enough to feel slightly let down, even. Afterwards, as I dried myself, I felt a little less giddy, but no less enchanted.

And no less hopeful that a way would be found for this new friendship to go on.

"You know a lot about the city for a guy that grew up in the burbs."

I was kicked back on my bed, one arm thrown over my head, the phone captured against my ear. "I've been here so many times, I almost feel like I live here. My granddad has taken me to most of the cool places. He's lived in this building longer than I've been around."

"That place is a ritzy looking dump. I didn't know cooking paid so well."

I could tell by the tone of Mark's voice that he was mostly kidding, and I laughed. "I guess it does when you get up to a certain level. But granddad just told me that if he had to buy into this place now, he couldn't afford it. Things were a lot cheaper around here thirty years ago."

"I was kidding," Mark confirmed. "It does look like a nice place, though."

"It is. It's old fashioned, but in a really cool way. And the condos, at least, are in beautiful condition. They were restored right before granddad moved in, and he keeps things nice."

"I'd love to see it sometime, hint, hint."

I closed my eyes and smiled. "I'd love to have you here sometime."

He laughed. "If I was a little more of a pervert, I could take that two ways."

I laughed, too. "Are you a pervert?"

"Is that what you want? I can give it a good try, at least."

"Yeah? You have experience?"

"No. But I learn fast."

I had a feeling he did, too. "I'll keep that in mind."

There was a moment of silence, and then I heard Mark sigh. "Can I ask you a question?"


"What are you looking for? You a guy?"

I knew what he meant right away, but I also knew I didn't have an answer. Or not a good one, anyway.

But while I was trying to think of an acceptable answer, my mouth came up with one for me. "I'd want to find that special guy to be with. You know, like long term?"

"Yes. I do know. But...would you be around for that?"

There was the question, the one that pained me so. "I'm here for two weeks, while my folks work out some sort of arrangement. I come to visit granddad as often as I can, but —" I went silent, and the pause lasted longer than I wanted it to.

"But?" he finally prodded.

"But I don't live here," I finished. "I wish I did now, but I don't."

He was silent a moment, too. But then: "That's not as big a problem as you think. You don't live that far away, do you?"

"About a half-hour drive, on a good day."

"That's not far at all. People have relationships all the time and are separated by more distance than that. They just get together when they can."

I immediately thought of granddad's relationship with Sid. The Village wasn't that far away from The Boltfort at all, but it was far enough to keep them separate most days. Granddad and his boyfriend each had their own lives, and just saw each other as they could. And they seemed to like that, and to enjoy the time they did spend together. And I was sure that granddad loved Sid, and that Sid returned that affection. Neither struck me as the sort to do things like that halfway.

But could I do something like that? I wanted more than a long-distance relationship now, but could something like that at least be a start?

"Sometimes you take less now to get more later," Mark said, mirroring my own thoughts.

It was a sweetly hopeful statement, and I smiled, and then laughed, suddenly deciding. "I could do it. It would take someone special, though. Someone who would want to do that sort of a thing with me."

"I'm special. Or, so I've been told."

"I think so, too," my mouth said for me. I felt my cheeks get warm, but I was not about to retract that statement.

"So you like me enough to give it a try?"

"Yes." There was no doubt in my mind at all.

"You like me enough to accept me as I am?"

I faked a gasp. "You mean you're not perfect?"

He laughed, and I could almost feel him relax. "Not yet. I'm working on it, though." I could hear him exhale, sounding somehow relieved. "I don't want to be pushy. I just want to know that I'm not...I just want to know that you're interested."

"I'm Interested," I said softly. "Very interested."

That seemed to be the right thing to say.

"Then, as my dad used to say, it's just a matter of the details."

I smiled. "I like your dad already. What does he do?"

The phone went silent a moment, and I was just wondering if I'd made a mistake in asking, when I heard Mark give a soft sigh. "Nothing, now. He's dead."

I closed my eyes, sensing his pain. "I'm sorry," I whispered.

"Oh, I'm used to it. It's not a big deal."

"That must have been hard," I said, thinking of my own dad. "And on your mom, too," I added, absently.

Again the phone was silent, and the sinking feeling came over me again.

"Well, she's dead, too. They were both in the same car. It went off a bridge in icy weather and the car sank in the water. At least it was quick."

Shit. I sure knew how to put my foot in it. "I just...I can't seem to say the right thing. I'm so sorry, Mark."

I heard him laugh softly then. "It's not your fault. How could you know? And it's been a year now, and I've had time to get over it."

I didn't think that was something someone could ever get over.

I didn't realize I'd said that out loud until I heard him grunt. "Well, you do get past the first part, where you think it hurts more than you can stand. Then it's just a matter of living with it. So, I'm living with it."

I was almost afraid to say anything else, and I guess I took too long to respond.

"It's really okay, David. Really. You didn't know, and it's not like you did anything on purpose. So relax, okay?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry, though. I just...I didn't mean to remind you."

"You didn't. It's not like I've forgotten. I think of them every day. But they're gone, and now I just have their memories. Better that, than nothing at all."

I blew out an exasperated breath. " it safe to ask who you live with now?"

He laughed, and I sensed that his good cheer had returned. "I don't live with anyone. I mean, I live by myself. I'm eighteen, so I can do what I want."

My mouth dropped open at that, both at the fact that he must be a whole year older than I was, and that he lived all by himself in the city. That took a moment to sink in; but then another thought hit me: this was Manhattan. Apartments here cost through the roof, when you could even find one! And West 64th Street was definitely no exception. The whole west side was ritzy as hell. How could a kid afford to live here alone?

Caution set in then. To ask too much might be prying, and I didn't want to do that. I'd already unwittingly stepped on some toes with my careless tread, and I didn't want to make things worse by setting off any landmines next.

He laughed. "You worry too much. It's safe to ask me stuff. You were thinking I must be rich or something, to live in Manhattan all by myself."

I gasped at that, but then had to laugh. "You're a mind reader, too?"

"All part of the show, son." I could almost see his smile. "My parents left me some money. And I have a job in a restaurant, like your granddad."

I was stunned all over again. "You're a chef?"

His laugh made me smile this time. "No. I wait tables. With tips, I make enough to pay half my rent. The rest comes out of my trust fund."

I whistled. "Wow." A new thought struck me then: "Shouldn't you be at work?"

"Normally, I work three to eleven, but I'm off Wednesdays and Thursdays. Good thing, too, or we might not have met today."

I shook my head, realizing that life was a lot harder for Mark than it was for me. He was only a year older, but the weight of his entire world was on his shoulders. And I had been feeling sorry for myself that my folks were splitting up and that my life had to change a little! It certainly altered my perspective on things.

"I'm impressed," I told him. "I don't know that I could live alone like you do. I don't know that...that I could depend on myself like that."

"I didn't know it either, until I did it. It just happened."

"Yeah." I considered that. "Hell, there's got to be cheaper places to live, though. Have you thought about that?"

"Every day. But I grew up around here, and I love the area. I was living in Massachusetts when my parents died. I didn't want to be there in the first place, so I came back here first chance I got. And here is where I want to stay, too."

That seemed a tough choice. "That's great, if you can do it."


I couldn't miss the note of regret there. Was he having problems keeping up? When we had finished the catacomb tour earlier and decided to have lunch, Mark had seemed like he had no money to pay for it. I hadn't thought that much of that then, but in light of what I knew now, it seemed reasonable to think things might be tight for my new friend. It made me feel badly to think of him on his own in the city, and scarcely making enough money to eat.

"I wish I could help," I said quietly.

Mark made a light sound, maybe a small laugh. "That's sweet. But I knew that about you, right away."

"What? That I wanted to help?"

"No. That you were sweet."

That made me laugh. "Funny, that I felt the same thing about you."

There was a short pause before he continued. "I was attracted to you the moment I saw you."

It was almost whispered, like a confession. But I understood what he meant, and why he said it the way he did. I had been attracted to him immediately, too, and I was just afraid that it would all be wasted by the differences in where our lives were going. I felt a new determination then, not to let that happen.

"I felt the same way, Mark. Exactly the same."

He laughed, sounding relieved. "So what do we do now?"

"'re off tomorrow, right?"

"Uh huh."

I smiled. "My grandfather leaves at four to go to work. You could come by, and I could cook dinner for you."

He gave a delighted little laugh. "You cook, too?"

"Sure. I've learned a lot from helping my granddad. I'll see what's in the kitchen and think of something good to make."

"I don't want you to make a huge, complicated dinner just because of me."

"Okay, I'll make us a smaller, delicious dinner. What do you like? I mean, besides omelet?"

We talked about it some more, enough to give me some ideas. "Okay. I'll surprise you."

He sighed. "I'm really looking forward to it now. So you want me to come at four?"

"You can come earlier, if you want. I just mean my granddad doesn't leave until four."

"I like your granddad. He won't mind me visiting?"

I remembered granddad's smiles directed at us earlier. "I'm sure he won't."

"Then how about one o'clock? That will give us time to hang out a little. And I can help you with the food."

I was sure that granddad would not mind Mark coming over, but I intended to ask him before I went to bed. "That sounds great."

"Cool. do I get in? I saw a keypad at the door."

Oh. I thought fast, and then laughed. "Call me a few minutes before you get here, and I'll come down to the lobby and let you in."

He gave a long - and, I thought, happy - sigh. "Okay. I can hardly wait."

I smiled at that, and breathed easier. Could this be as simple as it seemed so far? Could we really make something of this? The idea that I had just met this guy and was already planning a future with him would have stunned me only a few days before.

But that was a few days before.

We talked another hour, until it started to get late. I learned more about Mark, and in so doing, felt even closer to him than before. It was like there was this secret, invisible pipeline between us now, through which flowed marvelous and wonderful things. I laughed more in that hour - felt better in that hour - than I had in a very long time.

I wanted to talk to granddad before he went to bed, and finally had to end the call. I did that simply by telling Mark I needed to talk to granddad before he hit the sack. He sighed, said he could probably make it to one o'clock the next day without hearing my voice, and we said our goodbyes.

As soon as we disconnected, I felt the loss of his presence, and I knew then that it would be a lot more than having my feelings hurt if this relationship didn't pan out. Can you fall in love with someone in a single day? Is it possible for two people to meet, and know right away that they were meant to be together? I hadn't felt this way with either of the guys I had hoped to be with before. I had liked them both, and maybe had a little bit of the hots for them, but I hadn't felt the nearly overwhelming sense of needing to be with them that I was feeling now with Mark.

I put the phone on the nightstand, and went to find granddad. He was sitting in the recliner in the living room, a real paper book in his hand, his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

"What are you reading?" I bent down to try to see the cover of the book, and he held it up so I could get a look. It was called Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. "Any good?"

He smiled. "It has it's moments. How's Mark?"

I laughed. "Fine. Great. Wonderful."

He nodded. "I had the idea that the two of you were sparking a little."

I felt slightly embarrassed. "It's that obvious?"

"Oh, yes. I sparked with Sid, so I recognize it when I see it." He eyed me more closely then. "I'm happy for you. But have you considered the difficulties of having a relationship?"

"You mean that he'll be in the city, and I won't? Yes. It seems hard to deal with now, but we're hoping it will work out."

Granddad sighed. "Ah, the innocence of youth."

That was slightly deflating. "Are you saying it won't work?"

He looked surprised. "Not at all. I'm just hoping you're prepared for it to be hard going. You're both still young and dependent on others."

"I'm dependent, but he's not," I countered. "He's eighteen, and he already lives alone."

Granddad's eyes narrowed. "I thought he said he lived off West 64th Street?"

"He does. He has his own apartment."

Now granddad actually looked surprised. "Over there? He must come from money."

I related the sad story of the deaths of Mark's parents, and how they had left him a trust fund, and how he worked waiting tables to pay half his rent, and the fund paid the other half.

Granddad looked skeptical. "That's a hell of an arrangement. It would make more sense to move out of Manhattan, at least, and save himself a lot of money."

I shrugged. "He said he loves it here."

Granddad's expression softened, and he smiled. "That I can understand." He gave out an almost sigh. "But I think the first thing you ought to do is talk to Mark and see if you can get him to move closer to your dad's house. Since he's on his own it shouldn't be that hard. And it would be better for both of you."

"He probably has a lease," I said.

"He probably does. But it will run out eventually, and then he can move."

I frowned. "Is there a problem with him living in Manhattan?"

Granddad tugged at one ear lobe and shook his head. "No. It's just so expensive. A studio apartment over that way probably costs at least three-thousand a month."

I gasped at that, and he nodded. "See? He could get a bigger apartment out your way for half of that, or even less. I'm just thinking of his future, and yours. Unless he has a hell of a trust fund, it will eventually run out."

I licked my lips, feeling worried for Mark now. "Maybe it was a lot of money."

"Maybe. But if it was a few million or something, why wait tables to pay half the rent? He has to be looking at a finite amount that won't last him forever."

I hadn't considered that it might not be a simple thing. "I can't just ask him about his finances. I mean, we just met."

Granddad smiled. "I know. Believe me, I know how it is. On the one hand, you feel like you've known him forever; and on the other, you've just met."

That was it, exactly.

"So, what's his last name?" granddad asked next, smiling.

My mouth fell open. "Oh, crap! I don't even know!"

He laughed. "Well, I can't say I haven't been there, too." His eyes twinkled at me. "Maybe you want to ask him when you see him tomorrow, huh?"

I felt surprise come over me. "How'd you know I'd be seeing him tomorrow?"

He rolled his eyes. "You're not?"

"No...I am. I'd you know?"

Granddad put his hand on my shoulder, and rocked me gently. I could feel the affection in the gesture, and smiled.

"Sparks often lead to fire, son. I can already smell the smoke between you two."

My face got warm, but I grinned. "I invited him over tomorrow afternoon. I said I'd cook dinner for him. Is it okay?"

"Ooh. The direct appeal to his stomach. I like it!"

We both laughed.

"It's okay?" I repeated.

"Sure. Do you have any idea what he likes?"

"We talked a little about it. His tastes are pretty simple. I almost got the impression he's been living on spaghetti and fried chicken for a while."

Granddad laughed. "Oh, brother! Well, you could whip up a couple of small, personal pizzas, one for each of you. I have some glorious recipes you can look at." He smacked his lips. "I promise they'll be good!"

He put his book down and got up, and led me to the kitchen. There was a small bookcase to one side of the room, filled with cookbooks. He bent down, searched a shelf, and came up with one of them in his hand. "This book is by a fellow named Dante, who I actually knew in my youth." He smiled. "He really knew how to cook." And then he winked. "He made good food, too."

I looked at a few of the recipes, and whistled. "These are pretty involved, and I'm an amateur. I think I need something that's a little easier to make."

Granddad tapped the side of his head with his fingertips, and took the book back. "What was I thinking?" He put the book back on the shelf, nodded to himself, and pulled out a spiral-bound notebook.

"These are some of my own notes. A collection of quick but tasty recipes, and they're all pretty easy. There are several for pizza here."

I looked at a few, and nodded. "This is more like my speed. Thanks."

He smiled. "Nothing appeals to the heart quite the same as a pleasantly full stomach."

I knew he was only partly serious, and that what he wanted was for my evening with Mark to be a success. I saw the happiness he seemed to be feeling for me, and it made me frown, doubts suddenly crowding into my mind. "You don't think this is all happening kind of fast? I mean...I just met Mark."

His smile dwindled, and he nodded. "If your father knew you were already planning a life with this guy, he'd probably be horrified." He sighed. "You're only young one time, David. That's the time of your life where you can explore, and take chances...and make mistakes. You will find, as you get older, that you are a lot more careful with everything in your life. You will be much less likely to take a chance, much less willing to make mistakes. And in so doing, you might miss out on something important." He shook his head. "I don't want that to happen to you here."

I smiled. "You think he's worth it, huh?"

"I have a good feeling about him. He intrigues me, too, for some reason. But, yes. He's worth it." He leaned forward, his eyes searching mine. "If I had not taken a chance, I would not be with Sid now."

I nodded at that. "I never did know exactly how you guys met."

"I'll tell you sometime." He laughed then. "You'll think I was reckless and crazy."

I had to laugh at the very idea. But he seemed to mean it, and his enthusiasm for me and Mark seemed clear. "Okay."

"Good. Now let's look at what we have here so that I can answer any questions you might have."

He took the notebook from me and opened it on the kitchen table, and flipped through the pages. I went to stand next to him, and soon we were engrossed in finding just the right pizza recipe for a very special guy.

Mark arrived promptly at one on Thursday, and I let him in and brought him up to the condo. He oohed over the elevator, and sighed happily as I led him down the still glamorous hallway to where my granddad lived. His eyes missed nothing, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was enchanted.

"I love this place already!"

That made me happy, that here was another thing we shared. We went to my room, and Mark lowered himself into the big chair there, while I sprawled comfortably on the bed.

We spent the next few hours hanging out and talking, sharing all sorts of ideas, recollections, opinions on everything imaginable, and laughing and having the time of our lives. I know that expression gets overused, but I really did feel happier than I thought I had ever been. The time passed so quickly that I was almost stunned to glance over at the clock at one point and see that it was just about four now. Time flies when you're having fun!

"We'd better start the prep on the dinner," I said, jumping up from the bed. "You're gonna help."

I grabbed him by the wrist and hauled him to his feet, and he laughed as I pulled him along to the kitchen.

"What're we having?"

I turned and smiled at him. "It sounded to me that you really like pizza."

He nodded. "I do!"

"Then you'll like this. Homemade pizza, with just a touch of different."

We entered the kitchen, and I set him to work chopping things, slicing things, and grating the cheese. We talked as we worked, and it seemed to me like we were meant to be doing this.

I soon heard footsteps in the hallway. "I'm off," granddad said, tipping his hat into the kitchen. "Bon appétit."

I looked up from where I was working and grinned. "Have a great evening at the restaurant. And thanks!"

He smiled, both at me and at Mark. "My pleasure. Cook up a storm, guys!"

Mark smiled, too, and waved a hand. "Nice to see you again, sir."

Granddad's eyebrows bounced once at the 'sir', but I could see he rather enjoyed it somehow, too. He smiled some more, waved again, and turned to go. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" he called, and then was gone.

Mark's eyes met mine, and he carefully scratched the side of his chin with a finger not covered in flour. "I really like him. He's fun."

I nodded at that. "Yes, he is."

Mark watched me a moment, and then nodded. "You love him, huh? That's great."

I was surprised by that, but immediately knew it was true. "I guess I do. Almost as much as my own father." I looked up one more time at the vacant doorway. "He's been really supportive since I came out. He knows what it's like." I looked over at Mark. "You know?"

"Yeah." He was quiet a moment, and then nodded. "My dad wasn't like that. He was mad when I came out. My mom was only a little better." He made a small, sad face. "But they got used to it."

I remembered the way my own mom had reacted. "I know what that's like, too. My dad was okay with it, I guess because he was used to his own dad. My mom wasn't too happy at all, but she came around after a while." I winced. "Or, at least she stopped being mad about it."

We were both quiet for a moment, our hands busy as we kneaded the homemade dough. It was one of granddad's special fast recipes, easy pizza dough that was ready in minutes. After proofing the yeast, you put it in a bowl with flour, a pinch of salt, and some olive oil, and stirred it to mix. Once you got a smooth ball, you took that, put it on a floured cutting board, and kneaded it for five minutes. We were doing that now.

"What are you thinking about?" Mark asked.

I laughed, the recipe slipping right out of my thoughts. "Um...I don't know. Dough. Pizza." I smiled. "Us."

He laughed gently through his nose. "Yeah. Us." He gave a little sigh. "We're not going too fast, are we?"

I turned to look at him, surprised by the question. "Do you think so?"

His eyes met mine, and I saw some pain in them, but from what source I couldn't know. He gave a slow shake to his head. "I don't think so. I'm scared, but...this is what I want."

I closed my eyes briefly, and nodded. "This is what I want, too."

When I opened them, he was smiling. "You had me worried there, for a minute."

"Sorry. I know my dad will freak a little when I tell him I've met someone I already know I want to be with. He'll think it was way too fast."

"Will it be a problem?" Was that a trace of fear in Mark's voice?

"No. I'll just let him know this is what I want." I smiled then. "Granddad will help, too. He's all for us. He's a romantic."

Mark gave a slow nod. "Something to be said for that."

"Uh huh. Sprinkle a little flour on your dough. You want it smooth, not sticky."

I did the same, and glanced up at the clock. "Almost there. Time to roll that a bit. Grab that rolling pin, and make your dough ball into a circle about a half inch thick."

We both did that, turned up the edges of the circle all the way around, and soon we each had an eight-inch crust before our eyes.

"That's pretty cool," Mark said. "I didn't know it was so easy."

I laughed. "Following directions is easy. It's creating the directions that's the hard part. Creating food and food ideas is just like inventing something. Not everyone can do it."

We didn't want the dough to rise further, so, after gently pricking the rounds with a fork to help let any trapped air escape, we placed them into the preheated oven to pre-bake a little. I set the timer for five minutes, and we straightened up the countertop, and got out the toppings we had prepared earlier. Mark seemed delighted by all this, and after watching him smile so much, I had to laugh. "What's so funny?"

His eyes twinkled at me. "I never thought my first date would be a cooking class."

I laughed at that, until the words soaked in a little. "First date?"

He nodded. "First real one, yeah." He looked a little nervous then. "Do you mind?"

"No. I love the idea, actually." I considered that a moment, and nodded. "I hung out with a couple of guys, and had some hopes, but neither worked out. But I don't think we ever got as far as anything I would call a real 'date'. So this is pretty much my first one, too."

Mark looked delighted. "So you're a virgin?"

My jaw dropped at that. "Guys aren't virgins!"

He looked surprised. "Sure they are. If you've never had sex with anyone, you're a virgin, no matter what your gender."

I considered that. I'd always kind of thought of that term as belonging to girls, but I could see now that he was right. I licked my lips, feeling suddenly a little nervous myself. "Do hand jobs count?"

He laughed. "Giving, or getting?"


He shook his head. "Nah. That's almost like jerking your own dick. It's not really having sex with someone." He leaned closer. "Ever kissed a guy?"


He nodded. "Tongue?"

I felt my cheeks warm. "Yes."

He moved a little closer. "Did you like it?"

I leaned forward, sensing the interest in his gaze. "Yes."

For a long moment we simply looked into each other's eyes, and then...

He moved a little closer still, and I closed my eyes, and we kissed. It was short, a brief touch of our lips together, just a promise of more to come. I opened my eyes to slits as we separated a few inches, and found those beautiful pools of emerald green, slightly hooded with desire, right there, watching me. I leaned closer again, and this time there was more. I felt the tip of his tongue against mine, the magic warmth of his breath, the sense of his face right there, all mine. He smiled, and I kissed that, too. Kissing his smile was just as delightful as I'd imagined it would be!

The timer went off then, causing me to start, and we separated. Mark looked happy, and I was pretty sure that I did, too. My face seemed hot, and I was a little breathless, and I felt just...wonderful.

"Um...we have to get the crusts out," I said, too flustered at the wonder of that kiss to say anything else. He laughed, and helped me retrieve the crusts from the oven.

We'd made the sauce earlier, another of granddad's 'easy' recipes. You simply mixed tomato sauce and tomato paste together in a bowl until it was well combined, and then added oregano, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, a little ground red pepper, and a teaspoon of sugar.

I spread the sauce generously on the warm crusts, being careful not to gouge the still soft surface. On top of the sauce went a thin layer of finely grated Parmesan cheese to help things stick, then a liberal application of chorizo sausage chunks, fresh basil leaves, and thin slivers of red onion. We topped it all off with a layer of shredded Manchego cheese, and the pizzas were ready for the final baking.

"Now, back into the oven."

We did that carefully, and I set the timer. Fifteen minutes, with one turn halfway, was a good start, and then you just had to kind of watch them after that. Small pizzas, especially, could go from 'almost there' to 'overdone' in just a couple of minutes.

I bent a little and looked in the glass widow in the oven door, and as I did, Mark gently bumped me from behind. "Is that a good TV show you're watching?"

I laughed, and straightened and turned towards him. He inched a little closer, his eyes on mine, his smile definitely suggesting a devilish purpose.

"It's pretty hot," I ad-libbed, grinning. "The two main characters will melt your heart."

He gave a small sigh, and reached out and took my hands in his. "This is so wonderful. I knew the first time I saw you that you were the one."

I was touched by his intensity. "The one what?' I whispered.

He watched me silently a moment, his eyes searching mine. "I'm alone, David. And I don't want to be alone."

I could feel that loneliness in him then, the need for closeness and affection, and immediately thought back to what I had been considering earlier, about being surrounded by millions of people in the city, and still feeling alone. People were just shadows in your daily life here, until the moment when one of them stopped in their fevered haste, even if just for a moment, and the two of you connected. More often than not it was you who had to stop first, to reach past the small, impersonal interfaces that people used daily just to survive here, and actually touch the person in the background.

But not always. Sometimes it was the other person that stopped first, and smiled, and made the effort to reach towards you. And sometimes, and much more rare and special an occurrence, it was a mutual thing, where two people seemed to realize at the same time that there was some added reason to drop the barriers and make real and lasting contact.

I was feeling that now, and as certain of the need for it as I had ever been about anything. Mark needed me, and I needed him. It seemed that simple, that obvious, that right.

I squeezed his hands. "I don't want you to be alone, ever again."

He smiled, and look happy. And I wanted him to be happy.

"Can I kiss you again?"

I nodded. "I was hoping you would."

We did that, this time putting our arms around each other and rubbing our faces together first. The kiss that followed was slow and gentle. I had my eyes closed, savoring the warmth of his face against mine, feeling certain now that this was the touch I wanted more than any other one. That this was the touch that was going to count.

And then we just stood quietly and held each other. I felt needed and wanted, and safe in his arms, and a sure sense that I was right where I was supposed to be. That only strengthened my feeling that Mark was the guy for me.

I also felt something else: desire. The pressure of Mark's body against mine was thrilling, and my crotch began to feel full as I got a little hard, and I pulled my hips back a bit, embarrassed at what he might say, yet certain that he wouldn't mind.

The aroma of the pizzas reached my brain then, and I took a breath and gently pushed Mark away. "They'll burn, if we're not careful."

He looked down, and guiltily shifted his hips side to side a little. "Um...I think something's burning already."

I noted the slight bulge in his shorts, which was certainly no more suggestive than the one I was feeling down low myself. Sitting on an urge to laugh, I grabbed the oven mitt, and looked into the glass window again, and then pulled back the door. "Help me."

Mark picked up the flat baking sheet I'd laid on the counter by the oven, and I slid the pizzas off the grate onto that, and then pushed the oven door back to the first stop, and turned it off. The pizzas looked just right to me, and I carried them to where we'd set our table and slid them carefully onto the plates.

"Wow. "Mark's smile made me smile. "They sure smell good!"

"They'll taste that way, too," I promised. "It's why I picked this particular recipe. My granddad has made these before, and I've always loved them."

We poured some forest fruit bash, and sat.

"So," I said, in between mouthfuls, "you have to work tomorrow, right? Would you want to get together early, and do something before you go in?"

"Like what?" Mark's gaze was interested. "Remember I'm a city boy, and I've seen all the sights."

"You hadn't seen the catacombs," I reminded. "I'm sure there's something we could do that would be interesting for you."

He leaned across the table, smiling. "Doing anything with you would be fun."

I laughed, feeling pleased at the comment. "Well, there you go. Got any ideas?"

He took another mouthful of his pizza and chewed it, his eyes watching me as he considered things. "Well, I don't know. I haven't been to any of the museums in a few years. Do you like stuff like that?"

"Yeah, I do. Art stuff less than history, though."

He nodded. "Been to the Museum of Natural History lately?"

"No. Not in a couple of years, anyway."

"Same here. I think I could get into that."

I knew I could. I smiled. "Wanna call it a date? Our second one?"

He swallowed, and I could see him thinking about it. There was something there that I just didn't quite get - some kind of hesitation - that seemed to be at war with his obvious desire for us to do things together. I watched the brief battle with curiosity, but was afraid to ask too many questions at this point. Mark had had it hard since losing his parents, I thought, and I felt he needed a little time and room to order his life to this new situation.

Our situation.

But then he sighed, and smiled. "I'd love to call it a date."

I realized then that I'd tensed, awaiting his decision, and relaxed again. And then I remembered something that granddad had said to me, and I leaned forward again. "You know, I don't know your last name."

Now he looked surprised, and then he laughed. "Really? It's, uh, Mullaney."

I pulled back, tried the name silently on my tongue, and smiled. "I like it."

Some more loose emotion flitted across his face - something again that I couldn't put a name to - and then he smiled. "I'm glad."

"How did it go?" Granddad asked, the small smile he wore not quite covering the anxious look in his eyes. He was home early tonight, just after midnight.

I'd waited up for him, eager to share my evening. "It was pretty wonderful, actually."

He gave a little sigh, and the anxiety drained away. "That's good." His smile widened. "I'm very happy for you, David."

"Thanks." I gave him a quick hug, and then sat down on the sofa again as he pulled off his evening jacket and loosened the collar of his shirt. "How late did he stay?"

I frowned, remembering that little bit of oddness right there at the end. "About nine o'clock. It was dark by then, and he said he'd better get on home." I sought out granddad's eyes. "I wanted to walk him back to his apartment, but he wouldn't let me."

"Oh?" Granddad nodded. "Did he say why not?"

I remembered the brief urge to argue the point, and the patient look that had come over Mark's face. "He said I was a mugging waiting to happen. He didn't want me to be out walking around after dark, all by myself."

Granddad laughed at that. "I seriously doubt you'd have been in any danger here. Not at nine o'clock, anyway." His eyes twinkled at me. "But I think it's sweet that he was worried about you."

I considered that, and nodded. "Yeah. I would have liked to see his place, though."

"I'm sure there will be time for that." He leaned forward and patted my shoulder. "Don't rush this one, Davy. Take your time. If it's as special as it seems, it will all work out for you. Okay?"

I nodded. "I know. I just feel..." I laughed. "I don't really know how I feel. I want to know everything about him. I want to do everything with him. I'm...a little confused, I guess."

"I think I know what you mean." Granddad sighed, and sat down next to me. "Feelings are complex things. Especially when you're not sure where they're coming from."

That didn't make sense to me. "Aren't they all the same?"

"Oh, no." Granddad gave his head a brief but positive shake. "Some things we feel with our intellect, and others we feel with our emotions. And some things, we feel with our hearts."

I frowned at that. "Isn't the heart thing the same as emotions?"

"It's not...not really. Emotions are part of the mind, derived from how some part of our brain responds to things that enter through our eyes and ears." He smiled. "The heart is an unthinking organ, blind and deaf to the world. It responds to impulses of another kind, separate from all logic, and all emotion. That's why our reasoning and our emotions can tell us one thing, and our hearts entirely something else, often at odds with the first two."

I smiled. "I think my heart is telling me the same thing as my thoughts and emotions."

"That's even better, David. That's the best way to be." He nodded. "That's the most positive you can ever be about someone, when all three of those things agree."

"Okay. So...I need to be patient."

"Yes. You need to be patient."

I swallowed, and gave a little sigh. "It's hard."

He stood, and smiled down at me. "The best things in life seldom come easy. Are you ready for bed?"

"I guess. " I stood, grabbed up my tablet, and smiled at him. "I have to get up early, anyway."


"Uh huh." I couldn't help grinning. "Mark and I are going to visit the Museum of Natural History before he goes to work."

Granddad's eyes twinkled at me. "That sounds like a date."

A sweet feeling coursed throughout my body, and I smiled as we headed for the hallway. "Yeah. It is."


We met at the front doors of The Boltfort. I stepped out into the morning light, and blinked before settling my sunglasses into place. "Hi."

Mark's face was all a single smile, his pleasure at seeing me obvious. "Right on time. I've only been here a couple of minutes."

"I left as soon as you called." I grinned. "I was ready and waiting."

He glanced at his watch. "The museum will be open by the time we get here. Ready to go?"


He reached out and took my hand, gave it a squeeze, and led me along to the sidewalk. There he smiled, released my hand, and gave a little bow, and swept his hand forward. "Shall we?"

I laughed, and we started off.

I'd pulled up a map on my tablet the night before, and looked at West 64th Street, where Mark said he lived. It was about the same distance down West End Avenue from The Boltfort as The Bolfort was from the park. Maybe a five- to seven-minute walk. If possible, I wanted to walk him home later. I was curious to see where he lived. And where he worked.

The Museum of Natural History was another fairly short walk. From The Boltfort we headed down West 72nd Street past Bloomingdales's and across Broadway, and turned left and headed up Amsterdam Avenue to connect with West 77th Street. A right turn there, another block to Columbus Avenue, and there was the museum on the left.

That's a rather simple statement to describe a truly mammoth complex. The museum is huge, a series of 26 interconnected buildings that occupy roughly the same space as four city blocks. You can literally get lost in this place, and there is so much to see and do that no one-day visit can allow for it all. I had been to the museum dozens of times since I was old enough to remember, and still felt like I had not seen everything there was to see. The museum opened at ten, and that would only give us a little more than two hours to see things before Mark would have to head back to go to work.

It cost twenty-three bucks apiece for us to get in. We got the cheap tickets, because there was no way we'd have time for any of the special exhibits today. When Mark dug out his money, I pushed it back, and told him this was my treat. I had some money of my own, and Dad had given me a couple of hundred extra for the two weeks, on the theory that I'd want to do something to amuse myself.

Mark looked upset. "Now, wait a minute. You paid for the lunch last time, remember?"

"Granddad paid for the lunch," I corrected. "Or rather, his boss did. A business expense, remember?" I smiled, and squeezed his hand. "I want to treat you. So shut up and come on. We only have a couple of hours."

He sighed, looked distressed a moment more, then resigned, and then happy. The happy part stole my heart, and made me sigh. Yeah, I was sure where these feelings were coming from now!

We started walking, which in this particular museum can amount to a decent workout. There is just so much to see it can hardly be related in a few paragraphs. From the giant reception hall just past the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the doors, we proceeded into the fossil halls, with its skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Titanosaur. This latter beast was the biggest thing ever to roam our planet, the skeleton so huge that the head projects out of the 120-foot long room that holds it. There are dioramas of the dinosaur world, displays of different animals, and fossil remains of creatures that once dominated by size, speed, and power, and competed among themselves with intellects that we can only guess at today.

I took several pictures of Mark with toothy velociraptors leering over his shoulder, and he took pics of me before a towering mammoth in the hall of mammals. As we progressed we talked about what we saw, conjecturing on what it might have been like to have been a denizen of any of these much earlier worlds. It's just about impossible to imagine, especially with crowds of fellow humans mulling about you, all with their phones out taking pictures, and enjoying the day in an air-conditioned and well-lit world of technology and order. We humans are spoiled, as far as survival goes.

The blue whale hanging from the ceiling of the marine hall is stupendous, looking to be swimming just overhead. The entire hall is lit in blue, giving you the feeling that you're beneath the waves, and sharing the underwater world with its occupants. There are dioramas and displays on two levels all around the walls of the great hall, and Mark and I examined all of it with the glee of first-time explorers.

"This stuff is so cool," he said, as we paused to rest a moment before going on into the Guggenheim Hall of Gems and Minerals. "It's amazing to think about how much this planet has changed over time. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be an early human, hunting on the cold plains at the end of the ice age? Man, that must have been a rough life!"

My own enthusiasm was no less. It was wonderful to have someone to share this adventure with. "Uh uh." I leaned closer to him. "I wonder if there were any gay guys back then? I sure can't imagine being chased around by some huge, hunky caveman."

He grinned at that, and leaned his shoulder against mine. "I guess I'll just have to do."

I returned the grin. "I guess you will."

We were leaning against the rail before a diorama, but my attention was now upon Mark's eyes. They watched mine searchingly, and I knew I was looking back with equal intensity. I could see the new affection and the interest in his eyes, and maybe just a touch of the loneliness he had been feeling. There were no hard edges there, anywhere, but I did see something else that I couldn't put a name to. Once again, it seemed a sort of uneasiness, maybe even doubt. I didn't want to see that, didn't want him to be feeling that about us.

I put my hand on top of his. "I'm pretty happy right now."

He watched me a few seconds more, and then sighed. "I am, too." He rolled his shoulders once, and briefly pressed his lips together. "David, there's something I need to say. Something—"

Just then a toddler standing with a nearby couple let out a piercing squeal and lurched away from her mother, drawing my gaze. Mom looked shocked, and then set out after the child, while a man wearing a small backpack and holding a bottle of water rolled his eyes and looked resigned.

"Someone is definitely not thirsty," I said, laughing. I turned back to Mark, saw immediately the loss of certainty in his eyes, and realized then that some important moment had been broken. "I'm sorry. What were you going to say?"

He opened his mouth, and then closed it again, and then stood straight, allowing some space between us. "Nothing. It wasn't important." He gestured at the doorway to the next hall. "We'd better get going. I'll have to head off to work in about a half hour."

Now the idea that Mark has been about to share something pivotal consumed me. "Wait a minute. What were you going to say?"

He winced, and stepped away from me. "It wasn't anything. Come on." And then he started walking towards the next doorway.

I stared after him in shock, realizing that I had just somehow been shut out. After all the fun we'd been having it hurt, and I rushed to catch up with him. "Hey. Wait."

He stopped, and now he looked irritated. On seeing that, my mouth snapped closed on its own before I could speak again, and I just stared at him. What had just happened? I hadn't done a thing!

But then, creeping into the back of my mind, came granddad's words from the night before: Don't rush this one, Davy. Take your time. If it's as special as it seems, it will all work out for you.

For a moment Mark and I just looked at each other, all sorts of complicated thoughts snarling between us in big knots. He looked annoyed, and he looked afraid. I couldn't get a handle on the annoyed part, let alone any reason he might be afraid of me. But that the two things he was feeling were joined somehow seemed clear enough. Whatever he had been about to tell me, it needed to flow from him in his time, at his pace. I saw now that I could not draw it out, and that I shouldn't persist just to satisfy my own curiosity.

I nodded, and forced a smile. "It's been so fun, I hate to see it be over. But if you have to go to work, you have to go. Wanna look at the gems real quick?"

I think he'd been holding his breath. It sighed out now, and he nodded. "Yeah. Sorry. Let's go."

But the rest of the walk through the hall of gems seemed sour now, and he looked at stuff, grunted a few comments, and moved on. All too soon we had returned to the entry on 77th street, and were standing outside in the noontime sun.

"That was fun," Mark said, but he didn't sound like he had had fun. Yet I knew he had, right up to that weird moment near the end.

I reached out hesitantly, and laid my hand on his arm. "I had a lot of fun. I'm sorry you got upset."

He looked slightly shocked at that, and then somehow sad. He sighed, and put an arm around my shoulders. "Oh, what are you saying? I'm not upset." He squeezed me, and again I felt the affection there. It was as confusing in the wake of the past few minutes as it was comforting, but I wanted it, and so brushed away my doubts about any other things.

We started off, heading back to The Boltfort. I hadn't gotten a clear idea of where the restaurant where Mark worked was located, and now I was afraid to ask. I'd had some idea earlier of maybe walking him to work, but now I wasn't even going to mention it. Something was wrong here, something I just couldn't figure out. Mark had been about to tell me something back at the museum, something very important to him, that he really wanted and needed to share. I wanted to help with that...but, just as clearly, the moment to do that had passed. And now was plainly not the time to try to force the issue.

So we walked back to 72nd Street mostly in silence. Mark seemed distant, unhappy, and upset with himself. He would smile at me when our eyes met, and I still could see the affection there. But there was a sadness behind it now that worried me, and had already started eating away at me. I wanted to grab him and pull him to stop, and to demand to know what was bothering him and messing up our day together.

But I kept remembering granddad's advice about patience, and not rushing Mark, and I somehow knew that I shouldn't ask him more questions, and so I didn't. Mark deserved his space, and it had to be his decision to share it with me.

All too soon once we were again at the door to granddad's building.

"Can I call you tonight?" I asked.

He nodded, again looking sad. "Sure, I'll be home about midnight, if that's not too late for you."

"It's not." I didn't know what to say next, so I just waited.

He watched me a moment, and then looked around quickly; and then he leaned forward and kissed me. It was a shock, even though I saw it coming. I pressed my face against his, letting him know I was with him no matter what was bothering him. He seemed to feel it, and when he pulled back, he was smiling. "I'm sorry I was an ass."

I shrugged. "You have no reason to be afraid to talk to me."

He nodded, looking unhappy again. "I know. I just...there are a few things —" He licked his lips, and forced a smile. "We'll talk more later. I promise."

I smiled. "I'll call you around midnight. Have a good evening at work."

He nodded, squeezed my arm a last time, and then turned and started down the steps to the sidewalk. But he didn't look elated like he had the last time I'd watched him leave. Now he seemed hunched forward, and lost in thought, not the happy guy I'd met here at the door just a few hours before. Again I stood and watched him go up the block, hoping he would turn one last time, and wave.

Only this time, he didn't look back.

Granddad frowned at me when I came into the living room. "Hi. You okay?"

I blinked at that, and followed it with a shrug. "I don't know."

He digested that quietly, and then patted the sofa next to him. "Come and talk."

I sat, and immediately started telling him about our visit to the museum, how it had started out fun, but then we'd gotten to that odd moment, and it had all gone to shit. He listened quietly, his eyes watching mine, and I could see him considering everything I said.

"I just don't know what happened," I finished, shaking my head. But then I managed a smile."I feel like crying. But I'm too old."

He laughed, pleased to see that I had not fallen into a complete depression. "You're never too old for that, I can tell you." He dropped a hand on mine and gave it a fond squeeze. "But we'll save that for later, okay?"

I sighed, and nodded. "What do you think is going on?"

"I don't know. It sounds like your Mark has some things going on he's not happy about. He wanted to tell you something, and the moment where his courage was up to the job was shattered by the incident with that child. Just that quickly, he was too frightened to go on."

"He did act that way. Like he was scared, and annoyed that he was scared. He didn't want to talk to me at all after that, it seemed."

"Rebound. He put himself out there, and it didn't take. I suspect his anger was at himself, not you. Some of it just leaked your way, David."

I felt relief at that. "I guess. It wasn't fun, believe me. I thought it was over that fast, and I just had no idea why."

Granddad smiled at me, and squeezed my hand. "Oh...well, this is your first time having something like this happen. But believe me, any relationship worth having can weather little moments like this without a problem."

I grunted at that. "It didn't feel little to me."

"I guess not. It was your first upset, really. You'll need to get used to the idea that a relationship is not always smiles and kisses. There are a few thunderstorms in there, now and then. But if you and your guy love each other, it will never break what you have."

I felt a moment of shock at that. Love? Did I love Mark? I didn't know!

Granddad gave a gentle laugh. "Something I said?"

I smiled at him. "You used the 'L' word."

"Love? It has to be there, for a lasting relationship."

"Yeah. I just hadn't gotten to thinking about that yet."

He nodded. "That's understandable. All of this has happened very quickly. You and Mark really don't know each other yet."

I had to agree with that. It had been sudden, and there was still so much I didn't know. And now it seemed that Mark had things he wanted to tell me, but was afraid to bring out.

But the question remained...did I love him?

I didn't know that answer to that. I wanted to love him, to be with him. I felt that he wanted to love me back. But had we arrived there yet? So quickly?

Maybe not. Maybe love just didn't happen that fast. It took time to blossom, didn't it? It had to mature.

"I want to love him," I told granddad. "I think we've planted the seeds, anyway."

He nodded, his eyes bright. "Then they'll grow. In time."

I sighed. "'re saying that it's too early for me think it's over, when it's hardly even gotten started."

He patted my hand again. "You've just laid to rest any doubts I may have had that you were not really your father's son."

I gasped at that, and then laughed. "You thought I might not be dad's son?"

He laughed, too. "Well...not really. But your mom has not been totally loyal, and we don't really know when her peregrinations began."


He laughed again. "Never mind. You have the Henderson looks and the Henderson eyes, and now I know you have the Henderson brains. Welcome to the family, son."

I shook my head at him, knowing now that he was playing, trying to cheer me up. And, that it was working. "You're not right in the head, granddad."

He nodded, looking pleased. "See what you have to look forward to in your old age? Mild insanity."

I sighed, and sat back into the cushions. "Thanks. Mild insanity would be fun right about now."

"'ll be okay. Mark will have the night to think things through. This is a big change for him, too, I'm sure. Whatever is bothering him will have to work its way out into the light."

"I'm supposed to call him at midnight. When he gets home from work."

"Then relax. Nothing can happen before then." He frowned. "I need something to take your mind off this." He leaned closer. "The cameras came. You can set them up in the hallway."

I gave a little surprised laugh at that. I had totally forgotten about our ghost. "Wow, that was quick. Um...okay." It would be something to do, and I needed something to do right now. "Where are they?"

"On the kitchen table." He squeezed my hand a last time, and then sat back. "I have a few things to do before work today. But you can call me if you need help with my laptop."

"I think I can handle it." I smiled at him. "But thanks. For everything."

He nodded. "Relax, David. This will all work out."

I nodded, hoping he was right. And then I got up and headed for the kitchen.

There were four wireless cameras in the set that granddad had purchased. Each ran on a lithium-ion battery that was rated to hold a charge for six to twelve months, depending on usage. That seemed like an awfully long time to me, but batteries these days are wonderful. These cameras were motion-activated, could see in the dark due to the infrared LEDs in each camera head, and remained in standby mode until they detected movement, thus conserving power and video storage. They were just right for what we wanted to do.

Which was monitor the front door, the hallway, and the kitchen. If activated, the cameras sent their streams via Wi-Fi to the receiver attached to granddad's laptop, where an app would record them to the drive and send an alert signal to an app on my phone. I chose my phone, because granddad didn't carry his while at the restaurant, and, besides, I was most likely to be close to home.

The cameras were mounted on an adjustable base, and could be placed upon a surface or mounted to the wall or ceiling with screws. Then they could be aimed, and pretty much left on their own to do their jobs. Granddad could have handled this on his own, really. He wasn't a tech geek like I was, but he wasn't a complete Luddite, either.

I set a camera to cover the front door and the living room, and then placed one at each end of the hallway. The last I mounted to watch the kitchen, making sure that it covered the back entry as well. Then I made myself comfortable in the living room and activated the system, and granddad and I checked the views from each camera.

"Oh, that looks fine," he said, smiling, as I held the laptop so he could see. "If anyone comes in while we're out, there is no way we'll miss them."

"Well, we have to put your laptop someplace out of the way," I returned. "It won't help us if someone comes in and then steals your computer or messes with the recordings."

Granddad looked thoughtful, and then nodded. "Come here a moment."

I set the laptop back on the coffee table and got up to go with him. He led me to the hallway, then into the den. The furniture here was all polished woods, beautiful, and old. Granddad had collected the pieces during his several trips to Europe, where antiques seemed to grow on trees. 'You want something old, go to the old country', he always said.

One piece was a cabinet with carved doors up top, and four drawers below, set two and two, side-by-side. The top was a single piece of dark polished wood, the sides made of panels, one set siding the doored upper section, another set siding the drawered section below. It was an ornate piece, very handsome, and I had always liked it.

I'd learned as a kid that the bottom two drawers weren't real, just being a single piece carved to look like the faces of the two drawers above. Granddad went to the cabinet and squatted at the side of it, reached to the back edge, and gave it a pull. The side of the bottom half of the chest opened on hidden hinges, revealing an inset that acted as the wall of the box holding the top drawers, and an open space below where the fake drawers were located.

I got down on my knees and looked inside, and could see that the hidden space went clear to the other side of the cabinet. It was lined with red velvet, upon which sat a small wooden chest, one that you might normally see atop a man's dresser for rings and watches and things. Granddad pushed the little chest deeper into the hidden space, and then patted the velvet floor. "This should do, huh?"

I was amazed. "What's this?"

He smiled at me. "It's a valuables vault. I guess you never knew when some robber would show up back in the day. This cabinet was made about 1810, before the cops were just a cell call away. You'd be surprised how much old furniture has hidden spaces like this built in."

I laughed. "I won't ask you what's in the little chest."

His eyes twinkled at me. "Okay. Then I won't tell you."

I laughed again, but examined the area inside, and nodded. "It's big enough. We'll just put your laptop here when we go out. With the top down and the screen dark, the battery will last for hours."

"Sounds like a plan." He closed the side door, and showed me where the hidden clasp was. I opened and closed it a few times, just to make sure I could.

We stood again, and granddad checked his watch. "I'd better start getting ready to go."

I leaned against him, put an arm around him, and gave him a brief hug. "Thanks for always being there."

He sighed, and gave me a squeeze back. "We're family, Davy. Your welfare is important to me."

I smiled up at him. "Oh. I thought maybe you just liked me for who I am."

He returned the smile, which went deeply into his eyes. "Well, there's that, too."


"Hi. How was work tonight?"

"Oh, not bad. I'm tired, but that's the usual."

I bunched the pillow more under my head so it would hold the phone to my ear. "I wish I'd brought my headset with me. I just didn't think I'd be on the phone much while I was here."

"Lucky you, huh?"

There was something sad in that reply. Something that bothered me. It sounded like Mark's mood had darkened, rather than improved.

"Yeah, lucky me." I hoped I sounded as positive as I was feeling. "I couldn't wait to talk to you again."

"Well, here I am."

I laughed. "Tell me about your night at work."

We discussed his evening at the restaurant, which didn't exactly sound thrilling. Most people's jobs are not thrilling, so that was no surprise at all. But the longer we talked, the less I realized we were saying. It was almost like the polite banter that two people that hardly knew each other might make while passing the time waiting on something. Every time I tried to get more personal, to talk about us, Mark would steer me away. I began to grow frustrated at his distance, until I finally grunted out an irritated rebuke.

"What the hell is wrong with you? It's like you're a million miles away!"

I knew immediately that it was a mistake. The connection was silent a moment, and I was shocked to sense distress coming from the other end. After what had happened earlier in the day, I had argued myself into thinking that our brief falling out at the museum was just one of those dumb things that happened sometimes, and that Mark wasn't really mad at me. Granddad had suggested that Mark would have the day to think about it, and that our conversation tonight would be much better.

But Mark had had time to think, and not only did he not sound better, he sounded worse! It now seemed that something really was broken here, and I just couldn't believe it could have happened. A cold sense of dread coursed throughout me as I realized that this was not something that was just going to go away.

And now, despite what granddad and I had agreed about going slow, I had just stepped out and issued a challenge. I was immediately mad at myself, and moved quickly to try to make it right. "I'm sorry. I'm just worried about you. I feel like something is wrong, and it's eating me up."

"Nothing is wrong." His voice was a monotone, totally unconvincing.

I shook my head, and had to grab the phone to keep it from falling to the mattress beside me. "Something's wrong. Please tell me."

"It''s not anything. I'm just tired, I guess."

I gaped a little at that, knowing for certain now that he was holding me at arm's length, and not telling me the truth. I felt a sense of rising panic, that this thing I had come to want so much between us was somehow slipping away before it had even had a chance to grow. "Was it something I said, or did?" I asked.

He sighed, sounding even more upset. "Oh, no. It isn't you at all. It''s me, David. I'm just really fucked up, is all."

I think I gasped. "How? How are you fucked up? You seem fine to me."

"You don't know, that's all."

"I don't know what?"

Again there was a silent moment, before he went on. "Oh, man, I just don't feel very good, okay? I'm tired, and I need some sleep."

There was more, obviously, but I was afraid now to push, to ask too much. But that he was avoiding me hurt, and scared me, too. "Can I see you in the morning? Before you go to work?"

"I don't think so."

There was a finality to those words that shocked me. "You're not dumping me already!" I blurted, without thinking.

I heard him take a breath, and then give forth almost a whimper. "Oh, don't be silly. I just...I just need to sleep, okay?"

I couldn't think of anything to say then. I had settled down for what I had expected to be a long, pleasant call, and now it was over before it even started. I was scared now, plain and simple. Anything I might say could make it worse.


He made that sound again, almost a whimper. When he spoke again, his voice was a whisper. "Let me go, David. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"

"Will you?" I asked, not convinced.

"Yes. I promise I will."

I felt a tear run down my cheek then. "Okay."

It was all I could say. To argue, to do anything now but to give in, would only make things worse, I felt.

"Goodnight, David."

It had the ring of a goodbye. I clenched my jaw, and nodded. "Goodnight, Mark. I...I'll talk to you tomorrow."

We disconnected, and I held up the phone and stared at it. The inside of my head felt like stone, all hard and covered with sharp edges. I couldn't think about anything, and found I didn't want to, either.

I put the phone on the nightstand. Granddad would be home shortly, and I didn't want him to see me like this. I wouldn't know what to say, and I also found I just didn't want to talk to anyone.

I turned off the light and got under the sheets, and closed my eyes and cried.

The morning was not much better. My eyes popped open after a troubled sleep, and found the previous night's conversation with Mark right there, waiting. I turned it over in my mind, and couldn't see any good side to any of it. He had put me off, he had evaded my questions, and he'd given me every sign that he didn't want to tell me what the hell was going on. His sadness about it came through plainly, and it made me think he had already made the decision not to pursue our relationship. He just didn't have the nerve to tell me yet.

But why? That's what I couldn't figure out. I was sure now that I hadn't done anything wrong. And I was also sure now that whatever was bothering him was not something that had suddenly come up since we had met. This had to be something Mark had been carrying around before he met me, something that was just driving him nuts, but that he couldn't share with me, or was afraid to. I had tried to make him see that I didn't care what it might be, that I still wanted to be with him, but...

He was blinded by whatever it was. He couldn't see past it, which meant he couldn't see me wanting to help. That was the only explanation that I could come up with.

I wanted badly to talk to granddad about it, but at the same time I didn't. I didn't want him to tell me it was over, maybe, or that there was nothing I could do. Or that all I could do was wait, which was pretty much the same as doing nothing.

I got up and showered and got dressed, and then went to the kitchen and fixed myself a bowl of cereal. As I sat at the table, I could picture Mark and I there just two nights before, laughing and joking as we made our pizzas. And getting close, and kissing. That had been like magic. I had been sure then that this was something that would last forever.

So where had it gone? Where had the secrets suddenly come from?

I was certain he was hiding something from me, something he was afraid to share. It had to be something that he felt would seriously screw up our relationship. I felt like I could deal with just about anything, that nothing he could say could matter enough to pull us apart. What hurt was that it was like he didn't trust me to do that.

I munched on a mouthful of cereal, and realized with a little shock that it really was exactly like I had told granddad: on the one hand, it was like I had known Mark forever. And on the other hand, we had just met. And that was at the heart of the problem.

I really didn't know Mark at all.

There was something scary about that realization, and something very sobering. Yes, we had been moving along quickly. But I knew now that my thinking had rushed on ahead of even the quickness of our feelings about each other. I had felt that this was the one special relationship I was looking for, and so I had made no allowances for the idea that it might not be that way at all.

The truth was, I had no idea what I was doing, none at all. I had assumed much, and I had been traveling on emotions, and excitement, and...hope. Mark and I had said some nice things to each other, and we'd kissed, and I had assumed that meant something special was happening between us, something that would last. So I had made no room for the idea that each of us had entire lives going on behind the scenes, about which the other was totally unaware.

I felt kind of flat then, like my emotions had simply drained away. The kitchen seemed too light somehow, everything stark and hard-edged, all the friendliness and happiness I had always associated with it now gone. It was like a photo, real, but just a place, like any other place. Real, and empty.

A place without Mark.

I finished up my cereal, rinsed the bowl out, and put it in the dishwasher. Then I found granddad's notepad, and left a quick note saying that I was going to the park for a walk and would see him tonight. I put the pad right where he would have to sit to eat breakfast, to be sure he would see it. He wouldn't mind that I had gone out, as he considered the park a safe place. And I was a big boy now, and could take care of myself.


I think the first hour I walked, I didn't see much of what I passed. The park was full of people, but I didn't notice them mostly, either. I simply stuck to the paths, placing one foot in front of the other, moving with the other wanderers, the group constantly changing as people broke off to stop some place to gawk, while others joined the slow walking clusters of people among the trees. I'd turned left on entering the park, and had walked along the lake, passing the Ladies Pavilion and continuing on to the Shakespeare Garden, and then to make a sort of rambling circuit of the Great Lawn. I hadn't been paying attention, and when I finally realized I'd retraced my steps more than once, I made for the Belvedere Castle to find a place to sit. It was hot out, I was hot, and I needed to just sit and be quiet a bit.

Nothing had changed inside my head. Well, much. I still felt like the world had ended somehow, but now I had grown used to the idea that it hadn't been all that well established a world in the first place. I mean, it had only been a few days since I had met Mark. A few days, out of seventeen years. So why did it seem so much more?

A kind of dullness had replaced my anxiety and hurt. I guessed it was acceptance, or a pre-acceptance, because Mark had still to tell me we were over. But the certainty that that would happen was now upon me. I should have known it was too good to be true. Stupid!

I found a nice shaded spot where I could look out over the Turtle Pond, and I just sort of retreated from thinking, just watching the people, the gently swaying trees, the summer day all around me. Tons of people, everywhere, and yet I had never felt so alone in my life. That kind of made me mad then, and I realized that I had given up on Mark, and that I had no reason to be doing that. I wanted to be with him, right? I wanted us to be happy, right?

I thought myself around in a circle twice, and then just had to stop, feeling I was making myself nutty. I just didn't have the experience to be dealing with this, not by myself, and not just inside my own head. I should have stayed at the condo and waited for granddad to get up, and talked to him. He knew more about this stuff than anyone, and it would have had to have helped.

I pulled out my cell, looked at the time. It was just after two PM. I hit the icon to call Granddad, and was pleased to hear him answer quickly. "Hello? David?"

I forced myself to sound normal. Or, what I thought was normal. "Hi. I'm at the park."

"I saw your note. Is everything okay?"

"Sure. I was just thinking about heading back. I wondered if you would have a moment to talk?"

"Oh...I'm in the elevator right now, heading down. I had a few things to do before going into the restaurant. Would you like me to wait in the lobby for you?"

I felt a sinking feeling, and then just a sad one. I didn't want to mess up Granddad's day, and the things I had to say were not so well laid out yet that I thought I could do it quickly or orderly. More time was needed, quiet time to consider stuff.

" It's nothing really important. It can wait until tonight."

"You're sure? I don't mind waiting for you."

But now that I was considering looking at this whole thing with Granddad, I knew I was not looking at it with any sense. It all felt jumbled and confused in my mind now, and not ready to share. "No. That's okay. Have a good evening, and I'll see you when you get home."

The phone was quiet a moment, and I knew he was gauging my response. "Okay. But you call me if you need anything, hear me?"

I had to smile at that. "Okay. But I'm fine. See you tonight."

I guess I was convincing enough. "Alright, son. Don't get too overheated, okay? It's the hottest day of the week so far."

"I'll be back home in a bit," I told him. "Stop worrying. I'll see you tonight."

"Okay. Bye."


I sighed, and shut off the phone. Even though I hadn't shared a single thing with Granddad, just talking to him a moment had been enough to steady me. To remind me that I was not alone, and that things could always be worse. I'd been doing what Dad called 'fatalistic thinking', which was a short cut to depression, and never solved anything.

I still felt resigned to disappointment, but it was not like my life was over or anything. I still needed to talk to Mark, and when I did, I felt I had a right to at least ask a few questions now. Even if we were over, I had a right to know why.

I headed back the way I had come, paying more attention to the things around me. When I got to the lake, I saw the same two gay guys I'd seen the other day, sailing their little boat on the calm waters, smiling and talking and just enjoying each other's company. It made me smile. There would be time for that sort of thing for me, someday.

I reached Terrace Drive and was heading over to West 72nd when my phone chirped and vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out, thinking that Granddad had decided to pass on one last thing, and was startled to see an unfamiliar screen on the phone. It took a moment for me to realize what it was: the app for the cameras back in the condo. An alert!

For a moment I was just shocked into immobility. For the app to have notified me, Granddad would had to have set it before he left. He could activate and deactivate it from his phone, just like I could, though I had only set the alert to go to my cell. It was possible that Granddad had come back for something, and forgotten to deactivate the cameras...

But I didn't think so. Granddad was sharp. I just couldn't see him forgetting that quickly.

For a moment I was tempted to call him, just to ask if he had gone home. But he would want to know why I was asking, and if I told him the cameras had activated, he would turn around and head straight back to the condo. It would spoil his day, and I was not even certain there was a reason for that. I mean, the cameras were supposed to be reliable, but...

But what?

There was no reason not to tell Granddad. He would even be upset that I hadn't, I knew. But for some reason, I didn't want to do that just now.

Instead, I pushed the cell back into my pocket and started back to the condo at a jog. It cut the return time in half, and it was less than five minutes later that I was heading up in the elevator, a distinct thrill running through me as I saw the possibility of solving the enigma of the ghost. Some small part of my mind was aware that I was not dealing with this very smartly. Another part kept saying that this was my mystery, not Granddad's, and that I wanted to be the one to solve it. I guess with all the other nutty thinking I'd been doing all morning, it wasn't really at all out of place. But as I reached the double doors to the condo and pulled out my key, I did pause a moment to wonder if I was heading into trouble here.

Was I? The ghost had never been there when we had returned. The one time I had sensed it while in my room had been the only time it seemed to have been present when one of us was, too. And it had fled then, hadn't it? Disappeared and left no trace. Except for a few missing slices of bread, maybe.

I stuck the key in the doorknob and turned it, then withdrew it, and used the second key to get the deadbolt. I pulled out my phone and deactivated the cameras, and then I pushed the door open and stepped inside. For a moment I stood still, listening. The condo was quiet, and even exuded a sense of emptiness, a sure feeling that no one was there. But then I heard it: that weird sound I'd heard before, muted and somehow eerily distant, like the call of some giant bird, but plainly coming from down the hallway towards the bedrooms.

I closed the front door and waited. The silence in the condo was very regular, the steady tick-tick of the pendulum clock in the living room the only sound. I continued to listen, but no other sounds came to my ears. My senses told me that I was alone, but some other feeling also arose, a feeling that someone had been here, and that I had just missed them by seconds.

How could that be? The front and rear doors were the only ways in or out, and from the front door I could see down the side hall into the kitchen, and clearly that the back door was closed. No one had gone out that way, and no one had passed me. So what the hell?

I headed for the den, and the cabinet where we had agreed to stash Granddad's laptop when we were out. It was there, waiting. I pulled the computer from its hidden location and went back to the living room, and set the machine on the coffee table. I raised the lid, and sat before it.

The screen lit, showing the camera app right off. I checked it, saw that two of the cameras had run for nearly eight minutes. Paydirt!

But then I had to scratch my head. The two cameras that had run had been the hallway cams at each end. Neither of the cameras watching the doors had been set off! That didn't make sense!

I brought up the file for the first cam, that looked down the hallway from the living room end and faced all the bedrooms. I took a deep breath, and set it running.

Immediately, I saw the hallway door was open. That motion had been what had set the camera going. Someone came out of the door, but the open door itself mostly blocked the view. I had a quick glimpse of an arm and a leg, but then they moved up the hallway and the door cut them off.

I switched to the file for the second camera, which was mounted at the other end of the hallway. Again, the hallway door was open, a hand on the inner knob, the arm it was attached to disappearing inside the closet. For a moment, nothing changed, as if the person was listening...and then someone came out.


My mouth hung open in disbelief, my head just unable to process what I was seeing. Mark was the ghost? How was that possible?

I simply stared at the image on the screen. My Mark. In Granddad's condo! A series of disjointed thoughts flashed through my head in short order, each lit by different shades of emotion: angry disbelief at the realization that I had been fooled by a guy I thought I was falling in love with; consternation and confusion, over how it could even be that Mark was in the building at all; a stunned understanding that it had to have been him in the hallway that day I sensed an intruder; and a vivid and undeniably anxious accompanying notion that he must somehow be behind all the weird 'ghost' events all over the upper floor of The Boltfort for the past several months. Months!

That would mean he was already here, well before I arrived. That would mean he discovered I was here the day I sensed him in the hallway. And that would mean...he had overheard Granddad and I planning our trip to the catacombs, and purposely gone there to meet me! The ideas were scary, the planning apparent now, and the reasons...every stalker movie I'd ever seen flashed brief scenes in my mind.

But...everything that had happened between us had seemed so real! So spontaneous! Not planned, not cold and plotted. Not made up, with some ulterior motive in mind.

In the video, Mark came out of the closet, and walked down to the door of the guest room. My room. He extended his arms and leaned against the door frame, and looked inside, and just stood there. For more than a minute he didn't move; and then he raised a hand and wiped at his eyes, and I realized he was crying.

Crying. All my suspicions faded then. The anger, the disbelief...all of it receded to the back of my mind with the simple understanding that Mark was expressing anguish over something. And that that something simply had to do with me. I gasped, realizing that in my anger I had not given him the benefit of the doubt in any of my thinking, something I certainly owed him if I cared about him at all.

A slow, aching feeling rose from the pit of my stomach. I did care about him.

But I was frozen now, watching, as Mark just stood there, looking into my room, occasionally wiping at his eyes, and doing nothing else at all. The timer on the recording hit three minutes, and then four, and then five, and still he just stood there, looking into my room like he might find me there. Six minutes passed, and now he seemed to be talking to himself. Seven minutes, and he was shaking his head, and kneading himself between the eyes with a tightened fist.

And then he suddenly started, looked back towards the front of the condo, and then tiptoed back to the closet door, went inside, and closed the door.

The recording froze, and then ended. Clearly, this had been the point where I had returned home. Then Mark must still be nearby!

I jumped to my feet, raced down the hall, and threw open the closet door. I scrabbled for the light switch within, found it, and pushed it upwards. The light came on, revealing the inside of the closet.

Empty, just like before.

Once again I went about the walls, pushing on them, but they were solid. The floor was carpeted, and I pulled on that and pushed, but it was securely attached to the floor. I looked up then, shielding my eyes from the overhead light.

That only left the ceiling. It was covered with carved panels, and looked as solid as the walls. The circular light fixture was set towards the rear of the closet, leaving more than enough room for a door or hatch of some kind towards the front. I had examined the ceiling several times already, and hadn't seen anything of the sort. What I needed to do now was to examine it more closely. It had to be the way Mark had gotten into the condo!

But what if there was no door there? What if there was nothing? It just couldn't be so...unless Mark was somehow not real.

For just a second I was stunned all over again, the idea that Mark might really be a ghost creeping eerily up my spine and expanding inside my head. But...wait. That was a ridiculous idea. I didn't believe in crap like that, for one thing, and ghost could kiss like Mark could kiss. I smiled briefly at that, and examined the ceiling again. That had to be it!

And then I was on my way to the dining room. There I pulled one of the stout wooden chairs from beneath the table and carried it back to the closet, positioned it beneath the expanse of paneled ceiling inside the closet door, and then climbed aboard. The chair gave me the height I needed to touch the ceiling, and I gave it a gentle push.

Not only did it give a bit, but it groaned. I gave it another push, and could then see a line that ran directly above me, normally concealed between rows of panels. But when I pushed harder, I could feel a solid resistance, telling me quite surely that either the panel was locked somehow, or that it wasn't designed to move upwards. That could only mean that it was meant to come down.

I got down off the chair and moved it closer to the closet door, got back up and pushed gently on the ceiling again. This time I discovered the leading edge of what was certainly a rectangle, one large enough to be the very door I was searching for. I gently bounced the panel, until the leading edge dropped enough that I could dig my fingernails into it...

I managed to pry it downward. Just as it got to a point where it resisted, my fingers slipped into the exposed crack, and then I was able to apply more force. I grabbed hold, and carefully stepped down off the chair.

The ceiling dropped at an angle, now obviously secured at the back by hinges, just in front of the light fixture. I lowered it carefully, and as it came down I was treated to slower version of the weird bird call I'd heard before, though now I could plainly see the large springs on either side of the panel that were the origins of the sound. And then I was looking at a folded ladder inside the panel, no different than the one leading up to the attic in my father's own house.

An attic!

I wasted a moment staring at it, before grasping the ladder and pulling it down. It unfolded easily, and as it did so, handrails stood up along each side, and the panel dropped even lower until the end of the ladder touched the floor.

Above was a square rectangle of darkness, and the answer, perhaps, to more than one riddle in my life just now. I had to know, and I had to know now. I knew that this would probably lead to a confrontation, and one that might not turn out well. But I had to know what was going on, and whether or not it meant the end of my relationship with Mark.

So I grasped the handrails, put a foot on the first step, and started upwards.

I had no sense of danger about what I was about to do. This was The Boltfort, a place I had grown up with, and loved like my own home. This was Granddad's place, always a safe haven from the bothers of the world. And this was the way that Mark had gone, and surely Mark was no danger to me.

Even as I ascended the ladder, I knew that Granddad would be astonished to learn that there was a hidden way into the home he'd lived in for thirty years, one he not only didn't know about, but one he had never even suspected existed. I was briefly reminded of my own thoughts on secret panels and hidden doors, and how Granddad had said such things would certainly appear in the building's plans. Then what about this attic door?

I reached the top of the ladder, and slowed as my head rose into darkness. But then I turned and saw a light, one some distance off, and plainly obscured by a plethora of bulky items stacked between me and the source of the illumination. I continued upwards, slowly now, and as my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I could make out a floor all around the opening. There were lots of things piled about that floor, some large and square, others smaller and with less definite form. The notion that these were the things that one might actually store in an attic came to mind, and with it a sense of wonder at how long all this stuff had been here. Granddad had never mentioned this place, certainly. And he had been living in the condo for thirty years!

I stepped out onto the floor, and paused to let my eyes further adjust to the dimness. Above my head, a vaulted roof trapped the shadows, the illumination from the distant light not strong enough to send them fleeing from their secret places. Darkness also crowded in from each side, providing a tunnel-like effect that spread as it approached the light, while what lay beyond that point of illumination was again reduced to a mystery list of indistinct outlines, shapes, and shadows.

It was eerie, no doubt about that, and I had to study the floor for what seemed a long time before I began to feel it was safe to move away from the ladder. There was a pathway between the clutter, and I moved into it now, watching where I put my feet, but also keeping an eye on the hazy sphere of light ahead of me. It wouldn't do to fall over something in the dimness, and announce my presence too soon.

As I moved I started to become aware of the things I passed. There were more boxes than anything else, and the smell of cardboard was strong in my nose now. The boxes ranged in size from large to small, and were piled atop each other in apparently random patterns. Mixed in with the boxes were all sorts of other things, some of which did not immediately identify themselves, but others which were obvious: rugs, curtains and curtain rods, furniture, books, papers - things that might normally find their way to an attic. The stuff had not been dumped here, but stored neatly, and there were odd divisions between the piles - areas of clear floor space - that suggested that the items might have been put here by more than one owner.

And yet, the place didn't seem dusty or musty. There was no real smell of decay here, no sense that the things stored all around me were moldering away with time. That seemed at odds with the apparent secret nature of the place, and would be something I'd want to investigate further after I settled my main reason for coming here.


I was getting near to the light source now, and became even more careful how I stepped among the shadows. Finally, I came to what looked like a large trunk of some kind, upon which sat a tall box overflowing with pleated cloth, which hung down the side of the trunk like a silent waterfall in the night. Beyond that barrier was the light source, a single light bulb beneath a shade, that hung down low from a wire that vanished into the shadows above.

The light hung over a small table beside what looked like a camping cot of some kind. On the other side of the cot, a large piece of luggage stood opened atop a box, and I could see neatly folded clothing inside. A backpack sat on the floor by the bunk, and a jacket and a hat were hanging from a makeshift stand nearby. There were several things laying atop the table that suggested that someone had been here recently: a small music player with a pair of lightweight headphones, a box of crackers, a capped bottle of spring water, a wristwatch, and what looked like a wallet.

But no one was in sight.

I squinted into the shadows all around, but there was nothing to suggest that I wasn't totally alone.

"I heard you coming," a voice said quietly.

And despite that quiet tone, it made me jump. My heart thumped in my chest as I looked quickly around me. "Mark?"


I looked around again. "Where are you?"

I heard him sigh. "At the end, I guess."

The depression was plain in his tone, and it set off little alarm bells in my head. "At the end? At the end of what?"

"Everything. What you see here. Us. Everything."

I shook my head. "It's not the end."

"Isn't it? I lied to you, David. About a lot of things."

I nodded to myself. "I know. I get that now." I frowned, considering it all. "Did your parents really die, the way you said?"


"In a car accident?"

He made a small, lost sound. "It happened so unexpectedly. One morning I had a family, and that evening, I was alone."

That was painful to hear. I knew my own upset at just having my parents separate. Losing both of them completely would surely be devastating. "I'm so sorry.'

"So am I. But it's done."

"What happened after that?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yes. It does to me."

"Well...I lived with an aunt for a few months after it happened. But she didn't really want me there, and so when I was eighteen and able to, I left. I came back to the city."

"So not everything you told me was a lie," I decided.

"No. Not everything."

A desperate thought came to me then. Something I had to know. "You didn't lie about us, did you? About liking me? About...wanting to be with me?"

I heard that little whimper again, the one I'd heard on the phone the previous night. "No. Not about that."

I closed my eyes and gulped a breath. "Then it's not over."

He was silent a moment. His voice had seemed to come from off to my right, but when he spoke again, it was out in front of me somewhere. "It has to be. How can you ever trust me again?"

Thoughts came and went so fast in my mind that I was tripping over them, not able to sort out which ones I wanted to say. My mouth sensed this, and spoke on its own. "Why are you living here in the attic?"

"I didn't have anywhere else to go."

Now his voice seemed to issue from over to my left. I looked that way. "What about your apartment?"

He gave out a small, bitter laugh. "Oh, I had that. That much was true. I had it for a month, when I first got here." He stopped, and seemed reluctant to go on.

"What happened?" I prodded. I needed time to think, and I also knew I needed to keep Mark talking. He sounded desperate, and afraid, and so very alone that it hurt to hear.

"Well - I got back to the city about six months ago. I dropped my stuff in a cheap motel and went down to The Village. I knew I couldn't afford to live here by myself, and that I needed to share a place. I figured The Village would be a good place to start looking, you know?"

I understood what he meant now. He'd been looking for a gay roomie, someone of like mind that might take him in for a share of the rent. "What about your trust fund?" my mouth asked, before I could stop it.

Again, he sighed. "I had that, but it was just ten grand. Not enough to live on long in the city. I have some left, but not much." He stopped a moment, and I was afraid he might not go on. But then he did. "I met a guy named Luke in The Village. He managed a restaurant near here, and he said he was always looking for good help. I said I needed a place to stay, and he said he'd hire me, and that he even had a spare bedroom in his apartment, and that I could pay some rent out of my pay. It seemed like a good deal, and it was just what I needed to stay here."

I sensed where this was going. "But it wasn't such a good deal, huh?"

"No. Luke was nice at first. But he was interested in me, you know? And not in a way I wanted. The guy was twice my age, and while he wasn't bad looking, he just didn't ring my bells."

I winced at that, able now to actually feel his upset. "That sucks."

"Yeah. After a few weeks of being nice, he suddenly wasn't. He suggested that a room wasn't the only thing he'd thought I was looking for, and that if that was all I wanted, maybe I should look elsewhere. He gave me to the end of the month to think about it."

"Did you?" I was caught up in his story now.

"Yeah, but not the way he wanted. I came over here to The Boltfort and talked to Mr. Santini, and he agreed to let me stay with him a few days until I figured something out."

The name rang a bell, but I had to think a moment before it hit me. "You mean the maintenance guy here?"

"Yeah. He's alone in that little apartment, and it has two bedrooms. He said I could use the extra one until I figured out what to do."

That made no sense to me. "Really? do you even know this guy?"

"My dad knew him."

"Your dad?"

Mark made another small whimpering noise, and followed it with another sigh. "My dad used to be the maintenance man here before Mr. Santini. I used to live here, David."

The shock I felt at hearing that made me gasp. Thoughts whirled about inside my head, until, oddly enough, something my Granddad had said about Mark came to the surface: "He's very...comfortable, too. I almost had the impression I'd met him before."

"You lived here," I repeated, flatly.

"In the apartment downstairs, in back. When Mr. Santini said I could stay with him, I moved back into my old bedroom, in fact."

"That was nice," was all I could think to say.

"You know, I...I used to see you when you'd come to visit your granddad.."

There was somehow a smile in those last few words, and it pulled me from my shock and actually made me smile, too. "You saw me?"

"Oh, yeah. I mean, the first time I saw you, I was like fourteen. I already suspected I was gay. And after I saw you, I was sure of it."

I laughed at that, tickled. "You liked what you saw?"

He sighed. "Yeah. And I never stopped, either."

Four years. Mark had been aware of my existence for four years, and I had never once suspected his. "You couldn't have said hello?"

"No." The smile was gone from his voice now. "My dad said that the help didn't mix with the tenants. Especially not the condo owners. He was really class conscious, for some reason."

"That's stupid," I said, before I could stop myself.

"Yeah. But that's how it was. So I could only see you from a distance when you came to visit your granddad, and not do anything about it." I sensed another smile come into his voice. "But I did dream about you a little, and wondered what it would be like to know you."

"I can't believe I never saw you." But it was my turn to smile. "My granddad told me he felt like he had met you before."

Mark gave out a soft, strained laugh. "I'm sure he saw me around. I was always helping my dad with something. I've grown a lot since we moved, and I was hoping he wouldn't recognize me."

I nodded. "I think my granddad thought a lot of your dad. He said he took wonderful care of the building. He doesn't feel the same way about Mr. Santini, I'm afraid."

"Mr. Santini is a good guy," Mark countered. "He takes good care of the important stuff in this place. He just —"

The silence suddenly grew. "He just...what?" I prodded.

"He just doesn't love The Boltfort like my dad did. Not yet, anyway. And he's not really a people person. He does his best, but he comes across as a little sour."

I remembered what Granddad had said about the man, and nodded. "I heard your dad was very good with this place."

"Yeah. He loved this old building. All of us did. But when he got offered the job in Boston, it was more money, and he wanted me to go to college. He didn't want to leave, but decided he had to. And so he wanted to make sure the building was left in good hands. He pulled strings with the owners to get Mr. Santini the job."

"Really? He thought Mr. Santini was that good?"

"He is that good," Mark corrected. "Sure, he doesn't worry about the looks of things like my dad did, but he takes great care of the building and all of its machinery. He and my dad were in the Navy together. They've been... they were friends for a long time."

I was amazed by all this, but also somehow very pleased. It was a relief to know that Mark had been aware of me for years, and had just made a move when the opportunity had recently presented itself. It was a far cry from the feeling I'd first had that he'd set everything up on the spur of the moment like some kind of weird stalker might do. He liked me, and he had for a long time!

"Why do you think this is the end?" I asked then.

He was quiet a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was once more off to my right hand. "Man, I lied to you. About so much stuff. How can you trust a guy that did that to you?"

I considered that. "So you don't work at a restaurant?"

"No. That job went when I left Luke's place."

I shook my head. "You've been living in the attic of The Boltfort for five months?"

"Well, more like four. Mr. Santini was starting to get nervous about me being there in his apartment. He hadn't been thinking I would need to stay very long, and had told his boss that I was a family friend just visiting for a while. But that kind of started to look weird after a month, you know? And the building super is always at the apartment, telling Mr. Santini that this or that needs to be done. That guy is a pest! So it's not like I could always just hide from him."

I nodded. "I can see where it might have gotten a little strange."

Mark laughed, this time a pleasant little sound that made me smile. "I know every inch of this building. I played here when I was little, and I explored everything and everywhere." His affection for The Boltfort was clear. "I suggested to Mr. Santini that I could kind of float around the building, and not stay in his apartment any longer. He thought that was crazy, but he finally said he'd just look the other way. I know it was risking his job to have me here. But he felt he owed that to my dad."

I was amazed at this. "How do do you come and go without being seen?"

"Oh, that's easy. The maintenance apartment has its own entry around the other side of the building. When they built this place, they really wanted to keep the staff separate from the tenants."

I nodded. "Ah. So that's how you get in. But how do you get up here?"

"There's a spiral staircase behind the maintenance apartment. There's a steel door at the end of the hallway on each floor over in that quarter of the building that gets you to it. The maintenance man used to use it to get where he needed to go."

My jaw dropped at that. "It's twelve floors up here! Well...thirteen, I guess! That's a lot of climbing!"

"You're telling me? But that didn't bother anyone back then. The help was the help. Mr. Santini uses the elevator now, just like anyone else. But the stairs were perfect for me to get around with."

I shook my head. "I can't believe my granddad has lived here all these years and doesn't know there's an attic."

"He's gotta know," Mark countered, stunning me. "I'll bet some of this stuff here is his, even."

I grunted. "He's never once mentioned it! And he didn't know about the ladder in his hall closet, I know!"

"Oh. That." Mark sounded embarrassed now. "The tenants keep stuff up here, David. When they want to store something, they call Mr. Santini, and he comes up to their floor. There's a little cargo elevator, like a big dumbwaiter, by the spiral staircase. He puts the stuff in that and sends it up here. Then he comes up the stairs, unloads it, and puts it together and marks it. So your granddad knows there's an attic for storage, but he's just never been up here.'

I gaped at that. "But what about the ladder in my granddad's closet?"

"Only the apartments...the condos...on the top floor had that access to the attic. Those ladders were capped off fifty or sixty years ago for security reasons. I, uh, I removed the caps myself."

A light went on in my head then. "So that you could sneak into the condos and steal stuff!"

I hadn't meant it to be an accusation, but there it was, and I could tell it had hurt Mark by the tone of his reply. "I never planned to do that. I just wanted access to bathrooms and sinks. There's eight big condos up here, and at any given time, at least one is empty while the owner is out. I got to know everyone's schedules, and so I could take a shower, shit and piss, and do stuff like that. I didn't mean to become a thief."

I considered that, and nodded. "Just small stuff, huh? My granddad said bread and food was missing sometimes."

"Jesus! I tried not to be greedy. It started out with just a slice of bread or some cereal here and there, maybe a can of soup. I figured people wouldn't miss small stuff, and it almost didn't feel like stealing."

"It was," I pointed out.

"I know. Believe me, I know. But as my money went down it became harder to make ends meet. I got so I needed that extra stuff to keep going. I was afraid that if I started eating all Mr. Santini's stuff, he'd eventually make me leave. He sends a lot of his money to his daughter in Florida, to help raise her kids. He lives on a budget, and he didn't need me messing that up. But he didn't know what I was doing. We almost never see each other anymore. I come and go through his apartment, and he's never asked me for the key back. I think he's relaxed now, because no one seems aware I'm here. I really didn't know your granddad knew I'd taken some of his food."

"And that you showered in one of his bathrooms," I dared. "And some of his neighbors have said that their food has gone missing, or the TV remote was moved, or that they just felt like someone had been there."

"Fuck. I didn't know that. I guess I was getting so relaxed that I got careless." He sighed, and this one sounded like a broken one, a defeated one. " I guess I really need to find somewhere to go."

"What about me?" I asked.

He was silent a moment. Then: "I'm sorry if I hurt you. I really didn't want that."

"What did you want?"

There was a pause before he answered. "I guess I hadn't thought it out, you know? As soon as I found you were staying with your granddad, I thought I finally had a chance to meet you. I heard you guys discussing going to the catacombs, and I just about killed myself getting there ahead of you. I just wanted to meet you, and —-"


"I don't know. I didn't really start to think about all the lies I was telling until after you and I had dinner together. Until after...after I kissed you. I thought there was a future there, then, and that's when it hit me how much I'd lied to you. And then I couldn't see a way to undo that. And that's when it started to come apart."

"You were going to tell me in the museum, weren't you?"

"Yeah. But...that toddler yelled, and it spoiled the moment. I got scared, and I couldn't finish."

"I wish you had," I said quietly. "Because I think I love you."

There was silence a moment, and then a sob. "You can't," he said softly, his voice breaking.

I had been listening to my thoughts while we had been speaking, and my emotions...and my heart. They had all agreed, and the path ahead was clear. I turned, zeroing in on his voice, and moved towards him, my own reply issuing forth as a whisper: "I already do."

He was sobbing softly, and I made my way towards the sound. I moved silently and quickly, afraid the moment would be lost if I hesitated. I rounded a pile of boxes and there he was, his face down on his arm, leaning against the other side. I went to him, and put an arm around his shoulders. He started violently, and looked up at me, his face wet, and twisted in anguish.

I think my heart broke completely then, and I felt tears brimming forth from my own eyes. I leaned closer and nuzzled him, and kissed him, and he came into my arms, and we just stood there and held onto each other, while everything that had come before that moment dissolved and was swept away, no longer important. I knew what I wanted then, and where I wanted it to go.

The silence between us lengthened, but I also felt us each relaxing, the hard and worried edge slipping away. Mark was quieting, regaining control.

"Don't you want this?" I finally managed, drawing back and trying to smile at him.

He nodded, and I could see the yes in his eyes.

I nodded, too. "Then come with me. I think know someone that can help."

Granddad sat back against the sofa, his eyes going from me to Mark, and back again. "That's quite a tale." But then he smiled at Mark. "I thought you looked familiar. Your dad was Tom Houghton?"

"Uh huh." Mark looked at me. "Sorry. Mullaney is my aunt's last name."

I shrugged, and tried the new name, pronounced like Haw-ton, and found it rolled off my tongue just as pleasantly. "I like it."

He grinned at me, but then turned back to granddad. "I'm sorry I lied about everything," he said sadly. "And that I took your stuff. I'll try to find a way to pay you back."

It was nearly one in the morning, and Granddad had looked tired when he'd come in. But now his eyes were bright and interested, and his smile gave me a lot to hope about. "I don't think that's necessary. Considering the opportunity for real theft you had with gaining access to all the condos up here, I think that just missing a few slices of bread is ample proof that your conscience and morals are all working from the right place."

Mark looked stunned, his gaze going around the living room. "Oh, I would never have —"

"I know," Granddad cut him off, waving a hand dismissively. "That's what I mean. So we'll forget about the small stuff, okay? I see no reason why the neighbors should know of it at all. My feeling is that they will simply be happy to be rid of their ghost."

I smiled when Mark looked perplexed. "Ghost?"

"You were in the hallway, that first day I was here, weren't you?" I asked him.

He rolled his eyes and looked embarrassed. "I had no idea you were visiting. Talk about being freaked! I was sure you were going to nail me."

"I was pretty freaked, myself," I explained. "I guess I waited just long enough to react for you to get back to the closet. I was sure I saw the door close that last little bit, but when I opened it, there was no one there." I laughed. "But I did hear that spooky sound the springs on the ladder make. It sounds like the call of a big bird, when you hear it through the closed door."

Mark laughed. "I oiled the crap out of those springs, too, but couldn't totally get rid of that noise. Your trap was the only one that did that, too."

"Karma," Granddad said, smiling. "It has a way of bringing things together."

Mark and I grinned at each other at that.

"That first time spooked me," I went on, "but I was able to talk myself out of it being real. But when you came in while we were at the park and moved my tablet, I was sure someone was getting in here."

Mark looked guilty. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see what kind of stuff you were reading. I thought I put the tablet back where I'd gotten it."

I smiled. "Fantasy, mostly."

He also smiled. "I like fantasy."

My heart skipped a beat at the way he looked at me, but I managed to continue. "We bought some motion sensitive cameras and put them around to watch the hallway and the doors. They recorded your last visit, and that's how I knew to look for the hidden door in the closet."

Mark's jaw dropped. "I was going to ask you how you found it!" He considered the idea a moment, and then put a hand to his forehead. "Damn. I never even thought about something like cameras. I'm glad it was you that did that, and not one of the other tenants." He looked unsettled now. "I could have wound up in jail!"

"There is that," Granddad conceded. "While your lifestyle up until now displays a certain inventiveness, it cannot be allowed to go on."

Mark and I both laughed, and I circled my arm around his and hugged it. Granddad watched us, his smile slowly broadening. "So...what to do with you?"

"I don't want to live this way," Mark said immediately. "I need a job. And a place to stay while I do it. I've already learned that it's impossible to have one without the other."

"A place nearby," I added gently.

He smiled at me. "That would be best."

Granddad nodded. "What can you do? I mean, besides wait tables? Detailing your experience is usually the first step."

Mark looked briefly taken aback. "Well...I don't have a lot of experience with anything."

"I didn't, either, at your age," Granddad said. "But what I mean is...what are you good at?"

Mark frowned. "Well...I helped my dad around here a lot. I'm good with tools, and good with my hands."

"I'll say," I put in, leaning against his shoulder again.

"You're really distracting me," he whispered, but took a moment to rub his cheek against mine. I could feel his fondness, and it was energizing.

Granddad laughed. "Ah. Now that's something. idea comes straight to my mind, too."

Mark and I both leaned towards him. "What?" I asked.

But Granddad just smiled, and leaned forward and patted my knee. "Patience. Let's not jump the gun." He frowned, and then nodded to himself. "I'll need to make some calls in the, better to go in person." He stood, and motioned for us both to stand. "For tonight, just relax. Mark, you are more than welcome to use the extra bedroom tonight."

I brightened at that. "I'm sure it will be better than that cot."

Granddad nodded. "In fact, bring your things down and put them in the extra room for now. Because tomorrow I want to see about getting those trapdoors sealed up again."

Mark looked contrite at that. "I can do it. The caps were just bolted in place, and I saved all the hardware." He looked at me, and then back at Granddad. "I'd rather Mr. Santini not know I removed them. He'll worry unnecessarily, and I don't want that for him."

"I can help you," I offered. "It's not like my day is going to be busy or anything."

Granddad nodded. "I'll accept that. Just so they're closed up again."

I leaned against Mark. "Come on, and I'll help you get your stuff down."

But Mark paused, looking at Granddad. "I...thank you, sir. I really don't deserve this."

"I think you do." Granddad reached out and laid a hand on Mark's shoulder. "Your dad and I shared something special in common, son. We both loved The Boltfort. I used to compliment him on the effort he made in keeping this place up, the extra things he would do to keep the building beautiful. And he used to smile, and say, "She's worth the trouble, you know?"

Mark looked surprised, but then smiled. "I didn't know that. But I feel the same way."

"I know. And that is going to help you with what comes next."

I wanted to ask what that was, but Granddad's expression said he was not telling any secrets tonight. He waved at us to go, and then shook his head. "That's enough for now. I'll need to get up early tomorrow to talk to a few people and see what can be done. The two of you get a good night's sleep, and tomorrow, seal up those closet entries."

Mark thanked Granddad one more time, and then followed me down the hallway. "I knew I liked him," he told me, once we were out of earshot.

He seemed happier than I had seen him in some time - maybe even since I had known him. Or, maybe it was just more relaxed. There had always been a slightly wound up quality to Mark that probably had come from existing on his own in a city full of strangers. I tried to imagine what that would have been like, and couldn't. I had a mom and a dad, and I saw now that I didn't want to lose either of them. So I would be making some allowances myself in the coming weeks.

We brought Mark's stuff down, and then folded the ladder back into place. When we closed the trapdoor, the springs groaned, and didn't sound so much like a big bird close up. It would be the last time I heard that particular sound, I supposed, the last time we would use that hidden door.

But it would not the last time I would think of it, I was sure.

I paused as dad and I exited the front doors of the building. The new maintenance assistant had the pressure washer out, and was deftly cleaning the ornate stonework on the other side of the doors. He was wearing a clear plastic face mask, and I didn't think he could see us out of the water-speckled side of it.

"Can you wait a moment, dad?"

He smiled at me, and nodded. "Sure. I'll be over there, on the bench." He nodded at the concrete and wooden seating that formed the squared sides of the little plant-filled area beside the main walkway, and then moved off.

I approached the maintenance guy, and saw him become aware of me. I immediately pointed at a still grubby area of stonework, and raised my voice to be heard over the power washer's compressor. "Hey, buddy. You missed a spot."

He looked my way, then let off the trigger on the washer's wand and bent over and turned off the compressor. He hung the wand over it, and raised his mask. "Yes, sir. I'll get right on that, sir."

I laughed, and moved closer. "You're doing a wonderful job, really."

Mark grinned at me. "It's a labor of love."

"Love?" I tried to look blank. "What's that?"

He moved closer and looked over my shoulder at dad, who was intentionally not looking our way, and then he looked at the people going by on the sidewalk, who just plain didn't care what we were doing here. He reached out a hand and laid it against my chest. "It's when you care more about someone else than you do about yourself."

I gave a sigh at that. "I know what that's like."

We smiled at each other, and Mark moved a little closer. "I'm going to miss you. I was just getting to know you."

I nodded. "It's just for two weeks, while we get this thing settled with my mom. My dad said I can come back for a while after that, and you already know that Granddad is in favor of it."

"Yeah. He's a miracle worker, your granddad."

Who would have known that Mrs. Lendlhoff, one of the owners of the Boltfort, was a fan of Granddad's cooking, and a regular diner at Ludie's? And that Granddad knew so many people and could get so much done in so short a time? There was really a lot of truth to that old saying that it wasn't what you knew, but who you knew.

"I love your granddad," Mark said seriously. "He's really special."

"He likes you, and that's all it takes with him."

A smile crept into his eyes. "I love his grandson, too."

I felt my jaw tighten briefly, and nodded. "I think we're going to be good together."

He shook his head, looking amazed. "I can't believe I got this job. My dad always did all the maintenance here alone."

"That's not true," I said. "And as Granddad pointed out to Mrs. Lendlhoff, you helped your dad keep up the building for free for years. You know every inch of the place, and what's more, you love it."

"Yeah." He shook his head slowly, as if he still couldn't believe the way things had gone. "Mr. Santini sure was shocked when he heard he had a new assistant. But I think he likes the idea already. He's been pretty cheerful, and whistling a lot."

I nodded. "You're good there, in his spare bedroom?"

"Sure. I think he likes the company. And...he was really fond of my dad. He says I remind him of dad a lot."

I sighed. "I hate to go. But I'll call you every evening, okay?"

"If you don't, I'll call you."

I looked around quickly, saw no one watching, and leaned forward and kissed him. He gave back as good as he got, and I could feel the magic of his touch. "See you soon," I said, drawing away and rubbing his arm.

He nodded. "Be careful out there. It's a wild world."

I gave his arm a last rub, and turned back to the walkway. Dad must have been paying more attention than I thought, as he immediately rose to his feet and smiled as I came up. "Ready?"

"Yeah. Let's go."

Dad had left his car at the Icon parking on West 70th street, a short walk away. It was another warm day, and would soon be hot. But it felt good to be out in the sun, good to be moving on with things. The future seemed a lot clearer now, a lot less frightening.

"I'll bring you back after court, okay?" Dad said. "You can stay here part of the summer, or all of it, if you like. Granddad said he'd be happy to have you."

"You won't be lonely?" I asked, watching him.

"Maybe a little. But I'll be happy knowing that you're happy." He reached over and squeezed my arm. "I'm already happy that this all worked out so well for you and Mark. I like him, and I think he'll be good for you."

I laughed at that. "Granddad said the same thing."

Dad nodded. "Your grandfather loves you, David. He's a good one to have on your side."

I looked up at him. "You're not so bad, yourself."

That seemed to please him, and he looked content.

We reached the corner of the next building, and I realized then that here was the last possible place I could turn and still see the front door of The Boltfort. I stopped, and did just that, spinning around to see if Mark was looking.

He was. I could see his face light up in a smile, and he stuck his arm up tall, and waved it mightily. I grinned for all I was worth, and raised my hand high, and waved back.

We mugged at each other for a full minute, probably looking stupid to anyone watching, but neither of us caring in the least. Finally, aware of dad standing patiently beside me, I waved to Mark a final time, and turned to go.

"Sorry," I told dad, smiling.

He laughed. "You shouldn't be."

"Okay, I'm not."

We grinned at each other a moment; and then he sighed, and took me gently by the arm, and started me for home.

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