Frank dashed between two guys who were leaving their places and cut off another one approaching the same space. “Sorry, pal.” He pulled his zipper down and sighed in relief.
“Don’t do it.”
“What?” The interruption came from the man on his right. Between the splashing and the crowd around him, he wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly.
“Don’t do it.” His new acquaintance was his height, maybe a little shorter, hair completely grey, cut in a way that felt oddly familiar to Frank.
“I think it’s a little late now,” he replied sarcastically, covering for his reaction. My god, he looks like me – say, oh, 20 years from now. If I had a really hard life.
“Oh, not that,” the other replied with the same sardonic smile. “I mean,” he looked around to see if anyone was paying attention. Intermission was nearly over and the others using the restroom were hurrying to get back to seats, to sons, wives or buddies. “I mean Angie.”
Frank twitched. “Sorry.” He zipped up and started to the sink. His companion came after him. “What about her?”
“I know what you’re planning for tonight.” Their eyes met in the mirror as Frank washed his hands. “Don’t do it.”
“Why not?” Frank focused on his hands, on the soap, on everything but the older man. He was angry. Who set this guy up? Charlie? Susan? Damn it!“Hell, why is it any of your business anyway? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“Oh, but I’ve seen you. Everyday. Ever since about 1964 or so, when we were at the age when they say babies start developing self-awareness. Remember the little mirror Mom strung over our crib?”
The question felt like a sucker punch to Frank. He struggled to catch his breath and concentrated hard on the reality around him, trying to bring his world back into focus. Rich!It had to be his older brother who did this. Hadn’t he just looked at Frank the night before, with a comment about how he’d been in a long dry spell with women and he hoped things were better with Frank.
“Tell Rich it didn’t work, whatever it was –“
“Rich had nothing to do with me being here. I’m YOU, Frank.”
“I don’t believe it.”
The older man rocked back on his heels, smiling. Frank thought his “older self” smiled like a shark on the prowl. “I know something only we know, something Rich and Susie and Steve have no idea about. Sister Therese, when we were 11 years old, remember? Remember looking through the dortoirwindows? How…”
“Stop!” Frank looked around. Not that anyone was that close, but it was not one of his more cherished memories and he didn’t particularly want to share it with anyone. Of course, if this man in front of him was telling the truth – “Just be quiet.”
“Then listen to what I’m telling you. Yoube quiet for a minute.”
Frank paused, and then shoved his hands in his pockets. “Go ahead. You got two minutes.”
“Tonight you want to take her home, right? Take her home and stay.” Frank’s older self closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Believe me, you’d have enjoyed it. A lot. She’s amazing.” He opened his cold brown eyes and locked them with Frank’s. “But … even though she ought to be too old, you get her pregnant. She doesn’t tell you because when you decide it’s over, you tell her never to call you again.”
Frank shook his head to clear it. “I do what? Why?”
“Sandy puts the screws to you about Jenny. You can’t bear the thought of losing Jenny and you break both your heart and Angie’s and move on.” He continued, “Only one day you’re at the market where she shops and you see her and she’s big as a fucking house. Eight months along, easy. It takes you more than six months to find her – she moves. And when you do, she tells you to go away, that you made your choice and she doesn’t want you around her and your son.”
Frank gasped. My son? He turned away from the other. No one knew how badly he wanted a son. He loved Jenny, had from the moment she was born, but he’d wanted a son more than he could express. And Sandy had said “no”; no more children. A son!
There was something that was almost sympathy in the older man’s eyes. “I know what you’re thinking. But it doesn’t work out that way. When she shuts you out, you lose it. And when the smoke clears, she’s dead and the little guy is howling. You grab him and run for it. But they catch up with you and they take him and you’ll never see him again.”
Frank rocked back and forth.
“You get an all-expense paid vacation at the pen in Holloway. Not exactly fun-filled.” He grabbed Frank by the arm and shook him to get his attention. “We’re not that big, you and I. Oh, we’re in good shape and all that, but we’re not very tall or nearly strong enough and I guarantee you that no one who has sex with you over the next 15 years will look anything like Angie.”
The younger man jerked his arm away, revolted.
“So here it is. This is my last chance to change our lives. I tried this once before, but it turns out if you don’t take her home and she goes on the Subway, she’ll be killed. Some mugger or attempted rape. You know how she is – she fights back, only she winds up dead.”
“What kind of choice is that?”
“Not much of one, I grant you. Either way she winds up dead. There’s a third choice.”
“Take her home. Leave her there. Don’t touch her.”
Frank trembled. He thought of what they’d shared so far – it wasn’t enough, hadn’t been nearly enough. He wanted her. He wanted it all. Her long, soft hair, like flame, the tall, slender body … “I can’t – please don’t make me choose! Now that I know; now that I understand … I can change things. It doesn’t have to turn out …”
“Who are you talking to, bud?”
Frank spun around. An arena security guard was there, hands on hips.
“I was … where did he go?” He looked around, but the second period had begun and the concourse was empty, except for a few stragglers.
“Nobody. I mean, he must have taken off.” Frank brushed by the security guard and headed back to his seat.
After the game, Frank and Angie walked down the sidewalk. “Listen –“ They turned to each other almost simultaneously, and laughed. “I know you want to come home with me, but we both know you have to get back,” she said. “I’m just going to take the subway. There’s lots of people heading home, too. I’ll be fine.”
“No, Frank, I insist. You get going. We’ll have time another day.” She kissed him and walked briskly away, dodging through the crowd with the agility of a much younger woman.
He watched her go, torn. Looking down at his hands, he seemed to feel blood on them.
He could see her in the group ahead of him, auburn hair shining in the lights she passed, and he rocked back and forth in indecision.
He began to walk, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until at last he was running.