The Saturday before Lent, Noel got a printed invitation to the 4/4 Club’s annual Mardi Gras party; there was a scrawled note on the back that read, “Noel, bring as many guests as you want! – C.” Noel turned the invitation over and over in his hands, looking solemn. I said, “Have you heard of this party before?”
“It’s a big deal,” Noel said and put the invitation on the table between my breakfast bowl and his. “Simon threw this party from the time he bought the club. He gave away so much booze and food he lost money every year, but he loved it too much to stop doing it.”
“Did you go?”
Noel shrugged. “Once or twice. Mardi Gras is a crazy time — parades and costumes and balls, and alcohol everywhere. And the beads, of course. Tons of beads.”
Caleb leaned over me from where he was eating his breakfast to look at the invitation, and then looked up at Noel. Noel stroked Caleb’s hair and said, “Caleb wasn’t even a year old when he went to his first Mardi Gras party.” He looked up at me. “Cozy has talked to me about this. He said if I didn’t want him to he wouldn’t, but I’d hate to disappoint our regulars. I told him it was fine with me, if he wanted to.”
“You should go,” I said. “I’ll stay home. Anything that involves standing for a long time is a bad idea.”
Noel nodded slowly, then said, “You can watch the parades from the club. There’s always one route that goes down Bourbon Street, so Grace and Simon would set up chairs on the roof and the galleries, and buy beads for their guests to throw. Cozy plans to do the same.”
“Do you do want to go?” I pressed gently.
“We should, at least for a few hours.” He sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. “Cozy says there are a lot of people who’d like to see me. What they want to do is talk about Simon, but I suppose eventually I’ll have to let them.”
Caleb leaned against my side. I stroked his hair — unruly, today, and in need of a cut. “Fifty years ago we would have let this mop grow into ringlets,” I told him, and he wrinkled his nose. I said to Noel, “We can leave early if you get overwhelmed.”
“I know,” Noel murmured. “Right now, the thought overwhelms me.” He inhaled and said more cheerfully, “Finish up your breakfast, peanut. We’re due at the Christies shortly.”
It was Samuel’s idea, to our surprise, that the boys play together again. Whatever had caused them to fall out with each other seemed to be forgotten, and Alex said Samuel had begged for Caleb to come over again soon. Caleb didn’t object, even if he knew why Samuel hadn’t wanted to come over in the first place, and I thought getting back into the routine would only be good for the both of them.
We had followed Dorian’s advice with Caleb, and acquired a silver dime on a red leather cord like Noel’s for Caleb to wear. Noel didn’t want him wearing it while he slept, for fear of choking, so every night we place a line of salt on his windowsills and doorway. As far as we could tell, it was working — no more strange playmates, no more leaving the house. If he missed his invisible friend, Caleb gave us no indication.
Caleb resumed eating his breakfast with enthusiasm. Noel and I finished ours, too, and I washed the dishes as Noel got Caleb to brush his teeth and ran a comb through his hair.
I had my own mail that day, that I had not opened yet. I got letters often, mostly from Mary Kate and Dad, but this one was addressed from OJD in Louisville. I didn’t want to open it in front of Noel; I hadn’t heard from Oliver since Christmas, and hadn’t reached out to him beyond a thank-you note for his gift, but I still didn’t want to flaunt an old relationship in front of the new one.
Once the dishes were washed, I went into the library to wait for Noel and Caleb to be ready to leave, and opened the envelope. As with everything that surrounded Oliver, the paper was luxurious, thick card stock with a good tooth that took ink from his fountain pen without a smear.
I will be in New Orleans over Mardi Gras. I’m staying at the Roosevelt Hotel on Roosevelt Way. Come to lunch on Tuesday, after the morning parades.
Typical of his messages, it contained nothing someone could use against him. Not even a salutation. Not even his first name.
I sighed, and would have tossed the card and envelope into the fireplace if a fire had been lit, but it was too warm for that even this early in the day. I didn’t have to go, of course, and likely shouldn’t since he only wanted to see me so we could have sex. Even if he had said he missed me, I knew he meant he missed my body.
He doesn’t know me enough to miss me, I thought, flicking the paper with my thumb. A tragic thought to have about a lover of three years — but our trysts had never been about talk.
As fascinating as I had found Oliver in the beginning, I now found him frustrating. One might even say tiresome.
Well, I would decide on Tuesday whether I would see him or not. Maybe it would be good to have one final goodbye. I tucked the letter into my pocket sketchbook, and took up my cane when I heard Caleb pounding down the stairs, Noel’s light step behind him.
We set off to walk to the Christies’ house. The weather was perfect Deep South winter, the sky pristine blue, the air light and cool. Full of energy, Caleb ran ahead of us and Noel called after him, “Stay on the path, Caleb!”
He turned around and waved to us. We waved back. I said, “We could take Caleb to a daytime parade and then bring him home, and go back into the city for the evening party.” Parade routes and times, as well as the heraldry of the various krewes, were published in the paper. “And just stay there for an hour or two, if more would be too much.”