Vita takes it quietly. Organises City Radio’s year meticulously, soothed by the work. Makes appointments with the therapist for twice a week for the next month and lists what she wants to discuss with the therapist, in order, in her new year Moleskine-with-the-tear-out-pages. Several pages. She even rings Firefly with suggestions for PR people who might help him manage his coming out, throws in a couple of good journos. Gets his voicemail.
Vita’s first session with the therapist she says
—Happy New Year. I have a story. And I’ve brought you a list of what I want to cover over the next couple of months.
And she tells the story more or less as she told it to Gracie and Jo, hands the therapist the list and leaves. Waaaay down the list is: Mark.
When Vita arrives for her next session, she opens her mouth and what falls out is
—I miss my son. Mark.
Over the next weeks, neither of them refers again to the list.
Firefly gets Vita’s message with one from Ivan: “What about that drink?” which he ignores. And one from Julie, saying she may not be able to come and stay with Tai after all, which he puts to one side. Because, bingo, Vita has suggested a transatlantic someone he hasn’t thought of, who would be ideal. He calls, and has a preliminary discussion.
Then, on a day trip to Sydney, he has lunch at Becasse with Mop. Another discussion. Mop wants to know all the details about Vita. And changes the subject when Firefly asks him about Mark’s death.
—It’s a long story. What I want to know is why you want to come out?
Mop thinks Firefly’s taking too great a risk. Gay ex-sports hero Firefly will be less valuable than retired hero Firefly. Firefly explains that he’s got all the money he needs, that he’ll be glad to be shot of endorsements, that he hopes to settle down, with someone special (probably not the current boyfriend) and maybe organise some kids: Firefly really really wants a family. Which brings them to Tai.
—You going to adopt him? Legally?
Firefly doesn’t know, and certainly isn’t about to discuss Tai with Mop. Tai complicates things. Does he ever.
And then Mop drops the bombshell.
—Because there’s a few problems. They may affect Tai. And more importantly, you.
Mop has the same news Ivan wanted to share at new year. And Firefly takes him seriously. He’s very worried indeed. He delays the trip to New York. Negotiates a rocky time with the boyfriend. Helps Tai prepare for the new school year.
Hemingway’s starts the year with a bang. Several bangs. New menu, riffing on the food in Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. A lot of fun. Customers want to prolong summer’s pleasures now they’re back at work. A cruise ship has foodies. A glossy mag has a major article with great pix.
Gracie has a ball. Happy to have a good job and no studies. Enjoys Lisa. Catches up with mates. Parties. Looks for a house-sit. But Jo’s not happy. Needed a better, longer, holiday. Still upset about Vita, and Vita’s story. Listens to a lot of Joan Armatrading.
And yes, she’s started smoking, and when Rebecca smells it on her and says so, for the first time she tries a nicotine patch. And gum. Hates both. When Gracie mouths ‘Firefly’ across the pass towards the end of one evening, Jo has no interest at all. Concentrates on his flounder-a-la-Kerewin. Chews the gum, offers the flounder some respect. It’s a struggle. And she knows, Norman knows, that her unhappiness is affecting the food she sends out.
Firefly’s the last one eating. Alone in a booth, his back to almost everyone. Gracie’s staff has cleaned up. She sends them off. Even tucked in his corner, Firefly doesn’t miss a thing. She’s on her own now: he waves her over.
—Coffee then? I’d like one.
Oh, YES, she decides. She enjoys this man. Runs a checklist through her head. Yep, she can have a drink and get it all done in reasonable time.
—Why not? A quick one. Thank you.
And Firefly likes her. So he explains his dilemma to her, after a little bit of desultory to and fro. Yes, Tai’s great, wanted fish and chips tonight so Firefly had a little bit with him and then wanted something better, tell Norman-and-Jo that the flounder really hit the spot. Yes, he’s working on the shoulder. Off to New York soon. Thinking of making some big changes. Retirement. Coming out. Had enough of life in the closet.
Oh, thinks Gracie. Of course. I’m slow sometimes. Wants to ask “What do your team-matesthink? Do they know? How do they deal with it?” And says
—Wow. BIG changes.
And Firefly continues. If he comes out, will there be a problem with Tai? Will people think that Firefly’s a pedophile, a pederast?
—I remember the shock when I learned that the French word for ‘gay’ was ‘pédé’. Lots of prejudice about gays still, that we’re all pederasts.
Uh-oh, thinks Gracie. She thinks quickly.
—I don’t think anyone’d have doubts about you. Gay parents all the time now, and you’re so obviously a wonderful father-figure for Tai.
So they chat about Tai for a little. Then about coming out, the mechanics of it, its timing with Firefly’s retirement, what it will do to his contracts. And Gracie says
And Firefly reaches his hands across the table and they shake hands, and he cradles her hand with his other hand for a moment, and they sit quietly.
And then, because it was Gracie who delivered Tai to Firefly, all those months ago, Firefly circles back to his smaller problem, that Tai went on the rantan a few weeks back, and Firefly’s worried that while he’s in New York, Tai will go back to his old habits. Julie’d promised to house-sit but had to cancel.
Aha, thinks Gracie.
—I house-sit (brightly). And I need a place. Right now.
And as Firefly walks briskly home, he thinks YES. Hiding Tai in full sight will work. It goes like this: If Firefly’s a pedophile, there’s no way he’ll come out and expose that Tai lives with him.
Neither Firefly nor Gracie questions how Gracie will keep an eye on Tai when she’s working through the afternoons and evenings.
It’s early in the week. No-one lingers. Gracie can easily walk over to Oriental Bay, but for the first time in a while she wants to go home with Jo. Nothing’s been the same between them since she stopped studying, became maître-de, moved back with her parents and Lisa. Most of all, since Vita.
So Gracie holds out her hand to Jo, teases her a little.
—I need a bed for the night–
Jo grumps back, chewing.
—I know there’s one available, a short walk away. Through Courtenay Place and along the waterfront.
—I like yours better.
—You can have the spare room.
OK, it’s like that now. But better than another night as the endlessly prodigal daughter.
And when they stroll up Cuba Street, and Gracie tucks her arm into Jo’s, Jo doesn’t pull away. They’re both lonely, need affection that has nothing to do with parent-child relationships.
And at Jo’s place they fall easily into their old habits. Gracie showers first, because she’s always quick, believes there isn’t enough water in the world to waste it. Then, while Jo showers away her kitchen sweat, Gracie tidies Jo’s tidy kitchen, prepares the hot drinks (lemon and honey because of the heat), the bread and the hummous and the Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes, the biscuits (Florentines, expecting the usual teeth discussion as they eat them), and because it’s still summer, some densely flavoured Otago nectarines.
Delivers it all on a tray, drops onto the couch along from Jo, listening to Tracey Chapman.
And is surprised when Jo moves close, leans into her, rests her head on Gracie’s shoulder.
—Need to be close.
Gracie strokes Jo’s head. Yes, for a moment there it’s like old times. Until Gracie reports her conversation with Firefly. Jo’s not surprised about the coming out.
But she is surprised about the house-sit. Immediately:
—How’re you gonna keep an eye on Tai? You work after school. You work all evening.
—I’m off one day, sometimes two.
—You didn’t even think about it, did you?
—I wanted to help.
Jo waits. They both know there’s more.
—And get away from mum for a bit.
And more again.
—And I was flattered Firefly asked my opinion. Takes me seriously, like a friend. Fuck off, Jo. Get off my back. I can do it.
Gracie’s heart isn’t up to an argument about her capacity to be in loco parentis, to hear she yet again about her (un)suitability as a parent. She wants to head Jo away from a rant about how Gracie needs to resolve what she’s going to do about her responsibilities for Lisa. Is delighted to remember suddenly that she’s never told Jo about the conversation with Firefly and Tai, and (oh yes) that Julie woman, on New Year’s Eve. So, while Jo takes a deep breath to launch into a response, Gracie leaps in with a quick rundown about Tai and his Grannie, and that gap between Firefly giving Tai his card and the time they found Tai in the shed.
And Jo thinks about Vita’s stories, sceptical about Mop. And then pissed off that Gracie has so skilfully distracted her from her blurt about Gracie and Lisa. Reaches for some gum. And they argue a bit, about whether Firefly keeps as quiet about being a pedophile as about being gay. About the finer points of the language, pederasty, pedophilia. Whether a woman can be a pederast (yes). Whether Julie is (Gracie really did not like her). How Gracie finds boys Tai’s age alluring, often, would seduce them in a heartbeat, if they didn’t seduce her first. And no, of course she won’t fuck Tai, if he asks. To and fro they go, tucked up together on the sofa, for the first time for a long time. And then Gracie adds
—Oops. I missed a bit. Tai’s a Mozzie.
—So where’s he from? Maybe he’s whanau–
—Didn’t think to ask.
—How does he spell his name?
Gracie shrugs again.
—So he could be T-A-I, not T-Y. I thought Ty was probably his street name.
—No idea. Tyrone, maybe, that’d suit him.
—Alluring, ya reckon.
Jo’s suddenly alert and happy. Here’s a real live problem she can solve, the first time for weeks. She takes out the gum. Thumbs it onto an empty plate. Gracie grimaces. Jo ignores her. She’s on a roll.
—Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll organise with Norman to give Tai an afterschool job. Sit him out the back to do his homework later on.
—Why not take a couple of weeks off work and be the house-sitter? The perfect big sister? Take over entirely? Do a full investigation into his whakapapa? His relationships with his grandmother, Firefly and Julie, and everyone in between? Warn him to watch out for me, that I might try to seduce him?
—Nah. It’s over to you, babe. My only big question’s about Firefly. Why wasn’t he concerned because you wouldn’t be around for Tai at the crucial times of day?
They’re back. Chatter, giggle their way to Jo’s bed.
You want more? Give me some instructions!