Chris – Erick’s boyfriend
Roberto Salazar – a long ago former co-worker of Erick’s
“Oh thank God this is still your number. This is Roberto…well, you know me as Robert, from way back in the day. I know we never really got along and I know it’s been years since we’ve spoken, but I am in town and would really like to see you. Please call me. Please. 469-555-2141.”
“Wow,” Erick says to himself as he listens to the voicemail. He had seen the number come up on the screen of his smartphone but didn’t recognize it and wasn’t in a position to take the call even if he had. Still, there was something about those rings that indicated to him some level of importance.
Erick and Robert Taylor (no relation to the movie actor) had worked together as assistants at SoCal Advertising for a couple of years about decade ago. Robert was a snappy, resourceful go-getter who saw Erick’s hire and much brighter disposition as a threat to his own aspired ascendancy through the ranks of the company. When SoCal lost their largest account, Erick was laid off but hired on to his then-boss’s spinoff company – which had acquired So Cal’s lost business through some intricate legal maneuvering.
Robert remained with SoCal, where he rose to a senior-level middle management position. While his hard work paid off career-wise, it didn’t do so much by way of impressing his estranged family – who had all but disowned him for taking on a professional name that differed from his given name of Roberto Salazar.
The last Erick had heard about Robert/Roberto, he was living with his wife and three kids in Dallas.
“Thanks for calling me back Erick,” Robert/Roberto says after picking up Erick’s call. “I honestly didn’t think you would.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“We weren’t exactly friends.”
“We weren’t exactly enemies, either.”
“How are you?”
“Not bad. Funemployed.”
“Are you still in the business?”
“Nope. CTA was my last job in advertising. That was about six years ago. Since then, I’ve been working in promotions.”
“Sounds like a fun job. I’m still slugging away in media sales.”
“What brings you to town?”
“A bunch of business meetings.”
“First time back?”
“Not at all. SoCal still maintains an office here.”
“How are the wife and kids?”
“They’re good. I guess you keep up with the grapevine.”
“Not really. I randomly ran into Christine a couple months ago. We had lunch and she caught me up on all the dish.”
“Do you keep in touch with anyone else?”
“Not really. You?”
“Not at all. Things are so different now. I just put a lot of the past behind me.”
“Which is what I wanted to talk to you about. Do you have some free time over the next couple of days?”
Erick chuckles. “I have a lot of free time over the next couple hundred days.”
“Oh, that’s right. Funemployment. My last meeting tomorrow ends at 8. Can you meet me tomorrow night at 9? I’m staying at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.”
“Sure thing. I will see you then and there.”
“Thanks, Erick. I really appreciate this.”
The sincerity in Robert/Roberto’s voice too Erick by surprise, leaving him unable to respond as Robert/Roberto hung up the phone.
“If you two never got along, why are you meeting him?” Chris asks when Erick tells him about his conversation with Robert/Roberto.
“I don’t know. There was just something in his voice.”
“Just don’t lend him any money.”
Erick smiles. “Don’t worry. It’s not like he was an office crush.”
The next night, Erick chuckles as he walks through the valet area. He remembers, during his short time as a junior media executive for Christine Taylor & Associates, pulling in here for client meetings with his 1999 Mercury Tracer amongst a sea of BMWs.
Erick walks through the vaguely familiar foyer into the dining area. He takes a moment to look around. He remembers the first time he met Andy Kohler, the sales manager from Boston who created a lot of difficulty for him during that point in his early career. He remembers the first time he saw Larry King dining nearby. He remembers the feeling of having achieved a certain level of success for the first time in his adult life.
His face falls as he thinks about what a farce it all seems to him now. He was such a different person in those days just trying to claw his way out of being an assistant. But it was that false sense of drive and passion for the business which led to his downfall – quitting his job at CTA and moving to New York for a short but disastrous summer.
A waving hand attracts Erick’s attention. It takes him a moment to connect the image of the genial salt-and-pepper-haired gentleman with the visual of the uptight black-haired young man from ten years ago. A faint smile comes across Erick’s face as he makes his way over to Robert/Roberto’s table.
“It’s so good to see you,” Robert/Roberto says as he rises to greet Erick with a hug.
Erick returns a dubious hug. “You’re looking well,” he says.
“Thank you,” Robert/Roberto says rather emotionally as he sits back down and invites Erick to do the same. “You’re holding up pretty well yourself.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how appreciative I am that you agreed to meet with me tonight.”
“It’s not a problem,” Erick assures him. An uncomfortable silence passes. Erick sees a heaviness come across Robert/Roberto’s face. “Robert? Are you okay?” he asks.
“Roberto. You can call me Roberto now.”
“Fine. But are you okay?”
Roberto hangs his head. “I’m about to lose everything,” he states.
“What do you mean?”
Roberto looks back up at Erick as his eyes puddle up. “I’ll just cut to the chase.”
Roberto takes a deep breath. “I’m gay,” he says through an exhale.
Erick’s face and mind go blank, not so much out of surprise as much as a desire to respond properly. “Have you told your wife yet?” he finally asks, hoping it wasn’t the absolute wrong thing to say.
Roberto shakes his head. “I’m probably going to lose the kids, my job, our friends, her family…my family.”
“Is she that bad?”
“She’ll fight for full custody. She’ll badmouth me in front of the kids. She’ll turn our friends against me. Her parents will put a hit out on me. And my parents will disown me…again.”
“Are they all that bad?”
“Probably not, but it’s why I haven’t said anything to them.”
“How long have you known?”
“I’ve always known. But you know the problems I’ve had with my family – or maybe you don’t or don’t remember. My mother was ashamed of me when I changed my name. ASHAMED. Changing it back wasn’t enough for her. She wanted grandchildren, which meant I had to get married. So she introduced me to a friend’s daughter. They all went to church together. We went on a few dates and started going steady. Then I asked her to marry me. We had a big church wedding. My mother had never been happier – at least not until my son was born eleven months later and twin daughters two years after that.”
“All this in the last six years?”
“It’s a lot.”
“I’ll say it is,” Erick concludes. He places a comforting hand on Roberto’s shoulder. “Not to be insensitive or anything, but…what’s my part all this?”
Roberto chuckles. “That’s a reasonable question with a simple answer. I just need to know that there’s someone who’ll be in my camp when I come out on the other side of this. I know it's a lot to ask.”
Erick brushes Roberto off and takes him by the hand. “You got it.”
Roberto manages a faint smile. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Erick tilts his head. “With what you’re asking of me, all you can offer is a cup of coffee?”
Original Fiction from a Sitcom Mind > The Halls of Shambala > I Am Erick Davidson - An Original Short Story Series >