“Ivy! You’ll never believe what’s happened here!”
“I bet I would.” I was pretty good at believing.
“Let’s see if you say that after I tell you the news. Okay, here goes. I met this guy. . . . ”
There was a pause. The phone in Max’s kitchen crackled as if it wanted to fill the silence.
“And?” I prompted finally.
“Oh, please, don’t tell me you’ve got a new lover.” Ruben claimed not to be gay but one never knew when his mind would change on anything.
“No-no-no, Ivy. But man, if I liked dudes I’d sure want this one for myself. His name’s Jesse, Ivy, and he’s amazing . . . you’ve got to meet him.” Enthusiasm poured out of the phone, so thickly that it was almost suspicious. I switched the receiver to my other hand and wiped Ruben’s joy out of my ear.
“Okay, so what’s so great about this Jesse?”
“I think we were brothers in another life. The guy likes everything I like, he does everything I do . . . and Ivy, he wants to help me with my workshops.”
“Well, that’s nice of him. Since when do you need help? Why didn’t you call me if you needed help?”
There was a silence, then Ruben spoke again.
“You couldn’t help me like he does.”
“Oh, well thanks a lot, asshole!” I felt like slamming the phone down.
“No-no-no, Ivy, it’s not like that. I just mean . . . I guess this guy makes me see what it’s like to meet someone like me. He’s in so many directions at once, he’s super-duper creative . . . he’s even made more plays than I have, though he hasn’t staged as many.”
“You make a great Jesse ad. You’re in the wrong business, you should have gone into advertising.”
He laughed even though I wasn’t very amused.
“So, this is what’s happening. See, for a while Jesse’s been working at the after-school arts club with kids in the age groups I’m teaching—he’s an art assistant. He’s been trying to find higher-paying work, so when I found this out I decided to hire him and have him work with me for a while, then eventually put him at his own site, like a second chapter . . . Stan said it was a great idea.” Stan was the guy who managed the finances. I felt pretty annoyed that all these people were involved in spending what was essentially my money. I wanted to say something to Ruben but something inside me wouldn’t let me speak against the idea. I remembered how willing to give my money I’d been at the start, and I knew I could never revoke that generosity without feeling like dog shit. When it came right down to it, Ruben legally owned all the money, because it was his bank account, and his name had been on the check. I still felt angry and taken advantage of.
I wondered if he thought he could just do anything without asking me now; wondered whether if Libby were to write Ruben now and ask him for money, he would give it to her without even running it by me or letting me know what was up. He probably would; he was acting like I wasn’t an important part of his operation anymore, even though without me it wouldn’t have been possible. And even though I would have okayed helping Libby out if she needed it, what if he decided to support all kinds of other charity cases and good causes I knew nothing about? Who knew what he was going to do with my money? He could piss it all away by trying to help everyone, and we’d be back where we started. This expansion thing could get out of control.
“Ruben, why didn’t you ask me first?” I heard myself saying. I covered my mouth.
“Ask you? Ya mean, about my workshop expanding?”
“Not exactly,” I said, committed to admitting my feelings now that I’d started to. “Well . . . you’re making major decisions about, ya know, that money I got you . . . I mean I’m not selfish and I don’t want to hoard it or anything, but . . . why was I the last to know?”
“I’m sorry, Ivy, everything moves so fast and you were tough to get a hold of. . . . ”
My mouth hardened into a line as I listened to him talk.
“Besides, don’t worry about it. This is so exciting because we’re probably going to make even more money when this takes off. Stan’s already looking into outside funding, there have been a couple articles about me in some of the papers, people are really taking notice . . . I mean we had to expand sooner or later.”
“I thought it was just your dream,” I protested.
“And I want to share it! I want to share it with the world . . . and Jesse’s the first step to helping me do that!”
My temper flared so suddenly that tears sprang up in my eyes. Jesse was the first step? I wanted to yell at him that he wouldn’t have met Jesse or even come to L.A. if it weren’t for me . . . right now he’d probably be sitting in his old apartment, all depressed, at this point unable to afford his shrink anymore, probably flipping burgers and living on the tomatoes from his garden. He’d be nothing without me, and here he was giving all this credit to some guy I didn’t even know. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t. . . .
Ruben was talking in my ear and I hadn’t been listening. When I tuned back in I couldn’t really figure out what it was all about, but I picked out Jesse’s name.
“Will you shut up about Jesse?” I requested coldly. “I get the idea, he’s the coolest person in the world, a lot cooler than I’ll ever be, okay? You can rub it in but just let me know next time so I can put the phone down while you run up long distance bills broadcasting the Jesse Show!”
“Shit, Ivy, get a hold of yourself. You sound practically hysterical.”
I swallowed and noticed my throat hurt from yelling.
“This was supposed to be good news,” he murmured. “Why aren’t you happy for me?”
“Because you’re happy without me!” I yelled back without thinking.
“Oh. So you want me to depend on you for my happiness?”
“That isn’t it.” I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “You’re just acting like you don’t even miss me, you found my replacement with this Jesse guy. You’ve got a new best friend.”
“You’re not here, Ivy, and last time I checked you’ve been spending an awful lot of time with that Max fella. You found somebody that you can relate to in a way nobody else can . . . and I found the exact same thing. It’s exciting to find someone like yourself when you’re so unique, as I’m sure you know.”
“Max isn’t exactly the same as me,” I grumbled.
“Well, Jesse isn’t exactly the same as me either,” he said. “After all . . . he uses purple hair dye.”
I choked on a laugh.
“Now Ivy, I want you to listen to me. Jesse’s a real special guy, and I’m really excited to meet him. But he’s never going to replace you. You’re probably feeling left out right now . . . remember back when you felt left out of my theater group, when we did Imagination?”
I nodded, then remembered he couldn’t see it and replied, “Uh-huh.”
“Well, let me ask you something. Am I in touch with any of those theater people now?”
“No,” I said sullenly.
“Right. I only stay in touch with the people who are very important in my life. And am I in touch with you now?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean—”
“Shh,” Ruben ordered, quelling my assertion. “You need to remember that you can’t be replaced. Not by anybody. But you also can’t expect to stay the primary influence on my daily life when you’re not even here.”
I realized guiltily that I really had been pretty wrapped up in my own affairs lately; too much so to think about Ruben. But for some reason that only made me mad at him. Ruben continued.
“You’ve made sacrifices for me that are unbelievable, and you’ve made things possible that I’ll always be grateful for. I’ll never forget the things you did for me and the support you’ve given me. But remember that I can still be plenty indebted to you without consulting you on every decision I make or reporting to you about everything I do. You’re a wonderful, special friend but you are not my boss.”
“I know that,” I said nastily.
“So . . . please try to understand that I’m really doing a good thing for myself, for the city, even for you. I mean, eventually, we’ll have more money than we started with and then who knows what we’ll do?”
“I do understand that, Ruben. I just don’t like this Jesse idea so much. It’s all so sudden.”
“Well, get used to the Jesse idea, ’cause he’s staying. Believe me, you’d like him, if you like me.”
“Well, can he take you places without a car? Can he clean your workshop without a broom?”
“Ivy, you’re being a baby. Cut it out.”
“He can’t, can he,” I said smugly.
“No, he can’t,” Ruben admitted, “but one does not need telekinetic powers to be important and extremely powerful, and you best remember that, Ivy. You’re starting to sound like a brat over your power and I for one am not down with that.” His tone of voice reminded me of the time long ago when we’d butted heads over something in his play. I’d been exhausted at the time and hadn’t wanted to work anymore, and when I’d refused to “perform” he had gotten that same sound in his voice. Disappointed in me. Annoyed that I wasn’t giving him the respect he deserved. Angry because I wasn’t living up to my potential. That sound in his voice twisted a strange, petulant knife of guilt in my stomach, and I swallowed my pride. I’d done the same thing back then, and I was doing it now.
“All right, Ruben. I’m sorry I said that.” I switched the phone to my other ear. “I didn’t mean to act like royalty. I know I get carried away sometimes.”
His familiar chuckle drifted across the continent through the phone wire. “I sure know it. I’m glad you do too.”
“Anyway, I’m glad you’re happy,” I said, and I meant it even though I could taste the bitterness on my tongue. “You need to . . . let me know how it goes.”
“Anyway, I need to go, Nina’s expecting me.”
“Right-o. Jesse’s expecting me . . . I’m seven minutes late as of now, but getting you straightened out was worth it.”
“Oh, so I wasn’t straightened out before?”
He sighed defensively. “Oh, come on, you know what I mean. Lunch dates can wait when someone important has a problem.”
“I’m glad I’m still important,” I said snottishly.
Instead of taking offense, Ruben only repeated his chuckle. “Always, Ivy.”
“Call me again soon.”
We hung up. I sighed and leaned against the counter, pressing my eyes with the heels of my hands. So Ruben had a partner now, and I wasn’t it.
I remembered our long trek in the bus together, with Ruben saying he wanted me there when he did his workshops, our journey off to start a new life with each other’s help. Now I was way back on the other side of the country, back in New York after I’d spent days getting to California with Ruben. He was still there and I wasn’t. I remembered being worried about missing a day of Ruben’s sessions . . . now I realized I hadn’t even asked him how they were going, what the kids were doing, if he’d been taping the classes for me. I guessed part of me really had dropped out of Ruben’s life . . . it was only fair that he’d gotten a new best friend.
I played Ruben’s reassuring words again in my head to remind myself that I was still important in his life. It worked until I remembered he’d called Jesse his “brother in another life.” He’d certainly never referred to me as a soul sister.
“Ah, fuck you, Ruben,” I said to the empty room. I stopped sulking and got my shoes on.
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