The Buchanan Letters

an excerpt

"Is this Dr. Berman?"

The only people who call me by my academic title are those who want something from me, like entrance into a closed class, or a change of grade. It's not like I can save someone's life or deliver a baby. "Yes," I said hesitantly.

"My name is Pascal Montrouge, and I'm the assistant editor of the Upper Bucks supplement for the Courier-Times."

His voice was deep, with a hint of a French accent. "I've been going through old press releases looking for local authors for a feature I'm working on. I was hoping to interview you about your book."

I was flattered and relieved. Some publicity, at last, even if it was only in the local paper. "Sure. What do you want to know?"

"Can we meet, maybe have a cup of coffee, and talk about your book? I'll need to get a photograph of you, to go with the story."

We agreed to meet at a little country inn slash coffee shop in Washington's Crossing, a few miles downriver from Leighville, that evening at eight. As soon as I hung up, I called Naomi. "I'm going to have my picture in the paper!" I crowed.

"Oh, no, don't tell me the police found out about that place you go, in the woods behind the library."

"I only went there once. And I swear to you, I didn't do anything."

"Ah, but did you have something done to you?"

"Do you want to find out why I'm going to be in the paper?"

"Yes, yes, tell me, or I shall surely die."

"You're in a snippy mood today, Naomi."

"School is going to start again. A whole new crop of students who have no grasp of the subjunctive and whose idea of critical thought consists of the word because. So I'm understandably cranky. Tell me, my dear friend, why are you going to be in the newspaper?"

"I'm going to be interviewed about my book."

"Congratulations! That'll be nice. You can clip it out and send it to your father and your stepmother."

"Well, that depends on how gay the article gets."

"Jeffrey, you're thirty-seven and unmarried. Don't you think your father already knows you prefer boys to girls?"

"Sometimes I think he does, and then other times he or Evelyn will mention something about my getting married and I realize they don't have a clue."

"Trust me, they have a few clues. If you're not comfortable with people knowing you're gay, you shouldn't have written a book about a gay president."

"I'm comfortable with people knowing. Just not my father."

"Fathers are people too."

"What should I wear? This reporter wants to take a picture of me."

Naomi has a wonderful sense of fashion, most of which she represses, and she loves to dress me. I'm like the doll she never played with as a little girl, when she was always stealing her brother's GI Joes and staging mock battles with them in the backyard. "I'll come over," she said. "Give me ten minutes. And while you're waiting, trim your eyebrows."

"Take twenty. I'll take a shower so I can be nice and clean for you."

"I love it when you talk sexy to me," she said, and hung up.

She arrived right on schedule and we settled on a pair of crisp khakis and a blue and white striped oxford cloth button-down shirt I had bought at the Brooks Brothers outlet at Franklin Mills. Though it was the middle of winter, my skin was still Mediterranean-dark, my arms and neck coated with a thin layer of dark hair, and the shirt made me look healthy and vibrant. I combed my thinning hair into place and then shellacked it down with hair spray.

Our only argument arose because I wanted to wear my new Swatch, while Naomi insisted the occasion called for my gold dress watch.

"You want to look distinguished, like a professor," she said. "Professors don't wear goofy sport watches."

"Most professors we know don't wear any watches at all. If you really want me to look academic I should dig out my loden cloth jacket with the leather elbow patches."

"That jacket is so 1950s prep school," she said. "If I were your wife I would give it to the Salvation Army instantly."

"If you were my wife I would join the Salvation Army."

We ended up on the living room floor playing Monopoly; I got hold of both Park Place and Boardwalk and bankrupted her. All in all it was a very satisfactory time.

We ate a quick pasta dinner and by 7:30 I was on the road to Washington's Crossing. "Call me as soon as you get home and tell me how it went," Naomi said, waving out the driver's window of her Jeep.

I was so happy I was almost whistling as I drove south along the river. The trees were bare and snow was heaped along the edge of the road, but it could have been high summer to me. I loved driving along the river; I grew up in the middle of endless suburbs and I still could not believe that I lived so close to the country that there were cows within walking distance of my house.

I drove through the quaint downtown area of New Hope, past over-ripe hippies in sheepskin coats strolling in the early evening light. I had to stop for a crowd streaming across the street and through the parking lot of the Bucks County Playhouse, heading for a production of the musical La Cage aux Folles. When I was back in the country, I turned on the radio and relaxed in the fall of evening, passing wooden bridges over the canal that led to quaint country farmhouses.

I pulled up at the Crossing Inn a few minutes ahead of schedule and walked out to the patio behind the old stone building. The owners had constructed a beautiful little garden back there, with an arched bridge across a trickling creek where tiger lilies and black-eyed Susans grew in the summer. In the winter it was picture-perfect, with a faint dusting of snow on the branches of the pine trees.

Inside the wood-paneled lobby, empty except for a clerk behind the bar/registration desk, I chose an Adirondack chair with big cushions, stripped off my coat, gloves and scarf, and settled in next to the crackling wood fire.

As I leaned in and rubbed my hands, a deep, sexy voice behind me that matched the one I'd heard on the phone said, "I'm hoping you're Dr. Berman."

I turned around to see a dark-haired man, six-foot-three at least, with square shoulders and a lopsided grin, sticking his hand out to me. My heart soared and sank at the same time: he was the kind of man I fall for, the kind who is so bad for me. Someone I think will be big enough and strong enough to take care of me, but who turns out to be all Jell-O on the inside, needy and whining and no good in a street fight.

"Call me Jeff," I said, standing and shaking his hand. "I'm always afraid when I hear people call me Dr. Berman that they're going to expect me to resuscitate someone before the evening is out."

He wore a long leather duster over jeans and a light blue shirt. He gave me a sly grin and held my hand for a fraction of a second too long. "Sometimes those evenings can be the best kind."