Peter couldn’t remember ever just…doing nothing. There’d never been a time when he hadn’t had to work. He’d been stunned to realize that he’d never even been on vacation – they couldn’t afford it when he was growing up, and his paycheck at the advertising agency hadn’t left enough after NYC living expenses were covered to do it now, either.
And the days flew by. They’d get up late and greet the boat, unload the supplies and wave them off, no, we don’t need the house cleaned, no, we’re fine, goodbye. Then they’d fish, or nap, or make love, or cook, or splash around in the shallows of the cove, or huddle together in companionable silence by the fire pit. Peter got brown, while Matt stayed white, slathered in suntan lotion like a sensible person.
The pieces of Peter’s plan started to come together once he stopped thinking about it. He’d known he wanted to “help people,” but the question of “how?” had needed time to find an answer.
There was no schedule for their return, but it had dawned on Peter after about five days that Matt still needed to work, that he’d sacrificed a week of income for Peter’s benefit. The shame had been mortifying – he won’t take my money to make up for it, either, Peter knew. It was time to get ready to go back and face the world.
That night he and Matt were cuddled naked in a hammock, under the stars. “I’m ready to go home,” Peter said. “And I know you have to go back to work. I’m so sorry I didn’t even think about that.”
“No,” Matt said. “I needed a vacation, too. I haven’t had one in years, not since I changed careers, really.” He nuzzled Peter’s neck. “And what a vacation it’s been.”
Peter sighed, tilting his head, presenting more of his neck to Matt, a message: more of that, please. A message Matt picked up right away, brushing his stubble along Peter’s soft golden flesh.
“I have a plan,” Peter whispered.
“Yeah. I don’t want the money going into some foundation that does more to perpetuate itself than it does to do stuff for people. Like Human Rights Campaign, who spent all that money buying their own building instead of fighting for gay rights, instead of helping pay for lawyers for poor people who’ve been discriminated against out there in Redneckistan. I hate that. I want a foundation that does shit, you know? I’m thinking, and I guess it’s because of my own past, my mom and stuff, I want a third of the money to go to cancer research, again, somewhere that’s really going to use it for research. And a third for people in abusive relationships, you know, shelters, counseling, all that. And a third for the arts. So basically, I have $400 million to play with because there’ll be no taxes on it if I give it away.”
“You know,” Matt said after a minute, “you’ll have a full time job yourself, managing that. If you want to be hands on, which I think you do.”
“O hell yeah. I mean let’s face it, most people are incompetent, or don’t care, and they just…fuck shit up. I’d be so pissed off if I gave it away and had to sit there watching someone doing it wrong. But it’s such a huge project, doing it right, I don’t know if I can do that.”
“You don’t have to do it alone, Peter. There are competent people who can help you. And look, I’ve grown up around money, and I’ve seen far stupider people with way more money who still didn’t fuck it up too badly. So just imagine what someone like you can do.”
Peter laughed but didn’t say anything. Matt went on. “I saw this piece on CBS a few weeks ago, and I thought about you. Do you know who Wallis Annenberg is?”
“No, I know the last name, he was the billionaire TV Guide guy, but that’s it.”
“Well, that was her dad. She’s the one who runs their foundation, giving away all that money, and she is a pistol. She basically said that she doesn’t know about finance or all that. She says her genius is her ability to size people up. That she can pick people who are competent in all these things.”
Peter snorted. “Well, I obviously don’t have that. Look at me and Cody.”
Matt paused. “So what’s his hold on you, Peter? Is there still some attraction there?”
“No…yes. It’s that I…I feel like he knows me. That’s fucked up, isn’t it? That he knows my weaknesses and I think that’s what ‘knowing me’ means. God, he’d be so mad if he knew I was here. He always said some ‘nice man’ he knew had a cabin in Pennsylvania where he was going to take me for a romantic interlude. He was always promising me that, and I always believed it would happen, it always sounded so wonderful. He never did, of course, it was just another thing he used to string me along, knowing how much I wanted it.”
Matt shook his head. “He can’t find you here.” Peter’s phone flitted across his consciousness for a moment before he realized there was no service here, no service for miles, no way for Cody to track Peter down. “And, if it makes you feel better, even if he could, there’s a patrol boat out there. You can’t see it but it keeps anyone from coming to the island. It’s mostly looky loos who want to see the Worthingtons at play, or paparazzi, but the boat is out there, protecting us.”
“Wow, money really is power, isn’t it.”
Matt held Peter tighter. “You’re right. Knowing another person’s weaknesses is what ‘knowing them’ means. But accepting those weaknesses, that’s what love means. Exploiting those weaknesses, that’s not love.”
“I know. Maybe that’s what I wanted. Someone to see how bad I am, to remind me, to…”
Matt put a finger on Peter’s lips. “No. You’re not. If you were bad, you’d be talking about buying that solid gold house, not how you’re going to give away four hundred million motherfucking dollars.”
“You sound like Samuel L. Jackson when you say that.”
“Doesn’t it deserve a bit of Sam? Four hundred million motherfucking dollars! Say it with me!”
“Four hundred million motherfucking dollars,” Peter shouted, exhilarated. It was as if shouting the number to the sky suddenly freed him of it, of all the burden, all the worry. He was letting it go.
They were silent for a few minutes. Then Matt said, “You know, when I quit working in an office, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. My family freaked out, my friends looked at me like I was…shaving my head and joining Hare Krishna or something. I’d run into people I worked with and they’d think I must have had a nervous breakdown or something to quit my well-paying steady respectable boring nightmare of a job. And it was hard, fighting that tide.
“Then one morning, I was looking in the mirror and I asked myself, ‘If they disapprove of what you’re doing, what can they do to you?’ And the answer was, ‘Nothing.’ Then I asked myself, ‘If they approve of what you’re doing, what will they do for you?’ Again, same answer – nothing. And I started laughing, I was like Alice in Wonderland when the Red Queen sends her soldiers to behead her, they’re all playing cards – and she realizes, ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’
“So long story short, what I’m saying is, Cody only has the power you give him, Peter. You’re a good person. I know it. That’s why I love you.”
Peter was ready to say it. “I love you, too, Matt.”
Relief swept over Matt, hearing it for the first time from Peter. He knew in that moment that it was over between Peter and Cody, all of it. Peter could never have said it unless he’d severed the other connection, never would have committed that love to Matt’s care unless Cody was no longer a factor in his life.
Peter knew it, too. Cody was like that rat in the study who got cocaine every time it pressed the lever, and was too dumb to know, too high to care, that it would OD and die soon enough. Peter had been the lever, dispensing Cody’s fix – money, hugs, sex – on demand. Well, the lever was broken now.
Fuck you, Cody Burrell, Peter smiled. You’re out of my life now.
Back in Manhattan and back in the Carlyle, Peter scheduled some meetings with Nina Slate, his new wealth manager. He’d started researching non-profits and been shocked to discover that even he was a small fish in the New York pond, relatively speaking.
“Fuck me!” he said out loud when Nina showed him Lincoln Center’s annual budget of $775 million.
“But then again,” she continued, “Playwrights Horizon had a budget of about $10 million. So $133 million for the arts isn’t chump change.”
He laughed, looking at the cataract of names on the Lincoln Center boards. “This many directors, that has less to do with governance than with fundraising and social climbing, am I right?”
Nina smiled. “There’s certainly no administrative need for a board that large, no.”
Peter sighed. “I could go through that money in a hurry, huh.”
“Only if you think of it as static. Remember, if you are doing good work, Peter, other people will donate money to your foundation. That $133 million is your capital, but it doesn’t have to be the only money you ever have to distribute.”
Peter blinked. The idea that other people would give him even more money to give away had never occurred to him.
“So let’s spend some time on your recruitment plan,” Nina said, pulling up a file on her laptop. “I have some names of people I’ve reached out to who are delighted to hear about what you’re doing with all that money and who want to help. These are professionals, they’ve worked for institutions that have always been rated high by Charity Navigator…”
Peter immersed himself in the details, barely registering the vibration of his silenced phone. Later, he told himself, but found he couldn’t concentrate until he checked it.
Cody. Of course. He had been expecting this. He was ready.
>I’m downstairs in the lobby.
As if that fact was all he needed to say, not can I see you, can you come down, can I come up – no, Cody took it for granted that I’d rush to see what he needs.
“Will you excuse me for a minute?” he asked Nina. “I need to go take care of something.” It was time to end this once and for all.
Security had their eyes on Cody, Peter could tell. This nervous, twitchy character in a black leather jacket who couldn’t sit still in the lobby was going to be given five minutes before they asked him politely if there was anything they could do for him.
“Peter,” Cody said, his relief palpable. “Where have you been?”
“Away. Cody, look…”
“No, wait. Listen. I know what you’re going to say. My car’s outside, let’s just go for a ride and talk.”
Peter sighed. He shouldn’t. Cody was clearly high, his eyes hot and glittering. But he didn’t want a scene in the lobby, either. This is the end, though, he told himself. And if he’s driving in New York traffic, he can’t make a scene when you tell him.
“Fine.” Cody’s own relief was evident too, Peter thought.
The rent-a-car was parked in the loading zone. Peter frowned with a flash of irritation. You always do what he wants, he knows it, he doesn’t even have to plan for anything else.
He got in the car, buckled his seat belt, waited for Cody to pull out. He was going to make this quick.
“Cody, you need to know that this is it for us. I’m seeing someone and…”
“No, it’s not,” Cody said casually, adjusting the rear view mirror. “I know you are.”
Peter froze. Had Cody been following him?
“We’re going for a ride, Peter. Remember that cabin I told you about? That my friend has?”
Peter put his left hand on the seat belt release, his right hand near the door handle, ready to jump out at the next red light.
CLICK. Cody locked the doors from his side, flipped the driver’s override so Peter couldn’t unlock his.
“Oh God,” Peter whispered, sick and dizzy with fear.
Cody nodded. “No, Peter. You went away with Matt. Now you’ll go away with me. And I’ll show you.”
He smiled, pulled back his jacket, revealed the gun in its holster.
This is how it ends after all, Peter thought, all his confidence in himself, his future, ebbing away. There was never any escape from it.
“Yeah. We’ll be together, and you’ll remember that we belong together. Forever.”