“Hurst, party of three,” Cesar says, his slicked back hair gleaming like the black granite bar inside Bemelman’s.
“It’s been a long time, Mr Hurst, Mr Perez,” the waiter says as we follow him to a bistro table toward the back under my favorite Ludwig Bemelman mural of a rabbit picnicking with an elephant in Central Park.
“It’s good to be back,” I say, settling into the brown leather banquette.
I follow Cesar’s gaze to the 24-karat gold leaf ceiling and can practically see the memories spring to life on his face. They’re vivid for me too. As kids, the murals made the gilded bar seem like a magical place.
The week before Christmas, our family would accompany pops to NYC to stay at the Carlyle while he took care of business. At happy hour, Cesar and I would come down from our hotel suite with our mothers so they could sip rosy cocktails. He and I would methodically try each snack and light meal on the menu through the course of the week. Even then, Cesar had managed to order better than me.
Gazing now at the murals, I think Olivia would love this place. She’d drink-in the ambiance, her green eyes absorbing the details of each beautiful painting, her cheeks flushed with happiness. She was, as this bar, I think; elegant yet full of whimsy.
“After a day like today, I say we call it an early night,” Parker says, gazing at the menu. “Room service?”
“No me gusta!” Cesar says, shaking his head with vehemence. “I didn’t fly out here to hang out in our suite all night like middle-aged men.”
I chuckle, punch Cesar on the arm. “Have some pity man. We got our asses handed to us out there.”
“Well, not me, personally,” Parker says, his dark brown eyes laughing. “I walked away with a job offer.” He produces a business card and tosses it on the table.
I shake my head. “I believe their exact words were, ‘if the Hurst name isn’t attached to this project, we’re not interested.”
“Three times today,” Parker says grimly.
Despite his earlier misgivings about partnering with investors and trying to do this on our own, he’d been surprised at how firmly we’d been turned down.
“This doesn’t mean everyone else will,” Cesar says, although he looks uncertain and maybe even a hint, hopeful.
The waiter arrives with our drink orders, giving me a moment to think about what I want to say. The truth is, as Parker and I had gone from meeting to meeting, I’d felt strangely disembodied, weirdly protective of the plans that I’d come to New York so eager to share.
At our last meeting, before we’d even begun answering questions, I’d looked out the seamless panel of windows of the 20th-floor conference room and thought, “what am I doing here?” Gazing at the man’s overdrawn features, his limpid eyes, I’d thought, “I’ve never even liked this guy, and now I’m asking him to get into bed with me?”
The investors we’d met with over the last two days had seemed taken with the idea, impressed with the projections, especially with the draw from overseas tourism. But in the end, they had said, “no” unless I was doing this with my pops.
“No offence,” the last guy had said. “We know what an asset you’ve been to your family business, but you aren’t the brand. Hurst is a name I can get behind. Maybe you’re right and the market is ready for something like this, but you out on your own, to be quite frank, you’d look like a playboy, playing with a lot of money.”
Leaving that last meeting, Parker had turned his dark eyes on me, a firm hand on my shoulder. “Jake, he’s a dick. He didn’t want to take a risk this enormous. He quoted the tabloids. That should tell you something.”
Looking at my friends now, I ask the question that’s been lingering in my mind all afternoon—too big and too disturbing for me to acknowledge on my own. “What if I did partner up with my pops? How would I know it wasn’t because everyone else has said ‘no’?”
Cesar and Parker look at each other as though they’re on the soccer field, about to pass the ball at the start of a crucial play.
It’s Cesar who speaks first. “And what’s so wrong with that? You have the family you do for a reason El jefe.”
Parker nods in agreement. “There is an entire community counting on you now. And by the time this is through, you’re going to have hundreds of staff and workers depending on you too. You need to partner with someone you know and trust.”
I shake my head. “Even if my pops is the best choice, calling him in now...”
“We finish our drinks, get some food and see how we feel after that,” Cesar says, tossing his whiskey back with the confidence of someone who doesn't let doubt linger.
I follow his example and am impressed when Parker does the same.
“Give me a few minutes to call Emma and say goodnight, then let’s get out of here,” he says, already dialing his daughter.
“I know exactly where we’re eating tonight,” Cesar says. “I’ll call it in.”
I watch my friends in action and resist the urge to call Olivia, see how she and Maverick are doing. I know it’s perfectly reasonable for me to call, but my motives would be all wrong. She’d sent a couple of pictures of Maverick already with the text, “proof of life.”
“Yes, I understand it’s late notice,” Cesar pauses, timing his retort perfectly. “You’re saying you don’t have a table for Jake Hurst?” He flashes me a wicked smile, his white teeth even whiter in the dim light. “We’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
“You know, a ‘thank-you’ is customary after you coerce someone into giving you something you want,” I say.
“Our dollar bills can thank them for us,” Cesar says. “Vámonos!”
“If you’d had good manners this wouldn’t be happening,” I mumble at Cesar as paparazzi snap photos of us walking to our car. We’d just been seated when a girl I knew from LA had spotted us. Fernanda was a successful Brazilian model and travelled a lot to New York for work. When she was in town, we’d occasionally grab drinks. We were firmly in the friend zone, but I knew Fernanda enjoyed the attention the sight of the two of us together usually garnered. She was having dinner with two other girls—one I could see was a model too and the other an actress from a popular reality show.
Cesar is gleefully happy when they join us, seeing his night unfold beautifully with dinner and probably clubbing. Parker becomes sullen, and I hear him tell the girl whom he is walking with now, that he is a widower, instantly putting a kibosh on whatever hopes she may have had upon seeing him.
Cesar shrugs and gives me a dimpled grin, letting the actress lean further into his side while she manages to give her best side to the photographers. “I doubt the restaurant staff would do that to you.” He shoots his eyes meaningfully at the actress.
“Sorry Jake,” Fernanda giggles, taking my hand apologetically. “I swear I didn’t know. But why are they yelling at you? You had another public break-up, no?”
I sigh, nearly hitting my head on the door the driver opens for me as a high-powered flash goes off in my face, the man yelling, “Jake, what are you doing in New York? How do you know Alina? Where have you been for the last few months?” And then presumably to Fernanda, “Are you two dating?”
It’s so chaotic; I don’t even realize Parker is no longer with us until the Range Rover peels away from the curb. “I’m going back to the hotel,” he texts. “I got a cab.”
“I’ll call my buddy at Lavo,” Cesar says. “We can sneak in through the back.”
“Yes please,” Fernanda and the actress say in unison. Their friend, who had been unsuccessfully trying to get Parker’s attention all night instantly perks up. “I’ve been dying to go there,” she says.
“Tomorrow, we stay in,” I say to Cesar, silently cursing the fact that tonight’s photos will end up in tomorrow’s gossip rags and put a punctuation mark on the points the investor had made about me today.
“As long as you promise to have fun tonight,” he says, giving the girls a wink.
Fernanda links her arm through mine and gives me a winning smile. “I’ll make sure of it,” she says.
One of the main reasons my father and I stayed at The Carlyle on our visits to NYC was that Central Park was right across the street. Unless it was sheeting rain, pops and I would run together, never veering much from our usual route. Taking significant risks in business was second nature to us, but in our personal lives, we appreciated routine, and we didn’t like surprises.
The bronze Alice in Wonderland statue is my first marker, and as I pass the sprinkling of people walking around taking photos, I wonder grimly if that’s why I’d failed so often to make lasting connections in my personal life. I had rarely pursued a woman who challenged me beyond what movie we should watch, what party we should attend that weekend. I often let them take the lead in the relationship, let them set the pace, said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when required; only pumping the brakes desperately when I realized (often unable to identify exactly how we’d arrived at that critical juncture), that it wasn’t going to work.
I unzip my jacket a little as my body warms up but tug my hat further over my ears. I’d guess the temps were in the high thirties this morning. When my path splits, I head toward the Loeb Boathouse, knowing it’ll still be relatively deserted at this time of the morning. I try to focus on the sound of leaves crunching beneath my shoes, the dry-cold smell of winter hinting at snow, gaze periodically up at the steel gray sky beyond the treetops. I loved the height of everything in New York, the way running beneath a canopy of trees could feel as solemn as walking down the aisle of a church.
Before I know it, Bow Bridge appears, and I find myself slowing down, walking toward the center, enjoying the feel of wood beneath my feet, the contrast of brick and glass towers sprouting up between the trees around the lake. I snap a few photos for an older couple unsuccessfully attempting a selfie and then lean my elbows on the bridge, gaze across the water.
I can’t get Cesar’s response to my question about asking for my father’s help out of my head.
You have the family you do for a reason El jefe.
I’d only slept for a few hours after our return from Lavo, wrestling with what I’d believed about myself my whole adult life—that I had to accomplish something on my own to know who I was.
My phone buzzes with a message from Parker. “Brunch?”
I inhale deeply and watch my exhale flit over the water. I’d read something Steve Jobs had said once that I’m sure other greats had said before and after him and it had stuck with me.
Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
I didn’t need to be fearless when my head and my heart were in sync, that was for certain.
I message Parker back and prepare to run back to the hotel. We had a lot to discuss and an itinerary to change.