Wayne stops in the hallway outside his apartment with one ear pressed against the door. He listens hungrily, savoring his imminent arrival into the vibration, into the hum and bump on the other side of the door.
It’s unlocked. Victor (Wayne insists upon calling him Victor) is spread out on the sofa with his head propped on a throw pillow and one ankle resting on the armrest. Oprah Winfrey’s face fills the television screen. Victor presses the volume down and grins up at him.
Wayne smiles back. “I brought you a sandwich.”
“Wow! You didn’t have to go and do that.” Victor’s eyes glisten with real gratitude.
“I’ll get you a plate.”
The dirty breakfast dishes are still stacked on the counter beside the sink. Wayne cooked huevos rancheros with homemade tortillas and it was as if Victor had never eaten an egg before, as if eggs were miracles. Wayne learned to cook from Lupe, Aunt Bea’s housekeeper. He likes to cook, but only for an appreciative audience. He unloads the bag of groceries from the little expensive gourmet market down the street—whole milk, a roasted chicken, a quart of pasta salad, scones—and arranges the fruit in the bowl.
“I’ll do the dishes after Oprah,” Victor shouts over the television.
Wayne brings him the plate and sits beside him on the leather sofa. “What’s it about?”
“It’s all about stepping outside the box and challenging your comfort zone.” Victor speaks with a mouth crammed with food. “My mom watches Oprah religiously, see. She’s a true believer. Like if she can’t make a decision or has a problem at work she just thinks, what would Oprah do? Like at a restaurant if she can’t choose she just closes her eyes and asks Oprah, and Oprah tells her what to order. I guess it’s something she passed on to me, like a family tradition. That’s how mom knew it was time for me to move out. She saw a show on Oprah. See, look—they’re going to jump out of that plane. I bet I could do that. They should totally have me on the show.” Victor turns the volume up again.
It’s been five days since they decided Victor might as well sleep on the sofa until his car is fixed since he won’t be able to get a job or an apartment until then. Victor can’t stop talking about the stylish furniture, softness of the pillow, smell of the shampoo, view out the window, or the quality of sound from the speakers. He has a thousand questions—where is Wayne from, when’s his birthday, what’s his lucky number, his favorite movie/food/color, who are the people in that photograph, did he ever travel and did he ever have a pet because Victor had a rust-colored dog named Penny once but it was a sad, sad story, let’s just say that she wasn’t a lucky Penny and he doesn’t really want to get into it right now so he understands if you wouldn’t want to go through that kind of pain, but did he? Did Wayne ever have a dog?
After five days of this, Wayne knows that Victor has a construction job waiting for him when his car is fixed and has been sleeping in the bed of his truck for weeks, maybe months. Wayne also knows that Victor never knew his father and that his mother has lots of boyfriends with whom she likes to spend time at bars and card halls when she’s not working part-time as a reentry advisor for pending parolees at the Pleasant Valley State Prison. Victor was delighted to discover that he and Wayne both weigh 150 pounds, although Wayne suspects that Victor is still growing. The kid eats so much that he’s probably gained ten pounds since he’s been here. Wayne’s leather jacket looks better on Victor, as does a pair of cowboy boots Wayne bought on a whim but never wore and a silk sweater with a hood that was always wrong for Wayne.
“Wow, I don’t know what to say, wow,” repeated Victor as he strutted back and forth in his new outfit, flipping his hair and posing like he had just received an award while Wayne sat in the breakfast nook laughing and sorting through the mail: a visa bill, a handwritten flyer offering a reward for a stolen bike, and an envelope from Aunt Bea with his regular monthly check. For once, he didn’t even check the envelope for a note.
Wayne explains without taking his eyes off Oprah. “See, my mom’s a very optimistic person, very sensitive. She comes home from work, puts on her robe, turns the t.v. up real loud and cries into her can of beer. She loves Dr. Phil and that guy Wayne Dwyer, too. Oh—and that movie, The Secret? I’ve seen that one like fifty times. I got to admit, sometimes even I leak a tear or two. You just can’t help it. The stuff is really big. Real inspiring.” He takes another bite of his sandwich. “I mean if Oprah ran for president, I’d vote for her in a heartbeat. I bet she’s got enough money to solve all the problems and then some. Did you know that she’s the richest woman in the world? It’s a shame she didn’t have kids. She’d make an excellent mother.”
Watching Victor eat sends a throb of pleasure through Wayne. Not sexual pleasure, not that at all, there’s nothing sexy about what Wayne is feeling, a fact which makes the sensation even more confusing to Wayne who has no words to explain why he has the urge to take one finger to wipe the drip of pesto off the kid’s chin and then dab the sauce in Victor’s mouth so that he won’t miss a drop, why it’s suddenly okay that the house is a mess and he hasn’t had time to write for almost a week.
Victor turns to Wayne. “What? What’s the matter, my man? Did you want to watch something else?”
“No. Nothing.” Wayne’s cheeks flush red. He retreats to the kitchen to wash the dishes.