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the light at the end of the staircase

Al has been a friend for over 10 years. We were partners in crime at my last full time ad agency. Not that we committed any crimes, mind you. We just did anything we could think of to entertain ourselves and avoid facing the blank page.

It was a short time, but we were together at the office every minute we weren’t working (and many we should have been). It was kind of like being married at the office, without the sex and doing laundry. He moved to California and we kept in touch. I haven’t seen him much, but over the years he has employed my brother, helped my dad teach a marketing class and lodged my niece.

Since we worked together, he got married and had 2 -1/2 kids (one on the way) They moved to Amsterdam about 9 months ago so Al could be a big shot at this year’s hot ad agency. During that same time, I quit my job, didn’t get married and am about to become technically homeless. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Al and I used to have contests over who was most pathetic (the winner being the one who was most pathetic). I kind of figure that Al will still be my friend no matter how big a loser I am. In fact, the bigger a loser I am, the more respect I garner. I guess I should have gotten in touch with him sooner.

There’s nothing pathetic about his street or building.

I don’t know why, but I feel like Mary Poppins about to meet Jane and Michael Banks as I ring the bell. The door opens and I climb a daunting, really long, narrow stairway up towards a bright light that puts the adult and two children at the top of the stairs in silhouette. I wish I had Mary Poppins’ umbrella, this is a lot of stairs. I squint, trying to make out if the grown up is Blake or Al or a baby sitter.

When I reach the top, Max, seven years old comes forward and introduces himself (very Michael Bank’s like), holding out his hand to shake mine. He’s more polite than any 45 year old man I know. And a thousand times cuter. I guess I’ll be too old when he’s of consenting age (like I’m not too old now).

Maddie, who is three says hello and asks me if I want to play.

Turns out the adult present is the English babysitter, who gives me the rundown. Al’s gonna be late, he has a pitch, Blake is on her way back from the doctor and that she (the babysitter) thinks Gatto, who is Blake’s 18 year old, three legged cat, is evil. The baby sitter whispers that sometimes when it’s dark and the kids are asleep she hears the thump, thump of his walk upstairs and feels like she’s in a horror movie and the cat is coming to get her.

The apartment is huge, two floors, high ceilings, big windows overlooking the park on one side and gardens and rooftops on the other. It’s not over decorated, just homey and lived in.

Maddie shows me her ponies and I know this is going to be great. This is the perfect place for me to leave all that New York junk behind. I can forget about lawyers and people out to make a quick buck and concentrate on what’s important. Enjoying life and friends.

The front door opens and we run to the top of the steps to see who’s coming. It’s Blake. Very pregnant and handling those stairs like she’s not.

My first thought is how will they get her down if she goes into labor up here? My second is to wonder how much I can get if I fall down the stairs and sue them?

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