Sara chose the seat located farthest from Lathon, and nudged it another foot closer to the door. Peter, who'd eyed her intently since she entered, saw this retreat and seemed stung by it, as if it were a rebuke to him for staring. Lina also noted the move, and looked to Lathon for reaction. Lathon, however, was on the phone with his service, and gave no sign of having seen it.
Jack, the former producer, was next to arrive, followed close behind by Dylan. They apologized for their lateness, introduced themselves around, and sat in the two chairs to Lina's right. Immediately, everyone began glancing at Jack, a liberty he had the good taste not to notice. Almost sixty, he was improbably striking, with the kind of platinum good looks seen in Cadillac ads: a cleft chin and nautical cheekbones under taut, ruddy skin, and hair the color of sea spray. He even dressed the part of the elegant yachtsman at port, in a blazer with brass buttons and gold Rolex purring away. Only around the mouth was there any evidence of trouble, in the form of a fixed downturn at the corner of the lips, a grimace dug deep, like a trench line.
About Dylan, to the right of Jack, it was hard to draw a sense; he seemed both present and gone in the same breath. He was a tall, trim man with suburban good looks--neat salt-and-pepper hair, the remnants of a tan, and the ease of a loose-fitting life. But behind the bland smile there was something missing, some dimension of affect or spirit. It was evident in his eyes, a kind of deadness or vacancy, as though he'd decided to stay home but sent his body along out of courtesy. While the others kibitzed, waiting for the sixth to arrive, Dylan stared out the window, tracking the movements of a plane. Occasionally, he turned and followed the chatter, but drifted back to his study of the skyline.
Finally, at ten of seven, Rex showed up. He was profuse with apologies for keeping the group waiting, having badly misjudged the hassle of getting here. "The tow trucks outnumbered the cabs by three to one," he groused. "A little cold snap, and this town just falls apart."
Though he'd come from home (and hadn't worked in six weeks), Rex was dressed in a suit--a three-button Zegna of superior cut, its shoulders pitched perfectly, like a slate roof. The tie I recognized from a stroll through Barney's, where, once a year, they knocked it down to a hundred dollars. And while the others wore snow boots (or, in Peter's case, galoshes), Rex sported a pair of black suede lace-ups, as if the cold were merely a nuisance state of mind. He was of average height but had an athlete's bearing, the loping swagger you see on Big Ten campuses, and the confidence that comes from feats of grace. He had fine blond hair that was just beginning to thin; flushed, pink cheeks exuding boyish vitality, and blue eyes on the prowl for mischief.
Rex plopped down in the chair next to Sara, and, like her, nudged it a foot or two toward the door. Sitting side by side there in their fashionable clothes, at a slight but detectable remove from the group, they looked like they'd wandered in from the theater, in search of a quick drink between acts.
Lathon smiled and looked around with a flourish, welcoming the members to group. He thanked them for trudging over through this "nuclear winter," and was gratified by their eagerness to get started. They were an unusual group, he said, six people of rare aptitude, with wit and accomplishments to spare. All, moreover, were strongly self-willed, having chosen a life that was vastly different from their parents', often at considerable hardship. Of their qualities in common, the most prominent was ambition. They were determined to have the things their hearts required.
For those reasons, he said, a memorable year was in store, a year of leaps and plot turns. Not for this group the modest change by increment; no, this group was shooting for the moon. That was great and he would help them, but it left no time for settling in; for the five or six sessions of getting comfy. Hence, the importance of being on time, and doing all the work that he assigned them. There would be a lot to reflect on, to mull over in the shower, or sitting on the parkway, stuck in traffic. In order to make a new story, they would have to assemble the old one, to bring in the buried pieces of their past. That was a big job, requiring an extensive search, and much of it would be conducted on their own time.
Reprinted from GROUP by Paul Solotaroff by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Paul Solotaroff. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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