Sam was right to be angry that I had scheduled Tyler a major audition without approval. He called me the day after the premiere, a Saturday: “I have a good relationship with the director of this play,” he explained. “And Tyler needs to understand that if he makes a commitment, he will stick to it. His professional reputation is mine to manage. Mine. He’s headlining the hottest Broadway show right now; isn’t that a good start to his career? I’m not so sure you’re ready to be a manager, especially if you’re going to disrespect my decisions and encourage this behavior.” Sam gave me my biggest vacation to date—three weeks’ paid leave, to see if he could get by without me.
Luckily, my leave overlapped a few Saturant shows that we had scheduled regionally. “Kansas” was enjoying a steady climb up the Adult Contemporary and Streaming Songs charts, and her sold-out shows in Boston and Providence were proof that word had spread. Joanie gave me a cut of each fee—which I hadn’t been taking until now—understanding that I might soon need the cushion, and that our relationship would have to continue in such a manner in order for me to stay involved. “You’re due this,” she said, giving me a generous 20 percent. “You’ve helped me get the fans. Maybe now you can help me get a boyfriend?” I found a one-night boyfriend for myself in Boston—a Harvard senior and vocal fan. I wanted to see how easily I could get him into bed after introducing him to Joanie. Pretty easily, it would turn out; I had quite the vocal fan that evening, too.
Sam sent me a text the morning our mini-tour arrived in DC: “What is the login to order office supplies?” That was the first I had heard from him in a week. I waited an hour to respond, to make it seem like I wasn’t desperately needing his attention, and so that he would spend the time waiting for and needing my reply. “Already found it,” he wrote back after I texted. Bart and Peter arrived in DC that same day. Bart was between jobs—he had accepted Simon’s offer to oversee operations at the Lower East Side venue (The Sweetener), which meant smaller but more prestigious shows. Usually a pessimist, he was suddenly full of encouraging professional advice: “Why don’t you just start your own management company? Tyler has said he would leave Sam. And you’ve got Joanie. With your contacts, I bet you could get others.”
Peter surprised us that night by bringing out Miss Walnut Creek. Even Bart was thrilled to have the towering mistress along for the evening—I credited that to his sudden security of having a boyfriend and worrying less about what cute guys might think. Joanie was the most delighted, offering a shout out during the show: “Hello hello to my tallest, most leggy and beautiful fan, Miss Walnut Creek. My queen, my dream. So confident you are. I feel as if you understand me best. Naturally, you stand taller and more poised above us all.” She waved to us as she began a new song, and Peter’s hand waved back, some three feet above the next tallest head. We took to the gay District bars that night, and we danced beneath our queen, our rock, our confident darling Peter.
Joanie and I escaped the group the next day, walking to the National Mall for old time’s sake: We had traveled there together on our 8th grade class trip. I still have a framed photograph in my bedroom of Joanie, Talia, and me smiling over the Potomac next to the Jefferson Memorial, looking pleasantly pubescent, with acne, braces, and baby fat each taking one of us victim. “Has it really been 15 years?” I asked. “We’re more than twice as old as we were back then,” Joanie added. She turned to me, grinning widely: “I don’t feel old, Eric. I feel very young. Like there’s so much more to come, like ten million good things could happen, each one an opportunity.” She squeezed my hand as if to transfer me that same assurance. We sat quietly for a moment, admiring the tranquility. Then, as we got up to leave, I took out my phone: “Let’s get a photo, and send Talia some love.”
We took a late train back to New York, and Joanie could tell my mind was racing. I had convinced myself that Sam would fire me—like when two people are the verge of a breakup and first decide to “take some time apart.” “Would that be the worst thing?” she asked. “You despise him.” “I don’t despise him,” I corrected her. “I owe him a lot. I despise what he has let himself become. People say he used to be nice. Besides, he has always trusted me, for the most part.” She shook her head. “I think he’s been robbing you of other opportunities, and a lot of money. And you know he won’t fire you; he couldn’t get by without you.” An hour later, a text from Sam: “Come get your things tomorrow. I’ll pay out two weeks and severance.”