Authors: Jules Moulin
THEY TOOK HIS CHEVY
and Jake drove. He headed south along I-95 in the afternoon sun.
Ally rolled down the window and laid her head back. She slipped off her shoes and placed her bare feet on the glove box. “This is amazing!”
“What do you mean?”
“Riding in the passenger seat! It's such a treat!”
Jake smiled and looked at her. “Tell that to women in Saudi Arabia!”
Ally smiled. “I always drive! I'm sick of it! I'm never
driving. This is like a dreamÂ .Â .Â .” She closed her eyes.
The passenger seat felt like bliss after a decade of driving, driving, always driving.
She relaxed into the leather seat, into the speed, feeling the motion of the car, feeling the sun and wind on her face as they sped along.
What a fantastic feeling. How strange and wonderful, to ride in a car without the burden of actually driving it, without the stress of protecting Lizzie and Claire as she drove.
Jake was taking her for a ride.
She surrendered to it.
He turned on the radio. The Sox were playing the Mariners again. But Wakefield had given up five whole runs before the fourth inning. Jake was upset. “Shit!” he said and pounded the steering wheel.
Ally opened her eyes. “You okay?”
He shook his head.
She listened to the radio for a few minutes. “Men and baseball. Talk to me. What's the obsession?”
“This isn't baseball.”
“This is the Sox.”
“UhÂ .Â .Â . but the Sox are a baseball team, right?”
“Yes, butÂ .Â .Â . it's not about baseball. It's not about winning or salary caps. It's not about 'roid rage or designated hitters or any of thatÂ .Â .Â .”
“Then what's it about?”
“Hope?” Ally said, finding him more charming than ever.
Jake glanced at her and explained. “This is a teamÂ .Â .Â . This is a
that loses and loses. Every year. Every year, we come close and lose. Like, it's who we are.” He looked ahead at the highway again. “Boston can't win. It's what people think. We lose 'cause we're cursed. The curse of the Bambino. But we're not.” He glanced at Ally. “We know we're not. We know that someday the Sox will win the Series again. And when they do, after waiting so long, it'll be amazing because we waited. Because we were patient. Because we hoped and believed we could.” He turned up the volume.
Ally considered his words.
What was he saying?
If the Red Sox could do it, shake off their curse, if the Sox could do it, then anyone could.
She thought of Claire, and how Claire had said, “No good man will marry you now.” She looked up at the Baltic blue sky and hovering clouds. “No good man will want you now. Not with a child.”
Claire was wrong, Ally decided then and there. She thought about the Sox and studied the weeds that pushed through the divider that split the highway north and south. The flat white faces of Queen Anne's lace claiming the right to bloom, to reach, despite the interstate's treachery.
No good man? What was Jake?
The Sox could win. The Sox would win.
At the Tin Soldier on the south side of Mystic, she talked the shopkeeper down. “Thirty-four ninety-nine?” she complained.
“I can't let him go for less than that,” Francis, the owner, said to Ally. He was eighty. “Look at the detail.” He held up the tiny tin soldier. “Gaitered trousers. Button shoes. A land pattern musket.”
Ally turned and looked at Jake. She turned back to Francis. “I don't know if Hale saw combat. Did he?”
“They all kept muskets,” Francis griped, irritated. “It was a ground war. Don't you know about a ground war?”
“No,” Ally said. She thought he was sweet. “Okay. He can be Hale. I'll take Hale and George Washington, and the Sixth Regiment British sets. All four.”
“And the furniture,” Jake added.
“And the tavern furniture, please,” Ally said, nodding. “Please.”
“Fine.” Francis turned to the glass cabinet. He unlocked it, plucked George Washington from the shelf, and reached for the boxed sets of British soldiers. “The Washington's thirty-four ninety-nine too.”
“Fine,” Ally said, even though it wasn't. She knew she'd regret spending so much.
Francis then left and headed to the front to ring them up. Ally followed, but Jake caught her arm, pulled her back, and kissed her. “Well done,” he said.
“Old men like thatâthey make meâmake meâwant to be bad. I can't explain it. He makes me want to commit a crime.” Ally smiled. The store was empty. No one would see them kissing in the back, in the dark, surrounded by creepy antique toys.
It had been years since Ally'd kissed in public. Even in any kind of private public.
Suddenly they were pressed against each other, kissing and groping. Jake backed Ally against the glass case and lifted her dress around his waist. Under her sundress, fully covered, he pulled down his zipper and took himself out, erect and ready. He found Ally's panties, yanked them aside, and entered her, lifting her up off the floor.
“Here? Here?” Ally whispered, thrilled and surprised. “What are you doing?”
“You,” he said.
And he did.
An hour later at a picnic table restaurant, they lapped up bowls of New England clam chowder. As Ally ate, she studied Jake. She thought of him, selling cocaine. Behind bars. What was it about taking risks, about being bad, that made a woman feel so good? Fear? Adrenaline? She felt so alive. That simple soup, the silky clams, the bacon and potatoes, the massive amounts of slimy cooked onionâit all tasted better, she thought, in that moment, than any soup in the whole world. The sea air smelled fresh. The birds sang. People laughed. It was the prettiest day of the year and Mystic was the most charming town.
Oh, and Jake was the sexiest man alive.
After they ate, they strolled by a park, hand in hand, and decided to fit in some batting practice.
Jake swung his duffel bag out of the trunk, gave Ally a bat, took a glove for himself.
They threw and caught and kissed for an hour. Jake taught Ally his curve-slider grip and Ally hit a double that nearly took his head off.
“I know what we should do,” he said, driving back. “Tonight. I have a great idea.”
“Tonight?” Ally said. “What about myâ I have papers.”
He looked at her and smiled. “Have you ever role-played?”
“Role-played? No. Wait, what do you mean?”
“Pretended you were someone else during sex?”
Ally rolled her eyes. “My sex life has been prettyâtame.”
He glanced at her. “I took this theater class. Last semester. Acting. It was cool. Want to try it? Role-play?”
“I don't think so,” Ally said, but she was intrigued.
“Great,” he said, pretending to ignore her. “Here's my idea: We drive somewhere. Somewhere far. Farther out. New Hampshire. The Cape. We find a bar. Get some beersâ”
“No, wait. We can't both drink. One of us has to drive.”
“Okay, you, then. I'll drive. You get the beers. And I pretend to be someone else and you pretend to be someone else, and we meet again for the first time.”
“That sounds weird.”
“We pretend to be strangers. I pick you up.”
“But what's the point?”
“There is no point. It's fun. Remember fun? It's this thing you can have that makes you feel good?”
“No, I don't think I remember,” she said, pretending to try to remember.
“I can be the jail guard. You can be the bait. I can be the doctor. You can be the nurse. You can be the doctor. I can be the patient. I can be the pimp, you can be theâ”
Ally interrupted. “Yuck. That's not fun.”
“Whatever. You choose.”
Ally looked at him. “I don't know. I hate to keep saying this, but I have soâ
much to do.”
“You get to step out of your life for a minute. You get to be someone else.”
“Okay, but I like my life. I like who I am.”
“Okay,” he said. “It was just an idea.” Jake was silent, eyes fixed ahead. “I can't give you a plane ticket, Ally, or send you a car.”
Ally turned. “Jake, please. I was kidding.”
“I can't give you Europe or five-star hotels.”
canÂ .Â .Â .
give you a break. A little vacation from your life.”
Ally considered this. He was so kind, and he was right. She needed a break. “You have,” she said. “This has been wonderful.” Then, at the bottom of her bag at her feet, her phone rang. She scrambled for it, pulling it out, thinking of Lizzie. “Meer,” she said, seeing the number.
“Don't pick it up.”
“I won't,” she said. “Why is she calling me on the weekend?”
The trees along I-95 bloomed with pale green, late-spring leaves. Millions of them filled in the nothingness, the emptiness of winter between the branches, creating shade for the summer to come.
Ally, too, felt as if she was waking up after a chill, a hibernation.
Or was it hiding? Had she been hiding?
Jake placed his hand on top of her leg, palming her thigh again, stretching his fingers out and around it. He looked upset. The end of school maybe, Ally thought. All that uncertainty. All the change.
She laced her fingers through his fingers and couldn't resist his calloused hands; his strong hands and heavy limbs, coarse hair; his broad back and chiseled waist; the path behind his ear, along the side of his neck. His clavicle. The way his eyes lit up when he smiled. The way he blushed. His massive muscle groups, so unfamiliar and irresistibleÂ .Â .Â .
And so she agreed and they remained on I-95 and drove right past the Providence exits.
They circled the city and headed east toward Route 25, toward Cape Cod, as the sun set.
matter,” Ally said, still on the stoop. “What can I say? That's my point. It seems like nothing, I'm sure, to you nowâbut our choices, they're like dominoes. All set up against each other. One goes down, the next goes downÂ .Â .Â .”
Ally studied the tenement building, its doorway arched with a mural of giraffes and a bonsai tree. Why giraffes in Stuyvesant Square? she asked herself. The world was so weird. New York was so weird. Everyone who passed was wearing scrubs. Navy-blue scrubs, bright-green scrubs, bright-blue scrubs. Everyone was talking or texting on the phone.
“It's hard to see itâwhen you're young. You've only had so much time on the planet. But when you're older, you can look backâand see how one thing led to another and that thing led to something else.” She paused. “I don't mean to lecture you, Bug. You've probably erased this message by now. All of them. Anyway, I'm at your building. Still. Call me back.”
Ally hung up and thought about it, then dialed 411 to find a number she didn't have.
“CTA,” the operator answered. Lizzie's talent agency.
“Cybil Stern, please,” Ally said. The operator connected her.
“Cybil Stern's office.” It was Cybil's assistant.
“Hi there. This is Allison Hughes, Lizzie's mother. Is Cybil there?”
“Yes, she is, Mrs. Hughes. One moment, please.” The assistant then put Ally on hold. Ten seconds later, she picked up again. “
, Cybil is in a meeting right now. Can she return?”
“Oh, yes, of course. Can you tell her it's an emergency, please? That I need to speak to her
, please?” The assistant agreed and Ally hung up and dialed Weather.
Somewhere in Red Hook, out on the sidewalk, Weather sobbed. She couldn't help it.
Lizzie consoled her as best she could as she pulled off her wig and then stuffed it into the bottom of her bag. “The American girl? The
girl? Fresh but willing? Hannah Montana, preââWrecking Ball,' dancing around to Taylor Swift in front of a bunch of perverts? Please. That's the job you're
“So?” sobbed Weather.
“Belgian bankers rubbing it out? Horny husbands in southern Connecticut, slumming in the pool house, fleeing with their laptops from Lululemon wives and whiny kids?” She was trying to make Weather laugh.
“He said they don't serve the tristate area.”
“Yes, and I have a bridge to sell! Bridge! Bridge! Only a nickel!”
Weather giggled, but then her laughter turned into tears. More tears.
“You're just like my mom,” Lizzie complained.
“I'm sorry! It hurts!”
Lizzie stopped walking. She made Weather stop. “Hold on, wait. Clean yourself up.” She dug into her bag and pulled out Kleenex. Ally had slipped them in there at some point with Band-Aids, safety pins, mints, and MaceÂ .Â .Â .
Weather's cheeks were flushed and her nose was running. She took a few tissues and wiped her face. “I'm feeling
,” she whined again.
“You can't talk! You got the job!”
“We're not talking Marty or David O. Russell. We're not talking
“I know, but still! How will I get an
job if I can't get a
“You don't want a porn job! No one wants a porn job!”
“No! I want a
job. I am doing this for
weeks. Eight weeks max, and that is it. Now, cheer up! Come on!”
Weather balled up the wet Kleenex and threw it like a brat onto the sidewalk. Lizzie bent over and picked it up, walked to a trash can, and threw it inside. She turned and scolded her friend. “Don't litter.”
They started walking, and seconds later, Weather started sniveling again. “You think I'm too fat? They didn't like the fat?”
“Maybe the tattoos? Some people hate cats.”
your hair for your art, okay? I don't think the
“Oh, I forgot. You're right,” Weather said. She suddenly remembered and fingered a strand of her dyed gray hair.
“It ages you a
, but please. Please. They lost a future
“Where are we going?” Weather felt better and looked around. She had no idea where they were.
“I think toward my mom's.” Lizzie looked skyward to gauge where they were. She looked for a bridge. She needed a bridge to know where they were, to find her way home.
“Can we stop by? Maybe she's cooking.”
“No, we shouldn't,” Lizzie said. “Listen to these.” She stopped and dug for her phone in her bag. It was under her wig. “Noah betrayed me. Listen and weep.” She pulled up her voice mail, scrolled through the messages, and gave the phone to Weather.
“I just want to add,” Ally started, around four o'clock, “when something is sacred, it shouldn't be exploited. Bought and sold. Children are sacred. Nature is sacred. Animals. Flowers. Flowers are sacred.”
“Flowers?” said Weather. She smiled. Lizzie smiled.
That's not the point. It's not bad. The point is it's
is sacred, Lizzie Bug. You might not know that yet. You're twenty. You can ace a test on four hours' sleep. Run ten miles. But wait until you wind down. Or watch me as I fall apart, like I did with Grandma. Then you'll know.”
“Oh, sad,” Weather remarked and looked at Lizzie.
“Or get sick yourself someday or make a babyâwith your bodyâit's a miracle. Reproduction. The respiratory system. The brain, honey. I know I sound nuts, but we, as a species, we invent nothingânothing nearing the beauty of the body. So to prance yourself around and shake your boobs for a bunch of jerksâit's an affront to any grateful, deep-feeling person andâ Oh shoot! Are you kidding? Oh, man! Did I just step inâgoddammit!”
Weather looked at Lizzie. “Did she step in dog poo?”
“I think,” Lizzie said and took the phone back. They both laughed.
“You know you can't erase that
Lizzie smiled and nodded. She knew. “Can I sleep over?”
Weather nodded. “I
believe she's camping out! In front of your house!”
When the sun began to set four hours later, Ally got up and walked a few blocks the other way. She bought another coffee, this time hot, at Irving Farm. Then she returned to the stoop and called Ted. He didn't pick up. She left a message:
“About the weekend, Ted, it's Ally. I'm in a bit of aâyou cannot
â Have you ever heard of
-camming? Maybe you have. It's an Internet thing.” Ally cringed. “Suffice to say, my whole life is
No Nantucket. Sorry. Call me.”
She sat on the stoop across from Lizzie's and sipped that coffee for two more hours.
At one point, a woman and a girl walked by. A mother and daughter, Ally thought. She tried not to stare. She tried not to judge.
The mother, of course, was busy texting, and the girl, around ten, showed no pudgy limbs or budding, or hips. And yet she wore a mini skirt, heels, a see-through T-shirt that fell from her shoulder, and lipstick and blush.
What happened to clothes? What happened to lining? Ally wondered. When did material turn so sheer?
Then she thought: Wait, what's wrong with sheer? Women should wear what they want. Of course. Then she saw the girl had a book. Oh, she reads. Good, Ally thought. Well, of course she reads! Shit!
At what point had Ally turned into Claire?
After all, Lizzie had worn short skirts, and Ally had never worried back then.
That's because Lizzie was into balls and computers and guns. She refused to wear dresses, collected weapons; dozens of lightsabers, caches of Nerf. She played with the Dreamhouse but mostly she'd rendered it under siege.
She never cared about looking pretty.
Ally remembered when Lizzie was ten, or around ten. She left camp sulking, stomping her feet. “Avery saidâ”
“What did Avery say?”
“I can only have a baby if a man puts his penisâ
my vagina.” Ally opened the car door for her and she climbed inside. “Is that true?” She sounded betrayed.
“That's one way. There are others.” She swung the door shut and rounded the car.
Well, there it was. It was time for the talk. She opened the driver's side door and climbed in.
“Is that what
did?” Lizzie demanded.
“Yes,” Ally said. “Seat belt, please.” She started the car and pulled on her own.
doing that! Ever! Ever!” Lizzie pulled on her belt.
“You don't have to. Science is changing. There are lots of waysâto skin a cat.”
“What? Skin a
? What does that mean?”
” Ally glanced into the mirror to check for cars. “It means there are waysâdifferent waysâto do the same thing. Sorry. That's all.” She pulled out.
Lizzie sat back and slapped her bare thighs. “You said the fishes come out the mouth! You said the dad squirts them out when you kiss!”
“No, I didn't.”
She did. Ally remembered. Lizzie was in the bath. She was four. Maybe even three. The fish, as she called them, instead of sperm, “swam down the throat into the tummy and landed on an egg, and a baby hatched.”
“Exactly,” said Ally, assuming Lizzie would soon forget.
She was wrong.
“Okay, I said that,” Ally admitted. “But you were
It was cute.”
“I am adopting.” Lizzie reached for the radio dial. “I am adopting.”
“Fine. Do. But you have some time. You might change your mind.”
change my mind.”
At ten, in the dark, Ally got up and went home.
At ten the next day, she woke to the sound of the doorbell ringing.
Frank, from UPS, again. “Whole load today.”
He turned and revealed eleven boxes descending in size like a tower on his trolley.
“Oh my goodness,” she said, surprised. “What is this?”
“Two more in the truck.”
“Where would you like them?”
“Waitâ Can I?â Wait. Can I
sign? Can you take them back to sender or something? I wasn't expectingâ”
“You don't want them?”
“Um,” Ally said. She wasn't sure.
“Yes, no, forget it. I'll sign. Sorry.” She took a deep breath, took the stylus and signed.
She and Frank brought the boxes inside. They piled them at the base of the stairs, next to the unopened box from La Perla.
Frank walked out, back to his truck, to fetch the two others, and Ally skimmed the return addresses. “Oh, man,” she said, reading the labels: Cartier, Godiva, Chanel, Blahnik. Gaultier, Gucci, Barneys, Saks.
After Frank left, she found the phone and called the St. Regis.
She asked for Jake Bean.
“Certainly, ma'am. One moment, please,” the operator said and then disappeared. When she came back, she said, “I'm sorry, ma'am. No one is registered under that name.”
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Ally said. “I meant Noah.
“Certainly, ma'am,” the operator said. “Hold one moment.” She went away again and came back. “I'm sorry, ma'am. No reservation under that name.”
She sat on the stairs and dialed Anna. She had to call her three times.
“He sent me presents.”
“Jake Bean. The UPS man showed up with boxes. A dozen boxes. Saks, Cartier. I haven't opened them.”
“How do you know it wasn't Ted?”
“Ted buys for Ted. Golf clubs. Scuba gear. Squash rackets.”
“And the problem?”
“What does he want? What is he doing? I haven't seen him in ten years.”
“Is this about age? Because there was a woman last week in the news. She married her truck.”
“Ally. Mary-Kate Olsen, the toddler from
. The toddler
. Remember that show? She's with Sarkozy.”
“The French president?”
“No. His brother. But still, the guy's a
years old. And then there's Woodyâ”
“Please don't go thereâand you know it's different for women. “There's still a double standard out there. We think it's changed, but it hasn't, Annaâ”
“Yes, it has. Jennifer Lopez, Casper Smart. Joan Collins is seventy-seven. Her boyfriend isâ”
“Please. How do you
this? How do you evenâ?”
“I looked it up! And you know what I think? You've been comparing
manâfor the last ten yearsâto Noah Bean. Or Jake. Or whatever.”
“Like I did with John, you fell in love at first fuck.”
“Don't be so crass! We didn't fuck. The whole thing was tenderâand loving. He said so!”
“See? You loved him! I knew it! Ha!”
“I didn't say that. I said the