Authors: Jules Moulin
She studied him a moment. She knew he was right. Her eyes grew cool and she pressed her lips together and then released them. She looked out the window. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Yes, you do.”
She gazed at the river, the Brooklyn skyline. “Someone sent gifts. Was it you?”
“Maybe. What if it was?”
Ally said nothing.
“How is your face?”
The Escalade pulled up to the brownstone. Ally climbed out and walked toward the stoop, fishing for her keys at the bottom of her purse.
Jake followed. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” she said.
“I only have two more days in town.”
She climbed the stoop, tipsy, jaw aching, hardly hearing him. “Where are myâ?”
Jake stood at the bottom and waited. “By the way. Your friend, Ted?”
Ally looked up. What about him?
“That toy company? I made some calls. It's pretty sketch.”
She found her keys. “Sketch?”
“The guys who run it.”
“How are they sketch?” She thought of what Weather had told her. “Like what?”
“I don't know. That's what I heard.”
Ally turned and unlocked the door.
Jake stayed and watched. “If you need me, I'm at the St. Regis.”
“Are you?” she said and turned again, before she went in. “I tried you there. They said you weren't.”
“Try again, Ally,” Jake said and smiled. “Please. Try again.”
party arrived, two dozen revelers, drunk, post-reception, including the bride. Ally and Jake joined them in singing “Don't Stop Believin',” a full-bar rendition, and Ally thought she might burst from joy. Jake excused himself to the restroom, and Ally wandered over to the dartboard to get a closer view of the bride.
The dress was magnificent, Ally thought. The perfect white. A cool ivory, to match the bride's pale freckled skin. The bodice was embroidered in pearl and lace. The waist was high, with a beaded sash, and the layered tulle skirt swept across the sawdust floor. “It's beautiful,” Ally said breathlessly, feeling tipsy. “You look beautiful.”
The bride smiled. “Thank you,” she said and aimed her dart. As it flew from her fingers, the groom swept in, lifted her up, and carried her off to dance to the song playing on the jukebox. Eric Clapton, Ally thought. Wonderful.
She sighed and peered around the room. Where was Jake? Alone, she felt that feeling again, that sad-single-woman-at-the-wedding feeling, the one she'd endured twice a year for a decade; there it was again, the sinking moment of humiliation when everyone seated at the table rose, all but Ally; they all took flight, off to the dance floor, because the band had broken into “Brown Eyed Girl” or “Walk This Way” or “Play That Funky Music”Â .Â .Â . again.
And, again, Ally would reach for her clutch, push back, rise, and beeline to the bathroom, somewhere, anywhere, quiet, to call Claire and check on Lizzie. “Did she eat? How is she?” And Lizzie was fine. Always fine.
“Can I have this dance?” Jake said, breaking her reverie. Oh, right. She wasn't alone. Jake was back. “The bride is pretty.” Ally nodded. “Pretty dress. You would look pretty in a dress like that.” Ally rolled her eyes and sighed as he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her waist. “You'd make a pretty, pretty bride.” She wrapped her wrists around his neck, and they danced and danced, next to the darts.
“You have plans?”
At quarter past two, heavy limbed and happy, Ally made her way to the door. One step in front of the other, she thought, with Jake on her heels. Walk straight. Keep your head high. Look forward. He's right behind you.
The room was tilting. Then it was spinning.
That is the door, she reminded herself. Walk toward the door. It will take you outside.
“Drive me home?” Ally said, out in the lot. Jake was a few yards behind. “Want to? Want to, Yaz?”
“Yep,” he said. “I do. Want to.”
The night was black, streaked with patches of red and gold light. The air was warm and salty and fresh. The pebbles crunched under their shoes as they walked toward Jake's car in the corner of the lot.
“That's it there.” She pointed to the Chevy. Jake caught up and wove his fingers through her fingers.
Quiet for a moment, they strolled and gazed at the stars.
At the Chevy, Ally stopped and searched for Jake's keys in the bottom of her purse. She found them finally, pulled them out, and lobbed them to him. The keys flew high and left and wide, but Jake jumped easily and caught them in midair.
“Nice catch,” she said.
“Sorry, Yaz,” she said, not a bit sorry. She circled the bumper.
Jake smiled and unlocked the door. He held it open as she climbed in, and then he shut it carefully.
Inside the Chevy, Ally pulled on her seat belt, managed to insert it and lock it, ready. She sat there and waited, patient and demure, for Jake to take her home.
Jake climbed in, shut his door, and slipped his key in the ignition. He turned on the radio to some station's all-Zeppelin Saturday night, turned to Ally, and unclipped her belt. He caught the belt so it didn't snap back, then reached and returned it over her body and back to its starting place.
“What are you doing?” Ally asked.
He didn't answer. He locked the doors and killed the headlights, and in one swift motion and before Ally knew it, they were madly kissing across the console, the Zeppelin blasting.
The tight quarters, protruding knobs, gearshift, and steering wheel forced them to squeeze, collapse, and meld, and quickly the windows were fogged and opaque.
After some minutes, Ally straddled him and pushed back his seat. Slowly she released him from his button-down shirt, kissing his neck and chest as she did. She wanted him to trust her, to let himself go, to own her for the moment, like he'd said. “Let's let tonight be about you,” she whispered in his ear, grinding into him, pressing her elbows into his shoulders, kissing his forehead, pulling his hair. “You, you, you.” She now knew his body the way he knew hers.
She pulled back, shimmied from her dress straps, moved her arms through them, and yanked the sundress down around her waist. Braless, she lifted her breasts toward his mouth. She plunged her hips into his, arched back, then pushed him back and found his bare chest. She sucked and gnawed and licked and bit as Jake let out a ravenous cry of pain and pleasure. “Shit!” he yelled above the music.
Then she leaned back, lifted herself, and unbuttoned his jeans. She pulled down his zipper between her legs and pulled down his jeans as Jake lifted up. She tugged down his briefs and left them at his shins, below his knees, restraining his movement.
She reached for the condom in Jake's hand, then lifted him out from between his thighs, encircled her hands firmly around him, and pressed on the floor of the car with her feet.
With her teeth, she tore the wrapper, and quickly, in an instant, in a second in the dark, she unfurled and tugged the sheath over him tight.
Jake watched and placed his hands on Ally's waist.
Slowly he lowered her, down and toward him, into a deep, deep kiss. A kiss that felt like sex itself. He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her in tight, but she pulled out of his embrace. She held him erect, straight in the air and stood, legs apart, until her head reached the roof of the car.
As she did this, Jake mouthed her breasts, found her ass with his hands, shaped and worked it, plying and smacking and spreading her out and then back in.
Ally lowered herself to his tip. She touched him there quickly, then pulled up sharply, thrusting her breasts back into his face.
He gripped them with his hands and closed his mouth over them. Finding her nipples, back and forth, he sucked and chewed and pulled and sucked as Ally lowered toward him again. She allowed him entrance and then rescinded the invitation.
Up and down, they both endured this for an hour. An excruciating, innervating hour. Ally, in control, circling, taking Jake in, but only barely, then pulling up, pretending to change her mind, to tease him.
Jake was grabbing, gnawing, sucking, her shoulders, neck, nipples. He groaned and heaved and squirmed as she plundered him over and over, and soon he felt angry and hostile with desire.
Ally could sense he had let himself go. He was finally tense and gripping and pained. “Wait, wait!” she cried. “I want to be me!”
“What?” Jake said, looking into her eyes.
“I want to be me again! Please!” Ally begged.
“Ally! You are! You are you!” he said.
Ally looked down at him, realizing this, and kissed him and laughed.
Jake laughed too, and couldn't resist her anymore. He cried out, “Fuck!” and wrapped his forearms around her back. Reaching his hands up over her shoulders, he pulled Ally down with such savage force and thrust so hard, she thought she might burst.
Harder and harder, deeper and deeper, he thrust and gripped and held her in place as if he was a vise.
He pounded and struck and crashed into Ally with ferocious abandon.
In his grip, she lost her breath. She writhed and struggled as Jake fought and sealed her, airtight around him.
The car disappeared. The world disappeared as he pummeled her, greedy, awash in sweat, ravenous, and savage, and finally, his whole body seized and he came and came and cameâhe shook and shuddered and came into the condom, tense and thrilled and crying out.
Ally smiled, filled with joy, as he released her, and seconds later they both collapsed in a soaking-wet heap.
Jake looked up at her, into her eyes. He reached up and held the sides of her face. She held his. He peppered her with kisses as his whole body seemed to exhale with relief. They started to laugh and Jake then to cry, and Ally kissed him tenderly.
ON THURSDAY MORNING AT
nine o'clock, Ally awoke with a throbbing head. She stayed in bed for half an hour and texted Ted. He didn't text back. She called him twice and twice he allowed her to roll to his voice mail.
She sat in the kitchen, sipping coffee, feeling laden by the actual cup. The coffee cup. It wasn't hers. It was Claire's. Claire's china. Her wedding china. The table was Claire's. Everything in the kitchen was Claire's.
Maybe Ted was right, she thought, gazing at the mug.
Maybe she should go. On a trip. Get out of Brooklyn. Out of the brownstone. Maybe she'd sell it. And if she didn't, maybe she'd sell everything in it and start fresh. Rid the walls and floors of the smell, that mild stench of secondhand smoke. Peel off the wallpaper. Update the millwork. Repaint. Refurnish.
Claire had fallen apart in those rooms after all. When Ally was six. When Eugene died. Ally's dad.
For months and years, she'd stepped through the motions of daily life, body in, but heart out, of the real world.
For a year, she told Ally, she wondered if she'd been married at all. The marriage had felt like a dream, she said. Eugene himself felt like a dream.
Until Ally appeared again: home from school, or just woken up, her face his. She reminded Claire he had been real.
He had been real. He had been there. And then he wasn't.
Ally's face had his valentine shape. She'd grown his nose, and her large round eyes and smile were his.
Claire's genes had skipped Ally and taken root in Lizzie. Lizzie's height, figure, ringlets: Claire's. Claire's nose, elegant, pronounced. The nose of a queen, a real-live woman. Not the nose of a child or a doll.
She spoke to him daily, Ally recalled, sitting there by herself. “You can come home now,” Claire said to the air. Ally would listen sometimes. “Gone long enough, Eugene. Now. It's time to come home.”
“Who are you talking to?”
Claire denied it. I'm talking to myself, she'd said to Ally. It helped her think.
She drank and smoked and drank some more, and one day announced, “This is our fourth. August without him. Our fourth August first.”
Every day was a new day without Eugene.
Week by week, month by month, his things, his effects, disappeared. Ally would look for his glasses, his hat, but Claire put everything into a bedroom on the fourth floor and locked it with a key.
First his papers, wallets, shoes. His books. Then scarves and winter coats, galoshes, gloves. His backgammon set, chess, records, even
, which they all had listened to and loved.
The door was locked and never opened. Not, at least, in Ally's presence.
It had been her sitter, Setta, who'd left the tiny violin. At the ballet class. Inside the dressing room. Under the bench.
Claire had been annoyed, but Eugene had calmed her down on the phone. It was no problem at all, he said, to swing by ballet on his way back from work. Nothing, for Gene, merited a fuss. But, of course, if he'd driven home that day, from Broad Street to Broadway and over the bridge, he wouldn't have turned onto Tillary Street, to fetch the forgotten violin, Ally's, and the legally blind man wouldn't have struck him.
When they returned from California, Claire fired the sitter and bedtime vanished. Ally put herself to sleep when she wanted to sleep. Claire resigned from cooking breakfast: eggs, oatmeal, anything warm. She served only yogurt and glasses of milk. Or only milk.
Ally was welcome to pour herself cereal, Claire said. And so she did. She learned to contend with the cold gallon jug, heaved it and tipped it and kept it from spilling. She taught herself to cook and bake and wash.
“Well,” Claire said, “our life will be perfect. Now. It can't get worse.”
Ally watched her light a Parliament, inhale deeply, and exhale slowly, sending the secondhand smoke toward the sky, as if she were blowing it into God's face.
She never talked about Ally's dad. She never talked about marriage or love or sex at all.
, Ally thought. There was that once.
“I'll only say this,” Claire said.
“Please don't. Here.” Ally was standing in her cinder-block room in New South dorm on her first day of school. First hour. Georgetown.
Claire, legs crossed, sat on Ally's new dorm bed, tapping her knee with a cigarette lighter. “
thing. Come on. One thing.”
will be here
“Sex is not love. Love is not sex.”
Ally turned and carried her clothes from the bed to the drawers. “Great. Terrific.”
“Love is what happens when sex ends.”
“Thanks. Okay. I'll keep that in mind.”
“If you ask meâ”
“Do not have sexâuntil you make sureâyou can love him without it.”
“Now I know!”
“I knew I could. Love your dad. When the sex stopped. He was fun. If he's fun, then go right ahead. All right?”
“All right! I'm so glad we did this! Done?” The door opened wide. Thankfully. “Nanda!” Ally cried with too much relief.
“Hi,” Nanda said with big, sad eyes, lifting her purse strap over her head. The anorexic, Ally said to Anna that night on the phone. From Bombay, she said. But better than Claire! Nanda's parents had entered too, jet-lagged, and when Claire rose to greet them, she stealthily switched her cigarette lighter to her left hand.
Ted was right, Ally thought, sitting there. It was the house. This house. She had to get out. Lizzie had. She checked her phone. He hadn't called back.
At three, another rainstorm rolled in. Ally could smell it when she left Brooklyn. The gray sky carried a soft, whipping wind. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
As the torrent discharged, she started to run along Canal. As she arrived, so did Mac, from Apartment 1 on the ground floor.
Mac had turned ninety the day before. A Korean War vet and consummate gentleman, he caught sight of Ally running toward the door and kindly held it open for her.
“Thank you,” she said, slipping inside, looking drowned.
“Too late, I think,” Mac said and smiled.
She dripped from her elbows, fingertips, nose. “Better late than never.” She turned and climbed the fire stairs.
Breathless and upset, she pushed through the door on the fourth floor, turned a corner, and bumped into Teddy taking out the trash.
“Listen, Ally, I'm walking out. Got a meeting uptown in ten. I'm already late.” He led her inside to dry off. “Stay right there. I'll get you aâ Do you want clothes? Dry clothes?” He went to the bathroom to find her a towel.
“But why would Weather say that? Why?”
“The weird one? The fat girl?”
“She's not that fat, and she's Lizzie's best friend!”
“Maybe she's lying!”
“Why would she lie?”
He didn't answer. Ally stood there, looked around, and shivered. The AC was blasting. Seconds later, Ted returned, walking briskly. He handed her a towel. “She knows Lizzie hates me.”
“Lizzie doesn't hate you.”
“Yes, she does.”
“No, she doesn't. She hasâshe has daddy issues. And she's
“That's true.” He glanced at his watch. “I've got to goâyou want to stay and dry off?”
“No.” Ally dried her face with the towel and took a deep breath. “I just can't
Lizzie would do this. Yuck, this is wet. This towel is wet.” She handed it back. “It smells weird. Like puke.”
Ted took the towel. “It's all I've got!” He chucked it behind him onto the couch.
“Why are you
“Sorry! I'm stressed! I have to be at Fiftieth and Sixth in ten minutes. Team from Hong Kong.” He took Ally's elbow and led her to the door. “I'll call you after? Want to get dinner? ABC? NoMad?”
“No,” Ally said, peeling away from him toward the kitchen. “You understand she's my
“She's not a
“I want to get to the bottom of this. I need paper towels.”
“She's not a child. She's twenty years old.” He glanced again nervously at his watch.
Ally moved from the sink to the cabinets. “I said
child. She's ruining her life, and Weather said it was your idea.” She couldn't find a paper product. “Do you have a napkin or dishcloth?”
“She's not ruining herâ” He crossed to his desk. “Plenty of women pose forâ
âand do great.”
“Like who?” Ally said, checking the cabinets for something absorbent.
“Singers. Actresses. That's what she wants.” He locked his briefcase and grabbed his phone.
“Meryl Streep posed for
“I don't know, but I'm sure she's been naked. They
do it. Girls these days, they don't lead with the old-school thing. The man-hating thing. Like you.” He headed toward her, briefcase in hand. “They leadâlike Lizzie said at dinnerâwith sex. Sex sells.”
Ally turned. “I don't hate men.”
“What I mean is, she's notâconservativeâlike you. She's not aâprude.” He looked around the kitchen. “I don't have napkins.”
Ally recoiled. Affronted, her mouth fell open. “I'm not a
He gave her a look. “I'm not saying it's not charmingâcan we go?”
“Just because I don't sleep with
âthat doesn't make me a prude.”
“Okay, wrong word. But we need to leave, Ally. Now.” Again, he led her off, leaving behind a puddle of rain as if she'd peed. “You have to let her live her life.” At the front door, he stepped into the closet and searched for a jacket to wear in the rain.
“Who says? Dr. Phil?”
He found a slicker and slipped into it. “She's out of school. She has her own place. You need to let go.” He grabbed an umbrella. “You need an umbrella?”
Ally stood there, studying him. “That isâthat is just someâsolipsisticâ
truism.” She felt defensive. “I don't have to let her goâor flyâor be free. In fact, I plan to stay in her face for the rest of her life. And if she doesn't thank me now, she will, because she will
that she was
“Oh, really?” He slipped into loafers. “Fine.”
“Fine? Oh, is it fine? I wasn't asking for your permission.”
He opened the door. “Keep her in a tower the rest of her life.”
Ally walked out into the hall. “Life is not some Sting song,” she said, and as she did a pretty young woman stepped from the elevator.
The woman saw Ally and stopped in her tracks, looking trapped.
“Hello,” said Ally.
The woman looked confused and gripped the lapel of her Burberry trench with her free hand. “Is Ted here?”
“Yeah. He's rightâ”
“I'm right here.” Teddy stepped out and closed the door. “Simone, Ally. Ally, Simone.”
“Hi,” Ally said again and waved.
Simone turned and looked at the elevator. She pressed the down button a few times, as if she couldn't flee fast enough.
Ted locked his door. “Simone's an intern for Bunny this summer. Bunny Dunn? You know her, Ally? She did my loft?”
Ally nodded. “I know
“We're doing the bathroom. You have the tile? Simone? Did you bring the tile?” He looked at Simone. She shook her head. “I'm leaving. I thought you were coming tomorrow.”
“I was nearby,” she said unsurely.
Ally walked toward her. She couldn't help it. She eyed Simone's suitâchic, pinkâher tight pencil skirt and calf-print stilettos and thick lipstick. Her boobs, Ally thought, were impossibly high. She could model like Lizzie. Absolute stunner.
Ah, to be young.
In silence, they all rode the elevator down.
In silence they stepped out under the awning. Then Ted panicked. “Damn! I forgot a fuckingâdamn! Ally, money for a cab? I have toârun back in.”
“No,” Ally said. “I'll take the train.”
“Back in the morning?”
“Sure,” Simone said.
“Nine or so, and bring the tile.”
“Ally,” said Ted, stepping in close. “I want to finishâ I got a house in South Hampton, all right? Six bedrooms. Not that we need them.” She didn't respond. Then he whispered, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean
. I meant uptight.” He kissed her on the cheek and went back inside.
Ally turned toward the lobby for a moment. She watched him as he went up the stairs. She then turned around. It was still pouring.
Simone stood with her under the canopy, both deciding to wait out the rain.
They didn't speak.
Then Ally said, “I know you're with him. In some way. It's fine.” She stared straight ahead. “Dating. Whatever. We're notâexclusive.” She turned to Simone. “I saw your face. How panicked you looked. Don't worry. Bunny Dunn? You're lucky. She's talented. Best of luck.”
Simone said nothing.
Ally kept rambling. “My daughter's your age. Just out of Duke. It's a hard time. After school.” She looked at Simone. “Where do you go?”
Simone looked at Ally. “I'm not a student.”
“Oh, you're not? Did you graduate? The intern thing is such a mess. They get you for free? It's so unfair.”
“No, ma'am. I'm not an intern.”
“Oh,” Ally said, surprised. “What are you?”
“I'm a hooker.”