Authors: Jules Moulin
“Oh!” Ally said, and her gaze moved high and fell on a streetlamp. She didn't move. She stood there, feeling her heart gaining speed. Then her right hand drifted to her face. She rubbed her eye, then her cheek and smiled.
“You think it's funny?” Simone said.
“No,” Ally said apologetically. “No, I don't.” She ran her hand through her wet hair.
“You won't say I told you?”
“No, no. It's our secret.”
Simone nodded. “That kind of man, they don't change. I know another girl, works for him, too. Three times a week. He's a no-condom man. He's got the cash. I thought you should know.”
“Yes,” Ally said, blinking and stunned. “No, and he does. He has the cash.”
A no-condom man?
“The man is an addict,” Simone continued. “And I'm telling you becauseÂ .Â .Â . you seem like a nice lady. How could you know? Wives never know.” She looked at the sky.
“I did,” Ally said. “I knew.” Then she turned to her. “Simone, honey. I teach. Gender Studies. Brooklyn College.”
Simone nodded. “Yeah? So what?”
“I can help youâfind a good job.”
“I got one,” said Simone. “And you're all wet, so what are you waiting for?”
Indeed, Ally was soaked through. She nodded.
“I just thoughtâbetween women. You know?”
Ally said, “Yes. Between women. Thank you.” She then stepped out into the pouring rain.
A few blocks later, she started to jog. Then she ran, arms raised, fists clenched, cheering aloud and celebrating. Then she slowed down and caught her breath.
How do you ever know someone? All this deception. All these secrets. All these roles we play.
She'd never counted Ted's freckles. He'd never counted hers. He'd never even asked.
She hailed a cab at Houston and Bowery.
“Fifty-Fourth and Fifth, please,” she said to the driver. “The St. Regis.”
FOR MINUTES ALLY SAT
with her legs splayed, Jake still inside her. She nuzzled his jaw, his cheeks, his nose. She felt as if she loved this man. At least she loved making love to this man.
Their faces were red and flushed with perspiration, their bodies coated as if they'd been dipped in warm oil and water. Skin slipped on skin, sweat trickled down between Ally's breasts and from Jake's hairline next to his temples.
Finally, she pushed off the seat back and lifted up slowly. He hadn't lost form and was still strong and hard as Ally rose off him, contracting around him.
Finally separate, she bent her right knee, pulled it between them, and managed to place her right foot on the passenger seat. With Jake supporting her waist with his hands, she moved there and spun on the balls of her feet.
Jake then rolled the condom off, toward the tip, where it was full.
Silent and fixated, Ally watched with a drunken, comic reverence as he carefully knotted the end of the sheath.
When he was finished he held it in the air, exhausted and smiling. “What should we do with it?”
Ally stared at it silently. The powerâthe potentialâin that little sack was limitless, she thought in her tipsy stupor. The tiniest drop could initiate events. Important events. World-changing events. Little miracles. One little sperm made Gandhi, she thought. Marie Curie. Another made Bach. Another made Mozart. Vincent van Gogh. Amelia Earhart. Others made Einstein and Martin Luther King. Others made Pol Pot and Sacagawea. And Lizzie.
Sex was incredible, Ally thought, staring at the bulging condom. But sometimes, all that stood between sexâbetween sex and creating a person was this water balloon made from polymer particles, wrapped in foil the shape of a Triscuit.
“We shouldâgive them a funeral,” Ally whispered in a sympathetic voice, only half kidding. “They thought they had a journey ahead of them. They thought they were headed for big things.” She smiled ruefully. “Didn't we all?” She reached out her hand. “Give them to me.”
Jake handed the sack to her. She carefully placed it on the floor where her feet would have been if they weren't beneath her, as Jake rolled down his window to let in some air, lifted his ass, and pulled up his briefs. They were down around his shins, and his jeans were too. She had pinned him there, trussed him like a turkey or a bad little boy confined to his seat. “Hold on a sec. Hold on, Al,” he said, with his shins freed, jeans pulled up.
He killed the ignition and took out the keys.
She watched him climb out into the night, circle the car, to the back, to the trunk.
When he returned, he stood at the door, wiping his face with a dry towel. He leaned in and handed another towel to Ally.
She wiped her face too, her neck, inner thighs, and when she was done, she handed the towel to Jake, who wiped down the back of the driver's seat with it. He then threw both towels over the seat into the back and climbed out again.
There on the gravel, he scooped up the bedding he'd grabbed from the trunk: sleeping bag, comforter, a pillow from his dorm. He was taking it home.
He climbed back inside and shoved the whole bundle over the console. “Make a little room.”
“What are you doing?”
“Making you a bedÂ .Â .Â .” He arranged the blankets, prodding and molding them until they formed a nest.
“You're a dream,” Ally said as she nestled into it, closing her eyes, curling up into a fetal position.
Jake pulled on his shirt, closed the door, pulled on his seat belt, started the car, and rolled down the windows, all four. He killed the radio and backed from the lot.
The night was quiet and dark and still as he drove off, and Ally drifted to sleep.
All she could hear was the faint breezy hum, the wind of the drive, and the full-throated peeping, the comforting bleat of late-spring crickets. All she could feel, wrapped around her bare ankles, was Jake's strong hand.
THE DRIVER REGARDED HER
in the rearview.
Ally gazed back at him through the reflection. Her chest was heaving, her nose was red, and her eyes were moist. She was wet through and through and elated and upset at the same time.
The driver turned and reached to his right, then reached back to Ally, over the divider, and handed her something.
The towel was pink and clean and dry. Bath size.
“Thank you,” she whispered. She could barely speak. She dried her arms and wiped her face. The threads were soft and smelled like detergent. “Thank you so much,” she said again.
The cabbie nodded and looked concerned. “You want heat?” he asked kindly, with some sort of accent she couldn't place.
“No, thanks. Thank you for asking.”
The driver nodded and looked ahead to offer her privacy. The light turned green. Slowly and carefully, he headed uptown.
She dialed the St. Regis. When the operator answered, she asked for Jake Bean.
After placing her on hold, the operator said, “I'm sorry, ma'am. But no one is registered under that name.”
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Ally replied, remembering again. “Noah. Noah. Noah Bean. Like the legume. Or the vegetable. If it's a green bean.” She took a breath and bit her lower lip. Why was she rambling? She felt so foolish for so many reasons.
“Hold on, ma'am.” A moment passed. “I'm so sorry. There's no reservation under that name either.”
Ally rubbed her forehead in frustration. Had Jake left? Changed hotels? She took a deep breath and thought about it. Where did he go? Would he have called to say he moved? Went back to LA?
Then she remembered. “Yastrzemski,” Ally said. “Carl. Carl Yastrzemski.”
“One moment, please,” the operator said and connected Ally immediately.
JAKE PARKED THE CHEVY
across from the house. He killed the headlights and then the engine, and Ally, dozing, opened her eyes.
“Home,” he said.
She sat up slowly and looked left, gazing past him, out the window. “Oh no,” she said, rubbing her eyes, blinking awake. “That was dumb.”
“I didn't turnÂ .Â .Â . a lamp on insideÂ .Â .Â . or the light on the porch.”
Jake turned his head and looked at the house.
“Look. It's so dark.” The streetlamps stood on the two outer sides of the neighboring houses, left and right, so Ally's, in fact, was shrouded in darkness. “I hate coming home to an empty house.” The windows were black and the porch in shadow.
“You scared?” Jake asked and looked at her.
Ally inhaled a long, deep breath, sitting there still. “I'm always scared,” she admitted to him. “I'm never not scared.” Then they locked eyes. “I haven't slept through the night in ten years.”
Jake studied her. “Come on. Let's go.”
They went up the steps to the front porch, and Ally paused. She spotted a truck parked down the block. “That's never there,” she whispered, alarmed.
“What?” said Jake.
“That truck down the street.”
He craned his neck and gazed at it.
“They said the robbers were driving a pickup. They said maybe black.”
“Or gray. It's not black.”
Ally looked down and fished through her purse to find her keys. “I'm so glad you're here. You're staying, right?”
She was still tipsy.
“I don't want the smell,” she explained to Jake, letting her dress fall down to the floor. Jake leaned in the doorway and watched. “Can you shower, too? Please?” she asked.
He took off his shirt. The bathroom was dark. They had left the lights off. He unzipped his jeans.
“Thirdhand smoke,” Ally drawled on. “It's not widely knownÂ .Â .Â . but it mixes with stuffâthe nicotine doesâon your hair and your clothes, and forms, like, cancer-causing fumes.” She pulled down her panties and kicked them away. “It affects kids. Delays development. Lowers IQs.” Naked completely, she swept back the curtain and turned on the water. She reached out her hand, assessing the spray, as it grew hot. “Ever see
“Ally, come on. We're all locked up.” Jake stood there naked and ready to shower.
“But this would be perfect. Us in the shower. Three men. Under five-two. They're all short. Did I tell you that?” She stepped into the tub. “You were too young, butÂ .Â .Â . ,” Ally continued, closing her eyes to the hot stream.
Jake stepped in and picked up the bottle of No More Tears. He squirted a dollop into his hand. “Too young for what?”
“The last movie I saw in a theaterÂ .Â .Â . ten years ago. I have this image of Rocky himselfâRocky the boxer?”
“And the actress who showed her vagina?”
“No. You wouldn't know. You were a baby.”
? Sharon Stone?”
“Yes, her. They had a shower sceneâthey were both nude and I wanted to puke. Oh, that feels good.” He shampooed her hair. She shampooed his.
An hour later, Jake fell asleep and Ally woke up and climbed from the bed. Something was keeping her mind on alert. Maybe the robbers. That was it. What was it?
She found her purse and dug for her phone to listen to the message Meer had left:
? October?” Meer said.
Ally's heart sank.
Meer had found out. Meer knew. Ally had been writing for
, for years and years, to make ends meet. She used a fake name as she doled out advice on women and wealth. Basic economics. Home budgets. Retirement savings.
Someone had squealed. Yoko had squealed. She couldn't remember whom else she'd told. No one else knew.
She hung up the phone and powered it off and imagined Meer Monday: Her grades were late. Why was this? Meer would ask. Was this why? The magazine writing? On the side? How could she focus with two different jobs? Where was her focus? Glossy rags or research and scholarship? Why did she keep it a secret from Brown?
Ally collected her thousand-dollar checks, four hundred here, three hundred there, and put them all into one account, to be touched only for college tuition, namely, Lizzie's.
She was the dumb one. She had been stupid, trusting Yoko.
Eyelids heavy, she put down the phone with bone-weary dread. She shouldn't have told a single soul. No one at all. She'd told Yoko and Yoko'd told MeerÂ .Â .Â . and Ally had been protecting her!
She was the idiot. She should have kept her secret safe.
This time, she would.
She looked through the dark at Jake asleep.
Tomorrow had come. The week's end. Or was it the beginning? Ally had ignored her work for two days, and Lizzie was due at the station at one. She couldn't afford to fool around. Anymore.
AT THE ST
, a bellman met her as she climbed from the cab. He held an umbrella over her head, enormous and black, as she strode the red carpet and up the front steps.
In the lobby, rain dripped off her and puddled on the floor. She looked around for Jake.
Everything shined; everything glimmered: gold-framed chairs with red velvet seats, glistening mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and vases filled with towering lilies.
All the men looked dignified: The bellmen in white kid gloves, black suits. Guards in gray suits, speaking into their mikes. Businessmen in navy drifting through the lobby from the King Cole Bar. From the front desk, “May I help you, ma'am?”
Ally turned. “I'm waiting for a friend.”
The handsome Italian nodded and smiled. Ally turned back toward the elevator bay. A few seconds later, he appeared with a stack of white paper towels.
“Thanks,” she said.
He smiled and nodded as an elevator dinged and Jake stepped out. “Ally?” he said. He saw her first.
Ally turned toward him, and as he flew toward her, she burst into tears.
“Come up,” he said sweetly.
“You can. Why are you here?”
“I don't know.”
“Come up, Professor. Before we land on âPage Six.'” He pulled his cap low and led her into the elevator nook.
In Jake's suite, Ally stood in front of a window, searching through the mist for Central Park. It was there somewhere, up Fifth Avenue. Past the Plaza. The view was shrouded in fog.
“Something warm?” Jake asked from across the room. He stood by the desk, holding the phone. “Room service?”
“That would be nice.” She turned and looked around.
The room was scattered with tufted sofas and fringed ottomans, column lamps on ticking-striped tablecloths. Tasseled drapes framed the windows, and chandeliers hung from the ceiling.
Jake looked strange and wonderful in it: the formal spread, the chintz, the silk. “Pot of tea and chocolate cake. The molten one,” she heard him say. It suited him somehow. “Thank you,” he said. Hanging up, he turned to Ally. “There's a minibar we can bust open, but let's get you out of those clothes first.”
Ally looked at him.
“I didn't mean that way.” Then he smiled. “Unless you want to.”
Ally turned toward the window again and looked for the trees. Some sign of trees, of Central Park.
Jake studied her. “Seriously. Go get dry. There's a robe in the bathroom, through the, uh, bedroom.”
Ally didn't move. “It's beautiful,” she said. “You
“You think this is cool? Check out the
There's a TV
the mirror.” Ally turned around and smiled. They locked eyes. “Seriously. You're on the john and the ladies from
are staring out at you from inside the mirror. Whoopi, Barbaraâ”
“The only problem is, you get kind of spoiled.” He looked at her with meaning. “It's hard to stay at Motel 6 once you've stayed here. It's hard to go back to Velveeta in a can once you've had, I don't know, French Brie.”
“French Brie? That sounds so funny coming from you.”
Jake smiled. “You know what I mean.”
Ally did. They locked eyes. Once she'd had Jake, every man had paled in comparison. A moment passed. “Why did you find me? What do you want?”
He stared at her and thought about it. He looked at his hands and said, “Well, to start withÂ .Â .Â . I wanted to see if you remembered me.”
She shook her head. “Of course I did.”
“I wanted to see if you ever thoughtÂ .Â .Â . you made a mistake.”
Ally nodded. “It wasn't. No. Maybe it was.” She tried to explain. “You would've been
, and if I got firedÂ .Â .Â . I'm sorry, Jake.”
Jake considered her words. “I know there's no whining on the yacht, and I won't. Whine on the yacht. ButÂ .Â .Â . all this stuffÂ .Â .Â . money, fameÂ .Â .Â . it's nothing if you don't love someone.” He gathered his courage. “So here it is: I was in love with you back at school. And here I am nowâand I haven't seen you in ten yearsâand I'm still in love with you.”
Ally was stunned. She stood there blinking.
“That's a fact. And it's whyâthe dinner. To see if I was, and it turns out I am, and I want to know if you feel the same way.”
Ally stood there, silent and still, for a long moment.
And then her phone rang.
She looked down, slipped it out of her pocket, and looked at the number. “Jake,” she said and looked at him. “I know we're having a moment hereÂ .Â .Â .”
“I have to get this. It's my friend. We have a thing. An emergency thing. Three calls. This is her third.”
“Sure,” he said. “Go.” He turned to the desk and picked up a script.
!” Anna yelled after Ally picked up and said hi. “I saw you in a fight! A bar fight!”
“That wasâ Listen, I can't talk.”
“Are you with him?”
“Yes,” Ally said and glanced at Jake.
“Let me say hi!”
“Anna, no. It's not a good time.”
“Please!” Anna begged.
Ally paused and rolled her eyes. She turned around and looked at Jake. “My best friendâwants to say hi.”
Jake rose and put down his script. “Sure.”
She handed him the phone and whispered, “I'm sorry. Her name is Anna. With a short
. Like âant.' Not long. Not like âah-choo.' It makes her nuts.”
Jake put the phone to his ear. “Anna?”
Ally, mortified, slipped from her Tretorns.
“Noah Bean?” Anna cried.
Barefoot, Ally headed toward the bathroom. She needed a minute. She needed a towel. A clean towel.
“I'm a huge fan! Huge! Huge!”
Jake turned and looked out the window. “Thanks.”
“So is my husband. We
you. Love you.”
“Thank you so much,” he said again.
“But more important. Listen to me. Are you listening, Noah?”
Jake drew still and looked across the suite. Ally was gone.
“She might not show it. She might not admit it. Even to herself. But don't give up. She hasâissues. I know this because I'm her best friend
an MD shrink. Do you know what that means? MD shrink? It means I'm smart.”
Jake looked down at the carpet and blinked.
“Noah? You there?”
“Did you hear me?”
“You sure?” he asked, looking back up as Ally entered, shaking her head. She was embarrassed.
“She loved you. She still does.”
“Thank you, Anna.” Jake gazed at Ally. “That means a lot.”
“Good,” she said. “Good.”
“Bye,” he said, handing the phone back to Ally.
Ally took it. “There. Are you happy?”
“Yes,” said Anna. “Elated. Thanks.”
“I'll call you back.”
Jake sank slowly onto the sofa, looking refreshed. His eyes brightened.
“Sorry about that,” Ally said.
He looked at her and smiled. That arresting smile. Sheepish and flushing, Ally stared at him, captivated. In her hand, the phone rang again. She looked at the number. “Lizzie's friend.” She looked at him.
“Get it,” he said. “I've got all night.”
“I'm worried, Mrs. Hughes,” Weather started. “She said she would be at my place at five. It's not like her to not show up. Do you know if her super's back?”
“I'm confused.” Ally had moved to the window again. The fog was lifting. She saw the treetops of Central Park.
“She hasn't called me all day. She won't pick up. Nobody's seen her. Not from class. Not from Del's. Mrs. Hughes!”
“Weather, if we don't find her tonightâyou have toâwe have to go back to this place. Tomorrow, first thing.”
“Okay, Mrs. Hughes, I can lead you from the trainâwhere we got offâbut I don't have the exact address.”
The doorbell rang. Ally looked up.
“Room service. Still want tea?” Jake got up and answered the door.