Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes (16 page)

SHE ROLLED OVER AND
Jake met her ear. “It's eight,” he whispered.

“No!” Ally whined and bolted upright. Her head throbbed. She closed her eyes and thought about Meer. Meer's message. Meer's threat. Sober reality set in. “Jake?”

“Yeah?”

She opened her eyes. “There's no kind way to say this. I'm sorry . . .”

“I have to go.”

“You have to go.” She leaned in and kissed him, then rolled to get up. “I have to clean this whole house . . . in four hours.”

“I'll help.” He picked up a pillow and stripped off its case.

“She can't find a trace of us . . . I have to leave for the station at noon.” She stood up slowly and held her head.

“Ally?” he said, looking at her as she swept back her hair. “If I were—if I were thirty-five, would you be rushing me out of here?”

“If you were
fifty
,” Ally explained. “I decided—a long time ago—not to drag her into my dating.”

“What dating?”

“Yes, that's right. There's a reason for that.”

“How will you ever meet anyone?”

“I won't,” she said and walked away, into the bathroom.

“I would marry you if you want,” Jake called.

Ally caught herself on the sink. She took a deep breath and stood up straight. “You don't mean that,” she called back, then looked at herself in the sink mirror. She looked afraid.

“I do,” he said and appeared in the doorway, folding the blanket.

She turned on the water and splashed her face. She reached for a towel and wiped herself dry. Through the mirror, she looked at Jake.

“I would marry you if you want,” he said again.

“And that would be a mistake for you.” She put the towel back on the bar.

“Why?” he said.

She picked up her toothbrush. “Because,” she said and grabbed the toothpaste. She squeezed a snake of it onto her brush and started to brush on the left as she spoke. “You're twenty-one . . . You're quitting school . . .” She brushed and brushed and then stopped and spit and started again on the right. “You don't know what kind of job you want . . . You're in debt . . . You're too young to be a dad.” She spit again and returned the brush to the cup on the sink. “And we don't really know each other. Not from two days.” She grabbed the cup and rinsed.

Jake watched her. “I know you.”

She put the cup down, wiped her mouth, and turned to face him. “Jake, look. I have—inexplicable feelings—”

“Inexplicable?”

“Unexplainable.”

“I know what it means. I just don't agree that your feelings are unexplainable.”

“I'm totally delighted and overwhelmed by what happened here over the weekend, but—”

“But?”

“We don't know each other. Not truly.”

“Ally,” he said. “I've sat in your class and listened to you yammer—ninety minutes, twice a week—for three years. Six semesters. Two hundred sixteen total hours.”

She looked at him. “Yammer?”

Jake smiled. “Did I say yammer? I meant lecture. I've read your papers, both your books, and you've read six hundred pages of me . . .”

Ally nodded and bit her lip.

“We've been talking, you and me—talking and flirting—for a while.”

Ally turned. “It was your idea. And I thought we were— And now I sound like some old man with a beard and a hard-on, and that is—that is not what this was.”

“What was it, then?”

“I make mistakes.”

“Who told you that?”

“I make decisions, and—”

“No, I told you, it wasn't a fling. If I were a girl and you were a guy—”

“Jake. Please. If someone found out?” She turned, stepped toward him, and kissed him on the lips. “I'm sorry. Okay?
Marry
you?”

Tired, she thought, she must be tired. She sidestepped him and went into the bedroom and swallowed the knob of grief in her throat. Her knees felt weak and she started to tremble. She was hungover. She never drank. That's what this was.

In the doorway, Jake turned around and searched for his clothes. They were scattered across the bedroom floor.

—

In the kitchen, Ally made coffee.

“Thank you,” he said as she gave him the mug. He was washing down the table. He stopped for a moment, put the sponge down, then crossed to the sink, where Ally was rinsing the last Stella bottle.

He leaned against the counter, studying her sadly, then turned his head and gazed out the window.

Ally turned off the water and watched him lift the mug to his lips. Like pillows, she thought, Jake's lips.

He hadn't shaved, and the dark wash of bristle, of five-o'clock shadow, the lack of sleep, and a certain sadness made him look ten years older that morning.

Ally studied him and thought of how beautifully he would age. Some men grow more handsome year after year, and Jake would be one of them. Lucky the lady who . . .

“Holy shit,” Jake said and straightened up, startled. He focused out the window. “They're here.” He placed his coffee mug down on the counter.

“Who?” Ally said and stepped toward him to see what he saw.

Beyond the front yard, beyond the front gate and across the street, an extremely animated ten-year-old girl climbed from a cab, holding a toy gun in her hand.

“What are they doing?” Ally cried, panicked.

The driver helped Claire pull two tiny rollers from the trunk.

“Back, out the back!” Ally yelled.

“Good,” Jake agreed, grabbing his duffel and his toolbox.

She took him by the arm and led him through the dining room toward the screened porch at the back of the house.

As they fled, she glanced through the window and saw Lizzie in the side yard, running toward the back, wielding her gun.

“I'm home! I'm home!” Lizzie yelled, her long blond braids bouncing off her back, gun in her hand.

“Where is she going? Shoot! Shoot!” Ally abandoned her route and doubled back, grabbing Jake and taking him with her. “The basement,” she said. “It leads to the yard on the other side.”

“Hello! We're home!” Claire called from the front hall. She had let herself in.

Ally opened the basement door and shoved Jake inside.

“Wait!” he said as she closed it.

“Ally?” called Claire. “We're home! Surprise!”

“Hello!” Ally yelled toward the kitchen. “I'll call you,” she whispered to Jake through the door.

“You will?” he said. “Do you have my number?”

“No, I don't know. Sorry. I'm really sorry. I can't call you.” She shut the door, turned, and ran down the hall. “Mom? Is that you?”

Claire was placing her purse on the counter, staring at two mugs of coffee. Two. “Surprise!” she said and looked up as Ally walked in.

“No kidding,” Ally said.

“We took an early—”

“Where is she?” Ally pretended to look around.

—

In the sunny backyard, Lizzie climbed up onto her tire swing, happy to be home. She kicked off her shoes and pointed the toy gun high in the air at a bird flying by.

In the dark basement, Jake found the doors that led outside through a steep cellar egress. He unhitched the lock and tried to lift them, but they were stuck. Like a linebacker, he pounded on the steel with his shoulder and his back.

From the corner of the yard, Lizzie had a view of the red cellar doors. She grew still when she heard the noise, the thud-thud-thud, from the basement.

Her eyes grew wide as the doors began to give, and when one flew open and Jake popped out, she clutched the tire swing, pointed the gun at him, and let loose a terrified, ear-piercing scream.

Ally and Claire looked at each other and ran from the kitchen toward Lizzie's scream.

Through the porch, Ally could see her, clutching the swing rope, pointing the gun, mouth in an oval, eyes wide in horror, letting loose horrified scream after scream. “A man! A man!”

“What? What? What's in your hand?” Ally cried as she flew from the porch and down the steps.

“A man! A man!” Lizzie screamed, pointing at Jake.

Ally and Claire turned and saw Jake standing in the egress, half-in, half-out, covered in cobwebs.

Claire screamed and Lizzie screamed again and Ally bellowed over them, “Stop! Stop! Put down that toy! He's the handyman! Stop!”

“What?” Claire said, looking at Ally.

“He is the
handyman
!”

Lizzie fell silent, dropped the toy gun, threw her head back, and laughed. Claire inhaled and smiled tightly.

“You bought the gun?” Ally cried, looking at Claire.

“It's what she wanted!”

Ally, fuming, turned to Jake. “Come, Jake! Come meet my mother and Lizzie. Come.”

IN RED HOOK
,
THEY
walked for about a mile, block to block, before Weather saw it. “There! That!” She pointed to the warehouse two blocks down. “That one there. Under the bridge.”

“The one on the left?” Ally asked. “Across the street?”

“The far corner there!”

“Wait,” said Jake. “Is that on Bushman? Bushman and Court?” He had insisted on joining them. Weather insisted they walk all the way from Borough Hall so she could retrace Lizzie's route.

They stopped on the corner as traffic sped past, blowing exhaust and kicking up dirt. “I think I know this building. I do. From all my research—1909—the Sugar Mill Fire!” Over their heads, the expressway roared.

“What?” Ally said.

“Ten girls died. Bushman and Court. Oh, man. This is perfect. See the relevance? This is—incredible. I can't
believe
it.”

“Why?” Weather said.

“Can you?” said Jake. “Can you believe it?”

“I—I don't know. Yes,” Ally said, looking around. “Maybe. I guess.” She was distracted. Next to the building, a crew from Con Ed ripped through the pavement.

“Two years before the Triangle fire. Or was it cotton? Vaseline? No. No, it was sugar. Sugar. It was. This was the building. Nothing has changed but the product! Man! Marty will love this!”

“Why is he freaking?”

“He has—a passion,” Ally explained and stepped off the curb to cross the street.

“The irony, wow.” Jake followed. “This guy runs a sugar mill, too . . .”

In secret, thought Ally. They're all tucked in. Hidden behind the grit and the noise.

“So what's the plan?” Jake stopped walking.

Ally turned to him. “I'm going in.”

“Why? Are you sure? Who are these people? They could be armed. They could be dangerous.”

“Were they? Weather?”

“No. He was tan. Polo, no socks.”

“Really?” said Jake. “My sources said—”

“But I'm not a threat,” Ally insisted. “I'll say—I'll say—it's an emergency. They'll understand.”

“No. No.” Jake shook his head. “If anyone goes, I go. I go inside.”

“Yeah, Mrs. Hughes. Noah should go. They won't kill a star.”

“No, Jake, thanks. I'm thrilled you're here. You make us feel safe. But, A, she's my child. And, B, I'm armed.”

“Armed?” said Jake.

She crossed the street toward the construction.

“Armed with
what
?” Jake followed Ally. Weather followed Jake.

“Pepper spray,” she said and patted her purse.

“What? Why?”

“Where did you get it?” Weather caught up. “Please, let me see!”

Keeping her stride, Ally took the canister out of her purse and gave it to Weather. “Careful. It can stop bears.”

Weather brandished it. “‘Hurry up, woman!'”

“It's not a toy.” Ally reached out and took it back as they all heard a series of screeches and peels.

Four white vans, unmarked, raced by. One van, two, a third, and a fourth pulled up in front of Fishman's doors.

“What . . . what is this?” Two marked police cars followed behind, sirens swirling.

“Holy baloney. It's like a . . . raid,” Weather said.

“What?” Ally said.

“I think she's right,” Jake agreed.

Men in blue jackets and bulletproof vests, helmets and kneepads, climbed from the vans, all of them carrying submachine guns.

“What is
happening
?” Ally said as one group gathered by the front doors and another spread out around the block. She realized then: A raid. Arrests. Seizures. Guns. She shot off toward the police.

“Ally!” Jake called.

She approached the FBI jackets. “Excuse me?” she said. “My daughter's inside.” Weather had mentioned the ninth floor. Ally decided she'd go up and yell as loud as she could. “Excuse me,” she said, approaching the agents.

One drew his gun. “Stop where you are!”

“What?” Ally stopped. “I just—”

“Hands up!”

In the middle of the street, Ally raised her hands. “Excuse me? May I just—”

“Shut up!” he said as she approached. “Put your hands behind your back!”

“This is a mistake. I have a question. My child—”

“Hands! Behind your back! Now!”

“Why are you yelling? Why is he yelling?”

Jake appeared next to her, hands in the air. “Do it, Ally.”

“But—”

“Do it!”

Ally put her hands behind her back.

“Now turn and walk to me! Toward my voice now!”

Ally was confused. “Wait. What? Turn and walk backward?”

“Wait,” said the agent, looking at Jake. “Aren't you that guy? Cooper? Bradley?”

“No. Not him.”

“Bradley whatever?”

“No. Noah Bean.”

“Yeah, you're the knight! Weapons? Any?”

“We were just walking—”

“I have some pepper spray.”

“Get on the ground. Sorry, but do it.”

Ally and Jake looked at each other. Jake rolled his eyes and fell to his knees. “Do what I do.” He moved to his belly. Ally did too. The agent descended, lifted them up, and grabbed Ally's purse. “Work in this building?”

“No,” Ally said.

“And you, sir?”

“No.”

“But my daughter, she might. We were rescuing her.”

Weather stayed crouched behind a car. She couldn't believe it.

—

On the ninth floor, Fishman yelled, “Wipe! Wipe! Wipe it all!” He glanced at Josh as he smashed his phone in one fell swoop. Pieces of plastic sailed through the air, hitting Josh in the face.

“What the fuck?” Josh said as Fishman collected the tiny pieces and threw them out the window.

He'd wiped the hard drive in five minutes flat. Fishman had hired him for this moment, for his kill skill.

The hallway was empty and strangely quiet as they jogged toward the stairwell that led to the furnace, that led to outside.

Up and down the halls, the models were oblivious behind closed doors, all except Lizzie, who stood in the pantry and gazed out the window. “Shit,” she said, turning to Sasha. “We should get down. Under the table.” They both ducked. “Kill you, Weather. I will kill,” Lizzie muttered.

“What? What it is?” Sasha said.

“Cops out front, and my
mother
is here.”

—

Twenty minutes later, FBI agents led Fishman and Josh around the corner of Bushman and Court. Both men were handcuffed.

Ally and Jake were further explaining themselves to the agents when Ally saw Lizzie and gasped.

She watched as an agent placed Lizzie and Sasha into the back of an unmarked car.

Ally just stared as the agent released her. Twenty feet away, Con Ed resumed. Jackhammers flew. Cement soot and particles whirled around her, choking her throat. The sidewalk screamed from the deafening drills as they drove up and down and struck their bits, exploding in ashy, smelly exhaust. The moment became unbearable. Ally turned and walked away without looking back.

Swiftly, Jake caught up. “What she did was legal, Ally.” He walked beside her. “They can't arrest her. She's twenty. She did nothing wrong.”

“Pepper spray,” she said to herself. “The cops show up with automatic rifles . . . I bring Mace . . .”

“So?”

“I don't know who I am anymore.” She said nothing else, and when she hit Clinton, she knew where she was. She took a right and walked herself home.

Jake followed, and Weather followed Jake, for blocks and blocks, an hour walk, all the way back to Cranberry Street.

Other books

Joan Hess - Arly Hanks 04 by Mortal Remains in Maggody
Captive Eden by BRENDA WILLIAMSON
Ghost Wanted by Carolyn Hart
Coming Undone by Ashton, Avril
Past the Ages: Book Two by RaShelle Workman
Diary of a Working Girl by Daniella Brodsky
The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu