Authors: Jules Moulin
“You sound like your mom.”
“I have a jobâa childâ”
“Please. You aren't holding out for some, you know,
Ally was silent for a moment. Then she said, “What?”
“The fairy-tale life. You know what I mean. Milestone shit: Good college. Grad school sweetheart. Perfect wedding?”
“Anna, please. You don't understand.”
“Hot-climate honeymoon. Short-lived career. Two perfect kids, fish, dog.”
Ally rolled her eyes.
“Two houses, two cars: big one for hockey gear, sleek one for date night.”
“You need to stop. I could get fired.”
“He stays rich. You stay skinny. It all works out?”
“I can't risk my job.”
might have been perfect for you. Picking up where youâ”
“Enough, Anna, please!” Ally said, interrupting her best friend, the newly licensed psychiatrist.
Anna went on: “All I'm saying is, look at the world. What do you want? A suicide bomber to take you out?”
“No. What? What do you mean?”
“To die of a disease? Like SARS or something?”
“Then why can't you try for a happy ending, like everyone else?”
Ally looked at the ceiling in tears. “No one's ending is happy, Anna. We all die.”
“You can die happy. You can die
Didn't you read
“They made a movie. It's coming out soon. I'll fly to Rhode Island and take you to see it.”
“Stop. Please stop.” She started to cry.
“I'm sorry,” Anna said. “I'll send you a plague of locusts instead. Will that be better?”
Ally thought locusts might be better. “Locusts and Cipro, please, tonight. Before my kidneys explode.”
Anna promised to order the Cipro.
They both hung up.
After the call, Ally felt dizzy. She sat on the side of the tub and breathed. Deeply, slowly. Then she started to weep and weep. She wept into a washcloth for twenty minutes and then went downstairs to frost Lizzie's cake.
At six thirty, the doorbell rang.
Her heart leapt as she ran downstairs and through the front hall to answer it. Could it be Jake? No mail Sunday. Who could it be? No one had ordered a pizza, no. He had left his T-shirt, after all, and a sock. Maybe he left his hammer, a tool? “Coming!” she called as she opened the door, hoping, dreading, and there he was:
Harry the handyman.
Harry, who'd canceled on Ally three times.
“Hi, Harry,” Ally said, swallowing her disappointment.
“Hi, Miss Hughes,” Harry mumbled. “Still need help?”
Ally smiled and shook her head. “No, Harry. Got someone else.”
Harry nodded. “I'm going through stuff. You know how it is.”
“I do,” she said kindly.
“Okay,” said Harry, turning around and heading down the steps. “If it doesn't work out, you know who to call. And they caught the guys. The robber guys. By the way.”
“They did?” Ally said, surprised and relieved.
He stopped and turned on the bottom step. “Over at the Chad Brown housing project. Guy was selling an old lady's meds, from Slater Ave. My brother's a cop. I tell you that?”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah.” Harry looked sure. “Last night. All three. Cousins. All short. Runs in families, some stuff does.”
“Right,” Ally said. “Some stuff does. Well, that's a relief.” Harry nodded. Closing the door, she said, “Take care, Harry.”
“You, too, Miss Hughes.”
She locked the lock and went back upstairs to draw Lizzie's bath.
Later, in bed, she arranged the pillows, settled back, knees knocked together, bare feet splayed under the blanket. She read and graded a twelve-page paper on the hour from eleven that night until the next day.
Her muscles ached. Her vision blurred, but she blinked the words back into focus.
During Lizzie's birthday week, Ally pulled off the road to sob twice. For five days she slept in Lizzie's room, on the bottom bunk, until she had time to strip down her own bed and wash the sheets, which smelled like sex.
The pillowcases smelled like Jake.
She left those till the following week.
The next month, too, felt eerily familiar, with frantic to-do lists on top of nausea. The nausea of grief.
“Have you lost weight?” Claire asked with profound approval.
Ally nodded. Twelve pounds. In under four weeks. She couldn't help it. “I haven't been feeling well.”
” Claire said, “you
sat on the table. She rested her feet on a chair and ate a yogurt from Ally's fridge. She had helped herself. “Mrs. Hughes? What's with the boxes? At the front door?”
Jake looked at Ally. He stood at the sink, hand washing dishes.
Ally was mixing the batter for a cake, absorbed in thought and staring at a photo sitting on the windowsill:
Claire and Lizzie in a silver frame. Lizzie, four, in a light-pink dress with a Peter Pan collar, with a basket of eggs, and Claire so pretty in her early fifties before the lung cancer wasted her away. Easter weekend at Pierrepont Playground. A freezing-cold Saturday, Ally remembered. Lizzie was smiling but shivering, too.
Next to it sat a gold frame: Lizzie, on her birthday, blowing out candles. On the buffet sat a shoebox tavern.
The heart holds tight, Ally thought, looking at the photo, thinking of the weekend ten years before.
A friend moves away. A lover leaves. A child grows up. A mother dies. But the heart holds on. “Oh no,” she said to herself out loud. “What am I doing?”
At the sink, Jake turned.
“What've I been doing?” She looked up, and then at Jake, and then at Weather. “I can't keep herÂ .Â .Â . fromÂ .Â .Â .” She looked at the ceiling, her face contorted, and her eyes brimmed with tears. “I have toÂ .Â .Â . let herÂ .Â .Â . I have toÂ .Â .Â . back off.”
No one replied for a few moments, and then Weather nodded. “I bet your mother felt the same way. When you were twenty. Isn't that when you got knocked up?”
Jake and Ally looked at Weather. Ally rolled her eyes. “Weather, go home. I love you and thank you, but you need to go. Right now.”
“Fine, Mrs. Hughes. Say how you
“That's how I feel. And please call me Ally, or Lizzie's mom, like you used to. Mrs. Hughes was my mother. And I am notÂ .Â .Â . her.”
Weather put the yogurt and spoon down and slid off the table.
“Spoon in the sink,” Ally said.
Weather picked up the spoon and handed it to Jake. “Good-bye, Noah Bean.”
“Good-bye, Lizzie's Mom,” Weather said, walking out.
Once she was gone, Ally waited. She counted to twenty and then looked at Jake. She waited some more, drew on her courage; and then she admitted, “I loved you. I did.”
Jake smiled with a quiet knowing, but neither one moved.
“I fell in love with you. That weekend.” She paused. “But it happened so fast, and our ages, my jobÂ .Â .Â .” Her voice cracked. “I'm so sorry. I didn't
to send you away.”
Jake let his head fall in comic relief. “Finally!” he said. “I've been waiting to hear that for ten years!”
Ten years. All that time.
Ally walked toward him and stopped at his feet. She gazed at his shoes and they both waited. Then she looked up and Jake looked down, and they kissed.
Sweet and tender, surprisingly familiar, it was as if they'd been apart for a short time.
In Jake's embrace, Ally was transported a decade back to the weekend in May, to Mystic, to the Cape, to the Providence campus, to the house on Grotto.
Claire's concern, all her disappointment, had died with her. The constant calls, punishing lectures, her fears, were now buried and gone, and Ally felt the relief of that weight for the first time in Jake's arms.
“She's home!” Weather cried from down the hall, interrupting the moment. Ally and Jake pulled apart as Weather appeared, back in the doorway. “You guys were kissing!”
“She's home?” Ally said.
“Ally and Jake! Sitting in a tree! K-I-S-Sâ”
“Weather, stop! She called you from home?”
“She called! She's fine! She's back at her place! They didn't arrest her. She's safe and sound, and I came back to tell you! Yay, me!”
before she calledâ?” Ally grimaced, frustrated.
“That is correct,” Weather said, nodding. Then she turned and left again. “Please pick up from where you left off.”
Ally didn't move. She looked at Jake.
“You want to go see her?”
“No. She's a grown-up. She'll call when she's ready.” She exhaled, relieved.
Jake turned his head and glanced at the clock. “You
,” he said softly. “You know, Ally, I'm leaving tonight. I have to head back and pack andâ”
“What?” Her face fell. “You are?”
“I was trying to tell youÂ .Â .Â . all week. My flight's at nine.”
“Where are you going?”
He thought about it. “
“When are you back?”
“Not till December.”
He nodded. “A junket.”
“Please stay longer. Can you? The weekend?”
“Maybe I can. Maybe till Sunday. I have to make a call.”
Ally was hopeful. “Please make a call.”
The brownstone, in ways, reminded Ally of the Providence house: high ceilings, crown molding, small, scattered rooms shredding at the seams, carpet and wallpaper peeling and fraying.
She stopped at the stairs and gazed at the boxes piled on the floor. The dozen boxes, all from Jake.
Jake, behind her, pressed in close. He kissed her on the neck, stretched his arm over hers, and curled his other arm around her waist. Ally exhaled. He flattened his palm across her belly, pressing her firmly backward and into him.
It was exactly what Weather had said. Picking up right where they had left off.
She went up a step and faced him. Their mouths, now level, came together. She wrapped her elbows around his neck. They kissed and kissed. Jake enveloped her. His hands found their way under her shirt and up her back.
“Jake,” she whispered as his lips brushed her neck. “Can I just sayâ”
“You haven't had sex in years?”
“Shocking. But you had aâ”
“I did, but I neverÂ .Â .Â .” Jake pulled back and looked at her. Ally inhaled. “I haven't beenÂ .Â .Â . like, the actual thingÂ .Â .Â . I haven't actually, truly done it sinceâ”
“Hurry up, woman! There's no time to waste!” Jake ran around her and raced up the stairs. In his best British accent, he called back again, “No time to waste!”
Ally entered a few steps behind. Jake stood there, staring at the map. The map of the world from the Providence house. There were now little holes where the pushpins had been. She had taken them out and never replaced them. He turned and moved toward her.
“Wait,” she said and walked to the closet. “I have somethingâto show you.” Ally disappeared into the closet, fetching Jake's navy-blue Red Sox shirt. She stepped back out, holding it up. “Remember this?”
Jake smiled. Yes, he did. “I wondered what happenedâ”
“I kept it,” she said. “They won that year.”
“I know. I was there. In the stands.”
Ally's eyes brimmed with tears. “I was
happy for youÂ .Â .Â .”
Jake drew near, took the T-shirt, and laid it on top of Ally's bureau. Then he turned, cupped her face with his hands, looked into her eyes, and kissed her deeply. He pulled back and said: “I have to have you. I don't mean to soundâ Could you be ready? Ready to go?” He was almost pleading.
“Yes!” she said.
Then he yelled, “Hands up!” Imitating the FBI agent.
“Oh my goodness!” Ally laughed and threw her hands high.
“Up! Keep them up!” Jake yanked her shirt up and over her head. He threw it aside. “Don't move!” He yanked down her bra straps, her bra, and leaned in, mouthing her breasts, back and forth, lifting them skyward.
Nothing mattered then but the desperate grabbing, kneading and pulling, both of them feeling for and finding each other. “I think there's been aâmistake,” she said. “I have a gun!”
“Keep your mouth shut!” Jake's teeth found her neck as Ally raked her hands through his hair. She grabbed and culled it, pulling it hard, but not too hard, remembering how it made him wild. He scooped the back of her standing leg up and bent her knee. He seated her there, around his waist.
They kissed and kissed and he found her shorts. He dug inside and found her ass and spread her apart and back together, fingertips grubbing and rooting from behind, searching for heat, for sluice, a way in. “Down on the ground!” He climbed on the bed and placed her down and fell on her body hard and fast, finding her mouth deep in a kiss.
She tasted his breath, his tongue, his teeth. She pulled back and looked at his lines and shapes.
Jake then lifted back onto his knees. With nothing said and in mutual agreement and desperation, he unzipped his jeans and pulled them down. Ally did the same with her shorts and panties. She yanked them down over her knees and kicked them off at her ankles hard.
In an instant he was back on top, poised to enter, and Ally relished the weight of his legs, the pressure of his hips pressing against hers, his lack of restraint. She felt that urge and instinct, again, to be with him forever, in bed or anywhere, to hold him forever and never let go.
“Mom!” Lizzie yelled from down in the foyer.
Ally bolted upright and almost threw Jake clear off the bed.
“Mom! Are you home?”
“I'm here!” Ally called. “Be right down!”
Lizzie had let herself inside. Her super was back. She had her keys. She shoved her suitcase against the wall at the base of the stairs. The wig was gone. Her face was washed. She had changed into flip-flops and a white cotton sundress. She had pulled her hair loosely up off her neck. “What's with the boxes?”
Ally didn't answer.
She scanned the labels: Barneys, Dior, Louis Vuitton. “
e went shopping,” she said to herself and moved toward the kitchen for something to eat. She smelled something baking.
Upstairs, Ally scrambled, pulling on clothes. “What do I look like? How do I look? Do I look like I've been kissing?”
“You look great,” Jake said, watching her.
“That's not what I mean,” Ally whispered. “I'll keep her in the kitchen. Sneak out the front and I'll see you later? At the hotel?”
“What?” Jake said.
She crawled across the bed. “You'll stay in New York for the weekend? Please?” She kissed him quickly.
“You justâasked me to miss my flight.”
“Yes and that's great. And I'm happy you will, but she can't know we're up hereâ
Jake blinked slowly. “Why not?”
“Because.” She climbed off the bed, zipped up her shorts, and tucked in her shirt. “Because I'm her mother.”
“Lizzie knows that you've had sex. She knows she didn't come from a stork.”
Ally rolled her eyes. “Sneak out the front. Please, Jake.”
“Sneak out? Again?” He didn't move.
“I can't explain it right this second.”
“Why don't you tell herÂ .Â .Â . that you love me and I love you?”
“She knows I haven't seen you in ten years.” Ally stepped into the hall, then stopped and turned. In the doorway, she said, “I'm sorry. I don'tâknow how to handle this.”
She nodded. “Thank you. For your patience.”
In the kitchen, Lizzie made tea. “Do you want tea? I'm making tea.” She turned the heat up under the kettle.
Ally stood in the doorway, relieved. “I'm sorry for camping out at your house.”
“Are you baking cake?”
“I'm sorry for the calls.”
“Are you baking cake?”
“I'm sorry I stalked you.”
“Olive oil cake?”
“Yes. It's baking.”
“For you in
,” Ally said. “Do you want to talk? If you don't, that's okay. It's your life.”
“Yes, of course I want to talk.” Lizzie took mugs down from the cabinet.
“If you do, great. If not, fine. I won't press.”
“I said I do.” Lizzie laughed. “Why are you acting so oddly calm? You're freaking me out.”
“I'm notâ I haven't been calm.”
“What tea do you want?”
“We have a deal. You should've called back.”
“I know,” Lizzie said guiltily. “I know. I'm sorry. They stole my phone and I didn't want you to mess up my plan. What tea do you want?”
“Ah, the plan. Weather told me. Get naked to buy a new nose? That plan?”
“No.” Lizzie studied her. “Is thatâdo you have a hickey on your neck?”
“What?” Ally said. She covered her neck with her hands. “No, no. I must beâbreaking out from this heatâit's over one hundred degreesâ”
,” Lizzie said suspiciously.
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing. You look likeÂ .Â .Â . you just had sex.”
“Whatever. Forget it. Can you please sit down and let me explain?”
“You don't have to.”
“I want to.”
“Okay, but I don't want to sit. I want you to knowÂ .Â .Â . there's nothing you can do to make me not love you.”
Lizzie rolled her eyes. “Thanks. That's nice.
What tea do you want?
I hate it when you don't listen to me.”
“Fine. Earl Grey.”
The kettle sang. Lizzie grabbed it and switched off the burner. She reached for the tea bags.
Ally didn't move. “I'm only saying, I love you, honey. Porn or not. I may not approve, but you're a grown-up.”
“I don't feel like a grown-up right now.” She poured the water into the mugs, put the kettle on the burner, and added the tea bags. Then she explained:
On Wednesday night, Lizzie had used Weather's phone to call Jones. They met at ten on Bleecker at John's.