Authors: Jules Moulin
ON SATURDAY MORNING ALLY
called Lizzie three times, and three times she didn't pick up. She felt the phone vibrate in her back pocket but couldn't hear it. She was in Queens, inside a shooting range, trying out a Glock and a Ruger.
“This is what I love!” said Agent Jones. He stood on the other side of the window. “When two things don't match. The image and the girl.” He studied Lizzie. “Barely legal. Total knockout. Should be modeling Victoria's SecretÂ .Â .Â . but shoots like Jelly Bryce!”
Lizzie was all leg that day, bare and tan, in cutoff shorts and boots with four-inch heels that raised her statuesque five-ten frame to six foot two. Her long blond hair fell over her ribs. She stood slouching, wearing the range's requisite goggles and ear protection.
“See, she's got that model pose. The slouch. Legs spread. Loose hips. It's all in the hips.”
Noah just smiled. He wasn't surprised.
“She hasn't missed once. The bull's-eye once. I've never seen anything like it in my life! This is the first time she picked up a gun?”
Noah shrugged. He didn't know.
Lizzie had met him the month before. They'd met on the set of her first film: her thirty-sixth audition and first part.
They gave her the role of Noah's assistant, and Noah had asked her out: three times to lunch and once to dinner. Then he had asked her to join him that day, training for his role as J. Edgar Hoover. FBI agent Alan Jones was teaching the actors both to shoot.
And sure, she had only one line, a single line in the whole film, but one little line in a movie with Noah, directed by Marty, the famous director, was one line she was happy to have.
Cybil, her agent, told her to simply listen and talk. Talk and listen. She shouldn't emote or try to act, Cybil advised. Lizzie was perfect for roles that required “restraint,” she said.
“Simple, honey. Keep it simple.”
Lizzie had discerned the hidden message: It didn't matter if she was talentless. With her looks, she'd work, as long she knew her limitations, and as long as she fixed that nose.
Inside the range, she raised the Glock, bent her knees, and stretched her right arm perfectly straight. Four years of yoga had prepared her for this, plus endless games of KGB and CIA, of cops and robbers, and archery lessons Saturday mornings at the Ace Archers range in Foxboro.
She steadied her breath, and as she exhaled, she grew still and pulled the trigger.
“Bull's-eye again!” Jones cried. She reminded him of his granddaughter. “What a follow-through! What an eye!”
Noah smiled and wiped the palms of his hands on his jeans. He was nervous. “I'm meeting her mom for the first time tonight. What should I bring?”
“For the mom?” Jones said.
“Like, a hostess gift.”
“You want to impress her? She's cooking? The mom?”
Jones took a moment and thought about it. “Here's what you bring. All three things: A vintage red. Flowers. Chocolates.”
“Dark or milk?”
“What kind of flowers? Roses?”
“No. Too clichÃ©. Call a florist. Something in season.”
Noah nodded. That's what he'd do.
He turned to see Lizzie click the safety back to its place. She lifted her goggles, turned, and waved to them through the window.
Sammy, a range clerk, sidled up to them and whistled through his teeth. “Which of you ducks is plugging that bitch?”
“Excuse me?” said Jones indignantly and turned to face Sammy.
“You get to tap that bitch or what?”
“Out of my face,” Jones said and took a step toward him.
Sammy backed off with his hands in the air. “Got you, chief.” Then he did a double take, recognizing Noah. “Hey! You're that guy!”
Noah didn't confirm his suspicions.
“âHurry up, woman! There's no time to waste!' Right? Am I right? That's your line? âHurry up, woman! There's no time to waste!'” He yelled the line in a lousy British accent, imitating Noah. “That was you?”
“That was meÂ .Â .Â . playing a part.” Noah smiled politely.
“No, not really. Just in the movie.”
“Yes, you are. You ride a horse. You use a sword. You're a knight. Are you a knight? Like, for real?”
“No. I'm an actor.”
“Are you Brad Pitt? No, no, I got it! You're Marky Mark!”
“But I'm right. You're famous, right?”
Jones intervened. “Yeah, he's famous. Now, move on out.”
Sammy did, happily. “My bitch will freak!”
The week before, at Balthazar, Noah had complained about his schedule and the hardships of his movie-star life: five-star hotels, three-star restaurants. He hadn't been home in months. He longed for his bed, for a homemade meal. He missed his mom.
That's what he said.
“You can have mine!” Right there, between courses, she called Ally and asked her to cook up a dinner for them, at home, in the brownstone, in Brooklyn. Nothing fancy. Ally would cook a meal for Noah, soup to nuts, and he'd have a night of normal for once. Ally was cool, Lizzie explained. So down-to-earth. Too down-to-earth. Ally was real. Noah would like her, and she would like him. Lizzie was sure.
“Lizzie,” said Jones as they later took a break, “I know a guy, runs tactical recruiting down in Virginiaâ”
” Lizzie smiled and slipped off her goggles. “I am an
“How do you know? At twenty years old? Maybe you are, maybe you're not.”
“I'm flattered. Thanks.” She headed to the door that led outside.
“Where are you going?” Noah called after her.
“Calling my mom! She called three times!” Lizzie opened the door to sneak out.
“HRT, honey! Hostage rescue! You could save the world!”
“If I could
A person. Which I can't.” She held up a finger and slipped through the door, outside to the lot.
?” Out in the lot, in the blazing sun, Lizzie was sweating. “Teddy? Mom!”
Ally was home, writing a grocery list for the meal. “I don't want to be your
cook. I want to have a date.”
uncool,” Lizzie whined.
“What's not cool?”
Lizzie rolled her eyes and paced the lot. “The Wharton thing. Choate. The yacht thing. Noah is super
He doesn't brag. He keeps it real. You know what I mean?”
“I know what âkeeping it real' means, yes.”
He's so into
: his latest cars, the Maldives houseÂ .Â .Â .”
“Okay, sorry,” Ally said, amending her lists, a grocery list and a list of to-dos. “I should've asked first, but I can't cancel now.”
“Yes, you can.”
“I'll call him and tell him to keep it real.” She added cocoa to her list. “Chocolate cake?”
“And tell him, please, not to kiss ass. Noah
“You know,” Ally said, putting down her pen, “he might not
who Noah is.”
“Teddy will know.”
“I've never heard of this Noah guy.”
“That's because you're a Luddite, Mother.”
“I am not. Just because I don't
the world like you and your friendsâ”
“You are, but thank you. And thank you for cooking. He can't wait to meet you. He's actually nervous.”
“Great.” Ally erased cream from her list. “Chocolate cake? Good?”
Lizzie smiled. “It's bliss. You're the best.”
Teddy McCooey, Ally's friend from Georgetown. Back in the range, she apologized to Noah. “Did you see
The Talented Mr. Ripley
? My best friend owns it.
it. Like, on an altar.”
“I don't think so,” Noah said. “Did I?”
Lizzie continued as if he had: “Dickie Greenleaf's best friend. Freddie Miles. Philip Seymour Hoffman played him. He's fat and rich and
that guy, like, come to life. I'm so sorry.”
An hour later, Jones left for Brooklyn, and Lizzie and Noah waited for a cab in front of the St. Regis Hotel. Noah was scrolling through florists on his phone. “I need to nap. Pick up my dryâ What should I wear?”
Lizzie didn't answer. She was lost in thought, musing about the shooting range. “Jones looks like that guy Mike from
. He didn't look like FBI.”
“What did you expect, James Bond?”
She smiled. “I could be a Bond girl.”
“Yes, you could,” Noah said, still focused on his phone. Lizzie stepped toward him, wrapped her arms around his neck. Noah looked up as she leaned in to kiss him and turned his head so her lips met his cheek. Lizzie pulled back. He wouldn't kiss her. He hadn't kissed her. She found his ear. “Noah,” she whispered, “are you confused?”
“About what?” he said obtusely. Looking at his phone, he continued to scroll.
Lizzie wondered how bright he was, Noah. She wasn't sure, and she hadn't had a chance to vet him yet, investigate him behind his back, the way she did with all new friends. “Me, I feel attracted to you andâ”
“All men are attracted to you?”
“Well, not all. But
men. Men who like girls.”
“Real men don't like girls. Real men like
I mean straight. Are youâ
Noah looked up. He leaned in close to Lizzie's ear. “I had a six-o'clock call last night. I shot until five and never went to sleep.”
Lizzie pulled back. He was mysterious. “You're
you're saying? You're saying you're straight but
“I'm saying I'll see you tonight.” A cab pulled up. “There's your ride.”
“Fine,” Lizzie said and drifted to the cab. “But remember, don't be offended!” She tried to hide her disappointment. “By my mom!”
Noah looked up. “Why would I be?”
“Because, like I told you!” The bellman opened the cab door. “She doesn't go to movies or watch TV! She has
who you are!”
Noah smiled. “That's the whole point! That's what's fun!”
LIZZIE WAS RIGHT
never watched TV. The last time she'd seen a first-run movie in an actual theater was 1994, when she was eight months pregnant with Lizzie.
She knew nothing of Noah Bean.
“He won't even kiss me,” Lizzie moaned. She circled the kitchen table, laying placemats, placing silverware. “Honestly, I think he's gay. He's always reading
Ally was frosting the chocolate cake. “When did you meet him?”
“Three weeks ago. My first day on set.”
“He asked you out?”
“Couple times to lunch, once to dinnerÂ .Â .Â . all twenty questions: Where are you from? What do you want out of life, out of love? And then he whips out
magazine. Weird, right?”
“He wants to get to know you.”
“Then he should kiss me. Fork on the left?”
“Fork on the left. He's taking it slow. Sex isn't everything.”
,” Lizzie complained. Ally handed her a chocolate-covered spoon. She tasted it. “Yum! Amazing!”
“Thank you,” said Ally, returning to the bowl.
Lizzie sat down. “Can we say I made it? The frosting and the cake? Can we say we made the dinner together, so he thinks I cook? He's old-fashioned.”
“Sure, let's lie.”
“Can we? Please? What do you care?”
“I don't,” Ally said, pouring the batter into a pan. “But you should be
with him, honey. And not pretend to be someone else.”
Lizzie sat forward, thinking, picking through a bowl of olives. “Noah's against my nose job, too. Just so you knowÂ .Â .Â .” She popped an olive into her mouth.
“He is?” Ally said, turning from the counter toward the oven. “I like him already.”
“Which is ironic,” Lizzie added wryly in a singsong voice. “Because you're both so perfectly formed, with puny noses and puffy lips and perfect smiles. I guess you can feel superior together and fight that good fight together. I guess.”
Ally ignored this. “I can't wait to meet him.” Suddenly feeling untethered and excited, she set the timer, took off her apron, and looked around.
The meal was on track. The house was in order. Tidy and clean. Muriel had come down the day before to visit her father up in the Bronx. Ally was thrilled to pay for her ticket to and from Providence. She missed Muriel. Together they'd cleaned the brownstone all day, and Ally was pleased.
At ten after eight, Noah rang the bell.
“Did anyone follow you?” Lizzie asked, leading him inside, taking the flowers, chocolate, and beer. Noah had brought a six-pack of Stella.
“No,” he said and peeled off his cap, glasses, and scarf.
Wherever he went, paparazzi hid and then jumped out of corners with long-lens cameras, snapping and flashing. Lizzie feigned concern and disgust, but truly she loved it: not the attention, but the cat and mouse of the whole game. Dodging the lenses. Noah had learned how to hide, to stay low. He even used a double. But somehow photographers always found him, and Lizzie was impressed. She wanted to know what they knew that she didn't.
“You're a smart kid,” Teddy said. He and Lizzie and Noah, too, buzzed around the kitchen, preparing to eat. “How do I get your mom to Augusta?” Teddy had bought, and brought with him, a set of new golf clubs.
“Georgia? In August?” Lizzie said.
Ted pulled out a putter. “Golf is the sport of a patient man. Right, Noah?”
Noah smiled. He stood in front of the open fridge, loading in the Stella, bottle by bottle.
“Lizzie's motherâyou haven't met herâshe is a woman who
a man's patience.”
“No, she doesn't,” Lizzie insisted and opened the cupboard for wineglasses.
“I've been fighting for monthsâ
âto get that woman
of this house. On a trip. Any trip.”
“She's been busy.” Lizzie turned to Noah. “My grandmother died in March. My mom took care of her.”
“See this baby?” Ted held up the club. “This will
her. These babies cost thirty-two grand. There's gold in here.”
“She doesn't play,” Lizzie said to Noah. “She's
played. She never
“That's true,” said Ted. “But a man can dream. Right, Noah?”
“Sure,” said Noah, straightening up and closing the fridge.
Teddy leaned the club in the corner.
“What's on your
?” Lizzie asked as he approached her to open the wine. Teddy was wearing high-top sneakers, odd with his khakis and button-down shirt. They were also gold.
“You like 'em?”
“Nike only made twenty-five pairs. They're signed by Kobe.” He opened a drawer and took out a corkscrew.
“Your sneakers are signed by a rapist?”
?” Teddy argued, grabbing a bottle and plunging the screw into its cork. “How do you evenâ You were, like, five.”
nine,” Lizzie said and slid a glass toward him.
Teddy popped the cork and looked at Noah. “2010 Cabernet. Lokoya. Work?”
“Sure,” Noah said.
“Ladies first,” Lizzie instructed.
first.” He turned and handed the glass to Noah. “As for Kobeâyou know they
?” He peered at Lizzie as he poured a second glass. “She wouldn't
“Oh, then she
have been lying,” said Lizzie.
Noah just watched.
“The shoes are for
“I am,” Lizzie said. “And faith and hope, and love.”
Luckily for Ally, the feud continued and no one saw her enter and blanch and stop in her tracks in total surprise.
“A pleasure,” said Noah, a moment later, extending his hand.
Ally shook it and stood there staring.
This was Claire's kitchen, now hers. The kitchen where she took her first steps. Blew out candles on birthday cakes. Where she saw her mother cry and cry the night her father never came home, when she was sixÂ .Â .Â .
And Jake was here? The boy from the back? But his name was Noah?
Jake from Providence?
Jake, ten years later, smack in the middle of Ally's past and her new life?
He had lost weight. His hair was shorter. His face looked older. But it was the boy from the back, no doubt, and something in his eyes was saying hello.
“I know you,” she said.
“I told you, Mom,” Lizzie said and turned to Jake. “She said she had no idea who you were.”
“No,” Ally said. “We've
“Mom, please. He's
Everyone thinks they've met him before.”
“But I have,” Ally begged.
Jake interrupted. “I had you at Brown, Professor Hughes.”
“What?” Lizzie said and spun from the fridge with a cheese tray. “No way! Come on! No way! What?” She looked back and forth from Ally to Jake and back again.
“Wow,” said Ted, pouring a third glass of wine.
“Gender and Sex,” Jake continued. “Women and Work. Fem Economics.”
“Yes,” Ally said. “Your face is coming back.”
“I almost didn't get credit,” Jake joked. “But your mom let me slide.”
“You almost failed him, Mom? You did?”
Ally unsteadily moved toward the oven to check on the chicken.
“Was she a hard-ass? Tell us!” cried Lizzie.
Teddy turned to Jake. “
went to Brown?”
“Just to play ball. I never finished.”
Ally grabbed the oven mitt, fumbled, and dropped it. She reached to the floor, picked it up, stood, and steadied herself on the counter edge. “Your name,” she said breathlessly, “it wasn't Noah.”
“They made him change it,” Lizzie offered. “His real name is Jake.”
“Jake,” said Ally.
“There was a Jake Bean in SAG,” he explained. “The Screen Actors Guild. They don't let actors have the same name. Noah's my middle name.”
“Oh. I see.” Ally turned and handed the oven mitt off to Lizzie. “Excuse me a sec.” If she didn't go, she thought she might faint. She needed a second to catch her breath and slow down her heart. “I needâa Tylenol. I have this littleâyou knowâheadache. Lizzie, the chicken. Please take it out. Ted, wine for me.”
“You're drinking tonight?” Ted asked, surprised.
“Yup,” Ally said, and she flew out the same way she'd come.
On the third floor, she escaped into the bedroom. The phone. The phone.
Where was the phone?
She had left it on the bed.
That same bed. The same bed. Where she and Jake, or she and Noah, or she and whatever his name was nowÂ .Â .Â .
She had to call Anna.
Anna Baines knew about Jake. She was the one. And she would answer as Lizzie would, always after three calls. It was a thing. It was a promise. A pact they had made when they were ten. A pact Ally made with Lizzie later, and Anna made with her children, too.
After two, Anna picked up.
Ally had moved to the master bath and locked the door. “Guess who's here!” she whisper-yelled, hushed and hysterical.
“Put down that iPad!” Anna yelled at her eight-year-old son across the kitchen. Anna lived in Denver. “Sorry. Go.”
“Do you remember Jake?”
“Jake, JakeÂ .Â .Â .”
“The boy at Brown?”
“Wait!” Anna said. “No, I don't.”
“You do! Come on. He was my student! Claire had Lizzie. I had the weekend. He came toâtoâput a lock in our doorâand stayed for two days.” Ally swallowed. “We did itâwe did itâin every corner, on every surface of that sweet little house.”
“Wait, waitÂ .Â .Â . It's coming backÂ .Â .Â .”
“That nearly killed you!”
“Yes!” Anna cried. “That terrible UTI!” She remembered. “The boy with the perfect penis.”
“Right. The boy with the perfect penis is downstairs now, with Lizzie, waiting for me to serve them dinner!”
“They're seeing each other!”
“Did he knowâ I'm confusedâwait, did he know you're her mother?”
“No! I don't know!”
“He didn't look surprised. I feel sick.”
“He knew, then, that you're Lizzie's mom?”
“Unless he totally forgot about me.”
“No. You're unforgettable, Ally.”
“Please,” Ally said. She fingered the bath towel hanging from the door. She clutched it for ballast. The palms of her hands were sweaty and cold.
“Does Lizzie know?”
“I don't know. No.”
“You have to go downstairs. You have guests.”
“No kidding! What do I do?”
“You fake it through dinner, and after they leaveâ Is Teddy there?”
“He's pouring the wine! He brought the wine! Four bottles!”
“Maybeâmaybe Lizzie knows. Maybe it's a test,” Anna offered.
Ally paused. Would Lizzie test her? What would be the point? “No,” she said, considering this. “She was surprised. She couldn't
something like that. She's not that good an actress.”
“She's no Meryl Streep!”
“Way to be supportive.”
“Can we stay on point?”
“Mom!” Lizzie yelled from the first floor.
“Coming!” said Ally. To Anna, she said, “I have to go.” She didn't move. She sat on the edge of the tub and breathed. She looked at the ceiling. Looked at her feet. It had been months since she had painted her toenails. Why did she always wait so long?
“The chicken's getting cold!” Lizzie yelled.
“Coming! Start!” She turned her attention back to Anna. “I have to do this. Please stay awake. I'll call you later.”
“Call meâand, Ally?”
“Was the weekend good? Ten years ago? I seem to remember you loved this guy.”
“Loved him? No.”
“Yes, you did.”
“No, I didn't!” Ally protested a little too much.
was good. The sex?”
“The sex.” Ally closed her eyes to think. She had to swallow before she spoke. Her mouth was dry. “Honestly, it was marvelous.”