Authors: Jules Moulin
THE PHONE WAS RINGING
. “My daughter, Lizzie, she gets upset. She's sensitive.” Ally grabbed the phone and her underwear. “She's supersmart and can only put up with my mom for so long.”
Jake laughed. “You want me to go?” he asked sweetly. “You want to be private?”
“No,” Ally said. “Unless you want to.”
“Whatever you need.” He reached to the floor to find his briefs.
“I won't be long.” She answered the phone. “Hello?” she said. “Sweetie?”
“Mommy?” said Lizzie.
“Hi, honey.” She glanced at Jake. He was pulling on his briefs.
“Grandma won't let me sleep in my slippers.”
“What?” Ally said, pulling her underwear back on, distracted.
“She won't let me sleep in my slippers.”
“I'm sorry. How are you otherwise?” She couldn't focus. “Are you having fun?”
“Is she there?”
“Where are you?” Underwear on, Ally looked down and pulled her shirt closed. She fastened the button between her breasts.
“Brushing my teeth. Can you come here?”
“I wish, honey. But, sweetie, I told you. My TA went home. Back to Omaha. The capital city of?”
“Yup. She got that disease that made her sleepy. Mono? Remember?”
“Will she come back?”
“In the fall.”
“And be better?”
“Yup, but for now, she's home, so Mommy has to finish her work.”
“Grandma said you get it from kissing.”
Ally paused before she spoke. “No, honey. Grandma's wrong. It's in your liver. It's in an organ inside your body.”
“I am. It's
Then suddenly: “Please grade them here!”
“No, sweetie. I'll see you Sunday. You'll have fun.”
“You will. Tomorrow you will. Why are you up? It's after ten.” She looked at Jake. He was still at attention in his briefs. The light from the windows had landed on him, there in the dark, and outlined him, his cuts and curves.
“She won't let me sleep in my slippers.”
“And she's smoking. I think. Again.”
Ally cringed. “Walk down the phone. I'll take care of it. Where are you now?” She ripped her gaze from Jake.
Ally scuttled to the end of the bed. “Where is Grandma?”
“In the kitchen.”
“What was for dinner?”
“Oh. That'sâ Sorry. That's my fault.” She waited a moment, stood, and abandoned the bed, moving toward the hall. She glanced back as Jake sat up. He tucked a pillow under his head and pulled a blanket around his waist. He waved.
On Cranberry Street, Lizzie handed Claire the phone. Ally could hear them in the background. “She wants you.”
“What? Hello? Ally?” Claire sounded startled.
“Hi, Mom.” Ally stood in the dark hall, gazing downstairs.
“A couple of things.” Claire addressed Lizzie. “I need to speak to your mother alone.”
Ally rolled her eyes and waited. She waited some more. “Why can't she sleep in her slippers?”
“Her slippers. Why can't she wear them?”
“It's hot. The soles are dirty.”
“Please let her.”
“Did she have a growth spurt?”
Ally paused. “I don't know. Did she?” She turned and went into Lizzie's room.
“Her skirts are too short.”
It felt so empty without Lizzie there; all the shadows, the dapple of ambient light from the windows casting across Lizzie's motionless things.
“This is the
, Allison. She looks like a little you know what.”
“No, I don't. What?” Cradling the phone, Ally bent over and straightened the sheet on the new bottom bunk.
,” said Claire.
Ally paused. She turned, sat down, and took a deep breath. She waited for Claire to keep going. She did:
“I'll take her shopping tomorrow at Saks. She needs new clothes. And flip-flops, Ally? She needs proper shoes.”
“That would be lovely.” Ally sighed.
“Her hair is too long. The ends are split. I'll take her to Barrett.”
“You can braid it.”
“I'll take her to Bergdorf's after Saks.”
“Isn't thereâa barber on Montague Street?”
“We'll go to John Barrett, and, Ally?”
“She won't eat my food.”
“That'sâmy fault. I forgot to tell youÂ .Â .Â . She's a vegetarian. Now. As of last week.”
“What? Why? How should I know?”
“I'm sorry. You shouldn't. I should have told you, but just let her sleep in her slippers, okay? And
smoke around her, please.”
Claire paused. “Getting your work done?”
Ally looked guilty. “Yes,” she said and rose from the bed, bumping her head on the top bunk. “Ow.” She headed into the dark hall. “Can I have her back? To say good night?”
“Lizzie! Your mother!”
Ally held the phone from her ear. For a moment. Then she entered her bedroom again.
“Oh, and, Ally? She asked me to buy her that gun. For her birthday.”
“No,” Ally said, gazing at Jake lying there. “No gun. No BBs.” He stared at the ceiling, a bed pillow pulled up over his chest. “A toy gun is fine, but nothing with ammo. Foam is all right.” Jake smiled. “Mom? You there?”
Claire was gone.
“Hello?” Lizzie said, back on the line.
“You can wear your slippers.”
“Please come here.”
“You can do a night.”
“You get to go shopping tomorrow, in town.”
“I don't want to,” Lizzie said. She sounded as if she was going to cry.
“I miss you too, but the city is fun.”
“No, it won't be.”
I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“I'm hanging up.”
“Bye,” Lizzie said. She spoke to Claire. “She said I could wear them!”
Ally paused and looked at the phone. Then she hung up. She looked at the window and thought, for a second, about heading south. She could gather her papers, drive to the city, and surprise Lizzie in the middle of the night. She'd read them in Brooklyn. Grade them in Brooklyn.
“Hi,” Jake said, drawing himself up to his elbow.
Ally turned, almost surprised to see him there. “Hi,” she said.
as he chewed a bite of the chocolate cake. “I got in early on all the Web two point oh stuffâ This cake, you
this from scratch, Al?”
“What is that?” Jake eyed him coolly. “Web two what?”
Teddy licked his lips. “All beyond the static page. Interactive Twitter. Foursquare. Kickstarter. Facebook. I got in early. If not for Facebook, I wouldn't be here. It's how I found Ally.”
Ally forced a smile.
on Facebook?” Lizzie asked her, picking at raspberries from a bowl. “I'm shocked.”
“Last fall. For a month.”
“My lucky month,” Teddy added. “The week I found her. I hadn't seen her since senior year.”
“When he dropped me.”
“No,” said Ted. “No, no.”
“The last time I saw you?”
“The last time I sawâyou wereâ
. I was twenty-one and dumb. I gotâweirded out and left.”
Lizzie laughed. “Why?”
“Her boobs got enormous, and one was, like, hanging out, and you”âhe pointed to Lizzieâ“you were
it. I wasâ
out,” Ally said. “Bumped into the door on your way.”
Teddy reached for the wine. “It was not a courageous moment. I admit. But I got you a present.”
“A baby cup,” Ally said, nodding. “I think we still have it. Sterling silver. And a stuffed donkey.”
“An ass?” Lizzie said. “You bought me an ass?”
Ally had created the Facebook account with one intention that October: to find Jake. Not to talk, or anything else, but to see what had become of him. To see if he was alive and well.
She hoped he was.
Four weeks later, ninety-one people had friended her, including Anna, eighty-nine students, Meer, and Ted. Teddy asked if she was single, how was the kid, and would Ally like to go get a drink. With him. On him.
When she couldn't find Jake, she agreed to coffee and canceled her account. Or tried to. She wasn't sure if she actually had or not.
She didn't care.
She was a stalker, she told herself, disappointed. She had no right to look him up. But then she considered asking Lizzie to work her magic, all that trolling and sleuthing she did through high school, sometimes till morning, bleary-eyed and thrilled by her latest hack.
But Lizzie would've asked for the
story, the entire story, and Ally was too conflicted to tell it.
“Everyone wanted your mom at Gtown. She was the
. Did you know that, Lizzie?”
“Well, she got
” Lizzie said dryly.
“That, she did.”
“Hey, you know, Noah?” Teddy said, changing the subject. “Speaking of getting: I'm raising money. Series A. For this new site.” He turned to Ally. “Is this okay? The toys thing? With you?”
“Sure,” Ally said and picked up her fork. “Why wouldn't it be?”
toys thing?” Lizzie popped a raspberry into her mouth. “At the
“That's right.” He turned to Jake. “Sex toy site. Silicon Valley won't touch it.”
Ally gazed at her waiting dessert. Her stomach felt tight and twisted in knots.
“Tough to find funding,” Teddy continued. “Banks passed. PayPal passed. But worldwide sex toysâupscale, hygienicâshipped discreetly through UPS? It's a gold mine. We should sit down.”
Jake shook his head. “Thank you, but I don't do that.”
“You don't what? Use sex toys?”
“I don't decide where I put my money.”
Ted ignored this. “Well, tell your
we're going to brand it for sexual wellness. Nothing violent. Nothing dirty. Sexual
Of course we'll have whips and dildos and lube, and handcuffs and feathersâ”
“Coffee anyone?” Ally rose and made a getaway to the cabinets.
“Call each other,” Lizzie said. “Swap numbers.”
“Decaf? Regular?” She pulled down mugs from a shelf.
“Regular, please,” Lizzie called. “Noah? Or Jake? I want to call you Jake.” She laughed and studied him. “I still can't believe you had my mom.”
“How was Ally? At Brown?” Teddy asked, cutting himself another piece of cake. “Was she good? Did she suck?”
Ally paused as she poured the coffee. “You don't have to answer that.”
“I don't mind,” Jake said and put down his fork. He picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth. “But what do you want? The dinner-party answer or the truth answer? You want the truth?”
At the counter, Ally froze. The truth answer? What was that?
Lizzie lit up. “The truth! The truth!”
“Well,” Jake started, smiling slyly. “Sometimesâsometimes you have a teacherâwho leaves a kind of indelible mark. Sometimesânot oftenâyou have a professor you never forget, and that professor, for me, was your mom.”
Lizzie smiled and looked at Ally. “Go, Mom! To Dr. Hughes!” She raised her glass, and Jake did too, and Teddy too. “Hear, hear.”
Ally turned around, relieved. “Thank you,” she said, putting down the mugs. “That's because I gave him a credit he didn't deserve.”
“That's not why,” Jake said.
“Okay, well. You guys drink up. I'll clean up.” She turned around, back to the sink.
“I'll help.” Jake rose and gathered the wineglasses. Lizzie's first.
“Jake, please,” Ally protested. “You're the guest.”
“I want to help.”
Lizzie and Teddy stayed seated. “Just want anotherÂ .Â .Â . if no one cares.” He cut a third piece of cake, then licked the cutting knife up and down and put it back on the tray.
Across the table, Lizzie studied him. “Now that has your saliva on it.”
Teddy paused and looked at her. “At least I eat.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a hanky, and blew his nose. “You're getting skinny. Don't get too skinny.”
“It's for work.”
He smiled. “Work? Del Frisco's, right? Great steak there, by the way. What do you do? Hostess? Waitress? That's what you mean by work, right?” He blew and blew as Lizzie watched. “Excuse me. I'm sorry. I know it'sâ I should excuse myselfÂ .Â .Â . frigging cold. In August. It's weird.” Then he folded the handkerchief in half, crumpled it up, and placed it down next to his plate.
Ally and Jake made small talk behind them. They moved, back and forth, from the sink to the fridge and back to the trash, and back again to the dishwasher.
Hushed and quiet, shy and reserved, they did the dishes and discussed Jake's success: What it was like to be an actor. How it happened. If he was happy.
He fell into acting, he said, in LA.
“Sometimes you lead your life,” he said. “And sometimes your life leads you.” He had followed his brother west to work: Beverly Hills. The Palisades. Rich people. Handyman stuff. A flat-screen TV, a dollhouse, a bunk bed, as it turned out. “For this director,” Jake explained. The director was looking for a guy for this part. “Lancelot. You know, the knight?”
Ally nodded. Of course she knew Lancelot. King Arthur. The Round Table.
“They called me in. I read the lines. They gave me a test and that was it. Took off from there.”
She smiled. “Exciting. Must be fun.” Like clockwork, she handed him dish after dish, and Jake placed them carefully into the washer.
“A lot of it's waiting,” Jake said. “Goofing aroundÂ .Â .Â . going to parties. Too many parties.” Then he asked about her work. Why she left Brown for Brooklyn College.
“No tenure,” Ally explained. “Applied to about fifty schools and got an offer right here at home.” Suddenly she was overcome. Her eyes welled with tears, but she held them in. “Four years. Since we've been back. This is it.” She motioned to the room. “The house I grew up in. I spit up
at that table.”
“I'm sorry,” Jake said tenderly. “About your mom. Lizzie told me.”
Ally nodded. “It wasÂ .Â .Â . We wereÂ .Â .Â . here with her. When she got sick. And at the end. That was good. And now I'm taking the year off. Not teaching. This September. First sabbatical, starting now.” She needed it badly: the rest and refocus.
Jake nodded. “I'm sure you deserve it.”
Ally smiled. “I feel like I do. First vacation in twenty years.”
“More paid vacation, less sick leave. Especially for women. Isn't that right?” Jake then said.
Ally turned and stared at him. In May she'd had a story in
saying just that. Almost verbatim. “I agree,” she said and nodded.
At the table, Lizzie leaned in and lowered her voice. “Who will deal with your hanky there?” She was thinking about Ted's appetite. His hygiene.
Ted looked up and licked his lips. “What?”
“Who will pick up your wet little hanky? Maybe you should clear your own place.”
Lizzie had tried for six long months to dig up dirt or worse on Ted. She'd tried her best to hack his accounts, his phone, his iCloud account. She'd tried to crack his Wi-Fi at home. Nothing worked. He was walled in. Too well. Too protected.
“Sure,” he said. “But your mom likes toâ”
“No,” Lizzie said. She was tipsy. “Not my mom. You're a big boy. You can clean up. My mom's soâ
âthese days. You don'tâwant to get her sick.”
Ted said nothing.
Lizzie had checked his real estate records, probate court records, registrations, and 13Ds. She'd found nothing. “She doesn't want your cold,” she said. “No oneâno one wants your cold.”
Ted paused and put down his fork. He picked up his handkerchief, leaned back, and slid it into his khakis pocket. “You're right when you're right.”
Lizzie nodded. “We shouldn't pass our diseases around.” They stared at each other meaningfully.
“Too true,” he said. “Too true.”