Authors: Jules Moulin
IS SHE THERE EVERY
weekend? Your daughter?” Jake asked, lying on the bed in the dark.
Ally stood there, phone in hand. “No. Hardly ever.”
“She can handle it. Can she?”
“Maybe. Maybe she can. Maybe she can't. My mother isÂ .Â .Â . What's the word?
, I guess.” She shrugged. “I think I should head to New York tonight.”
Jake looked surprised.
“Not that I don't want to do this. I do. I'm justÂ .Â .Â . a littleÂ .Â .Â .”
“I'm a mom.” She tried to explain. “My daughter comes first. Before work, before me, and, of course, before any man I meet.”
“She sounds like she needs a good night's sleep.”
“Twice in ten years? Ally. Twice?”
“Yes to all that. I know, I know. But single mothersÂ .Â .Â . It's hard to explain.” She took a deep breath. She was embarrassed. “And you know what? The real thing isÂ .Â .Â . I don't know you. You don't know me. Even if you
in my class, which you are, which you wereâeven if you weren't twenty-one, which you
areÂ .Â .Â .
I'm not intoÂ .Â .Â . flings.”
Jake shook his head. “This isn't a fling.”
“No.” He lifted up to sitting, slid off his watch, and handed it to her. “Take it,” he said.
“Why?” She did. She took his watch.
He turned and arranged the pillows behind him. He leaned back and said, “Two minutes each. Life-defining moments. Top ten. You got the clock. I'll go first.”
Ally smiled and hesitated. She looked at his watch, then at Jake.
“Let's get to know each other, Ally Hughes.”
In the dark, she could barely see the hands. Jake leaned toward her. “The face lights up. Button on theÂ .Â .Â .” He showed her the button and his fingertips grazed hers. Ally looked up. This brief contact made her heart race.
She pressed the button and the face lit up. Reluctantly she watched the second hand move to the twelve. “Okay, go.” She was still standing up at the edge of the bed.
Jake took a breath and looked at the ceiling. “Born in Boston. Last of four boys. Dad took off when I was two. Mom taught first grade, so we had no money. At three, got a baseball. That was big. That was major. Moved in with Grandma, above a bar, all of us, at five. Little League at six. Oldest brother shot when I was nine. Shot, but survived. I started pitching. Arrested for possession my junior year, high school.”
Served two months at Elk Island. House of Corrections.”
“Possession of what?” She sat on the bed and turned to face him. She was intrigued.
“Wow.” She pulled her blouse down over her underwear, over her thighs.
“My older brother dealt. I delivered. It's a long story, but it got me into Brown.”
Ally smiled. “Jail time. Of course.”
Jake smiled. “They wanted my pitching. I had straight As and the baseball thing soÂ .Â .Â . Four partial scholarship offers. Chose Brown, to pitch for the BearsÂ .Â .Â . Three weddings later, five nephews, I quit school and decide to hit on my smokin' professor.”
“Is that me?”
Ally smiled. “Time,” she said and stretched her legs toward him. He picked up her foot and bit her big toe and put it down again. Ally smiled. She gave him the watch.
Jake lit up the face and waited. “Okay, okay, wait, waitÂ .Â .Â . Go.”
Ally thought about it. Defining moments? Defining moments. “Born in New York,” she started and smiled. “Only child. Dad died when I was six. Pretend to remember him, but I don't. We have that in common.” Jake nodded.
“Lizzie too. No dad.” She paused. “My mom was depressed. For a long time. Still is. Still is, I think. Never got over him. Then I got out. Accepted to Georgetown. Knocked myself upâI told you that. Had my baby, Elizabeth Claire. Moved to Providence to TA, for my PhD, and lived for nine whole years in this house. Turned thirty-one two months ago, andÂ .Â .Â . and this student hit on meÂ .Â .Â . The one I always thought wasÂ .Â .Â . so cute.”
They stared at each other, both silent.
“Now do you know me?” Jake asked and smiled.
“No,” she said, staring at him, basking in how handsome he was.
“So she's safe there, and you're safe here? Dead bolt, windows, me, done. Everyone's safe, and you can be Ally for a few hours? Ally, not Mommy?”
“I'm always Mommy.”
He nodded and placed his hand on her ankle. “Good mom. Good daughter. All these roles we play.”
“It's not a role,” Ally said, shaking her head. “It's who I am.”
He walked his fingers, his middle and pointer, to the center of her shin and up to her knee. “Good professor.” He leaned forward onto his stomach. By Ally's side, he propped himself up and inspected her leg. “Killer gams, by the wayÂ .Â .Â .”
He took her leg, rotated it, and kissed the nook in the back of her knee. Then he continued to walk his fingers past her knee and up her thigh.
Ally watched. The side of her mouth curled into a smile. What was he doing?
At the top of her thigh, he splayed his hand. His fingers spread out around her leg, and he gripped it as if to measure its girth. Then he leaned in and kissed a freckle. “Since we're playing âget to know you'.Â .Â . how many freckles do you have? Do you know?”
Jake nodded. “Maybe you don't know someoneÂ .Â .Â . until you know how many freckles they haveÂ .Â .Â .” He circled the freckle with his finger. “One,” he said and gazed down the bed, back to her foot. “Do you mind?”
“If I count.”
Ally smiled. “Is this, like, a thing?”
“To seduce me?”
“Is it what?”
Ally exhaled and closed her eyes. She opened them again and watched as Jake found the freckles on her leg, one by one, and drew invisible circles around them. “Two, threeÂ .Â .Â . I just want to knowÂ .Â .Â . four, five, sixÂ .Â .Â . something about you that no one else knowsÂ .Â .Â . seven, eightÂ .Â .Â . that maybe evenÂ .Â .Â . you don't know.” He leaned in and kissed the seventh and eighth.
THUNDER RUMBLED OVER BROOKLYN
. The warm, thick air grew windy and cool.
At the front door, Jake thanked Ally and pulled her into a tight embrace. Ally froze. “I meant what I said, Professor Hughes,” he said and released her. “I never forgot you.”
Ally nodded, forcing a smile. “Nice to see you.”
He turned and Ted walked him out, on his heels. They went down the stoop, discussing Ted's site: the live demonstrations, the customer reviewsÂ .Â .Â .
“One moment, boys,” Ally said, pulling Lizzie back inside. She closed the front door. “It's going to rain.” She stepped into the closet, found an umbrella, stepped back out, and lowered her voice: “You were a
rude to Tedâ”
,” said Lizzie and took the umbrella from Ally's hand.Â “I am. I am.” She opened it up to see if it worked. “There's somethingâ
âabout him. I just can't put my finger onâ”
He's a little spoiled. That's all. A littleâ”
all,” Lizzie insisted. The umbrella wouldn't lock. “This is broken.” She gave the umbrella back to Ally, and Ally disappeared back into the closet. Lizzie continued, whispering too. “It's weird. You feel it. I know you do.”
Ally returned with a second umbrella. “Teddy is smart, funny, cuteâand
“If he's so cute, then
him, Mother,” Lizzie said, not unkindly.
if he's so cute. Do it already.” She opened the umbrella and stood underneath. “But, no, you won't, because he's strangeâand we can't say why. He seems like a catch, and yetâ”
“He was our
He is my friend.”
“I'm sorry, but he has a secret, and I have the right to be worried. I do. I'm the kid.” She closed the umbrella and mocked her mother, pretending to sob: “You're beautiful, honey. Even your nose. You're sacred, sweetie. If you want to marry some preppy freak, I have to prepare myself tooâ”
“Stop,” Ally said.
Lizzie smiled. “And Noah? What?”
“Great and cool and great.”
Lizzie nodded. “And that's what you need. A
man. I cannot
he had you at Brown!”
“Small world,” Ally said as she reached for the knob. She opened the door and drew Lizzie close. “Call me tonight. We need to talk.” She kissed her on the ear.
“I love you, Mama.” Lizzie kissed her back and walked out.
“Did you remember him?” Teddy asked an hour later. He sat at the table and finished the cake while Ally scrubbed the pans in the sink.
“I remember his writing,” Ally said. “These papersâwent on forever. The last one was on this erotica writer, AnaÃ¯s Nin.”
Teddy looked up. “Erotica? Porn? Porn, you mean?
Ally stopped scrubbing. “He wasÂ .Â .Â . Catholic, I think, and so freaked out by the threesomes, orgies, hermaphroditesÂ .Â .Â .”
Teddy was suddenly standing behind her. “Sounds fun to me.” She could feel him at her back. He whispered in her ear: “Teach me, too?” He placed his hands on top of her shoulders and started to massage them.
Ally turned and said kindly, “Not a great nightÂ .Â .Â . and you have a cold.”
Teddy's face fell. He stepped back and leaned against the table, perching his buttocks half on, half off. “You need to get out of Brooklyn, Al. Out of this house.”
Ally turned to the sink, embarrassed. She picked up a Brillo and started to scrub a casserole dish. “I'm sorry. You're right.”
“We got together. Your mother was sick. You said you were stressed. She passed away and you were sad. When I'm upset,
I want is to hop in the sack. We have fun. Don't we?”
“Have you ever beenâ
Ally paused and looked at the dish. “
?” she said quietly, wondering if in fact she was. She turned. “But we fool around.”
“Yes, we do, but we're
Grown-ups, Ally, and I can't get past second base.”
Ally nodded. He was right. That was true.
Teddy looked around the kitchen. “I think you're stuck. In her house. You can't have
house. You can't get out from
herâspell.” Ted reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the soggy handkerchief. He blew his nose. “You need a vacationâor a shrink.”
“Maybe,” said Ally. “My best friend's a shrink. I'll ask her.”
“Or maybe you're not attracted to me.”
“Please,” she insisted, turning around. “You're attractive. You are.”
“I know!” He laughed. “I know I am! I've got appeal.”
“But that doesn't meanÂ .Â .Â . Some women needâsome need a meal. Some need commitment.” He was musing.
Ally nodded. “Some do,” she said, “but tonight, I'm tired. Five-course dinner, cooked from scratch. Lizzie and her noseÂ .Â .Â .”
“All right,” he said. “I'm an ass. I got you a new set of golf clubs. There.” He pointed to the corner.
He straightened and lifted his buttocks from the table and tucked in his shirt. “I want to take you down to this course. I like you, Al, I always have, and I'd like to take this to the next level.”
Ally studied him for a moment. “Aren't youâ
Teddy paused. “Not
She rubbed her eyes. “I thought you were. I had this senseâ”
“You want to go steady? We can go steady.”
Ally turned to the counter and picked up a piece of tinfoil. She wrapped it around a chicken breast.
“You want me to pin you? Give you my ring and my varsity jacket?”
She turned and handed the chicken to Ted. “Did you play sports?”
“No,” he admitted. “Only the golf.”
At the front door, he kissed her. “You know what I thought? All night tonight?” He lowered his voice.
“Ally has a fantastic ass. It's perfect.”
“I'd pay for that ass. To
She gently pushed him out the door.
“That turns you on,” he sang as he left. “You're pushing me out
you're turned on.” He trudged down the stoop. “Am I right?”
“Nope. Good night, Ted. Thanks for the wine.”
“Night, Al. Love you.”
Ally waved and watched him walk off toward Hicks Street. Then she looked up at the low-hanging clouds and held out her hand. It had started to rain.
In the kitchen, she washed down the table.
Maybe he was right, she thought, Ted.
Claire was still so alive in these rooms.
She drew still and pictured her mother there, sitting at the table, ever so erect, ever so tall, but shrinking in girth as the chemo ate her away.
” Claire had said with a smirk, of Ted. “About you.” She raised her brows, thinned but still arched, and sat still in the way she sat still toward the end, as if moving even an inch might cause pain. She wore that pale pink, thinning robe, with the white scalloped edge. “He never married?”
“No,” Ally said, holding the kettle under the faucet.
Ally smiled. “What's mine? I'm over forty and I'm not married.”
,” Claire said mercilessly, as a matter of fact. “On purpose.” She reached for her Parliaments. “I was abandoned
Accidents happen. Old people drive. Daddy died. But Pierre left you
That's yours. Your problem. What's Ted's?”
Ally thought better than to respond. Not right away. She placed the kettle on top of the burner and turned on the gas that lit the flame. “Just because he's not married, that doesn't mean he has a problem.”
Claire's eyes shifted. “Yes, it does.”
Ally was choosing her arguments carefully, trying to avoid them if she could.
“Maybe he is.”
“He is. He asked me”âClaire turned her head toward the stoveâ“if I thought you would.”
“What? Would what?”
“He did?” Ally said and opened a cabinet. She took out a tea tin. “Ted did? When?”
“Last week. While you were out getting the Popsicles. Lime. When we ran out of lime.”
In Ally's bedroom, Jake's old T-shirt hung on the hamper.
Mortified, she picked it up, dashed to the closet, and threw it inside, deep in the back. She had called Anna. “Do you think it's weird that I won't sleep with Ted?”
“How was dinner?”
“Wait. First. Do you think it's weird?”
“No,” Anna said in a soft voice, trying not to wake her husband.
Ally walked into the bathroom. “Becauseâbecause I had a colleague. This adjunct at Brown. She had sex with the pizza guy. Every time she called Domino's.”
she had sex with her oil-change guy.
her dentist. In his office. He closed the door and they did it on the chair. It reclined.”
to want to be
before you have sex. Everyone's different. You need love and intimacy. Some women don't. It's not a
Now, how was
Ally started to take off her clothes. “Have you ever heard of Noah Bean?”
“You're killing me here.”
“Have you?” she said and peeled off her shorts.
“The actor?” said Anna.
?” Ally said and gazed at her legs. She looked at them in the mirror too.
She took off her underwear. “Well,” she said. “That's him. That's the boy with the perfect penis.”
Anna paused. “What are you saying? I'm confused.”
“Are you awake?” She piled her clothes on top of the toilet. “Did I wake you up?”
“We went to bed early.”
“Oh, I'm sorry.”
“Ally? What about Noah Bean?”
“That's the guy. He changed his name.”
“Wait, I don't get it,” Anna whispered, sounding panicked, growing more alert by the second.
“You're asleep. I'll call you tomorrow.”
“No! Stay! Are youâsayingÂ .Â .Â . Are you saying thatÂ .Â .Â .
slept with Noah Bean?”
“He wasn't Noah Bean back then. But yes, I did.”
Anna then screamed.
Ally held the phone from her ear. Anna's husband, startled, woke up: “What! What! What the hell happened?”
“Ally had sex with Noah Bean!”
“Who?” he bellowed. “Who the hell is that?”
“Are you telling John?” Ally was mortified.
Anna returned. “How come you never
“I didn't know!”
“âHurry up, woman! There's no time to waste!'” Anna yelled in a convincing English accent. She was imitating Jake in his role as the knight.
“What are you saying? Hurry up what?”
“His famous line: âHurry up, woman! There's no time to waste!' He's Lancelot, Ally, and
's Sexiest Man Alive, from three years ago or maybe fourÂ .Â .Â .”
Ally sighed. She looked in the mirror and studied her belly fat. “But whatever.” How did it get there? She took the roll of it in her hand. “He's a person. A regular person.”
“No, he's not. Google
notÂ .Â .Â .
“You're such a snob.”
“I'm not a snob.” Ally turned to the side and did a pliÃ©. “I'm in aâdilemma. Call me back when the shock wears off.”
Anna laughed. “Did you tell Ted?”
“No. Not yet.”
“I will. What's weird, what's also weird: He quoted me.”
“He quoted this story I wrote for
“I think. Unlessâ”
” Anna said coyly. “Ally?”
“Get me an autograph? Please?”
Ally growled. “This isâthat isânot helpful. I'm hanging up.”
Anna hung up, and Ally hung up and looked in the mirror.
's Sexiest Man Alive?
She studied the stretch marks across her hips. The pockets of bulge in her inner thighs. She'd never had a problem with her thighs before!
Until this year.
Damn, she thought. She should join a gym.
Forty-one was the worst.
She turned back around and stood up straight, as straight as she could, and sucked in her belly.
She straightened her neck and lifted her head, but the slight double chin remained.
She peered in close to examine her face: the little red spots and three fine lines. It was as if they had
on her face. Across her forehead.
She ran her fingers through her hair, sure it had started to thin.
Maybe it was stress, she thought, and stepped out to find a T-shirt to wear. One that did not belong to Jake.
She left the bathroom, went down the hall and into the bedroom.