Authors: Jules Moulin
All that stress. All that grief. The changes in her body. Maybe she didn't feel confident enough, and that was why she wouldn't sleep with Ted.
When had it been? When had she agreed to coffee, after he found her on Facebook?
While she'd been trolling for Jake.
January, she'd agreed to coffee. She remembered snow on the ground. Two or three months before Claire had died?
Claire had been sick, and Teddy had been so bighearted. Called all the time. Sent food. Ran errands. Came the moment Claire died. Attended the wake. Sent a bouquet, an enormous bouquet. And he had been so very patientÂ .Â .Â .
About the sex.
Ally had claimed to be too stressed. Then too busy. Then too sad. That's what she thought and that's what she said.
She had too much to do before and after: the hospice, the funeral, Claire's estateÂ .Â .Â .
Teddy was cute. Teddy was bright. Teddy was happy to travel to Brooklyn to eat, to walk, to read the paperÂ .Â .Â .
What was wrong with her?
She'd had flings. Well, one. With Jake. She wasn't in love with him back then. Was she?
In a tank and sweatpants, she climbed into bed.
Maybe Ted was right about her. Maybe she
Frigid. Repressed. Maybe she needed to embrace pleasure for pleasure's sake. What was wrong with pleasure? Nothing. What was wrong with fun? Nothing. She rolled over and grabbed the phone.
“Ally?” said Ted as he picked up.
“Let's go away. Next weekend. Let's go andÂ .Â .Â . you know. I'm ready.”
“You are?” he asked, sounding surprised.
“Something is wrong with me. Let's do this.”
She would have sex.
Sex with Ted.
Yes, she would. “Bring protection. I'm not on the pill.”
“I didn't think so,” he said with a laugh.
Ally looked at the ceiling and waited. He joked, of course, but when had it become
for all single women to be on the pill?
“Don't worry, Al. I'm done with all the baby making.”
“Vasectomy. Four years ago. Snip, snip.”
“Really?” said Ally. She was surprised.
“How about the Hamptons? Nantucket? Name it. We'll fly.”
“Good,” Ally said. She didn't care where. “What about diseases?”
“Tests? Have you hadârecent tests?” She wanted to disappear under her covers. She hated this conversation. Hated it.
“Not twenty-one, honeybun.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means don't worry.”
Ally paused. “Okay,” she said. “Good night.”
“Sleep tight. And, Ally?”
“I can't wait.”
Ally lay awake until two o'clock.
Then she wondered about the dishes.
Had she run them in the washer?
They'd chatted about it, she and Jake, but once he had loaded the dishwasher full, did he actually run it? Did she?
She wanted to wake up to clean dishes, dishes that meant the dinner was done, dishes she could put clean, clear away.
She got up to check.
Halfway downstairs to the first floor she paused. Something below caught her eye.
On the table by the door, a navy blue cap sat on a scarf with gold-rimmed sunglasses tucked inside.
Ally stared at it for a moment and then approached.
She recognized the hat. Through sweat and rain and drying again, the Boston Red Sox baseball cap had formed itself to Jake's head.
She took out the glasses and slipped them on.
She gazed at herself in the hall mirror and tried to look like an actor or model: at first with annoyance, a look of disgust. Then contempt. Then she tried bored. None of it worked. The glasses didn't suit her. She set them back down.
She picked up the cap and held it to her nose.
Crazy, she thought. Totally bonkers. Standing there, smelling her daughter's date's hat. That was the moment. She had crossed over from partially sane to officially nuts. The nutty professor. She inhaled as the doorbell rang.
Startled, she threw the cap as if she'd been caught. She sailed it like a Frisbee, and it bounced off the wall and landed again on top of the scarf.
Quickly, heart racing, she tucked in the Ray-Bans, turned, and steadied herself on the rail.
The bell rang once, so it wasn't Ted. Ted would ring twice, three times, four, and Lizzie had a key.
The bell rang again.
“Coming!” she called.
Two in the morning or not, she knew.
She knew who it was.
She knew it was Jake.
S PENIS LOOKED LIKE
celery, Ally thought, but cut in half. A thin stalk of celery. It was her first. The first real penis she'd seen up close. Really close.
She was seventeen when Charlie Bergen had begged her to give him a hand job that night. They were parked in the limo during St. Ann's prom. Somehow, somehow she talked him out of it.
Three years later, down in DC, Pierre's had curved to the left like a banana. Exactly like a banana, she thought, when she first saw it. A medium-size deli banana. The kind you can still buy in Brooklyn delis for twenty-five cents.
Six years later, when Lizzie was five, Meer insisted that Ally attend the Raunch Culture Conference in Boston for her. Since she couldn't go.
Ally forgot his first name, but he taught Gender Studies at Cambridge in England. Edwin, Edward, Edmond, Edgar. Something with an EÂ .Â .Â .
She did remember the name of his penis.
He'd introduced it. “Allison, please meet Mr. Major Johnson. The Slut Slayer. He's saying hello. Can you say hello?” Ally nodded. “Hello, Major Johnson. Pleased to meet you.” The Englishman smiled. “Mr. Major Johnson, the Slut Slayer, please. That's his full title.” Ally smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Major Johnson, the Slut Slayer.” Edwin or Edmond enjoyed this. “Would you care to shake hands?”
She didn't have sex with Mr. Major, but she did make out with the man himself in his hotel room, after which he
, in a charming British accent, on taking
to absolute climax while Ally watched.
The Major looked like a four-inch carrot, an organic carrot, a natural carrot, the kind, Ally thought, that tapers toward the tip.
Jake Bean's was number four. And what a beautiful fourth he was.
All good things to those who wait, Ally thought, staring at him in the shadows. Jake then turned her onto her belly.
She heard the rip of the condom wrapper, and when he entered her from behind, Ally came like a twelve-year-old boy. Within seconds, the pleasure intensified, exploded, and spread through her entire body, down her limbs and into her fingertips and toes. “Oh no,” she whispered, after it subsided, her head bowed. “I'm so sorry. How did you do that? So, so sorryÂ .Â .Â .” She fell to her stomach.
Jake pulled out and lay down next to her. “Why?” he said. “Why are you sorry?”
“I just went from zero to sixty in four secondsÂ .Â .Â . like a BMWÂ .Â .Â . I'm soÂ .Â .Â .” Embarrassed, she hid her face in a pillow.
Jake's penis had filled Ally in a way she'd never been filled before, not by Pierre, not by food, not by any other forms of fulfillment. The utter satisfaction, the feeling of completion, was both physical and existential. She would have gladly died there with Jake deep inside her, if not for Lizzie, and some other stuffÂ .Â .Â .
“I'm incredible,” Jake joked.
“You are,” she said, still hiding her face. Then she looked up. “Come back and finish. Let's let you finish.” She pressed her body into his and kissed him.
“No,” Jake said, kissing her back. “I don't want to.”
“What? Why not?”
“I don't want to come.”
“Tonight's about you.”
“Why? Please. That's notâ”
“I like to wait. It's the journey that counts. The means, not the end.” He smiled.
Ally studied him. “Oh, wait. You wrote about this in your paper.” She lifted up onto her elbows. “Tantric sex?”
“Yes, but this is more Zen Satori.”
“What?” Ally laughed and looked down. Nothing had changed. He was still at attention, full in the condom.
“I have this brother into all things Asian: beliefs, women. Moved out to Cali for âBuddha on the beach, dude, twelve out of twelve.'”
Ally smiled. “But doesn't it hurt? Don't you get, whatever, blue balls or something?”
He shook his head. “No, because, you knowÂ .Â .Â . You don't suppress it.”
“Strain. You justârelax. You slow down your breath and relax your muscles and focus on the girl instead of yourself. Especially, like, your abs, you know? You relax your abs so nothing builds. There's no tension.”
Ally studied him.
“It's hard to describe.”
“But what's the point?”
“I don't know,” Jake said and then thought it through. “Control, I guessÂ .Â .Â . All these guys, spreading their seed every-which-where, with no controlÂ .Â .Â .” Ally listened. “Like we learned in your classÂ .Â .Â . Guys who make women wear those tents, the Islam thing, and because why? They can't trust themselvesâor other menâto not go nuts? Control yourself. Try.”
Ally took a breath. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. So we can go and go and go, and then, if I want to come, I do. But I'm not a slave to it. Andâandâit's better if I wait.”
“It's better when you wait?”
“Everything's betterÂ .Â .Â . when you wait.”
So Jake, the student, made his professor come that night: Once on the bed and then on its edge. A third time against the bathroom sink. Then a fourth and a fifth in the kitchen, up against the fridge and across the floor. And lastly, a sixth time, up against the tile in Ally's bathroom, with a toothbrush in her mouth.
At four they finally fell asleep, tangled in each other's limbs.
TEDDY WAS SURPRISED WHEN
Lizzie buzzed up that night after dinner at one o'clock. One in the morning. He couldn't say no. It was pouring outside. He buzzed her in, looked around the loft, and scrambled to pick up the fast-food wrappers, change, receipts, printed research, socks, and clothes.
He was too busy to actually shop for something to sit in, a bed to sleep on, a desk to work fromÂ .Â .Â . and so before he moved into SoHo, into his loft, he hired the beautiful Bunny Dunn.
Bunny decided to warm up the space, the poured-concrete floor, ductwork, beams, with a deluge of clubby, costly antiques.
But for all its design and all its worth, Teddy neglected his home. The floors were covered with a thin film of grit, the windows with soot, and the furniture with a layer of dust.
Lizzie thought this was fascinating. Telling of something. She didn't know what.
His closets and cabinets lay oddly empty, his stuff, instead, he had piled in corners, scattered on surfaces, underfoot. All the low- and high-tech toys of the moneyed American boy, Lizzie thought.
She gazed around, taking account of all the items: Four World Cup Brazuca balls. Five MacBook Pros. Two iPads. Three iPods. Two iPhones. A Xerox WorkCentre copy machine.
, in six-foot stacks.
The Wall Street Journal
in four-foot stacks. Two sets of golf clubs. A grand Bose home audio system and seventy-inch 3-D HDTVÂ .Â .Â . She counted by threes, by fives, by fours: Thirty-one baseball caps. Thirty-two pairs of Vineyard Vines shorts. Thirteen Patagonia vestsÂ .Â .Â .
He did not own a mop or a broom, a spatula or a box of salt.
Ally had ventured to visit him
“You can't tell your mom.” Teddy swept coins off the coffee table.
“You're right,” Lizzie said, sitting at one of his many desks. “She would freak. She hates porn.”
“But if you want your nose, these models, these girls, are making a fortune.” He stuffed the change into his pocket. “But think it through.”
“A fortune?” she asked, intrigued. “How much?”
“A grand a day from what Fishman says.” He knelt on the floor, reaching under the table.
“A thousand a day? Wow,” she said, studying his workspace. “Or
could give me the money.”
“No,” he said. “I've earned what I have, and you should too.”
On the surface of his desks sat keyboard after keyboard and more hard drives than she cared to count. Above the desks, along a shelf, five monitors ran together, daisy-chained with FireWire cables.
“How does it work?”
“He has a studio. They set you up in a private room. You strip. Play around. There's a computerâwith a camera. I guess. I haven't been there myself.”
“I'm alone? In the room?”
“Of course. It's safe. The guys are online. They sign in and out.” Ted got up and walked to the trash can next to his desk. He threw all the coins from his hands inside. “The golf clubs
, by the way.”
“Can I wear a disguise?”
“A wig? Glasses?”
“Yeah, you should. And use a fake name.”
Lizzie thought maybe if she wore a wig, covered her freckles and her birthmarks, maybe no one would recognize her. “Who's this guy? Who is Fishman?”
He and Fishman had met at Wharton in '98. Fishman was thin, with an oversize head, and fancied himself a movie producer. When his comedies failed, he decided to produce porn with story. “Narrative porn for the thinking man,” Teddy said. He set up a studio out near LA but failed there too. The thinking man, as it turned out, tuned in to porn to stop thinking.
Back east again, he partnered with investors and managed to build a sex-cam network, twenty-nine sites, that catered to the US and Western Europe.
“What aboutâ How do you come in?” Lizzie asked.
“I don't come in.” Teddy was back down on his knees, fishing under the couch. “He's my buddy.”
“Oh,” Lizzie said, turning back to the desk. “So if I'm a cam girl for, what, a month? You think I could walk with twenty grand?”
He rose on his knees and stretched his back. “Your grandmother's money was meant for grad school. Don't bug your mom. She's still in mourning.”
Lizzie nodded. “I'm still in mourning. We're all still in mourning.”
Teddy turned and studied Lizzie as she rose and walked to the window. “Actually,” he said, watching her as she lifted the blinds and stared out into the pouring rain, “maybe not. It's a bad idea.”
“Why?” she said.
“Forget I evenâ If your mom found outÂ .Â .Â . That would be the end.”
“I won't forget it,” Lizzie said, looking out onto Canal Street: the wet puddles, dilapidated buildings, red blinking lights. “Give me the number.” She looked at her fingertips, covered in soot. “Do you ever clean? This place is a sty.”
“That's nice. Polite. You ring me up in the middle of the nightâ What are you even doing down here?”
“I met Weather. The club was lameÂ .Â .Â .” Lizzie smiled, crossed the room, and sat, again, at Ted's desk. “Give me his number. Seriously. I'll check it out.”
Under the sofa, Teddy found a pudding cup, a chocolate-covered spoon, and french-fry envelopes filled with salt. “Onlyâif you tell meâif you help me. How the heck do I get your mom? To go on a little vacation with me? What do I do?”
“Well, first, you hire a maid.”
“Fuck you, Lizzie.”
Lizzie smiled and rested her elbow on a keyboard. A monitor sprang to life. She spun in the chair, surprised and excited. “Oh, look at thisÂ .Â .Â .” She slipped a pair of headphones on.
On the monitor, a woman in pigtails sat on a desk, sipping a Jamba Juice, talking on her iPhone. Her panties read, “The Party Starts Here.” Other than that, she was totally naked, and her tiny pert breasts stood at attention as if she was cold. Lizzie listened. “She's talking about her PSATs.”
“That'sâthe site. One of the sites.” Teddy had grabbed a paper and pen.
“Why are you watching this?”
“I might invest.” He drew near and handed her Fishman's number. “This is his cell.”
“My mom would
you,” Lizzie said, smiling. She took the number and slipped off the headphones.
“I won't tell.”
“Look, Ally wants Juilliard. Now you can go and get your nose, too.”
“I'll never get in,” Lizzie said. “And she won't even notice, by the way. They shave the sides by a
” She tucked the number into her jeans, rose, and meandered toward Teddy's front hall. “This is nice of you. Really. To help me. That's what my mother loves about you. You're so kind. So
Teddy looked up. “I'm happy to help. Now help me.”
“Get her toâ How do I get her away? Out of that house, out of town?”
“Why? What are your intentions?”
He paused. “To continue toâget to know your mother.”
“Why don't you marry her first?”
He perked up. “You think she'd marry me? If I asked?”
Lizzie smiled and slipped back into her sodden ballet flats. “May I please pee?”
“Sure,” he said and pointed toward a hall around a corner. “You didn't answer me.”
In the bathroom, she opened the cabinets looking for condoms, lube, toys. Something. Anything. But she found nothing but Kiehl's, Kiehl's, Kiehl's, and more Kiehl's.
She peeked behind the curtain: nothing there either, but Kiehl's shampoo, Irish Spring soap, and Kiehl's conditioner.
Then she peed, and as she did, she borrowed Ted's toothbrush. She used it to poke through his overflowing trash. She needed to think, to see, to digÂ .Â .Â . through all the Kleenex, the cough-drop wrappersÂ .Â .Â .
Then, at the bottom of the pail, she saw it: a tube of lipstick.
With the toothbrush, she flipped it upright and lifted it out between her fingers. She split it apart to see the color: a deep purple-pink. She read the label on the bottom:
Not a lipstick Ally would buy. If she wore lipstick. Which she didn't.
So maybe Ted had a sister, thought Lizzie. Maybe an assistant. Maybe a friend. Ally thought he was dating around. Now they knew. One thing for sure: It wasn't the maid's.
She stood and flushed and wrapped the lipstick in toilet paper. She tucked it into her back jeans pocket next to the paper with Fishman's number.
“Hopping a train?” Teddy asked, holding the front door open for her. He was glad to see her go.
“Maybe,” said Lizzie.
“You need money? You want a car? I'll call you aâ”
“No, thanks. I'll walk.” She slipped out past him into the hall. “You won't tell her? Right? Ever?”
,” he said. “She'd murder us both.”
“All right. We agree. Get home safe.”
“Oh, I will.”
His cell phone rang. He slipped it from his pocket, glanced at the number. “Look. It's your mom.”
“Say hi for me,” Lizzie called over her shoulder.
“I don't think so.”